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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:What is Salvation Like?
Text:Isaiah 35:1-10 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-06-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 48:1,3                                                                                           

Ps 143:1,6                                                                                                      

Reading – Isaiah 34

Ps 107:2,3,4

Sermon – Isaiah 35:1-10

Hy 13:1,2,3,4,5

Hy 15:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, today we celebrate salvation! God has saved us from our sins, not because of anything we have done, but purely out of his grace and mercy in Christ. Sins forgiven, hearts renewed, glory promised—this is the gift of his love.

If someone asked you, what would you say that salvation is like? To what can you compare this amazing gift of God, the new reality that is yours? Words fail when you’re talking about a truth so stunning. But Scripture has quite a few different images to speak about how God has saved us—pictures to make it real to us. Because if it is real to us, then we’ll treasure it and thank God for it.

What is salvation like? It is like a rescue. We were sinking in the miry pit and about to be overwhelmed. Or, surrounded by enemies, we were tormented and about to die—without any hope for escape. But God rescued us. He reached down and pulled us from the depths. Christ broke our chains and freed us from the enemy’s hatred. He beat back the flames of hell and pulled us to safety. Salvation is rescue.

What is salvation like? It is like an acquittal, a full pardon. We stood in God’s courtroom, charged with crimes against his holy law. We deserved death as our sentence, and we had no good argument in our defense. Our sin had been knowing, constant, and unrepentant—guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. But God gave his Son to intercede for us, even to take our punishment: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. By faith in him, we are justified, declared wholly innocent of transgression—even declared righteous in God’s sight. Salvation is acquittal.

There are more images for what God has done for us. Our text is another glimpse of the glory of redemption. It tells us about the sudden healing of physical handicaps, about the regeneration of a bleak wilderness, and about a safe journey to a secure destination, even the presence of God. This is what our salvation is like: a healed and happy people, traveling through a transformed wilderness, on the holy highway to Zion.

If we will cherish anew what God has done for us, if we will be encouraged again by his grace, let us gaze at this beautiful picture of redemption’s future glory in Isaiah 35. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

God gives us a beautiful picture of redemption’s future glory:

  1. a healed and happy people
  2. traveling through a transformed wilderness
  3. on the holy highway to Zion

 

1) a healed and happy people: In the Scripture reading, we looked at the chapter just before our text. And you could say that chapter 34 is the mirror image of chapter 35. If our text is hope and gladness, chapter 34 is despair and tears: “Their stench shall rise from their corpses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood” (v 3). In my Bible, the heading is “Judgment on the Nations,” for the chapter speaks of the fate of the godless and proud, and the outcome of all who trust in them. “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance” (v 8).

By contrast, what will happen to those who humbly look to God? What is God going to do for his chosen people, those whom our chapter calls “the ransomed of the LORD” (v 10)? This is where hope begins, with a revelation of God’s greatness: “They shall see the glory of the LORD, the excellency of our God” (v 2). In the moment of crisis, in the season of pain, in our guilt and neediness—and every single day of our life—this is the singular answer, the one comfort: to know the glory and excellency of God.

It was a vision of God’s glory that Isaiah received at the start of his ministry in chapter 6. This was a life-changing experience, for it gave the prophet a truth to wrap his arms around and to hold onto forever: God is on his throne, He is holy, and He will surely purge away his people’s sins.

That’s the same vision we all need to have: to see the glory of the LORD, to know that He is mighty and gracious and at work for our good. A few chapters later, such a vision of God belongs to the ‘comfort, comfort’ that He gives to his crying people. In 40:5, Isaiah says, “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” To know the truth about God, and to believe it with your heart, is to be moved to adore and trust him.

Meanwhile, however, God’s people need help. As Isaiah looked around, he saw a nation that was in sharp decline. The peaceful and prosperous days under King Uzziah had given way to an age of fear under King Hezekiah. Why fear? Because the enemy was at the gate.

Just look at the very next chapter: “Now it came to pass in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them” (36:1). Just like Isaiah had warned, all of Judah’s strategizing and deal-making with Egypt had come up empty. No one could stand against the Assyrian army. For now here they are, some 200,000 strong, camped outside Jerusalem and eager to smash one more city.

This was a time of trepidation, but God sends encouragement, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, ‘Be strong, do not fear!’” (v 3). Notice ‘hands, knees, and hearts.’

Hands are our tools for daily action, but not if they’re weak. Literally, Isaiah says ‘strengthen sinking hands.’ When you’re weak or really scared, your hands drop to your sides—not ready for action. Our knees, meanwhile, are crucial to stability. Maybe you’ve had knocking knees before giving a speech: you felt like you could barely stand. And our hearts are the wellspring of our convictions, our supply of motivation, if all is well. But to be fearful-hearted is to soon run against the brick wall of anxiety, and you can’t move forward.      

Can you relate? I’m sure you can. Weakness and fear are basic to our condition. We won’t always acknowledge this, but it’s true. We’re so feeble when it comes to temptation, and Satan easily has his way with us: proud again, angry again, greedy. Then we’re also easily scared in situations where we don’t feel in control, and anxious about tomorrow. And weak: so soon tired of walking with God, so vulnerable to threats.

