The Blessings of Emmanuel’s Reign #4 – A Highway Through the Desert
December 27, 2009 / No. 3495
Dear Radio Friends,
In past weeks we have considered the beautiful prophecy found in Isaiah 35. Today we come to the last verses (8-10). Here we read: “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
Those who have been to the land of Canaan tell us that there is a road that begins in the little village of Bethlehem, leading north and east up to Jerusalem. Actually, it begins at the door of a stable and leads to a hill outside of Jerusalem shaped as a skull. The one who first traveled this road traveled it all alone. It was narrow, with lightning and thundering, fears and dangers, precipices, enemies. And on Him was placed an awful load. He never missed one step to the hill of the skull.
From the hill outside of Jerusalem, the road leads to a cemetery, in which many graves are opened. And from one grave, a very rich man’s grave, a huge stone is rolled away. And all you can say of this tomb is: It is empty. From the cemetery, the road cuts again through Jerusalem, through a garden of olive trees and up a beautiful mountain called Olivet. And from there the road leads up, through a cloud, to a city whose builder and maker is God, through the gates of pearl, and into streets of gold, near a crystal-clear river, and a tree of Life, with sounds of singing and rejoicing, children playing in the streets, and old men leaping for joy. No street lights. For He who traveled for us is the Light of that city.
The road leads to the center of the city, and there we see a throne, high and lifted up. He that sits upon it rules over all for ever and ever. He who traveled the road sits upon His right hand, the blessed and loved of the Father.
Ever since, He has Himself led those whom He redeemed upon His cross on a highway through the desert. A clear way, every stone laid by His own hand. And He Himself walks with us. Those who now walk that road are the redeemed, the ransomed of the Lord, ransomed by His blood. It was their sin that was the awful load that He carried to the cross of Calvary. If you look at the wrists of the redeemed, you will see the marks of handcuffs of sin, for they were long enslaved. And on their backs, the scars of sin. He leads them in a way that often spans deep and bottomless ravines. He leads them in a way from which many would otherwise fall to damnation. There are bridges over many a whirlpool that would otherwise suck men down to destruction. He often leads His people through valleys and days of rest and days of darkness. But He Himself is with them.
And He leads them to the city where He is King, through the rough door called death and over a river called Jordan, to Zion, where all sorrow and sighing flee away. They awake with His likeness. They see His face eternally. They have joy and gladness. They live there and praise God forever.
Are you on this way? Do you know this way?
There is another way. It is broad. It leads through the dwelling places of sin. It leads through all the places where sinful pride will go. And it ends in damnation and a lake of fire.
Messiah has come. The blessing is this: He takes us, by His grace and through the power of His eternal work, into the embrace of God. He guides and guards and molds and prepares us. And at last He receives us to glory. He does this on the highway of holiness through the desert. Are you on this way?
Isaiah 35 speaks, we have seen, of the gracious blessings given to us when our long-expected Jesus is born and performs God’s work for us. Let us do a quick review of what we have seen in this chapter.
All questions of who and what Isaiah is talking about in Isaiah 35 are answered in verse 4: “behold, your God will come…he will come and save you.” This is Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary.
The chapter says that His coming brings most amazing transformation. In the first verses we have the stark contrast of a desert transformed to a blanket of flowers, the message being that we totally-depraved sinners and rebels before God are forgiven and renewed.
Then in verses 3-6 the picture is of those who have weak hands and feeble knees, who are prone to fear. They are commanded not to fear, but to arise with great confidence, for the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf shall be opened, the lame man shall leap, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. There shall be a glorious personal transformation.
Then in verses 6 and 7 we have the answer to the question: Is all of this salvation real and true, or is it simply a mirage? Is it a false hope—as the false hopes of the men in this world? And the answer is, No, Jesus is the true living water. Where once we lay in sin, now we will be blessed by His Spirit.
