As creatures we love to predict and plan the future. We find joy in dreaming, planning, and envisioning what tomorrow will look like. We dream of what we can have, who we can be and what we can achieve. And even though the future is outside of our control, having a vision brings us comfort and security.
However, 2020 has made a mockery of our vision statements - reminding us all that we’re not in control. This reality has led to many of us feeling anxious or afraid, and it has raised the question: what does our future look like?
As followers of Jesus who live in days of uncertainty, what we need is not a vision for next year, but a vision for the next billion years! We need a vision of eternal hope. We need to fix our eyes on heaven, our ultimate home.
And we find such a vision in Isaiah 4. An eternal vision where the prophet explains the three tangible images of:
1. A beautiful branch (Isaiah 4:2)
2. A clean city (Isaiah 4:3-4); and
3. A magnificent mountain (Isaiah 4:5-6)
A BEAUTIFUL BRANCH
"In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious…"
- Isaiah 4:2
Deep down your soul is attracted to beauty and glory. We are attracted to beauty, and long to be adored as beautiful. We are intrigued by glory, and long to be respected and known. And these desires make sense, because we have been made in the image of a glorious and beautiful God, who longs to be adored and worshipped. However, this default setting of our heart is why humanity falls into the sin of idolatry: bowing down to idols, or trying to become an idol that others would bow down to.
Ironically, the true way to satisfy the deep desires of your soul is not to seek glory and adoration from others, but instead to give glory and adoration to Jesus… the Branch of the Lord.
As Jeremiah 23 says.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’"
- Jeremiah 23:5-6
The Bible tells us that heaven will be like Eden. It will contain the tree of life and be a place where God walks with us once again. I like to imagine it’s a place where we will see colours we have never seen before and taste fruit we have never tasted before. As Paul says, “...no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When you think of heaven, do you realise that it’s going to be a place of beauty, colour, fruit and glory? And the centrepiece of this garden will be Jesus, the messiah, the beautiful Branch of the Lord.
A CLEAN CITY
"And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy…"
- Isaiah 4:3
In chapter 1, Isaiah calls the city of Jerusalem a whore. And a key theme throughout the book is the restoration of the city and of Mount Zion (where the temple is located). For this restoration to occur, the city needs to be purified; it needs to be washed clean of its unholiness and filth.
When we think of prophets in the Old Testament, we tend to think that God sends them so his people would repent and avoid judgement. Interestingly, this is not the case with Isaiah. God knows how hard-hearted Judah and Israel are, and so he doesn’t send Isaiah so that his people would repent, and avoid judgment, but so that those who survive it would understand why they have been spared. Therefore the remnant, the community after the disaster, would take sin, idolatry and God’s holiness seriously.
Isaiah invites us, as readers, to become a part of this remnant. A group of people who long to be holy like God is holy. A group of people who know that religion doesn’t make you holy, but repentance and faith in Jesus does.
The Bible tells us that heaven, will be a city. It will be appealing like all great cities of our day, and yet it will also be clean, without brokenness, addictions and loneliness. A vibrant, liveable, garden-city that you will enjoy forever. But for you to enjoy this city, you need to be cleansed of your own unholiness and filth; you need to be washed by the blood of the lamb. You need to put your faith in the perfect life, brutal death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus.
A MAGNIFICENT MOUNTAIN
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…"
- Isaiah 4:5
Throughout the Bible, God’s presence is experienced on mountains. You may not know this, but Ezekiel 28 alludes to the garden of Eden being on a mountain. When God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, it was at Mount Horeb. When God gave the 10 commandments to Moses, it was at Mount Sinai. And don’t forget the temple was built on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
In Isaiah 4, the prophet paints a picture of a magnificent mountain, where God’s presence and protection will be experienced and enjoyed by everyone. God’s powerful presence won’t just be seen and savoured by the high priest, who entered the holies of holies once a year, but by everyone, all year round.
Isaiah 4 says that God’s powerful presence will be like a canopy. The Hebrew word for 'canopy' here can also be translated as 'nuptial chamber', meaning this presence is intimate and close. Isaiah says God’s presence will be a refuge, a shelter and a booth to protect us from, storms, rain, heat, anything and everything. As people who live in uncertain times, this vision of eternity and God’s powerful and intimate presence gives us hope!
Today, God may feel distant from you subjectively. But a day is coming where you will enjoy and experience God’s presence intimately - for eternity. His presence will bring comfort, joy and peace that your heart longs for.
Isaiah paints a picture of a beautiful garden-city located on a mountain so that we would remember heaven is our home.
The question is, does our hearts long for heaven?
Or are you trying to make heaven here on earth?
If you are someone who doesn’t think of heaven that often, then I encourage you to read and reflect on these words from C. S. Lewis:
“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our hearts of hearts, we have ever desired anything else ... It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want.”
Today Isaiah is inviting us to fix our eyes on eternity.
Isaiah is inviting us not to find comfort in a vision for 2021, but in a heavenly vision.
Joel Deacon is the Lead Pastor of City on a Hill Wollongong. He is firmly convinced that we are designed for community, especially in a big and sometimes lonely city like Wollongong. Before becoming a pastor, Joel worked as a Civil Engineer and is always up for a chat about roads and bridges. But his greatest passion is talking to people about Jesus. Joel is married to Emma, and they have three kids Elijah, Isaac and Lily. An ideal day off for Joel would include coffee with his wife, smelling flowers with his daughter, wrestling with his boys, reading, and staying up late to watch EPL.