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Who is this that is coming?

November 27, 2011, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Pastor Daniel Tan (Isaiah 63:1-10) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Isaiah
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Christmas, Isaiah, 以赛亚书, 圣诞节

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Sermon on Isaiah 63:1-10

A missionary had arrived in a small Chinese town. After she arrived, she soon noticed that a gang of bandits had just destroyed the little town and everything in it. Then a Chinese Christian, showed the missionary the ruins of his home, a burnt roof and structure, and furniture, all turned to ashes. Then, what appeared to be the last straw, the Chinese Christian pointed to his hymnbook and Bible. He said, “They even burned my Bible and hymnbook!” And from the ruins, he picked a single page of his Chinese hymnbook, the only thing to escape the flames! The missionary took up that piece of paper and it read “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” What an apparent mockery, a note of joy in the midst of total destruction. But the missionary went on to say, if you could have gone to the little chapel that night and seen the light on the faces of those Chinese Christians in that town, you would surely be moved. Those Christians who had lost nearly everything were speaking of the home that Jesus has prepared for those who love Him. “Yes,” the missionary claimed, “There is joy to the world, but only because the Lord is come!” (Danny Pinksen)

Yes, brothers and sisters, this Sunday marks the beginning of Advent in the Church calendar. The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning “coming” or “arrival”. It marks the four Sundays preceding Christmas as a festive season to prepare Christians for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in His First Advent. Yes, there is joy to the world for the Lord has come! So, Advent is especially a time for Christians to express our gratitude to God for the gift of life, for what God alone can give us. But Advent is also a time for Christians to anticipate the return of Christ. We look forward to that day, and wait expectantly for Christ to come again, His Second Advent. In our modern society that so commercializes Christian holidays, we need all the help we can get in preparing ourselves, our families, and our congregations to celebrate Christmas authentically. Thus, Isaiah is an appropriate book to kick off our series of Advent messages in the coming weeks. For the book offers the full range of God’s prophetic messages from terrifying words of judgment to the comforting words of promise. Above all, it introduces God’s suffering servant and announces God’s coming Messianic Kingdom in passages that have become well known to believers in every generation. In today’s passage, it talks about a significant event of the One who has come or who is coming to bring justice and salvation to the world. Hence, the title of my sermon today. This passage should prepare us to celebrate a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ’s First Advent whereby all of creation might be reconciled to Him.

(1) The One who is coming is the Divine Mighty Warrior to defeat sin and evil.

Today’s passage begins with the prophet spotting a glorious personage coming from the enemy camp. He travels in the greatness of His strength. Thrilled at the sight, the prophet acting as a watchman asks the one who approaches, Who is this? At the question of the watchman the stranger identifies Himself as “It is I, whose word is righteousness and whose power is to save”. The prophet then asks the second question which is even more intensified because the approaching stranger arrives in question-raising red dress: Why are your garments red? To the second question, the mighty stranger gives the answer that serves as the first point of today’s sermon: The One who has come or who is coming is the Divine Mighty Warrior to defeat sin and evil.

Where is the enemy camp that this Divine Mighty Warrior comes from? He comes from Bozrah, Edom. What is the significance of His coming from Edom with Bozrah as its capital city? Edom, to the southeast of Jerusalem, was the homeland of the descendants of Esau (Gen 36:8). And who is Esau? He is the elder twin brother of Jacob. Even before he and his brother Jacob are born, the two of them are declared by God to be representative of two nations which will struggle against each other. Esau will become the nation of Edom, and Jacob will become the nation of Israel. Their struggle began when Esau who cared so little for God’s blessing sold his birthright as the firstborn to Jacob for a bowl of red stew. God thus held Esau accountable for despising His grace. But it was the trickery actions of Jacob to steal the blessing of the firstborn from their father that became the root of bitterness of Esau. This bitterness in fact grew and spread to the point where an entire nation of his descendants was defiled by it. So, in Moses’ time it was the Edomites who refused to allow their own kinsmen, the children of Israel, to pass through their land on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. In other words, they were attempting to block the blessings that were promised to the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites. Since then, Edom became a long-standing enemy of God’s people, and their rivalry relationship with Israel remained tense throughout the kings of Israel. This became conspicuous especially after the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C. At that crisis, Edom had simply walked in and looted and cut off the escape route of their kinsmen and handed them over to the Babylonian armies (cf. Obad. 11-14). Thus, God had something to say to them about that. In the book of Obadiah which comprises only 21 verses, the entire prophecy is about God’s assessment of Edom’s attitude toward Judah’s destruction. Basically, the prophet’s message is that God would repay them for their evil toward their kinsmen. And in today’s passage, we see God as the Mighty Warrior taking vengeance on behalf of His people. He is portrayed as the Mighty Warrior returning from the slaughter in the land of Edom with blood that spatters His garments. “Why are your garments so red, like those of one treading grapes in a winepress?” In the divine response, we know the crushing is not of grapes in the winepress, but of peoples! There has been the great slaughter in the land of Edom, so much so that the peoples’ lifeblood has spattered the clothing of this Mighty Warrior. God’s vengeance is completed and the land of Edom has indeed soaked with blood as foretold in earlier chapter 34:6-7.

