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Isaiah 27: God’s Vineyard, Part 3

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading from chapter 26 as we continue our series through the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah is a book about the fall of the nation of Judah and the coming of the kingdom of God on earth. It’s a story of humanity’s sin, the distance between who we are and who we are meant to be, and in spite of all we’ve done wrong, God’s redemption. God is reversing sin, bringing what the Bible calls peace, shalom, the distance closed, sin undone, so that we, and all of creation will be restored back to our original purpose; everything will be made whole and right. We need to learn both to hope for the world as it will be and to live now as citizens of the coming kingdom of God.

The past several weeks, I’ve been talking about what God’s kingdom is like, and what our lives are meant to be.

We are meant to live everlastingly. Not a dull sort of drawn out existence, but abounding life. A return to innocence, free from the deathly things which sap our joy from the small, quiet enjoyment of life. Like living in those moments of our lives that we never want to end.

When Isaiah imagines the everlasting life in the kingdom, he imagines a meal together with God and all of his people, a feast. The goal of Christianity is not a place of everything you’ve ever wanted in abundant supply, but it’s a restoration back to the life we were always meant to live. We aren’t getting through everyday life here on earth to get to some great festival in heaven—everyday life is what God is restoring to us here on this earth, life together with people we love and who love us, meals and lives shared, everyone having a place and a part.

And last week, I talked about the government of the kingdom of God. We are meant to live under the rule of God, himself. In his kingdom, God is the only ruler. There are no celebrities in the restored earth, no lords, no masters or hierarchies, only God reigning, and he is a righteous king. He brings peace and freedom to his people—not just safety or a status quo, but peace and justice together—uses his power to lift up his people and provide for them, not oppress them. We were created to live under the rule and reign of God, and we are called in this life to live as citizens of his kingdom.

This week, as we continue to dive into what God’s kingdom is like and what our lives are meant to be, we’re returning to one of the central metaphors of the book of Isaiah: God’s vineyard. If you remember way back in chapters 3 and 5, Isaiah imagines the Lord planting a vineyard for himself to live in, to enjoy. He spends years cultivating the best vine, the finest grapes to make the finest wine, but at the end of all his labors, when he should have been able to rest and enjoy his work, the grapes were bad. They weren’t a choice vintage, but they were just like what you would find growing wild—just like the rest of the world.

In our chapter today, Isaiah imagines God’s vineyard as it was meant to be, and in his imagining, we can learn what our lives were created to be.

Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 27, starting in v.2. [Isaiah 27:2-13]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord, please show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

I’ve never owned a vineyard, but I’ve owned a garden. I remember, as a young child, visiting my grandparents in Hammond, back when Hammond was the country, and they had about a half-acre of garden. I used to walk down the rows, asking my grandmother what each plant was and what she would do with the fruit come harvest.

When I was in middle school, I remember telling my parents one day that I was going to plant a garden in our back yard. I think I had done a science fair thing about which potting soil was best and I didn’t want to throw away the plants I’d grown, so in my mind as a kid I kind of just happened my way into gardening. Now as a parent I’m remembering recovering from an early injury and being a very bookish and inside-sort of child; then going to a nursery and home depot with one or both of my parents, buying lumber and soil and plants, books about gardening, and I’m realizing—they sneaky tricked me into doing a whole unit on gardening and spending my time outside.

Anyway, the garden ended up being one of my main activities through middle school and early high school. I grew all kinds of things. I grew myself tomatoes and jalapeños and learned to make salsa. I grew my brother habañeros. Being cajuns living in small-town Tennessee, we were the only ones who knew what habañeros were, and certainly the only ones who could eat them. My brother would take two of them to school, eat one, and then dare someone else to eat the other one. After an incident with the quarterback of the football team weeping loudly in the middle of the school cafeteria, our school specifically banned the sharing of hot peppers. That was the second specific school rule I helped inspire growing up, the first being a school-wide rule that any child found with a rubber band in their possession was immediately suspended. That’s a good story.

