Dr. Mark Gignilliat from Beeson Divinity School, joins us with a special Advent message from the book of Isaiah.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the busyness of the Christmas season? And what about all the chaos of the world?
Just like the story of Charlie Brown’s Christmas, things don’t seem to be right in terms of what this season is all about. But let me just encourage you to find, by God’s grace, some time for reflection, some space, to think and to pray. To open your heart and your mind to the work of the Lord to draw you back to himself again. Because our ultimate identity is wrapped up in this tension that we live in, namely, we’re in the old age, but we’re already citizens of a heavenly kingdom.
Advent does two things for us as a season. Advent pushes us back in time, but it also pushes us to the future because just like the prophets, we too live in the in-between times right now.
We’re in the old age, and we’re awaiting the new age – but there’s an overlap. Some call it the “already” and the “not yet.” We’re caught in the “already” because we know that Christ has come and brought his kingdom into the world. But we also know that it’s “not yet” because that kingdom hasn’t been completed yet.
This overlap helps us understand the tensions that we live in as Christians. For example, knowing that Jesus has come, and yet also recognizing that Jesus is absent. We feel the reality of Jesus’ absence. We pray during this season of advent, Lord Jesus return again. Advent is a gift to us, to call us into a season of repentance, of reflection and of renewal.
Dr. Mark Gignilliat is professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches courses in Old Testament and Hebrew, and also serves as theologian in residence at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Birmingham. Dr. Gignilliat is married to Naomi, and they have four children.
Well, good morning to you all. We’re going to be buried in Isaiah today. So, Richard gave me a broad canvas to paint on. He’s like, bring us something, a Christmas message. And I thought, well, what if we do the whole book of Isaiah? Well, we’ll give that a go in 40 minutes. Of course, you know that that’ll be a little overstated.
But the reason why I wanted to spend some time in Isaiah with you all is because we’re in the season of Advent. Now, in the particular ecclesial tradition that I’m planted in right now, you know, Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of our Lord. And if you think about Advent as a season, and I’ll put this up here, I hope people on Zoom can see this, the season of Advent has a kind of double function for Christians. It, of course, pushes us into the history of our faith, going backwards, you might say, in time to the Advent of Christ.
So, we enter in the season of Advent into that space before the incarnation of Christ with Jesus and Mary and Joseph, and the manger and the kings, and all the things that we think about with the nativity scene. This is why, if you’ll see like Roman Catholic nativity scenes or Anglican nativity scenes right now, they’ll have Mary and Joseph and the wise men, but no Baby Jesus in the Manger yet because he’s not here. We’re in a season of anticipation. And that’s why, and I’ll go to the future in a second, but that’s why the prophets get a lot of airtime during this season of the church’s calendar. Isaiah appears a lot. So, for example, in the church where we’ve been worshiping as a family, an Anglican Parish here in town, the first Sunday of Advent, I believe they read Isaiah chapter two, verses one through five. Last Sunday, I believe they read Isaiah chapter 11. I wouldn’t be surprised if this Sunday, it might be something like Isaiah Chapter 40.
Now, so, the prophets appear here because the prophets are preparing us. They’re fingers that are pointing to the coming of the Lord in time. And there’s a kind of interesting feature about a book like Isaiah that was understood very early in the life of the church as the fifth Gospel. Now that’s the phrase that would be used to describe a book like Isaiah. You’ve got Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Those are the four gospels. But Isaiah the prophet as a fifth Gospel that witnesses to the coming of Christ and the beginning of Christ’s kingdom here on Earth. So that’s why we’re going to spend some time with that.
But Advent does two things as a season. Advent pushes us back in time, but it also pushes us to the future because we too live in the, in between times right now. The prophets, for example, were in a period of anticipation. They were waiting for the promises of God’s kingdom to make themselves manifest here on earth, there that this is why they would think in terms of the king returning to them in Messianic power. And that was sort of embedded within their future hope. Well, we are in that moment too. What we, at one point in time within, let’s say a Jewish understanding of the end of times, and I love this because I grew up in a tradition where our eschatology charts were really, really complicated. I don’t know if any of you grew up in that kind of world.
