The Promises to Abraham in Mary’s Magnificat

Last Thursday evening I taught on Luke 1, specifically Mary’s Magnificat.  I really enjoyed studying for this passage and teaching it. The scope of redemptive history is really encapsulated well in this passage, and I hope you enjoy these notes as you read through the verses…

1:39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, [40] and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. [41] And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, [42] and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! [43] And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? [44] For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. [45] And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

The hill country here in is south of where Mary would likely have been. The largest town in that area was Hebron at this time, although we aren’t told where Zachariah and Elizabeth are specifically living.

When Mary arrives the baby in Elizabeth’s womb jumps and Elizabeth interprets this through the Spirit as a joyous reaction to Mary’s arrival.

Elizabeth goes on to bless Mary with her mouth and her words go right to Mary’s heart. There truly is a blessing for those who believe in what God says, is there not?  And I can’t help but think of how reassured Mary must have felt at the words of Elizabeth.  How very confirming are these words from the mouth of her elder cousin must have been.  Yet, as we shall see shortly, the Spirit of God had been at work within Mary, and her heart responds in such a way that indicates a supernatural work of the Lord within her.  When our lips reflect the heart change we’ve had, God is pleased.

The Magnificat

What we find in the Magnificat (a title taken from the first word in Latin which simply means “magnifies”) below is one praise after another to the glory of God.  His greatness, the scope of His plan, and the intricacies of His mercy are extolled in great relish by one of “humble” and lowly estate.

For these words to have come from a simple teenage girl indicate the greatness of God’s work within Mary, and the fact that His Spirit was filling her.  It’s also a testimony to the fact that she knew her Bible really really well (Cf. Ryle and Col. 3:16)!  Philip G. Ryken says, “The Magnificat either quotes from or alludes to verses from Genesis, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Mary tried to put virtually the whole Bible into her song.”

One of the most popular comparisons of Mary’s song is in the similarities with Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:

[1] And Hannah prayed and said,
            “My heart exults in the LORD;
                        my horn is exalted in the LORD.
            My mouth derides my enemies,
                        because I rejoice in your salvation.
            [2] “There is none holy like the LORD:
                        for there is none besides you;
                        there is no rock like our God.
            [3] Talk no more so very proudly,
                        let not arrogance come from your mouth;
            for the LORD is a God of knowledge,
                        and by him actions are weighed.
            [4] The bows of the mighty are broken,
                        but the feeble bind on strength.
            [5] Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
                        but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
            The barren has borne seven,
                        but she who has many children is forlorn.
            [6] The LORD kills and brings to life;
                        he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
            [7] The LORD makes poor and makes rich;
                        he brings low and he exalts.
            [8] He raises up the poor from the dust;
                        he lifts the needy from the ash heap
            to make them sit with princes
                        and inherit a seat of honor.
            For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’s,
                        and on them he has set the world.
            [9] “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
                        but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness,
                        for not by might shall a man prevail.
            [10] The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces;
                        against them he will thunder in heaven.
            The LORD will judge the ends of the earth;
                        he will give strength to his king
                        and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
(1 Samuel 2:1-10 ESV)
 

Mary knew this song and the Bible as a whole very well.  The scriptures were on her heart. The Holy Spirit was obviously inspiring her to say these things, but “He works with what’s there” (Cf. conversation with Parris Payden).  It wasn’t as if the Spirit was teaching her on the fly or putting these words into her mind that she’d never known before.

            1:46-47 And Mary said,
            “My soul magnifies the Lord,
            and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 

There is a clear exaltation of the Lord here. Who is responsible for all that that is happening to Mary?  There’s no doubt in Mary’s mind that it is the Lord! Any fear that she may have had in that initial confrontation with the angel, or in the quiet times of gathering anxiety since then is not apparent here.  God has prepared her heart to face this adventure.

Ryken comments on the absence of specifics about the baby she’s carrying, “Mary had the godliness to look beyond her gift and praise the God who gave it. To magnify means to enlarge, and what Mary wanted to enlarge was her vision of God. Her goal was to show His greatness.” 

