What the future holds for whom
NT Reading: Mt.25:31-
Isaiah began the book that contains the fruit of his prophetic ministry over the years by levelling a charge of rebellion against his contemporaries. Their rebellion was serious and it would have its inevitable consequences. But there was little about the immediate historico/political circumstances that seemed to corroborate Isaiah's warnings and the nation of Israel settled down in an unwarranted complacency. As Isaiah exercised his ministry he tried to cajole his hearers by a combination of warnings and promises: he wanted his hearers to see both their need of trusting the LORD and the wisdom of it. With his warnings Isaiah addressed the seriousness of the people's rebellion and the severity of the discipline that it would bring upon them. The promises, on the other hand, spoke of how the LORD would intervene to save his people and by whom he would do so.
The good news was that God did not intend to give up on his people but their continued rebellion would force his hand and he would implement a number of disciplinary measures. The most serious of these would be a lengthy period of exile when his people would be removed from the Promised Land to live as foreigners in Babylon.
The exile, hard as it would be, would not prove to be the end of God's people – there would be a return for them, and a wonderful return at that, to their homeland – their future was bright and assured. At least it was for those of the nation who would exercise faith and trust. Isaiah makes it clear in his prophecy that it is the faithful believing remnant within the wider nation that is truly God's people.
And now Isaiah has said just about everything he wanted to say – his book is almost complete. But before he goes he wants one more time to make it very clear that there are just two possible outcomes for his contemporaries. There is terrific enduring blessing for those who respond humbly and trustingly to God's word and there is judgment, destruction and never-
Isaiah resorts to the language of childbirth in order to describe the deliverance God brings to his people.
In a normal pregnancy the birth of a child is preceded by labour pains but this deliverance that God promises to bring about comes so quickly, the child is born before the labour pains have time to kick in. Small wonder that Isaiah follows his description of this rapid delivery with questions of astonishment:
"Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such a thing?" he cries out v.8.
But the wonderment doesn't end at that point either – God's dealings are yet greater than that. In a normal birth one child is born and of course we know that multiple births such as twins or triplets are also possible. But God's promise goes way beyond anything that we could imagine happening in a normal human context:
"Shall a nation be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?" v.3
And the answer is "yes"! Zion will bring forth her children like that!
Isaiah is telling us about a remarkable expansion of the church that would take place. It would be so remarkable that it could only be attributed to the grace of God as it was totally outside the realms of human capability.
And in history we catch glimpses of such growth. Just think about the day of Pentecost. A relatively small group of 120 people are together praying. Previously they had been a fearful group that shunned the public attention but Jesus, who had been raised from the dead, had recently told them that the Holy Spirit would soon come to them enabling them to bear witness to him and equipping them for the great missionary task of the church – the making of disciples of all nations. And now that promised was fulfilled.
The crowds were immediately drawn to them. Peter stood up and preached and in a single day following a single sermon 3.000 souls were added to the church.
And so it has gone on down through the centuries… Often the work of the church goes on slowly and quietly not attracting that much attention but then God breaks in. It's not that God does anything differently but the time-
The work of God goes on apace in the world. According to Operation World there are some 75 million evangelicals in China in 2015. There were no where near that number when the Communist Party expelled missionaries in 1949. For that growth to take place more than 3.000 would need to have been added to the church every day since 1949 till the present day (and it doesn't take into account the Christians who died in the interim!) God keeps his promises and Jesus continues to build his church just like he said he would when he was on earth amongst his disciples.
"Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?" "Shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?" v.9
The questions are put in a form that expects a negative response. No, of course God wouldn't do anything like that. Can you really imagine that he who began a good work would fail to bring it to completion? I is unthinkable.
What confidence Isaiah's hearers could have in the proclaimed word of God! What confidence should we have when we have more light than they did, when we live the other side of the cross and the glorious victory of our Lord and Saviour!
And what is it that we do when friends we know tell us they're expecting a baby? We're glad for them aren't we? We rejoice with them don't we? And when we hear the good news of the safe arrival of their baby we rejoice even more. What is more natural than that?
And that is just how Isaiah wants the friends of the church to react too! We see the church sometimes in sorry straits – persecuted from without and troubled from within but when God comes in grace and makes the church fruitful, when he pours out blessing and we hear of many converts then we too are expected to rejoice!
