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Sermon December 15, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1424

December 15, 2019 Third Sunday of Advent Isaiah 35.1-10

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Ransomed”

 

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

  • Filled With Promise

 

The Bible is filled with promise. I do not just mean that God has promised us life and salvation and lots of other things. I mean it is like when we say that someone has promise or some idea has promise. But even that is weak with regard to the Bible, because what we are saying when someone has promise is that there is a chance at something good here. Promise of a chance of something good in a person is great, so we nurture that promise. We do things that improve the person’s opportunities to fulfill all the promise they have. But the Bible’s promise is much much stronger than that, because it is not just a chance that things will all work out, it is guaranteed. Therefore, we have a constant, persistent hope. No matter what the world presents us, there is always hope in the Bible, hope in God. No matter what life circumstances come our way, there is hope. There is the promise of hope and there is the certainly of hope. It is a sure hope, but it is still hope in that it is not yet here. The promise is good, the promise is sure, the promise is guaranteed, but still a promise that everything will pan out as promised in Isaiah 35, or John 14, or Revelation 21-22.

This is what gave the prophets the courage and the strength to proclaim impossible thoughts for the future. The desert shall blossom. Streams in the sand. Sight to the blind. Hearing for the deaf. A Messiah to come. To the non-believer, this sounds like fantasy. To the believer, promise and therefore, hope. In the end of all things, at the end of our rope, there is always this promise and hope.

 

  • Creation Rejoicing Isa 35.1-2

 

Let’s take a look at Isaiah 35:1-2. It begins with the wilderness, dry land, and desert. The picture is of barrenness. It is a lifeless setting that is emphasized by using three different words for the same arid land – wilderness, dry land, and desert. But this land is under promise. There is a future of some sort for this wilderness. Think about the ways the Bible has emphasized the land. Abraham is promised land for descendants. John the Baptist is one who cries out in the wilderness. Israel journeyed forty years in the wilderness. There is this interesting passage in Hosea 4:1-3 that demonstrates how the land suffers when God’s people rebel:

Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

 

Sin destroys creation. Sin turns the land into a wilderness. But, in Isaiah 35 there is a promise that not all things shall remain dry and lifeless. The land shall be glad and the desert shall rejoice. Look at all the upbeat words in just the first two verses: glad, rejoice, blossom (2x), rejoice (again), joy, and singing. Creation itself shall rejoice and even receive the glory and majesty of God and his land. It is the hope of promise. The lifeless shall have life. The barren will blossom. Someday, in God’s time, it will happen. It is the promise of full restoration of creation. A re-creation will come.

 

  • Humanity Rejoicing Isa. 35:3-6a

 

The result of the promise is a word of encouragement to the people, Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (35.4). The section of 35:3-6a is filled with what happens when God comes on the scene. When God comes there is salvation –

the eyes of the blind are opened,

ears are cleared,

the lame leap,

the mute sing!

 

This is our hope – that God will come and save. It has always been the hope of God’s people. It has always been the prayer of God’s people and of many people seeking to come to God. We’ve heard the refrain of people for years now beseeching God to come and heal our land. This is the hope. This is the promise, the prophetic promise of God. This is one of the places in scripture where we see that promise in the Bible. As I said earlier, there is hope in the Bible, constant, persistent hope. No matter what the world presents us, there is always hope in the Bible, hope in God.

 

  • How We Know! Isa 35:6b-10

 

The remaining verses in Isaiah 35 speak to the reasons we have hope. They tell us why we can have hope. Here is the evidence, even if the evidence has yet to happen,

For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;
7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

8And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.
10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

All the dry places are revitalized with water, all the beasts that could destroy are tamed, and all the people are ransomed. This is God’s way: life from death, blossoms from barrenness, the lost are found, and therefore, there is always a hope. Always hope! The reason we have hope is because God has acted and will act again.

 

Isaiah tells the anxious to be strong and fear not, behold your God…

The chapter ends with the main reason we might not fear,

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

 

The God we behold is the one who ransomed us through Jesus Christ. He puts a song in our hearts and brings joy and gladness to us.

 

  • Ransomed Isa 35.10

 

Turn to Matthew 11. John’s disciples are seeking to find out if Jesus is the one they had hoped for. Remember too the words of Isaiah that the blind will see, the deaf hear...Jesus tells John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

 

Jesus is a fulfillment to the prophecy of Isaiah and of all the Old Testament. Jesus is the hope and the promise that all the promises of the Bible reveal.

 

Proverbs 23:18 Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.

 

The hope has been around for a long long time. Even before Jesus. But in Jesus we have the fulfillment and the complete confirmation of the hope given us by God. We can mourn the loss of Christian influence in our country and we might be anxious about how things are progressing, but in the midst of everything, in the midst of the turmoil, we have hope. We are the only ones who really have hope. So many people are living in despair and don’t even know why. So many people are living in darkness and don’t even realize it. So many are worried about the future or if there is even going to be a future.

Our message to all of those people is, there is hope in Jesus Christ who has ransomed us. Behold, Jesus is the only one who can deliver you from despair. Jesus is the light in the darkness. Jesus is the only hope for a broken world and a broken people. That is our message and our hope. But that message will never be heard if we, as the church, are not the ones telling it. Jesus told the disciples of John to go tell him what you have heard and seen.

 

Mark 10.42-45 “42And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

Let me share with you two other passages to reinforce this understanding of Jesus’ work.

 

1 Timothy 2.5-6 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

 

 

1 Peter 1.13-19 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.

 

 

Rev 5.9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,

 

Step back in Isaiah once more and see that God has ransomed before.

 

Isaiah 43.1-7

43 But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. 5 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 6 I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

 

This is the truth of God’s promise to reconcile His people to Himself. Jesus paid the ransom through His blood. Understand that God would give other people over for the sake of His chosen. He would also later give His only Son for the sake of the world.

Advent is a time to remember the term ransomed. The light of Advent has transferred His people out of the darkness of sin and death and paid it all for our sake. Give thanks to Jesus this Advent for His coming into the world on Christmas and for His promise to come again and complete the restoration of all things. Amen.