Isaiah 35:1-10

A Vision of Christ’s Coming

Think of the sermon this morning as a sequel to the sermon last week. Last Sunday we heard Isaiah’s prophecy of what the New Creation will look like when Messiah comes. He envisions a creation at one with itself, where …

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

The text today, also from Isaiah, gives us another vision of the New Creation, where all nature will sing to the glory of God, as the Lord comes to restore his people and lead them into the joy of his salvation.

As we look more closely at this passage today, my hope is that our eyes will be open and our ears attuned to his coming, and that we’ll be drawn that much closer to the New Creation in Jesus Christ. The text begins,

“The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
The desert will rejoice” (1-2)

Isaiah’s prophecy is a song of deliverance for the people of Israel. The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 598 B.C. They took the best and the brightest of the Hebrews captive and carted them off to Babylon. Others scattered to the four winds, leaving those who were weak and infirmed to fend for themselves, with little strength and provision.

It would be seventy long years before the exiles returned and Jerusalem began to come back to life. That’s a long time to go without the vitality children playing in the streets, young people growing up and getting married, old rabbis reciting Torah and singing psalms in the marketplace.

Few, if any of the exiles, would live to see the holy city again in their lifetime. But they would not lose hope. In the slave camps of Babylon, they would rehearse the stories of the faith. They would tell their children about the God of the Passover who broke the will of the Pharaoh and set the prisoners free; the God of the Exodus, who parted the waters of the Red Sea and delivered his people from the mighty Egyptian army; the God of the Pilgrimage, who led the people of Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land, guiding them with a cloud of dust by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Their memory would give them hope that, just as God had been faithful in the past, so God would once again hear the cries of his people and set them free. They dreamed of a day when truth would reign and justice would be served. It would be the dawning of a New Creation in which the other nations would turn to Yahweh and all creation would bear witness to the sovereignty of God.

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I lived in West Texas for almost six years. I jokingly said, “It’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from here.” Actually, West Texas has a beauty of its own, but it’s not at all like the lush, rolling hills of southwest Arkansas. Living here among trees and flowing water makes us have to work hard to appreciate Isaiah’s prophecy. For example, in Odessa we’d go for weeks and months without rain. The land would be so parched and dry you’d think nothing would ever grow again. Then it’d rain. Almost overnight, green grass would sprout up. It was as if the creation itself was singing God’s praise.

In much the same way, though the people of Israel in Isaiah’s day were defeated and taken into exile, God was with them, and, in time, God would redeem them and give them safe return. There would come a day of rejoicing, not only for the captives; creation itself would bear witness to the presence and power of God Almighty. And so, Isaiah said,

“The wilderness and the dry land will be glad.
The desert will rejoice…(therefore) Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.

Tell those who have a fearful heart, ‘Be strong. Don’t be afraid.
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, God’s retribution.
He will come and save you.” (1, 3-4)

Isaiah then goes on to say,

“Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.

Then the lame man will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing.” (5-6)

In the New Creation, there will be no more sickness, no more infirmities, no more handicaps or impediments.

Sound too good to be true? Before you cancel your insurance or throw away your Medicare card, please note: Each of these physical infirmities corresponds to a spiritual reality. For Isaiah, salvation was not simply a matter of being free from the aches and pains of everyday life and going to heaven when you die; salvation was a matter of being able to perceive and proclaim and act upon the power and promise of God’s Word.

Look more closely at what he’s saying: “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened…” The question is not whether you have 20-20 vision; it’s whether or not you’re able to behold the presence of God in the world around you.

There’s a wonderful story in the Gospel of John where Jesus healed a man who had been born blind. (John 9:1ff) According to John, Jesus picked up some dirt, spit on it and a made a paste, then put it on the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. He did, and when he came back, he could see! It was a miracle!

Everyone was astonished and happy for the man. Everyone, that is, except the Pharisees. They were angry, not because the man could now see, but because they couldn’t explain the miracle. So, they questioned the man and asked him, “How were your eyes opened?” The man told them everything Jesus had done, but they just couldn’t get it. How could a poor blind man see what was hidden from their eyes? After all, they were the righteous ones; they were the religious authorities. If anyone should be able to see clearly, it was they.

That’s the irony, don’t you see? When we approach faith on our terms, it eludes us; when we become as children and receive the gifts of God with humility and gratitude, God’s presence becomes clear to us and we taste the first fruits of eternal life.

Are you able to see God at work in your life? Are you able to perceive his presence in the faces of those you meet? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

One of the signs of the New Creation is the gift of sight. Another is the gift of hearing. In the New Creation, the ears of the deaf will be opened.

