The Judgment Is Salvation
Text: Isaiah 35
The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
The excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
The excellency of our God.
One of the curious and challenging messages throughout the Bible is that God brings His judgment and His salvation at the same time. More than this, they are very often the same thing. The flood destroyed the earth, yet 1 Peter 3 says it “saved” Noah. The same is true of the Passover and the Red Sea. Judgment on Egypt was salvation for Israel. Most of all, the death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate judgment of God, the pouring out of His wrath upon sin. And yet, it is only in the death of Christ that sinners can find salvation. God’s judgment is salvation.
This will be the message we see in our text this morning. Isaiah 35 is a beautiful and inspirational picture of salvation. In fact, it shows us a world paradise, a new Garden of Eden. It gives us hope and comfort. Yet it is given at the same time that the message of judgment is given. God will come and judge the world—and He will even judge His own people, Israel. This salvation doesn’t simply come after the judgment, either. The judgment is the means by which the salvation comes. Look right there at vs. 4, “Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” The judgment is salvation.
Isaiah 35 in the Old Covenant Context
Isaiah 35 is another messianic prophecy of renewal. The picture we are given is that of a desert wasteland that is turned into a garden paradise. If you’re like me, you probably aren’t overly familiar with this part of Isaiah. It’s a large book of prophecies about judgment that is coming to Israel. But it also talks of world-wide judgment. Our passage this morning is right in the middle of the book, and it’s coming directly after a lengthy section on God’s judgment and His punishment against all of the nations.
Chapter 34 specifically talks about judgment against Edom, a neighbor and an enemy of Israel. It says that the Lord will bring a “day of vengeance” and a “year of recompense” (Is. 34:8) which will destroy the land. The streams will be dried up. The dust will be turned into brimstone, and smoke and fire will cover the land. It shall be the possession of jackals and snakes. It will be made a wilderness and a wasteland (35:1).
Then, after this, God will redeem the land. He will make flowers blossom (35:1), and He will water the land again (35:6-7). This will bless the land, but it will also heal the people. The blind, the deaf, the lame, and the dumb will all be restored (35:5-6). They will also be made holy (35:8). There will be no more danger, and “the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing” (35:10a). “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (35:10b). This is worldwide salvation, how things ought to be.
Fulfillment in Christ
So, was the prophecy fulfilled? Israel did go into exile, first with the Babylonians, and then with the Persians. And they were eventually allowed to return from exile. Under Cyrus, the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem and even to rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23, Ezra 1:1-3:12, 6:13-22). They had come back to Zion! But was this the fulfillment of Is. 35? It would seem not. After all, there was still much sickness and sorrow. The people were not truly holy, and they quickly fell back into old sins.
So, if not at the return from exile, then when? Or, perhaps we should ask, was this prophecy fulfilled?
The way to answer these kinds of questions is always with Scripture. Can find a passage in the New Testament where Isaiah 35 is mentioned?
You might be surprised to know that Jesus claims this prophecy of Isaiah for himself I the gospels. There are, of course, lots of places where Jesus heals sick, blind, and lame people, but in Matthew 11, there seems to be a direct reference to this part of Isaiah. There in Matthew, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him a very important question. They ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). What do they mean by “the Coming One”? This is the person John himself was preaching about, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). That is “the Coming One” they are asking about.
So is Jesus that Coming One? What does He say? Matt. 11:4-6:
Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.
The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. And this is proof that Jesus is “the Coming One.” It certainly sounds like Isaiah 35.
That’s very interesting, you might say, but it’s not a direct reference. After all, Jesus mentions things that aren’t in Isaiah 35, and He doesn’t talk about everything that is in Isaiah 35. Ok, well if you want to be skeptical, I have one more passage for you.
Turn to Hebrews 12. Heb. 12:12-13 says, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” That’s a beautiful statement about comfort while living in distress. But did you know that it’s a direct quote form the Old Testament? It comes from Isaiah. It comes from Isaiah 35:3-4
Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
Notice that final expression, “You God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” That’s the same language Isaiah uses when He foretells God bringing punishment against evildoers. But now it’s salvation for God’s people. It’s the same action. The judgment is salvation.
And it shows up in Hebrews. Hebrews 12 is a very important passage, and we’ve already mentioned it in this Advent series. It starts off with advice for how to bear God’s affliction. When God brings hardship or suffering into the life of a believer, it does not mean that He is punishing them. It means that He is chastening them to make the holy.
