God keeps his word
Isaiah 44: From the beginning, who else has always announced what’s coming?
These pages of Isaiah are some of the most encouraging in the whole Bible. God has such good news for his people. Salvation is coming to their spiritually dry lives like streams flowing into a parched desert. This promise is so great that people can hardly get their minds and hearts around it. To help them do that, the Lord puts his credentials on display. He says he’s the first and the last and “everything in between.” He’s always trustworthy and he’s the one who can speak about his future actions with absolute certainty. I know some see this passage as ammunition for “God’s knowledge of the future” discussions but it’s more correctly seen as “God keeps his word” material. The Lord isn’t passively watching events unfold and he’s not letting history proceed in whatever direction it happens to find. This God is on purpose in his dealings with Creation. As he speaks to a fallen Israel he has promises to make. Salvation will come because he’ll keep his word. How does God know salvation will come? He knows it because he’s going to do it. Generations later, God’s promise is kept in a stable in Bethlehem.
Take Away: The Lord is the only one who can speak of the future with absolute certainty.
Pleading for showers of blessing
Isaiah 44: I will pour water on the thirsty ground.
Spiritually speaking, most of my life has been lived somewhere in the middle. There have been high points, many of them. For this I’m thankful. Also, there have been low points, though not so many. I’m thankful for that too. Out here in the middle, where I spend most of my time, things can get rather dry; sometimes with my not even realizing what’s happening. I go through my routine, focused on the common things of life and don’t even realize that some of the joy of living in God’s love has dried up. The passage before me isn’t about the spiritual lives of individuals, but a nation of people. Spiritually, they’ve taken things for granted and the result is that they’re as dry and fragile as the fallen leaves of autumn. Isaiah’s word of hope to them is that there’ll be an outpouring of God’s Spirit on their descendants. This isn’t intended to say that they’re doomed to dryness, but to encourage them that something better is coming for them and, even more, for their offspring. While I know this passage isn’t specifically about my “somewhere in the middle” spiritual dryness I do see a truth here that I can take to heart: God wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with his people. If I’ll trust him and wait for it, he’ll “pour water” on my heart’s “thirsty ground” when the time is right. That’s worth waiting for. “Mercy drops ’round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”
Take Away: The Lord wants to have a vibrant, flowing relationship with us.
We’ve experienced an extreme make-over
Isaiah 43: …a people custom-made to praise me.
God has good news for his people. The destruction of the past is ending and a wonderful plan of salvation is being put in place. Things are going to change for the better as the dry times end and times of refreshing come. God will bless his people who, in the words of this passage are, “a people custom-made to praise me.” Those who first heard these words never considered the possibility that those “custom-made” people could include anyone but their own nation. We, though, have the whole story; how God’s Son came to us to remake us into new people, a people who are his very own. If it can be said that Israel was a “custom-made” people it might be added that, through Christ, we’ve undergone an “extreme make-over” in which everything about us has been transformed by the work of Jesus. The result of this “customizing” encounter with the Lord is that we become enthusiastic worshipers of God. Our new native language is the language of praise. For us, life isn’t a daily struggle in which we whimper words of complaint and need. Our first thoughts and the words we most easily say are those of praise to God. Israel was custom-made for that purpose and we’ve been made-over for the same thing. We’re redesigned to praise the Lord.
Take Away: My purpose is to bring praise, glory, and honor to the Lord
Living in the “right now”
Isaiah 43: Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.
This passage was especially meaningful to me several years ago when I was going through a major change in my life. At the time, I was dealing with some “baggage” from the past even as I prepared to move forward. As I read this portion of Isaiah the Lord seemed to highlight these words. I needed to focus on what God was doing right then and move forward into that. This passage inspired me to look forward with confidence. The Lord was about to do a new thing and he was going to let me be a part of it. How about you? Is there something from your past that needs to be forgotten? If so, let the Lord help you to do that. The place to start is to refuse to keep thinking about it. “Don’t keep going over old history.” Every time it comes to mind, reject it. Then, replace those memories by concentrating on the “new thing” God is doing in you and through you. Live in what God is doing right now rather than in some past disappointment.
Take Away: Is there something from your past that needs to be forgotten?
Only One Savior
Isaiah 43: I’m the only Savior there is.