I mean, I had, we had complex eschatological charts. Here’s the complex eschatological chart for ancient Jews. You ready for this old age, new age? That’s it, right? So, it’s pretty simplified. We’re in the old age, we’re awaiting the new age. And what happened with the coming of Christ is this gets a little bit nuanced, where now we realize that we’re caught in that in between time, where there’s an overlap between the old age and the new age, the terms that you’ll—this is seminary talk—but the terms that you’ll hear banded about among seminary professors and students is “the already” and “the not yet”. We’re caught in the already because we know that Christ has come and brought, brought his kingdom into the world and yet we also know that it’s not yet because that kingdom hasn’t been consummated as of yet.
We’re waiting for a future consummation in the future day. And we’re caught in the overlap of those ages. And I should just say, as an aside, I think that particular understanding of already and not yet can be a really helpful way of understanding the writings of Paul, of understanding some of the dynamics of what it means to be a Christian and the challenges of being a Christian in this world. Think about this from the standpoint of our citizenship. Paul will say things like, your citizenship is already in heaven. You read verses like that in his writing, and say, well, what does that mean? That I’m already a citizen in heaven recognizing that I’m also still a citizen of this earth? Well, that’s the already and the not yet; the not yet part is you’re still here in this world having to involve yourself with the body politic of our society and trying to live a life in terms of like Jeremiah that’s pleasing to the Lord for the welfare of the city. In other words, we don’t view life in this world just like it’s the Titanic sinking. You know, that’s the old line about polishing brass on the Titanic. Don’t waste your time polishing brass on the Titanic. This thing’s going down. That’s not the perspective of a Christian living within the world. We’re called to be salt and light here for the sake of the betterment of the city. But at the same time, we know, indigenous as we are in this world, that we’re not locked in this world. We’re pilgrims that are en route to another time and another place, a heavenly city.
So, that overlap here of the old age and a new age, I think can be a really helpful way of understanding a lot of the tensions that we live in as Christians, knowing, for example, that Jesus has come, and yet also recognizing that Jesus is absent. We feel the reality of Jesus’ absence. We pray during this season of Advent, Lord Jesus, return again. So, this season that we’re in right now, and I’m prayerful for you men, I’m prayerful for myself about this, this is a season that I think’s intended to be a gift to us to call us into a season of repentance and reflection, almost like what we would experience in Len, for those of you who recognize that season as well. And Lent is a season of repentance and renewal. Advent is as well. This is a time to reflect. And I say that in full recognition that for many of you, this may be the busiest time of the year, so, I’m understanding, and I also know the chaos of the world.
I watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas every year, and I, we get it, right? This is, things don’t seem to be right in terms of what this season is all about, but let me just encourage you men to find, by God’s grace, some time for reflection, some space to think and to pray, to open your heart and your mind to the work of the Lord, to draw you back to Himself again. And because, our ultimate identity is wrapped up in this tension that we live in, namely, we’re in the old age, but we’re already citizens of a heavenly kingdom. And that’s why we want to spend some time in Isaiah. All right? So, that was a lot of throat clearing to get to get us to where we’re going, but let’s turn to Isaiah now and we’ll start making our way through it.
I’m going to, I’m going to erase this here. So, I told you the whole book in 40 minutes. Well, let’s see, the last three sessions, we spent 30 minutes in the first two verses. So, I’ll try to do better today.
Here’s the kind of larger view of the book. You have 39 chapters, and then you have what many consider to be the second part of the book, chapters 40 through 66. Lots of texture in here, okay? So, what I’m going to give you is a really broad brushed account of the book. But just know, and of course you realize this with this many chapters, that there are lots of twists and turns throughout here. And I’ll show you some of them this morning, but you have chapters one through 39, which emphasized, and I’ll just go and tell you where I think we, where I want to go with this. Here’s what I think is at least a major theme, “not my people”.
If you recall in the book of Deuteronomy, and this becomes, I think, somewhere near the pulsing heart of the whole of the Old Testament, is what’s known as the covenant formula. The covenant formula is, I’ll write this up here, I will be your God and you will be my people. All right?
