Isaiah 35 Highway to Heaven

Sun, 28/09/2014 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

Are you ever tempted to give up? Give up your job? Give up as a Christian? Give up living?

Isaiah chapter 35 was written for people who were tempted to give up.

It’s a little tricky – it was written for them, rather than to them. Isaiah ministered from around 740 BC to 680 BC – roughly the 8th Century before Christ. But lots of what he wrote was written for the people who would live some time later – in the 6th Century.

Isaiah warned the people. His words fell on deaf ears. The people turned further away from God. Until in 587, God used the army of Babylon to destroy Jerusalem completely, and the people were carted away to an exiled life in Babylon.

They were there for 70 years. They were 70 black years, that felt as if they would last forever. 70 years is a long time. What were you doing in 1944? Any dream of returning to their promised land began to fade. The people began to resign themselves: They’d be here forever They may as well embrace the Babylonian life, worship the Babylonian gods, live the Babylonian way. God had abandoned them.

Black years. Which is why, long before, God used Isaiah to record the messages of hope that the people would need. Chapter 35 is one of those chapters. Written by Isaiah to his contemporaries. Written for the benefit of those who would read it later. And written for us too.

God will take them home

It’s a picture of their return from exile.

Isaiah paints it like a second Exodus. You’ll remember that back in the 15th Century, the people were slaves in Egypt. But God brought them out, and he led them across the desert to a new home.

God’s going to do that again, only this time he’ll get them out of Babylon, and it will be far more glorious than last time.

Verses 1 and 2 describe the desert they have to cross bursting into bloom. You get the same picture in verses 6 and 7. It won’t look like a desert at all. More like a luscious garden, with green grass everywhere, and carpets of flowers. A bit like the woods around here in May, when all the bluebells come out, and it’s like someone’s spread out a vibrant blue carpet. The desert will be transformed, so that it reflects the glory of the God who’s bringing his people home.

So God says to the people in Babylon: Be strong! Verse 3: Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.’

God says, you’re flagging, you’re tempted to give up, but I’m coming to get you.

Their hands are feeble – they’ve not been acting like the people of God, so strengthen the feeble hands. Their knees give way; they’ve not got any stability, not steady on their feet. So steady the knees that give way. And their hearts are fearful. They’ve got no convictions. They’re frightened. So say to those with fearful hearts: Be strong. Why? Because God is coming. Your God will come.

It seems an impossible thought that God would be able to take them home from Babylon. But when God comes he’ll deal with the insurmountable obstacles.

The obstacles in them. Verse 5: Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Ever since Isaiah chapter 6, the people have been described as blind and deaf. That’s a description of how spiritually incapacitated they are. They can’t see what God’s doing, and they don’t recognise his voice when he speaks to them. They’re incapable of responding to God.

But when God comes to take his people home he’ll do the miracle. They’ll get their sight and hearing back. They’ll be able to see what God’s doing, and they’ll hear and recognise his voice. They’ll regain the use of their legs, so that they can follow God as he leads them. They’ll relearn the power of speech, so that they can sing praises to their rescuing God.

God will deal with the obstacles in them, but also the obstacles in the environment. The things out there that might physically stop them coming home will no longer be a problem. The desert will no longer be the uncrossable expanse it seems.

Instead there’ll be motorway built for them to travel on. Verse 8: A highway will be there.

It’s not for anyone. It’s only for those God has personally rescued. At the end of verse 9: Only the redeemed will walk there and those the Lord has rescued will return. Those redeemed, rescued, ransomed by God.

We watch these hostages in Syria on the news and feel helpless. Their captors are asking astronomical sums for their release. Yet government policy is not to negotiate with such people; even if they did, they’d never pay the vast sums being asked for.

God’s people needed rescuing. The price to do so was much bigger than in any modern hostage crisis. And the promise is that God will pay that himself, so his people can be free to travel on the highway as his rescued people.

Isaiah describes the people in three ways as they travel.

First, they serve God. It’s a way of holiness. These people did not earn their rescue from exile, but as a redeemed people they live to please and serve God.

Second, they are safe. It’s a way of safety. Verse 9: No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. God will get them safely to their destination.

And third, they’re singing. It’s a way of song. Verse 10: They will enter Zion with singing. Even on the road, before they get there, they know God’s been wonderfully good to them, so they’re singing his praises.

Then they reach their destination. They’re back in Zion, the mountain Jerusalem was built on. They’re home. Only it’s better than when they left it. They’re overtaken by joy and gladness. Picture two of the city’s oldest residents– sorrow and sighing – they’ve run away and they’re nowhere to be found. They’ll be crowned with everlasting joy. Their new life back home will be one of joy that never ends, perfect happiness that goes on for ever and ever.

We have a saying in English, that “all good things must come to an end”. Every good holiday we enjoy. Every period at work when we’re able to get on unhindered. It never lasts forever, and we console ourselves with the thought that it must be this way. Good things never last. All good things must come to an end.

