The Wells of Salvation
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 12 is analogous to the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites praised God for their great deliverance. Isaiah 12 is a response to Isaiah 11:11, which says God will stretch forth his hand and perform a second exodus.
The first twelve chapters of Isaiah deal with the holiness of God and the sinfulness of both God's people and the people of the world. In Isaiah 1 we find the complaint of the great God against his people:
Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the Lord has spoken: 'I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.' Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy one of Israel and turned their backs on him (vv. 2-4).
Then in Isaiah 6 there is a revelation of the transcendent God in all his holiness. The seraphs cry out, "Holy, holy, holy!" Suddenly, Isaiah becomes extremely self-conscious of his sinfulness and cries out, "I am an unclean man, dwelling among people who are unclean."
So there is this idea of the holiness of God and sinfulness of man in the first chapters of Isaiah. What will holy God do about this situation? The only just thing is to destroy his sinful people. But that is not what happened. God in his grace saves his people, so in Isaiah 12 we find this great hymn of praise and thanksgiving.
But how can a holy God save a sinful people? The answer is also found in these early chapters of Isaiah's prophecy. In addition to speaking of the holiness of God and sinfulness of man, Isaiah also speaks about a virgin-born Son, Immanuel, the Branch and the Messiah. He is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, who will reign on David's throne in justice and righteousness. He is the one who will bring about the second exodus. That is why God's people with joy will draw water out of the wells of salvation.
The Problem of Sin
Isaiah says God was angry, but his anger has been turned away: "I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted" (v. 1). Some may say, "Why are you saying God was angry? I thought God is love. Don't you know that this whole idea of the wrath of God should be excised from the Scripture? God is nice."
The Scripture says that God is angry at sinners every day. The Bible declares that every inclination of man's heart is only evil all the time. In Romans 3 Paul tells us all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Man lives and moves and has his being in God, yet he refuses to worship and serve the One who gave him existence and sustains him.
Man refuses to know God, even though God has revealed himself in his creation. He actively engages in suppressing the truth, affirming himself while denying the infinite personal God. He worships creation rather than the Creator. But he is a fool who believes there is no God, for God is truly angry at man's sin, and the wages of sin is death.
Romans 1 tells us the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Not only is God, but he is also wrathful and must judge. The history of man is also a history of God's judgment upon wicked people.
In Isaiah 5 and 6 we find seven woes pronounced upon the people of God who would not serve him. The first six are:
"Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field" (Isaiah 5:8)
"Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks" (Isaiah 5:11)
"Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit" (Isaiah 5:18)
"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20)
"Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight" (Isaiah 5:21)
"Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks" (Isaiah 5:22)
The last woe comes from the lips of Isaiah himself. "'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined!'" (Isaiah 6:5) Here Isaiah cries out when he sees himself in the light of the thrice-holy God.
Isaiah 12 tells us that God was angry, but his anger has been turned away. The second section of Isaiah, chapters 40 through 55, speak more about how this happened by the work of the suffering servant.
God's Solution to Our Sin Problem
Holiness is the sum of all the attributes of the transcendent God. Because God is holy, he must punish sinners; but because of his love for sinners, his anger is turned away. In Exodus 34:6-7, God describes himself as "the Lord, the Lord, the compassionate, the gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished. . . ." Here we see this idea of both the love and justice of God.
How, then, can God's anger against sinners be turned away? Through a substitute. That is the teaching of the Old Testament sacrificial system, as we see in Exodus 12. Every family was to take a lamb, kill it, collect the blood in a vessel and apply it upon the doorposts and crossbeam. At midnight the angel of death was going to pass through Egypt, killing the firstborn in every family unless he saw the sprinkled blood. That is what Passover was: when the angel saw the blood of the substitute, he passed over that family.
We see this this idea of substitutionary atonement in the Day of Atonement, when the high priest took the blood of a substitute and sprinkled it on the top of the ark to make atonement for the sins of the nation. John the Baptist spoke of this in John 1:29: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" So God found a way of dealing with our sins: One Lamb to remove the sin of the world. God's wrath was turned away from us, and placed on another-the Lord Jesus Christ.
