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water-in-desert-pic-754528After a long trip, there is nothing like coming home! The dogs bark, the kids are peeking out the door; they then attack you with purest joy. Sitting in your chair, lying in your own bed, and eating your own food out of the frig instead of out of vending machines, oh, the joy of coming home!

Isaiah has just put hope back into the heart of his hearers by saying, “He (God) will make a highway for the remnant of his people,” a highway leading home—just as he did for Israel long ago when they returned from Egypt”  (11:16).

And the flashmob erupts in jubilant song! Everybody is singing,

You comfort me . . .You have come to save me

And have given me strength–

And a song, a song of victory! (12:1-2)

Sherrylee and I were in Israel last November—a quite pleasant time of the year, but we have been in Mediterranean countries in June—and it is HOT!  You can’t get enough to drink.

So when Isaiah says that on that great Celebration Day, you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation, he is drawing on an experience every Israelite must have had.  Dusty, miserably hot, and thirsty—really thirsty—but what wonderful relief and refreshment to drink from an abundant supply of cool, pure water!

Flash forward 700 years and you will hear Jesus using the same words, talking about “living water” to the Samaritan woman in John 4 and water that will quench your thirst once and for all in John 7. 

We have trouble comprehending the power of this image because water is a cheap commodity, everywhere available, but to promise a desert person that they will drink deeply is to promise them life—with its sweetest pleasure!

Of course, praise is followed by the intense desire for proclamation: “Tell the nations what He has done!”  “Make known his praise around the world!”  These passages don’t describe obedience to the Great Commission; they are beyond Paul’s sense of obligation to the Jew first and then to the Greek.

This is pure joy at salvation overflowing the banks! This is so much pleasure at the goodness of God and His leading His people to Zion, to their home, where they belong, that no one could keep from telling the world:

For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you!”

Go grab a big class of cold water and celebrate!

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Our neighbors have a 30 foot live oak tree that at one time was strong and beautiful—thick trunk and strong branches, but then began to die.

In fact, the tree died—at least I thought it died. These neighbors,however, called a tree doctor who did massive surgery on this tree to save its life.  When he was finished the tree was only the trunk and a half-dozen large branches, chopped off at the end, mimicking half-amputated limbs. No branches, no leaves—just a bald, amputated tree.

The tree stayed that way for at least a year and maybe longer. I don’t remember when I first noticed a single branch starting to grow out of one of the “dead” branches. Then other little shoots started growing out of the other bare branches, scrawny little branches with a half-dozen leaves each, which made this tree look like a bald man with 10-12 individual hairs combed straight out from different spots on his head.

That was two or three years ago. Today, this tree has a short, but full head of hair—really. That resurrected “dead” tree once again provides a haven for birds and offers some shade from the summer sun.

Forcefully and with frightening power, Isaiah has described for Israel and Judah their pruning—no, pruning is too understated—better, the brutal chopping off of their branches and leaves until they may think there is nothing left alive!

But with Chapter 11,  Isaiah declares with beauty and power: “You are not dead!”

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him” (11:1-2a)

Once again the message of the prophet is that God is the Author of life and death—and His will is to choose life!  You may appear chopped to death; you may appear barren of any sign of life, but God brings life from what appears dead!

The Jews understood these verses as a messianic prophecy, and we Christians do as well. We know that Isaiah is foretelling the coming of the One who said “I am the Life,” and who came to live among people who were dead (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Notice what the Spirit of the Lord that rests on Him brings:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Might
  • Knowledge
  • Fear of the Lord

We today readily appreciate the first five gifts; we treasure wisdom, understanding, knowledge. We know the value of good advice and of strength well used.

We don’t know what to do with the “fear of the Lord,” yet for the One who brings Life, “he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” The prophet must not be talking about angst; he must be talking about respect, honor, deference, loving submission.  In western culture, we hardly have the vocabulary to describe the “fear of the Lord.”

