Christmas Series: Getting a Handel on Christmas: Getting a Handel on Christmas (9) – Arise, Shine, for Your Light has Come

Sermon by Derek Thomas on December 28, 2003

Isaiah 60:1-3

Isaiah 60. 1 to 3
Arise, Shine, For Your Light Has Come
Dr. Derek Thomas

Hear the word of God:

" Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

"For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.

" Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

Amen. May God add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

We come at last to the final in this series of texts from Handel's Messiah, all of them taken from the book of Isaiah. It's been a great joy to listen to many of you sing, and especially the choir, and it has been a reinforcement of the value of the Messiah and its contents and the beauty of its music, and especially these wonderful, wonderful passages in the book of Isaiah. It's perhaps, at least one way to get into a book that's 66 chapters long.

I want us to go back to the 18th century for a moment, and to Jonathan Edwards who was born 300 years ago in East Windsor, Connecticut. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest theologians this nation has ever known. I always regarded Edwards as an American until reading a recent biography of Edwards by George Marsden, and suddenly realized that he regarded himself as an Englishman. He was, undoubtedly, one of the greatest theologians. His answer, as to what was the most significant thing in all of life for the church was, “An apprehension of the glory of God.” And this was a theme that ran through all of his works, particularly one that he wrote towards the end of his life, a thesis in which he says, “The great end of God's works is indeed but one, and this one end is most properly and comprehensively called, ‘The glory of God.’”

It's not anything strange, of course, to those of us who were raised or have since learnt the Shorter Catechism, and its opening question and answer, “What is the chief end of man?” “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The breakthrough for Edwards came when he was meditating on that text in 1 Timothy, “Now unto the King eternal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor, and glory forever and ever, amen.” And he says, “There came into my soul a sense of the glory of the divine being, a new sense, quite different from anything I ever experienced before. I though with myself, how excellent a being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God and be rapt up to God in heaven, and be, as it were, swallowed up in Him.” Well, that's what our text is about; the glory of God. It's undoubtedly one of the great, great needs of our time, to hear again the emphasis the Bible places upon God, and His glory and His greatness and His being. Do I need to say that this time of year especially, when our minds run a million ways, on this last Sunday of 2003, that we need to focus on God and His being and His greatness and on His glory. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon You.

Now, this of course is a text in Handel's Messiah, but I want to ask of it three things. I want to ask, first of all, what did he see? And I want to ask, in the second place, what does it mean, and I want to ask in the third place, what effect is it meant to produce.

I. What did he see?
What did the prophet see? Isaiah the prophet, a prophet who lived around Jerusalem, had access to the kings of Judah, eighth century BC, 2,700 something years ago, what did he see? Isaiah has already given us four servant songs. Four of them in chapters 42, 49, 50, and 52-53. And, as it were, parallel to those four servant songs, there are now in these chapters, beginning in chapter 60 through chapter 63, there are four songs. Songs of the anointed conqueror and king. We’re looking at the first of them. He sees, first of all, darkness. Handel had an extraordinary way of conveying the mood of a text simply by the notes that he chose. Deep darkness covers the earth. Of course, in a sense, for Isaiah, this is still future for him. It's dark already. Assyria has already threatened the northern kingdom of Israel; it's beginning to threaten the southern kingdom of Judah and it's capital in Jerusalem. Samaria has gone, Jerusalem is about to fall, Babylon is lying in the wings; these are days of darkness, and greater darkness lies ahead.

Oh, there's at least 3,000 devotees of the Lord of the Rings in this congregation, so let me use an illustration. If you've seen the third installment of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, you will be very familiar, of course, with the concept of darkness and light. The fictional world, and let me remind one or two of you, that it is a fictional world, myself included. In the fictional world of Middle Earth, there is a sense arising in the east of the dark lord, Sauron, who is attempting to find the one ring of power. That ring forged long ago in Mount Doom, and if it should ever return to Sauron, all would be lost and evil would rule the world and all would become darkness. And, as the story goes on, more and more of the world of Middle Earth is getting darker and darker and darker. You remember, of course, what's written on that ring, “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.”

Well, in a sense that's the theme of this closing passage from Isaiah: it's about darkness, and the power of darkness. Impending darkness, darkness getting deeper and deeper. He's glimpsing a world that lies in darkness. And then he sees light, a light that begins to dawn, that begins to shine, and shine brightly, like the dawn of a new day. At first, this light seems to be objective, but then this light suddenly becomes subjective. It shines out of this people. It looks and feels like the description of creation, “In the beginning God said let there be light, and there was light.” But it's a work of recreation here. It's something future, something that will happen in Isaiah's future.

And then, glory, this light is the glory of God. In the Old Testament, the word glory carries the associations of weight and worth and value and splendor and dignity, all of which are present when God is said to reveal His glory. It's who He is, it's what He is. God was answering Moses’ plea, you remember, to show him His glory. And what did God show him? A light, a shekina, a glory cloud. Hard to describe, that was attractive and intimidating all at the same time, and that appeared at various significant moments in redemptive history, the glory cloud of God, representing the very presence of God.

