Hope for the Hopeless: Isaiah 59-62
A sermon by Coty Pinckney, preached at Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 2/9/97
Nogales is a dusty Mexican town about 60 miles south of Tucson. A tall steel and concrete fence marks the border, barring illegal immigrants from the US. This town has ballooned from a sleepy village of 13,000 to its present population of approximately 270,000 in the last 45 years. The unemployment rate in Nogales is more than 50%, and 80% of its inhabitants live in wood and cardboard settlements with no services of any kind.
Last week's Economist, the international news magazine from London, contains an article about the abandoned children of this town,
some as young as six, who live in old storm drains 20 feet below the ground amid the sewage and garbage that seeps downhill from Mexico to Arizona.
Abandoned, abused, doing whatever it takes to stay alive, the children have made these sewers and the streets around the sewage outlets their own. There are estimated to be at least 200 of them. Many are brain-damaged from the stolen additives, spray paint and other substances they use in a constant effort to stay high and escape their wretched reality. Disease and violence are a fact of life -- not long ago, one 15 year old was stabbed to death by a 13 year old in a fight over a girl.
Known as bajadores, or tunnel rats, they run drugs for the cocaine cartels, rob unwary passers-by, and attack people being sent through the tunnels and across the border by the smugglers of illegal immigrants.
What despair! What hopelessness! But these children are not alone in their hopelessness, in their despair. How many more thousands and millions of people are there in similar situations, resorting to substance abuse & violence in a vain attempt to escape reality, to find a way out of their darkness?
Children in similar circumstances scrape out a hellish existence all over the less developed world. But how many others, outwardly successful, share with these children a sense of hopelessness? How many find life worthless and meaningless, and find now way of escape?
How many here this at Community Bible Church this morning, beneath a veneer of smiles and calm, are frustrated, angry, feeling trapped
How many others feel betrayed by those they trusted and depended upon?
In our trek through Isaiah, we have come to God's proclamation to those caught in traps, to those feeling despair, to those who thought there was nothing worthwhile left in their lives. Chapters 60-62 present a glorious vision of God's promises to his children, to those who turn to him and depend upon him. These chapters picture a God who will bring light out of darkness, who will cause those who were lost in darkness to shine themselves, who will substitute freedom for the prisons that bind us, gladness for mourning, shouts of joy for humiliation. All tears will be wiped away, all wrongs righted and paid for, and God's people will be the delight of the Lord. Moreover, these very people, abused and apparently forsaken, will be the glory of God -- God himself will be glorified by what we become.
How can you be sure that you are to share in this glory? This morning I want, first, to help you to understand God's prerequisites for your participating in this glorious vision. Second, I want to help you to see through the gloom and darkness you may be in, to help you to get a foretaste, just a foretaste of what is in store for God's people. Paul says in Romans 8:18: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." It is that glory which Isaiah shares with us in these chapters -- catch a glimpse of it this morning!
So let us begin with Isaiah 60 verse 1: "ARISE! SHINE! For your light has come!"
You arise! You shine! Your light is here! This is a proclamation of light and hope -- but to whom? How can we make sure that we are among those who are to share in this hope?
To understand this, we need to look back into chapter 59. Recall that the chapter divisions in the Bible were not in the original manuscripts, but were added later to make referencing easier. Chapter 60 is addressed to the same audience as Chapter 59. So who was addressed in Chapter 59? Who are these people who will share in God's glory?
Note three characteristics of these people:
First, they are lost in darkness. Like the bajadores of Nogales, like some of us this morning, they look around and see darkness; they see no way out, no hope. Consider 59:9-11:
9. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. 10 Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes. At midday we stumble as if it were twilight; among the strong, we are like the dead. 11 We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none; for salvation, but it is far away.
These people are in the dark, looking for light, but unable to see. They are weak, with no ability to accomplish anything. They are weeping and moaning. They lack justice -- wrongs against them continue to be committed, but no one is punished, no one is called to account. They seek salvation, protection, deliverance, but it is nowhere in sight.
Second, these people are responsible for their plight. Consider verse 2:
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
The people walking in darkness are not innocent, they are not only victims of the sins of others. Instead, these are people who could have had a relationship with the all-powerful creator of the universe, but instead have chosen to live lives that result in separation from God. God does not hear their pleas; God does not show his face to these people because of their sins.
Now, stumbling in the darkness, feeling that God hides his face, could lead to despair and a lashing out at God and the world. But instead, these people respond in verses 12-15a in a different way: So the third point to note about these people is that they confess their responsibility, their own role in bringing about darkness:
12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: 13 rebellion and treachery against the LORD, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. 14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
When we are lost in darkness, it is easy to be angry with our circumstances, angry with God, and to blame Him and other people for all that we suffer. Oh, we might acknowledge some "minor" personal offenses, but in our minds those look so small compared to what has been done to us! But these people in Isaiah 59 instead acknowledge their own role in creating that darkness. And this is vital. THE FIRST STEP IN ESCAPING FROM DARKNESS IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR OWN ROLE IN CREATING DARKNESS.