We find this idea also in Isaiah 6, which speaks about God's unclean prophet living among an unclean people. God commissioned a seraph to take a live coal from the altar and touch Isaiah's lips. By that touch God was declaring to Isaiah, "Your guilt is taken away."
In Isaiah 53 we also see this idea in the work of the suffering servant:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (vv. 4-6).
In verse 10 the prophet further explains, "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer," and in verse 11 he says, "After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." Finally, in the latter part of verse 12, Isaiah concludes, "For he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."
Micah, who was a contemporary of Isaiah, spoke about the high cost of our redemption: "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?" (6:6) Micah was saying, "What can I bring so that God will accept me?" Micah continues, "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?" The answer is no. God is not going to accept our offerings. In verse 7 Micah asks, "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" Again, the answer is no. Only the firstborn Son of God can take away our sin because he is the only acceptable substitute. Then Micah concludes, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God" (v. 8).
We find this idea throughout the Bible. First John 2:1 tells us, "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One." People only need an advocate when they are in trouble, and we were in trouble because of sin. But we have an advocate-the Lord Jesus Christ. So John continues, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." Jesus Christ is the propitiation that brought about reconciliation. The wrath of God has been turned away and God is now gracious to us.
In Romans 3:23-26 Paul writes,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Thus, in Isaiah 12:1 we read that God was angry with us because of sin but his anger has been turned away. How was this accomplished? Through God's own Son. Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Remember what happened when the people of Israel became thirsty in the wilderness? The rock was smitten, water gushed out, and the people drank water. In 1 Corinthians 10 we learn that the smitten rock was Christ.
That is our story as well. Christ the Rock was smitten on the cross, and rivers of living water are gushing out of him for the whole world. Now all sinners who die of thirst are invited to come, drink and live. God's anger has been turned away. Isaiah 10:25 predicted this and Isaiah 12 speaks of its fulfillment.
Isaiah declares, "I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me" (v. 1). There should be a "for" before "although" because a reason is given: "You have comforted me." Isaiah was speaking about the comfort of forgiveness, justification, sanctification and reconciliation we receive from God. He was speaking of the comfort of adoption and union with Christ; he is the vine, we are the branches. He was speaking of the comfort of the Holy Spirit, who is in all sinners who believe in Jesus Christ. He was speaking of the comfort of knowing that, though God was against us, his anger has been turned away and now he is for us. He was speaking about the comfort we receive from our great Physician, Savior, and Shepherd. He was speaking about the comfort of God's presence with us.
In verse 6 we read, "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." This is a miracle. God is now in our midst because our sin problem has been dealt with.
Second, salvation must be appropriated. It is one thing to know that our salvation is accomplished but we must appropriate it. The Israelites had to kill the Passover lamb, receive its blood in a vessel, and apply it to the sides and tops of the doorframes of the house. Then they had to close the door, stay inside, and eat the meat of the lamb. But if they did not follow these steps, the firstborn in the house would die.
The Bible tells a story about a feast that was ready. The guests did not have to worry about anything, but they had to come to participate in it. In the same way, the feast prepared for us by Jesus Christ is ready, but we must come as guests and eat. There is personal responsibility involved in being a Christian. "In that day you will say. . . ." and there is no doubt that every elect of God will confess "Jesus is Lord" and be saved. Jesus said, "But I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me," and so we will come, we will believe, we will trust. But that does not negate the biblical obligation that we must individually believe in Christ to be saved.
The water is now available, but the thirsty must come and drink. Those who were dying because they were bitten by snakes in the wilderness had to look to the uplifted brazen serpent so that they could be healed. The Philippian jailer had to do one thing: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.
What happens if we do not turn to Jesus Christ for salvation? God's anger will not be turned away from us. In John 3:36 we find a description of those who have never trusted in Jesus Christ: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." If a person does not trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, he must personally atone for his sins. But that is impossible.
