1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
- What does it mean that the parched desert and the wilderness will shout with joy? Why is that significant?
- What is it that the hands are shaking and knees are unsteady? What is going on that makes confidence in God so hard? Have you ever gone through circumstances that make it hard to believe in God’s goodness? Explain.
- Why can Isaiah say confidently to “take courage”? What makes him so bold?
- How does the healing ministry of Jesus help us to believe this word of encouragement from Isaiah?
- Why are there no unclean people or fools on the Highway?
- What does it mean to be redeemed or rescued? What does that say about God? What does that say about us?
- How does gladness and joy become a feature of the people of God? What does that look like?
- What are your key takeaways?
- What opportunities have you had to apply your key takeaways?
- How is God using this to change you?
Gladness and Joy
*This transcript is generated from the sermon audio. This document has not been edited for spelling, grammar, or exactness.
All right. Go ahead and track down a Bible and get with me. In Isaiah, chapter 35. And the bibles that are in book racks here, if you look at the one in the chair rack in front of you, you can find Isaiah, chapter 35 on page 615. Six, one, five. And what I’ll do is I’ll read verses one to ten. Then I’ll pray and we’ll get to work. This is Isaiah, chapter 35. It reads like this.
The desert and the parched land will be glad. The wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus. It will burst into bloom. It will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it. The splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands. Steady the knees that give way. Say to those with fearful hearts, be strong. Do not fear. Your God will come. He will come with vengeance. With divine retribution. He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer. And the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground. Bubbling springs in the haunts where jackals once lay. Grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there. It will be called the way of holiness. It will be for those who walk on that way. The unclean will not journey on it. Wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast. They will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there. And those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing. Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them. And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Let’s pray. Lord, as we’ve opened your word together. We’re praying that by your spirit, through your word, you would speak to us. We’re praying, God, that you would help us to see the beauty of the Christmas message and the hope that it holds out for us to become a people who are crowned with everlasting joy. Fill us with that gladness and joy as we anticipate our coming king. Not only that he came in the first century, but that he’s coming again. And so help us to look forward to his return. We pray in his name. Amen.
Last week, when we were holding our meeting, we spent some time reviewing our history which is actually a good thing to do. We were looking all the way back to 2016 and the preliminary meetings that we were holding, and we began to just kind of rehearse the various chapters of our life together as a congregation. And the thing about doing that, revisiting history, is it gives you a greater appreciation for the moment. It helps you to see, okay, there were a lot of things that have gone on that have led to this, and therefore, we can celebrate this with greater exuberance. And the same thing is true when it comes to Christmas. It’s very easy for us to look at the Christmas narrative and take a lot for granted. But it’s helpful if we go back and we look at all these different things throughout scripture that were preparing us for that moment of the messiah’s arrival. And Isaiah is that for us. He is somebody who lived hundreds of years prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, and he gets a message from God, and he gets a message about Christmas. And so he’s revealing these different aspects of this messiah and what it’s going to be like when he arrives. And so we’ve been spending our time going back hundreds of years and listening to the voice of Isaiah and learning about the significance of Christmas. Isaiah 35 is another one of those passages. It helps us to see the beauty of the Christmas message. And I’m going to show you three things here. The Christmas message is about three different things from Isaiah 35. It’s about transformation, it’s about hope, and it’s about worship. So let’s get to work.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD
The Christmas message is a message about transformation. You see that in verses one and two, and then also again in verses six and seven. But one of the things to note here, if you’re looking at the entire chapter, is the whole thing is bracketed with this idea of worshipping with gladness and joy. You see it in verse one. It shows up right away. The desert and the parched land will be glad. The wilderness will rejoice and blossom. You see that right away. And here at the top, it’s the earth. Creation is rejoicing. It’s full of gladness and joy. And then at the end, we’ll come back to this. But we’ll see that people are crowned with everlasting joy. We are filled with gladness and joy, and therefore we rejoice. This is about worship. When we think about what Christmas is for, it is to create a worshipping people. It’s to create a people who are joyful in the thing that God has done for them. But notice here, when we’re looking at the transformation, the emphasis in verses one and two and six and seven happen to be the transformation of the world, the desert and the parched land. These uninhabitable places all of a sudden are transformed under the supervision of the work of God. Verse one goes on to say, like the crocus, it will burst into