But Isaiah goes on to say what it looks like to delight in the fear of the Lord:

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears;

Pretty hard to deceive someone who does not judge by what he sees or hears! Objectivity and just believing what can be seen and heard does not seem to be characteristic of the Almighty Judge.

but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

So the prerequisite for social justice is righteousness. To seek social justice before or without righteousness is not the way of the Lord.

“Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”  

I just saw Miss Haiti 2012 at a conference in Indiana. I knew who she was because she wore a tiara and a sash that said “Miss Haiti 2012”.  We can recognize the Branch of Jesse by his righteousness and faithfulness—and of those who are his branches.

Verses 6-8 list pairings of natural enemies: wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears, lions and oxen, babies and cobras. The point of listing each of these deadly adversaries is to say that on his holy mountain, natural enemies will not “harm or destroy” each other.

That thought makes me question the validity of the very phrase natural enemies. Let’s try some other natural enemies and test this out:  rich vs. poor, conservative vs. liberal, minority vs. majority, weak vs. strong. Would you add others?

I am not suggesting that there are no contradictions or counterpoints any more than I would say that there is nothing natural.  Isaiah’s prophecy reveals a new order of natural, where peace will reign in God’s creation because “all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD” (v. 9).

In his conclusion Isaiah describes the Root of Jesse standing “as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”  The following verses continue the gathering of His people: the scattered, the missing, the conquered, those exiled– from the four corners his people will come together again, but this time in peace.

Sounds to me like we should hesitate to pray, “Lord, come quickly,” until we find ourselves being transformed into a people of peace, a people being gathered together with others very different from ourselves—as different and as apparently threatening as babies and cobras.

In our world driven by rivalry, where so much is measured in red and blue, black and white, haves and have-nots, a peaceable kingdom seems impossible.

But don’t forget that we were as dead as that big oak tree—until the Branch of Jesse came to life and brought life.  He who brings life to the dead can—and will bring peace to a world full of enemies.

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Sherrylee and I are taking a week of vacation, so I am going to use the opportunity to post some of my early blogs that many of you have not seen.  I hope you find them helpful and interesting.

From August 24, 2010

As I was writing, I was reminded of my sister-in-law Janet, who lived with her family in a pretty rough part of New Jersey for many years. Her children grew up walking and riding public transportation through city parts that would frighten lots of parents in more suburban settings.

She made it a practice as they walked out the door into the challenges of their world to arm her children with these words: “Remember your baptism!”

I was talking to a very good Christian friend recently, who was describing to me moments of doubt, doubt about whether he was good enough, doubt if he was the example he wanted to be to others, even a hint of doubt about his salvation.  He is sometimes angry about how his parents raised him to believe, and he is definitely angry about the great sense of guilt and eternal uncertainty that he received from the church he grew up in.

In an attempt to help this friend, I found Janet’s words to be perhaps the most appropriate thing I could say: “Remember your baptism.”

If you don’t really connect with these words, I suspect you grew up in the same kind of church I did, where baptism was unintentionally perverted.  Without impugning what was taught because we don’t always hear what was intended, here is what I learned about baptism:

  • The ritual act of baptism is what is most important.  This had to be because our preaching was all about immersion over any other form, about the age to be baptized, and occasionally about the words that were spoken by the baptizer. If any of these ritual elements were tainted, then most likely, the baptism was not effective. I have seen people baptized again because their arm did not go under the water with the rest of their body, because they were too young to understand everything they needed to understand, and because the person who baptized them did use the triune formula, rather just baptized in the name of Jesus.
  • Baptism was a rite of passage. You had to be 11-12 years old—anything younger and you were suspect. At baptism, you became a member of the church—which, if you were a boy, meant you could not only take communion, but serve communion and lead public prayers.  Girls could only take communion.
  • Baptism separated the saved from the unsaved.

