Sing for joy! The Lord promises redemptive reversals.
Series: Isaiah: Hope in the Holy One
This week, Pastor Matt brings us through the BIG IDEA behind why we should: Sing for joy! The Lord promises redemptive reversals. True happiness is based on rags to riches and reversals of fortune; redemptive reversals and so we sing for joy because the Lord promises redemptive and eternal reversals. What are these redemptive reversals that the Lord promises, such that we should sing for joy?
1. Barrenness to babies (54:1-3)
2. Momentary desertion to everlasting compassion (54:4-10)
3. Storm-tossed to a secure city (54:11-17)
I want to talk to you about being truly happy; about being truly happy. I want to talk to you about how to be truly happy because every one of us and everyone out there longs to be truly happy. The late French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end (happiness). The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” The human will never takes the least step but to the object of happiness, even when we act selflessly. I want to talk to you about being truly happy because it’s the shared desire of every human heart and it’s the Lord’s invitation to us in our passage this morning. Isaiah 54:1 – “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud.” Singing is the expression of true joy and it’s the way that we cheer ourselves when we don’t feel it. As the great John Calvin once wrote, “The Church is the place where the Gospel is preached; Gospel is good news; good news makes people happy; happy people sing. But then, too, unhappy people may sing to cheer themselves up.” I want to talk to you about being truly happy, but where does such happiness come from?
We tend to think that true happiness is the result of a reversal of fortunes; a significant change in unhappy circumstances. We tend to think that to be truly happy, we need to have a miniature Oprah Winfrey type story. Oprah Winfrey was born into a very poor family in Mississippi, but she managed to earn a scholarship to study at Tennessee State University, where, through tireless work, she became the first African-American TV correspondent in the state, and then she moved to Chicago to start a little talk show that is now known as The Oprah Winfrey show. She’s a billionaire. And that is where we tend to think true happiness comes from. Maybe it’s not as dramatic as Oprah, but we think that true happiness comes from a reversal of fortunes and circumstances. And the Bible says that we are exactly right…true happiness is based on a reversal of fortunes. Let me explain…
The exuberant invitation at the beginning of our passage is to break out with songs of joy. Cool propriety is not a Christian virtue, exuberance is, and that’s the Lord’s opening invitation to us. But since joyful exuberance is so difficult in our reserved and cynical day, the Lord provides us with three images and each image illustrates a reversal of fortunes; an Oprah Winfrey type story for the people of God. And that brings us to the big idea of our passage this morning: Sing for joy! The Lord promises redemptive reversals. True happiness is based on rags to riches and reversals of fortune; redemptive reversals. So, sing for joy! The Lord promises redemptive and eternal reversals. So, what are these redemptive reversals that the Lord promises such that we should sing for joy? 1. Barrenness to babies (54:1-3) 2. Momentary desertion to everlasting compassion (54:4-10) 3. Storm-tossed to a secure city (54:11-17)
BARRENNESS TO BABIES (54:1-3)
The first image that Isaiah uses to illustrate the redemptive reversal coming to God’s people is that of a barren woman. And before we delve into this image, it’s important for us to slow down and acknowledge just how hard a phrase like “Sing O barren one may land on some of us.” If you’ve struggled with infertility or have experienced the tragedy of a miscarriage, you’ve experienced a form of suffering that words cannot properly convey. There is an emptiness, sadness, and hopelessness that only a barren woman has experienced. If you’re struggling with infertility or have experienced the horror of miscarriage, please let the Lord carry you through the arms of this church. Let a pastor, a Citygroup leader, or a trusted friend know so that others can walk with you. I believe that Isaiah intentionally uses the extraordinarily sad image of a barren woman intentionally. And in Isaiah’s day, infertility wasn’t only considered a tragic medical condition, but also a point of shame. Isaiah uses this image to both capture the hopelessness of exile that Israel would experience in Babylon and the wonder of the redemptive reversal that awaited them.
