PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM OF GOD
GO, TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN…
3 Horizons for this (and other O.T. prophetic texts)
- Good news for the Exiles
- Good news in Christ
- Good news Today
The song title , ‘Go, tell it on the mountain…’ comes from Isa 40:9-11 and 52:7-10
- GOOD NEWS FOR THE EXILES
These words in Isaiah 52 were first spoken to people in exile – the people of Judah
[Historical background: - 587 BC
- small kingdom of Judah – attacked by Nebuchadnezzar
- Jerusalem besieged and destroyed
- people taken as prisoners and exiles – Babylon
- as God’s judgement
- 50 years – 2 generations had gone by
- Jerusalem lay in ruins and so did the hopes of Israel
And yet, God had promised through several prophets (including Isaiah) , that exile would not be the end for Israel.
God would again deliver them and bring them back to their land and city.
The question was – when?
For several chapters now, the book of Isaiah anticipates such good news – of God’s victory over his enemies and the people’s deliverance.
Here – in 52:7-10 – the prophet calls on them and us to imagine ourselves in the ruins of Jerusalem – anxiously waiting for news – looking out to the East – where the exiles languished in captivity.
a) God reigns! (v. 7)
We see and hear the running feet of a single messenger – running across the mountains East of Jerusalem – a messenger – coming from the battle
We can just hear one word of his message each time he reaches a crest of a hill – then disappears into a valley – to reappear in a crest getting close all the time.
“It’s peace!”……”It’s good!”…..”We’re saved!”…..
Until at last he reaches the city itself, and gasps out the climax of his good news –
“Your God reigns!” (v7) and this is the truth that explains the other 3 items
For what does it mean to say that God reigns? That the Lord is king? What does the kingdom of God bring with it?
All three of the messenger’s news items:
i) The reign of God means Shalom
The reign of peace. End of violence and conflict and all the brokenness and shattering that it brings. Wholeness and fullness of life when all things are as God wants them to be – when we are at peace with God, and with ourselves, and with the world.
ii) The reign of God means Good
When God’s creation is restored to what God said it was when he first created it – “It is good” – for when God reigns throughout creation, and over all humanity – it will be good – for God is good.
iii) The reign of God means Salvation
The ending of all that holds people in slavery – of all oppression, of all addiction, of all bondage to sin and idolatry, of all the chains of evil, sin and Satan, of all danger of judgement and death.
When God reigns – there will be peace, life will be good and we shall be saved.
So, this is the first part of the prophet’s vision – announced by a single messenger – the good news is of the God who reigns
Good news for the exiles is not just the God who reigns but also :
b) God returns (v. 8)
The single voice of the runner on the mountain tops is joined by an ensemble of the watchmen – the sentries on the broken down walls of Jerusalem.
They join in and shout for joy – raise a great chorus together.
Why? Because they can now see – way far beyond and behind the messenger – the LORD himself – returning.
The God who reigns is the God who returns.
God is coming back to his city – with his people.
When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took its people captive – the exiles were not the only ones to leave the city. In a sense, God himself had departed.
Ezekiel had his awful vision Ezek 8-11 – of the glory of the LORD leaving the Temple and moving off out of the city.
God had left. Would he ever come back?
Already the prophet has given the answer –
READ Isa 40:3 & 9 – “God is on his way!”
God is coming – returning to Zion!
As, indeed, he did – with the exiles in 538BC – and the Temple was rebuilt, and worship restored and the city re-inhabited.
And as we anticipate at ADVENT
So – It’s good news! – God reigns – God returns and:
c) God redeems (v. 9)
From a single voice (7), to the ensemble (8) – now the ruins of Jerusalem join the song of joy and celebration (9)
Celebrating what God has done –
a) God has comforted – end of grief, pain, bereavement and sorrow. God pours in comfort
b) God has redeemed – end of bondage and slavery, God delivers and liberates people
These are the great saving acts of the living God – which Israel experienced in return from exile
His people celebrate them – but eventually the whole world will see them v10
V10 – opens up this world of prophecy – which was first spoken to exiles of Judah – 5 centuries before Christ. This verse takes the good news to the exiles and takes it way beyond them and their imminent future restoration.
