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Once again, turn in your bibles to Isaiah 40. We are continuing our Advent series titled “Prepare the Way”. We have looked at verses 1-8, and today we focus on verse 9. We will just look at this single verse, Isaiah 40:9. So far, we have heard two voices crying out. The first voice cried out a message of comfort to the captives and ended with a promise of the glory of the Lord that was to be revealed (v.5). Last week, briefly, Pastor Tim McCracken looked at verses 6-8. In that section we hear a second voice which cried out regarding the contrast between the fading flesh and the steadfast Word of God. Although people are fickle and unreliable, the Word of God will stand forever.
Now we come to the third voice which is the cry of Zion.
Before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.
9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
This is the Word of the LORD.
In our home, around this time every year, we enjoy watching the movie Elf. One of my favorite scenes is when Buddy the Elf tries to convince Jovie that singing is easy. He says, “The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.” There is something joyful about singing loudly, regardless of how good or bad it is. I couldn’t help but notice my children snickering as we were singing “O Holy Night”, because we listened to a recording of that song that is considered the worst rendition ever. If you haven’t heard it before, do yourself a favor and Google “O Holy Night worst rendition” and enjoy.
We deal with a lot of noise in our society. A lot of people are vying for our attention. Advertisements bombard us from every angle no matter whether we are in our home, in our car, or around town. We tend to think of noise as a bad thing, but that isn’t always the case. If you’re at a sporting event, it is the noise that can build even more excitement.
Noise only really becomes a problem, when a person doesn’t know when to be quiet. When someone shouts everything, whether it is of great importance or trivial, there is a problem. I’m sure we all have someone like that in our lives. They can be talking about a very private matter with little regard for the volume of their voice.
Did you know the Bible can be quite noisy? Words such as “shout” or “cry out” show up with a high frequency. But the Bible is selective. Not everything is loud. But when it comes to the subject of Advent, the Bible is typically on the noisy side. The message of Christmas is about the Lord’s coming. The message of this verse is simple: The coming of our Lord is to be heralded without fear for all to hear.
First, we will address the question Who are the heralds? Second, we’ll answer the question How do they herald? And third, we want to understand What do they herald?
Who are the Heralds?
First, remember where the original reader was at this time. If they were not already suffering under Babylonian captivity by now, the prospect was inevitable. Isaiah has been proclaiming that warning for 39 chapters. Then we come to chapter 40 and the message transitions to one of comfort, preparation, and good news.
We find ourselves in these kinds of situations often don’t we? We can be going through a difficult season in life and then we finally hear some really good news. Maybe you have experienced financial hardship and then received a bonus from work or somehow you stumbled into some money that puts you back on your feet.
In this case, Isaiah’s message is building. After learning that their warfare has ended, they are encouraged to clear the path for the Lord’s arrival. Then they are strengthened by the contrast between the unreliability of man and the steadfast Word of God. Comfort provided a brief moment for the hearer to catch their breath, before they are called to prepare the way of the Lord. And now that they have been reminded of the permanence of God’s Word, they are given a specific word from God to spread.
We begin with a bit of a technical question that does have an impact on how we interpret and apply this verse. Is the herald anonymous like the first two or is Zion/Jerusalem the herald? The translators are forced to pick one or the other. For instance, if you are reading the NIV yours reads like an anonymous herald is brining the message to Zion. But if you are reading the ESV Zion herself is the one doing the heralding.
Isaiah uses a feminine singular participle. So there are only two options. Either he is giving this charge to a prophetess such as Miriam (Exod. 15:20), or he is charging the collective people of the city. In favor of the former, is the anonymous nature of the two previous voices, as well as the mission to speak “to Jerusalem” in verse 2. This view is also validated by the image evoked by Isaiah 52:7 where the messenger is broadcasting good news and peace “to Zion”. However, it seems to me, that the Hebrew reads more naturally in favor of the ESV’s translation making Zion the herald. (The ESV does provide the alternative reading as a footnote.) Therefore, the glory of God is revealed to Zion and Jerusalem who then reveal His glory to others. (By the way, Zion and Jerusalem are used interchangeably here in reference to the collective people of God.) Why would the anonymous voices from verses 3 and 5 shift from masculine to feminine? The most likely reason is because the city of Zion has become the subject.
And this really fits with the way the passage builds upon itself. Reeling from the relentless message of judgement and wrath, Jerusalem is encouraged to take comfort. Then she is called to actively prepare the way. We don’t stay in recovery for long before we are handed a mission. And so, after receiving a reminder of God’s steadfast Word, they are sent to proclaim it from the mountains so that all might hear it’s message.
