Imagine if you will yourself off in a very strange and difficult land. Imagine that your weary heart casts eyes back toward home. But all that spreads out before you is hundreds of miles of rough and desolate and barren desert with no possible passage that could be survived for anyone through that roughed area. And as the discouragement of that sight settles down over you, suddenly as you look that desert begins to be carpeted by the most beautiful flowers that you can imagine - colorful and just lovely. As you watch, instead of that sorry brush that is scattered here and there over the countryside, there arise majestic trees with their beautiful foliage that cover the countryside. Then, as you watch, what was just a sprig of an ugly weed here and there turns into the kind of plant life that would be found in a marsh area instead of an empty desert. And as you watch, what was the shimmering mirage of the burning sands, turns instead to springs of fresh water that turns into streams in the desert. What an amazing transformation that sight would be to weary eyes!
But that is not the best of it. Suddenly in the middle of all of that, there arises from the floor of what had been the desert a way. The ravines fill in and the ridges are brought down. Instead of an impassable area of desert sand, there is a highway lifted up, a safe passageway by which an individual could travel home. Can you imagine what a thrilling sight that would be to any person who maybe was separated or who was in captivity or who
was losing hope about where life is headed? Well, that is exactly the theme of the prophecy that Scott read for us.
What really is the focus of this whole passage is the highway of holiness, which is mentioned down at verse 8 of Isaiah 35. "A highway shall be there and it shall be called the way of holiness." That thought is worthy of much consideration on the part of all of us. It is one of the most encouraging pictures that you can ever imagine and yet it is one that calls for a response from us and it is one that calls for a commitment from us and one that we would like all of us to look into together this morning.
The first point that needs to be noticed from this passage is that there is a way. There is such a way as this highway that is mentioned here. That way has been brought about by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into this world. Notice at the end of verse 2 it mentions, "They shall see the glory of the Lord and the majesty of our God." That is what brought about the transformation in the desert that occurred before the eyes of the people mentioned here. You and I have had the privilege through the gospel to see in Jesus the glory of God and to behold that glory full of grace and truth, according to the apostle John in John, chapter 1.
The ministry of Jesus confirms that there is a way. Did you notice that as Scott read in verses 5 and 6 that it mentioned there "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame man shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute shall sing for joy?" Jesus referred to those very events in his ministry in Luke 7:22. John the Baptist, who had been unjustly imprisoned, heard about the mighty works that were being done by our Lord in his ministry and his dealing with people. But John in prison could only send some of his disciples to Jesus with the question, "Are you the one we are looking for or are we looking for someone else?" And when those messengers came to Jesus with that question, it happened that in that very hour he healed many people and diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind, he bestowed sight. And he answered those messengers, according to Luke, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind received their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up. The poor have good news preached to them and blessed is the one who is not offended by me." Jesus was referring, at least in part, to that very passage in Isaiah 35. And he was saying, "John, remember the promises. Here's what happing. Here's what I am doing and you can see the meaning of it." Jesus' mighty works gave credibility to his claims. When he claimed "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me," he was making a claim to be the way, the way of holiness. He was saying there is a way into God's presence. There is a way to live. There is a way to heaven and that way is through me.
A further proof that there is now a way is the manner in which the book of Acts applies this point in the New Testament. Did you realize that the most common term by which Luke in the book of Acts refers to Christians is simply to call them "the way." In Acts 9 and verse 2, Paul (Saul of Tarsus) was going to see if he could find any who were "of the way." I can find six other times in the book of Acts when Christians are merely referred to as those who were "of the way." That means that people who are following Jesus, who is "the way," are people "of the way." Our lives are going somewhere. Our lives have a sense of purpose and direction because of Christ. Our lives have an eternal hope because we are people of the way. Acts refers to "the way of salvation" in Acts, chapter 16, to "the way of the Lord" and to "the way of God" in Acts, chapter 18.
