Do you look in hope for the second coming of Jesus Christ? The vast majority of people, even in the church, do not believe in, much less look for, a coming Christ. Well, exactly the same thing was true in the Old Testament. Very few looked in hope for the first coming of Jesus, that is, His birth. The possibility of His coming looked bleak at times for those few believers who yet looked for their coming Messiah. The cause of Jehovah and of His Anointed at times seemed as if it were dead. How would God possibly make the way straight for that coming?
In the prophet Isaiah’s day, that was the question in the hearts of the elect few that yet looked for redemption in Zion. The ten northern tribes of Israel had just been taken captive by the Assyrian kingdom. They had been scattered throughout that empire. It was true that the Assyrian armies had been turned away by God from the gates of Jerusalem. But for how long? Not many people even in Judah were looking anymore for the coming Messiah. The way that led to the revelation of the glorious Messiah seemed all but closed and impossible. The prophet Isaiah spoke the Word of his prophecy during these trying times. Many times he referred to the birth of Christ.
During this advent season I want to consider a few verses out of Isaiah’s prophecy that heralded the coming Messiah. We begin by meditating a few moments on Isaiah 40:4, 5. We read in these verses, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
How do these verses have anything to do with the birth of Jesus? But they definitely are a word of promise that spoke to God’s people then of the coming Messiah. When Isaiah speaks of the glory of the Lord being revealed, he refers to the coming of Jesus Christ. The beauty of these verses is that they answer the question: how did God make possible the first coming of Jesus Christ in His birth? That is a pertinent question as we remember the birth of Christ in this season of the year.
I. The Crooked Way
The prophet Isaiah in verses 4 and 5 of Isaiah 40 accurately describes the particular way along which God led His church in the Old Testament. Bear in mind, that Isaiah is here speaking to Jerusalem, that is, the Old Testament church. More particularly, He spoke to the faithful few in the church then who yet clung to God’s promise and therefore looked for the coming Messiah. The prophet is here assuring them that the glory of the Lord would be revealed to them when the Messiah appeared. That was God’s promise to them. To assure them of this, however, Isaiah had to explain to them the way God had led, and yet was leading, His church unto the fulfillment of that promise. He uses the figure of verse 4 to do so: “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” Isaiah uses the figure of valleys and mountains, of steep and rocky places, and of crooked and treacherous ways to describe the path that led to Christ’s coming.
Let us use an example that might help us. Quite a few years ago, I traveled by car from Loveland, CO in the north to the San Luis Valley in the south. In those days we did not have a GPS. Instead, we followed a map to our destination. The end of my trip was the beautiful San Luis Valley. But to get to that destination I had to drive for hours through the mountain range of the Rocky Mountains. What I did not see clearly on my map is that in order to reach the Valley I had to travel up and down many hills and mountains, through many valleys, around many crooked and steep places. All this lay between where I was in Loveland and my final destination in the valley of San Luis.
This is the idea Isaiah uses here in the verses we consider. The way that led the church in Isaiah’s day to the coming of the Savior was that of mountains and hills. In many places there would be sharp turns and valleys. In other places the way would be crooked, or literally, rugged and jagged, places with steep and dangerous gorges. Still in other parts of her journey she would confront rough places, that is, places that were rocky, almost impossible to pass. This was the way God chose to lead His church to the advent or coming of her Savior—all this before God would reveal His glory to His people in the face of the Messiah. Now, we want to explain this imagery a little more in detail so we can understand the comfort of this Word of Isaiah to the church then. We have here really a beautiful picture.
You see, the church in the Old Testament had received from God the promise of the Messiah. God had told her since Adam already—since before the Flood, mind you—that this Messiah would come to destroy the power of sin and Satan, and restore God’s people unto God’s favor and fellowship. God’s people throughout the Old Testament period lived in that faith and hope, therefore. There would come a time in history, they knew, that the promised Savior would be born to the church and would save His people from the sin into which they had fallen in Adam.
But God’s people had lived in that faith for thousands of years already. What made them think that Christ would actually be born? Well, the same thing that makes us so assured that Christ is coming again. We know and believe that everything according to God’s counsel and perfect plan must be worked out in exact detail before Christ returns. The same was true of the saints then. The birth of Christ was the destination the church looked for. She knew it was there. She knew Christ would come.
