He Is Risen!
The latter portion of Isaiah is a series of prophecies designed to provide comfort to faithful Israel and to assure them that God's promises have not being rescinded. In Chapter 51 the first portion of the text reminds faithful Israel to look to their godly heritage in Abraham. They are reminded that Abraham was just one man and yet God promised blessing to him and increased his offspring just as he said he would. In light of what God did for Abraham, faithful Israel is supposed to recognize that God will do the same for Zion. Although those who are faithful in Israel are small - Zion is little - God will bring to pass the blessings he had promised for generations. What seems to be insurmountable to them (the Assyrian ascendancy and the Babylonian overthrow and exile in their future), will be dealt with by God to his glory and their advantage.
God also promised faithful Israel that her waste places would become like the Garden of Eden. He means to tell them that their hardship and toil will be turned to joy in the realization of God's promises to his people. He is saying that the curse of Adam's sin would be removed. And why is this so? Because God says the law will go forth from his mouth and will find fulfillment in the Messiah (Matthew 5:17-18). And this word is not for faithful Israel alone. It will be a word of life to be given to all those who are willing to join the people of Zion in submission to the Lord.
God describes the advent of this future order as an overthrow of the existing heaven and earth. This is common language for the prophets when describing a change in the covenant administration. When the new way of righteousness comes the old way must pass. In order to show the importance of these actions on the part of God the Bible speaks of a change in the covenant administration as a cosmic upheaval. Indeed, to the Jewish mind it is a cosmic upheaval. God is saying that all people are welcome into the new Eden. Zion's wasteland is restored but it is for Jew and Gentile alike. That change is like a dissolution of the old creation and the foundation of the new.
We know from what Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18 that a change in the covenant administration was likened to the passing of the heaven and the earth. He said that until heaven and earth pass away not even the smallest mark of the law will be altered. Indeed, the law would not endure any change until all was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. And yet, in the book of Hebrews we read that with the change of the priesthood there was by necessity a change in the law (Hebrews 7:12, 18). In fact Hebrews has much to say about the law and the changes made to it because of the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, we understand that the passing of heaven and earth has already taken place. Obviously this is not a literal passing of heaven and earth; it is covenantal language designed to alert us to a change in the administration of the covenant.
Scripture makes it clear that creation and covenant are intertwined. In fact we can say that creation and covenant are always ushered in at the same time. Creation requires covenant and new creation requires new covenant. For instance we see the creation of man requiring a covenant relationship to be established between humanity and God. The re-creation of man in Israel required an adjustment in the administration of the covenant relationship. This is signaled, for instance, by the alignment of the Sabbath to the circumstance of Adam and the realignment of the Sabbath to the circumstance of the people of Israel. In the first case man was commanded to rest in the Sabbath because of God's rest from his six days of creation activity. In a second case Israel is commanded to rest on the Sabbath because of God's rest from the activity of creating a new people (having brought Israel out of Egypt). This is the same reason that we celebrate the Sabbath on the eighth day - the first day of the week. This eventual change in the covenant administration had been signaled throughout the old covenant by the import given to the eighth day in the Mosaic ritual. The laws of cleansing and celebration point to the eighth day as a day of renewal and new life.
In any case, when God created a new people in Jesus Christ there was by necessity a change in the law. If we understand the examples in the older testament we should understand that a change in the Sabbath is part of what is required. We now worship on the Lord's Day, the eighth day, the first day of the week because God now rests from creating a new people in the Messiah, the last Adam.
The creation of the types of Adam and Israel and the corresponding Sabbath rest find their fulfillment in the anti-type Jesus Christ who created a new covenant administration and by necessity a new Sabbath rest.
The Sabbath has always been an expression of trust and faith in Almighty God. A true observance of the Sabbath is to be a day of worship wherein God's people celebrate their relationship to him. The Sabbath in the old covenant administration was designed to remind God's people of that one day they would enter the true rest of God and be forever free from the bondage and exile of sin.
