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Home For Middle Easterners “Back to the future” Isaiah 65:1- Isaiah 66:24 Text

“Back to the future” Isaiah 65:1- Isaiah 66:24 Text

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“Back to the future”                     Isaiah 65:1 - Isaiah 66:24                                          

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David Calderwood  

A Christian friend confesses to you that they have never read the book of Isaiah because it is so long and so foreign in language and ideas, and because they had always thought that since it was in the Old Testament and was written so long ago, it was irrelevant to Christians.

 

 

What would you say?  

 

 

It’s a real challenge for us this morning because several have said this to me, and I have no doubt that many more think it even though they have not admitted to it.

 

 

It’s a challenge to me as a teacher because I must reflect on whether I have made Isaiah come alive for you and helped you understand what it is about.

 

 

It’s a challenge to you as the series concludes. Will you simply breathe a sigh of relief as we move back into the New Testament again, and allow it to remain closed to you practically? 

 

 

But in a similar way, I think Isaiah himself also faced this challenge as he moved to bring his massive prophecy or vision to a conclusion in chapters 65 & 66 by carefully restating the main themes and their implications for those who are listening or reading.

 

 

I am convinced Isaiah consciously structured his prophecy to help understanding and also to leave a practical challenge.

 

 

Turn back to Isaiah 1:1-2 . The vision begins with the heavens and earth being summoned to hear God’s spoken word to his servant nation with the spotlight on Jerusalem.

 

 

The vision concludes, Isaiah 66:22-24 , with God’s spoken word about the new heavens and earth, to his new servant community of saved and renewed people, the spiritual Jerusalem or Zion.

 

 

Isaiah’s introductory picture is God as the broken-hearted father and his intentions with his rebellious children. His concluding picture is God as the delighted father who has renewed his children and his world to his own satisfaction and glory.

 

 

This is like a giant bracket outlining the movement of the vision from the human failure of his servant nation Israel, to God’s ideal world – renewed and perfect with him as the undisputed ruler and his people as adoring, obedient children. 

 

 

And the key to this total reversal and renewal, is God’s perfect, suffering servant, who does for God’s people what they would never be able to do for themselves.

Now, let’s look at Isaiah’s conclusion in a bit more detail, and the themes he restates.

 

 

1. God’s word of longing defines the future (Isaiah 65:1-7 ).

 

Isaiah’s longing for the future salvation promised by the Lord is expressed in his pleading prayer. Look at chapter Isaiah 64:1 – Do it now Lord: Deliver the renewal we need so desperately. And Isaiah 64:12 - Don’t leave us in this mess of sin where the future will only hold the prospect of more sin and more judgment.

 

 

And with that the focus changes back to the Lord and his own expression of longing. It is not only Isaiah that longs for things to be different.

 

 

Isaiah 64:1-5 show us again the past and the broken-hearted father longing to be taken seriously and honoured as he deserves.

 

 

The Lord is lamenting that throughout the history of his people, as they have been endlessly searching for the good life with meaning, satisfaction, and purpose, he has been yelling at them – “Here I am, here I am”.

 

 

The very thing you are looking for and imagining, and trying to discover in any place you could, no matter how evil, was always available in and through me and my generosity. In fact I have been determined, verse 1, to give you the good life, in spite of your rebellion.

 

 

And, Isaiah 64 : 6-7, We see God’s character and plan shapes the future. In the bible the future is always shaped by the past. God intends to deal with sin and rebellion and act to make sure his world fits exactly his expectation and plan for it.

 

 

Isaiah had prayed for God to act quickly to establish his kingdom and bring the longed for renewal and salvation, but God is quick to remind Isaiah that he will act, but that salvation for some will also mean final judgment for those who continue to reject him.

 

 

2. God’s word is his commitment to deliver the future (Isaiah 65:8-25 ).

 

Isaiah summarises the whole of his vision by stating clearly what the Sovereign Lord says, Verse 8 and 13. And his word means certain and final division in the future.

 

 

There is the certainty of the ‘good life’ for all who are ‘tuned into’ the Lord (Isaiah 8-10 , 17-25).

 

 

Verse 8-9, clearly God’s judgment of the exile will take a terrible toll on God’s people, but they are not without hope of renewal and restoration. God commits himself to acting for his own glory and for the benefit of his people, gathering them to himself.

Verses 17-25, The Lord will deliver on creating the new Zion, the new kingdom spoken of in earlier chapters. And the Lord will delight in his renewed people.

 

 

Again it is described in wonderful terms. Once again it is back to the future. The life of blessing is the restoration of that lost at the Garden of Eden, which God intended all along – being in God’s good place; and being in right relationship with God and gladly living under his rule; and being in right relationship with one another, and the physical environment.

 

 

But there is also the certainty of the ‘unsatisfying life of death’ for all who are tuned out to God (Isaiah 64:11-16 ).

 

 

In spite of God’s continued generosity is seeking out his rebellious children and offering them forgiveness and renewal and salvation and restoration, many continue to block their ears to his words of mercy and grace.

 

 

They have deliberately tuned out to God. His word is just white noise in the background. Verse 12 - They do not listen or answer when the Lord speaks, but continue to chase what they think is the good life, apart from God, but which, verses 14-15, will only deliver brokenness, disappointment, and finally death and destruction.  .

 

 

Friends, as you would expect in a conclusion, this is plain talking. Verse 16, when all is said and done, there will only be the Lord and the Lord’s obedient people left.

 

 

And God’s division is a result of personal choice. Isaiah has made that really clear – salvation in not about being an Israelite, or being part of national Israel after the exile.

