April 1, 2018

Glory! He Swallows Up Death Forever!

Speaker: Bret Rogers Topic: Resurrection Passage: Isaiah 25:6–10

Ol' Death Loose in the Scrub

The lightning flashed and he was startled by his own whiteness. He felt suddenly defenseless. He was alone and naked in an unfriendly world; lost and forgotten in the storm and darkness. Something ran behind him and ahead of him. It stalked the scrub like a panther. It was vast and formless and it was his enemy. Ol’ Death was loose in the scrub. It came to him that his father was already dead, or dying. The burden of the thought was intolerable…His father could not die. The earth might cave in under him in one vast sinkhole and he could accept it. But without [his father], there was no earth…He was frightened as he had never been before. He began to sob. His tears ran salt into his mouth. He begged of the night, “Please—!” [i]

I haven’t read much fiction. But Rachel bought me a novel called The Yearling; and I got into it. The paragraph I just read portrays a boy, alone in the woods, running home in a storm after his father suffers a snakebite. I wept—not only do I love my dad, but the scene is so true. Alone and naked in an unfriendly world; lost and forgotten in the storm and darkness. Who doesn’t feel that?! Moreover, something vast and formless stalks us. It’s our enemy too. Ol’ Death is still loose in the scrub.

We’re reminded of death’s power every day. The news is bloody. Doctors rightfully do what they can to prolong life, but none of them can defeat death. Our bodies age; some of you feel the wear more than others. Cancer strikes. We weep over the loss of loved ones. The grave swallows; and no power to bring them back.

Our experience confirms what the Bible teaches. Things aren’t supposed to be this way. Death didn’t belong to God’s original creation. It’s not just the natural end to some fixed chain of events. Death entered the world because of sin. It falls on all people, because all people sin. Death is our enemy; we can do nothing to escape it.

But the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can and did do something about it. In his grace, God promised a rescue from death for his people. Then he dealt death the decisively blow, from which it will eventually suffer ultimate defeat. I’m here to announce this good news; I want to do so primarily from Isaiah 25.

Isaiah is both prophet and poet. He’s a prophet. He’s God’s mouthpiece. He interprets God’s will for mankind. Sometimes that involves exposing our infidelity; and how that infidelity leads to one’s imminent downfall. At other times, it involves revealing God’s future judgment and salvation. In Isaiah 25, God reveals future wonders. Wonders that should produce shuddering; wonders that should produce singing.

But Isaiah is also a poet. He interlaces vivid imagery from Israel’s past and present to convey the inspired message about the future. The impact is far greater than just giving the facts. It’s one thing to tell your wife, “I love you.” It’s another to say, “You’re the delight of my eyes, the sunshine in my day.” That’s far more arresting. Isaiah’s imagery arrests us with the horrors of judgment and the happiness of salvation.

With that said, I’d like to approach this by reading verses 6-10b of Isaiah 25. Then we’re going to have to step back for a while to grasp the bigger picture. Then we’ll zoom in again to focus on God’s extravagant blessings for his people and what their fulfillment in Jesus Christ means for us. Isaiah 25:6…

6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” 10 For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.

“On this mountain.” Three times we find this phrase—verse 6, verse 7, and verse 10. God’s wonderful blessings shower the people on this mountain. In one sense, these blessings include all. They’re for all peoples, verse 6 says. Not just for Israel but for all ethnicities—to all kinds of peoples without distinction. Yet by limiting these blessings to this mountain, Isaiah excludes others who don’t belong to this mountain. What does this mountain represent? To whom does this mountain belong? How does someone come to live upon it? To answer these questions, we need to zoom out for the bigger picture.

The Lord will exalt his glorious reign world-wide.

To begin, we need to see that the Lord will exalt his glorious reign world-wide. Isaiah’s prophecy is full of mountains. Mountains represent kingdoms. Nations erected their places of worship atop mountains. The Lord had Israel do the same. Not only was there the temple mount, where God manifests his presence. But God’s anointed king ruled from Mount Zion. Zion includes the temple mount and Jerusalem.

So Mount Zion becomes God’s mountain. The place where God dwells and rules his people in holiness and love. Mount Zion portrays God’s reign on earth, God’s kingdom, God with his people. But here’s the thing: God tolerates no competitors to his reign. So what we get in Isaiah are pictures of God leveling the other mountains with their places of false worship, and raising his mountain above all.