The Language of Appropriation
Here, then, in Isaiah 12 we find the language of appropriation. First, in verse 1 Isaiah says, "You have comforted me. . . ." Isaiah was saying, "God was angry with me, but now he has comforted me." Then Isaiah says in verse 2, "Surely God is my salvation." Isaiah appropriated his salvation personally by believing. My salvation! What an affirmation. That is what it is in the Hebrew: "Behold! Surprise! Wonder of wonders! God is my salvation!"
Second, in verse 2 Isaiah says, "I will trust. . ." The Hebrew word is batach, which has the meaning of committing oneself to God and thus being secure forever. This is saving faith: Putting ourselves upon God and trusting in him for everything, past, present, future. It is not enough to have information of the gospel or even to give mental assent to that information. Faith is trust. Saving faith is the entrustment of myself to him.
Third, God sent Isaiah to speak to King Ahaz, who was in serious trouble. Although Isaiah gave him the gospel, he refused to trust in God. So in 7:9 the prophet declared, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." That is always the truth. If we do not believe in the gospel when it comes to us, we will fall.
Fourth, Isaiah said, "I will not be afraid of anything." Trust and fear are opposites. Believers are delivered from God's wrath; thus, their fear of death is gone. A believer therefore says, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law." Then comes the glorious shout of jubilation: "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
In Romans 8:35 Paul asks, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" In verses 37-38 he tells us, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I will not be afraid! Christ is triumphant! After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, "Fear not! Because I live, you will live also." Death has been destroyed forever by his death on the cross. He liberated us once and for all.
We find a further example of the language of appropriation in Isaiah 12:2. He says, "the Lord, is my strength. . . ." Weary and weak, we can come to God, who makes us strong.
Isaiah said, "The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song." When you appropriate this salvation in Jesus Christ, you become strong and begin to sing for the first time in your life. Isaiah isn't saying, "He gives me strength," but "he is my strength, he is my song, and he is my salvation." God is my all.
When we appropriate God's salvation by faith, we are made strong in the power of the Holy Spirit and are filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. PGM Now we can sing a new song based on God's redemption in Christ. We are not afraid because we know now that God is pleased with us in Jesus Christ. He forgave our sins, justified us, and made us his sons and daughters.
Water from the Wells of Salvation
"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (v. 3). Remember how the people of Israel murmured in the desert? Every time they murmured, they got water. But now the murmuring is gone and we can draw water out of the wells of salvation. We quenched our thirst once when we came and trusted in Christ, but this is God's provision for all of life. The phrase, "wells of salvation," speaks of abundance. We can come to this well whenever we want; it is there for God's people. When we are weary, when we are weak, when we are confused, when people persecute us, or when we are anxious, we can come to him and start drinking.
There are times when all of us may feel afraid. But I hope you will trust in God and not fear. How do you know that you have trusted in him? "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid" (12:3).
Salvation Celebrated in Thanksgiving
Not only is this salvation accomplished and appropriated, but it is celebrated. In the section (12:4-6) we find seven verbs in the Hebrew text expressed as commands. First, we read, "In that day you will say: 'Give thanks to the Lord. . . .'"
One of the characteristics of an unbeliever is that he is unthankful. Though he receives many blessings, he curses God. He is like a spoiled child who demands that everything be given to him but never thanks his parents.
The Israelites were spoiled children. When they were wandering in the wilderness, they learned this trick: Every time they murmured, God provided for them. God himself told them, "You murmured these ten times." They had learned a pattern: Demand, murmur, and receive.
Isaiah says, "Give thanks to the Lord," who has now become our salvation. He is the cause, the agent, and the accomplisher of our salvation, showing mercy to us who deserved only hell. This command to give thanks is a present imperative. We are to engage in continuous thanksgiving. We have the greatest reason in the world to give thanks.
