We're turning to Isaiah 51, and I want to speak to you under the title 'The Pilgrim's Final Rest'. We begin to read at verse 1 of chapter 51: "Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him. For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody. Hearken unto me, my people; and give ear unto me, O my nation: for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people. My righteousness is near; my salvation is gone forth, and mine arms shall judge the people; the isles shall wait upon me, and on mine arm shall they trust. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings. For the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them like wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation. Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Therefore the redeemed of the LORD shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away".
The context of Isaiah 51 is the Lord, through the prophet, addressing the faithful remnant among the people in Israel. Of course, Israel have been held in captivity in Babylon, yet there are a group, a remnant as the Bible calls them, who have been faithful unto God, and at least begun to seek after righteousness and follow the Lord whose discipline they are under in that foreign land. It comes to form in the longing for deliverance. They have been in this strange foreign land, though it be in the will of God, for so long now - and those who are righteous among the people are now longing and crying unto God to deliver them. We find here in Isaiah 51 that the nation is now preparing to leave Babylon and to return home to the promised land. But they need their faith strengthened, they need to be courageous in Jehovah, they need to begin to remember again what the Lord has done for them in the past in their history, and therefore what the Lord can do for them now and eventually what the Lord will do for them in the day that is yet to be.
For that reason God told them to do three things. First of all He told them to look back, He urged them to recall their spiritual roots. In verses 1 and 2 He reminds them of their origin in Abraham and Sarah, how Abraham had been called from the Ur of the Chaldees, and essentially was a Gentile but became the first Jew, the first called-out-one. Then He begins to remind them, even though it's perhaps not so clear in the first glance, that from Abraham and Sarah in their old age, from this decrepit couple, a nation came, a nation that would be greater in number than the stars of the sky and the sand of the seashore. What a miracle! God reminds them: 'This is what I did, this is where you came from, the rock Abraham, the pit that you were hewn out of, if it be the womb of Sarah in her old age, this is what I can do as your God - do you not remember where you came from?'.
Then in verses 9 through to 10, and later in verse 15, He reminds them of their exodus from Egypt. They are taken into slavery in the land of the Egyptians, but God delivers them - have they forgotten that God was the one who brought the plagues upon the Egyptians? That God was the one who parted the Red Sea and brought them miraculously through it to their promised land? That God was the one who drowned the Egyptian soldiers beneath that great wave? Had they forgotten that, being delivered from Egypt and coming to Mount Sinai, that God made His covenant with them? They were His covenant people, He was Jehovah the covenant keeping God; they are Israel, the people of His covenant - and God would never break His promises.
Do you see what God is trying to do for them? 'Look back, look back at your beginnings, look where I've brought you from, look at the covenant I have made with you - will I break my promises to you now?'. Don't forget how the Lord brought them out of that land of bondage - wasn't it through the blood of the lamb, the Passover? God is saying to them: 'Not only are you a covenant people, but you are a redeemed people, you're Mine, I have called you, I have redeemed you, I have kept you, and I will take care of you forever'.
Now can I make an application to you before I go on any further, do I even need to make it? These Israelites are going through a hard time, they've suffered many many years of bondage, they're about to be delivered from Babylon and God needs to infuse courage and faith and vitality once again into their hearts. How does He do it? He reminds them to look back, and what an encouragement it is for us, the saints of God, even when we go through - maybe especially when we go through difficult times - to remember the very beginning, our spiritual roots, remember the pit that God hewed us out of, remember the day and the hour we were first saved, when God brought us into covenant with Himself by grace through faith, and how God even through hard times and very harsh times has kept us unto this day. The difference that God's grace has made in your life! I don't know where some of you are today - I know where some of you are - but the fact of the matter is, no matter how dire circumstances may be, can you not say that grace has made a difference?