Why has the Divine Warrior done this? Because of His great anger: “I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground”. God is not a cool judge impartially handing down verdicts on persons who oppose Him or His people. God’s anger against oppressive power is rooted in His deep commitment to His people. God will not tolerate such abuse. In today’s passage, God who comes in this violent mode is the God who will make things right in the midst of an abusive world. Israel’s ultimate vindication must be preceded by God’s judgment, which He alone is able to execute. Thus, we see God took vengeance on His enemies alone, not with a great army, but all by Himself: “I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support…my own wrath sustained me”.

I have already mentioned the rivalry actions of Edom toward their kinsmen Israel and also the reason of God’s vengeance on them. But still why God’s overwhelming judgment only focuses on Edom when it is the rebellious peoples of the world who should be the objects of God’s action? In fact in chapter 34 there was a similar movement of God’s anger against all the nations. Edom is singled out because it serves as representative for all the nations. In other words, Edom represents the human being at its worst—despising God, persecuting God’s people and doing injustice and evil to others. Thus, by portraying God as the Mighty Warrior taking vengeance on His enemies, it serves to emphasize that there is no enemy in the world, including human sin that can defeat God. For God, sin and evil must be conquered to make it possible for His people to realize all that He has promised them. In other words, all evil, all enemies of God must be destroyed if the people of God are to know and experience His blessing. For those who stubbornly remain at enmity with God, they will meet God as the Mighty Warrior and His acts of wrath would bring total destruction to them.

Yes, brothers and sisters, in His time God will intervene not only actively but violently as the Mighty Warrior. It is precisely such a God of force who gives the Israelites buoyancy in the face of great threat. But God does not say that He will destroy His people’s external enemies in spite of their persistent sinfulness. We must bear in mind that Jacob and Esau function in Israel’s history both in terms of brother and of enemy. It therefore points to a deep division within the same family. In other words, within the household of Israel, internally there will always be the just and the unjust members. Edom as their kinsmen would now represent those unrepentant, rebellious Israelites living in the same community. They are equally subject to the wrath of the Mighty Warrior. Thus, the blood that stains the garments of the Mighty Warrior would also include His own people who have defied Him. Indeed, God would trample nations or peoples because of sin and evil, even Israel and Judah. Thus, as His people we can be assured that God will not quit until the victory over all negations is secure. But at the same time we must not stand unrepentant or rebellious within the faith community of the just that God has called us to be.

But with the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, we see a total different view of God as the Victor in His war against evil and sin. Instead of offering violence, He submits to it. He does so by taking upon Himself the absurdity of human violence. The cross of Jesus Christ gives us a picture of God going down to the arena of ‘man against man’ that whenever they spill each other’s blood, God becomes soaked therewith. So, instead of spilling the blood of the enemies, Jesus shed His own blood for all mankind. By submitting to evil, He was indeed crushed as grapes treading in a winepress. But the cross of Jesus is indeed the climax of God’s battle against all evil and sin. It is also the ultimate way to deliver human beings from the bondage of sin once and for all. Thus, we come to the second point of today’s message, that is, the One who is coming is the Conquering Deliverer to bring salvation to the world.

(2) The One who is coming is the Conquering Deliverer to bring salvation to the world.

