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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:Get ready for your journey to God’s presence!
Text:Isaiah 62:10 (View)
Occasion:Ordination (Elder/Deacon)
Topic:Leadership
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-11-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 122:1,3                                                                              

Ps 125:1,4                                                                                                      

Reading – Isaiah 40:1-9; Isaiah 62

Ps 127:1,2

Sermon – Isaiah 62:10

Hy 15:1,2,3

Hy 71:1,2

* 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, when an elder begins his work, what does he hope to achieve? When a deacon stands at Day One of a three-year term, what goals does he have? A pastor can ask the same question: What do I really want to do accomplish during my ministry in this place?

Sometimes our goals shrink to become very modest. The elder just wants to finish all his homevisits on time. The deacon hopes he can get through his term without having to sort out anybody’s complicated financial problems. And the pastor might get into survival mode, just aiming to hang on ‘til his next holiday. That’s what work in the church can feel like: we just deal with the immediate concerns of this pastoral situation, this sermon, this season of life.

But let’s maintain big goals for our work. What’s it all for? It’s all for the coming of Christ. It’s about preparing for eternity with him. That’s a necessary reminder for all of us, brothers and sisters. Our goals for this life can become very small—for we get focused merely on today, this life and this world. We’ve got financial goals, family goals, career aims, plans for the house. Yet so much of this turns to dust, while God has put us here for an everlasting purpose.

In the final chapters of his book, Isaiah keeps putting our attention onto the future. What will come of Zion, the city of God, and the people of God? His concern isn’t so much for the short-term goals, when the exiles return and rebuild. But what’s the long-range forecast for Zion, for the church? She will be exalted! She will enjoy the fullest glories of God’s salvation.

Isaiah 62 gives a wonderful vision of the future, when Jerusalem is fully rebuilt by God: walls, homes, temple—everything. And what Isaiah really prophesies is a spiritual rebuilding, redeemed and renewed by Jesus Christ. Sinners will no longer be called Forsaken or Desolate but we’ll again be allowed to live with God in unbroken fellowship: God with us, and we with him.

That’s what we work for. It should be the grand goal of our work as elders and deacons and minister, and it’s the eternal aim of our life as children of God. I preach the gospel to you from Isaiah 62:10 on this theme,

Get ready for your journey to God’s presence!

  1. the eternal destination
  2. the urgent preparation
  3. the open invitation

 

1) the eternal destination: If there is one city important to Isaiah, what city do you suppose that would be? If you said Zion, or Jerusalem, you’d be right. Way back in the very first verse, 1:1, his prophecy was introduced like this: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.” This city is profoundly important in Isaiah, for it’s a place that has a strategic role in the purpose of God.

Now, it can be a bit confusing, because Isaiah speaks about Jerusalem (or Zion) in a couple different ways. He speaks of it both as a physical and earthly place, and also as a location that is eternal and heavenly.

Recall what Zion was, already from the time of King David. After he captured it in battle, this became his city, the new capital of Israel. It was the home of the tabernacle, and then the temple—the place where God dwelled. And that fact of God’s dwelling already made Zion much more than just a city of walls and gates. It became a symbol of the close bond between the LORD and his covenant people. This was where God was pleased to show himself among them.

To be sure, Zion wasn’t always so great. They called it “the holy city,” but there were times when it most unholy. This is where Israel spoiled her relationship with God by her empty worship and godless living. In that same chapter 1, Isaiah gave a grim picture of Jerusalem. He said in 1:31, “How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers.”

That was the earthly city, and Isaiah has also announced what’s going to happen to it. Enemies will besiege her, break down her walls, and enslave her people. The LORD will purge her evil with fire. After judgment on sin, Zion’s future didn’t look bright at all.

But God gives hope. Something new and glorious will come out of the ashes! “Arise, shine; for your light has come!” God says to his holy city (60:1). Jerusalem is going to be filled again with the glory of God, even with the multitude of believing nations. In the eternal Zion there will no longer be sun or moon, “but the LORD will be to you an everlasting light” (60:19).

