From the Garden to the City,
Trees along the way
(c) Copyright 2007 Rev. Bill Versteeg
9 He said,
“Go and tell this people:
We have been looking at Trees along
the way to the city - the city which is a fulfillment of
God’s promises for us in Christ. But I must point out to you
that there are a lot of trees before we arrive at the city, the journey
is long, and sometimes the trip is hard.
Though JWH had given them their peace and prosperity, they themselves took the credit for it.
Though JWH had nurtured and blessed them, they rebelled against the Lord and would have little if anything to do with him.
Those under the king who had the power to make sure justice was done for those who were powerless, the widow, the orphan and the alien - they did nothing, and they were more interested in their own well being than the well being of the people that they served. They took brides. They abused their power.
Oh they went through their religious rituals, bringing their offerings to the temple, but their hearts were far from God, and God felt this was simply trampling the floor in his temple, it was meaningless to him, he wanted something more than sacrifice, he wanted obedience to the covenant, obedience to his will, hearts that sought hard after God. Without their hearts in it, their worship was hated by God, a burden he was not willing to bother himself with. Israel had thought of herself as an oak of righteousness, God’s planting in the land of Palestine, but the oak was dying, the land dried out with no water to sustain life. And that is just listing some of the themes that happen in chapter one.
I need only mention from chapters
2-5 that Israel had adopted the pagan practices of the nations around
them, idolatry and pride filled the land. The female gender used their
beauty as power to serve their own ends rather than honoring God with
what he had made them, rather than focusing on an inner beauty that
pleases God. And because of their abuse of their power, God promised to
turn their beauty to ugliness, their perfumes to a stench (chapter 3).
That’s when chapter 6 happened - God gave to Isaiah a vision of his majesty, his power and his holiness, his Sovereign kingship over all creation, and then having cleansed Isaiah’s tongue with a burning coal called him to go and be the voice of the Lord to a rebellious nation. I am certain you have heard sermons from Isaiah 6 before, probably followed by the song
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
But too often motivational sermons on Isaiah 6 stop at the end of verse 8. It is important that we continue with the commission that Isaiah received. The Lord said to Isaiah
9 “Go and
tell this people:
What a call! Can you imagine being called by God to go and preach, knowing that from the very beginning your preaching will have no success, knowing from the very beginning that your preaching would only make people deaf, deafer to the gospel and blind, blinder to the Glory of God. But that was Isaiah’s call.
Did you know that this passage is the most single quoted text from the prophet Isaiah throughout the New Testament! The truth of this passage still applies to today. Preaching has always had this effect. You see the truth of the good news of the gospel is that it forces change in us. The gospel cannot leave you unchanged. It either heals you are it hardens you. It either opens your eyes or in response you choose to shut your eyes. It either enables you to hear sounds of grace or it causes you to plug your ears. There is no in between. That is the power of the gospel - it is grace to those who are being saved, it is foolishness to those who are perishing. There is no middle ground.
If preaching causes you to shut your ears, inevitably, you will blame the preacher. They blamed Ezekiel, they blamed the prophets and took their lives, they blamed Jesus and charged him with blasphemy, they blamed the apostles and stoned them, the preacher is always to blame. But the truth is your heart responds to the gospel, one way or another. That’s why it is so important for every preacher of the gospel to be especially careful that they are preaching the actual word of God. Mere human wisdom does not have the power of the gospel to change us. Preachers have to be very careful before God with what they say.
But listeners have to be very careful with how we respond to preaching. If our response is critical, we have to ask our hearts why it is that we are critical of the preaching? Is it because our hearts are not where God wants our hearts to be? Are we being hardened by the voice of God calling us to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ? How do you respond to preaching, the prophetic word of God? Do you dare walk in here and not be changed by the power of the word proclaimed? Do you dare sit there, harden your hearts and ignor what is said? Well God has strong words for those who go through the motions of worship but their heart is not in it. He says “I detest your worship.” (1:13) “I hate that you come to trample in my courts wearing out my rugs.” (1:12) God says “I would rather that you did not come.”
You see, we come to be changed. We
come to be healed. We come to worship with the attitude:
“Lord, how do you want to change me today?” I
submit to your will! And sometimes that healing takes hard discipline,
the purifying judgement of God in our lives, confronting us for our
sin, calling us back to obedience so that our worship will be worth
something, to justice, to right living that is pleasing to him rather
than defining manhood by who can hold the most drink, or using our
tongues to get one up on someone else we know.
Isaiah was overwhelmed at the weight of the message he had to bring. Being a man of compassion for God’s people, his hope was that this would be a very temporary measure and so he cried out
11 Then I said,
“For how long, O Lord?”
To a people who had no interest in listening to the Lord’s word through Isaiah, this was purifying judgment, this advent making the way strait and leveling of hills would be thorough, cities ruined, empty, deserted, ravaged, the land so special to God’s people utterly forsaken. There is no way to paint a pretty picture from this passage, nor is there a way to paint Isaiah commission in glowing colors for the picture is pain and the colors are dark. They would be laid waste again and again till nothing was left - nothing but a few burned tree stumps in the land. That is the scriptural advent picture for those who refuse to hear the word of the Lord, those who ignor his covenant, who disregard his will in the land. Hopeless. Darkness. Bleak. Nothingness. Despair. The Lord is coming! What will happen to you before he comes? Even the apostle Peter painted this dark picture of the Lord’s advent, his coming and our need to be ready. 2 Peter 3:10 - 12
10 But the day of the
Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar;
the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in
it will be laid bare.
13b But as the
terebinth and oak
We are on a journey from the garden to the city - the trees along the way are hewn down to nothing, mere stumps in the land. But there is one thing that cannot be burned up, destroyed completely even under the fiercest judgements of a Holy Holy Holy God! Isaiah points us to that light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
But as the terebinth
The holy seed - a stump in the land. Everything Israel would see would look dead, like nothing. But one of those stumps, one of those mighty trees cut down to nothing, the covenant of God’s promises that looked like they had come to naught, just one of those stumps contained in it what Isaiah called the holy seed. That holy Seed was God’s covenant promise.
Had Judah heard, they would have heard a covenant promise given to Eve
5 And I will put enmity
Had Israel heard, they would have thought of a covenant promise given to Abraham “To your seed I will give this land.” (Genesis 12:7).
Had they been listening carefully to Isaiah’s words, they would have heard hope, a distant hope, but a hope nevertheless, that God would rescue them, that God, because of his covenant promises would not let them be totally destroyed for their sin, no let them disappear and become nothing in judgment. Even in the midst of God’s white hot purification, a seed would remain, hidden in a stump, their future was in the Lord’s promises. And the seed that Isaiah pointed Israel forward to was one person - born in Bethlehem, one person the fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises for us. When all is laid to waste. When we are cut down to nothing, he is our hope, our only hope for all of God’s promises are yes and Amen in him.
The Lord is coming! How will you
make yourself ready?
the Garden to the City - Trees Along the Way
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.