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Sermons » 21/01/2001 (6.30pm)
A New Name
- Isaiah 62
A sermon preached by Ian Garrett
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Would you say (if you're a Christian) that your life was a good advert for Jesus?
I guess none of us is sitting there thinking, 'Yes, I'm a really good advert for him.' Because we Christians are not what we should be. And the more concerned we are to be a good advert for God, the more troubled we are by the fact we're not.
Well, Isaiah's message was written, in the first place, for people not just troubled but devastated by the dire advert they had been for God. It was written to help believers who would find themselves sent into exile because Israel as a whole had abandoned faith in God. Isaiah himself lived well before the judgement of the exile. But he predicted it (eg, 39.5-7). And he foresaw that during and after it, there would be faithful Israelites who were appalled that Israel had disgraced God so badly. And we met those faithful people last week in Isaiah 61:
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted… (v1)
… to comfort all who mourn… (v2)
Broken-hearted and mourning over their failure to live rightly, in a way that reflected God's character. Ie - to use one of Isaiah's favourite words - their failure to be 'righteous'.
And to comfort people like that, God gave Isaiah a vision of the future beyond the exile. It had two sides to it: 1) God would bring the exiles back to their land and city - physical restoration (eg, 44.24-28); and 2) God would change the people themselves to be righteous - spiritual restoration, brought about by the Messiah (eg, 62.1).
Now from Isaiah's view-point, the physical and spiritual restorations were mixed up together. In his vision, they merged into one. It's a bit like looking ahead of you from where you're sitting in church right now. You can probably see several heads in front of you, but they merge into one - you can see a bit of a crew-cut, a hair-band, three ears and two ear-rings. But if you get out into the aisle and look from the side, you'll see two separate heads - one male (the crew cut), one female (the hair band) and quite possibly with an ear-ring apiece (plus the ear you didn't spot).
Well, from where Isaiah was 'sitting' in history, looking ahead, he saw those two things - physical and spiritual restoration - merged into one. 2,700 years later, we can look at history 'from the side' and see that those things were in fact separate:
c.740-700 BC Isaiah's ministry
c.590 BC Exile from Jerusalem and Judah
c.540 BC Return (physical restoration)
c0 Jesus (Messiah's) 1st coming (for peoples' spiritual restoration)
And we also know that Jesus will do his work through not just one coming, but two. He came a first time to die on the cross, so we could be forgiven back into relationship with God, and begin to change. But he will come a second time to bring those who've come back to God into heaven, where we'll be completely changed (see Hebrews 9:28). So the full picture of God's time-table looks like this:
c.740-700 BC Isaiah's ministry
c.590 BC Exile from Jerusalem and Judah
c.540 BC Return (physical restoration)
c0 Jesus the Messiah's 1st coming
? Jesus the Messiah's 2nd coming
So, as we read Isaiah 62, we'll find it talks about a physical restoration that has already happened. And a spiritual restoration which is still in the process of happening. If you're trusting Jesus as you live between his 1st and 2nd comings, you're forgiven, back in relationship with God, and you've begun to change. But only when he raises you into heaven will you be completely sin-free - completely righteous. So, from where we're 'sitting' in history, Isaiah 62 is speaking about the final part of our spiritual restoration which Jesus will do when he comes a 2nd time. But we'll find that it's all described in physical terms - Jerusalem, the city, the land, the journey back. But it's not that tricky. Just remember:
- Jerusalem stands for the church (ie, believing people) as it will be one day in heaven
- The journey stands for the church's 'journey' through life to heaven
So, now we've got our bearings, what does Isaiah 62 say to us today, who mourn the fact that our lives are not the adverts for the Lord they should be? Well, there's: First, a promise of perfection (vv1-5), secondly, a call to pray (vv6-9) and thirdly, a call to work (vv10-12).
First, A PROMISE OF PERFECTION (v1-5)
Remember, In chapter 61 (see v1-3, cf Luke 4:16-21), the Messiah is speaking (see the transcript on chapter 61 for explanation!). In his vision, Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus (John 12:41) talking out loud about his mission to the world. In chapter 62, the Messiah, Jesus, continues to speak:
For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendour in the Lord's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.(Isaiah 62:1-3)
[NB: 'Zion' is just another name for the city of Jerusalem - cf 'Canny Toon' and 'Newcastle' - two names for the same place.]
