Category Archives: Isaiah

Isaiah 40:12-31: God is infinite

Researchers and medical professionals are reporting, in the last few months, huge increases in the number of people suffering depression and anxiety because of COVID.

The Royal Australian College of GP’s reported that in July there’s been a 31% increase in prescription of anti-anxiety medication, and a 22% increase in antidepressants, compared to the same period last year.[1]

And Mental Health America has compared recent data to six previous years of voluntary online mental health screening tests. The number of completed questionnaires in June was MORE THAN 400% HIGHER than January of this year. And among adults under 25, 90% recorded moderate to severe depression, and 80% recorded moderate to severe anxiety. Contributing factors were loneliness, isolation, grief, loss and financial concerns.[2]

And, anecdotally, I’ve spoken to A NUMBER of people who, normally, have very good mental health. And they’ve described feeling OFF BALANCE. And they can’t understand why. Despite being LESS busy, they’re just feeling WEARY and UNSETTLED. They’re operating at higher than normal levels of anxiety. Just coping with all the uncertainty can be DRAINING.

I don’t know whether that’s you, or not? Stressed, anxious, depressed, beaten? But if it is, then, in Isaiah 40, God himself has a word for you. See it there in v1? COMFORT. “Comfort, my people,” he says. Relax. You’re safe. Don’t stress.

And the key to that command is to focus on GOD HIMSELF. On his character and qualities. When we start counting our OWN resources, or we spend too long looking at THE THREATS AROUND US, we start to lose hope.

When we focus on our failures, our coping strategies, our connections, or our assets, we get ANXIOUS, rather than COMFORTED.

Instead, we need to focus our gaze on the infinitely powerful, wise, holy, loving, eternal God we meet in the Bible.

(Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that anxiety or depression are simply spiritual problems. If you’re suffering from one of these problems then you need to get MEDICAL attention. That’s ONE of the ways God works.)

But there is genuine comfort and hope in the face of uncertainty, when we focus on God. On his INFINITE nature and qualities – his power and wisdom and goodness.

And God’s word of comfort goes to a people in a pretty similar situation to US. Isaiah 40 begins the second half of the book. Israel’s 70 year exile in Babylon is coming to an end. Seventy years of struggle, confusion, and feeling abandoned by God! They’ve come to the end of their own resources. Their tank is empty.

Seventy years! It makes our five MONTHS of COVID stress seem like NOTHING!

And it’s into THIS situation God speaks to his prophet, to pass on a message of COMFORT to his people. It’s comfort that comes in four big hugs.

First. You belong to God. (There in v1). “Comfort, comfort MY PEOPLE.” Despite appearances. Despite it LOOKING like God’s abandoned you. Despite being in a strange land, surrounded by strangers. Despite no temple or city or king. You still belong to God. Nothing’s changed. So take COMFORT.

Second. Your sins have been paid for. Verse 2.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Decades of exile had emphasised that God was punishing them. (That they’d rebelled, ignored, and disobeyed him). And they’d SUFFERED the CONSEQUENCES.

But now there was the incredible news that all was forgiven. Somehow, without explanation, God was willing to forgive generations of sin. The relationship’s been restored. The offence forgiven. And so, there’s COMFORT.

But, that’s only HALF comfort if they remain stuck in Babylon. And so the NEXT part of God’s comforting hug is there from v3. God’s coming to the Promised Land, and he’ll bring his people WITH him. Back to his land! V3.

3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.   4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God’s on the way. And he’s coming to restore his people to their land, just like he’s restored their relationship with him. So get things READY!

And the FOURTH part of God’s comforting hug for them is there in v6. If it all seems too good to believe, then remember THIS. God’s PROMISED it, so you can COUNT on it. God’s word can be trusted. That’s where the comfort lies. Everything else is “here today and gone tomorrow”. Everything else is falling apart. But not God’s word! V8.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but THE WORD OF OUR GOD STANDS FOREVER.”

It’s something to pray for people in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic. That they might RECOGNISE THE TRUTH OF V8. That all the OTHER things they put their trust in – homes, jobs, families, health, investments, shopping – NONE of it’s reliable. NONE of it LASTS. The world, as we know it, IS BROKEN. The only thing that can be TRUSTED is God’s word. God HIMSELF is the only trustworthy, reliable, dependable thing in a world where you can’t be sure of ANYTHING.

So, how do you RESPOND to four comforting truths like that? (Whether it be Isaiah and Israel. Or you and I TODAY.)

Firstly, by telling people ABOUT that God. Not just PRAYING for people who are struggling with anxiety or loss, or loneliness. But TELLING THEM that God’s the only reliable one. Look there in v9. God commanding his messenger.

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, DO NOT BE AFRAID; say to the towns of Judah, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with POWER, and his arm rules for him.

HERE IS YOUR GOD! What a phrase! Underline it in your Bible!

Here is your God! V10. He’s POWERFUL. He’s acted in history. He’s judged and saved. You thought he’d LEFT you. But you’re WRONG. You thought he didn’t CARE. But you’re WRONG. You thought he was DISINTERESTED, or POWERLESS. But you were wrong.

But not only that. V11. HERE is your God. He’s the gentle shepherd who forgives, protects, restores and leads his people. You thought he was cruel. But you’ll see he’s tender and gentle.

Or v12. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s POWER.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Or v13-14. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s WISDOM.

13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?

Or from v15, HERE is your God.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales;

Nothing compares to God. He CONTROLS HISTORY. He rules over nations and governments. The king over kings. And Lord over lords. They’re dust on the scales! A quick blow and they’re GONE! Assyria – GONE. Babylon – GONE! Global pandemics – GONE! They seem so huge to us. But to God – NOTHING!

Or from v18. HERE is your God. OTHER gods are NOTHING! Something to MAKE FUN OF! V20 A man making an idol carefully chooses wood that won’t rot! And then the craftsman makes sure he flattens the base properly so it won’t topple over. And then they bow down and worship what they’ve made. Making sure they don’t bump the table! Nonsense!

And TODAY, people worship crystals and follow astrology or Scientology, or meditate in teepees, or worship Gaia or Mother Nature. Or they worship sportsmen, or musicians or Instagram influencers.

But God is INCOMPARABLE! He’s the One who MADE the stars, and the crystals, and the forests, and the heroes that people worship. Down to v25. HERE is your God

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Not ONE star forgotten, or unnamed. Just IMAGINE it! That’s the power and wisdom of God!

That’s the picture the Jews in exile need reminding of. When they’re tempted to think God’s forgotten them. (That they’re abandoned). V27.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

It’s the impossible application of this passage. (God is INFINITE in power and wisdom. So, I’ll COMPLAIN that he’s forgotten me!) It’s ILLOGICAL. IT’s NONSENSE! How could the God who knows and counts off billions of stars forget his people? Or doesn’t notice them?

And yet we DO complain, don’t we? We complain about the way things turn out for us. About what we HAVE, or DON’T have. And we think we know better. And we grumble that we’d do things differently.

We believe this chapter with our HEADS. But we don’t it with our HEARTS.

What we need is to speak v28 to each other. HERE is your God.

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the EVERLASTING God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He’s ETERNAL. The Ancient of Days. He stands outside of time, looking at the whole of history the same way we might watch a conveyor belt rolling past. He sees the end and the beginning. All at once.

Nothing tires him, nothing confuses him, nothing surprises him, nothing out-muscles him.

And no one can understand his understanding. His IQ is OFF THE CHARTS. Knowing the number of hairs on your head! Naming each STAR! We can’t FATHOM it.

And when you put it like THAT, the right response is OBVIOUS! When things are hope-LESS, when you lack strength and understanding and influence. You put your HOPE in a God LIKE THAT. V29.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Put your HOPE in him. That’s the application. (The OPPOSITE of GRUMBLE). You may get nothing else out of the talk today, but at least hold on to THAT. Put your HOPE in the LORD.

The word for HOPE is “Wait”. WAIT for the LORD. Hope is FORWARD LOOKING. There’s no guarantee that God’s help will be immediate. It took SEVENTY YEARS for Israel. But WAIT for him. Patient waiting is faith in action.

Because those who hope in the lord will RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. That word “renew” – it’s normally translated as change, or EXCHANGE. That’s what’s happening when we trust him. The infinitely STRONG One gives us HIS strength. We exchange our WEAKNESS for his STRENGTH.

Yes, there’s help in medication, and support groups, and counselling, and government assistance, and public health guidelines. But they’re not enough. It’s only as we look to GOD that we gain HIS strength.

The strength of patience and perseverance to cope with uncertainty and fear. To pray for a non-Christian family member, to cope with chronic illness, or a ministry that’s thankless, or raising kids who exhaust us. Because he’s the INFINITE, INCOMPARABLE God who gives HIS strength to those who hope in him.

And if it was clear for those Old Testament believers. How much clearer is it FOR US who’ve seen JESUS. The perfect man, the Word who was with God and who WAS God. Whose life was the light of men. The visible image of the invisible God. His strength and wisdom are incomparable TOO.

God is INFINITE. But in Jesus we see the INFINITE God in a FINITE package. If God’s the SUN, then he’s the RADIANCE around the Sun.

Jesus. God’s Zip file. He compresses all of the data of Godness into a manageable package. The incomprehensible shrunk down to human comprehension.

Jesus. God’s hyperlink. Just ONE WORD. But click on Jesus. And you go to a whole other website. FULL of all the characteristics and qualities of the eternal and infinite GOD.

Let me leave you with a COUPLE OF EXAMPLES. Mark ch 4 v35. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night. He’s been teaching all day, and he’s exhausted. The disciples are doing all the work. Perhaps they look at Jesus with mild irritation that they’re doing all the work, and Jesus is too tired to help.

But then a furious storm blows up. And the waves are breaking over the side of the boat. And it’s filling up quickly. And even these professional sailors are scared they’re going to drown. They stop bailing out the boat just long enough to wake Jesus. “Don’t you care if we drown?” they blurt.

And v39, he got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Be Still. And they DID. Everything was CALM.  And he says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you STILL have no faith?” HERE is your God!

And they were TERRIFIED and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Who is he? He’s your INCOMPARABLE God. So TRUST him.

Or let’s finish with one more. Matthew 28. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Because it’s impossible for THE AUTHOR OF LIFE to be conquered by DEATH. He tells Mary to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

And, v16, the eleven are there. On the mountain where Jesus told them to go. And then Jesus arrives. HERE is your God! And when they SEE HIM, the WORSHIP him. Because he’s their GOD, the source of life.

And Jesus says to them, v18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

He’s got ALL THE AUTHORITY OF THE INFINITE GOD AT HIS DISPOSAL. The authority to control wind and waves. The authority over kings and governors. The authority over disease and disaster. He’s the Alpha and Omega – the beginning of everything, and its goal.

What’s our response to that authority? Jesus continues. V19.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means that he deserves the loyalty and submission and obedience of everything. Everything bowing before him.

And the authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means THAT POWER is available to US as we work to make that plan happen. (To make disciples of all nations.)

That’s a task it’s worth GIVING YOUR LIFE TO.

And, as we do, we’re not alone. Because, just like God who spoke to Israel, Comfort, my people. Jesus speaks to US

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[1] https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/use-of-anxiety-and-depression-medication-spikes-as

[2] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934882#vp_1

Isaiah 58: Care

The woman had just about given up. For 12 years she’d suffered shame, and discomfort, and rejection and despair. Her medical condition had cost her everything. Her health, her friends, her community, her money. Shunned by her neighbours, untouched by her husband or family. Doctors had tried to help, but their treatments only made things WORSE.

And then she heard that JESUS had come to visit. She’d heard he was from God. That he could heal even the WORST cases. And that he had the compassion to help ANYONE. Perhaps she could sneak a quiet moment with him with no one else around. And avoid the shame of more rejection.

But when she arrived in town, her heart fell. It seemed like everyone else had the same idea. There were people everywhere. Crowding around Jesus as he walked through town. Surely, she’d be LAST in the queue. Twelve years unclean – a HOPELESS case!

And then, to prove her point, she saw who was leading the procession. Jairus. The synagogue ruler. The most important man in town. OF COURSE, he’d be the one Jesus helped FIRST. Her hopes fell. The crowd came closer. Her anxiety grew.

But perhaps the crowd was her chance. The more people, the less chance she’d be recognised. Perhaps Jesus could even heal her without NOTICING? Perhaps all she had to do was TOUCH HIM. But the risk was if he found out, he’d rebuke her for making him unclean TOO. And her last chance would be gone.

Quickly, before she lost her courage, she stepped forward into the surging crowd, as Jesus approached,. He moved past her. And as he did, she cautiously reached out her hand, and touched his cloak. It was rough and dusty. Nothing special about the cloak. But the effect was instant. Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she knew she’d been healed.

But almost as quickly as her healing, her joy turned to despair. Because Jesus immediately stopped, turned around and asked the crowd, “Who touched my clothes?”

The woman wished the ground would just open up and swallow her. This was almost worse than being sick.

When she realised Jesus wasn’t going to let it go. She came and fell at his feet, and trembling with fear, told him everything.

She expected a rebuke. She expected the condemnation and rejection of the crowd. But instead, Jesus said, in front of everyone, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.”

And her heart leapt. Not just set free from her illness, but restored to life. And community and relationships. It was like being born again!

This is just one of DOZENS of stories from Jesus’ life in the gospels. Stories of him noticing the unnoticed, accepting the rejected, repairing the broken, releasing the imprisoned, empowering the powerless, loving the unloved.

And he did it because he’s his Father’s Son. God our CREATOR compassionately cares for ALL his creatures, made in his image. God our heavenly FATHER gently cares for ALL his children. God our righteous JUDGE demands equality and fairness in the way ALL people are treated.

And he wants US to DO THE SAME.

God shows us that part of his character in Isaiah 58. Turn there with me. In v1, God’s commanding Isaiah to tell Israel their sins. And then, from v2, we hear what their sins are. On the surface, they’re RELIGIOUS.

2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

V3, they’ve FASTED – denied themselves FOOD! And they wonder why God hasn’t been impressed. Why he hasn’t answered their prayers. But look at God’s crushing response (second half of v3)

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

On the ONE hand, they do without food, and they pray for God’s help. But then they go to work, and underpay their workers. Or they pick an argument. (Maybe there’s A CONNECTION- perhaps they’re HANGRY – hungry angry!)

But whatever the reason. It’s no excuse. God won’t listen to their prayers, when they won’t listen to each OTHER. He won’t show them any consideration when they don’t show any to their neighbour.

And then, in v6, God describes the sort of fasting he’s REALLY interested in. Fasting is about DENYING YOURSELF.

V5 – he’s not interested in PERSONAL fasting – one man humbling himself, wearing his worst clothes, bowing his head. Instead, v6,

6 “Is not THIS the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter– when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

That’s the sort of SELF-DENIAL God’s pleased with. Denial that BENEFITS OTHERS. Especially those who need it MOST.

But WHY does God desire this? What’s at the HEART of it? What’s his MOTIVATION? At our Wednesday night Home Group we came up with TWO ANSWERS.

First, to do with US. It’s about how God wants US TO RESPOND TO HIM. We worship him just as much in so-called “non-religious” ways as we do in RELIGIOUS ones. (v6 “THIS is the kind of fasting I have chosen – to loose the chains of injustice…”

God wants sacrifices of time and money and energy and emotions in ALL our life, given as worship TO HIM. In Romans 12:1 we’re commanded “In view of God’s mercies, offer your BODIES as LIVING SACRIFICES, holy and acceptable to him. This is your spiritual act of worship.”

And then it goes on to describe how we’re to humbly use our gifts to serve others, including showing mercy and giving generously. Our response of worship to God is EVERY PART of LIFE. Not just the RELIGIOUS bits.

But why specifically to the HUNGRY, NAKED, IMPRISONED? Because to help people who can’t repay us is GRACE. And we show we’ve understood God’s grace to US by showing grace to OTHERS. That’s the parable of the unmerciful servant, in Matthew 18.

A servant’s forgiven a huge debt by his master. But he shows he hasn’t appreciated the gift by having someone thrown in prison who owes him a SMALL debt. And so the master throws HIM in prison.

Or Luke 14. Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a prominent Pharisee. And he watches how everyone acts in ways that are self-serving. Even what SEEMS to be other person centred in our actions can often have a selfish motivation. And he gives the advice in v12

“When you give a luncheon or dinner, do NOT invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, THEY MAY INVITE YOU BACK AND SO YOU WILL BE REPAID. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be BLESSED. Although THEY cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

It’s GRACE to give, knowing you won’t be re-paid. And God loves that sort of action from his children, because it reflects HIS character.

