City on a Hill

Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah 2-4 today through you and I, as the City on a Hill which participates in God’s mission to the world.

dylanhamata on April 3, 2022
City on a Hill
April 3, 2022

City on a Hill

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Passage: Isaiah 2:1-4:6
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Many of you know that I was born in the Philippines, then we moved to New Zealand when I was 9 years old, and then we moved to Canada when I was 13 years old. As a kid, the big differences that I noticed in these three places included temperature (went from hot to medium to cold) and accents (went from a Filipino accent, to a Kiwi accent, then to a pure Canadian accent eh)!

But one common denominator that I found in these three places, as a kid, was that we always lived in a city. In other words, I grew up as a “city kid.” And as a city kid, you develop ideas about what a city is like or what it should look like. For example, it has to have big highways, big buildings and malls (like WEM), subways (and I don’t mean the ones you eat in), etc.

To me, that’s what an ideal city was like after living in Toronto-sized cities in the Philippines and NZ. Then we moved the city of Prince Albert... and I thought “what a miserable city! God, could you please take me back to the real city?”

That’s how I thought about a city, according to my standards (maybe you have your own standards on what a city looks like)... But in our text today, Isaiah talks about an ideal city—not according to his standards, but God’s standards. Because he prophesies about God’s City.

Big Idea: God’s City

He actually describes God’s City in chapter 1 as the faithful city that becomes the faithless city: “How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water.”

Yet the hope is that, one day, this faithless city will become a faithful city once again. Look at verses 24-26:“Therefore the Lord declares, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: ‘Ah, I will get relief from my enemies and avenge myself on my foes. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy ... Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.”

This is really the outline of chapters 2-4 because Isaiah expands on the image of God’s City, which he specifically refers to as Zion (1:27) or Jerusalem (2:1). In verses 1-5, Isaiah describes The Ideal City (1st major point) and what God’s City should look like.

Yet, from verse 6 to chapter 4, Isaiah describes The Actual City (2nd major point) and what God’s City actually looks like in the current day, which we will find to be the exact opposite of the ideal city!

Yet, chapter 4 closes with a glimmer of hope when Isaiah describes The Holy City (3rd major point), which is what God’s City will look like once God restores them from their current state.

Let’s start at verse 1, where Isaiah prophesies about The Ideal City.

The Ideal City (2:1-5)

“The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days...” (2:1).

In Isaiah’s day, the term “latter days” or “last days” was likely understood to be futuristic. However, we know that the last days have present-day implications based on how the author of Hebrews explains it:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The last days started at the coming of Christ, continues through the present day (including today) and it will continue until the last day (literally, when Christ returns). So as Isaiah prophesies about the future, keep in mind that these prophecies have had some historical fulfillment in Jesus’ day (which we’ll talk about). Nonetheless, Isaiah prophesies that in the future, in the latter days...

“The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills” (2:2).

Here’s a direct reference to the Temple Mount in Zion/Jerusalem where God’s presence was. What do we know about Mount Zion? Compared to the high mountains up north like Mt. Bashan (Psalm 68:16-17) and Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133:3), Mount Zion is a foothill!

Back then, mountains and high places were commonly associated with the presence of gods, but Isaiah’s picture is one that exalts the mountain of the house of the Lord, the tiny hill where God’s presence was, as the highest of them all—maybe not in height, but in honor.

The ideal city, as Isaiah puts it, exalts a hill where YHWH dwells and reigns as the Most High God and the One True God. Because it’s exalted in such honour, Isaiah notes that this city on a hill will exert this magnetic pull on the nations:

“And all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (2:3).

Throughout the OT, we see that pagan nations outside of Jerusalem typically worshipped their foreign gods in the “high places.” And more often than not, the people of Israel—who were supposed to bring the nations to their knees in worship of the God of Israel—were the ones who bowed the knee to pagan gods.

But here, Isaiah depicts a picture of a river flowing uphill towards the city where the God of Jacob is—that is, a river of nations flowing uphill to Jerusalem (which is beyond natural) because God is the one doing the work by drawing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to himself.

And this was God’s intention with his people Israel from the very beginning. In Exodus 19, God tells them: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).

Israel, as the people of God, was the vehicle through which God intended to draw people to Himself! God chose Israel among all people to be a holy nation of priests who would then draw other nations to God, in the same way that God brought Israel to himself.

And the river of nations will magnetically flow uphill towards the city where God is teaching people his ways that will lead them to walking in His paths. As a result, out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

Not only will God be the lawgiver and teacher, but he will also be the judge over all nations: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (2:4).

The picture of God’s rule here is that of total peace; instead of sharpening their swords and spears for war, they will sharpen their plowshares and pruning knives for sowing seeds and harvest (see 1 Samuel 13:19-22). It’s as if we exchanged guns for hoses and tanks for tractors today. The ideal city is one that knows no wars or weapons, but only God, peace and farming. Mennonites rejoice!

