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“Joy for Those Outside the Palace”

Dec.11, 2016 Is.35:1-10;Mt.11:2-11


Where can human beings find true joy? Not just passing amusement or temporary pleasant distraction, but lasting joy?

             People are thirsting and hungering for something more. They are sometimes given to believe they can find that satisfaction in the things of this life – food, entertainment, partying, heaping up material things. John the Baptist was in prison because he denounced King Herod for taking his brother Philip’s wife (Mk 6:17). Later it would be because of a pleasing dance performed by Herodias’ daughter that John would be beheaded (Mk 6:22ff). “Entertainment” was a major source of satisfaction pursued by those who had the means to afford it. Jesus, when asking the crowds what they went out into the wilderness to see, when John the Baptist was preaching, noted: Mt 11:8 “If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.” The word describing “fine” or “soft” clothes can also refer to those of deviant sexual practices. Those in the king’s palace were tempted by sinful pagan practices, in the constant search for more thrills.

             Our culture is thirsty for amusement. Words like “Hollywood” and “Disney”, “Emmies” and “Grammies” are prominent. Yet not all that amuses is really top-notch. This week Facebook revealed which was the most-watched “live” video of 2016 in the United States: over 166 million people watched a mother with an infectious laugh, sitting in the driver’s seat of her car in a parking lot, don a Chewbacca mask which emits a sound like a Wookie growl every time the wearer moves their mouth. And that’s it! Her laughter over the mask apparently cracked a lot of other people up, so they shared it with THEIR friends, too. She calls it “the simple joys”...

             The people in Isaiah’s time were thirsty for joy, too. He watched as the Assyrians conquered and deported the northern kingdom of Israel as a result of their idolatry and sinful practices. He prophesies of “desert” and “parched land” in vv1f: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” What is it that will truly satisfy this thirst for joy?

             We’re going to look at four things: glory, safety, ability, and being holy.


The overarching term Isaiah sees as bringing joy to people is encounter with God’s glory. V2, “...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.”

             God has hard-wired humans for an appreciation of glory. People post pictures of a glorious sunset. You can stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon and be lost in awe. The thunder and power of Niagara Falls are absorbing, enthralling. The view at Lake Louise, to see the Rocky Mountains towering over you – such experiences invoke a sense of glory, wonder, something almost too beautiful to take in. But such overwhelming vistas now are as nothing compared to when resurrected people will be able to behold God in all His beauty and splendour.

             Note John’s response to a vision of the Risen Christ in Revelation 1:14-17a: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” John’s earthy sensory circuits were getting overloaded!

             Isaiah says not only will people see the splendour or majesty of God; creation itself will be replenished in glory and splendour, like the most traditionally fertile and productive regions of Israel, the rich agricultural valleys in the lea of the Mediterranean. Similarly, God will share His glory with His people. Is 61:3 [God’s Spirit through His Servant will] “provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” Is that what you’re about – displaying God’s glory and splendour? Or constantly trying to make yourself look good? Our selfie-centred culture leads to narcissism and preoccupation over one’s own image that swallows one up in limited focus and despair; interfering with empathy toward others. I was reading in The Cyber Effect about a junior high student who took a selfie of himself grinning in the foreground and his teacher, overwhelmed with sudden onset of labour pains, grimmacing in the background. It went viral.

             Whose glory, whose splendour, are you about?


Life can be fragile, precarious, dangerous. The whole community of Clinton and area was saddened this week by the sudden death of a 17-year-old girl in a collision with an armoured truck. The car she was in had gone over onto the gravel to avoid some stopped cars turning left, but when it got back onto the road, the driver lost control. When you’re traveling at highway speed in less than ideal conditions, things may not be as safe as you think.