At this point, you may be surprised to hear me say that I still have a very high view of baptism. I might even say I still believe the above—just much differently. Let me explain:

  • The biggest change in my theology of baptism is an understanding that it is all about what God does in baptism and less about what we do. Rather than “getting baptized” which is how it is generally described where I go to church, I wish we would talk about “receiving baptism” as I’ve heard in other churches. The first emphasizes the initiative and activity of the person, the second is more passive. The person is the recipient of the grace, created and extended by God through Jesus, separate and apart from anything we might do to earn it.
  • The symbol of burial and resurrection inherent in immersion is indisputably connected to the meaning of the sacrament. If you mess with the symbolism, you start opening doors to new understandings of the rite.
  • I still believe baptism is a rite of passage, but of passage from darkness to light, from blindness to sight, from carnal to spiritual, from the old man to the new, from the old creature to the new creation, from death to life.

So, here’s the BIG question: does baptism separate the saved from the unsaved? The real answer is that the blood of Jesus separates the saved from the unsaved. He died to destroy Sin and was raised to bring Life.  As Paul said in Romans 6, those who participate in His death will share in His resurrection. Paul says, “Remember your baptism!”

  • Remember that you have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
  • Remember that your old life was buried in the tomb with Jesus.
  • Remember that you are new—not old or refurbished–resurrected!
  • Remember that you are not your own. You were bought with a price.
  • Remember that on the day of your baptism, God worked the miracle of salvation on you.

God says in baptism that He is for you!

And if God is for you, who can be against you?

That should be enough to get you through your day!

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Western Christianity has made Success a virtue! And often we measure success by position, power, and wealth.  Aren’t we Christians tempted to baptize PP&W (position, power, & wealth) as an early installment on our heavenly reward.

The prophet Isaiah takes on this gospel of success in chapter 10.

In Israel, judges had a longer history of exercising the will of God over His people than even the kings. Moses had established a system of judges while the Israelites were still in the wilderness after their flight from Egyptian slavery. Once into the Promised Land, judges like Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and Samuel led the people, commanded the army of Israel, sometimes served as its priest, and eventually anointed its king.

By the day of Isaiah, the judges were corrupted. They “issue unfair laws. They deprive the poor of justice and deny the rights of the needy among my people. They prey on widows and take advantage of orphans.” (10:2).

But these men of influence had been “blessed” by God. They had power, position, and wealth. They were leaders. And perhaps they did have PP&W from God, but, if so, they had received it as reward rather than as responsibility.

No blessing they had received, not their influential circle of friends, nor their position, and especially not their wealth was going to protect them from the punishment of God for their corruption, injustice, and their abuse of the helpless.  “What will you do when I punish you, when I send disaster upon you . . .? To whom will you turn for help? Where will your treasures be safe?” (v.3)

”But I am doing great good for God! I’m using my PP&W to accomplish His will on earth. I’m sure my SUCCESS is from God because He is blessing everything that I do!”  If this is what the judges were thinking, how wrong they were!

That’s probably what the Assyrians were saying! Here’s what Isaiah had to say to Assyria, the most successful country on earth at the time.

What sorrow awaits Assyria, the rod of my anger.
I use it as a club to express my anger.
I am sending Assyria against a godless nation,
against a people with whom I am angry.
Assyria will plunder them,
trampling them like dirt beneath its feet.
But the king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool;
his mind does not work that way.

His plan is simply to destroy,
to cut down nation after nation.

This message is a shock to the PP&W group! What? A powerful person can be used by God to accomplish the will of God and not be “blessed” for it??  A successful person can achieve every goal, be the tool in the hand of God—and then be the object of God’s wrath??

The apostle Paul addressed a group of similarly minded people some seven hundred years later and wrote this explanation to themOr do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)

The people of Paul’s day should have learned their lesson from reading what Isaiah had said about Assyria:  After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant.

Proud and arrogant? I thought being self-made, self-assured, self-confident, decisive, etc. was what we wanted in leaders—especially church leaders!  That’s why we pick “successful “ men as elders and deacons!

Look at the words that came out of the mouth of Assyria!  You’ll easily recognize the insidious problem with PP&W!  The Assyrian king boasts:

 By my own powerful arm I have done this.
With my own shrewd wisdom I planned it.
I have broken down the defenses of nations
and carried off their treasures.
I have knocked down their kings like a bull.
14 I have robbed their nests of riches
and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs.
No one can even flap a wing against me
or utter a peep of protest.

