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The Cursed Universe Restored to God’s Original Purposes

The Cursed Universe Restored to God’s Original Purposes

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad; the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower. 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. (Isa 35:1-2)

Main Idea: God restores the cursed universe and suffering humanity to their original purposes by the redemption plan achieved in Christ.

  1. Creation Transformed: From Sterile Desert to Fruitful Garden (35:1-2)
    1. Human sin leads to a cursed desert.
    2. The blooming of the desert is a supernatural, gracious, sovereign act of God.
    3. God’s glory is fully on display.
  2. People Transformed: From Cursed Weakness to Blessed Strength (35:3-7)
    1. Human weakness is a curse from the fall.
    2. The message of the gospel is the only encouragement.
    3. Christ’s miracles are a foretaste of future strength.
    4. The desert blooming is both a symbol and the reality of salvation.
  3. The Transforming Event: “Your God Is Coming to Save You” (35:4)
    1. The key to everything: Christ intervenes to save.
    2. The coming of Christ changes the cursed universe.
    3. A Scripture reading in Nazareth is a message of fulfillment.
  4. The Journey of the Transformed: A Highway of Holiness (35:8-10)
    1. The “Way of Holiness” is described here.
    2. The “Holy Way” is the “Way” of salvation.
    3. Progressive sanctification is essential to true salvation.
  5. The Destination of the Transformed: Glorious Zion (35:10)
    1. The final destination of the highway: Zion
    2. The joy of their arrival and of their eternity

Creation Transformed: From Sterile Desert to Fruitful Garden

Isaiah 35:1-2

We live in a world that is constantly groaning under the weight of human sin. When Adam fell into sin in the garden of Eden, God cursed the garden and indeed the world. Where the garden once bloomed in magnificent glory, it soon shriveled into thorns and thistles. Though God in his goodness allowed a great deal of beauty to survive, the transformation of the earth to a cursed desert is part of his just penalty for human sin. Romans 8:19-23 makes it plain that creation is groaning under this curse every single moment, locked in “bondage to decay.” This corruption is depicted often in the book of Isaiah as a fertile field that has been turned into a wasteland.

Sadly, the drama of the cursing of Eden was replayed to a smaller degree in the promised land. When Israel entered the promised land under Joshua, it was described in magnificently lush terms, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 11:9). But God went on to warn Israel that if they failed to keep his covenant, he would curse the land by commanding the clouds not to rain on it.

The sky above you will be bronze, and the earth beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your land into falling dust; it will descend on you from the sky until you are destroyed. (Deut 28:23-24)

This has come about because of the sinfulness of Israel, as God warned them before they entered the land.

More painful is the profound cursing of the human race itself. Our bodies are wracked with diseases that attack every single organ and bodily function. Eyes that were created to see the glory of God’s light are blind; ears that were created with marvelous complexity to hear the various sounds of God’s creation are deaf; legs that were astonishingly crafted with strength and flexibility are paralyzed. Deeper than that, our minds are corrupted with constantly sinful thoughts, and our hearts delight in evil. Left to ourselves, both we and this world will continue to groan under corruption and become more and more bereft of blessing.

But Isaiah 35 stands as a glorious prophecy of God’s intention to transform this cursed world through Christ. The chapter begins with the desert rejoicing and blossoming like a rose, singing praise songs to the God of salvation (vv. 1-2). Formerly stripped of its glory by human sin, it has now been lavishly replenished. Verse 2 says the glory and splendor of Lebanon, Sharon, and Carmel will be given to it. The restored earth will proclaim at every moment the glory of God. When the redeemed walk the surface of the new earth, it will radiate not with sunlight but with the glory of God in Christ (Rev 21:23). The earth will at last be liberated from her bondage to corruption and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:21).