Thus in Chapter 51 of Isaiah God calls those who know righteousness to listen to him. Those who have the law written upon their heart are called to turn to him and to rest in him (Isaiah 51:7, Jeremiah 31:31-33, Hebrews 10:16). In other words God is reminding faithful Israel that to be righteous is to be in relationship with him. Thus their obedience to God should be about their love for God and their relationship with him and not ritualistic performance in order to be seen by men.
The danger that God warns against is the trap of fearing man. This is the same thing that Jesus had reviled the Pharisees about. You see, to fear man is to allow your "motivational respect" to direct your actions according to the views of other people. This has nothing to do with being a sniveling coward but has everything to do with one's motivation. To fear man is to act in a way that will gain the approval of those around you. This is the fear of man that Jesus rebuked and it is likewise part of what God has in mind here in Isaiah chapter 51. To fear man is to turn away from what God is saying and do what man says is right and true. This is what Peter did at Antioch; he forgot that God had brought about a new creation in Christ and that mankind was no longer Jew and Gentile.
It is crucial for us to understand that God is telling his people that a fear of man is a waste of time. This is true because God is the creator of all things and man is merely a creature. God is all powerful and man is one who perishes even in the midst of life. Men are like garments ravaged by the moth and the worm. On the other hand, the righteousness of Almighty God stands forever and his salvation endures from generation to generation. All things are under the control and command of God.
The prophet then cries out for proof and asks God to show his might of old. Yahweh is the God to smote Egypt and brought his people out of slavery. God is the one who parted the seas. Indeed, the prophet claims that he is the one who controls even the great deep - the abyss - the primaeval oceans - out of which God formed the land. This is the same God, who, in times past, had rescued his people and the prophet desires to see the powerful arm of God exercised on behalf of faithful Israel once again.
Only God can redeem a people from exile in bondage. It is only God who can redeem faithful Israel from the exile and bondage of the most profound kind. It is only God who can break the bondage of sin and release his people from the exile of the Adamic failure.
It is in God, his Messiah, that there is joy, singing and gladness. The Prophet promises faithful Israel that the day will come when sorrow and sighing will flee away. God through his prophet assures faithful Israel that no matter what their current state may be, he will bring about a new reality wherein they will be reclaimed and brought into a relationship with the creator that transcends any they had experienced previously. Truly this is a word of comfort to faithful Israel.
Now then, in Isaiah 51:12-16 we read:
"I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared— The LORD of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, 'You are My people.' " (Isaiah 51:12-16)
Who Originates The Comfort?
In Isaiah 51:12 God emphatically declares that he is the one who is the source of comfort. He says "I, even I, am he who comforts you." The bottom line is only God can bring true comfort. And here we mean more than the simple alleviation of personal turmoil. It is God who can bring purpose, value, meaning and true relationship to human life.
Again God asks faithful Israel why they would be harboring "motivational respect" for man. After all every man dies. Every man is frail. Moreover, all of mankind are accountable to God. To alter your way of acting or thinking because of man is foolish.
This argument in favor of reliance upon God rests upon certain presuppositions. To begin with it is founded upon the already accepted idea that God is the creator of all things. Frankly this is something we are required to presuppose. There is no proof in the sense that noone other than God was present at creation. Therefore, as it says in Hebrews 11:3:
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
This should remind us that faith has as its first component of the knowledge of the character of God. That knowledge of God's character begins with the fact creation and as we have said the covenant relationship that is required by creation. Indeed, covenant depends upon creation. All of God's promises are so much malarkey unless he is the creator. Unless he is the sovereign Lord of the universe, his covenant promises are merely wishful thinking.
In order for God to accomplish the things that he promises in his covenant he must be in complete control. There is no one thing that can be outside of the control of the sovereign Lord or there is really nothing under his control. Now one thing apart from his control would put all of his plans in jeopardy.
