The Lord's Day Evening
April 29, 2012
“God's Word Proclaimed: The Beauty of Zion”
The Reverend Mr. Joshua M. Rieger
We’re going to come to Isaiah 2. Over the course of the last month we've been celebrating our 175th anniversary as a church and as we come to the close of this month, we're certainly still going to be looking in the coming weeks at some of the issues that are facing us as a church in this our 175th year, but this evening is the final sermon on the month that we have set aside for the celebration for our 175th anniversary.
As I began a couple of months ago to begin to get sermon titles and texts and things like that from the men who were going to be preaching to us this month and I began to be thinking about preaching tonight, I began looking at what they were going to be preaching to us about. And I began thinking about what they were going to be preaching to us about and then listened very carefully over the last several weeks. As we heard people who came from our history, people who had grown up here, people who had partnered with us in the Gospel, people who had studied our history, and the amazing thing is that in every sermon that we've heard this month, one thing had been central, and it's been the Word of God. Not just because that has been what has been preached in every sermon but whether it was somebody telling us about their partnership with us in the Gospel, whether it was Brister telling stories to us about John Reed Miller's ministry to us here at the church, or whether it was this mornings’ message on John 12 where we heard the response to, “Sir, we would see Jesus,” we have heard over and over and over again about the Word of God and the Gospel that is preached into it.
And so as I looked at that I thought that there's probably no lesson or no exhortation that we can take away from this month more than that we must continue to minister, we must continue to worship with the Word of God begin central in our worship. But tonight before we come to Isaiah 2, before we read Isaiah 2 together, I want you to bow with me in prayer as we seek help from the Lord.
Heavenly Father, we are so grateful to be able to come to You as sons and daughters for You are the Almighty God of the universe, You are perfect in Your holiness and Your Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. He is the One in whom we have hope. But tonight as we come, Lord, we know that were it not for our hope in Christ we would be doomed, for we know the sin of our hearts, we know, Lord, that our hearts indeed are desperately wicked as the Scriptures tell us, they’re deceitful above all else. We know that, Lord, we have no hope of finding salvation. We have no hope of understanding You apart from Your holy Word, apart from Your holy Son and Your Holy Spirit who enables us to understand Your Word. Lord, we pray that Your Spirit would work in our hearts tonight to prepare us to hear Your Word. Lord, I pray that Your Spirit would work in our hearts to learn from Your Word and that Lord, tonight, we would be transformed by the power of Your Word, that we would be pointed to You and to Your Son through whom alone comes salvation. I pray, Lord, as we read Your Word that You would work in us, in Jesus' name. Amen.
If you would read with me in Isaiah 2 we’ll be reading verses 2 through 5. If you’re using your pew Bibles tonight, that's found on page 567. Again, Isaiah chapter 2 verse 2:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days thatthe mountain of the house of theLORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; andall the nations shall flow to it,andmany peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of theLORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” Forout of Zion shall go the law, and the word of theLORDfrom Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk inthe light of theLORD.”
As we look at this passage tonight I want us to look at four specific things that we see in this passage. I want us to look first of all at the sovereign Lord of Zion. As we look at this passage about the Word of God I want us to see first the sovereign Lord of Zion. The second thing that I want us to see is found in verse 3 and that is that, “out of Zion goes forth the law.” The third thing that I want us to see is that the fulfillment of Zion's mission brings transformation. And finally we're going to consider the fact that Israel was not yet perfected and neither are we.
But first let's look at the sovereign Lord of Zion. In this passage we see God's sovereignty up close and personal. We see it really in two ways. First of all we see a God who establishes Zion. Now we usually refer to ourselves as First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi, and sometimes maybe as Christians or as the Church. We don't regularly refer to ourselves as Zion, but as we come to this passage we see a passage that is about the church. We see a passage that is a prophecy. Isaiah is in the middle of just having told the Israelites about how God is going to destroy other nations and he's getting ready to tell them about how God is going to destroy them. And in the middle you have a few short verses where he tells them about the hope that they have in the future. And that hope that they have in the future is a hope that is found alone in Christ, a hope that is found alone in the church. And as he tells them that hope, he tells them of Zion, because their hope is Zion. As they’re about to lose what they see as Zion, which is really just a small forethought of what Zion will really be, they’re using that as a picture of what Zion truly is, which is their hope. All the promises that they've received through the Scriptures — the promises of greatness, the promises of peace, the promises of holiness, the promises of blessing - all of these things they are being told are going to be found in the church.