Which leaves me asking, 'When will I, when will you, when will the church answer to the dazzling description of v1-3?' And the answer must be, 'Heaven.' One clue is the word 'glory' (v2) - a word that describes God's holy character (see Isaiah 6.3). The New Testament (NT) says we 'all… fall short of the glory of God' (Romans 3.23). It says we will only perfectly reflect God's glory - ie, be fully the way we should be - in heaven (see Romans 8.18-25, 28-29, Colossians 3.4). It says that the gospel is basically a message about 'the hope [= future certainty] of glory' (Colossians 1.27). Glory is a heaven-word, a future-word.
The other clue that this is a vision of us in heaven is in v4-5:
No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah [meaning, 'my delight is in her'], and your land Beulah [meaning, 'married']; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.
Compare that with Revelation 21.1-2:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)
The apostle John had a 'revelation' of what heaven would be like. He said it would be like a perfectly rebuilt city; like a perfectly dressed bride on her wedding day. Which is exactly the same picture-language as Isaiah 62.4-5. John and Isaiah were 'seeing' the same thing: the church - we Christians - as we will be, in heaven.
So, the first thing Isaiah gives people mourning their imperfection is this promise of perfection. If our trust is in Jesus, he is at work in us now, by his Spirit, to change us partially (we're not what we were - even though we're not what we should be). And, says v1, he will one day change us completely and finally so that our 'righteousness shines like the dawn.' Spiritually speaking, you'll be so pure, so perfect, so dazzling, that people will need sunglasses to look at you safely.
And - even harder to get our faith around - v4-5 says that God will delight in us as a bridegroom delights in his bride. It's a privilege to be at weddings, isn't it? It's great to see the look on the bridegroom's face as he glances over his shoulder to see his bride coming up the aisle. Well, that's how God will feel about you, Christian, when he raises you into heaven, finally making you perfect in the process. He does delight in us now - because he sees us through the filter of what Jesus did for us on the cross, to take away our sins. God is able to dissociate us from our sin, and delight in our feeble obedience even now (as a parent delights in the first drawings of their child - dissociating the short-comings from the attempt). But in our resurrection into heaven we will be transformed from sinful children to sinless ones, and he will delight in us as we are (see 1 Corinthians 15.51-52, Ephesians 5.25-27).
So, how does that future help us now? Well, if we believe that's what God will finally do for us, it'll stop us settling into the fatalism that says, 'I'll never be any different.' Satan is telling us that all the time, isn't he? 'You'll never be any different. You can't change. There's no point in getting up again from your sin and seeking to go God's way once more. You'll always be like this.' That's a lie. Because Jesus says of us:
I will not keep silent.. I will not remain quiet [ie, I will not rest or let up] till her righteousness shines like the dawn.' (Isaiah 62.1)
However partial the change in us seems now (and doesn't it make you groan that it is so partial now? - Romans 8.23), we will be changed completely. We will be different. We will be made perfect. No more struggle against a sinful nature. No more failure. No more mourning over sin.
So, don't settle down with the way you are. Don't believe Satan. Don't call a truce with sin. Don't just 'live with it.' Because Jesus is at work in us 'till' (in heaven) our 'righteousness shines like the dawn.'
Secondly, A CALL TO PRAY (v6-9)
(Remember: as we read about 'Jerusalem', we're not thinking about a literal city. Jerusalem stands for the church - just like 'the White House' stands for 'the American Presidency'.)
I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. (v6-7)
Isaiah sees a picture of people up on the walls of a city, watching out for someone they're expecting to come - and egging him on to come soon. The picture stands for Christians watching out for Jesus' 2nd coming - to do what he promises in vv1-5 - and 'egging him on' in prayer to do it soon. And in several places in the NT, those two thoughts - 'watch' and 'pray' come together (eg, from Jesus, Luke 21.36; from Paul, Colossians 4.2).
If we believe the promise of v1-5, it will not only save us from the fatalism that says 'I'll never change.' It will spur us to pray - and pray with the right perspective. You see, In v1-5, Jesus promises to make us finally perfect - finally what we should be:
'for Jerusalem's [= the church's] sake, I will not remain quiet till her righteousness shines like the dawn…' (Isaiah 62.1)
Then in v6-7, he tells us to pray that he will do what he's promised to do:
'You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem [= the church] and makes her the praise of the earth.' (Isaiah 62.6-7)
So what does this second part of Isaiah 62 have to say to us? Well, it asks us a question: do our prayers look anything like the prayer Jesus tells us to pray in v6-7? Do we pray with his perspective? (He taught it again, remember, in Matthew 6.10 - 'Your kingdom come', ie 'May the perfect world where everyone submits gladly to you as King, come.'). Do we pray like that?