Therefore God chides faithful Israel and asks "who are you to be afraid, who do you think you are acting this way? Could you think you are to fear Egypt or Syria or Babylon?" It is when they forget that God is the creator of the universe that they begin to fear man. Yet, all of mankind is frail. All of these so-called great powers are merely human organizations. Indeed they are nothing more than tools in the hands of the creator to do his bidding. Of Assyria he says:
Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood! (Isaiah 10:15)
Those nations that so terrified Israel are our tools in the hand of God to bring about his desired end. They are nice entities to fear nor to trust in (cf. Isaiah 45:9). God would have faithful Israel to understand that all things are under his control. Even when these nations or other powerful people cause hardship for Zion, the people of God must recognize that God is using them for his own purpose. Thus,
I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.' (Isaiah 45:5-7)
So faithful Israel must accept that God as the sovereign Creator of the universe. This is only possible by faith even though the evidence of this fact is all around us (Romans 1:18-23). Faithful Israel must recognize that although Zion is small God will fulfill his covenant promises. They cannot forget that the creator of the heavens and the earth as promised the re-creation of the same heavens and earth. They must learn to live in the truth of God's promise. They must learn to live in reality as it is defined by Almighty God. They must learn not to fear man even when they are harassed and downcast before an oppressor. The oppressor passes away like grass; the power he has for a time is given to him from above (John 19:11).
Who Needs Comfort?
But who is it that needs the comfort of the omnipotent Creator of the universe? The one who needs the reality of relationship with Almighty God is the captive languishing in exile.
When Isaiah pronounced this prophecy the nation of Judah remained in the land. The northern kingdom of Israel had been sent into exile by the Assyrians. Jude had withstood the Assyrian onslaught due to God's supernatural intervention. The captivity and exile of Judah by the Babylonian kingdom was still in the future and this prophecy as an eye on that event. Nonetheless, faithful Israel was in fact captive and languishing in exile even when this prophecy was first delivered. Faithful Israel was the kernel of truth to the husk of apostasy. Therefore this prophecy offered comfort for the future and for the present situation of faithful Israel.
All of humanity is captive to sin and in exile from the creator. Mankind had been created for relationship with Almighty God but because of sin they had been cast out of the garden, out of the land and excluded from the holy of holies.
In order to end the exile of mankind God had chosen a people for himself out of humanity to make them his own special covenant community. They would have fellowship with him and evangelize the nations to bring them into fellowship with the Creator as well. Yet even in that visible Church there were many who turned their back on God. They remained the in their sin and alienation from the heavenly Father. To a large degree they became part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Therefore, faithful Israel found itself in bondage and in exile as part of the "visible church" awaiting the release that would come through the Messiah.
God likens faithful Israel to the one who is stooped down under the burden of his captivity. The Scripture says "the captive exile hastens that he may be loosed." In other words he rushes to the scene of his emancipation. He recognizes his deliver and wastes no time in acknowledging him as the Lord. This is to say that faithful Israel will recognize the Messiah and will not hesitate to embrace the comfort, the relationship, the salvation of God in his price. Indeed, the exile bent beneath a burden of sin knows that he who hesitates is lost and to draw back is to die in the pit excluded from the presence of Almighty God.
This prophecy is a warning given to faithful Israel to turn them away from the peril of rejecting God's Christ. Faithful Israel will treasure this prophecy in her heart and did so until the coming of Christ. At that point faithful Israel knew that the Messiah had come.
To say the captive exile hastens does not imply in patients but instead presents a waiting in confidence and readiness. The captive exile understands that they are in fact excluded for the presence of God. Certainly the tabernacle was among them, temple of God visibly in their midst. And yet even that reminded them that they were not allowed to return to their rightful place of fellowship apart from the intervention of the Messiah.
To remain in exile even when emancipation arrives is to starve, is to be cut off from true relationship and religious experience. In the presence of God there is fullness. It is in relationship with God through his Messiah that one is satisfied with a richness likened unto sumptuous food and the best of wine. Hence we read in Isaiah 55:1–2:
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
What a difference this is from the wasteland. Truly, the Lord will comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in it, thanksgiving and the voice of melody (Isaiah 50 1:3).