             Isaiah’s countrymen would soon be war-weary and discouraged. Many would be killed by Assyrian invaders, then later Judah in the south would be overrun by Babylon. People in the northern kingdom were deported to various places. In their absence, lands were uncultivated, returning to wild condition as the earth enjoyed its sabbath rest. He prophesies of: v7 “haunts where jackals once lay”; v9 “no lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it...” Many places just weren’t safe due to the wild animals. Nor is it safe when conquering foreign armies are terrorizing the region!

             But Isaiah foresees that in the Messianic kingdom, there will be safety. Vv3-4 “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; 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."” The Deliverer will bring “terrible recompense” to those who troubled God’s people (NRSV). Also in v9, instead of the threat of wild animals, the highway to Zion will be safe: “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...”

             In Matthew 11, when Jesus is pointing out the effects of His ministry to John’s disciples, besides healing of physical ailments He reserves for the climax one particular element: Mt 11:5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” What would generally be “good news” for someone who’s poor? That their basic needs are going to be looked after. Jesus was implying, “Here’s evidence that I’m the Saviour the prophets foretold.” Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor...” The Messianic Psalm 72(12f) predicts, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.”

             When we yield our life to Jesus as Lord, He helps us overcome temptations and bad habits and addictions that drain our money in unhelpful ways. It’s a source of joy to be able to help our neighbour in need through ministries such as the Good Food Box, the Community Christmas Dinner, helping distribute Salvation Army Christmas Hampers, and so on. People feel taken care of on a physical level.

             More profoundly, Jesus saves us from sin and death and eternal condemnation. Romans 10:9 “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul and Silas told the jailor in Philippi, Ac 16:31 "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved— you and your household." That’s GOOD NEWS – whether you’re poor or rich!


Second-century church leader Irenaeus of Lyons said, “Gloria Dei est vivens homo” - the glory of God is living man / person, sometimes rendered “fully alive”. Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would restore faulty human functioning, help people recover the abilities they were designed to have by their Creator. Is 35:5f “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

             When John lay bound in prison, fettered and locked up, and time dragged on so he perhaps started to wonder about whether he’d been right about all this in the first place, he sent some followers to ask Jesus if he was really the Coming One. Jesus pointed to the miraculous healings He was performing in front of their very eyes as proof that He was the One the scriptures pointed to. Mt 11:4-5 “Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” He was all about restoring human ability; in fact, when He sent out the 12 apostles to preach, healing was a key authority He granted to them (Luke 9:2).

             God still restores human ability today: sometimes through the body’s own inbuilt healing mechanisms, sometimes through the help of modern surgery and medicine, sometimes miraculously. Ultimately our bodies age, malfunction terminally, and we die; yet even then Jesus proved that He has authority over the grave by rising from the dead. As Paul wrote in 1Cor 15:20,22,49: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep...For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive...And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” Doesn’t that promise of renewed ability after death give you cause to rejoice?!


A fourth and final effect Messiah has on people’s lives is to make them holy. Isaiah predicts a path by which exiles will return to their homeland, which merges symbolically into the path of salvation for those who trust in Christ for their eternal future, vv8-10: “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...But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD 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.”

             Not “Highway 4" or “Highway 8": this highway is called “The Way of Holiness”, NRSV “The Holy Way”. What characterizes those who travel this holy highway? A) CONDUCT, and B) CONSANGUINITY (your $5 word for the day! Means ‘blood-relationship’).

             A) CONDUCT: those who walk in the Way of holiness exhibit certain BEHAVIOURS. V8 tells us who’s NOT walking there: Is 35:8 “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.” So, what two types of people won’t be using that stretch? (1) the “unclean”, impure, polluted, defiled; and (2) “wicked fools” - the Hebrew term refers to someone who despises wisdom, mocks, quarrels, or is licentious.

             We live in a ‘mocking’ culture: social media wits, news commentators, talk show hosts, can find fodder in sarcasm or satire directed at public leaders and celebrities. But it’s not so funny when someone mocks YOU! Can we be respectful in what we say, even when someone who’s high-profile makes a mistake?

