Please turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 54, and I will be reading the first three verses. This is my fourth meditation on this passage. And we will be concluding this description of the New Covenant kingdom today.
Is. 54:1 “Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman,” says the LORD. Is. 54:2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes. Is. 54:3 For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited.
Let me give you a little bit of review. In verse 1 we saw that the growth of Christ's New Covenant kingdom was anticipated to be as unexpected as a barren woman past menopause (like Sarah) giving birth to a baby. Second, it is supernatural. In Galatians, Paul applies this passage to us and says that we must depend upon the Holy Spirit for our entire Christian walk. Third, God wants the church to be so convinced that the supernatural transformation will happen that we rejoice by faith even while still being barren. Fourth, God's promise is that true believers will eventually outnumber unbelievers in world history. It takes faith to believe all of that. Everything that faith calls us to is as audacious.
In verse 2 we saw that this faith takes actions even before we see the fulfillment of what has been promised. It uses the imagery of the barren woman making preparation for a hugely expanded family while she is still barren. Making the tent bigger is a figure of taking the actions of faith. And Hebrews 11 shows one example after another that faith takes steps consistent with God's promises even before the promises are fulfilled. We also saw that this calls for an atmosphere that welcomes growth and all the potential problems that come with growth.
But that brings us to verse 3, a verse which promises that Christ will build His church so invincibly that it will grow in all directions until at some point in history your distant descendants will inherit the nations, and make even the desolate cities to be inhabited. Again, the promise is so grand that it seems almost insane - unless of course you are used to living by faith; then it seems normal. So this verse is a promise of fantastic generational growth of the kingdom in the New Testament era. And over the past 2000 years there is no question that the church has been growing enormously – from 120 disciples in the upper room to multiplied millions in every nation. But I should point out that not every segment of the church has grown. Only those segments willing to make the sacrifices of faith that are needed (that’s verse 2) and who have the faith to rejoice and to confess this victory as a reality (that’s verse 1).
But there are four anchor truths that I want to draw out from verse 3. The first is that kingdom growth requires not just corporate faith, but individual faith. Even if Paul had not quoted these verses and applied them to the individual mandate to live by faith and to walk in the Spirit, we would have still assumed that individuals must have these characteristics, not just the church as a whole. After all, what is the corporate? It is just a union of what is present in the individual. Corporate faith is simply the expression of many individual faiths walking hand in hand. All of us are reponsibile to believe God's promises for the future - what we call eschatology.
Second, God's covenant never neglects our children. I love that phrase, "and your descendants will inherit..." That assumes that our descendents will be Christians, right? God's election tends to work through family lines, and our normal expectation should be that our children will expand beyond what we are able to do. There is generational growth. But that doesn't happen automatically. We must have faith for our children. That assumes of course that we are willing to have children, that we are willing to educate and disciple our children, and that we have effectively passed on this contagious faith to our children. And it assumes that you children will actively embrace the faith of the fathers and actively take the actions and attitudes of verses 1-2. But it is generational, not individualistic.
Third, faith is never suprised by desolation, depressed by it, or overcome by desolation or unbelief. Remember that verse 1 already showed that we came from barreness and desolation, right? Verse 3 speaks of inheriting desolate cities - not perfect cities. Why would we not expect to see desolation out there? Paul used verse 1 to say that apart from the Holy Spirit working in us, we are a disaster in the making. Faith looks for the kingdom of heaven to come into our lives, to invade, tear down, cleanse, and transform. It expects to see desolation and to see that desolation transformed by the Holy Spirit. Don't get depressed by the disaster of humanism in America. That's what we should expect humanism to look like. Such desolation is no match for the supernatural power of Christ's kingdom.
Fourth, the church must be prepared to tear down everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ and to build up a replacement civilization that is truly Christian - thoroughly Christian. The last phrase of verse 3 says, “And make the desolate cities inhabited.” That’s talking about rebuilding a new civilization on the ruins of humanistic failure. We must turn desolations around. But that means that we must be involved in the cities. We must not be escapist. We must have the answers to the problems plaguing our society.
So that's the essence of what verses 1-3 is saying. This morning, come to the Lord’s Table with a bigger picture than yourself; a bigger picture than your own generation; determination to be part of the conquest of Canaan. And when you are willing to embrace what we have looked at in these three verses, you can enthusiastically agree with Paul, when he says in 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” Your labors for your children are not in vain. The Lord’s Supper guarantees it. Isaiah 54:3 guarantees it. Your labors for this city are not in vain. Your labors for the nations are not in vain. I hope this verse gives you a new appreciation for the glory and comprehensiveness of the New Covenant, of which this meal is a seal. Thank you Lord Jesus. Amen.