Isaiah 2:12-17, “…the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty…against all the lofty mountains…the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” Isaiah 11:9 develops this further, when a new King David establishes God’s kingdom on earth: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” God’s reign wouldn’t be limited to a chunk of land in the Middle East; his glory will cover the earth.

Isaiah 24 continues the same idea—which is crucial since it sets us up for 25. Look specifically at 24:23, “Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders [or better: and before his elders, glory!].” God’s reign shines so brilliant that it shames the sun and moon. That’s the mountain we’re talking about in 25:6. It’s God’s mountain. It’s a picture of his glorious, world-wide kingdom exalted above all others.

The Lord will execute universal judgment on the proud.

For those who belong to God, that day will mean wonderful blessing. But for those who choose their own ways, their own law to live by—that day will be terrible. The Lord will execute universal judgment on the proud—that’s the next piece to see.

The promise comes in 24:1, “The LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.” Verse 2 shows how the judgment is without distinction. Whoever you are, whatever your social status—God’s judgment will find you out. But why will the Lord execute judgment?

Because in their pride, people have rejected the Lord. They oppose the Lord’s laws. Verse 5: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth; its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…” They also oppress others. Isaiah 25:4-5 describes the nations as ruthless. “The Lord is a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” But where’d the heat come from? The “breath of the ruthless.” The proud use their strength to consume the weak.

What will the Lord make of the proud who oppose his laws and oppress his people? We get several images. One is a waste of a city. Verse 7, “The wine mourns, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No more do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The wasted city is broken down; every house is shut up so that none can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has grown dark; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city; the gates are battered into ruins.”

Imagine the world compared to a city without God. The people party for centuries. It’s one great Mardi Gras, guided by their own passions. Let’s call it the City of Man. When the Lord’s judgment falls, friends, the party will end. God will make the City of Man a waste. They’ll mourn. They’ll languish. They’ll go unprotected. No song will prevail in the City of Man; only sighs and sorrow.

Another image reveals how the judgment is inescapable. Verse 17 depicts a hunter running down his prey. The prey does everything it can to escape, but with every move he only finds another trap. Then verse 18 ends with language from the days of Noah’s flood: “the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble.” The weight of God’s wrath falls with utter destruction.

Then over in 25:10-12, the Lord vanquishes his enemies. For centuries Moab has been Israel’s enemy. Here Isaiah uses Moab to represent all the Lord’s enemies collectively. “Moab shall be trampled down in his place, as straw is trampled down in a dunghill.” Your boots ever smashed hay into a cow patty? If not, I’ll tell you that it doesn’t come back up. Neither will God’s enemies. Verse 11 reinforces the idea: “[Moab] will spread out his hands in the midst of it as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim, but the Lord will lay low his pompous pride together with the skill of his hands.” Think foot on the enemy’s back, plunging them deeper into the mire.

The images of judgment are awful—and I know it’s not popular or pleasant—but God’s love for his holiness demands he punish sinners. If I’m to be faithful to the good news this morning, I must also tell you the bad news. God judges rebels; and his judgment will fall with consequences that are awful, final, and eternal. Those who do not belong to his kingdom will be shut out in a wasteland.

The Lord will redeem a people for Zion through the Servant

But here’s the good news: this same God chooses to save rebels from that judgment and give them life in his kingdom. Nobody should escape this judgment. If the reason for judgment is transgressing God’s laws, breaking his covenant, how’s anybody on God’s mountain? Shouldn’t everybody fall under the Lord’s judgment? The Bible says Yes. Yet the Lord of hosts prepares a banquet for all nations on his mountain.

How’d that happen? How’d they get there? Not by their character. Not by their works. Not by their cleverness. No, verse 9 says the Lord saved them. But how? How does the God who loves his glory—who will level every competitor to his glory—how does this God welcome lawbreakers into his kingdom? The answer isn’t that he does it without punishment, but that he provided a substitute to receive their punishment.

In Isaiah 53:5 we meet a Suffering Servant. The Servant suffers as a substitute: “…he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities.” The guilt we incur for sin must be punished. The Lord’s solution is to place the punishment we deserved on his Servant. Anybody’s entry to Mount Zion comes at the Servant’s cost.

