On Sunday we completed our studies in Isaiah. I started preaching through Isaiah in the autumn of 2003 so it has taken a while to get to the end- although we have still moved speedily covering 66 chapters in 32 sermons. The first three were preached before our sermons were downloaded but you can find the rest of them here.
Sunday morning was a busy service and there was a lot of material to cover in the sermon so I didn’t get the opportunity to reflect on the book as a whole. I have loved preaching through it- and have frequently been caused to worship the God who is portrayed there.
So how would I attempt to summarize what we have discovered together? One way of seeing the picture of God revealed in the book is to focus on the three times when God is said to be high and lifted up- an observation that I owe to Peter Comont. In chapter 6 the Lord is seen in Isaiah’s vision in the temple as high and lifted up surrounded by seraphs crying “Holy, holy, holy.” Interestingly in the New Testament, this is described as Isaiah seeing the glory of Jesus. Then in Isaiah 52:13 you see God’s servant being described as high and lifted up- but the path to his exaltation will be a substitutionary and sacrificial death. Lastly the phrase comes up in 57:15 where the high and lifted up One describes Himself as living with those are are contrite and lowly in spirit. Putting those things together you have a delightful picture of the Lord Jesus- the glorious and exalted one who humbles himself to death in our place and who now lives with those who are lowly and poor in spirit.
Here are four things that I would want to hold on to from our series:
1. Realism about our sin
Those who have heard the series will know that I have used the phrase, “Israel didn’t stop going to church,” to the point of tedium. But it is the great warning of the book. The religious sacrifices continue- but God hates them (see 1:14 and elsewhere throughout the book). The issue is that these rituals sat alongside much that displeased the Lord- whether a lack of social justice (see 1:17, ch 58), a reliance on other nations rather than God (see ch 30 as one example) or idolatry (see much of chapters 40-48). Much of the time the book has felt convicting as a result. In our last few studies we have seen repeatedly how God is seeking those who are humble and contrite and realism about our sin is necessary for that.
2. God’s heart for the nations
It is everywhere. I am pretty sure that if ever I were asked to do a series on world mission I would now do it from Isaiah. The great hope from 2:2 thought to the very end of the book in chapter 66 is that the nations will come to worship God. Even when judging nations now (see the long section from chapter 13 onwards) there is nevertheless the great hope that one day even Egypt and Assyria will be part of the people of God (19:25)Bringing the nations to God is a vital part of the servant’s work- see 49:6. The foreigner is invited in to God’s people- see 56:6ff. If we are to be like God then we have will have a passionate concern for mission.
3. Trusting the Sovereign Lord
The book is set against the sweep of human history and Judah’s engagement with the superpowers of the day- Assyria (until chapter 37) and Babylon (essentially chapters 38-55). The big question is this: Who will Judah trust? Other nations? Idols? Or the Sovereign Lord. That’s an important issue for us when the church faces modern day foes. The sheer grandeur of God’s sovereignty revealed in a passage like Isaiah 44:24ff needs to be a constant encouragement to us.
4. Looking to the Servant King
Of course Isaiah is full of promises that point forward to the Lord Jesus. In the first half of the book (e.g. chapter 9) these are principally in the form of predictions of a coming King. From chapter 42 onwards the language of the servant is used more often. What is remarkable is that this servant will, perhaps above all else, suffer. You find that throughout the servant songs (see for instance 50:6) not just in chapter 53. Again and again I have been struck by the way in which these prophecies are so perfectly fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. And preaching on Isaiah 52-53 with what appears to me to be a chiastic structure with its glorious centre being his death that leads to our healing and peace was a glorious privilege. Perhaps the verse that struck me most though was 59:16. God saw that there was nobody else to bring salvation- so He did it Himself. As we face the reality of our sin and the turmoil of this present world then we realize that our hope is not in other human beings or idols. Our only hope is the Servant King the Lord Jesus Christ- the high and exalted one who came low for us.