Jesus goes on, v16, to tell the story of a man who invited lots of guests to a great banquet. The impression is that they’re equals. Those who could return the favour. But they all gave weak excuses. Insults, really. They wouldn’t come.

So he ordered his servants, v21, to go into the streets and alleys of the town to bring in THE POOR, THE CRIPPLED, THE BLIND AND THE LAME. And then again, when there’s still MORE room, to the country roads to bring in MORE. Those with no chance of re-paying the invitation.

That’s God’s character. Jesus has been inviting people into the kingdom, but the Pharisees and the proud won’t recognise the gift. They don’t need it. And so Jesus is turning to those who NEED. Who HUNGER and THIRST. Who MOURN. Who recognise their own helplessness. Who have nothing to repay the gift with.

And that’s ALL of US before God. And we SHOW that by showing grace to others.

(That’s the FIRST reason God wants us to care for the poor and the abandoned – because it’s our acceptable worship to God in response to his grace to us.)

The second reason comes from HIS OWN CHARACTER. It’s his LOVE that means he hates to see his children in pain, or hungry, or imprisoned. Perhaps behind bars, but perhaps imprisoned by debt, or illness, or disability, or abuse, or illiteracy, or language, or education. Even the LOWEST and LEAST IMPORTANT are made in his image, with dignity and worth.

But not just his LOVE. It’s his JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS that mean he wants to see resources spread EVENLY. That comfort and freedom and food and clothes are EQUALLY SHARED. Why should ONE of his children go hungry, while ANOTHER has a whole cupboard of food? Or why should ONE walk around FREE, while ANOTHER was unjustly imprisoned?

GOD is just and fair, and loves the poor and powerless. And we see Jesus living that out in the gospels. And he calls HIS FOLLOWERS to do the same.

And, even though we haven’t done that PERFECTLY, or anywhere near as well as we should – at times we’ve been blind to the need around us. Or even worse, we’ve been POSITIVELY UNLOVING. Nevertheless, history tells countless stories of Christians who GET IT RIGHT. Who STAND OUT from those around them by sacrificially serving, caring, rescuing, feeding, cleaning, nursing, raising and defending the poor and powerless.

People like Catherine Hamlin. For SIXTY YEARS, she’s been serving some of the poorest and most rejected women in the world in Ethiopia.

She grew up in Ryde, one of six kids. And in 1946 she graduated as a doctor from the University of NSW. She could have done ANYTHING and BEEN anything. But instead, she and her husband Reg, also a doctor, and both committed Christians from missionary families, decided to head to Ethiopia, one of the poorest and most under-developed countries in the world . They arrived in 1959 as obstetrician/ gynaecologists, on a three-year contract to set up a midwifery service at the main city hospital.

Before long, though, they found themselves treating women suffering childbirth complications so severe they’d never seen anything like it in a Western hospital.

(My apologies if I upset anyone else, but the next minute or so will be a little graphic)

A fistula is an injury caused by long, obstructed labour. Days and days of labour, often by an under-developed married-too-young mother, finish with a dead baby and a hole torn between the birth canal and the bladder or rectum. (Caesarean sections and episiotomies mean the injuries haven’t been seen in developed countries for decades.)

The injuries don’t heal, and the women end up continually leaking urine or faeces. They’re rejected by their communities, and often by their husbands and families.

The Hamlins had to teach themselves how to repair the injuries. And they went on to teach many more local surgeons how to as well. In 1962 they built a hostel for fistula patients in the grounds of the hospital. The patients couldn’t afford to pay, so the Hamlins funded their treatment out of their own salaries. And they never turned anyone away. A policy that continues today.

They eventually built their own hospital with donated money in 1975. Reg died in 1993, but Catherine has been there ever since. She’s one of only two foreigners to be granted Ethiopian citizenship.

The numbers of women treated over 60 years is hard to comprehend. Thousands and thousands. With a 92 percent success rate. But each one is a life RESTORED.

I read a recent newspaper article where Sue Williams describes their situation like this

The outdoor reception are of the Hamlin Hospital must be one of the most forlorn places in the world. New arrivals sit on the benches waiting to be seen, their eyes downcast, their bodies bowed in shame as urine pools beneath them and nurse aides — former fistula patients themselves — try to comfort them. Some have walked for days to reach here; others have borrowed money from family and friends, sold the family cow or begged to raise the bus fare, praying they won’t be kicked off because of their smell. Once they’ve made it this far, however, they’re safe; no one is ever turned away.

A few metres away inside the hospital, the scene couldn’t be more different. Three-quarters of the 40 beds arranged in four long rows down the whitewashed ward are filled with beaming patients, either waiting for surgery or recovering from it, relaxing, eating lunch or sitting on beds chatting excitedly.  (Sue Williams, Weekend Australian, Feb 2, 2018)

In another feature article Nikki Barrowclough describes dance of joy she does with discharged, healed patients

Catherine Hamlin is walking to the main ward from her house. It’s time for the “dance of joy”, a regular event held to farewell patients who are cured and ready to go home.

Hamlin looks tired and I’m concerned that the steep steps up to the lawn are too much for her. Ten minutes later she is dancing and clapping in the middle of a throng of patients on the veranda. They’ve been given their bus fares and are wearing new dresses – another gift from the hospital. Hamlin is dancing harder than anyone. Her fatigue has completely disappeared.

“Come on!” she exhorts one young woman who has slowed down, clasping her face between her hands. “Come on!” The wonderful rhythmic clapping increases, and so does the laughter. The joy that surrounds her!

(Nikki Barrowclough, The Good Weekend, Nov 8, 2008)

You might think Catherine Hamlin is unique. And that you couldn’t possibly do anything like what she’s done. And, in a sense, you’re RIGHT. But she’s an ordinary girl from Ryde who wanted to HELP.

And God can USE that attitude. God REJOICES in the attitude that wants to serve the poor and the powerless out of service to HIM.

The early church STOOD OUT from Roman society because of their compassion. It doesn’t seem like the church today stands out AT ALL. If we closed the doors tomorrow, would anyone else notice?

Society dismisses our message, and views us as bigoted, judgmental and irrelevant. How much of that is due to the fact we’re not DISTINCTIVELY CARING FOR THE POOR AND POWERLESS?

Where are they in Ashfield? If we’re not sure, what organisations could we be partnering with who DO know?

Catherine Hamlin gets to experience some of the joy of pouring herself out in the service of others.

And God promises us that same JOY. Back in Isaiah 58, he promises (v10)

10 and if you SPEND YOURSELVES in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  11 The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

We think we’ll miss out when we spend ourselves. But God won’t be anyone’s debtor. He’ll bring richness and righteousness and satisfaction and community and abundance. Won’t you put him to the test?

 

 

Isaiah 65:17-66:24: Your heart’s desire

Sometimes it seems like you have TO WAIT FOREVER for your heart’s desire.

Robert Moffatt was a Scottish congregational church missionary to Africa in the 1800’s. He met his future wife, Mary Smith, in Scotland in 1815. And they became engaged shortly before he set sail for Africa in 1816.

But it wasn’t until THREE YEARS LATER that Mary was able to join him. And they were finally married in Cape Town. They ended up having a successful ministry all over southern Africa being involved in a wide range of activities, as well as raising ten kids.

It must have been hard for Moffatt as he worked away in Africa for those three years. A stranger in a strange country, counting the days for his fiancé to join him. No colleagues. No helpers. Struggling with language, with culture, with sickness and hunger. For THREE YEARS, no one to share his troubles with. No one to enjoy his successes with.

Sometimes it seems like you have to wait FOREVER for your heart’s desire.

And for Israel in 500BC, struggling away under foreign oppression. Longing for God’s deliverance. Longing for peace and freedom and fullness and relief and restoration. It must have been hard to keep hoping for their heart’s desire. To keep trusting God to deliver.

He’d PROMISED it. All the blessings of paradise for his faithful people. And the catalyst, the trigger, the agent for all these blessings is God’s SERVANT. He’s going to bring it all to pass.

And in Ch 62, the Servant can’t keep silent. He delights greatly in his God. Because God’s got great plans for Jerusalem. But it’s not THE JERUSALEM OF OLD God’s got in mind. In v2, God’s got A NEW NAME for her. A new IDENTITY. A new relationship with her God.

The servant goes on in v4. No longer called “Deserted” or “Desolate”, but “Delight” and “Married”.

for the LORD will take DELIGHT in you, and your land will be MARRIED. 5 As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.

The long engagement’s nearly over. It’s almost time for the wedding. The wedding between God, and HIS heart’s desire – HIS PEOPLE. The old separation and distance and frustration replaced with intimacy and connection and satisfaction.

In fact, we’ll see God’s promising a whole new PEOPLE based on a whole new AGREEMENT. And God CAN’T WAIT.

The day’s coming when God will REJOICE over us. When the barriers, the separation will be gone. When, once more, he’ll enjoy his people the way it was in the beginning.

WE might be looking forward to paradise – our heart’s desire. But it’s just as important to realise that GOD’S looking forward to it as well. And that WE’RE HIS HEART’S DESIRE! God’s longing for that day even more than WE are.

But before we jump too quickly to OUR situation. Let’s think about how THE JEWS OF THAT TIME would have understood these promises of paradise.

They looked for some sort of earthly, political fulfilment. An EARTHLY kingdom of peace and prosperity and health and wealth. With Persia, or Babylon, or whoever in submission to Israel. But they were, ultimately, left UNSATISFIED. The promises are just TOO HUGE. TOO GLORIOUS. In fact, Jews are STILL waiting for God to deliver on these promises as they understand them.

A better way to understand Isaiah’s vision, and God’s promises, is to look BEYOND Israel in 500BC. Beyond a literal city and a literal land. To take the long-sighted view – the view of Isaiah. To look down through history, beyond the OLD Jerusalem. Through the lens of Jesus, to God’s NEW Jerusalem. With a new NAME. He saw God’s NEW people. Built on the foundation of the old, faithless Jerusalem.

And THAT’S the people, US, the people of the NEW COVENANT, those who belong TO JESUS. Who can look forward to the RICH FULLNESS of God’s promises. Who can long for our heart’s desire. And look forward to being GOD’S heart’s desire as well.

And if you jump over to Ch 66, you can see Isaiah’s vision of how those events would work themselves out in history.

God’s desire

To make a new people

Ch 66 is all about GOD’S DESIRE. And his FIRST desire is to make a new people.

It begins with God declaring that he’s not that impressed with the temple. It’s only a building ANYWAY, and can’t contain God – no matter HOW majestic it might be. But when it’s full of ritualistic, religious hypocrites (v3), it’s A STENCH IN GOD’S NOSTRILS. He sees every human heart and motive, so he HATES IT when people perform the RITUAL, but their hearts don’t MEAN IT. There at the end of v3.

They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;

And so God’s going to BRING JUDGMENT. V4.

4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them and will bring upon them what they dread. For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.”

And the judgment’s centred around THE TEMPLE. V6.

6 Hear that uproar from the city, hear that NOISE FROM THE TEMPLE! It is the sound of the LORD repaying his enemies all they deserve.

And it would be a little over 500 years after Isaiah for THAT to be fulfilled. When Jesus comes and pronounces God’s judgment for their rejection of him. When he cleanses the temple of its religious idolatry. When he quotes Isaiah – that God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all nations. And so the temple, the centre of their religious hypocrisy is doomed as well.

And less than 40 yrs later, in AD70, the Romans would raze it to the ground. Never to be re-built.

Isaiah sees it all. But not just destruction. From the ashes, he sees new life rising. God’s NEW people. v7.

7 “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. 8 Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children.

Jerusalem gives birth to children. A new nation.

And it happened that way IN HISTORY. God’s NEW people, built around his faithful Servant, Jesus were born out of his OLD PEOPLE. Beginning with 12 disciples. New FOUNDATIONS for a new PEOPLE to match the 12 tribes of the OLD people.

Even before the pains have come, the new son is delivered. The Christian church. That’s US!

And that new people. That faithful remnant. Have ONE MAIN CHARACTERISTIC that God DELIGHTS in. They’re humble and contrite. See it back there in v2?

“This is the one I esteem: he who is HUMBLE AND CONTRITE IN SPIRIT, and TREMBLES at my word.

God’s desire is people LIKE THAT. In Isaiah’s time, or today. Before Jesus, or AFTER. Is that YOU? Someone who recognises your own weakness and frailty and sin. Who trembles at God’s Word. Who acknowledges him as the One who offers and delivers forgiveness and restoration. The One who guides wisely. Who leads with compassion.

God ESTEEMS people like that. Like a bridegroom with his new bride, he DELIGHTS in people like that. REJOICES in them.

Make sure THAT’S YOU. So you can experience all the fullness of the REST of God’s promises.

To gather the nations

And it’s not just the humble and contrite FROM ISRAEL. God’s desire is TO GATHER THE NATIONS. It’s a familiar chorus in Isaiah. That the God who made the Universe deserves people to honour him, not just from Israel, but FROM THE WHOLE WORLD. Jump down to v18.

18 “And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and GATHER ALL NATIONS AND TONGUES, AND THEY WILL COME AND SEE MY GLORY.

God’s going to do something amazing the nations will be ASTOUNDED at. He goes on to talk about a SIGN. And the news of that sign will be carried by his faithful remnant, to the world. V19.

19 “I will set A SIGN AMONG THEM, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations–to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.

The sign is probably the amazing birth talked about up from v7. A new people brought forth in a moment before the labour even begins. The whole amazing series of events focussed around Jesus’ earthly ministry. When the church was born, and Israel was judged.

And it’s that sign that God’s faithful people will take out to the nations. Rather than the nations coming to Jerusalem, which is the way it’s been described up until now. Now, it’s the message GOING OUT TO THE NATIONS. Which we see in the book of Acts, and beyond.

And God DELIGHTS in it. Have a look at how those people from every nation are described in v20.

20 And they will bring all YOUR BROTHERS, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as AN OFFERING to the LORD–on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. 21 And I will select some of them also to be PRIESTS AND LEVITES,” says the LORD.

Three significant descriptions. Firstly, they’re BROTHERS. It could be Jews who’ve been scattered who’ll be gathered. But the list of nations is just too diverse. These are GENTILES God’s gathering into the SAME FAMILY as his faithful Jews.

And that’s the story of the New Testament. Brothers from every part of the world, united in one family.

The SECOND thing Isaiah calls these Gentiles is AN OFFERING. Back at the start of the chapter God was REPULSED by the offerings of religious hypocrites. NOW, he LOVES the sacrifices of foreign converts that his faithful people bring. The LIVING sacrifices of lives willingly submitted to him.[1]

And not just an OFFERING. But people who PRESENT offerings. Gentiles becoming priests and levites (there in v21). Serving God, and studying his law, alongside their faithful Jewish brothers.[2]

It’s the sort of vision that James is working at building with his work for Global Recordings.

To fulfil his promises

God delights to gather the nations. Next, he delights TO FULFIL HIS PROMISES. Have a look there from v22.

22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.

All the way back in Genesis 12 and 15 God made promises to the Abraham, the father of his people. And he promised him THREE THINGS. A name, more children than the stars in the sky, and a land for them to live in. And the story of the Bible is about how God ANSWERS those promises.

And here we see a picture of what, ultimately and eternally, that’s going to LOOK LIKE. A new heavens and earth that will endure forever. And then a NAME and DESCENDANTS that will endure forever. A people to LIVE there. And their focus will always be to worship and honour the God who CHOSE them, and gave them BIRTH.

To deliver justice

The final thing God desires to do is to deliver JUSTICE.

If you’re going to RESTORE things to the way they were before, or BETTER than before, you’ve got to remove everything that’s turned it rotten.

Like those renovation shows. They take an old wreck of a house. They cut out all the rotten wood, the white ants and the dry rot. They throw it in the skip, and replace it with new strong straight and reliable wood.

And there’s no place in God’s new heavens and earth. No place around his throne. For those who refuse to recognise him as their Creator. For those who’ve mistreated and abused his people. And while v24 seems like a depressing way to finish the book, for Christians who’ve been martyred, murdered, raped, imprisoned and beaten for their love of Jesus, there’s something of RELIEF. That justice is finally delivered.

Your heart’s desire (65:17-25)

That’s God’s desire. But if we jump back to Ch 65, we see a bit more detail about his new heavens and earth. A description for US to set our heart’s desire on. V17 of Ch 65.

17 “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.

A return to the way heaven and earth was in the beginning. A return to Eden. MORE Eden than Eden.

And whatever ELSE it will be like. It will be about a joyful closeness to God himself. The very thing we were created for. V18

The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

We will ENJOY God, and he’ll enjoy US. Even BETTER than in the Garden, when God walked and talked with Adam and Eve.