What Is The Comfort?
Once again the God turns the mind of faithful Israel to the fact that he is the creator. This is a vital truth in the giving of comfort to the people of God. We cannot get around the fact that unless God is the sovereign Creator of the universe he is not capable of providing the peace that passes understanding. Unless he is the one who divided to see this way's war and the one who commands the armies of heaven then he is simply one among many and we have no true assurance that he can provide us with meaning and purpose - relationship - in his life.
However, God is the one who commands the sea. He divided the sea for the children of Israel and calms the turbulence of the deep. This is the language of creation and covenant and it is a fitting introduction to the final aspect of what God would have faithful Israel to understand about the promise of comfort.
God says that he puts in his words in "your mouth." But whose mouth is it that God has in mind? In a sense it is the mouth of faithful Israel. However, it is ultimately the true Israel who God has in mind, the Messiah.
We cannot forget that faithful Israel was protected throughout the centuries in order to bring forth the seed of David and the seed of Abraham (Revelation Chapter 12). It is in faithful Israel that the covenant promises find their fruition. It is in Christ that faithful Israel is fully realized. Therefore it is to the Messiah that faithful Israel must look for the deliverance from exile and bondage into a place of relationship and comfort. Jesus came speaking the very words of God (see John 12:49). In fact Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. This was the center of the ministry of Jesus Christ. He spoke the word of the kingdom saying, "repent for the reign of the Messiah is inaugurated." In Christ the promise of comfort for the exile is fulfilled. The time of bondage is at an end and the faithful Israel is emancipated. In Christ the holy of holies is now open to man.
This profound alteration of affairs is truly a new creation. It is a founding of a new earth and a planting of a new heavens. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the Messiah emerging from faithful Israel established a new creation. A s it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
All things are made new. As Jesus said there would not be a single change to the law until heaven and earth pass away and according to the book of Hebrews the law has changed and therefore heaven and earth did in fact passed away. This is required because a new creation requires a new covenant and a new covenant requires a new creation. The old covenant administration with his animal sacrifice and ritual could not manage the power of the new creation (Mark 2:21–22). It was as if the blood of Jesus Christ flowed across the barren wasteland so that the wilderness would become like Eden and the desert of faithful Israel like the garden of the Lord. As Charles Spurgeon said:
The hill of comfort is the hill of Calvary; the house of consolation is built with the wood of the cross; the temple of heavenly blessing is founded upon the riven rock-riven by the spear which pierced his side. No scene in sacred history ever gladdens the soul like Calvary's tragedy.
"Is it not strange, the darkest hour
That ever dawned on sinful earth,
Should touch the heart with softer power,
For comfort, than an angel's mirth?
That to the Cross the mourner's eye should turn,
Sooner than where the stars of Bethlehem burn?"
Light springs from the midday-midnight of Golgotha, and every herb of the field blooms sweetly beneath the shadow of the once accursed tree. In that place of thirst, grace hath dug a fountain which ever gusheth with waters pure as crystal, each drop capable of alleviating the woes of mankind. You who have had your seasons of conflict, will confess that it was not at Olivet that you ever found comfort, not on the hill of Sinai, nor on Tabor; but Gethsemane, Gabbatha, and Golgotha have been a means of comfort to you. The bitter herbs of Gethsemane have often taken away the bitters of your life; the scourge of Gabbatha has often scourged away your cares, and the groans of Calvary yields us comfort rare and rich.
With the resurrection of the crucified Christ the new creation would awake. It was this promise of a future hope that faithful Israel so desperately needed to hear. In the midst of difficulty, under duress from foreign nations and soon-to-be exile to Babylon faithful Israel was given hope of comfort in the promise of a new creation yet to come. thus, the promise of the coming Christ is the comfort, the new creation is the comfort.
As bad as it might have been to be under foreign domination the burden of a homeland that had gone astray was worse yet. Faithful Israel long for the day when they would be released from the bonds of exile through the ministry of the servant speaking the words of Yahweh.
