Sunday, September 05, 2010

Isaiah 34-35 - The Highway of Holiness

El Camino Real in California
Opening thoughtDuring Lent in 1995, I prayerwalked the state of California from San Diego to Sonoma, along the California Mission chain of 23 missions on a road called El Camino Real, the Royal Road, or the King’s Highway. Today’s passage of Scripture is about another road, a road to eternal joy called the Highway of Holiness.

Pray and Read:  Isaiah 34-35

Contextual Notes: Since we began studying Isaiah together, we have seen a pattern. At the end of the first section of Isaiah’s prophecy, chapters 11-12 give us a vision of the end times, when the Jews will be gathered back to their Land, when Messiah will return to destroy his enemies and set up his kingdom, and when the earth will be redeemed. Such a vision brings great hope and joy, and the entirety of chapter 12 is a praise song to the Lord.

The end of the second segment is similar. After pronouncing judgment on the nations surrounding Judah, Isaiah ends in chapters 24-27 with a vision of the end, of the destruction of Messiah’s enemies, praise to the Lord for his victory through bodily resurrection, and the return of the Jews to their Land.

Beginning in chapter 28, Isaiah has continued in a theme of judgment, but his focus has been on God’s people, in which he calls his obstinate children to repent (30:1) and rely on Him instead of man (chap. 31), because the Messiah, the King of Righteousness is coming (chap. 32) with salvation (33:6) and resurrection power (33:10), to make Jerusalem the seat of his government (33:20-24), to judge the rebellious nations (chap. 34) and avenge the enemies of Zion (34:10). For the Land, it will be a time of great joy (35:1-2), and a highway of holiness will open a way for Messiah’s redeemed (35:8), and they will enter Zion with singing and joy (35:10).

In the midst of these alternating images of terrifying judgments and exultant joy, we see the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News is really good because without it, we all would suffer a terrifying judgment forever. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us, we have great joy in the presence of our Lord and Savior. That’s what these final two chapters give us. Isaiah, the quintessential prophet of the Messiah, leaves us the Messiah’s Good News. For those who are redeemed, there is a Highway of Holiness (35:8), a Road of Repentance (35:10) to eternal life in the joyful presence of the Messiah (35:10b).

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 34-35 to teach Israel that there is a dead end for the rebellious but a joyful route to eternal life through the Messiah.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the good news of salvation.

Sermon Points:
  1. There is a dead end of destruction ahead full of eternal death (Isaiah 34)
  2. There is a highway of holiness ahead full of joy (Isaiah 35)
Exposition:   Note well,

