Isaiah 35:1-10


An Activity

Sheep and Goat Football!

This riotous activity is a fun way to explore the difference between the sheep and the goats. The sheep will be trying to feed hungry people by getting hard-boiled eggs (ping-pong balls) into their mugs. The goats will be trying to stop them.

This works best played on a table with all the spectators forming a boundary with their forearms – this helps to keep the balls in play as much as possible.

You will need:

Cut out the sheep and goats. Poke two fingers through the ‘leg’ holes to make your sheep and goats skip and gambol across the field. Please note: neither sheep nor goats can fly – so no jumping!

Set up the pitch with a row of mugs at one end of the table, lying on their sides, and several ping-pong balls. The idea is for the sheep to try to kick the ping-pong balls into the mugs, with the goats defending. You can have one or two people on a team for each round. See how many ‘eggs’ the sheep can score in a certain time.

A Reflection

Why is God good at computing? Because Jesus saves.
Or, Why did God have a summer job as a lifeguard? Because Jesus saves.
Or how about, Jesus Saves! (He wouldn’t if he was on my wages.)

OK, enough with the bad jokes. Interesting though, isn’t it, that ‘saves’ can mean so many different things: saving up money, saving your work, saving someone from drowning. When we say it in church we usually mean saving us from the power and consequences of sin, but that’s a very Christian take on the word. And I do mean Christian, not Jewish – the Old Testament meaning of ‘save’ is much bigger than forgiveness.

We can see it in our reading:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Let’s clear up a couple of words before we continue. When we read ‘vengeance’, we need to think more ‘avenge’ than ‘revenge’. To avenge something is to set things right, to restore justice. Revenge, by contrast, is more about tit-for-tat retaliation. God is not into that but he is very into setting things right. The ‘terrible recompense’ is the baddies finally getting their comeuppance.

And then there’s that word ‘save’. This whole chapter is about what it’s going to be like when God comes and saves us. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And have you noticed how it keeps going on about forgiveness and going to heaven when we die?

No, me neither. Instead it talks about barren land blooming and producing crops, the physically disabled being made well, the oppressed being rescued, those in danger finding safety. All sounds immensely practical, don’t you think? This is not ‘pie in the sky when you die’, this is steak on your plate while you wait! The coming of God’s kingdom is supposed to make a real difference to real people in the real world.

In Isaiah’s day, being blind or lame meant being destitute, and dry land meant famine. So God’s salvation meant ending oppressive poverty and hunger. Yes, forgiveness too. Yes, adoption as sons and daughters of the Living God. Yes, a place in our Father’s house for eternity. But this is not just a spiritual salvation. God wants to save bodies as well as souls.

This Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate so soon, told a parable about separating sheep from goats. How did he tell which were sheep? Those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger – who brought God’s salvation in all its breath of meaning.

Our Response

As we rejoice at his first coming and eagerly await his second, what, in this time-between-the-times, are we going to do bring God’s salvation?

Bible Text

Isaiah 35:1-10 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.

No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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