Paul's Allegory: The Deeper Meaning of Scripture (Galatians Sermon 14 of 26)
February 23, 2014 | Andy Davis
Salvation by Promise, Allegory, Zion
Pastor Andy Davis preaches a verse-by-verse expository sermon on Galatians 4:21-31. The main subject of the sermon is the distinction between the ones born of the Law and the ones born of the Spirit.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
Two passages are on my mind today as we open our Bibles to Galatians 4. We're looking for the second week at verses 21-31. As you do that, there are two great scriptures in my mind as we look at this topic of Paul's allegory and the deeper meaning of scripture. The first is Isaiah 55:8-9 which says, "My ways are not your ways, neither are my thoughts your thoughts says the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts says the Lord." God's mind is infinitely above ours. The second scripture goes the opposite direction but the same basic idea. In Romans 11, after three of the deepest most doctrinally-challenging chapters in the entire Bible, Paul writes, "Oh, the depths of the riches the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements, and His paths beyond tracing out. Who is known the mind of the Lord?" So God's mind is infinitely higher than ours and the things that he communicates are so deep we could never fathom them all.
I. Review: Last Week’s Lesson from Isaac and Ishmael
For the second week, we are looking at some incredible verses of scripture that bring us now to consider the deeper truths of the Bible, the depths of scripture. We are looking at Paul's allegory and the deeper meaning of the Old Testament. This is in the book of Galatians, and just by way of brief review, the Apostle Paul went to Asia Minor to a place in modern day Turkey and preached the Gospel. He preached the Gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins. God blessed the Galatians by his sovereign grace and by his spirit, and Galatian Gentiles came to faith in Christ, and believed in Jesus and became adopted sons of Abraham. Even more significantly, they became adopted sons and daughters of the living God. And so those churches were planted in Galatia and then Paul left, because that was his ministry, to go to other places and preach. And after he left, some false teachers came in and they preached a false gospel. A mingling of Christ and Moses, of faith and works, which Paul would basically say is poison, not the real Gospel.
Now Paul is writing this epistle back to those churches to teach them again the foundational facts of the Gospel and how it is that sinners like us can be made right with such a Holy God, whose eyes are two pure to look on evil. He cannot tolerate wrong. Here is the question: How can sinners like us be made right with such a God? And we are, Paul says in Galatians 2:16 "Justified by faith alone apart from works of the law." This is really the theological center of what he is trying to say. And then for two chapters in Galatians 3 and 4, he proves this doctrine of Justification by faith alone from the Old Testament Scripture. And this is the final section of that argument. He is going back and speaking to these Galatian, Gentile Christians (believers in Jesus), and asking them, "Why would you want to be under the law?" Verse 21 says, "Tell me you who want to be under the law." Why would you want to live under the law? Aren't you aware of what the law says? And then he goes into this whole allegory, this whole teaching from the story of Isaac and Ishmael, Sarah and Hagar, and Abraham and all of these things that we talked about last week.
Last week I gave you what I consider to be the “milk” of the passage, the central main idea. And if you don't get any of the things I say this week, you need to get this main idea. Paul is buttressing what he has been saying, that "we are justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law." And the point I made last week from this language, is that we are all like Isaac, children of the promise, that's verse 29 in our text. Each one of you who's a Christian, you are miracles of God's grace by his spirit. You are miracles! It's a miracle of God's grace that you love Jesus and that you repented of your sin and trusted in him. You are born of the spirit, a supernatural birth. And so you should live like it, and we will get into that in the last two chapters of Galatians, but you are born by the spirit.
"Each one of you who's a Christian, you are miracles of God's grace by his spirit. You are miracles! It's a miracle of God's grace that you love Jesus and that you repented of your sin and trusted in him."
Now, what I want to say today is the Scripture itself is a miracle of God's grace born by the spirit. And it contains deep unsearchable things that will swallow up the mind of the greatest genius on earth. So if you get nothing out of what I'm saying today about today's message, get this. The Bible is very deep and requires special and skillful handling. I want to zero-in on this issue of allegory. We get this right from what Paul says. We wouldn't even be talking about this today except that Paul does it. He brings up Isaac and Ishmael, Hagar and Sarah, and Abraham from Genesis 15-17. You can listen to the message from last week if you want to review, or just read Genesis 15-17 and find out from those chapters what Paul is talking about. But we're not going to go into the basic details, you heard that last week. But he turns to allegory, the story of Isaac, Abraham's son by grace, his son by the promise, his son by his wife Sarah. This is a picture of every genuine believer, every Christian, of sovereign grace born by the spirit. Its a picture of all of us Christians.
