Let Us Walk in the Light

Let Us Walk in the Light

Since it’s been a while since we’ve considered the book of Isaiah, I’ll begin this morning with a few reminders about who he was and what the LORD called him to prophesy about. Isaiah lived from around 740–681 BC. The general theme of his writing is “Yahweh Saves!” and even his name, “Isaiah,” means “The LORD saves.” The first 39 chapters of his book are addressed to his contemporaries as he declares God’s judgment on them, due to their ongoing disobedience, by means of the nation of Assyria.[1] So these fellow Israelites of Isaiah are in need of saving by God. They are in need of being rescued from living according to their will and ways—which in this instance meant they were living against God—in order that they might turn from their disobedience and live instead according to the LORD’s will and ways. For if they continue in their sinful ways, in their disobedient ways, they will have to bear the consequences of these behaviors. So Isaiah is calling them back into a relationship with their Maker and LORD that their relationship with their Maker and LORD might be restored. And what Isaiah records for us in these five opening verses in chapter 2,[2] on this first week of Advent in which we celebrate prophecy and hope, is an extraordinary and beautiful vision of expectancy for a better world which will one day come to pass. It’s a vision of a world we all long for in which all nations will come to know and love the one true God and desire to walk according to his will and ways; and further it’s a vision of a world in which we—all nations—love not only the God who made us for himself but also love one another and are able to work and live together in peace.

Again, this word of hope follows on the tail of chapter one in which Isaiah preached destruction to Judah in the southern kingdom and Jerusalem in the north for their disobedience. But in chapter 2 we see God’s goodness triumphing over human rebellion and disobedience for those who heed his call; God’s faithfulness triumphing over human faithlessness. In chapter one God has called his people to turn away from their wicked and harmful ways and instead to turn to him that they might live justly as he intended. And in chapter 2 Isaiah turns from their impending destruction to a strong message of hope for in these verses he is considering not their immediate doom from the Assyrians but a future, glorious destiny in which the hearts of people from all nations will turn, at last, to their LORD and Maker.

After identifying himself in verse 1—Isaiah, son of Amoz—and his audience—Judah and Jerusalem, Isaiah sets forth the content of this glorious vision—of his “seeing” for vision is what God gave to his prophets, his mouthpieces. In verse 2 Isaiah makes clear that this particular vision is telling what will occur in “in the last days.” So the first question we need to ask is, “When will these last days take place?” And here’s where we who are living after the time of Christ’s coming and the collecting of his and his apostles’ words in the New Testament have an edge because in this second Testament we are told how some Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ, that is, in the coming of Jesus the Messiah, God who came to earth in human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The “last days” promised by Isaiah, the future Messianic age, are identified by the New Testament authors as having been inaugurated with the coming of Christ, the promised Messiah. So, for example, the author of Hebrews opens his epistle by stating, “1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” Whereas in the past, God used prophets like Isaiah to make known his will, once Christ came, God spoke in the flesh through his Son. And Jesus himself confirmed this understanding. Remember that before he ascended to heaven, he promised his disciples that he would send them his Holy Spirit to be his witnesses.[3] And when this occurred at the Jewish celebration of the festival of Pentecost, recorded for us in the second chapter of Acts, Peter confirmed the fulfillment of both Old and New Testament prophesy when he connected the giving of God’s Spirit promised by Jesus with a prophesy from Joel who similarly spoke of God’s Spirit being given in conjunction with these end times, “17 ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’” With Christ’s initial coming to earth and then sending his Holy Spirit to indwell his people after he had lived, died, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, the “last days” began to come to pass. Whereas Isaiah and his contemporaries were living in a time of promise with regard to the last days, we are living in a time when the last days have begun to be fulfilled; whereas Isaiah lived in a time of the first Advent, of the initial awaiting for Messiah’s coming, we are living in a time of a second Advent, as we await Christ’s final return.