This is what the ideal Jerusalem should look like; a tiny city on a hill that will be seen and heard of and known by the world that a river of nations will magnetically flow uphill towards it because that’s the city where God dwells in. This, as Isaiah describes it, is the ideal city.

Shortly after this amazing picture of the ideal city, Isaiah exhorts the people of God in verse 5: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5). Our God has taught us his ways, so let us walk in his paths—in the light of the Lord that is to shine bright for the nations.

But the question is: why does he give the people of God such an obvious exhortation? We find the answer in verse 6 onwards when Isaiah turns to God in distress as he describes The Actual City.

The Actual City (2:6-4:1)

“For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made” (2:6-8).

God has rejected his people because the actual city is the exact opposite of His ideal city. Instead of pagan nations being drawn to Zion, God’s city is conformed to the world; instead of the law and the word of the Lord coming out of Zion, God’s city is filled with worldly treasures; instead of promoting peace, they are preparing for war; instead of bowing down to God as judge of all nations, they bow down to their idols.

And what bigger barrier can hold us back from desiring God and the heavenly city that we only “see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), than having idols and earthly treasures that we can see with our eyes clearly right now? That’s the problem here that Isaiah points out in the actual city.

There’s another big idea here in the repetition of the words “filled with” and “no end.” Not only do they desire these things, but God’s people are priding themselves in being filled with and having endless treasures, armies, and idols—which is exactly what the foreign nations prided themselves in. This explains why Isaiah says what he says in verse 9: “So man is humbled, and each one is brought low— do not forgive them” (2:9).

What a striking request from a prophet who preaches a message of grace and hope. Yet, it’s not so striking when we take into account the accusation in verses 6-8. The house of Jacob, are filled with pride and there is no end to it.

And they are the same group of people that Isaiah speaks to in verse 10: “Enter into the rock and hide in the dust from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendour of his majesty” (2:10).

Now look in verse 19 & 21. When he rises to terrify the earth. This indicates judgment. Look back to verses 11-12: “The haughty looks of man shall be brought low, and the lofty pride of men shall be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low” (2:11-12).

From 2:13-16, you’ll notice a list of “all that is lifted up” by man, but “man shall be humbled...and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (2:17).

Also, in that day, “idols shall utterly pass away” (2:18) when “mankind will cast away their idols” (2:20). Why? Because they will see “the terror of the Lord and the splendour of HIs majesty when he rises to terrify the earth” (2:21) in that day. Then, the chapter closes with an exhortation in verse 22 that is closely linked to Isaiah’s first exhortation in verse 5, which blankets and summarizes this whole section on human pride:

“O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5).

Because you are filled with darkness, and there is no end to your human pride. Therefore, man shall be humbled and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day when he rises to terrify the earth. So “stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (2:22).

This is the actual city in their current state, as Isaiah describes. In chapter 3, he explains why God’s people need to stop regarding man. In that day, not only will God humble their human pride, he will also take away their human pride: “For behold, the Lord GOD of hosts is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah support and supply” (3:1-2).

From 3:1-15, the Lord will take away from his city the pride of men, specifically in their leadership: “In that day he will speak out ‘I will not be a healer’; in my house there is neither bread nor cloak; you shall not make me leader of the people” (3:7).

From 3:16-24, the Lord will take away from his city the pride of women, specifically in their appearances: “In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents...” (3:18).

In the last few verses of chapter 3, Isaiah sums it up: “Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle. And her gates shall lament and mourn; empty, she shall sit on the ground” (2:25-26).

Because women were totally dependent on men for income and social status back then, God will take away their mighty men in battle and “women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, ‘We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach’” (4:1).

Far from the ideal city in 2:1-5, this is the actual city as Isaiah describes it. “For Jerusalem has stumbled, and Judah has fallen, because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence” (3:8).

And just over 100 years later in 586 BC, the people of Judah saw this prophecy being fulfilled when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem and make it into a “heap of ruins” (3:6).

Yet, we see the triumph of grace in these last verses of chapter 4. In contrast to God’s judgment “in that day” on the actual city, Isaiah declares God’s grace when he prophesies about what the actual city will look like in that day; it will be The Holy City.

The Holy City (4:2-6)

“In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honour of the survivors of Israel” (4:2).

The branch of the Lord is explained in Isaiah 11:1: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”

The image of God’s city here is that of a fruitless tree with broken branches. Then suddenly, in that day, a branch will come forth and bear fruit from the root of Jesse, the line of David.

