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Mar 19, 2017

God's Big Story

Passage: Isaiah 24-27

Preacher: Senior Pastor Clay Smith

Series: The Shepherd – Part 2


Sermon God’s Big Story Isaiah 24-27 Clay Smith March 19, 2018


Last week Andrew preached from 13-23, a 10-chapter tour of God’s judgment on the surrounding nations. Organized geographically, God showed his people that whichever direction you look, my judgment shall defeat the powers of sin. No one can escape. No bully is too big.


One commentator suggested that human pride and human flourishing or well-being are incompatible. God is committed to our well-being, and that well-being costs us our pride, and cost him his Son.[1]


The story of that triumph and that cost of our well-being is what chapters  24-27 are all about. Through these wonderful chapters, one verse gives us a tremendous summary: our lives are in his hands.


Isaiah 26:12

12    O Lord, you will ordain peace for us,

for you have indeed done for us all our works.


We love stories. CS Lewis famously said: “A story that’s good to read only in childhood, is not good to read even then.” These classic stories take on a life of their own, and we love to repeat them. How many times have we read as a family or listened to as a family the Chronicles of Narnia—over and over again in the car on trips. Or the multiple times Harry Potter has been consumed. How many times have I read certain Dr. Suess books, and each time they are wonderful?


Today, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story underneath every other story. Like the foundation of every fairy-tale ever told, but this one is true. It is a story of a God who created, a people who rebelled, and this God who took the rescue of these people on his own shoulders, to restore everything in the end. In these chapters, Isaiah tells us the story of the city of man that is filled with ruin, but also the City of God that he is building, in us and through us. How does the story go?


Creation establishes dignity.


When thinking about the story of the Bible, we must start with Creation. It is foundational to everything else. Where is that in this text? Isaiah refers to this good in chapter 24:5, in seeing the mess of rebellion compared to what it was designed to be.


In v. 5, Isaiah speaks to the special role of humans, inhabitants—responsible for the flourishing of the world. As men and women made in the image of God as Genesis 1:27-28 says, we, in contrast to any other creatures, are in God’s image. We are like him, endowed with dignity.


But specifically what Isaiah refers to is the fact that these image bearers are given a task, to rule in this world for God: to govern it, to develop it, to subdue it, as Moses put it in Genesis 1. We are Vice Regents. He has given laws, statues and blessed us with a everlasting covenant, he says in v. 5. The earth is defiled because we as its stewards, its rulers, have violated and broken his ways. Yet the world was created to work, to function and express the beauty and creativity and glory of God. And WE get to tend to it. We are called to be creative participants along with God in the flourishing of this world, not simply passengers to consume.

When you go to work, and you subdue, or create, or provide or invent, or order, or whatever you do, you are taking up the mantle of ruling in God’s world for him, because of him, in partnership with him. This creation matters. It is glorious. And what you and I do in it matters. We are made to worship, and we are made to work, all to the glory of God, to reflect and display his glory! This does not, however, press us all into vocational ministry. Rather, your work, whether as a student, a contractor, a clerk, a gardener, a teacher, it all matters because through what you do, God is ruling the world! Your work is a manifestation of God’s ministry in this world.


Does it give you hope to be told again that what you do matters? Hold your head high…but just not too high, because you and I are also broken.


Rebellion introduces regression

"Heaven have mercy on us all - Presbyterians and Pagans alike - for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." Herman Melville, Moby Dick. We know this work is not as it should be. It is cracked, broken, and so are we. The whole creation groans for God’s work of redemption, the Apostle Paul says. Here how Isaiah describes it:

Isaiah 24:6–10 (ESV)

   Therefore a curse devours the earth,

and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt;

     therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched,

and few men are left.

   The wine mourns,

the vine languishes,

all the merry-hearted sigh.

   The mirth of the tambourines is stilled,

the noise of the jubilant has ceased,

the mirth of the lyre is stilled.

   No more do they drink wine with singing;

strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.

10    The wasted city is broken down;

every house is shut up so that none can enter.


Do you hear how Isaiah describes the brokenness of the world, shattered from its state of glory and beauty. We hear of the ruin. Verses 6-9 present community, joy and jubilation that has fallen apart. Why? Because of our sin, and the curse, v. 6 that it brought.


That curse mentioned here is explained in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, when they decided to disobey God’s command. When God said to them, “Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” he was not forbidding them simply from a tree. Rather, this command called on them to acknowledge his law and way. But they were not satisfied. They weighed God’s command and decided to do what they wanted instead. They elevated their will to the place of God’s, judging his commands. And in that they rebelled. They became a law unto themselves, and we have been doing the same thing ever since.