Just cast your mind back over what you've been praying for this past week or so. What you've asked others to pray for you. I guess they've been to a large degree 'here-and-now' things. Like exams, illness, hard times at work or home. And I guess they've largely centred on us and those around us. And the Lord wants us to pray about such things. But - and here's a big but - he wants us to pray about them from the perspective of the 2nd coming of Jesus, and what lies beyond. From the perspective, so to speak, of being up on the 'walls' of the church, looking out for Jesus' return (v6).
That will give us the perspective that heaven is of ultimate importance. So that getting there - by coming to faith in Jesus - is of ultimate importance. So that the church, and the 'establishing of it' (v7) is of ultimate importance. And I take it that the church is established as new people come to faith in Jesus (evangelism) and as already-believers grow in faith and live more Christ-like lives (holiness - or righteousness, to use Isaiah's other word).
Evangelism and holiness. Those are God's twin priorities as we face exams, illness, hard times. Not that I get a particular mark (or even pass first time, or even pass at all); nor that I experience a particular level of recovery; nor that the times necessarily become less hard. But that in those situations, I trust him, reflect his character and advertise him to others. Looking back from heaven when all marks, recoveries and changes of fortune will pale into insignificance, it is holiness and evangelism that will be seen to have counted.
Is that reflected in our prayers? 'Lord, PLEEEEASE JUST GET ME THROUGH THIS EXAM!!'? Or, 'Lord, as I face these exams, enable me to trust your complete control over the outcome, and to communicate something of that trust to others by the peace you give'? (see, eg, Philippians 4.6-7)
Pray from the perspective of Jesus 2nd coming and what lies beyond it. And, says Isaiah, don't give up praying:
'You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem' (Isaiah 62.6-7)
Why does the Bible so often tell us not to give up praying? Simple. Because we do. (And Jesus taught this lesson again, too, when he was here in the flesh - Luke 18.1). The question is: why do we? It may be complacency. We feel righteous enough (contrast v1!) as we are. So, why pray? Am I not really quite a good Christian as I am? That may be your problem. But I guess most of us are more dissatisfied with ourselves - 'mourning' over lack of righteousness (like Isaiah 61.1-4). So then, it may be self-sufficiency that kills our praying. We know we're not what we should be, but we think it's down to us, in our unaided strength, to make ourselves more righteous. We read the Bible. We go out determined to put it into practice. Without prayer. But who actually brings about change? Who 'makes righteousness' appear and increase in us? Isaiah 61.11:
The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your Saviour comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.' " (Isaiah 62:11)
If we're honest, we not only know we're not what we should be. And we know we can't make ourselves what we should be, either. So if it's not complacency, and it's not self-sufficiency then what stops us praying? Maybe the thing that was uppermost in Isaiah's mind here was: discouragement. Isn't that how the people in Isaiah 61.1-4 felt? Isn't that how you feel? I've been a Christian 18 years. I still fall into the same sins. My family and a good number of friends are still not believing. I've prayed that I would change and I've prayed that they would change. And I'm often discouraged.
So on what basis do you keep on praying - when little or nothing (apparently) seems to be happening? When 'Jerusalem' (= the church) doesn't seem to be being built? When it looks more rubble and building site than righteousness and finished city? The answer is: we pray not on the basis of what we think we can see happening (or not happening). But on the basis of what God has promised to do. See vv1-5. And vv8-9:
The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." (Isaiah 62.8-9)
This call to pray is sandwiched between promises. We need to learn to pray in line with God's promises - above all, from the perspective of Jesus' 2nd coming and what lies beyond. So, back to those examples. Exams. What has God promised about our exams? That we'll get a particular mark? The mark we want? That we'll even pass? No. There's no such promise in the Bible. But there are promises that he'll give us what we need (eg, Matthew 6.33, Romans 8.32) - as opposed to what we want, or think we need. And there are promises of experiencing peace in our circumstances as we prayerfully trust them to his Almighty hands (eg, Philippians 4.6-7). How about illness? Are we promised recovery whenever we're ill? No. But we who trust in Jesus are promised the supreme 'recovery' of resurrection bodies (John 11.25-26, 1 Corinthians 15.35f, Philippians 3.20-21). And we are promised that nothing can snatch us out of his hands - no trial will overwhelm our faith (John 10.10.27-30, 1 Peter 1.3-7), because he has us in his hands, protecting and guarding our faith in him.