II. Deeper Spiritual Meaning: Essential, But Dangerous
Ishmael is an allegorical representation of unbelievers who are trying to earn favor with God by their works. They're acting like slaves. They're thinking like slaves, and they will be cast out as Hagar and Ishmael were. They will not receive the inheritance. You cannot receive the Kingdom of God by your own works. So that's what we got from last time. But we have to go deep, we have to go into these allegorical meanings. And what I'm going to say is there are two basic ideas in the sermon today. When it comes to the Scripture generally, but specifically the Old Testament, searching out deeper spiritual meanings is essential to right interpretation. We must do it. But, secondly, from history, it's dangerous. You can go too far, and get into some excesses that we must seek to avoid. So that's kind of a two part outline of what we're doing. After that, I'm going to go back into the text, and we're going to find some more details in this allegory that are worth studying.
We are going to discuss missions. We are going to discuss the fact that physical Isaacs can be like spiritual Ishmaels, and physical Ishmaels can be like spiritual Isaacs, and how that is marvelous and amazing. We will also talk about the warning to each one of us who are spiritual Isaacs, to not live like Ishmaels, like those under the law. We will talk about the warning that all unconverted people face: eternal condemnation in hell. I think that is the warning at the end when he says, "Cast out the slave woman with her son." So that's where we're going. Whether we get there or not, who knows? But we'll do the best that we can.
Let's begin with this idea of deeper spiritual meanings. Look at verse 24 and following. Paul says, "These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants." So Paul literally says, "These things are allegories or this is allegorizing," that's literally what he says here. What does allegory mean? Well, that means to say something other than what one appears to be saying, or that there is a deeper meaning. Or, you could say more technically, an allegory is a big metaphor made up by a lot of smaller metaphors that go into the bigger metaphor. It's an extended metaphor of representational language, where this doesn't really mean that, but it means something deeper. That's what an allegory is. The most famous allegory in church history is Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress,' in which the Christian life of conversion, and then sanctification, and death, and being welcomed into heaven, is likened to a pilgrimage, from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, with all kinds of things that happen along the way. That's an allegory.
And so Paul uses this language, speaking of these things as allegories or representations of a deeper truth. So my first point is that, perceiving deeper spiritual meanings in Scripture, generally, but specifically in the Old Testament, is essential to right interpretation. Why do I say that? Because if you don't do it, you won't find Jesus there. If you don't find deeper spiritual meanings in the Old Testament, you will not find the prophecies that refer to Christ. Now, how do we know they are there? Because Jesus told us that they are there. Let's just go to one. In John 5:46, Jesus is speaking to his Jewish enemies, and he is talking about different testimonies to himself, and he spoke them saying, "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me." Now, do you realize, that should just give you goosebumps. How could a man say that? Fifteen centuries after Moses died, that "Moses wrote about me?" Well, Jesus was the Son of God, and what he's saying is that God had predicted the coming of the Messiah through the writings of Moses.
Now, if you look at the first five books of the Bible, which we know Moses wrote (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), you're not going to find, for the most part, I don't think you'll find verbally predicted prophecies about the Messiah. You have to look deeper and find predictions about the Messiah in symbolic language. And if you know what to look for, then there actually many places that Moses wrote about Jesus. Jesus alludes to one himself a few chapters before that in John's Gospel. In John Chapter 3:14 he says, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Yes, that's the context of John 3:16. And the context is in the same way that Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, so Jesus will be lifted up. How? On the cross. "That everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life." By the way, that's what the word, "so" means in John 3:16. It means "in the same way." So it's a comparison. If you don't understand the bronze serpent, you won't understand John 3:16.