The core of our sin is about our elevating self to the place of God, seeking to become our own sovereigns. We will live how we want. And the consequence of taking life and matters into our own hands is the introduction of ruin, joylessness, destruction and death into this world as these verses describe. A consequence of our sin is our own death, our own spiritual alienation from God and others—an eternal separation and judgment in hell without Christ, a curse of physical and spiritual death, AND within this creation that we were supposed to rule, frustration. It just doesn’t work right anymore.

Things just break down: relationships, bodies, societies. Things fall apart. Whereas creation gives dignity and joy, our sin tears it all down. We must understand sin affects more than our spiritual condition; you can’t separate your “spiritual life” from the rest. Rebellion affects every part of us. Because of rebellion, our bodies fall apart, our emotions are unreliable, our intellect is given over to lies and confusion. It is what we theologically call “total or radical depravity,” not that any of us are as bad as we could be, but rather, every part of us is affected by sin to the root.


Specifically things don’t work properly in the direction of regression. In verse 10, Isaiah describes the regressive power of sin, 10 The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. Sin is

isolating. It destroys the community and relationships we were created to



Why are our lives closed off from one another refusing to invite someone else into my life? Rebellion. Why are our lives ruled by fear of the stranger? Rebellion. What turns our church in upon itself while ignoring the needs and desires of the community around us? Rebellion. It is the regressive nature of sin to isolate people from one another, retreating behind our walls, garage doors shut tight with the world out there, and us safely in here.


Does it help to know why work is so hard, why our bodies are perpetually decaying, why working relationships and family relationships take so much work? Because of sin, the pull of the flesh is toward destruction! Does it help to know why building things that last, that truly bless people is so hard? Why work itself is frustrating? Why does this happen? Because the pull of our flesh and sinful natures is toward regression, destruction, and chaos. There is real ruin and death in this world.


Knowing doesn’t fix it, though. We need a Redeemer to repair our cracks.


Restoration invites transformation


In fairy tales, the problem is always solved just at the right time; it is true in the truest story ever told, too. The Lord provided a plan of restoration that gives us life and transformation in exchange for death. He has taken on himself the remedy of the consequence of death that we have inflicted upon the world. The Christian faith is not really about what we do for God; rather, the gospel of redemption is about what God has done for us. Restoration is all about grace: God offering unmerited favor and doing for us what we can never do for ourselves.


Isaiah 25:7–8

   And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

      He will swallow up death forever;

     and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,

and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,

for the Lord has spoken.


The redemption provided by Jesus’ work removes the curse of death from us. The covering, and the veil of v. 7 refers to the death shroud, the sheet placed over dead bodies has been taken away. Why? Because death itself is swallowed up forever. The consequences of sin, the curse of death is reversed. The reign of evil that breaks life down and destroys it has been defeated. How?


By what happened on that mountain, v. 6, in that city, and specifically on the hill of Golgotha in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was crucified! Jesus redeems because Jesus took on himself that penalty of death. He stood in our place, and died the death we should have died upon the cross. Our sin was placed upon him, and he was alienated and separated from the Father for us, in our place. He took hell for his people! Then as the first fruit, the down payment, the guarantee of victory, he was raised from the dead. He swallowed up death forever, v. 8. He has already defeated it, and yet we wait for the full experience of that victory.


This may not be politically correct anymore, but…a pastor I had when I was younger described it to me in terms I was very familiar with—getting in trouble. He described it like when my dad would tell me not to do something, but I did it anyway in rebellion, a curse would come: I would get into trouble as discipline for my rebellion—the methods are not important. My pastor told me when I was young, “Clay, it is as if Jesus took your discipline.” The curse has been taken by Jesus, the judgment I deserved has been meted out and exhausted. There is no more wrath for me because MY judgment was poured out on Jesus. We are united to him by faith; he took our hell, and we receive his life.


We await what is the fruit of our redemption, what is promised in 26:19.

19    Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.

You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!

     For your dew is a dew of light,

and the earth will give birth to the dead.