And now in verse 8-10 we are told of “an highway that shall be there,” that is, in the desert. Not only in this desert does Jesus supply water to us, but we shall be supplied a highway over which we may travel. The desert is a place of destruction, not only because it is dry, but also because we are lost. A highway shall be there. In the world, then, where we would be lost, where we would be tempted, where we would be seduced and pulled astray—in this desert there shall be a trail, a highway, a place that is cast up and prepared and clear. And Messiah, God’s own Son, who saved us, shall lead us through this desert of sin and bring us to the Father in glory.
It becomes very plain when you study this book of Isaiah, and particularly this chapter, that in the first instance we have a prophecy here of the return of Judah from the Babylonian captivity. The “ransomed” in verse 10, “the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs.” God, as Isaiah foretells, would visit proud and defiant Judah with judgment. He would chasten His children. They would be laid low by Nebuchadnezzar and would be for seventy years in the bondage of Babylon. But God foretells now, in Isaiah 35, that He will bring them back to Zion from Mesopotamia, through the desert. Even as Moses once led the people of Israel from Egypt unto Canaan, so they would be brought back from Babylon to their own land. They would come in transports of joy and mirth.
But that was a picture of our redemption from sin, and from the life of emptiness. That comes to us through Immanuel, God’s Son. Isaiah is not simply talking about a physical highway between present-day Baghdad and Jerusalem. He is not talking about a stretch of land on which archaeologists can find pottery discarded by the Jews when they returned. He is not referring to a paved road from Mesopotamia to Israel or a railroad line from Egypt to Palestine. Rather, Isaiah is talking about the way of God, the way out of sin, out of the desert of guilt and the bondage of iniquity unto eternal life, a way of holiness, a way that would bring one to everlasting joy, where sorrow and sighing will flee away. This is the way of salvation. Isaiah was talking of Christ Himself, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by me.” The way of preparation by God through fear and trial, the pathway of redemption, the way Christ has made for us out of the bondage of our sin, out of the vanity of death and sorrow, into eternal glory. Do you know this way? Are you on this way?
It is, first of all, a clear way. It is a highway. It is cast up. Wayfaring men, though fools (v. 8), shall not err therein. The idea is that it is a very clear way, well-constructed, easy to see, clear-cut, defined, marked out. The way to eternal life is clear. It is built upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. How will my soul escape the judgment of this world? How shall I find rest? What is the way? Not yourself. Not your works. But the blood and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. “By Me,” said Jesus, “by Me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” And faith—God’s gift whereby we believe the righteousness of Jesus Christ and confess: “Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.”
It is clear in that the way is marked out step by step in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are the light that shines in the dark place. Are you lost? Are you drifting? Are you confused? You have no purpose? You have nothing but conflicts? You have an aimless life? Well, when did you set aside the Scriptures? The way is clear. The Bible is the way. The gospel of faith and repentance, searching the Scriptures, daily prayer. In desert land, it is very easy to go astray. Many wander. Many leave the path. Many fall into the labyrinth of the world. Many go lost in destruction. Jesus is the way. A highway. A clear way revealed in Holy Scripture through faith.
But it is more. It shall be called the way of holiness. The unclean shall not pass over it. That is, this way is the way of conformity to the will of God—a delight to obey the commandments of God. The unclean, who defile themselves and set aside the law of God, who live for themselves, shall not pass over this way. You live an impenitent life? You have immunized yourself from the prick of the Holy Spirit upon your conscience? Your Christianity costs you nothing? There are no struggles against your sin, against hate, greed, lust, envy, jealousy? Then you stand in the way of ungodliness, you stand with sinners. You are not in the way. The way that leads to life is the way of holiness, the way of daily repentance. It is the way of the love of Christ that constrains me. It is the beauty of Christ in His grace, and it is the desire to serve Him and to flee from a sinful world.
Finally, this way is safe. We read, “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there.” The highway of salvation, of belonging to Christ by grace, is a way that is safe. It brings the assurance of safety. The lion (or the devil), the ravenous beast (temptations), and sudden fears (sickness and anxiety)—all of these shall not destroy the people of God. For on the way of salvation, we experience the perfect protection and peace of our Shepherd. The Lord my Shepherd holds me within His tender care. He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. On the highway of salvation comes the promise that God will preserve us.
This is the highway. Who travel this way?
We read, “But the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion.” The redeemed and the ransomed of the Lord! To be placed on this highway, and to be kept safe on this highway, you must first be redeemed and ransomed. God’s grace in Christ takes you to heaven and puts you on the way to heaven. For you and I are lost in the desert. Like anyone else, we are sold in the bondage of our sin. We are locked deep down in the dungeon of despair.
The words “redeemed” and “ransomed” would thrill the heart of the Old Testament believers. Those words would ring in their soul. The word “redeemed” would bring to mind that someone or something precious to them had once come under the ownership of another. In the Old Testament, you redeemed a son, or you redeemed a plot of land that had been lost through death or foreclosure. It belonged now to someone else. You would buy it back for yourself. So Jesus Christ is our Redeemer who has purchased us, bought us back out of the depth of sin to Him.
And “ransomed.” The reference is to the money that was brought to purchase someone out of slavery. What, says the Scripture? Know ye not that ye were bought with a price (I Cor. 7:19)? The very blood of Jesus Christ was shed to take us from the bondage of our sin and into the house of God. All who walk the pathway to heaven are those who first must be redeemed from their sin and ransomed from their sin by the marvelous grace of God.
They are now wayfaring men (v. 8). That is another name for a pilgrim. That is a name for a person who travels from place to place on foot, but does not belong to the country through which he passes.
Let me tell you what that means. Wayfaring people are on the highway to Zion. When God, in Christ, puts you on the path to heaven, He puts the life of heaven in your heart, the life of the city where God dwells, the life of Christ, the life of the world to come. He puts that in your heart. You do not walk a path through a desert where there is no water to a land that you abhor or a land that you do not love, or a land to which you do not belong. You walk the path that leads to your home, to your fatherland, to the land of your Father.
If this world is our home, we will not walk the pathway of the redeemed. If our treasure is here below, we will not want to leave behind this present world. The life of the city that is from above is given to us now. The promises, the joys, the victory—all of these things are given to us now. Now, when we go from place to place. He Himself, our Savior, leads us and is with us. But here we have no abiding place. We seek one that is to come. Every day He says, “Up, arise. This land, this city, shall be destroyed. It shall vanish as smoke in the day of the Lord. Up, on the highway that leads to heaven.”
Those who are redeemed and who are made pilgrims, and those who are given a constant companion, are those who travel on this highway. We read that the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be there for those, the wayfaring men, and he shall be with them. Every day the Lord Himself is near them. He who paved this way, He who opened the way, He who removes every obstacle on the way, is Himself their leader. God does not begin salvation and leave you on the path for your own resources, but He conducts you to the very end. He leads you upon the highway.
That highway leads through many things, perhaps today through a nursing home, fears and dangers, dark depression, anxiety, or sickness. But He will never ever leave you alone. The way leads to Zion, the city of God. We shall come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads. This destination is sure. It is established. We shall be brought to glory.
There are only two paths in this world. Neither one is a dead-end. The one, the path of sin and destruction, falls off, and all the travelers plunge down and down and down into hell. The other one, of grace, is the highway of the King. It leads to glory, and it is glorious. A joy shall overtake us such as we have never felt before. There is no joy in sin. But in Christ, joy will abound. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. That is, sorrow and sighing shall not just drop off, but they shall run away. The grief and the sorrow and the sigh and the weariness of this life of sin will be gone forever. And we shall see Him. We shall look upon Him. Just one look upon Him will make all of the grief and pain that we suffer on the highway worth it. By comparison, all affliction will seem to be but a light thing. And He will welcome us. We will sit down, and we will say to Him, “So, it was you all the time leading me on this way.”
And we will journey no more. We will rest at home, glorious and filled with bliss.
For all of this, Jesus came and was born in Bethlehem. The manger and the cross are past. The tomb is empty. The pathway now is before us. He will lead us home. And the call of the Savior is: “Forsake the world, follow the King.”
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy word. We pray that it may be applied to our hearts this day by the working of the Holy Spirit. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.