Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:1-10 - The Mountain and the Coastlands
December 31, 2013 Speaker: Series: Advent 2013
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Isaiah 2:1–2:5
[Text: Isaiah 2:1-5] “The Mountain and the Coastlands”
[Pray – Father, your servant, David, wrote, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 3 O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Through your Word, O God, as we consider the great and marvelous things you have done, may our own hearts rest at peace – the very peace the angels announced had come to earth. Help us to see Jesus more clearly and to trust him and follow him. Amen.]
It’s easy to take for granted the time in which we live. We can say that about any number of things. We live in the time of sliced bread and technology that helps us see a friend’s face from thousands of miles away. We live in a time where medical advances give simple fixes to conditions that once would have quickly taken life. And we also live on this side of the incarnation of Jesus, his first coming; we often take Christmas for granted because of the time in which we live. But looking backward can give us perspective on today. And we’re going to look way back in the expectation that God will help us see today with fresh eyes, full of wonder and worship of His Son.
But wonder and worship is not how this begins. Looking back there is darkness.
The prophet Isaiah wrote during a time of darkness in Israel’s story. The people whom God had led out of Egypt – out of slavery – had run away from their God. Isaiah 1 paints the reality in powerful word pictures; Israel had become rebellious children who don’t know their own Father. In body and soul they were sick, nothing but “bruises and sores and raw wounds” (1:6) lying open. Their worship of the living God was as acceptable as the worship of Sodom and Gomorrah (which is to say it wasn’t pleasing to God at all). Although it followed the form given by God, it was worship in form alone – dead orthodoxy – because their hearts were hard and their hands were covered in blood. They’d not only forsaken God but they’d ceased to love one another as well. Evil, injustice, oppression and apathy toward those in need filled the once beautiful city where God lived with His people. That’s the context of Isaiah’s long work. For decades he told Israel the words of their God, telling them how far from Him they really were; how much distance stood between them and their God because of their rebellion.
That was Israel, the chosen people, the offspring of Abraham to whom belonged the promises and the Law and the covenants. God sent them word of the dangerous position they’d chosen in separating themselves from the LORD. But they weren’t the only people on the planet; our fathers were just as separated from Him, only they didn’t know it.
Think further back in the Story, way back to Genesis 10. After the waters of judgment and salvation rescued Noah and his family, the three sons of Noah and their families slowly spread throughout the world. The Story of Redemption that is the Old Testament follows his son, Shem, because the promises of God went to him. The other sons of Noah, especially Japheth, fade into the background of the Story. In fact, Japheth’s family disappears almost entirely from view. But Genesis 10:5 mentions them as the ancestors of “the coastland peoples.”
Now, these people groups are traceable for the most part. And with most of us being descendants from European families, we understand that these coastland peoples are our families. Our family fell out of the Story of Redemption and into the darkness of ignorance, living a life separated from God and His promises. So, by Isaiah’s day, if Israel was separated from God even with the promises and covenants, then how far away from God do you think our fathers were?
That’s perspective. We assume Christmas and we assume the cross and we assume the resurrection of Jesus because we live in the age of the Gospel (and that is a gracious gift from God!). But there was a time when our families had no knowledge of God and no hope of being rescued from the sin and darkness that lives in each of our hearts.
But even back in Genesis, there was hope – even though it was hope in seed form and would take thousands of years to come to fruition. When Noah blessed his sons (in Genesis 9:27), Japheth was given a place in the tents of Shem. If God was going to keep His promises to Shem and his family down through Abraham and Israel, then the family of Japheth would find a blessing through them.
That hope gets picked up once again in Isaiah, who heard God speaking into the darkness that covered both Jew and Gentile alike. To all humanity separated from God by sinful rebellion and sinful ignorance, Isaiah declared the word of the LORD. God was on the move to do a work of redemption that was as big as creation itself and included both ethnic Israel and the people of the coastlands who’d been lost and separated from God by time and sin itself.
In Isaiah 1:27, we hear God’s intention to rescue Israel. “Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” Redemption of His city and His people was God’s intention. Justice would be the instrument through which he would buy back His city. And repentance, running back to their God, was the goal of Isaiah’s words to Israel. But God would make their redemption possible through an act of righteousness. By the powerful workings of God, Israel would be brought back into the light of the LORD.
But in Isaiah 66:18-21, we hear God’s intention to rescue the very peoples who were separated from Him so long before, peoples who had no Word from the LORD to respond to. Those of Israel who survived the judgment of God through repentance would be used by God to bring in the people of the coastlands.
“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.”