That’s the covenant formula. That’s the pulsing heart of the Old Testament, built within this phrase. This important phrase in Israel’s faith is the Shema of Deuteronomy, chapter six, verse four (Deuteronomy 6:4). You’ll remember, the question that the Pharisees put to Jesus. Okay, Jesus, tell us what the most important commandment is, and what’s Jesus’ response? He, I mean, passes Jewish 101 test. I mean, it’s the answer that everyone would give, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, and your might. That’s Deuteronomy chapter six, verse four. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
If you don’t mind me, I’ll gloss that in a slightly different way, hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone, no other. And you shall love the Lord of your God with all of your heart and all of your soul. And I’ll just sort of give you my own rendition on this, I think with all of your might is actually an adverb. So, I think it, I think it goes something like, like this, love the Lord of your God with all your heart, with all your soul, very, very much, a lot, so, the entirety of your being is given to loyalty to the Lord and the Lord of alone. That’s at the heart of the covenant relationship, loyalty. I will be your God and you will be my people. That’s what a loyal devotion is, that God promises to his people. And what he expects in return is loyal devotion to him. And I think this is important. Some of us have a misunderstanding of, of what the, of what the moral obligations are within the Old Testament. It’s the Old Testament recognizes that people are sinful and in need of forgiveness. There’s a whole sacrificial system that’s built around the reality of sin, moral impurity, and ritual impurity.
So, you’ve got, you’ve got a whole recognition there. Think Psalm 51, I’ve sinned. I need to be cleansed. And then the Lord forgives King David in the light of some really awful sins, right? The, the affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. I mean, it’s about as Shakespearean and bad as it gets. And the Lord offers David forgiveness. So, forgiveness is built within the heart of the Old Testament frame. So, what’s the requirement of the law that cannot be broken? It’s this this Shema that we’ve just heard in Deuteronomy 6. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, very, very much. It’s why the first commandment in the 10 Commandments is not one among equals, it’s the commandment by which all the other nine are to be understood. And what’s the first commandment? You shall have no other gods before or besides Me. It’s Me and Me alone. So, exclusive loyalty to the Lord is that the heart of Old Testament faith and the covenant dynamic, I will be your God and you will be My people.
That’s why I use this with, with students regularly at where I teach. It’s interesting to think about commanding someone to love you, right? Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord alone, and you shall love, love the Lord your God. And we think of that primarily in romantic terms. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I’ve got a little experience in the field. You know, if I command my spouse to love me, it just doesn’t tend to generate the response that one might hope for.
You know, we can’t command someone, like, love me now. Let’s remove the sort of our romantic understandings of love from this just for a second, and understand that the command to love is a command to loyalty. And I think, by the way, this is really important too, from all of our covenanted relationships, including marital ones, I just say this as an aside, it’s loyalty, it’s a commitment to the other that’s the fertile ground out of which genuine romance and love can grow. Our society gets that all reversed. We want Hallmark movies, or you don’t, but some do, Hallmark movies or, we want that kind of, you know, the full fluttery, butterfly kind of thing, which is, we all can remember. That’s this great fun. But that doesn’t get you to the cemetery together.
What’s going to get you to the cemetery together is loyalty to one another where genuine affection can grow out of that over time, and that’s at the heart here, I will be your God and you will be my people, and here’s the underbelly of that in Deuteronomy. And where are we going in Isaiah. The underbelly is, but if you refuse to be loyal to me, if your devotion to me begins to slide toward other gods, if your devotion to me slides toward even the idolatry of greed and power, which is what the prophets get very concerned about, if you forget that I’ve been beneficent to you, and you begin to Lord your power and your might over others to exploit them for your own ends and purposes, if you’re doing that, then this whole thing can come undone. So, if you refuse to be my people, then you may not even be a people at all.
And this is the threat of judgment. It’s the curse of the covenant. So, the covenant has blessings. I’m going to be your God and you’ll be my people. And the covenant also has curses, but if you’ll not be my people, then I will not be your God. And that’s the gift, I would say the gracious gift of the prophets to the people of God. The prophets were not easy to listen to. Matter of fact, I have a colleague who would say that if you were a priest in the temple and you looked up one day and there’s Jeremiah walking your way, or Isaiah, you knew, this is going to be a bad day. This is not going to go the way I thought it was going to go. So, I mean, they were spurs in the saddle, but they were gifts because the prophet’s role was to remind people of the covenant.