His PP&W was proof of his special relationship to God! He didn’t know that his success was the patience of God, trying to lead him to repentance! He thought he deserved it!

So, Christians, success may be a warning as well as a reward. A few of God’s best servants were “successful,” but only a few—a remnant!  And if you think your success is proof that you are among the few, the chosen—just be careful.  Your success may be God calling you to repent!

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“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever.” 

WHEW!  Have you ever been miserably awake in the night—perhaps sick or afraid or distraught—and you long for sleep just to escape the pain, but the darkness, the night goes on forever!  I know that is why morning sunrise has assumed symbolic status as resurrection, rebirth, and emerging hope—any hint of light is promise of escaping the darkness.

Thank you, Isaiah, for this first light of the morning!

Isaiah is often called messianic because so many of his prophecies announce the one who brings hope and salvation to Israel.  Just in the first eight chapters, you have certainly recognized Isaiah 2:2-4 “He will judge between the nations . . . .They will beat their swords into plowshares . . . ,”   and Isaiah 7:14 “The virgin will be with child . . . .”and as we read through this book, we will find many more, including one of the greatest today in chapter 9.

In this chapter, Isaiah joyfully announces the Light coming into the world: “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine”(v.2). If he has choked with the message of wrath because of the sins of Israel, now his words must have been sweet to his lips.

Christmas!

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Notice the us in the first two lines! Who is that but the people of God. Just last night we were looking at baby pictures of our friends in New Zealand who are celebrating their first grandchild. Didn’t you feel humbled, blessed, overwhelmed by the gift of your first child? You know the biology of conception, but the resulting little baby and the perfect joy that surrounds it just can’t be completely explained by the physical mechanics.

And this child announced in Isaiah 9 is even more . . . . He will establish a great, eternal community of peace, using justice and righteousness to establish it.

But where is this peace and justice and righteousness?  It doesn’t look like the world I see on CNN!

Isaiah is extending this hope to a people ravaged by their own corruption, their own fears and faithlessness, and who are even using the occult to find some relief from their pain.  To them—and to us–he is saying, when you see peace and justice and righteousness in the world around you—even momentarily, it is the light breaking into the darkness.  And just as morning follows the darkness, so the Dayspring has broken into this world’s despair in the real presence of this child.

The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this! (v.7)

If you can believe that, then you have hope. If you can’t believe that, you have no real choice but either to sink below what Francis Schaeffer called the “line of despair” or to delude yourself that there is no evil, no real unhappiness in this world.

If you can believe that to us a child is born, then you’ll break out into something like Handel’s Messiah and sing the many names of this child:  Wonderful, Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

The rest of chapter 9 deals with those people who “have not returned to him . . . nor have they sought the Lord Almighty”(v.13).  Go ahead and read the terrors that face those who have not returned to him.  I don’t think you will enjoy it.

And then make your choice! We all make our choice whether to revel in the joy and happiness of 9:1-7 or to stubbornly refuse God and live in 9:8-21.

PS> Would you like to listen to one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, taken from this chapter and celebrating the Prince of Peace:   Click here!

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 With the political arena as hot as it is during this election year, and with the unreasonable fear propagated by the talk shows and political pundits, this chapter from Isaiah really has something to say to us!

You will remember from chapter 7 that Samaria and Israel were plotting against the southern kingdom of Judah, which left the king and his people “like trees shaking in a storm!” (7:2)  Isaiah’s message was that before a child could be born and be old enough to know good from evil, God would have used Assyria to erase the kingdoms of Samaria and Israel—so don’t worry!

The first four verses of chapter 8 deal with the birth of this child, Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  So everything is just as God said it would be! Trust Him to be in control.

But not everyone believes God is in control!

In verse 11, the prophet  receives a warning from God that he “should not think like everyone else!”  You may want to put the next verses on your TV screen for the next few weeks:

 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.

