The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the Arabah will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the LORD, The majesty of our God.
Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; The recompense of God will come, But He will save you." Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah. And the scorched land will become a pool, And the thirsty ground springs of water; In the haunt of jackals, its resting place, Grass becomes reeds and rushes. And a highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious beast go up on it; These will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, And the ransomed of the LORD will return, And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Sermon for Advent Three 2023 12/20/23
The Holy Highway of Jesus
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
One of the more difficult things about prophecy is that it is not necessarily linear. We tend to think in straight lines, more or less. We tend to read what we read in the same way. A story starts and progresses to the end. When it does not, take the case of a flashback, for example, we want the story to tell us what it is doing. Many a fine story has been spoiled, and abandoned by many readers because it did not cue the reader in to the fact that there was no linearity to the account.
Prophecy is not necessarily linear. It can be, but often it is less like telling a story, and more like describing a picture. Our text tonight is like that a description of a picture with details added here and there, out of place it seems, to describe the coming salvation of our God. Let us look at this prophecy, which is the entire 35th chapter of the book of Isaiah, and see salvation pictured as the Holy Highway of Jesus.
The prophet begins by filling in the scenery. Joy is depicted. We see the desolate wilderness blossoming and rejoicing. The desolation and the wilderness are images of the human soul in sin. We are desolate, without hope if we must rely on our own resources. This sudden change in the wilderness is caused by seeing the glory of the Lord, literally the glory of Yahweh. That means seeing Jesus, the One in whom the glory of God is finally revealed. Did the prophet understand it this way? We don't know, but Jesus did, and so did the Apostle Paul who wrote: For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. We understand that this Glory, being revealed in the prophecy, is Jesus Christ.
Then the prophet depicts encouraging the exhausted, strengthening the feeble, and comforting those who are worried and anxious. Those troubles also describe man's condition in sin but here it is intended to describe the burdens of the faithful of God. They are exhausted by waiting and living for God. They are so burdened by sin that they are feeble in their efforts and faith. The fear is that they cannot last in the face of the dangers and enemies of this life. The encouragement, strength, and peace are wrapped up in this: "Behold Your God!" God is here! Rescue is at hand.
Then we have judgment talk: "Vengeance," and "recompense". God is coming to winnow His people and destroy the wicked. He is the Judge! And the Judge is the Savior! The prophet says: And He Will Save You. That sentence in English is just one word in Hebrew, (jisha'achem) from which the name "Jesus" comes. That is why the name "Jesus" is significant it is a literal fulfillment of this prophecy. The judge is even named "And He shall save you." Jesus said the same thing in John 3:17: For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. But He will judge! He is coming one more time at the end.
As a result, nature rejoices! The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame leap about like deer. The dumb shout for joy. These remind us of the miracles which Jesus performed. These are the miracles that Jesus reports to the disciples of John when they ask in last Sunday's Gospel, "Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for another?" But the real blindness is spiritual blindness. The real deafness is deafness to the Word of God. The dumb cannot speak the truth of God, and the lame are crippled by their sins. The coming of Jesus, and the giving Holy Spirit, cure those spiritual ailments. We see and understand, we hear and believe. We know and speak, and How blessed are the feet of those who bring good tidings!
Then the prophet continues with what does not sound so familiar. The dry places become swamps and luxuriant growth. The empty and desolate areas become lush and productive. Minor growth is replaced by strong, sturdy, thick, overwhelming growth. I do not need to draw out the contrast of man in sin to man in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that is what it is! Nature is rejoicing here. Contrast that to nature groaning as in labor pains, as Paul describes it in Romans 8:22: For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. Paul is trying to show clearly how Jesus, and all that God worked through Him, fulfilled this prophecy!
Finally, the scenery is complete. Then Isaiah talks about the highway of holiness. In this unexpected place, there will be a highway. It will be the highway due to the glory of God. It will be the highway of "Behold Your God." It will be the highway that John the Baptist was calling out to prepare and to straighten. It will be called the highway of holiness or the holy highway. Jesus spoke of this road in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13-14: Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
This Holy Highway is that narrow road; the straight and narrow we often have called it. We call it straight because it is marked by holiness and righteousness. You shall be holy, God declares, for I the Lord your God am holy. And righteousness is what Christ gives to us. It is also interesting to note that the Greek word Jesus chose to describe that narrow highway refers to being narrow by reason of persecution, pressure, and difficulty. The road is not just physically narrow. It is narrow by virtue of all of the pressure to push you off. Not just anyone can walk on it.
The unclean shall not walk on it. They are all walking the wide and easy way, just because it is easier to do. Fools will not wander on it. The Hebrew uses the word "wander" as if one is aimless, and going nowhere in particular at least not deliberately. But this highway only goes one place one way, and those on it do not wander aimlessly. They are going somewhere, and purposefully. No, the fools will walk on the wide and easy road.
Wild animals were a real danger to those who traveled in those days. They generally traveled by foot. Lions were always a threat. The prophet notes that, and notices that there will be lions along this road also, but they shall not walk on the road. They will be waiting in the thickets if you turn either to the left or the right. But only a fool would wander on aimlessly on such a road, a narrow and difficult road to stay on. There will be lions: people who want to catch you, push you off the road or invite you to join them on the wide and easy road. There will be traps, temptations, and snares along the sides of the road, cul-de-sacs, and turnoffs leading nowhere, but there are no deadly lions or anyone who will harm you on this road.
Who will be on it? The redeemed will walk there. This is the Holy Highway of Jesus. These are those who have been called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified. These are the Children of God. The next phrase indicates that also. It says the ransomed of the Lord will return there. They will return to their God.
Isaiah says that those on the road will come to Zion with shouts of joy and Zion is where God chooses to be present with His people present in Word and Sacrament. This is Zion, the body of Christ on earth. And there is also the heavenly Zion. The highway takes you to both for rejoicing with shouts of joy. He is risen! Hallelujah!
Then Isaiah says, Gladness and joy will overtake those on the road. What a beautiful image. We can always conceive of danger pursuing us and catching us, the footsteps in the dark behind us, the terror of that unknown noise. But here God pictures gladness and joy as the pursuer. They will move so steadily and certainly, that gladness and joy are inescapable. They will overtake everyone who walks on the road.
Sorrow and sighing, on the other hand, will flee away. Isaiah says that the people of the road will walk with everlasting joy upon their heads so that sorrow and sadness will have no place to roost or to rest on them, so those twin evils will have to flee. But consider, if the joy is everlasting, then the life which knows such joy must also be everlasting and Jesus said that this is the highway that leads to life.
But the road is narrow and persecuted and hard. Those who are not on it do not want you on it. They are certain they are going the right way. Then there are those lions Satan and his crew. He does not want you on the road there you are safe from Him. He will seek to lure you off. To distract you from watching the road. You all know how easy it is to drive off the road if you take your eyes off of it for just a moment and look at something off to the side. This road is for walking, but it is so narrow and there are all sorts of pressures to push you off, and traps and temptations to lure you away. It requires determination to walk on the holy highway of Jesus. It does not come easily for anyone. Walking on the holy highway of Jesus will require deliberation just to stay on it, and the guidance and blessing of God. But for those who do stay on it, gladness and joy will overtake them. And the destination is life everlasting!
God grant you the power of His Holy Spirit this Advent season, and the faith and the strength to walk this Holy Highway of Jesus!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Thursday, December 21, 2023
The Holy Highway of Jesus