Wrapped in Zeal
God is dazzlingly beautiful. We look at creation and know God appreciates beauty. We stare in awe at the star-filled night sky, the vibrant colors of the desert flower, and the elegance of mountain grandeur.
We know God is beautiful with sounds. Listen to the birds in the morning, the sound of the breeze going through leaves, the crashing of the ocean, and the soothing sound of water dancing over stones in a brook.
God displays through Isaiah the beauty of literature. The prophet Isaiah is a gifted writer, crafting intricate prose couplets and stanzas, and painting word pictures to evoke emotion in the human heart.
What we most enjoy in the writings of Isaiah is the splendor of his descriptions of salvation. Throughout this prophetic book, we repeatedly encounter the gem of the gospel. Isaiah takes each depiction of the gospel and treats it as a precious diamond. He takes the diamond and sets it in a new lighting scene, and says, look again. He lifts it and says, look at its underside. He presents it a new way and asks, have you ever seen anything so magnificent?
Once again, the prophet writes on the subject of the gospel. We are invited to look at the gospel in a new way. We walk into Isaiah’s diamond jewelry store. Isaiah takes and lays a dark, black, velvet cloth on the counter. The cloth has no value and is not the reason we walk into the jeweler's shop. But Isaiah wants us to see the cloth first.
The black velvet cloth is the backdrop of our sin. It is a void. When Isaiah pulls out the sparkling diamond of Christ’s work of salvation and puts it against the dark backdrop; we more fully appreciate the glorious sparkle of the diamond of God’s salvation. Suddenly, the backdrop disappears, and the diamond becomes a blinding, dazzling light. Each facet reflects the light of God’s glory. The backdrop of sin is what makes Christ’s work glorious.
The main idea of Isaiah 59 is that we are to confess our sin before a holy God and repent of our ways to receive redemption and the blessings of God’s covenant.
God’s Ability (v. 1)
We look around the world, and we are dismayed. Why is there poverty and injustice? It’s not safe to walk the streets at night. Why are innocent school children being shot? Why are nations at war? Where is God? Why is there evil? Does God not care? Is God unable to stop the wickedness? Is God deaf as we cry out in our misery and pain? Is God in heaven, oblivious to the destruction, corruption, and decay?
Isaiah declares a truth about God, which may not be ignored. He writes,
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. (Isaiah 59:1)
There is a reason it seems this world is no longer being cared for by God. It’s not because He is unable to reach down from heaven and intervene in the affairs of men. It is not because God is deaf to the cries of human misery. There is a reason why God doesn’t walk with us in the Garden in the cool of the day. But, that reason is not because of God. It is because of us.
God’s Verdict (v. 2-14)
God delivers a verdict of guilt. As we listen to God’s verdict, we need to check our ego at the door. Let’s put aside our self-esteem and listen for a moment to our condition from God’s perspective.
Don’t shoot the messenger, Isaiah, or the preacher in the pulpit. Listen to the truth and let it hit us squarely upon our heart.
There is a reason God chooses not to listen to mankind’s cries of anguish and despair. Our iniquities (our sins) have made a separation between our God and us.
Our God is holy and set apart. It is because of our sins that God hides His face from us, and He chooses not to hear.
God declares the utter depravity of the human race. Our hands are defiled with blood, and our fingers have iniquity. Our lips speak falsehood, and our tongue mutters wickedness. When we seek justice in the courts, no one sues righteously, and no one pleads honestly. We trust in confusion and speaking lies. We sit around conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity with our plans.
Our work and effort do not bring forth the fruit of goodness. Instead, we are a creature that brings forth wickedness that is like the eggs of a poisonous adder, and we weave a spider’s web, which we may trap the less fortunate. Our work as people are works of iniquity. There are acts of violence in our hands.
Our feet run to evil, and we hasten to shed innocent blood. We conjure up plans, but in doing so, our thoughts are full of iniquity. Devastation and destruction are in our highways. We do not know the way of peace. There is no justice in our tracks. We make paths, but our roads are crooked. As we travel along, not one person knows the ways of peace.
This is how God sees the human race.
The Apostle Paul uses this passage in his proclamation of the gospel to the church in Rome. He uses it to make the point, Gentile and Jew, all are guilty of sin and fall short of the glory of God.
