The Church: God’s Vision of the Gospel.
Isaiah 52:13 – 54:17.
When the word ‘gospel’ is mentioned or the phrase ‘preaching the gospel’ what is it that immediately springs to mind? If you are like me I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is Jesus’ death and resurrection to save me from my sins. I tend to think, first, of the cross and my salvation.
Now, of course, that is true and right. Jesus did die to save me.
We need to understand the reasons why Jesus had to die – to satisfy the justice of God – that he is a sacrifice – that is was necessary for there to be a penalty paid for sin – that because I am a sinner I am unable to pay for my own sin and I need a redeemer – and on and on we could go talking about the reasons for Christ’s death and the implications for people.
It is important, of course, that we understand all these things about the death and resurrection of Christ.
However the good news – ‘gospel’ – about God’s rescue plan in Jesus Christ is far bigger than MY salvation and MY relationship with God.
Last time we saw something of God’s cosmic purpose – to unite everything under Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)
We saw that God has a plan – a plan that encompasses the whole universe – and that central to that plan is God’s rescue of sinful people in order to bring them into a loving relationship with himself.
We looked mainly at what Paul had to say in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. This is, of course, a NT perspective. We did see that the Church is made up of all true believers for all time. There is one people of God – believers from the OT Times and the NT times and those who are already in heaven.
It would be easy to rush from here into the details of church life. However, I would like to linger with the big picture a little longer. It is all too easy for us to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of trying to make church work in our tiny patch that we fail to see the wood for the trees.
When we speak of the gospel we tend to rush to the NT. The gospel is also in the OT. The whole Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s plan.
- THE ETERNAL VIEW OF GOD’S VISION.
God existed before creation – thus before time. God is complete and lacks nothing. There is perfect love and fellowship between the father, Son and Spirit. Yet for reasons that are beyond our comprehension, God shows his love to the creation he planned and we are included in that relationship.
Out of the whole universe – earth has a special place. In the midst of the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies earth is special. God created life on this planet and from the myriad forms made humans was special, made in the image of God with the capacity to have fellowship with God. That meant choice, a choice that could reject the creator’s love.
The coming of evil is a mystery in many ways, yet before time began God had a plan to overcome evil. A plan too terrible except for God to understand. That through the death of his Son sinners could be redeemed. This death of Christ on the cross became the focal point of earth, time, history and eternity itself. It also is the focal point of worship for those who have been rescued by it.
The victory of Jesus Christ on the cross is the final reversal of all the evil effects of sin and Satan. The picture the Bible portrays is that God is preparing a bride – the church – for the Son who is the bridegroom. At the end of time when God brings history to a close there will be the marriage supper in heaven – a wedding feast when Christ and his church are united in a new way – when all true believers from all of time will be united to Christ forever.
This is God’s eternal plan for the Church!!
The Bible reveals this plan to us through it pages. One of the most wonderful sections of all scripture is Isaiah – last bit of 52 through 55.
- THE FOCAL POINT OF GOD’S VISION.
This section of Isaiah is one of the most powerful and magnificent passages of the Bible. It reveals the heart of a loving creator for his creation. 52:10 – 53:12 speaks of God’s suffering servant who came that we might be recreated and restored.
More than anywhere else in scripture we have the picture of a suffering Messiah who comes to bear away our sin as a substitutionary sacrifice.
Isaiah 53:6 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV)
Now only does he die but he rises again overcoming sin and death – surely these are the OT passages Jesus would have explained to his disciples after the resurrection [on the road to Emmaus]
10 …. though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,
he will see his offspring and he will prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied;
Clearly this speaks of his resurrection [700 years before the event]
And it also speaks of the salvation it brings to sinners –
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities. (NIV)
Who can ever understand the depth of the Father’s part in this suffering? I can understand, at least in part, why Jesus died for my sin – I am guilty for his death. However, there is a deeper cause – it was the Father himself who put him there and what is more he had planned it from eternity – for me!
We will never understand the depth of the words of this chapter – we can only marvel and worship –
4 …. yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. ….. 6
….. the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7
….10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, ….
God deliberately sent his own Son to us, knowing that he would have to turn his back on him and cause him to suffer – it is a mystery and a miracle and an amazing act of grace – we will need all eternity to wonder at it!
Surely such news needs to be shouted from the rooftops to every person on earth!
- THE BROADNESS OF GOD’S VISION.
I began by saying that we tend to think of the gospel very individualistically. This is true even when we read passages of scripture like Isaiah 53-54.
If I asked what Isa. 53 was about most Christians could probably give the gist but would struggle to say what 54 was about.
While chapter and verse divisions are very helpful and we would struggle without them – they are also a hindrance in this respect, viz. that they cause artificial breaks that the original authors never intended.
The break between Isaiah 53 and 54 is a good example. Chapter 53 is a marvellous passage about the death and resurrection of the Messiah BUT is artificially separated from 54 which is the glorious triumph of the gospel – the expansion of the people of God’s throughout the whole earth.
When we neglect this dimension of the gospel – call it missions / evangelism / outreach / church growth – we not only distort the gospel of God but we are also the poorer for it.
These verses speak of JOY – GROWTH – CERTANITY of the people of God, the community of the redeemed, the church.
JOY – God’s people supernaturally gathered.
1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. (NIV)
To understand what Isaiah is saying here we need to look at the history of Israel. Abraham is considered the father of the faith. When God called Abraham he promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. However, there was a problem – his wife Sarah was barren – when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 and child-bearing was no longer an expectation Sarah had a son – Isaac.
Abraham tried his own solution by having a child by Sarah’s slave woman Hagar but that was not God’s solution.
