“Break Forth into Singing”
March 24, 2013
Sing, because God’s redemption comes to us with joy!
I. God comes to redeem his oppressed people (Isaiah 52:1-6)
II. The people rejoice in comfort, redemption and salvation (Isaiah 52:7-10)
God’s people sing. God’s people, seeing his salvation, sing. God’s people, seeing his redeemer, break forth into song. God’s people have always sung, through all the ages of His story and in every culture. When they came up out of the Red Sea, after God parted the waters and closed them again on the Egyptian army, God’s people sang the Song of Moses, so well done in Prince of Egypt: Ashira l'adonai; ki gaoh ga-ah; Ashira l'adonai ki gaoh ga-ah; Mi chamocha baelim adonai; Mi kamocha nedar bakodesh; Nachita v'chas-d'cha am zu ga-alta; Nachita v'chas-d'cha am zu ga-alta; Ashira ashira ashira.
At the far end of Scripture Revelation tells us the redeemed will again sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, Michael Card: Victorious army, God given harps in their hands, a sea of fire, all sing the song of the Lamb; just and true are your ways, king of ages; so great and marvelous are all your deeds; Lord God Almighty, who will not fear you and bring the glory to your name.”
And between those two episodes, what do God’s people do? Sing. King David, especially, was a singer; his Psalms are the songbook of the church. But Isaiah also loves singing. A few weeks back when we studied Isaiah 35 we were told that the wilderness would rejoice with joy and singing, and when the Messiah came to open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf, the mute would sing for joy. One of my favorite hymns reflects that truth: hear him, ye deaf, his praise ye dumb your loosened tongues employ; ye blind behold your savior come, and leap ye lame for joy. We’re all broken, but when Jesus shows up, when Jesus begins to heal us, we sing.
And on Palm Sunday, we sing. Now some argue that Scripture doesn’t actually say anyone sang on Palm Sunday. The word used in the Gospels means to shout or to cry out. Even in the Old Testament when Palm Sunday is directly foretold in Zechariah, it says “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey.”
Nonetheless, for the church, for two thousand years, Palm Sunday has been a hosanna singing Sunday, as we’ve experienced already this morning. And that’s because Jesus is a reason to sing. He’s the king, savior, redeemer who brings good news of salvation and peace. That’s reason enough to sing. In fact we are explicitly command in Scripture to sing. What I want to propose this morning is that you and I need this, we need to sing, and we’ll be blessed if we do so.
So I want to exhort you to spend this Easter week in song. It is my experience, together with many other believers, that music makes a difference; singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs make a difference. Even if you’re like me and can hardly hold a tune in a bucket or clap in rhythm, music can be a huge blessing to your heart, your attitude, your thinking and your life.
I became a believer in 1969, during the Jesus Movement, before there was such a thing as contemporary Christian music. I remember being our youth group, singing ‘they’ll know we are Christians by our love,’ led by long-haired hippies with guitars. In those days we had Chuck Girard, and didn’t think we had much else. I’d always appreciated Handel’s Messiah, and we had a rich heritage of marvelous hymns, but it took a few years to appreciate them.
Soon though we had Keith Green and 2nd Chapter of Acts, who began to give us Easter music: “Swallowed into earth’s dark womb; Death has triumphed; That's what they say. But try to hold him in the tomb: the Son of Life rose on the third day. Just look, the gates of hell, they're falling; crumbling from the inside out; He's bursting through the walls with laughter (hah!). Listen to the angels shout” “Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that we can be born again. Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing Christ is risen from the dead.”
In every season of my life some hymn, some song, some songwriter has spoken salvation’s peace to my soul: Steve Green, Sandi Patti; Twila Paris; Michael Card; Fernando Ortega; Andrew Peterson; Ben Shive; Sara Groves; Josh Garrels; Keith Getty; Stuart Townend; Indelible Grace . . . and quite a few more. Lines from these songs, Scriptural truths in music, have comforted, strengthened and expressed my heart. “O may those who come behind us find us faithful,” “Lead on O King Eternal, we follow not with fears,” “God is in control; we choose to remember and never be shaken.”