He’s talking about our family here. He’s talking about the same hope and light that came to Israel spreading to the distant people of the coastlands. And what once belonged to Israel alone – sonship to God, true worship in the temple of God, service as priests – these would belong to the Gentiles who come to the LORD. Though they were born in darkness and ignorance, because of the workings of God, a Gentile could be counted as a Levite – one of the twelve tribes of Israel!
The point of looking back at the darkness that hung over Israel and our families alike is not to be able to say, “Boy, I’m glad I’m not like them.” Actually, the point the Scriptures are always trying to make about humanity is that we are all exactly alike. The same rebellious heart that existed in Israel existed in our ancestors and exists in us today. We see it when we hear how God says life works best and then still go our own way. And we see it when we go our own way out of ignorance, doing whatever seems right in our own eyes.
But from Isaiah we hear the promise of God that He would act to redeem His people – His people in Israel and His people from among the nations. And in Isaiah 2 (and throughout the book, really), we see a picture of how it would look when God acted.
[Read Isaiah 2:1-5]
In the ancient world, many peoples believed that their gods lived on the mountains. It made sense; mountains were closer to the heavens. So, temples were built on the mountains for the gods to live in and there was a certain pride people took in worshipping on the highest mountain. But the “mountain of the house of the LORD” wasn’t a very tall mountain at all. In fact, there was a taller mountain just outside of Jerusalem. But God chose the location of His temple and set it on a mid-sized mountain in a small-ish range.
In the eyes of the rest of the world, that was a sign of inferiority. How could Yahweh be a great God if His temple is so low? But in this passage we see that an inversion would take place, lifting up His temple and vindicating Yahweh’s place as the only true God. Yahweh would be seen to be God above all gods.
And look at the effect; “all the nations shall flow to it” (v.2-3). When God acted to establish Himself as the true God, His work would have a powerful, magnetic force, drawing people from around the world to come and worship the “God of Jacob.” They would want to learn “his ways” so they could “walk in his paths.” And see why? “For out of Zion shall go the law, and the world of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The word of God would finally reach the nations, burning away the fog of ignorance with the light of His truth. And the beauty of what they see draws them to worship.
In v. 4, as He rules over them, they’ll respond by embracing the peace that He has brought to them. It’s the picture of the end of warfare because there isn’t any need for it; peace reigns where God reigns.
When Isaiah sees this vision of what God was planning to do, he calls his own people, Israel, to respond in the very same way that God said would be the means of their redemption. In v. 5 he says, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.” For all the darkness in which they’ve walked in the past, for all their rebellion so plainly laid out in chapter 1, this is the response for Israel: repent from their old ways and go back to walking in the light of Yahweh. It is the walk of faith, trusting in the LORD to forgive and redeem them through the act of righteousness He promised would come.
But if chapter 2 is a picture of how God intends things to be, there remains a question in Isaiah of HOW these this reality will come. How will the mountain of the house of the LORD be lifted up above the rest? How will the word of the LORD go out to bring the nations in? How will God redeem Israel through righteousness?
The answer becomes clearer as Isaiah goes on. He would do it through member of Israel’s own family. But this coming one wouldn’t be any mere man. In Isaiah 11, we see the promised one coming as a man, but more a man upon whom the Spirit of God rests.
[Read Isaiah 11:1-10]
There is so much to see in this passage, but what I want us to hold on to here is that this promised one who would come from the cut-down stump of Israel’s kingly line – coming out of death and destruction and lowliness to rule over all things – this promised one is doing the work of Yahweh Himself. This is the Messiah, the Christ. He judges justly and decide disputes with righteousness. He speaks and his word goes out as the very word of God does in chapter 2. And where he reigns, we see the same peace as in chapter 2 reigning over the world. The references to animals here has more to do with the predatory, imperialistic nations being subdued to live peacefully with the weaker nations. All that belongs to the work of the Messiah.
But just as importantly this Messiah, this anointed servant of the LORD, is the embodiment of Yahweh’s Temple itself. Just as the Spirit of God rested in the Temple as His earthly dwelling place, the Spirit of God would rest upon this one from the line of Jesse. Jesse, King David’s father, actually bookends this section since he is the root of the kingly line. So, look at v.10. Do you remember how the people in chapter 2 would come to the Temple of God, to the mountain of the LORD to learn how to walk with Him? Compare that here to v.10; “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples – of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” The nations will come to the Temple to know the LORD; the nations will come to the Messiah to know the LORD. The Messiah is the presence of God with His people to save them and lead them from darkness into light.