Or down in v24. God will be so close, he’ll ANSWER before we even ASK. Like an old married couple who know what the other person’s thinking. Who finish each other’s sentences.

The fountain of youth

And then in v20 we get as close as the OT comes to a description of eternal life.

20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.

DEATH will be defeated. In fact, completely BANISHED.

And there’ll be COMPLETE SECURITY (v21 and 22). No more invaders stealing crops, taking over your homes.

Or down in v25.

And the FRUSTRATION OF WORK will be banished (v23). Adam’s punishment REVERSED. Work will be SATISFYING.

My chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands. 23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,

I think that’s probably LITERAL. There’ll be WORK for us to do for eternity. Which is actually GOOD NEWS. Because it will be joyful, easy, and fulfilling. And it will be WITH GOD.

So? enjoy and hope

That’s your heart’s desire. But what do you DO with that? How does that shape the way you act and think TODAY?

I think there’s TWO things it means. It means we ENJOY and HOPE.

We enjoy God’s world TODAY. He MADE it good. ALL of it. And there’s STILL good in it. SO ENJOY his world, giving thanks to him for it. Enjoy nature, and work and kids and marriage. Enjoy exercise and gardening and reading and study. Enjoy food and wine and sport and travel. Enjoy them all. But recognise that they’ll BE EVEN BETTER when God redeems them all, and makes them ULTIMATE in his new heavens and earth.

And secondly, we HOPE. This world IS broken. There’s pain and death and separation and frustration and sickness and brokenness. But God mourns it TOO. And one day will fix it all up. And bring in a better reality. So fix your hope ON THAT DAY.

This week’s Australian Story on ABC told the story of Sally and Sam Nielson. They were 25, engaged, with their whole lives in front of them. Then Sam had a massive stroke, and doctors were sure he had severe brain damage. Sally stood by him, and against every medical opinion, Sam improved. He could walk and move, but not speak or eat.

After 18 months, friends and social workers told Sally to get on with her life and institutionalise Sam. Sally decided she’d stand by him. Eventually they convinced doctors to let them try a radical, experimental treatment using a sleeping tablet called Stilnox, linked to the death of Heath Ledger.

The results amazed doctors. For a brief one hour window every day, after they give Sam the drug, something happens in his brain, and his jaw muscles relax enough for Sam to be able to speak again, and to eat.

For one hour a day, until the drug wears off again, Sam and Sally talk like a normal couple. Sam eats chocolate biscuits, and tells Sally how much he loves her.

And then, slowly, he loses his ability to talk. Tears of frustration well up in his eyes.

And Sam and Sally have to wait until tomorrow. Hope that this one hour window is a taste of something better to come.

And God’s given us a taste of what’s to come. And he’s given us the promise that it’s coming. His new heaven and earth, the end of all pain and tears and frustration. And the beginning of REAL LIFE. So enjoy, and hope.


[1] The Apostle Paul picks up that language in Romans 15:15 as he talks about his ministry to Gentiles.

the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, SO THAT THE GENTILES MIGHT BECOME AN OFFERING ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

[2] Amazing promises God looked forward to fulfilling. And he did it in the church. 1 Peter 2:9 describes the church in categories that USED to be reserved for Israel.

9 But you are a chosen people, A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

That’s people from every nation Peter’s describing as priests and a nation.

Isaiah 61: The God of Change

There’s a saying: “The more things CHANGE, the more they STAY THE SAME.” Governments come and go, but the same old problems of self-interest and injustice, and a hunger for power still remain. The dictators of TODAY look pretty similar to the dictators of 500 years ago. Companies are now multinational, automated and computerised, but greed, maximising the profit, and squashing the competition are just as important as ever. Technology’s changing. Cars are safer than ever, but there’s still just as many people dying in car accidents. There are new MEDICAL discoveries every day, better drugs, better equipment, more advanced operations. But more people die of cancer. New scientific discoveries have the potential to solve the energy crisis, world famine, and poverty. But we’re just as much at the mercy of earthquakes, drought, tsunamis and storms as we EVER were. Cars, TV’s, cameras and phones are getting more advanced every day. But so are missiles, bombs, chemical weapons, and guns. Wars are still going. And we’re working out smarter and smarter ways of killing each other. The internet and computers are getting faster and faster, but files and web pages still don’t load quick enough. We know more about how to keep our bodies healthy, but obesity is on the increase. We’re eating ourselves to death. The standard of living is higher than it’s ever been, cities are busier, and there’s more to entertain us. But people are lonelier, more depressed, more stressed. And the suicide rate continues to increase. For all our cleverness and activity. All our ingenuity and inventions. Our ability to manipulate our surroundings. What are we really capable of changing? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Is real change possible? Is change that LASTS – change that MATTERS – really achievable? Or are we just kidding ourselves? I wonder if that was a question many people in Israel were asking. God had rescued them miraculously out of exile. Brought them from Babylon back to the Promised Land. Through King Cyrus of Persia, the temple had been rebuilt, and the city walls too. Things were CHANGING. And that was just PHYSICAL things. When it came to their RELATIONSHIP with GOD, things were changing TOO. God had announced, through Isaiah, that their sin was paid for. That he wasn’t angry with them anymore. That his anger was for a moment, but he’d replace it with compassion. Back in Ch 54, he promised 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. 8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. Things were CHANGING. And FOR THE BETTER. But as we’ve already seen, sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. God had changed THEIR SITUATION. Changed their location. Changed their STATUS. Now he called on them to CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR. Ch 55. “Come to me, all you who are thirsty. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live. Or down in v6. 6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. The need for change The OFFER to change was there. But how did the people RESPOND? The SITUATION might have changed. But the SINS were still the SAME. Nothing had really changed AT ALL. The NEED for change was still just as great. Jump across to Ch 59. Don’t blame GOD for things not changing. He’s got POWER enough, and FORGIVENESS enough to change ANY situation. V1. Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. No, the fault’s not with GOD. It’s with God’s PEOPLE. v2. 2 But YOUR INIQUITIES have separated you from your God; YOUR SINS have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. The fault’s not with THE RESCUER, it’s with the RESCUED. It’s like a story Luke Tattersall was telling me about a time he was surfing. Luke was floating on his board, waiting for a wave. A swimmer was about 15m away from him sort of treading water. He’d go under, then surface again, flail around a bit, then go under again. After a couple of minutes Luke paddled over, and said, “Are you okay?” The guy said, “Actually no, I’m drowning!” He’d been sinking, but hadn’t said a word. And so Luke hauled him up on his board, and he was safe. Luke had been close enough, and buoyant enough to rescue him. But the guy had been too stubborn to call out. And that was the situation with Israel. God’s there, ready to hear, ready to save. But the people were too stubborn, too sinful, to reach out to him. And so it goes on, from v3. Verse after verse describing how thoroughly sinful the people are. How TOTALLY DEPRAVED. Hands, lips, feet, thoughts. Every area of life utterly contaminated with rebellion and pride. From the INDIVIDUAL sin to the CORPORATE sin of the whole society. And then, from v9, the people THEMSELVES pick up the chorus. Perhaps the righteous remnant, acknowledging their sin. Their blindness and darkness. Like v12. 12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: And so, in v14, the report card comes back. How’s society going on its self-improvement drive? How many OBJECTIVES have they reached? How many KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS have they achieved? 14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. Justice, righteousness, truth and honesty in short supply. It sounds like Israelite society of 500 BC wasn’t much different from Sydney TODAY! Judges, politicians, property developers or businessmen. It really IS true that the more things change the more they stay the same. The God of change And so we come to a remarkable junction. The second half of v15. If WE’RE frustrated at how little things change, HOW MUCH MORE must it irritate GOD!? The LORD looked and was DISPLEASED that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was APPALLED that there was no one to intervene; No one who could CHANGE things. How shocking that after ALL THAT HAD HAPPENED. Everything Israel had been through. There’d STILL been no lasting change. And if ONE saying fits the situation (the more things change, the more they stay the same). There’s ANOTHER one that fits what God’s going to do next. If you want a job done properly… DO IT YOURSELF. God HIMSELF is going to step in and bring the change. Second half of v16. (God was appalled that there was no one to intervene;) SO HIS OWN ARM WORKED SALVATION FOR HIM, and HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS sustained him. 17 He put on RIGHTEOUSNESS as his breastplate, and the helmet of SALVATION on his head; he put on the garments of VENGEANCE and wrapped himself in ZEAL as in a cloak. God’s own qualities are going to substitute for those he should have been seeing in his people. He’s the God of change, who’ll bring REAL change. Who’ll step into history to work his righteousness and salvation and vengeance and zeal in, and for, his people. There’ll be justice for EVERYONE. Tha’ts what it means that God’s RIGHTEOUS. Wrath and judgment for his enemies (18 and 19). But for those who TURN TO HIM (v20) 20 “The REDEEMER will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD. His answer to those who’ve REPENTED back in v9-15. And while it’s a promise from God for a particular situation in time. It’s also A GENERAL PRINCIPLE. You think God’s not listening to your prayers? That he’s not interested? Not upset at your injustice? Not crying about your pain? The reality is HE FEELS IT MORE THAN YOU. He looks at his world, and he’s DISPLEASED at the injustice. APPALLED there’s no one to intervene. He mourns at your situation more than YOU do. And he’s more able to FIX it. And committed to RESTORING it. So keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep looking for change from the GOD of change. He sees and he feels and he knows more than you. And, for Israel, he gives his wonderful promise (v21) 21 “AS FOR ME, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. I can’t rely on what THEY’RE going to do. But I can count on MY word. Here’s what I’m going to do. “My SPIRIT, who is on you, and my WORDS that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD. God’s change agent (61:1-62:12) At first glance it seems like a promise to God’s PEOPLE. But it’s probably to God’s SERVANT. God’s change agent. God introduces his covenant WITH THEM (plural) – with his faithful people). And then he starts talking to YOU, which is SINGULAR. Which is to his servant. Back in 42:6, God’s talking to his servant, and he says, 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and WILL MAKE YOU TO BE A COVENANT FOR THE PEOPLE and a light for the Gentiles, His servant IS a covenant. Which is what he’s introducing. “As for Me, THIS is my covenant.” And then he goes on to talk about his SPIRIT being on his servant, and giving him WORDS that won’t depart from his mouth. We see it more clearly in Ch 61, where God’s servant himself takes up the song. And what does he say (v1)? The SPIRIT of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to PREACH GOOD NEWS to the poor. Both things God promised back at the end of Ch 59. His SPIRIT, and his WORDS. And God’s servant is USING them to bring change. Because he’s God’s CHANGE AGENT. God HIMSELF promises to clothe himself with armour, and step in to bring change. And now we see THE SERVANT doing the same thing. Down in v10 of Ch 61, notice the servant delights greatly in the LORD, who’s clothed him with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness. Just like God. Which makes us ask just WHO THIS SERVANT WILL BE. This one who comes as GOD HIMSELF. And before we look in a bit more detail at Ch 61, just skim your eye across Ch 60. Notice the sort of change God’s promising to bring. Verses 1 and 2, he’ll replace darkness with light. From v3 Instead of Israel being dispersed to the nations, the nations will come to Israel. And bring their riches with them. Verse 10. Instead of destruction, there’ll be re-building. Verse 18. Instead of violence, there’ll be peace. And v22. Instead of smallness and obscurity, there’ll be a mighty nation. And the chapter finishes, “I am the LORD, in its time I will do this swiftly.” The God who brought the Universe into being with his word will bring change on the same scale. Change that’s REAL, and that LASTS. And all according to HIS time-frame. And he’ll do it BY MEANS of his CHANGE AGENT, his SERVANT. Who begins speaking at the start of Ch 61. The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. God’s Spirit-empowered proclaimer of good news. Broken-hearted, disappointed people will be comforted. Things haven’t quite turned out like the Jews thought. They’re back in the land, but they’re still controlled by more powerful nations. Their crops go to the dinner tables of others. Their tribute to ANOTHER king. Their safety at the mercy of another nation. But God’s servant announces that CHANGE IS COMING. The year of the Lord’s favour. Jubilee. The freeing of slaves, the cancelling of debts, the restoration of society. Comfort for mourners. Beauty in place of ashes. And WHO’LL do it all? The last part of v3. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting OF THE LORD for the display of HIS splendor. ALL GOD’S DOING. Announced and introduced by his Servant. And from v4 there’s MORE of the change he’d bring. Rebuilding, and renewing. And, v5, instead of working for foreigners, it’d be THE OTHER WAY AROUND. V6 You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in THEIR riches you will boast. And it will be SO OBVIOUS that everyone will know who’s done it. v9. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people THE LORD HAS BLESSED.” Wonderful promises from God through his CHANGE AGENT, his Servant! And so the Jews waited. And waited. And waited. Waited for the SERVANT to come. Waited for the great changes God had promised. 100 years went by. Persia rose and fell. 200 years went by, Greece rose, Alexander the Great conquered the world, including Israel. Still no servant, still no change. 300 years went by, then 400 years. Greece faded, and Rome began to shine. A new conqueror, Caesar, ruled Israel. And still no servant, still no freedom for captives, no comfort for mourners. Until about AD30, in a dusty corner of Israel, in a small insignificant synagogue in Nazareth, a travelling Jewish teacher was invited to read from the Scriptures. He was handed the scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and he unrolled it to this very chapter. Chapter 61. Flip over the Luke Ch 4 to hear what he said. V17 of Lk 4 (p727). Jesus stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on ME, because he has anointed ME to preach good news to the poor. He has sent ME to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE IS FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.” Back in Isaiah 60 God had promised he’d do it SWIFTLY, IN ITS TIME. And now the TIME HAS COME. Jesus ANNOUNCES it. And then he starts to DELIVER on it. Starts to bring in God’s change. As we follow his footsteps through Luke’s gospel, even immediately after in Ch 4, we see him DOING JUST THAT. Preaching good news to the poor. And in v32 the people are amazed at his teaching. Then he drives a demon out of a man. RELEASING THE OPPRESSED. And then in the next section, he’s healing all kinds of sickness, and casting out more demons. FREEING PRISONERS, and MAKING THE BLIND SEE. And then at the end of the chapter, he heads off somewhere else. Why? V43. 43 But he said, “I must PREACH THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And the theme continues all the way through the gospel. Jesus PROCLAIMING change, and DELIVERING change. Preaching and healing. Just like God had promised. But even though Jesus delivers change like no one before or since. It’s still not the same as what God’s promised back in Isaiah 60 and 61.. And even here in Ch 4, we see it’s not change like people had expected. His home-town crowd try to stone him to death when he mentions God’s plan to include GENTILES in his people. Just like God had promised back in Isaiah. And then, after his all-day heal-a-thon, people are still seeking him out. Because there’s sick and broken people who’ve missed out. And as we keep walking through the gospel, it’s not change that people expect. He regularly throws cold water on the people’s hopes of political and military rebellion. And he ultimately dies, is raised, and returns to heaven. And he leaves Jewish society, at least on the surface, pretty much the same as when he arrived. He BEGAN the process, but it’s FAR FROM FINISHED. And so Jews in Jesus’ time were asking the question Jews had been asking for hundreds of years before. WHEN? When is God going to deliver on his promises? In Isaiah, he’d promised a new society with world-wide peace, with prosperity and health and abundance. With everyone centred around God and his temple. And even after Jesus’ return to heaven, things weren’t looking like that. And, even TODAY, WE join in the same chorus. When? When is God going to heal my arthritis, or repair my marriage, or find me a job, or bring me justice, or stop the pain? When is he going to bring peace in the war zones, or find homes for the refugees, and protect the innocent? Change – now, and not yet And God’s answer is both NOW, and NOT YET. Back in Isaiah’s time, he brought change. He restored them to the land, and there was peace. Of a SORT. But it wasn’t COMPLETE fulfilment of his promises. And perhaps Israel should have worked it out. The promises back in Isaiah 60 are almost too incredible to imagine. Too other-worldly. There’s the complete paradise of every nation joined together in unity around God’s temple. No jealousy, no fighting, no greed, no misunderstandings. Almost impossible to imagine in THIS world. And then there’s the TIME FRAME mentioned. Again and again, it’s about ETERNAL, and EVERLASTING. EVERLASTING pride and the joy of all generations (60:15). The Lord will be your EVERLASTING light (v19 and again in v20). His people will possess the land FOREVER (v21). Into Ch 61. EVERLASTING joy (v7). And so, Israel kept waiting. Until Jesus came and announced that the time had arrived. And God’s promises began to be fulfilled. Jesus set free prisoners, and opened blind eyes. Physically and spiritually. And he came and went. And God’s promises were still not COMPLETED. Begun, but not finished. And so, in the midst of OUR groaning. Our waiting. Our praying for God’s deliverance. We can trust in his reliability. That, in Jesus, he’s BEGUN to deliver on his promises. That he’s set us free from sin and guilt and meaninglessness. Truth has set us free – even if we’re still struggling with brokenness, and pain. And so we hope to his promise. That the change he’s BEGUN will only be COMPLETED when he brings this world to a close, and brings in a new heaven and earth. Where EVERYTHING will be JUST LIKE HE’S PROMISED. And if we think it’s all taking too long, then God will say AMEN to that. Because he TOO longs for the day when all pain will be over, and all peace will begin. And he promises “I am the LORD, in its time I WILL DO THIS SWIFTLY.” Our agenda for change And so, while we wait, our agenda for change is to point people to Jesus, God’s Servant, God’s change agent. He does preach good news to poor and blind and captive people. And he DELIVERS on it. But who’s got much more in store for us than we can possibly imagine.

