The Story of Isaiah's Immanuel: An Advent Reading Plan

Originally posted by David Schrock at his blog, Via Emmaus

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or at least, the stores are beginning to roll out their Christmas wares. Merchants and suppliers are setting their sights on the holidays, and starting next week, we will too.

On Sunday, November 13, our church will begin a six week series on the book of Isaiah. You know, the one that is 66 chapters long and contains some of the most memorable verses in the Bible.

  • Isaiah 6:1–3. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

  • Isaiah 7:14.  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

  • Isaiah 9:6–7. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

If you are familiar with Isaiah, I suspect you are most familiar with parts and portions, famous passages and key persons—Uzziah dying (ch. 6), Hezekiah ailing (ch. 38), and the Suffering Servant saving (ch. 53). Until a few years ago, this is how I read Isaiah too. I knew the key theological passages and the Christmas verses. But I did not know the book of Isaiah or its overall message.

Accordingly, I didn’t understand why Isaiah has four birth narratives in Isaiah 7, 8, 9, 11 or  more than a dozen chapters dedicated to judging the nations (Isaiah 13–27). Moreover, I was aware of four servant songs in Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 53 which point to Christ (Acts 8), but I didn’t see how the four Spirit songs of Isaiah 60–62 also anticipated the Holy Spirit. Long story short, I had read Isaiah for years, but only in the last couple did the message begin to come together.
Seeing the message of Isaiah has been a glorious joy, as it tells the story of salvation and judgment, where God redeems a people immersed in sin, so that he can forever dwell with his redeemed on his holy mountain. That’s a simplified version of Isaiah’s message, and for the next six weeks, that’s what we are going to consider.

Isaiah in Six Steps
You may ask: Why six sermons, instead of 16 or 106? (For reference, Ray Ortlund preached Isaiah in 48 sermons). The answer comes in different ways.

First, six sermons force us to consider the message of the whole book, not just the myriad truths that are found in the book. In my own case, Isaiah has always been a treasure trove for doctrine, but we should ask: Can we understand or appreciate any doctrine divorced from God’s inspired message? Not really. Every verse has a God-given context and the better we understand the context, the better we will understand the verses and the doctrines that arise from those verses.

To that end, this sermon series will aim to take famous verses like Isaiah 7:14 and put in the context of the book, a context that moves from ungodly children living in an unholy city (Isaiah 1-2) to a new set of godly children living in a new and righteous city (Isaiah 65–66). In short, children—their conception, birth, development, and establishment in Zion—are a critical theme in Isaiah. And the more we understand that theme, the better we will come to see the beauty and glory of Immanuel’s birth.

Second, six sermons fits the structure of the book. Unlike Paul and Peter who wrote shorter letters, or Joel or Obadiah who wrote shorter prophesies, Isaiah wrote a large book with multiple long sections. This means, you won’t catch the meaning of his message, if you restrict yourself to a few verses (or a few chapters). To ride Isaiah’s wave, chapters 1–12 have to be read as a whole, so do chapters 40–55, and so on. Such a recognition of section breaks means reading Isaiah differently than the New Testament Epistles. Equally, it means preaching them differently.

To that end, I will preach six sermons, as they match the large sections of the book. (This outline is not the only way to structure Isaiah, but it is the one I will use).

  1. Isaiah 1–12 – In the Midst of God’s Judgment on Israel a Savior Will be Born
  2. Isaiah 13–27 – When Judgment Comes on the Nations a Remnant Will Be Saved
  3. Isaiah 28–35 – After Judgment Falls on the Kingdom God Will Restore His People
  4. Isaiah 36–39 – Hezekiah’s Historical Interlude
  5. Isaiah 40–55 – The Suffering Servant Will Undergo Judgment to Bring a New Covenant
  6. Isaiah 56–66 – The Spirit-Anointed King Will Bring a New Creation

From this simple outline, you can see the twin themes of salvation and judgment, as well as God’s plan to bring from the seed of David a king who will lay down his life for his people and then create a new heaven and new earth. Even more, if we compare the beginning to the end of the book, this is what we find. Isaiah 1 begins with an “Unholy Seed Rebelling Against God in God’s Unholy City (Zion).” And Isaiah 65–66 ends with a “Holy Seed Resting in God in God’s Holy City (Zion).”

In between these chapters is the drama of Isaiah. And for the next six weeks, we are going to watch that drama unfold, as we prepare for Christmas and the celebration of Immanuel’s birth.

Reading Isaiah
To the end of understanding the message of Isaiah, we have also composed this Advent Reading Plan. In 40 days, we have keyed the book of Isaiah to the six sections of Isaiah, and the six sermons based on those sections. Whether you have a reading plan for the year or not, I would encourage you to read along, or listen to, or read with your family the book of Isaiah as we see how God comes to dwell with us. Immanuel (God with us) is the promise of Christmas and it is the promise of Isaiah. And so, this Advent Reading Plan is offered to help you take up Isaiah’s scroll and read along. As you can see, there are a few others articles to look at, if you are interested. May the Lord have mercy and confirm the work of our hands as we endeavor to study this book.

Isaiah 1–12 – November 13
The Literary Structure of Isaiah: Five Tour Guides
Getting into the Poetry of Isaiah 5
Day 1 – Isaiah 1–2
Day 2 – Isaiah 3–4
Day 4 – Isaiah 5–6
Day 5 – Isaiah 7–8
Day 6 – Isaiah 9–10
Day 7 – Isaiah 11–12
Isaiah 13–27 – November 20
The Good News of Judgment in Isaiah 13–27
Day 8 – Isaiah 13–14:23
Day 9 – Isaiah 14:24–15
Day 10 – Isaiah 16–17
Day 11 – Isaiah 18–20
Day 12 – Isaiah 21–23
Day 13 – Isaiah 24–25
Day 14 – Isaiah 26–27
Isaiah 28–35 – November 27
Beholding Christ in Isaiah
Day 15 – Isaiah 28–29
Day 16 – Isaiah 30
Day 17 – Isaiah 31
Day 18 – Isaiah 32
Day 19 – Isaiah 33
Day 20 – Isaiah 34
Day 21 – Isaiah 35
Isaiah 36–39 – December 4
In Search of a Godly Offspring in Isaiah
Day 22 – Isaiah 36
Day 23 – Isaiah 37
Day 24 – Isaiah 38
Day 25 – Isaiah 39
Day 26 – Catch Up
Day 27 ­­– Catch Up
Day 28 – Catch Up
Isaiah 40–55 – December 11
The Message of Shalom in Isaiah
Day 29 – Isaiah 40–41
Day 30 – Isaiah 42–43
Day 31 – Isaiah 44–45
Day 32 – Isaiah 45–47
Day 33 – Isaiah 48–49
Day 34 – Isaiah 50–52:12
Day 35 – Isaiah 52:13–54
Isaiah 56–66 – December 18
The Four Spirit Songs of Isaiah
Seeing the Trinity in Isaiah 61
Day 36 – Isaiah 55–56
Day 37 – Isaiah 57–58
Day 38 – Isaiah 59–60
Day 39 – Isaiah 61–62
Day 40 –  Isaiah 63–64
Day 41 – Isaiah 65–66
Day 42 – Catchup

I am excited to begin this new Christmas series with you. And I pray God may grow our faith, our hope, and our love as we ponder the good news of God coming to dwell with us, so that we can dwell forever with him. For those wanting to follow this reading plan, you can also print out this Isaiah Reading Plan.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Matt Wood