Not only that, this particular Servant rises from the dead to give the people he died for his righteousness. Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous…” Seeing his offspring, accounting them righteous—that’s only possible if he’s alive. What’s implied is that after he dies for their sins, he will also rise for their justification.

How does God let anybody into his kingdom, then? Through the work of the Servant. The Servant removes transgressions and gives his righteousness. That Servant’s name is Jesus Christ; and that’s what his cross and resurrection mean.

Hebrews 12:22-24 says this—and when you hear this, you tell me how people enter Mount Zion. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

What does the blood of Abel speak about his brother? Guilty, guilty, guilty! You can’t enter Zion guilty. But Jesus’ blood speaks a better word; it says Forgiven! He is our entry to Zion. And what comes for those in Zion? The most wonderful blessings. Now we’re prepared to zoom back in to verses 6-10.

The Lord will lavish wonderful blessings on his people.

On top of sins being forgiven, we find a rich banquet with no remnant of a curse. This is Isaiah 25:6. Remember how the vine languished in the City of Man beneath God’s judgment. Not so for the people of Mount Zion. Verse 6, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”

Isaiah uses categories of the old covenant to speak of the abundance in God’s future kingdom. If Israel didn’t have grain and wine under the old covenant, that meant that they were under God’s curse.[ii] But for a rich feast, for wine to prosper—that said the people’s curse was lifted. God would pour out his grace and satisfy them with an abundant kingdom. No more want. No more need. No more curse. Everything bountiful. Everything satisfying. Your highest thoughts don’t compare to God’s feast.

When you eat today from this Table, this is the feast it’s pointing to. This Supper is no mere memorial. It’s a prophetic sign that the true Feast is coming! How do we know? One answer is, God said so; his word creates history. Another is this: Jesus Christ is risen! The same Jesus who went into the grace—the witnesses saw him rise from the grave. He appeared to his disciples and five hundred others. They ate with him and touched him and heard him. Then they witnessed him ascend to heaven. God already installed him as King on Mount Zion. We’re just waiting for him to put the rest of his enemies beneath his feet. The last enemy will be death itself.

That brings us to another wonderful blessing: death swallowed up forever. A rich feast means nothing if we can’t enjoy it forever. What good is the feast, if we’re still veiling our faces for the funeral? But look what God does for those on Zion. Isaiah 25:7, “He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that’s spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever.”

How can this be?! We can’t hardly imagine this. Every day death swallows somebody else. We’re calling doctors. We’re exercising. We’re frantically searching for diets that work. We’re putting on make-up. We’re taking the chemo. We’re worrying about clean water. Somebody’s selling us life-insurance. Somebody’s arguing about gun laws and border walls and terrorist threats and whether babies should sleep on their tummies or their backs—and while all these things deserve wise consideration, they only exist because Ol’ Death is still loose in the scrub.

But there’s coming a day when God will take the final gulp, and death will be no more. What’s our assurance of that? Jesus Christ is risen! He has power over the grave. He commands the four-day old corpse of Lazarus, “Come out!” and he walks out. Then Christ himself enters death—why? Why enter death if you have the power over it? He entered death for us. He took our sins to the grave, endured their consequences, and then blew the gates off the hinges three days later. He entered death to defeat its hold on us. It had no hold on him. Scripture says that God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was impossible for [Jesus] to be held by it. This makes him unique; no one else ever rose from the dead never to die again.

Therefore, if you belong to Christ, death doesn’t get the final word. Christ does! 1 Corinthians 15:53-57 says, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” That’s our text; that’s Isaiah 25:7. Then it goes on, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” There’s your guarantee. Jesus, risen from the dead.

The next blessing comes in Isaiah 25:8. Comfort from all sorrows: “and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” Those who dwell on Zion will have all sorrows taken away. Isaiah could’ve just said that: God will take away sorrow. But he chooses imagery that makes it far more personal: the Lord wipes the tears of each individual face. The same one who rules with absolute sovereign power—he draws near like a parent to wipe the tears from the face of each child.

Finally, the Lord also blesses his people by removing their reproach. Verse 8, “the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Reproach has to do with shame. It could be the shame experienced as the result of personal sin. It could be the shame caused by other people’s sinful treatment. Throughout the exile, Israel wore both kinds of shame.