Now as this passage tells us, God is going to establish Zion. It tells us that He is going to, “in the latter days, establish the mountain of the house of the Lord,” and He tells us that He is going to establish Zion as the highest of the mountains. This is not talking about literal height. You know, Zion, MountZion where the temple was built was only about 2400 feet tall. It wasn't a terribly tall mountain. By contrast, Mount Hermon in the north of Israel was actually about 7400 feet tall, even Mount Sinai was significantly taller than MountZion. There are other mountains in Jerusalem that are taller, much less in the surrounding nations, but the import here is not the height. The import is actually pointing to something more spiritual. In the ancient world, at the time that Isaiah was writing this and then far after that, even into the present with some religions, mountains are a place where God's live. And we know this. Mountains are the place — we have the capital where Jupiter lived. We know Mount Olympus where Zeus and the other gods lived. We have MountAlborz where Chamrosh lived or MountMeru where Lord Brahma lived, or even MountZaphon which is just north of Israel in Syria where Baal lived. Even as Isaiah was writing this, that was what people believed. But the problem was, all of those gods are false gods. None of those gods are true. None of those gods actually lived on those mountains, but this passage tells us that in the last days when the Messiah comes, God will establish MountZion as the highest of all the mountains. He will live there; He will dwell there in the midst of His people and a real God will live on a real mountain and He will no longer just be a God for a small nation in the Middle East but He will be a God for all peoples.
And so he's telling them the sovereign God of the universe will make all of these other gods negligible, and He will reign, He will establish His people, He will establish His mountain, and He will live there. The mountain of the house of the Lord will be the only place where salvation is to be found and we will see that God is sovereign in the world and He will overcome and overrule nations and kings and peoples. God will be sovereign over history. He will be the One who decides to send His Son to bring about this blessing. God is sovereign over salvation. He is the One who will establish His people, who will establish His church, and who will establish Mount Zion. God is sovereign. We are the creatures, He is the Creator, and just as Romans 1 tells us, every individual who has ever lived has worshiped the creature rather than the Creator. We have all sinned and God is the One who rules and God is the One who deserves sovereignty and God is the One who is sovereign and God is the One who deserves worship. And He is the One who will set up His kingdom and everyone will worship Him. He will be sovereign over physical and spiritual realms.
But the second thing we see about the sovereign Lord in verse 2 and 3 here is that God will draw all peoples to Zion. Edward Young says, “This last clause in verse 2 must be one construed as one which expresses result. As a result of the establishment and exaltation of Zion, all nations will flow under her. It is the reversal of the dispersion at Babel. At the city of confusion, Babel, mankind was dispersed, so at the city of peace, Jerusalem, mankind is to be united.” This passage tells us not only will God establish Mount Zion, not only will He establish His people, but He will also draw peoples unto Himself. He will draw people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation.
And the thing that you may have noticed in this passage is that the people will be flowing uphill. This isn't accidental. Notice in the end of verse 2 it says that “all the nations shall flow to the mountain.” In case you haven't done much mountain hiking, usually streams and rivers don't flow uphill. That's not the way things happen. He's pointing us to His sovereign, drawing power. He's pointing us to the fact that this is His work. He makes the people flow uphill to the mountain of the Lord. Edward Young again says, “Note how clearly the doctrine of grace is present in this passage. It is not in their own strength that peoples resolve to flow unto Zion. They act only because God has worked in their hearts making them dissatisfied with their present condition and inclining them to seek Him.” This passage is reminding us both of God's sovereignty in establishing His people and in His sovereignty in bringing His people together. We cannot do anything to come to God on our own. He is sovereign in salvation. As Ephesians tells us, salvation is taking the dead and making them alive again. It's not something we can do. This passage is telling us that salvation is taking a river and making it flow uphill. It's something that only God can do. And so he points us to God's sovereignty. God Himself points us to His sovereignty.
The other thing we see though here is that the church is something that no one but God can build. We can't build the church. There's nothing we can do to make it successful. We aren't here celebrating our 175th anniversary because we followed the right formula and because we followed the right formula this is what came to pass. There are many churches through the ages that have faithfully preached the Gospel and have not seen the blessings that we've seen. Jeremiah, a great prophet of God, preached the Gospel faithfully. He never saw results of mass conversion. God is the One who builds His church. There's no tool or method that we can invent to make the Gospel or the church appear wise in the eyes of the world. God is the One who builds His church. He is the One who is sovereign in salvation.