People Transformed: From Cursed Weakness to Blessed Strength

Isaiah 35:3-7

And that freedom will ultimately be total. Physical perfection for every redeemed human being awaits the consummation of Isaiah 35. Blind eyes, deaf ears, lame legs, and mute tongues are all devastations brought on by human sin. Death itself is the ultimate curse, for in death every eye is blind, every ear deaf, every leg paralyzed, every tongue stilled. But a time is coming when all of this human degradation and cursed weakness will be radically transformed. Isaiah 35 is a message meant to be proclaimed to those still languishing under the curse. The messenger (Isaiah then, each believer now) is under orders from almighty God to take these words as a healing balm to the nations. With these words we are to strengthen the weak hands and steady the shaking knees, encouraging Christians with the promise of final salvation (v. 3; see Heb 12:12). The promises of God are given to strengthen the weak for the journey that still awaits us on the “Highway of Holiness.”

God here promises a new order in which all the effects of sin and death will be removed forever. When God said, “Let there be light,” he also said, “Let there be sight.” Blindness thwarts God’s purpose for light. Isaiah 45:18 says that God did not create the world to be empty but formed it to be inhabited. In the same way, God did not create the eye to be blind or the ear to be deaf. The marvelous intricacy of the eye must find its fulfillment in sight, and the goal is that the one who sees may give God glory for the magnificent beauty of creation. In the new order there will be no blind eyes, no deaf ears, no lame legs, no mute tongues. Every single human being will function as God intended in creation; joy will fill their hearts as they look on a universe similarly redeemed from the curse—water flowing where once was desert.

The Transforming Event: “Your God Is Coming to Save You”

Isaiah 35:4

These words so obviously go infinitely beyond anything that happened in the Old Testament that they must refer to the salvation God wrought in Jesus Christ. The actual physical restoration of the remnant to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah comes vastly short of the promises here. Actually, it was bitterly disappointing to them in many ways (Ezra 3:12-13; Neh 1:3-4). The words of Isaiah 35:1-7 were looking ahead to a transformation that had not yet occurred. And verse 4 points plainly to the transforming event: “Here is your God; . . . he will save you.”

This can be none other than the work of God in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. In Christ alone are the promises of Isaiah 35, “Yes!” and “Amen!” (2 Cor 1:20). Our God has come to save us in Christ’s incarnation, sinless life, wonder-working ministry, perfect teachings, atoning death, and bodily resurrection. So will our God come to finish this saving work in us and for us by the second coming of Christ and the new heaven and new earth. At that time Christ will raise our bodies from the dead (1 Cor 15:21-58), completing his triumph over every curse mentioned in this chapter. Only then will these promises find their fulfillment.

The miracles of Christ’s first coming were merely signs pointing to this glorious consummation. A sign is not the reality, just as a highway sign declaring how many miles it is to New York City shows you haven’t yet arrived there. Every healing Jesus ever did in his life has been in some way reversed by death. The eyes of the man born blind that Jesus healed in John 9 are presently closed by death. The ears of the deaf man that Jesus opened by sighing and saying, “Ephphatha!” (Mark 7:34) are presently closed by death. The legs of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof that were strengthened by Jesus’s power (Mark 2:12) are now made motionless by death. So also the tongues of every mute person that Jesus healed are now stilled by death. Those miracles did not solve the true problem of the human race—death. But they were infallible signs of a total healing that God intends to give every believer in the resurrection! Then alone will the glories of Isaiah 35 be fulfilled. Death is “the last enemy to be abolished” (1 Cor 15:26). And when death is abolished by the full redemption of our bodies at resurrection, then creation itself will forever be liberated from its bondage to decay and be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:21-23).

But Isaiah 35:4 also speaks of vengeance and retribution, for these will also be consummated at the second coming of Christ, as Isaiah 34 has made plain. The wicked will be winnowed out of God’s glorious kingdom, and only the redeemed will be there.