He shall be beautiful and glorious, and He will be the pride of Israel. Instead of the beauty and glory that the women of Judah were aspiring to (3:16-24), and instead of the men of Judah and their elders and princes (3:1-15), this branch will be the glorious prince of peace!

“And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem” (4:3).

This is why our third point is called the Holy City. The survivors whom the Lord of Hosts leaves (1:9), and the people whom God brings to himself are the ones who will dwell with him in the Holy City. Paul expands on this in Romans 11 when he talks about the olive tree that signifies the one people of God. But when will this happen?

“When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion [3:17] and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment [3:14-15] and by a spirit of burning” (4:4).

And this has been fulfilled, just not yet in its fullness. The Branch has made his people holy when he washed away their sins and cleansed their bloodstains at the cross where his blood was shed for you and I (Ephesians 5:25-27).

And one day, God will make his people holy once he has completely washed away their filth and bloodstains. This imagery of burning indicates the process of being purified to perfection.

One day, we will see the full reality of the purified people of God just like the angel in Revelation 21 showed John, “saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:9-10).

God will make his people holy once he has completely washed away their filth and bloodstains. This imagery of burning indicates the process of being purified to perfection.

Then [and only then] the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy [marriage chamber, Psalm 19:5]. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain” (4:5-6).

Much like God being present with his people Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus, he will be present over the whole city that He has made holy. Listen to John’s closing words in of Revelation 21:

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:22-27).


Isaiah 2-4 is talking about God’s City. We’ve seen how Isaiah talks about The Ideal City and how this tiny city on a hill will be so exalted in honour that a river of nations will flow uphill towards this city so that they would be taught God’s ways and walk in his paths. As a result, the world will be filled with peace, justice and righteousness.

However, we’ve also seen that Isaiah describes The Actual City as the exact opposite of the ideal. So he exhorts the house of Jacob to walk in the light of the Lord (2:5) because they are filled with darkness and there is no end to their pride. Therefore, God will judge Jerusalem “in that day.” Isaiah exhorts them to “stop regarding man” (2:22) because God will take away the pride of their men and women.

Yet, Isaiah ends with the hope that in the day, the branch who will wash away His people’s sins, purify them completely, and dwell with them forever will be given to The Holy City.

City on a Hill

You might be thinking: Isn’t this all about Jerusalem and it’s future? Where are we today in this prophecy about God’s city?

Keep in mind that Isaiah’s prophecy happens “in the latter days,” which would’ve had present implications in Jesus’ day since the last days started at Christ’s coming (Hebrews 1:2).

With the image of Isaiah 2:1-5 in mind, think about how Jesus, during his ministry on earth, went up on a hill—a mount in Jerusalem where crowds gathered to hear him teaching and preaching about the kingdom of God/

The one who has said “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) now tells his disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

Back then, cities on a hill would’ve been a dime in a dozen, but they could spot a city in a hill from miles away because it was up high and full of lights! Guess what Jesus’ hearers would have thought of when they heard those words “city on a hill?” Jerusalem. The Temple Mount.

But Jesus says to his disciples: You are the light of the world—which is the the city on a hill! You and I as the people of God and the church of Jesus Christ are the city on a hill (which is what I titled this sermon).

And a city on a hill cannot be hidden because light shines brightest in the darkness! So as the light of the world, the city on a hill, Jesus tells us to: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Remember Isaiah’s exhortation for God’s city in 2:5? “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (2:5)—so that a river of nations will flow uphill towards us and say:

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, [to the city on a hill], that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem“ (2:3).

This is why Jesus told his disciples before he ascended back up to heaven: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Do you see the connection yet? Jesus is fulfilling Isaiah 2-4 today through you and I, as the city on a hill who participates in God’s mission to the world!

This is why we support and send missionaries into the world as a church! This is why the YAs are going to Ontario this summer, to learn about God’s heart for the nations. Kids, this is why we sing songs like The Great Commission at Sunday school (thanks Angela), and why we will sing May the Peoples Praise You after this.

This is why we have the word of the Lord preached from the pulpit every Sunday. This is why we have Bible study groups and small groups at EBC, for both young and old. This is why we encourage mentorships—for disciples to make disciples by teaching them God’s ways so that they walk in his paths.

How do we apply Isaiah 2-4? Get plugged into the life of the church, because we live and breathe the mission that Jesus gave us, so that people from every tribe tongue and nation might flow uphill towards us and worship God with us—until that day when God unites all things in Christ Jesus in heaven and on earth.

Whether you’re at school or at work; whether you’re at home as a mom or if you’re retired; whether you’re in a grocery store or running errands around town full of strangers—remember that you’re the city on a hill that cannot be hidden, so let your light shine wherever that others may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven.

As Isaiah exhorts the house of Jacob, the word of God exhorts us today: Emmanuel Baptist Church, the city on a hill, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord!

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