But at times she forgot that she as a church had to cross many mountains and valleys, had to walk through some pretty rugged and difficult ways, had to travel through rough places where it seemed impossible that Christ should really come. In other words, there were many obstacles the church would confront before Christ would come. This had happened many times already. Look at the church prior to the Flood. There were only eight souls left in the church at the time God sent the Flood. The way for the church was rough, yet God delivered her.
Observe the way of God with His church in Egypt and through the wilderness. Certainly, the times were difficult. There were countless mountains and hills and valleys through which the church had to travel. There were times when Israel’s men fell in battle before the enemy. There were times when the church lived far from God and His commandments. Yet God brought them to Canaan. The very time when Isaiah prophesied was one of the deep, deep valleys through which the church walked in Canaan. Isaiah had prophesied concerning the doom and destruction of the nation of Judah who yet walked in her sin. And God’s people were told of the captivity that yet waited this nation in which they lived.
The way that lay ahead yet seemed treacherous and dangerous for the church. Would Christ actually be born, or would the faith of the children of God fade and die before that time? The saints saw Christ’s coming, they knew they were traveling toward that end, but they did not see all the hills and valleys, all the crooked and rough ways in between them and that coming. That could be discouraging.
We ought to note, especially in light of verse 3 of this chapter, that the one obstacle that created many of these difficult ways through which the church walked was sin. How often Israel had sinned against her God. How often she had despised God’s covenant, refusing to obey and follow Him. Yet, in all of this, when God could have (and should have from a human point of view) turned away and forsaken His people, He did not. He remained faithful to them, and never swayed from His purpose to send the Messiah that He had promised.
I mean, if we were to look at the nation of Judah, even during this time in which Isaiah lived, how few there were that yet truly longed for and waited for the coming Messiah! The vast majority of the people of the church were church only in name, and not in spirit. They cared very little about sin and salvation from sin. But instead of turning away, God had repeatedly sent obstacles in her journey. He had chastened her and tried her sorely. God had forced her to her knees in sorrow and repentance. Ah, the mountains and valleys, the crooked and rough places that led the church to the birth of Christ!
II. God’s Glory Revealed
That is why the words spoken here in Isaiah 40 were such a comfort for God’s people. Here was the assurance that when the way looked its darkest, when the path that led to Christ’s return seemed absolutely impossible, God would reach forth His hand of mercy and bring the Messiah. In the darkest hour of the church, when it seemed that all faith had died out in the earth, God would not forsake or leave His church, though she might even deserve it. He would remain faithful to His promise. God had sworn an oath to keep covenant with His people, and the only way of keeping that oath was through the coming Messiah. Christ must be born therefore. And God would make that possible. He would do that by making straight in the mountains and valleys of the earth a highway for the coming of Christ. God would be sure to make the humanly impossible way possible for His church.
He would see to it that every valley would be exalted, that is, made high. At the same time He would see to it that every mountain and hill were made low. In other words, God would level the way, bringing the mountains down and raising the valleys up until they formed level and even ground. The same is true of the crooked and jagged paths. Instead of winding this way and that, God would make these ways straight. No more ups and downs, no more winding here and there. And no more rough and rocky places. No more climbing over rocks and stumbling over deep crevices. The rough places would be turned into a plain, flat and even. What a beautiful description of what God would do for the church in order to bring about the coming of her Messiah! Those who yet looked in faith for the birth of Christ had much to look forward to, just as we do today as we look for the second coming of Christ.
As I passed through the mountains to the San Luis Valley, suddenly the road leveled out and I found myself on a straight and smooth road that led me to my destination quickly and easily. As we look for Christ’s return today, we know the many signs that indicate that His return suddenly will all come together, and the way will be made straight and sure for the return of Christ. As the saints looked forward to the initial coming of Christ, they too are told in our text that, all of a sudden, all the crooked ways that seemed to be the lot of the church would be straightened. God would bring all these ways together and swift would be the coming of the Messiah! Beautiful, is it not? Certainly, it must have been encouraging to God’s people who at that time found themselves in another one of those deep, dark valleys.