Isaiah 56:1-8 God isn’t finished yet

One of the good things about all the new free to air TV channels is they’re re-playing a lot of old TV shows. Like Fawlty Towers, and The Brady Bunch. And Gilligan’s Island.

And the thing about poor old Gilligan, and the skipper, and Mr and Mrs Howell, and all the rest. Is that they were CAUGHT BETWEEN TWO REALITIES. On the ONE hand, they were marooned on a deserted island. Who knows how long they were going to be stuck there. So they got COMFORTABLE, settled in, and make the BEST of it. And so, they built houses, and all sorts of gadgets to make life easier. And life was pretty good.

But, on the OTHER hand, they didn’t BELONG there. They were from the MAINLAND. And they longed to get HOME. And so they were always looking out to sea. Scanning the horizon for ships or planes. Spending their time organising strategies, building rafts and radios and signal fires.

They were caught between two realities. Safe, but not yet saved. Home, but NOT home. And so they were always looking in two directions. Pulled to behave in two different ways.

And it’s the same for God’s people, Israel. Here in Ch 56. Isaiah’s prophecy seems to be directed to the people who’ve RETURNED to the Promised Land. SAVED out of Babylon.

God PROMISED it, right back in Ch 40. That he’d use King Cyrus of Persia to bring his people up out of captivity in Babylon, and restore them to Canaan. And he DID that in 538BC. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story.

And, even though things are looking UP for Israel, there’s a sense in which they’re LIVING BETWEEN TWO REALITIES. They’re HOME, but they’re NOT home.

On the ONE hand, God HAS rescued them. It’s not a COMPLETE rescue. But they’re ON THE WAY

They’ve got SOME freedom, but they’re still under the rule of Cyrus.

They’re back in the land, they’ve rebuilt the city walls, even the TEMPLE. But they’ve got to SHARE it with the foreigners who’ve moved in over the last half century it was vacant.

God’s people are TOGETHER in God’s place, but they’re also SCATTERED all over the known world. Some around Jerusalem, some back in Babylon, and some up in the northern kingdom.

 

But most IMPORTANT of the two realities- God’s promised them COMPLETE RESCUE. He’s promised a servant who’ll pay for their sin. He’s promised peace and restoration and paradise. He’s promised that it will be salvation FOR THE WHOLE WORLD. When people from EVERYWHERE will join with Israel in worshipping God. But he hasn’t DELIVERED it yet. That’s all ahead.

The reality of life in Israel is a long way from THAT. The rescue’s BEGUN, but there’s still a lot more to come.

So, how are God’s people to live in the meantime? Like Gilligan, they’re caught between two realities. How, then, should they live? Do they just make the BEST of it, and forget about the promises? Just give up HOPE?

Or should they be RESTLESS? Not settle down. Push forward to bring God’s FULL rescue about?

And it’s A RELEVANT question FOR US. Because their situation is pretty similar to OURS TODAY. WE’RE caught between two realities. On the one hand, God HAS sent Jesus. He HAS defeated sin and death and Satan. He IS seated at God’s right hand. But on the OTHER hand, a GREATER rescue is still to come. When death and Satan will be defeated COMPLETELY. When this broken world will be re-made. And pain and suffering and fighting will be over.

 

We’re SAVED, and yet we’re not saved YET. The victory’s been WON, and yet it HASN’T been FULLY won.

So how are WE to live in the meantime? As we wait for God’s FINAL, ultimate, COMPLETE victory?

Let’s turn to God’s words here in Isaiah 56. And see, practically, what it means that, even though God’s BEGUN to save, he’s not finished YET.

The coming justice of God (1-2)

Right at the beginning of the chapter, you can see the two realities there in v1. God’s SAVED his people. They’re in the land. And yet he still says there’s more coming. The coming justice of God.

56:1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, FOR MY SALVATION IS CLOSE AT HAND AND MY RIGHTEOUSNESS WILL SOON BE REVEALED.

Salvation is coming. Not here yet. Righteousness is just around the corner.

So? Live out justice

And that means God’s people don’t just get to sit back and ENJOY their salvation. It’s BEGUN, but there’s more to come. There’s something for us to be GOING ON WITH while we WAIT. We’re to LIVE OUT justice, while we wait for God’s justice.

God desires SAVED people TO CHANGE. Not to rest in the salvation they’ve ALREADY received.

And v1 tells us they’re to change to REFLECT God’s COMING salvation. Have a look at the parallels

“MAINTAIN JUSTICE AND DO WHAT IS RIGHT, for (BECAUSE) my salvation is close at hand and MY righteousness will soon be revealed.

 

That’s the way to live between two realities. Between God’s salvation, and his coming salvation. It literally says, “DO RIGHTEOUSNESS… because MY righteousness will soon be revealed.”

We’re to act justly, and live holy lives, and to treat people RIGHTLY. Not just because God’s righteous judgment is coming FOR US (Which it IS). But because our just behaviour LOOKS FORWARD to that justice. Foreshadows it. We anticipate it as we act justly TODAY.

From our point of view, we express faith in the SURENESS of the COMING of God’s eternal kingdom by living justly TODAY. We practice what’s right NOW because that’s the way we’ll be living FOR ETERNITY.

Like Gilligan’s Island. The Professor continuing his experiments, or Ginger continuing her beauty routines, or the Skipper putting on his cap every day. They did it because WHEN THEY WERE SAVED, that’s what they’d be doing AGAIN. It was an expression of faith in their future rescue.

 

And that’s what WE do as we live out justice TODAY. It’s the behaviour we’ll be doing FOREVER in God’s perfect kingdom.

But that’s not all. We express faith in the RIGHTNESS of God’s eternal kingdom by living that out TODAY. In the in-between time. God’s ways of doing things aren’t just for THEN, they’re for NOW, TOO.

Gentleness, fairness, humility, truth, justice. All things that are difficult to live out consistently. Yet, when we DO live them out, we’re expressing trust in God that that’s the way we work best. That LIFE is at its best when we live God’s way.

Footballers, when they train, practice skills again and again under fatigue. When they’re EXHAUSTED. In some senses, it doesn’t matter during the week. But they do it that way because they’re practicing for when it DOES count.

They get their bodies used to doing what’s required when the pressure’s on. In the 80th minute of the grand final.

There’s a sense in which living out gentleness, fairness, humility, truth and justice NOW are getting us USED to doing it when it COUNTS. In God’s NEW kingdom. Forever.

And that’s something people NOTICE. There’s something ATTRACTIVE about communities like that. The church, and our relationships with each other and outsiders, should give people a TASTE of what God’s eternal, righteous kingdom will be like. Make them HUNGER for eternity with God. And to lose their appetite for THIS world.

How are we DOING at that? (DOING righteousness because GOD’S righteousness will soon be revealed).

And then in v2 we get A CONCRETE EXAMPLE of what that right living looked like IN PRACTICE.

2 Blessed is the man who does this, the man who holds it fast, WHO KEEPS THE SABBATH without desecrating it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

 

Why the focus on the Sabbath?

Back in Ch 1, God was angry with his people because they kept the Sabbath, and offered sacrifices, but they didn’t live out justice in the rest of the week. He says in v13,

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

They might as well not bother observing the Sabbath! And the REASON he’s not interested is down in v15.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! SEEK JUSTICE, ENCOURAGE THE OPPRESSED. DEFEND THE CAUSE OF THE FATHERLESS, PLEAD THE CASE OF THE WIDOW.

Worship on SUNDAY is MEANINGLESS – it’s WORSE than MEANINGLESS – it’s OFFENSIVE to God. If you don’t live justly before him for the REST of the week.

God’s saying here in v2 of Ch 56 that the man who keeps the Sabbath WITHOUT DESECRATING IT will be blessed. In other words, who lives his WHOLE WEEK before God, not just for an hour on Sunday. “Maintain justice and do what’s right ALL WEEK. And then when you come before me at church, I’ll be pleased with what you’ve got to say.”

 

How do YOU go with compartmentalising your life? Is your behaviour CONSISTENT? Your tongue? Your mind? Are you as conscious of your behaviour at work, or on the sports field, or with your family as you are here at church?

Do you live for an audience of one – for God – for the WHOLE week? Or just when we get together? God NOTICES.

But there’s ANOTHER aspect of keeping the Sabbath. It’s not just about honouring God. It’s about looking forward to God’s ETERNAL rest. His eternal SALVATION. It’s A FORETASTE OF ETERNITY. (Just like acting JUSTLY is a foretaste of God’s just future kingdom.)

Over in Ch 65 God talks about creating A NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH. He’ll re-create Jerusalem and REJOICE over it and over its people. Then over in Ch 66, almost at the end of the book, we read about what his people will be DOING for eternity. V22

22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from ONE SABBATH TO ANOTHER, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD.

 

ONE LONG SABBATH. Centred around God. Rest, rejoicing, and worship.

 

And Sabbath NOW, a time to stop, rest and focus our worship on God, is a foretaste, a trial run, for ETERNITY. When it will be ALWAYS be Sabbath.

I wonder whether we think about keeping the Sabbath in THOSE terms. As a FORETASTE of ETERNITY.

As Christians, following the practice of the early church, we’ve taken our Sabbath as SUNDAY, rather than SATURDAY. Because that’s when Jesus rose from the grave.

And there’s been a certain type of Christianity that’s focussed on RULE-KEEPING on Sunday. Making it a very dreary and boring time. A whole list of things you can’t do.

But Jesus himself said the Sabbath was made for Man, not man for the Sabbath. Let’s make OUR day of rest one that’s focussed on God. That’s lived in anticipation of eternity. Let’s make him the focus of our SUNDAYS because he’s who’ll be our focus for ETERNITY. Let’s use it to whet our appetites for what the new heavens and the new earth will be all about. Eternal rest and eternal relationship.

 

The missionary heart of God (3-8)

That’s the FIRST point. (God’s justice is coming, so we’re to live out justice). The SECOND thing this chapter tells us about God is that HE’S GOT A MISSIONARY HEART.

 

In case you haven’t noticed in Isaiah yet, God’s plans for saving Israel will never be complete until they include THE WHOLE WORLD. It’s there all the way through the Bible. But just jump back a FEW chapters. To Ch 49 for example. God says to his servant in v6.

6 he says: “It is TOO SMALL A THING for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, that you may bring my salvation TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

It makes sense that the God who made THE WHOLE WORLD would want to SAVE the whole world.

And he wants his kingdom of Israel, living between two realities, to REFLECT that vision. That world-wide vision.

It would have been a genuine mixed bag of nations when the people first returned from Babylon. Over fifty years of exile meant the land had been taken over by people from all the surrounding nations.

It COULD be a recipe for DISASTER. (Israel was well-known for being led astray by foreigners). But it’s PERFECT for God’s eternal plans. So he says in ch 56. V3.

3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”

God wants to include EVERY NATION of people who genuinely turn to God. And so he says, down in v6.

6 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 8 The Sovereign LORD declares–he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather STILL OTHERS to them besides those already gathered.”

 

But not just FOREIGNERS, there’s EUNUCHS TOO (v4). Rejects, ceremonially unclean, unable to enter the temple according to Deut 23. Yet God says they can be part of God’s people TOO. V4.

“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant– 5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

God’s going to make clean those who are unclean. Old categories won’t apply. Old divisions won’t matter.

These eunuchs may not be able to have their name continue through having kids. But for those who choose what pleases God, he’ll do something even BETTER than sons and daughters. He’ll give them an everlasting name within his temple that won’t be cut off.

So? Grow a missionary heart

That’s God’s promise for his ETERNAL kingdom. But what about us, NOW? What that means for US, is that WE’RE to have a missionary heart, TOO. We’re to reach out to the rejects and the foreigners around US. And to work towards making THIS “in-between” kingdom reflect, and prepare for, and God’s ULTIMATE kingdom.

As we live today between two realities, we’re to look forward to God’s perfect, inclusive, peaceful world-wide future by reaching out and including rejects and foreigners.

We’re called to be revolutionary, other worldly, counter-cultural in our inclusiveness. To use a phrase from Kirk Patston’s commentary, we’re to live lives of SCANDALOUS INCLUSIVENESS.

How are we GOING at that? As individuals? As a church?

Would people think it UNUSUAL when they look at the way we treat people? The way we INCLUDE them. That’s the whole point of the open crowd festivals we have before the movie nights and Christmas carols. To build bridges, and INCLUDE people.

Christians aren’t normally known for their INCLUSIVENESS. Normally it’s a reputation for JUDGMENTALISM, INSTEAD.

 

How can we do it BETTER? How can we connect with people others reject? New arrivals? Needy people?

 

What about ESL classes? Lots of churches have started classes for teaching English as a second language to new Australians. Is that something WE could do? I’m not sure where or when.

You don’t need to be qualified, and there are people in the pressie church who can help train us. (See me if you reckon it’s something worth thinking about.)

Or what about asylum seekers? What is the Christian response to asylum seekers? God’s heart is to show them justice and compassion. He says it to Israel in Deut 10:18-19. God

defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien , giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

How do we show God’s justice and compassion and inclusiveness? It will be there in his ETERNAL kingdom. How can we reflect those qualities NOW.

Let me share a real life example of what this SCANDALOUS INCLUSIVENESS looked like. Acts ch 8 v26. Phillip, one of the seven Jewish Christian deacons, has been told by an angel to head out on the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He sees a guy who turns out to be a eunuch from Ethiopia. Been to Jerusalem to worship. But unable to enter the temple. He’s reading from the book of Isaiah. Chapter 53, about the suffering servant whose wounds bring us forgiveness. And includes EVERYONE into God’s family.

He doesn’t understand it. So in v35, Phillip starts explaining to him about Jesus. BEGINNING WITH THAT VERY PASSAGE. And quite probably, they KEEP READING.  Until they get to today’s promise by God in Isaiah 56 that to foreigners and eunuchs who holds fast to God, he’ll scandalously include. And give them a place in eternity.

And I just love the words of the Ethiopian there in v36. They come to some water, and the eunuch says

“Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

Included in God’s kingdom. Forever. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for US to be telling a similar story as we live out God’s justice and missionary inclusiveness TODAY. As we wait for God’s ULTIMATE justice and inclusion.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Isaiah 55: Total Satisfaction

 “Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday, 8 May. But in the interests of saving lives, the ceasefire began yesterday to be sounded along all the fronts. The German War is therefore AT AN END. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. Today is Victory in Europe Day.”

 

So came THE REFRESHING WORDS OF PEACE from Winston Churchill in 1945, ending six long years of war. Six years of deprivation and death. Six years of fear and food shortages. Of blackout curtains, and air raid sirens.

 

And the people of Britain CELEBRATED. Celebrated freedom and peace. Celebrated victory and new beginnings. Celebrated the end of rations, and the beginnings of generous meals. Of regular meat and butter. Of tea and tobacco and fruit. Of a return TO NORMAL.

 

And it’s much the same here in Isaiah 54 and 55. We hear God’s REFRESHING WORDS OF PEACE for ISRAEL. The war is over. Peace has arrived. And the celebration can begin!

 

The HISTORICAL context is that God’s promised to bring Israel back from exile. They’ll return from Babylon to the Promised Land. That their sin’s been paid for.

 

The LITERARY context is we’ve just found out how that forgiveness is POSSIBLE. In Ch 53 we met God’s ideal servant who’ll be punished in place of sinners. Remember 53:5?

5 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.

 

Peace comes TO ALL because ONE was punished. And chapters 54 and 55 are about what that PEACE will look like.

 

For the Jews, peace, or SHALOM, isn’t just about the END OF HOSTILITIES, but about the celebration of rich, fulfilling life – that’s SHALOM.