So what was the bronze serpent? Well, the bronze serpent is a story in Numbers 21:9 when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. They had failed to enter the promised land. They were getting sick and tired of manna and even complaining about the manna. You remember that whole story? In fact, they wouldn't have had to eat the manna except for a very short time, if they would have just crossed over by faith into the promised land. I'm starting to get upset at them again. You wouldn't have to eat the manna day after day if you just entered the land flowing with milk and honey, but they wouldn't do it. And so, now they got sick of eating manna day after day and started to complain. Well, God doesn't take complaining lightly, and he sends poisonous desert serpents in and they bit Israelites, and many died. Many of them died and they cried out to Moses saying, "We're sorry, tell God we're sorry!" And then God said, "I'm not going to remove the serpents but I'm going to put up this bronze serpent. And you send that message throughout the camp. For everyone who is bitten with the poisonous serpent bite, all you have to do is look to the bronze serpent and I will see and heal you." It was a picture of looking to Jesus by faith.
So I cry out to any of you who are here who have been bitten by the serpent of sin, and you've got the poison flowing through your spiritual bloodstreams. You have limited time before you drop dead and go to hell. Cry out to Jesus and by looking to Jesus, you will find forgiveness of sins. You trust in Jesus because that's why God lifted him up on the cross. And I'm pleading with you, don't leave this sanctuary here unconverted. But do you see what I've done? I've seen a deeper spiritual meaning in something that actually happened historically back then. And if you don't do that, you won't find Christ in the Old Testament. After Jesus died, and was buried and on the third day, he was raised from the dead, he began to appear to his own disciples, to give them many convincing proofs that he was alive. And he was with them over a period of 40 days and He taught them many things about the Kingdom of God. And one of the number one things he taught them was how the Scriptures, the Old Testament testified everything concerning himself.
So you remember Luke 24? Jesus is walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. You remember that story? And his appearance is somehow changed and they don't recognize him. And they're walking down together, and this stranger (Jesus) is talking to them and he doesn't seem to have any idea about current events, about what happened with Jesus. These two disciples were so discouraged and so downcast as they walked with the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, not knowing it was Jesus. But they were so discouraged and downcast, "We had hoped He would be the one." And Jesus said, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the Prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer many things and then after that enter into His glory? "Then he showed them, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, everything that was explained in the scriptures about himself." And after he was taken away from them, they said, "Were not our hearts burning within us when He opened the Scriptures to us?" Do you see that word "open"? Or do you hear it? He opened the scriptures, He opened the scriptures and they hadn't seen these things before.
Later that same day Jesus appears in the upper room and he's with the disciples and he gives the many convincing proofs of his resurrection. And he says, "Touch me and see." And eats some broiled fish in front of them, and he just proves his resurrection. And then he says this, in Luke 24:44 and following, "This is what I told you when I was still with you. Everything must be fulfilled, that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." [This is Luke 24:45] "Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Same idea, open, open. It was closed before, now do you see? Do you see it? It's here. "Do you see it? Do you see how these verses testify about me?" And he told them, "This is what is written, that Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem." That's all in the prophecy. Missions is also in the prophecy and we'll see it later in this message this morning. It's right in the prophecy. The spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. You are witnesses of these things.
And so the Old Testament is filled with this kind of typology or symbolism, pictures of Jesus, deeper spiritual meanings. Noah's Ark, the only place of refuge, as the wrath of God comes pouring down on the earth. The only place of refuge is Noah's Ark. It's a picture of Christ. The Exodus is a picture of salvation in Jesus, how we were in bondage to sin and we are brought out through the wilderness and we are brought into the promised land by the sovereign grace of God, led by the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud to the promised land. It’s a picture of our salvation journey. The Passover lamb, its blood painted on the door posts and the angel of death moving over, looks down and sees the blood and passes over and they don't die. Everyone inside the house, (like inside Christ) is saved under the blood. Everyone else perishes (all the first born). Indeed, every animal sacrifice in the Levitical system, all of the animal sacrifices were types or pictures of Jesus. All of them were.
