Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized construction of what came to be known as The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Nearly 47,000 miles, accounts for 1/3 of motor vehicle miles driven annually. Goals of building system: increase safety, reduce congestion, advance the economy, facilitate national defense. How well, or even if, it succeeded a matter for debate; not debatable that has been instrumental in bringing about significant changes.
Consider all areas of daily life influenced by system that’s been essentially complete for 20 years: relationship of where we live to where we work; purchasing based on price rather than location; vacation planning; shape of inner cities; shape of extended families; makeup of local churches. Some consequences purposeful and intentional, others not necessarily anticipated by original planners.
According to text, God designed and built a highway that shares things in common with our interstate system. Passes through large cities and scenic countrysides; in so doing, steep grades are avoided – hills are used to fill in valleys, requires less energy for passage. A limited-access road, only some travelers are allowed and they are guaranteed safe passage. A road with a single entrance, a single exit: entrance is Calvary, exit is Zion, the Holy City. A quality highway, built not for speed but ease of travel, safety and pleasure in doing so. It has its beginning in this life, its final end in the next.
A. beautiful scenery v.1-2
What a contrast! Last 2 chapters piled up words describing desolate landscape, world and people devastated by God’s hand of judgment. Isa. 33:9 – Lebanon, Sharon, Bashan, Carmel devastated; Isa 34:3 – a land drenched in blood, piled up with rotting corpses; Isa. 34:2 – God furious with the nations and their armies. Armies and peoples who had rebelled against God, persisting in rebellion beyond limits of his patience to point where he said “Enough.” Even nation of Israel guilty of provoking God to point where would send them into exile for 70 years.
Yet when seemingly no hope, Isaiah changes his literary canvas, begins a new painting of God’s purpose for his people’s future. Paints a wilderness, a wasteland, a desert: uninhabited, dry and without shade. As brush continues over canvas flowers and plants and shrubs take shape; deserted wasteland exploding into blossom, vibrant with life and beauty. Isa. 35:2 – Lebanon, Carmel, Sharon restored to beauty far exceeding original.
Much different mood in place that had known so much destruction and death. Sorrow and sadness and mourning replaced with gladness, rejoicing and singing. Land that had seen fearful sword of the Lord now sees glory and majesty of God. Our Creator God has unsurpassed skill when creating beauty in landscapes and starscapes; that beauty, awesome as it is, can’t hold a candle to beauty and grandeur and splendor of God himself.
Length and breadth of land on Isaiah’s canvas will be filled in overflowing abundance with very presence of God. No place, no person within boundaries of that land will be denied full view of God’s glory as he dwells with his people. Nothing to obstruct their view or their vision – will have clear line of sight, 20/20 vision with which to see him.
B. encouragement to the weak v.3-4
Isaiah knew were those among audience in need of encouragement. Many are overwhelmed by present circumstances – see enemies close at hand, difficulties that must be overcome, distance that must be traveled, limits of their own strength. Others have genuine faith but in small measure; remember the demon-possessed boy’s father: “All things are possible for one who believes. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:23-24 Still others are impatient, want God to do his work NOW, begin to lose hope when doesn’t appear God is moving.
To fear, be anxious is to show unbelief, lack of faith. Fear and anxiety doubt God’s promises, God’s faithfulness, prevent person from being obedient, doing things God expects. Brothers and sisters of all kinds need encouraging – reminder that God WILL come, he is faithful, does keep his promises. Read the Word – look at all promises made and kept. For Isaiah’s immediate audience, a two-fold message: God would come and deliver them from their enemy, Assyria. God would come at later date and deliver them from their enemy, Babylon. God would also come and deliver from greatest enemy, sin.
Don’t look down on fellow travelers who have become discouraged; it’s a long journey from start to finish, requires endurance, even strongest can become disheartened. One reason God intends we should travel together, be help to one another.
