December 15, 2019

Joy: Covenant of Joy

Passage: Isaiah 25:1-12

I want to begin this morning with an assertion you’ve already heard from me:

Everybody believes in a gospel. 

What I mean is this: everybody, without exception, believes a narrative that explains creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. In the creation narrative, we identity our truth, purpose, and significance. In the fall narrative, we identify what and who is wrong with the world. In the redemption narrative, we identify who and how we fix what’s wrong, and who is going to pay for it. And in the new creation narrative, we identify what we believe utopia is— what life ought to look like.

Have you ever stopped to consider why we seek the new creation? Why do we strive for a utopia? Why do you strive for your utopia? What is the reason behind your striving? What are you seeking that a new creation, a utopia, would give you?

I want to posit what I believe is the answer to this question— for you, for me, and for all people. Ultimately, what we seek in a utopia is our greatest joy. In fact, may I be so bold as to say that everything you do is in pursuit of joy… you may use different words, like fulfillment, or purpose, or significance, or honor or love— and if you’re ultra-spiritual, you may say, “I do everything for the glory of God!”  To which I would respond: “Wonderful! But WHY is that important to you? What do you receive in pursuing the glory of God?”

You see, there’s a reason beneath the reason! We, as morally astute people—especially Christians, have been trained that seeking our own self-interest is wrong, that it is sin. This has played out — in my estimation, to the detriment of Christianity. If I enjoy something, it must be sinful! Therefore, I have to watch my levels of satisfaction; if my “joy-mometer” gets too high, God’s gonna take this away from me! Serving God is supposed to invoke misery, not joy! 

Did you know…The word joy is found in the Bible 193 times. A different word, rejoice, 220. If your paradigm is one that believes too much joy is sin, I want to shatter it this morning. I want to submit to you that it is not how much joy you take in that makes it sinful, it is whom and what you take your joy in that determines whether it is righteous or not. And, I want to submit to you that you are called, that it is thoroughly Biblical, for you to seek your joy, to the fullest. But that joy you seek, the fullness of joy, is only found one place: in the presence of God himself. And He delights to give you this joy, because it was His joy to bring you into His presence.

This morning, we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent, and we lit the Joy candle. Our passage this morning is Isaiah 25:1-12. Isaiah had written to a divided kingdom that was warring with each other. The house of Israel was a mess! And he prophesied of the Babylonian Captivity over a hundred years before it had happened. In these prophesies, by which God told Israel what was going to happen, Isaiah also promised hope in the coming of the Messiah. We’ve read this hope in our advent readings, both in Isaiah 9, and 11. We read also of this hope in chapter 25. 

We are looking at our passage under the following headings:

True and False Gospels

Covenant Joy

Behold Our God

The Joy and the Judgement of the True King

Would you stand in honor of God’s word, and let’s read our passage today: Isaiah 25:1–12 [1] O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

[2] For you have made the city a heap,

the fortified city a ruin;

the foreigners' palace is a city no more;

it will never be rebuilt.

[3] Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;

cities of ruthless nations will fear you.

[4] For you have been a stronghold to the poor,

a stronghold to the needy in his distress,

a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;

for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,

[5] like heat in a dry place.

You subdue the noise of the foreigners;

as heat by the shade of a cloud,

so the song of the ruthless is put down.

[6] On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples

a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,

of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

[7] And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

[8] 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. 

[9] It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

[10] For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain,

and Moab shall be trampled down in his place,

as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.

[11] And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it

as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim,

but the LORD will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands.

[12] And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down,

lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust. (ESV)

[pray - sermon and Bethany Baptist]True and False Gospels (1-5)

We find evidence of two gospel narratives in this passage, the gospel of the wicked, and the gospel of the redeemed. There are two groups of people represented, both vying for their utopia, their new creation. If you’re a good Bible scholar, you ought to ask yourself— and ask of me, “Where do you see that?” 

It is the nature of our world for the strong to overpower the weak. The very creation narrative of a non-theistic society that submits to evolution theory confirms this with this tenant: only the strong survive. Survival of the fittest; this is why the weak perish and the strong rule. This was the undergirding theology of the Jewish holocaust, and is the gospel employed by governments and people groups around the world who persecute other nationalities, even to the point of genocide. This is NOT the gospel of the Bible. This is a false gospel, the gospel of the world, and we see it in this passage. 

Look at verse 3: “Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.” Isaiah is depicting these so-called strong nations, whose cities have been made a heap. They were cities of a ruthless nation, because might makes right! To be ruthless is to indicate an “unsparing use of strength against others.” In verse 4, Isaiah likens the breath of the ruthless to a storm against the wall, and to heat in a dry place. 