Opens it up to a future that lies well beyond its own immediate horizon – points forward
- to the global purpose of God
- to the saving purpose for the world
This is the mission of God – for
“all ends of the earth”
It will be accomplished by “The Arm of the LORD”…..
“Before the nations – he has bared his holy arm”
= imagery of battle – throw off heavy cloak – “roll up your sleeves” – for combat. ‘The arm of the LORD’ portrays God as a victorious soldier winning a victory. But it has also been used several times already in these chapters – with other senses.
a) Isa 40:10-11 The Arm of the LORD is the arm of tender compassion also. This God – mighty in battle – is the one who tenderly comforts and cares for each struggling lamb.
b) 51:5 – Arm of the Lord is the servant who will bring justice to nations .
c) 53:1 – and the rest of that chapter: “The Arm of the LORD” is also a description of the one who would come – as the servant – to suffer and die, vicariously for the sin of others.
The redeeming victory of God would be won through suffering and death on behalf of others.
So, then, the Good News, which is for the exiles of Israel, but that is also to go to the ends of the earth to bring joy and comfort to all the “nations” – is of a God
- who reigns
- who returns to his people
- who redeems the world through his mighty arm
- outstretched in victory
- outstretched in gentle compassion
- outstretched in suffering love
II. GOOD NEWS IN JESUS CHRIST
“Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born”
The Christmas carol takes this imagery from Isaiah– from centuries before Christ, when it was good news for exiles to Babylon – and applies it to the birth of Jesus Christ.
And it is right to do so. For all three parts of the good news to the exiles and to Zion are also Good News in Jesus Christ
a) Jesus was and is God reigning
Jesus Christ came into Galilee preaching – “The Kingdom of God is at hand – repent and believe the Gospel”
He drove out demons – “If I, by the finger of God cast out demons, – then kingdom of God is among you”
Like seed growing, like yeast rising, the Kingdom of God is at work in the world – embodied in those who are members of it – in whose lives God reigns
- lives committed to Christ and Christ’s ways and Lordship
- and God’s justice, integrity and peace
So tell it…….Jesus Christ is born……..means that Kingdom of God is already here.
b) Jesus was and still is God returning
Theme of fulfilment runs deep in Gospels - that God himself would come to his people
- “what do you see and hear” – to John’s disciples
- Isa 35 fulfilled – ie, “Your God has come”
- Mal 3 – God would send Elijah before God himself returned
- Jesus says: – “John Baptist = Elijah; who then is Jesus?
- Zech 9 – king would come – return to his temple, on a donkey! Humble and bringing salvation
Jesus did so – entered Jerusalem – entered the Temple – the LORD returning to Zion, bringing both judgement for those who rejected him and salvation for those trusted him.
c) Jesus was and is God redeeming
And so finally, Jesus went to Calvary – the Arm of the Lord was stretched out on that Cross, for the salvation of the world
“Go tell it…..for Jesus Christ is born……” The Arm of the Lord laid bare.
Christmas was God rolling up his sleeves for Calvary.
So, in the Gospel story, we have the further and climatic fulfilment of the Good News of this great prophetic song of joy.
Here in this text of Isaiah we have the God who declared that he Reigns
– and proved it in history of Israel, and the Cross and resurrection of his Son – for “this Jesus whom you crucified – God has made him Lord and Christ, and has put all things under his feet, and he shall reign…….”
Here is the God who said that he would Return
– and who did – bringing his people back from exile – sending his Son to become one of us in his birth and through him, returning to his temple and indeed creating a new temple through his new people in Christ.
Here is the God who promised to Redeem his people
and who repeatedly did so – Exodus, return, etc and his done so for the whole world through his Son,
They called his name Jesus – “for he will save his people from their sin”
Jesus is the fulfilment of this great song of joy and anticipation –
Jesus is the reigning, returning, redeeming God
Do you know him?
Are you living with him as king?
Are you ready for his return?
Have you turned to him for salvation?
- GOOD NEWS FOR TODAY
So what does it mean? For me, for you, for the world outside?