Well that may be broadly true, but it’s not true of the future these people will return to. Everlasting joy will crown their heads.

What a wonderful picture. God is coming to rescue them, to take them home. So be strong!

God will take us home

It’s a picture for us too, as we live as God’s people.

Often, we, too are tempted to give up.

Life can be tough. Sometimes it feels that our difficulties will never end. Recurring health problems. The stresses of work. The demands of raising children or looking after grandchildren. Supporting frail parents. It can all be exhausting.

When life is like that, it can be tempting to give up living as a Christian. Being a Christian makes things no easier. If anything, it makes life tougher still. There’s a nagging feeling that we ought to attend church more often than we do. Shouldn’t we be reading the Bible more on our own, and with our children. It’s yet one more thing to fit in. Forget any pretence at being a follower of Jesus, and it’s one more pressure off the list.

Actually, while those pressures are real, they’re very much the Western, middle class version of the temptation to abandon following Christ. Others in this country have lost their jobs for doing so. That’s not happened to any of us — yet. In other parts of the world, people lose their homes, their lives, and in some cases in Iraq the lives of their children.

That’s pressure to give up. Compared to that, our temptation to give up as a Christian is tame, but we feel the pressures all the same. They’re real for many of us.

God would say the same thing to us that he said to the Babylonian exiles through Isaiah. He’s coming to save us. He’s going to rescue us. He’ll take us home. So BE STRONG.

Actually, God’s words to us are even more wonderful than they were to the people Isaiah wrote for.

Did verses 5 and 6 remind you anyone? Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Jesus came, doing exactly what Isaiah foretold. God told Isaiah he was going to remove the obstacles in us that prevent us from following him. Jesus’ healing miracles were a visible demonstration that God was removing those obstacles through him. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our spiritual blindness can be cured. We can see what God is doing. Our spiritual deafness will be gone, we can hear God’s voice.

And through Jesus, God dealt with the external obstacles to rescuing us as well. Jesus went through the grave and came out the other side, triumphant. There’s a way through for us as well.

The people in Babylon were looking forward to a day in the future when God would come and rescue them. We can look back to Jesus’ death on the cross. We are already the redeemed, rescued and ransomed people of God. Jesus’ death paid the price for our release. Mark chapter 10, verse 45: The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Which means we’re on the highway. We’re travelling on the motorway that Isaiah envisaged. We’re not travelling to Mount Zion in the Middle East. We’re on a far more exciting highway than that – we’re on the highway to heaven. That’s what the book of Hebrews tells us.

We’re not there yet, but God will get us there. God told the people Isaiah wrote for: I’m coming to get you. And in just the same way, the night before Jesus died, he told his followers this: If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.

And when he does that, he’ll take us to a place that is free of sorrow and sighing. A place of everlasting joy. The one good thing that never comes to an end. Here’s that future, as described in Revelation chapter 21, verse 4: God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

So why would we give up? God has come to save us. He came in the person of Jesus. We’re travelling on the highway towards that wonderful future. And Jesus will come back to take us home.

So keep travelling

So we keep travelling. Which means we keep living as those who are on that highway.

You’ll remember that as well as the highway being a place of safety there were two other hallmarks.

It’s a place of serving God. We keep serving God. We keep living righteous lives.

Jesus paid the price to put us on the road to heaven. Once that’s happened, life is never the same again. You can tell a person who has been truly rescued by Jesus, because their life is utterly transformed. God’s priorities become our priorities. We look increasingly like the Lord Jesus, our older brother. The unclean will not journey on that road.

Keep serving God. Keep living righteous lives.

But secondly, it’s a place of singing. We keep rejoicing.

We’re not there, but we’re marching towards heaven. The Jesus who rescued us and put us on that road will surely come back and bring us through the gates. So we don’t wait until we’ve arrived to praise God. We’re so sure he’ll finish the job that we can praise him now. Indeed, there’s no better way to keep yourself going than to sing the songs of heaven on the road.

I’m sure many of you have childhood memories of long car journeys, on the way to the beach, or to a summer holiday. Children get bored easily, and one thing many parents do is sing.

You can sing anything to pass the time. The wheels on the bus go round and round, all day long. Songs like that pass the time, but they don’t make the journey feel any better. “All day long” is exactly the problem with this journey.

So how about: We’re all going on a summer holiday. Or, I do like to be beside the seaside.

If you can’t stand those songs, then maybe not! They’re songs about how much fun we’re going to have when we get there. They keep you looking forward to the destination.

So when we come together on a Sunday we sing. Songs that praise God for what he’s already done for us in Jesus. Songs that keep us longing for the destination he’s surely taking us to.


We’re on the road.

We keep serving God. Righteous lives.

We keep singing. Rejoicing along the way.

So don’t give up. Verse 4: Be strong. Do not fear. Your God will come. … He will come to save you.

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