But God says: Strengthen your hands! Make firm your knees! Bolster your heart! And that’s not an empty rallying cry, a meaningless, ‘Cheer up, ol’ boy, tomorrow’s another day.’ It is encouragement that is founded on God and on what God is doing. 

Verse 4: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” When you have seen evil triumph again and again, you probably wonder if the day of justice will ever come. When it seems like the devil keeps winning, you might wonder if the LORD is paying attention. But God is perfectly just. He will come! Jerusalem’s trembling citizens need to know that God will take action and defend them. We should know it too: One day God will take vengeance on those who disobey him, and He will reward all those who trust in his name.

And on that day, God’s people will enjoy healing: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (v 5). Just like with ‘hands, knees, and heart,’ God removes our present weakness. It’s part of the radical change coming on the world.

For Isaiah, this ‘opening of eyes and unstopping of ears’ is more than something physical. It’s more than getting glasses and hearing aids. Recall the all-important Isaiah 6 again, what God said about those who were blind and deaf to his truth, “Make the hearts of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes” (6:10).

There is always a reaction to the Word of God, whether proud defiance, or humble submission. For a long time, some in Judah refused to accept God’s Word. They were blind and deaf to it, and that’s how some will stay forever. It’s our native response to the gospel too: no sinner can see God’s glory, or hear God’s voice, and believe in him, without his healing.

But God is gracious. His salvation is like the healing of our spiritual handicaps, the true therapy of the soul, restoring and mending us to what we were meant to be. God opens the blinded eye and the unhearing ear! For by his Holy Spirit, God gives us the ability to accept his Word, to trust in his Word, to see his glory and to worship him. Without these gifts, we’d be lost, in the dark, hopeless and lifeless. But God is healing and restoring us.

Another effect of his grace: “Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing” (v 6). No more stumbling feet, no more unspoken praise, but his believers will be able to run and rejoice. See all the healing that is happening here: hands and knees and heart, eyes and ears, feet and mouth. This is comprehensive treatment—total salvation. God is making ready a people who will walk by faith in him, who will praise him, and do his good will.

When Jesus our Saviour came to this earth, He fulfilled the Scriptures. He fulfilled Isaiah 35 also. When John the Baptist send messengers to ask if Jesus really was the coming Messiah, this is how He responded, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). For months Jesus had been busy healing. These physical miracles were a glimpse of the real change that Christ brings through his death and resurrection. By his work on the cross, Jesus totally restores our brokenness.

And God’s healed people are a happy people. “The tongue of the dumb shall sing,” because God gives us a new song in Christ. Verse 10 says that the Lord’s people come to Zion “With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” It’s a picture of great happiness. Happiness, not because we have reached some human goal, but because we have drawn near to God.

For our hearts, God can be the only true joy. There is gladness in none other. When sin reigns in our hearts, when we have forgotten God or shut our ears to his voice, we will never find happiness. But where sin is repented from and forgiven, where God is healing us from the inside out, and we are walking with him, there is great joy.

 

2) traveling through a transformed wilderness: God’s people are a pilgrim people. As long as we’re on this earth, we have no permanent city. But we’re traveling, passing through on our way to God. Israel was a pilgrim people too—think of how they travelled for forty years from Egypt to Canaan. And they would travel again, from exile in Babylon back home.

But even in the misery and devastation caused by our sin, God shows grace. As his people journey through hard places, “the wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose” (v 1). God will transform the desert so that it becomes a welcoming environment. The falling of God’s rain on the desert will lead to an explosion of new growth.

Isaiah’s audience knew what this was about. During the winter months in Israel, the rocky hills would be covered with a rich carpet of small flowers. This is a picture of his mighty work of spiritual restoration. God can make arid wastelands burst into bloom. He can release creation from its groaning and cause it to rejoice.

And the transformation of the wilderness continues, for Isaiah says, “The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the excellence of Carmel and Sharon” (v 2). What had been an empty wasteland God makes into a fertile place.

Lebanon was known for her beautiful trees and thick vegetation, because it enjoyed a prime location along the sea where the temperatures were moderate and good rains fell all year. Same for Carmel, the hill country in the north of Israel where people cultivated many crops. Sharon too, was fruitful land along the coast. Such would be the desert after God was done with it: like the best farmland, with the richest soil.

Making the miracle happen is God’s transforming power: “For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert” (v 6). Long ago, when Israel left Egypt, God had miraculously provided food and water for his people. He had even opened up the rock so that Israel could drink. And God would do it again, ‘making the parched ground a pool’ (v 7).

In the desert, water is literally a lifesaver. To a weary traveller under the hot sun, miles from shelter, nothing is better and nothing is more needed than finding a cool pool of water. This was refreshment, renewal—this was salvation. To drink and to live!

And just like God isn’t concerned only with physical healing, God’s focus here isn’t environmental sustainability. He’s not seeking to set up irrigation systems in the desert or to dig wells in the wilderness. God wants to renew his people, to put us on a journey back to himself, and to help us on our way.