Have you been under the thumb of a ruthless person? Have you had a ruthless person in your face, and as they breath out threats to you, you feel the heat of their breath on your face, or down you neck. The sound of their voice and the clump of their feat is a reminder of the violence threatened if you cross them. Escaping them is like trying to escape the heat in a dry place. It is impossible in your own strength.

What is the gospel of the ruthless? Here is their gospel: Their creation narrative is this: they were born to rule and have power over others. Their fall narrative is this: everyone else should obey and bow to them, serve them and give them what they want. Their redemption narrative is this: they are their own savior, and they have the power and skill or craft to get what they want. They are destined to pursue their utopia through their own strength, and thus will overpower, oppress, and subdue all others to bend to their will. Their new creation is this: a utopia where everything goes according to their version of right and wrong, for they are god. That is the gospel of the wicked. Do you see how it is present in this passage? It is implied in their actions.

But there is also a true gospel— a gospel of the redeemed! What is that gospel? Where is it? Look with me at verse 1: 

[1] O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

The true gospel of the redeemed begins with God— that his their Creation narrative. It is a recognition of a Creator who determines truth, purpose, and significance. You are my God. It also recognizes God’s sovereign power and His plan to bring all things to His ultimate end: You have done wonderful things, plans from of old, faithful and sure.

The true gospel understand the Fall: there is evil in the world, that they themselves have sinned against God, and are poor and needy. Evil is implied not just in the foreign and ruthless nations, for which Moab represents. But, the Fall is rightly understood in the true gospel as affecting all peoples. Look at verse 8c: and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth…

Reproach is the expression of disapproval. Romans 3:23 informs us that “there is no one righteous, no not one…” The true gospel recognizes oneself as poor and needy. Verse 4 expresses this point: For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress… We are sinful, and we lack the resources to pay our debt. We are needy, and in danger of perishing. We need saving from outside ourselves, for we cannot do it on our own strength. 

It is a true, though misconstrued saying: “Religion is for the weak…” Did you hear what I said? It is true! That is who God saves! We are called to recognize this, and if we don’t, we are not part of the Kingdom of heaven. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” The Kingdom does not belong to the powerful, the strong, the clever, but the weak, the poor, the needy.

The redemption narrative of the true gospel is this: GOD himself is our refuge, and our salvation, and He has planned from of old, faithful and sure, to redeem us! He preserves us now, and he will preserve us for eternity: [4 For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, [5] like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is put down.

Have you ever wondered how you’ve managed to be in the good position you are in now? Maybe you look back to your family of origin and wonder: how in the world am I still alive! 

Or maybe you look to a time when the ruthless oppressor was breathing down your neck. How did you make it out? How did you make it here? Do you know that God is a stronghold? Do you know that He is and has been your refuge? Do you know that He is your shelter from the storm and the shade from the heat? He is the one who will put down the song of the wicked, their joyful boasting of oppression.

We forget the gospel, Christians… We forget whom saved us, don’t we— and what He has saved us from?! Even more so, we forget what and whom He has saved us to. 

The next three points of this sermon outline the New Creation narrative of the gospel which we see in this passage. 

Covenant Joy (6-10a)

[6] On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

Isaiah is harkening back to Ex 24, where God made a covenant with Israel and came down and celebrated with a meal the elders of Israel. Exodus 24:8–11

[8] And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

[9] Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, [10] and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. [11] And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. (ESV)

This is recognized as a theophany. A theophany is an appearance of God or his presence on earth. I, personally, believe this is a Christophany. A Christophany is an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament Scriptures. Christophanies are seen with the announcement of “The Angel of the LORD.” Angel simply means messenger. That doesn’t mean Jesus was an angel; Hebrews tells us He was and is the eternal Son of God. Why do I believe this to be a Christophany? Because it points to a future fulfillment found only in Christ. It points to the covenant meal in the gospels, and the ultimate wedding feast of the Lamb in revelation. Who is the bride but the people of God, represented in Israel? Who is the groom but the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The God of Israel is seen as a man, with feet. And He prepared a table, a covenant feast for the elders of Israel, but did not lay his hand on the chief men. Why? Pretty sure they would die if he touched them, for the blood of goats and bulls only represented the true atonement that would come by the Son of God himself.

So, last week you learned about demon-spawn, and this week the appearance of God in Exodus, possibly the pre-incarnate Jesus, who made a feast at the ratification of the covenant with His people, Israel. 

Isaiah says some pretty important things here that we can’t miss:

Mountain of the Lord: God’s chosen high place is Jerusalem. Revelation promises a New Jerusalem. A new city, whose gates will not one shut, because there is no threat to it!

All People: not just Israel. The lesser always points to the greater. He is the God of All! Rich food / well aged refined wine: He is for our joy! Rich food! We go from being poor and needy to eating the richest of foods, full of fat and marrow! The GOOD STUFF! And the wine— oh people the wine! It’s well aged, meaning it ferments— and well refined, meaning it is tasty! Its the best wine— the stuff Jesus made in John chapter 2! It makes the heart glad, and it is the symbol of joy! God is for your JOY! And we find this joy in His Covenant with His people!