They were covenant emissaries. That was their role. Listen, I will be your God and you’ll be my people, but you’re not being, you’re not living into that dynamic, and he’s calling them back to Himself.
So, with that said, the first part of Isaiah verse, chapters one through 39 really leans hard into that particular dynamic. So can we look at the first couple of verses and we’ll press in here. Let me say first, a few things about this, and then we’ll move on.
Notice verse one (Isaiah 1:1), division of Isaiah, the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem, which he saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, Kings of Judah.
Now, let me just say something real fast here about the, think about this, a long book, the first word of the whole book is this word vision. It’s a noun, which is related to the verb that you see in the middle of the verse, which says, which he saw. So, you had the noun, you had the verb, all laying claim to vision seeing. And I think our instinct when we hear that is to think ecstatic experience, a mode of reception, how it is that he actually came to understand the words in which he was to speak. And I think all of that’s fair and right, except for the fact that here in the first verse, now that it’s the title of the whole book, there’s a lot within the book of Isaiah that can’t be described in terms of ecstatic vision or that kind of, what you might consider to be a prophetic seeing; chapters 36 through 39, for example. Those are all narrative. It’s storytelling like you or history telling, like what you would find in Chronicles and Kings and Samuel. So, I want to spend more time on this, but I think it’s so important. I’d like to think of vision here as related more broadly in theologically to the category revelation.
The first word of this long prophecy is, in effect, letting you know that if you don’t get this part right, if you don’t come to terms with, number one, what this book is, and number two, the kind of reader that this book anticipates, then you’re going to be off track for a large part of really the whole reading cycle. We’re coming to terms here with the fact that the whole of Isaiah’s book is the revealed will and character of our living God. That’s the nature of this book, and to press it even further. And that Isaiah is an instrument that God uses to deliver His word. And His word is more important than Isaiah. I mean, think about this. Isaiah, the prophet has been pushing up daisies for a long time. And here we are, as a group of people coming together, early on a Friday morning to listen to his words all these centuries later. Isaiah chapter 40 (Isaiah 40), the grass withers, the flower fades, all of us, all flesh is grass. But the word of the Lord, it’s going to stand forever. We’re here today listening to Isaiah’s Word, so ancient, so old, but ever knew because of the first word of the whole book. This is God’s revelation. It’s His own revealed character. It’s inspired, it comes from His own Spirit and his own speaking voice. One of my favorite theologians says that the whole of the Christian faith, everything that we believe and teach and hope in is built on a simple phrase. God has spoken and is speaking. And without that, by the way, we’re left to the devices of our own imaginations, our best instincts, acts of self-discovery, to figure out what this world is and to figure out who God is. And Isaiah’s letting you know right out of the gate, Hey, don’t look to yourself and your instincts as your own best resource and way for moving through the world. We’re in a, I got a, our time is flying, so I need to be careful here. But we’re, we’re at a crisis on this issue right now in, especially in the West and in the church. Where does authority reside? Where do we turn to understand and to try to answer life’s biggest questions? Why are we here? For what purpose? To what end? Is there a God? Why is there something and not nothing? I mean, these are big questions that people are really wrestling with today. And Isaiah the prophet, wants you to know the answers for those questions, as best as humans can have them, are to be found in His word. In God’s revealed Word.
So, it tells us, number one, the character of the book. And number two, it tells us the kind of reader that the book of Isaiah anticipates, Isaiah anticipates readers who recognize that it’s this, right? We’re not detached. I like to read lots of books, and I imagine you all do as well. Got a son who had to read The Odyssey, you know, for part of his high school English course. So, he is reading Homer, who interestingly enough, is writing about the same time as Isaiah, eighth century BC. So, he’s reading Homer, and I’m Homer’s fascinating and interesting, right? But I’m not reading Homer, I’m not reading Virgil. I’m not reading Jane Austen in the same way that I’m reading the Bible. I’m reading the Bible in a way that understands its authorship as unique in comparison to any other type of literature that’s known within the history of humanity, namely the speaking voice of God, God himself, to the church. So that, that’s really important to kind of set that out.