For we live in a hostile world where the threats are many. We struggle under the attacks of Satan, and we face the weakness of our own flesh, so we stumble and totter. We have such a need for restoration, for encouragement, as we journey onwards.

And for his weary travellers, God provides ‘streams in the desert.’ He is generous and rich toward you! God gives you his Holy Spirit. God lets you drink from the spiritual Rock that accompanies you, who is Jesus Christ. God gives you the food of his Word, pure spiritual milk. God surrounds you with others who believe in his name. This is refreshment for your soul. This is a source of life and strength. But you must be willing to seek it. Don’t stay away, and hold back from what God gives you for life. Come to the living waters and drink.

God has put us in the wilderness, but God is with us in the wilderness. His presence with us transforms everything, so that we can keep going. He will provide grace. He will hear your prayers. So depend on him and go in God’s strength, as you travel onwards, taking the holy highway to Zion.

 

3) on the holy highway to Zion: When Isaiah surveys the landscape of salvation, he sees something else besides pools of water in the desert and fresh oases of “reeds and rushes” (v 7). He sees a highway cutting across the rugged hill-country. He sees a good road leading someplace special. Verse 8: “A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.” And what a blessing this will be for those who travel!

Maybe you can remember a time when the government built a brand-new highway and what a difference it made. Formerly there was only a narrow and winding road, with many intersections, twists and turns—the kind of road where you’d get stuck behind a slow transport truck for many kilometers. Then came the new highway: wide, straight, double-laned, and one that cut off much time from your journey.

This is the kind of road that God has constructed. He wants no barriers in our coming to him, so He has opened the way. This is what salvation is like: a holy highway, cutting clear across the wilderness of our sin, and leading straight to the presence of God.  

You can tell that Isaiah loves highways, because he often mentions them. Back in 11:16, he spoke about “a highway for the remnant of God’s people.” And then in 40:3 he says, “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The LORD was going to bring down the hills and lift up the valleys, remove the crooked places, so that his people could journey to him. He was thinking of the long road of return from Babylon to Israel, but He was also thinking of something more.

For the chief obstacle in the way of drawing near to God is always our sin. It separates us far from God. Sin means that we deserve his curse, to be banished from his presence. But God has taken away our sin and curse, and He has put them on Christ. Now God desires that we take this road and journey to him, and with him! As the LORD said to Abraham, ‘Walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1). Or as Jesus said, “Follow me.”

Now, every road needs a good name, whether it’s named after the Queen or some hero of history. The road in Isaiah 35 has a name too; it’s called “The Highway of Holiness.” Isaiah has a lot to say about God’s holiness, for God is perfectly holy, set apart in glory and purity. And the holy God calls his people to be holy.

So Isaiah explains that on God’s highway, “the unclean shall not pass over it” (v 8). The word for “unclean” is the same one in the law to describe the impurities that were cleansed by sacrifice. You could not draw near to God without his cleansing.

It’s the same today, that a person is disqualified from salvation if they will not repent and seek his forgiveness. Those who stay unclean and covered in sin are not allowed on the road opened by Christ. ‘They shall not pass over it.’ This is a warning for each of us, to know that an unholy life—a life of sin, a life devoted to self, a life where you break God’s commands—cannot lead to God’s presence. Hebrews 12 says, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

But the gospel is that for those who trust in him, for sinners who truly seek his mercy, the Lord has opened Christ’s way to life. It’s a safe road, the only safe pathway. And Isaiah gets his listeners to think about how dangerous the Judean desert could be, filled with predators and other threats. But God protects his people: “No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it; it shall not be found there. But the redeemed shall walk there” (v 9). Along that road, God protects us even from Satan’s attacks. So ask him for protection, and trust in his care.

For so “the ransomed of the LORD shall return” (v 10). In the law, to ransom or to redeem someone was a special task that was given the next of kin. Such a person would take his helpless relative’s needs as his own, paying whatever cost to restore and help them. This is what God has done, willingly taking on the responsibility, as if our next of kin. We are ‘the ransomed of the LORD.” For He has gladly shouldered our needs through the gift of his Son, Christ who gave his life as a ransom for many. He paid the heavy price for our deliverance, to set us free.

So we are free to do what? We are free to go where? God ransomed us to bring us back to himself. That’s what “Zion” is: it is the presence of God, his holy dwelling, the place where his name dwells. For a child of God, there is no better place than being with God.

That’s where we belong, and it’s where we have belonged ever since God created us—and it’s where we have needed to return, ever since our sin and rebellion against God. We could never make it back there on our own. But through Christ, God restores us. He removes every barrier and He puts us on his holy highway to Zion, where gladness and joy replace all the sorrow and brokenness of sin.

And Zion isn’t only a future hope. Life in the presence of God is for today. This is what God gave Christ to do, and this is why He sends his Spirit, so that already today you may enjoy the gift of his salvation. Salvation’s joy is when we know God, and God knows us; when we are with him, and we are sure that God is with us!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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