Sunday, March 20, 2016

Isaiah 52:1-12 - "The Lord’s Coming Salvation" (PALM SUNDAY)

As we begin to focus on the  last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we begin with His significant  triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This  event is described in all four gospels [1] and is  specifically prophesied   by the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 9:9)  and in so many other indirect ways  in the  Old Testament, such as this passage which we have just read in  Isaiah, which precedes  the  famous Isaiah 53 passage  which we shall  consider   on  Easter  Friday  and also on a special occasion  on   Saturday.

Today we remember the occasion   when Jesus, as  the  chosen  servant   of God[2] came, riding on a humble donkey   to fulfil  the work that the Father  had given  Him to do in laying down His life for His people[3]. As He entered  the city,  He was most   surprisingly  received  in the manner of  a conquering King, although “he had no  form or majesty  that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him…”  (53:2), and yet the crowd  received Him  with  these words, "Hosanna[4] to the Son of David”. This   was tantamount to saying (and so  it was understood  by the Pharisees e.g. in Lk 19:39) that He was the long expected Messiah of Israel.    

In Luke’s account of the triumphal entry, Jesus  following His entrance  is deeply disturbed at what He sees. In fact He weeps over Jerusalem  (see Lk  19:41- 44 ; and see  also  Lk  13:34 – 35).  This act is followed  by the famous  temple cleansing (Lk. 19:45-48; Matt 21:12-17)
It is particularly   Lk  13:34 – 35 that gives us an insight  into  the spiritual state of Jerusalem. It was  this city  that  had killed the prophets. It was this city that would kill the Son of God, and amazingly, Jesus  knew that  this was going to happen! What was the purpose for which Jesus rode into Jerusalem to lay down His life?   It was  to hand Himself over to wicked men  to do what they had wanted to do all along, BUT  in this  atrocious act  He  would make atonement for  sin! By His  death He would  secure  eternal life for  all his own people,  for all those “who did receive Him, who believed  in His Name” (John 1:12). It was  ultimately  to secure for them a  future, not in this earthly Jerusalem, but  in the new, the heavenly Jerusalem, the home of every true believer  which Jesus went to prepare in John 14:1-4  and of which  we read in   Revelation 21.

Now we know from the history of Jerusalem  that she had been  besieged and captured many times. In the days of  Israel’s  occupation of Jerusalem[5], this city was  sacked  eventually by the Babylonians in around  586 BC. She  was  burned and destroyed and her  people taken into exile in  Babylon, just as  Isaiah and Jeremiah and others had said. But before that, approximately 135  years  earlier,  in the days of Isaiah,  this city  was also threatened by the Assyrians  who did in fact capture the northern territory of Israel and with it 10 tribes, who were sent into  exile in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:5ff).   All prophets, particularly the  major  prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, and later the Lord Jesus, God’s final Revelation (Hebr. 1:1-3) saw  that the continued rebellion  of this city  that had experienced  so much  of God’s favour, in terms of hosting  the temple of God, and therefore  the visible presence of God in Israel, that this city  would  face the wrath of God.  This leading  city  of the Jews   had lost the vision   of God in her midst.

Now Isaiah’s  prophecy  can be divided into two parts. The first part,  Chapters  1-35  focus on God’s judgement on Israel, the northern kingdom,   by  Assyria; then there is a ‘bridge’  in Chapters 36-39 before the prophecy closes with the second major part  in chapters 40 – 66,  where we find  a vision of the  return of the remnant from Babylon.
The point is this. Isaiah’s vision is big!  Not only does he  include future events from his own perspective in about 722 BC;  Isaiah sees  the restoration of Israel  after the Babylonian captivity, much later in 520 BC, when he was long dead. But more  than that, Isaiah’s  prophecy anticipates  the  ministry and mission of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ (whom we shall meet as the suffering servant in  Isaiah 53) more than 700 years later! And from our perspective Isaiah  foresees  even more than that. He foresees  the rule  and restoration  of all things under Christ  in  days to come, which, from our perspective,  is STILL  in the future!

Now from the present perspective  of Isaiah, and  from Christ’s  perspective, when He rode into Jerusalem, and also  from our own perspective, this earthly Jerusalem  was and is  anything but a holy city.   But  Isaiah  sees  beyond that  and he  like His Messiah, the Lord Jesus look  to the far future  when things will look very different. And it all began  on that day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem. On this day  He came to  Jerusalem  to  secure the future  of  the inhabitants  of a far greater Jerusalem. He came to  do this   in His death  and resurrection  which is described  in Isaiah 53. In preparation for that I want you then to take a look with me at this text[6] which precedes the phenomenal  events of Isaiah 53, just as the triumphal entry     preceded the phenomenal events of the week that lay ahead:

1.Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Obviously,  the prophet is not speaking here of  a political  entity  called  Jerusalem. He is speaking  of  that future city where  there  shall be no sin – the heavenly Jerusalem of  Revelation 21. That  is the city that Jesus ultimately  came to establish when He came riding into  this sinful Jerusalem, that killed the prophets, and therefore the prophet continues …

2. Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. What did the Lord Jesus  achieve  in his death and resurrection?  He  purchased  freedom  for a people in the dust, a people enslaved by sin. He freed them  for citizenship in the new Jerusalem,  by the shedding of His blood.