When we look at the portrayal of God as the blood-spattered Warrior who takes vengeance on His enemies, most of us would feel uneasy, even distasteful. But God’s interpretation of His action is rendered in verse 4: “For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come”. So, we see God’s wrath and God’s mercy stand not in contradiction but in union. In fact, throughout the Old Testament God’s prophets knew about this truth. For them, there will not be a day of salvation without a day of judgment. In other words, until sin and evil are defeated, there is no genuine salvation available. What made us feel uneasy is our way of understanding of God’s taking vengeance. What is vengeance? Doe it not carry the meaning of bitter revenge? It might be if it were by itself, but when it is linked with salvation, this is not the case. What is God’s vengeance about? Is it because His pride is hurt or His authority challenged? No! God can only act in conformity with Himself as the God of Justice. That is why when asked by the prophet who He is God identified Himself as “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save”. So, the One who is approaching identifies Himself as the One who constantly and characteristically speaks what is right. He alone is the righteous Judge and now He comes to right the wrong. But more importantly, He comes not to immerse Himself in the violent bloody act but to exercise His mighty power to redeem the peoples in the midst of an abusive world. In other words, His primary consciousness of coming is that He is mighty to save. Thus, God is not a heavenly tyrant gone berserk or lust for blood. Yes, we may see His act of wrath and vengeance but His foremost awareness is that He has acted in salvation. So, God’s vengeance on His enemies is never merely an end in itself. It is always in aid of a larger one, the deliverance of His people. When the nations or peoples have made life for each other on this planet hell on earth, like the Auschwitz camp in the second world war, it is only God who can do something about it by taking righteous vengeance upon evil doers, in order to redeem the victims so as to save them from various hells. Thus, today’s passage is not ultimately about judgment and destruction, rather it is about salvation. God who speaks and acts as the righteous Judge announces that because the enemy is destroyed His people are therefore delivered. God’s whole work of salvation just like the whole work of judgment, is His alone. And as powerful as His strength to bring utter destruction, so is His power to save for anyone who calls upon His name.

Miroslav Volf, a Christian theologian from Croatia, used to reject the concept of God’s wrath. He thought the idea of an angry God was barbaric, completely unworthy of a God of love. But then his country experienced a brutal war. People committed terrible atrocities against their neighbors and countrymen. Thus, he writes in one of his books revealing his new understanding of the necessity of God’s wrath:
My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3 million were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people were shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming them basic goodness? Mustn’t God be fiercely angry with them?

Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love. (“Free of Charge” Zondervan, 2006)

Yes, brothers and sisters, as we come to the time of Advent we thank God for the year of His redemption has indeed come to us in this world of evil. As stated in verse 5 it is God’s own wrath that sustained Him in His acts of vengeance, but more importantly it is His own arm that worked salvation for Him. It is apparent from Isaiah chapters 49 to 53 that the arm of God is His suffering Servant. This Servant or Messiah is the only One who can accomplish what God has promised. What God saw was that mankind was in no condition to save themselves because we all are impotence before evil. And in the obvious presence of human sinfulness, He noted that men are in need of a Savior. So, with the coming of Jesus, we know He is truly God’s own arm, the suffering Servant/Messiah to bring salvation to the world. Despite the fact that God has to fight for His people’s salvation as the Mighty Warrior, His Son came carrying no weapons, just His bare hands to be nailed on the cross. He became the victim Himself. By doing so, Jesus’ crucified arms became the “righteousness” of God on our behalf so that we no longer experience God’s arm as His wrath but His salvation. Without any weapons and through His suffering until death, Jesus has crushed the power of evil in the world by taking it into Himself and forever destroyed its hold over us. But Jesus as the Redeemer is not for everyone, because not everyone will have Him. He is only for those who repent of their sins (Isa. 59:20) and commit wholeheartedly to God to live as His people. With this we come to the third point of today’s message: The One who is coming is the Loving Savior demanding His people to show their loyalty and be truthful to Him.

(3) The One who is coming is the Loving Savior demanding His people to show their loyalty and be truthful to Him.

Yes, God is always saving through His love. He is the Mighty Savior and He is also the Almighty Love. Thus, from verses 7 to 10 we see the prophet making surveys of the past goodness of God and the present straits of His people. Why the recollection of the past? Because it serves to reveal again the character of God, which is the foundation of all Israel’s hopes and dreams. For any Israelite, the most fundamental evidence of God’s grace was His act of election. For some unknown reason, God had chosen Abraham and his descendants to be His people. God has indeed become their Savior through His powerful deliverance of them from the Egyptian bondage. And through the whole wilderness He guided them as His children into the Promised Land. God’s relationship with them is always warm and personal as stressed by the expression that “He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old”. This image is just like an Eastern mother who would carry her baby on her back across the Sinai desert. God has shown Himself that His deliverance of His people is not formal and official. Rather, it is the expression of His heart and will, His intellect and affections, His whole person. In a nutshell, the prophet praises God for many good things He has done for the house of Israel according to His compassion, love, mercy and kindness.

