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Real Holiness is Coming...
Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10
Track 15 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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Sermon for Sunday, December 12, 2004
15th sermon in a 17 part series
"Real Holiness is Coming. . ."
"Living in the Light of His Coming"
(Isaiah 35:1-10)
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

There are actually a number of options you could pursue. There is a 200 km run that you could do that takes you through the Sierra desert (that's 124 miles). You could run to Jacksonville and back, in other words, only it would have to be in North Africa. Or you could run through Death Valley if you just really liked desert. They do several of those over the course of the year.

Having been anywhere near a desert you would think nobody would actually, just on purpose, go and spend time there. Desert life is hard. Just ask our military people if they don't understand that kind of imagery and that's the imagery of this text. It's the imagery of the desert. In fact, this particular text starts in Isaiah 34 and runs into Isaiah 35 and it's a set of contrasts about desert life. In fact, come back to Isaiah 34 in Isaiah's prophesy.

Isaiah 34 We'll just pick up a part of this. This is Isaiah's judgment of Edom and listen to the language of the desert.

Isaiah 34:8 For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause. Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever. From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. The desert owl and screech owl will possess it; the great owl and the raven will nest there. God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation. Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom, all her princes will vanish away. Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strongholds. She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls. Desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and wild goats will bleat to each other; there the night creatures will also repose and find for themselves places of rest. The owl will nest there and lay eggs, she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings; there also the falcons will gather, each with its mate.

Desert life is the harsh life. And so God uses it as a statement of judgment, as a statement of destruction to try to communicate that God was going to reap vengeance on those people who had been against Israel and he uses that desert imagery to try to communicate that. Israel understood that imagery. This is not at all new to Israel. Israel spent time in the desert.

If you remember when they were called out of Egypt, they left a land of plenty for a land of the desert. Forty years worth of it, wandering around in what we know as Saudi Arabia. Wandering around living in the desert, dependent upon God for bringing water out of rocks and providing them daily some kind of food supply because the desert can't supply what they need.

Desert imagery is not new to most of us. Oh I suspect that most of us have never spent significant time living in the desert except for those who've had the courtesy of a tour by the U.S. Military. We've had our desert experiences when life felt like it was absolutely baron and harsh and hard and empty, when life was at its most difficult. It feels a lot like a desert. It doesn't certainly feel like an oasis. It feels cruel like desert land. In that context Isaiah follows up Isaiah 34, this desert imagery with Isaiah 35 which is just the opposite. It is deserts becoming gardens. Listen to this creative language.

Isaiah 35:1 (what we read together earlier today) 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.

Lebanon was that nation where everything was covered with cedar trees. Carmel was that mountain up on the sea coast next to the Mediterranean where the only water was to be found during the drought, during Ahab's life. The image is that of a desert absolutely bursting into a garden.

No offense to those who are David Regan fans. I think that he's missed the point. He is a prophesy buff who has suggested that what's going on in Israel right now is the fulfillment of this particular text and his video shows little " pvc pipes spreading out through the desert with dribbles of water running into plants to try to grow crops in the desert land. That misses the point.

This isn't about a tree here and a tree there or a plant here or a plant there or man somehow finding the means of irrigation. This is about that which was absolutely arid and dry and desert bursting into bloom becoming beyond man's imagination. It is about a return to that which it was like during Eden, back in garden imagery.

Have you noticed how often garden imagery shows up in Scripture? Genesis 1 is where you start. And where do you start? In the creation of a garden with trees and the presence of God. And when you get to Revelation 22, guess where you end up? Back in a garden with the presence of God and a tree of life. And everywhere between those two gardens we seem to have this sense of desert life as we live in anticipation of the recreation of that garden existence when everything changes in peoples lives and that which is desert-like becomes that which is garden-like.

There is a common theme in every Advent text and those who select the texts to read during Christmas season, anywhere from the last three or four weeks before Christmas to next Sunday, when we will actually celebrate the birth of Jesus together, every text has something in common. And that which it has in common is, when the Messiah comes (when Christ arrives) everything changes. Things are now different because of the arrival of one particular person, historically.

We notice it in this text, clearly in the first three verses, we witness the change from wasteland to wonderland. We witness this absolute total renewal of creation where everything which has been destroyed by humanity now gets resurrected into that which it was created to be in the first place.

The imagery of 2Corinthians 5 that we returned to last week, is this image. If a man is in Christ, everything is new. Old things are passed away. All things have become new. Not just new chronologically, but new in terms of quality. Everything is different. We experience that change.

Somewhere in the midst of knowing Jesus, of experiencing Christ coming into our lives, there is some kind of a change that occurs that turns that which has felt like a wasteland in your life into that which is a wonderland. But in order to see it, sometimes you just have to slow down. You have to stop and watch for the wonder.