I know I’m not alone in this. There are many people I know well enough to know that song has long ministered celebration and comfort to their hearts: David Jackson and his family; Frank Kittle and his; Jim Berreth and his. And that list could go on. You may be in that camp; if so I want to encourage you to spend this Easter week in song. On the other hand you may not feel you’re a ‘music’ kind of person; it’s you especially that I want to encourage: spend this week in song. It could speak to your soul of Easter in a fresh new way.
I’m not just saying this from my own experience, or even the experience of history; I’m saying this from Scripture. This morning we’ll look at verses in Isaiah that hint at Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry. And this text helps us know how to respond to that event and to all the events of Easter week. It commands us to sing, because God’s redemption comes to us with joy!
I. God comes to redeem his oppressed people (Isaiah 52:1-6)
The text has two sections: the first shows that a redeemer is coming to a Jerusalem that desperately him. Isaiah 52:1-6 Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into you the uncircumcised and the unclean. 2Shake yourself from the dust and arise; be seated, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. 3For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4For thus says the Lord GOD: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. 5Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. 6Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.”
The first verse is like a trumpet on Palm Sunday. Isaiah calls Jerusalem to wake up, strengthen herself, dress herself as a bride ready for a bridegroom. What you may not know, because the daily readings in Isaiah haven’t reached chapter 51 yet, is that by saying ‘awake awake and strengthen yourself,’ God is asking his people the very thing they had asked him. In Isaiah 51:9 they say “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago.” God implies that he will wake up when his people do; he’ll show his strength when his people confidently wait.
Jerusalem, God promises, will be freed from the unclean, uncircumcised enemies who have oppressed her. She is pictured face down in the dust and bound with chains around her neck. But when God redeems her she will be able to shake off the dust and loose the chains and receive her redemption.
We see only a partial fulfillment of this prophecy in the return from the Babylonian exile when, under Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s people were set free to rebuild the ruined city. The final fulfillment is almost certainly yet to come, when Jesus returns to reign in Jerusalem during the millennium. Only then will she be truly free from the sin of the nations, and her own sin. But that fulfillment is pictured by Palm Sunday, by the joy and celebration and shouting and yes, singing, that accompanied Jesus as he rode in as their peaceful king.
In verses 3-4 God reflects on the redemption he offers in Christ. He says ‘you were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.’ The first phrase implies that the people had become worthless through their sin. Assyria and Babylon, the oppressors of Isaiah’s vision didn’t even have to negotiate a price with God because his people had become worthless. God just said ‘OK Assyria, take them away,’ ‘OK Babylon, take them into exile.’
So when the time came to rescue them and redeem them, God had no need to negotiate a buy-back with these earthly kingdoms. It was his people’s sin that needed to be dealt with and slavery to sin that needed to be redeemed. And that redemption would be won by the same one who rode in triumph into Jerusalem, hailed as the Lord’s anointed and as king. Peter describes this redemption, saying “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Don’t miss this, it’s the key to the whole thing. When Peter wants to talk about how God rescues his people, which is what Isaiah is talking about, he says silver and gold don’t suffice to ransom sinners: what is needed is the sacrifice of a perfect life, the Christ, a lamb without spot or blemish.
So in Isaiah 52 God is saying ‘I’m going to ransom you, but not with money.’ And he rehearses their history: You went down to Egypt voluntarily - but, by implication, you were made slaves and I had to ransom you not with money but with a strong arm, with Passover judgment on your Egyptian oppressors. Then Assyria came along and I gave you over to them for no charge - but I rescued you, Judah, by my strength. Now you’re headed to exile in Babylon; you will wail and weep, but not in repentance: you loudly despise the name of the God who rescued you before. In God’s unique way, the rebellion and abuse of his people spurs him on to greater acts of redemption.
