How wonderful it is to see
someone coming over the hills to tell good news.
How wonderful to hear him announce,
“There is peace! We have been saved!”
and to hear him say to Zion,
“Your God is the king.” (Isaiah 52:7 ERV International Edition)
These words were first spoken by Isaiah between 700 and 690 BCE after he prophesied that the nation of Israel would be taken captive as slaves to Assyria and later to Babylon. God had chosen Israel from all the people on earth to “be his special people – people who belong only to him” (Deut. 7:7). They were to be different than the nations around them (Deut. 14:2) and reflect the beauty of God’s holiness in their national life, worship, and ethics (Lev. 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26). But now, for too long, Israel had forgotten their God and their unique relationship with him. They paid lip-service to him with their sacrifices and festivals, but they had become purveyors of evil and injustice (Isa. 1:11-17). God had redeemed them from slavery in Egypt to be a nation that modeled love of God (Deut. 6:4-5) and love of neighbor (Lev. 19:18) in freedom. But now they were complicit in power structures that forced others into bondage and oppression (Isa. 1:17). Now, Isaiah prophesied, they would return to slavery so that
“…my people will learn about me.
My people will know who I am.
My people will know my name,
and they will know that I Am He is speaking to them.” (Isa. 52:6)
They needed to remember that they were a people marked by the mercy of God and must reflect the same mercy and goodness of their redeemer God to others over the power structures of dominion, privilege, and legalistic religion.
But even before these events occurred, Isaiah prophesied an eventual comfort for God’s people. Once again, God (Yahweh or “I Am He” of Isa. 52:6 is the covenant name of God he revealed to Israel) would return to Zion (Jerusalem) as King and would remove the chains of slavery from around Israel’s neck! Isaiah used the image of a herald who will bring this great news to the people. In a military context, a herald would be sent from the front lines back to the people to announce the great news of the King’s victory over his enemies and that his kingdom is secure.1 What a relief, what a truly wonderful sight to see that herald coming over the hills to announce such great news to people back home who were anxiously awaiting news that would affect their lives and future hope!
The herald of Isaiah specifically announced five blessings for the King’s people that would accompany his victory: peace, goodness, salvation, his enduring reign, and joy (Isa. 52:7-8). The King’s enemies have been vanquished, he is returning to his throne on Mt. Zion, his good reign will restore all blessings to the land, and the people will enjoy the justice, wholeness, and prosperity (shalôm) of life under his rule. Yahweh is true to his word, and he will restore blessing, justice, and joy to his people forever.
New Testament scholar Tucker S. Ferda notes an interesting parallel between Isaiah 52 and Luke 19.2 He writes that what Isaiah envisioned in this prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a colt with the throng of people proclaiming…
“Welcome! God bless the king who
comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace begins in heaven, and glory
belongs to God!” (Luke 19:38)
However, upon entering Jerusalem, Jesus immediately wept for Jerusalem because it did not know “what would bring [it] peace” or recognize “the time when God came to save [it]” (Luke 19:41-44). Instead, Jesus prophesied over Jerusalem that its enemies would surround and destroy it (Luke 19:43). Indeed, the King had returned to Mt. Zion! But for many who had been hoping that he would free them from their ongoing political exile and enslavement to the occupying Roman empire, this King was a great disappointment.3 Their cheers of exaltation and welcome degenerated into shouts to crucify him a week later (Luke 23:13-25). It seemed they must still wait for their conquering God to defeat their political enemies, the defiling nations surrounding them, and secure the victory of their nation over and against all others.
But Jesus’s victory over the real enemies of his people – sin, evil, their accompanying curse (Gen. 3:16-19), and resulting exile from his glorious kingdom – was won by his death on an ignominious Roman cross. He came as a suffering servant to take away the guilt and shame of his people (Isa. 52:13-53:12). In so doing, he won the cosmic victory as Paul describes in Colossians:
You were spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were not part of God’s people. But God gave you new life together with Christ. He forgave all our sins. Because we broke God’s laws, we owed a debt. A record of that debt listed all the rules we failed to follow. But God forgave us of that debt. He took away the record of it and nailed it to the cross. At the cross he stripped away the power of the rulers and authorities of the spiritual world. He won the victory over them there. And he led them away as prisoners for the whole world to see. (Col. 2:13-15, italics added)
In Christ’s death and resurrection, the Kingdom of God broke into this dark work and established a beachhead of a new world for his people! The resounding refrains of the great Christmas hymn bears witness…
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse if found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.4
The apostle Paul says that we have been “raised from death with Christ,” and so we must “live for what is in heaven, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). The shadows of this dark world are long and obscure the light that has dawned in Christ (John 1:9-10). So, as God’s recreated people, we must live lives that disclose the reality of his Kingdom amidst this darkness (Col. 3:2-17). We become like Isaiah’s herald coming to bring Good News “as far as the curse is found!”
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, repurposes Isaiah’s beautiful prophecy for the new age of Christ’s Kingdom:
Yes, “everyone who calls out to the Lord for help with be saved.” But how can people call out to the Lord for help if they don’t believe in him? And how can they believe in the Lord if they have not heard about him? And how can they hear about him if no one tells them? And how can anyone go and tell them without being sent? That’s why the Scriptures say, “How wonderful it is to see someone coming to tell good news!” (Rom. 10:13-15, italics added)
Heralding is witnessing to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And witness is world-making; it illuminates a new world previously hidden to those who hear the Good News and believe it. Witness is living into what the theologians call the “eschatological expectation” of God’s shalôm – the hope that God is putting this world to rights through the reign of Christ even when everything around us would seem otherwise. This is why we share the Good News with our words. And this is why we care about and work for justice in all its various forms – economic, racial, social, environmental, and systemic. These are not mutually exclusive concerns. Rather, they are united in our responsibility as heralds of the Good News of Christ’s victory over sin, evil, death, and all the forces of darkness that keep our world enslaved to the curse.
Scripture engagement is essential to heralding Good News. In the Scriptures, the veil is removed from our eyes, and we learn to recognize this King whom we are called to image in our lives and testify about in our words. The Scripture renews our imagination from competing worldly visions as we listen carefully to what God’s Spirit reveals to us through it about our King and his mission in this world. We are shaped as a community by the vision of Yahweh’s reign as we watch for it and rejoice in it even though has not yet been cosmically consummated.5 Dallas Willard expresses the “absolute centrality of scripture to our discipleship” because in it, our relational God communicates with us in a personal manner what right living looks like according to the hidden reality of God’s Kingdom, a reality that can only be spiritually discerned.6 So, we need to make time for deep listening to God through the Scriptures in the community of his people.
Heralding the Good News with this renewed imagination makes the King and his Kingdom attractive, like light illuminating the darkness. In Titus, Paul instructs his young protégé to teach the believers in Crete, where people had a reputation as liars, gluttons, and lazy, how to live into the reality of God’s good Kingdom. After listing instructions for specific groups of people, Paul gives Titus the central reason why their lifestyle in Christ was so important:
So this is the way we should live, because God has shown us his grace that can save everyone. By showing us his kindness, God teaches us to refuse to live against him and to give up any desires we have to follow the evil ways of the world. His kindness causes us to think carefully about how we live on earth now, to do what is right and to live in a way that honours God. We should live like this while we are waiting for the wonderful blessing we hope for. That blessing will be to see our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ when he comes with glory. He gave himself for us. He died to free us from all evil and to make us pure. He wanted us to be people who belong only to him and who always want to do good. (Titus 2:11-14)
For this same reason, we who live in today’s frenetic world must slow down to listen and respond well to the Scripture. When we do, the Holy Spirit recreates us into Kingdom people. The story of the Good News found in Scripture informs and animates our hearts, minds, imaginations, and lifestyles. This is what social scientists and theologians call our social imaginary. That story becomes our reality in life! James cautions us not to merely listen to the Scripture but also to put it into practice – to embody it in our lives together (James 1:22-25). He says, “If [we] do what it says, [we] will have God’s blessings” (James 1:25). We become heralds of Jesus’ victory who announce that “Your God is King!” He is the victorious King over every power that enslaves, and he brings the blessings of shalôm to those who trust in him as far as the curse is found.
1 Matthew Seufert, “Isaiah’s Herald,” Westminster Theological Journal 77 (2015), p. 222.
2 Tucker S. Ferda, “Reason to Weep: Isaiah 52 and the Subtext of Luke’s Triumphal Entry,” The Journal of Theological Studies 66 (2015), p. 34-40.
3 Ibid. p. 38.
4 From Joy to the World by Isaac Watts (1719)
5 Roy F. Melugin, “Isaiah 52:7-10,” Interpretation 36, no. 2 (1982), p. 177-178.
6 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (London: William Collins, 1998), p. 301-302.