In another scene from John’s gospel, Jesus knows that the end is near, and he must face the prospects of his own death. He looks up to heaven and prays,

“Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this time?’
But for this cause I came to this time.
Father, glorify your name!”
(John 12:27-28)

Now, it just so happened that he was standing in a crowd so that, when he prayed aloud to God, everyone heard him. In response to his prayer, a voice came from heaven and said, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” (John 12:28) What’s remarkable is that, according to John, “The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, said that it had thundered.” (John 12:29) Only those with ears to hear were able to recognize the voice as the voice of God.

What if you’d been standing there? Would you have been able to distinguish the voice of God from the sound of thunder? There’s a lot of static in our world today, a lot of competing voices clamoring to be heard. Are you able to hear God’s Word over all the noise and chaos? One of my favorite old hymns proclaims,

“This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.”

It goes on to say,

“This is my Father’s world,
he shines in all that’s fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass,
he speaks to me everywhere.”

The gift of hearing is a sign of his coming. When God reigns in your heart, you’re able to hear God’s Word.

But there’s more: In response to seeing him at work in the world around you and hearing his voice wherever you go, you’re able to walk in God’s company and sing God’s praise. In the words of Isaiah,

“Then the lame man will leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute will sing.” (35:6)

There’s a scene in the Gospel According to Matthew where John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him the question that was burning in his heart: “Are you he who comes, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)

John was in prison. The end of his life was near. He wanted to know if Jesus was truly the Son of God, the Savior of the world. And so, he asked, “Are you the Christ, or shall we look for another?” When John’s disciples found Jesus and asked him the question, Jesus answered,

“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised up,
and the poor have good news preached to them.

Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.”
(Matthew 11:4-6)

These are signs of Christ’s coming – the ability to see God at work in the world today, to hear God’s voice, to speak and act in God’s name, to share the Good News of God’s grace and love with others. Whenever you see a reflection of Christ in the faces of others; whenever you hear God’s Word in scripture or on the lips of children; whenever you demonstrate kindness and compassion and generosity to others; whenever you tell of the majesty of God’s grace and love, you become part of the kingdom of God on earth. Isaiah concludes by saying,

“A highway will be there, a road,
and it will be called The Holy Way…

The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return,
and come with singing to Zion…” (8-10)

This is no small promise. We’ve all seen pictures of the Middle East, especially of late, with regard to the war in Afghanistan. The terrain of the Middle East is rugged and foreboding. There are vast areas of wilderness and desert and barren countryside. For the people of Isaiah’s day, the vision of a highway was a like dream and a symbol of God’s Providence – that, no matter how far astray you may have wandered, no matter how far off the beaten path you may have drifted, there would be a highway, straight and wide, to take you home.

Years ago, a bunch of us boys rode Cushman Eagle motor scooters. It was great fun and a convenient way to get around. At one point we formed a scooter club and took rides in the country. One day we decided to ride through the Bois d’arc bottoms, west of town. We figured it’d be a lot of fun “off-roading,” as it were, taking old logging trails through the marshland. If we started at Springhill and kept going north, sooner or later we’d end up on highway 67, and that give us a straight shot back into town.

What we failed to take into consideration was the implication of the word, “bottoms.” In hot, dry weather, the Bois d’arc bottoms is flat and covered with trees. But in cold, wet weather – which is when we took the ride – there were places that were more like a swamp. The streams were swollen and the logging roads were muddy and slick. We hadn’t gotten far before we all knew we’d made a mistake. Some of the younger boys wanted to turn back – I was one of them – but then, we’d already come this far. We pressed on.

The farther we went, the worse it got. The older boys had to help the younger boys ford the creeks and stay on the road. It was slow going. Then it started getting dark. What lights we had on our motor scooters didn’t help much in the woods, but, by this time, we’d gone too far to turn back. We tried to bolster each other’s confidence: “We can make it,” we said, “It’s just a little farther.” We did everything possible not to panic.

Just when I thought we were sure to be swallowed up forever in the marshy bottom land, I saw lights up ahead. It was highway 67. I knew that, once we got to the highway, we’d be home free and, sure enough, we were. Isaiah says,

“A highway will be there, a road,
and it will be called The Holy Way…

The Yahweh’s ransomed ones will return,
and come with singing to Zion…” (Isaiah 35:8-10)

This is a sign of the New Creation, and the Good News is that it has been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) In the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, he is “a new and living way.” (Hebrews 10:20) To come into relationship with Jesus Christ is to enter on to the highway which leads to the throne of God. One commentator put it this way,

“For those who … commit themselves to Jesus Christ, the world is even now transformed, and all things are new … the eyes of faith are open; the ears once deaf to the call of God are quick to hear; the hesitant feet, swift and sure.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Isaiah, p. 360)

And so, as we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, let’s open our hearts and minds to receiving him anew, as we look for signs of his coming, praying with each step we take,

“Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth Thou hast for me …

Open my ears, that I may hear
voices of truth Thou sendest clear …

Open my mouth, and let me bear
gladly the warm truth everywhere …

Silently now I wait for Thee;
ready, my God, Thy will to see;

Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright 2010, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.