Summary: From “Desolate” to “Delight”: The Lord Will Glorify His Church 1) He won’t sit still until it is done. 2) Let us not sit still until it is done.
Have you ever been to a downtown that has seen better days? Where there once were people and activity there is nothing but broken glass and litter. Banks and stores have moved to the suburbs leaving behind grand brick buildings that have become canvass to neighborhood punks and their graffiti. It’s not just depressing to go through such a desolate place; it can be dangerous. But then developers move in enticed by low taxes and before you know it, empty warehouses turn into expensive loft apartments. Cracked sidewalks are repaired and flowers planted. Restaurants and galleries open in those brick buildings scoured clean of their graffiti. What was desolate is now a delight again to inhabitants and visitors.
The prophet Isaiah uses that kind of imagery to describe God’s plan with us. “From ‘desolate’ to ‘delight,’” announces Isaiah. “The Lord will glorify his Church and he won’t sit still until it is done, nor should we sit still until it is done.”
The prophet Isaiah, who lived 2,700 years ago, was writing to a nation that had once been glorious but because they had rejected God’s Word their land had become desolate. Cities were burning and fields stripped bare by invading foreigners (Isaiah 1:7). I suppose things in Israel were much as they are in Iraq today. It wasn’t outright idolatry that had caused this. No, the Israelites continued to observe the Sabbath and offer their daily sacrifices but none of this was pleasing to God because it was hypocritical. Their “church” worship didn’t carry over into the rest of their lives. They came to the temple to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness but were themselves unmerciful and unforgiving to one another (Isaiah 1:11-17).
Do you find that kind of disconnect in your life? I do in mine. I find it easy to hold the door open for you here at church but in my rush to get in and out of Zellers I’m not eager to hold the door for that gaggle of teenagers who probably won’t say thank you anyway. I put on a good show of being patient with my children in church but it’s often a different story at home. I may laugh off that comment about the hymn choices but I’ll probably stew about it later. It’s as if I’m a different person when I change out of my church clothes.
Do you have the same struggle? It’s OK to admit that you do. In fact, if you don’t struggle, you are either perfect, or you’ve become comfortable with hypocrisy and don’t see anything wrong with striving to be godly for only a couple hours a week when you’re at church. But here’s the thing. God doesn’t just want our obedience on Sundays; he wants us to do the right thing at all times and in all circumstances. That means being patient with your children even when you are hungry and tired. It means being encouraging to your pastor even when he doesn’t pick your favorite hymns. It means being considerate and cleaning up after yourself even though you may never use that gas station washroom again.
Now here’s the really depressing part of the sermon. We can strive to be good all we want, but we’re never going to impress God. In fact the prophet Isaiah said that our best efforts to be good are like filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6). Why? Because even when I manage to do something good, I’ve had to first talk myself into it. And the reason I decided to do what was right is because I knew it would make me feel good and make me look good. Do you see how self-centered we are? Try as we might, we can’t get rid of our self-centeredness anymore than a Zebra can get rid of its stripes.
It was that same self-centeredness that was causing all the problems in Israel during Isaiah’s day. A nation that had once been a delight was fast becoming desolate – like Sodom and Gomorrah, two cities God destroyed with fire and brimstone (Isaiah 1:10). But this isn’t what God wanted for Israel. He really doesn’t get a kick out of punishing sinners. And so God said he was going to take matters into his own hands: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch” (Isaiah 62:1).
The people and the land of Israel may have been desolate but God was going to make them a delight. He promised not to sit still until Israel’s salvation, the salvation of the world for that matter, was accomplished. And so God eagerly kept the family line of David going so that the savior could be born from it, just as he had said it would. And the Savior himself, Jesus, did not sit still until he had accomplished what he came to do. It would have been easy for Jesus to give up and go home, after all even his own allies, the disciples, weren’t exactly the best encouragers. They were slow to understand what Jesus taught them and then when he needed their support they ran off on him. Yet Jesus stuck to the plan - the plan of salvation that took him to the cross where he shed his blood, blood that has cleansed us from our sins like bleach making the foulest rag clean. But we’re not to think of ourselves as an old rag that has been cleaned up. No! Listen to how God describes us. “You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Isaiah 62:3). Because of the blood of Jesus we are God’s crown! To him we are the best thing he’s created. We are more glorious than the Rockies, more majestic than the oceans!