And then back to our theme, when you look at verse two, you gotta love it. It’s like Isaiah went to journalism school there in ancient Jerusalem. What, what’s the, I guess the journalistic principle 101, don’t bury the lead, right? Don’t, I’ve had that written on papers that I’ve done before. Don’t take too long for your readers to understand what it is you’re writing about; that needs to be clarified really quickly out of the gate. And Isaiah, I mean, he’s like, he passes with flying colors because look at verse two. We get what this, what he’s going after right out of the gate. Listen, heavens and hear, oh, earth for the Lord has spoken. Sons, I have raised up, but they have, now I have the NASB this morning, revolted any NIV people in the room? ESV people? What is it? Rebelled. Rebelled, right? So, here we go. Think about, think about how tight this is.
One, one lets you know the significance of the book is the revelation of God. One, two, lets you know what the whole book is about, the question that’s going to be left before you. What kind of child are you? What kind of son are you in relationship to the living God? I’ve raised sons and they have rebelled against me. And I think we want to, let’s press on here, look at the next verse, and this is, you know, there’s no velvet gloves being put on right here. An ox knows its owner. You get to get the, what the metaphor’s doing. Even a dumb ox knows who butters its bread. A donkey, not the smartest animal in the field. Donkey even knows its master’s manger. It knows the source of its goodness. And here’s a phrase that’s worth underlining, but Israel does not know. My people do not understand.
So, I want you to kind of think about this word here, rebelled, the covenant formula, I will be your God and you’ll be my people. And, one more theme that’s related to this: lack of knowledge. They don’t want to know, they don’t want to understand. This is the prophet’s role, is to bring knowledge to them. And by the way, not just knowledge for the, you know, satiating of our intellectual curiosity. These are not, this is not modernity, thinking in terms of a desire to reason and to know abstracted from what it means fully to be a human. That’s not what’s going on here. Knowledge in the Bible is kind of related in some sense to what we understand faith to be, which involves an intellectual element. We believe and understand something, but we also understand something to be true and, here’s a really important feature, true for us. I put my confidence in this. I use, probably a bad analogy, but a poker analogy. All of my chips go in on this. I believe that it’s true, but I’m placing everything of my trust and confidence about the way in which the world works and my hope for the future is built on the truth of what God has revealed. That’s the knowledge that God gives us in His word. And his people are rebelling because they don’t want to know. They don’t want to know who their God is; they’re rebuffing against that prophetic word that’s drawing them back to the Lord. They’re saying no to that. Now, can we compare and contrast this? Flip real fast to Isaiah chapter two, to Isaiah 2, because I do think Isaiah one to 39 is a kind of heavy word of judgment that tends to lay claim to a lot of the moments of judgment that God has, will in time, bring against His people. But it’s also sprinkled all throughout with these words of hope. I mean, beautiful words of hope.
And I’ll just toss some of these out to you. Chapter two, where we’re going right now, chapter 11 is an incredible word of hope, a promise of becoming a Davidic Messianic figure. Chapter 12 is this beautiful song of salvation that some of you will sing this song regularly in church. Isaiah chapters 24 through 27 present this picture of the future that’s really kind of wild and beautiful. So, you have peppered throughout all of these chapters, words of genuine hope and chapter two is one of them. So, it’s kind of nice right here at the beginning of Isaiah, you have what we might consider to be Good Friday judgment that’s backed up against Easter Sunday and chapter two, which looks towards the future. And look at these words here verse two, it’s going to come about in the latter days. So, it’s not this moment, it’s a future moment of hope. This, remember, we’re in the season of Advent, right? So, we’re caught in these tensions; not now, but later. The mountain of the house of the Lord is going to be established as the chief of all of the mountains. It’s going to be raised above all the hills. And look at this beautiful universal picture. All the nations are going to stream to Mount Zion, this raised and elevated mountain, verse three. And many peoples will come and say, come, let’s go to the mountain of the Lord.