Now in verse 2 of Isaiah’s prophecy the first thing we’re told that will happen in the last days is, “the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains.” With this initial statement, the first thing we need to note is that in Isaiah, the theme of “the mountain of the LORD,” or Mount Zion, is a common one that occurs in passages that depict the coming of both Jews and Gentiles to Jerusalem, or Zion, in the last days.[4] The temple mount is used by Isaiah as a metaphor for the Lord’s kingdom that “will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” And, again, we have such an advantage because unlike Isaiah who served the LORD by proclaiming what lay ahead in the distant, future “last days,” we can look back and see how God began to fulfill the coming of those last days by sending his Son and his Spirit. For the book of Acts records not only how God’s Spirit came upon the Jewish believers from all nations who were gathered in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost, but it also records how God’s Spirit fell upon the despised Samaritans[5]—those who were viewed as being “worldly” Jews who compromised their faith by intermarrying with those from nations who worshipped gods other than the one true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But, even more astounding, God sent his Holy Spirit upon the even more despised and unholy Gentiles, as represented by Cornelius the centurion.[6] And this conversion by Cornelius was so controversial that the apostle Peter, whom the LORD had used to proclaim Christ to Cornelius that he and his family might believe and receive him and his Spirit, had to convince Jewish leaders back in Jerusalem that this conversion—this acceptance of even Gentiles as God’s people—was real. Listen to Peter’s words—and the leaders’ response—from Acts 11. Peter is the first speaker: 15 “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them [Cornelius and his family] as he had come on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” Now listen to the leaders’ response: “18 When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” With this we see, just as the LORD prophesied through Isaiah, that the mountain of the LORD’s temple has indeed already begun to be established for Cornelius, a Gentile, has been welcomed and embraced into God’s kingdom, into Christ’s kingdom.

Now the LORD’s temple being referred to as the highest of the mountains in Isaiah 2 may also be significant because pagan nations at the time worshipped their gods at mountain shrines. So we’re being told here that Israel’s God will one day establish himself as the only true and living God.[7] His mountain will be higher or more exalted than the lesser shrines of these gods who are no gods at all. In the last days all nations will stream to this highest or most exalted in prominence mountain, which again points to God’s salvation being not only for the Jewish nation but for all people. And we know that from the beginning God promised that he would create a people for himself from the aged Abram—who became Abraham—through whom, one day, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.[8] So God’s promise to Abraham—and God’s vision by means of Isaiah are again fulfilled in God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ who similarly proclaimed about himself “And I, when I am lifted up—a word which also means exalted—from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[9] Brothers and sisters, the last days have begun!

Verse 3 further states about the last days. “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’” Again Zion, or Jerusalem, represents here the LORD’s throne. In the last days God at long last is acknowledged and recognized as the one true God—the God of Jacob—the LORD whom many peoples will come to know. They will go up to his mountain, to his temple, that they might be taught his ways and, having learned his ways, they will then walk in his paths. The latter half of verse 3 re-states this truth in different words. God’s law—his teaching—will go out from Zion; the word of the LORD, will go out from Jerusalem. So in the last days many peoples or Gentiles, that is non-Jews, will abandon other gods that they might worship the one, true God, the God of Jacob. And, again, the fulfillment of the last days which began in the book of Acts has continued throughout the history of Christian missions for the past 2000 plus years. And this fulfillment will continue to take place until our LORD Jesus Christ returns to establish his kingdom, to establish his peace, once and for all and for ever.

In verse 4 in Isaiah we see as well the connection between knowing God and knowing others for as we all belong to the God who made us in his image and for himself, so, too we are therefore connected to, made for, and related to one another. This one true God, because he is the only God and is therefore the God of all nations, will “judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.” As the verse continues, we see that wars will, at long last cease for as the LORD judges and settles disputes, part of the execution of his mediating between nations will result in their beating “their swords into plowshares[10] and their spears into pruning hooks.” Since in the last days God will establish his peace, his shalom, no longer will there be need for instruments of war but rather instruments of war will be refashioned into instruments for caring for God’s creation—for plowshares, the main cutting blade of a plow, and pruning hooks, a tool used for cutting away dead or overgrown branches. This vision is reminiscent of a return to Eden prior to the Fall when Adam and Eve lived blissfully before God and with each other as together they cared for the garden in which the LORD God had placed them.