That was then…..this is now……what does it mean for me – that Jesus is the reigning Lord, the returning king, the redeeming saviour? I asked myself that question as I walked along Tottenham Court Road in London, thinking about this text as I was preparing my sermon.
a) For me to say that Christ is reigning, means that I must look for the signs of the Kingdom of God in the world
When I reflect on the news of the world
– the unpredictable complexities of international life
- the flawed claims and counter-claims of moral rights and wrongs
- the terrible suffering caused by war and displacement of whole populations
- the posturing of military power
– the arrogance of cultural and economic dominance ….
I wonder – how and where do I see the signs of the reign of God in Christ in all of this?
And is it not all too complex and difficult now, you may say – in our topsy turvy mad world – to talk about the reign of God at all?
Probably no more difficult than it would have been for the Israelites in 6th BC – when Assyria, then Babylon, ruled the world;
or in 1st century AD when Rome ruled the world of Jesus and the disciples – the Roman Empire, a great single world – super-power that dominated the world with a mixture of military superiority and economic self-interest
This text says to us now as it did then,
“Your God reigns” – Jesus is Lord – not Caesar, or all Caesar’s successors.
And there are certainly plenty of signs, evidence, of God at work even in the midst of appalling evil and suffering. Evil will not have the last word. God reigns.
And in that I rest my confidence and hope!
b) For me, to believe that Jesus is returning, means that I have hope in spite of the “waste places”
When I think of the “waste places” of the world – the ruins of things God made beautiful
- whether the appalling destruction of our planet’s diversity and beauty
- or the desolate waste places of human suffering – through the brutality and cruelty of the wicked – or the callous neglect by the rest of us
- the sheer mountain of human and natural suffering – eg HIV/AIDS, Tsunami’s
Then I remember that Jesus is also the returning king
- He is the God who comes
- who came
- and who will come again
Ps 96:10-13 [READ]
And when God returns – things will be put right – and the whole of creation will rejoice. He will wipe away all tears from our eyes
Things will change – when he returns – as he promised.
Bob Dylan – “When he returns” – from is album ‘Slow Train Coming’)
“The iron hand ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to the mighty God
Like a thief in the night, he’ll replace wrong with right
when he returns
For every earthly plan that be known to man,
He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of his own, to set up his throne,
When he returns”
c) For me to believe that Jesus is the Redeeming God, means that I long for day of deliverance.
When I think of the vast numbers of the human race who live in all kinds of oppression and slavery
- to poverty, hunger and injustice
- to violence, murder, rape, cluster bombs,
- to forced migration and the plight of refugees
- to addictions, to AIDS
- to sin and rebellion of their own choice
- to ignorance of the Gospel
Then I look forward to the day when all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God,
when all those who long for his appearing, who turn to him in their need and despair, will see their redeemer as he really is – Lord and King and Saviour of the nations
That is the ending of the great story that the Bible tells.
Like the crowds queuing to see Part 3 of “Lord of the Rings” – we know how the story ends. It ends with the Return of the King – and the salvation, not just of the Shire, but of the wholecreation and all of God’s redeemed humanity
[Quote: William Cowper – “The Task”]
But how? You ask. How and when can this be?
I cannot tell – is all I can answer –
But this I know – and believe that it will be so.
“I cannot tell how he will win the nations
“I cannot tell how all the lands will worship”
[Quote: hymn of W.Y. Fullerton]
So that, then, is what it means to me – “But what about them?” I thought as I walked along Tottenham Court Road. “What about the people on the streets of London in their thousands?”
What does it mean to them that
- Jesus is the reigning Lord of history
- Jesus is the returning King of creation
- Jesus is the redeemer and saviour of the world?
And the answer seemed to bounce back off the walls
“Nothing…..nothing at all – how can it, if they don’t know about it?
And how can they know about it, if nobody has told them?”
And then my text seemed to bounce back also, but through the words of Paul – who quoted this text with similar questions.
Rom 10:12-15 [READ]
There is nothing very beautiful about feet.
The only thing that makes feet beautiful is when they are wearing the running shoes of the Gospel of Peace, as Paul also said in Eph 6:15.
So let’s have our gospel running shoes on – so that we can
- Go, tell it on the mountain – the mountain of human arrogance, that Jesus Christ is born and is reigning
- Go, tell it on the mountain, the mountain of human despair, that Jesus Christ is born and is returning
- Go, tell it on the mountain, the mountain of human bondage, that Jesus Christ is born and is our redeemer, saviour and Lord