The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that In the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah Hath Foretold It
The Mountain of the Lord
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Prophecy is a difficult type of Scripture for most people to understand. It often seems to speak about one thing, and then we find it ultimately was referring to another. Some people claim to have special insights to prophecies, and they use those insights to control others, or to build big reputations for themselves, or to sell books. The only insight I have into prophecies is that they are always clearer in the light of their fulfillment, and only when a prophecy has been clearly fulfilled can we be confident of our understanding of it.
That was true of many of the prophecies of the Old Testament about Jesus. Before He came, the Bible scholars of ancient Israel often debated who and what the prophecy was pointing to. Even today, some modern scholars point to a passage of the New Testament which says that this act or this fact fulfilled a specific prophecy and the scholar will say that the New Testament is wrong! Such people argue and debate with the Bible. During our Advent services this year we are going to take a look at some of the prophecies of Isaiah - hopefully some very familiar, and see what they really prophesied, and if and how they might apply to us today. Our focus this evening is on the mountain of the Lord.
The prophecy of Isaiah in our text tonight was spoken, or so scholars believe, at the end of the long and prosperous reign of King Uzziah. Isaiah tells us himself that His prophetic ministry began under Uzziah and continued through the reigns of the next three kings for a period of almost fifty years. He tells us in chapter six that he was called by God to the prophetic ministry in the year king Uzziah died. Judah had just come through a long, stable, and prosperous time under this good king, and with the change of kings there always came enormous uncertainty and the threat of dangerous changes.
In that sense, we live in similar times. We have just elected a new congress, sort of, and so things are uncertain, sort of, and we live in times of change - often confusing, frequently troubling, sometimes downright frightening. Our world is moving swiftly away from Christian ideals and ethics. Our view of how the world, or even our neighborhoods, ought to be is no longer the dominant view in our society. The courts do not function impartially, dispensing true justice, as we once had been taught to expect them to function. Medicine is terribly expensive, at the same time we have this new and intimidating health care thing going on, and some in our government seem more intent on rationing health care than improving it for everyone. Abortion, Euthanasia and mercy killing are increasingly an accepted part of our reality, not simply a radical idea open for debate. Today you can buy abortion in a pill. And what we were raised to believe was supposed to be a objective, neutral media out there looking, out for our welfare, now seems generally hostile to what we believe and distinctly partisan. These are times when the good-old-days sound awfully good, and we wish there was somewhere to run away to and be safe from the crime, the fear, and the uncertainty.
Isaiah's prophecy invites us to come to the mountain of the Lord. He invites us to look to that time in the last days when God will do something new and end the uncertainty. Isaiah promised those troubled people of ancient Israel in those turbulent times that the day was coming when God would seize control of the world and reign in peace. No matter how their circumstances seemed to them at the moment, those children of God were invited to draw courage and comfort from the certainty that God was going to act, and now He has!
Yes, we are living in those last days! Check out the New Testament. See how often one of the Apostles mentions that these are the last days, or the end of time, or the "end of the ages" as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 11. We live in those last days, and so we do not have to look forward to those days, as the Old Testament peoples did, but we can - and, in fact, we must - live in them. We have our comfort and our assurance right here and right now!
The mountain of the Lord shall be lifted up, Isaiah said. The mountain of the Lord is where the Lord is worshiped. In prophecy it always refers to the place where the glory of God dwells. But that "place" is no longer a place, it is a person! And the person is Jesus Christ. We hear a hint about this when Jesus is dealing with the woman at the well in Samaria. She asks Jesus whether the Jews are right worshiping in Jerusalem, or if the Samaritans are right worshiping in their places of worship - on their mountain. Jesus tells her that the Jews know and understand what they do and who they worship - at least confessionally. It is sort of like our Synod. We have a good confession on paper, even if not all of our pastors and people hold faithfully to it. Then He tells her that the day is coming when they will not worship in Jerusalem or on the Mountain of Samaria, but that God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Jesus is the mountain of the Lord - and He was lifted up. The prophecy of Isaiah goes on after our text to tell the people that the destruction of Zion will come before Zion can be lifted up. Jesus was destroyed, crucified for our sins. He was lifted up, nailed to the cross on our behalf. And then raised again for our salvation.