You see, Israel was born to bear babies. When the Lord first called Abraham, the father of Israel, he blessed him so that he would extend the blessing of God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. Israel was born to bear babies, but they were barren. Instead of shining God’s light to the nations, they sinned their way into being enslaved by another nation. They were like a barren woman with no children, but in Israel’s case, the barrenness was their fault. But the Lord promised redemptive reversal – from barrenness to so many babies that they better start doing some home renovations to get ready for it. Isaiah 54:1-3 – “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.The Lord tells his desolate and barren people that a reversal from barrenness to babies is coming and it’s going to be such a massive reversal of fortunes that they better start knocking out old walls, creating new rooms and building additions to make room for all the newborn, born again children of God. Sing for joy! The Lord is promising a redemptive reversal from barrenness to babies.
Citylight Church, I want to tell you something extraordinary: we, the church, are the fulfillment of this promised redemptive reversal! In his New Testament letter to the churches in Galatia – Galatians 4:27 – the Apostle Paul quotes these exact verses from Isaiah and says that the babies Isaiah promised are the newborn, born again children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This reversal is being fulfilled right now! Barren Israel gave birth to the Lord Jesus Christ and billions of people have become children of God’s promise through hearing and believing his gospel. What a redemptive reversal! The tent pegs of Israel have been ripped up, additions have been built on the house, and billions of Jews and Gentiles have become the adopted babies of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Application: sing. So, sing for joy! Are we, the church, perfect? No! Sometimes the way we fall short of the way of Christ and fail one another is so discouraging. Is the church thriving on every side? No. The metro area we are seeking to reach with the gospel is becoming increasingly hostile to the way of Jesus. But we sing for joy despite internal weaknesses and external threats because Jesus is building his church and we are the promised fulfillment of barrenness turning to billions of babies. Due to health problems that my dear Andrea experienced before and during the early years of our marriage, we never expected that we’d be able to have children biologically. So, you can imagine our shock and joy when we learned that she was pregnant with Soren. We sang for joy. Citylight Church – you are the miraculous babies born again through the resurrection of Christ. God is keeping his promises. Be comforted and sing for joy! But Isaiah doesn’t spend too much time on the image of the barren woman before he turns our attention to a deserted wife. That brings us to the second reversal…
MOMENTARY DESERTION TO EVERLASTING COMPASSION (54:4-10)
The second image that Isaiah uses to describe what Israel was experiencing in Babylon is a deserted wife. This is another excruciatingly painful image. If there is anything that can compare to the sadness of a barren woman it’s a deserted wife. Again, I want to say that if you’re a deserted wife, please let the Lord carry you through the arms of his church. Don’t walk alone Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord describes himself as Israel’s husband, but this beautiful image is desecrated because Israel committed spiritual adultery. And in an act of severe disciple the Lord sent his bride away in Babylonian exile. But the Lord promised his bride a redemptive reversal. Their desertion in Babylon will be momentary, but the Lord’s compassion will be forever. Isaiah 54:6-7 – “…For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. 7 For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer. The Lord deserted his bride for a moment when he sent them into Babylonian exile for their adulterous idolatry, but exile will not be the end of their marriage. The Lord will have everlasting compassion on his bride. He’s promising a redemptive reversal.
To help us understand what this redemptive reversal will be like, the Lord offers us an illustration. Isaiah 54:9-10 – “This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. 10 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. The Lord helps us understand the redemptive reversal from momentary desertion to everlasting compassion by bringing up “the days of Noah.” The days of Noah are recorded near the beginning of Genesis – the first book in the Bible. The Bible says that in the days of Noah “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” So, the Lord destroyed the world in a flood so that he could give the world a second chance through a new kind of Adam named Noah. And after Noah and his family emerged from the Ark that saved them from the flood, the Lord made a covenant with Noah; a covenant. This word “covenant” is an incredibly important one to know as you read and study the Bible. Theologian Tom Schreiner writes, “a covenant is a chosen relationship in which two parties make binding promises to each other.” The closest human illustration of a covenant is marriage. If the Bible is a body, the skeleton that holds it together are the covenants that God enters into with individuals or groups; covenant with Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, etc. And the covenant that God made with Noah was a promise not to never again destroy the earth until the curse is reversed. And the Lord is saying that the covenant that he made with Noah is a lot like a covenant he will make with his people, a covenant that in our passage the Lord calls “my covenant of peace.” Elsewhere it is called “the new covenant.” The covenant of peace is a covenant that God makes with all who trust in Christ – he promises to give us new hearts, indwell us with his Spirit, completely forgive our sins, and unite us with God’s people forever. And our passage says that complete salvation for all who trust in Christ is as certain as the promise that God made with Noah to preserve the earth until the coming of Christ!
