Perhaps Isaiah 59 is not the first passage that comes to mind when you think of Christmas. A month ago, it wasn’t on my radar as a “Christmas passage,” either. However, after doing some preliminary study the armor of God in Ephesians 6, which quotes Isaiah 59:17, I soon realized how much Isaiah 59 (with the rest of Isaiah 56–66) prepares the way for Christ.
Today, we began a three-part series on Isaiah, where we considered how the promise of salvation in Isaiah 59:15–21 resolved the problem of sin in Isaiah 59:1–9. Indeed, in response to Israel’s confession and plea for mercy (Isaiah 59:9–15), Yahweh promised that he would bring salvation. And as Isaiah 59 and the rest of Isaiah foretells, this promise ultimately leads to the birth of Christ in a Bethlehem stable.
You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, along with some additional resources on Isaiah and the meaning of Christmas.
1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; 2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. 3 For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.
4 No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity. 5 They hatch adders’ eggs; they weave the spider’s web; he who eats their eggs dies, and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched. 6 Their webs will not serve as clothing; men will not cover themselves with what they make. Their works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in their hands. 7 Their feet run to evil, and they are swift to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; desolation and destruction are in their highways. 8 The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths; they have made their roads crooked; no one who treads on them knows peace.
9 Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. 10 We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. 11 We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. 12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: 13 transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words. 14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. 15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. 17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. 18 According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. 19 So they shall 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. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
- When you think about Christmas, what passages of Scripture come to mind (e.g., Matthew 1–2; Luke 1–2)? Are there any Old Testament promises that stand out (e.g., Isaiah 7:14; 9:6–7; 11:1; Micah 5:2)? How do these verses help you focus on the ‘reason for the season’?
- What is the historical context of Isaiah 59? In what ways are the conditions in Jerusalem (8th Century B.C.) similar to our world? In what ways are they different? (Don’t miss the connection between Isaiah 59 and Romans 3:15–18).
- What is the flow of thought in Isaiah 59? How can we observe the structure of the chapter? How does knowing the structure help us understand the message?
- Take time to consider the two-fold accusation (i.e., the problem), the confession of sin (i.e., the petition for mercy), and God’s response (i.e., the promise of redemption). What points of insight or application do you see?
- Isaiah 59:16 says God does not see a “man” to intercede. What does this mean? Who should he see? How does God respond to this lack of ‘intercessor’? In Isaiah 59:17, what does it mean that God will clothe himself in righteousness and a helmet of salvation? How do these promises of judgment and salvation unfold in the rest of the storyline?
- When Mary responds to the Lord’s announcement with praise for God’s strong arm (Luke 1:51), where does she get that idea? (See the article on the Arm of the Lord). How might Isaiah 59:16 (and Isaiah 63:1–5) inform Mary’s song of praise?
- How does seeing the larger picture of God’s redemption (re)inform your view of Christmas? How does seeing Christmas in terms of spiritual warfare help us understand God’s plans in the world?
- Take time to give thanks for all that God has done by bringing his Son into the world.
Salvation in the Book of Isaiah
- Mapping Isaiah and Beholding Christ: A Literary Study of Isaiah 59
- The Arm of the Lord: From Moses to Isaiah to Christ
- The Book of Isaiah and God’s Kingdom by Andrew Abernathy
- Wells of Salvation: Meditations on Isaiah by Charles Ellis
- Peace to End All Wars: What Christ’s Birth Has Done and Will Do by David Schrock
- He Lay in the Manger Without Leaving Heaven by Gavin Ortlund
- The Story of Pain and Hope Behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Justin Taylor
Soli Deo Gloria, ds