This is so hard for us to do, yet it is the key to escaping from darkness! God says to us, "Take responsibility! Acknowledge before me that you are a sinner, that YOU have caused this separation from me."
This need to accept responsibility is the key to resolving so many of our problems. Consider problems in marriage, or problems between parents and children -- and problems between us and God. We are all so quick to assign blame: "OK, I may be 10% at fault but he/she is 90% at fault!" And the other party to the dispute simply reverses the proportion of assigned blame. We need to be like these people in Isaiah 59, and confess to God, confess to our aggrieved loved one -- not to falsely assume all blame, but to acknowledge that we are at fault, that our own sinfulness is the root of the problem, to agree with God when he says that our iniquities have separated us from Him.
So we have seen that these people are suffering in darkness, that they are responsible for their own lost state, and that they have confessed to their role in creating the darkness that surrounds them. They admit that they are wicked. But what is God's response? Does God care? If he cares, is he able to save?
This chapter assures us that God does care, and that He is able to save:
59:1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. . . . 15b The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him,
Does the Lord care? YES! Does he see the injustice and hurt and pain of the bajadores, of you this morning? YES! What does he do about it? The loving and almighty God works salvation for those wallowing in darkness who have confessed their own sinfulness. This working of salvation is twofold, as described in verses 17 to 21. First of all, look at verses 17 and 18:
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. 18 According to what they have done, so will he repay wrath to his enemies and retribution to his foes; he will repay the islands their due.
God is saying here, "You have confessed, but you are not the only ones at fault. I hate injustice! I hate sin! I hate what the sin of others has done to you! I will wreak vengeance for that, I will right all wrongs!" This is the God of justice speaking. Every sin will be paid for, every wrong will be righted. Isaiah will elaborate on this theme in chapter 63, which we will consider next week.
But we will focus the rest of our time this morning on the second outworking of God's salvation, as introduced in 59:20-21 and then elaborated on in chapters 60-62. The prophet writes:
20 "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins," declares the LORD. 21 "As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever," says the LORD.
God says that the redeemer will come for those who repent. First, all sins will be paid for -- the Lord is a God of justice. But God will pay the penalty himself, he will redeem all those who repent. Furthermore, not only will he redeem their sins, he will put his words within us, he will give us his Spirit forevermore. What a blessing to those who had walked in darkness!
Chapters 60 to 62 then elaborate on this idea, on the blessings that will come to those who repent of their sins and acknowledge that God is right and just in his reaction to our sins. The prophet illustrates these blessings as a series of substitutions, where God substitutes good for evil, or substitutes the best for the good. Let us read these three chapters in their entirety, and then discuss a few of these substitutions:
60: 1 ¶ "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. 2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. 3 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 4 "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. 5 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 6 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. 7 All Kedar's flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple. 8 "Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests? 9 ¶ Surely the islands look to me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your sons from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. 10 "Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favor I will show you compassion. 11 Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that men may bring you the wealth of the nations-- their kings led in triumphal procession. 12 For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined. 13 "The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet. 14 The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the LORD, Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 15 ¶ "Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. 16 You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts. Then you will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. 18 No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. 21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. 22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly."
61:1 ¶ The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 4 ¶ They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. 7 Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs. 8 "For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity. In my faithfulness I will reward them and make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed." 10 ¶ I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
62:1 ¶ For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married. 5 As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. 6 ¶ I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, 7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. 8 The LORD has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: "Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; 9 but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the LORD, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of my sanctuary." 10 ¶ Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations. 11 The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your Savior comes! See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.'" 12 They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted. (NIV)
This morning we will focus on three of the many substitutions that the prophet highlights. First, consider the substitution of Light for Darkness.
Remember, these are the same folks who were lost in darkness, in gloom, and were moaning in the last chapter. But this chapter is full of images of light, as God replaces that gloomy darkness with the brightness of His presence. There are images of the sun, of God rising and shining on his people, resulting in the same folks who were lost in darkness becoming light themselves! Those who could not see because of the absence of an external light by God's grace receive an internal light, and shine on all those around them.
Indeed, in 60:5, we, God's people, are said to be radiant. Radiant! Whenever I hear the word "radiant" I have to think of Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte's Web. Remember, Charlotte, the clever spider, saves Wilbur from becoming pork by writing words in webs above his stall. She first weaves "some pig" to the astonishment of everyone around. But her second word is this one: "Radiant." Radiant: shining, glowing, beaming, brilliant. Giving off light.
God says this radiance is characteristic of all of us together, of the entire people of God. We may confess our sinfulness to God one by one, but God is in the process of purifying an entire holy nation for himself, and as Isaiah writes in 62:1, our righteousness will then shine like the dawn.
So God replaces the darkness, the gloom in which we are lost with light. We ourselves, individually and corporately, become light, as God exercises his strong right arm to save us, to perfect us, to give us His Spirit.