The best way for us to thank God for his salvation is found in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, therefore all died" (v. 14). Jesus Christ died so we don't have to die. We are spared from eternal death. Remember, Christ cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" He was experiencing hell on the cross. He died for all, but God accounts that we all died in him, and now there is thanksgiving. "And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him, who died for them and was raised again" (v. 15). Thanksgiving means that all of life we seek to please Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving, then, is a divine duty, commanded by God, in all of life, in response to what God has already done for us. That is the first imperative we find in Isaiah 12:4-6.
Calling on God's Name
The second imperative is also found in verse 4: "[C]all on his name." This is speaking about the privilege of prayer. In Genesis 12:8 we read that Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the Lord. He saves us in response to prayer and so we live a life of prayer.
We are invited to call on God's name in prayer. When we pray to God based on his revelation, we are celebrating our salvation. Before, we couldn't come to his presence at all, but now God welcomes us and tells us to call on his name. But he tells us, "Ask and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened." Again, this is a present imperative. We can call upon him any time; he is always open to us.
God loves to hear from us, just like parents love to hear from their children. When I went away from home as a young man, my parents were always eager to hear about me. God desires us to come to him and have fellowship with him. That is why he tells us to call on his name.
So prayer as well as thanksgiving indicates we are saved. If a person is not saved, he will not pray. He will say, "I know how to handle this problem. I'll call this person and that person and make things happen." I challenge you to go into the closet, close the door, and call upon him who hears.
Declaring the Gospel
In verse 4 we find the third imperative: "Make known among the nations what he has done." "Make known" assumes that there are people who are ignorant of the gospel. Good news can never be contained. If you are containing it, you don't have it.
The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, but there is no outflow. As a result, the water in the Dead Sea is contained and there is no life. When you contain the gospel, you have no salvation, because salvation is life. It is the good news about the mighty deeds God has done. That is why we are commanded to make the gospel known among the nations. God has chosen people to his salvation, but they will come to know about it only when it flows out of you.
We said this song of Isaiah 12 is like the song found in Exodus 15, but the deeds we are to make known are greater than the deeds of the first exodus. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he performed mighty deeds: the ten plagues, the drying up of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh's armies. But the deeds we are to declare are mightier, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve," and so on. The greatest deed God ever did was to send his own Son to die. It is no longer a lamb that was slain; it is the Son who died to bring about our salvation. It is a sin to contain this good news.
Thus, we find this command: "Make known among the nations what he has done." Isaiah 12:5 also tells us, "Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things." Again, this is speaking about sharing the gospel by telling of God's mighty deeds. Celebration of salvation leads to evangelism. I saw this often when I was growing up. No matter who came to our house, my mother would speak to that person about Jesus Christ and him crucified.
What about you? Is your mouth sealed? Do you pray, "Bless us four and no more"? Do you say, "I have my job and my house and things. Isn't that what salvation is?" No! We must share the gospel. Declare it among the nations! We do not have to go anywhere to do this; we can meet people from all over the world right where we live. Yes, people may come here for secular reasons, but we can share the gospel with them. Tell them of the mighty deeds of God. Tell them that Christ died, Christ was buried, Christ was raised, Christ was seen, Christ ascended, Christ is seated, Christ is King, and that Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead. Tell them about the kingdom of God, the greatest reality in the universe. Share all of these things with them, for it is through us that God spreads the fragrance of the gospel everywhere. To some that fragrance brings life; to others, death. His word shall never return to him void.
Proclaiming That His Name Is Exalted
The fourth command is, "Proclaim that his name is exalted." When we hear about other religions, we may begin to think that there are other gods and various ways to be saved. That is a lie! Isaiah tells us, "Proclaim that his name is exalted!" Jesus Christ is the only Savior. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the resurrection and the life.
In Isaiah 52:13 Isaiah said concerning the Messiah, "See, my servant will act wisely." He will act in wisdom to fulfill God's will. No one ever acted wisely, but God's purpose will prosper in the hand of this one. Isaiah continues, "He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted." That is what it means to proclaim that his name is exalted.