Let’s go to the temple of Israel. Well, why do we want to go to the house of the God of Jacob? And here’s a, I think, a fascinating contrast to what we’ve just read in chapter one, verses two and three, so that He may teach us about His ways and that we may walk in His paths for the law goes out from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
Do you see that? What’s going on in the current day, the day of Isaiah’s, word of judgment against His people? My people die for lack of knowledge. They do not want to know. They’ve rebelled against the God who redeemed and rescued them from Egypt, the God that set His electing affection on them, that’s ordered them and given them the law, which isn’t just don’t do this and do that, but an actual entrance into the green fields of human flourishing. He’s drawn them into the Narnia of an existence with Him, and they’ve rebelled against that. They’ve rebelled against God, and they’ve rebelled against His ways. But the future day and the latter days when Zion is now established as the chief mountain of the whole world, all the nations are going to stream to Mount Zion and what’s motivating them?
Knowledge, they want to know; they want to know who God is. They want to understand His ways. They want to be taught from His word. They recognize the uniqueness, the special character of the teaching voice of the God of Israel, the God of the whole world. And they’re coming in droves in that future day. Why? Because they want to be taught by the Lord. That’s to, to me, and I think about this as a dad, that’s so, I pray that God gives all of us teachable hearts, and we’re never too old to learn, we’ve always been around the person, right, that’s always the teacher, yet never the learner and, and I think what we see here is this understanding that a fertile and soft heart before the Lord is a heart that yearns to be taught that prays to know and to understand, that’s hungry for God’s Word.
Many of you have read about the great awakenings that occurred in the United States and the 18th century, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, credible movements of the Spirit of God in that point in time. Well, one of the things that someone like Jonathan Edwards would say is a genuine mark of a real moment of revival when the Spirit of God has brought, has rattled bones of His people and put flesh on them. Well, you can tell that that’s a genuine movement of the Spirit when the people of God are overwhelmingly hungry for His word, they want to know His word. If something happens in some sort of quote unquote spiritual way, and the end result is not love and affection for Jesus, and a desire for His word, then, then something else has happened. I think that’s what Jonathan Edwards would say, beware of that. But a genuine work of the spirit is a work that will draw us into His word. Think about this, in the future day, in the latter days, the nations are going to stream to Mount Zion. Why? Because they want to be taught of the word of the Lord. Okay?
Now, one more chapter are, are you still with me? Have I lost you? Isaiah chapter six, still kind of sitting on this, not my people theme. Here’s where I think it comes to the fore, right? And this is, many of you have spent time in Isaiah. You’ll know how important Isaiah chapter six is to the overall structure of the book. King Huzziah has died, and now, he has a bona fide vision, a genuine, ecstatic experience. The question that I think we have when we read Isaiah six is, where is Isaiah? Is he in the earthly temple or is the first temple, or is he in the heavenly temple? And I think the answer to that is yes. Right? In other words, he’s caught sort of in between these worlds where the sensory experiences of our perception, what we see, there’s the temple and the reality to which the temple points, namely the heavenly temple, they’ve converged on one another and he’s experiencing this. He’s genuinely seeing what is unseeable through normal modes of human sense making in the world. And this is what he sees. I saw the Lord sitting on a throne. Isn’t that remarkable? And he is lofty and exalted. The train of his robe is filling the whole temple. This is a knee knocking overwhelming scene. There were Seraphim, the best I can tell having, trying to read up on these creatures, if you think of the Seraphim as cute little angels with, you know, pudgy cheeks and rounded bugles that you hang on your Christmas tree, think again. These were awesome figures. They’re possibly flying serpent like figures. So, think about these sort of snake-like figures that are hovering above the arc of the covenant, the mercy seat, hovering above the throne of the living Lord. And they’ve got six wings that cover their face and their feet, and then they fly with two of them. And their job is to antiphonally cry back and forth to each other regarding the unique holiness of the living God. He’s untouched by anything that’s contaminated. He’s separated. He’s unlike anything that we experience in this world. He’s the creator. He’s other. The whole earth is the fullness of His glory. And then look at the response in verse four. I mean, it’s just a tremendous scene. Foundations of the threshold tremble, the what, what, from what? From the rumbling of the voices of the Seraphim, right? So, their actual speech is causing the whole room to shake, and the place is filled with smoke, and you see in verse five, this is the worst day of Isaiah’s life. I mean, we look at this and go, wow, that must have been awesome to see, Isaiah’s experiencing this, and his response is, verse five, woe to me, I’m ruined. I’m done. I’m a man of unclean lips, which, by the way, is almost to be expected in the Bible. When people in the Bible have an unmediated encounter with the living God and His glory, their almost expected response is, it’s time for me to die. And it was like, it’s over. It’s the last scene of The Raiders of Lost Ark. I mean, that’s what you got when you have, when you seek. And that’s Isaiah’s response to the holiness of God. And we can’t kind of lean on this, but he ends up being atoned for by the Seraphim. They put a coal on his mouth. Remember, he’s a prophet. So, it’s the location of his vocation, his lips that have to be atoned for. He’s cleansed and now he’s ready to hear. And what is it that he hears? He hears God speaking to Himself and His own divine counsel. And this is what God is saying, whom shall I send and who will go for us?
