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Today’s sermon is my 20th message on the book of Isaiah from the Old Testament. Last Sunday’s message was on Isaiah chapter 62, focusing on 62:2, which says, “You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.” Like Israel, those of us who are believers will be called by a new name. One day, we will be called His “crown of splendor,” His “delight,” “a holy people,” and the “redeemed”. Let’s hold on to that promise. In chapter 62, verse 6 also says this: “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem.” Day and night, the “watchmen” continue to intercede in prayer before God. For those of us living in New Testament times, these watchmen can be seen as a symbol of the Holy Spirit and his ongoing work. The Holy Spirit’s work is to watch over and guide believers. God himself watches over his people, teaching and protecting them. Until Jesus our Redeemer returns, may we live in step with the Holy Spirit’s teaching and guidance.
Today we enter Isaiah chapter 63. This passage begins with words spoken by Jerusalem’s watchmen in a prophetic image; and the prophecy is about the beginning of God’s judgment of the whole world. The rest of the passage is Isaiah’s prayer. This is what we will focus on today, so let’s read Isaiah 63.
Isaiah 63:1 says, “Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? ‘It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save.’” The watchmen standing on the walls of Jerusalem see a man coming from Edom and ask, “Who is this?” Based on the context, we can understand this to be a picture of God who has carried out judgment in Edom. The nation of Edom was to the east of Jerusalem and often attacked the Israelite city. But here, Edom also symbolizes the whole world, which will be judged by God in the future. (See also: Isaiah 34:5, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom”.)
This man coming from the direction of Edom is described as wearing crimson clothes and having power or authority. The man says he brings victory (or “righteousness” in another translation) and that he is mighty to save. In other words, God himself came to bring judgment on Edom. His clothes are deep red, like someone who has been treading on a winepress (which crushes grapes to make wine). In judgment, God has trampled on those who opposed him. Verse 3 says, “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one else was with me,” which emphasizes that God carried out this judgment alone. Verse 4 says, “It was for me the day of vengeance; the year for me to redeem had come.” What is a day of vengeance on God’s enemies was also a day of redemption for God’s people. Likewise, God will one day judge those who are hostile to his people today. Verse 6 says, “I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.” This prophetic image speaks of judgment during the end times.
Verse 7 onwards, however, is the prophet Isaiah’s prayer or song of praise. It begins with, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised”. A day of redemption comes, and it is God’s act of grace. Remembering God’s grace, Isaiah praises Him in song. He remembers all the Lord has done for Israel. God redeemed Israel. The theme here is abundant grace and abundant mercy. It is the same with our salvation as Christians—rescued by God’s grace and given life. No matter what trial or difficulty we are going through, we want to be able to recognize and praise God’s grace.
Verse 8: “He said, ‘Surely they are my people, my children who will be true to me’ and so He became their Savior.” In the last days, we who believe in the Savior will be called His people, faithful children.
Verse 9: “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Isaiah was speaking of Israel’s liberation from Egypt, but likewise, God suffers with us today in our current suffering. The angel of his presence gives us help. All this while, God has been carrying us through. This whole prayer or song comes out of Isaiah’s memory of God’s love. God is with us in our difficulties. Let’s take hold of this truth.
Verses 10 to 14 recalls more of Israel’s history. And it raises the question, “Where is the God who rescued us from Egypt?” Isaiah himself is asking in prayer, “Where is God now?” Verse 10 shows what had happened: “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.” The people of Israel in Isaiah’s own time period had become enemies of God. It was necessary for Israel to recognize that God would judge them for their hostility towards him, just as he did later by using Babylon to conquer Jerusalem and take its people away as captives. It was necessary for Israel to recognize that losing their home was caused by their own sin. Only when they realized that their misery was a result of deviating from God could they start afresh.
From verse 15 onwards until the end of the next chapter, the prophet continues his prayer—of repentance, pleading with God, and interceding. Isaiah prayed on behalf of his people. “Where are your zeal and your might?” he asks in verse 15, wanting to see God’s passion for Israel again. “But you are our Father . . . our Redeemer from old is your name,” he says in verse 16. And in the second half of verse 17, he pleads, “Return”. Isaiah’s prayer continues in chapter 64, and we will see God’s reply in chapter 65. In closing, I hope that we too may pray like Isaiah in desiring repentance, interceding for others, and asking to see God’s compassion.