Dear Radio Friends,
In the coming weeks we will consider the treasure and the wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ, from the view point of Isaiah 35, which speaks to us of the blessings that come to us as a result of the birth of our Savior.
Isaiah 35 is a beautiful chapter. It speaks in a picturesque way of the blessings that will be brought when Immanuel comes. Immanuel means “God with us.” The name Immanuel speaks of the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God come to us in our human flesh.
The writing of Isaiah 35 is, as I said, beautiful in its prose, as it seeks to reflect the beauty of the blessings of Immanuel’s reign. I can remember, as a boy, being enthralled by this chapter. “The desert,” we read, “shall blossom as the rose…the eyes of the blind shall be opened…the parched ground shall become a pool of water…the redeemed of the Lord shall go upon a highway of holiness.” The point of the chapter is that when God pours out upon us sinners His goodness and grace in the coming of His Son Immanuel, great blessings come upon His precious church.
The beauty of Isaiah 35 is seen in its sharp contrast to chapter 34. In chapter 34 Isaiah is the voice of judgment, judgment upon a reprobate and wicked world that has lifted up itself in pride against God. There God brings words of final judgment upon the wickedness of all who are His enemies in unbelief and sin. “For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations” (v. 2). “And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down” (v. 4). “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion” (v. 8). In chapter 34, the prophet Isaiah foretells the day of final judgment, when God enters into judgment with mankind.
In contrast, chapter 35 of Isaiah speaks of the blessings of grace, blessings that will come to His children in the way of Jesus Christ. In verse 1 of Isaiah 35 we read, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them.” And we ask, “For whom?” That goes back to verse 17 of chapter 34. We read, “And he [that is, God] hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line: they shall possess it for ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.” The ones to whom God makes these beautiful promises in Isaiah 35 are the ones who will be gathered by His Spirit. They are the ones that God has chosen freely of grace. Rather than that we should be judged and condemned with the world, which would have been justice, the Lord has brought to us the blessings of His Son. He has brought us salvation in the coming of Immanuel.
Many different interpretations have been given to Isaiah 35 throughout the history of the church. I will not now give a critique of these interpretations. It is plain enough to us that this beautiful chapter ( Isaiah 35) speaks of the blessings that come in Jesus Christ. “He will come and save you” (v. 4). The ear of faith needs no more information to know who that is. That is Jesus Christ. And then, to seal it, verses 5 and 6: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped….” You recall that, in Matthew 11:1-6, when John the Baptist in prison was wondering whether Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” And in response, the Lord quoted verses 5 and 6 of Isaiah 35. He said, “Tell John that the eyes of the blind are being opened and that the ears of the deaf are unstopped.” In other words, Jesus Himself, in Matthew 11, identifies Himself as the one of whom Isaiah in chapter 35 is speaking. This chapter speaks in picturesque and sublime ways of the blessings that God brings to us when Immanuel (God with us) comes to the earth.
In verses 1 and 2, today, we look at the beautiful promise that the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as a rose. It shall blossom abundantly, we read in verse 2, “and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.”
Note with me that there is a marvelous change being foretold. A re-creation or transformation is being promised. When God’s grace and glory bring His Son into the world, there will be a marvelous change. Isaiah puts the change in the figure of death to life, of barrenness to fruit, of desolation to joy and singing. Pictured to us is something very familiar to the experience of the Old Testament believer—a desert, a wilderness, a solitary place. The prophet may well have had in mind the desert that lay to the south of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea stretching all the way to the Gulf of Aqabah, where it was a dry land of slate rock, arid and hot, inhabited by jackals and foxes, scorpions and screech owls—a desert, a desolate, barren place, inhospitable to human life, a weary land and burnt.
Suddenly, the prophet says, there is a transformation. And the transformation is not simply a momentary change produced by the spring rain bringing flowers, but a miraculous change, a transformation into a luxuriant garden. “The desert shall blossom as the rose,” or, literally, a crocus, a hyacinth. Desert flowers will be carpeting the entire area of the desert as far as the eye can reach. The desert shall blossom abundantly, that is, beyond expectation. Desert sand, rocks, brush, sharp-pointed cacti changed into an abundant sea of flowers and bloom.
