Vol. IX — No. 3 January 21, 1968
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. The multitudes of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.
In Christ Jesus, the Lord of Glory who has and is revealing Himself unto us. Fellow Redeemed:
Today is the first Sunday after the festival of Epiphany, which falls on the set date of January 6th— twelve days after Christmas Day, The word “Epiphany” comes to us from the Greek language and means appearance or manifestation. St. John gave us the meaning of this season of the church year when he wrote, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. During the Epiphany Season we concentrate upon our Lord’s revealing or manifesting Himself by word and deed as the Son of God and Savior of the world. The traditional Gospel, for example, is the story of the wise men who came from afar to behold and to worship the Glory of Israel—which Israel failed to perceive and receive.
Our text was written centuries before the coming of the Lord of Glory. Yet Isaiah was given prophetic vision to know and to see that which the holy evangelists recorded in the Gospel and that which St. Luke recorded in the book of Acts. Yea, Isaiah’s vision perceived the situation of his day but then penetrated down through the New Testament era to our day and onward to the consummation at the end of time. So it is that the prophecy recorded in our text is rooted in the time of the prophet, then jumps the centuries to the time of Christ and then continues on down through the twenty centuries since Christ and points ahead to His second coming in glory. This is truly prophecy in vista-vision form. Let us strive to see what the seer of old once saw and recorded so that we too could see. We consider—
“Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” Who is being addressed and exhorted? To whom is the light come? Upon whom is the glory of the Lord risen? “Behold… Lift up thine eyes…” Who is being so urged? “Then shalt thou see…” To whom is that promise given?
A study of the context of our text clearly reveals that these words, both exhortations and promises, are addressed to Zion. What is Zion? Verse fourteen of this same chapter gives answers “The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” The city is personified; the inhabitants thereof addressed, exhorted and given promises.
But still we haven’t given a precise definition of Zion. Isaiah was a Jew, writing to men of Israel concerning their city, Zion—which would be immediately identified with Jerusalem. Are we to understand this prophecy as being confined and limited to one people, one race, one nation. So many would restrict it. The prophecy is understood as being directed to Jews, foretelling the glorious future of that nation and that people. Next, all of the symbolism is materialized. The glory become material and the whole prophecy utterly vulgar. But so it is, not only among the Jewish people today, but also among Christians. So many Christian churches and Christian people today believe, on the basis of this and similar prophecies, that the Jewish nation will before the end of time recover the lost glory of David and Solomon. The recent victory of the state of Israel over the Egyptians was taken by both Jew and many Christians as evidence of divine favor and confirmation of the hope of the eventual material glory of Israel.
But this prophecy was not spoken to Israel as a nation! It was addressed to Zion, which is a spiritual name. Zion was the congregation of believers in the hope of Israel. Zion was the collective name for each and every individual that shared the hope of Abraham for a Savior to come, for each and all who believed the promise of that Savior and were justified by that faith. Isaiah distinguishes clearly between Israel according to the flesh and Israel according to the spirit. So also does St. Paul. But this distinction has been lost to unbelieving Israel and to many who bear the name Christian. The glorious name, Zion, has been dragged down and is being used to designate a fanatically nationalistic movement of Jews, called Zionism. This prophecy was not addressed to such. It was originally addressed to Old Testament believers. New Testament believers are the rightful heirs of the name “Zion,” for Zion is one of the descriptive names of the Church of Jesus Christ. So it is that this prophecy of our Lord’s gracious and glorious epiphany has been revealed and is addressed to Zion of all ages. It was meant also for us!
When was this prophecy fulfilled? First, it was—
The believers of Isaiah’s day faced destruction of their city, loss of their national life and exile to far away Babylon. They were to be comforted with things to come. That generation of believers, the generation moaning under the heel of imperial Rome at the time of Christ, as well as our generation is addressed: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” When was that fulfilled? Think but of the Christmas Gospel: ÜAnd there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them,” The light had come in the person of that Babe born of the virgin Mary and wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
What was the spiritual condition of mankind at that time? Isaiah saw it all too clearly: “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people,” That was prophecy, St. John lived at that time. He wrote, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:5. The same judgment fits our supposedly highly civilized and well educated society today. Darkness describes it best!
