Old Testament: Isaiah 45:1-7 (Pentecost 21: Series A)

Reading Time: 6 mins

God is delivering His people by means of a King who will break down the bars that hold us in. It was strange but it was a real deliverance.

What a great text to preach on in the season of Pentecost. Our passage opens by talking about an “Anointed” King. This is a great start to a sermon that must proclaim Christ the King our Savior. Obviously, it is referring to God or even Isaiah’s Suffering Servant Messiah, right? No, here it is actually referring to Cyrus, a foreigner, but a king akin to David (Psalm 2:2), who much like any Davidic king “subdues nations” (Psalm 2:8-12; 110). This surprising savior is taken by the hand of the Lord, similar to what the living God had done for Israel earlier (Isaiah 41:13).

One of the challenges set before this unexpected “anointed one” are these gates of “bronze and iron” (verse 2) which are against him. The “bronze gates” are likely referring to the actual, physical gates Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar constructed around Babylon. Historians Herodotus and Xenophon speak of the hundreds upon hundreds of bronze gates that surrounded Babylon in the late seventh and early sixth centuries. Babylon was the most fortified city in the world, and God’s people were trapped inside, closed in behind those gates with no way out.

If you wanted to, you could go and see a magnificent example of these gates today at the Ishtar Gate exhibit at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. But long before you could visit those gates in Berlin, in 539 BC, Cyrus approached them in Babylon and simply strolled right through. Beginning in 550 BC, Cyrus expanded the Persian empire with general ease. Just his military presence drove away armies, created alliances, and opened gates without any protest. He was truly a king who brought peace to his empire. This peace led to freedom for God’s people (Isaiah 45:13) and further comfort for them by naming Israel’s God as the only God (verses 4-6).

The “hiddenness” of God in the last verse reminds us of something mentioned later in verse 15: “You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” The Latin Vulgate translates this verse with a very popular theological phrase which becomes an actual locus of theology for us: “tu es Deus absconditus Deus Israhel salvator.”[1] The hiddenness of God brings judgement and a strange sort of deliverer, but in His revealed (Deus revelatus) state, God shows us light, life, and the Savior.

 The hiddenness of God brings judgement and a strange sort of deliverer, but in His revealed (Deus revelatus) state, God shows us light, life, and the Savior.

The hiddenness of God’s plan in Cyrus provides a three-part design unfolding in our reading. First, God wants Cyrus to know Him (verse 3). Second, God wants to restore His people through Cyrus (verse 4). Third, through Cyrus God wants the world to know Him (verse 6) and His great salvation (verse 7). The revelation of God’s true Messiah in Jesus would reveal the third-day resurrection plan of God for all people’s everywhere. Jesus, who is far greater than Cyrus, is the ultimate Messiah/Anointed One who opens the gates of Hell (Revelation 1:18) and sets prisoners free (John 8:36).

If you want proof that Jesus has the authority and power to do this, look at what He did with Lazarus in John 11:1-44. Here, Lazarus was shut away forever from the land of the living in a prison of death. The enemy had a firm hold on him. No gates of bronze were holding him there. Instead, it was the stone over his tomb which barred him in forever, until Jesus called His name with a cry of command (1 Thessalonians 4:16) out of his grave. In John 11:44, after Jesus resurrected him from the tomb, He said: “Unbind him, and let him go.” Better than Cyrus, Jesus has come to set the captives free indeed! But all of this, from Isaiah to Lazarus, was only a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do by His own death, entombment, and resurrection in the Gospel’s. Jesus, our King, would, like Cyrus, pass through the gates of death, but in a totally different way than Cyrus did in Babylon or even how Lazarus walked out from his grave. The difference is in who Jesus was, as opposed to who they were.

Cyrus and Lazarus were incapable of accomplishing any of these things unless God intervened on their behalf. In Jesus, the Lord Himself is doing the work we could never do. Peter’s Confession was right, Jesus is the Christ (Messiah/Anointed One), the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16)! He is unlike anyone else in that His Kingdom will never fade away and His authority to raise the dead is not just for one man, but for all people by grace through faith. What is better, Christ Himself says the gates of death and Hell could not hold up against the true confession of who He is (Matthew 16:18). He is Christus Victor and He is leading a host of captives in His train (Psalm 68:18) that even the gates of Hell cannot hold back.