Which conspiracy are you afraid of? Are you afraid of the left-wingers creating a social welfare state, bankrupting the country, led by a closet-Muslim president who isn’t really a citizen of the United States?

Or are you afraid of right-wing tea cuppers who want every citizen armed to the teeth, led by someone who believes the American Indians are descendents of the lost tribes of Israel, therefore the U.S. should obliterate Iran before it gets a nuclear weapon and blows up the world!

Which conspiracy keeps you awake at night?

13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14 He will keep you safe.

It’s not even ironical that Isaiah follows this exhortation with a prophecy that both Israel and Judah will stumble—because as a people, they will not trust the Lord.  Instead they would turn to palm readers and go to séances to consult the dead, saying, “With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do”(v.19)

“But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?” (v.20)

Or as Isaiah might have said it today, “Should people who believe in God seek guidance from CNN or Fox?”

Here are the choices the prophet gave to his audience—and they are still ours today: Either “Look to God’s instructions and teachings,” or, “contradict His Word.”

Those who choose the latter will be in the dark, so they will first experience an emptiness, a hunger, that makes them angry, so angry that they rage against their government—and their God—for not being there for them!

“They will look up to heaven 22 and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.”

If you despair about the coming election, or the state of the world; if you find yourself drawn to conspiracy theories or horoscopes; if you have a hunger that you can’t seem to fill, or a rage that you can’t seem to quench . . . Isaiah has a word for you:

Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14He will keep you safe.

Just say, as Isaiah said, “I will wait for the Lord. . . I will put my trust in Him.”

Now that puts this election into a whole different light, doesn’t it!

 

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Many people get stuck on the virgin/maiden controversy in Isaiah 7, but that’s not really the focus of the chapter.  The focus is whether you trust in God for your well being or in your own arrangements.

King Ahaz was the grandson of King Uzziah, whom we met in chapter 6.  Ahaz’s father Jotham had ruled in Jerusalem for sixteen years, during which time he did what was pleasing to the LORD (2 Chron. 27:2).  Ahaz himself was just 20 years old when he became king, and he made a mess of it!

Just a little historical context:  The Assyrian empire was breathing down the throats of the whole region, so Syria and Israel wanted Judah to ally itself with them against the greater threat. When Ahaz refused and put out feelers to the Assyrians themselves to protect him from Israel and Syria, those same countries invaded and killed and carried off hundreds of thousands of Judeans—so massively that they had a bad conscience about it and returned many of the people and plunder.

Ahaz thought that the gods of these pagan countries had overwhelmed his God and that’s why he closed the temple, built altars to Baal, and “encouraged his people to sin” (2Chron:28:19). Big mistake! He had already shown a lack of confidence in God’s ability to protect his country and now he blames God for the consequences of his own faithlessness.

Chapter 7 opens with Ahaz’s court hearing about another conspiratorial plot by Israel and Syria to overthrow him in favor of a puppet king who will do what they want.

Isaiah’s word from God is: “Don’t worry! It’s not going to happen!”  That word of assurance should have been enough for Ahaz, but when you have lost faith in your God because you think He let you down before, you may not feel so assured.

God understood Ahaz’s doubts!  That’s a pretty important lesson for us to learn. God knows that His ways are not our ways. We often misinterpret the events of our lives.  Ahaz had experienced the wrath of God for leading his people into sin, but even that expression of wrath did not mean that God had abandoned him—or that the LORD was powerless—or was not real!

God’s graciousness goes so far as to even offer Ahaz a reassuring sign. God had given men signs from early on—I’m thinking of the rainbow sign to Noah and all humankind—but the NT expression is that people asking for signs was wearisome to Him (John 4:48).  Yet, here he tells Ahaz to ask for a sign of his own choosing.

Ahaz’s says the right words, but his heart was in the wrong place: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test” (v.12).  Right words, wrong heart—sounds familiar, doesn’t it!