I think it's good at times, just as a practical note before we go on any further, to keep a spiritual journal, a spiritual diary in order to remind yourself of the goodness of God in your life. Sometimes I look back over the pages in mine that I keep from time to time, and maybe when times are difficult you look back and you remember the blessings of God and the faithfulness of God in days gone by. But even if you don't have one of those spiritual journals, can you not flick back the pages in your mind and recall and remember the times when God has been good? 'Look back', He told them.
The second thing He tells them in verse 6 is to look up: 'Lift up your eyes to the heavens'. In fact that is what He told Abraham to do in Genesis chapter 15 when He was giving him this promise, that the people would be more than the stars of the sky, He told him to look up into the night sky to see the multitudinous rays of light that promised him that God, who is the Creator, would do the same for him in his son and in the nation that would come from his loins. But what God is trying to get Isaiah to remind the people of is that their God, Jehovah, their covenant God is the Creator God: 'Look up to the heavens, my people, I am not a piece of wood or a piece of stone, I am not encrusted with gems, a God of men's hands that they bow and scrape to, I am the living God, I am the Creator of the ends of the earth, and I am your God!'.
Isn't it wonderful today that we, as God's New Testament people, can say that this God is our God, and He will be our guide even unto death. We can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 121: 'I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, where comes my help from? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth'. Not only did the Lord make heaven and earth, but what the Lord is trying to bring to the people's attention is that there's a day coming when this earth, and even this heaven, will pass away - but in Isaiah 40 and verse 8 he tries to teach his people that heaven and earth will pass away, the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord will stand forever. When you're prone to fear, to fret and be anxious, I think it's a good thing to remember that your God is not only the Creator of the world, but He's also your Father, and He's the faithful God whose promises are true and will never let you down.
Look back, have you been doing it? I hope you are, look back just now, think of the things that God has done for you, where God has brought you from, the pit that He has hewn you out of, like Israel. Look up, and remember that this God who has created all the rolling spheres is your God. But here is where Isaiah is really bringing the people where I want to bring you today: he taught them to look ahead, to look forward. In verse 3 he tells them that the wilderness that they are now experiencing, this wilderness of captivity and the wilderness of Canaan land will eventually become a Garden of Eden. He goes on to tell them that the people will exodus from Babylon, and in our text this morning in verse 11 he said that eventually the redeemed ransomed people of the Lord shall return and come with singing unto Zion, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head, and they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away.
Now we don't have time to go into all the prophetic significance of this passage this morning, but I don't want to ignore it. In verses 4 to 6 Messiah is spoken of as reigning over all the Gentile nations, the peoples, the word 'peoples' there literally means 'the Gentile nations'. This will take place during the millennium period, the thousand year reign of Christ upon the earth. But as we read down it speaks of how the heavens and the earth will be destroyed, at the end of that thousand year kingdom period the heavens and the earth where we reside will be burnt up in a fervent heat, and the unbelievers will perish. But the point that God is making to His people here in verse 7 is that the people who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is God's law need not fear, for in verse 8 their salvation will be forever and ever from generation to generation. In other words, God's people, whether they be Old Testament people or New Testament people, are eternally secure. Do you feel that today? That you are eternally secure! In verses 7 and 8 the Lord urges this remnant not to fear the wrath of men during the dark days of their captivity in Babylon, prophetically it speaks of during the tribulation period, they need not fear the doom that evil men will seal upon them because their doom is sealed, and they will be delivered and eventually they will enter into the promised land again as is promised right throughout scripture.
What I want you to see specifically in verses 9 to 11 is that this recollecting, looking back, and looking up, God is calling the remnant to remember the Lord that delivered them from Rahab - that's Egypt - and from the serpent or the dragon - that's Pharoah - remember that God has dried up the sea and redeemed you and caused you to cross over. This is Isaiah's point: these memories of God's intervention in your past ought to cause you to foresee the day when the ransomed captives will return to Zion in the future with singing, to eternal joy.
Now what am I getting at? Let me make myself abundantly clear: Isaiah, God's Spirit through him of course, is speaking to us of the influence that retrospect has upon our prospect, the influence that retrospect has upon our prospect. Let me define it in a couple of lines of a hymn:
'His love in time past forbids me to think
He will leave me at last in trouble to sink.