“My name is despised! Therefore,” verse 6, “my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.” God’s people aren’t just captive to some oppressor; they are captive to their own sin; instead of honoring God and giving glory to his name, they despise his name and discount his word. But in that day, the day foreshadowed by Palm Sunday and achieved by the cross and the resurrection, in that day they shall know his name, they shall know that what he says in his word is true, and they shall hear his voice announcing his victorious presence: ‘here I am.’ Don’t miss this either: the result of redemption is relationship; this is what God has had in mind all along and what brings him glory.
So what have we seen? God is going to gloriously rescue; God is going to redeem. And he is going to do so not with gold, because his people were not sold for a price; they sold themselves into slavery by their sin - and they still despise him. In the same way, Jesus came to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a people and a nation who would reject him. And he knew it. He says “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
And yet at the same time he rides in to die for this city, and for those people and for people who, without exception, were rebels against God and sold into sin for no cost. Easter offers these rebels redemption through the self-sacrifice of the king and his resurrection victory over sin and death.
II. The people rejoice in comfort, redemption and salvation (Isaiah 52:7-10)
How do you respond to a God like this? Verses 7-10 show us. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” 8The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. 9Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. 10The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
This is how Jerusalem should have responded to God’s rescue. On some level, of course, the city did respond this way on Palm Sunday, but then the people turned against the good news of salvation and murdered their king and the author of life. So these verses really look forward to the heart attitude of his people on the day Jesus returns to reign. They also look forward to the heart attitude you and I can have today, as we enter Easter week and contemplate with song the life, death and resurrection of our savior and redeemer.
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” This is a great song, “Our God Reigns” that we’ll sing later. But whose feet are bringing this good news? Paul quotes this verse in Romans 10 of anyone sent to preach the Gospel. But Jesus is the Gospel. As he descends the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday, he is good news. He announces peace, and gives it. He announces salvation, and achieves it on the cross. He announces that ‘your God reigns’ and rises to take the throne.
Peace is the common Hebrew word ‘shalom.’This is a comprehensive peace: peace of soul, well being of body and mind, healthy relationships, and safety from enemies, both social and national. In Jesus one has arrived who can offer this peace, for by his sacrifice he will make peace in the most foundational relationship of all, between God and man. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So he brings peace, but he also brings salvation, deliverance, rescue. The truth is that you and I, without Jesus, were in great danger. Our sin brought us to the brink of destruction and only God’s patience prevented him from allowing us to fall into the misery, death and hell we had asked for, the unavoidable consequence of our self-focused rebellion against God.
But the Old Testament reveals a God of rescue, a God of deliverance: from Egypt, from Assyria, from Babylon. God wants us to be so convinced of his character that when he offers us forgiveness and rescue in Jesus, we will trust him enough to take hold of that rescue, by faith.
So he announces peace, he announces salvation, and he announces that our God reigns. Salvation and peace are fully expressed in the reign of God, the kingdom of God. This is the end purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and sacrifice. Hebrews 12 teaches us that Jesus, for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down as king at the right hand of the throne of God. As we’ll sing next week in the wonderful hymn “Rejoice the Lord is King” “Jesus the Savior Reigns, the God of truth and love; when he had purged our stains he took his seat above. Lift up your heart; lift up your voice, rejoice again, I say, rejoice.”
That’s what the Palm Sunday celebration looks forward to. Verse 8: “The voice of your watchmen; they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion.” What a great image; the watchmen on the towers look to the mountains, they see the road that comes down to the gate of the city, and they see this one bringing good news of peace and salvation. They see the return of the Lord to Zion, which is the second coming of Christ, pictured for us in the Triumphal Entry. They look at each other from tower to tower and together sing for joy. I mean, why not? They are witnessing God’s return to rescue; Jesus said on Palm Sunday that if the people didn’t cry out the stones of the city would shout praise.
The watchmen sing, and verse 9, we are commanded to sing: “Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.” Now you’ll say ‘this isn’t a command for us to sing, this is a command for the waste places to sing.” But I think it is for us. At the end of the verse it says he has redeemed Jerusalem. But God doesn’t redeem cities; he redeems people. So if he has redeemed the people of Jerusalem, then the command is ‘break forth into singing you people of the waste places of Jerusalem.’ Further, since people are redeemed from sin, the command becomes, break into singing you people of the waste places of sin. I don’t think that’s a stretch. I think this command is for us: break forth into singing: the Lord has comforted you; the Lord has redeemed you.
