Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—“The Highway to Heaven”
Chapter 35 is the climactic chapter of the first “book” of his prophecy. Its background makes it all the more pertinent, meaningful, and poignant. When Isaiah utters this prophecy the northern kingdom has already been destroyed and led into captivity by the Assyrians. Isaiah has also predicted that Judah would be carried into captivity by the ruthless and merciless Babylonians. In his vision, (chapter 34) he sees a barren and wasted land. After the people were carried off into slavery in Babylon they would mourn for seventy years. The 137th Psalm is a Song of Lament about their experience in captivity:
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1–4, NIV84)
Had Isaiah’s prophecy ended in chpt. 34, it would have been sad. But God opened the eyes of the Prophet to let him see a vision of the glory of the presence of the Lord as He remembered His repentant and contrite people. At the end of the vision he sees a land where the desert blossoms as a rose. ILLUS. This prophecy has literally come true for modern-day Israel. This tiny nation has made its desert bloom, and has become the third-largest exporter of flowers in the world, and the largest exporter of cut flowers to Europe. The week before Valentine’s Day, Israel shipped some 125 million flowers, weighing more than 5,000 tons, to European florists.
This is the prophecy of Isaiah. But there is more. The prophet sees a large, raised causeway, and on that road, there are pilgrims and exiles returning home. They were singing because joy and gladness overwhelmed them. As they returned to their home after exile and slavery, sorrow and sighing had now flown away; nothing but the glory and goodness of God was before them.
Psalm 126 is one of the songs they sang upon their return:
“A song of ascents. When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126, NIV84)
The prophecy was partially fulfilled when the Holy Family returned from their flight to Egypt. And the prophecy was partially fulfilled when the Jews returned to Palestine and re-established Israel as a nation. But the ultimate and final fulfillment will be when the Lord’s redeemed of all the ages find their way to the New Jerusalem. Like the Jews returning from Babylon it will be a journey of rejoicing for us.
I. IT’S A PLAIN WAY
- the prophet Isaiah describes the final consummation of the world by saying that it is a plain and simple way to heaven
- he writes in verse 8, “Wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
- even a stranger, unacquainted with the way, shall not get lost on this higway that is called the Way of Holiness
- even a little, untaught child can walk in that way
- the Spirit of God pleads with men to come to Jesus
- “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 22:17, NASB95)
II. IT’S A CRIMSON WAY
- the way to holiness and heaven is a way of blood
- Isaiah writes in verse 9, “The redeemed shall walk there: and te ransomed of the Lord.”
- the way to the Promised Land goes by way of Calvary
- it is a way of blood atonement
- “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NASB95)
- ILLUS. On New Year’s Eve 1961, Dr. W.A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX preached one of the great sermons of Christendom. That year, New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday. A few weeks before, a some of Criswell’s deacons jokingly told their pastor that he just ought to preach the new year in! A week later, Criswell, not joking, said he would take them up on their offer. December 31st arrived and the auditorium was packed and people were standing along the sides and at the back of the church as well as the balcony. Criswell preached for almost five hours that night. His sermon title was “The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible.” He began in Genesis when the Lord slew an innocent animal to cover the nakedness and sin our first parents, through the Old Testament sacrificial system and then to the Gospels where he spoke of the life, death, and burial of Jesus. He concluded with the martyrdoms of Stephen and James and other great martyrs through the centuries and concluded in Revelation.
- Verse 1: What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Verse 2: Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; Naught of good that I have done, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Verse 3: For my pardon, this I see, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; For my cleansing this my plea, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Verse 4: This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Refrain: Oh! precious is the flow That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
III. IT’S A HUMBLE WAY
- Isaiah reminds us that those on the highway of holiness are penitential, confessional, and contrite
- the prophet writes in verse 10, “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”
- those who walk the pilgrim road to glory are those who have sorrowed and wept
- any sinner who ever really faces the presence of our Lord will feel unworthy and unclean
- no man follows the pilgrim way to glory in pride and self-righteousness
- he bows in humble confession before the presence of the most hight God
- it’s the road that King David trod:
- “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. ... Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. ... Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. ... For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:2-3, 7, 12, 16–17, NASB95)
- we must confess our sinfulness before the Lord
- ILLUS. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a parable about two men who went up to the temple. One was a publican. He stands afar off and would not even lift up his eyes to heaven. He strikes his breast in repentance, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
IV. IT’S A HAPPY WAY
- Isaiah says it is a way of joy and singing
- he writes in verse 10, “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, And come to Zion with songs And everlasting joy upon their heads”
- it’s perhaps unusual that we would feel contrition and confession, and at the same time a rejoicing in the Lord
- but that is what it is to be a child of God
- you will have both of those emotions in your heart at the same time
- contrite over the exceeding sinfulness of our sin
- joyous that our sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb
This first section of Isaiah’s prophecy has one central theme: God will bring justice to this earth, but it comes according to his plan and on his timetable. We must trust him and wait to see how he will bring justice in situations we think are unfair.