Today’s message title is “Prepare the road!” In verse 14 it says, “And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road!” To “prepare the road” (14) doesn’t mean to do construction. After that it says “Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” (14)It is to remove the things that cause us to stumble and the bumps in our heart. We have so many bumps in our heart! We have so many various kinds of bumps like uninterest in God, the stones of selfishness only thinking about what is good for you yourself, anger towards someone, rocks of prejudice of looking down on others, thoughts of fulfilling your desires, etc. There are really many various kinds of bumps! We must remove such bumps from the road. What kinds of bumps (obstacles) do you have in your heart?
Today while looking at the bumps that were in Israel, let’s remove the things in our heart that cause us to stumble.
- The blessings that are coming in the course of time (Vs. 1,2)
First of all, please look at verses 1 and 2. “The righteous perish,
and no one ponders it in his heart;
devout men are taken away,
and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.”
This is a prophecy that a time will come when even though “the righteous perish…no one ponders it in his heart…and no one understands.” (1) “The righteous” (1) are those who follow and live for God. “Devout men” (1) are “faithful” and is sometimes translated as “merciful”. They live in God’s mercy and affection. There is still hope for a society that is saddened and angry about the death of the righteous, but there is no salvation for a society that thinks nothing about them perishing. There is no hope. In a sense it is a dead society. Israel who was proud of being God’s people was really in such a condition.
It is said that this is referring to the Jewish King, Manasseh. He was the king during the age of Isaiah. King Manasseh was different than his father, King Hezekiah. He was a terrible king. He restored the idols that his father Hezekiah had removed.”He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (II Kings 21:2) and committed detestable sins. He violently oppressed the prophets that earnestly objected, and criticized his policy. If you look at II Kings 22:16, it says, “Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that it filled Jerusalem from end to end.” Not just the prophets, but ordinary citizens too were killed. It was to the point that it is said that maybe Isaiah too was killed by Manasseh. He was really a terrible king.
However, that is not just in the age of Manasseh. If you look back on history, this has happened over and over again. For example, in 70 A.D. the Jews were violently persecuted by the Roman Empire. In World War I more than 6,000,000 Jews were slaughtered. Such a history has always continued. It has not only fallen on the Jews, but in the same way also on Christians who believe in and live for God. Until now many Christians have been persecuted and martyred.”In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (II Tim. 3:12)
However, here is encouragement. Even if “no one ponders it in his heart;…and no one understands” (1) there is someone who “ponders it in his heart”, (1) That is God. The last part of verse 1 and verse 2 says, “that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.”
Isaiah 56:9-12 describes what Israel’s stupid leaders were like. “They are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream they love to sleep.. They are dogs with mighty appetites…each seeks his own gain.”
However, in contrast to this, here the people that are described believed in God, and followed God living for God. They lived in God’s mercy and affection. Such people certainly don’t attract attention in this world, and leave this world without being rewarded, but that is not so in the future. “The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” (1, 2) “Enter into peace” (2) and “find rest” (2) is to die. It means the grave. Therefore, “that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil…enter into peace” (2) means that they will not meet the disasters at the end of the world.
Please open your Bibles to I Thess. 5:9. It says, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is a prophecy of God’s wrath that will come in the course of time, in other words, a prophecy of the tribulation period that will occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ. At that time various disasters will occur by the judgment of God. They will be disasters like no one has ever seen before and they will be accompanied by suffering that no one can endure. Concretely this written about in Rev. 6:17. “For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
No one can stand it. That is how fearful a disaster will come. However, “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thess. 5:9) Christians who believe in the Lord Jesus, the people of God will not meet disaster, but will be taken away. This is called the “rapture”. In the course of time when Jesus Christ returns, the people who believe in God and who are “dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (I Thess. 4:16, 17) I don’t want to go to heaven without experiencing death so I am always waiting expectantly thinking that I want the Lord to hurry and return. In an instant we “will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (I Thess. 4:17) God’s judgment will come in the great tribulation, but Christians will not meet God’s judgment.