3.  For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” What does this   mean?  In context  this  would refer to the Babylonian captivity. Babylon acquired   Judah and paid nothing for  her when they took her captive in 586 BC. However,  roughly 70 years later under Cyrus  the Persian and then Artaxerxes [7]  she was freed  without the payment of money,  when men like Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Jerusalem  from captivity, being in fact supported by the Babylonians to rebuild Jerusalem[8]. But in a greater sense it would mean  that the sin which our  first father Adam committed, and of which we had borne the fruit, would now  be borne  by Christ in His death, BUT no  one has  to pay for their redemption. It was free for those who would take it.    This  was the purpose for which  Jesus  came to ride into the city! 

4 For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Israel’s first stint away from their   earthly Jerusalem in Canaan  was  experienced when they had lived  for 430 years in  Egypt, after which they returned under Moses and Joshua  to Canaan, their promised land.  Then  David  established the   physical Jerusalem  for Israel, but under  the often foolish rule of his  grandsons, substantial chunks of the kingdom were gradually lost – first under the  Assyrians, who   claimed the northern kingdom of Israel.  
In Christ’s day the  Jews were oppressed  by the  Romans, and the Jews hoped for  their Messiah  to return to  deliver them from the  Roman yoke. But was this ultimately the yoke  that  they needed to be  delivered from? Was not the yoke of sin their ultimate problem?  And who alone could effectively deal  with sin, if not the Son of God? And so Jesus rode into Jerusalem …
5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Many a time when Israel was  attacked by her enemies (no doubt, due to their own foolishness, which resulted in the hand of God being lifted from them),  their enemies  were  blaspheming the  name of God  when they  taunted  Israel: “Where now is your God?”  (e.g. Ps 42:10;  115:2; Joel 2:17). In truth, this was also  the  general attitude of the Jews   to Jesus. When he hung on the cross they mocked Him, saying: “He saved others, let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One.”(Lk. 23:35). The truth was that in continually  mocking Christ they were continually mocking the work of God. And so Christ rode into Jerusalem on  this day  to make a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous!  

6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” In the  historical context  the  release from Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of Jerusalem would be  a true testimony  to the power of God.  Nehemiah confirms this in Neh.6:15,16  when he says, “… all the nations around us …perceived that this work  had been  accomplished with the help of our God !” But in a greater sense  the greatest work  would be the   establishment  of the  eternal city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, which would be populated by  those who had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  Jesus came riding  into  Jerusalem  to  declare that He would do this ON THE CROSS!   This  is  therefore what gives rise to the next verse!  Here is the gospel  of the good news   for all the people… for all the nations !

7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Paul quotes this passage in Rom 10:15.  The point is that whatever historical situation brought  the good news  in Isaiah’s day, he was looking much further, when our  Messiah  made the gospel  terms  effective  by His death and resurrection .For this reason Jesus came riding into Jerusalem.

8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy;  for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.  In the  historical setting this  was accomplished  when God restore the Jews to liberty under the leadership of men  like  Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Yet again,  and in a greater sense, these things were fulfilled in Christ’s coming into Jerusalem  for this purpose – that He might lay down His life for a great number of people  and to establish  for them a city whose foundations cannot be shaken.

9 Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.  Historical deliverance happened  under Cyrus, (2 Chron. 36:22,23). The  Lord  displayed his power among the Medes and Persians, but afterwards he made it visible to all the nations. But again, see the ultimate fulfilment  in this  text. The Abrahamic covenant  is being fulfilled, as not only Jews but  gentiles  were participating in the salvation of God in Christ. All this began  to be fulfilled  in Christ riding into Jerusalem  to lay down His life for  Jews and gentiles. 

11 Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. 12 For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. In context  this was a call to  all  the Jews to leave Babylon, and to leave the things of Babylon behind. Those  that were  carrying the vessels of the Lord ( i.e. the vessels  for the temple), the priests, these were to be  especially consecrated. 
The redeemed would not need to  leave in haste as they had done when they left Egypt in the Exodus. They were completely free. God would go before to lead them and behind to protect them as they journeyed to their Promised Land (cf. Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19-20). In our context, it is important that we need to leave the city of destruction and make sure that we are on the  road to the heavenly  Jerusalem. (Pilgrims Progress)  

Here then,  in this  part of  Isaiah’s prophecy  the dual implications of the prophet's promises are very clear.  The Babylonian captivity  formed the background  to what  Isaiah  said, but  Isaiah  had the larger issue of slavery to sin in mind.  Return to the land was in view, but even more so, the opportunity to return to the Lord through spiritual redemption was his greater focus. God would deal with the result in Israel's case, captivity, but He would also and more importantly deal with the great cause of  every man's   problem, namely sin !

All this Jesus  came to do when he rode on that donkey  into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  
Hallelujah, what a Word! 
Hallelujah, what a Saviour! 

[1] Matthew 21: 1- 11 ; Mark 11:1-11 ; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19
[2] Note the four servant   passages  in this regard :  42:1-9; 49:1-7 ; 50:4-11 ; 52:13-53:12
[3] i.e. as the Lamb of God for His sheep
[4]  Lit. “save now”
[5] This city was captured by David from the Jebusites  in  2 Samuel 5:6-10 , after which it was called “the city of David”
[6] The proper  parameters for this text is  Isaiah 51:1-52:12. The chapter division at 52:1 is unfortunate . Similarly  the chapter division should not begin with 53:1, as it does, but should start at 52:13.
Outline of Ch.  51:1- 52:12 : 1. A threefold  call  to listen :  i.e.  51 : 1; 4; 7   2. A threefold  exhortation to awake  : 51:9;17 & 52:1  
[7] Ezra 1:1; 4:7
[8]  Ezra 1:2ff ;Neh. 2:8

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