 

And, just like WW2 ended with agreements signed and sealed, so God’s declaration of peace is SEALED WITH AN AGREEMENT. V9 of ch 54 – Just like in the days of Noah, when he promised, never again, to destroy the earth with a flood

So NOW I have sworn not to be angry with you, NEVER TO REBUKE YOU AGAIN. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken NOR MY COVENANT OF PEACE BE REMOVED,” says the LORD,

 

God’s making a COVENANT of PEACE. Signed in the blood of his servant.

 

Peace with God means

And if we jump back up to the start of chapter 54, we see what peace with God means.

 

Celebration

First up, it means CELEBRATION. V1.

“Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,”  says the LORD.

 

Here, the Jews returning home is like a barren woman who’ll end up with lots of kids. The ultimate turn around. From empty to full. That’s worth CELEBRATING. Just like the millions of English in the streets celebrating the end of WW2.

 

End of fear and shame (54:4)

Second, peace with God means the end of fear and shame. V4.

4 “Do not be AFRAID; you will not suffer SHAME. Do not fear DISGRACE; you will not be humiliated. You will FORGET the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

 

reconciliation (54:7)

And the REASON there’s no need to be SCARED of God anymore is, THREE, peace with God means RECONCILIATION. Restoration of relationship. The END of his rebuke and anger. V7.

7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I WILL BRING YOU BACK.

 

Time and again. Generation after generation God forgave and forgave and forgave. Finally his anger and judgment flared up for a moment. Then it was GONE, and all was forgiven. V8.

8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I WILL have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.

 

That’s a picture of PEACE. Reconciliation, and the end of REJECTION.

 

Unfailing love (54:10)

And, from GOD’S side, peace means his unfailing love. V10.

10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my UNFAILING LOVE for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

 

That’s love that doesn’t blow hot and cold. That doesn’t depend on our behaviour, or on circumstances. That’s a wonderful promise for ALL OF US. All of us who’re tempted to think God’s opinion of us depends on our performance. And it’s ESPECIALLY true for us TODAY who can be CONFIDENT of God’s unfailing love for us, seen in the death of his servant in our place.

10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my UNFAILING LOVE for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

 

Security (54:11-17)

And fifthly, peace with God means SECURITY. That’s there from v11. If you’ve been reconciled to the powerful sovereign God, then that means you’re SECURE.

 

V11. God’s talking to Jerusalem. Once he brings his people back to his city, he’ll fortify the walls. The gates will be unbreakable, and the foundations rock solid. Doesn’t matter who attacks, they won’t succeed (v15).

 

And then, v13. There’ll be security INSIDE the walls, TOO. An assurance of God’s goodwill towards them.

13 All your sons will be TAUGHT by the LORD, and great will be your children’s PEACE. 14 In righteousness you will be ESTABLISHED: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear.

 

Satisfaction

And as we move into Ch 55, God’s refreshing words of peace continue. Just like Winston Churchill invited everyone to CELEBRATE, so God issues HIS INVITATION in v1.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

 

It’s an invitation to people to BE SATISFIED. To come and drink. To have their thirst quenched with water, and wine and milk. And there’s plenty for everyone – doesn’t matter if you’ve got no money. It’s an open bar!

 

There’ll be plenty for everyone. Freely offered. All of grace. Satisfaction you can’t buy or earn.

 

And there’s no money required because it’s already all been paid for. The account’s been settled. How? By the servant. Back in 53:10 God makes his life a guilt offering. V11, he will justify many and bear their iniquities. And the result, v12, is that he will DIVIDE THE SPOILS with the strong. That’s the spoils God’s offering his people – “Come and drink the free wine and milk and water, and BE SATISFIED.”

 

I don’t know whether you’ve ever been REALLY, REALLY THIRSTY. I’m guessing most of us HAVEN’T. But when you’re parched, water is all you can think about. Your desire for it CONSUMES you. Nothing else matters.

 

And when you finally get to drink, you’ll drink A BUCKETFUL. You’ll drink until you’re satisfied. Until your thirst is quenched.

 

It’s a picture of what God’s going to do when he restores the people to the land. Brings them back from slavery to freedom. From the desert to the oasis.

 

But more than a picture of PHYSICAL and MATERIAL satisfaction. It’s a picture, PRIMARILY, of SPIRITUAL satisfaction. It’s an invitation not only for the people to return to God’s LAND. But for people to RETURN TO GOD.

 

Listen, and satisfy yourself with God

It’s an invitation for God’s people to drink in GOD HIMSELF, and be satisfied. Look there in the second half of v2.

Listen, LISTEN TO ME, and EAT WHAT IS GOOD, and your SOUL WILL DELIGHT IN THE RICHEST OF FARE. 3 Give ear and come to me; HEAR me, that your soul may LIVE.

 

It’s GOD who gives words of life. Words of righteousness and wisdom and life. Listening to God, and obeying what you hear is like eating a HEARTY MEAL. It SATISFIES you. It’s light for our path, and health for our bones. It’s wisdom for living, and the perspective of eternity for today. It’s a rock to stand on, and a shelter to rest under, in storms and troubles.

 

It’s what you need to live and to grow.

 

We FEED on God’s word. And God’s inviting us to DIG IN. And like the legendary Blacktown Workers Buffet, it’s satisfaction guaranteed. It’s all you can eat. No one leaves hungry.

 

But, unlike Blacktown Workers Buffet, it’s actually GOOD for you. It won’t clog your arteries, or give you indigestion. It’s RICH, but it GIVES LIFE.

 

So there’s an application here that we’re fairly familiar with. God’s inviting us to satisfy ourselves by listening to him. Let’s DO that. Let’s listen to God in his Word, the Bible. Let’s make his word the focus of our meetings together. Our BIG meetings, even our SMALL meetings, our 1 on 1 meetings.

 

But there’s a trap in that I think we can fall into. There’s a temptation as evangelicals who love the Bible to make THE BIBLE our target. To make THE BIBLE our TREASURE. Instead of it being simply A MEANS TO AN END.

 

Because the Bible ISN’T the treasure. It’s only the KEY to the treasure chest. And the Bible isn’t our TARGET. It’s only the ARROW that GETS us to the target. And it’s not what satisfies our thirst. It’s only cup that POURS the water source into our mouths.

 

What’s our treasure? What’s going to satisfy our thirst? It’s GOD HIMSELF. Look again at v3.

3 Give ear and COME TO ME; hear ME, that your soul may live.

 

Or down in v6,

6 Seek THE LORD while he may be found; call on HIM while he is near.

 

It’s a great thing to love God’s Word. But not to WORSHIP it. We love it because it reveals GOD HIMSELF to us. Even Psalm 119, which is a love song to God’s WORD, makes that point again and again. It begins like THIS.

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. 2 Blessed are they who KEEP HIS STATUTES and SEEK HIM with all their heart.

 

Or a bit further on, in v9.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. 10 I seek YOU with all my heart; do not let me stray from YOUR COMMANDS.

 

We don’t follow God’s word simply because it’s a good thing to do, or it gives us good advice for life. Women’s Weekly does that! But because that’s how we follow GOD HIMSELF. How we DISCOVER him. How we SATISFY our THIRST with him.

 

John Piper’s book, God is the Gospel, makes that point. Whatever is GOOD about what we receive in the good news, it’s missing the point if it’s not centred on gaining GOD. HE is the good. We satisfy our thirst when we get HIM.

 

How are you DOING at that? Are you meeting GOD in his Word? Or is it dry and routine? Is reading your Bible just another CHORE to tick off each day?

 

Then let me ask whether you’re ASKING God to show himself to you before you read? Are you EXPECTING him to speak?

 

Do you read PRAYERFULLY? Do you read a paragraph, then stop, turn it around, and pray it back to God? Thank him for who he is. Praise him. Worship him. Ask him to help you do, and be, what he wants.

 

Do you read THOUGHTFULLY? Do you take TIME to let stuff sink in, or a you in a hurry? Do you make lists of HOW and WHERE you can apply what you’ve read?

 

God WANTS you to find HIM as you listen to him. He WANTS you to satisfy your thirst with him. It’s how you were made. You weren’t made to run on any other fuel.

 

Because when you put the wrong fuel in, life just splutters along, coughs, and then gives up. Like a diesel car refuelled with petrol. It’s a disaster.

 

Don’t be deceived by cheap imitations

And so God says, don’t look to satisfy yourself with the wrong fuel. Don’t be deceived by cheap imitations (v2). Don’t look for satisfaction in dry wells, and empty cupboards. “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost,” says God in v1, and then he says (v2)

2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?

 

There’s free wine, milk and water on offer, and you’re wasting your money on JUNK. Fairy floss that serves no useful purpose. Petrol when you’re meant to run on diesel.

 

He’s talking about IDOLS. All the way through Isaiah, he makes fun of idols that are just lumps of wood or stone. Blind and dumb, and impotent. But people are bowing down to them. Sacrificing to them. Running their lives according to them.

 

It makes no sense. When the living, powerful, loving, forgiving SATISFYING God is offering TRUE SATISFACTION.

 

Idolatry like Israel was guilty of seems CRAZY to us. And yet the reality is we spend our lives doing the same thing. Chasing after idols that won’t satisfy.

 

Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, talks about the modern gods of money, success, intimacy, acceptance, comfort, security. All of them, and more, are IDOLS that control our motives and our actions. They order our priorities, and demand our offerings.

 

Everything we do that’s not worship of GOD is designed to satisfy one of those needs. To WORSHIP something else. Work and projects. Hobbies, investments, holidays, family, home extensions, new cars, work promotions, friendships. All of them demanding our time and energy and money. Because we want to find our SATISFACTION in them. Instead of drinking of the ONE TRUE source that satisfies. The God who made us. Who made us FOR HIMSELF.

 

The writer of Ecclesiastes went much further down that road than we’re ever likely to. In ch 2 he lists everything he tried. He gave PLEASURE a go. But that proved to be meaningless. He undertook great PROJECTS. Look for satisfaction in success work. But here’s his conclusion. Eccles 2:10

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no PLEASURE. My heart took delight in all my WORK, and this was the reward for all my labor. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, EVERYTHING WAS MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND; NOTHING WAS GAINED UNDER THE SUN.

 

It doesn’t SATISFY.

 

And that’s with things that are basically GOOD. Like work and family and relationships. That’s not even the BAD things we do. There’s a sense in which every sin we commit is really, at its HEART, idolatry.  The Ten Commandments BEGIN with “You shall have no other gods before me. A commandment against idolatry. And one way of thinking about the ten commandments is that the OTHER NINE are all sub-points under THAT one. All WAYS we sin, and make OTHER THINGS god  in place of God. Possessions or pleasure or people or power.

 

And God’s saying here in Isaiah 55, “Come TO ME if you’re thirsty. I’m the one who’ll satisfy you.”

 

Don’t put it off

It’s an invitation that you SHOULDN’T PUT OFF. He says in v6.

6 Seek the LORD WHILE HE MAY BE FOUND; call on him WHILE HE IS NEAR.

 

The invitation’s still open. The RSVP date’s still to come. But it won’t always be that way. The day’s coming when the offer will close, and the doors will shut.

 

Make a U-turn

And responding to the invitation means making a U-turn. Seeking the LORD involves A CHOICE. To turn TOWARDS him means TURNING AWAY from OTHER things. Other IDOLS. V6 we’re invited to seek the Lord, then in v7,

7 Let the wicked FORSAKE his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

 

It’s about seeing the idols for what they are. That they WON’T satisfy. And recognising who, and what, YOU were made for. And putting all the rest of those things in their right place UNDER HIM.

 

It’s having that right perspective that will begin to BREAK the HOLD of idols in your life. And help you turn, instead, to God. To focus on his goodness. His love and forgiveness. Back in Ch 54 v9 God’s says

9 “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. 10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,”

 

Just as the rainbow was God’s sign of his covenant to NOAH. His reminder for us that he would never destroy the earth with flood again. So his covenant of peace is the sign of his love.

 

So what IS his covenant of peace. Back in 42:6 there was a fascinating declaration by God that he would MAKE his servant a covenant. He says

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and WILL MAKE YOU TO BE A COVENANT for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

 

God’s servant, Jesus, is his covenant of peace with us. The assurance of his love. So the key to turning our eyes away from the idols that DON’T satisfy is to focus on Jesus. To fix our eyes on the cross.

 

THE CROSS is God’s sign of his covenant of peace. The sacrifice of the father. The work of his servant in our place. The cross shows his beauty and his goodness and his WORTH to be our treasure and our satisfaction.

 

Romans 5:8 calls the cross a DEMONSTRATION of God’s love.

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 

God DEMONSTRATES his love. He PROMISES his unfailing love by giving us a covenant of peace. And then he INVITES us to satisfy our thirst on him. To come to him. Listen to his word and DELIGHT our souls in his goodness.

 

And Jesus joins in the invitation. In John 4 Jesus invites the woman at the well to drink LIVING water. Water that wells up to eternal life.

 

Then in Jn 7 he explains it a bit more. And he extends the invitation to everyone. Jn 7:38, Jesus is in the temple with all the worshippers there, and he joins with his father’s invitation from Isa 55.

“If ANYONE is thirsty, let him come to me and DRINK. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

 

Jesus doesn’t just offer us the WORDS of God. He offers us GOD HIMSELF. When we trust Jesus, he gives us the water of his Spirit. The water of GOD HIMSELF. Who gives Life that lasts, that SATISIFIES.

 

Will you drink of the living water God is offering?

 

ASK him, DRINK of him. And be satisfied!

 

John Piper: God is the gospel

http:www.desiringgod.orgresource-libraryonline-booksgod-is-the-gospel–3

 

 

 

Isaiah 52:13-53:12: The Greatest Song Ever Written

The worst country in the world to be a Christian is ***. Open Doors Watch List ranks it number one persecutor of Christians 8 years in a row. It’s been that way for decades. The problem has been the difficulty in getting any information about the abuses at all.

A 2004 BBC documentary, Access to Evil, tells the story of a *** government official who escaped to *** with evidence of Christian persecution. As part of the government’s chemical weapons program, he’d been given written orders to collect a Christian family and use them as human guinea pigs in the testing. Scientists would pump chemical weapons into the room where the Christians were being held, with this official watching.

The chemicals should have produced a wild, violent and painful death. To the official’s surprise, the family’s death was peaceful. As the chemicals were applied… the parents looked after their children… and sang to them… The peaceful way they died shocked the official. He saw their faith, hope and love. Not long after the official became a Christian and eventually defected, escaping through ***.

That family’s silent, gentle, submissive declaration of faith was far more powerful than an angry clenched fist. God’s purposes were seen in their humility. In the strength of absolute weakness.

The pages of church history are filled with stories like that. Of ordinary men and women submissively, silently suffering for their Saviour. Of dying martyrs’ deaths.

Of missionaries spending their whole lives on the mission field, but never seeing any fruit. Of losing their children, or their spouse, to illness, sacrificed for the sake of Christ.

Of ordinary people giving up lives of wealth and privilege and power, to serve in poverty, obscurity and weakness instead. Never being noticed, or applauded.

Ordinary street sweepers, teachers, managers and housewives who’ve taken up their cross daily, and followed Christ. Who’ve chosen to LOSE THEIR LIFE for Jesus’ sake. And, as a result, are ridiculed, misunderstood, or ostracised. Discriminated against. Denied basic rights. Abandoned by family.

How does God VIEW all of that? Not part of the plan? Mistakes? Just bad luck? Acceptable collateral damage? A necessary evil?

No! The message of Isaiah, and the message of the whole Bible, is that it’s ALL part of God’s plan. There ARE no mistakes. No bad luck.

In fact, a life like THAT is God’s DESIGN. Rather than health and wealth, power and success, popularity and fame. God wants his people to be showing THOSE VERY CHARACTERISTICS.

The weak, humble, submissive, gentle obedience of God’s servants shows his character and his purposes. Servants like this Nth Korean family.

How do I KNOW that? I know it’s his plan for his servants TODAY because that was his plan for his IDEAL SERVANT in Isaiah 52 and 53. Weak, humble, submissive, gentle obedience. And it’s what he expects from us, his servants TODAY, as we follow after THAT servant.

So far in Isaiah we’ve seen how God chose Israel, and called them to be his people, living out his righteousness in their obedience to him, and in the way they treated each other. And this would be a witness to the nations around them.

But Israel were stiff-necked and stubborn. Disobedient. Deaf and blind. A FAILURE as a servant and a witness. And so God handed them over to Babylon. And that’s where they are now as they listen to these words of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The Servant in Isaiah

As they hear about God’s IDEAL SERVANT.

