In recent weeks, the pastors of our church have preached some sermons about living for God’s glory and being instruments of renewal in our community. One of Pastor David McCowan’s jumping off points for his sermons based on Joel 2 and Ezekiel 37 was the book Red Moon Rising, about the 24-7 prayer movement. So I wanted to write a column that was relevant to those messages. The Sunday after I turned this in, Pastor David preached from Isaiah 61 — I didn’t know he was going to do that, and he already had his message planned before I wrote my column. God is cool.
Isaiah 58 and 61
It all began with a garden. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we find garden imagery throughout the Bible. Jesus used the parable of the sower as an illustration of the kingdom of God. Much of the imagery of the early church sprang from agricultural language as well — planting, watering, growing, harvesting.
Isaiah 61 is one passage rich with such imagery. After the prophet proclaims joy and freedom to the oppressed and sorrowful he tells them “…that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (v. 3). Then, in verse 11, he writes, “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations.”
Pastor Grant and Pastor David have both preached in recent weeks about how the body of Christ should bring glory to God, how we are to be the kingdom of God here on earth — a garden of righteousness. But what does that mean? Isaiah 58 gives us some idea.
In chapter 58, Isaiah tells God’s people that going through the motions of religion is useless. “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke , to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Is. 58: 6-7)
The result of these actions is clear — the nations (that is, different people groups) will see God’s light shining through. And Isaiah uses more garden language: “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (Is. 58: 11)
These passages are a window into the kingdom of God — when God’s people are obedient they grow. They become a garden bearing fruit. They become a light shining into the dark places; they are a spring of water, giving life to the world around them.