Now comes the verses that are mildly significant to Ahaz and immensely significant to the gospel writer Matthew some 700 years later: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. “   You can find plenty of scholars who debate whether the Hebrew word means virgin or maiden.  I find it easy to believe that it had a simple meaning for Ahaz and a miraculous meaning when applied to Jesus.

Isaiah prophesies a moment of relief for Ahaz—no need to fear Israel and Syria—but that just around the corner, greater destruction would come because he continued to seek security from armies other than those of the LORD of Hosts!

Whether we talk in the context of nations and regions, or whether we come down to the level of families and individuals, the story of Ahaz in chapter 7 reminds us that only faith in the Sovereign God can assure us security.

Ahaz, as a member of the covenant family of David and as the son of a faithful king of Judah, had every opportunity to enjoy the favor and blessing of God.   But in his youth, he decided to go his own way, to make his own allies, to fight his own battles, and to worship his own gods, and even the Word from the Lord accompanied by physical signs could not move him to faithfulness : “Even during this time of trouble, King Ahaz continued to reject the Lord” (2Chron. 28:22).

If you think you are the cause of your own pleasure in life and that God is the source of all your troubles, you have your glasses on backwards!

And the sign God offers to you is that a virgin DID conceive and bear a son whose name is Immanuel: God with us!

 

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One of the great experiences with Bible study is that moment when you are surprised by a very familiar text.  For missionary-types like myself who have been to hundreds of mission workshops, mission lectureships, and mission forums and who have delivered and heard countless sermons motivating Christians to do missions, the “Here am I! Send Me” text in Isaiah 6 is utterly familiar.

But this week it has been surprisingly new!

Poor King Uzziah—mostly remembered for the year he died! He reigned 52 years and was a pretty good king and God blessed his reign—until he became so powerful that he thought he could make his own religion with himself as the chief priest. He went into the temple in Jerusalem and offered incense on the altar, a function reserved for the Levitical priests. While raging at the priests who confronted him, God struck him with leprosy—which had the immediate effect of humbling him, but also making him an outcast until he died (2 Chronicles 26).

This backstory of King Uzziah is interesting because Isaiah’s vision in Chapter 6 takes him into the temple also, but here he sees the Lord on a raised throne, surrounded by winged seraph.  The Lord is wearing a robe that fills the temple—as does smoke—perhaps the smoke of his presence or the smoke of incense—what a scene!

Isaiah’s reaction in the temple is exactly the opposite of King Uzziah’s. Isaiah says, “I am ruined!”  He feels filthy  or “unclean” (as with leprosy) compared to the glory of the Lord.  And he is especially aware of how filthy his lips are—very interesting for a man who is about to be anointed a prophet!

And his people are also filthy!

There is no altar call, no pleading for forgiveness on Isaiah’s part! He cannot offer sacrifices as King Uzziah had attempted!  No, the initiative for forgiveness begins with God.  His messenger-seraph takes an ember from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips—that must have been frightening!

“Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for!”  All passive construction—all God’s doing, not Isaiah’s!  Not ours!

Then almost immediately, with his lips and soul still tingling from the burning coal-cleansing, Isaiah hears the Lord asking for a volunteer.  Now who else was in this scene except the seraph??  The Lord could have chosen a winged heavenly being to deliver His message—but that wasn’t their task.  Instead He called on Isaiah to volunteer—and, of course, he does—because he is in awe of God and he has been  cleansed—but his people are still filthy.

God sends Isaiah with the word “GO” as He has so many of us missionary types. That’s why verse 8 is one of the bread-and-butter verses of every missionary calling!

But here is the surprise!

The message that God gives to Isaiah to proclaim to his filthy people is one of judgment! Isaiah’s commission is to be the watchman (to borrow from Ezekiel) who blows the warning trumpet, only to be ignored. The enemy will come; the towns will be wasted; the people will be carried away!  Even the remnant who might survive the main onslaught will be invaded again—and nothing and no one will be left!!

I believe in the wrath of God, and I believe in judgment—but I am really happy that I—we—have been sent with Good News!  We have been sent with “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . .  .“  Our message is that every one can be saved!

