There's Only One Way To Go – God's Way
When you want to go somewhere in any city or town, there are usually lots of ways to go. But which way do we go in order to get in with God and how do we get the right spiritual directions so we end up in heaven? Isaiah 66:18-24 shows us There's Only One Way To Go – God's Way. September 2, 2007.
If you want to go to the airport from here, you can take the Hoan Bridge and follow it through St. Francis, or you can take McKinley Avenue west, get on I-43 south, and continue south on I-94. If you want to go west to Miller Park, you can again take McKinley Avenue west, get on I-43 south, and swing west onto I-94 toward Madison, or you can take State Street west to Thirty-seventh Street, cut south a few blocks, and go over the Wisconsin Avenue bridge. If you want to go to the lake front, you can follow Broadway south and take Michigan Avenue, or you can go up Prospect to Lafayette Place, and wind down the hill. When you want to go somewhere in our city, there are usually lots of ways to go. But which way do we go in order to get in with God? How do we get the right spiritual directions so we end up in heaven?
God positioned the ancient nation of Israel in a certain geographical location and gave them rules for behavior, clothing, diet, and worship so that they would stick out like a single palm tree in a desert, showing all the nations, tribes, and people around them that there is only one God and one way to God. But the Israelites wanted to be like everyone else, not looking for eternal life but for a better life on earth, seeking and striving for whatever gives pleasure and whatever feels good. The pagans around them operated under the assumption that each nation had its own god or gods, and any one of those gods was just as valid as the next to help them get what they wanted. The Israelites began to buy into that notion. Even their kings and priests fell for that foolishness. But one guy had it right, God’s spokesman, Isaiah. God told him, “You are to say what I want you to say. Tell the Israelites that there is only one way, the right way, my way, or they’ll be on the highway going the wrong way, and I mean what I say!”
So, we have in the Holy Scriptures the book of Isaiah, a most magnificent book with passages so beautiful, poetry so rich, promises so powerful, imagery so vivid that they take our breath away – all summed up in the power-packed conclusion. And here it is. After sixty-six chapters, this is the end, the bottom line is There’s Only One Way To Go – God’s Way.
There are two ways to look at a mural, one of those big paintings covering an entire wall. Either you take off your glasses (or put on your glasses) and get your nose up close to see all the fine details and brush strokes, or you step way back across the room to take in the whole mural. In these verses at the end of Isaiah’s book, God hauls out a big, wide canvas, grabs his big, wide brush, and invites us to step back to view a scene featuring huge, monumental miracles which he alone accomplished in the past, present, and future.
See what God alone did
Looking at the left side of the mural, we see a courtroom scene. You’ve either sat through jury duty or watched enough Law and Order to know what goes on in court. This courtroom scene is monumental because the Lord is using it to tell the Israelites in the year 700 B.C. that he is going to bring an end to their favored-nation status. He is going to gather all nations to witness his flaming glory in action as he brings judgment on the Israelites for rejecting his love. “And I, because of their actions and imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory”. Who among the nations would have guessed such judgment could take place against God’s chosen people? Who among the Israelites could imagine that God would give them the cold shoulder? But that is exactly what happened because of their rebellious actions and evil imaginations. God allowed enemies to wipe the Promised Land clean of rebellious Israelites like a giant mop swirling over a terrazzo floor, sucking up dust-balls and dirt-clods, in order to wring them into a pail and flush them down history’s drain. While God did allow a remnant of Israelites to return to that land so that he could keep his promise to send the Savior into the world through them, once that had happened, that nation was buried in rubble as Roman armies took over, tore down the temple in Jerusalem, and scattered remaining Jews to the far corners of the vast Roman Empire. See what God alone did in the past and learn something very important. That’s what happens when people don’t go God’s way because there is only one way to go.
Does that kind of judgment make you nervous? If it doesn’t, grab your wrist, and check for a pulse. You and I have rebellious behavior to our discredit and evil imaginations to our shame just as horrible as those Israelites. You and I ought to be standing before God’s judgment throne with the guilty verdict plunked down on top of our heads. Why? Because There’s Only One Way To Go – God’s Way – and we haven’t always gone God’s way. We might be reluctant to admit our guilt, but God knows the dirty thoughts, the greed, the selfishness, the hatred, and the “I-want-it-my-way” attitude that flows too easily and too often from the root of our in-born sinful nature. See what God alone did to the rebellious Israelites and what he really ought to do to us.
Then step back in humble awe as God rolls into court a map of the entire ancient world. The map is covered with bright arrows pointing to distant lands far from ancient Israel, arrows indicating the path of God’s messengers who proclaimed the greatest miracle God worked in the past. God changed the much-deserved verdict over sinners from “Guilty!” to “Not guilty!” And, as if that is not enough to knock our socks off, the first messengers he used were Israelites who survived his original condemning verdict, not by their doing, but simply because he sent a Substitute to take the hit so that they got God’s favor. This prophecy of Isaiah came true when Israelites like Peter, John, Andrew, Paul, and the rest went out to the far corners of the Roman Empire with the good news of God’s love through Jesus. “I will work a wonder among them, and I will send some of those how survive to the nations – to Tarshish [Spain], to the Libyans and Lydians [North Africa] … to Tubal [to the north] and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations”. That’s the only way to get in good with God because There’s Only One Way To Go – God’s Way. See what God alone did. He sent his Son to be the world’s Savior, the Savior for Israelites who had once rejected him, the Savior for you and me.