In our Wednesday morning meeting, I think we had like 10 lawyers in the room. And I said this is the point where you want to pull Isaiah aside and say, hey, make sure you seek some legal counsel before you sign on the dotted line here. Read the fine print because God is asking, who will go for us? And Isaiah says, I will, I’ll go. But he didn’t know the terms of the contract, because the terms are not good. So, after he says that, then verse nine, and I want you to notice something here, chapter six verse nine.
Go and tell this people. That’s the knee knocking moment, not my people, that demonstrative pronoun, this. It’s a term of distancing, not my people. Some of you may remember that Hosea is called to marry a wife that will eventually be unfaithful to him or maybe was even out of prostitution. That thought, that’s a little bit hazy in there. But some point in time, she begins to bear illegitimate children. And the name of the first child was Jezreel. We’ll leave that to the side. The name of the second child, illegitimate child, was, Lo-ammi, not my people.
So, this reversal of the covenant formula is their undoing, it’s the releasing of the chaos and the waters of sin and disorder back onto the people. Go and tell this people, what is he to tell them? This is hard. Keep on listening, but do not understand. Keep on looking, but do not gain knowledge. Make the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, their eyes blind so that they will not see with their eyes or hear with their ears, or understand with their hearts, and they won’t return and be healed. This is where God’s word is a word that stops them up into judgment. It’s important to know that the Christian tradition’s good on this point. The word of God’s never neutral. It’s not a neutral thing. It’s alive and it’s active, either shutting up or creating life, but it’s not neutral. And in this moment here, it’s a shutting up moment. It’s a judgment moment. And that’s a hard thing for Isaiah to hear. Look at what his response is in verse 11. How long do I have to do that? And the answer is, and we won’t read all of this, but the answer is, until the city is laid in complete desolation and ruin. It’s a very, very hard word. Now, with that, this people, let’s go to Isaiah chapter 40 (Isaiah 40) and we’ll land the plane this morning.
Isaiah chapter 40 is the great reversal, in fact, since you’re so close, look at Isaiah chapter 35 (Isaiah 35), because it sets up Isaiah Chapter 40, and it’s a promise of the Lord returning again to Mount Zion. And if you look at verse five of chapter 35, it says this, then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened. Do you remember the character of the call that God just gave Isaiah in chapter six, you’re going to speak and it’s going to make their ears deaf and their eyes blind. Okay, that’s a judgment. We’ll look at verse five here in chapter 35, then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened. The ears of those who are deaf will be unstopped. So, the overcoming of their blindness and the healing of their deafness creates the conditions in their hearts and their minds for God to do his redeeming work of forgiveness in a new moment.
