January, 11, 2009
Prayer: Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. We pray that as you guided the magi you may also guide your people to Jesus in whose Name we pray. Amen.
On this first day when heav’n and earth
Rose at the Triune’s word to birth
The day when He who gave us breath
Revived our souls and vanquished death
Why close in sleep your languid eyes
Shake off dull slumber, wake, arise;
And mindful of the Prophet’s voice
Right early in our God rejoice.
This is an ancient Epiphany hymn written by Saint Gregory the Great.
We find here an early testimony of the Christian response to the work of God, and that is: shake off dull slumber, wake, and arise!
This is echoed throughout the Scriptures, but notably from the words of Yahweh to Jonah. Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” God calls Jonah to arise so that the Gentiles would quickly hear and see the light of the Lord.
This idea is what we see our passage this morning. We have a double imperative: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Yahweh has just rebuked and chastised His people in chapter 59. The contrast of chapter 60 is magnificent. The people are separated from their God (59:2). They are sitting on the ground in silence (see Lamentations 2:10). Their mouths are shut in the presence of Yahweh. But yet the end of Isaiah 59 ends with this marvelous promise: “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore (59:21).”
You who were once sitting down in silence now must arise in glory for the Lord has risen upon you. The spoken word of Yahweh brings a reality, a newness of life to the people. We are reminded of the creation narrative. Once there was darkness over the face of the deep, but God says: Let there be light and there was light. In Isaiah we see that there is darkness in the land; sin has blinded the people until God speaks again: Let there be light! Let there be an epiphany; a manifestation of the true light who brings salvation to the world.
We can clearly see the creation narrative re-applied in the New Creation that Isaiah speaks about in verse 2: “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.”
This is a sovereign initiative; it is a gracious initiative. It is Yahweh who arises upon the people. It is the Lord who speaks and the glory of His Light will cause the darkness to vanish. Yahweh is lifting up Zion, His church, who was once “covered with filth and pollution, so that she might regain her seat of honor” as the city of God; the light of the world.
We must remember that in the Old Testament the world was plagued with the darkness of idolatry; to a greater dimension the devil was loose to perform his evil deeds. The good news did not reach the distant lands, except for a few cases where the Gentiles were included in the benefits of God’s grace. But what Isaiah promises in our passage is that the old creation, the old order, the darkness of the older covenant will be restored with the glory of the new order; the new creation. The promises, the types, the shadows will be fulfilled in the incarnation of the God/Man. God is setting the world right through His chosen Servant, His only begotten Son.
It is Jesus, the True Israel who is going to begin the process of undoing the sin introduced in Genesis 3. This process will bring light to the nations; it is a light to lighten the Gentiles. The Gentiles were like the blind following the blind. In verse 3 we begin to see the reversal of this blindness and darkness: “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”
The promise that through the Abrahamic seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed (Gen. 22:18 ) is unfolding in the new creation. This blessing begins with a tiny nation and leads to the renewal of the world. The glory of Israel has now become the glory of the New Israel. This New Israel consists of every tongue, nation and people. It is not constrained to any race. It is cosmic, bright and glorious.
Theological Observation: This view of Israel ought to guide our view of the world, including our view of our current political climate. There are many out there who dress themselves in evangelical garb and proclaim that if we do not unreservedly “support the political state of Israel” then we are worst than an infidel. But God’s concern with the redemption, whether physical or spiritual of ethnic Israel, is no different than His concern for the deliverance or salvation of other nations. As Christians, we are not called to defend or to support any nation unless that nation has covenanted themselves with Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the gospel of Christ does not permit a race-based Christianity. It is faith in Messiah that the gospel demands. No one who denies the Messiah will inherit eternal life. This is the point of Ephesians 2 that we are all one in Christ; the dividing walls of hostility have been broken down. God desires that every nation come to Him whether ethnic Jew or ethnic Greek. The heart of God is to all the nations; the gospel is meant for the world.
Our passage looks to a day when the Gentiles, the nations will come to the light. This is why Isaiah calls Israel to walk in the light, because from Israel will come the true Israel who is the light Himself. This is why the Psalmist sings that He will have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!
This prophecy could not have been fulfilled in the days of the prophets. Even though after the Jews were settled in their land, many joined themselves to them, yet there is nothing even close to this worldwide picture that the prophet envisions. This is why we look further to the fulfillment of this prophecy when the Gentiles are united with the gospel church; when Zion will no longer be a localized church, but a universal church under Her Lord Christ.
This is why we believe so strongly in a view of the future that is glorious, not dim; that is bright, not dark. The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord. We live now in this gospel expansion. This is an expansion that began when the nations of the earth represented by the magi came to behold that little Jewish baby.
As Israel was guided by the pillar of cloud and fire as they came out of Egypt from the reign of the despotic Pharaoh, so too, the wise men are also coming away from the despotic and brutal Herod being guided by a star.