            1:48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
            For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

 

Mary has no delusions about her position.  She has not become puffed up, or haughty. We don’t think much about that, but how easily do we become puffed up when God has entrusted us with a ministry.  We are entrusted with the Word of God…Mary was entrusted with the Word of God incarnate.  Definitely a different mission, but certainly one that didn’t seem to puff her up – she knows her place and her place is to be God’s “servant.”

Secondly, she recognizes (correctly) the historical significance of what she’s doing. She sees where this fits into the span of world history – and it’s a big deal.  So get this, in one breath she labels herself a “humble servant” and in another she says, “All generations will call (her) blessed”!  One can only conclude therefore that while Mary is a humble servant, God is going to use her to accomplish something worthy of the entire rest of world history looking back on her and praising God.  That’s a pretty significant understanding of the role she was playing in God’s plan – especially significant that she can at one time be so humble, and still understand her significance.

            1:49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
            and holy is his name. 
 

The close connection between God’s holiness and his goodness is key here.  Not only that, but God’s mightiness is used in such a way that we benefit from His goodness.  If God were all-powerful and yet not good, this would be a scary world!  But at the center of all things He is holy.  Holiness is not an extension of Him or His character – He is holy by definition because anything that He is or anyway that we classify His characteristics we cannot forget that they are not extensions of His character, they are who He is. This is the doctrine of the simplicity of God.  He is “other” He is “pure” He is the brightness and glory and goodness.  All of these things find their root definition in the character of God – we know what goodness is because we know who God is, for example.

Now Mary is saying that because God is holy, He has used his might to do “great things” for her.

But Mary isn’t simply wrapped up in her blessings.  She isn’t simply singing about herself and her circumstances, but about God and His character.

Ryken rightly looks at this from a practical perspective and says, “Mary did not dwell on her own happy circumstances, but rejoiced in the being and character of God. It is right for us to praise God for what he has done, as Mary did. But sometimes even our worship of God can be somewhat self-centered, as if the really important thing is what God has done for us.  We need to look beyond this to see God as he is in himself, and to praise him for being God.”

            1:50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
            from generation to generation.
 

God is not a God who is mocked or tricked or bribed into showing mercy.  He shows mercy to those who regard Him in a reverent fear – who understand who He is, and who bow before Him in fearful awe.  God does not pour out mercy on those who do not recognize His kingship.

There is also a great comfort in this truth.  I think Ryken captures it well:

Perhaps you are young and poor like Mary. Perhaps you are struggling with sickness or some other physical limitation. Perhaps you are in a low condition spiritually or emotionally. If this is your situation, do not complain that you deserve something better. Do not grasp after a higher position. Do not rage against your misfortune. But humble yourself to the providence of God and recognize your lowly position before him as a sinner. The Bible gives this promise: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10).

             1:51-53 He has shown strength with his arm;
            he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
            he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
            and exalted those of humble estate;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
            and the rich he has sent away empty.
 

These three verses almost sound like a proverb, but they are anticipatory of a time when God will judge those who are haughty and proud and reward those whose hearts are soft toward Him.

“The heart is seen as the center of feeling (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 4:23) and as the base of reasoning power (1 Chron. 29:19; Job 12:3). This pride is deep-seated and reflects their innermost being. God will judge such pride” says Darrell Bock.

God exalts the humble and lays low the proud (Prov. 29:23), but it is a truth proclaimed not only in the proverbs and throughout the OT, but also by Jesus Himself in the gospels, and by His apostles after that (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6).

Jesus says later that, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12 – also Luke 14:11).

Not only this, but the picture of what Jesus would do is to fill the hungry (especially spiritually – the connection is made evident in 11:13) with “good things.”  Later Jesus would feed 5000 men (probably more like 15,000 people total) and shortly thereafter declare that He was “the bread of life” with the exhortation, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:27).

