notre dame montreal

The Prophet Isaiah—A Man of Hope

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

There's a familiar phrase 'Grin and bear it' which at first sight we might think Isaiah is saying to the people of Judah. They said 'Smile, it could be worse', so I smiled and it did get worse, because all the books of the prophets belong to a time when Israel and Judah were in decline. Isaiah is no exception.

The prophet Isaiah particularly speaks to Judah at the time when it is under threat from Assyria in the north. And although its about 100 years before Judah falls to the Babylonian empire, which has by then taken over Assyria, Samaria and the Northern kingdom of Israel do fall in his lifetime. But Isaiah's warnings are not just for Judah. God is in ultimate control of all the earth and already in this book of Isaiah, before the section where our reading comes from today, he has specific words and warnings for—

  • Babylon (not yet a force to be reckoned with)
  • Assyria (its fate was sealed—even at a time when it was all powerful)
  • Philistia, Moab, Damascus, and Etiopia/Cush,
  • Egypt (where Isaiah foretells of Egypt's fragmentation, disintegration and conquest)
  • Edom, and finally Tyre.

It's a long a salutary list with words of warning and prophesies of doom and gloom all around

The world to Isaiah seems a messy evil place and a far call from what God intended A world which is dominated by the rich, strong and powerful and a world where God does not seem to get a look in anywhere—a world which was pretty frightening and depressing to many who lived in it at the time A world which we probably find it reasonably easy to identify with today where sometimes it looks as if God doesn't really get a look in either, certainly if some of the Sunday papers are to be believed—and also a world which is pretty frightening and depressing to many who lived in it at right now. There are wars, civil wars, coups, violent crime, especially murders and rape, and theft… And if all Isaiah preached was judgement and destruction it would be a pretty depressing book and a world without hope But he doesn't Because Isaiah had had a vision of God and an encounter with him which was to remain vivid in his mind for the rest of his life

In chapter 6 Isaiah sees God on the throne in the temple—its an impressive vision He is—high and lifted up—and his train of his robe fills the temple—God's so big he can't fit in the temple—the angels who are flying about cry holy to one another—the whole temple shakes with their voices. The seraph takes a burning coal and touches Isaiah's tongue with it to take away his sin and to anoint him for his calling The Lord says, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' To which Isaiah replies 'Here am I, send me' It's a life changing experience and one which makes Isaiah realise that although God will judge the people and the nations for their sins, He also wants them to turn back to him so that he can forgive them. He wants to comfort the faithful and bestow upon them a glorious future

The destruction, fear and death will give way to recreation and life when touched by God The touch of God which leads to the highway of holiness, the way of His commandments, the way of His promises, fulfilled in Jesus and the transformation of our lives when touched by God. God is coming to bring His people home by a safe highway—a safe highway we know as Jesus And when Jesus came he began to inaugurate the kingdom Isaiah spoke about

  • the desert and the dry land became watered and glad
  • the wilderness came into bloom
  • the feeble and weak were encouraged
  • the fearful became brave and strong
  • the eyes of the blind were be opened
  • the deaf heard
  • the lame leapt for joy

Because even the dark, the depressing, and the frightening become transformed by God when we allow Him to touch them. In our society and in our lives God continues to bring His people home by a safe highway—Jesus. It's the highway were on, not the places we pass, which are our source of Joy. The revelation of the past, which has brought us this far, and the vision of the future, however dim, which calls us on, and eventually home give us a reason to be joyful. And there may even be places of real joy we may pass on our way, as there will be places of sadness and even fear sometimes. Which is why its not always easy—sometimes its more difficult than others to see the road.

For Isaiah sometimes it must have been difficult to see it… It was so cluttered with the ways of man, the weary battles they fought, the deaths that occurred, the fear that was encountered Israel, Judah and all the lands around seemed to have forsaken and forgotten God. God, it seemed was absent—like He sometimes feels today. But God was still there and still is (t)here today The highway, the way of holiness, has been established with signs all over it saying no roadwork, no dreaded cones, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever. We may not have had such a clear vision of Christ to help us on our way, and sometimes its as if God gets a bit disjointed from His people and the world. Sometimes when we are on the path we forget to look up at the end point, the reason for taking the walk in the first place or even at those things around us as we walk on our way.

On a Grand Canyon North rim hike we didn't just look at our feet but had to stop, frequently, to drink in the scenery, to look through binoculars and to take photos. To witness the majesty of god's creation. We all need to look up from time to time, and as we do we can all see God in action, God in ultimate control, somewhere where the desert has started to bloom, where joy begins to break out, where the sick are healed, where the fearful are strengthened and encouraged. Even if, to use Isaiah's word's—the desert has been parched for a long time, where it seems God has perhaps been absent for a while, the road is still there, the wilderness is blossoming, 'gladness and joy will be ours and sorrow and sighing will flee away' as we walk in the way of holiness

Sam Cappleman


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