As a matter of fact, the book of Hebrews does a great job of elucidating and opening these things up to us. It says in Hebrews 8:5 that at the tabernacle/temple, the Levitical priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of the reality. So these deeper symbolic meanings point to the reality, but they weren't the thing itself, they were just symbolic. As it says later, in Hebrews 10:1 "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves." The book of Hebrews goes into a lot of details, you remember the place where he talks about Psalm 110, "You're a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek." And Jesus has become a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5). And then he stops himself and says, "You know, I have a lot to say on this topic. But I can't, because you're slow to learn. By this time you should be further along, but you need milk not meat. I want tell you about Melchizedek, but it's meat and you need spiritual teeth to get it." You see, it's a deeper meaning. And then he goes on in Hebrews 7 and just unfolds all of the analogies about Melchizedek and how is it picture of Christ.
So let me just sum up. Finding deeper spiritual meanings in the Old Testament is essential to right interpretation of the Old Testament. Without it, you will not find Jesus. Now, you may ask, "If that's so, then why don't the Jews, who don't believe in Jesus, but who study Moses and study these things all the time, why don't they see Christ in the Old Testament? I don't understand. If he's there, then why can't they see it?" And Paul answered that question in 2 Corinthians 3, you remember how Moses went up and spent time with God, and he came away and his face was shining and radiant? Remember that? And he put a veil over his face, because the people were afraid of him and they didn't want look and they were afraid to talk to him and so he put a veil over his face. Paul says that veil is a symbol of the hardness of heart of the Jews in perceiving the truth in the Bible, specifically in Moses. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 3, "Their minds were made dull, for even to this day the same veil remains whenever the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts, but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the spirit and where the spirit is, there's freedom." And so the spirit comes in the new covenant and takes the veil away and you can see Jesus there. And your heart burns in the Scriptures like, "Wow, God's been working on this a long time. Wow, this is deep. Wow, these themes are rich and full." And you see it for the first time. And it's powerful, but if that hasn't happened to you yet, if your mind is dull, if your heart is hard, you're not going to see these things. You'll think they're ridiculous.
"Finding deeper spiritual meanings in the Old Testament is essential to right interpretation of the Old Testament. Without it, you will not find Jesus."
Now, generally, Christian interpreters, pastors don't use the world allegory. We generally stay away from it. We usually talk about types. Types are things acted out in history, in the Old Testament. They really happened, space and time, they actually did. But they also act out aspects of spiritual truth as well. So we believe there was a literal flood, a literal arc, a literal Noah, but it's also a metaphorical picture of salvation in Jesus. That's the way typology tends to work. We believe that animals really were sacrificed. Their blood really was poured out. It really was commanded by the law of Moses to do this, but it's a picture of Jesus. Allegorical interpretation is a different pattern. There, what you're doing is you're looking for deep spiritual meanings in every paragraph, every sentence, perhaps every word. I might say actually even every letter. At that point then, the Bible becomes like a hidden code book and you need the secret decoder ring. And if you got the secret decoder ring, and you get all the right things lined up, you can see it. But if you don't have the ring, you're not going to be able to see what I see. How can I get the ring? Well, you have to earn it. You have to become really spiritual like I am. And then I might give you the ring, and then you can see these deeper meanings. That's the allegorizing tendency.
So now, we move into the second main heading of what I want to say. That finding deeper spiritual meanings in the Old Testament is also dangerous. Historically, it's been dangerous. There's some people that go too far. They go off the road, somewhat. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, allegory was based in the ancient world, right before the time of Christ in the city named Alexandria in Egypt. It was named after it's founder, Alexander the Great who left Alexandria(s) everywhere. He just loved himself. He was just filled with a love for himself and his own name. And he set up the most famous of all of them is in Egypt. Alexandria, Egypt. Greeks were there and there was a flourishing Greek culture. And one of the two intellectual products that Greece gave to the ancient world is their extraordinary philosophers (Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, ect.), and their fascinating Greek myths, their religion. Well, the myths were weird actually. They were almost insulting to some level. They were embarrassing at certain levels. But if you're a real Hellenist, you love Greek culture, you're going to try to find a way to make them a little more seemly. And so they began to allegorize and combine their philosophies with their religion and explain the awkward or embarrassing aspects of their religion by means of allegory. Deeper spiritual meanings.
