This morning, we continue “Sent”, our Advent series. Last week - the first week of the series, we talked about The Coming Lord - of Jesus rending the heavens, coming to earth. This week, our focus is on Jesus as The Coming Deliverer. Please open your Bible, or find in your Bible app, Isaiah 40:1-11. It says this:
1 “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
I love that last part, which shows that God, Israel’s Deliverer & our Redeemer, is a mighty ruler, but also as a tender shepherd. The part in verses 3 & 4, where it says, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” reminds me of the Dukes of Hazzard theme song. Does anyone else remember that? Waylon Jennings sang, “Straightnin' the curves/Flattenin’ the hills/Someday the mountain might get 'em/But the law never will”. But really, what does it mean to make straight a highway for God, to lift up valleys, make the mountains & hills low, & to level out the rough ground? These words were written in a time in which the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed, & the people of Israel had been exiled by the Babylonians, in which a huge portion of them were broken from their families’ ties to what was their Promised Land & relocated in Mesopotamia. One meaning of these phrases would seem to refer to the literal physical return of the people of Israel & Judah, led by Jehovah Himself. This would have been especially meaningful to the original hearers - a nation that had experienced God as Deliverer, with Moses as His agent. They were yet again in need of a Deliverer, in a very tangible way. Babylon was eventually overthrown by Cyrus the Great of Persia, &, according to the record of the Cyrus Cylinder - a Persian historical artifact - the Persian commander took the city of Babylon “without any battle”; the soldiers “strolled along, their weapons stowed away”.
At least one hundred-forty years before Cyrus conquered Babylon, he was prophesied of in Isaiah 44:24-28:
24 Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself; 25 Who frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad; Who turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolishness; 26 Who confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers; Who says to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be inhabited,’ to the cities of Judah, ‘You shall be built,’ and I will raise up her waste places; 27 Who says to the deep, ‘Be dry! And I will dry up your rivers’; 28 Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,”
And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” ended the captivity, & even provided for the Israelites to rebuild the temple.
In fact, Ezra 1:1-4 describes that part of the prophecy coming to fruition:
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying,
2 Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: “All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. 3 Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. 4 And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.”
Lest you think that Isaiah only spoke of how Israel would be delivered from Babylon, consider Malachi. He prophesied after the building of the Second Temple, after the reign of Cyrus had ended. In Malachi 3:1, we read:
3 “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me and the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
This would certainly run contrary to the interpretation of Cyrus as the “Messiah”, even though God, as Deliverer, used Cyrus in a real way by freeing God’s people from Babylon. Malachi suggests that there is another Deliverer to come, to offer a freedom greater than Israel had experienced before. The book of Isaiah contains many prophecies that also point to New Testament times.
Please turn over to Mark 1:1-8. Here, Mark leads off his account of the ministry of Jesus like this:
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” [That is a reference to Malachi 3:1] 3 “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” [That is a reference to Isaiah 40:3]
4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. 8 I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
John the Baptist is among my favorite characters in the New Testament. He is spoken of in the Gospel of Luke, where we learn about the angel Gabriel telling that Zechariah & Elizabeth (who was barren & past child-bearing age) would miraculously have a child, how he leaped in the womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited. And the next we hear of John, he’s some sort of a Bear Grylls/prophet Elijah mix (Elijah is depicted in 2 Kings 1 in a similar wardrobe, too). John was a descendant of Moses’ brother Aaron, & was also an eccentric dude living out in the sticks. He was humble, but no delicate, withering flower. Let’s take a look at a few artists’ renderings of John the Baptist. (Show slides)
When Jesus went to see John the Baptist, when they were both adults, “they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 25 And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
26 John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. 27 It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” 28 These things were done in Bethabara [or Bethany] beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
So what does this mean to us, 2,000 years later? There are a number of lessons we can draw here.
- John the Baptist was in a place of much prominence, but he made certain it wasn’t about him. John lowered Himself & lifted up Jesus, & that made it possible for him to carry out his mission.
- God has a plan, all of the time. God knew the dilemma that the Israelites were in, & He spoke through His prophets to show that He was in control & had a plan. In times of trouble, we cry out to God for answers, & we may feel aimless. But we can trust that God will give wisdom to those who ask for it, & joy when we can trust Him with results.
- Endurance is made possible by hope. God may feel distant at times, but He wants us to know that we can trust Him, & He makes Himself known through Scripture, through other people, & through His still-small voice to our hearts.The Israelites could cling to God’s words through Isaiah; we can cling to Jesus’ words & those of the New Testament writers about Jesus’ work to bring the Kingdom of God, now & for eternity. And this hope isn’t only for us. We are to be vessels of Jesus’ love & grace to others, showing & telling them about the deliverance from sin & death that Jesus offers.
I will sum up my message with a few closing items. First, Hebrews 12:1-2:
12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the song “Our Deliverer”, Third Day sang that:
Every burden one day will be lifted
Every broken heart will be redeemed
The Lord Almighty is coming to our rescue
Salvation’s waiting for all who will believe
And in the song “O Holy Night”, we are reminded:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love, & His Gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
And in His Name, all oppression shall cease
“Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come for thee, O Israel.” And He come again. This is all good news for certain, & we can hope in the truth of that.
I’ll end my message with a song, a version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”, mixed with some words by the 15th century Christian Julian of Norwich. (Play “I Heard the Bells [All Will Be Well]”)
Now, let’s discuss this together.
1. What thoughts, comments, questions, encouragement, or pushback would you offer about these Scriptures & this topic?
2. What is God saying to you that you should do about this? What is God saying to you that we as the Veritas community can do about this?