The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Isaiah 35:1 The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus 2 It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, The majesty of our God. 3 Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. 4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. 7 The scorched land will become a pool And the thirsty ground springs of water; In the haunt of jackals, its resting place, Grass becomes reeds and rushes. 8 A highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. 9 No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious beast go up on it; These will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, 10 And the ransomed of the Lord will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away. (NASB)
To know how difficult the darkness is, one must know what it is like to live in the light. Not even Christians today have a full understanding of just how profoundly sin has affected us and this world. It will only be when the new heaven and new earth come to pass that we will see just how pale the greatest joys of this life truly are.
That was what the children of Israel were getting a foretaste of a the time of the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah. As I mentioned on Wednesday evening, the first 40 chapters of Isaiah was filled with law and judgment, with a couple of exceptions. Chapter 35 is one of those exemptions. In order to appreciate chapter 35, it would be helpful to understand chapter 34.
Isaiah 34 is a chapter of pure and horrible judgment. The chapter begins 1 “Draw near, O nations, to hear; and listen, O peoples! Let the earth and all it contains hear . . . 2 For the Lord’s indignation is against all the nations, And His wrath against all their armies. He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter.”
Before chapter 34 is finished with us, we read of the impending doom and slaughter, the stench of rotting corpses, blood flowing on top of the mountains, burning pitch, and a land and people laid waste by a war sanctioned by the Lord God Himself.
Not to make light of hell, but the picture painted for us in Isaiah 34 is a picture of “hell on earth.” It is intended by God to be a warning and description of what His judgment against idol worshipers looks like. It is a picture of what lay ahead for the Israelites and for who live and died in unbelief.
In as stark as a contrast can possibly be, chapter 35 speaks of the exact opposite. Chapter 35 is about the church’s salvation. In this chapter the church and the land in which it dwells is a type/image of what is to come. Chapter 35 comforts the faithful with a promise and a vision of what the future looks like for those who trust the Lord. It looks radically different than everything that has come before. It told the people of Isaiah day and it tell us that change is coming. The land is to be restored. Diseases will be healed. People will be given courage and a safe highway is bringing the redeemed to God’s joyful salvation. When the Savior comes to save, everything is changed.
In chapter 34 we were given a picture of death and utter destruction. Then suddenly– a reversal, a change. The wilderness and the desert will be glad, the barren places blossom, rejoicing and shouts of joy will be heard in the land, and the people will see the glory of the Lord. The people who were once weak, exhausted, and afraid will be filled with courage to start anew. The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. The lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. Waters will break forth in the desert and the old place will be made new.
As for the highway part, highways in the ancient world were dangerous places. Traveling was a dangerous thing. Travelers had to worry about wild animals, robbers, rapists, and murders attacking and killing them. But the situation is even worst than that. Isaiah 33:8 tells us that the judgment is going to be so bad that “The highways are desolate, the traveler has ceased. . .” The land is so desolate, that there isn’t even anyone for the robbers to rob. It’s so bad they can’t even live there.
Then the Word of God and everything changes. 35:1-2 “The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy.” “Arabah” was a specific location in Judea. It was a very barren land. Nothing grew there. No water could be found there. Judea’s own “Death Valley.”
That’s how bad things can be in this world, but for the promise that everything will be different. The barren places will flourish and even the highway will be a safe place. The travelers will not be victimized by sin, instead there will be a Highway of Holiness.
In the case of Isaiah, he was speaking to and bringing comforting an entire nation, the whole church, which had been enslaved in Babylon because they had turned away from the Lord God. Isaiah was showing the church that their present situation was not going to last forever. It was not permanent.
In time the Lord God would return to His people and He would return His people to the final and ultimate promised land. In the near future, they would go back to Jerusalem and would rebuild the temple. They would live in the forgiveness and sins and worship accordingly as they and the whole Christian church on earth awaited the final day and the arrival of the new heaven and new earth.
In the Gospel lesson things looked pretty bleak for John the Baptist. John was in jail and would soon be beheaded, but that would not be the final word. John’s situation was about as grave as it gets in this world. So he sends a couple of his disciples to secure assurance from Jesus that He was the promised One.
John’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” Jesus points John and his disciples to the promises of the Old Testament and to the work He is doing.
As for the circumstances of Israelites their situation was going to get a lot worse before it got better. When Isaiah first came to them and began preaching repentance, they didn’t listen. They ignored Isaiah’s warning. It was bad news. Good news doesn’t mean much if bad news isn’t taken seriously. If people don’t think they are captives or about to be taken captive, they don’t think they need a savior.
When the Israelites were first told the bad news that the Lord God was going to judge them and send a conquering army to haul them away to slavery, the Israelites were living in freedom. The economy was booming. They were living high on the proverbial hog. Life was good by worldly standards. The idea that God would judge and punish them was ridiculous to them. They were free and powerful. They used that freedom as an occasion to sin. Bad news- God’s judgment is coming for you. The good news, God is sending you a Savior. If you ignore the bad news, then good news isn’t all that good.
Pastors and congregations face some of the same kind of difficulty today. In the season of Advent, we bad news. We are sinners in need of rescue. God’s judgment against us is righteous. In the Season of Advent we have good news. The Savior Christ Jesus has come, continues to come to us, and will come again.
He came once as a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, in the Cross of Good Friday, and in the Resurrection of Easter morning. He comes in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus Christ is coming again and will be here at the end of time.
In the midst of 39 chapters of condemnation, Isaiah 35 teaches that the comings of the Christ are going to change everything: Judgment to grace, darkness to light, sin to holiness, poverty to prosperity, slavery to freedom, arrogance to humility, foolishness to wisdom, and death to life.
Yet, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not treated as good news. At best, the Word of God is met with indifference. At worst God’s words stir hate toward God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the people who speak His word.
We are sinners and by nature under the judgment of God. Isaiah 34 applies to all sinners, to all of us. But Isaiah 35 gives us a promise, a promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Where there will be a “highway . . , a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it.”
Unlike the highways in this world, both literally and figuratively there will be no danger, no threat of animal attacks, no robbers, and no sinners on the heavenly highway. In the new heaven and new earth only “9 . . . the redeemed will walk there, 10 And the ransomed of the Lord will return And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
You are the ransom of the Lord. You are the ones with everlasting joy upon your heads. The devil, the world, and your own sinful nature has held you captive, but Jesus redeemed you, took you back with His first and second advents: Christmas and the Word and Sacrament Ministry. In hem God has changed everything for you.
Christmas is getting close. Advent’s call to “prepare the way for the Lord by repenting” will soon give way to the announcement; “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”” (Luke 2:10-14)
When the God dwells among us everything changes. He came long ago in a manger, on a cross, and out of an empty tomb. Everything changed. He came to you in the baptismal font and your destiny changed. He comes to you in the Lord’s Supper and in His Word of absolution and everything changes. When God come to dwell us everything changes. The old is passing away and the new is coming.
Revelation 21:2-4 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
And when we go to God? We will be changed too! “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52) “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:1)
Change is coming. Change is here. You’re sins are forgiven.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.