Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Highway for Our God, Day 1

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss was in a discussion with a businessman and his wife. They were talking about various political issues. Suddenly the wife said:

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “None of this is the answer. People’s hearts have to change. We need revival. That’s what we need to be talking about.”

And we all just sat back and went, “You’re right.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, November 9, 2015. 

Does it seem like every time you turn on the media you hear about another tragedy? You hear about followers of Jesus losing their lives overseas to ISIS or other extremist groups. And then you realize it can happen right here in the U.S. as well. Nancy will give hope and comfort when you feel overwhelmed by bad news, in a two-day series called “A Highway for Our God.”

She began this talk showing a news photo of a woman who appeared to be praying in the middle of a bombing tragedy. Her her hands were folded, and she was looking up with a desperate look.

Nancy: I thought what a great picture this is, because we have no other possible help for such a time as this other than to turn to the Lord. As God’s people, this is a time to look up, to cry out to Him. It is also time to look for glimpses of God’s grace in the midst of all the rubble and the tragedy. We need to ask God to give us eyes to see how He’s redeeming this broken, fallen world and how we can use these tragedies as an opportunity to point people to Jesus.

I want us to look at a passage of Scripture tonight that was intended for the comfort and the hope of God’s people. If you have a Bible with you, let me encourage you to turn to the Book of Isaiah chapter 40. This is a word from the Lord. God is going to speak tonight. I don’t care if you hear what I say, but I want you to hear what God has to say.

God is giving His word of hope to people who are looking for answers, to people who are looking for comfort. I think this passage gives us some insight into what God’s people can do at such a time as this, and how our lives can bring Him glory and advance His kingdom even as it seems that the kingdom of darkness is so powerful all around us.

Isaiah 40:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (vv. 1–5).

The first two verses of this passage for purposes of what we’re going to talk about tonight are introductory. But they’re really important, so I don’t want to skip over them. This passage starts with a word of comfort. “Comfort, comfort my people.” This is actually a very significant turning point in the whole book of Isaiah.

We don’t have time to look through it all, but the first thirty-nine chapters, if you were reading through Isaiah, the first thirty-nine chapters you would see God confronting His people with their sin—sins of idolatry and immorality and injustice. And throughout those chapters there’s this strong tone of warning, of judgment.

At the end of chapter 39, the paragraph just before where we started reading, there’s actually a prophecy about the coming Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. God prophecies that His people, the nation of Judah, are to be sent into exile under the Babylonians.

Then you get to chapter 40 (the paragraph that we just read). The tone changes dramatically. It changes for the whole rest of the book because through the rest of Isaiah, we have a message of comfort. We read that word comfort thirteen times from chapter 40 to the end of the book, chapter 66. You see the theme of blessing and grace and hope and the glory of God. It's totally different than the first section, the first thirty-nine chapters.

So He says in verse 1: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” That phrase “speak tenderly” could be translated literally, “Speak to the heart. Speak to the heart of My people.” It’s the kind of phrase you might use if you spoke about a young man trying to woo the girl that he wants to marry. And he’d say, “Speak to her heart. Speak to her heart.”

Now, this is pretty astonishing to occur here because God’s people have spurned Him. They have turned from Him to idols. They have rejected Him. They have rebelled against Him. But we see here that God still cares. God still has a plan for His people. He still reaches out to them. He still has a message of comfort to them, and He wants to speak to the heart of His people. He wants to woo them.

And so He says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her.” Here’s the message, and it’s a message of hope. “Cry to her that her warfare is ended.” That word warfare literally means "hardship or severe trials." "Her heavy service" it could be translated. It’s over. Her warfare, her heavy service, her hardship, her severe trials have come to an end.

Now, He had just prophesied about the coming Babylonian captivity. It hasn’t even happened yet. But God looks ahead, and He says it’s coming to an end before it even happened. Do you know God knew about your problems before they even came into your life? He knows about the hope and the comfort that He wants to bring and how He can bring those hardships to an end—things you can’t even imagine yet.

“Cry to her that her iniquity is pardoned.” Literally, that her iniquity is “atoned for.” This is foreshadowing the cross of Christ where the sin of the world would be atoned for. Her iniquity is pardoned. That was her problem. That’s why she was under judgment because of her iniquity. God says, “Yes, there will be punishment, there will be chastisement, there will be discipline, but there will also be pardon for her sin and for her guilt.” That’s the gospel in the Old Testament. That’s good news.

And cry to her “that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.” Now, that doesn’t mean that she got double punishment for her sins. What it means is that full, sufficient payment has been made for all her sins. Is that good news or what? It’s good news in the Old Testament. It’s good news for us as New Testament believers.

