La mort est engloutie/Death has been swallowed up

Publié le 11 avril 2020 dans La vie de l'église

(Ceci est la traduction en anglais du message du dimanche 12 avril 2020)

Isaiah 25

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ and friends joining us, it is Easter and our churches (our buildings) are closed. Usually our church is teeming with life during this great weekend where we celebrate… life! But this year, we will not have this celebration because a virus is sowing death in our midst. We all know people with the virus, and some who have died. Each evening the macabre death count is announced and plunges us a little more into a state of fear. But even in this context, the Easter message has lost none of its force. This morning’s text in Isaiah 25 says “God swallows up death forever.”

Remember from last week, Isaiah is on the mountain top, it is a time of crisis and he sees things coming. He describes them to us.

Ch 24-27 is called, by some commentators « the little Revelation of Isaiah. » This passage deals with the judgment of God on the whole world.

Surprisingly, Isaiah begins this chapter by singing in v.1. He rejoices and celebrates the glory of God because of the wonderful things he has done, he has faithfully fulfilled his pre-conceived purposes. There is a truth that we should learn: when God announces that he will accomplish something, it will be accomplished.

What is the Plan that he conceived in advance?

He will judge the world justly v.2

In v.2 Isaiah praises the Lord for the judgment with which he strikes the world. Evil does not go unpunished. It may seem surprising to you, but it is actually reassuring to know that there is a day when God settles scores. Without naming it, Isaiah describes a city reduced to a heap of rubble. This city, the fortified city of the barbarians, reminds us of Babylon the great, whose fall is described in Rev 18. Babylon the great represents the world that rejects God, and is characterized by corruption, violence, idolatry, and arrogance towards God.

We have all been victims of injustice that no human court can settle. These injustices that have sometimes hurt us deeply, either make us cynical, disillusioned or bitter, or foster an inner rage, a desire for revenge and violence. Lack of judgment does not lead to peace and love, but rather to bitterness and violence. This is why the God of peace and love of the Bible is also a God who judges. But if the Bible tells the truth, divine justice will be perfectly accomplished. And this is precisely why Isaiah can praise God in v.1. Because God will judge the world justly, we can turn the page and forgive, we can entirely rely on the Lord, who said: « Vengeance is mine, I will repay » (Rom 12.19).

The judgment where God settles scores is the last judgment, it is the day when everyone will appear before God. The coronavirus can make this day seem imminent.

Isaiah already announced the judgment of God in ch 24.

Judgment spares no one (24.2). Neither rank, nor fortune, nor power will allow escape from divine punishment.

The judgment is just (24.5-6) because men have broken the eternal covenant. The eternal covenant is that which is written in our hearts. We know what is right and what is wrong. And we are guilty. « They are punished for their crimes. » No appeal will be possible. All mouths will be shut.

The world will know this judgment to be just, as described in 25.3. We will all face divine judgment, no one can escape it. One day all wrongs will be corrected.

If this thought reassures us, it should frighten us at the same time because we are not only victims but we are also guilty, we have contracted the virus of sin. And if we demand that justice be done, it will be done against us too, and we will be condemned in our turn.

He helps the weak and tames evil, v.4-5

Isaiah also celebrates God because he has shown himself a faithful refuge for the weak, the unhappy, the victims (v.4-5).

We not only need to know that justice will be done, but we also need to be comforted in our distress. We can take refuge in him, he knows how to heal our sorrows, our wounds.

It is beautiful how Isaiah illustrates here the help of God, as « a shade from the heat » v.4. We can imagine in these hot countries when the sun is burning, a bit of shade would bring protection and comfort.

But Isaiah goes even further, look at v.5 « you subdue the noise of the foreigners” and “the song of the ruthless is put down. » This tells us the Lord dominates all circumstances. He masters our trials and accomplishes his benevolent purpose through them. You may have been the victim of great injustices, and you thought that God was totally foreign to what was happening to you. But God controls all this and accomplishes his perfect plan. He doesn’t say that it prevents them from happening, but that He tames them.

You may be saying: How can God allow such a thing to happen? But if you take God out of the equation, then what you suffered makes no sense. But if God even tames the tyrants it means that everything takes on meaning, it is His plan that is carried out. I’m not saying that the meaning is easy to decipher. The ways of God are not our ways, they are much higher. But knowing that the infinitely good, just and wise God directs even difficult circumstances reassures and consoles me.