Paul speaks about this high exaltation of Christ in Ephesians 1:19-23:
That power is like the working of [God's] mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Philippians 2:9 tells us that because of Christ's complete obedience,
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
We must proclaim that the name of Jesus Christ alone is highly exalted. He is the only Lord, God, and Savior. We must proclaim his deeds among the nations so that they may come to acknowledge him as such. All other gods are idols and all other religions are lies. As God's people, we are exhorted to exalt Jesus Christ, even when that proclamation may result in our own death. There are even now people in the world dying for their faith in Christ.
Sing to the Lord
Fifth, verse 5 tells us, "Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things." When we worship, we are celebrating God's great kindness to us. Additionally, when we sing, others hear the gospel. Therefore, we must sing with intelligence, passion, and all our might about what God has done. "Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things"! If God has done glorious things for you, you will sing.
In verse 6 we find the sixth imperative: "Shout aloud." You may say, "Don't you see that we are nice, sophisticated people? How could we shout in church?" How many people get excited about the things in the world, yet pretend to be sophisticated when it comes to God! How many people shout for silly reasons, yet show no enthusiasm for God?
But there is one reason for which we ought to shout: "For great is the Holy One of Israel among you" (v. 6). When we were sinners, the holy and transcendent God could not be in the midst of us. But God made us holy through Jesus Christ, and now he comes to dwell in our midst. He is our God and we are his people. This is the greatest reason in the whole world to shout.
Psalm 126 tells us, "When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, out tongues with songs of joy." The Israelites shouted and sang because God brought them back to Zion. That is one reason we should shout-God has done glorious things for us, and we are glad! But a greater reason tis that God himself has come down and now dwells with us. Jesus Christ told us, "If two or three are gathered together, there I am in their midst." We are the temple of the living God.
The Great Celebration
John 7 tells us about Jesus going to Jerusalem during the Feast of the Tabernacles. This eight-day celebration reenacted the life of God's people in the wilderness. During this time people lived in booths so they could remember what God had done for them. Many pilgrims came to Jerusalem during this time.
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, there was a certain ceremony: With trumpets blasting, cymbals clashing, and great singing, the priests and worshipers went from the temple out of the city and traveled through the Kidron Valley to the spring of Siloam, where the priests drew water and collected it in golden pitchers. Then, together with the worshipers and again accompanied again by trumpets, cymbals, and singing, the priests came back to the temple where they marched seven times around the altar, singing this verse from Isaiah 12:3: "With joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation." Then they poured the water on the altar to commemorate God's provision of water in the wilderness.
John 7 tells us that on this eighth day of the Feast, after the shouting and singing subsided, a young man stood up and cried out, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (v. 37). He was telling the crowd, "I am the living water. Come to me and receive the water of life." This young man, Jesus Christ, had also told a Samaritan woman in John 4, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water" (v. 10). And when he was in the synagogue in Nazareth, he was given a scroll of Isaiah, from which he read the portion beginning, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me." Then he sat down and said, "This scripture is fulfilled today in your ears." He was saying, "I am the Messiah."
So in John 7 Jesus told the great multitude of worshipers, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." Then he added, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." Not only is our thirst quenched and satisfied by Jesus Christ, the living water, but we also become a channel to bring this living water to others. That is what Isaiah means by saying, "Make known among the nations God's wonderful deeds." We must point people to Jesus Christ. He is here for us; thus, we must believe in him and trust in him.
As soon as you drink from Jesus Christ, you will become a channel of blessing for others. Rivers will flow from the wells of salvation. You will cease being self-centered and will become other-centered. You will not be able to contain this salvation as it flows from Christ to you and then to others. You will be like the river that makes glad the city of God.
Praise God, we do not have to remain thirsty! Christ has come, and he welcomes us to draw water out of the wellsprings of salvation, so that our thirst may be quenched and we may receive eternal life. I pray that those who never came to God would believe in him now and be saved, and those who have believed would become channels of blessing and declare God's salvation among the nations. Amen.
Copyright © 2002, P. G. Mathew
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