And He tells us in verse 3 that one of the results of that is that “out of Zion shall go the law.” That comes at the very end of verse 3 but right before it there are two things that He tells us are results of the law going forth out of Zion. First of all, God teaches His ways through Zion. Through God's people and through the church He teaches His ways. Zion is the center of the truth, so as God begins drawing people to Himself, as He begins working in people's hearts and giving them a desire for His Word, the place they look is to Zion. It's the only place where the truth is. It's where they must go to find the truth. Anybody who wants to know about God, as God draws them to Himself, must go to the church, they must go to the people to hear His Word preached. And so it's where they turn. It's to the church of the living God. And He tells us that as a result of His salvation that He has worked in us, we are to be a people, a church, we are to be Zion who proclaims His work. We are to proclaim the Word that is a source of God's salvation.
The power of the Gospel brings us salvation but it's not just a few words written down on a piece of paper or a magic formula that somebody shares and that's what it does. It's God's Spirit working through God's Word to transform hearts that teaches people His ways, and the only place that is found is in Zion. If we as the church don't love and teach and proclaim God's Word, no one else will do it. People come to Zion, they come to the church, to find what is found nowhere else and God will be proclaimed. And don't forget, Jesus, as He prepared to go into Jerusalem in that last week, He said, “If they don't worship Me, the stones will cry out.” That was in the title of this morning's sermon. Christ will be worshiped, God will be proclaimed, and the church is what He uses to do that. We are a people who are to teach and preach the Word of God. We've heard this month over and over again about how God has used men in the past, some of us are related to them, some of us have heard all kinds of stories about them. We've heard about these men who impacted our lives, about these men who transformed things, but it wasn't ultimately they who made a difference; it was because they preached the Word of God and it was God's Spirit at work through God's Word. And the reason that God has blessed us is because we've been faithful to His Word. And the only hope that we have is to continue to be faithful to His Word. Salvation comes in response to the Word of God proclaimed. And this passage tells us that the result of salvation is to then proclaim God's Word. It's kind of a loop.
The other thing, though, that this passage tells us in verse 3 is that Zion is not only a place where people come to hear God's Word because that's what salvation produces, but also they come to seek holiness. They come to look for ways, it tells us in verse 3, “that they may walk in His paths.” Because a result of God's Word being preached, a result of salvation, is transformation of life. A result of God's Word is holiness. “Out of Zion,” Psalm 50 verse 2 tells us, “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” What do you think that means? God doesn't shine forth from impurity, from filthiness, from immorality. God shines forth from Zion because of the purity and beauty of holiness that is produced by the Word of the Lord. And this passage tells us that the result of salvation is holiness. The result of salvation is a changed life and God uses His Word to bring about all of these things.
And actually that brings us right to verse 4 where we see that the fulfillment of Zion's mission, the fulfillment of the church's mission of spreading forth God's Word is that He will bring transformation and ultimately He will bring ultimate transformation. The peace this passage speaks of in verse 4 as it says, “He shall,” speaking of God, “He shall judge between the nations and decide disputes for many peoples and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” is not talking about a peace that comes about if we just practice pacifism. If we just all become pacifists and we all do everything we can to fight war, that's not what this passage is talking about. This passage is talking about a peace that only God can bring. It's talking about the blessed result of the Gospel, peace on earth, through a common faith in God the Lord. It's not talking about a peace that God brings with Him because certainly one of the things we see in the Scriptures over and over and over again is that in salvation God makes peace with us. We see in 2 Corinthians 5, “God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, and then that causes us to implore others on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God” — you know, these are real truths. We are at war with God and the Word brings peace with God. As God uses His Word in our hearts by His Spirit, He brings us peace with God.
But that's not what this passage is talking about. This passage is talking of a peace on earth. It's talking of a peace that came about in Acts when Saul, who had been killing the Christians, was suddenly transformed into Paul. And overnight he went from somebody who persecuted the church to somebody who loved God and loved God's people. He came to be a person who realized that he had been persecuting Christ. As the Lord said to him, “Why do you persecute Me?” And it transformed him. No longer was he a Jew fighting Gentiles, no longer was he a nationalist or somebody who was fighting for his religion, he had a new citizenship. This passage speaks of a peace on earth that God brings. This is a peace between men because our citizenship changes.
