This morning I want to go back in time together, before Christ on the cross and before Messiah in the manger, to a time of desperation, a time when the future for God’s people looked bleak and the hearts of God’s people seemed black.
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Isaiah 1. I want to take us to chapter 64 but we need to work our way there to best understand the situation Israel was facing at the time these words were first spoken.
After the death of King Solomon, civil war split God’s people into two kingdoms: Israel in the North and Judah in the South. After about 200-years of godless leadership and rampant idolatry, God allowed Israel in the North to be conquered by Assyria—totally wiped out.
And Judah in the South was headed down the same road. Like Israel, they’d become a hard-hearted and promise-breaking people. And, as he often did, God sent a prophet to warn them. [1:1–4] Harsh words! And Isaiah would go on to call Judah back to God and away from potential destruction.
But the people refused to learn and to listen and, 136 years after Israel fell to Assyria, Judah fell to Babylon. [1:7] Jerusalem was smashed, the land was overrun, and the temple was destroyed. Many were killed and others were carted off to a strange land. Desolation.
This was a time of great sadness, fear, and regret. And Isaiah says that it’s during that time that God’s people will realize two things. First, they’ll know they deserve it. They’ll realize they’d been warned and had many opportunities to turn back to the God who is Holy, holy, holy (6:3) but also merciful. [1:19–20] This is the situation, and it’s a tough one. But Israel will know that they deserve it.
Second, they will know that only God can deliver them. Their situation will be too desperate and their enemies too powerful. If they’re going to be delivered from Babylon, God’s going to have to do it for them.
And that was the expectation. Israel expected God to deliver them because God had said he would. Listen to a few examples of these promises from Isaiah: [2:2–4; 25:6–9; 35:3–6; 60:18–22]
Yes, God’s people had been massively disobedient and, yes, they were going to be conquered and taken into exile. And yet, God promises to not only restore his people but to establish paradise for his people—a never-ending time of peace and prosperity, happiness and healing, celebration and illumination.
And the expectation gets more specific as this coming utopia will be brought, built, and ruled over by an individual. [9:6–7; 11:1–2; 42:1–4]
God tells his people that paradise will come through a person, restoration through a Redeemer. And, because that’s what God said he was going to do, that was the expectation for God’s people as they endured a terrible situation of their own making.
And that leads us to the petition in chapter 64. Isaiah is feeling the burden of the situation in exile, the deserved discipline God’s people were experiencing. So, he calls out on their behalf, pleading with God to make good on the expectations he created. [64:1–2].
Think back to after God delivered his people from bondage in Egypt, he descended before them upon Sinai, the mountain trembling and the skies cracking at his holy presence. Here, Isaiah begs God to do it again. “Lord, deliver us from this bondage. We deserve the situation and only you can help. So, rip open the heavens and descend upon us! Deal with those who oppose you and vindicate those who follow you!” Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down.
I think there’s an eagerness on the part of the Almighty, here. Like when a football team when introduced at the start of a game might burst through the banner at the opening of their tunnel, so God tears through the heavens to get to the people with whom he wants to dwell. And Isaiah says, bring it on, Lord God!
What an epic request. Isaiah is asking for the world to be changed, for freedom to be boundless, for all war and bloodshed to be done away with, and for prosperity to be the experience of every single person. It’s a heart-wrenching petition arising out of a terrible situation built atop a God-created expectation. “Lord, come to your people and fix this world like you’ve said you will.”
And centuries later, that prayer would start to be answered in the most unassuming way. The solution to Israel’s terrible situation—to the world’s terrible situation—would arrive in a manger. Quoting Isaiah, an angel says, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,” which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23).
God did “rend the heavens and come down,” manifesting his holy presence to his people in his Son. He walked among them, proving his ability to bring peace and healing. He stood in their synagogues and read Isaiah’s words back to them: [Luke 4:18–21]. Jesus is saying, I am “the child born to” you, the “Son given”; I am the shoot sprouting from Jesse’s stem. I am the answer to the petition, the satisfaction of the expectation. I am the solution to your terrible situation.
