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I. The flow of people to God's House
A. Phnom Penh disaster
Among the stories in the news this week, the one from Phnom Penh certainly caught my attention. Just 11 days ago, I was right where 378 died. Lot's of preparations were being made for the water festival called, "Loi Krathan" which is a big celebration in Buddhist countries. It's the annual holiday for making offerings of peace to the 'water god.' Hundreds of thousands of people from outlying villages, stream into the city for this annual celebration.
A lot of people had gone over onto an island on the river that runs through the city to watch the boat races on the river. A wall of people headed over to the island met with a wall of people coming off of the island. The bridge began to sway and panic ensued, some fell, a pile up crushed and suffocated many.
B. Isaiah's picture
In our Old Testament reading for this morning, the prophet Isaiah has a vision of an stream of people making their way to a very special destination – "the mountain of the Lord." Isaiah says, "All nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come…" They're people who are on a holy pilgrimage. They're headed to the place where their God is located – the "the mountain of the Lord."
Lot's of religions imagined that their gods lived on a mountaintop; and the higher the mountain, the greater the power and authority of the god. The highest mountain in Greece is Mt. Olympus. That's where Zeus lived. He was the chief god. A lot of the nations that Israel came into contact worshipped gods who lived on mountaintops.
Isaiah reports, "the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills." What he means is that one day, "in the latter days," it will become clear to all that the God of Israel is the one, true God. He is higher than all of the others so called gods. So He is more powerful, in fact, He's almighty. He's got more authority, in fact, He's has all authority. And "all nations shall flow to it, and many peoples come to it…"
The name of the mountain is "Zion." In Hebrew, the word Zion literally means, "highest point." "Mount Zion" is the place where the house of the Lord is located. The Israelites used that name, "Zion," as the name of the place where Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple is the House of the Lord. It's where the Lord is present and can be located by His people. It's where are invited to come into His presence and enjoy communion fellowship with Him.
Ironically, Mt. Zion is not a very high mountain at all. Actually, it's hardly even a hill. It's just a bump really. Yet, in both the Old and New Testaments, whenever we read about someone going to the Temple, they always go "UP" to it; even if their coming from a higher elevation to a lower.
You see, it's not the 'most high mountain' that makes the God who lives there so special. It's the "most high God" that makes the mountain so special.
In fact, even though the God of Israel is the "most high God," He dwells in a lowly place. No one has to climb up to get to Him. He comes down to get to us.
Isaiah invites us to eavesdrop on the conversation of those who make this pilgrimage. "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." Folks, this is evangelism; friends inviting friends to come to the house of the Lord. This is just what faithful people do.
There's a twofold purpose in their coming; first, "that he may teach us his ways." And second, "that we may walk in his paths." They're not after knowledge for the sake of knowledge. They want the knowledge that will change their life and put them on a new course. Proper teaching produces proper living.
They had listen to other gods. The 'god of material possessions.' And they tried walking it its way. They listened to the 'god of financial security' and devoted themselves to that path. In fact, they went to god that came called out to them, and walked down every path that seemed right to them at the time. Always searching, always seeking, never finding, always disappointed. So often it all turned out to be nothing more than a clever marketing scheme to sell more books and products.
But there is another Word from another God. His Word goes out from Zion. And it says, "come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden. Come to Me all you who are seeking but never finding, knocking but never getting answers. Come to Me and I will open the door to you and will enter into my kingdom and you will find peace for your soul and rest for your heart. And you will be satisfied."
This word that comes out of Zion is like a bright light that exposes the darkness. We didn't even realize we were living in darkness until this Word opened our eyes. We didn't know we were living a lie and trusting in all kinds of false promises until this Word from Zion came to us and gave us the truth.
Only because this Word from the House of Jacob came to us, were our hearts changed and the direction of our life is headed down a whole new path. It caused a complete turn around in our life; a life of repentance. And now, we want this Word to teach us and we want to walk in its paths.
To "walk in His paths" means to trust His judgment – especially when it contradicts our own. Our judgment is all tangled up with selfish concerns and prejudices. Our vision is limited. We can only see today. We quickly forget the past and we only guess about the future. But the God of Zion is lifted high above the hills. He sits on the highest mountain and sees everything, the past, the present and the future. He is 'all seeing.' And so His judgment is perfect and righteous.
And so, those who come to Mt. Zion and listen to the Word and walk in His path, come to this, most sensible of all conclusions. "HE shall judge between the nations, and HE shall decide disputes for many peoples." Justice belongs to the Lord. He will settle things with equity. He knows where the truth lies in every disagreement, every quarrel, every battle, every war. So they simply leave the judging up to Him. Which leaves them free to love not only their neighbor but also their enemy.
There's no more need for sword and spear to settle disputes. The prophet sees a world in which EVERYONE listens to the Word from Zion and walks in His paths. And proper teaching produces proper living. So, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
I surely don't need to tell you that this is a different world than the one in which we live. The prophet sees a world where everyone believes in the Word that comes from Zion and walks in its path. The prophet sees a utopian world where all is peace and everything is 'very good' and the whole world is coming to church.
II. The Flow of One Man To God's House
A. Jesus to Jerusalem.
These "latter days" that the prophet foresees, have already come, and we live somewhere between the beginning and the end of them. In our Gospel reading, our attention is directed to just one Man who is coming to Mt. Zion. His name is Jesus and He comes to the Temple in Jerusalem. If you can believe this, all the nations and every people are all wrapped up in Him.
The "most high God" sees the whole world coming Zion in Jesus Christ. All of our hopes and dreams and all of the promises of God are wrapped up in Him. He alone holds the key that opens the door. He alone hears the Word and knows the truth and walks in the path, because He is the Word and He is the way and the truth and the life and no one comes to the Mountain of the Lord except through Him.
He is the One in Whom the 'most high God' executes His perfect judgment for all nations and every people. On Palm Sunday, the Lord came to His house to judge between the nations and decide the disputes of many peoples. All nations and every people were guilty of following false gods, and you and I are included in that number. The judgment was decided and the dispute between God and His creation was settled like this. "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
Let the Word go out from Zion, the Lord has carried out perfect judgment upon Himself. Every dispute that God has with you has been settled in the blood of this Jesus who is going to Mt. Zion.
This is the good news that draws men and women from every nation and race to the house of the Lord. On the Day of Pentecost the Word went out from Zion, "God has reconciled the world to Himself through this one man, Jesus Christ. He has born the judgment for our sin in His own body on the cross. And to prove that His Word is truth, He rose again on the third day. He has ascended into heaven but He will come again to judge the living and the dead."
Men from every nation were present and at the sound of this wonderful Word, 3000 lives were changed forever – for eternity. And you can bet that each and every one of them went to their friends and neighbors and said something like, "come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."
And who can begin to count the multitude who have come to Mt. Zion since then? Isaiah's prophecy is being carried out in our own day and it will continue to be fulfilled until the last day comes.
The day is coming when Isaiah's prophesy will be fully fulfilled. The 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, which this season of Advent is really all about, is coming. Then, this same Jesus will come down to us, not humble and riding on a donkey or hidden in bread and wine, but fully revealed in glory and power, riding on the clouds. And He will raise all the nations and every people – some to the "highest height," the heavenly Mount Zion, some to the 'deepest depths' of hell.
St. Paul reminds us of the urgency to both listen to this Word and walk in path of the Lord and to speak this word to others. "The hour has come for you to wake from sleep. The night is far-gone; the day is at hand. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. So let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime."
Or as Isaiah says it, "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord."