Now, if only I can figure a way to shorten this long sermon down to a Spirit and Truth article...
December 12, 2010 – Advent 3
Title: “Total Transformation”
Isaiah 35:1-10 (New Revised Standard Version)
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the HolyWay; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
All of us are familiar with the Salvation Army collection kettles. You can’t go to the shopping mall or Wal-Mart or anywhere else during this Christmas season without seeing the bell-ringers’ smiling faces and hearing them wish you a Merry Christmas. Perhaps you slip a dollar or two into the kettle, and wish the bell-ringer a Merry Christmas in return. Maybe you even say a prayer for those cold volunteers who have such a thankless job. But do you know the history of the Salvation Army? They are far more than a collection agency at Christmas time, and a thrift store downtown near UVA hospital.
“The Salvation Army began in 1865 when William Booth, a London minister, gave up the comfort of his pulpit and decided to take his message into the streets where it could reach the poor, the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.
“His original aim was to send converts to established churches of the day, but soon he realized that the poor did not feel comfortable or welcome in the pews of most of the churches and chapels of Victorian England. Regular churchgoers were appalled when these shabbily dressed, unwashed people came to join them in worship.
“Booth decided to found a church especially for them—the East London Christian Mission. The mission grew slowly, but Booth’s faith in God remained undiminished.
“In May of 1878, Booth summoned his son, Bramwell, and his good friend George Railton to read a proof of the Christian Mission’s annual report. At the top it read: THE CHRISTIAN MISSION IS A VOLUNTEER ARMY. Bramwell strongly objected to this wording. He was not a volunteer: he was compelled to do God’s work. So, in a flash of inspiration, Booth crossed out “Volunteer” and wrote “Salvation.” The Salvation Army was born.
“By the 1900s, the Army had spread around the world. The Salvation Army soon had officers and soldiers in 36 countries, including the United States of America. This well-organized yet flexible structure inspired a great many much-needed services: women’s social work, the first food depot, the first day nursery and the first Salvation Army missionary hospital. During World War II the Salvation Army operated 3,000 service units for the armed forces, which led to the formation of the USO.
“Today, the Salvation Army is stronger and more powerful than ever. Now, in over 106 nations around the world, the Salvation Army continues to work where the need is greatest, guided by faith in God and love for all people.”
(http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq%5Cwww_sa.nsf/vw-sublinks/5622F771BD70A75A80256D4E003AE0A3?opendocument. December 11, 2010)
William Booth saw this kind of need in the poor and destitute of his day, and his message was one of salvation and restoration. Isaiah’s ministry was much the same. His people longed for a better day, when the Messiah would come and rescue them from their terrible situation. God gave Isaiah a vision of that Messiah, and the total transformation his coming would produce. In His first coming, Jesus would die to save the people from their sins, and in his second coming the Lord would totally transform the entire world.
The message that Isaiah proclaimed for the people of his day was one of rebuilding of life and culture after the devastation brought on them by the Exile. The message that Isaiah speaks into our lives today is one of total transformation –not just of life and culture in the civic sense, but the conversion of body, soul, and spirit of every living person who receives Jesus as Savior and Lord. The life of the saved person is never the same after they’ve been totally transformed. In this Advent season, as we look to the coming of Christmas, we also eagerly anticipate the arrival of Jesus in each of our hearts, making our hearts into His eternal home.
In Isaiah 35:1-2, the prophet predicts a day of rejuvenation and rejoicing. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” Isaiah 35:6b-7 says, “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.”
God’s people today are desperate for this kind of rejuvenation. The imagery Isaiah uses is that of refreshing water flowing into a desert. Psalm 63:1 says, “O God, you are my God! I long for you! My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Perhaps you’ve felt that way, dry and used up on the inside. God desires to put his Living Water back into you, and give you His rejuvenation.
He also wants to give you His reassurance. In verses 3-4, Isaiah says, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’”
I have seen people with weak hands and feeble knees go through physical therapy, perhaps after a surgery or some injury. Their hearts are fearful as they’re beginning their training, because they’re uncertain about the pain of their therapy, and because they’re unsure about whether the therapy will work or not, whether they will ever regain that which was lost. Our Lord says, “Here is your God.” He says, “I am here. I want to reassure you that I will save you.” Vengeance and recompense remind us that God is angry with the sin that got us into our mess, but His love reassures us that He will be there to get us through it.
In verses 5-6a, Isaiah predicts the healing powers of the Messiah. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus restoring health to the broken, even life to the dead. As the song says, “The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak The praises of The Lamb..” (“Mary Did You Know, by Clay Aiken) Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.”
Jesus can do the same for you. He is still a God of healing today. We don’t worship a Lord who USED TO heal. We follow a Master who still heals today—body, soul, and spirit. Are you in need of physical restoration? Trust Him for your healing. Like the woman who reached out and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mt 9:20), reach out and touch the only one who can truly restore you. Doctors can work on your body, but only Jesus can heal.
In verses 8-9, Isaiah talks about the Redeemer’s Road. “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.” “No unclean” means no sinful people will travel there, because the Messiah totally transforms us, making us holy. “No lion” or “ravenous beast” refers to the Devil, who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy. He won’t be there. The Redeemer’s Road is a place of safety and joy.
Jesus talks a lot about the Redeemer’s Road—the way of salvation. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the Way,” or “I am the Road.” In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” It’s not always an easy path to travel, but Jesus invites you to walk on his Redeemer’s Road. It’s the only way to salvation and blessing from the Lord.
For those who follow the Redeemer’s Road, God promises that the ransomed will return, rejoicing! Verse 10 says, “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” This is the kind of life that God wants you to have—not one where you feel defeated all the time, but one where the joy of the Lord is your strength! Just as Isaiah prophesied the return of God’s exiled people to the Promised Land, so God’s prodigal children can return to Him, rejoicing in His goodness and grace. Won’t you return, rejoicing in the ransom He has paid for you by the shedding of His precious blood?
Isaiah prophesied to the people of his day that one day the Messiah would come and set everything right. When the Savior comes, Isaiah said, there would be total transformation. They would rejoice in their rejuvenation. They would experience the Lord’s reassurance and restoration. They would walk on the Redeemer’s Road, and they would return, rejoicing in the ransom He had paid for them.
When God transforms us, we are totally transformed. One unknown author writes: “Once there was a brier growing in a ditch and there came along a gardener with his spade. As he dug around it and lifted it up the brier said to itself, "What is he doing? Doesn't he know I am a worthless brier?" But the gardener took it into his garden and planted it amid his flowers, while the brier said, "What a mistake he has made planting me among these beautiful roses." Then the gardener came once more and made a slit in the brier with his sharp knife. He grafted it with a rose and when summer came lovely roses were blooming on that old brier. Then the gardener said, "Your beauty is not due to what came out but to what I put in."
My prayer for you today is that you would know God’s total transformation. I pray that God will take you and make you the thing of beauty that He wants you to be. I pray that He will take you from your ruin to the radiance of His restoration.