The Servant is a shadowy figure we’ve been following for a few weeks now. Back in Ch 41 and 42, he seemed to be Israel – THE WHOLE NATION. They were called to serve God, and to be a witness to the nations. And yet, they never lived up to their calling.

What God needed was an IDEAL servant. In Ch 49, the servant pops his head up again. But this time, the description doesn’t really fit Israel.

Just turn to Ch 49 for a moment. The chapter begins with the servant speaking about how God had called him before his birth to be a weapon in God’s hand. A polished arrow hidden away in God’s quiver. His mouth would be a sharpened sword that delivered God’s cutting message. Then in v3 we read.

“God said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”

Perhaps we ARE meant to think of the NATION of Israel. But then we get to v5.

5 And now the LORD says–he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to BRING JACOB BACK TO HIM AND GATHER ISRAEL TO HIMSELF,

This servant called “Israel” is called to BRING ISRAEL BACK. God’s plan is to set apart an IDEAL servant who’s going to do the job where Israel FAILED. This figure is AN INDIVIDUAL who STANDS FOR the nation of Israel, and who BRINGS THEM BACK. Who rescues them. Who acts as an obedient servant in all the ways Israel DIDN’T.

The Servant Song

And so we come to the end of Ch 52, and THE SERVANT REAPPEARS. And from here to the end of Ch 53, we have a beautifully crafted poem, often called the Servant Song. It’s five sections of three verses each.

Most commentators call it THE CENTREPIECE OF THE WHOLE BOOK OF ISAIAH. Others call it the NUMBER ONE OLD TESTAMENT GOSPEL SUMMARY. And others call it THE GREATEST SONG EVER WRITTEN.

But not according to a 2004 Rolling Stones magazine special issue, “The 500 greatest songs of all time.” According to their survey of musicians, critics and music industry figures, the top 5 greatest songs of all time are:

Like a rolling stone (Bob Dylan),

I can’t get no satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)

Imagine (John Lennon),

What’s going on (Marvin Gaye)

RESPECT (Aretha Franklin)

You may agree or disagree with their choices – I’m a little sceptical when the top two songs both feature the phrase “Rolling Stone”. But perhaps they should have titled the issue The 500 greatest songs of the last 60 years, since the oldest song on the list was from the 1940’s! Which is PRESUMPTUOUS to say the least!

We’ve got to go a little further back to find THIS great song. And the REASON it’s so great is that it’s here that we get the CLEAREST PORTRAIT YET of God’s servant. And we’re forced to rub out every guess we’ve made so far. The language is just too specific, and too extraordinary. It can’t be ISRAEL, or ISAIAH, or any of the OTHER prophets of the time, or the JEWISH King Hezekiah, or the PERSIAN King Cyrus.

Only JESUS OF NAZARETH remains on our list. God’s Messiah, God’s Son. The PERFECT servant.

There are so many connections to the events of his life in this section, it’s staggering. Hard to refute.

Wisdom (52:13-15)

Look there from v13 of Ch 52. The FIRST section we can call WISDOM. And God’s speaking, talking about his servant.

13 See, my servant will act WISELY; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Wisdom is living GOD’S way, and that’s what the servant does. He’ll be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. But not in the way we might IMAGINE. V14 comes as a jarring correction.

14 …there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness–

The suffering the servant would endure would be SO HORRIFIC, people would be APPALLED. And then in v15, kings would be PUZZLED, confused. It wouldn’t fit their preconceived ideas. What’s wisdom for GOD is FOOLISHNESS for MEN. And what’s EXALTATION for God is SHAME AND REJECTION for MEN.

And we’ll need to wait to the END of the song to find out what God’s exaltation LOOKS LIKE.

Despised (53:1-3)

Moving on. The SECOND section can be titled “Despised”. God’s faithful take over the singing from God. And they start by recognising how UNEXPECTED God’s plan turned out to be.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

We’d NEVER have chosen parents like Jesus had, or the surrounding he was born or raised in. Who’d have guessed God would do things THAT way?!

The strong arm of God’s purposes wasn’t a mighty warrior with an impeccable bloodline. V2.

2 He grew up before him LIKE A TENDER SHOOT, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was DESPISED and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.

He started small and insignificant. Nothing attractive or majestic. In fact he was DETESTED by people.

And he knew all about sorrows and suffering. (We’ll find out exactly WHY in the next section)

Substitute (53:4-6)

The THIRD section I’m calling “SUBSTITUTE”. The REASON the servant is FAMILIAR with sorrows and suffering is because he CARRIED  OUR suffering and sorrows. V4.

4 Surely he took up our INFIRMITIES (same word as suffering) and carried our SORROWS,

Like a counsellor who spends all day listening to people’s problems. He knows ALL ABOUT pain and tangled lives. He KNOWS it because he BEARS it. As more and more people unload on him during the day, his shoulders sink lower and lower as he carries their problems.

And it’s the same with the Servant. He a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering because he CARRIES  OUR suffering and sorrow.

And there’s two things about that that’s difficult to understand. First, why those who’s sorrows are being carried don’t APPRECIATE him. He’s carrying their sorrows, but they don’t esteem him! That doesn’t seem fair!

Second thing that doesn’t seem fair is there in the last part of v4. He’s been smitten and afflicted by God himself. Something about this BEARING sorrows and suffering on our behalf is to do with God’s PLANS for him TO SAVE his people. Something he does OBEDIENTLY – as a SERVANT.

And the next couple of verses explain how that WORKS. It’s about him being a SUBSTITUTE. V5.

5 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. 6 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.

The language of laying sins on someone. Of punishment, and peace. Of a SUBSTITUTE. It would all be very familiar for the Jewish listener. As he thought about the Day of Atonement. The day when God’s anger for sin is satisfied.

In Leviticus ch 16 v20 God tells the people how the High Priest is to lay his hands on the head of a live goat, and then confess over it all the sin of Israel – to put those sins, SYMBOLICALLY, on the goat’s head.

And then to send the goat into the wilderness CARRYING ALL THEIR SIN WITH IT.

God, in his MERCY, chooses to satisfy his wrath at ISRAEL’S sin  by taking it out on A GOAT INSTEAD. The goat dies in place of the people.

Yet it never really DEALT with the sin. It was just a MAKE-DO, STOP-GAP MEASURE. Every year, the same drama had to be played out. Because it never really DEALT with the sin. Year after year, until the PERFECT sacrifice came along. The One who could GENUINELY bear the sin of others. Heb 10 says

10:1 The law (that is, THE SACRIFICIAL SYSTEM)… can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4 because IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS TO TAKE AWAY SINS.

But what goats COULDN’T DO, God’s ideal servant DID! Isaiah 53 PROMISES it. And then God finally brings it to pass in on a cross outside Jerusalem. Rom 3:25 describes God’s patience in OVERLOOKING sin in Israel, until the IDEAL servant came to BEAR it TRULY and JUSTLY.

25 God presented him (Jesus) as A SACRIFICE OF ATONEMENT (just like the goat), through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26 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.

Jesus took our sins onto his perfect, sinless shoulders. And then bore God’s wrath into the wilderness of death. He substituted for US, taking up OUR sufferings, pierced for OUR transgressions. “The punishment that brought us PEACE was upon him.” And so God’s just wrath was SATISFIED. And many could be declared JUST.

And the key to RECEIVING that substitution is to TRUST it. To reach out and ACCEPT it. To ask God to forgive you instead of punishing you BECAUSE OF WHAT Jesus, God’s ideal servant, did as your substitute.

That’s the THIRD song. Explaining HOW the unjust treatment of the Servant can be part of God’s plan. HOW the substitution works.

Silent (7-9)

The FOURTH song is titled “Silent”. V7-9. And it’s similar to the SECOND section. Both looking at the servant’s HUMILITY. THIS one focuses on his SILENCE though. No abuse, no anger, no murderous screams of revenge. Just obedient acceptance.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

Slaughtered. No chance of descendants (v8).

And in his death (v9), he ends up cursed like SINNERS. Even though he’d done nothing wrong.

Exalted (10-12)

Which all seems so unfair. UNJUST. Until we come to section 5 (v10). EXALTED.

(9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, though he had done no violence,) 10 YET IT WAS THE LORD’S WILL TO CRUSH HIM and cause him to suffer,

That is an EXTRAORDINARY CLAIM. It was the Father’s WILL to crush his son. To cause him to suffer. The perfectly JUST God allows his servant to be unjustly murdered. What would make a Father CHOOSE that option?

I hate to see my kids experience ANY pain. To imagine choosing DEATH for them is inconceivable. Yet God DID. And his reason is there in the next phrase.

and though the LORD MAKES HIS LIFE A GUILT OFFERING, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

His life was a guilt offering. A substitute. A sacrifice. One dying in place of many. Verse 11 talks about

by his knowledge my righteous servant WILL JUSTIFY MANY, and he will BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES.

Verse 12. “He BORE the sins of MANY”.

But more than just ONE person dying for the GREATER GOOD. Rather than just being AN ACCEPTABLE CASUALTY. It was God’s will  because DEATH WASN’T THE END for his servant. V11

he will see his offspring and PROLONG HIS DAYS, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.

Or v12.

12 Therefore I will GIVE HIM A PORTION AMONG THE GREAT, and he will DIVIDE THE SPOILS WITH THE STRONG, because he poured out his life unto death,

We can TRUST that Jesus achieved forgiveness for many because God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. God declared his work acceptable.

Phil 2 puts these two stages more clearly. The humbling and the exaltation.

Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but MADE HIMSELF NOTHIng, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!

That’s the HUMILIATION. Here’s the SECOND stage.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Responding to the Servant

And that’s how you RESPOND to the exalted, resurrected, triumphant Son. You bow the knee before him. And you confess to him, and to everyone around. That HE is Lord. To the glory of the Father.

But the FLIP side of that is how you respond to the humbled, silent, ridiculed, hated, suffering servant. Listen to what 1 Peter 2 says. V18. He’s talking to slaves, but the principle applies to ALL of us.

18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is COMMENDABLE if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God.

God APPROVES of a life of silently enduring hardship for Jesus’ sake! V21.

21 To this you were CALLED, because Christ suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, that you should follow in his steps.

That’s the Christian’s calling! To walk in Jesus’ footsteps. So don’t be surprised when it HAPPENS. Don’t DOUBT God! Don’t retaliate! Don’t give up. Just endure it. Follow Jesus’ example.

Do it at work when you boss overlooks you AGAIN for the promotion. Or blames you for something that wasn’t your fault.

Do it at home when your family doesn’t appreciate you. Or nags you.

Do it with those non-Christian friends or family that snigger behind their hands when you mention anything about Jesus. Or workmates that try to drag you down to their level with porn or dirty jokes or crude gossip.

God’s CALLED you to follow Christ’s example.

And then, just to back up what he’s saying Peter quotes from Isaiah 53. V22.

22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 

Peter continues

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (ANOTHER quote from Isaiah 52) 25 For you were like sheep going astray (and AGAIN!) , but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

The ideal servant bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might DIE to SINS and LIVE for righteousness. Let’s DO that. And follow Jesus’ example as we DO it. In gratitude to the One who gave EVERYTHING for us.

Isaiah 44:24-45:25: Do you know better than God?

It’s been a crazy six months around the world as far as NATURAL DISASTERS go. And lots of people are wondering what God’s DOING. Perhaps none more so than Swedish newly weds Stefan and Erika Svanstrom, who’ve just returned from a four month honeymoon.

They got married on Nov. 27 last year, and headed off a week later. Their first flight landed in Munich, where one of Europe’s worst ever snowstorms delayed them for a day at the airport.

After a quiet month in Thailand, they travelled to Bali, where they were caught by seasonal monsoon rains.

Off to Australia, in Perth in February of this year, where the Svanstroms narrowly escaped deadly bush fires.

After that they travelled to Cairns, where category 5 Cyclone Yasi had them evacuated from their hostel to a nearby shopping mall. They slept on a cement floor with other evacuees.

A few weeks later, the Svanstroms were visiting friends in … Brisbane, where the city was mopping up after the massive flooding of the Brisbane River devastated the city centre.

From Brisbane, they decided to fly to NZ. They were at the airport waiting for a flight to… CHRISTCHURCH, when they got a call from worried relatives advising them a 6.3 magnitude earthquake had struck the city. They ended up in Auckland, and drove down to Christchurch where they could only see the airport because of the destruction.

“Next stop was…  Japan, where they experienced the earthquake of 11 March while eating lunch in Asakusa in northern Tokyo.

They’ve recently returned home, still in good spirits, and grateful for their lives.

It’s quite funny, isn’t it, when you think about the slim probability of those events randomly happening to one couple. But it’s not funny, of course, to those who’ve been affected much more deeply by those disasters. Who’ve lost loved ones, or lost everything.

And the natural question for people in the midst of all that is “What’s God DOING? Where IS he? WHY???” “How can a loving, powerful God let such terrible things happen?”

Of course, it’s not A NEW question. It’s been asked for thousands of years. By people of every religion. In every part of the world. Including God’s people, the Jews, stuck in Babylon in 6th century BC.

And these words from the prophet Isaiah are God’s answer to THAT situation SPECIFICALLY. But also, more GENERALLY, to those questions MANY OF US have about why God allows suffering. And whether he’s really in control.

The ONLY God

And the refrain God keeps singing, again and again. (Perhaps you picked it up). Is THIS. “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” He’s the ONLY God.

He’s the only God who CREATED. 44 v24.

I am the LORD, who has MADE ALL THINGS, who ALONE stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself,

And because he alone CREATED, he’s uniquely qualified to ACT in his creation. To DO AS HE PLEASES. And into Ch 45 we get a long list of the things God’s CHOOSING to do. And then down in v5, we get the chorus.

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.

Then again, in the very next verse. God ACTS as he does FOR A REASON.

6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting MEN MAY KNOW there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and THERE IS NO OTHER.

Or jump down to the end of v14. Even the NATIONS will recognise it. The Egyptians who REFUSED to recognise God BEFORE.

They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, ‘Surely God is with you, and THERE IS NO OTHER; THERE IS NO OTHER GOD.'”

Again, at the end of v18. The God who created the earth to be inhabited says

“I am the LORD, and THERE IS NO OTHER.

And just in case you haven’t got the message yet, jump down a bit further to v21. The God who foretells the future says

I, the LORD…there is NO GOD APART FROM ME, a righteous God and a Savior; THERE IS NONE BUT ME.

Which really should be ANSWER ENOUGH to all our doubts and questions. What’s God doing? Where is he? Why does he allow suffering?

Because he’s the ONLY GOD. He is THE LORD and there is no other. YOU’RE not God. HE is! Case closed. Too often our complaining and questioning of God is because we think we know better. Because WE want to be God, and aren’t willing to let GOD be God.

The REVEALING God

God’s declaration that he alone is God SHOULD be answer enough. But God doesn’t leave us there. We don’t DESERVE an answer, but he gives us one ANYWAY. He’s a REVEALING God. Look at 45 v18. God is completely self-sufficient. Needs nothing. Needs no one. Never gets lonely, or hungry or tired or frustrated.

And yet he created the world to be inhabited. He didn’t NEED us, but he MADE US ANYWAY. V18.

18 For this is what the LORD says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

And then, because he made us for A PURPOSE, he COMMUNICATES himself to us. He tells us WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS. V19.

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. 19 I HAVE NOT SPOKEN IN SECRET, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have NOT said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.

It’s important to God that we GET HIM RIGHT. That we UNDERSTAND what he’s on about. What he’s doing. And how he wants us to respond to him.

And so that means it should be important to US TOO. God has spoken to us through his Word, and through his Son. If God REVEALS himself that means WE SHOULD LISTEN. Nothing is more important than hearing what God says about himself, and about his world, and about our place in it.

How well are YOU listening?

The SOVEREIGN God

So if God’s a REVEALING God, WHAT does he reveal about himself? The next point is that he’s a SOVEREIGN God. He’s IN CONTROL of EVERYTHING.

First up, he’s in control of HISTORY. Ch 44 v25. He tells his prophets what will happen, and then he brings it about.

And of PARTICULAR interest is his plan to restore Jerusalem. V26.

26 He carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’

The Jews stuck in Babylon have NO problem with THAT bit. It’s the NEXT bit they struggle with. The WAY God’s going to do it. He’s sovereignly going to use CYRUS, king of the Medes and the Persians. See there in v28

28 who says of CYRUS, ‘HE is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ‘

Jewish national pride had already suffered a blow when ONE foreign king conquered them. Babylon. Now God was promising that ANOTHER king would come along and boss them around.

And it was almost beyond belief that God would call him “MY SHEPHERD.” That was his term for ISRAEL’S rulers. For Moses, and David and the Judges.