This way of holiness is present now because of the ministry of Jesus, because of the language of Acts, and then third, because of the application of this prophecy that the epistles in the New Testament make. If you notice here in Isaiah 35 in verses 3 and 4, it talks about strengthening the weak hands and making firm the feeble knees. People from whom the strength has gone out are encouraged here in those words. But the New Testament takes those exact words in Hebrews 12, verse 12, and applies them to Christians who were thinking about departing from the way of Christ. The Hebrew writer stresses that we have "a new and living way" through the flesh of Jesus because of his blood, according to Hebrews 10, verses 19-21. That way is something that we want to be careful not to fall short from, the Hebrew writer says, or not to depart from. So this way of holiness is available to us. What Isaiah could look out across the desert and just envision has been made real through Jesus Christ. In the old holiday movie "A Wonderful Life," at the crucial point in it, George Bailey sits in contemplation of ending it all, praying "show me the way." Show me the way. Well, Jesus is the way. There is the way of holiness.
The second thing that the prophecy from Isaiah 35 stresses to us is that this way is a wonderful way. If you can imagine the barren desert blossoming like is described here, if you can imagine streams in the desert, then you can just imagine in your mind the wonder of this way. Think about the application here. If it is true that this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, then all of the blessings that are described by Isaiah are characteristic of those of us who follow Jesus. If it is true that Jesus is the fulfillment of the way of holiness, then the promised blessings are available to us in Christ.
What kind of wonderful way is this? It is first the way of grace. In Isaiah 35, verse 2, it says "that the glory of Lebanon (that is the mighty trees that are there) shall be given to it and the majesty of Carmel and Sharon (Carmel and Sharon were the regions on the western part of the country where the grass and the flowers flourished). A desert can't produce huge cedar trees or beautiful flowers or lush green grass on its own. It is given to it (v. 2). And the way that is offered to us in Christ is a way through the grace of God which is opened for us, which is offered to us through the gospel of Jesus.
Not only is it a way of grace, it also is a way of purity. I want you to notice in verse 8 where he describes the fact that the unclean shall not pass over it. In the ancient world, I am told that there would be times when from one temple to some god or another to another one, there would be constructed a highway. Only those who were ceremonial pure, according to whatever temple they were going to, could pass over that highway. That image has been adopted here to say to us that this highway of holiness requires holiness in our lives. There is a story of a little girl who was in a class and the teacher asked the class "What is holiness?" A little girl raised her hand and jumped up and said "I know. It is to be clean on the inside." It is partly that. It is also to be dedicated to God, to be his. This way is the way where there is no uncleanness. Think about what it would be like to drive along our highways if you didn't have to worry about what other folks would do. If there was no reckless driving, there were no inattentive drivers, if there were no drunk drivers, if there were no people who were suddenly stopping or making up their mind to turn or to switch lanes right at the very last minute. It would be a pleasure to drive along and look at the trees this time of the year. But in this world there are things like that. What this passage is talking about is a way where there is no immorality, no uncleanness, no destructive guilt and no dishonorable conduct and behavior and no reckless words that destroy people's lives.
In the third place, notice that this is a way of truth. It is interesting that toward the end of verse 8, there is a picture which is possible to be taken in two different ways. It talks there about those who walk on the way. The older versions call it the "wayfaring man who walks therein." Even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. One way of taking that phrase in the original language is the suggestion that this is a way which is clear. This is a way which is illumined. This is a way which is open. This is a way that is not going to be mistaken. This is a way that anyone who truly wants to can see and can travel. Now there is an application of that very idea in the New Testament. The truth of the gospel is not obscure. The gospel can be preached to every creature and anyone in the world who will believe and be baptized can walk in the way.
On the other hand, this passage may be taken to mean if they are fools, they shall not wander in it. Bro. Johnny Ramsey said, "Rather than stressing the simplicity of God's word and how that even simple minded people can find salvation, this passage evidently teaches the truth that wayfaring men, ungodly, rebellious characters shall not accidently stumble into the way of holiness." That is a truth to be thought about, too. It requires that you and I be willing to be taught and to learn and to accept the truth of God in our lives. That is the kind of way this is.
In the next place, notice that this is a way of security and safety. In our world right now, we have security locks, security officers, security lights, security services, security alarms, even a national department of Homeland Security. We are interested in security in every way. This passage says, "No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come upon it. They shall not be found there." A typical highway in the ancient world would weave here and there through areas where the danger would not be going along and running over a wild animal. But the danger would be going along and being overtaken by a wild animal and being consumed by that wild animal. You didn't have to worry about road kill if you were going along either walking or in a chariot. You had to worry about becoming road kill! This passage says there are no ravenous beast there. Bro. Mack Lyon uses as a theme for the little TV program he does the song that says "I know the Lord will find a way for me. I know the Lord will find a way for me. If I walk in heaven's light, shun the wrong and do the right, I know the Lord will find a way for me." This is a way in which there is safety and security for those who will travel it in Jesus.
