We are studying the prophet Isaiah: it is the longest book in the Bible, the most quoted book in the NT, and the best archaeological discovery of modern times.
This book is a summary of the whole Bible: first the bad news, the tears, the fall of Jerusalem, the exile (1-39), then the good news, the joy, the return, the new Jerusalem (40-66). It is this second part that we are studying at the moment.
Reading: Isaiah 52:1-12
If someone yells at you: get out! that might not be very nice: « get out of my room! » « Get out of my network of friends. » « Get out of my life. » But that call can be good news. If a house is on fire… « Wake up, get out! » would be salutary. If the head of the prison says, « get out, you’re free ». If the Taliban are advancing on Kabul, and, like our friends, you get the news, « you can leave, there is a seat on the French ambassador’s plane, » go, that is good news. And, with the end of the confinements and restrictions, it was nice to be able to go out to restaurants, to go on holiday.
I would like to see that the call of the Bible, the Gospel (the good news) is a call to go out, to leave, to leave. It won’t always be easy, because there will be influences and attachments that want to hold us back, but Isaiah will help us to do it with « gladness. » (v8) and joy (v9)
- Get out: a call for today
How do we get from such an ancient text to the present day? Isaiah anticipates the end of the Babylonian exile and the return to Jerusalem. Already in Isa 48:20 Come out of Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans! With a voice of gladness declare it, make it known, let it be known to the ends of the earth; say, « The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob. He announces the name of the king, Cyrus, who will allow this return.
In Isaiah 51:2, Isaiah says look to Abraham your father. He too was told by God to come out of the Chaldeans and go to the promised land. And then this chapter 52 recalls the coming out of Egypt, v4. In Moses’ day, Go, Get Out was the watchword. And now God is planning a new exodus.
Or, after Isaiah, Jeremiah takes up the call 50:8 Flee from Babylon, go out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be like goats at the head of the flock!
When you find the same idea like that, repeated, fleshed out, it becomes schematic, typical. Already in Isaiah, He speaks of something greater, more universal than the return in 538 B.C. (v1, v10)
That is why I say that it is still relevant. Babylon and Jerusalem become images, symbols of 2 ways of living. The NT quotes this verse and applies it to a church situation. 2 Cor 6:17: Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord; touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you. And the Bible ends with the same call: Rev 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye be not partakers of her plagues.
For us, what is this call? It’s no longer a geographical call… Get out of Toulouse. Get out of France. Get out of the world and go live on Mars? No.
The world in opposition to God is like a sinking ship, a burning building on the verge of collapse: it’s going out to salvation. To come out; to leave certain mindsets or ideas that do not align with God, to come out of the grip of this idol, that sin.
The dilapidated dwellings in Reynerie that are to be demolished: some inhabitants do not want to be rehoused, in order to move on to something better.
- Get out: a call to freedom
Go out, for you are free. What was not possible before is now possible, v2: Stand on your feet, loosen the bonds of your neck. The image of a bent, lying, chained slave who is free.
Now, a prisoner, a slave can find freedom by escaping, but here, it is a legal, official, paid release. A redemption. As it says in v12 Do not go out in haste, do not go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will shut your way.
We celebrated May 8 recently. Think of the prisoners at the end of the second world war in the concentration camps when the American troops arrived. They could look at their former masters and say: I don’t need to obey you any more, I don’t want to suffer at your hands any more, I’m going to freedom, I’m going to my home, my family. That is the attitude we should have towards the sin and evil of this world.
The call to get out is not primarily a negative call. Yes, some attachments have to be cut, but that’s good news. For example, I don’t need to live in bitterness, resentment, anger. Christ died on the cross, on the cross I see that God is really interested in justice, I don’t need to worry. I don’t need to be a slave to my sexual urges; my body, my heart belong to God now.
I admit that it is sometimes uncomfortable and you have to walk against the tide. Citizen of Babylon more comfortable than peeler of heaven. But let’s compare things. Having to follow the dictates of a culture, or doing what everyone else is doing even when you know it’s wrong, that’s not freedom… At the time of the first Exodus, the children of Israel were liberated, in the desert, instead of rejoicing, there was a lot of crying, tears, and complaining, how nice it was in Egypt! But they forgot to compare the global situation.
- Get out: a call to purity
Babylon, a very pretty city, but also a cruel, sensual city. See garden party. Isaiah 52:11 Go, go, get out of there! Touch nothing unclean! Get out of the midst of it! Purify yourselves, you who carry the vessels of the Lord!
The people had to come out of Babylon and return to Jerusalem, and bring back the objects of worship that had been taken to Babylon. It was the job of the Levites, the priests, the priests to keep themselves in a pure state to handle the sacred objects in the temple.
But now this call extends to all. It is as if all become priests, priests who live in the presence of God. The temple is our body, it is our church, and the call is to be kept from the defilements of the world.
Often we see this in a negative way: If I become a Christian, I can’t sleep with my girlfriend before marriage, I can’t flirt with my colleague, I can’t go to such places. But Isaiah puts it another way: it’s a privilege! It is an advantage. Holiness is beautiful, and it is an honour to be called holy, it is an honour to serve God, to walk beside him, to live in his house. This is what should motivate our search for purity.
Get out, that’s the watchword this morning. Come out of Babylon. Come out, let’s come out (plural, which encourages church life together)
And then, not only do we have to hear this call, but there have to be people who make this call, who publish the good news. In one sense, we have to get out of the world. In another sense, we are called not to go out of the world in order to be part of those of v7,8. There was already a tension at the time: Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther, who lived faithfully in a pagan world.
Does getting out mean cutting off all non-Christians? No! Paul says just the opposite in 1 Cor 5:9-11. Jesus prays the opposite: John 17:15 I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. How can I be a testimony of love, of grace to my homosexual, transgender friend? to my family members who only think about money, appearance? How do I tell them the good news without condoning evil, without encouraging behaviour that attracts God’s judgement?
When it’s difficult, we look to Jesus. He went out of the city, he went out of ancient Jerusalem, like a Babylon, but for him it was to go to a cross, to sanctify us, to make us holy. God brought him back from the dead; he brings us back with him to the heavenly city.
Like a hot air balloon image – what is keeping you tied to this the world?