Often with Old Testament prophecy, the message concerns not just the days of the prophet – but also events far in the future. The lesson before us this morning is a clear example of this.
Isaiah was writing first of all about the return of the exiles to their homeland from Babylon. But there was also a more profound message which saw the coming of Christ into the world – a day when mankind would physically behold the glory of the Lord! When Jesus would give sight to the blind... and hearing to the deaf!
In describing the joy of the former exile who finds his bondage broken, Isaiah employed a number of metaphors – the desert wilderness transformed into a fruitful land… barren wasteland watered and covered with lush growth like Los Altos after all of the beautiful recent showers. Like Corrie ten Boom when released from the Ravensbruck concentration camp, he feels all anxiety released… he sees all fear evaporate.
And the LORD, we are told, will clearly mark the road from Babylon to Judah! The exiles would be protected on their way home; no danger would overtake them, they would not be led astray. This was the meaning given by the Prophet Isaiah regarding God’s people in the 7th century B.C.
But a more profound meaning was also involved! This deeper truth – 700 years yet distant – concerned Jesus Christ, God Incarnate! Verse eight: And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
Jesus Christ is that new and living Way Who leads us to our True Home. The path is prepared and ready for us because He has walked it and marked out every step of the way – just as He did for the exiles of old!
When Jesus was near the end of His earthly ministry, He said to His disciples: …whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas, completely bewildered, said: Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? Jesus answered I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
The Greek term – hodos’, the Way – was used by first century believers to describe the Christian Faith. It is a very descriptive and appropriate name.
Of this “way”— this hodos’– the Prophet Isaiah has many beautiful and comforting things to say... which are most helpful for us in our preparations for Christmas.
First, it is a PLAIN (P-L-A-I-N) WAY!
The LORD’s Highway is a plain path! It is simple! Not confusing! It may be narrow, it may be demanding, but it is sharply defined! It is not impassible because of intellectual problems, nor tangled over with philosophical issues. It is not designed so that only the erudite and sophisticated can trace it out. On the contrary, it must be followed as little children would follow. It is so plain a path, we are specifically told, that wayfaring men, though fools, will not lose their way in following it!
How incredibly graced we are that God has dealt thus with us – individually and as a Church! A plain path is always before us – the path of the Cross! Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification! That is pretty simple! And now we have only to trust Him, to follow His leading. When we speak of the simplicity of the Gospel, let us carefully note that the way is plain to wayfaring men. It is plain to those who are actually walking in the way. No promise is given to the person who wants to know all about the way, but never ever sets foot on it! It is plain to wayfaring men, to those who actually travel it step by step!
Second, it is a SAFE WAY!
Isaiah writes: No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon. This is a beautiful poetic manner of saying that the way of Christ – narrow and hard though it may be – gives safety to those who walk upon it! It is when we leave the straight road and follow strange detours that we get into trouble! It is when we say to ourselves: This other way seems better than God’s way… this other way would be easier… it’s shorter, it’s more fun… more stimulating, more glamorous, more popular! – that we expose ourselves to the Evil One and his minions.
Left to our own devices, relying only upon ourselves, we shall surely stray every time… There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, the Book of Proverbs reminds us, but the end thereof are the ways of death! But with Christ as our Guide, as our Protector, as our Strength, as our Companion… we will walk in spiritual safety each and every step.
Third, it is an HOMEWARD WAY.
We are truly exiles here. We are “strangers in a strange land.” But we know that we have a true home – an eternal home “from everlasting to everlasting.” And we have been given the grace to know the road that leads us to that home.
With many whose feet seem so secure on other paths – we must all let this prophetic picture sink deep into our minds and our hearts… There are hundreds – thousands – of ways that lead to destruction. But there is only one way that leads to life! That way calls for sacrifice, for work, for giving, for denying self and the lusts and distractions of this world, for, as the prophet says, it is a way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.
The pathway demands that we, as they say, “travel light.” Mountains of self-centeredness, spitefulness, envy, inordinate materialism, and rationalizations must be cut down! And deep valleys must be filled with faith, hope, and love for God and neighbor! Such is the path leading home!
Placing ourselves under the will of God may at times be very traumatic for us – redeemed though we may be. It requires discipline, strength, and courage. Remember the reward is great and everlasting. St. Paul writes: The present troubles are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed…
When at last we see things as they really are, it is then that we truly understand our supreme priority – to walk each day with Christ until we reach the heavenly country, its crystal shore, its unending golden rays!
This Advent season, therefore, let us commit ourselves anew to Jesus Christ and His PLAIN, SAFE, and HOMEWARD WAY.
World without end…