So we see a compassionate God who, yes, chastens His covenant people. And aren’t you glad He does? I met a couple tonight. I don’t know what all their story is, but apparently it’s quite a story. They were telling me, “We thank Him for all the things He’s given us, and we thank Him for all the things He’s taken away from us, because He gave us everything He knew we needed, and He took away everything He knew we didn’t need.”

You see, God chastens His people, but He never, ever, ever forsakes them. Never. He speaks tenderly to them words of promise, words of hope. He says that their time of trial, which hasn’t even happened yet, is coming to an end.

Now, let me just remind us that the comfort God offers His people then and now is not some kind of shallow, surface, positive-thinking, feel-good kind of message. God never offers comfort to those who intend to stay in their sin. They should not get comfort. God wants them to be miserable until they repent.

God never offers comfort to those who intend to stay in their sin.

And by the way, that applies to you. If you don’t intend to repent, my prayer is that you will be miserable until you do—not that you’ll have comfort. But God gives comfort to those who are willing to repent—those who want to be restored to a right relationship with Him.

So Judah’s going to be sent into captivity in Babylon because of her sin. But God in His providence, in His mercy, His grace and His compassion, He looks ahead to the day when her captivity will end. And God has already made provision for her sin to be forgiven. He’s already planned for Christ to come into the world. We look back on that, and God has planned for the day when the hardships that were caused by her sin will come to an end.

Listen, our warfare, our heavy service are ended and our iniquity is pardoned not because God just winks and turns a blind eye to our sin and lets us off the hook. He wouldn’t be righteous to do that, but through the atoning work of Jesus Christ because He has borne the wrath of God for our sin. That’s why this message of comfort can be in Isaiah and throughout the Word of God.

That brings peace and comfort to our hearts today even as it did to the nation of Judah some 2700 years ago. It brings hope as we anticipate the final consummation of that redeeming work when all trials and hardships will be ended and we will be freed from the very presence of sin. Don’t you want to see that day? I know I do.

We’ll see that day when darkness dissipates with the entrance of King Jesus coming back to be once and for all the light of the world. So there’s this message of hope we can experience today and comfort. But also we can anticipate it because we still live in this fallen world. There’s still a mess around us. There’s still bombings and shootings and kidnappings and the sin of our own hearts as well. But we anticipate that day when Jesus will reign from north to south and east to west and all wrongs of the past will be righted, all darkness will be pushed back, and His kingdom will reign forever and ever.

Now, we come to verse 3 where, “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Now some of you are aware of the fact that back in the ancient Near East there was this custom that when a king would be coming to visit his people who lived out in the outlying areas, he would send a forerunner in advance to announce that the king was coming to visit his people.

That messenger, the herald, would prepare the way for the king’s entourage. It would be like we say today, “Rolling out the red carpet.”

The problem was in those days public roads were almost unknown. In many areas there were hardly roads at all. And this herald, this forerunner, the king would send a group out to clear away the obstacles, to make a highway, a thoroughfare for the king to come and visit his people.

Did you notice where this highway was to be built? Where is it? In the wilderness. In the desert. So God’s people are urged to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah by building a highway in the desert or the wilderness of their hearts, preparing for the Lord to come and visit.

Now, when we get to the New Testament, you remember that all four of the gospels apply this passage to the ministry of John the Baptist who was the forerunner of Jesus the Messiah. For example, in Matthew 3 we read,

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (vv. 1–3).

So the gospels quote directly from the book of Isaiah saying this prophecy is now being fulfilled with John the Baptist coming to prepare the people for the Lord to visit. And the message of John the Baptist was a message of repentance. That’s the first word: Repent. In preparation for King Jesus coming to this earth, God’s people were to remove every obstacle, prepare a road in their hearts for His arrival.

Now, we have a lot of voices crying out today, even as John the Baptist cried out in the wilderness. All around us we have a lot of people telling us what they think is the message and the need of the hour.

I listened online several weeks ago to a conference that was going on. I listened to several speeches that were given at that conference. It was an annual gathering of conservative politicians and activists. They had all kinds of passionate calls for less government intrusion and greater economic opportunity and growth and protection of second amendment rights and school choice and on and on and on it went—things that some of you might identify with.

I listened to them saying, “This is the message we need today.”

Then right about that time, I had lunch with a businessman and his wife who’ve been active for many years in state and national politics. We were talking about some various political issues and concerns we share for our country, and this election, and that politician, and frustrations with various political parties.

I noticed for several minutes there that the wife, as several of us were talking, the wife of this businessman got really quiet. She just kind of dropped out of the conversation. Then all of a sudden she came out of her seat like she couldn’t stand it any longer. She spoke up and said, “None of this is the answer. People’s hearts have to change. We need revival. That’s what we need to be talking about.”

We all just sat back and went, “You’re right. That is the message we need.”

So the prophet John the Baptist cried out, Isaiah the prophet cried out with the same message and the same number one priority, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Build a highway for our God.”

Now, that raises this question: How are we going to go about doing this?