And Isaiah chapter 40 is that new moment. For the classical music lovers out there, this is when you want to get your best recording of Handel’s Messiah out and let the harpsichord begin to kind of chime in, right? Dun-dun-dun, I can, I can just hear it. Dun-dun-dun, right? Comfort, comfort ye my people, says your God, as the tenor sings that out over the congregation. That’s Isaiah chapter 40. And notice the words, here’s the reversal, here’s forgiveness. Here’s God moving toward His people and saying, even if you refuse to be My people in your rebelliousness and your obdurate character, even if you continue to do that, I’ve set My affection and My election on you, and I will roll up My own sleeves and work out salvation for you. I’m going to do that. I will be your God. And this is how He does it right here. Comfort. Comfort. And you notice the words; My people. So, if the first 39 chapters kind of really lean hard into the not my people, these chapters here really lean hard on My people.
And how does God comfort His people? Three things. And then we’ll call it a day. Okay? Three things. Number one, the forgiveness of their sins. The comfort comes in the forgiveness of their sins, the healing of their diseases. It’s an act of God’s incongruous grace. It’s not set up because of the actions of His people. It’s not a response to their getting their act together. It’s the initiative and the impulse and the character of our living God to set His affections on His people and to move toward them in forgiveness and healing when we were unable to move to Him.
Ephesians chapter two, you were dead in your trespasses, in your sins, but God being rich in His mercy has made us alive in Christ Jesus, our Lord. That’s the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel is not our actions for the Lord. The hope of the Gospel is God’s actions in Christ, on behalf of us and the whole world. And that’s the comfort that comes in Isaiah chapter 40.
Well, how does God, well, what are the mechanisms by which God releases His forgiveness onto His people and onto the world? Two things. Number one, the word of God. Here it is in Isaiah chapter 40, the grass withers and the flower fades but the word of God stands forever. The word of God is alive and fertile and capable of bringing men and women to himself again and again and again. Be lovers of God’s word. And then number two, it’s through this figure that appears in chapter 41, in chapter 42 in chapter 49, in chapter 53. It’s this figure called the Servant of the Lord. And if you’ll notice in Isaiah chapter 53, and this is kind of the, I think the building, the wave of the whole of this section. Isaiah 53 describes the servant like this. You all know this from Good Friday, who is believed or reported to whom is the arm of the Lord been revealed? Verse three. He was despised and rejected by, by men. Verse four. However, it was our sickness that he himself bore. It was our pains that he had carried. Verse five, he was pierced for our offenses. He was crushed for our wrongdoings; our deserved punishment was laid on the back of the innocent one. And we are healed by his wounds. How does comfort and forgiveness come? How does justice and righteousness come? By the healing that’s found in his wounds? Verse six, all of us like sheep have gone astray. Everyone’s gone to his own way. The Lord has caused all of our wrongdoing to fall onto Him. He’s the innocent one, but He stands in our place and as our representative.
And then look at verse 10. These are hard verses by the way. But the Lord desired to crush Him, causing Him grief, renders Himself as a guilt offering. He will see his offering. Oh, He’ll prolong His days. Verse 11. And as a result of all the anguish of His soul and His suffering, He will see it and He’ll be satisfied. And here’s a really important phrase. By the knowledge of the righteous one, shall many be made righteous. How are we made righteous? Yes. Knowledge. So, I mean, we’re back to it, right? I mean, these little things there were peppered throughout the book. My people die for lack of knowledge. The nations are going to stream because they want to know. And here in Isaiah chapter 53, our healing, our righteousness, our being made right with the living God is made effective by our knowledge of something outside of ourselves, not by looking toward ourselves, but by looking away from ourselves to the one who lived life for us, died death for us, is raised to the right hand of the Father, and intercedes on your behalf even now. So, I will be your God, you’ll be My people.
I pray for you all during this season of Advent as I pray for myself that we’ll have some space in our lives and in our hearts and in our minds to reflect on the beauty of a book like Isaiah that draws us into the hard word of God’s judgment against sin and the evergreen truth of is promise to forgive and to heal because of the work of the Servant on our behalf. Let’s pray.
Lord, bless these men. Thank You for bringing us together today. Pray their own courage and strengthen them in Your grace. And fill us, Lord, with hope in the truth of Your word. Lord, don’t, don’t let us be obdurate and rebellious putting our hands up against You. We do it again and again. Would You woo us by Your goodness back to Yourself to see the truth of the gospel and let it free us, oh Lord, to love You, to love our neighbor, and to be filled and brimming with hope and confidence for the future. And we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.