This is also what the gospel teaches us: it is through betrayal, an unfair trial, an unjust condemnation, abandonment, and a terrible death on a cross that Jesus Christ the only Righteous One has accomplished the salvation of sinners.

Thus God accomplishes His purpose even through those things that He morally condemns.

Acts 4,24-28 tells us about a prayer of the disciples. What did Herod and Pontius Pilate do? They plotted with Jewish leaders and Roman authorities to kill an innocent man. But in their prayer the disciples acknowledge that those who intended evil have only accomplished « whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place » = His will. These two truths are compatible: 1) Herod and Pontius Pilate are fully responsible and guilty of having killed an innocent and 2) the perfect will of God has been accomplished.

This is how God tames the barbarians, the heat in a burning earth. This is how he stifles the triumphal songs of tyrants. One can imagine that during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the devil thought he had triumphed. The Son of God was nailed to the cross and then His lifeless body was laid in a tomb. But through the resurrection, the devil’s song of triumph has been silenced forever, and it’s the triumph of God that is celebrated today.

Finally Isaiah celebrates God because:

He swallows up death forever, v.6-9

Even if the justice of God demands that judgment be executed upon all the earth, upon all men, this is not what God wants in the first place. As he says through the mouth of Ezekiel  » As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” (Ez 33.11).

Isaiah now describes another part of the Plan pre-conceived by God. It seems to be the opposite of judgment.

In v.6 a feast of succulent dishes is prepared by the Lord himself. Everything is free and « all peoples » are invited to come and enjoy this mountain. All that is best is before us, in abundance. We deserved judgment and death (which is the penalty for sin) and we are invited to a feast of succulent dishes and old wines, which symbolize an abundant life and endless joy in fellowship with God.

But where did the judgment go? Where did death go?

v.7-8a On this mountain (Isa 24.23 identifies this mountain as Zion, Jerusalem). On this mountain death has been annihilated! The veil here symbolizes death. How many faces have doctors and nurses had to pull the sheet over the past few weeks? The veil of death covers all people because all have sinned. The death in question here is not only physical death but also spiritual death which is separation from God for eternity. Well, this death has been swallowed up forever!

How is it possible? How has death been destroyed forever? What happened on this mountain? The New Testament enlightens us. Paul quotes this passage from Isaiah in 1 Corinthians 15 (the great chapter on the resurrection), v. 54-57

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

Death was destroyed by the death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection. Paul makes fun of death here as if it were a bee whose stinger was torn off. She stung Christ and lost her power, she can no longer sting. By His death on the cross Jesus took our condemnation, the punishment that gives us peace fell on Him, the justice of God was satisfied, and we know it because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The destructive power of death, sin and the devil has been wiped out forever. Not only will my soul live forever, but my body will be raised in glory to live forever with Christ. This is the Easter message!

In v.8b This is the greatest consolation that can be offered to us. This is what consoles me and will console my children and my loved ones perfectly the day that the veil is pulled over my body. I will live because death has been swallowed up forever. I myself will be consoled for all my ills. The shame of my sin, of my faults will be gone, I will be on this mountain, invited to the feast of delicious dishes.

If you are wondering if this is also for you? Look again v.6 the feast is offered to « all people », salvation is offered to all who come to this mountain, that is, to the cross. To come to this mountain is simply to trust in the work of Christ for us. It is to recognize « I deserved death but Jesus Christ paid for me. »

Then you can say with Isaiah and with all the redeemed, v.9

 “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

All of this is achieved by faith, that is, when we place our trust in God. It is He who saves us, who delivers us from the just judgment of God, it is He who has obtained our forgiveness.

Let us be joyful and rejoice in His salvation!

Do not resist His call. Do not trust your own merits, as if your own works will enable you to escape judgment. This is the attitude of all the proud embodied here by Moab v.10-12.

Do you think that one could offend God more than by despising the death and resurrection of His beloved son? To take the work of Christ as nothing?

Conclusion

The fear of death has invaded our world in recent weeks. But the message of Easter reminds us that by His death and resurrection Jesus overcame death, sin and the devil. We don’t have to fear death. The death of one who believes in Christ brings him into this sumptuous feast in the presence of God himself and of all those who have believed.

Are you still in fear of death, and of the judgment of God? If that’s the case, there is nothing more important than to come to Christ, who was crucified and rose from the dead. Place all your trust in Him. Ask and receive forgiveness by faith.

You believe that Jesus died and rose again for you, you have found refuge in him. Look forward to his salvation! Have no fear and celebrate his glorious name!

Happy Easter everyone!