The magi do not find the King of the Jews in a king’s court. He has no temple; no troops; no earthly wealth. “How will the nations be attracted to this? How can this be the fulfillment of the dreams of Israel’s glory? How can this fulfill the Abrahamic and prophetic promises about Israel’s future? No wonder the Jews stumbled over Jesus.”
It is precisely this humble beginning that attracts the nations to Jesus. For the God/Man to appear, to reveal Himself in a babe is precisely what will turn the world upside down. When the wise men see Jesus, you do not hear them say: Is this it? Is this the One who will bring peace to mankind? No, when they saw the Christ “they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” They believed in the promise and were guided by the sign.
They believed in the promise even though nothing in their land gave them any hope.
Application: We live in a time of anxiety in this land. It is very difficult to look around our land and find any hope. The more we peruse through the evangelical landscape, the more depressing it becomes; the more we look to our economy, the more we look to wars, the more we look into the despair of humanity, we feel less and less inclined to hope in the expansion of the Church and the fame of Christ in all nations. But this is exactly what Isaiah and the wise men teach us: To believe in the promise and to follow the star, which for us is our only guide in this life. This star is the revelation of God in His Word. We are to hope amidst hopelessness, we are to believe when we are surrounded by unbelief, we are to have eyes of faith in a faithless generation, and we are to respond as the magi did when they saw Messiah: fall down and worship!
Look in verse 4 to see how radical the expansion of the church: NASB – Lift up your eyes round about, and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms (compare ESV – and your daughters shall be carried on the hip).
This is a fascinating look into the future of the world. The church will be so attractive that as Calvin writes: “the womb of the Church shall not be limited to any corner of the world, but shall be extended as far and wide as there shall be space throughout the whole world.” This is the ultimate Biblical view of overpopulation.
The sons and daughters of the Church run from every corner of the world to seek refuge in the Church. Little ones are being carried in the arms to the corporate worship of God’s people. You will open the doors of the Church and it will feel like the Day after Thanksgiving. People will flock with their little ones; there will be an increase hunger for Biblical worship. The text says we will lift our eyes and see them coming to us. What will we offer them? True, Trinitarian, robust, Joyful, Biblical worship? or Trivialized, irreverent worship? The antithesis is clear!
Application: If the world is coming to us then we must offer a worship that transcends any worldly paradigm. It must be a worship that revives the weak, that encourages the man who has lost his job, that reforms our tainted view of the Church and that re-vitalizes our people to pursue dominion in all areas of life. This is how the Bible portrays our response in verse 5: Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult.
In verses 5 and 6 we see that there are riches beyond Solomon’s riches coming to Zion: the riches of the seas will be turned to you, the wealth of nations will come to you. Verse 6: Caravan of camels will cover your land…they will bring gold, frankincense…and they will show forth praise to the Lord.
The nations come from afar to bring gifts, in particular gold and frankincense: Two of the gifts brought by the magi. What we find in the gospel account is the beginning of this promise. The magi bring tribute gifts to the Messiah, not just as an act of adoration, but to symbolize the building of the house of the Lord. The Father through His Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is building a house for Himself. God is building a house that is eternal; that cannot be destroyed by human armies. The riches that Isaiah speaks of will build a house that will grow until it covers the entire world for the glory of the new born King.
How shall we live in light of this glorious picture?
a) The first application this morning is a call to action: The Lord tells us to Arise! We are to shake off our dull slumber. God told Jonah to arise. As people who are in relationship with God, we cannot continue unattached to God’s purposes for the world. Our covenant with God requires a commitment to His agenda. God’s agenda is to bring to pass His purposes for the world through His Son. To be covenanted with God means to be energized, awakened to the realities and the mission of the Kingdom. We cannot simply sit idle while the world plummets into a godless abyss. One area where Christians have failed drastically is the ethical issue of abortion. We have given lip service to the fight against abortion, but in reality we have done very little. In the next couple of weeks our church will be able to help financially Safe Harbor. We are going to do our part so they may be able to provide pregnancy tests, counseling, prenatal and parenting information, and whatever it takes to prevent a fearfully and wonderfully made human being to die in the womb.
b) Another application comes from the great commentator Matthew Henry. Henry comments on verse 4 regarding the sons and daughters who flock to the Church. He says the following: “The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers; there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby.”
We are to arise this morning to our responsibilities as covenant parents. If our sons and daughters are to run to the church then we are to teach them to love the church first. Teach them to confess their sins during the week, so that on the Lord’s Day they will confess their sins corporately, teach them to sing with fervor the songs of Zion, teach them to love the bread and the wine. Let them know from their earliest days that they are included in God’s promises so they may remain faithful to their Lord all their days.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Calvin, John. Commentary on Isaiah 60. pg. 275.
 Taken from John Hagee’s book: In Defense of Israel.
 Psalm 72:8.
 Matthew 2:11.
 Calvin, John. Commentary on Isaiah 60. pg. 279.