The second substitution I want to draw to your attention this morning is Joy for Sorrow. Look at these four verses:
The contrast with chapter 59 cannot be more striking. Grief, humiliation, sorrow, weeping will all be changed, as we will be overwhelmed with joy and gladness.
The apostle John gives us a similar picture in Revelation chapters 21 and 22, when describing the new heavens and the new earth that God will create. Consider Revelation 21:4
He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.
This is God's promise to those lost in darkness: "Repent, confess, turn to me and I will substitute joy for your sorrow, I will wipe every tear from your eyes, joy will be yours for all eternity."
Furthermore, note that the substitution of joy for sorrow is not limited to God's people. God himself will experience joy instead of sorrow. Remember in chapter 59, God was appalled that their was no justice, and was hurt by his people's lack of faithfulness. But in chapter 62:4-5, Isaiah pictures the redeemed as the beloved bride of God, with God rejoicing in his perfected bride. In a good marriage, the greatest joy to a husband or wife is to know that the other delights in him or her. As all is laid bare before each other, nothing is hidden, each spouse knows that he or she is known completely and is fully loved. This is the picture of our relationship to God in Isaiah 62. He knows us, he perfects us, and he delights in us. For God, too, joy replaces sorrow.
Thirdly, God substitutes Righteousness for Sin. The people in chapter 59 were suffering because of their own sinfulness. But God, through his redeemer, makes the people righteous (60:21) so that the Messiah can proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners (61:1). We were slaves to sin, we were taken captive by Satan to do his will, but God in his great mercy frees us from that slavery, and makes us righteous before him. In verses 10 and 11 of chapter 61 the prophet says he has "wrapped me with a robe of righteousness" -- as God covers us all over, replacing our filthy clothes with his, replacing our poor protection from the elements with his perfect protection -- and, in verse 11, that righteousness will spring up like a plant, growing, becoming what God intended it to be. This then results in the shining forth of all his people in 62:1, as we discussed above, so that we will be called Hephzibah, "My delight is in her."
Righteousness for Sin! Mercy instead of judgment! Joy for sorrow! Light for darkness! This is God's perfect plan of salvation, salvation for us individually, available for all who turn to him, broken and contrite, admitting their sins and falling on his mercy. This is God's perfect plan of redemption for all creation, as he creates a new heaven and a new earth, replacing this creation that mankind through its sin has so thoroughly polluted.
So God will make these substitutions for his people who confess their sin. But two questions arise here. First, when will this happen? How we long for this to take place!
Isaiah addresses this question too. Consider 60:22: "In its time I will do this swiftly." At just the right time this will take place. As God told Habakkuk, though this culmination of God's plan may appear to us to tarry, it will come at exactly the right time. God is sovereign, and he will bring this about swiftly, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet," as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians. It will come.
The second question is, What should we do now? Isaiah gives us the answer in 62:6-7:
On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves, and give him no rest until he establishes, and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.
We are to watch and wait, praying expectantly to God, reminding the Lord of his promises, knowing that everything that he has promised will happen at exactly the right time.
Return for a moment with me to the bajadores. The same news article tells of a ministry to these forlorn children, a ministry that provides shelter, food, education, and listening ears to these who are in despair. The name of the ministry: Mi Nueva Casa, my new house. A shelter from the storms raging around the lives of these children, a place of refuge for those who have never had a real home.
God offers us a nueva casa also, but one that provides much more than relief of our physical needs. God's message to those in despair is here: ARISE! SHINE! I will substitute good for bad, I will redeem the lost! Justice will be done, evil punished, and I will set all things right!
In C.S. Lewis' classic children's tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, an evil witch has taken over the land of Narnia,. This once beautiful land has become a waste, where it is always cold, always winter and never Christmas. But the Narnians hold on to a prophecy of long ago, a prophecy that goes like this:
Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.
This is the promise that Isaiah gives to us. Wrong will be right. Sorrow will be no more. Darkness will end. New life will come.
So where are you this morning? Discouraged? Mourning? Crying out for justice? Enslaved by sin and longing for righteousness?
God offers his redemption, his freedom, his joy, and his love to all who confess, to all who turn to him, humbly seeking his face. Your eternal life can begin today, as he makes you righteous in his eyes, as he regenerates you, as he gives you his Spirit, so that even in this fallen world you can know joy and peace.
But the promise of Isaiah 60 to 62 is that after this life, beyond this world, God will make us perfect. He will obliterate all sin, all darkness, he will put all right, and we will share in the greatest joy imaginable -- No, we will share in a joy beyond what we can even imagine. God will perfect us together with all his people, and we will be his delight even as we delight in Him; we will be to his glory, forever and ever.
This is the promise of God, freely available. Why live as a bajadore, a tunnel rat, when this nueva casa is freely available? Come to the Lord; come to the King of the Universe, even now.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 2/9/97.
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