And then notice it is a way of joy. Isn't it a beautiful thought at the end of the chapter when it says that sorrow and sighing shall flee away? It doesn't mean there will never be any sorrow in the Christian life. But it means that sorrow and sighing as a way of life are ending. Imagine yourself coming from a long way off toward home. You come up over the rise and there is the sight of home. An old poet, whose name I don't know, said, "It's as when the weary traveler gains the height of some overlooking hill, the sight his fainting spirit cheers. He eyes his home, though distant still." That is the thought at the end of the passage when it talks about the ransomed of the Lord coming to Zion singing, everlasting joy being upon their heads, and their obtaining gladness and joy. There is a way. It is a way of grace and purity and truth and safety and joy.
But now it needs to be mentioned and understood and accepted by all of us that this way must actually be taken. Because I have a highway within a mile of my house that goes to St, Louis doesn't mean I am in St. Louis. I have to get on the road and take that way to arrive at that destination. There are three points that I think stand out in Isaiah 35 along this line that need to carefully be thought about.
First, in taking this way, the way must be entered. It must be taken. The journey must be started. Notice that all through Isaiah 35 it says that this way belongs to the ransomed - the redeemed walk there, according to the end of verse 9. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return." That is language which suggests release from bondage by the payment of a price. Now how would that apply to us in Christ? What bondage do I need to be released from living as a free citizen of the United States of America? Jesus said in John, chapter 8, "whoever commits sin becomes the slave of sin." That makes me in bondage to fear and death. By what price can I be released from that kind of bondage? The ransom price, according to Matthew 20, verse 28, is the blood of the son of God, which he shed to redeem or to purchase for himself a people. When is that redemption real? Redemption is the forgiveness of our sins, according to Ephesians 1, verse 7. This is a way which is traveled by people who, through Christ Jesus, are redeemed through forgiveness of sin. When you and I embrace the gospel of Jesus, when we cast ourselves upon what he has done for us, when we repent of trying to walk some other way, when we are baptized into him so that his blood washes us free of sin, then we are redeemed and we begin to walk and to travel the way of holiness.
A second point that needs to be understood is that having taken this way, we actually need to make the journey. The life needs to be lived. It is interesting to me that in Hebrews, chapter 12, where the Hebrew writer quotes about the strengthening the weak hands and the making firm the feeble needs, he actually talks about what goes into living this life. It takes strength for the journey and determination and rising above anxiety in order to be strong and not to fear, it says here. That is a challenge for me. Is it for you? In Hebrews 12, if you notice, the Hebrew writer calls our attention to some of the things that would keep us from making the journey that he is talking about here. Beginning at verse 12 he says, "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God (see to it that you don't fall out of the way), that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and by it many become defiled (that you don't get crossways with fellow travelers), and that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal (don't get to thinking you will find a better deal somewhere else than in the way of holiness)."
The way must be entered, the way must be traveled, and third, the way must be completed, finished. What a comfort it was to the apostle Paul when, at the end of II Timothy and apparently his last writing, he could say, "I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course." He finished the course. He entered the way of holiness and he lived it and he completed the journey with the Lord. One of my favorite little writings is from John Oxenham: "To every man there openeth a way and ways and a way, and the high soul climbs the high way, and the low soul goes the low. And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro. But to every man there openeth a way, a high way and a low. And every man decideth the way his soul shall go." Jesus said it a different way in Matthew 7, verses 13 and 14. The same challenge but a little different words. He said, "Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few." That doesn't mean that few can. It is just saying that we have to make the choice and that so many of us are not doing so.
Picture in your mind the highway of holiness. Consider this morning whether you are traveling that way that the grace of God has made available. If you need to begin the journey this morning, you are encouraged to do that. If you are on that journey, we are encouraging you to keep traveling, and, if you have not finished and you see that you need to get back with it, if we can help you in some way, won't you let us do so this morning? If you need to come, do it now while we stand and sing.