And he points us to this peace and it's the hope that we have. We are no longer, as Christians, a part of the nations that this passage talks about. At the end of verse 2 and the beginning of verse 3 we see that we were all once all the nations who were flowing to Zion and we were the many peoples who would come and say all of these things. Once we were a part of the nations. Once we were a part of the many peoples. Once we were all of those out there, yet God has acted in our lives. Through His Word He has transformed us and He has made us a part of the nation. He has made us a part of Jerusalem. He's made us a part of Zion. And now we have a new citizenship and that citizenship brings peace with all of those who trusted in Christ. What we see here is that God has drawn us into the fold, we are a part of the people of God, and we have peace with people from all the nations, with people from all over the world, because our peace is not on the basis of what nationality we are or what country we're a part of or what race we are or anything else. Our peace with them is on the basis of a shared and common faith in Jesus Christ. We are more closely bound to people who speak different languages in Africa than we are to some of our own kindred spirits here at home who inhabit the same nation we do, maybe even the same state, because we have a shared faith in Jesus Christ.
And God tells us about a transformation that ultimately is going to be the hope that we have. What we see here is that the ultimate result of the church's fulfillment of God's Word at the end of the day, at the end of the age, when every single last person that God has called as His elect has come into the fold, is going to be a peace that God makes, it's a hope that we have in heaven. It's a hope that we're looking forward to. As we look around, you know one of the things that struck me this morning as I was listening to the sermon, was Claude speaking about the ways that people had prayed in this church in the 1860's or 19-teens and in the 1940's and in the 1950's and the 1960's and so on and so forth as sons went off to war and they prayed for their safety. You know, that should give us a desire to see the day when that's no longer necessary, when there's no more war. And the amazing thing about this is that it's not like they just sign a peace treaty and get rid of their weapons where they can make them once more. You know, if you can turn a sword into a plowshare you can turn a plowshare right back into a sword.
But what He actually does is He so transforms them that they don't even learn war anymore. They don't know how to do battle. And this isn't specifically talking just about physical warfare. This is something that God does in our lives as members of the church. He transforms us and brings about peace, peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. There shouldn't be argument and tension between us because God brings peace. We have a greater hope than we can hope to come to from some argument that we win. You know the motive in winning an argument is to get your way, but the fact is, God has already gotten His way in all of our lives and Christ is the One we are living for, and if He is our greatest priority we have nothing else to argue about. He brings peace in His church.
And He calls us to the hope of heaven. He calls us to the hope that Paul talks about in Philippians 3 as he says, “He has suffered the loss of all things that by any means possible He may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Isaiah is pointing the people of Israel who are living shortly before the exile where they are to go into exile, they’re about to lose their nation, he's pointing them to a hope that they’re going to have in the Messiah. But even as they look at the Messiah, they’re seeing an ultimate hope that they’ll only have in heaven and that's a hope that we still look for. We look back with thanksgiving on the blessing that we have in God's Word, on the fact that He has established Zion. He has established the mountain of the house of the Lord as the highest mountain. He has already done this. We have the blessing of going to a Messiah through a Spirit that lives in us. God dwells in the midst of His people and His mountain is taller than all the rest. And we have a blessing in thanking God for these things, but we also have a hope in things that are yet to come.
I threw verse 5 in here which is really more of a transition into the next section because I think verse 5 shows us something about this prophecy. In verses 2 through 4, he shares a prophecy that was actually a common prophecy at the time. Micah, who was ministering in Israel at the same time as Isaiah actually has almost word for word this exact prophecy in Micah 4:1-3. This is something that was a hope of the people who were about to go into exile and a hope that they would continue to have when they were in exile. But as Isaiah comes to the end of this future prophecy of the Messiah's kingdom, he turns to the people of Israel who are right in front of him. And he says, “O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Now there's one thing that that implies. It implies that they’re not already walking in the light of the Lord. He's calling them to walk in the light of the Lord. He's calling them to something that this prophecy will draw them to. He's calling them to walk in the light of the Lord in a way that they’re not already doing so.
And we have this holy hill, and Christ has come, but we know that at this point we are not yet perfected either, because how many of the things here can we say of ourselves are not true. We know that there's not truly peace among us. We might put on a smiley face for church and act nice to people on Sunday morning, but what's really under the surface? Is there really peace with our brothers under the surface? Are we really, in the words of Philippians, seeking others above ourselves? Are we actually accounting our brothers and sisters in Christ as if they’re more important than we are? If we're not, then there's not real peace among us. That's the only hope we have and peace, is to come to Christ and be humbled as He took humility on our behalf. Are we a people who truly love His Word more than anything else? There's no doubt that we have been faithful to His Word in this church for 175 years. There's no doubt that we have had minister after minister in the last 150 years or so who have faithfully preached the Word and it's had a blessed effect among us. It's brought about things in this city and this church that are amazing. And we can look to those things and we can look to God and say, “He is blessed for doing this work.” But I doubt that there are many of us who could really say that on a day by day basis, hour by hour, minute by minute, God's Word and the truth that it proclaims, the God who is told of in His Word and the Messiah that we have hope in, is our only passion above all else and everything that we do is to see Him magnified.