But not just SHEPHERD. Have a look at v1 of Ch 45.

“This is what the LORD says to HIS ANOINTED, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him:

Anointing with oil was what only happened to Israel’s priests and kings. A sign of God’s empowering with his Spirit. And equipping them for the task. And it came to mean a term for God’s CHOSEN ONE. It’s where we get the title MESSIAH from – which means “Anointed ONE.”

And here God’s saying that the foreigner CYRUS will be HIS ANOINTED. His Chosen one. His MESSIAH.

And, v2, God will make it easy for him to win. But, all the while, it will be GOD’S purposes that he’s achieving. V3.

3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD, the God of Israel, who SUMMONS YOU BY NAME.

And, even more amazingly, God can use Cyrus without him even RECOGNISING it. v4.

4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, THOUGH YOU DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE ME.

THAT’S how sovereign God is! He can even use unbelieving pagan kings to rescue his chosen servant Israel! He did it with Pharaoh. He did it with Cyrus. And he does it with our leaders today.

And that means that we should be PRAYING for our leaders. Praying for the good ones. AND the bad ones. Praying that God would work out his good purposes through governments even when they DON’T acknowledge him.

For example, this week’s federal budget announced the funding of 1000 new school Christian chaplaincy positions! From a Prime Minister who refused to swear on the Bible when she was inducted because she’s AN ATHEIST! But God uses political agendas as tools for his GREATER agenda – that people might come to recognise that he’s the one true God, and there is no other. And we can give thanks that he’s using government grants and school chaplains to DO that. And pray it will continue. Prov 21:1 puts it this way

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

He did it with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and he did it with King Cyrus of the Medes and Persians. In 539 BC Cyrus invaded Babylon. We read about that in Daniel 5. A short time later, he REVERSED Babylon’s foreign policy, and sent Israel home. And the city walls and the temple were re-built. We read about THAT in Ezra.

It all worked out. But at the time, it must have sounded RIDICULOUS! Israel would have been saying, “What’s God THINKING? What’s he DOING? Why THIS way? Why not raise up a nice JEWISH rescuer. A JEWISH shepherd. A JEWISH Messiah.”

But God did things this way FOR A REASON. V5.

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 SO THAT FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE OF ITS SETTING MEN MAY KNOW THERE IS NONE BESIDES ME. I am the LORD, and there is no other.

That’s why God does EVERYTHING he does – so that people would RECOGNISE him. That there are no other Gods.

It’s why he does OBVIOUS things, and NOT so obvious things. You can’t put God into a box. You can’t thank him for the rainbow, but then say he’s not responsible for the FLOOD. He’s responsible FOR IT ALL. Even if we CAN’T explain it. . Look at God’s incredible claim in v7.

7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

God’s responsible for IT ALL. Just because we don’t UNDERSTAND it, doesn’t mean he’s not BEHIND it. God IS responsible for the Japanese tsunami, and the Christchurch earthquake, and the Queensland cyclone, and the Brisbane floods.

He’s responsible for GOOD government and BAD government. He CONTROLS just presidents AND brutal dictators. He forms light and creates darkness.

And sometimes we get to see some bigger picture. Sometimes we’re just left scratching our heads. But, at the very least, we know God’s ULTIMATE purpose in it all. 45:6

6 SO THAT FROM THE RISING OF THE SUN TO THE PLACE OF ITS SETTING MEN MAY KNOW THERE IS NONE BESIDES ME. I am the LORD, and there is no other.

 

The problem when we start complaining, or suggesting we know better than God, is that it’s like a piece of pottery complaining to the potter. He MADE us, and he’s got the RIGHT to do it the way he likes. There in v9.

9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’

It’s NONSENSE to imagine such a thing. But it’s exactly the same when we question that God doesn’t know what he’s doing. “Who are YOU to boss me around?” says God. V11.

11 “This is what the LORD says–the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free,

God’s got everything in control. He really DOES!

We SAY it, but so often we don’t LIVE it.

One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is Grand Designs. It’s about average people building extraordinary homes. Last week I watched an episode where the owner lived on site and wanted to know about EVERY MINUTE DETAIL. It made things really difficult for the builder. Always having to explain things and justify himself. It slowed him down, and wore him out.

And I got the impression the builder found it hard not to take it PERSONALLY. He felt like the owner didn’t TRUST him. Always questioning, and checking what he did.

At one point he was interviewed by Kevin McCloud, the host, and he said the hardest thing about the build was having the owner on site all the time. And he made the ironic comment, “It’s just as well he’s here. I’ve only got 25 years building experience, and the architect’s only got 20 years experience. I don’t know how we’d cope without the owner!” In other words, he wished he’d just butt out for a while, and give them some space to DO THEIR JOB!

And it’s the same with God. “Just butt out,” he says, “And let me do my job!”

God’s got everything in control. He really DOES! We SAY it, but so often we don’t LIVE it.

We SAY he’s got it in control. But we try to fix problems ourselves, rather than PRAY. Prayer is our LAST resort, rather than our FIRST.

We SAY he’s got it in control. But we WORRY, instead of trusting him.

We SAY he’s got it in control. But we COMPLAIN, rather than be CONTENT.

So let’s SHOW that God’s got everything in control by PRAYING. By TRUSTING. By BEING CONTENT.

The SAVIOUR God

And let’s keep the BIG PICTURE in mind. In the midst of things we don’t understand, or struggle to see the good in. We’ve got to remember that God has SAVED us.

Lots of stuff we MIGHTN’T get. About natural disasters, and suffering. But God sent Jesus to die in our place. To pay for our sin. To suffer God’s wrath, so we don’t have to. God raised Jesus from death, forgave our sin. And promises us rescue and new life. And ultimately, to rescue THIS BROKEN GROANING WORLD, and RESTORE it for us to live in. Let’s not forget THAT.

Same with Israel. God’s message to Israel, who were doing those same things. The complaining and the worrying. God reminds them that his purpose in the whole plan is TO SAVE THEM. He’s the SAVIOUR God. Jump down to v17 of ch 45.

17 But Israel will be SAVED by the LORD with an EVERLASTING SALVATION; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting.

God’s got something GOOD planned for his people. v18.

18 For this is what the LORD says–he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited–

And that includes his Promised Land. He made it to be FILLED. So that’s what he’s going to DO.

And the right response to a SAVIOUR GOD like THAT is OBVIOUS. V22. You turn to him and be saved.

22 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

God’s plan, hinted at here, was MUCH BIGGER than just restoring ISRAEL. He wanted to save THE WHOLE WORLD. Which includes US. Let’s REJOICE in that. ONE GOD for ONE WORLD. United together under that ONE GOD.

And while Israel might have questioned God’s choice of Cyrus. And we might question the way God works out some things in his world TODAY.

Let’s REJOICE in God’s strange choice of a SUFFERING servant. Of a CRUCIFIED Saviour. Of a WEAK AND OBEDIENT Lord.

And let’s rejoice in his strange choice of US. Undeserving. Unworthy. Objects of GRACE.

As Paul thought about the foolishness of his gospel compared to the wisdom of the age. As he thought about the Corinthian Christians, a rag-tag bunch of misfits, compared to the eloquent and gifted pagans around them. He reached THIS CONCLUSION. 1 Cor 1:21

God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.   31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

Praise God for the foolishness of the cross. For the foolishness of grace. For the LORD is GOD, and there is no other!

Isaiah 42: 20 20 spiritual vision

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY. It’s what staff at foreign embassies claim whenever they fear they’ve broken the law in Australia. My understanding is the two countries agree that each embassy is like a small part of their home country on foreign soil. So, the Chinese embassy in Canberra is actually part of China. And so, Australian authorities have no jurisdiction inside the embassy.

And it’s the same for staff. They don’t actually operate under Australian law. If they break Australian law, or are suspected of it, they claim DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY, and Australian law can’t touch them. If a foreign authority threatens, then the government can just say, “Watch out! That’s my servant you’re messing with! Mess with MY SERVANT, and you mess with ME!”

And as we move into the next part of Isaiah’s prophecy, we see God offering his people Israel A KIND OF DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY.

Remember, God’s exiled them to Babylon. They’ve been there for decades. But now God’s promised to bring them back. All’s forgiven, the debt’s been paid. And, once more, they’ll be God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule. That was in ch 40 that we looked at last week.

Now, into ch 41, God begins to explain the DETAILS of the plan. V2 – God is the One who raises up Cyrus from the East, the king of Persia. And he’ll hand kings and nations over to him, so God can work out his purposes through him.

And then in v8, we see God’s promise of DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY. Israel’s safe because they’re God’s SERVANT.

8 “But you, O ISRAEL, MY SERVANT, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘YOU ARE MY SERVANT’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 SO DO NOT FEAR, FOR I AM WITH YOU; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.

The surrounding nations might be HUGE, and Israel might be TINY, but size doesn’t matter when God’s in your corner. Or more accurately, YOU’RE in HIS. V11.

11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish.

Down to v13.

13 For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, O WORM Jacob, O LITTLE Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Israel might only be A WORM. But God is the loving Father gently and firmly holding onto his child’s hand. Keeping her from stumbling, and guiding her in safety. It’s a lovely image. Like a father holding the hand of his child in the surf. As the waves roll in, they should knock the boy off his feet. But he stands firm, because he’s holding onto his father, who’s going nowhere.

It’s like diplomatic immunity because it’s Israel’s connection to GOD that guarantees her protection. God’s SERVANTS receive the same protection as GOD HIMSELF. Just like DIPLOMATIC servants receive the protection of the country they’re LOYAL to.

God is saying to the nations around, “Hands off! This one’s MINE! You mess with my SERVANT, you’re messing WITH ME!”

And God’s promises continue. Down to V17-20 – God’s going to do MIRACULOUS THINGS, so people will HAVE TO acknowledge that he’s behind them.

And down to v25. God FORETELLS THE FUTURE. “One from the NORTH will come to tread on rulers.” God PROPHESYING it proves he’s BEHIND it. And the gods of the nations are left SPEECHLESS. V29.

29 See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.

And so we come to Ch 42, and our attention returns to God’s SERVANT. To this one he’s claiming DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY for.

It’s like he’s presenting his servant to the nations. Outlining his agenda for him. IN WHAT WAY he’s going to serve God.

And as I read through these familiar verses, just resist the temptation to put on your New Testament glasses for a moment. And just listen to these words thinking about ISRAEL. Back in Ch 41 v8 God’s servant was OBVIOUSLY Israel, so let’s assume that’s STILL the case.

So, ch 42 v1. God presenting his servant:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

As the nations and their false gods look on, God unveils his servant. The one he plans to use to bring about his purposes for his world.

There in v1. Israel is God’s DELIGHT. The only one he’s chosen. No one else gets that special privilege. He chose Abraham, way back in Genesis, and promised to make him into a nation. A nation who would be a blessing to ALL nations. And so ISRAEL is God’s servant, his CHOSEN ONE.

In Deut 7 God talks about WHY he chose Israel. Deut 7:6.

6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. 7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery

Israel is God’s CHOSEN ONE.

And He’ll KEEP HIM FIRM. And equip him with his Spirit – God’s personal presence.

And the REASON he needs God’s presence and power is because God’s got a job for him to do. V1 – to bring JUSTICE to the nations. In the midst of violence and ruthless destruction, God’s servant will bring God’s JUSTICE to the world.

But it won’t be at the end of a sword or a battering ram. It won’t be loud, aggressive and dominating. V2. God’s plan  is for justice to come gently and quietly and meekly.

2 He will NOT shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

A bruised reed is barely able to stand upright, but God’s servant won’t flatten it. A smouldering wick is half a breath away from extinction. But God’s servant won’t put it out. He’ll coax life out of almost dead candles.

And he’ll do the job RELIABLY. Second half of v3.

In FAITHFULNESS he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not FALTER or be DISCOURAGED till he establishes justice on earth.

He’s the sort of servant you can give a job to, and know he’ll see it through. You won’t find him clocking off early, or reading the paper. He’ll stick at it until the job’s finished.

A light to the nations

And there’s a bit more of God’s job description for his servant down in v6. Rather than talking ABOUT him, he talks TO him.

6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

Israel is God’s righteous instrument for dealing with the world. It was a plan revealed to Abraham centuries before, that HIS nation would be a blessing TO ALL THE REST. HIS nation would be the means by which God made a covenant with ALL the nations. They’d be A LIGHT, showing everyone how good God was, how sensible and holy his LAW was. They’d LIVE OUT justice. God called them to testify to all they’d seen God do THROUGH them and FOR them.

And so, they’d open blind eyes, and free prisoners.

You catch a glimpse of what God wanted to do for the world through Israel back in ch 2 of Isaiah. Just flip back there for a moment. Ch 2 v1.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the LIGHT of the LORD.

Can you see all the same themes there? Judah being a LIGHT to the nations. Everyone DRAWN to Jerusalem. Attracted. They’d be the focus of the world as they studied and obeyed God’s law. And so there’d be peace and justice.

At least that was THE PLAN.

A blind witness

But how well did Israel MEASURE UP? The fact they were in exile as they hear Isaiah’s prophecy tells the story. They FAILED SPECTACULARLY. Rather than cause nations to recognise God’s glory, they SHAMED him. Rather than live out justice, there was Injustice – bribery, violence and abuse. Rather than be HOLY, they were no different, or WORSE, than the nations. They inter-married, and took on their gods, and their sins.

They were supposed to be WITNESSES. But what use are blind and deaf witnesses? They see and hear NOTHING. They’re USELESS. Jump back over to Ch 42, and down to v18.

18 “Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD? 20 You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”

All the incredible saving acts of God in Israel’s history. And it makes no difference. Their attitudes and actions are just as wicked as if God wasn’t around. They don’t even NOTICE.

It’s like people talking right through a concert of beautiful music. Or a teenager playing on his mobile phone as the family drive through spectacular countryside, or tour a famous art gallery. Seeing and hearing EVERYTHING, but understanding NOTHING.

And then in v21 we see how God gave them his wonderful LAW, great and glorious. Gave it to them to obey. But they were BLIND AND DEAF to it.

And then, from v22, when God sends PUNISHMENTS, they’re blind and deaf to those TOO. None of it makes any difference. Plunder, looting, famine, violence, and war.

Like a child throwing a tantrum. The discipline makes no difference. A parent can just keep heaping consequence after consequence, but it just makes the behaviour WORSE. No TV for a day. A week. A month. No difference. The tantrum continues. No COMPUTER as WELL. And throw in no visits to friends’ places. And early bed for a year.

None of it works. That’s Israel.

And so the chapter concludes at v25.

25 So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, YET THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND; IT CONSUMED THEM, BUT THEY DID NOT TAKE IT TO HEART.

God’s plan doesn’t fail

The chapter finishes with ISRAEL failing. But does that mean God’s PLAN FOR THE WORLD has failed?

Not at all! It’s just as well God’s not constrained by our inability. He’ll never use the excuse of a bad workman, and blame his tools. He’s the expert at using blunt instruments. Look at how Ch 43 continues the argument.

But now, this is what the LORD says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not (don’t focus on your failures!), for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

It’s all about GOD, and nothing about ISRAEL. He’ll still bring about his plans DESPITE their sin. DESPITE their blindness and deafness. HE will do it, not ISRAEL. V5

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth– 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Not just SERVANTS, but SONS and DAUGHTERS. Called by name. Created for God’s glory.

And where people FAIL, God SUCCEEDS. It’s GOD who’ll bring them back.

Even with A BLIND AND DEAF servant. A servant who was supposed to bring SIGHT to the blind, and healing to the deaf. But instead, is blind and deaf himself. Look there in v8.

8 Lead out those who have eyes but are BLIND, who have ears but are DEAF.

God’s going to give a demonstration of his power. And his CASE STUDY is his blind and deaf servant. Like the martial arts expert, or the master magician, or the stand-up comedian, who pulls some poor volunteer out of the audience. And then cuts him in half, or makes fun of him, or throws him to the ground. He USES him to demonstrate his SKILL.

And the audience is going to be THE NATIONS. The ones for whom this whole plan was to benefit. The ones Israel was supposed to set free from prison.

And he challenges the nations to DISPROVE God’s power. Let them present their OWN witnesses that THEIR gods are in charge. V9.

9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in THEIR witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.”

The prosecution calls THEIR witnesses. But they can’t prove anything. And so God begins his defence. And calls HIS witness.

And guess who he calls to contradict the witness of the nations? The case for the defence?

Even blind servants can witness

Israel. The blind and deaf servant. Again and again they turned away from following God. Useless. But look at what God does anyway. V10. He’s talking to Israel again.