This is the reason, no doubt, that Isaiah describes the coming of Christ as he does in verse 5, “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” No mention is made here of the coming Messiah. The text simply speaks of the revelation of Jehovah’s glory. But then, Christ is the revelation of God’s glory! We are told in Hebrews 1:3 that Christ is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of God’s person. We learn in John 1:14 that when the Son of God came to dwell among us, we beheld His glory. In the face of Jesus Christ we see the glory of God because He is the Son of God made flesh. When Isaiah prophesies that the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, therefore, he refers to the time when God’s glory will be revealed in the birth of his Son—and all flesh shall see God’s glory in Him.
At that darkest point in all of history, when it looked as if the way to Christ’s coming was absolutely impossible, that it was totally blocked, God would make the way easy and smooth in order that the glorious Christ could be revealed.
But what is this glory Christ reflects in His Person and coming? How is He the glory of Jehovah? Well, God’s glory is the shining forth of all of God’s virtues. If our finite eyes were able to see God, His perfections would altogether shine forth brightly as a light from His Being. Such is God’s glory—the effulgence of all His virtues. Peter, James, and John saw that in the face of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. All of these virtues of God would be seen in the face of the coming Christ: God’s mercy and truth, His faithfulness and love, His righteousness and grace, and so on.
Our God is Jehovah! He changes not and therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed! How thankful we are for that! If God changed His mind about us, everyone of us would be consumed. The church would never have made it to the coming of Christ. God never turns away from His promise to save His people. He is always faithful to the promises He makes. That faithfulness of God is revealed in sending Christ to be born. At the cross of Christ God reveals to His people His grace, the power by which He delivers us from sin and death. At the cross God’s justice is satisfied. His mercy is revealed toward sinners in Christ. The coming of the Messiah was the light of God’s glory that encouraged the Old Testament saints of Isaiah’s day to walk through the valley of darkness.
But there is more. This glory of the Lord would not only be revealed to the Old Testament saints, but it would also be seen by all flesh together, Isaiah says. The Messiah would come for every people, nation, and language of this earth. He would save His church universally. This prophecy then goes far beyond the simple earthly appearance of Christ. Obviously, not all flesh was made to see Christ’s glory while Christ walked the earth. The prophecy of our text has reference to the entire New Testament era. It would be during this time that all flesh would be made to see the glory of Jehovah in the face of Jesus Christ. And more, all flesh shall see that glory together. In other words, one day all of God’s people will be gathered together from out of all flesh, and together they shall look upon the glory of God in the face of Christ. This will take place when Jesus Christ returns from heaven in His second coming. In that day all of God’s people will be gathered together as one by the returning Lord of heaven and earth. God’s glory shall be revealed to all flesh together in heaven.
III. Divine Reassurance
But how could the saints in Isaiah’s day be sure of the birth of Christ? How can the church today be assured of Christ’s return at the end of time? Isaiah informs us: “because the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it.” Can anything be more sure than if God Himself speaks this word? Christ comes again. Just as God fulfilled His promise to the Old Testament saints in the birth of Christ, so also will He fulfill it in the second coming of Christ. God’s word is sure—as unchangeable as He is unchangeable. What an amazing word of comfort to the few faithful saints of God in Isaiah’s day who were still looking for and hoping for the birth of Christ. They saw nothing more than treacherous and steep ways for the church then. They pined away in despair. Now, Isaiah comes to them and says, God will make the way open and plain for the coming of the Messiah. His glory shall be revealed. Do not worry or fret! It shall all happen in due time! You can be reassured of this because the mouth of Jehovah, your faithful God, has spoken it. He spoke it before and He speaks it now. And God will fulfill it. He will! There is no need to doubt it. Just cling to that promise by faith!
When God’s people heard that Word of the Lord, they were comforted. Now their waiting would be renewed: God’s glory would be revealed in Christ. With that same comfort we rejoice today, fellow believers. Again, it seems as if the forces of darkness gather and would overwhelm the church. So much sin in the world, and so much turning from God in the church. But Christ comes and the way will be made straight. We too cling to God’s promise. God’s glory shall be revealed again in Christ’s return. Your warfare is accomplished and your iniquity is pardoned. Prepare the way for Christ’s return. And be comforted.