That's what this passage tells us is the effects of the law of God going out from Zion. The effects of salvation in our life is that we will be transformed. No longer will our passions be to accomplish comforts and find success in employment, to do all of these things. It's not that God won't bring us many of these things. But our ultimate joy and our final hope will be in seeing Christ glorified, in seeing Him lifted above all else, in seeing the mountain of the house of the Lord lifted up as the highest mountain, as God is glorified for what He has done among us because we're remembering there is a sovereign God. He is the One who has established Zion. He is the One who has done this work in us. He is the One who has transformed us. He is the One who has drawn us to Himself. We have no part in it. He has all of it. And so what the Scriptures call us to is that He must increase and we must decrease. That doesn't mean that we want to see God increase and maybe ride along on His coattails. That doesn't mean that we want to see Him increase but we’d like to stay right where we are because we're very comfortable right now. That means we live lives actively seeing God promoted and ourselves actually demoted. We want to see Christ magnified and we want to see ourselves be less and less and less of the picture.
This morning, as he was preaching, Claude stepped over here and told us about the fact that the ultimate goal and what we should pray for in this pulpit is not that we would have men here who would be great preachers and would be greatly honored, but that we would have men here who would point us consistently to Christ, consistently to the Word, and that there would be nothing that is great among us at First Presbyterian Church here in Jackson but God's Word and God who has preached through it and Christ who is our only hope and salvation. We have to have a passion for seeing God's Word proclaimed among us, we have to have a passion for proclaiming God's Word ourselves, we have to have a passion for holiness that only God's Word can produce in us, and we must be a people who are truly at peace with one another because we're treating one another and counting one another as if they are more important than we are. We’re looking out for one another's interests above our own. We’re living a life that is founded on the Word, that cannot be founded on any human wisdom, that cannot be looking wise to the world. We can't establish a church that people look at and say, “That looks like a pretty reasonable religion. I want to go over and have that.” We’re talking about a Word that is foolishness to the world and it's what has to be the heart of our life as a church. And we won't be here another 175 years from now, certainly not looking like this, if that's not how we live, if that's not our priority, if God's Word is not what shapes us, if we don't teach our children to hold God's Word high above all else and love the Savior that is proclaimed therein. If we don't teach the way of salvation that is found in His Word, this isn't who we're going to be 175 years from now. This is the hope we have — to hold up God's Word, to raise up men, elders, and ministers who proclaim God's Word; to proclaim God's Word ourselves at church to one another because this is where people come to hear God's Word proclaimed; in our workplaces as we take our kids to play baseball games and soccer games and football games; as we go wherever the Lord takes us we should be proclaiming His Word because we are Zion and He has established us and so He is the One who deserves all the glory.
Let's close in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we love You very much. We love that You have allowed us to come to a saving knowledge of You. We love that You have brought us to a place, drawn us to Yourself where we do love Your Word and we want to see it proclaimed. And yet Lord, we know that we do not want to see it proclaimed enough. We are not passionate enough for Your Word. We don't love You as much as we should and we don't hate our sin like we ought. God, we're not even aware of our sin as we ought to be. Lord, I pray that as we continue from this day forward to hear Your Word proclaimed, that Lord, it would continue to transform us and transform our lives even as it has already done. Lord, I pray that we would not be a people who would be content to rest on our laurels, that we would not be a people who is content with how far You've brought us, but that we would be a people who are always seeking to be more like You, to share in the sufferings of Christ, to love Him more than any other, to be more like Him, to be united to Him, to see others united to Him. God, I pray that as long as this church is here, until You return, that You would protect Your Word in this pulpit, that You would give this church elders and members who love Your Word and who desire to see it proclaimed above all other things. Lord, I pray that even as we celebrate this month and look gratefully at the things that You have done among us over such a long period of time, that God it would give us a passion to see You continue to do the same thing, that we wouldn't bask in self-adulation but Lord that we would give You glory and that we would give You honor, and that You would be the One who is magnified among us. In Jesus' name, amen.
I'm going to give the benediction and then we're going to sing the fourth stanza of hymn number 150 which is in your bulletin. If you want to come speak to me I’ll be down here at the base of the pulpit.
Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love. Amen.
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