bloom, it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The land itself is being transformed. And then it’s worshipping, it’s rejoicing, it’s shouting loudly with joy. Now, a lot of us, I would say, do not have a beefy enough theology of creation. If you read the Bible, there’s something that is surprising to me. It’s the connection between the people that are following God and the effect on the land. When the people are following the ways of God, the land benefits. It becomes more fertile, it becomes more beautiful. When they disregard God, the land suffers. And that’s a theme that runs throughout the entirety of scripture. In fact, in Romans chapter eight, the New Testament, we’re told that creation is groaning, and it uses a metaphor. It uses. This idea of creation is like a woman in labor, agonizing and anticipating what God is going to bring to fullness. Creation is groaning, and it’s waiting for the redemption of the sons of God. So here we get this Preview. We get this forward looking vision from Isaiah going, there’s a day coming when the transformative work of God will change the entire landscape. These dumpy places, these inhospitable places, these unlivable places will be transformed. They will become, in fact, glorious. Look at verse two. The glory of Lebanon will be given it the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. What is that talking about? It’s these real cities. And Lebanon was renowned for its timber. It grew these huge cedar trees. And so if you had a big project and you were using lumber, one of the questions you might ask is, where’d you get that from? And if you said, I got it from Lebanon, it’s a cedar from Lebanon. People go, ooh, that’s the good stuff. That’s the good stuff there. So you got this dumpy area that’s getting the glory of Lebanon, and then it’s also getting the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. Those are two towns that are up on a mountain range, and those places are known for being able to grow all these beautiful things. And so what it’s saying is, you got this dumpy spot that’s becoming glorified and splendid, the transformative work of God. You got this place that seems unlivable, but now it’s being transformed to a glorious and splendid place. I was thinking About it This Week. My friend Dan, he is from Rockford, and he moved away, but he came back and he started a business, and it’s a wakeboarding park. Now, if you know my story, that’s pretty significant because I grew up riding sideways wakeboarding and doing these different things. So he was bringing a wakeboarding park to RocKford, Illinois, which to me was just incredibly surprising. But we had some talks early on, and he met with the city and then with the park district, and they said, why don’t you launch your site at Levings Lake or Pierpont park, which is on the southwest side of town? And so they drafted up a plan, and it’s like, you can be here, and there’s all these features that will work for this business. And because I love wakeboarding so much, I became an advocate for it. I was telling people about it. I’m letting people know, wakeboarding park is going to start up here in Rockford. The feedback I would always get is this. You don’t want to be on that side of town. You don’t want to try launching this business down there. It will not go well. And there were all these kind of negative connotations and reasons, but people would be like, you know what? If you were going to do this, you should do it at rock cut on the east side, right? Because you’re talking about this historic park that’s kind of dumpy, and it’s in an area of town that’s not the nicest. But what you really want is to be on the good side of town. What Isaiah is getting at here is the transformative work of God takes those places that seem like they’re dumpy and rehabs them and makes them glorious and splendid. That’s what God is doing. That’s what the Christmas message is about. It’s about God coming to town and remaking things. And look at verses six and seven. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground, bubbling springs and the haunts where jackals once lay. Grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. God will transform creation itself. Creation will reflect the glory of his redemptive work. Now, I was thinking about it, and a lot of you are probably like, dude, we’re, what, five, seven minutes in? And you’re talking about earth, you’re talking about dirt. I didn’t get out of bed this morning. To come to church and hear about dirt. Right? Most of us weren’t like, oh, you know, I hope I get a sermon on the earth. So what does this have to do with us? Why should this incline our hearts? Well, the thing is, creation worshipping is an indication that God is doing something profound. And I would put it like this. If creation has the good sense to respond to the transformative work of God, you better believe we will be worshipping also. And in fact, that’s what the next verse goes on to say. Verse two says, they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Now the subject changes. It’s not the desert wilderness that is talking about, it’s people. Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer puts it like this. They, the unidentified human element in the renewed world, will be preoccupied with a different vision. Creation will be rejoicing. It’ll be shouting with joy, and that’ll be wonderful. But that’s just a reflection of the glory of what God is doing. So they will be preoccupied not with creation, but with the creator. They will be riveted with the glory and the splendor of the Lord. That’s what verse two is saying. They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. We will experience the beauty of what God has done, and it will incline our hearts to worship him forever. That’s how significant this really is. The sending of the sun, the sending of Jesus Christ, is the event that brings the transformation of the world and the transformation of us.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE
Secondly, notice that this is a message of hope in verses three to six. What Isaiah is doing is he is encouraging this people to be faithful to God and wait for his arrival. But the circumstances that were going on in Isaiah’s day were really, really awful. In fact, the commentators can’t get around it. All of them mention that one commentator puts it like this. Confronted with the mighty nations who use their power ruthlessly, what is one to do but to bow one’s head in terrified resignation? Assyria is going to smoke them. It’s going to wipe them out. There are these big powers surrounding them and enclosing in on them. And it’s bad. And you can’t neglect that Isaiah’s writing during a time in which historically, things were not going well. And nonetheless, he’s able to look through those events in human history and beyond those events in human history to the day in which God returns and makes all things right. And he offers then a word of hope. He tells us if this is true, if God is coming, then you can take confidence in the promises that he gives us. Look at verse three. He says, strengthen the feeble hands. Steady the knees that give way, saying to a people who are so fearful that their bodies are trembling, their hands are shaking, their knees are quaking. This reminds me, by the way, of freshman English class, and this will surprise you, some of you will be like, man, I didn’t know that. I do not naturally want to be in front of people. It’s not in my temperament, it’s not how God made me. I’m grateful for the calling and the spiritual gifting that God has given to me. But in freshman English class, I failed a semester because there was a public speaking component to it. And I had my card. So I get up there with my note card and I’m supposed to talk in front of people, and my hands are shaking and my knees feel so weak that I might fall down. So I get through my opening line and then I’m paralyzed and I can’t say anything else. So I just sit down and fail. See that imagery, though? That’s the way of life for the people of God. They’re not fearful of a public speaking event. They’re fearful of this real threat against them, that their family members might be in jeopardy, that their kids are in danger, that things are not going to go well, and there’s not a clear path forward to make things all better. So they are literally shaking and their knees are quaking. And Isaiah with this word of faith is saying, strengthen those hands. Steady those knees that are about to give way. Say to those with fearful hearts, be strong. Do not fear. I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that there are certain situations where being positive is actually not good. So when somebody is dealing with cancer and they’re receiving treatment, it is not helpful to go to them and tell them it’s going to be okay. We don’t know. There’s a way in which you can offer words and you want to be helpful and you’re trying to be positive and encouraging, but it just doesn’t line up to reality. So sometimes you say things as a Christian that really are inappropriate. You tell people things that just aren’t. They aren’t true and they’re not helpful. When you’re dealing with somebody getting cancer treatment, or a couple that’s in conflict and their marriage is hanging on by a thread, or you’re dealing with interpersonal conflict, there are things that you can say that just don’t fit. And so I was thinking this week is Isaiah telling us something here that feels out of step with reality? If you know what the Assyrians are doing, if you know what’s going to happen, it almost feels inappropriate. How is it that he can say this word and have any integrity as he’s saying it to them? We were driving around, and Harrison was. Well, this week, Harrison was watching. Have you guys seen boss baby? So weird. He’s watching boss baby in the. You know, it’s a fun story because it’s from the imagination of a child getting a younger sibling. And they’re like, this new one is a boss. And so he imagines this boss baby in a suit with all these kind of businessy things about him. And it’s funny. And I actually started laughing. I wasn’t watching. I just overheard this. And I started laughing out loud because I think they were being chased. And the boss baby starts saying. Spouting off all of these business things that are totally unhelpful. Like, if you can dream it, you can do it. You know, all these kind of cliche things and just this nonsense, right? And it made me laugh because it was so funny. Is Isaiah using a nonsensical cliche saying, take courage, guys. Yeah, they’re going to wipe you out. But be strong. Just speak this into existence. Just take courage here. No, he is able to say this with integrity, because he sees with the eyes of faith how it’s going to unfold. Look at verse four. God is coming to town. Your God will come. He will come with vengeance, with divine retribution. He will come to save you. The reason why you can go through hell on earth and come out on the other side still standing is not because we’ve spoken positively over our lives. It’s because God is coming. And we have taken hope and courage in that reality. He is coming to make things right. So as bad as it is, and it is bad for some of us, the things that are going on within our own congregation, it is awful. And we don’t wink at that, and we’re not dismissive of it. But there is a promise that God will come, and he will make all things right. And that’s what steadies us. That’s what gives us hope and courage in the midst of a disappointing and discouraging life. And look at what happens. Verse five. Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. These individuals who are incapacitated, blind and deaf and paralyzed and mute and all these different things. The work of God is able to undo all of that. There’s a day coming when God is going to make all things right, and it will have an effect on our bodies and we will be able to experience this beautiful, transformative work of God. Now, where do we see these things happening in scripture, in the ministry of Jesus Christ. What was he doing? He was traveling around and there were blind people who received their sight. There were mute people who received the ability to speak. There were lame people who were brought in on a mat and then left on their own 2ft. See what Christ is doing. We see it in a preview form in his earthly ministry, and then we’re going to see it in its fullness when he returns again. But this work of God, then, is what gives us hope. We look at the circumstances and we go. As long as it is this way, I know one day the Lord is coming back and he’s going to make it right. Even if my entire life looks like this, one day he’s going to return and settle all accounts and his redemptive work will be completed in that moment. Therefore, we take hope in that. Think about this. Paul House pointed it out to me. I didn’t catch it originally, but it was interesting when John the Baptist in his earthly ministry, he was very confident when Jesus showed up. What did he say? There’s the lamb of God. Behold the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Just an immediate this is who this dude is. But then he gets arrested. And when John the Baptist is in prison, he sends another note, this time to Jesus, and he says, are you the one? Originally, he was incredibly confident. Here he is. Then he finds himself in prison and he goes, are you the one we should be waiting for, or is there someone else? And Jesus replies, and do you know what he does? He cites Isaiah 35. He quotes this. Tell John the Baptist these things are happening, that the eyes of the blind are being opened, the ears of the deaf are being unstopped, the lame are leaping like joy, the mute tongue is being loosed. Tell John the Baptist this stuff is coming true. You see, we need this word of hope from Isaiah, from the scriptures. Because when life gets hard, it’s hard to believe it. When life gets hard enough, it’s hard to believe that the promises are still in force. And God keeps reminding us they are in force. One day all these things will come true on a grand scale and you will be a part of it. The life is hard, but God is coming, and that’s what Isaiah is teaching us the message of Christmas is the message of hope. The brokenness of the world will be set right again. Strengthen your feeble hands, steady your knees, be strong, and do not fear. God is coming.
THE PATH OF WORSHIP
Third, we see this pathway of worship in verses eight to ten. There’s a road there in this desert that has been turned splendid. There’s a road, verse eight. And a highway will be there, and it will be called the way of holiness. It will be for those who walk on that way. There’s a pathway. It’s a way of life. It’s this highway, and it’s the highway of holiness. It’s the place where God’s own character is manifest. He is the holy God, and we will be walking on it. It will be for those who walk on it, and it will be uniquely suited to us. Look at verse eight. The unclean will not journey on it. Wicked fools will not go about on it. These are religious categories. These are religious terms. Clean and unclean. Clean would be people who follow the instructions God has given them to make them fit for coming into the presence of God or being in the presence of God’s community. Wicked fools, that’s another religious category. Those are the people who hear what God says and they think to themselves, I don’t like that. I understand what you’re saying, but I’d rather try it my own way. That would be to be a wicked fool to say, God, your instructions are not right. I’m going to follow my own way. So the unclean and the wicked fools are not on this pathway, and it’s not because God is like, hey, I like you. You’re here, I don’t like you. You’re out. He’s not picking favorites. Alec Motyer says, these are people who are self-disqualified. They’re self-disqualified through a failure to use the means of grace that God has given them. The reason why the unclean and the wicked fool aren’t there is because they’ve chosen not to be there. This idea there were several years ago, we did a series on Jonah. There’s one line in there that haunts me. Jonah is another prophet. And God says, hey, I want you to go to Nineveh. And he goes, oh, I don’t like that place. I don’t like those people. He doesn’t like the assignment, so he goes in the opposite direction, right? And God chases him down, so to speak, and he ends up inside the belly of a fish, and he starts to pray, and he realizes, dude, I messed up here. I thought I could get away from God. That was kind of silly of me to even imagine that. But he’s in the belly of the fish, and he’s praying, recognizing God. You are always right. Salvation belongs to you. And I know I don’t like the Ninevites, but you might. And then he says this. And not every version gets it, but the ones that do, I’m very grateful for their help. It says this, Isaiah, or, I’m sorry. Jonah prays like this. Those who cling to their worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. You think you’ve got something that you really cherish and want. You are clinging to your idol, and God’s saying, I’ve got a better thing over here. And you go, no, I like this. But you’re forfeiting the grace that could be yours. The unclean and the wicked fools are people who are doing that. Even though God is speaking clearly and he’s telling us, here’s the way. Here’s the way of salvation. Here’s the way of redemption. There are people who say, no, thank you. I’ll do it my own way. And those are the people who are not on this path. But this path then, is accessible to all who will listen to the voice of God and respond with faith and obedience. And this path will be free from danger. Look at verse nine. No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast. They will not be found there. The danger that we feel will no longer be present on the Lord’s highway. And a lot of times we’re walking along and we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. We’re