Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40.9-11.
In this morning’s reading, Isaiah looks forward to the day when, following the Exile, God will bring back his people from a far country and return them to Jerusalem, the holy city. And what a picture he paints of that home-coming. It is Yahweh Adonai who comes “with might” and “his arm rules for him” — the same “outstretched arm” that brought Israel out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4.34) and that one day will be “bared … before the eyes of all the nations” so that “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52.10). But what is this strong and mighty Lord doing with his arms as Isaiah sees him drawing near to Zion? He is gathering lambs in them, cradling them to his breast, and gently leading the rest of the flock. It is a Shepherd-King who brings back the exiles — one in whom formidable strength is matched by unimaginable tenderness.
It is, of course, a picture of the Lord Jesus. He is the Shepherd-King … so no wonder it was to shepherds and to magi-kings that he was first revealed (Luke 2.8-18, Matthew 2.1-12 with Isaiah 60.3). He is King (John 18.37) but he is also the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (John 10.11) — and once I see that, I see that Isaiah’s vision is far more than just a picture of God bringing back exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem; it is a picture of the Lord Jesus bringing all of lost and fallen humanity back to Eden as paradise is restored in the new heavens and the new earth of Revelation 21.
Humanity’s exile began in Gen 3.23-24 when “the LORD God sent [Adam] out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” And the beginning of the end of that long exile came when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … when Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the Son of Man who had come to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19.10).
When Isaiah says “his reward is with him, and his recompense before him”, he is surely referring not to a coming judgment (as some commentators suggest) but to the very flock that follows him. In his prayer after the Last Supper, Jesus thanks the Father for “the people whom you gave me out of the world.” “Yours they were,” he says, “and you gave them to me” (John 17.6). The flock — and that includes me — is his reward and the recompense for his death.
And finally this morning I note the special care that Jesus, my Shepherd-King, has for the most needy members of that flock. There is no “you’ll just have to keep up or fall by the wayside” with Jesus. He “tends”, he “gathers up”, he “carries”, he “leads”. The range of words underlines the fact that his care and attention is not of the “one-size fits all” variety but is graciously and compassionately proportionate to the individual needs of each and every beloved sheep. How wonderful to have such a shepherd and to know he is committed to bringing me home because, in his eyes, the flock will simply not be the flock without me.
The King of love my Shepherd is,
whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
and He is mine for ever.
Where streams of living water flow
my ransomed soul He leadeth,
and where the verdant pastures grow
with food celestial feedeth.
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed;
but yet in love He sought me,
and on His shoulder gently laid,
and home rejoicing brought me.
In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
with Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
Thy unction grace bestoweth;
and O what transport of delight
from Thy pure chalice floweth!
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
within Thy house for ever!