If the prophets could go out with such bad news, surely we who have been cleansed should not be shy or timid about going out with the Good News.

 

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Isaiah must have been reading the book right before his on the shelf because Chapter five’s first 4.5 verses sound so much like Song of Solomon:I will sing for the one I love . . . .“  You might question his choice of a vineyard as the subject of this love song. In our day, it might have been a beach or a mountain retreat, but a vineyard worked for Isaiah.

The writer sings the song of One who poured his heart and soul into finding exactly the right place for a vineyard, clearing it of stones, cutting a winepress out of the stones, even building a watchtower to keep its tender treasures safe.  Everything that could be done to make this vineyard happy was done—EVERYTHING!

“…but it yielded only bad grapes!” 

That’s all that needed to be said. It had just one raison d’etre – and it failed.

Down comes the protection, down comes the watchtower, back come the stones, the briars and thorns, the animals that trample the tender plants into oblivion—and it becomes a desert!

What had the people of Judah and Jerusalem done to deserve such a scathing reckoning?  It’s a very chilling list if we read this as a warning for us as well:

  • V. 8“What sorrow for you who buy up house after house and field after field,
    until everyone is evicted and you live alone in the land.”
  • V. 11,12“What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning, looking for a drink of alcohol
    and spend long evenings drinking wine to make themselves flaming drunk.12 They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—but they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing.”
  • V.18,19aWhat sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!19 They even mock God and say, ‘Hurry up and do something! We want to see what you can do.”
  • V. 20What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.”

Not a very long list brought total destruction by the One who loved the vineyard!

I couldn’t help but thinking about all the small lots in Southlake that are being bought up to build solitary McMansions ! About all the university students so eager to get back to college parties—something they probably heard their parents bragging about from their own glory days!

I couldn’t help but thinking about all the political rhetoric we have heard in the last couple of weeks—the twisting of truth, calling what is evil good and what is good evil . . . .

This chapter does not have a happy ending. Sorry about that, Disney fans. “If someone looks across the land, only darkness and distress will be seen.”

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

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Finally, after all the despair and destruction, there is beauty—glorious beauty for the survivors.

We can hardly use the word survivor in our day without conjuring up horrible holocaust images: emaciated, skeletal survivors of Nazi concentration camps, sole familial survivors of the Rwandan genocide, refugees of innumerable civil wars, even the survivors of natural catastrophe like the tsunamis of Southeast Asia or the earthquake and atomic meltdown of Japan.

But the words Isaiah chooses to describe the survivors of Zion are beautiful, glorious, and holy.  Destruction and judgment have washed away the filth and removed the bloodstains.  Both the filth and the bloodstains, if left after the destruction would have tormented the consciences and souls of the survivors, but when the Lord brings a purging judgment, it is followed by olive trees and rainbows—not remnants and rubble of shame that would continue to mar the beauty of His new creation.

Then the Lord shows His steadfast love. Just as He did after delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery, He provides a cloud of smoke and a pillar of fire to lead them day and night.  You remember how the Israelites, trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s army were also protected by the fiery cloud, which moved to the rear of the escaping slaves to stand between them and a certain return to bondage.

In addition to the cloud of smoke and the fiery pillar, God adds a new dimension to His loving care—a canopy!  Now a canopy does not seem like much of an addition—unless you are baking in the sun of the Middle East.

I have never been as hot as I have been in that part of the world. The nomads, even today, build canopies to shelter themselves. Every leafed tree—even large bushes—serve as shelter and shade from the heat of the day—

…and they also offer protection from the inevitable storm and rain.  Survival did not mean paradise on earth.  Israel did not become Hawaii. It was still a place where the heat seared and storms arose.  The difference is that the survivors now live under His Canopy of Love and Protection.

If you are a Christian, then you are a survivor—beautiful, glorious, and holy. The Lord has washed away the filth and covers you with His Canopy.

You have survived. You are the living. So live as one who has been saved.

 

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