In many of ways, we are like a mischief of rats trying to stay afloat. The prophet Isaiah shared a message of hope for a group in a similar situation. Pastor Jason preaches from Isaiah 35:1-10.Ravenna Church of the Nazarene
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**not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
Text: Isaiah 35:1-10
Hope is an important feeling. Years ago, a group of scientists wanted to see how important. They gathered two sets of lab rats. Both mischiefs (term for a group of rats) were placed in their own tubs full of water. Mischief one was dropped in and left to swim for their lives, while mischief two was periodically rescued and placed back in the water. Within an hour, the entirety of mischief one drown. But mischief two was able to swim for over 24 hours.
Why the difference? Mischief one had no relief, nor belief that help would come. Mischief two knew that if they could somehow keep going and stay afloat, relief would arrive. That is the power of hope. (Today in the Word, 1990 pg. 34)
There may be some here that feel like a rat trying to stay afloat in a tub. Whether you know it or not, there is hope. Some may be swimming, fully knowing there is hope, but it is hard to remember as the water rises. The passage we will look at reveals that hope to us.
READING OF THE TEXT
1 The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower. 2 It will blossom abundantly and will also rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, steady the shaking knees! 4 Say to the cowardly: “Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; he will save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy, for water will gush in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the parched ground will become a pool, and the thirsty land springs. In the haunt of jackals, in their lairs, there will be grass, reeds, and papyrus. 8 A road will be there and a way; it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Fools will not wander on it. 9 There will be no lion there, and no vicious beast will go up on it; they will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk on it, 10 and the redeemed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them and sorrow and sighing will flee. (CSB)
A glance at Isaiah 34 will reveal a devastating prophecy. Destruction was coming and it would be so complete that nothing would remain. The land that was fertile, settled, and inhabited would become an empty and deserted wilderness.
This destruction was coming because of sin. God and His ways had been disregarded. Sin in this case was a national failure, and as often is the case, the innocent would be swept along with the wicked as judgment was delivered. With that back drop, we dig into Isaiah 35.
Coming for this
Nothing glorious or good about the judgment. Death and destruction are not things to be applauded or celebrated. But once the dust settled, there would no longer be anything that clouded reality. Being able to recognize the truth reveals hope. “The desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower.” A heart in the aftermath of judgment is like a desert, lonely and empty. But in this case, the heart comes alive knowing their hope is in the glory of God.
Verse 3 says, “Strengthen the weak hands and steady the shaking knees,” and verse 4 says, “Say to the cowardly: ‘Be strong; do not fear!” The fearful can find strength in knowing that God would come to save them. Fear would steal their hope and keep them from remembering this truth.
Coming will do this
When the weak hands are strengthened and the knees made to stop shaking, God’s glory can be seen. God’s glory will transform things.
First, the ears and eyes will be opened. The ear will be able to hear God’s voice and the eyes will see the need to heed His ways. The image of hope that once was a mirage will be reality.
Verse 7 is fun. It says, “the parched ground will become a pool, and the thirsty land springs. In the haunt of jackals in their lairs, there will be grass, reeds, and papyrus.” What makes this fun is that the KJV translates the phrase, “haunt of jackals” as “habitations of dragons.” When the word is used in other places, at least with the KJV, it is translated as sea-monster, dragon, serpent, or another water-based creature. Regardless, the point is that what once was an environment suitable for jackals and dragons is no longer that way. God has transformed it.
Coming will lead to this
Verse 8: “A road will be there and a way, it will be called the Holy Way. The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for the one who walks the path. Fools will not wander there.” That last phrase is saying the way is made plain. Fools will not wander it because the path is that obvious. Anyone who seeks it will find it and be able to walk it.
Verses 9 and 10 say this is the way of those who are redeemed. Theologian Gene M. Tucker defined the term “redeemed” as a word “that comes from the realm of family law and refers to buying back someone from slavery, a person or property from debt.” The redeemed are those who by faith recognize it is God who bought them back, and whose strength is renewed because of their hope in God. The way of the redeemed is the way of hope, followed in holiness. This is the way to a life of rejoicing.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO ME?
This way of life would be made plain. The way of hope would not be a secret. For rats trying to stay afloat, that sounds like good news. Good news that is available to you and me. It is even more plain now than when Isaiah shared it.
Look at verses 4 through 6 again. “God will come. The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer.” If you read in the gospel of Matthew, after his arrest, John the Baptist seeks verification that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus responds to him, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news.” (Matthew 11:4-5) Jesus is telling John the Baptist, “God has arrived.” The proof is plain to see. Jesus is our hope.
The way was made abundantly clear when Jesus died on the cross. It was made clearer when He rose again from the dead. All that remains is when Jesus returns in a like manner to call the redeemed to Himself. For a mischief of rats trying to tread water, Jesus is our hope. In any and every situation, this hope gives us the strength to keep going.
“You ministers of God, comfort and encourage God’s people who are now ready to faint.” Those are the words of John Wesley, which echo the writer of Hebrews. “Therefore, strengthen your tired hands and weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.” Ultimately, my main job from the pulpit is to share the good news of Jesus which has the power to strengthen you with hope for every day.
If you are treading water, looking for hope, hold on, Jesus is coming! If you know this already, but the water is getting to you, remember Jesus has and is coming! Because He lives you and I can face any and every tomorrow.