C. pleasant companions v.5-8
Isaiah continues painting picture, moves now from scenery to people. Again, as in previous chapters, paints individuals who are radically different from ones God sent him to minister to. Isaiah’s audience declared by God as ones who were blind, deaf, unresponsive to spiritual truth. Those described here have been healed of infirmity – sort of healing only possible at hand of God. Lord Jesus gave these things as sign that He was true Messiah, Matt. 11:5
Isaiah explains this change brought about because water in abundance has come to former desert. As with healing, only God can produce abundant water in a desert; not surprising, he is source of water of life after all, promised to woman at well. Isaiah doesn’t paint an oasis, or even several; entire desert is transformed so that thirsty land is filled with springs of water. Across this stunning landscape the prophet pictures a road, an elevated highway. Described by John Bunyan:
Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way? That is the way thou must go. It was cast up by the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and his apostles, and it is as straight as a rule can make it: this is the way thou must go. Pilgrim’s Progress
Not a road for everyone, EZ-Pass won’t get you through the gate nor will pocket full of change. Road filled with those just mentioned – the formerly blind and deaf and lame and dumb who have been healed. If you have replacement hip or knee or other hardware, ID card describing implant necessary for quick passage through airport security. Those who would enter this Highway of Holiness must show evidence that they have a replacement heart, one given by a gracious God who removed heart of stone.
Not a stairway to heaven, rather a highway with purpose that includes more than simple destination. Designed with particular kind of travel in mind – intended to encourage change in character of travelers as they make their way toward end. Called the Highway of Holiness: designed to promote growth in Christ-likeness, preparing and fitting travelers to be ready for destination.
D. safe travel v.9-10
Truly is limited-access highway; all that would do harm to travelers are kept off the roadway, none can enter by other than the one approved on-ramp. Traffic jams will not be issue either; road is level and straight, only travelers who have been redeemed will be found there. Will be joyous procession, know there is nothing that will hinder their entrance into Holy City at end of journey. Their ransom has been paid in full, a certainty since they entered highway by means of the Cross of Christ.
The road is clearly marked, will be impossible to lose the way. Guard rails along each side add to safety without detracting from beauty. No yellow line or reflectors up the center of the road; instead an indelible set of footprints. No matter how much traffic, footprints remain, each one showing mark of nail and pointing toward destination. Travel is not drudgery, frequent rest areas where refreshment is available – food is simple, bread (John 6:51) and milk (1 Pet. 2:2) and water (John 4:14), but which restore life like nothing else can.
As Isaiah brings his painting to completion, lights go down, image in background begins to appear – it’s a breathtakingly beautiful city. No flaws, no disrepair, no graffiti, no potholes or rusty bridges, nothing to mar its perfect appearance. It’s a glorious city that looks like Jerusalem. But the walls glitter and sparkle with all manner of gem stones; the buildings glow like gold, the streets also, so clean and bright they are almost transparent.
But wait, there’s no worship center; God is there, and everyone in sight belongs there. Only singing and shouts of joy; no tears, no sorrow, no grief and suffering there. It can’t be Jerusalem, it must be a different city, a new and holy Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10) where the Lamb and his people live together. Isaiah’s painting, enhanced by others, given its greatest brilliance by John the apostle, for all its beauty cannot capture full glory of Zion, the heavenly city.
Only holy citizens are welcome there, those who have been made pure by the blood of the Lamb. It’s a process, beginning at the cross and ending with the believers’ resurrection – saints reconciled to God at the cross, brought along Highway of Holiness as they “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18), being made perfect and complete by work of Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:3), salvation complete when newly constituted bodies reunited with souls for eternity.
While we travel that Highway, following footsteps of our Savior, must remember we owe our entrance to Him. Our continuance on it depends on God and his gracious care of his children. Our task: make wise use of resources entrusted to us so we follow those footsteps faithfully. Read the Word, follow commands and example found there, rejoice in our great salvation purchased for us on Calvary’s cross.