Think about Israel. Those of you who have studied your Old Testaments and remember the story of the Exodus, there are forty years of living in the desert and virtually every day it seems they were squabbling and complaining and quarreling because they didn't like desert life. They wanted to know why God wasn't being good to them. And yet, every day, they were supplied with food. Every day they wore clothes that didn't wear out. Every day they were kept in the hand of God and somehow they missed God's activity in the midst of the desert. That's what deserts do to you. They cause you to miss the activity of God. They cause you to miss that which God is doing around you and sometimes what you have to do is just stop long enough from the "hustle and the bustle" to spend some time listening. Or maybe you have to have something that breaks into your life that causes you to suddenly become aware that God is still active even though you haven't felt him or seen him in quite some time.

Many of you have heard me tell this story before, but it's such a striking moment in my life. Most of you know that my daughter went through a divorce here a few years ago. My greatest concern, other than for my daughter, was for my grandson because I've seen the results of divorce in the lives of people and how hard it is on children. And I was watching him go through some, just some interesting personality changes as he was dealing with this experience that he was going through.

I happened to be interviewed by a student at Lincoln and after she had asked me a bunch of questions, I just simply turned the tables and said, "you know it's only fair that I ask you some things" and we got into a conversation. I learned that when she was four years old her parents went through a divorce. That's the age of my grandson when he went through his and I remember asking her this question. "How did you get to where you are now? How did you survive this?" And her response was, "my grandparents!" And it was if God had opened up his door just a crack, and I could look in and say "there is something I can do in the midst of a hopeless feeling situation" and there was a bit of wonderland in the midst of the wasteland.

And, I remember this girl looking at me after I got over the tears and we finished our conversation. She says, "You know, for the first time since this happened, I think I'm beginning to understand what God is going to do in my life with this tragedy." And for her the wasteland began to look more like a wonderland. But in both our cases it was a matter of stopping long enough to be able to see what God was up to in the desert.

There is something utterly incredible about Christmas if we can get past Wal-mart, K-Mart and all the other places long enough to just notice that God is in the world making radical changes in peoples lives. That's what this text is about. It's about this marvelous change that happens when Christ comes in and the result is, he says--don't fear--God is in control of this thing. It may feel like a desert but God is still here. But it's not that we just see that change from waste to wonder. We also see the change from weakness to strength. . . . . Did you notice that in Isaiah 35:4-7? Middle of that section.

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 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. 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.

Here is this change, not just in the desert, but in humanity. The weak and the feeble become strong. The lame leap, the deaf and the mute hear and see. If you think about the fact that Israel is living in exile. If you recognize that when Isaiah is writing, there is this anticipation of the coming when Israel is going to spend years under either Assyria or Babylon, this had to sound incredibly hopeful. That in spite of the fact that we were going to be under someone else's domination there were going to be days of greatness again. And those physical limitations and spiritual limitations were going to be removed.

It is really interesting that when John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, was in his desert experience, it was this imagery to which Jesus turned. After John the Baptist spent his early years in anticipation of his cousin coming, as the Messiah (although I'm not sure he understood all of that) he went to the Jordan River. He began to preach. Jesus shows up. John the Baptist baptizes him and Jesus ministry begins. At that point, we basically lose sight of this last prophet of God, John, until we find him in prison for preaching. And in that prison experience there is apparently a moment of real doubt and so he sends his disciples to Jesus and he asks Jesus this question. Go and ask, "ARE YOU REALLY THE ONE?" And Jesus response is, "Tell John to look around. The lame walk. The blind see. The deaf hear." He makes a reference to this particular text as if in understanding that in the presence of Jesus these physical things change. This was to be the reminder that when Jesus shows up, nothing remains the same. And the effect of the fall is destroyed in peoples lives. If not literally, then ultimately they change. And apparently it was satisfactory to John to have that kind of understanding.

Just recently, of course, the news was carrying the story of Christopher Reeve and his decided attempt to get out of his wheelchair. And, while I applaud that and honor that kind of deep effort, in order to do that I wonder, I just wonder if he ever understood that one day all those who know Jesus will come out of their wheelchairs. Because in Christ everything gets renewed. Those of us who suffer physically in this life will not suffer forever physically. Those things will change. Those broken hearts will be mended. Those broken bodies will be restored. That's the promise of this text. And, what doesn't change in this life, we have the ability to see in the next. And you have to know, it would be unfair to give some kind of false hope to people that just because you become a believer, everything gets better. John still got beheaded. Okay? Stephen still got stoned. James still got killed. But they found in that moment of hope the ability to persevere and to stay with it and not give up. Because there was something on the other side of this that was worth waiting for.

