In this sermon series we are exploring some of the key Messianic prophecies in Isaiah and link up with the OT expectation of the Messiah in this time before Christmas. We are going to look at the original context the prophecy was given in, because this will help us to understand the fulfillment of that expectation in Jesus.
We are going to look at Isaiah 35, which is a Messianic prophecy with a triple fulfillment!
Isaiah prophesies roughly 100 years ahead into a time when Judah would have been overpowered by the Babylonian empire and taken a big part of the people into captivity in Babylon, as slaves. They were away from their home, as an oppressed people and away from the Temple – the central place of worship. The first four verses of Psalm 137 describe really well what their situation was like.
Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
as we thought of Jerusalem.
We put away our harps,
hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
For our captors demanded a song from us.
Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
“Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a pagan land?
We all know that the words “cheer up” don’t mean anything when you are depressed…Because of the depressing circumstances the Jews were in and the grieve over what they had lost, they had completely lost their joy. Isaiah not only predicted the upcoming disaster, but also the restoration. That is what Isaiah 35 is about. It is a prophecy of joy restored.
Isaiah 35:1-4 (NIV)
Even the wilderness and desert will be glad in those days.
The wasteland will rejoice and blossom with spring crocuses.
Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers
and singing and joy!
The deserts will become as green as the mountains of Lebanon,
as lovely as Mount Carmel or the plain of Sharon.
There the Lord will display his glory,
the splendor of our God.
With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.”
1) Restored glory
These first few verses speak about a restoration of glory that was lost. The Jews were sitting in their grief over what was taken away from them – but God is saying to them: this is I will have my vengeance on those who have mistreated you, and I will restore your glory!
This passage describes that in a very physical way, but it is something we can also experience spiritually – a restoration of our joy, even in the midst of dire circumstances.
It is like God is saying: I will give you the spark in your eyes back. I will visit you again and display my glory, so that anyone who sees a change in you will know that it was because I have restored you. This promise of God that He will return in glory is a first promise and a message of hope in the midst of dire times.
Isaiah 35:5-7 (NIV)
And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.
The lame will leap like a deer,
and those who cannot speak will sing for joy!
Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish
where desert jackals once lived.
2) Restored from brokenness
When God returns in glory, He will restore what is broken, heal what is sick and refresh what is dry and thirsty. This is what happens when God’s rule and reign breaks through in our lives – a complete restoration both inwardly and outwardly. Both in a physical sense and in a spiritual sense.
When we speak about the breakthrough of the Kingdom of God in our lives and in our land – this is what that looks like! This is what God promises that He will do when we return to Him.
I believe that many of us desperately need to make the decision again (or for the first time) to invite Jesus to rule and reign in your life again to restore your deafness and blindness to the truth, to quench your spiritual thirst and to experience the freedom that comes with worshiping God in full surrender.
We will come back to these verses because Jesus quotes them directly in connection to His ministry.
And a great road will go through that once deserted land.
It will be named the Highway of Holiness.
Evil-minded people will never travel on it.
It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways;
fools will never walk there.
Lions will not lurk along its course,
nor any other ferocious beasts.
There will be no other dangers.
Only the redeemed will walk on it.
Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
They will enter Jerusalem singing,
crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
and they will be filled with joy and gladness.
3) Restored relationship
These last verses paint the picture of a relationship with God that is restored. In these days, Jerusalem was the central point of worship, especially the Temple. For the main holidays, people would go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple, singing all the way going there. These verses talk about this Highway of Holiness, entering Jerusalem with singing and a crown of joy.
When God comes into our worlds, he is not only restoring us to glory and healing our brokenness, He is also restoring our relationship with Him.
It is through our relationship with God that we can receive this inner joy that no threat, no disappointment, no stress and no sickness can take away from us – because we know that we are children of the Father.
Isaiah’s prophecy would know three fulfilments. The first one is the time when the Jews are released from captivity in Babylon and get to return to Jerusalem. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah they would restore the city and the Temple, and they would prosper again. This is the first fulfilment.
Ministry of Jesus
These three things, restoration of glory, restoration from brokenness and the restoration of our relationship with God is exactly what Jesus came to earth for. Heaven literally came down to earth and He established the rule and reign of God amongst men.
And when John the Baptist, the prophet that prepared the way before Jesus was in dire circumstances himself because he was arrested and thrown into prison, he sent his friends over to Jesus to ask for confirmation.
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Through the ministry of Jesus, the rule and reign of God broke through on the earth in a very physical sense through healing (deaf hearing, mute singing, lame walking, lepers cleansed and even the dead raised) but also in a spiritual sense when Jesus opened people’s eyes to the character of God, the instructions of God and the part that the children of God have to play in all this.
The ultimate fulfillment
And this leads us to the third fulfillment of this prophecy. Because when we look around, we know that the rule and reign of God has not been fully established on the earth! Jesus first coming was the breakthrough of heaven on earth – Jesus showed that it is near, meaning: within reach.
But the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy will come at the Second Coming of Jesus when He will bring a full consummation of all God’s promises of restoration. He will come to make all things new, to restore lost glory to the earth, to restore the brokenness of His people and dwell with His people and also, to bring judgment to the wicked and separate the goats from the sheep.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
And in the same way as Isaiah’s words encouraged the captives in Babylon, these words can encourage us, because we are citizens of heaven, living in a broken world, eagerly awaiting the return of our King to establish His rule and reign forever.
We are citizens of heaven, living in a broken world, eagerly awaiting the return of our King to establish His rule and reign forever.
Living as a people of joy
Because we are living between the first and second coming of Jesus, we already experience the benefits of joy being restored in us, but still live in a world where this is not made complete yet. Therefore, we need to live as a people of joy. How can we do that? Here are three simple (not easy) steps.
1) Receive His joy
Weather it is physical or spiritual. God wants to restore your joy today. By opening our lives up to God and inviting his Holy Spirit to meet with us, He can begin to restore our joy. The Holy Spirit is the one that confirms to us, in our inner being, that we are children of God, and that our security, identity and value is in Him!
2) Let nothing take away this joy
As I’ve mentioned before, JOY and HAPPINESS are not the same thing because happiness is circumstantial, and joy is a status of the soul. When Jesus restores this joy in you, nothing and no one could ever steal that away from you.
Because we are children of God, living in relationship with the Father – He defines who we are, not the amount of stuff that we have, not the way people see us, our accomplishments or relationship status. We find our identity in Him. So, drink from the well of God, because that well will never dry up.
3) Spread His joy
Many people don’t know that all of this is available to them and so we, who have received it now must announce it, share it, pray for it, invite people into it and let it define how we live. In the time between the first and second coming of Jesus, let us be the heralds of the coming King.
Let us live as the people of joy!