Then at the start of our chapter, the LORD speaks some more about the future plans for his people: “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns” (62:1). Zion will be radiant with his glory.

Such a place of joy and brightness is the place to be! So in verse 10, Isaiah speaks about the need to go to Zion, to enter her—to make this your supreme destination. What he’s describing is a pilgrimage to the Lord’s city. What is a pilgrimage? It’s a journey, but not just any journey like the road trips we take up on holidays. This is a trip to a holy place, one where we can draw near to God.

And that’s what our life on earth really is: traveling through! We’re not here to put down roots, to build a permanent place for ourselves where we’ve got every comfort and ease. If we’re too attached to what we’ve got here, if we’re too absorbed in this world, we won’t have much interest in our true destination. So in Peter’s first letter, the Holy Spirit calls us pilgrims and strangers on earth—that’s what we are, and what we should be.

“Get started on your journey,” Isaiah says to the pilgrims, “because God is near, and his salvation is close at hand.” Listen to how he exhorts the people in verse 10, “Go through, go through the gates!” Every city in the ancient world was surrounded by high walls, standing as a barrier of protection against the enemy. And because of those walls, every city also needed gates—fortified entrances—through which people could come and go.

Isaiah says, “Go through the gates,” but he doesn’t tell us which gates. A few commentators think that he’s referring to the gates of Babylon. After all, that’s where Judah was going to live in exile for seventy years. So this is God’s command to leave through the Babylon’s gates. Find the nearest exit and hit the road back to Zion!

In Isaiah we do often find the idea of returning from exile. But in this case, I think the gates are those of Zion—not leaving her but entering! Just look at the previous verse. The LORD says that the day will come again when his people gather grain and wine and enjoy them without any interference from their enemies: “Those who have brought it together shall drink it in my holy courts” (v 9). There’s going to be a feast in Zion, a celebration of the Lord’s work—and the celebration will be right in the Lord’s holy courts: at his temple.

“Go through, go through the gates!” The command is repeated because it’s so urgent. God is saying that you need to get to Zion quickly. Make sure you enter, because what happens there? The worship of the LORD God! There is no activity more important for our lives. We want to draw near to God, now and forever: that’s our goal.

And let’s think for a moment about the role of the elders and deacons in this drawing near to God. Look back a few verses, at verse 6. There God says, “I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem.” If you’re going to rebuild city walls after the invasion, you better have people to stand on them and keep watch. You need men on the frontline, standing at the gates, staying alert. It’s not a stretch to say that these are the men whom God has given in his office bearers today. God calls elders and deacons to work for the good of his city, of his people.

Listen to what they’re doing: “They shall never hold their peace, day or night” (v 6). Standing on the walls, they’ve got something urgent to say. They’re exhorting the Lord’s people, encouraging us, praying for us, getting us ready to draw near to God. They’re saying to everyone, “Go through, go through the gates!”

If you think about it, that really is the core message that the elders bring through their pastoral care, and the deacons in their visits, and the minister in his preaching. As watchmen, we exhort you to “go through” and worship God. We exhort you to walk with him. Be in fellowship with Christ! Take your part among the people of Christ!

And because the work is important, they need to persist, even in hard times. It can be hard for an elder to keep going after a particularly tough visit or two—you can feel like giving up, “What’s the use?” It can be hard for the watchmen after they’ve taken some unfair criticism, “Why do I bother?” But Isaiah says in verse 6, “They never hold their peace.” In other words, they keep speaking—they keep working. For God has given us something true and beautiful and powerful to share with his people.

Sometimes an elder brings a warning to a sinner and calls him to repent. Sometimes he gives an encouragement to someone who is lagging behind. Sometimes a deacon brings a word of comfort to the lonely, reassurance to the struggling. Whatever the situation, this is what they need to say, “Go through, go through the gates!” That is: Go to God! Bring your guilt to God for his forgiveness. Bring your burdens to the Father for his help. Bring your confusion to the Lord for the help of his wisdom. Bring your affliction to Christ, and He will comfort you.

