Old Testament: Isaiah 51:1-6 (Pentecost 13: Series A)

Reading Time: 5 mins

Jesus is the rock from which we were taken and the rock on which we now stand. This is the truth the Church confesses every time we gather for worship.

In the season of Pentecost, we are reminded “the Lord will comfort Zion; He comforts all her waste places” (verse 3).

Isaiah 40–55 is all about comfort. Cyrus the Great is on the move and will soon defeat Babylon. He will also allow the exiles to return to Judah. This is just the beginning. The real news of comfort, far above repatriation, is the announcement of Zion as a paradise regained (Isaiah 4:2; 32:15; 35:1-2; 61:3-4; 65:21-22). The vision in our text frames Zion as renewed like a garden paradise (Revelation 22:1-4). It speaks of God making “her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord” (verse 3). Isaiah is preaching the good news of comfort to God’s people. “Waste places” are those regions which have no people and are barren. To comfort Zion is to put into these barren “waste places” new life.

This calls to mind the barrenness of Israel’s three great matriarchs Sarah (Genesis 11:30), Rebekah (Genesis 25:31), and Rachel (Genesis 29:31). The choice of Cyrus, like the Lord’s choosing of the three barren women, highlights how the Lord often “chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the strong. He chooses the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). The “rock” which Israel was quarried from is unmistakably a barren rock. With this they are called to remember their sacred past, how the Lord brought life from the wombs of those barren matriarchs as from a rock. Therefore, He is certainly able to bring new life for Israel from barren Babylon and increase them as He had previously promised through Abraham (Genesis 15:5; 22:17).

Isaiah 51:1-6 is a call for us to look to the Rock from which we can draw hope for our sinful souls. We also need comfort from the Lord who brings new life. This brings to mind Psalm 61:1-3:

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer, from the end of the earth. I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”

Who is the Rock we are led to for hope and strength? The apostle Paul has an answer in 1 Corinthains 10:4: “For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” By way of analogy, Paul leads us to the Rock which is “higher than I.” In fact, Jesus is a deliverer far greater than Cyrus. Cyrus was for a moment, but Jesus is eternal (Romans 6:9). Cyrus may have defeated Babylon, but Jesus defeated sin and death for us (Romans 5:21; 8:2). The promise of Jesus’ birth was the good news God’s people had been looking forward to (Genesis 3:15). When humanity was cast out of the verdant Garden of Eden into the wilderness of creation, those barren plains of sin (Genesis 2:23-24) could not even compare to the life they had in Paradise. We needed a way back to God. We needed paradise regained. It is only through Jesus that we can return back to a perfect relationship with God (Joel 2:13).

However, it is not through our labors that we would receive this promise. In order to prove the promise to us, God would not take life from a barren womb. Instead, it was through not just a barren womb, but the untouched womb of Mary that God would bring forth His promised Messiah. That is where your Rock, your Messiah was quarried from. From the nothingness which was Mary’s womb came forth light and eternal life in Christ (2 Timothy 1:10).

However, it is not through our labors that we would receive this promise. In order to prove the promise to us, God would not take life from a barren womb.

After His miraculous nativity, Jesus then went to the masses to heal their brokenness and reveal the reign of God here among us as Isaiah prophesied. Along the way, Jesus would be driven to the waste places after dealing with people’s brokenness and sin (Mark 1:45; Luke 4:42; 5:16). Eventually, Jesus went to the ultimate site of desolation on Calvary to deal with all our brokenness and sin (Isaiah 53:8-9).

This seems strange to us though. Would God’s power not be better displayed in glory and authority like we expect from Isaiah’s prophecy? Remember, God often chooses the foolish things in the world and the things which are considered naught to communicate His great grace for us sinners. He decided to reveal Himself in such simple and humble means as bread and wine for a supper, and water for a baptism, and even mere words, but most importantly in the human flesh of Jesus who was born, died, and resurrected for you. That is how Paradise is regained for you! It is through Jesus who, with a bit of dramatic irony, was even mistaken for a gardener after His resurrection (John 20:15).

Here is the good news of comfort for your people in this sermon. Jesus is the rock from which we were taken and the rock on which we now stand. This is the truth the Church confesses every time we gather for worship. It is the truth that we are built on the trustworthy Rock who is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Luke 6:48; Matthew 7:24; -25). This is the Rock on which the Church was built (Matthew 16:18), the confession, that Jesus is the promised Savior given over to death for us and resurrected to secure for us an eternal Zion kept safe for you in Heaven (1 Peter 1:4).

But in a sermon like this we have to start somewhere. We can begin with Paul who uses the rock in the wilderness as analogy of Christ. This may also be instructive for how we want to approach the structure we decide to use for preaching, by finding a way to use the analogy of the “rock” to talk about Christ.

First, it is likely beneficial to have a definition of analogy to help guide our understanding of what Paul is doing in Corinthians. This meaning can help model what we hope to do using a structure based on analogy:

“anal•o•gy noun

                      1:  inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will probably agree in others
                      2: a. resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike: similarity
                           b. comparison based on such resemblance
                      3: correspondence between the members of pairs or sets of linguistic forms that serves as a basis for the creation
                           of another form
                      4: correspondence in function between anatomical parts of different structure and origin”[1]

Here is a helpful explanation of the “Analogy Structure” for preaching, with ideas for our Isaiah text included:

“This structure introduces hearers to a theological topic by moving from the known to the unknown. The sermon is based upon an act of comparison as the preacher compares a topic that is familiar to the hearers but of secondary importance (in other words, the analogy or secondary topic) to the topic of primary importance that might be unfamiliar to the hearers (which is the main topic of the sermon). By doing this, the preacher moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar and allows the analogy to shed light upon the theological topic.


For example, a preacher may compare the way Isaiah talks about life being taken from a lifeless rock (this is the topic of secondary importance which is familiar to the hearers), to the way Christ is the Rock on which our hope is founded (here is the topic of primary importance that is unfamiliar to the hearers). Through a listing of the points of comparison, the hearers move from the known to the unknown.


In this structure, the secondary topic needs to (1) be familiar to the hearers so the preacher is not forced to explain two topics at once and the secondary topic might serve as a mnemonic device, (2) be of a different nature than the main topic so it incites interest for the hearers in the comparison, and (3) have a positive effect so the hearers are not offended by the comparison. Also, the preacher needs to be aware that all analogies break down and thereby prevent his hearers from falling into that confusion, either by clarifying for them the limits of the analogy or avoiding development which would lead toward that error.”[2]


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 51:1-6.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 51:1-6.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 51:1-6.

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!

Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Walter A Meier III Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Isaiah 51:1-6.


[1] Merriam-Webster Inc. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

[2] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/thematic/analogy/