And so, Paul captures that in Romans 8 in the imagery of all of creation, groaning and waiting for the arrival, the second arrival of the Son when all of creation comes back to its original form, when it goes from desert to garden again. And even the bodies of human beings are restored in some way. We live with that incredible hope that there will be a new beginning for all of us and in some small way, even in this season, we are reminded that all of our limitations are not limitations in God's hands. That he is able to work in and through us and give our lives purpose and meaning even when we can't see it ourselves.

It is the hope of this season that God is going to free us, ultimately free us from all bondage whether that bondage is physical or emotional or mental or spiritual. We are free indeed in Christ.

There is one other change that occurs in this text and that is we witnessed the change from being outcast to being a joyous traveler. This imagery at the last part of this text is a repeated image all the way through Isaiah and a number of the other prophets.

He says in Isaiah 35:8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord 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.

The psalmist said it this way. Weeping may last through the night but joy comes in the morning. There is this Highway that belongs to God and only those who are the redeemed will find their Way on that Highway. It is a wonderful image. It is the second most common image in Isaiah. The word that's usually used to translate that in Isaiah's book is the word redeemer.

You remember that story best in the story of Ruth. Naomi has gone to Moab. Her two sons have married Moabite women. Her husband and her two sons die. She decides to return back to Israel. Ruth decides to accompany her. Naomi and Ruth return. Ruth goes to work out in the fields gleaning. She meets a man named Boaz. She decides that he would make a "good" husband. The trick is, he's not the nearest kinsman. Jewish law was that if you were left a widow, the nearest kin had to take you into the family, had to marry you and there was another man further removed who was the near kinsman. There's an exchange, if you remember the story. Boaz buys the right in order to marry Ruth. He is the near kinsman. He's the nearest relative who has responsibility to pay the price to bring Naomi into his family and to care for her. That word is the word redeemer in Isaiah's prophesy.

The story is that God is your near kinsman and he takes responsibility for buying you and bringing you back into his family. He does that at the cost of his Son, the one we await named Jesus. That story is about us coming into the "Way", getting on this Highway, being a part of the redeemed. The ones who walk in the "Way". In fact, that is the language that Isaiah chooses to use to talk about this return to God. To get on the Highway. To come down this road. It's picked up, if you remember in the book of Acts, at least four different times, the church is called the "Way". They were followers of the "Way". These were men of the "Way". That language got picked up because it was such a great image of what it means to return to God. But it not only got picked up in the language in Acts, it got picked up in John. Do you remember what Jesus said about himself? I am the Way and every good Jewish listener would have caught that connection. There is a highway back to God and Jesus said I am the way back to him.

But outcasts don't get to get on this "Highway". Only the redeemed are on this "Highway". It is a limited access road. There's only one way to get on it and that's in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ which allows you to be a part of those who walk on this road.

Some of you will remember the conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat when he asks her which way she's going. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .know for sure. Then he says, then it really doesn't much matter which way you go, does it? Any road will get you there.

NOT HERE! Peter said it just as clearly as it can be said. There is no other name under heaven whereby man must be saved than the name of Jesus. The only entrance onto the Highway, this Way of Holiness is through Christ. But when you've come a part of this Highway, there is no enemy capable of taking you away. Did you notice that? Once you're on the Highway, there are no idiots here, he says. There are no crazy drivers. There are no lions. There are no deer in your path. It is clear sailing because you are on the Highway to God. And he draws you to himself and makes the "Way" clear. The result is this joyful journey when you recognize that all of life with its desert-like feel has been changed.

I found these survival skills for those who are lost in the desert. Actually, if you have some common sense I'd think you'd have figured these out. But here they are from the U.S. Military.

Should you get lost in the desert or stuck there:
Find shade and get out of the sun (I'm thinking this is the desert, that's gonna be hard to do.)
Put something between you and the hot ground
Limit your movement
Conserve your sweat, cover up and stay inactive
If there's not much water, then don't eat much
Drink water at regular intervals (at least once an hour)

If you want to survive in the desert, apparently that's how you do it. Unfortunately those don't do much for those inner deserts do they? When your life feels like it's falling apart and the desert doesn't feel friendly.

Let me give you some survival skill advice for life in the desert. Come to Jesus! That is all the desert advice you will ever need. You may not change everything that's going on in your world but it will give you the hope that it will eventually change and it will give you the ability to live with it now.

We live in a season right now when the whole world lives in anticipation of this thing we call Christmas. Some of them even know that his name is part of that. We have the opportunity to tell them. This text says, your God will come and save you. That was written just about a half dozen or more centuries before the one who did come to save us came.

We don't live in the anticipation that your God will come and save. We live with the understanding our God did come and save. And he will come and save you if you're willing to let him, if you have room in your life for him.

If you don't know what that means and you don't know what to do about that, we invite you to ask. Because what we want for you is the change that Jesus produces in your life, for the joy that he brings.

Let's stand and sing.