Everyone likes good news. We want good news, and when given the option between “good news” and “bad news,” prefer the good first with hope that it will magically diminish the bad. Perhaps my thirst for good news is why I don’t enjoy Country Music. Those songs all seem to be so sad and discouraging. Last week I was driving with a friend in Missouri. He had his iPhone plugged into the car’s stereo system and proudly announced that he had purchased the new Johnny Cash album filled with songs that had not been previously recorded. The first song was about a troubled young man who got a pistol and robbed a store. Now he was on the run from the law. Brand new?
By the way do you know what happens when you play country music backwards? You get your spouse back, your farm back, your dog back, and are sober. Yep. I like good news!
The prophet Isaiah spoke into their life situation for 60 years and spanned the rule of four kings. Toward the end of his marvelous prophecy, Isaiah spoke into the future of Israel. Though they were headed for deportation and exile, he offered some much needed good news.
Wake up, wake up, O Zion! Clothe yourself with strength. Put on your beautiful clothes, O holy city of Jerusalem, for unclean and godless people will enter your gates no longer. Rise from the dust, O Jerusalem. Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For this is what the LORD says: “When I sold you into exile, I received no payment. Now I can redeem you without having to pay for you.” This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “Long ago my people chose to live in Egypt. Now they are oppressed by Assyria. What is this?” asks the LORD. “Why are my people enslaved again? Those who rule them shout in exultation. My name is blasphemed all day long. But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them” (Isaiah 52:1-6, NLT)
Isaiah began his good news with calling Israel to wake up. To see themselves as God saw them: valued, loved, precious, and worth saving. This imagery is set over and against the depiction of slavery. Slavery occurs when someone or something imposes their will on another. In most instances of world history, slaves are legitimately and appropriately viewed as victims. But not in the case of Israel. They were going to be deported and enslaved because of their sin and disobedience to God. The good news of the gospel is that God’s grace closes the gap between what we are and who we’ve been created to be. He extended grace to Israel and continues to extend grace today for the sake of his own name. God cannot tolerate the bondage of his people, even though it comes at a great personal price.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israelb reigns! The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the LORD returning to Jerusalem. Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the LORD has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has demonstrated his holy power
before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God (Isaiah 52:7-10, NLT).
The second invitation Isaiah offered to Israel was to listen. The good news came to them in the form of a song of joy. “Your God reigns!” We only understand the joy of being found in light of the danger of being lost. Only when we understand our true dilemma can we find true joy.
Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean.
Get out of there and purify yourselves, you who carry home the sacred objects of the LORD. You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the LORD will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind (Isaiah 52:11-12, NLT).
The final word in the great chapter is for Israel to get out. Though their sin would bring about slavery, ultimately they would be redeemed by God and would walk in freedom again. In their new found redemption they could walk confidently because the Lord would be present with them.
There are three important themes here that I would like to touch on briefly.
1. Grace is God’s response to our need. God’s grace comes to us in the midst of our sin. It touches every broken place of our lives.
2. Joy is our response to God’s grace. In the text above, those who heard the song of joy joined in and began to sing the song of joy.
3. Purity is required because we live in close proximity to the holy. We are not just free from the slavery of sin and disobedience. We are free for a relationship with God.