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review
Confirms His good pleasure to help me right through'.
Retrospect, looking at the past encourages your faith to realise that the prospect that you have as a child of God is more than good. W. E. Vine put it like this: 'Though it is good for the soul to recall the mercies of God in days gone by, it is needful not to be occupied merely with a retrospect but to let the power of the hope do its purifying work. So it is with the still brighter prospect that we enjoy who are the members of the church, our present experiences of sore trial and affliction are brightened by the hope, a hope', as the hymnwriter puts it, 'that sweetens every bitter cup'. John spoke of that hope in 1 John 3 verse 3, he says speaking of the children of God: 'Every man that hath this hope in him', Christ, 'purifieth himself', the Christian, 'even as he', Christ, 'is pure'. Paul talks about it in our reading earlier in Romans 8:18, he says: 'For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us'. What is this hope? This hope is the same as the hope of Israel, though our promise is not that of the land of Palestine, our promise also is that we will enter into God's kingdom with singing and everlasting joy shall be upon our heads, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away forever.
Do you know that joy in your heart today? The joy of verse 11? F.C. Jennings describes this hope of Israel and ours beautifully in these words: 'Their heads are garlanded with joy and gladness which they had vainly pursued hitherto, but they have overtaken it at last; while the storm through which they have passed rolls off like a thick cloud, taking with it their sighs and their tears'. In the time that remains I want to leave this text, verse 11, with you under three headings which are in the forms of questions: one, who will enjoy this entrance? Who will enjoy the entrance that is spoken of in verse 11? Look at it: 'The redeemed of the Lord shall return'. The subject of this chapter is the promise of salvation for the land of Israel of course, but it is on the righteous basis and the removal of the cup of wrath. In other words, God has justified His people, that is the only grounds by which Israel can be brought again into the land, in the spiritual sense, before God.
What am I talking about? Well, there has to be a sacrifice for their sins, and it must be a sacrifice that satisfies, propitiates God in His wrath, in His holy justice. Where will the sacrifice come from? Well, as you read through the further chapters of this book, in chapter 52, in chapter 53, you find the Servant of the Lord portrayed prophetically that finds its fulfilment in the Lord Jesus, the One who at Calvary was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, with His stripes we are healed, the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He is our peace, He is the just grounds whereby Israel will enter into this Zion again. But isn't it marvellous this morning that we who are Gentiles from Northern Ireland, we who were not a people, we have become a people by God's grace. We can identify with God's word to Israel in this: that we are redeemed!
God said to Israel in Isaiah 43:1: 'Now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine'. Do you remember when the disciples, the two on the road to Emmaus, were downcast because the Lord Jesus had been crucified and it was now three days? They said to the Stranger that was walking beside them: 'We trusted that it had been he, Christ, who should have redeemed Israel, and beside all this today is the third day since these things were done'. They trusted that Christ would redeem them, but praise God we know that there on Calvary's cross He did redeem His own people, and more than that: He redeemed us, Gentiles! He Himself, giving Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works, so that we know today - as Peter said - we are not redeemed with corruptible things such as silver and gold, or the tradition of the vain conversation of our fathers, but by the precious blood of Christ.
What a joy that gives to our hearts! I hope it gives joy to your heart this morning. Maybe you can remember the joy that it gave when you first believed. Many people experience great joy at the beginning of their Christian pilgrimage, intense joy, it's born out of the freshness of the salvation experience, the brightness of their newly kindled hope. As you go further into the pilgrimage of the Christian life you still have that joy, but sometimes the problems and perplexities of life weigh it down and suffocate it a little. Once you knew that joy of the bird delivered from the cage, the slave set free from bondage, like those on the Red Sea shore you sang with Moses and the children of Israel the song of the Lord, '...and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea'. The song of a soul set free!
