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Coming Hope

The following is the sermon I preached this morning in our church to kick off the Advent season:

Audio

You don’t have to turn on the news or visit a news web site very long to get very depressed. We live in a day of despair, threat of war, violence, murder, poverty, sickness, abortion, waning morality, injustice, and racial tensions. Even from the perspective of the unbelieving world, things look pretty bleak.

But from the Christian perspective, things look perhaps even worse. We recognize these things as but symptoms of deeper problems. We look around us and see fewer and fewer people, even in our own country, who truly worship God. In fact, there have been recent news reports about the rise of Atheist megachurches!

Whereas once our country had at least had a Judeo-Christian moral foundation, today, more people than ever reject any standards of morality, relativism is rampant, people are simply following after whatever sinful lust fits their fancy.

But the picture is even worse. We probably should expect that unbelievers would live like this. It was something of an anomaly by the grace of God that our country enjoyed such moral stability for so long.

But we are witnessing in our day these same kind of terrible problems even within churches. Self-professed Christians are worshiping themselves rather than the true God. Professing believers refuse to listen to God’s Word and are following after their own lusts. Even people who claim the name of Christ are perpetuating immorality and injustice in our world.

All of this very bleak assessment of our world leads us to ask, is there any hope?

Israel during the time of Isaiah’s prophecy resembled in many ways the condition in which we find ourselves today.

During Isaiah’s childhood, Israel and Judah experienced prosperity and freedom from foreign powers. Yet the people of Israel very quickly took that prosperity and peace for granted and began to forsake the Lord. They stopped trusting God’s promises. They began to follow after false idols and idolatrous practices. They recognized the hostile world foreign powers growing around them, and instead of trusting in God’s promises to protect them, God’s people turned to the promises of this world. Perhaps Isaiah himself describes it best when in Chapter 6 he relates his calling to be a prophet of the Lord, and he confesses that he is a man of unclean lips, and he dwells among a people of unclean lips.

For this reason, the prophecy of Isaiah begins in chapter 1 with harsh condemnation.

Isaiah 1:2–4 (ESV) 2 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.

The chapter continues with strong words of admonition; the prophet offers forgiveness to the people if they will repent of their sins and turn back to God, but if they do not turn, he promises that they will be consumed by the fiery wrath of the Lord.

And as we know, that is exactly what happens to Israel and Judah. The people are carried off into captivity and Jerusalem is utterly destroyed; the people fail to heed the prophet’s warnings—they do not worship God as he has commanded, they do not listen or obey God’s words, and thus they face the punishment of war and destruction that he has promised to them.

Thus much of the prophecy of Isaiah follows this theme of judgment and doom found in Chapter 1. Yet this is not the only theme of the prophecy; indeed, it is not really even the primary theme of the prophecy.

Rather, we find right at the beginning of chapter 2 a glimpse of hope in the midst of this turmoil:

Isaiah 2:1–4 (ESV) 1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, 3 and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Now, Isaiah says, you are experiencing impending judgment. You have failed to worship God as you ought, you are not listening to the word of God, and war is coming.

But, there is still hope. There is a day coming that will bring hope to God’s rebellious and condemned people.

A day is coming that will bring hope.

Let’s look at how Isaiah describes this coming day of hope.

A Day is coming when the worship of God will be preeminent.

First, Isaiah says that in that day, “the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains.”

Clearly the “house of the Lord” here is the Temple—the center of Yahweh’s worship, and the mountain is Mt. Zion, the place upon which God’s house sits. In that coming day, Isaiah, prophesies, the mountain of the Temple of God will rise up above all other mountains and will be established as the highest of them all.

This prophecy signifies that in that coming day, the worship of God will be preeminent. All other mountains—all other places of worship will shrink under the majestic greatness of Mt. Zion. Mt. Gerazim will be but a small hill, Mt. Olympus a mere bump in the road, Baal’s Mt. Carmel will appear as an ant hill.

Likewise every other dwelling place of the gods will collapse in sight of that brilliant Temple on the mount. Hatshepsut’s temple along the Nile in Egypt will be buried, the Greek Parthenon will crumble, the Sumerian ziggurat reduced to rubble.

All of the places of worship will be nothing compared to the house of the Lord. God’s people will no longer flock to the high places of the false idols; instead, they will stream toward the highest mountain of all where they will once again return to true worship.

But notice that it is not just God’s people who return to worship. It is not as if all of the other nations will continue to worship in their false houses on their false mountains in that day. No—the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest mountain, it will be lifted above all the other hills, and “all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob.”

In that coming day, not only will the true worship of Yahweh be restored for the people of Israel; all the nations will descend from their crumbling temples on their puny hills and will flow like a surging river up to the true Temple on the preeminent mountain.