Peace and Tranquility
Now perhaps peace and tranquility are not the pictures that come to mind when a newborn enters the family – we're all too used to the jokes about broken nights and never having a moment's peace but Isaiah employs a lovely picture to describe the peace-
How good it is when God acts in such mighty ways for the good and for the prosperity of the church!
And that is just how Isaiah continues:
When these blessings are seen and appreciated they in turn lead to further joy deep down in the heart. There is probably nothing quite like seeing the power of God at work like this to encourage and strengthen the heart of his people. How we ought to long to see more of the Lord's hand active in this way!
There is then terrific blessing for the church in these verses 7-
A Glorious Future -
The progress of the gospel is once more the theme and in particular the inclusion of the Gentiles as all nations and tongues are drawn in. How consistent the Bible is! These same expressions are of course taken up in the Book of Revelation as you all are well aware. Here is part of that song sung to the Lamb in the throne room of heaven:
Rev.5:9 "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,"
Or again here is a description of those present in that throne room:
As the good news is taken around the world of the Mediterranean a sign is given – what else is this other than the cross whereby men and women are reconciled to God and to each other. The cross was the altar on which the Lamb of God was slain and hadn't he said that he if he be lifted up would draw all-
And so as the gospel is proclaimed there is a gospel harvest. One gospel people is formed – no two separate entities of Jew and Gentile any longer because in Christ down comes the dividing wall of partition. Isaiah's prophecy foreshadows this too as he speaks of some of those taken from amongst the nations being made priests and Levites categories previously limited to members of Israel.
There is such blessing as new members come flooding into the Kingdom as God works sovereignly by his grace to save. Every is fresh everything is, well, so new. It's just as though these blessings are the blessings of a new heavens and a new earth which, of course is exactly what they are! And there will be no end to the blessings to be enjoyed there:
v. 22 "For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain."
Such are the blessings that help to make up a most glorious future for the church. Are these the blessings the future holds for you? Because there is another possibility…
An Awful Destruction vv.15-
When the LORD's patience finally runs out and comes the time of reckoning there will be no delay, not the hint of any delay as he comes in a whirlwind of fiery anger that reveals the fury of his rebuke. And fire, burning destructive fire is one of the images that is frequently employed to describe the outpoured wrath of God.
Along with the imagery of fire goes the imagery of warfare. The LORD is pictures as a mighty warrior with a murderous avenging sword in his hand. His enemies stand no chance as he acts in sovereign justice to punish sin. And Isaiah doesn't want to leave us in the slightest doubt concerning the guilt of those religious of Isaiah's day. They played at religion and merely making a pretence of it. They had nothing of true spiritual religion in their hearts.
Their lack of humility is clearly observed as instead of following the LORD's prescribed way they persisted in constructing their own religion borrowing ideas from pagan forms of worship. That is the meaning of v.17 – their religious practice was an impure mishmash and the LORD refused to be impressed by it, instead he judged them severely because of it.
This should make us pause too and consider whether our spiritual lives are based upon the revealed truths of God's word or whether we too are adapting and adopting pagan ideas. We must be humble for we have so much to learn but we have nothing to learn from those who refuse to bow the knee to those who reject God's way, God's truth and God's Messiah. Adherents of other religions may be very pleasant people, very well-
Isaiah was to break off his description of judgment to expand more fully upon the blessings of the redeemed, the glories of the church and we would probably both like and expect him to end his book on such a wonderful note but he doesn't. He brings his long book to a close with a further look on the fate of those who rebelled against the LORD and remained in that state of rebellion.
Let me read those solemn, sobering words one more time:
v.24 "And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."
Once more the words evoke a picture of utter loss of horrid destruction as the fate of those who persist in rejecting the LORD who has stood so long with hands outstretched towards them, longing to welcome them back.
But you know those words already, don't you? You've
heard those words before, haven't you? And do you remember from whose lips you have heard them? They are found on the lips of gentle Jesus, meek and mild. They are found on the lips of the man who taught us to love our enemies. They are found on the lips of the man who never did or said anything wrong. They are found on the lips of the man who came that it need not be so, for he came to die that sinners might be put right with God. And this man, this God-
May the LORD enable us to understand something of the seriousness of this and may he grant us all a rock solid faith in the only Saviour of sinners.