And, of course, I'm running ahead of myself a little now, but you will remember of course, that when you turn the pages of the New Testament, that glory cloud, that representation of the being and presence and dignity and splendor of God is manifest in the baby lying in the manager in Bethlehem. “And we beheld,” John said, “His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then, well, I'm cheating a little, because we need to look at the context, but you need to look back at the various verse of chapter 59, because it's so important to understand what He's saying in chapter 60, where he mentions a covenant, “But as for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord, “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that are put in Your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth.” He's speaking now of the servant in the servant songs, and God is making a covenant with His people, and the heart, the core of this covenant is this servant who is endued with this Spirit of God and with the words of God, and who comes to enforce the covenant of God in judgment and blessing.

So he sees darkness, and he sees light, and he sees glory, and he sees a covenant mediator, and he sees Zion. Look at verse 20 of chapter 59. “And the redeemer will come…” Where? “To Zion.” Drop down to verse 14 of chapter 60, and again, “the Zion of the holy one of Israel.” There it is. The light comes to Zion, and it draws the nations to that light, that glory cloud that appears in Zion is drawing the nations. Ah, I wish I had time to read the whole of chapter 60. Go home and read it tonight. It's a magnificent chapter. Jim Stewart, you need to read it because it's all about missions. This is a missions text, and it's all about the nations of the world coming to Zion and bringing their wealth to the feet of the covenant mediator, being attracted by the light that shines. That's what he sees; that's the picture that he sees.

II. Now, what does it mean?
Who is Isaiah speaking of? What is he speaking of? Is he speaking about the return from captivity in Babylon because he's been saying that in this prophecy and maybe that is what he's saying again. And in this visionary, semi-apocalyptic language, he's describing how one day the people of God will come out of their captivity in Babylon and come back to Jerusalem. The problem with that is that in verse 5, it talks about them coming on the seas. It's a much bigger picture than that. So that doesn't answer what it is that Isaiah sees here. Could he be talking about the incarnation of Jesus? Is that what Isaiah is seeing looking down over the 700-plus years of history to the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem, in Judea? “The people who dwelt in darkness have seen a great light”–the star in the east that shone. The words of John in the prologue of his gospel refer, first of all, to John the Baptist. “He was not that light, but he came to bear witness of the light,” the true light, which enlightens everyone was coming into this world. And we think of the words of Jesus. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” Jesus, the light of the world, and in Him, men and women restored to the image of God, just as at creation when God said, “Let there be light.” So, He re-creates by His Spirit, and makes us in Christ to be partakers of the divine nature. And, as a consequence, the nations of the world are attracted to that light.

You remember on the day of Pentecost who was there as Luke begins to describe the consequence of the birth of the New Testament Church? That there were Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia and Judea and Cappadocia and Pontius and Asia and Phrygia and Pamphylia and Egypt and parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene and visitors from Rome? The nations of the world coming to do homage and give glory to the light that shone in Zion. And hence here, of a covenant that God made with Abraham, that in Him all the nations of the world would be blessed, and it's all coming now to fulfillment. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. And that indeed seems to be what the last verse of chapter 59 seems to be about. God pledging to make a covenant with His people centered in the covenant mediator, His Son Jesus Christ who heals us of our spiritual blindness. The good news that light has come into the world.

You remember Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress when Christian has been reading the book and a burden has now been placed upon his back and Evangelist says to him to go, “Can you see yon wicket gate?” And he says, “No, I can't see it.” “Well, do you see the bright and shining light? Walk in that direction,” he says.

We think of how Wesley spoke of his own experience of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature's night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray. I woke; the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off; my heart was freed. I rose, went forth and followed Thee.” Is that what Isaiah is talking about? Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. The Lord's anointed One.

Yes, but there are deeper layers here. And Isaiah is speaking from the vantage point of 700 years before the coming of Christ and he sees more than that. He sees the coming of Jesus; he sees the birth of the New Testament Church; he sees the nations of the world coming in embryonic fashion in Acts, chapter 2.

But he sees more, I think. From a distance, as I've said before, mountain ranges can appear to be right next to each other, but actually, when you walk up to the first one, there's a great gulf and chasm between them, and Isaiah is looking 700 years down the line of history and he just sees the glory cloud, and it's the coming of Jesus. And is it the first coming or the second coming, or is it both? Some have seen here a depiction of the restoration of Israel as a nation and the significance of 1947, and the emergence of the state of Israel. Others have seen here a more general blessing at the end of the age, a period of unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival so that the nations of the world are brought to the feet of Christ, and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

It was interesting to read John Newton, who preached 50 sermons or so on these texts of Handel's Messiah commemorating the centenary of Handel's birth in the 1780's, and when he comes to this text, John Newton's post-millennialism comes through and he sees down through the centuries the dawning. And actually, for John Newton, it wasn't down through the centuries, it was right next door. It was almost upon him. And, I suppose, if you’d lived in the time of The Great Awakening, and the after effect, you might think that the end has come and the glory has gone, and the nations of the world are gathering to Christ. Is that what Isaiah is seeing?