What hope this must have brought to Isaiah’s discouraged heart! Here he is in the midst of an unclean people who have forsaken the worship of the one true God in favor of worshipping false, insignificant idols made by human hands, idols that have mouths but they cannot speak, eyes but they cannot see, and ears but they cannot hear.

But revelation has come to him that a day is coming when these rebellious people will turn away from those false gods and will return to worshiping the true God. And not only that, all the peoples of the earth will join Israel in worshiping the God of Jacob.

A day is coming when all people will hear and obey the Word of the Lord.

But there is a second hope-filled blessing this coming day will bring. Look again at what the peoples of the nations say in verse 3:

“And many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

A day is coming when not only will the true worship of God become preeminent, but also all people will hear and obey the Word of the Lord.

No longer will they follow after their own lusts, no longer will they obey the laws of men. They will flock to the mountain of the Lord to worship him and to hear from him. God will be revealed to them out of Zion, and the response of all people will be to worship and obey.

This is the very reason God created them in the first place. In Genesis 2:15 we read that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Often we interpret those two terms “work it” and “keep it” to mean that God put Adam in Eden to be a gardener. But actually, those two terms are most often used together in the Old Testament to refer to the work of the Levites and would perhaps better be translated “worship” and “obey.” So God put Adam and Eve in the garden to worship and obey.

And this is exactly what people from all the nations will do on that coming day: they will ascend the mountain of the house of the Lord in order to worship him rightly, to hear his Word, and walk in his paths.

Again, this is a hope-bringing prophecy! In the midst of a time in which people are following their own way instead of God’s way—even God’s own people!—Isaiah is given revelation that a day is coming when people will long to walk in God’s way.

A day is coming when there will be perfect justice and peace.

A third hope-filled promise is found in verse 4:

Isaiah 2:4 (ESV) 4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

First, God himself will be ruler and judge in that day. When any potential disputes arise, God himself will deal justly. And I say, “potential,” because it is certain that with God as just judge, there will be no real disputes. We know this because of what the prophecy says next: people in that day will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. In other words, they will have no purpose for weapons of war because there will be no war. God will judge justly, all people will hear and follow his verdicts, and thus there will be no real conflict between the nations.

Here Isaiah is witnessing the rise of Egypt and Assyria and Babylon, he is going to prophesy that very soon Israel will be destroyed by its enemies, and yet he prophesies a coming day when there will be perfect justice and peace because God himself will be the ruler of all nations.

And so in the midst of bleak prophecies of doom and destruction, there is hope. Now, the peoples of the world—including God’s own people—whore after false gods, but a day is coming when the worship of God will be preeminent among all the nations. Now, the peoples of the world—including God’s own people—follow their own sinful lusts and disobey the commands of the Lord, but a day is coming when all the nations will hear God’s instruction and follow his ways. Now, God’s people are surrounded by their enemies and threat of war is imminent, but a day is coming when God will rule all the nations and there will be perfect justice and peace!

That day will come when Jesus comes again.

But the question is, when will this day come? God’s people are experiencing such turmoil and destruction, and here is prophecy of a day that brings hope, but when will that day come?

Well, the first clue in our text comes in the very first phrase: “It shall come to pass in the latter days.” That phrase “latter days” is itself a technical eschatological expression, often used throughout Scripture to refer to the end of time, so it would have had an eschatological connotation for the original audience of this prophecy.

But even beyond that, we find other clues in our text as to when this day will come by comparing what this prophecy describes with what other prophecies describe.

Perhaps one of the most notable of these is another of Isaiah’s own prophecies in 11:4:

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Here Isaiah describes a person who will justly judge and rule all people with equity, and later in the chapter describes his rule as characterized by complete peace, which sounds very similar to what is described in our text. And who is that person? He is one who will come forth as a shoot from the stump of Jesse (11:1), one on whom the Spirit of the Lord will rest (11:2).

This prophecy of the coming day of hope is referring to the promised Messiah! His coming will bring with it justice and peace, with his coming the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains, and all the nations will flow to it desiring to worship him and obey his Word.

And so for Isaiah and any other Israelite who was still faithful to Yahweh, this was a promise of hope in the midst of an otherwise hopeless time. Yes, true worship had fallen away, very few people obeyed the law of God any longer, and war was looming.

But a day is coming, prophesied Isaiah, when all of these terrible realities would be reversed, and that day was when Messiah would come. He would reestablish the preeminence of true worship, he would lead the nations to that holy mountain so that they would hear the Word of God and obey it, and he would judge justly and bring worldwide peace. This brings great hope.