Well, there was a Jew, living centuries before Christ, named Philo and he did this kind of thing. He actually did it with the Old Testament. He started doing lots of this allegorizing with the Old Testament. Now, it didn't really, in the end, catch on among the Jews, but it really caught on with Christians. And why? Well, for the reasons I've been saying since I've been up here today. There are deeper spiritual meanings. They do point to Christ. There's a whole different way of looking at the prophecies than you ever saw before. And so certain Christian teachers began just swimming in a sea of allegory and looking for allegories all the time. Beginning with Clement of Alexandria and then his disciple Origen, but then it continued after them. It flourished. It took off. Augustin and others always looking for the fourfold meaning of the text. The simple physical meaning which gave you just everyday life principles. And then on down to moral meanings and horizontal among Christian meanings. And then eternal meanings and all that. They're looking for deeper meanings in everything all the time.
The basic idea of this allegorizing approach is that God has hidden the true meaning of the Old Testament, and only the spiritual can search it out. Some likened it to the threefold aspect of the human being. You know how some say humans are body, soul, and spirit? So the text has a body, that's just the simple literal historical physical side. And it also has a soul and that's the moral side. And then it has a spirit and that's the Christ-centered or eternal side. So they're looking for these three aspects all the time in Scripture. So what were the kind of things they would do?
Origen was one of the best, he was a genius, an absolute genius. He was a heretical genius but he was a genius. And did amazing things with Scripture, alright? Some of them are kind of straightforward, similar to the things we've already done. Like the battle of Jericho. Joshua equals, come on you can figure this out, Jesus, right? The walled city of Jericho represents the world, it's opposition to Christ, okay? The seven priests who carry the ark, so Origen said, are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Jude, James and Peter. Got that?
Those are all Scripture writers, so I guess that's what he came up with. Rahab, the prostitute, represents the church, sinner saved by grace. The scarlet cord represents the blood of Jesus. So that's what he did with that. Even better is Origen's 27th homily on Numbers. He gets to the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. In Numbers 33, there is basically a travel log of the Jews as they travel from Egypt to the brink of the Jordan River. There are 42 places mentioned there. Oh, what Origen can do with that? 42 levels of spiritual ascent to full perfection in Christ, step by step. And he's got names and each level has this characteristic to it. Sounds almost gnostic or secret hidden religion but that's the kind of stuff they were doing. Or Joshua, as he fought the battle against the five kings, in Joshua 10, who attacked the Gibeonites. There are these five kings, and they captured these five kings, and put them in a cave, and put a stone in front of that. Well, the five kings represent the five senses of sight, sound, hearing, taste, and smell, obviously. And they are enemies to the things of God, ect. So this is the kind of allegorizing.
They love numbers too. If you want to hear a bunch of stuff about numbers, come and ask me later, I don't have time now. The question you would ask here is, "Why would Paul then use allegory if it's dangerous?" Well there's two different answers we can give to that. First is, it's what I call the "because I'm an apostle, that's why" approach, alright? So that would be kind of like a policeman with a siren going, or a fire truck with a siren going, or the presidential motorcade with its siren going, they can run any red light they want. Any red light. The rest of us, peons, we have to stop at red lights. So the apostle can do things that we're not allowed to do under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that's a great answer though. I think what I'd want to say is, is Paul really allegorizing like Origen was allegorizing? Or is he doing the standard typological approach of finding connections with the story of Isaac and Ishmael, that are helpful for us to elucidate spiritual principles? That's the question.
Now for us, how then should we approach the Old Testament? We must read it grammatically, understand its basic grammar, understand its context, especially its historical context, understand the flow of redemptive history. Where does this story fit in? Try to see what God was doing in redemptive history at that point. Understand God never changes and basically people don't change either. So we can draw out lasting principles about God's nature and about human nature without resorting to that kind of weird allegory. Don't get attracted to weird allegorizing. Look for deeper meanings and connections to Christ, they are there, more than are just listed. But don't get into the whole Da Vinci Code or numerology approach. I actually have a book in which somebody counted every 50th letter in the book of Genesis and found the word Torah, every 50th letter in Genesis… apparently it's in there. And they went through with all of this computer analysis and found all kinds of things in there. Like the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, in the letters of the... Don't do that! I know that's fascinating but don't do that, okay? What are the dangers of doing this, what are the dangers of this kind of approach? Well, I think first and foremost is the text, the Scripture starts to float away from the common everyday believer. Alright?
