This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 31st, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Res 2013.
Isaiah 25:1-8 RESURRECTION IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORY
This morning we are here to celebrate the resurrection of our master, Jesus Christ, and to talk about the central tenet of our faith – our Hope of Resurrection – (our expectation that what we greatly desire, the renewal of our bodies, the forgiveness of our sins, the new Creation, a new life of great joy). That hope is what we have and celebrate – not proof. Hope is not measurable – rather we are called to believe and trust and live in expectation of what we can neither see nor prove.
We want to look at a passage that is about hope. It is a hymn of praise and triumph and joy from Isaiah 25 – sung, not at the end of the story – but in the middle of the story.
No story while it is ongoing can also, at the same time, be resolved. For instance if a man lives an evil life for 40 years, then turns and repents in the last 10 years – who that man is, and what we think of him is different than if he had been an evil man all his life. We do not know a person until the end of his or her story.
This hymn of God’s faithfulness is sung to us in the middle of the story – both our story and the man writing the hymn. And it would have taken great faith for Isaiah to write this triumphant hymn – given where he was in his story. So this morning, as we look at this hymn, we have to admit that we are very much in the middle of the story. Jesus has risen from the grave! Yet here we are. And the challenge this morning is going to be for you and I to sing this hymn of praise – to believe it – to live with hope that God is working out his plan in what Isaiah calls, “perfect faithfulness” in the middle of this story.
We Praise God, Whose Justice is Being Carried Out with Perfect Faithfulness.
God Will Judge the Evil City: When Isaiah talks about “the city”, he is not referring to any specific city, but to “the city of man – not just a collection of buildings but a mechanism for living independently of God … so impressive, so talented, so evil”
. Cain built the first city after being sent from the presence of God. “The City” for Isaiah, is what we refer to as “the world”, in the spiritual sense. The corrupt beliefs, attitudes and practices of those who reject God and live independently of God.
Isaiah lived in the presence of “The City”, just as we do, but look at what he says here – “Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago. You have made the city a heap of rubble, the fortified town a ruin, the foreigners’ stronghold a city no more; it will never be rebuilt.” Isaiah speaks about the future event of God’s judgment as though it had already happened. The evil things we see happening, God will judge – and will bring about a perfect justice that this world can never offer.
God Will Break Down Recalcitrant, Unrepentant People: Note, Isaiah says, “Therefore strong peoples will honor you; cities of ruthless nations will revere you”. In other words, Isaiah’s hope is not only that these foreigners – who did not know God – would be destroyed, but he states and believes, as though it had already happened, that these hard-hearted, godless, unbelieving, ruthless people would turn to God in reverence. And this is what God has done – and is doing. God is changing the hearts of ruthless, unbelieving people and creating reverence and faith and new life.
We Praise God’s Perfect Faithfulness to Us in the Middle of the Story.
When We are Impoverished, Needy and Distressed: “You have been a refuge for the poor a refuge for the needy in their distress” What does it mean that God is our refuge when we are needy and distressed? Think about it – when we are heartbroken over a loss, when we are distressed about a terrible situation – what do we do? What do we believe? We believe that God will care for us. We turn to God for comfort. We believe and trust that we are in the middle of a story that has a redemptive and hopeful ending. We do not throw up our hands and say, “Well, God must not exist, this must all have been a lie”. No, we hold more tightly to the one in whom and from whom we expect our needs and desires to be met. We believe! We trust! We hope! – even when we cannot see the end of the story.
When We are Passing Through Storms: “… a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert. You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled.” In the same way, God is our refuge when we pass through storms. Do you know what a storm is? In this passage, a storm is a metaphor for a period of time when we are under attack, by someone(s) who are against us and who mean us harm. When someone with cruel intention sets themselves against us – speaks evil of us – when others begin to turn against us. When those who are doing what is evil and who are against us seem to be prevailing – what do we do?
We believe, we trust, we hope. We wait for the Lord to “… silence the uproar” until “the song of the ruthless is stilled”. We recognize that we are in the middle of the story. We believe that the storms of life will pass and we live in the expectation that God will bring us relief and peace – even though we cannot see it at this present time.
We Praise God Who Has Shown Us the End of the Story.
The Destruction of the Shroud of Death: “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”
What exactly is a shroud? The Oxford Dictionary says it is , “a length of cloth or an enveloping garment in which a dead person is wrapped for burial.” But a shroud can also figuratively mean, “…a thing that envelops or obscures” – Like a shroud of mist. In other words, God himself describes death as a covering that no person can escape – something that clouds or covers our ability to see God – to be in his presence. Our bodies are mortal – aging – dying. They are dying because our bodies were made to live in the presence of God. To be in the presence of God is to be alive. Romans 8 tells us that our bodies groan along with this Creation, waiting to be made alive.
But the Resurrection of Jesus is the turning point in the middle of the story. On the mountain of God, in his perfect faithfulness, at the end of the story, God will remove the shroud of death. Our bodies will be transformed, made alive, immortal. God will destroy death.
The Removal of Sorrow and Disgrace: “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.”
In the middle of the story, we struggle with sorrow and disgrace. We go through storms, sorrows, we struggle as sinners (both willful and in ignorance), we are mortal and fading and failing. The condition we live in falls far short of the glory we were made for. It is a disgrace to be corrupted by sin. When you and I were made to reflect the beauty of God’s character in this world – to be immortal – the very pinnacle of Creation – it is a disgrace to find that we are weak and dying and corrupt. It Stings! We are Stung with Shame.
But the cross of Jesus is the turning point of the middle of the story. Our sorrows will be healed. Our sinful desires, ignorance, willfulness, mortality, brokenness will be healed. This is our hope – our expectation, desire and trust. Jesus has removed our shame – our disgrace before the Father – our utter failure to be beautiful and glorious and immortal. Our burning shame – our disgrace was poured out on Jesus on the cross on the one whose life was glorious – whose life was all that God meant it to be – who had never sinned or become corrupted. In place of our shame, Jesus gave to us the gift of his righteousness.
The Great Wedding Feast of Jesus and The Exultation of Hope Fulfilled: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine— the best of meats and the finest of wines…”.
In the middle of the story we are discontent, and we tend to chase contentment. The end of the story can seem far away, uncertain, and maybe too good to be true. But this is a picture of feasting and contentment – being filled with what we long for – the finest of wines, the best of meats. It is a Wedding Reception and we are the bride. It is the fulfillment of our hopes, as Isaiah writes, In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” And this is the end of the story. Our souls will finally be at rest, content, more than content – filled with inexpressible joy. This is our hope, our expectation and our strength.
This hymn of praise and hope and expectation was written hundreds of years before Christ – in the middle of a story of waiting and suffering. It is a hymn of faith. This morning, we are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus – and we are called to join in with the writer. Not merely to acknowledge this hymn as a possibility – but to sing it as a hymn of praise, confidence and hope. We are being called to believe and even to rejoice, though we live in the middle of the story.