And more. The very topography is altered. “The glory of Lebanon,” we read in verse 2, “shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon.” The glory of Lebanon was its forests, its cedar trees, trees that Solomon imported for the building of the temple. Carmel and Sharon were mountains in central Canaan noted for their beauty. It was to Mount Carmel that all Israel came in the days of Elijah to learn that Jehovah, He is God. Carmel and Sharon were hills shaded with oak trees, valleys with rich, loamy soil, fertile for farming, for wheat and barley, and for cows, sheep, and oxen. The idea is that the desert is being changed into a meadow.
And yet more. We read, the desert land shall “rejoice even with joy and singing.” While previously there had been the sounds of the screech owl, the squawk of a vulture, the howl of a coyote, now there is singing. There is the chirping of birds. There are the melodies and songs from homes. Where the message once was desolate, solitary, bitter, death; now the message is “the heavens are telling the glory of God.” All the creation is sounding in joy and song.
So is pictured to us the marvelous, the miraculous, the glorious change that was brought to pass through the coming and the gift of God’s Son Jesus Christ when He was born. Jesus Christ did not come to make us over. It was not a patch-job. But He came from the hand of God to perform a miraculous, spiritual change. It is certainly true that our Savior’s redemption is so complete that the creation itself that is now under the curse of sin shall be redeemed and shall share in the glory of His redemption. You may read Romans 8:19-23. And we must remember, too, that in the manger the little baby being nursed by Mary is creation’s Savior and Redeemer who shall, by His power, renew all things in the day of His glory and shall make a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation, when He, through the fires of His judgments, will change our bodies and all things in the creation around us. The curse shall be no more. There shall be no more death and no more need of the sun. All around us will shout and speak and sparkle with the glory of God.
But the promise, the miraculous change that is being pictured in verses 1 and 2 of Isaiah 35, is the miraculous change of grace wrought by Jesus Christ in the heart and lives of His children. “He will come and save you” (v. 4)—not from physical woe and poverty, not from crop failure, but to save you, your soul, from sin.
The desert and the wilderness and the solitary place represent out life as the result and consequence of our sin and the desolation that our sin brings. Sin promises such sweetness and pleasure, but it brings utter desolation. In our sin is the heat and the burden of our guilt before a holy and just God. In our sin is bitterness. Sin consumes all things in the service of ourselves. Sin dries up. Sin leaves utterly withered. It destroys relationships. Sin brings desolation, barrenness, and death, judgment and burden and guilt into our soul.
But Jesus Christ was born. He came into our state. He took upon Himself our sin and our curse, that He might bear them away. And now there is this miraculous and marvelous change—there is life, where there was formerly barrenness of the soul. Now the desert land is blossoming as a rose. Out of our hearts proceed prayer and praise, faith and trust—all as a result of His coming and His marvelous work. The grace that comes in Jesus, when Jesus is born, was a marvelous grace. It was a transforming power. It was a life-creating and life-renewing grace. As the desert was transformed to a meadow, so we, dead sinners under the wrath of God guilty, are now redeemed and brought into the joyful presence of God.
All of this reveals the glory of God. What is being seen in the transformation that Isaiah speaks of is the glory and the excellency of God. God’s works always tell about Him. “O Lord, our Lord,” we read inPsalm 104:25, “how marvelous are thy works. In wisdom thou hast made them all. The earth is full of thy riches.” The creation, and God’s work of providence in upholding and directing and governing the creation—all of these the eye of faith beholds with wonder and awe.
But God’s glory is revealed especially, and to its greatest extent, in His work of grace, in His work of salvation by the sending of Jesus Christ.