How blessed this is. In this world no one may understand us. In some regards it may be thought to be a lonely life. However, in the course of time we will receive such blessings. Truly “the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.” (1, 2)
Therefore, don’t be discouraged thinking that there is no reward for believing in Jesus. I don’t want you to think that that you will not obtain anything for believing in Jesus. We Christians are prone to discouragement thinking that those who don’t believe in Jesus can live as they like while we Christians are suffering. However, our lives are a continuous turn around. Don’t be on an emotional roller coaster by the things that happen before your eyes and keep your eyes on the glory that is appointed for you to come in the course of time and let’s live depending on the Lord.
- The vain idols (Vs. 3-13)
Next please look at verses 3 to 13. Verses 3 and 4 say, “But you-come here, you sons of a sorceress, you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes! Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue? Are you not a brood of rebels, the offspring of liars?”
Here “sons of a sorceress” (3) and “offspring of adulterers and prostitutes” (3) who are exactly the opposite of “the righteous” (1) and “devout men”, are being described.
The “sons of a sorceress” and “offspring of adulterers and prostitutes” of verse 3 have forsaken God and have run to idols. They mock those who believe in God. They sneer and stick out their tongues. That’s not all. If you look at verse 5, as it says, “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags,” they indulged in sexual depravity.
“Among the oaks and under every spreading tree” were places where idol worship took place. There they did obscene sexual acts. Not only that, but they sacrificed their children. Child sacrifice was practiced in the worship of the Ammonite god Molech. This was the result of being separated from God and falling into sin. Today’s abortion is the same, the result of being separated from God and falling into sin.
We may think that Israel wasn’t doing such a thing, that they are God’s chosen people so it’s unthinkable that they would do such a thing, but these words are being spoken to Israel. That was what Israel was actually like. Even though God strongly forbid idolatry, Israel allowed the religious practices of the surrounding peoples to infiltrate into their life resulting not only in idolatry but causing them to indulge in sexual depravity and child sacrifice.
Verses 6 to 8 describe what the idolatrous Israelites were like. Verse 6 says, “The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion; they, they are your lot. Yes, to them you have poured out drink offerings and offered grain offerings. In the light of these things, should I relent?” Like Japan offering wine to the pagan gods was a popular custom.
In verse 7 it says, “You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices.” These high places or mountain shrines were places of worship of Canaanite origin. They were condemned throughout the Old Testament.
Verse 8 says, “Behind your doors and your doorposts you have put your pagan symbols.” What they had to put on their doors and doorposts was God’s word.
“Hear, O Israel; the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4,5) These words came to be known as the “Shema” and God commanded them to “Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:9) Even so they put pagan symbols behind the doors and doorposts. As a result they became involved in idolatry and obscene acts.
Please look at verses 9 and 10. “You went to Molech with olive oil
and increased your perfumes.
You sent your ambassadors far away;
you descended to the grave itself!
You were wearied by all your ways,
but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’
You found renewal of your strength,
and so you did not faint.”
Molech was the main god of the Ammonites. Israel went to great costs to seek help from Molech, even bringing perfume to him and alluring him. Israel had travelled far from God, seeking aid from Molech and even descending to the grave itself. “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living.” (8:19) Israel was “wearied” with her quest; but she would not confess her weariness. She would not say, “It is hopeless”. (10) She wouldn’t admit that idols are vain and useless. Even though it was in vain, she stirred up her remaining strength, and persisted in her course, and refused to repent.
Then look at verses 11 to 13. “Whom have you so dreaded and feared
that you have been false to me
and have neither remembered me
nor pondered this in your hearts?
Is it not because I have long been silent
that you do not fear me?
I will expose your righteousness and your works,
and they will not benefit you.
When you cry out for help,
let your collection of idols save you!
The wind will carry all of them off,
a mere breath will blow them away.
But the man who makes me his refuge
will inherit the land
and possess my holy mountain.”