The picture is of Sarah, a barren woman, who bears a miracle child and becomes the mother of a family more numerous than the stars.
The point that Isaiah is making is that the bringing into being of the community of God’s people cannot be explained naturally. Firstly, because it is a supernatural spiritual birth that is needed and, Secondly, these ‘children’ are so numerous that it cannot be explained naturally but only supernaturally.
This supernaturally born, innumerable family is a cause of great joy and celebration.
Someone may say “Surely it is unjustified to apply this passage from the OT to the NT church.” Is this not referring to the Jews of the OT? Wasn’t Isaiah trying to give encouragement to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon? Yes, that is true but it is only a shadow of the fullness of what was to come.
We have every justification for applying this passage to the church because that is exactly what Paul does in Galatians 4:25-27 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” (NIV)
Paul is quotes Isaiah 54:1 and applying it to the church.
Just as the full meaning of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 could only be seen after the resurrection of Christ, so, too, the joyous harvest and growth of the people of God in Isaiah 54 could only be seen after Pentecost.
GROWTH – God’s people designed to include all nations.
Isaiah 54:2-3 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will [dis]possess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (NIV)
Tent life was very familiar to Middle Eastern people of that day. Abraham had lived in a tent. The Israelites had lived in tents in the desert and while it was a time of many failures it was also a time of walking in fellowship with God, a time of living in dependence on him and under his care.
Isaiah’s call to the people of God is to increase the size of their tent in preparation for growth. God’s plan and purpose is that the suffering of His Son would not be in vain nor would it yield a small insignificant harvest. Rather his plan is for his ‘tent’ to extend to cover all nations.
your descendants will dispossess nations – is an unfortunate translation. I think it is better understood as being which is more positive. God’s desire is that all nations will be included. That those desolate cities were there are no people of God will become inhabited by people who turn to God for salvation through the work of his suffering servant.
Psalm 2 is about the Messiah-King – God speaking to his Son says…
Psalm 2:8 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (NIV)
Why did Jesus, the suffering-servant-Messiah, go to the cross so willingly and bear the sins of many? How is it that he could endure such suffering?
We read in the NT Hebrews 12:2 2 …. Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)
Surely a redeemed people from all the nations on earth was part of the joy before him.
Doesn’t Isaiah 53:11 make more sense in the light of this Isaiah 53:11 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: ….. (KJV)
This is what the Church is – a community of people rescued by a suffering- Messiah.
If we fail to grasp this big picture of God’s purposes then we will have a distorted view of the gospel. It is true that Jesus died to save me form my sins BUT it is much more than that.
SECURITY – God’s people have a certain future in the care of a loving Lord.
When the Jews originally heard this from the prophet Isaiah they probably didn’t feel as if they were this innumerable powerful group of God’s people who would possess nations and inhabit cities. They probably felt weak, insignificant and marginalised. They didn’t think of the Church of God around the world.
We have seen the enormous growth of the church over 2000 years – yet we still feel small and powerless sometimes. This passage of scripture assures us that the growth and power and triumph of the Church is no pipe-dream. As true as Ch. 53 was about the death and resurrection of Christ so too is ch.54 true about the growth triumph of the church of God.
On what does Isaiah base the existence and growth and security of God’s people?
LOOK at v.5.
Isaiah 54:5 5 For your Maker is your husband –
- the LORD Almighty is his name –
- – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
- he is called the God of all the earth. (NIV)
For your Maker is your husband
– God is not only our creator but he also deliberately sets out to form a relationship with us – just as a man deliberately sets out to seek a wife to whom he can be a Husband. He sets out to make those who are not his people to become his people.
Is it any wonder that the NT holds this relationship up as a model for husbands to love their wives?
Ephesians 5:25 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV)
the LORD Almighty is his name
– LORD is in capitals – whenever you see it written like that it is the most holy name for God – YHWH. It was the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush. He is the God of the Exodus, the one who rescues his people and overthrows theirs and his enemies.
Almighty tells us that he is the absolute and ultimate power.
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
– the one who is holy and cannot tolerate sin is also the one in whose image we are made and he therefore longs to have a relationship with. In order to achieve that end he redeemed us through his suffering servant thus satisfying the requirements of his divine justice and at the same time meeting the needs of our human nature.
he is called the God of all the earth
– What gives God the right to act in this way? Well the earth and all that is in it belongs to him. Everything in heaven and earth belongs to him – because he is both its maker and redeemer!
Is it any wonder then that Isaiah says to us “Do not be afraid … Do not feel disgraced” – we have no need to. We are God’s people and our JOY and our GROWTH and our SECURITY are in him.
Jesus died on the cross, not just to save ME, but to call to himself a people of God from every nation on earth – THE CHURCH.
OHP – Isaiah 53 – sufferings of Christ – Isaiah 54 – fruit of Christ’s sufferings.
On the basis of who God is and what he has promised we can be certain that all this will happen – indeed we are seeing it happen around the world if we look. The Church of Jesus Christ is growing at a faster rate than any other time in history – maybe not in the WEST but certainly in other parts of the world.
What is more we have the promise of scripture that the gospel will not fail.
Jesus said “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not stand in the way”
Revelation 7:9 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (NIV)
GOD’S VISION OF THE GOSPEL
- The eternal view of God’s vision
- The focal point of God’s vision
- The broadness of God’s vision
God’s people supernaturally gathered
God’s people designed to include all
God’s people have a certain future in the care of their loving Lord
* For your Maker is your husband –
* the LORD Almighty is his name –
* the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
* he is called the God of all the earth.