 

 

Rather it is about recognising need in light of sin and failure and rebellion, and accepting his gracious invitation to his salvation party, Isaiah 55:1 , recognising that God’s servant would deal with their sin and failure so that they might enjoy peace and the good life.

 

 

3. God’s word shapes how we wait for the future (Isaiah 66:1-24 ).

As the past shapes the future in terms of God’s actions and commitments, so too the past ought to shape how God’s people wait for the future.

 

 

Recognising the Lord wants faithfulness to his word and genuine worship (1-6).

 

 

This material is almost a repeat of the introductory chapters. The problem for God’s people in the past was that they thought they could impress God with things they did for him, such as building the temple, offering sacrifices, and other religious activities.

 

 

All this, verse 5, resulted in God’s people losing touch with any sense of right and wrong, and losing any sense of real relationship with the Lord.

 

 

So, as Isaiah looks to the future he warns his people not to repeat the past. They should remember, verse 2b, that the person who impresses the Lord sees their sin, recognises the need for and longs for spiritual restoration, and all the while taking God’s word seriously.

 

 

Committing themselves to God’s new spiritual kingdom (7-17)

 

 

In verses 7-11 Isaiah uses a picture of pregnancy and the unexpectedness of a premature birth to map out God’s activity developing the future for his people.

 

 

The point is this: history of national Israel, especially the time of exile, showed up the need for spiritual restoration, and has actually has given birth to something completely new and fresh, the reality of spiritual Israel, spiritual Zion, a completely new community.

 

 

So, verse 10-11, God’s people should move into the future leaving behind all notions of national Israel, physical Jerusalem, racial, physical and political boundaries, and commit to this new spiritual community of God’s people gathered around the Lord himself.

 

 

But at the same time they will remember the debt they owe to national Israel in the whole process of God’s salvation plan.

 

 

This is an amazing insight on Isaiah’s part. As Christians we are now part of God’s Kingdom, the spiritual Zion. Our focus for the future is no longer the modern Zionist movement in the physical land of Palestine.

 

 

But Christians from every part of the world will always have a direct historical link to the Jews, which we ought to acknowledge gratefully..

 

 

And looking forward to actually helping the Lord build this new kingdom (18-22)

Isaiah has repeatedly emphasised that God intended to send out his salvation message to the whole world. Isaiah was sent out to God’s people. God’s special servant will be sent out to the gentiles and to the ends of the earth.

 

 

Now, verses 18-19, Isaiah includes all God’s servants in this task of taking God’s offer of salvation and renewal to the ends of the earth, and bringing people into God’s salvation community or kingdom so that they can fully see and appreciate God’s glory.

 

 

And presumably this activity is also a lasting sign or confirmation of God’s world-wide salvation intention through the work of his special suffering servant, the Lord Jesus.

This is reinforced in God’s final words in verses 22-24. God’s people will have the privilege of bringing in God’s future of the completely restored heavens and earth, by making his name known across the earth.

 

 

But as always God’s name will be known in one of two ways – either as the gracious loving father who saves, renews and keeps forever, or as the powerful, just ruler of this world who will destroy his enemies as the final means of securing the honour and respect due to him.

 

 

Friends, as Isaiah helped God’s people back in his day to move seamlessly from physical Israel to the new idea of God’s spiritual community of saved people, so we move seamlessly from Isaiah to the Lord Jesus.  

 

 

Therefore we can be confident in the gospel. Jesus coming into the world to establish God’s kingdom through his death and resurrection is not plan ‘B’ for God because plan ‘A’ was a failure.

 

 

The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus to deal with sin and create new relationship with the Lord for his people IS the implementation of God’s one and only salvation plan.

 

 

So, in a very real sense we should see the gospel as simply the gathering spoken of by Isaiah. And that is the language Jesus used – the fields are white for harvest or gathering,

 

 

And so we can also be confident gatherers as we speak the gospel message. Isaiah 55:10-11 promises that God’s word of salvation will achieve what it is meant to achieve.

 

 

Jesus reinforces this point in the parable of the four soils in mark 4 . There will be a harvest or gathering, even though there will also be many false responses.

 

 

The whole book of Acts is simply the story of Christ gathering his sabved community or the church as we know it using those already saved in the task.

 

 

The story of the early church, or indeed the church in our own day, in not tenuous or doubtful. It is the story of God continuing to gather his died for people.

 

 

Lydia in Acts 14 is a great example. The Lord brought his salvation message to her through Paul. And simultaneously he brought Lydia to respond and be saved by renewing her mind and attitudes from the inside out. He opened her heart to believe.

 

 

 

 

So we can be confident in our task of gathering. We have the incredible privilege of sharing in the work of Messiah by going out with God’s invitation to the thirsty to come and enjoy his salvation party at no cost, and bringing back with us those who delight to respond to such a wonderful offer.

 

 

And best of all, we can be confident that as the Lord has gathered us into Jesus, he will also gather us and take us home to be with him finally.

 

 

Let me finish the series by going back to where we started because in spite of all the wonderful encouragements there are for you and me as Christians in Isaiah’s vision, I need to finish with the spotlight on the grace and generosity of our Lord.

 

 

Read Isaiah 2:18-20 .

Here is your gracious God.

Here is his wonderful invitation and promise to enjoy the good life if only we will recognise our need and come to him for forgiveness and renewal.

Here is the whisper of Jesus than ends in the world-changing events of the cross.   

 

 The Lord has spoken. There is no doubt about his intentions and offer of salvation. The only other thing yet to be determined is whether you are listening and responding or whether you are determined to block out his words and continue to seek out the good life apart from him and in rebellion to him.

 

 Amen 

 

  

Last Updated on Friday, 05 October 2012 10:52  

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