“And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. 19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal 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. 20 And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD -on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD. 22 “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. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they 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.” Isaiah 66:18-24
If I want to travel home from church I have many different options, many different choices that I can make. First, I need to start heading west, so I can go with Stockwell or Burnham, either one works just as well as the other. But neither of these streets goes far enough west, so I need to make a turn and start heading north. But which one? The first option is 17th street, but that seems to have a few more stops than I want. The second option is 13th street, which works, but the speed limit on Highway 2 is faster. However, if I want to get to Highway 2, I would need to make another turn on Calvert, Arapahoe, or High Street to get over. Ah…decisions, decisions. But we’re not done yet. I still need to get further west. Thankfully, no matter which way I go, I’ve got plenty of options. Van Dorn will get me over to my neighborhood, but there’s a little bit of backtracking involved. South Street is probably the most direct route, but there’s always the possibility of a train. I could go all the way up to A street, but that’s further north than I really want to go. Do you see what agony I have to go through just to go home? But on the plus side at least I know that no matter which way I choose, I’ll make it.
Wouldn’t it be nice if it worked that way in getting to our real home, our forever home, our home in heaven? Wouldn’t it be incredible if no matter the routes we chose or the paths we selected they all ended up in the same place? You could opt for the Muslim way, the Buddhist way, the Wiccan way, it wouldn’t matter. Just believe there’s a god out there and you’re all set. But Jesus made it quite clear to us today that this isn’t an option. Not only is there only one way to heaven, that way itself is narrow. Jesus is the only door that opens into paradise and there will be those who think they’re on the right path but will instead find themselves on the outside looking in.
That’s kind of scary, don’t you think? Imagine being one those people heading up to the pearly gates, fully expecting to be welcomed in, only to hear, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ (Luke 13:27) There could be no greater disappointment than this! It’s a hundred times worse than not getting what you want for Christmas; a thousand times worse than your spouse-to-be saying ‘No’ on your wedding day. Why? Because this disappointment doesn’t end. Instead it stays and stings for all eternity. So the questions must be asked: ‘Am I on the right way home?’
We find an answer with the people of Israel here at the end of the book of Isaiah. The LORD made it quite clear through his prophet what the only way home was: it was Him. He was the one who would cause a virgin to be with child and give birth to a sinless son. He was the one who would be pierced for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities. He was the one who would take their scarlet sins and make them as white as snow. His Word proclaimed again and again that the way home is only found in what he gives freely by his grace.
Israel, though, had a different view of things. They knew that they were God’s chosen people. They knew they had a special relationship with Him. And so they thought, ‘That’s all we need. As long as we keep worshiping in the temple on the Sabbath, keep giving God the sacrifices he wants, we’re all set.’ So they would be pure in God’s eyes on the weekends as they gathered around the message of the coming Savior. Then, having done their duty, they would run off to do all kinds of wickedness during the week. And all the while they’d being saying to themselves, ‘How God must love us!’ But He didn’t. ‘And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory.’ In other words, God was saying, ‘If you are going to play games with my Word, I’m going to give it to someone else.’
This is precisely what happened with Israel. But as only God can, he used this act of judgment to bring forth blessing. ‘I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal 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.’ Yes, he took the Word away from his chosen nation, but then he sent it out to nations near and far. They would get to hear the glorious good news of salvation. And what will happen when this takes place? ‘And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD -on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,’ says the LORD. People were going to come to the only place where they could find peace with God. They would make their way to Jerusalem, the place where God dwells and the Savior died. And in the most awesome of twists, God was going to use the Gentiles to bring the message back to the Jews! So in the end, precious souls from all over—both Jew and Gentile—would find the one way home.
‘They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,’ says the LORD. Because of their hope in forgiveness, because of their trust in the Messiah, they will come before the LORD clean and pure. They will be able to serve the LORD freely and without fear. And this blessing will never end. ‘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. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the LORD. But just to be sure that this grace isn’t taken for granted, the LORD ends with these powerful words. ‘And they 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.’
Now, I know that was an awful lot to throw at you all at once. Perhaps your head is spinning a bit right now. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re already asking yourself, ‘That’s all well and good, Pastor, but what does all this have to do with me?’
Well, first off there is a big time warning here for all Christians. Isn’t there a part of us, at times, that thinks our admission into heaven is a foregone conclusion? Isn’t there a part of us, at times, that thinks we don’t really have to put much effort to enter the narrow door? And not entirely because of Jesus, but rather, because of who you are? If you have been a Christian all your life, how easy it is to think, ‘Well, I’ve put in all these years of service, God has to let me in.’ If you have come to know Christ later in life, how easy it is to think, ‘I know what it’s like to live without Him, there’s no way I would ever let that slip.’ If you have parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins, all who follow Jesus, how easy it is to think, ‘With all of them around me, with all this going for me, I don’t have to worry.’
But to ever treat your status with the LORD as something unimportant, as something which you have all figured out, is to put yourself in serious danger. And yet, how often has our effort waned in staying on the one and only way home? How many times have you assumed that you know enough about God’s Word? How many times have you figured that missing out on worship wasn’t going to hurt you? How many times have you figured, ‘Oh, I’ll get around to devotions and prayers some other time.’ only to have that time never come? If we sing songs on Sunday and run to our sins on Monday, that’s a problem. If we’re filled with more righteous indignation about the evil in the world than about the sins in our own hearts, that’s a problem. If we think that simply being a member of a conservative Christian church is enough to have a relationship with the LORD; we’ve got another thing coming. If we don’t listen to his Word, he will send it elsewhere and we will be left with nothing but weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But now that the warning has been received, let us also heed the glory of the Gospel. God doesn’t just want your church attendance. He doesn’t just want songs of praise and righteous looking lives. What he wants is your heart. What he wants is your soul. What he wants is you. So he opened a door into heaven itself. You see that door crack open in the promise of the virgin who would give birth to a son – God with us – and a little light from heaven comes into our world. God then threw that door open when his Son was pierced for our transgressions and brought us peace with God. And that door is then locked open as he demolished the grave by rising from it. And now calls out to all people, both Jew and Gentile alike, from every corner off the globe, to come and find in Him the only way home.
Do you know someone who doesn’t know the way? Do you know someone who may be pleading on the last day, ‘Open the door for us?’ only to find it’s too late? Have you been telling yourself that God wouldn’t ever punish someone who means so much to you, just because they don’t believe in Jesus? Have you decided that it’s better not to say anything to your children when they wander, because everyone has to find their own way? Then it’s time to ask ourselves what kind of Christians we are and what kind of church we are. Are we going to be the kind that pretends hell isn’t real and never talk about it, or the kind that loves people enough to warn them, just like Jesus did? Are we going to be the kind that is content to keep this good news mostly to ourselves, or the kind that loves others so much we can’t wait to tell them about Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life?
It may seem to some that it would be better if there were more than one way to God, more than one way to our heavenly home. But what other ways do you know of that bring such joy, that offer such peace, the bring such security and fulfillment? So hold on to the one way home. Hold forth the one way so that others can join you there. Hold fast to Jesus in all things, and you will never lose your way. Amen.