10 “YOU are … my WITNESSES,” declares the LORD,” and my SERVANT whom I have chosen, so that you may KNOW and BELIEVE me and understand that I AM HE. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have REVEALED and SAVED and PROCLAIMED–I, and not some foreign god among you. YOU ARE MY WITNESSES,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

In God’s upside down way of doing things, he chooses to use frail, faulty human witnesses to testify to his character. To testify to his salvation. Even though they’re BLIND. Even though they’re DEAF.

That’s the way God’s people witness about him. Whether it be THEN, or NOW. And so we say, “There’s nothing special about ME. I was blind. I was deaf. I was dead in sin. But God RESCUED ME ANYWAY. It’s all about him. And nothing about ME.”

Grace upon grace upon grace. Forgiveness after forgiveness after forgiveness. All about God. Nothing about ME. There’s nothing egotistical or self-righteous in a genuine Christian testimony. It’s one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. It’s all about God, and nothing about US.

We’re DIFFERENT from Israel. Israel REMAINED blind and deaf. But through Jesus, the PERFECT servant, God chooses to open our blind eyes, to unstop our deaf ears. To breathe life into our dead, sinful hearts. To give us his Spirit. And make us ALIVE. And then give us the power and the desire to actually serve God whole-heartedly. Out of love and gratitude.

We’re DIFFERENT from Israel. But we’re also SIMILAR to Israel. WE TOO are God’s SERVANT. God’s plan for his world is STILL to use his servant to be a light to the world. To open blind eyes, and free prisoners. To live out justice. To live out compassion and gentleness and humility. TO not break bruised reeds or snuff out smouldering wicks.

It’s THE CHURCH that’s God’s servant today. It’s the church who are called to be salt and light in the world. It’s the church who are called to point people to the ULTIMATE servant. The ULTIMATE light. The servant who said (in John 8:12)

 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It’s the church who are called, not only POINT people to the light, but to WALK in the light. 1 John 1:7

7 But if we walk in the light , as he is in the light , we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

And it’s the church (in the words of Phil 2:14) who are called to

14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, IN WHICH YOU SHINE LIKE STARS IN THE UNIVERSE 16 as you hold out the word of life

We work with God, proclaiming the light, holding out the word of life, walking in the light. Bringing his kingdom to the nations. Just like he planned for Israel. Just like he promised Abraham.

And here’s the truly incredible thing. God calls us to do that EVEN THOUGH WE’RE DEAF AND BLIND. Slow to understand. UNWORTHY. Sinful. Praise God for his grace.

Will YOU live, witnessing to those around you of the extraordinary work of God in YOU?

Isa 43:11-12. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed– I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.

Isaiah 40: When your world falls apart

Have you ever been waiting at a train station when one of those long distance interstate trains roars through? Like an XPT or the Ghan or the Indian Pacific?

It’s all dark, rumbling energy. Busyness and importance and purpose. Dozens of carriages filled with people and baggage and freight all heading to significant destinations.

Picking up Isaiah at chapter 40 is like trying to catch the Indian Pacific as it speeds through your station at 80 kmh. If you try to jump on from a standing start, you’ll get smashed.

So, we’re going to spend the FIRST half of today getting up to speed on where “the Isaiah Express” is headed. Who’s on board, what it’s carrying, where it’s headed, and what the timetable is. Then we’ll get to Ch 40.

The first 39 chapters cover the years 740 to 686 BC, about 54 years. Israel had been split into two kingdoms, northern Israel and southern Judah, for about 200 years, since 930 BC.

And they’re set in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. And they summarise the ministry of the prophet Isaiah.

Jump back to ch 1 v1. We find out that he prophesied, following the death of Uzziah, the king of Judah, through the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and finally Hezekiah.

And his message, time and again, year after year, was that God was ANGRY with his people. They REFUSED to follow him. Like down in v3 of ch 1.

3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 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.

Or jump down to v11. They served him ON THE OUTSIDE, keeping traditions and rituals, but there was no genuine love or commitment there. God HATES hypocrites!

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices–what are they to me?” says the LORD.”I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats… 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!… …(14) They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers ,I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight

And God’s warning, if they kept ignoring him, was that judgment would come. Judgment in the form of a foreign conqueror. And, over to ch 8, God NAMES the threat. Assyria. The world super-power of the day. Ch 8 v 4.

4 Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by THE KING OF ASSYRIA.”

And that came true as Assyria, threateningly, stormed closer and closer. Damascus fell to Assyria in 732, and Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, fell 10 years later. And were carried off into exile.

But the southern kingdom of Judah, where Isaiah was based, refused to take the warning. Even as Assyria threatened.

And the rest of the chapters, up to 35, tell the story of God’s judgment, not just against the surrounding nations, but against Judah as well.

But thrown in with the warning of JUDGMENT are promises of RESTORATION AND PROTECTION. In particular, for God’s REMNANT – a small portion of FAITHFUL people – who he’ll spare, and bring into new prosperity and freedom. Like ch 10 v20.

20 In that day the REMNANT of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD ,the Holy One of Israel. 21 A REMNANT will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God. 22 Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous. 23 The Lord, the LORD Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.

And there’s more we could say. About how God’s promises for a remnant aren’t just going to be from JUDAH, but from ALL the nations. For the whole WORLD.

And more on the POLITICAL situation involving alliances with Egypt.

But as we come to ch 36 there’s a change from the POETRY of Isaiah’s prophecy to HISTORICAL NARRATIVE. And we get FOUR CHAPTERS describing the fall of the Assyrian threat. As well as the rise of the Babylonian threat.

Like America and China. One super power on the way DOWN, the other on the way UP.

Or, if you like, it’s a bit like the episodes played out on the pages of the newspapers in the last few weeks. The demise of ONE leader, and the RISE of ANOTHER. I’m talking about the Australian cricket team. Ricky Ponting’s reign as captain is OVER. And Michael Clarke’s the NEW captain.

Ch 36 and 37 describe how the dark clouds of Assyrian invasion finally lifted. Around 700 BC. How Hezekiah finally mustered up the faith to pray for God’s deliverance as the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem, taunted the people, and insulted God.

And how God acted in SMALL as well as SPECTACULAR ways. How, 37:7, he put a spirit in the Assyrian king, a little unsettling whisper, a feeling in the pit of his stomach, so that when he heard news from home, he stressed about it enough to leave Jerusalem to deal with it. And there he was murdered by his own sons.

Small action from God. You could almost dismiss it as coincidence.  The king heard a dangerous rumour, so he went home, and was killed. Hardly seems miraculous AT ALL. But God was behind it.

Just as much as he was behind the BIG miracle. The destruction of the king’s ARMY, AS WELL. Ch 37 v36. God sent his angel through their camp, and 185,000 were killed OVERNIGHT. Without an arrow being fired. Miraculous! And Assyria was gone. And Jerusalem was spared.

For the moment.

Because, while ASSYRIA is gone, BABYLON’S on the rise as a world power. Which is introduced in ch 38. The FIRST 37 chapters are about ASSYRIA. The REST of the book concerns Babylon.

Ch 38 describes Hezekiah on death’s door. God tells him he’ll die, then in response to his prayer, heals him. Once again, in SMALL as well as SPECTACULAR ways.

The healing comes via a hot pack of figs applied to the boil (38:21). And God uses THAT to heal him. Not too spectacular!

But to PROVE to Hezekiah he’s going to do it, he winds the sun back a few hours. Stops the earth spinning, and turns it back a few degrees! That’s pretty spectacular!

And then into ch 39, the king of far-off Babylon hears about Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery, and sends a get well card via some envoys. Hezekiah’s so pleased, he shows the envoys all over his palace.

But when Isaiah finds out the news, he prophesies that God’s judgment is still hanging over Israel. And that it will be BABYLON that conquers Jerusalem, and carries off all the treasure he’s shown them. Assyria’s not the threat anymore.

It’s some time in the future.

And even though Isaiah warns that some of Hezekiah’s own descendents will be carried off to Babylon, Hezekiah’s relieved. Because at least there’ll be peace and security in his lifetime. So we come to the end of Ch 39. The year is about 700 BC.

But by the very next verse, into ch 40, we get a HUGE jump forward in time. Over a hundred years.

Isaiah dies. But he leaves behind the writings of his prophecy.

The Babylonian empire grows in power, and by 612, it invades Nineveh. In 609 King Josiah of Judah dies, then Zedekiah finally provokes Nebuchadnezzar’s final assault on Jerusalem. The city falls in 597, with exiles deported to Babylon, and more following in 586.

And that’s the hopeless situation chapters 40-66 speak about. To Jews exiled in Babylon. There’s no temple, no land, no king, hardly even a people.

But chapters 40-66, from the long dead Isaiah, speak God’s words of comfort. The message of ch 40 that we’re looking at today says “You’re on a train that IS headed SOMEWHERE. God’s got a timetable and a destination. Trust him!

So now you’re up to speed, let’s (finally) jump on board.

We can break Ch 40 up into two parts. The gospel of God (v1-9), and the God of the gospel (the rest of the chapter).

The gospel of God (1-9)

Firstly, the gospel of God. The GOOD NEWS about God. God’s speaking, through the prophet. And he’s speaking words of COMFORT. Comfort that comes in four big hugs.

First. You are God’s people. There in v1. “Comfort, comfort MY PEOPLE.” Despite appearances. Despite it LOOKING like God’s abandoned you. Despite being in a strange land, surrounded by strangers. Despite no temple or city or king. You still belong to God. So take COMFORT.

Second. Your sins have been paid for. Verse 2.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Decades of exile had hammered home to the Jews that God was punishing them. That they’d rebelled, ignored, and disobeyed him. But now there was the incredible news that all was forgiven. Somehow, without explanation, God was willing to forgive generations of sin. Simply counting 50 or 60 years of exile by ONE generation as sufficient punishment to clear the debt for THE WHOLE NATION across HUNDREDS OF YEARS.

It’s almost beyond comprehension. It’s just stated as FACT. “Your sin’s been paid for.” In fact, it’s LEFT UNEXPLAINED until ch 53 where we find out HOW sin is paid for. About the suffering servant who would bear the punishment Israel COULDN’T  on her behalf. About Jesus, God’s perfect Son, who was pierced for our transgressions. And about how the punishment that brought us PEACE was brought on HIM.

But here in ch 40, it mightn’t be EXPLAINED, but it’s OBVIOUS. The relationship’s been restored. The offence forgiven. And so, there’s COMFORT.

I don’t know whether you use something like TIME OUT to discipline your kids. When it works BEST is when the kids feel the broken relationship. They know you’re UPSET with their behaviour, and they’re SEPARATED from you. But then when they’re allowed out of their room, and you give them a hug, and tell them everything’s alright!. The relationship is RESTORED, it’s WONDERFUL! And the kids are comforted and reassured.

But, with Israel, that’s only HALF comfort if the people remain stuck in Babylon. And so the next part of God’s comforting hug is there from v3. God’s going to ACT on his forgiveness. There’ll be PHYSICAL EXPRESSION of that restored relationship. He’ll return to his country, and he’ll bring his people WITH him. Get ready! God’s coming! V3.

3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.   4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

They hardly feel like God’s people at all. But God’s promising to reveal his glory for everyone to see. To restore his people to their land just like he’s restored their relationship with him. And he’s SMOOTHING THE WAY for it to happen.

Once more, there’ll be a VISIBLE EXPRESSION of God’s kingdom. Of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.

(We find out HOW in the next few chapters. God’s going to use PERSIA, and its king, Cyrus, to DO it. We read about how it happened in Ezra and Daniel. But for the moment, that’s off in the future.)

The FOURTH part of God’s comforting hug for them is there in v6. If it all seems too good to believe, then remember THIS. God’s PROMISED it, so you can COUNT on it. God’s word can be trusted. Everything else is “here today and gone tomorrow”. But not God’s word! V8.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

We all know it with our HEADS, but so often we don’t LIVE like it. We live like the things that last – things that MATTER – are the stuff we buy, and make, and sit on, and drive, and play with, and covet and hoard.

But the reality is only God’s word stands forever.

It’s one of the good things to be praying for people in the midst of all the floods and tsunamis and earthquakes of the last few months. That they might recognise the TRUTH of v8. That all the OTHER things they put their trust in – homes, jobs, families, health, investments, shopping – NONE of it’s reliable. NONE of it LASTS. The only thing that can be TRUSTED is God’s word. God HIMSELF is the only trustworthy, reliable, dependable thing in a world that’s passing away.

à So declare “Here is your God!” (9-11)

So, how do you RESPOND to four comforting truths like that? Whether it be Isaiah and Israel. Or you and I TODAY. By DECLARING that God to whoever will listen. Not just PRAYING for people who lose everything in disasters. But TELLING THEM that God’s the only reliable one. Look there in v9.

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, DO NOT BE AFRAID; say to the towns of Judah, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him.

HERE IS YOUR GOD! He’s NOT imaginary! He’s not VINDICTIVE, or ANGRY, or DISINTERESTED, or IMPOTENT.

He’s POWERFUL. He’s acted in history. He’s judged and saved. But not just that. V11. He’s the gentle shepherd who forgives, protects, restores and leads his people.

And if it was clear for those Old Testament believers. How much MORE obvious is it FOR US to be able to point people to JESUS. To the perfect man who walked and talked among us. Who died and was raised from death, witnessed by hundreds. Jesus, the perfect visible representation of the invisible God. How much easier for US to point people to Jesus. And say, “Here is your God!”

And DON’T BE AFRAID! We need to hear that just as much as God’s OLD testament people did. Don’t be afraid of ridicule, or public opinion, or political correctness. Proclaim “Here is your God! Rejoice in him, and submit to him! He’s glorious, and he’s WORTH it!”

The God of the gospel (12-26)

That’s the gospel of God. Next we focus on the GOD OF THE GOSPEL. From v12.

The reason the message about God is so GOOD. And the reason God’s message is so powerful, and his word is so RELIABLE is BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS.

And so when we’re at our lowest point, the greatest comfort we can receive is to be pointed to GOD. When we take our eyes off God, and start counting our OWN resources, we start to lose hope. We wallow in self-pity when we look at our failures, or our excuses, or our opposition, or our bank balances. Instead of focussing our gaze on the powerful, wise, holy, communicating, rescuing, loving, INCOMPARABLE God we meet in the Bible.

And so that’s the message God’s bringing his people through Isaiah. And WE need to eavesdrop in TOO. From v12, nothing compares with God’s POWER.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Or v13-14. nothing compares with God’s WISDOM.

13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?

Or from v15, nothing compares to God in his CONTROL OF HISTORY. In how he rules over nations and governments. The king over kings. And Lord over lords.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales;

Dust on the scales! A quick blow and they’re GONE! Assyria – GONE. Babylon – GONE! They seem so huge to us. But to God – NOTHING!

Or from v18 – what about OTHER GODS? Ridiculous question! Laughable! V20 A man making an idol carefully chooses wood that won’t rot! And then the craftsman makes sure he flattens the base properly so it won’t topple over. And then they bow down and worship what they’ve made. Making sure they don’t bump the table!

Crazy!

And yet TODAY it’s CHRISTIANS who are ridiculed for being old-fashioned and simplistic. While people worship crystals and follow astrology or Scientology, or meditate in teepees, or worship Gaia or Mother Nature. Or believe the Universe will give them what they want if they just believe it STRONGLY enough. CRAZY!

But God is INCOMPARABLE! He’s the One who MADE the stars, and the crystals, and the forests, and THE UNIVERSE. Down to v25.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

That’s the picture the Jews need reminding of. When they’re tempted to think God’s forgotten them. That they’re abandoned. V27.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the EVERLASTING God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

God’s the one who knows and counts off every one of the billions of stars that make up the Universe. How could he forget his people?

And he’s ETERNAL. Everlasting. He stands outside of time, looking at the whole of history like we might watch a conveyor belt rolling past. He sees the end and the beginning. All at once. Nothing tires him, nothing confuses him, nothing out-muscles him.

He’s INCOMPARABLE!

à So hope in the LORD (27-31)

And when you put it like THAT, the right response is OBVIOUS! When things are hope-LESS, when you lack strength and understanding and influence. You put your HOPE in a God LIKE THAT. V29.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And that’s God’s promise TO US, TOO. That WE put our HOPE in him. As we pray for a non-Christian family member, as we look for relief from chronic illness, as we persevere in a job we hate, or a marriage that’s cold, or a ministry that’s thankless. As we patiently do the hard yards raising kids who exhaust us.

Put your HOPE in him. That the infinitely STRONG One will give us HIS strength. Because THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.