************ Sermon on Isaiah 35 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 12, 2006
"The Coming Joy"
"There isn't much reason for joy." That's what the auto industry is saying. GM announced it is eliminating 30,000 jobs. Ford announced it is cutting 30,000 jobs. Chrysler is reducing its work force by 6,000. And Delphi, the auto-parts giant, is slashing 40,000 jobs. Of course, all of these lay-offs have a ripple effect on steel makers, tire manufacturers, and the car parts' industry.
Retailers found little reason for joy this past Christmas season as store after store reported disappointing sales. Most retail outlets depend on Christmas sales to see them through the year. One TV commentator called it a "52 billion a year Christmas machine." Well, the machine has gone bust. For the third or fourth year in a row.
Some farmers tell me they have little reason for joy: the prices they are being offered for their products barely cover costs.
One of our President's goals in the Middle East has been the encouragement of democracy. This has had bittersweet results. Palestinians, for instance, enjoyed free elections but they put a terrorist organization into power. Free elections in Iran installed a President who is belligerent and intent on developing nuclear weapons. Free elections in Iraq have brought into office conservative religious parties with their own private militias. In Egypt, it has bolstered the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the oldest fundamentalist organizations in the Arab world, from which Al Qaeda descends. In Lebanon it has strengthened Hizbullah, another terrorist organization
We have had a lot of concerns in our church family the past couple of months: cancer, hospital stays, surgeries, a host of personal and mental and emotional problems, drug and alcohol addiction. Families and individuals caught up in the middle of this find little reason for joy.
"There isn't much reason for joy." Many people in the Israel of Isaiah's day echoed similar thoughts. The land was devastated by the Assyrians, the people were deported, and foreigners lived in Israel's cities and walked on its streets. A few years later the Assyrian army was encamped around Jerusalem and it seemed only a matter of time before Judah too would cease to exist. The local economy was in a shambles. Every family had lost someone in battle. Since conquering armies rendered the land infertile by seeding it with salt, people faced hunger and even starvation.
"There isn't much reason for joy." We would expect Isaiah to echo similar sentiments. That's not what he says, however. He starts and ends chapter 35 on the keynote of joy. Isaiah sees joy for the earth and joy for the redeemed.
I The Joy of the Earth
A The environmental movement today sees little reason for joy. From them we hear much gloom and doom. The earth is home to more than 10 million species of animals and plants; one-quarter of those species, they say, could be extinct within a few decades. More than 25% of the world's prescription drugs originate from genetic material that grows in the world's rain forests; in the next few years, they say, we could lose many of the plants from which tomorrow's life-saving drugs should come. Environmentalists also point to a whole host of other things: over-harvesting of rain forests which are being leveled at the rate of 50 million acres a year, air pollution that creates acid rain and the greenhouse effect which melts the polar ice-caps, increased radiation caused by the disappearance of the ozone layer, a major nuclear accident, toxic wastes that enter the food chain, the saturation of the oceans so they no longer have the capacity to safely handle any more waste.
In contrast to this we hear Isaiah talking of joy for the earth. He says,
(Isaiah 35:1-2) The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice ... it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.The earth will be full of joy.
B What is the reason for the joy? The prophet says the wilderness will be turned into a garden and the desert will teem with all kinds of life.
Deserts, as we know them on this earth, can be beautiful places. When I served a church in New Mexico we had a chance to drive through the Painted Desert. What a beautiful sight. A couple of Springs ago we traveled through Death Valley. The lake was full, flowers were blooming, and it too was fascinating. But this is not the kind of desert the prophet has in mind. He means an utterly barren, sandy place without any water, vegetation, or animal life.
The desert will be transformed: it will be filled with springs and pools of water. Where that desert creature, the jackal, once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. The desert will bloom like the crocus. Few places on this earth are as beautiful as a desert after a rain-fall: overnight the most beautiful crocuses or poppies spring up and cover the ground as with a blanket. The desert and wilderness will be given the glory of Lebanon and the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. These 3 places are known for their rich and luxurious growth. The cedars of Lebanon, for instance, can grow to a height of 120 feet or more and often are 30-40 feet in diameter; they are a hardy tree with some today being over 2000 years old.
The earth that Isaiah sees is so full of joy because it has been restored to perfection. It is a land of hope and glory. It is the place of our hopes and dreams. It is Paradise regained.