Verse 4 gives us the answer. It tells us, “Here’s what’s required. Four things. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

Now, we see in this verse I think a picture of the preparation that needed to take place in the hearts of God’s people, the obstacles that needed to be removed to prepare the way for the coming of Messiah to earth. This was some heart work that needed to take place in people’s lives.

But I think that we also have in this, now that Messiah has come to this earth, we see now in this passage, a roadmap for revival. It's the preparations that must be made for Jesus to come and visit His people in revival.

If we want to experience His presence in our homes, our churches, our land, our world, if we want to experience His reviving presence in our hearts we have to build what Isaiah calls in chapter 35 “a highway of holiness.” A highway of holiness.  And that means that some changes have to take place. There are different issues that have to be dealt with.

Let’s look at these four things that are done that it said in verse four. Let me give you some possible applications of what it might look like to build this highway in our day. There will be other applications the Lord will put on your heart, maybe ways that He wants to speak to you about how to prepare a highway in your heart for a visitation of His Spirit in revival.

First of all, every valley needs to be lifted up. That’s a picture of low places, shallow areas that need to be built up and filled in. Those could be different things in our lives. It might be unfulfilled promises, things left undone, things we knew God called us to do but we just haven’t followed through, incomplete obedience. It might be lack of spiritual disciplines in our lives, Bible reading, meditation, prayer, fasting. We have time for Facebook, but we don’t have time for His Book. Maybe that’s a low place that needs to be filled in.

We have time for Facebook, but we don’t have time for His Book.

Now, believe it or not, I am pretty much an introvert. When you see people up on platforms like this you think, Oh, no. They just love crowds. They love people. Well, I have never wanted to be a public person. I have never wanted to be in the limelight. There are times when it’s late at night or long weekends studying. There are times that I have honestly wished for a more "normal" life, whatever that is, for an easier life. In those valleys of discouragement and doubt and, “Lord, is this really what You’ve called me to do? Can You just remind me why I’m doing this?” I'm not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. I'm just being honest that my flesh is weak, and there are times when I’m thinking, Could You call somebody else to do this?

In those times I cry out to the Lord, and I fight for grace and fight for joy, and He gives it, thank the Lord. But I will tell you a lot of what I do is not my natural bent. I have to keep coming back to Him and letting Him fill in those valleys of discouragement by bringing me to a fresh place of surrender and saying “Yes, Lord! If this is what’s involved, if this is what’s required, You are worth it.” Coming back to a place of dependency upon Him and realizing it’s for Him, and it’s about Him. By His grace, I can do this. So those valleys of discouragement need to be filled in.

Well, there are valleys in our culture. We have such a small, low view of God today, don’t we? A low view of His Word. There’s biblical illiteracy. There’s a lack of God-consciousness. There’s a rejection of absolute truth. We’ve sunk to such lows morally. I think some of us fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago could not have imagined that we’d be reading some of the things that we’re reading today that are taking place right around us. Those are valleys that need to be filled, and we need to elevate the objective, absolute truth of God’s holy Word and His character. The low places, the valleys, need to be lifted up and filled in.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss with part one of a two-day series called, “A Highway for Our God.”

She talked about the phrase from Isaiah that says, “Every valley will be filled.” Nancy says those valleys might be promises we’ve left unfulfilled. Things we’ve left undone we know God called us to. Incomplete obedience. I hope you’ll seek God for His strength to follow through on that message and take whatever action step He’s calling you to take.

One Revive Our Hearts listener has watched the Lord fill some of her valley places. She didn’t go into detail, but wrote to say:

I love Revive Our Hearts’ ministry so very much. I thought my heart was dead and could never be revived. As I am typing, tears are streaming down my face. I would not know where to begin to tell you about myself and my life messes. Thanks be unto God. Somehow I found you over a year ago, and I really must give a donation–even a small token—to say thank you.

Then she talked about some of the books she had ordered to help her grow in her faith. Revive Our Hearts is available for women like her, thanks to listeners like you.

You make the program possible through investing your money and prayers to keep the podcast coming to you each weekday. When you make a donation of any size, we’d like to send you Nancy’s book, The Quiet Place. This is a daily devotional from Nancy, with entries to last you all year long. January 1 would be the perfect time to start reading this devotional and get insights into God’s Word. Ask for The Quiet Place when you make a donation of any amount. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We’ll send one copy of The Quiet Place per household for your gift.

Okay, what’s the last thing you tweeted or posted on Facebook? If someone spent a week looking at what you posted on social media, what would they say you’re passionate about. Nancy will show you what it looks like to be developing a passion for the Lord. She’ll talk about it tomorrow. Please be back, for Revive Our Hearts.

Don’t forget to make plans to watch the LIVE steam of Nancy’s wedding this Saturday at 12:30 Central. For details visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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