Can I ask you today where your song is? What has happened to your song as the conflicts have heightened? As the trials have increased has your song lessened? Yet, even though you feel that you can't sing as you used to, you can testify that deep down in your heart there is a calm joy. It's not so much found in your circumstances of new-found faith, but it's found in the realisation that whatever you go through as a child of God, God's grace is sufficient to bring you through - and has brought you through! But we would be lying if we did not say that the fact is that the way of the Christian pilgrim often is hard, it's often rough and harsh, and there are often experiences within it that we can seldom sing about. Maybe you're here today and you feel like Israel in bondage, and you say within yourself: 'How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?'. Do you know how you can sing, whatever you're going through? If you're looking not only in retrospect, but you're looking at prospect, you're looking at that day when you will be home:
'Joy, joy, forever; the work is done;
The gate is passed and heaven is won'.
That is what gives you joy even in the midst of life's darkest circumstances, to be redeemed! Are you redeemed? Not everyone is redeemed, only those who trust in Christ can be redeemed by His blood. Are you redeemed? For if you are not redeemed you will not enjoy this entrance, this joy and gladness of the Lord upon your head, sorrow and mourning fleeing away. Who will enjoy this entrance? The redeemed of the Lord - aren't you glad you're among them?
But secondly the question is: how will they enter? The verse tells us: with singing, and everlasting joy shall be upon their head. Now there's an ancient image that is given here to us, and it is the custom of the East where pilgrims used to march and journey and travel in caravans, long trails of animals and all their possessions. As they passed along the extended plains of the East, as they were travelling they would sing. Now you might think it was simply to pass the time a little, and that's partly the truth, because they deliberately sang, and the intention was in their singing that they would quicken the pace not only of themselves but of the camels in their caravan. In fact, one writer put it like this who experienced this first-hand, I quote: 'We should not have passed this plain so rapidly but for the common custom of the Arabs of urging on their camels by singing. The effect is very extraordinary, this musical excitement increases their pace at least one fourth. First one camel driver sings a verse, then the others answer in chorus - it reminded me somewhat of the Venetian gondoliers. I often asked the camel drivers to sing, not only to hasten our progress, but also for the pleasure of hearing their simple melodies. Some of their best songs possess a plaintive sweetness that is almost as touching as the most exquisite European airs'. Describing the order of the caravans, another writer puts it like this: 'Some of the camels have bells about their necks, and some about their legs which, together with the servants, who belong to the camels and travel on foot, singing all night make a pleasant noise, and the journey passes away delightfully'.
Are you making a pleasant noise as you travel toward home? You may not be, and I can't fault you for that, but what I do want to give you this morning is the prospect that you will one day when you enter everlasting joy. Do you keep that within your sights? How will they enter? With singing, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
Thirdly and finally: what will they obtain upon entering? Who will enjoy this entrance? The redeemed of the Lord. How will they enter? With singing, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. What will they obtain upon entering? Gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I believe the promise of this spiritually is graciously expanded by John in his Revelation, if you turn with me just for a moment to Revelation chapter 21. John gives to Christians, it will have to be remembered, and often dispensational expositors miss this point, that this is a letter to a church that is being persecuted, and these poor Christian souls were grieved and harassed, and they needed inexpressible comfort - and that is exactly what they got in chapter 21. 'I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death', Halellujah!, 'neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away'.
What is the difference of this entrance from this life down here? What will they obtain upon entering? Why is it so different than our existence where we are on this planet? Simply put, as John says: one, there will be no more death. The second death, of course, will not touch those who are in Christ because they will share in the glories of His resurrection, life evermore, everlasting. We can't conceive that, but there will never be another death - what a change that will be! There'll be no more pain, of course there'll be no more bodily physical pain, because we will have resurrection bodies like unto His glorified body. There will be no more mental pain, because our minds shall be at rest and at peace, stayed upon Jehovah. There will be no more parting, loved ones, friends, parents, children, no more parting from wives or husbands, or brothers and sisters, there'll be no more tearing of the heart-strings at those moments of separation, there'll be no more saying of last goodbyes! The distance of sea from land will be gone forever, and there will be no more sin. Old things will have passed away, and all things will become new.