II The Joy of the Redeemed
A Anyone who has contact with the cost side of the health care system sees little reason for joy. Medical costs increase 4, or even 5, times the rate of inflation. You can't afford health insurance but you can't afford not to have it either. Illness is expensive. The average hospital stay now costs $19,000. A hospital stay in ICU can easily cost more than $3,000 per day. A friend of mine has over $17,000 invested in a wheelchair and lift-system for his van. And, a couple of years ago he was test-driving a $12,000 wheelchair. A couple in the last church I served have a special needs child; I asked them about the cost of equipment for their daughter: $540 for a potty chair, $900 for a stroller, $1200 for braces, $8,000 for a wheelchair – these are 1995 prices for equipment that has to be replaced.
In contrast to this we again hear Isaiah talking of joy. This time he talks of joy for the redeemed:
(Isaiah 35:10) ... the ransomed of the LORD will ... enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. The redeemed will be full of joy.
B What is the reason for the joy? Isaiah sees a time when we don't have to worry about health care, disability, surgery, doctors, and hospitals. He says,
(Isaiah 35:5-6) Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (6) Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.Just as the desert is transformed, so will be man. All of man's diseases will be removed. "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Rev 21:4). Our bodies will be made perfect and glorious.
III Jesus: the Reason for Joy
A "There isn't much reason for joy." That's not what Isaiah says. He sees much reason for hope, for joy and gladness: he sees the redeemed with new and perfect bodies living on a new and perfect earth. Yet, it is easy – far too easy – to be pessimistic, to grumble and complain, to be depressed about what is going on in the world and in our own lives. So Isaiah urges us to keep up our hope, to keep the faith, to keep our dreams alive:
(Isaiah 35:3-4) Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; (4) say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear ..." He is telling us to encourage one another with talk about our glorious future.
B However, something has to happen before this vision becomes a reality. Isaiah tells us the secret to Paradise regained:
(Isaiah 35:4) ... your God will come, he will come with vengeance ... he will come to save you.When God comes, then will our joy be complete, then will our bodies be glorified, then will the earth be renewed.
As Christians, we know and believe that some 2000 years ago God, in Christ, has come. Unknown to the prophet, though, is the knowledge that Christ must come twice before all is accomplished and the redeemed have the joy of living on a new and perfect earth with new and perfect bodies. God, in Christ, has already come in salvation; He is yet to come in wrath and judgment. Even so, after the first coming already there is evidence of the new life. In fact, we can go so far as to say it is already established in principle though it is not yet a full reality. It is for this reason that through the ministry of Jesus,
(Luke 7:22) The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
C God, in Christ, has to come or else we can forget about our hopes and dreams for the future. We can't emphasize enough that He has to come in judgment and with salvation. This reminds us that the renewed earth and the glorified bodies are not the goal; rather, they are the result. They are but the outer manifestation of an inner thing. They are but a sign, mere evidence, of salvation and redemption. The renewed earth and glorified bodies are a sign of liberation – liberation from the bondage and decay of sin. They are a sign of freedom – freedom from corruption and evil.
As an aside, we often think and talk of salvation and redemption as concerning only man. Isaiah reminds us that Creation too participates in the glorious results of Christ's work. Creation too is liberated from sin and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Christ's work, in other words, is cosmic in effect.
D "There isn't much reason for joy." Do you know what Isaiah would say to this? He would say,
"Nonsense. You know the secret of Paradise. Your God has come. Your God is coming. He has come with salvation. He is coming with judgment. So yours is every reason for joy: the joy of salvation and redemption; the joy of knowing you will be living on a new and perfect earth with new and perfect bodies."
And to make that joy ours, all that we have to do is walk the Zion road. To make that joy ours, all that we have to do is to walk the "Way of Holiness." The road is clearly marked out. Says Isaiah,
(Isaiah 35:8-9) And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. (9) No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there ...
What is this road, this highway, this Way of Holiness, that leads us to salvation, to a glorious body on a renewed earth? I think here of the words of Jesus:
(John 14:6) "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. It is no accident that in Acts 9:2 the Christian religion is called the "Way." In Christ we have the way, the only way, to redemption, to salvation, to a glorious body on a renewed earth.
Believe in Jesus, and yours is salvation. Believe in Jesus, and yours will be a glorious body on a renewed earth. Believe in Jesus and yours is and will be joy.
"There isn't much reason for joy." Nonsense. You know the words of the Christmas song: "Joy to the World! the Lord is Come." That's the reason for our joy. We may not rejoice about the circumstances of our life. We may not rejoice about what is happening in the world or in the environment. We may not rejoice about what is going on in our church family. Yet, we have reason for joy: the Lord is come in salvation and, someday, He will come again to give us glorified bodies on a renewed earth.
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