You, as an ordinary regular person under this kind of teaching, would have no hope whatsoever of understanding the text. And so why read it? It puts a wedge between the people of God and the word of God. It also is arrogant for the teachers to say, "I know and you don't. And the reason you don't, is you're not as spiritual as I am." It becomes like the emperor's new clothes where if you're as spiritual as I am, you can see what I see in the texts. If you can't see what I see in the texts, then you're not as spiritual as I am. Also there was no rhyme or reason, how did you know that the number two represented the two covenants, the number three represented the trinity, or the three days Christ was in the tomb, or the three different ways that humans can sin? How do you know that that's what it means? Where are you getting your information? And it becomes pretty scary at that point, you're under impressions from spirits and it's hard to know that that's actually even coming from the text. And it denigrates the physical world and history. History doesn't matter anymore. What matters is the deeper spiritual meaning. You're forgetting that God has ordained an orchestrated history, really doesn't matter whether there was a literal Adam or a literal Joshua, a battle of Jericho, that those things really matter.
III. Digging into this Particular “Allegory” and Applying Its Lessons
Alright, now what I want do with the final couple of minutes I have is I want draw out a few more deeper connections here that perhaps you haven't seen before. Again let me reiterate the main idea. If you are a Christian, you are like Isaac, a child of the promise. You are born again by the spirit. You are not under the law, so therefore you shouldn't live under the law. What does it mean to live under the law? Well, at the simple level, you don't have to keep its meticulous requirements, the dietary regulations, circumcision, the ceremonies, the special days and months, and seasons and years. You're not under that anymore. You're free from that. But deeper than that, deeper than that, you are free from sin itself. The old covenant had no power to free anybody from sin. The mind of the flesh is death. The old covenant could only diagnose and condemn. It couldn't transform. But the new covenant can give birth to children who are born of the spirit, who have a whole new mind, made new in the heart and the spirit. The new covenant has transformed you, not the old covenant. So why live under the old covenant that had no power to do that? You're not under the law, meaning you're not under the law's ability to condemn you and send you to hell. Praise God, the accusations that were written out against you were nailed to the cross and you're free from them. Christ became a curse for you and you're not under the laws condemning power.
"The old covenant had no power to free anybody from sin. The mind of the flesh is death. The old covenant could only diagnose and condemn. It couldn't transform. But the new covenant can give birth to children who are born of the spirit, who have a whole new mind, made new in the heart and the spirit."
Therefore, look at Galatians 5:1, we'll get to it in April, but it says, "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm then, and don't submit again to a yoke of slavery." Alright, so that's the essential idea, but there are some other powerful lessons. Take a minute and go back to Isaiah 54. Take your Bibles and go back to Isaiah 54, and there you will find what Paul quotes in verse 27. What does he quote in verse 27? Well he says, "Sing, oh barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband, says the LORD." That's what Paul reaches for in the middle of his allegory. He reaches for Isaiah 54:1. Yes, what's amazing to me, look at it on the page. And I want you, just for a moment, to just lift off the chapter and verse divisions and set them aside, and just consider it a flowing prophecy from Isaiah. And find out where this celebration comes, where and why this barren woman celebrates.
Go back to end of Isaiah 52, and what do you see at the end of the Isaiah 52:13-15. "Behold my servant," the servant of Yahweh. This is Jesus, listen, "Behold my servant will act wisely; He'll be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there are many who are appalled at Him, His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred by human likeness so will He sprinkle many nations." The servant of the Lord, disfigured beyond human likeness sprinkles the nations. If you can't find Jesus there, you don't know what you're looking for. That is the atoning work of Jesus Christ that is going to be proclaimed among the nations. Jesus said it was written that this would happen and there it is. "And so will He sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand." Then it just rolls on into the most famous chapter maybe in the Old Testament. The clearest prophecy of Jesus. "He was pierced," verses Five-Six, "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our inequities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we were healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." Clearly talking about the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Go to the end of the chapter, to verses 11-12. "After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied," speaking of the resurrection of Jesus. "By His knowledge, my righteous servant will justify many," very thing we've been saying in Galatians. Jesus justifies us by his work, by faith in his work and "he will bear their inequities therefore, I will give them a portion among the great and He will divide the spoils with the strong because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." That's Christ's atoning work. Finished now. Christ dead and has been resurrected. And now comes 54:1. "Break forth into song old Zion, old Jerusalem. Sing because now at last you can bear you children for God." Do you see the flow? Do you see the context? Now that Jesus has come, finally barren Zion, barren Jerusalem, barren people of Israel can at least bear children for God. That's why Paul reached for this verse.