And you may wear both kinds of shame. You know that you’ve done wrong. You feel shame because of it. Or, someone else has caused you shame; maybe they’ve taken advantage of you and left you behind with shame. With sin comes shame. We’ve known this ever since Adam and Eve hid themselves from God in the Garden.

But on the Lord’s mountain, there will be no shame, no reproach. Why? He will take it away. He made his own Son a shameful spectacle to clothe you with honor. Your reproach fell on Jesus, that you might enter his banquet unashamed, accepted before the King. He welcomes us to eat from his Table without shame. Unhindered intimacy prevails there.

Praise the Lord for his wonderful blessings in Christ

Sing, church! Rejoice in what the Lord has done for you. That’s where he goes next. Look at verse 9: “It’ll be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’” Israel had to wait for this day to come. In some ways, we too still wait for this day to come in its fullness.

But in another sense, the day of rejoicing has already begun. The New Testament calls Jesus “the firstborn from the dead.” Meaning, Jesus didn’t just beat death itself; he also beat everybody else out of the grave. He’s our forerunner, our assurance that God will also raise us from the dead. Therefore, we can say now, in this day, “Behold, this is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” For those of you in Christ, you already belong to God’s mountain. You’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. So behold your God and rejoice.

In Christ, your future isn’t determined by past sin or present evils

Your future isn’t determined by the shame of your past or the evils of this age. If you truly belong to Christ, these promises of Mount Zion are your future. The Lord will put all his enemies beneath his feet, but his hand will rest on this mountain. His hand will raise you up and seat you with him in the New City. His hand will wipe your tears and spread you a feast for eternity.

Yes, 10,000 futilities will gray your days now. Political leaders will scoff and boast and make grievous decisions. Rebellion may bloody the streets and sadden our homes. But don’t let any of it squelch your hope in Christ. Our greatest enemy, he already conquered. With him there’s coming a day when the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns; and before his elders there will be glory! Glory! We will see him. We will see him truly, and all will be well. All will be holy. All will be right.

Renounce living for the City of Man

Some of you, though, have been duped by the City of Man. You’ve believed its promises. You’ve believed its political leaders. You’ve believed the lies. You’ve thrown up your hands and given yourself to its fleeting pleasures. You’ve tried the Bible, but it’s not as immediately gratifying as what the world offers. You’ve even started to conclude that your way is better. Your way is easier. Your way will bring you more joy, more power, more satisfaction, more intimacy. That’s one way to live.

But God’s word is clear: your little party in the City of Man will end. God will end it and consign every citizen of that city to an eternity of misery. The only song that will prevail throughout eternity is that of the redeemed on Zion. The only feasts that will never end are those of the redeemed. The only joys that will be truly full and all-satisfying are those God gives to his redeemed in his presence.

Don’t live for the City of Man; live for the City of God. Give your life to have God on his mountain. Live for true pleasures. If you’re here today without Christ, with no real hope, with all your sin and shame; if you’ve been giving yourself to the City of Man, that evil world system that opposes God and oppresses others—you need to know that God has opened a way for you to enter his kingdom, to belong to his mountain. That way is Jesus Christ. Trust in him. Take him at his word. Don’t bank on your works or your goodness to get you in. Bank on his cross and resurrection. Give to Christ your allegiance, and these promises will be yours for eternity.

Join the Lord in gathering all peoples into his kingdom

How do I know they can be yours? Because verse 6 says the Lord will make a feast of rich food for all peoples. All peoples. God’s kingdom will have representatives from all peoples. That also means all peoples need to hear. All peoples need to hear of the Lord’s grace in Jesus Christ. If they’re to escape the judgment, if they’re to enjoy the presence of God in his kingdom, they must hear the good news we’ve heard today.

Mount Zion is going up, brothers and sisters. No one can stop it. God has appointed his King to rule from it. He’s replacing all rebel kingdoms with his own. Until then, let us join him in gathering the peoples who will enjoy his presence on that day. Revelation 21 speaks of them all: “He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

[i]Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling (Pleasantville: Reader’s Digest, 1993), 127-28.

[ii]E.g., Lev 26:20; Deut 28:15-19.