Isaiah says that when this shall happen, when the mountain of the Lord shall be lifted up, the nations, the goyim, the Gentiles, will come to it. Jesus Himself said that the Son of Man must be lifted up that He may draw all men unto Himself.
The result of the lifting up of the mountain is that many peoples will say, 'come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.' The Christian church throughout the whole world has drawn men from every nation to the Lord, to learn of His ways and His love.
Isaiah says: For the Law will go forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. The word for "Law" is Torah. But that word, "Torah", also refers to the entire Word of God. It is not just Law per se, as commandments and condemnation, but also the gospel. In fact, the prophets often used the word "Torah" in a wide sense, just as we will often say "Gospel" to mean both law and gospel as a totality. In Romans 3:27, Paul refers to the Gospel as a law, speaking of the "law" of faith.
Jerusalem is the prophetic place where God acts in judgment and in salvation towards His people definitively. And He did. Jesus died in Jerusalem. He even said it could not happen anywhere else. There God dealt definitively in judgment against our sins. There God acted definitively in salvation, redeeming us from our own guilt and sins and giving us eternal life, and pouring out the hope of the resurrection for all those who believe.
Zion, on the other hand, is the place where God is really present among His people. That is the Church, where He is really present among us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus promised it, wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. So the Gospel flows out of the Church, and Jesus comes to us from that decisive act of judgment and salvation. It was, in fact, their identification of Jesus as that Word of God that caused the Jews crucify Him. It was the confession that Jesus is Lord that drove the early Christians from the synagogue, for the Jews understood that "Jesus is Lord" meant "Jesus is Jahweh!" The Christian confession of Christ is that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, in the flesh. And He has come among us. That is the great scandal of the Christian faith and that is what Advent is about.
Jesus is the One who will judge all of mankind, and Jesus is the One who rules the world even now, and Jesus is the One who will create peace. He has already created that peace, in point of fact. Isaiah is predicting the Church in this passage, the kingdom of Grace where Jesus creates peace, and men beat their weapons into tools of productive enterprise. Jesus will judge between nations, and render decisions. Not later, but now.
And all that Isaiah prophesies here is for the purpose that Jesus may teach us His ways. The prophecy is all about you and I coming to know God, and His good will toward us, and learning to depend on Him and find our refuge in Him, and seek security and encouragement in Him.
It is important to note that Isaiah ends this wonderful promise of comfort and peace with the invitation and exhortation, Come, 0 house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. He invites us to live from our faith, that is, in the light of what we know and what we believe about God and about sin, and about salvation, and about His will for us!
Where are we to turn in times of change, times such as these that we live in? We are to take refuge in the Mountain of the Lord. Where are we to go in times of anxiety and uncertainty? We are to flee to the Mountain of the Lord. We are to answer fear and every threat of the world and of life by faith, by turning to Jesus, and learning from Him. We need to learn to pray. We need to learn and then to believe that He is active in our lives and in our world. Things aren't out of control, even when they seem to be to us, but He rules the world with truth and grace, as we say in the hymn. He rules it all on our behalf. He judges even the nations and renders decision between people. He watches and protects you.
And His purpose is peace - your peace. That peace is built on the confidence that Jesus is there and is with you in times of trouble and change and uncertainty. Jesus spoke through Isaiah to the Old Testament people to comfort them with this prophecy of the last days. It should comfort us even more so now, as we realize we live in those last days, when the mountain of the Lord has been raised up, when God Himself is teaching us, and drawing people unto Himself
"Those days" are not off in the future, but now. Even though the world is changing, and events are frightening, we can have peace through faith in Jesus Christ, who saved us for eternal life, and also for life in these last days!
Jesus said, "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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