             In a porn-soaked culture, how are we doing in the “purity” department? An Angus Reid poll earlier this year revealed: 52% of men believe that watching pornography is always or usually morally acceptable. 47% of men believe that high schoolers having sex is always or usually morally acceptable. 48% of men age 18-34 believe that selling sex is always or usually morally acceptable.

             How are you taking steps to defend your home, your innocence, to stand against the tide? Do you have anybody you’re willing to commit to and be willing to have them ask you the tough questions about your own habits?

             The Bible’s standards are different from society’s standards; seek God’s help to conform to it, not the world. 1Thess 4:7 “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” 1Pet 1:15 “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” 2Tim 1:9 God “has saved us and called us to a holy life— not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” Walk in the HOLY Highway.

             B) CONSANGUINITY: Important as behaviour IS, Christian living is not just about keeping a checklist of doing all the right things. Deeds do not make the person. Jesus seeks and develops (through the Holy Spirit) an inner righteousness within us out of which the deeds flow. As that last verse put it, 2Tim 1:9 God “has saved us...not because of anything we had DONE...” Our works cannot earn our way to heaven.

             Is 35:9b-10 “But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return.” When you ‘redeem’ a coupon, you take it in to the store and get value in exchange for it. When someone is ‘ransomed’, usually a sum of money is paid in exchange to secure the kidnapped person’s release. What’s the mechanism for our being redeemed / ransomed as believers in Christ? What could ever be valuable enough to offset all the sins and guilt of every repentant sinner that ever lived?

             1Peter 1:18f “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” The precious blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, is more valuable than any form of human treasure. The night He was betrayed, at that momentous Last Supper, Jesus held up the cup and said, Matthew 26:28 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

             Salvation and holiness are not primarily a matter of CONDUCT but of CONSANGUINITY, of “blood relationship”. God loved you so much He sent His precious Son to die in your stead, so you might come home to Him forever. Jesus invests His life in saving you! Think what value that gives your life, how precious you as a saint must be to the Father.

             Jesus had immense respect for John the Baptist. But He pointed out that Christians, walking in the Holy Spirit, are even more valued. Mt 11:11 “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Let that soak in! You are so precious to your Heavenly Father. As John MacArthur comments, “All believers after the cross are greater still, because they participate in the full understanding and experience of something John merely foresaw in shadowy form - the actual atoning work of Christ.”


Knowing Jesus, then, prompts us to “rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Is 35:1) – because in Him we can savour and display God’s GLORY, find eternal SAFETY, discover Spirit-led ABILITY, and be made lastingly HOLY.

             This JOY the Holy Spirit gives bubbles up and out from within us, nudging us to share God’s love with others. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as “living water” (Jn 7:37f), perhaps echoing Is 35:6-7: “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.”

             Bianca Rothschild is known in her 182-family condominium community as "The Sunshine Lady." Bianca is in her seventies; her childhood was spent in Poland. Days before her 16th birthday, Hitler’s troops stormed her town, and her family – totaling 43 people – was imprisoned. Bianca watched her father and an uncle die. She saw her mother and other members of her family taken away to war camps. Bianca was moved from one concentration camp to the next. By 1945, all the other 42 people in her family had been murdered.

             One night, during an air raid, Bianca begged to die. The fact that she didn't die told her that God had a special plan for her. That evening, during her prayers, she read in her tiny prayer book this passage: "We have a right to the joy of giving so others may receive.We can give material things, we can give moral support, we can give a friendly ear, and best of all, we can give love." At that moment, Bianca Rothschild vowed to give of herself in any way she could.

             She remembered the disappointment she felt at her 16th birthday, when there were no cards, no gifts, no cake, no party. So, years later, when she settled down in the condominium complex, she began sending get-well cards to anyone who was laid up. She doesn't sign her name; she signs the cards simply "The Sunshine Lady", but everyone in the community knows who she is. She's the one who sends a ray of sunshine to people who need it most. In giving, she realizes joy.

             “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.” (Is 35:1) Let’s pray.