This is one of the two clearest promises (Dan 12:2) of the resurrection in the Old Testament. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, so will we also be. His resurrection is DAY 1 of the rest of days; it all will be made new. Life has triumphed over death and all will be new. Because Jesus gave his life, he bought us out of that penalty of curse that demanded our life because of our sin. You see we are a people who spiritually have been brought from death to life when we trust in Jesus’ work for us. And we wait for the day when we will physically be brought fully from death to life, the day of resurrection. On that day, death will finally be put aside and a new creation will be filled with all hope we have of everything made new, the things we long for now. Or as Lewis famously describes it, when all the bad comes untrue.


New Creation fulfills all hope.


Chapter 27 brings us to the last part of the story, the new heavens and new earth in another Vineyard, in answer to chapter 5.


Perhaps you remember the Beanboozled vineyard from chapter 5, where the fruit of God’s people’s lives looked good on the surface, yet their hearts were rancid and rotten. The vineyard of God’s people was defiled just like those jelly beans that promised a good flavor but were really gross.


Now, in chapter 27, we find a new vineyard, a restored vineyard, that comes after judgment has been exhausted. On the other side of judgment, v. 1, stands a world without sin or death, where the Lord himself sings over us, v. 3, and is its keeper. He no longer has any wrath, v. 4. Why? His anger has been poured out in judgment already. The world is purged from sin; his people are purged of our sin for Jesus was judged in our place. The only thing will remain on that day of the remaking of the heavens and the earth is our Father’s affection, and v. 5, peace!


That peace shall, v. 6, fill the whole earth: no more enemies, no more sin, no more brokenness, no more decay, no more regression. Every tribe, tongue, people and nation in peace before the fullness of God’s presence. Iraqis and Irish. Somalis and Swedes. Algerians and Americans. All by faith in Jesus’s work now united as citizens of his kingdom. In life and peace before our Father with no more war or destruction or decay. I can hardly wait. How about you?


What do we do while we wait? While we wait, we are beginning to live in a city that God has begun to build. Chapter 26:1. Salvation is our walls. He calls us to live as tomorrow people today.


But what is life like in that city? We have been saved, yes. But saved for what? We have been saved to be transformed to be more like Jesus who saved us! Redemption brings us forgiveness; it also brings us freedom! Freedom from the dominance of sin, freedom from the twisted ways of our idols. Freedom to live for him as a people being changed by his life in us and among us. His restoring work is not simply putting lip gloss on a life of destruction. It is to begin the work of making us new!


As total is our depravity, just as wide is God’s plan of restoration to remake the world and us. On the last day, our broken bodies are restored with a new body no longer liable to death and decay. Our world which tears itself apart will dwell in peace. Every place of the regression of sin will be restored.


But TODAY, we are called to begin growing up into that kind of people, a people no longer dominated by our sin, but maturing into the people God desires us to be. We begin to live as that New Heavens and new Earth people today, becoming tomorrow’s people today. Because His Spirit is in us Today. In short, that work of restoration has begun to transform us, NOW, into a holy people looking more like Jesus our Redeemer, and through us the world!  We are living proof of a living God, as Chapter 26:7-8, we are moving along the paths of righteousness, living as people being restored by a great God of grace.


What does that call us to do? Take one more step toward being a tomorrow person today. Take a purposeful step toward growing in Christ, toward being transformed. One step to opening your life to a stranger, where you used to be alienated. One step to invite someone to hold you accountable to grow in an area of struggle. One step to share the burden of someone alongside you. One step to walk alongside someone else in need of hope, that you might point them to the Jesus who restores, because he is at work in you. One more step in your work to make it a place of peace and well-being. One step…in promise of more steps to be transformed into the likeness of the Jesus who bought you.


As you do, you are becoming the first shoots of spring, the crocus blossom that promises more spring, more life to come. In the way Jesus has taken residence in us—and our lives are being transformed—the world sees the promise of a new heavens and new earth.


An acquaintance of mine started a church in Harlem a few years ago. He likes to use the pink spoon to demonstrate this peace, this restoration promise brought to us by King Jesus.  Have you ever been to Baskin Robbins and asked for a sample of some flavor or another? When the worker gives it to you, it comes on one of those little pink spoons. The sample on the spoon is a foretaste of the ice cream to come; it is simply a taste of the fullness to come.[2]


You, my friends, live as little pink spoons, offering to this world filled with brokenness, a foretaste of King Jesus. In the way you live as a people of restoration you offer to this world a sample of what Jesus is coming back to bring one day—life, joy, hope, peace. Are you living like a pink spoon—a New Heavens and New earth person today?


[1] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1-39,  NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), p. 462.

[2] Amy Sherman, Kingdom Calling (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011), p. 23.

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