Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Living Branch From The Living Tree (Isaiah 4)


In the midst of Isaiah’s strong condemnations of injustice and corruption, is a beautiful ray of hope. A day of peace and justice will come.

Isaiah 4:2 (ESV)
In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel.

The branch is a frequently used image in the book of Isaiah. A branch goes somewhere new, but it is part of the same source, not something entirely different. The fruit of a branch is healthy and mature because of the health of the plant from which the branch comes. In Isaiah, the image of a vine is the nation of Israel, the covenant people of God. The branch is the promised coming Messiah, the King who will judge the corrupt and bring peace to the covenant people of God.

The beautiful thing about this promise of Messiah and a coming peace in this short chapter is that it is included as part of the whole story of salvation that Isaiah is prophesying. Though so much corruption and injustice is being called out, and warnings of judgment are being declared, this hope for redemption still exists in the midst of the darkness.

The gift of the branch, Messiah, was the incarnation of eternal God in humanity. Though God’s people had been corrupt, by the interjection of the very being of Holy God into the family of God, all the branches of the vine could be made holy. The good news of the branch in this chapter of Isaiah is that this salvation from corruption was not an afterthought. God did not respond to sin with the incarnation of Messiah, a cleanup project because of a world gone wrong. This story of salvation is the original plan since before time.

1 Peter 1:17-21 (ESVUK)
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

The salvation offered by Jesus Christ was foreknown before the creation of the world, before there ever was corruption or injustice. Every one of us is in exile before receiving this salvation. Israel will be in exile by the judgments Isaiah prophesies. We too are separated from our spiritual Father because of our own corruption. In Ephesians, it says that we were also chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be adopted into the family of God. We may, by faith, be grafted into the branch of God, and receive from him the source of all goodness and life in order to live justly and love mercy and walk humbly, as we are empowered by Jesus to do so. All of this was planned from the beginning. Like the nation of Israel in the book of Isaiah, even in the midst of our condemnation, the hope of our salvation is sure.

Isaiah 4:3-4 (ESVUK)
And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgement and by a spirit of burning.

The worship of the people of God could not be received for the blood in their hands from injustice in Isaiah 1:15. God promises that because of the branch, the blood and the filth of God’s people will be cleaned. In 1 Peter 1, it says that it is by the blood of Christ we are ransomed from our exile. Peter describes Jesus as being without any blemish or spot. When we are grafted into his branch, all our guilt is washed away, and we are able to begin fresh in the power of his life, the life of God.

Isaiah 4:5 (ESV)
Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.

The chapter ends with a beautiful reminder of Israel’s experience of God’s presence while they were in the wilderness after their liberation from Egypt. In the book of Exodus, the people of Israel could see the presence of God among them in the form of a pillar of smoke to give them shade during the day, and fire at night for light and warmth. The pillar would rise and move when it was time for the nation to move, and they would follow (e.g., Exodus 13:21-22). God's presence was always there. It protected them. It led them. Isaiah says that when the Messiah comes, the people of God will once again have the presence of God among them as they did then.

The book of Acts tells a powerful story of the coming of the presence of God in a new way on Jesus’ followers. The disciples were all waiting together in an upper room during the feast of Pentecost, Israel’s celebration of the giving of God’s law at Sinai in the wilderness. It was after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They had been told that they would soon receive a gift from God.

Acts 2:2-3 (ESVUK)
And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The presence of God had come again to the people of God. This time, instead of a single pillar before the entire community, every person in the family of God was able to personally experience the presence of God with them. By their faith in Jesus Christ, they were filled with the very spirit of God, grafted to the branch, part of the family, according to God’s very nature.

Even this is not the end of the salvation story. Isaiah describes a time when the family of God will all be together in one place, gathered from their exile, living together in justice and peace with the presence of God among them. The book of Revelation agrees with this hopeful future.

Revelation 20:1-7 (ESVUK)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

By the life of the living branch of God does the family of God in exile among the nations live according to the justice, love, and peace of the spirit of God, who fills them with true life. We live in hope every day for the day when the fulfillment of God’s justice, love, and peace will be seen on earth, surrounded by the protecting and refreshing presence of God, living among us. God will complete the good work that began even before Creation.

Tomorrow: Isaiah 5 - Replanting the Vineyard

Click the image above for the entire series from Isaiah

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