 

2) the urgent preparation: Think of the last time you were getting ready for a big trip—maybe an epic camping adventure, or a trip across the ocean to a distant country. You settled on your destination long ago, but before leaving there was much to get ready: gathering supplies, mapping the route, planning meals. Without preparation, your journey will fail or be a big disappointment.

That’s true for God’s pilgrims, too. Our eternal destination is settled. Even if we forget it sometimes, deep down we all know where God wants us to go. So now we need to deliberately work on our preparation. If we neglect to get ourselves ready, what will come of our journey?

So we hear the LORD’s word in verse 10, “Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway!” God wants us to follow a clear avenue to his presence. Your life shouldn’t resemble a meandering pathway, careless and random. If you’ll go to God, get ready!

When we listen carefully to verse 10, we hear a distinct echo of the well known words of chapter 40. This is what the voice of one crying in the wilderness said, “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (40:3). Back then, Isaiah was envisioning a highway cutting across the rugged landscape. That was a road for the Lord’s people: homeward bound from exile, homeward bound to God.

Throughout his prophecies, Isaiah often mentions highways. In chapter 40, for example, he told about how the LORD was going to bring down the hills, and lift up the valleys, and remove the crooked places. For Isaiah, highways are symbols of peace; they stand for the blessed end of separation.

Think of two towns in a mountainous region. They’re not even so many kilometers apart, but they’re separated by difficult terrain: a deep river, some steep hills, narrow valleys. So the people in the two towns rarely see each other, since the journey is difficult. But then a good road is built, one that overcomes each obstacle. There is a great change: their locations are the same as before, but now the people have been brought together.

This is the kind of road that God has built. Our chief obstacle in drawing near to God is always sin. It drastically separates us from the holy God, because our sin means that we deserve his curse. We should be banished from his presence forever. But God is love, and He delights to show compassion. He wants no barriers in our coming to him, so He has opened the way in Jesus Christ. 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.

God is the one who opens the way. He’s the roadbuilder, and He does it as an act of his grace through his Son. But God never takes away our responsibility and calling; He never lets us remain passive on the other side of valley, indifferent to what He has done. So God calls his people to get ourselves ready, “Prepare the way! Build up the highway!”

And then again in verse 10, “Take out the stones.” You wouldn’t build a road without first moving aside the boulders and rocks; you want a smooth roadway. You even dig out the rocks that are buried just under the surface, so that they don’t work their way up over time and become an obstacle.

God calls us to get ready for our journey to his presence, and He says, “Take out the stones.” What are the stones? What can they be, but the things that get in the way of our going to Christ? These are the things that hinder us, “the sin which so easily ensnares” (Heb 12:1), what upsets our journey and threatens to ruin it altogether.

So getting ready for eternal life requires that we confess our sins. Dig them out, and bring them into the open. Before Christ comes again, we need to repent. If you will receive Christ, if you will share in his salvation, then your heart has to be ready. It has to be swept clean. The rubbish removed. Sins acknowledged. It’s the most important thing you’ll ever do: being ready for the Lord Jesus, ready with a broken heart, a repentant heart, a believing heart.

Think again of Isaiah’s words in chapter 40, comparing salvation to building a highway across the desert. Because the Lord is coming, we have to make ready his way. And smooth out the rough places! Where in our life do we have bitterness and anger, jealousy and pride? Let these rough places be made smooth, and begin to live in peace, in mercy, in love.

Because Christ is coming, we have to make straight whatever is crooked. In our life, where are things out of alignment with God’s Word? Where are we straying from his commandments? Is it with dishonesty at work? With cold resentment in our marriage? Are we careless in our choices of entertainment? Are we habitually lazy in our devotions? We have to make these things straight, repenting, and seeking the Lord’s grace.

