Old Testament: Isaiah 2:1-5 (Advent 1: Series A)
The Church stands firm on the word of promise that Christ will one day return to change what we know by faith into sight.
This is a great text to start our Advent journey. Advent is a voyage to the end of one world and the beginning of a whole new world in the coming of Jesus our King. In this season, texts like Isaiah give us a little foothold by faith to stand in the promises of God until we see His glorious return on the last day. The footholds He gives us are the places where He delights to make Himself knowable, often using physical means to demonstrate His gracious activity among us. For Isaiah, He uses the Temple on a specific piece of land on a particular mountain. For us, He uses bread and wine for a supper and water for a baptism, but chiefly He uses the human flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ to give us a place to stand in faith now until we wait for His return in the “not yet.” Focusing on these physical means by which God demonstrates His graciousness is how we are going to get at the Gospel in this text. The season of Advent is full of paradox. This seems like a good theological confession to develop in the sermon: The tension between the now and not yet.
Isaiah 2 speaks of “the latter days” (verse 2) when God fulfills His promise for Judah. This is important for them to hear because their lives are filled with political trouble and wrathful judgement due to their sin and fear of the world around them.
Isaiah 2:1-5 fits a theme in the Bible which groups together three distinct places: Zion, the Temple, and the city of Jerusalem (Genesis 2:10; Psalms 46; Isaiah 11:1-9; Ezekiel 28:13-14; 47:1; Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8; 60-62; Haggai 2:6-9; Matthew 4:8; Revelation 21-22). Each of these verses of Scripture hold before us the God who reigns and rules over all things as King. They show us a place He chooses as the center of His reign and rule over the cosmos. From this place, He governs all things making it the center point of creation. A place where He brings all things into peace and chaos is brought back to order (verse 4); much like Alain deLille’s proverb: All roads lead to Rome. Here Isaiah declares, God reigns from Zion the center of all things.
Here Isaiah declares, God reigns from Zion the center of all things.
The theological frame set in Isaiah is found in both the Old and New Testament. Since this is Advent, it is especially appropriate to point out this theme from the book of Revelation (Revelation 21-22), which shows Jerusalem as the bride of the Lamb (Revelations 21:9), and the destination for the nations of the earth (Revelations 21:24-27). Furthermore, there is no better book of the Bible to teach about the tension we live in between the “now and not yet” than Hebrews. In Hebrews 12:22-24, it clearly shows where Zion is “now” and yet it also shows clearly the “not yet” reality of it when it says:
“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in Heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
There is also a good law/gospel dynamic in Isaiah 2:1-5 because it is placed in-between Isaiah’s prophecies of judgment (1:21-31; 2:5-22). In chapter one, the “holy” city of Jerusalem is accused of murder, rebellion, injustice, and corruption (Isaiah 1:21-23). Then the texts immediately following Isaiah 2:1-5, proclaim Judah has forsaken God’s ways (2:6-9). In the first two chapters of Isaiah, Jerusalem is offered words of both law and gospel. These words of law, which bookend our reading, do not contradict the gospel of Isaiah 2:1-5.
In this text, law serves gospel, and contributes to bringing about the fulfillment of the Gospel. God’s people are trapped in a cul-de-sac of judgment and are waiting for the day when all things will be transformed. It is much like the Church waits in Advent for the day when the Kingdom comes fully realized and we, the new Jerusalem, will be a holy and magnificent magnet for the nations. But before that day, we live in a moment of trust. We are trusting in the Word of God which gives us a place to stand by faith, standing on the promises fulfilled in Jesus. This happens even after a season of judgment and refinement, like Advent. So, God first comes to Zion in the form of an enemy before revealing Himself as the fulfiller of all His promises in Jesus.
Since the word “mountain” appears three times (verses 2-3) in our text, it seems to be the best place to focus on for the Gospel turn. In Isaiah, the mountain is synonymous with Zion and the Temple and, therefore, it represents the holy city of Jerusalem itself. This image of the mountain is meant to inspire a future vision of Heaven. In verse 2, there is a curious statement. Zion is established as the “highest of the mountains” and God “lifted up (Zion) above the hills.”