Those about to enter captivity are told to be heralds of good news to all who will listen. Those who suffer from a weak position are called to boldly proclaim a message of victory from the top of a mountain. The powerful message of God’s Word is given to fickle and perishing people (vv.6-8).
This is the paradoxical picture of grace. The priceless treasure of the gospel message is placed in fragile jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). The people of God, having received comfort from God are to take that good news to others. It is similar to the way the Apostle Paul encourages the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
So the people of God have become the bearers of good news, but how are they to proclaim this message?
How do they Herald?
Two descriptions of this heralding are given to the people of God. They are told “lift up your voice with strength” and they are also told to “fear not”. The command is given with a positive and negative description.
Positively, the message of hope is to be proclaimed with strength. Don’t lose sight of the picture here. This message is what a captive people are to proclaim throughout their captivity. It is a call to deliver a powerful message with strength even though you may be delivering it from a position of weakness. Isaiah circles back around to this theme at the end of the chapter. Look with me at verse 28 and following:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Because we serve a God who does not faint or grow weary, those who wait upon him shall renew their strength. The powerful message of God’s Word should be delivered with confidence, not because it comes from an authoritative position, but because its message is authoritative. This isn’t the message of a king delivered to his subjects. It is a slave delivering the emancipation proclamation. It is the unwavering hope of freedom delivered by one who is in chains.
When we have good news to share we don’t mumble the words, we shout it into our cell phones. We add a thousand exclamation points to our Facebook Statuses. We want people to know about our news because we want others to rejoice with us. The joy in our own celebration is magnified when it is shared with others. The same holds true of the gospel message.
Negatively, this message should be delivered without fear because we trust in its outcome. Fear almost feels like an intrusion upon the joy exuding from this text. And yet, it is a very real and honest assessment of where many people were at that time.
Once again, it reminds us of something Paul says to the Romans. It is in the context of a great city. It is a place where all religious and philosophical ideas collide. It is a proud and accomplished people who were utterly unconvinced by small groups who held no power or authority. On top of that, Christianity was making claims that someone of poor upbringing from a despised town and holding a common job could be the Son of God. And the climax of his ministry was witnessed in his death on a cross. This was seen as sheer folly and madness by Rome! They couldn’t understand how anyone would believe such nonsense.
It is in this context which Paul writes the following words in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Both the Jew and the Greek had predominantly rejected this message. But Paul declared it unashamedly. Why? He knew they needed to hear it. He knew it was worth infinitely more than any other religious or philosophical view out there.
Again, this message isn’t to be delivered without fear because we have no reason to fear. In fact, Paul regularly asked for prayer that he would preach the gospel clearly and without fear (Col. 4:3-4; Eph. 6:19-20). He did not lack confidence in the message, but he certainly had ample reason to fear in the context of his ministry. Both the hostility of the people he witnessed to and the personal pressure he felt would have been overwhelming…most of the time.
The Church is to herald the news of Jesus’ birth with passionate confidence, but she is under no false assumption that it will be free from difficulty or persecution. The reason the message is to be proclaimed without fear is because it is a message with a sure outcome.
With that in mind, why is evangelism within the church such a mess? Why do other religions seem to be more committed to spreading their message than Christians? Why is evangelistic training so poorly attended? There are a number of reasons for this:
- Perhaps the church tries to guilt people into action, which is a terrible motivator.
- Perhaps the attempt to turn evangelism into a program has been unconvincing to many within the church.
- Perhaps we have simply overcommitted ourselves in other areas of our lives that we have left no margin for evangelistic efforts.
- Although all of these are true, for many of us, there is a lack of confidence in the message and its effectiveness.
Some of us have become too accustomed to a timid sort of Christianity. We wait for others to bring the topic of religion up. And even then, we are careful to avoid any offense. I feel this temptation regularly. But why? We need to receive this message and declare it from the rooftops!
But what is the message?
What do they Herald?
In verse 5 the voice cried out in the wilderness preparing the way for one who would come. Now, this voice declares his arrival.
- What is the significance that he is “your” God?
- What is the significance that he is “here”?
- Is this the gospel you believe? Have you experienced its power in your own life? What would it take to convince you?
- If you have already been convinced, what would it take for you to begin proclaiming it without fear for all to hear?
Will You Herald the Good News?
Which people do you know specifically need to hear that God is here? How can you communicate that message to them with confidence? What kinds of fears keep you from telling others that God is here?
Next week we will wrap up our series considering what this God is like.