But when Cain slew his brother, Abel, the long history of wars began with this first generation born after the time of Adam and Eve’s Fall. But in the last days it will not be so: “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” And with this we see that though the last days may have been inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ, they have yet to be completely fulfilled for if we look back to even the recent hundred year past, we see far too many wars—World War I—and World War II—and the Korean War—and the Vietnam War—wars in Afghanistan—wars in Israel and Palestine—wars in Iran—wars in Rwanda—wars in Syria. Sadly, the list goes on and on. But war between those who are equally made in the image of their Maker is what occurs when those image bearers don’t live according to the will of their Maker. When we don’t go up to the mountain of the LORD—to the temple of our holy God; when we don’t seek to learn his ways or walk in his paths; when we don’t seek to learn and carry out his laws, we do use our swords for killing one another. And we use our spears for piercing each other, causing each other to suffer. War is what happens when sin’s hand goes unrestrained. War is what happens when human, rather than divine, notions of justice are put in place. War is what happens when human folly rather than divine wisdom are practiced.

Isaiah ends by putting forth a call for all to heed and look forward to in verse 5, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Walking in the light of the LORD is what we—all peoples—were made for. God made this clear when he called Abraham to be the seed of his chosen nation, Israel, and when he promised Abraham that the blessing of being God’s chosen nation would one day be extended to all nations. And, again, these last days began to be fulfilled when God sent his Son into the world in fulfillment of God’s promises. Speaking of Christ’s coming into the world in the person of Jesus, the apostle John states, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”[11] And Jesus, of course, testified of himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”[12]

Brothers and sisters, since the time of the Fall, all of us have had need for the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to teach us his ways that we might walk in his paths; all of us have had need to learn God’s law and be trained by his Word. And the wonder of all of this is that for those who receive the light of Christ, the temple of the God of Jacob is no longer a physical and material one, but a human and corporate one. God in his eternal wisdom chose to make us his temple that we might walk in the light of the LORD. He chose to make us his dwelling that we might be a light to others. As Paul reminds the Corinthians and us,[13]16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” And later in his second letter to the Corinthians he again states,[14] “For we are the temple of the living God.” And Paul, too, in his letter to the Ephesians confirms[15] 21 In him—that is, Jesus Christ—the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Isaiah looked forward to the last days, to Christ’s first coming to earth, and this morning we celebrate this prophecy and hope as we join him in looking forward to the miracle of God coming to earth as a baby in a manger. But as those who are living in the last days which Jesus began, we can hear Isaiah’s words as a call to us. So

“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD”  as we seek to learn his law and his ways.

“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD”  as we point others to Jesus the light of the world;

“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD”  as we pray that the temple that we are and which our Lord is building and indwelling by his Spirit be expanded to reach those around us—to those with whom we come in touch.

“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD”  as we look forward to that day when our swords will be beat into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.

“Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD”  even as we look forward to the coming of Immanuel, God with us, to ransom captive Israel.

Let us pray.

[1] In chapters 40–66 (The deliverance and restoration of Israel in 40–48) Isaiah moves from addressing his own 8th c. BC setting to addressing a time in the future, specifically the Jews who will be living in the 6th c. BC (as predicted in Isaiah 39:5–7). Isaiah predicted correctly the future exile of the Jews in Babylon (in chapters 40–55 = The Book of Comfort) as well as their subsequent return from exile. This provides assurance that their ultimate deliverance prophesied in a remote future will also come to pass (in chapters 56–66 Everlasting Deliverance and Judgment).

[2] Repeated in Micah 4:1–3 (Micah was Isaiah’s contemporary): 1In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

[3] Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

[4] Zondervan Study Bible. Sa: Isaiah 11:9, 27:13, 56:7, 57:13, 65:25, 66:20.

[5] Acts 8:4ff.

[6] Acts 10.

[7] Reformation Study Bible.

[8] Genesis 12:1–3.

[9] John 12:32.

[10] Joel 3:10 states the opposite as an indication of the LORD’s judgment upon the nations: “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

[11] John 1:4.

[12] John 8:12.

[13] I Corinthians 3:16–17.

[14] 2 Corinthians 6:16b.

[15] Ephesians 2:21–22.

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