And for me, I think what Isaiah is seeing is something more than that. It's not this world that he sees. He's seeing a transformed world. Actually, if you allow your eyes to drop down to verse 19, you’ll see little depictions here that are picked up in the 21st chapter of Revelation. “The sun shall be no more. Your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light, but the Lord will be your everlasting light and your God will be your glory.” That reminds me of the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. And I think that for Isaiah what he's seeing is this: From his point of view, the glory of God will come, and it will come in the form of the covenant mediator. It will come in the form of the birth of a child in a manger in Bethlehem, and the glory of God will shine from out of Him. And through Him, and through His work, and through His death, and through His resurrection and ascension, the nations of the world, kings will come and give their homage to Jesus Christ and it's not so much in this world, perhaps, as in the new heavens and in the new earth when all rebellion and all darkness will be gone and brightness will shine as it has never shone before. And arise and shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

III. Now, what effect is all of that supposed to have on us, and three things.
First of all, and I want to put it in this way, we need to make room for the glory of God in our lives because glory has already begun to shine in our hearts in the face of Jesus Christ, but there's more glory to shine. I'm reminded of that illustration of C.S. Lewis’ in Mere Christianity. You know, when you get the builders in you want to fix something in one wing of the house and they’re there and they’re making a mess, and you thought they were just coming to fix a drain or put in a new shower or fix a broken bath, or whatever it is; but all of a sudden, you realize that something far more extensive is taking place, and Lewis says, “It's like that when Jesus comes to work in our house because He intends to come and live in it Himself.” And He's not building a little building; He's building a mansion and a palace. He's going to live in this palace Himself. And at the end of this prophecy, Isaiah is saying to us that we need to make room for the glory of God. We need to have greater thoughts of God and of His dignity and splendor and might and greatness because our God is too small. Our God is too small.

The second thing that it's meant to produce in us, I think, is faith. And by that, I mean more than optimism. Isaiah isn't saying to us here that the world is getting better and better. You know, there's darkness in the world, but as the evolutionary process moves on inexorably, the world is getting better and better and light is beginning to shine. That's not what Isaiah is saying. He's saying the only hope for this world lies in Jesus, in the covenant mediator, in the glory of God that shines in Him. A faith that God will destroy all of His enemies and redeem to Himself all of His own and create a new heavens and a new earth in which glory will reign so that the words of Kuyper, “There is not a square inch of this entire universe over which Jesus doesn't say, ‘Mine, Mine.’”

Oh, if you read this chapter, down in all of its little details describing how the nations and the kingdoms of the world are coming to Zion and bringing their gifts and treasures. Look at verse 11. “Your gates shall be open continually day and night. They shall not be shut that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations with their kings led in procession.” “For Though There Breaks a Yet More Glorious Day”–Ligon's favorite hymn. “The saints triumphant rise in bright array, the King of Glory passes on His way. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! From earth's wide bounds; from ocean's farthest coast through gates of pearl, streams in the countless hosts and singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” It's like those closing scenes in The Return of the Ring, only multiply it by billions and billions. Faith. Faith. Because you won't believe that just by turning on CNN. That will not be confirmed to you when you watch FOX news even though it may be better than CNN. You need faith in the promises of this covenant-making and covenant-keeping God.

And thirdly–worship. Now, there's missions here. There's a beautiful picture in verses 6 and 7. “A multitude of camels shall cover you.” Speaking of Zion now. “Young camels of Midian and Ephrah, all those from Sheba shall come and they shall bring gold and frankincense and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”

My friends, before we bid farewell to another Christmas, just catch a glimpse of those wise men coming from the east having seen a great light in the sky and seeing an even greater light lying in the manger in Bethlehem and bringing these wise men, the Gentiles of the earth coming and presenting gold and frankincense and myrrh to Jesus. It's just a little glimpse. It's just a little foretaste of what's to come. To offer praises to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Yes, missions, but as John Piper says so many times, missions isn't the ultimate thing. Missions is important, but it's not the ultimate thing. Worship is the ultimate thing. Missions exists because worship doesn't exist. We’re in an age of missions. That's the next thing on our calendar, but turning the page of this year and before you know it, it’ll be missions conference. That's the thing you need to start praying for and putting down on your “to do” list and perhaps making more of than you've done in the past because the way God is going to be glorified and the way His covenant promises are going to be fulfilled, is through the missionary activity of the church and the nations coming and bowing in adoration and praise to Jesus Christ. That's the ultimate goal. To fall down at the feet of this servant of the Lord, this conqueror King and praise Him forever to the sound of angels and archangels and cherubim and seraphim singing, “Glory, glory, glory!” And 2,700 years ago, Isaiah saw a little glimpse of that. “Arise and shine, for your light has come.”

Let's pray together.

“Our God and our Father, we thank you for these wonderful texts in Isaiah. How they've challenged us, rebuked us, motivated us, thrilled us. Your Word is a never-ending source of treasure. Bless it now, we pray, to our hearts and lives for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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