Is there anyone here who can deny such a verdict? Who among us has not acted violently or spoken a lie? Who may say they always seek peace, and never plot revenge? The vast majority of our entertainment features iniquity.
God’s verdict ought to rock our world and move us to face reality.
Read the news. Look at history. We proclaim civilization to be progressing. We marvel at our technological accomplishments. As Neil Armstrong steps onto the moon, bombs are dropping in Viet Nam. Every step the human race takes is a step of rebellion and darkness. Weapons of destruction are now more devastating. Greed is horrific. How can we argue against such an indictment?
What is your response to God’s guilty verdict?
There are two ways to respond. The first way to respond is with hatred and anger. I don’t come to church to hear about sin. How dare God speak to me in this way? God is a liar, I am good. I do good things. Who does God think He is to declare me guilty? Let’s move on from these texts, Allen. Is that how you respond?
The other way to respond is with conviction. We hear these words, and we say, it is true. Let God be true, and every man a liar. I don’t like to hear that I am a sinner, but I want God to tell me the truth.
These verses are the dark, black velvet cloth which Isaiah places upon his counter.
Our Confession (v. 9-15)
Isaiah provides the right response to the reality of the dark cloth. The right response is to confess before God that His word is righteous and true.
Listen to the correct response given in verses 9-15. (I will paraphrase.)
You are right God. Justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us and make us good. We hope for light, but behold, we dwell in darkness. We hope for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We are like blind men, who grope around trying to find our way. We are more than blind because we have no eyes. In the bright midday sun, we walk around as though it is twilight.
We strive and work vigorously. But we are like dead men. We growl about and moan. We read the news and see the corruption, we hope for justice, but there is none. We want desperately to be saved from this existence. But, salvation, it is far from us.
The reason we are blind, and dead is because our transgressions are multiplied before a holy God. We have no testimony of good and righteousness in Your court of judgment because our sins testify against us. Even now, as we stand before You, our transgressions stand here with us. We know our iniquities very well.
We live transgressing and denying the Lord. We don’t turn to follow Your ways, but we are continually turning away. When we speak, our words are full of oppression and revolt. We are sons and daughters of disobedience. Our heart conceives and utters lying words. It is because of our sins that justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away, Truth stumbles in our street. We open our door, and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking, and anyone who seeks to turns aside from evil makes himself prey to those who do not.
God’s Displeasure (v. 15-16a)
God is watching, and He is acutely aware of the state of affairs of this earth. Isaiah writes:
Now the Lord saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man,
and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; (Isaiah 59:15-16)
This is very good news. Thank God that He is displeased that there is no just response to the evil in this world. Imagine if God didn’t care about evil, or even worse, that He is behind the evil. If God is not against evil, of if God does not care about justice, we have no hope.
God in His displeasure is astonished that not one person on this earth can do anything to intercede and stop the madness. Many men have tried, but all have failed. We give peace prizes, but the wars and corruption continue. Men are helplessly on a path to destruction.
God’s Right Arm (v. 16b-17)
Because there is no man on earth able to intervene, God must look elsewhere. He calls to His beloved Son.
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him. He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. (Isaiah 59:16-17)
The Arm of God is Jesus. There are many references in the Bible, where Jesus is referred to as the right arm of God. This is the eighth reference in Isaiah to the Messiah as being God’s intervening arm. When God wants the ministry of justice or salvation, He calls upon His right arm to do the work.
Jesus is not going to do morning chores in the barn. Isaiah poetically describes Jesus preparing for battle. He is going to war against the enemies of God, and to rescue God’s people from tyranny.
His protection is His righteousness. Righteousness is always doing what is morally right. He puts a helmet of salvation on His head. He is going to carry out God’s vengeance on His enemies. And, He is wrapped in zeal.
This is not the first time we have heard this word from the lips of Isaiah. Each time we hear the word zeal, it refers to God rescuing His people and fighting against evil.
- The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:7).
- The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 37:32).
- The LORD will go forth like a warrior; He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes; He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies. (Isaiah 42:13)
Zeal is another word for passion. Jesus is a zealot for what he believes is right and good. A zealot is fanatical and uncompromising. Jesus is zealous to glorify God. His zeal leads Him to fight evil unto death. Jesus is wrapped in zeal.