This is great for Gospel proclamation. Using typology, we can see this promise fulfilled when God did something on another mountain, another hill called Calvary. At Golgotha (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; Luke 23:33; John 19:7), God lifted Jesus up on the cross to be the chief means of salvation for all people. There God’s Son was crucified and condemned under the Law (Galatians 4:4-5) in our place for our salvation and rose again to rescue us and to bring us out of the grave. But think of the irony. This site is not even a mound. It is a bump on the road compared to the surrounding mountains. There at the “place of the skull” stands a gibbet for common criminals. Yet, this is the standard to which all nations would have to flock to for salvation. Golgotha is the very mountain which gives Isaiah’s mountain and all mountain-top themes significance in the Bible. It truly is the Mountain that rises above all others. There is no other place to find peace with God and salvation.
The “mountain of the Lord” (temple mount, Zion) was never the most prominent mountain in the region. The surrounding nations have never streamed to Jerusalem to learn divine teaching. This is only true in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The surrounding nations have never streamed to Jerusalem to learn divine teaching. This is only true in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Church stands firm on the word of promise that Christ will one day return to change what we know by faith into sight. Like the promises of God to Isaiah, the precious promise of Christ’s second coming is the truth to which our faith clings. The truth will one day defeat falsehood (Revelation 19:11-21), the dead will rise (Revelation 20:1-6), the Devil and his forces will be destroyed (Revelation 20:7-10), and death itself will die (Revelation 20:14-15).
The promise of Christ’s return contradicts so much of what we see in the world. We look around and see only despair. But then God’s word cuts-out these little but not insignificant places for us to stand as He comes to rescue us. It is a joy to celebrate Christ’s Advent in the past, but in this season of Advent we pray for the faith to believe in His Advent in our hearts now and in Christ’s future Advent.
Ben Patterson, in Waiting, writes:
"In 1988, three friends and I climbed Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Our base camp was less than 2,000 feet from the peak, but the climb to the top and back was to take the better part of a day, due in large part to the difficulty of the glacier we had to cross to get to the top. The morning of the climb we started out chattering and cracking jokes.
As the hours passed, the two more experienced mountaineers opened up a wide gap between me and my less-experienced companion. Being competitive by nature, I began to look for shortcuts to beat them to the top, I thought I saw one to the right of an outcropping of rock, so I went, deaf to the protests of my companion.
Perhaps it was the effect of the high altitude, but the significance of the two experienced climbers not choosing this path did not register in my consciousness. It should have, for thirty minutes later I was trapped in a cul-de-sac of rock atop Lyell Glacier, looking down several hundred feet of a sheer slope of ice, pitched at about a forty-five-degree angle... I was only about ten feet from the safety of a rock, but one little slip and I would not stop sliding until I landed in the valley floor some fifty miles away! It was nearly noon, and the warm sun had the glacier glistening with slippery ice. I was stuck, and I was scared.
It took an hour for my experienced climbing friends to find me. Standing on the rock I wanted to reach, one of them leaned out and used an ice axe to chip two little footsteps in the glacier. Then he gave me the following instructions: “Ben, you must step out from where you are and put your foot where the first foothold is. When your foot touches it, without a moment’s hesitation swing your other foot across and land it on the next step. When you do that, reach out and I will take your hand and pull you to safety.”
That sounded really good to me. It was the next thing he said that made me more frightened than ever. “But listen carefully: As you step across, lean out a bit, otherwise your feet may fly out from under you, and you will start sliding down.”
I do not like precipices. When I am on the edge of a cliff, my instincts are to lie down and hug the mountain, to become one with it, not to lean away from it! But that was what my good friend was telling me to do. For a moment, based solely on what I believed to be the good will and good sense of my friend, I decided to say no to what I felt, to stifle my impulse to cling to the security of the mountain, to lean out, step out, and traverse the ice to safety. It took less than two seconds to find out if my faith was well founded."
God gives you a place to stand today. We stand on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we await His glorious return.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 2:1-5.
Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 2:1-5.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 2:1-5.