And this joy is eternal!

John Piper, in his talk at google, said this: “If you could give me a greater, longer lasting joy than what I have in Jesus, I’d cease to be a Christian! I’d stop right now and chase after that! But you can’t…” Friends, there’s no joy greater, and there’s nothing more eternal than the eternal Son of God. And the joy we enter into with him lasts forever, for He has swallowed up death!

[7] And he will swallow up on this mountain

the covering that is cast over all peoples,

the veil that is spread over all nations.

[8] 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. 

Isn’t it interesting that it was in Jerusalem that Jesus was crucified. It was by the bidding of the very people he made a covenant with, the very people he sought to save. And it was on the mountain of the Lord that death was defeated through death. How did he save us? How is our joy eternal? 

Hebrews 2:14–18 [14] Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

What is our greatest threat to joy? DEATH. And it is the veil that is cast over all people. It is like a darkness spread over all nations, and it will be swallowed up forever! That veil that he swallows, yes it refers to death, but I also believe it refers to darkness. In 2 Cor 4:3–6 [3] And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. [5] For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. [6] For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

What does our God accomplish by swallowing the veil? He removes the blinders from the eyes of our hearts and minds, and we are able to see and know our God! Our God is a personal God, and seeks to be known as a person. We see this in our passage and it is our next heading:

Behold Our God (9)

[9] It will be said on that day,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him;

let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

[10] For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain,

In the true gospel, the New Creation narrative is this: we get to know and behold God! To see His face! And no longer does he withhold touching and knowing his people, but he wipes away every tear from our face! Parents, what is it like when you wipe away the tears from your children eyes? What are you saying to them? Everything’s fine now. There’s no longer a reason to cry. I’m here. I love you. You’re safe with me.

He knows all people groups, all nations, and all individuals in His Kingdom! And his hand is upon His mountain. What does that mean?

Psalm 139:5 “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

There is a warm welcoming, a sense of belonging, when someone lays their hand upon you. It’s as if God is saying this: you’re home now. All your former longing, your former waiting, has come to an end. We might experience this in part, in the here and now, but I don’t think many do, and not much of it. 

We are called to wait for this salvation, and rely not on our own strength, for we are a weak and needy people, but to wait upon Him. That means we trust His judgements, not our own. His timing, not our own. His justice, not our own. This is the final point of the passage:

The Judgement of True and Just King (10b-12)

[10] For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain, and Moab shall be trampled down in his place,as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.

[11] And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it

as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim,

but the LORD will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands.

[12] And the high fortifications of his walls he will bring down,

lay low, and cast to the ground, to the dust. (ESV

The New Creation we look unto is eternal, and all wickedness will be banished, and evil punished. The doctrine of Hell has become an increasingly debated doctrine. If you struggle with this, let me point to this one thing: God is the only perfect judge. As Creator, only He can define what justice is and what it isn’t. What the Bible says about the wicked is that their self-reliance and pride, their arrogance and self-promotion to the place of God is what brings his judgement upon them. There is no point at which, after Christ’ return, the proud cry mercy and come to submission of Jesus, the Son of God. We see this in the book of revelation, and we see it in Isaiah. Isaiah, and the people of Israel viewed God’s just judgements upon the earth as something to rejoice in. I pray you and I do the same. It means an end to death, an end to murder, and end to suicide, an end to genocide, an end to starvation and oppression, an end to child sex-trafficking, an end to abortion, an end to anger and hatred, an end to malice and envy and spite, an end to injustice. And it means a beginning to true peace, and harmony, and love, and joy, and graciousness. It means a physical appearance of God in the flesh that fills the earth with the knowledge of His glory that has radiated to earth in His Son, Jesus the Christ.

This coming of God in human flesh, the beholding of God, was recorded in Luke 2:8–11

[8] And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. [10] And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Behold, the wisdom of God, in sending His all-powerful and glorious Son in the likeness of weak human flesh— born as a baby in a manger, to save a poor and needy people from perishing, and saving them to Himself, to bring them in His presence, where He will give them life, fullness of joy, and pleasures forever more!

So let us wait for Him, joyfully, as we celebrate Advent. We look back to His birth, but we look forward to His appearing! And this is what we celebrate in communion: we look back, as our Savior, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame so that the many will be accounted as righteous! 

Jesus, on the cross, shed his blood, the blood of the New Covenant, so we could enter into covenant with Him, and sit and dine with Him for eternity.

Let me read to you Luke 22:14–20 before we pray and take communion together:

[14] And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. [15] And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. [16] For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” [17] And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. [18] For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” [19] And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [20] And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (ESV)

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