The way to pray is to think what promises God has made concerning our situation, and then to claim them - to pray that he keeps them. And that will keep us praying with the perspective of the 'big picture' - God's ultimate purpose of getting us - and many others - to heaven (62.1).
I read a series of profiles of Olympic gold medal winners by Simon Barnes in The Times. He's cynical about Christian sportspeople who pray about their results as if the results were that important to God in the big scheme of things. Which is why he seems to warm to Jonathan Edwards, the Christian triple jump gold medal winner:
"During the tensions of competition he looked at times as if about to vomit. But then he would relax and throw off one of those disarming little smiles, as if all the paradoxes were still intact and he aware of the absurdity of the whole thing. 'It's just jumping into a sandpit,' he once said. All sport is basically jumping into a sandpit, but few sportspeople dare to realise it… I wonder how much actual praying Edwards does during competition, how much he did yesterday night…After he hit his big jump this time he shook his head, as if at the absurdity of it all, and gave a rueful smile. Perhaps his great strength is this extraordinary sense of perspective in the heat of battle, this inner certainty of its ultimate pointlessness in the eyes of God."
I think Simon Barnes has understood something of Jonathan Edwards. And Jonathan Edwards has understood - and lives - something of the perspective of v6-7.
Thirdly, A CALL TO WORK (v10-12)
If we believe Jesus' promise in v1-5, we'll not only pray differently; we'll live differently:
Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your Saviour comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.' " They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted. (Isaiah 62:10-12)
Now (v10) the picture changes a bit - from us in the part-finished city watching for Jesus to come (v6-7) and finish it; to Jesus in the finished, glorious city, and us on the way to be with him there forever (v10-12). The gates are wide open to all who trust in his saving death (v10, line 1). Remember those lines of the old hymn:
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
A crowd of people (the church, believers in Jesus) is heading towards the city. And as they go, they're trying to 'build up the highway' - making the way to heaven as obvious as possible to as many people as possible (v10 lines 2-3), and removing 'stones' (v10, line 4) - removing obstacles in the way of anyone who would come with them. And (v10, line 5) they're carrying a banner - like people on a march, showing Who they belong to and what their message is.
And this side of heaven, v10 is a picture of what God is calling us to do:
'Pass through, pass through the gates!' Ie, 'Live your life now as someone consciously heading for eternity with God in heaven.' How will that perspective affect our use of money, time, gifts, possessions? Or our choice of work, or of a marriage partner to help us pull in that direction?
'Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones!' It seems that the church are the people doing the preparing and building. And the 'way' seems to be what we do and what we are as a church - which should all aim to draw people to 'the Way', the Lord Jesus (John 14.6), and then encourage them along the life of faith to its end. And we're to 'remove the stones' - any obstacles to the gospel reaching out, to unbelievers being drawn in, and to believers being united and genuinely belonging. 'Remove the pews' springs to mind. But there are all sorts of obstacles in the way. It's an obstacle if as Christians we have no friendships with non-Christians. It's an obstacle if our church is (ie, we are) unfriendly and unwelcoming to the new face. There are financial obstacles - the need to support staff; the need for equipment and plant to accommodate the many ministries we all do (hence, the Giving Review of the next two weeks is a 'stone removing' exercise, in some ways).
And, 'Raise a banner for the nations.' The banner is the gospel. We're people with a message. For our nation (our own evangelism). And for the nations - to whom we send (missionaries) and whom, in his goodness, God send to us (international students).
That's the call to work: to live our lives, and our life as a church, conscious that we are heading to the glorious future of heaven. And that people will either come with us (through themselves coming to trust in Jesus), or spend eternity outside. CS Lewis wrote this:
"It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour's glory should be daily laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you may now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." (The Weight of Glory; essay in 'Screwtape Proposes a Toast')
I don't know how poor an advert you thought you were for Jesus. But Isaiah's message to those who mourn - over their own personal advert and the church's corporate one - is: a promise of perfection - Jesus is at work in us. The change is only partial now, but one day in heaven it will be complete and we will be perfect. So, pray in the light of that. And work in the light of that. And don't give up. 'The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.' (1 Thessalonians 5.24)
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