Darkness is a symbol for the reign of sin and death. Think of how sin has become big business. It has always been the business of this world. Think of how hates, the lusts of the flesh, especially the sexual lusts, and the covetousness of man are exploited on every side. Think of how mankind, including also most of those who call themselves “Christians” turn their backs upon God’s salvation in Christ and would heal the wounds of mankind with the bandaids of man’s own moral efforts. It was and it remains a dark world, committed to undiminished hostility against the Lord, into which the Light shined.
But despite this, “the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee,” “We be held that glory,” John said. It was veiled by His humility. But in the stable, in that humble home in Nazareth, as He opened His mouth and preached, as He lowered His head to suffer and die, when He arose and ascended on high the glory of the Lord did shine on earth.
That part of the prophecy stands fulfilled, but even as the prophecy reached beyond the life of Christ on earth, so does the fulfillment, for that prophecy is—
The prophecy pictures this coming of the Gentiles down through the New Testament era until the end of time. “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” The wise men from the East were the first. The Syrophenician woman another, so also the Greeks who came to see Jesus the last week before His passion, the centurion of Capernaum and the centurion in charge of the crucifixion. Then after Pentecost the floodgates of the Gentiles were opened, especially when St. Paul began his work among the Gentiles. The book of Acts records the fulfillment of this prophecy during the apostolic era, as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was carried from Jerusalem to Rome and the Gentiles fell heir to the glory of Israel. Each man, woman and child that came to know and believe on the Lord Jesus as his Savior from sin and guilt, death and damnation was a fulfillment of this prophecy.
Isaiah saw the throngs to come down through the ages. He bids all believers: “Lift up thine eyes round about and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed—or carried—at thy side.” You and I are part of this prophetic vision and part of its fulfillment. The moment we were brought to faith in the Lord Jesus, whether through the word of grace connected with the water in baptism or through the Word preached and heard or seen and read, we became a part of that vast throng that bows the knee before the Lord Jesus.
All such dedicated themselves and their all to the Lord. Isaiah saw it all: “The multitudes of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come; they shall bring gold and incenses and they shall show forth the praises of the Lord.” This is poetry, proclaiming in prophetic word pictures the offerings of thanksgiving of all those who have received life and salvation from the Lord. The wise men brought gifts; so do we. Do you realize that when you place your gift in the offering plate this morning and those offerings are placed upon the altar—that you are thereby individually becoming a part of the fulfillment of this epiphany prophecy?
There is yet another way by which this prophecy is fulfilled in us. It is—
The prophecy also depicts the anticipated re action of believers when they see these things come to pass: “Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged.” A more recent translation may make these words clearer to us: “Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”
These words were fulfilled the night the glory of the Lord appeared over the fields of Bethlehem when the shepherds left their flocks and went to find the promised Babe. After they had seen Him with their own eyes and after they had proclaimed His glory abroad, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” Luke 2:20.
Oh, that this prophecy finds fulfillment in all of our hearts! What thrills you? What gives you joy? What makes you rejoice? Is it only parties, entertainment, your love for a boy or girl, woman or man, a raise in salary, a successful business deal, a triumph over some obstacle? Are these the only things that can create a reaction of joy and rejoicing in your heart? If that is the case, then you are sick, perhaps even dead—spiritually. Then may God have mercy upon you and give you repentance unto life.
We hope that this prophecy is finding fulfillment in your heart. We pray that you have learned to know the joy of your salvation, that you have experienced the peace of God that passeth all understanding, that you can and do respond with inner joy to the name of the Lord Jesus, We hope that the conversion of a sinner to Christ brings you joy—much more than a successful business venture. We hope that you can know the joy of seeing disobedience converted into obedience, impenitence to penitence, unbelief to faith, restlessness into peace, doubts into convictions, compromise into confession. These are the glorious victories of Zion that do thrill the hearts of all the inhabitants of Zion. God grant that each one of us experience these joys again and again. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.