The Journey of the Transformed: A Highway of Holiness

Isaiah 35:8-10

But we are not there yet! We still groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:23). In the meantime, we must travel a Holy Way in order to arrive at that glorious destination. This picks up on the glorious theme of holy pilgrimage that would have been so familiar to Judah. Three times a year God’s people were required to travel from their homes to Jerusalem for national worship. The pilgrimage of Isaiah 35 is far more significant, however, for it ends in heaven.

The descriptions of the highway in verses 8-10 are very significant. First, the name—the “Holy Way” or “Highway of Holiness”—implies the need for absolute purity from sin. The central command concerning this is found in Leviticus 11:44 (and many other places): “Be holy because I am holy.” As 1 John 1:5 says plainly, “God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him.” So the Highway of Holiness is characterized by people who “walk in the light as he himself is in the light” (1 John 5:7), loving righteousness and hating wickedness.

The Highway of Holiness is an exclusive way, and only the righteous may travel on it. The unclean cannot travel on it. This exclusive way refers to the atoning work of Jesus Christ, for only faith in the blood of Christ shed on the cross can cleanse a guilty soul from sins. The positional cleansing of the soul from sin by faith in Christ is called justification. The Highway of Holiness follows this cleansing; it is the journey of sanctification—of progressive growth in practical righteousness—that inevitably follows justification. As Romans 6:19 says, “Just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification.”

The Highway of Holiness is also a protected and secure way: Even if people are occasionally foolish, they will not wander off it; no lion will travel there, nor will any vicious beast; only the “redeemed” (Isa 35:9-10) will travel on it. This term clearly points to the purchase made by Christ in blood for each of the pilgrims who travel the Highway of Holiness, and everyone who begins the journey will most certainly finish it (cf. Rom 8:29-39).

The Destination of the Transformed: Glorious Zion

Isaiah 35:10

The final destination of those traveling the Holy Way is Zion, the City of God, where God and man will dwell together. The thrice-annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem in Israel’s spiritual calendar were shadows and prophetic foretastes of the journey that all the redeemed must travel to enter the true Zion, the new Jerusalem, where they will at last enjoy the full salvation purchased for them by the blood of Christ (Rev 21:4).

Applications

See in the person and work of Jesus Christ the fulfillment of this chapter. It is in Christ that God’s original intention for the universe and for human beings will at last be realized after the long nightmare of sin’s curse has ended. By Christ will the deserts literally flow with water and spring to life with vegetation. So also through Christ will the human body lose all weakness, disease, and death, and Christians will live forever in perfect happiness. In Christ is the “Holy Way,” for as he said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christ’s miracles were literal fulfillments of this chapter but also mere signs of a reality not yet ours, a reality only consummated when all the redeemed will receive their resurrection bodies. So see all of these promises in Christ alone, and walk every day in the hope and holiness that are ours in Christ.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. How does the image of a desert being transformed speak both about our spiritual transformation in Christ and the physical transformation of the universe coming in the new heaven and new earth?
  2. How are Christ’s miracles signs, like signposts on a highway, pointing to the final destination?
  3. How do verses 3-4 give us a clear pattern for the encouragement of discouraged and weak Christians—whether discouraged at some medical struggle or at some spiritual issue (like sin)?
  4. How do verses 5-6 speak directly about the wonder-working power of Jesus Christ?
  5. How does the image of a “Holy Way” (vv. 8-10) picture progressive sanctification, as in Romans 6:19?
  6. How does John 15:2-3 help explain how only the clean can travel on the Holy Way, but the whole purpose of that Way is to become more and more clean? How does justification relate to sanctification in this issue?
  7. How is the Holy Way bounded on each side by the law of God (Rom 8:4)? How does the Spirit help us obey the requirements of God’s law?
  8. What does Isaiah 35:10 teach you about the joys of heavenly life?
  9. How can we use this chapter to strengthen our hope in heaven and build up others who are struggling with discouragement in the Christian life?
  10. How does this chapter predict the physical side of redemption (the resurrection body and the new heaven and new earth)?
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