Wow, that's awesome. It's awesome. Keep going though, look at Verse Two. "Enlarge the place of your tent," it's Isaiah 54:2, "Enlarge the place of your tent. Stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back. Lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes." Okay barren woman? Hey barren woman, you're going to have so many children, you won't know where to put them. You're going to have to get a bigger tent. We need it bigger, we need longer ropes, we need bigger tents. Why? You know why… Because the Gentiles are coming. Not a few of them, lots of them. They're coming like a river. Now, she couldn't bear children to God in the old covenant. The old covenant never bore children for God. But now that Jesus has come, the blood of the new covenant has been poured out. Now at last, she (the Jerusalem that's above) can bear children for God. And that is awesome. It fulfills the promises made to Abraham.
Just listen, Genesis 12: 2-3, "I will make you [Abraham] into a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." As He says in Genesis 15:5, "Look up at the heavens and see all the stars. If you can count them, so shall your offspring be." As He says in Genesis 17, "I'm going to change your name from Abram to Abraham because I've made you the father of many nations. Nations of people will come and be. They will look on you as their spiritual father and you will be their father and they will be your children. I'm going to make you the father of nations." He says it again in Genesis 22:17-18, "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as stars in the sky and the sand of the sea shore, and your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed." That did not happen until Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 53. "Now at last, the people of God based in Jerusalem can bear fruit for God."
And this is exactly what Paul has been saying in Galatians, isn't it? He's been talking to Gentiles and saying "You're all children of Abraham through faith in Christ." Read about it at the end of Galatians 3. I'm not going to read it now, but he says "You're all a children of Abraham. You're sons of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ." As he says in 4:28, "Now, you brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise." "You are Abraham's children." And so now this woman has at last expanded her tent. Paul's speaking of missions. He's speaking of the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem through Judea and Samaria to the ends of the earth, to the Gentiles. Can I give you a beautiful historical note here? Just because I love church history. One of the greatest sermons ever preached (better than this sermon, trust me), was on Isaiah 54:2 by William Carey.
William Carey went to this very text, Isaiah 54:2. It was called, “The Deathless Sermon,” a sermon that will never die by those who heard it. May 30th, 1792 at Friar Lane Baptist Chapel in Nottingham, England. On this text "Enlarge the place of thy tent and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy inhabitations, spare a knot, lengthen thy cord, strengthen thy stakes, for you shall, thou shall break forth on the right hand on the left and thy seeds shall inherit the Gentiles and make the desolate cities to be inhabited." The sermon broke into two main headings. There are two main points to the sermon. And they were: 1) Expect great things from God. And 2) Attempt great things for God. FBC, let's do that. Amen? Let's expect that God will do great things and fulfillment of these kinds of prophecies. Let's expect that he intends to save people through our witness. Let's expect great things from him and then let's attempt great things for him. By the way, as a result of that sermon, he started the first Protestant missions agency in England and he went from that to India. Right from Isaiah 54:2.
A second new application I've already noted before has to do with physical Isaacs who are actually spiritual Ishmaels. Okay? So the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jews of Paul's day, they were based in the physical earthly city of Jerusalem. And he said, that Jerusalem (the physical one) is below, she's in slavery with her children. They're in bondage because they have not believed in Jesus. They're under the Law of Moses. They're in bondage, they're slaves. They may be physical Isaacs but they are spiritual Ishmaels. How do you know that Paul? Well, I'll tell you why. Why don't you just go try to preach the Gospel there in Jerusalem. Just go and preach the Gospel of Jesus and find out what happens to you. "Do you know what happened to me?" said Paul, "They beat me and would have beat me to death if the Romans hadn't intervened." Why? Because they're in bondage. They're in slavery. They're in blindness. And it's the very thing he's saying. It corresponds to Mount Sinai in Arabia. They're like Ishmaels even though they're physically descended from Abraham.