Then Hebrews 12 goes on to say something pretty amazing. A little further into it, it says this:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel. (Heb. 12:22-24)
Notice the grammar. You “have come.” You are there. Where have you come? Mount Zion. And who is there? Angels, the whole church of the righteous, and Jesus Himself. This is where we are now, because of the definitive salvation we have in Christ and because the Holy Spirit dwells within us now. We have come to Zion. We are here. By faith, the “end” is our possession now.
Isaiah says a highway shall be set up to lead the exiles back. Back where? Back to Zion (Is. 35:10). “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads” (Is. 35:10a). And what will be their internal condition? “They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Is. 35:10b). This is why the weak hands can be strengthened and feeble knees can be made firm. It’s because God has given us the blessing of peace and joy. And we have this because He has come. He has come down with vengeance, with judgment, and with salvation.
What does this mean for you now?
Now, you might be thinking, what about all of that other stuff in Is. 35? What about worldwide restoration? What about full healing and sanctification? What about the new heavens and new earth? They have not yet come.
This is true. We do not have all of Isaiah’s prediction yet. We have the “already” in Christ and His Spirit, but we look forward to the “not yet” of external world restoration. This will be finalized at the 2nd Coming of Christ. But it is important affirm and believe that we actually do possess all of those blessings now, ahead of time, spiritually and by faith, even as we long to see them materialized when Christ returns.
So what does this do for us practically, in our Christian lives today? Here are three implications and blessings from Isaiah 35 for us now.
We should be able to strengthen our weak hands and feeble knees because we know that the Messiah has come. God did keep His promise. He did come, and He came in the person of Christ. And He did bring vengeance and retribution. And He will be faithful to bring that judgment. We know the future. We know that He will come and save us because He has come and saved us.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” (Is. 35:3-4)
This is the very note Jesus strikes in Matthew 11, by the way. After claiming Isaiah 35 identity, He proceeds to predict judgment and doom. Then He pronounces “woes” upon the cities of Phoenicia. Woe to Chorazain! Woe to Bethsaida! Woe to Tyre and Sidon! Woe to Capernaum! (Matt. 11:20-24) And after that, what does Jesus say? He speaks of rest:
I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matt. 11:25-30)
Isn’t that amazing. Jesus says that He is the messiah who brings judgment. He pronounces that judgment. But then He says that He is the messiah who brings rest. We can then find our rest, our Sabbath of God, because of the sure knowledge of the work of Christ. Again, the judgment is salvation.
2) Assurance of Sanctification
Understanding the work of the messiah in Isaiah 35 will also help us to know that we can and we will overcome sin. The messiah will set up a “Highway of Holiness” (Is. 35:8), and only holy things will enter into Zion. Yet we have now entered in to Zion, and so we must be holy. True we were once great sinners. But now we have been washed. We have been sanctified. We have been justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).
We have been made holy in Christ. And we will be holy in Christ. God will do this. He will do this by His Word and then the ongoing and mysterious work of His Spirit. The picture of God healing and restoring the world is meant to show us that He is undoing the work of sin and the Fall, and He is putting the whole creation back to rights, back to the way it should be. We know this, and we believe this.
And we know that God will do this in and through His judgment. He purges the dross. He afflicts us to perfect us. He destroys to recreate.
3) Assurance of Perseverance
This judgment is fearful in its time, of course, and so the third blessing is that we know that we can and will persevere. God will take care of us. Look at verse 8 of Isaiah 35. It says this, “Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray.” God will not let His people, even when they are being fools, walk of His road. They won’t go astray. This is good news indeed, because I am, from time to time, very foolish. And so I need to recall this prophecy.
Now, this does not mean that we will remain foolish for our whole lives. Instead, it means that our innate foolishness will not take us away from God. He will grow us in sanctification and give us the grace we need to overcome, even to overcome ourselves. God will protect and preserve His people.
From time to time in life, God will take us into the desert. He did this with His people Israel. And He even did it with His Son Jesus. We will wander through the wilderness, and it will be a time of trial and testing. It may even be a time of judgment. But we can take comfort, we can believe, and we can rejoice—even then. Because we know why God is doing that. His judgment is salvation.
God takes us into deserts so that He can turn deserts into gardens. He is restoring the world from the inside out, and He has already sent His Son to do this work. The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Let us pray.