I know that pluralism and tolerance are in, and, truthfully, I agree that these are a positive step away from bigotry and narrowness. I also know that we Americans have a lot to learn from other nations and cultures. Just my limited relationships with friends of Mexican heritage has both broadened my perspective and deepened my life. This passage, however, underscores the other side this issue. If there’s a place for open-mindedness, there’s also a time and place for narrowness and exclusivity. In this passage I hear the Lord speaking words of hope and comfort through his man Isaiah. I see that God offers us the gift of salvation. I also am told he’s the only one qualified to make that offer. I can walk down the aisle of Wal-Mart and decide which brand of peanut butter I prefer. I can listen to presidential candidates and pick which one I want to support. I can realize that the Oriental culture has something to offer that’s just as good as or maybe even better than what my own culture offers. However, when it comes to salvation, there’s only one place to go, and that’s to the God Isaiah’s talking about. The salvation he offers is abundant and sufficient for me and for every other person. Still, I need to know that it’s also the only salvation that actually saves. He’s the only Savior there is.
Take Away: When it comes to salvation, there’s only one place to go.
A personal Guide through life
Isaiah 42: I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country.
Have you ever been in a situation in which you needed a guide? Some years ago Jackie and I rafted some serious white water and part of the deal was that we, along with some other folks, hired a guide. As I recall, he earned his money, directing us along the way so that we got wet without getting dumped into the raging water. Isaiah pictures for us God’s offer to be our personal guide in life. I don’t think I’m to draw from this that I’m to be a private in the army, marching to the bark of a stern drill sergeant, but I do see the promise of God’s faithfulness to me in the decisions of life. Rather than barking out orders the Lord more often speaks in that oft mentioned “still small voice.” Therefore, his offer of guidance can be refused. Due to the fact that everything in my future can be classified as “unknown country” I thank the Lord for his offer to be my “personal guide.” I have to admit that I still need some work in the listening part of this arrangement.
Take Away: As I cooperate with him, the Lord is faithful to me in the decisions of life.
Such Good News!
Isaiah 42: I am God. I have called you to live right and well.
As Isaiah celebrates the ministry of the Messiah it seems that God, Himself, steps onto center stage. He, too, comes to rejoice in the promise of a “new salvation work.” This Salvation-Bringer is coming, not because people have earned it but because the Lord has “taken responsibility” for them and is going to act in their behalf. The result of that ministry will be that God’s people will “live right and well.” Today, I’m reminded that Jesus didn’t come to the world to condemn us for living poorly; instead, he came to enable us to live well in the sight of God. Jesus put it this way: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Take Away: Jesus came to enable us to live well in the sight of the Lord.
The great Deliverer
Isaiah 42: He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work — to set things right on earth.
Even as Isaiah writes words of comfort to those banished from Jerusalem by the crushing might of Babylon, he looks forward to a great day of deliverance. “One day,” he promises, “God will send the ultimate Deliverer, his prized Servant, to the world. He’ll do an even greater thing than bringing a scattered people back to their homeland.” Isaiah looks to the coming of the Messiah, a man filled with the Spirit who’ll “set everything right.” One day, in Isaiah’s distant future, a man will be baptized and God’s voice will be heard proclaiming, “This is my Son.” Here we see that proclamation being foretold as the Lord declares through Isaiah, “He’s the one I chose, and I couldn’t be more pleased with him.” The prophet doesn’t have all the details. In fact, it’s unlikely that he has a vision of Calvary or of the empty tomb of Easter. Isaiah doesn’t see a cross, but he does see a Messiah. This Promised One will overcome every hindrance to accomplish his work. That’s just what happens when even a cross can’t stop this Servant of God. Know what? Neither can he be stopped by the seeming insurmountable obstacles of the world today. We Christians need to remember this and join the Messiah’s mission. Followers of his don’t sit around wringing their hands while lamenting the state of things. This Messiah won’t quit until things are set “right on earth.” That’s our mission as well as our hope.
Take Away: It’s not that there aren’t any challenges because there are. Still, the fact remains that the Son of God will, without question accomplish his mission of redemption.
The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.
Isaiah 41: I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.
In my life I’ve heard a lot about commitment and, well, I’ve preached plenty of sermons on that topic too. I believe in being committed to things. Jesus told us that to be his followers we must take up our crosses daily. One doesn’t have to be a theologian to label that as a call to radical commitment. Today, I see that this “commitment business” is a two way street. Before I ever consider committing to God he’s already committed to me. He tells his people, “I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you” and, “don’t panic. I’m with you.” Human beings commit to things easily and then back out without a great deal of regret. That is, we join bowling leagues, or agree to take on some project without a lot of thought. Then, when circumstances change, we say, “Sorry, but I just don’t have the time to do it.” Sad to say, that attitude extends beyond bowling leagues to marriage and other “biggies.” God’s commitments are the opposite of that. He carefully counts the cost, and, once he commits to something he’s willing to go all the way in that commitment, even to Calvary. And, this “committing God” has made a commitment to me. He claims me as his own and promises to never forsake me. That’s a commitment I can take to the bank.
Take Away: When the Lord commits to something he never turns back from that commitment.