Christian or a non-Christian alike, imagine what it will be to have no more sense of sin - it will be gone! The shame of sin will be gone, the remorse, the regret, it will all be gone! The worst human affliction is not pain nor disease, but it is sin - and what a change it will be when it is gone. I don't know about your heart, I can only speak of my own, and my heart is like tinder - and when the sparks of temptation come my way, even as a Christian, it is very difficult not to be set aflame. But on that day there will be no more fallen nature, and there will be no more temptation - free from all sin! What a change!
This world has well been called a veil of tears, pain and suffering cling to us throughout the whole course of our lives from our first breath until our last - we enter life with a cry and we go out with a sigh. Our life, for many, is but labour and sorrow, disappointment and disillusionment, hunger, thirst, toil, weariness, cold, heat, desire, passion; it accompanies us throughout the whole of our lives. Some people's lives are consistent of nothing but pains everyday and every hour of those days - but all of us have experienced sickness at sometime or other, many of us have chronic ailments which never quit us, which we suffer constantly from. A greater change cannot be imagined than that of from heaven to earth, the miseries of this sinful world changed into the glories of the heavenly kingdom in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Child of God: this is your hope in Christ - what a blessed change! Down here on the one hand we have pain, we have grief, we have labour, sickness, we know what it is to be parted, to constantly shed tears, to have qualms upon our sinful conscience, to fear coming evils in the day ahead of us, to sense sin in our very being - but up there there will be constant rest and peace, there will be a sense of pardon, God's security will be round about us, God's favour and love will shine upon us. There'll be no more vicissitudes, there'll be no more partings, there'll be no more lapses into sin and backsliding, there will be one constant unending day of perfect peace and restful joy in the midst of those we love.
But more than that, as the poet put it: 'Paradise itself were dim and joyless, if not shared with Him'. The continual presence and sight of the One who loved us and gave Himself for us will make heaven two heavens:
'O paradise! O paradise!
'Tis weary waiting here;
We long to be where Jesus is,
To feel, and see Him near'.
That will be exodus surpassed, that will have nothing on the Passover, or the Red Sea deliverance, or anything that Israel has known or will prophetically know. On that day when we enter into God's eternal kingdom, what a day that will be! The poet put it like this again:
'There is a blessed home
Beyond this land of woe,
Where trials never come,
Nor tears of anguish flow;
Where faith is lost in sight,
And patient hope is crowned,
And everlasting light
Its glory throws around.
Look up, ye saints of God!
Nor fear to tread below
The path your Saviour trod
Of daily toil and woe!
Wait but a little while
In uncomplaining love!
His own most gracious smile
Shall welcome you above'.
Well might Peter write in his epistle, and I end with these words: 'Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ'. 'Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing, and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. They shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away'.
Now let me just say before we close in a word of prayer, that if you're not among the redeemed, those who are cleansed from sin by the blood of Jesus and faith in Him alone, is it not time you were saved? Do you know when you will enter into eternity? God will place you in one of two places: heaven or hell. You know the difference between those is only whether you're among the redeemed or not. Why not take a booklet off me this morning, or speak with me or someone you know in the fellowship, but don't leave without trusting the Saviour.
Father, we thank Thee for the great redemption that we have in the Lord Jesus, the One who tasted death for every man, and in death defeated him who had the power over death, even the devil. So we can say: 'Oh death where is thy sting, Oh grace where is thy victory', and we thank Thee that there is a day coming when sorrow and mourning, and pain and trial, will all be over - and it will be to Jesus that we will owe it. Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow. May everyone here gathered this morning be among the redeemed, and may those who mourn the lost of loved ones, and going through trials this very hour, may they know the joy not only of retrospect of past blessings, but the prospect of what is to be. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Pilgrim's Final Rest" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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