There are different images in the Bible of believers. One of the common descriptions is that of travellers making the journey from earth to heaven. A passage that goes into detail about the journey is Isaiah 35. Initially, the prophecy concerned the return of the people of God from political exile that had come their way as a punishment for their departure from him. It is evident that the details of recovery go far beyond what was ever experienced by the Jews when they returned to the Promised Land. Instead the prophecy concerns those who are travelling to the heavenly Zion.
Isaiah reminds us, as we read his words, that we needed to be ransomed from a difficult situation. Usually, a person had to be ransomed from a form of slavery and in our case we had to be liberated from slavery to sin and Satan. God had punished us with that bondage because of our sins, but he himself provided the way to freedom by sending his Son to pay the ransom price of our redemption, which he did on the cross.
We enter that state of freedom by trusting in Jesus. When we do, we find ourselves on the road to Zion, a road on which many are travelling. Isaiah reminds us that the travellers are holy, happy and in harmony. All of them are holy (he says that the unclean cannot walk on this road); all of them are happy and show they are by singing on the journey (no doubt, they are singing about God and his grace); and all of them are in harmony because they are going to the same destination and looking forward to getting there.
When they reach the journey’s end, they will be welcomed and given a crown of joy. The crown is permanent (everlasting), prominent (all can see it on their heads) and personal (fits exactly). Moreover, it is abundant joy – the prophet uses two words (joy and gladness) to describe it. The prospect of future joy was one that Jesus thought about (Heb. 12:1-2) and we should think about it as well.
They leave two things behind when they reach the destination – sorrow and sighing. This is a reminder that the road to heaven is through the vale of tears. Like Paul, the travellers are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. At the gate of the city, God will wipe away every tear and the travellers will know that they have arrived.
(Summary of sermon preached today on Isaiah 35:10: ‘And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.’)