Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding Joy (Isaiah 35.1-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
December 12, 2010
Some Music Used 
Joy to the World (arr. Austell)
Good Christians, All Rejoice (arr. Austell)

Finding Joy
Texts: Isaiah 35:1-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

This is one of those cases where the spoken (and sung) version of the sermon developed quite a bit from this early manuscript.  I also think the Spirit was moving significantly during the service, and I encourage you to listen to the sermon audio.


Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. (v. 3)

With those words, Isaiah got my attention. For all the supposed happiness of the Christmas season, it can carry with it an elevated level of exhaustion, and a whole lot more.
bulletin artwork (photo)
by John Wright

Isaiah was writing to a people who were exhausted, beaten-down, and worn out. The Northern portion of the country, Israel, had been betrayed by their Edomite neighbors (the descendants of Esau!). They had been conquered by Babylon. The routes in and out of their country, and particularly the road to Jerusalem, were fraught with danger from animals, robbers, and thieves. They had lost hope of God’s presence or salvation. God had been alive and well for their grandparents, but life was mostly challenge and frustration now. And into that void, Isaiah spoke of God’s Anointed, the Messiah, who would change everything.

Things are not so different now. The context has changed: we have new enemies, betrayals, disappointments, obstacles, challenges, arguments, and fights. But internally and spiritually, the struggle is not all that different. We admire the faith of those who went before, or perhaps even those around us. But the challenges can seem overwhelming. And there’s nothing like the Christmas season to bring that out. Whether it’s the overspending, the ramped-up family dynamics, missing loved ones no longer with us, or being overwhelmed by the hype, we can get exhausted and even feeble. Or worse, we can despair. I’ve listened to enough stories of what goes on beneath the wrapping to know how many people are really struggling right now. I believe Isaiah’s message is for you this morning, even as God used it all those years ago to encourage and hold out hope to His people of old.

Isaiah continues… “To those with an anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not; behold, your God will come [to judge]… but He will save you.’” (v. 4)


Journeying on the Way (v. 8)

Isaiah again moves into the kind of end of the age imagery we heard last week. Remember what I said about the Messiah and the end of the age. Jesus, as God’s Messiah (Anointed One), announced the coming of God’s Kingdom: it had arrived with him. But he also pointed to a future consummation or completion of God’s reign. Jesus arrival was the beginning of the end, ushering in God’s Kingdom values, including His judgment; but His return will mark the end of the age, when God will make all things right and new. So listen again to Isaiah’s description of what was yet to come. In verses 5-6:

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.”

Does that remind you of anything? It should! Think of Jesus’ ministry of healing, specifically to the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. Think of how Jesus announced the beginning of his public ministry, recorded in Luke 4:18-19. He went to the synagogue and read from the scroll of… yes, Isaiah (61:1-2)!

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

So what Isaiah describes as a hopeful future is both fulfilled in Jesus and yet to be. Jesus has won the redemption of God’s people (see v. 9). He has ransomed us from sin and death (also v. 9). And in doing so, he has united us with himself to walk on the highway of holiness. That was a “road” only he could walk. But in granting us his righteousness, he brings us up with him.

Isaiah goes on to describe the Highway of Holiness and it sounds trouble-free! And this is where I think the poetry and the vision and the New Testament reality get confusing. Maybe this vision is accurate enough; we just keep straying from the road and into trouble. But I don’t think that’s it. The Bible doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life, but promises those who trust in God that we will not face the trouble alone. Rather, I think Isaiah’s vision was of all the Messiah would accomplish rolled up into one event, and specifically with Isaiah’s contemporaries in mind. Instead, God unfolded His plan, indeed bringing the Exiles home, but sending the Messiah generations later, and even then pausing between redemption and judgment out of what I understand to be gracious love and patience. We live in that pause where God has provided who and what we need to journey home.

[In the spoken sermon, this is where I used the imagery of a 2D painting compared to a 3D musical composition that unfolds over time.]

All that is to say that the Christian life is yet a mixture of trouble and help, obstacles and deliverance. We are not yet to Heaven, but because of God’s grace through Jesus Christ, we are on the way. And we are not yet impervious to harm or distraction or discouragement or pain. But we are not alone. And so God’s words are not empty: “Take courage, fear not; God will save you.” And that part about vengeance? The Bible also says that vengeance belongs to the Lord. God will judge all things in the end. Our part is to trust Him, follow His Messiah, and enjoy the journey.

Finding Gladness and Joy (v. 10)

I included that last part because it’s what the passage builds up to. Having encouraged us to take heart and to follow God’s Messiah on the way, Isaiah ends by describing the joy of those who do so. Listen again to verses 9-10:

“…the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

That’s the good news for us, anxious hearts and all. If you have trusted in Jesus (God’s Messiah), God will bring you home. Isaiah’s language calls back to the Exodus, when God redeemed and ransomed His people from slavery in Egypt. So also God would bring His people home from Exile in Isaiah’s day. So also God still brings His people home.

I’d like to end by singing a song to you about this very journey. It is written by Michael Card and describes the joy that we can find in this journey – what Isaiah called the way of holiness. Listen, I think he gets it just right.


JOY IN THE JOURNEY (Michael Card)

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

And all those who seek it shall find it
A pardon for all who believe
Hope for the hopeless and sight for the blind

To all who've been born in the Spirit
And who share incarnation with Him
Who belong to eternity stranded in time
And weary of struggling with sin

Forget not the hope that's before you
And never stop counting the cost
Remember the hopelessness when you were lost

There is a joy in the journey
There's a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I was hoping you had recorded Mike, Melissa and I crying our way through "He is Emmanuel". If you do have it, I'd love to be able to send it to my momma since she was unable to make it.
Even though we give you gruff about crying right before we had to sing, I hope you know it is only because the Holy Spirit used you to touch each of our hearts in a special way.
We love you!
Priscilla