When You Pass Through the Waters, I Will Be With You
In late June of 2011, Minot, North Dakota experienced the worst flooding in its history. Thousands of homes and business were destroyed, and thousands of people are still displaced.
More than half a year earlier, I had agreed to preach five sermons during the month of July at Trinity Church in Minot, while our preaching pastor was away. The text I had decided upon? A five-part series on the Christ-centered message of Isaiah.
I didn't know when I agreed to preach that I would be addressing a congregation that had just seen their homes destroyed. But God knew. And he knew that the message they needed was exactly the message that he had given to his people thousands of years earlier, when they were about to undergo an even worse tragedy. Isaiah portrays the sovereign God of eternity with an unparalleled splendor; but he does not just show that God high and lifted up; he also shows him stooping even to the shame of the cross, to save his afflicted people. There is no more powerful gospel-balm to be had for those going through tragedy than the glorious prophecy of Isaiah. If you or someone you know is passing through some deep waters, flee to the God of the Evangelist-Prophet; his grace is always deeper than the floods rise against us.
Notes for my series, The Gospel According to Isaiah, are available here. Below, I've excerpted a brief portion introducing the central theme of Isaiah, from the first sermon.
Reading Isaiah is like reading the Cliff's Notes version of the bible â€“ he takes you back to the eternal, inter-triune council before the foundation of the world, moves you along through fall, promise, failure, exile â€“ then brings you to a stunning climax of redemption, which flowers into a brilliant conclusion of eternal significance. Isaiah is a truly astonishing and wonderful book: it is Gospel, like the Evangelists; it explains the theological truths inherent in those accurately depicted gospel-scenes, like John; it shouts from beginning to end that the person and work of Christ is superior to all that had come before, like Hebrews; it concludes the whole world in sin before having free mercy for all, by grace through faith alone; and it shows how the casting off of the Jews means salvation for the whole world, both Jew and Gentile, like Romans; it soars above and beyond human history and shows the coming eschaton in brilliant imagery, like Revelation.
Theme: a greater salvation awaits the people of God, for the greater glory of God, through
(1) Exile: because God's people have been incorrigibly wicked and broken the Covenant, God has determined to cast them off. (2) Restoration: but because of his own righteousness and faithfulness, he will not utterly and permanently forsake them, but will preserve and restore a remnant of them. (3) Advancement: when he does restore this remnant, the restoration, built upon the manifold work of the coming Christ, will be far better than anything his people had ever seen before, and will include richer and greater gospel blessings than the Old Covenant ever had. (4) Expansion: and because so great a condition is too wonderful to keep to a small remnant alone, it will spread to all the nations, until the whole world experiences the unspeakable blessings of the restoration. (5) Culmination: human destinies will be finally and dramatically decided for eternal good or evil on the basis of this great salvation wrought by Christ.
Outline of Isaiah:
Part One: Christ Promised
1. Introduction: Isaiah's theme and commission (1-6)
2. God will raise up an heir to David, who will reign forever: Immanuel, born of a virgin (7-12)
3. God will bring every nation on earth into judgment, so that he might usher in a new earth, where righteousness dwells, for all his redeemed people to live in forever (13-27)
4. Woe to all those who delight and trust in this world's powers; for they will have no part in this new, redeemed world (28-35)
5. The proof is in the doing: God acts supernaturally in history, in a way that proves his ability and willingness to do all that he has foretold (36-39)
Part Two: Christ Portrayed
1. The incomparable God who pre-writes all history has spoken the news of redemption (40-48)
2. The great drama of history: the suffering servant will perfectly accomplish God's eternal plans in shockingly paradoxical ways (49-55)
3. The great conclusion of history: we must live in light of the eternal future that God's great redemption has guaranteed, for the sacrificial Lamb will return as a conquering Warrior, and destinies will be finalized (56-66)