Isaiah 35:1-10 (NIV)
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 4 say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. 8 And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it. 9 No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, 10and those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah was a prophet who eight centuries before Christ wrote God-inspired messages for people who would be invaded by a foreign army, whose land would be devastated, and some of whom would be sent into exile. God allowed this because Judah in general had become guilty of idolatry and did not listen to God’s calls to repentance and his promises of mercy.
For these Jews invasion and destruction made their country and their lives like a desert. Those eventually living in exile, would find themselves literally living in a desert with lives that felt like a desert.
Even though the Jewish people did not deserve the love of God, God still loved them. He promised his mercy through Isaiah’s messages. God promised judgment on the enemies of his people. But God also promised restoration and renewal to his people. He promised drastic change, giving hope and comfort to those whose lives had become a desert.
Picking up on the picture of the desert that was so well-known to the people still in Judah or those in captivity in Babylon, God said to his people, “The Desert Will Bloom.” God speaks to us today as we think about 1) the desert, 2) the deliverance and, 3) the difference. As he does so, he says the same to us, “The Desert Will Bloom.”
1) The Desert
Whether you have been in a desert or not, you know about them - hot by day; sometimes, cold by night; barren …dry … desolate … the home and haven of snakes, scorpions, spiders and assorted vermin.
Whether you have been in the geographical deserts of the world, you all have been in the spiritual deserts of the world. Our souls were a desert at birth. The apostle Paul wrote, “But as for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…(Eph.2:1).” When we came into this world our souls were dry, dead, desolate places. Nothing godly and good could grow there. You could not believe in God. You could not please God. You were desolate and destined to be forever separated from God.
The natural condition of humankind, our natural condition is also described in our text in terms of “the blind …the deaf…the lame…the mute.” By nature we were spiritually unable to see Jesus as our Savior, to listen him, to follow him, to pray to him or to praise him. Our sinfulness inherited from our parents which are the source of sinful thoughts, words and actions, put us into the classification our text terms “the unclean” and “wicked fools.”
How blessed we are that we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus! But aren’t there times and ways that sin makes our lives seem like a desert? This may be the result of death, divorce, disease, depression, or disability. Sin may have moved us to do some bad things and now we carry a load of guilt. That guilt can dry us up inside. Maybe we feel the intense heat of pressures connected with our job or school. Loneliness may make our lives seem like a desert. Poor money management and/or unforeseen necessary expenditures may have made our family financial picture seem like a wasteland. Worry may inwardly make us feel like a wilderness. Whether we have ever been to a desert, we’ve been a desert.
Unbelieving Israel of old was a desert. Before our conversion we were a spiritual desert. Because of the effect of sin in our lives, sometimes we may feel like a desert. But God promised, “The desert will bloom.” God promised deliverance.
2.) The Deliverance
Normally deliverance comes to the desert in form of rain. God, however, brings deliverance to his people in another way.
God told Isaiah, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 4) say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Isaiah was to proclaim and record these words for those of his day threatened or overcome by enemies, as well as for those in similar situations in the years to follow.
The Lord would bring judgment on the enemies of Judah. He would save Judah from Assyria. He would allow Babylon to conquer Judah. But eventually he would use the Medes and Persians to conquer Babylon, release the Jews and assist them in rebuilding their country. This was a short-term deliverance.
But the deliverance God promised went beyond that time and the bondage of that day. The promise of God’s coming in vengeance pointed to his coming at Christmas, his coming into hearts, and his return on the Last Day.
After the Fall of Adam and Eve into sin, God promised vengeance and retribution to Satan. God said,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and hers; he will crush your head and you will bruise his heal (Gn3:15).” This pointed to the coming Savior. God would take on human nature. Think of the Baby born in Bethlehem. Picture the little hands, little feet, the cute little face, the little body that lay in the manger. Those little hands, those little feet, that little face were the hands, the eyes and the face of a deliverer. He was coming to crush the devil. The Savior would do this with his holy life lived in our place and his horrible suffering and death on the cross for our sins. The Messiah allowed himself to be bitten and poisoned with the devil’s poison of death. But in suffering death as the sinless Son of God, he dealt a death blow to Satan. Now like a poisonous snake mortally wounded, the devil thrashes about trying to poison anyone and anything he can with his venom of sin and death. But really he’s a goner. So is his kingdom. So is his hold on our eternity and our lives.
Our Savior has come with deliverance in our hearts and souls. Through the working of the Holy Spirit through the gospel in word and sacrament Jesus has driven our sinful nature from the control room of our lives and loosed us from Satan’s grip and the spiritual death that left us spiritual wastelands. The Lord continues to come in our hearts and delivers us from the temporary deserts of our lives.
When Jesus comes again, he will throw Satan and all the enemies of God into what the Book of Revelation calls, “the lake of burning sulfur.” That day our God will bring full and final vengeance on his enemies. At the same time our Savior will remove all the deserts of life as he creates a new and perfect heaven and earth, glorifies our bodies removing all the effects of sin, and allows us to share in his eternal glory.
The result of these deliverances, the desert will bloom. Jesus makes a difference for time and for eternity.
3.) The Difference
With beautiful pictures Isaiah describes the difference the Savior makes.
“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, 2) it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. …7)The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.” Even though we, by nature were a spiritual wilderness, God made us spiritually come to life and bloom. God planted us in Christ. Through the gospel he worked faith in us. Through that faith he gave us the forgiveness of sins. He made a difference in us much the way a dead, dry land would be different if it were given the glory of Lebanon … the majesty of Mt. Carmel … or the lush, fertile look of the Plain of Sharon. As a flower blooms to the praise of the plant that bears it, so we can rejoice and praise God who gave us life, forgiveness and eternal life.
Isaiah also put things in these terms: “5) Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6) Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” As we heard in the gospel reading for today, these words found fulfillment in those whom the Lord literally healed for physical disabilities. But they also find fulfillment in us and others. When we were born blind to the love of God, Jesus made us see him as our Savior. When we were deaf to the word of God, Jesus made us hear so we can listen with faith to his comforting words, “I am with you always” ..”Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” When we were lame and unable to follow him, Jesus enabled us to spiritually walk and follow him.
Isaiah mentions way on which our Lord placed us and on which we by faith walk: “8) And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. 9) No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there…” As we walk on this way God protects us as his angels watch over and help us. It’s a way of peace, hope and joy. And this way leads to Zion.
Isaiah mentions “entering Zion.” In Old Testament times Zion was a reference to Jerusalem. Sometimes Zion is used in the Bible in a figurative sense to refer to God’s Church. It also is used to refer to the heavenly Zion – eternity. God’s way leads to eternal life. “(10) They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” There we will bloom forever in love, in peace and in joy.
With these blessings God has given us the means to ….“Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts – ours and others -"Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Amen.