See what God alone does
God now directs our attention to another scene of this magnificent mural. We see a parade of people. But there’s a switch, and it’s just as miraculous as having former persecutors of our Lord going out in his name to the far corners of the Roman Empire and winning the souls of Gentiles. The miracle is in the one hundred eighty degree flip in the direction of the parade and in the people marching along. Now it isn’t converted Jews reaching out to Gentiles, but converted Gentiles bringing scattered Jews back to a new Jerusalem. This is a picture of the fact that through the ages up to this present day there are actually Jews who hear the proclamation of God’s love through the true Messiah and actually come to trust in Jesus. The new Jerusalem is not a physical city, but the New Testament Church, the gathering of all who trust alone in Jesus. Jewish people converting from Judaism to Christianity is as pleasing to the Lord as the former offerings which faithful Old Testament Israelites brought to the temple. “They [believing Gentiles] will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD … They will bring them, as the Israelites [used to] bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD”.
The Israelites who first heard this were astounded. That their nation would be destroyed was one thing. But that Gentiles would be true believers in the only true God and be the ones to proclaim God’s love to bring back lost Israelites – well, that defied description. How could that be? Apparently, God was going to do something only he could do – work a miracle. God spoke through Isaiah and said he would use Gentiles as priests and Levites, that is, as proclaimers of his love, so that more and more people would know that he is the only God, the only one who saves sinners. “I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD. Obviously, There Is Only One Way To Go – God’s Way. See what he does even now. This prophecy has come true. The majority of Christian missionaries and called workers are Gentiles. Are they touching the hearts of Jewish people with the good news about Jesus? Not in large numbers, but definitely “Yes!” Later today, check out the website called whataboutJesus.com. It is designed and managed by a pastor in Milwaukee on behalf of our church body’s Commission on Evangelism. Here’s a comment that came in from a man named David: Thank you for having your website. I have recently become a Christian … after over 30 years in Judaism. Your website was extremely helpful in presenting the truth about Jesus to me, especially when I was searching but hesitant about visiting a church. I would appreciate prayer for the conversion of my unbelieving Jewish family, that their eyes will be opened to Jesus [and] realize that he died for them … I would also appreciate prayer for strength as I encounter opposition to my new Christian faith. God bless you! See what God is doing even today. It’s happening exactly as God said it would through the prophet Isaiah. There’s Only One Way To Go – God’s Way.
See what God alone will do
We shift our eyes now to the right side of the mural, and we see the most striking contrast one could ever imagine. Take a look! There God has painted a picture of heaven. Oh, my! What a scene! But before we step closer to examine its beauty, our eyes are drawn to the contrast because this part of the mural also has a fire pit. There are people in it, and – here’s the scary part – they aren’t getting burned up. They’re just suffering. They’re being tortured without end. Ever burn your hand by touching a pan hot out of the oven or inadvertently grabbing something off the grill? Ouch! It hurts for a long time. Imagine being on fire all over, all the time. Hell will likely include physical pain, but the real torture of hell will be separation from God’s love. God really will send people there. He really will damn people who do not go his way. Could there be any clearer evidence that there is only one true God and only one way to get in good with him? What God would make such claims? What God would end one of the most gorgeous books with a warning this severe and this stern? He really must be serious. “[Believers] will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind”. God wanted to warn the Israelites in 700 B.C. that going their way is the wrong way, and he wants to warn us that going our way is the wrong way. See what he will do to those who turn their nose up at his mercy. There Is Only One Way To Go – God’s Way.
Founded in 1660, the Granary Burying Ground next to Park Street Church in downtown Boston has tombstones marking the graves of famous people including Massachusetts governors, clergymen, mayors, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence. Some of those names, like Sam Adams and Paul Revere, you might recognize. Many others you wouldn’t. That’s because, when most people die, they are forgotten within a few generations. How would you like to be remembered forever, not for what you have done but for what God has done for you? How would you like to be remembered by God forever and ever?
While the last verse of this book of Isaiah ends on a note of warning, I can’t end this sermon that way. We have to jump back to the previous verses. We have to step back and take another look at the right side of the mural to see what God will for us in the future. There Is Only One Way To Go – God’s Way! He has a new heaven and earth for you. “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure … all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.
You can type our location into Mapquest or GoogleMaps and find several ways to get to the airport, several ways to get to Miller Park, several ways to get to the lake, but there is only one way to get in with God. He has to do it. He has to draw us into his love. He has to be the one responsible for taking us to heaven. He did, he does, and he will. There Is Only One Way To Go – God’s Way. Go with God! Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org/) on September 2, 2007