That’s what we’re supposed to hear and believe and embrace this Christmas season– the promise of Emmanuel; “God with us.” We’re supposed to hear and believe that in the Messiah the great inversion would take place. When he as the Temple of Yahweh was lifted up above all other gods, then the great inversion would take place and he would bring into reality the promised redemption and peace.
Only he wouldn’t be lifted up in honor. On the contrary, his being lifted up would mean his death.
When Jesus came, the angel said he was called “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us” – just another fulfillment of the words of Isaiah. But beyond his incarnation and the miracle of the virgin birth – itself a sign given in Isaiah’s day – beyond his birth was his work. Turn in your Bibles to John 12. After Jesus raised Lazarus he went into Jerusalem, the city containing the mountain of the house of the LORD of which Isaiah wrote. And the crowds welcomed him saying “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
Though they would later be confused and enraged by Jesus, in this moment they understood that this Jesus was the Messiah, coming to do the work of the Messiah – rescuing both Israel and all the families of the earth.
But that didn’t please everyone. In v.19 the Pharisees lamented their loss of influence and said, “…Look, the world has gone after him.” And as if the emphasize the truth they’d just spoken, John writes that a certain group of people, in town for the feast, were asking to see Jesus. They were Greeks, descendants of Japheth’s son, Javan.
But Jesus’ response to these foreigners is strange – strange unless we see the purpose of God beginning to come into fruition. Jesus begins talking about the hour of his “glorification.” But it becomes clear that he’s talking about his death and the powerful, fruitful, magnetic effect it will have.
[Read John 12:27-36]
“’And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’” Speaking of his crucifixion, Jesus understood that what he was about to do was what the Messiah’s work was really all about. He would bring about the promised redemption for all the people of God, both Jew and Gentile, through his death. The lifting up of his body on the tree would God’s way of exalting His Temple – His true Temple – above every other so-called temple. In the bloody sacrifice of the Christ is the glory of God revealed. The death of Jesus would be the “act of righteousness” (see Romans 5:18) God used to give hope and forgiveness and peace to mankind who had lived in darkness and sin for so long.
Of course, that confused his listeners terribly. They couldn’t understand how the Messiah could be taken away from them since they were expecting a merely political salvation from Rome. But listen to what he tells them. It echoes the cry of Isaiah’s heart when he sees the good plan of God and says, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD.”
Jesus speaks of himself as the light of the LORD saying, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light…While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
He urges those who hear him to embrace what God was doing through Him. He urges those who heard him them and hear him now to believe in him as the light that shines into the darkness and conquers it through his own death on the cross. For the Jew and the Gentile who believe in him God would bring them to himself and cause them to be sons - no longer distant rebels or ignorant pagans worshiping false gods on lesser mountains. Through the mighty workings of God through Jesus the Christ, God was bringing the promised reality into existence. In Christ was redeeming His people and making a way to be with all His people once again.
Anticipating that day, Isaiah said, “O that you would rend the heavens and come down…” (Isaiah 64:1). The Gospel says that day came. Jesus came. Yahweh in the flesh came to draw you to himself and he died to do it. That is the wonder and the joy of the incarnation of Jesus the Christ. That is the wonder of the Gospel writer who said, “In him (that is, Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shone in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:4-5, 9-12)
You live in a time when the true Light has come and grace and truth came with him. You live in a time when the Gospel of Jesus has already spread to you people of the coastlands and the Spirit of God has been at work in our history and in our families working faith in Jesus. God has been on the move in these long years since the lifting up of Jesus, accomplishing his purpose of drawing all the families of the earth – including us – to himself so that we might worship him. What a privileged time! How good of God to call us to Himself out of darkness and into the light of His Son!
So, today and this Christmas (and throughout the rest of the year) look back and remember that we who were once far off have been brought near to God through the lifting up of Jesus. We were walking in darkness but the light has shined on us through Jesus the Christ. And as we rest in him, trusting in him, we are walking in the light of the LORD.
[Pray – Father, thank you that you came to us to draw us to yourself. We were separated from you by sin and darkness but you came to us through Jesus the Christ. And it pleased you to lift him up in death so that we might be lifted up to you in life and true worship and restored relationship with you. Help us, Father, to walk with you now in the light of Christ with grateful hearts – worshipping you, loving you and loving one another – as we wait for Christ’s Second Advent. We long for that Day, O Lord, when the fullness of his peace reigns over this earth made new and the earth is full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the seas. In your Christ we hope and pray. Amen.]
[Benediction, from Numbers 6:24-26]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his fact to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
More in Advent 2013
December 29, 2013Luke 2:22-35 - Revealed to Reveal