Application: fear. Life in this world can be so difficult and ugly, setbacks can be so severe, that we may even feel deserted by God himself. We may feel like a deserted wife, but listen to what the Lord says, “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed…” (Isaiah 54:4). I wonder if things have become so bad in some area of your life that you feel forsaken by Jesus himself. Jesus says, “don’t be afraid. A permanent and redemptive reversal is coming. Everlasting compassion is yours in Christ and will be yours forever. The mountain may depart and life may fall apart, but the steadfast love of Christ and his covenant of peace with you will outlast it all. Don’t be afraid. Instead, sing for joy! The Lord promises redemptive reversals. And that brings us to perhaps the most hopeful reversal of all…
STORM-TOSSED TO A SECURE CITY (54:11-17)
The final redemptive reversal the Lord promises his people is from storm-tossed seas to a secure city. In our family we have a little tradition that on the weekends only we can eat dessert after dinner and watch a blooper or fail video on YouTube. For a while there we would watch craziest ship fail videos. There is probably something strange about the fact that we enjoy watching a cargo ship dumping BMW’s into the ocean because it’s being smashed by high seas, but that’s us. Watching these videos has confirmed that being stuck in storm-tossed seas is terrifying – it’s the last place you expect to find anyone breaking forth into singing. And if you’re honest, for some of you life feels a bit like living on the sea right now. There are so many problems, decisions, unknowns, etc. You don’t know where to go, what to do, or how to get through it. But I have wonderful news. The storm will not swallow you. The final redemptive reversal is from storm-tossed to a secure city. The city will be adorned with costly stones. Isaiah 54:11 – “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony and lay your foundations with sapphires.” Not only will it be beautiful, but the Lord will be there and he will be our teacher and our security. Isaiah 54:13-14 – All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. 14 In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. This reversal from storm-tossed to a secure city was partially experienced by God’s old covenant people. The Lord did release them from exile in Babylon. They did return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. But its foundations were never sapphire and they were never far from oppression. As Christians we are exiles in this world, and we enjoy the wonderful city we live in and all that is good that it has to offer, but who of us walks around Philadelphia saying with certainty “no weapon that is fashioned against me shall succeed…?” No, even the great cities of this world pale in comparison to the secure and beautiful city that awaits those who belong to Christ. Like our father Abraham, we are looking for a city whose designer and builder is God himself (Hebrews 11:10). And that city secure city is coming. And what a reversal it will be. Revelation 21:1-4, 24-27 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” …By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Sing for joy and do not be afraid Citylight Church! Your storm-tossed life and this storm-tossed city will one day be reversed and everyone whose name is written in the Lamb’s book of life will be welcomed into an eternal city that is exquisitely beautiful and joyfully secure forever.
Your singing really matters because the gospel makes people happy and happy people sing, and by singing the sad cheer themselves in Christ. Gospel-happiness really matters. I think that Ray Ortlund is right when he says that “the test of a church’s faith is not only the wording in its creed but the gladness in its worship.” In our angry world of fury, our gladness is our witness, but our gladness is not based on present circumstances, but redemptive reversals that we are experiencing already, but are still to be fully realized: barrenness to babies, momentary desertion to everlasting compassion, and storm-tossed to a secure city. Sing for joy, Citylight Church. The Lord promises eternal reversals and the promises are coming true!