But the question for us today is this: Messiah has already come—Jesus Christ is his name; so why hasn’t this prophecy been fulfilled?

Our day is remarkably similar to Isaiah’s day. Very few people in our day—including those who claim to be the people of God—truly worship God above all else. Very few people in our day—including those who claim to be the Church of that promised Messiah—fervently listen to the Word of the Lord and walk in his ways. And judgment from God upon the world, and especially his church, seems nearer now than perhaps ever before, not only with more and more literal wars, but perhaps even more seriously, the cleansing chastening of God upon his people in the form of loss of freedom and intense persecution appears to be soon at hand.

Has God failed to keep his promise? Where is this hope given to Isaiah so long ago?

Yet there is hope when we realize that the prophecy of Isaiah 2 is as much a future promise for us as it was for Isaiah since what was not clear to Isaiah has been made clear to us, and that is that Messiah would come not just once, but twice. It was very common for Old Testament prophets to be given a glimpse into the future but not be able to discern that what they saw as one event was actually two or more, and this happened no more often than with prophecies of the coming Messiah. What these prophets saw concerning the Messiah’s coming we now know is fulfilled in two phases. Jesus the Messiah came as promised 2,000 years ago, but he promised that he would come again.

And this particular prophecy in Isaiah 2 refers to the Second Coming of Christ, which is clear to us today. Worldwide worship of God is not yet a reality; people still reject the Word of the Lord; injustice and war still permeates our world.

These promises given to Isaiah are still yet to come; they will come at the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ!

And we have even more reason to believe that these promises will be fulfilled than Isaiah did because every one of the prophecies of Christ’s first coming was fulfilled with amazing literalness. He was born of a virgin, just as Isaiah prophesied. He was born in Bethlehem, just as the prophecy predicted. Children were murdered at his birth, Jesus was carried to Egypt, he was from Nazareth, he was from the line of Abraham, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David, he entered Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, he was betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of sliver, money that would be used to purchase the potter’s field, he died with criminals but he was buried with the wealthy, he spoke specific words from a cross, he was mocked, people gambled for his clothes, none of his bones were broken, and he rose from the dead, exactly like the prophets had foretold.

Not one of these prophecies failed to come to pass literally and completely. Why would we not believe that the prophecies of his second coming would not also be fulfilled with the same amount of literalness?

But they will! Fulfillment of First Advent prophecies should give us hope in Second Advent prophecies yet to come to pass, and this one in Isaiah 2 is no different.

We can have confidence that there will come a day when Christ will personally and visibly come again to this earth a second time, and when he does, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the highest of the mountains—the true worship of God will become preeminent. All the other mountains and temples will be destroyed: the Hagia Sophia will fall to the ground, the Dome of the Rock will crumble to make room for Jesus’ Temple, and St. Peter’s Basilica will be reduced to rubble.

Christ will come again, and on that day all the nations will flow to that mountain to worship Christ; they will fervently listen to the Word of the Lord, and they’ll walk in his paths.

Christ will come again, and on that day he will judge with justice, and there will be no more need for swords or spears or guns or tanks because he will bring perfect peace.

Response

And so our response to this prophecy should be the same as what was expected of Israel in Isaiah’s day:

vs 5 “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

The nations do not yet have the light of God’s Word. They are not yet flowing to the mountain of the Lord to hear his Word.

But we have no excuse. We, like Israel, do have the light of the Lord, and so we should walk in it. This prophecy of future worship and obedience of all the nations should motivate those of us who already claim to be the people of God to walk in his ways.

Even though the full reality of this prophecy will not fully come until the second coming of Christ, we as God’s redeemed, as those who know God’s Word and in whose hearts the Holy Spirit has worked regeneration, we should pursue these realities even now. We should worship God preeminently above all else. The mountain of the house of the Lord should for us be established as the highest of the mountains even if that is not yet a worldwide reality. We should commit to hear and obey the Word of the Lord even if all the nations still fail to do so. We should pursue justice and peace with our neighbors even if wars still rage around us.

And most of all, we should have the same response that this prophecy was intended to create for Isaiah and the remnant in Israel: we should have hope.

In the midst of depressing, perilous times filled with idolatry, rebellion, and war, we should have hope in the return of our Savior. I experienced some things this week that made me more discouraged than ever about the state of the church and its worship, but I have hope that one day, we will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory

Conclusion

And in that day, Jesus will reign wherever the sun shines. There will be no more sorrow or sin, nor will thorns infest the ground. Endless prayer will be made to Jesus by people and realms of every tongue. Blessings will abound where ever he reigns, the weary will find eternal rest, and all will be blest.

And so, let us have hope. Let us worship and obey. And let us rise and bring honors to Christ our King.

Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Cutlure, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and three children.

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