But my garden was a place of peace for me. I spent hours there every week. And now, as Annie and I are trying to find a home in New Orleans where we can really live our lives, I find myself walking around the house for a few minutes, and then going outside to see where I might plant my garden again. My garden was a source of great delight for me.

So I understand, as I read this passage, why Isaiah imagines the coming of the kingdom of the Lord as a vineyard, a garden, growing and producing good fruit. God spends his days tending the vines—there’s no weeds anywhere, he dares thorns to grow. He says, if any thorns grew, I would wage war against them, but then he changes his mind, and says, actually, if any thorns grew, I would restore them back into vines again. The thorns, of course, are the people of the earth. And God says, twice for emphasis in v.5, “let them make peace with me.” Let all the people of the earth come into my kingdom and grow. Not just grow, but thrive under his care.

My first point from the text this morning is this: we were created for fruitfulness. We were created for fruitfulness, and in the kingdom of God, his people grow and thrive.

This is a point repeated throughout Isaiah, but all through scripture as well. When God first created us, he placed us in a garden, and along with everything else there, he meant for us to grow and thrive. When we sinned, part of what we call the curse, when God first explained what sin does in the world, he says things won’t grow as well. You’ll work the soil, and you won’t get as much out of it. And he tells us, because of sin, we won’t be able to grow without pain and death.

In God’s kingdom, where he turns back the effects of our sin, there is nothing to stop growth and thriving. Imagine a garden without pests and without disease. Now imagine a life without pain and without loss, without old age or ever any stop to growing as a person, and you’ll be imagining part of the world as it was meant to be.

When author C. S. Lewis imagines the world restored to rights, he always imagines his childhood home, before his mother died when he was still a child, in the mountains of Ireland. Lush, green, wild mountains, filled with growing things. In his Narnia series, in the second-to last book he wrote to close out the series, God plants a tree in a garden to restore his creation back to rights, and the fruit of that tree is able to bring the young boy’s mother back to life. In the next book, he imagines the restored earth being a place where you’re able to run further in and further up, never getting tired, into the lush, green mountains to live with God on his holy hill. The kingdom of God is a place where things and people grow, without end or limit to life and vibrancy.

In Jesus’s life and ministry, he refers constantly to the vineyard of the Lord to speak of the way things are meant to be. At one point, he finds a tree without fruit and he destroys it, because a tree without fruit has no place in the world he came to make. And referring directly to this image in Isaiah, Jesus declares himself the vine.

John writes, [1] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. [2] Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. [3] Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

We were created for fruitfulness. In the kingdom of God, his people grow and thrive. In our lives now, we are meant to hope for the world as it will be, and live now as citizens of God’s kingdom. So in our lives now, we are meant for fruitfulness, though it will be marred and frustrated by sin.

And, no, I’m not trying to say we all have to be gardeners, or have babies (fruit of the womb, I know someone’s mind went there), I don’t think that’s what Isaiah has in mind. In Isaiah, and therefore throughout the New Testament as the New Testament authors interact with Isaiah, the fruit we are meant to produce are those things which please God and feed, nourish his people. The apostle Paul, interacting with this metaphor, helpfully identifies a few of the fruits we were created to grow: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Isaiah repeats several times something along the lines of what he identifies in chapter one as a life pleasing to the Lord: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

And because we are not yet made whole, when you come to the garden of your own soul, there will be weeds and rocks and broken things you will have to root out and dig up. It will not be a one-time effort, you will need to take time, go back constantly to deal with the brokenness of your soul. After you’re saved and a member of a church, this work is far from done. It will be necessary until your resurrection. “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

And you will need to water the garden of your life. Sometimes, when the day grows long and hot, we give up, and stop tending or watering the gardens of our lives. Our fruitfulness withers and dies, then. We need constantly to be refreshed by time with the Lord. We need to be regular and intentional about it, and not just wait for his Spirit to rain down, because the Lord has allowed us to take part in his work of watering the vineyard.

