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“And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people: all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed.” Isaiah 61:9

This is the abbreviated text of the pre-synodical sermon that Rev. VanOverloop preached on June 9, 2014.

The church of God in Isaiah’s day was filled with so much sin, that God commissioned Isaiah to declare severe judgment. “Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land” (Isaiah 6:9-12).

This prophecy was fulfilled. The Lord used the Babylonians to bring utter desolation to the nation and to the land. A vast multitude of the people were killed. Of those who remained alive, almost all were carried away into captivity. All the houses and buildings were destroyed and left as burnt piles of rubble. The worst for the few sincere believers was the destruction of the temple. Its destruction deprived them of any sign of the forgiveness of their sins in the sacrifices on the altar of burnt offering. And there was no more visible presence of Jehovah with them. Further, they were forcibly removed from the land of promise and carried into Babylon.

Amazingly, God would have Isaiah also declare comfort and bring promises of a great and wonderful restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Our text is a part of this latter commission given to Isaiah. Let us note that the promises of restoration have three steps of fulfillment. The initial fulfillment is the return of a people from captivity back into the land of Canaan. The nation was restored after seventy years of captivity. The second fulfillment is the coming of the promised Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the new dispensation. The complete fulfillment is the heavenly and new Jerusalem in the creation of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (compare Isaiah 60:1-22 and Isaiah 61:4-11 with Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14 and Revelation 21:2- 4, 9-27).

The Amazing Fact

The captivity of a nation usually meant that the existence of that nation ended. It became extinct as a separate nation. This is what happened to the nation of Israel. They were no more. The judgments that Isaiah prophesied would come to Judah forecasted the same sad ending. This would mean the end of the church of God, which was identified with the seed of Abraham. And if the people are no more, then their children certainly will not be anymore. In light of the promised judgments, the nation of Judah would never be a nation again.

But instead of the shame of extinction, Isaiah comes with amazing and great promises. In chapter 60 Isaiah begins a description of Zion’s glory and blessedness after captivity. This is a divine promise that the nation of Judah would not only continue, but would prosper! So real and so powerful are God’s promises of blessing that there can be talk about their children and those who are yet unborn.

Using the language of types and shadows, there are promises of the rebuilding of beautiful cities in Canaan, though it was only rubble at the time (4). Even more, Isaiah declares that Israel will be served by foreigners (5) and fortified by those who had been enemies (6b). Further, Gentiles would be saved and gathered into the nation of Judah (Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 43:5, 6). So, instead of shame and embarrassment at their ruin and captivity, they would receive double honor and glory (7). Instead of confusion, they would give a ringing cry concerning their portion of grace from God. They would receive not only forgiveness but also perfect righteousness. A further description of their double portion is that the exiled Israelites would return to Canaan as kings and priests (6a). Judah’s beauty is their wearing brilliant garments of righteousness (10b; Rom. 3:22; Rev. 6:11).

When these promises would be realized, then the true Israel of God would be recognized and acknowledged as having God’s blessing upon them. First, when Judah would return from captivity and again occupy Canaan, their Samaritan enemies had to acknowledge that God was blessing them, if even Cyrus and Darius would show them favor. The next fulfillment is that of the church of the new dispensation to whom are given the blessings of the Spirit of Christ. When the disciples of Jesus are moved by the Spirit to love one another, then all men knew that they were Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34). And when the elect form a unity and when they work together as one, then the world knows that God sent Jesus, for only a divine power is able to take all the saved and join them together as one body (John 17:23). The complete fulfillment of these promises takes place in the new heavens and earth. Then those who saw our good works will glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16). When Jesus’ disciples bear much fruit (as branches abiding in the vine), then the Father is glorified, for it will be revealed to the ungodly in the judgment day that we are blessed of Jehovah (John 15:8). In the judgment day, all that see the elect will acknowledge that they are the seed that Jehovah has blessed.

The real cause

Isaiah was certain that this future blessedness would take place. His (and our) certainty about this future blessing is because of God’s “everlasting covenant” (8b; Isaiah 55:3). That any sinner is saved is only because of God’s eternal, unilaterally-established relationship with them. That any saved sinner remains saved is only because God unilaterally maintains His relationship of loving fellowship with them.

The “everlasting” character of God’s covenant receives the emphasis in our text. Judah is returned from captivity and restored to greatest blessedness just because God’s covenant is everlasting. That it is everlasting means that it is unchanging. God’s covenant is not dependent on the objects. They were and will always remain unlovable and unlovely. If God’s relationship of love depended on us, then it would constantly change. It is a relationship of love toward His people while they were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-10), and thus it is always first. This relationship of love is not interrupted by our sins. Instead, our sins manifest and exalt the great glory of the graciousness of God’s covenant.

Secondly, the covenant is everlasting because it is rooted in God’s own eternal being. God’s covenantal love is without beginning because it is found in the relationship that eternally exists between the first and second persons of the Trinity, and also in the relationship of triune God to the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. God’s relationship with us is an extension of His own relationship of eternal love. God’s love for Himself means that He will see His purpose and His name and His cause realized.

Thirdly, that the covenant is everlasting means that it is sovereign. It will accomplish what He purposed. The salvation God gives consists of a wonderful, secure relationship of love. It accomplishes the forgiveness of all of our sins and the gift of eternal righteousness. Thus we know that this promise of loving fellowship will be realized in the perfect glory of the new heavens and earth.

The everlasting covenant centered in Christ, who is described in the first verses of this chapter. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus declared that these verses of Isaiah 61 were fulfilled in Himself. He and His work of redeeming those He loved is the basis for God to have this beautiful relationship of loving fellowship with His own. He preached good tidings to the meek. He bound up the brokenhearted and proclaimed liberty to the captives and opening of the prison to them that are bound. This He did in returning the captives from Babylon. And this Jesus does repeatedly in the lives of His sinful children when His Spirit works in them godly sorrow and communicates to them the joy of forgiveness.

The resulting joy

Knowing God’s blessing in the covenant is the reason the true Israel of God rejoices. They rejoice in the God of their salvation (10, 11). Their joy is not little, but great (“I will greatly rejoice”—literally, “rejoicing I rejoice”). Their joy is sincere, for it arises out of their “souls.” And it is a joy that becomes evident. They sing, they whistle, they hum, they smile. It is as evident as the handsome clothing of a bridegroom and the ornaments of an adorned bride (10). As the garden in the spring of the year brings forth plants and then fruit, so God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

As the broadest gathering of the denomination begins its meetings, the delegates may be assured that God’s promises are with them. They gather as a very real part of the true Israel of God. They may be conscious of their personal weaknesses and know that spots adhere to their best works, but they are also to know of God’s everlasting covenant. His relationship with them as His elect children will not change—they will not be forsaken. He will be with them in their meetings. May the knowledge of God’s everlasting covenant enable the delegates of synod to labor in great hope and joy. They are more than conquerors!