Isaiah 2.1-5

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There was an alarming story in the news this week. You may have missed it, since it was buried under 3” of snow. North Korea shelled a South Korean island killing 2 soldiers and 2 civilians. This incident was part of the increasing tension on what is said to be the world’s most heavily militarized border. 2 million soldiers guard that 160 mile border. The Korean War started 60 years ago, and those tensions have never let down. As a result the United States has sent an aircraft carrier and several other ships into the area, not only to send a message to North Korea, but also to send a message to China. That region is one arena in which the US and China play out their tensions. That short Korean border spans the globe.

North and South Korea, Israel and Palestine, we could name any number of hotspots in the world where tensions are so high that oftentimes the most we dare hope for is quiet. We forget to even dream about peace.

            But once in a while we get a glimpse of beauty that kindles our imaginations and our hopes. One memorable example was the Christmas truce of 1914. After months of close proximity fighting in World War 1 in which the soldiers in the trenches lived in constant fear of the next wave of attacks from across the field, or worse yet, making the next attack unprotected through the machine gun fire, many soldiers from both sides stood up and defied orders to fight.

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2      This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

2 In the last days

the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains;

it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4      He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

5      Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Isaiah gives us a picture of a peace summit. The summit is the mountain of the LORD, Mount Zion. The peace is much more than quiet.  The picture in Isaiah is not one of world dominance for one nation, or even several great nations agreeing to respect each other. God is carrying out a universal peace, a very proactive peace, a virtually unimaginable peace, and it all starts on a mountain.

            The history of the unimaginable on this particular mountain runs deep.

            Once there was a mountain – an actual mountain. The mountain was special because God chose it to be the stage upon which he would act out his story of salvation. The mountain was an arrow pointing to something bigger than itself. In essence this mountain connected heaven and earth.

            When God wanted to test Abraham, he told him, “Go to the mountain I will show you and sacrifice Isaac, your only son.” And then God pointed to this mountain. When Isaac asked where the lamb for the offering was, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb.” At just the right time, God did provide a ram. This image was so central to God’s people that they coined a phrase: “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” Unimaginable faith, unimaginable providence.

            A thousand years later God brought David to that mountain and gave him the city of Jerusalem, known as Zion. David’s son Solomon built the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion. The Temple was the special site of God’s presence with his people. The nations streamed to the mountain. Even the queen of Sheba came and stood awestruck on the mountain. She said to Solomon, “Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.”  Solomon’s kingdom was a glimpse of what God’s intention is for the world. On the mountain of the Lord it was provided. Unimaginable splendor, unimaginable grace.

            God had the whole world in his hands, but Mount Zion was special. In Psalm 9 the Psalmist sings, “Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done.” In Psalm 50 he sings, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.  From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”

The LORD had established his mountain, Zion, and he had planted his people there. But in the first chapter of Isaiah God says, “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her— but now murderers!” Because of Israel’s rebellion, God let their enemies plunder them. By the sword and spear God’s people were taken away in exile. The temple was destroyed and the mountain was nearly deserted. God’s temple was not like our church. Our church is designed as a place for us to enter and worship. If our building was destroyed, we know that we are still the church. God’s temple was designed as God’s dwelling place. Only the priests entered. The people worshiped outside. When God allowed his temple to be destroyed, he was allowing the tangible connection between heaven and earth to be severed. It looked like all hope was lost, like the mountain was dormant. Unimaginable destruction. Unimaginable separation.

But God spoke of a time that was coming in our text today. In Isaiah 2:1-5 God gives a message of hope. God tells what he will do, and he tells what the people will do.

God promises to:

·        Establish the mountain of the LORD’s temple as chief among the mountains

·        Raise it above the hills

·        Teach us his ways

·        Send the law out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem

·        Judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples

In response, the people:

·        Stream to the mountain

·        Come and say, “come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD.”

·        Walk in his paths

·        Beat swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks

·        Do not take up swords against each other, they will not train for war

·        Walk in the light of the LORD

The phrase, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” takes on a deeper meaning and offers real hope. God fills the imaginations of his people with the unimaginable, and it all happens on the mountain. Hope was never really lost, and the separation was never complete or final.

Israel caught glimpses of Isaiah’s vision in many places. The temple was rebuilt. The captives returned to Jerusalem. But in all of these glimpses, they looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. They were anticipating the mountain of the LORD.

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We have tasted the salvation that Isaiah only saw in visions. The dreams of God’s people in the Old Testament have in many ways become our reality today.  

In each one of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, there is a geographic turning point. There is a specific point when Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem. When we read those verses, we tend to focus on the action more than the place. We see that Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to suffer and die, but we often miss Jesus’ emphasis on location. This has to happen on the mountain, at Jerusalem. Jesus returns to the mountain that Abraham and Isaac climbed. Jesus returns to the stage upon which God was acting out his story of salvation. The mountain has a history, and the mountain has a future.

Isaiah said that people would beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. Implements of death would become tools of life. Perhaps the clearest example of that is the cross itself. Jesus climbed that mountain and was crucified on a cross. The cross was a gruesome implement of death, and we have it as a symbol of life and hope. From time to time people point out the irony of beautiful cross jewelry. They ask, “Would you wear an electric chair necklace?” The more I think about it, the more I think it is not a fair comparison. Believe it or not, the electric chair is designed to be a humane execution. It is supposed to be quick. The cross was designed to be an inhumane, slow, torturous, and humiliating execution. The cross was horrific. Since that is the case, maybe beautiful crosses are exactly what we should have. A horrific instrument of death transformed into a beautiful symbol of life.

When Jesus died on the mountain, something happened in the temple. The curtain that separated the most holy place from the rest of the temple, that essentially separated heaven and earth, was torn in two from top to bottom. Through Jesus’ death, God destroyed the barrier that separated him from us. Jesus paved the way for all nations to stream into God’s presence. Because of that, the mountain no longer marks a place on the map. After Jesus rose from the dead, he told his disciples to take this good news through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The mountain has gone viral.

The reality is that the mountain has now been established throughout the world. We aren’t part of the fighting around the world over religious holy sites. Zion is a key image in the Bible, but it is not just a physical place anymore. The Church is the holy land. This is important. When we see the significance of the mountain and the temple in God’s salvation story, we begin to understand how earthshaking Paul’s statement was when he wrote, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”

            Every time we beat a sword into a plow we are casting a vision of what God’s goal is for his creation. I hope you have had the opportunity to use our devotional this past week. If not, you can easily start this week. On Thursday we were challenged to think about what it will look like when weapons are remade into useful tools. “Maybe nuclear weapons will power wine and cider presses, and we will use military Jeeps and Humvees to bring refreshments to the fields.” This weekend I saw that a middle school in Florida began a “Stuff the Humvee” program. The students competed to fill Humvees with food for the needy. That is putting the good news into practice. God’s plan is to establish shalom – wholeness. We don’t just avoid conflict; we pursue reconciliation.

              Even as we pursue God’s peace, we know that we will never reach it fully on our own. That is why we are eagerly anticipating the mountain – the day when Christ returns to make the transformation complete.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob.

He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

Come, brothers and sisters, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

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