But Isaiah further makes a profound point that in all the distress of the people of Israel, God too was distressed. In other words, God’s act of saving involves far more than merely delivering His people from their afflictions; it involves God’s own participation by sharing their afflictions throughout. And that is what the Suffering Servant is portrayed in the earlier chapter of 53:4 that “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows”. So, God’s loving relationship to His people as their deliverer needs not necessary mean that He will prevent hard things from coming to them. But that when they come, they can know He is at their side to deliver them from or through those circumstances. Or as stated in verse 9, He would lift them up and carry them through. Thus, the truth is that afflictions will come to the children of God. God’s gracious choosing of us and our glad acceptance of that choosing do not insulate us from afflictions. But God’s grace and His love will assure us that in those painful circumstances, He is determined to redeem us from their grasp.

God by giving His own self in love and kindness, He thus expects His people to respond to their election and the many good things He has done for them. He would like them to show their loyalty and to be truthful to Him, as stated by God Himself: “Surely there are my people, sons who will not be false to me”. But sadly it was not so. They showed no loyalty but rebelled against Him and grieved His Holy Spirit. There are ample data in the Old Testament to suggest that Israel’s entire life with God, their Savior, is one of persistent disobedience (cf. Deut. 32; Ps.106). And because of their continuing rebellious behavior, they have become false children of God. They are false children of God because they are not being truthful to Him. To be truthful to God means one must live life that is true to the character of God and to walk in His way (cf. Deut. 28:9). In fact, God’s many commands to His people are a reflection of what kind of God He is. One truly remembers what God has said and done only when one lives a life that is in accordance with what God has said and done. Not to do so is to have “forgotten” God, regardless of what one may say (John Oswalt). So, God’s expectation of His people is that: If you claim to be my true people, where is my character in your lives?

Because God’s children have become false in the most stubborn way, God says they have indeed grieved His Holy Spirit. In other words, God’s holiness (His holy presence) is offended by their rebellious behavior. Israel has violated God’s own person. This sin is acute, and it permeates all of Israel’s past life. The result of their rebellion is a tragic turnabout. In order to preserve His holiness, God had to become an enemy and judged those He loved, His children. God who delivered them from all their afflictions in the past now fights against them. Thus, we see if the people are loyal and truthful to God, they will experience all blessings from God. But if they continue to rebel, they will certainly break God’s heart and see the face of an enemy. But it is not God who has changed, but His people.

Yes, brothers and sisters, as our Savior, God wants us to have a genuine relationship with Him. In other words, our own conduct must be congruent with God’s character and His generosity to us. God has already shown His love and faithful commitment to His people. He has identified with us and delights in the companionship of us. As Christmas is approaching, it is indeed a time for us to remember, to recall once again what good things God has done to us in the past, and how He has carried us through during our time of afflictions. Have we ever realized that God has treated us and given us much more than we have deserved? Furthermore, the recollection of the past serves to remind us the character of our God which should be the foundation of our ways of living. In fact, Isaiah calls us to return to our first love. Yes, our first love for God may have slowly diminished or even disappeared totally as we keep Him at a distance and continue our busy life style of pursuing the worldly possessions. In this Advent Season, we should ask God’s saving power to regenerate our dead hearts toward Him. If our relationship with Him is damaged, no amount of material wealth in this world will be able to replace the sheer goodness of God Himself and His blessings for us. So, the choice is ours: Do we return God’s love by being truthful to Him or we continue to grieve His Holy Spirit? Yes, Advent is a time to celebrate the One who has come and is coming again. But are you seeing Him as your Mighty Savior or as Fearful Warrior fighting against you?

May the Mighty Savior give you light to guide you in this Advent Season!

Isaiah 63:1–10 (Listen)

63:1   Who is this who comes from Edom,
    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
  he who is splendid in his apparel,
    marching in the greatness of his strength?
  “It is I, speaking in righteousness,
    mighty to save.”
  Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?
  “I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
  I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
  their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
  For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.
  I looked, but there was no one to help;
    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
  so my own arm brought me salvation,
    and my wrath upheld me.
  I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
    I made them drunk in my wrath,
    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”

  I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD,
    the praises of the LORD,
  according to all that the LORD has granted us,
    and the great goodness to the house of Israel
  that he has granted them according to his compassion,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
  For he said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will not deal falsely.”
    And he became their Savior.
  In all their affliction he was afflicted,
    and the angel of his presence saved them;
  in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
    he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
10   But they rebelled
    and grieved his Holy Spirit;
  therefore he turned to be their enemy,
    and himself fought against them.

(ESV)