like, this is great, but when is something going to come and spoil it? And God says, here on this highway, that’ll never happen. There’s no danger there. There’s no lions that are hiding in wait for you. There’s no thing that’s going to pounce on you. To undo this, God is helping us to walk in this beautiful and protected pathway. And this pathway is unique to these special travelers. Look at verse nine. Only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return. These are important terms, by the way, because the temptation, when you think about the way of holiness, the temptation might be to think, if I’m going to walk on this path, that means I have to try really, really hard. I have to be a holy person. My life has to be holy. And that’s on me. That’s how a lot of people imagine Christianity. It’s a list of do’s and don’ts. And you really got to get after it. You got to try hard. But notice how God describes the people who are walking on this path. He uses two significant terms. First off, we’re redeemed. You know what it means to be redeemed means you got yourself in so much trouble that somebody had to take you on as their charity project is not a great way to say it, but somebody has to look at you and say, yeah, you’ve made a mess. You’re financially on the hook, but I’m going to take that on. And here’s what that communicates. I value you more than the mess that you’ve made. So Ruth would be a good example of this, where a family falls in financial hardship. Naomi, the mom, her husband dies, her two sons die, she goes back to her homeland and she has nothing. In fact, she’s living that way of poverty, where they’re just picking up the leftovers from the harvesters, and she’s living like that. But Boaz redeems this young woman, Ruth, and by extension, her mother in law, Naomi, he’s the redeemer. But what does he have to do to redeem her? He has to take financial liability for her. He has to say, I’m going to put my neck on the line for you. And what that says is, though you need redeeming, you’re valuable enough for it. Though you need redeeming, I will do that for you. That’s what God is doing here. The people walking on this path are those who have been redeemed. They are those who’ve been rescued. That’s the language of salvation. It means that you’ve gotten yourself in a situation where you can’t rescue yourself. You can’t climb your way out of this thing. Somebody has to come along from a position of strength to pull you out. And that’s what God is doing here. This, by the way, is the message of the Bible. It’s the message of what God is doing, the message of redeeming through the blood of Jesus Christ. He looks at us and he goes, I know, I know the mess that you’ve made, but you’re valuable enough to me that I am taking you on. You’re now my problem and my project. I’m willing to love you. In that way. He looks at the rescuing that we need, and he says, here is the way of salvation. The Bible puts it like this in John 316, for God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish but would have everlasting life. The good news of the gospel is that God is a redeeming God who’s made a way for us to experience his saving through him, sending his own son to die in our place and resurrect from the dead. And those that believe that message are Christians. Those that believe that message are believers in him and in his saving work. And that’s what the whole Bible is about. So when God describes a pathway of holiness where the redeemed and the saved are walking, this is the way of life for this renewed community. Look at verse ten. It results in our worship. It says, they will enter Zion with singing. Everlasting joy will crown their heads. Christianity is a singing religion. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that you get to Christmas time and everyone’s singing. That’s not how I’m wired. Like, musicals kind of bug me. Like, why do people just start singing for no reason? But Christianity is that kind of religion. It’s the kind of religion where you can’t help it. You start to look at what God has done and you go, okay, we’re doing a song now. Like, this is what God has done. He fills us with everlasting joy. It’s crowning us. And so we can’t help it, we just sing. Look at verse ten. It says, gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. We enter the city with singing, filled with joy that God has given us. We enter this incredible reality that we’re able to say gladness and joy, which obviously are lyrics to Christmas songs. Gladness and joy are our inheritance. God has made a way for us to walk on his path and be with him in his presence. So we sing about it. And this message then, it teaches us what Isaiah is saying is Christmas is that incredible promise that though we walk through hell on earth in a lot of different ways, there is hope coming because the Lord is going to return. And one day we will be with him for forever. And the preview that we have on a Sunday morning where we lift our voices or we watch the voices of children be lifted in glorifying God, that preview will become permanent. What we do on a Sunday morning is a preview of coming attraction. One day God is going to return and we will enjoy his presence forever. Christmas is a message about that. It’s about hope, and it’s about gladness and joy. Therefore, we worship him.
Let’s pray right now. Lord, we thank you for the good news of the gospel. We thank you for your love. We thank you for your redeeming love that looks at us in our desperate condition and is willing to take us on. Thank you that you have saved us through the blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you that you are filling us with gladness and joy. Thank you that one day sadness and sighing will flee away. So, Lord, in the meantime, would you fill us with a preview of that coming attraction? Give us hope, steady our hands, steady our feeble knees. Help us to recognize that you are coming and help us to wait with anticipation and hope in that day. Amen.