It is one thing to meet someone on the battlefield who may or may want to be there. But, imagine meeting Jesus on the battlefield who seeks vengeance for His father. There is a fire in His eyes. His is the highest of all causes. He is vengeful, and He is zealous to make it happen. These two words combined make Jesus an unstoppable force. Nobody dares step in between Him and His mission.
We have no reason to pat ourselves on the back. We cannot save ourselves. But we need not wallow about in misery. There is a reason for joy. Jesus is the diamond placed upon our black cloth. We have the victory with Jesus.
We don’t come to church to sing songs about how good we are. We rejoice and feel good about Jesus. We sing songs in His honor and glorify His name. Jesus is the lover of our soul who saves us from this present evil.
God’s Victory (v. 18-19)
God’s victory in Christ is swift and sure.
According to their deeds, so He will repay, wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; to the coastlands, He will make recompense. So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west and His glory from the rising of the sun, for He will come like a rushing stream which the wind of the Lord drives. (Isaiah 59:18-19)
Jesus is a mighty warrior. Jesus pours out God’s wrath upon the enemies of God. John writes in Revelation:
I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:2)
This prophetic vision in Isaiah is foretelling Jesus coming to earth to face God’s enemies. The enemies are the people on the earth who listen to God’s verdict in verses 2-14 and call God a liar. They don’t believe they are in darkness. They see that they are enlightened and believe themselves to be good.
They deny the existence of their Creator. These are the people Paul describes in Ephesians 2:2-3. They are dead in their trespasses and sins. They walk according to the course of this world, according to the plans and purposes of Satan. They have his spirit of disobedience working in them. The live in the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and are by their nature children of wrath.
If you are unwilling to confess your sins to God, then you will face the zeal and vengeance of Jesus Christ as He pours out God’s just wrath.
God’s Redeemer (v. 20)
For those willing to confess their sins to God, Jesus doesn’t come with a sword, but He comes to save. The helmet of salvation is for those who cry out to God for salvation.
“A Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 59:20)
The Redeemer saves those who turn from their transgressions. For those who repent and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, there is great hope. God is good. He is glorious in His forgiveness and mercy. Those who repent may rejoice in God’s Holy word which says:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:4-6)
Jesus is our champion who rescues us from the misery of sin. Even though our hands are stained with blood, our lips are full of deceit, and our hearts are rebellious, God is willing to forgive. We are the dark, black velvet background upon which God places the brilliant diamond of Jesus Christ. God gives us the diamond!
The focus of the redeemed is not the sin, but the salvation of Jesus. We are 100% guilty. We are unable to save ourselves. If there is any good in us, it is only because of the saving work of God. We humbly realize that the only difference from those who are the objects of the just wrath of God is that we confess our sin and are willing to repent. If it were not for Christ, we are people with no future, no hope, and no value.
Jesus transforms us from being God’s enemies to being the adopted children of God. His salvation is perfect and complete. We are saved to the uttermost! We are together alive, risen, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places.
God’s Covenant (v. 21)
For those who are redeemed by the Great Redeemer, God intends this outcome:
“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.” (Isaiah 59:21)
God’s Covenant is the giving of His Spirit and His word to those who put their faith in the Redeemer. Jesus promises both to those who He redeems.
On the night He was betrayed, in the upper room after the Passover meal, Jesus tells His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)”
God gives us His Holy Spirit as a down payment to our eternal inheritance in Christ.
In His high-priestly prayer, Jesus tells the Father, “for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me” (John 17:8)
We need nothing more. With God’s Spirit and His words, we survive in this world with hope, joy, comfort, and purpose.
Isaiah’s prophecy of the gospel in Isaiah 59 is yet another view of this great diamond of our salvation. It is set against the backdrop of our sin, but our sin disappears and is forgotten when we look at the glories of Jesus Christ.
Before we finish, take a moment to notice the work of God throughout this chapter. God delivers the verdict of guilt. God expresses His displeasure with the situation. God sends His Right Arm because there is no other choice. God declares the victory over evil and wickedness. The same Right Arm of God defeats evil and is our precious Redeemer. God makes a covenant with those who Christ redeems. We bring nothing to our salvation except our confession of sin and our willingness to turn from our ways and follow God’s ways. We put our faith in Christ, the Right Arm of God, and He does the rest.
We serve a great God.