Verse 10: “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” This verse is clearly about us, as well as the people of Judah returning from exile, as well as the people of the last day who are the recipients of his great salvation.
On Thursday we’ll begin looking at the next section of this text and we’ll find that through the suffering servant ‘the arm of the Lord has been revealed.’ So it begins to tie together: this text has a Palm Sunday flavor, but as we approach Isaiah 53 this becomes an Easter text: the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus for our sins and the resurrection that seals his victory over sin and death are clearly described. We’re going to have tremendous fun looking at these this coming week, and this is how the arm of the Lord has been revealed.
Nonetheless, we are still waiting for the day when ‘all the ends of the earth’ see the salvation of our God. On that day the whole world will see the second Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and know his power as he begins to reign on earth. Even now salvation is for all nations. Redemption is offered to ‘the ends of the earth. One of my favorite verses in Isaiah is Isaiah 49:6, God says to his servant, Jesus “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In our day his salvation is spreading. But in that day, that second triumphal entry, all the nations will see the salvation of our God.
So what do we do with this? I’ve made it clear that I see the command ‘break forth into singing’ as a command to us. And what better week to do that than Easter week? So I want to elaborate: sing this week. Sing to celebrate Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins according to the Scripture, and who was buried, and who was raised the third day, according to the Scripture.
Sing your way to the cross and the sealed tomb and the empty grave. This is what God’s people do. I was moved by the video we saw a few weeks ago of a baptism in a country where the few Christians are beginning to gather as a church. The baptism itself was moving but more so the fact that this fledging church in a hostile country was nonetheless a church that rejoiced to sing.
(20 seconds from baptism tape)
God’s people sing. Sing your way to Easter. How? Two ways: on your own and with others. ‘With others’ means coming to the service on Thursday night where we will remember the suffering of Jesus on our behalf, not only from Scripture, not only in communion, but with music, singing together things like “Via Dolarosa” and “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted.” ‘With others’ means coming to the Sunrise service and singing the Easter Song that I first heard as a young believer in my teens. With others means coming next week when we can listen to the choir sing ‘Worthy is the Lamb’ and ourselves sing ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today’ and ‘Look Ye Saints.”
Even more than that, and in preparation for that, listen and sing on your own. We live in a time when any of us can quickly immerse our hearts in song, through technology. Simple technology like a CD or radio or sophisticated technology like iTunes or YouTube. I want to especially ask you to visit the heart prep posts on our website. These will link you to YouTube videos of the songs we will be singing all next week. Immerse yourself in this music.
But most importantly, don’t focus too much on going wide - go deep. Don’t try to attach to all the songs we sing, or all the songs on the radio. But be on the lookout for that one song. Someplace in the thirty or more songs we’re doing between today and next week, is one that should kiss you on the nose, wrestle you to the ground, sit on your chest and grab hold of your heart. Find that song: sing it; hum it; learn the words; apply it to your circumstances. I cannot tell you how many times in my life this has blessed me. Let me tease you with just a couple of my favorites off our worship plans for this week:
“Smitten, stricken and afflicted; see him dying on the tree; ‘tis the Christ by man rejected, Yes my soul, ‘tis he, ‘tis he.” “Upon a life I have not lived; upon a death I did not die; another’s life, another’s death; I stake my whole eternity.” “He stumbled down the road, bruised and beaten for me. Jesus walked the way of grief, Hallelujah.” “This the power of the cross; Christ became sin for us;” “Oh your cross it changes everything; There my world begins again with you;” “See God’s Salvation Plan; wrought in love; borne in pain; paid in sacrifice; fulfilled in Christ the man, for He lives, Christ is risen from the dead.” “Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose the victor from the dark domain; and he lives forever with his saints to reign.” “Forever, author of salvation; he rose and conquered the grave; Jesus conquered the grave.”
As you celebrate this week, break forth in song.