And because Christ coming soon, let’s clear away any obstructions and barriers. “Take out the stones!” What keeps you from trusting God with your whole heart? What keeps you from serving Christ with your whole life? Maybe sin that we’re protecting, instead of removing. Hatred that we’re sticking to, instead of giving up. Because Christ is coming, He calls us to prepare him a highway: make it ready!

Here too, the office bearers have a task. They should help the congregation get rid of the stones from our way, to build up a smoother road. Maybe they can point out a sin that is slowing us down. Maybe they encourage us to keep up our strength with prayer and Scripture. They remind us of where we’re going.

The elders and deacons themselves are men on a journey. They shouldn’t work in the church as traffic police, telling everyone where to go, standing back and issuing commands from a superior place. But in humility and dependence on God, the elders and deacons are traveling too, traveling with you—pilgrims, side by side.

And that’s an encouraging perspective on the work of an elder or deacon or minister. Because for us, the labour is never done. There are always more visits to be made, more training to be given, more people to be encouraged. That is true for every Christian’s life: there’s always more we can do. And that can feel overwhelming.

But we’re encouraged to know that God joins the church in her work. It’s his promise to establish Jerusalem forever! By his grace working through the weak men He chooses, He guards and builds the church.

Without his help, all our work as elders and deacons and minister will come to nothing. That’s true also for our daily work as parents and students and husbands and wives and children—it’s all useless if we don’t reinforce our work with many prayers for God’s blessing. If we will make good preparations, build up the highway, lay aside whatever hinders and remove the stones, then we need the almighty help of God our Father. And when we ask for help, He’ll surely give it.

 

3) the open invitation: Throughout his prophecies, Isaiah takes a broad view of the church. That is, God doesn’t include only the people you’d expect, the civilized and respectable. That’s a lesson for us too. It wasn’t only the people of Israel who are allowed into Zion, but God welcomes people from all nations. Back in Isaiah 2, he described how “all nations shall flow to [Zion]” and “many people shall come and say, “Let us go up to the mountain of the LORD” (vv 2-3).

In our text, it’s happening again. Zion’s gates have been opened, the roads have been resurfaced, and an invitation has been issued: “Lift up a banner for the peoples!” (v 10). A banner is like a flag today. Back then, on a battlefield or in the city square, a king would lift up his banner in order to collect people together. When they saw the banner, they knew they were called together to hear good news.

So God says, “Lift up a banner!” Come together for the victory of God. Come to Zion, where God lives with his people again. God said He’ll establish Jerusalem—He’ll establish the church and the people of Christ—so that she becomes “the praise” of all the earth (v 7). For the time will come when all people will finally see that Christ is Lord and that the church is his holy people.

What the church gets to do today is raise that banner of Christ’s victory for everyone to see. We hold before people the message of Christ the Saviour. We should him before our neighbours, before the people in our life we’ve made a connection with. Tell about Christ and his great triumph over sin. It’s an open invitation, that here is the place where you can be truly secure. Come to the Lord and worship him!

Such an invitation looks forward. It looks toward the day of perfection, when the church is fully gathered from all nations. It looks toward the day when Zion “shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (62:12). Toward this day we should press onwards in our work and in our prayers.

Because when Christ returns, it means peace for Zion! It means an end to this life’s suffering. No more people dying before they repent. No more ruined relationships. There will be an end to the draining and frustrating battle against sin. For Christ will return and establish his church forever, making Zion perfect at last.

What a powerful message for the elders and deacons to bring, and what an important objective for their work. They want to get us ready for the day of Christ’s return. That’s our goal. That’s where we’re headed. So be ready for that final day. Even now, on this day, be prepared to receive your King.

Go through, go through the gates!

Prepare the way.

Build up, build up the highway!

Take out the stones, and lift up the banner for the peoples!

For Christ is coming soon.  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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