For you to be fruitful in your life, do those things which please God and nourish his people. Don’t do what everyone does around you, because then your fruit will taste like wild grapes. Allow God to graft you into the one true vine, Jesus Christ. In him alone will you find your created purpose and thriving. Allow him to cultivate you through spiritual discipline and life together among his people, and learn to bear fruit. Because in contributing to the thriving of the people around you, you will find your own purpose and thriving, you’ll discover the way you were created to be.

We were created for fruitfulness, one, and my second point this morning is this: we were created for God’s delight. We were created for God’s delight, and in his kingdom there is great joy.

Growing up, when I planted and kept that garden in my back yard, it was never out of any kind of necessity. Praise God, we were well fed in our family. I could buy cucumbers at the store, and squash. But I would tend those plants every day, and whenever any kind of harvest came, I would take the fruit I had grown, and pass it out to the whole family. We would talk about how much better everything was fresh, and my parents helped me figure out recipes to make to include the things I’d grown. It wasn’t a garden of necessity. It was a garden of delight.

So is God’s vineyard in Isaiah. You may have wondered before now why the metaphor is of a vineyard and not a field of wheat—I always smile to myself when people depict the great harvest of the Lord as a wheat field. We like to imagine ourselves as a necessary component of God’s kingdom. Throughout the Bible, the Lord’s harvest is a vineyard, and that’s on purpose. You see, wheat is a crop of necessity. Everyone grew wheat and barley, because that was the main food source, and you can store it to survive year-round. Not everyone had a vineyard—grapes weren’t a staple, they were a luxury. Vineyards are used in the Bible as symbols of peace and prosperity, because grapes were a crop, not of necessity, but of delight.

Isaiah’s metaphor here of God’s people being a vineyard tells us many things, not the least of them being that we, the people of God, were created not out of necessity, but out of delight. God doesn’t need you, and that’s a good thing. He doesn’t need the work you do. He doesn’t need our sermons, or our songs, or our service. He doesn’t need your evangelism, or your spiritual discipline, your bible reading or your fasting. All of these things, our very lives, are purposed not for necessity, but for delight. And when he invites you to do his work and live according to his ways, it’s an invitation into his joy, to enjoy the fruit of his vineyard. We were created for God’s delight, and in his kingdom, in the place he has prepared for us, there is unspeakable joy.

God delights in you, and he rages against any sin or brokenness that would hurt you. He would do anything to make the world right again, even leave his kingdom, filled with joy, and enter into our suffering and mess. Christ didn’t have to die. He died because he delights in you, and he wants to be with you. You can trust him to know and want what’s best for you.

This means, when you can’t find delight and joy in your life, there is hope in God for that, because he’s able to restore delight to us. This also means our Lord is able to teach us to delight in the people he’s given us in our lives. He can even restore delight in marriages and family relationships from which delight has gone. It also means that living as a Christian is not some buzzkill stoic ordeal. There’s labor, yes, but the labor of a gardener. And there’s hardship and mourning, but that’s only for a little while, and then unspeakable delight.

We weren’t created for pain, and in God’s kingdom there will be no pain or mourning. We will be able to remember the hardships of our lives, but God will bring to remembrance those ways in which he has rescued us from sin and suffering.

I want to end with another quote from G. K. Chesterton, the same author I quoted two weeks ago. It’s a passage that has helped me to understand how great, how large, the joy of the Lord is. But before I do, I want to invite you today into a life of fruitfulness and delight. Christ is the vine. You’re not going to find true joy or purpose outside of him, his work, and his ways. But in him, there is life overflowing and joy unspeakable. And, Christian, I pray you would take the opportunity this morning as Meg sings to consider the state of your life, whether it is well-tended and watered, and pray to God, our gardener, to bring growth and delight. Pray at your seat, or come let me pray with you. It would be to me a delight.

Chesterton writes: “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian…The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something.

“I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth, [his delight].”