Now, we might ask, as we look at the birth of Jesus Christ, where is the glory and the excellency of God to be seen? And the answer is: You must have an eye to see it. You must be given an eye to see it. That is true of the creation as well. For unbelief is blind to God and His glory and His excellency in creation, and it refuses to acknowledge Him. So also is that true in the birth of Jesus. Children, if you are to see the glory of the Lord in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the Holy Spirit Himself must give you an eye of faith. You need the vision of a lowly sinner. The eye of man sees nothing glorious in Jesus’ birth. It tries to invent and make the glory. And indeed, humanly speaking, there was no glory. It could hardly have been worse. Mary gave birth to her son on a barn floor amid the smell of animal manure. He, her son, is Lord of all, but He is wrapped in discarded rags. And there was the revelation of God’s glory. In fact, nothing so revealed God’s glory as when Mary held the babe in her arms. It was the glory of God’s grace.
Rather than that we, His church and people, should perish, God had now given His Son in our place, to bear our penalty and earn for us what we could not earn—an everlasting righteousness with God. The gift of Jesus was the outshining of God’s heart. He gave His own Son. God’s glory was never more radiant, never so revealed, as when His own Son clothed Himself with our flesh and came under the guilt of our sin. The glory is the God of grace. The glory is His favor to the undeserving. The glory is the God of mercy and compassion to the miserable—a God of love to those who are unlovely. His grace to embrace us in Jesus Christ is the glory of saving grace that is seen in Jesus’ birth. And that is what is behind the change.
The desert blossoms as a rose because God is glorious in His grace. Jesus Christ comes to save us because God is glorious in His grace. And He is excellent.
He works out the way by which we might be saved. When God sent Jesus Christ into the world, God did not ignore His eternal justice against our sin. He did not pass by judgment. He did not excuse sin. But, remaining holy, righteous, and true, He punished our sin. Only He laid our sin upon the head of our substitute, whom He, in grace, had given to stand in our place.
God is excellent. God is surpassingly wise. God brings salvation in a marvelous way. Jesus Christ is born; the eternal Son of God has now come. Heaven’s Prince, who remains God, now is joined to our flesh. And He has come to satisfy the justice of God against sin. And He has come to bring liberty to us who were miserable sinners and to make us new—so that out of the desert there might come forth glory unto God.
Do you see this? Do you see this marvelous grace of God to you, an undeserving, desolate, bitter, barren sinner? That is the grace of God opening your heart and giving you to see your desperate need and the marvel of His grace and wisdom in giving Jesus Christ as the only Savior.
Do you see that as you celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ? Do you see the glory of the Lord being revealed to you?
If we are truly to see the marvelous change and the glory of the Lord wrought in the coming of Jesus Christ His Son, then this must be given to us. It must be worked in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. To see all of this is grace. All of the rich blessings of salvation are the gift of God. They are undeserved by us. They are unsought by us and they are unearned by us. They are freely, graciously, and powerfully given.
Note that we read that the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them. You remember that I pointed back to verse 17 of chapter 34, to define who the “them” are. They are the ones whom the Lord has chosen in the grace of election. But then, note again in chapter 35 verse 2 that the “glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it,” and shall be given unto them. Throughout the passage we read that this is all something that God gave. We did not deserve this, we did not ask for or earn this. The wondrous, saving work of Jesus Christ, from the very beginning to its end, from the stable to the cross, to the empty tomb, to the exaltation at God’s right hand, to His return in judgment, is all something that is “given” freely of God’s grace to His children—to you, whom He gives to know the desolate nature of your sin.
To you, who are burdened and troubled and weary of soul under a load of sin, marvelous and amazing and breathtaking, unimaginable, awesome, excellent, wonderful things the Lord hath done when He sent His Son to be born in Bethlehem. Rather than that we, dry, dead, solitary sinners, should be consumed, grace gave His Son that we might be changed and transformed from guilt to pardon, from death to life. So that the desert might blossom abundantly, that we might praise, give thanks, serve, love, trust, pray, confess. Confess what? Glory to God. How excellent are His ways.
May God bless you today with His precious word.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for this beautiful prophecy of the wonderful work of Jesus Christ and the powerful transformation of Thy grace in Him. Bring that word into our hearts with much comfort and assurance. We pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.