Lastly, He will not allow any to be exalted in kingship above Him. Any who puff themselves up before Him will be brought low – they will be humbled and kicked off their thrones.  A great example of this is when Jesus says to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Norval Geldenhuys summarized the message here this way:

The proud, those who exalt themselves and take no account of God, He puts down – beaten by His mighty arm. The powers that be, oppressors who tyrannize the poor and lowly, are deprived of their power and high standing, while those who are truly humble are exalted to great things. The hungry, those who realize their own need and yearn for spiritual food, are blessed. But the right, those who are self-satisfied and proud, are shamed in the imagination of their hearts.

1:54-56 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
 
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
 

For many years the people of Israel had been suffering under the oppression of other nations – and now it was the Romans. Israel here is described as a servant, and we find a close connection between this terminology and that found in Isaiah’s description of the coming Messiah (Is. 42 etc.).

The people of Israel therefore longed for a day when God’s promises –specifically to Abraham as mentioned here but also to David – would be fulfilled.

What were those promises? The promises to Abraham were for land, seed, and worldwide blessing. This is seen in Genesis 12, 15, 17 and 22:

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” [5] And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” [6] And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:4-6)

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. [5] No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. [6] I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. [7] And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. [8] And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:4-8)

And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven [16] and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, [17] I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, [18] and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:15-18)

Mary knows these promises and has read them. Furthermore, she and all Israel know that a Redeemer is coming to save Israel out of all its distress.  As Bock says, “Mary’s reference looks for the fulfillment of the nation’s hope in Jesus.” That Redeemer is going to do much more than save Israel from the Romans, however.

He will rescue Israel from sin and death and usher in an everlasting kingdom.  He will be the true seed of Abraham, the mighty King of Israel, and will save His people and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

The grounding for Mary’s prophetic annunciation is God’s covenant love and mercy for His people.  He will send a Savior and a loving Shepherd who will care for His flock – unlike the faithless under-shepherds (Ez. 34) who have failed the people over and over.

Ironically this Savior will die in order to save His people from death (Is. 53). The great Shepherd will be struck for the sake of the sheep (Ez. 34), and the true Israel of God will be obedient to the Father in order to achieve perfect obedience for His people. This is detailed in Isaiah especially 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12.

Mary sees the fulfillment of all of these hopes as coming to pass in her child. How can this be?  Paul helps us understand what all this has to do with Jesus – and consequently with us…

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[14] so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.[15] To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. [16] Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. [17] This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. [18] For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. [19] Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. [20] Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. [21] Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. [22] But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. [23] Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. [24] So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. [25] But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. [28] There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [29] And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:13-29 ESV)

Mary is saying this: we all have been living under the curse of sin and death, but what God began in Abraham with the creation of a new people, He will complete in the work of the Redeemer who in her belly.  The child she was about to have would be the coming king (Ps. 132:11-12) and the suffering servant (Is. 53).  He would bear the sins of His people and would redeem them from the curse of the law (Gal. 3). After His work is completed, all who call upon the name of Jesus will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13) not through works of righteousness but by faith alone (Eph. 2:1-9).  And for generation to generation the redeemed will look back at the testimony of Mary as both a blessing to her, and a blessing to us, the church.

Mary says that Christ will “help his servant Israel” and fulfill the promise to Abraham of land, seed, and worldwide blessing. “The salvation promises in that (Abrahamic) covenant would be clarified in the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) and would be ratified through the death of the very Child she carried in her womb. For it only through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ that all the sins of the redeemed – past, present, and future – are atoned for” says John MacArthur.  These promises fulfilled in Christ have redeemed you (Acts 20:28), made you a new creation (2 Cor. 5), transferred you into the family of God as adopted sons and daughters (Rom. 8:12-17, Col. 1:13-14; Hebrews 12), and commissioner you as ambassadors for Christ with a message of salvation and blessing for the nations (Is. 66; Matthew 28:18; 2 Cor. 3 &5; Rev. 5:9, 7:9-12).

In short: “…all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.