Arise, Shine for Your Light is Come audio (3MB)
We come today to the end of our series on Isaiah and to the climax of the book. Here we find God’s salvation brought to its culmination. God has come to dwell with his people; and the whole world is drawn to him to receive the salvation he offers.
It’s as though Isaiah sees a vision that slowly unfolds, first of God’s saving work and its implication for the world, then of the task that’s given to God’s people as a result of this salvation.
The Lord, The Light of Zion
The prophecy is addressed initially to Zion, the city of God. It’s told to arise and shine - not with its own light but with the reflected light of the glory of the Lord. Do you remember that passage in Ch9 that we often read at Christmas, where we’re told that the nations who lived in darkness have seen a great light? Well that light has now appeared. Darkness has been covering the earth, the peoples of the earth have been immersed in darkness, but God is coming to bring them light.
It’s interesting that darkness has been used for centuries to describe those who live in ignorance of God or those times when the knowledge of God has disappeared and evil has reigned. So we talk of the dark ages, when Christianity had been forgotten or had descended to mere superstition and human affairs were controlled by the powerful; a time when might equalled right. We even used to talk about darkest Africa, meaning those places where the gospel hadn’t yet reached.
In Romans 1 Paul says this: “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” (Rom 1:20-22 NRSV)
I think you’d have to say that there are many people in the world today whose minds are darkened; who are ignorant of God and in fact who don’t want to know about God.
There was some research that came out last week that showed that while many people are interested in spirituality few of them care about Christianity. Even those who say they believe in God aren’t necessarily involved in a Church.
But in this new world, foreseen by Isaiah, the light of the glory of God spreads out from the city of God to bring light to all people.
The Lord of the Nations
And as the light spreads, people are attracted to it like moths to a lamp.
He says the nations and their kings will come, bringing the wealth of the nations in tribute. See vs5&6: “the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense.” It’s a picture of a conquering king to whom his subjects bring tribute. Yet it doesn’t talk about conquest does it? Can you see that? They don’t come because they’ve been conquered. They come because they want to join this kingdom of light. They want to be part of God’s people.
And notice how they come. I don’t mean by sea or by camel. I mean the attitude that they show as they come. It’s there at the end of v6: they come singing God’s praises.
This is really important to understand. People don’t come to worship God because they’re scared of him, though he is certainly to be feared. No, they come because he’s so great they want to join in his praise. They come because he’s lifted the darkness in which they’ve dwelt all their life and now they can see again.
And they come because he welcomes them. He welcomes and accepts people of every nation. Why wouldn’t people come to him? In fact they hurry to him: they “fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows.” It’s like they’re coming home at last. They may not have realised it but they’ve been strangers in their own land. But now God calls them back to where they belong, to his kingdom. It’s a great picture isn’t it?
And as the vision unfolds we see these foreigners setting to work on the walls of the city to strengthen it. Their kings gladly become servants of God’s people because they can see how God has blessed them.
The Lord of All the Earth
Then we realise that all this rebuilding of the walls is only for show. God reigns in this city so it’s completely secure without walls or gates. “11Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut, so that nations shall bring you their wealth, with their kings led in procession.”
God’s welcome has no limits. If you come from far away and arrive in the dead of night there’ll still be a welcome for you. No need to wait outside the gates until sunrise. You’ll be welcomed in immediately. And as we saw in Rev 20, God’s light will be a permanent feature of the city
There is a warning in all this though. The picture of the kings of the nations being led in procession is an indicator not of their importance but of God’s sovereignty over them. In the end God will be sovereign over all the earth and any nations that refuse to acknowledge his rule will be destroyed.
As we read on in he rest of ch. 60 we see that God will not only reign but he’ll restore the fortunes of the people of Israel. I’m reminded of Jesus’ saying that in God’s kingdom “the last shall be first.” We read “14The descendants of those who oppressed you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” (Isa 60:14). And so we see the pre-eminence of God’s people restored along with the pre-eminence of his city.
The Gospel of the Lord
Well what do you do when you hear some announcement that’s the best news you’ve ever heard? You go and tell people about it, don’t you? Shouldn’t you? Certainly God thinks so. He sends his messenger to proclaim the gospel in 61:1-3
The Anointed one (i.e. the Messiah) appears proclaiming the gospel. He comes “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” This is an all-encompassing message. It’s a message of hope, of comfort, of release. It’s a message that has within it the power to save. And it’s a message for the lowliest of society as well as the greatest. Those it’s meant for are the downtrodden of the world: those who are oppressed, the brokenhearted, prisoners, those who mourn. It’s a message of hope to those who have no hope.
And what’s the message? It’s the message that your Lord has come. The light that people have been longing for has arrived. C.S. Lewis used this idea in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, only there it wasn’t darkness, it was winter snow. There the situation was that it was always winter but never Christmas. Here it’s always darkness without a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve met people who would have described their life like that. No hope, no future.
But the message of the gospel is that there is hope. There is a future. God has secured our future for us. He’s brought light into the world that will never be overcome.
And with it he brings a complete change of fortunes for those who are downtrodden: a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. What did Jesus say when he began his public ministry, in Matt 5: “‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’” (Mat 5:3-6 NRSV)
And in Luke’s gospel he records Jesus coming to Nazareth in the early days of his ministry and deliberately taking up this passage from Is 61 as a pointer to what he was here for.
Jesus came to bring the fulfilment of this prophecy of Isaiah 60 & 61. He’s the one who brings light into the world. He’s the one who brings liberty and forgiveness and true freedom.
And of course we follow in his footsteps as those who continue to take this gospel to the world. So it’s very appropriate for us to be reading this on St Thomas’ Day isn’t it? St Thomas’ was one of the first to go out to other lands to proclaim the gospel. We heard at our AGM of how the gospel has brought freedom to one of our members; and I’m sure there are many of us who could say the same thing. The gospel is truly good news for those who believe, who receive God’s spirit and are brought into his kingdom. We rejoice because he’s set us free. We sing songs of praise because he is so worthy of praise. And we tell others because they need to see God’s light come into their lives to bring the same sort of joy that we’ve experienced. We do it by speaking the gospel and we do it by living the gospel so others see our good works, see the light of the glory of the Lord reflected in our lives, and give glory to our father in heaven.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.”