Vs. 10: The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Introduction. I’ve always wanted to go to the Mojave Desert. It stretches across four Western States: Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and California. It is the home of Edwards Air Force Base where many experiments in aviation have taken place including the Space Shuttle orbiter testing that opened the door for the successful space shuttle missions.
Several years ago, Joyce and I traveled through the Mohave Desert in Nevada. It is bleak and barren because it only receives about 13 inches of rain a year. It looks like pictures of the moon.
Death Valley is located in the Mojave Desert. Summer temperatures can reach 130 degrees. Many settlers heading to California died in Death Valley in the mid 1800’s.
Several years ago, Joyce and I were there in late June in Las Vegas which began as an oasis in the Mojave Desert. And it was HOT and dry! We had to carry a water bottle and sip from it constantly. The temperature reached 110 degrees during the day.
Everything about the desert is desolate. If it were not for water piped to Las Vegas from Lake Mead which is formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, Vegas would still be a small oasis with palm trees and a few people. Alarmists say that the western drought and the water demand on this resource is so great that Lake Mead could run dry in a few years.
Water makes the desert live. With the technology to build the dam and channel the water to Las Vegas, the great city has a population of over one million people.
Without water, the desert is a wilderness, and it is the wilderness of Judea that Isaiah has in mind when he writes about the desert and dry land in Isaiah 35. It is the wilderness where Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days and nights and where He was tempted by the devil. It was the wilderness where John the Baptist was raised up from childhood by the Essene Community on the Dead Sea and where he preached sustaining himself by eating locusts and wild honey.
The wilderness is a desolate place and is not friendly for people to live there.
Isaiah compares life to living in the desert wilderness. It is fraught with dangers, difficulties, pain, suffering, and death.
If I somehow found myself dumped into the middle of the Mojave Desert, I would want to find my way out of there. I couldn’t live long there without help.
Isaiah pictures us as in the middle of a desert -a spiritual desert.
Let us go on this journey then through the desert.
First, the desert road has many travelers. It is the broad road that leads to destruction. Jesus said, “For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13).
Travelers along this road in the desert are both happy and sad. It is happy because travelers “enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time” (Hebrews 11:25).
It is sad because it ultimately dead ends into a place called ’Destruction.’
That’s the way it is in Las Vegas. I walked through the casinos and bars and people were happy, laughing, and having a good time. However, I couldn’t understand how people could be so happy losing all that money. But occasionally, I’d hear a whoop and a happy holler from someone who won money at the craps table or the slot machines.
Outside the casino was another story. I remember vividly seeing a man being comforted by a woman - perhaps his wife - who had his head in his hands weeping. His dream of winning big ended in brokenness. Great sadness and despair is there in Vegas too.
Happiness and Sadness.
You see, happiness and sadness are based on circumstances.
When things go our way, we are happy. People buy a new car or move into a new home like Earnie Graham did this week in Augusta, GA, when she saw for the first time her new home built by ABC for the Extreme Home Makeover show.
And people were happy for her. People are happy when they get a high paying job, receive recognition for a job well done, get married, or successfully finish a project. These are so many circumstances that make us happy.
When things don’t go our way, when we can’t catch a break, we become sad and melancholy. We get down on ourselves and even down on God. People lose their jobs and can’t make the mortgage payment like Cindy Hooper in Aiken, SC, whose double-wide mobile home was re-possessed this week. The Chronicle captured her in a photograph crying. It was heartbreaking to look at her. People were sad for her and many offered to help the family. People are sad when they get divorced, are rejected for a job, and their old car breaks down with no funds to fix it.
Happiness and sadness are based on circumstances. Sometimes a person can try and try, jump through all the hoops that are set out there for them to achieve the American dream, and dot all of the “I’s” and cross all of the “t’s” and still fail. I don’t have to tell you how tough it is to make it successfully in this world.
Isaiah labels this as the desert. Yes, there is happiness in the desert, but there is also much sadness. It all depends upon circumstances.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I can’t force success and happiness to come my way. I’ve jumped through the hoops religious bureaucrats placed in front of me and failed. I’ve jumped through the hoops of teacher certification in the public schools and failed to get another job after thirteen years in education. My failures caused me much sorrow and depression, much sadness, and grief.
All of my efforts to be successful led me into God’s brick wall.
The Lord says to me and to you, “Happiness and sadness are dependent on good or bad circumstances, but the joy that comes from Me, the Lord, thy God, to you, My child is not dependent on circumstances. It is dependent on Me, your Lord Jesus Christ.”
That is the message of Isaiah. That is the message of Advent. That is the message of Christmas. JOY!
In this journey through the desert of life where happiness and sadness are based on circumstances, we come upon a narrow road that forks off to the right. It is the way of righteousness. The way of holiness. The way of salvation. It is the road less traveled. He provides us with the Bread of Heaven and the Water of Life.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost
The Lord has made another road in the desert. He has called and chosen us, His people, to travel down that road - the road less traveled.
Isaiah is our tour guide on our journey along this highway of holiness through the desert.
It is the Glory Road. The Holy Road. The Heavenly Road and it is a road of abiding, never-ending, eternal joy.
The Glory Road of Redemption.
Isaiah 35:1-2: The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.
The glory road of redemption is filled with joy. Isaiah saw that the desert will blossom with flowers. God’s glory road that we travel is like flowers blossoming in the desert.
Let me help you get your mind around the glory road of joyful redemption.
In Exodus, God called and chose the people of Israel for redemption. They were instructed to kill a lamb and take its blood and smear the doorposts and the top of the door with the lamb’s blood for redemption.
That night, God’s death angel killed all of the Egyptians and everyone else’s first born whose doors were not marked by the blood.
