Isaiah 55 and Hope for Today 4/4

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Everyone thinks that heaven is good for weak people, and people who have no hope, but it’s useless for strong people and people with a plan. We say things like, “He’s so heavenly minded, that he’s no earthly good.” But that statement isn’t true. Isaiah says it isn’t true. It is only those who understand the secure hope of heaven who can really face this life.

It’s like the end of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when Merry and Pippin finally return to their homeland, The Shire. Now most of you know that the Shire is an isolated land full of pastures and Halflings called Hobbits. They farm the land, and live in peace. It always seems like it’s Spring in the Shire, and even the Fall and Winter months aren’t threatening. The worst thing to ever happen is when wild wolves attack.

If you read the books you see that Merry and Pippin are swept away from their small isolated land into a land of danger. They face trolls, and all of the evils things of the Black Land. They see great kings and towers of terrible power. Plots and schemes unfold and they watch as the most beautiful and wise sacrifice their own lives for the love of others. They see true evil, and true defeat. They see the moment when victory is snatched from the hands of the enemy.

And then they return to their old land. But their old land, which once felt so large, now seems small. Merry and Pippin are now bigger than their homeland. They stride through it with confidence and courage. They are able to face down bullies, and ruffians—why? It’s because they have seen the true enemy defeated. They know that the victory over evil has been won. And so life doesn’t master them—they master life. They stride through life confidently- not because they are bigger or stronger than what they encounter—but because they know the truth about life and death.

If you believe that this world, and this life are your only shot, then you will always be mastered by life. You will enjoy every success, but you will live in constant apprehension that it may be your last. If you believe that, at best, you’ve only got 70-80 years of life in you every time you fail, that failure will crush you.

But listen to me, I am not saying that you should believe in heaven because it will help you cope with how terrible life is. I’m not saying that heaven is a delusion and you have to delude yourself. What I am saying is that victory and life are assured- and they are assured because the most beautiful, and wise sacrificed his life out of love for us, and 3 days after he was raised from the day through the powerful working of God. That’s a good hope, and it isn’t just for the future. It changes us today.

This post is a part 4 of a series from my sermon on Isaiah 55. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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Isaiah 55 and the Everlasting Covenant in Christ 3/4

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.”

“Incline your ear, and come to me;
    hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
    my steadfast, sure love for David.”

We typically think of heaven in terms of a transaction with God. Have you ever realized that? We think of Heaven as a commodity that God owns, and we have to purchase. “Ok God,” we ask, “I want to get into heaven, so what do I have to do to secure my seat?” It’s like Fear Factor: Heaven Edition. There’s a big prize at the end of the show but you have to do some stuff you wouldn’t otherwise do to get the prize. “God, I’ll promise to never lie again.” “God, I’ll start going to church. That preacher is 10 years younger than me and tells terrible jokes, but if I have to I’ll go.” “OK God, I’ll put some money in the plate as it comes around.”

We treat heaven like the carrot God holds out in front of us to get us to obey. We act like what God wants most from us is obedience, and the only way he can get it is to tease us with a big family reunion in the sky. Which, if we are being honest for a moment—who really wants that? I mean, family reunion sounds great if I’m sending the invites. It sounds silly when I talk about heaven like that- but we all treat heaven this way.

Let me speak directly to anyone who isn’t a Christian: I think if you were honest, one of the reasons you find all this heaven talk silly is because you have always heard Christians wield heaven like a bargaining chip. You may think that Christians are gullible, or worse, manipulative. Please hear me—there really aren’t any strings attached to God’s love or heaven. Forgive us who do believe in Jesus for every time we make you feel like there are. We are wrong when we do that.

Christians reading this- why is it that even after we have found God’s grace we still act as if God’s love isn’t enough to change us? Why is it that once we have found to bottomless pool of God’s mercy do we try to find all our worth and meaning, and hope in the tin pan of our own efforts? Why isn’t heaven a better hope for us? I’m convinced it’s because, even though we would say God saves us out of his free grace alone, we still believe the lie that what God wants most from us is obedience, and he will hold out on us until we do what he asks.

But Isaiah says, heaven isn’t anything like that. Did you hear those first 2 verses? Getting heaven requires a transaction. He says, “Come and buy.” But it’s not a transaction between you and God. Isaiah says you can purchase what God is offering but it will cost you nothing. How does that happen?

  • If humans sinned and broke our relationship with God,
  • And God requires that the breach of relationship be payed for
  • How can God offer heaven to us without cost?

He can do so because he assumed our debt. He absorbed the loss. It struck me as I wrote those words that we might pass over them too quickly. We might be guilty of imagining them only in their legal sense. We broke the law. God took the punishment. Just take a moment and instead of thinking of those as legal statements think of them as relational statements. God created us for himself, to see his beauty and we turned our eyes from him to other things, and other people and other loves. We all committed adultery. We abandoned him and rejected his love. And God, as the greatest lover, absorbed the hurt and loss of our adultery. That’s why God makes an everlasting covenant with those who simply come to him and admit their need. It’s because we were unfaithful—and even after he assumes our debt we are still unfaithful.