God looked at Israel doing evil and continued to warn with words of grace. However, the Israelites hearts were hardened by sin and weren’t able to listen to God’s Word. They didn’t listen to God’s warnings. They thought that God was silent and their heart became more evil. They didn’t fear God and fell to worshipping a whole “collection of idols”. (13) However their “collection of idols” (13) that they served as gods were in reality a vanity, nothing more than a powerless being. They were so vain that “The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.” (13) Thus, in order to judge them God reveals the vanity of idols and that He is alive. Their “collection of idols” (13) cannot save them. Rather the wind or a mere breath “will carry all of them off.” (13) They are that vain. To depend upon such vain things will bring no happiness. However, please look at the end of verse 13. Let’s read from the word “but” on. “But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (13)
“Inherit the land” (13) is to receive God’s blessings. Also to “possess my holy mountain” (13) is to posses the holy mountain which is Zion. In other words, God’s presence will become that person’s Have you received the blessings that God gives? If not, it is necessary to deeply examine your lifestyle. Perhaps you still have some connection with idol worship. Colossians 3:5 says, “your earthly nature…which is idolatry.” If you love pleasures more than God, if you love your job more than God, if you love recreation more than God, then that is the same as idol worship. If you have such thoughts, then that is the same as the sin that Israel committed.
The devil by your earthly nature distracts you from your faith. Before when the devil tempted Jesus too he showed him all the splendor of all the world and said tempting him, “All this I will give you…if you will bow down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:9) This is Satan’s old trick. Our heart is pulled away from God by Satan’s attack and we disobey God.
However, no matter how worldly we become it is nothing more than a temporary pleasure. It may seem like it sets us free from stress and we are enjoying life, but soon we become dark again. Such things will soon be blown away. “The wind will carry all of them off, a mere breath will blow them away.” (13) Such things are vain. If you give yourself to such things, if you are devoted enthusiastically to such things, then it is so vain! What we must give our life to, what we must seriously concentrate on is God who made us and gave his life to save us. “But the man who makes me his refuge will inherit the land and possess my holy mountain.” (13)
- Prepare the road! (Vs. 14)
Therefore, the conclusion is to “prepare the road!” (14) Let’s read verse 14. “And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
This means to dig in the dirt and make a road. The interesting thing is that word that is used here means “to pave” They are to dig the road and pave it, and make it level.
This appeared in Isaiah 40:3,4 too. “A voice of one calling; ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.’”
As it says, John the Baptist appeared in the desert “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message; ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1:4-8)
John the Baptist was sent on a mission to prepare the road for Jesus. Of course that doesn’t mean that he was sent out to do construction work. He was to prepare their hearts so that it would be easy for the Savior Jesus to come, and so that Jesus could pass through easily.
Jesus came to bring God’s love to our hearts and in addition through our heart love is given to the people around us. However, if when Jesus came, if we had anger burning up in our hearts toward someone, how would that be? Jesus would not be able to enter our hearts. Also through our heart God’s love will not be given to the people around us. If the wall of indifference towards others in our heart is closed, how would that be? What if the rock of prejudice of looking down on others came rolling what will happen? Jesus won’t be able to enter our heart and go through our heart.
In order for Jesus to go through our heart we must remove the obstacles that are on the road of our heart. Before Israel had the obstacle of idolatry. In order for God to come to them the obstacle of idolatry needed to be removed. However, that is not just Israel. We too, if we have obstacles in our life, we if we have bumps in our heart, we must remove the obstacles and make it level. What bumps do you have in your heart?
In our heart we have various obstacles. There is anger, indifference towards God, selfish thoughts of only what is good for myself, a heart that looks down on other people, and thoughts that you want to meet your needs. Such obstacles are lying there.
For Jesus to pass through we have to remove all the obstruction. Each single thing must be removed, and the road for Jesus to pass on must be prepared. Then we must be careful not to reject the Savior that is coming. May you give your heart to the Savior and live a life overflowing in the blessings of God.