Now, we’re not Israel and we’re not in Babylonian exile. But our situation is just as desperate.
The Bible says every man, woman, boy, and girl is a sinner by nature and choice. In other words, we’ve all missed the mark, falling short of God’s standard which is perfection. And the Bible says the cost for sin is death. Unholiness is a capital crime against the holy, holy, holy God of the Universe, and we’re all guilty.
And we, like Israel, need to accept two realities: first, we deserve the sentence and, second, only God can deliver us. The pit is too deep and the situation is too dire.
But the God who cannot lie has made promises, and those promises create expectations. Paradise is coming through a Person, Jesus Christ. We know now that that Person was born, lived a sinless life, and died a sinner’s death, paying the penalty for the sins of the world.
And what happened when he did that? [Matt 27:51]. The veil was a heavy curtain in the temple that separated sinful humanity from God’s holy presence. When Jesus died, it was torn and the earth was shaken.
Isaiah prayed. “Lord, tear the heavens and come down, shake the earth and deal with your adversaries.”
God answered. At Jesus’s birth God tore the heavens and came down to humanity and, at Jesus’s death, God tore the veil and invited humanity to come up to God. He shook creation and defeated death, the greatest adversary, when he rose victoriously from the grave.
And the resurrected Jesus, with total authority, now offers everlasting life in a coming paradise to all who believe in him for it. He said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25–26). That’s a promise that creates a wonderful expectation in those who are otherwise in a terrible situation.
At Christmas, we don’t only remember the incarnation, as wonderful and miraculous as that was. We also remember the answer to the prayer that the incarnation represents, a petition for a solution to a dire situation, and the expectation that it is coming. “And the government will rest on his shoulders … there will be no end to the increase of his government or of peace. … the zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (9:6–7).
If you’re here this morning and you’re a Christian—by that, I mean that you have recognized your sinful situation and placed your faith in the Person, work, and promise of Jesus Christ—please take the emblems as we prepare to commemorate our Lord’s atoning death, that solution-bringing sacrifice.
If you are here this morning and you’re not sure that that describes you—maybe you’re visiting or you’ve just never believed in Jesus—I’m going to ask that you refrain from this practice. But I’m glad you’re here (in fact, I believe with all my heart that God brought you here today to hear this message). For you, instead of receiving a piece of bread and a taste of juice, you can receive something far better: Jesus himself. As those around you eat and drink, I encourage you to speak with the God who loves you more than you can even know, the God who is calling to you right now to believe in his Son. And if I’m describing you and you do trust Jesus today or you’d like to talk more about what that means, I will be up here after the service and you can come and find me.
For the family of God, let’s remember that just before he was executed, Jesus had a meal with his closest friends and, in the course of that meal took bread, broke it and passed it out, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
As we take this bread this morning, we do so remembering that we serve a God who extends mercy and grace to those who deserve neither. Let’s pray for the bread before eating. Bow with me.
Lord Jesus, as we take this bread, we acknowledge that you are the bread of life. You feed our souls and give us sustenance to run the race before us. We thank you for the great price you paid for us on the cross, a sacrifice that grants believers access to God’s presence through the veil, that is your body. Our Lord, we remember your atoning death now with thanksgiving. Amen. Let’s eat together.
After supper the Bible says that Jesus took the cup and said “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:27–29).
We take now the cup, remembering the solution to our dire situation as well as the final realization of our expectations as we look forward to drinking with Christ when paradise is established. Let’s pray for the cup.
Father in heaven, thank you for the blood Jesus shed for us. He gave his life for our sins. He took our punishment and gave us his peace. Thank you for providing the way for sinners to be forgiven, to stand righteous in your righteous presence. Thank you for hope, an anticipation of coming paradise when all will be made right, when Jesus shall reign, and when sin will be no more. Our Lord Jesus, we remember your covenant-ratifying blood with thanksgiving. Amen. Let’s drink together.
Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.