a.   34:1-2 – Isaiah announces God’s anger against the rebellious nations. After a previous chapter describing God’s mercy, the Lord now shows himself with the terror of judgment. The word here means complete annihilation, used in Joshua 6:17, 21, regarding Jericho.
b.   Note the key verse of the chapter in 34:8.
c.   34:3-8 –Terrible slaughter awaits all their armies, because God has a day of vengeance in store for all those who have troubled his people. A familiar OT theme is of a great world conflict in which the armies of man are drawn up against the Lord and His people. This conflict, which will take place at history’s end, will result in the crushing defeat of man’s rebellion. (Isaiah 2:12-21; 30; 34; Ezekiel 38-39; Daniel 11:40; Joel 2:12-17). The N.T. just as graphically describes the terrors (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). John describes the same vision in the Revelation (19:9) when he says the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse [Christ] and his [heavenly] army.”
d.   APPLICATION: This passage teaches us that no individual has God’s permission to take personal revenge. Vengeance is a judicial concept. It is reserved for God, the Judge (Romans 12:19). He judges the universe to punish those who persistently reject Him, abandon His ways, and oppress others, including the righteous.
e.   This bold, bald description of God’s vengeance causes us to recoil. Many even draw back from the doctrine of God’s wrath. It does not square with their understanding of the God of love. They assume that here there is an unhealthy ascription of some kind of vindictiveness of God, as if he is just waiting with glee to come and bulldoze his enemies. The Bible does affirm the truth that the Lord is one who avenges (Psalm 94:1; Deuteronomy 32:34-35).
f.    If the Lord wanted to wipe out his enemies, why does he wait? He could do it right now. Why then is he waiting? He is waiting because he has a patient grace. Grace is giving something that is undeserved. His patience is with the desire that none will perish. His vengeance will come at the end of history (Isaiah 63:1-6; Romans 2:1-11). The present is marked by God’s forbearance to give individuals and nations every opportunity to repent and believe (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
g.   2 Peter 3:8-108But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
h.   The real wonder is that not that God will certainly punish the unrepentant, but that He chose to vent all His anger against sin on his Son, his only Son, Jesus Christ, rather than on us. Christ’s sufferings (which we will see later in our study of Isaiah) for us forever disprove the notion that a God of vengeance cannot also be a God of love.
i.     34:9-16 – The Original Environmentalist – Notice that God turns the cities over to the animals to live and reproduce in peace, even setting a park with boundaries, marked with a seal and boundaries with an accounting of the animals and recorded in a book (34:16-17)
j.    34:9-16Edom is illustrative of the fate of all nations (Genesis 23:3; Obadiah). The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother from whom the blessing of Isaac was taken for a bowl of porridge. Therefore, they were cousins of the Israelites. Obadiah prophesies their destruction for plundering Jerusalem, probably when the Babylonians conquered Judah. The Edomites always stood against the Lord’s work. APPLICATION: It seems like every church has a few Edomites who stand against the Lord’s work. I don’t know why they are present except to keep the rest of the church humble.
k.   Its name, Edom, sounds like Adam in Hebrew, making it a fitting example, for through Adam sin came into the world, and he serves as our federal head. Once he sinned, being our first representative as a man, the Fall fell on down to us, and we suffer under the curse of sin and death because of that Original Sin. Just as in Adam all perish, so in Messiah all are saved, Paul says in Romans 5.
l.    Note the clear description of Hell in 34:10.
Country road in Laurens County, SC
m. ILLUSTRATION: When I was seven years old, Mr. Thomas Daum, our pastor at Bush River Baptist Church, came to see me. I had been asking a lot of questions about the Lord and salvation, and my folks felt it was time I talked with the pastor. He sat in a straight back chair in the den and asked me a long list of questions while I sat on the hearth and answered them. I don’t remember the questions, but I knew one important thing. Confess my sins and submit myself to Jesus and go to Heaven or reject Jesus and spend eternity in hell. It was a no-brainer for me. I knew Jesus loved me and died on the cross for my sins, and I had a burden on me to ask him to forgive me of my sinfulness. I wanted to turn my life over to Jesus Christ and make him my Lord, my King, my Boss. Hell was my most effective evangelist to draw me to Christ. When I knew my sin would bring punishment on me forever, I wanted to know the way to be saved.
n.   APPLICATION: The bottom line here is that you can cruise on through life, taking care of yourself and your responsibilities, doing your thing, providing for your family, paying your bills and your taxes, building up a decent retirement, keeping your reputation clean and your credit score high, minding your own business, living life.
o.   But if do not come to a place of realizing that you have offended God with your sin, if you do not renounce and turn away from your sin, if you do not submit yourself to Christ Jesus alone as the Controller and Lord of your life, when you die, you will immediately and forever find yourself in a state of miserable punishment. You will find yourself in hell, and at the Last Judgment, you will be set aside for eternal existence in a second death in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20). You can be a decent person and end up in hell. You can be a good person and end up in hell. You can serve on the boards of civic organizations and end up in hell. You can walk an aisle and talk to a preacher and end up in hell. You can come to an altar and cry a little bit and end up in hell. You can wade in the water and be baptized and end up in hell. You can teach Sunday School for 30 years and end up in hell. You can be a deacon and end up in hell. You can head up WMU or Baptist Men or be in the choir and end up in hell. You can be a missionary or a pastor and end up in hell. You can sit in this church for 75 years, faithfully serving every Sunday and Wednesday, and end up in hell.
p.   None of it is any value if you do not take care of the most important thing. You must ask forgiveness of your sins and submit yourself to Jesus Christ as your Lord. It is your only hope. Going through religious motions means nothing. Being ‘almost’ a Christian is the same as not being a Christian at all. Being 90% a Christian is the same as not being one. Being 99% a Christian is the same as not being one. So, honestly, where do you stand?
  1. 35:1-4 – From the desolation of Edom the tone suddenly changes. After a number of “Woes!” (29:1, 15; 30:1; 31:1; 33:1), we now get encouragement (35:3). The writer of Hebrews used this verse to encourage believers to persevere in holiness and grace (Hebrews 12:12-15). 12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13"Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
  2. The restoration of Israel’s hopes happen even as the Lord brings vengeance on his enemies (vv. 3-4). God’s people suffer while society is corrupted by sin and evil men are bent on oppressing the righteous, but there is coming a day of retribution, a divine repayment to the redeemed for their past pain.
  3. 35:4 – Isaiah announces salvation and Messiah’s coming in Person (John 1:1-18).  14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14).
  4. 35:5-6 – He will come with healing (35:5-6; 29:18; 33:23-24; Mark 1:33-34; Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
  5. 35:5-7 – These images of the judgment are balance by the joy of the redeemed. The desolate deserts are now transformed into a garden – Garden of Eden? (cf. 34:9-10 with 35:7; 11:6-9; Romans 8:20, 22). Joy will soar in the hearts of God’s people as his very presence transforms the land and its people. The redeemed will enter Zion with singing.
  6. Paul says in Romans 8:18 – “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
  7. 35:8-10 – The Highway of Holiness will allow the redeemed to enter the perfect Zion (Revelation 21:2-4). The early Christians referred to followers of Jesus Christ as followers of the Way (John 14:6; Acts 9:2; 22:4; 24:22).
  8. How is this Way described? Jesus advised in the Sermon on the Mount to “enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
  9. What is that Way of Holiness? It is a person, the person of Jesus Christ. He said in John 14:6, “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me.”
  10. 35:9 – No lion will be there – 1 Peter 5:8: “The devil roams around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
Today I want to ask you. What road are you on? Are you on the Dead End of Destruction or the Highway of Holiness? Are you headed to Hell or headed to Heaven? Is your future one of desolation or one of joy? Do you want to make a directional change today? Won’t you receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today and settle it in your heart?