But on the other hand, some physical Ishmaels maybe spiritual Isaacs. Now, this is interesting. What do you mean? Well whatever happened to Hagar and Ishmael. They got cast out, remember? And have you ever read that and thought, "Wow was that cold," that's cold. And God told them to do it. What did Hagar and her little son get sent out with only a skin of water and some bread or something, and that was it? And it's quoted in our text here, "Cast out the slave woman with her son." Cast her out. It's a picture of eternal condemnation. And so I was talking to a brother last week at home fellowship. He said, "Does this mean that all the Ishmaels are going to hell?" And he's clearly talking about people who live in Arabia, right? "Are we talking about all the Arabs? What do we do with that?" Well, here's the amazing thing. Abraham prayed for Ishmael. Do you remember that? He said, "Oh, that Ishmael would live before you." That's in Genesis 17:18. God answered that prayer. God didn't let Hagar and her son die.
God opened Hagar’s eyes to a well that saved their lives, and in the course of time, Ishmael became very fruitful. As a matter of fact, he had 12 sons and they are listed in Genesis 25:13. I want to read part of that genealogy. "These are the names that the sons of Ishmael listed in the order of their birth, Nebaioth, the first born of Ishmael, and Kedar. Nebaioth and Kedar." Now, take your Bibles and go over to Isaiah 60. Isaiah 60 is similar to Isaiah 54, it talks about spiritual Zion, the Jerusalem that's above. This future city, this glorious radiant city. Now, millennialist say this is the millennial kingdom, we won't talk about today, except that I just mentioned it. But, I think this is talking about the heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem that bears children for God. "Arise and shine oh, Zion for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. Behold, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you and nations will come to your light." If you can't hear missions on that, you don't know what to listen to. "Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around you. All assemble and come to you; your sons will come from afar, your daughters from the ends of the earth carried on the arm." This is missions. These are the sons and daughters of Abraham, sons and daughters of God through faith. "Then you will look and be radiant. Your heart will throb and swell with joy and the wealth on the seas will be brought to you and the riches of the nations will come." Verse Six, "Herds of camels will cover your land. Young camels of Midian and Ephah and all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the Lord." Now look at Verse Seven, "All Kedar's flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you. They will be accepted as offerings on my altar and I will adorn my glorious temple." Wow. God has elect people who are physically descended from Ishmael that's why he didn't let Ishmael die out on the desert. Because some of his descendants would someday believe in Jesus and be drawn into this glorious radiant Zion. Amen and amen. So let's expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. There are Arabs coming to faith in Christ right now, Ishmaelites who are repenting and becoming spiritual Isaacs. This is going on right now and it's awesome.
Finally, the new Jerusalem is our home and we are going there, so set your heart on it. The Jerusalem that's above is our mother, and that is our future home. So set your heart on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God and not on things below. Live as an alien and a stranger here. Read about it on Hebrews 11:13. Set your heart on a city whose architect and builder is God. That's the new Jerusalem. Read about it in Revelation 21 and 22, it is a beautiful place. It has streets of gold and it's radiant and it doesn't need the light of the lamp or the light of sun to shine on for the glory of Christ will radiate that place and you will live there. But woe to you, woe to you, if you are a spiritual Ishmael. Not a physical Ishmael, that's not the issue. It doesn't matter. But the matter is, are you a spiritual Ishmael? And what that means is trying to earn your salvation by works and by effort and cleverness and by paying for your sins yourself. Woe to you because you'll be cast out with these words, "depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angel."
Now, we have come to the time of preparation for the Lord's Supper. Have I given you some things to think about? And I'm giving it all to you. If you want the number stuff, it's right here. Anybody who wants it, come and grab it. There is always more to talk about. But we have the chance now to turn to a very rich and full symbol that the Lord has given to us of his death and his resurrection and his second coming, the Lord's Supper. I'm going to close this sermon in prayer and ask the Deacons to come help serve table. Father, I thank you for the depths and the riches of your wisdom and scripture and I pray that now, as we turn our attention to the Lord's Supper that you would bless it with the power of the spirit. The way to understand it, symbolism properly, we pray in Jesus' name, Amen.