And when he came and spoke the very earth rejoiced. When he died to bring about salvation, creation leapt with joy. When he rose from the grave, Zion, faithful Israel, was gathered together to take up residence in the new heaven and the new earth.
What began like a mustard seed in the midst of the wasteland would eventually grow to be a tree wherein the birds would find a resting place. The messianic reign was like a rock cut without hands, destroying all before it until it fills the whole earth. Victory is achieved by the sword that proceeds from the mouth of the Messiah and that sword is the Word of God.
The word in the Messiah's mouth included the cherished promise fulfilled: faithful Israel you are Zion, you are my people.
God is still sovereign. Creation and history remains under his unchallenged authority. If we want to truly rejoice in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ we must begin with an acceptance of the absolute sovereignty of God. There is no other acceptable position. God is all in all or he is merely one of many choices. Either he is who he says he is - creator and ruler of the universe - or relationship with him is simply one ideology among many.
Apart from Jesus Christ, humanity languishes in exile and separation from God. In that condition they are bound, stooped under the burden of sin and a meaningless existence. They are chained to the taskmasters of self, the world and Satan. They fear death, they fear man and look for redemption in those things which cannot satisfy.
However, faithful Israel remains the people of God today and we have been invited to be part of that family. In Christ we have been grafted into the root of faithful Israel. In Christ we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. And we have the responsibility to go to bound and exiled humanity with the Gospel
We affirm that God is the creator and sustainer of all things. We affirm that with a new covenant there is a new creation and therefore we trust that the death and resurrection of Christ has brought about a new creation and a new covenant.
Jesus not only spoke the word of God, he is the Word of God made flesh. In his death the enemies of God and the enemies of faithful Israel are conquered. In his resurrection the new creation is brought into being. We who are in Christ live - even now - in this new heaven and new earthwherein righteousness dwells. The seed of the new creation was planted in the tomb and sprang to life after three days. The process of actualizing this new creation continues to this day and even now we reside in the holy of holies in the heavens in our Lord and Savior Jesus the Messiah.
In conclusion we hear from Charles Spurgeon once again:
No mean miracle was wrought in the rending of so strong and thick a veil; but it was not intended merely as a display of power-many lessons were herein taught us. The old law of ordinances was put away, and like a worn-out vesture, rent and laid aside. When Jesus died, the sacrifices were all finished, because all fulfilled in him, and therefore the place of their presentation was marked with an evident token of decay. That rent also revealed all the hidden things of the old dispensation: the mercy-seat could now be seen, and the glory of God gleamed forth above it. By the death of our Lord Jesus we have a clear revelation of God, for he was "not as Moses, who put a veil over his face." Life and immortality are now brought to light, and things which have been hidden since the foundation of the world are manifest in him. The annual ceremony of atonement was thus abolished. The atoning blood which was once every year sprinkled within the veil, was now offered once for all by the great High Priest, and therefore the place of the symbolical rite was broken up. No blood of bullocks or of lambs is needed now, for Jesus has entered within the veil with his own blood. Hence access to God is now permitted, and is the privilege of every believer in Christ Jesus. There is no small space laid open through which we may peer at the mercy-seat, but the rent reaches from the top to the bottom. We may come with boldness to the throne of the heavenly grace. Shall we err if we say that the opening of the Holy of Holies in this marvellous manner by our Lord's expiring cry was the type of the opening of the gates of paradise to all the saints by virtue of the Passion? Our bleeding Lord hath the key of heaven; he openeth and no man shutteth; let us enter in with him into the heavenly places, and sit with him there till our common enemies shall be made his footstool.
On the day that Jesus died the veil of the temple was torn in two and thus faithful Israel is no longer barred from intimate relationship with God. On the day that Jesus rose from the dead the new creation was inaugurated and faithful Israel now lives in the reality of heaven even while on the earth. He is risen! And the universe is remade.
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