Read Isaiah 35:1-10 Jesus’ Arrival Changes Everything Zach VonDeylen Advent 2 12-08-19
1) It changes our situation 2) It changes our destination
What does this mean? When you first read or hear these words that’s a question you might wonder, or maybe that question sounded something like this, “What in the world is Isaiah talking about?” The picture language that Isaiah uses here is so foreign to us, and I really do mean foreign! Isaiah was speaking to a different people living in a different time in a different place. Those people would be able to glean much more meaning from these words at first glance than you or I can. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand it, we just have to chew on it a little bit longer, and that’s true for a lot of sections of Scripture.
To help us understand this language it is helpful to look back at Isaiah 34. In this chapter, the Lord is declaring judgment on the nation of Edom, a nation that was near Israel and had oppressed them. This is what Isaiah says about Edom, My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strongholds. She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls. Desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and wild goats will bleat to each other; there the night creatures will also lie down and find for themselves places of rest. Yikes, things were not looking good for Edom. Their lush places God would dry up; their dry places God would burn up! Their once fertile home would be overtaken by thorns and brambles. It would become a desert, a home for desert animals and uninhabitable for people.
Why would this happen? Isaiah says, none of these (curses) will be missing, for it is [the Lord’s] mouth that has given the order. These terrible things would all happen because the Lord had given the order. He controls the whole world with his word and he had spoken judgment on Edom. God’s patience with the sins of Edom had run dry, so he quite literally dried them out!
But now look back at chapter 35 and listen to how God treated Israel; even though they too had sinned and deserved every bit as much punishment as Edom did! The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the wildflower it will burst into bloom. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground [will become] bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. The Lord treats Israel in the exact opposite way! Instead of drying out their good land, he brings their dry land to life! Water would gush forth to cultivate the land. The hot places would become oases and plant life would burst into bloom! But that wasn’t even the best of what the Lord would change for Israel.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. The Lord doesn’t just heal the land of Israel; he heals the people of Israel too! What a relief for the people of Israel huh? Isaiah had just got done saying what God would do to sinful Edom, and they weren’t even the chosen nation. If that is what God would do to sinful Edom, people who God had not chosen to be his special people, what would God do to sinful Israel? Jesus said in Luke chapter 12, “The servant who knows the master’s will and… does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
As a nation, Israel had been given more than any other nation on earth, so God rightly should expect much more from them than Edom. Israel must have been bracing themselves for what God would do to them for their sin, but what God does for them is exactly the opposite of what they had any reason to expect.
How would this happen? It’s because the Lord would reveal his glory. His glory is his mercy. His glory is his forgiveness for people who don’t deserve it, people like Israel. And in his mercy he says, “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. In his mercy the Lord would come to Israel to save them, and he would do this by changing their situation. He changed their dry ground to fertile soil and he healed all their sick and disabled. He changed their situation.
As we wait to celebrate our Lord’s birth, his arrival in the world, what should we expect? Should we expect what the Lord did for Israel or Edom? After all, the case could be made that our country in its present state deserves the same punishment that Edom got at least! Our country has gotten to the point where we are so depraved that people no longer even hide their sin! They shout their sin from the rooftops and declare that they are proud of it and that you should be too! The Lord should say to us today, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see it descends on America, the fuel will run out and the electricity will fail. The winter will come with fury and there will be no place to find warmth!” But you might say, “those are the unbelievers in our country! I’m not proud of my sin! I come to church and confess my sins every week!” And you’d be right. But you who’ve been given the much, the gift of faith, much more is expected! We who have faith ought to follow God’s will wholeheartedly and yet so often we fail. Yes, we deserve God’s sword of judgment to fall on us just as much as this sinful culture around us!
We should wait in fear for our Lord to come, but what does the Lord tell Isaiah? Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come, with divine retribution he will come to save you. God will come with judgment only for those who do not call him their God. For us who wait in faith, God changes our situation. God tells us, “Don’t live in fear, live in anticipation! For when I come I will save you! How will I do it? I will change your guilt to innocence.” God doesn’t change himself to accommodate our sin. God is just and must punish sin. Nothing can change that because our God does not change. God changes our situation to accommodate his justice and his mercy. God changes our guilt to innocence, so now instead of punishment we receive his blessings!
And it all changed when our Savior arrived. The very day he was born our entire situation changed! The angels on the night he was born testify to this! “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” God’s favor rests on us because he sees us as innocent and holy! Through the angels we learn that when our Savior arrived, our guilt was as good as paid for! The angels say to us, “Peace! God’s favor rests on you!” We no longer have to fear because our situation changed completely when our Savior was born. He changed our situation from guilt to innocence; from punishment to blessing; from sorrow to joy; from fear to peace.
And because our present situation has changed, our final destination has been changed with it! We see the same thing happen to the Israelites in Isaiah 35. After everything is changed for the better, Isaiah tells Israel about the Way of Holiness, a place where only the redeemed will walk. So what is this path and where does it lead? Isaiah is predicting the return to Jerusalem. In 587 BC Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon and thousands of Jews were deported from their homeland to Babylon. After being in exile for 70 years, however, God would free them from their captors! The path Isaiah is describing is the path back to Jerusalem from Babylon. Listen to how Isaiah describes it!
A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel on it… There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it; they will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk on it, and the ransomed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee. This path is holy, that means it is set apart for only a special people. It is not for the unclean, that means it is only for people who are faithful to the Lord. There will be no wild animals; back then travel was dangerous because of these wild, vicious animals, but on their return to Jerusalem the Lord will keep them safe. They will enter Zion, that is Jerusalem, with singing and joy. Not only did the Lord prepare the land for their return by making the land alive, lush, and fruitful, but he also brought them back to it. The Israelites who were living in Babylon at the time might have thought that they would never see Jerusalem again, that they would die in a foreign land, but the Lord changed their final destination.
God has also changed our final destination. We were once slaves to sin, we were once being held captive by the devil in his kingdom, a land not our own; the land of death. But God creates another amazing change! Do you think it’s amazing what God said he would do for the Israelites? Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy! Well that’s nothing! He makes the dead, alive. And he paves the pathway that we need to travel to leave the land of the dead and enter life eternal.
Jesus is that way, when he arrived in this world, not only did he change our situation, so that now we can live in this sinful world in peace and joy, but he paved a highway for us to travel so that we might reach an even better place. Only those who are redeemed may travel this path, only those who believe in Jesus and that he came into this world to forgive their sins. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” No one can reach the final destination except by traveling on this Holy Highway, which is faith in Jesus.
And where does that road lead? It leads to Zion. It leads to the new heaven and new earth that God will prepare for us. We will be worthy to enter only because he has changed our guilt to innocence. We will arrive there only by traveling the path Jesus paved. And in the words of Isaiah, “Sorrow and sighing will flee and gladness and joy will overtake us.” This is what we are waiting to celebrate. We are waiting to celebrate once again our Savior’s arrival, the arrival which changed everything.