We needed the true son of David, Jesus to offer us an everlasting covenant, one that can’t be broken by our continual faithlessness. And that’s what the cross is. The cross was Jesus absorbing our faithlessness and offering the Father his faithful life. The death of Jesus was a death of love for the unlovable. The death of Jesus was the faithful spouse laying down his life for the adulteress. We don’t buy heaven. Jesus purchased it for us, and for that reason, heaven is all about Jesus.

This post is a part 3 of a series from my sermon on Isaiah 55.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Isaiah 55 and the Restoration of All Things 2/4

In Isaiah 55 God proclaims that one day he will restore and fix the world that we have wrecked with our sin. Isaiah 55 is restoration of God’s creation.

Read verses 12-13.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Now, if you’re a Bible nerd you should have bells and whistles going off as you hear those words. In the beginning, God created a garden. He placed man and woman in the garden and told them to rule over the garden. They had complete freedom there. And God issued one command—they could eat of any tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As you all know Adam and Eve, our first parents, turned their heart from loving and trusting God. They broke God’s command and ate from the tree. Do you remember what God said because Adam and Eve rebelled?

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
    and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

It’s important that you understand what is happening here:

  • Sin didn’t just cause division and war between humans, though it did.
  • And sin didn’t just cause division and war between humans and God, though it did.

Genesis 3 tells us that because of sin- God himself cursed the earth. All of creation is living and dying under the curse of God. Sin has devastating consequences and we live with them every day in a creation that is fallen. Though the language here is a picture of plants and gardening the metaphor extends to all of our endeavors. All of creation is cursed and waits for God to remove the curse. Humans have been trying since the beginning to escape the effects of the curse.

If you read any of the humanists at the turn of the 20th century — men like John Dewey — they all believed that modernism was moving humanity into a new age; a time without need of religion, in which human experiment and pragmatism would solve the world’s problems. In fact, they drafted a manifesto which ends with these words:  “Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement. He must set intelligence and will to the task.” The only problem is that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history. Two world wars alone resulted in the deaths of 60 million people. Now, at the end of another century, no closer to human peace and flourishing we’re all scratching our heads.

How many news articles did you read this week promising either the solution to all our problems, or the ending of our society based on the mid-term election results?

Do you see what Isaiah is saying? We should attempt to fix what is wrong in this world—but we have to do that with the knowledge that there is no human government, no manifesto, no vote that can remove the curse of God. Humans aren’t the rescuers. We are the ones under the curse. God is the rescuer and restorer. That’s why Isaiah bravely reminds us of the world as it will one day will be. It’s a world in which evil and death are reversed. It’s a creation, so relieved from the weight of sin that even the mountains sing, the trees clap their hands for joy.

12 “For you shall go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall break forth into singing,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

We know that God’s plan isn’t just to save us from division and war between our fellow humans, though he will. We know that God’s good plan isn’t just to save us from the division and war between us and God—which is what God did in Christ at the cross. We see that God’s plan of redemption will ultimately culminate in the refashioning and reforming of his creation.

So the question then becomes—how do we get it? If heaven will be the restoration of all things, how does it come to us? That’s what part 3 in this series is about.

This post is a part 2 of a series from my sermon on Isaiah 55.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

Isaiah 55 and the God of Comfort 1/4

As you dig into Isaiah 55 there are a few things you have to keep in mind. Remember Isaiah’s audience. He is writing to the people of God around 700BC . God had given his people land, peace from their enemies. He had given them his law. And yet, God’s people turned their hearts away from him and gave their hearts to the false god’s of other nations. Because the nation had abandoned God, God was bringing judgment.

During Isaiah’s life he saw the northern kingdom collapse spiritually and politically, and as a result they were conquered by the vicious Assyrians. It was only by the mercy of God that Judah was not conquered as well. It is into that spiritual and national disaster that God sends Isaiah to speak for him. God’s message to the southern Kingdom, Judah, is that because of their sin they will be conquered and deported by the Babylonians.

Now, in the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see a picture of Israel and Judah in captivity contemplating their future. They are divided. They are crushed by their sin and disobedience. They have no political, moral, or military hope. And it is then that God begins to speak hope to them, to give them comfort.

  •  In chapters 40-48 God proclaims that no matter how grim the circumstances, he will deliver his people. We saw that in the first weeks of this series.
  • God proclaims that even Israel his servants are entirely incapable of saving themselves, no matter how much they suffer, so God is sending his own Servant Jesus to suffer in their place to rescue them. And we saw that last week in Isaiah 52 & 53

Now pay attention here because you have to follow my logic– both of those “salvations” are important. God rescuing his people from their physical enemies is important. God rescuing his people from their spiritual enemy is hugely important. Jesus rescued us from our sin, and we never want to downplay that. We always want to see how eternity altering that is.

God’s business is rescuing people for his own glory— and that work isn’t done yet. It wasn’t done when Israel returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, and God’s business of rescuing wasn’t done when Jesus saved us from the penalty of our sin. Isaiah 55 shows us that God has more rescuing to do.

It’s a rescue that’s future. It was inaugurated with the resurrection of Jesus, yet we await its culmination.

That’s why the Apostle John borrows Isaiah’s words for the close of his Revelation. Recording a vision of the final destiny of God and man, John sums up all things by saying:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

 The last invitation into Heaven in God’s word is Isaiah 55.

This post is a part 1 of a series from my sermon on Isaiah 55.

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

“Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”