Israel was redeemed and God led them out of bondage through Moses.
Then, God led them to the Red Sea. With Pharaoh's army ready to destroy them in the rear and the Red Sea in front of them, God made a way of redemption and they crossed the Sea and the waters came over Pharaoh’s army destroying all of them.
God’s joy of redemption caused them to rejoice and praise God. “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: "I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him” (Exodus 15:1-2).
God brought joy to the people of Israel and put them on the glory road through the desert bound for the Promised Land.
God redeems us through the wounds from the Lamb, His very Son. He takes us off the desert highway and sets us on another road He makes through the desert. It is a road filled with the gift of God’s joy to us where the flower blooms even in the desert.
The Glory Road we travel doesn’t mean it is an easy road.
Paul and Silas were beaten, thrown into prison, and locked down with chains. But these sad circumstances couldn’t take away the joy of redemption God had given to them.
They sang and praised God and the Lord Almighty delivered them from their bondage with a great earthquake and set them free.
God delights in our praises and worship because it is a Glory Road we travel. He often changes our sad situation because it brings glory to Him. He had work for Paul and Silas to do. Their deliverance brought glory to God.
When God does choose to change our sad circumstances, He does so to bring glory to Him, and we benefit from the change. But whether He chooses to change things or not, those circumstances do not affect the joy of redemption that God gives on the Glory Road.
God looks down from the balcony of heaven and says, “You are mine! You belong to me! I’ve written my name across your heart!” REJOICE ALWAYS!
I redeemed you with the precious blood from the wounds of the Lamb of God - my very Son. REJOICE ALWAYS!
No wonder Jesus said, “You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22).
“I protect you and keep you safe by my power I am coming to you now so that you may have the full measure of my joy within you! (John 17:12-13).
It is written, “Rejoice evermore!” (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
Give God joyous praise for your redemption and the Glory Road he makes for you to travel through this desert through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of our Savior.
A Holy Road
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there (Isaiah 35:8-9).
Yes, I know. Evil, wicked, and cruel people of the devil want to steal our joy. The devil and his people are thieves and robbers.
They make circumstances hard for us. They reject us, abandon us, abuse us, and cause us suffering. These circumstances that they create make us sad.
But, they do not travel this Holy Highway with us and therefore cannot take away the gift of joy God gives to us.
I’m not a holy roller but I am a holy roader!
It’s like Saint Thomas a Kempis noted, “If there is joy in the world, surely the man of pure heart possesses it.”
A man or woman of pure heart is a man or woman of a holy heart traveling on the Holy Road.
The Holy Road has only God’s joyous people traveling on it.
That’s why Christ created the church, the assembly of His redeemed people. He called us, chose us, and redeemed us. We travel this desert road with the blooming flowers together!
God expresses His joy to us, and we receive His joy together.
When sad circumstances get us down, we travel the holy road to worship together, to “go to church,” if you will.
In the assembly are those who encourage us with the joy of Christ along the Holy Road.
The church is full of encouraging people. Paul said, “”Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1Thessalonians 5:11).
I know in my own journey down the Holy Road, you have been there for me. My wife and God’s pastor, Rev. Roger Bennett, was there for me, too. Encouraging me, helping me. He was Christ walking with me when I couldn’t walk.
As I have been helped and comforted, so I can help and comfort you. As you have been helped and comforted, you can help and comfort me. We encourage each other. And God’s gift of Christian fellowship causes us to rejoice in the Lord and with one another.
It’s an awesome thing!
Unholy people do not encourage. They do not comfort and help. They rejoice in the misfortunes of others. And they rejoice in making others miserable.
My dad had a saying which I am sure you have heard too. “Misery loves company!”
The miserable get a sick joy out of making others as miserable as they are.
But joy loves company too.
St. Augustine knew this. He said, “When large numbers of people share their joy in common, the happiness of each is greater because each adds fuel to the other's flame.”
When we travel down the holy road to church with our joy flame flickering, the joy of others causes our little flicker to flame up again.
Pastor and author Chuck Swindol wrote, “I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy.”
And I say, “Amen!”
The man or woman walking on the Holy Road in the desert blooming with flowers is holy and possesses joy and encourages others in the joyful journey along the Holy Road!
A Heavenly Road
Get this! “The ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).
We’re marching on the Glory Road of Redemption. We’re marching on the Holy Road. And where are we marching too?
We’re marching to Zion!
Just knowing where we are going is God’s gift of joy.
The desert road with blooming flowers ends in Zion and “joy is the serious business of Heaven” (C.S. Lewis).
The desert road that is broad and wide ends in destruction.
Whew! I’m on the Heavenly Highway and that is why I have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart!
I’m Marching to Zion. You’re Marching to Zion. Together, hand in hand, arm in arm, we’re marching to Zion. Praise God, Praise God, Praise God.
I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart.
We’re Marching to Zion!
Come, we that love the Lord,
and let our joys be known;
join in a song with sweet accord,
join in a song with sweet accord
and thus surround the throne,
and thus surround the throne.
We're marching to Zion,
beautiful, beautiful Zion;
we're marching upward to Zion,
the beautiful city of God.
No matter the clouds that overshadow. No matter the deep disappointments. No matter the failures. No matter the sorrows and griefs of the desert, the road God has me on has flowers blooming, and they line this desert road with their beauty which leads me to the wondrous beauty of heaven where the flower never wilts and the colors never fade!
I know what awaits me. The joy of the Father awaiting me with open arms. The joy of the Son saying, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.” And the joy of the Spirit raising me into life everlasting and eternal joy.
That is the joy of Advent. That is why we can rejoice always!