A sermon structure which can help us accomplish the task of magnifying the gospel in Isaiah 45:1-7 is Paul Scott Wilson’s “Four Pages Structure.” In this arrangement there are “four rhetorical units in the sermon, two of them based upon the Law and two based upon the Gospel.

(1) Trouble in the Text.

(2) Trouble in the World.

(3) Grace in the Text.

(4) Grace in the World.


During the course of the sermon, the preacher will take his hearers through these four experiences.”[2]

The following is a potential outline for a “Four Pages” sermon structure. As you will see, these four points do not always have to be used in exactly the same order but should be employed by the preacher in a way which serves the Gospel proclamation best as it relates to the text.


(2) Trouble in the World.

We are held captive in this world behind strong gates that imprison us (Romans 7:23).

-Here, a serial depiction[3] of things that imprison us could be useful (grounding it in Paul’s struggle in Romans 7). This is especially true if it could relate to the lives of God’s people being imprisoned in exile in Babylon.

(1) Trouble in the Text.

A deliverer bursts onto the scene through the gates of bronze which held Israel captive. But there is a troubling detail given in the text. The “anointed” rescuer is Cyrus! Why would God use Cyrus to be an anointed rescuer? Why not an Israelite deliverer? Why this foreign enemy?

-Here, we can have another serial depiction of the strange ways God answers our prayers for deliverance sometimes.

The “anointed” rescuer is Cyrus! Why would God use Cyrus to be an anointed rescuer?

The following is a possible story you could use in this section:

“There is a story about three farmers whose fields were adjoined. One was Jewish, one Muslim, and one Christian. Each observed the Sabbath on a different day of the week. One harvest season, bad weather limited the days available for work, and skipping a day for Sabbath observance risked financial ruin. Nevertheless, all three farmers in turn observed their faith, making the choice to stay home on their respective Sabbaths. Upon waking the next day, each farmer found a barn filled with harvested crops. They gave thanks and praise to God, assuming angels had been sent to do the work. In fact, it was the neighbors of differing faiths who did the work in secret.”[4]

Sometimes we are surprised by whom God sends to help, especially when they are different from us. This passage from Isaiah describes God making an unexpected choice to aid the people of Israel. Having suffered in exile, they believe God has promised to send them a Messiah, someone to set them free. They have waited a long time for liberation but count on God’s promise to come true.

In this passage, God is ready to act, but not in the way Israel expects. God selects Cyrus, the king of Persia, to defeat Babylon and allow Israel to return home. As a Gentile and foreign king, Cyrus is perhaps the last person they would have thought of to rescue them. Why not one of them, a native Hebrew? Why a potential enemy?

(3) Grace in the Text

God is delivering His people by means of a King who will break down the bars that hold us in. It was strange but it was a real deliverance. The “anointed one,” Cyrus, was a kind of savior who pointed towards something hidden in God until He revealed the true Savior and Anointed One, the Messiah in Jesus for us (Galatians 4:4). Lazarus’ story proves Jesus has the authority and power as God’s true “Anointed Messiah” to set free those imprisoned by more than political prisons, but also and more importantly by sin and death.

(4) Grace in the World

Jesus broke down the gates of death that stood over us through His own death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God who was unrecognizable to us as the Savior (John 1:10-11). Yet, God would, through Jesus, break the prison doors and even the gates of Hell could not stand against Him.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 45:1-7.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 45:1-7.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 45:1-7.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!


[1] In English, this means, “You are the hidden God, the Savior of Israel.” Biblia Sacra Vulgata: Iuxta Vulgatem Versionem, electronic edition of the 3rd edition. Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969. Isaiah 45:15.

[2] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/lawgospel-structure/

[3] A “serial depiction” is a series of images, examples, or illustrations which rhetorically help to shed light on an idea. They are often arranged from the least weighty to those of greater depth and frequently used in threes. For example, in the case of our Isaiah text, a serial depiction of things that imprison us could be excess time spent looking at electronics which draws us away from truly more important items, relational baggage that directs us to make decisions to maintain a human relationship but do not honor God’s plan and purposes in our lives, and addictions that hold our focus and become a god for us.

[4] Margaret Silf. One Hundred Wisdom Stories from around the World. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2003. 208–209.