Everyone a missionary
Isaiah 66: I’ll send them out as missionaries to preach my glory among the nations.
The final section of Isaiah’s prophecy has to do with restoration. The Lord’s going to gather his people from the exile and restore them to their beloved homeland. Then, he’ll send them out again. This time, though, it won’t be as slaves being relocated by a conquering king. Instead, it’ll be as missionaries spreading throughout the world proclaiming God’s goodness. Isaiah pictures them returning with those who’ve responded to the message, presenting these newly found followers of the Lord to the Lord as an offering gladly received by God. In this I see the heart of God. His desire is that all his Creation be gathered in love; that we experience unity with one another and with him. Jesus says the same thing when he talks about us being “one.” As a believer I’m called to participate in that missionary task; to understand the culture of my society and to go out and engage it for the cause of Christ. The day will come when, as it is in Isaiah’s prophecy, I’ll stand before God. I don’t want to do so empty handed.
Take Away: The Lord uses his people to reach out to all peoples; engaging them, inviting them, and then bringing them to himself.
Old Testament worship wars
Isaiah 66: You choose self-serving worship, you delight in self-centered worship — disgusting!
And all this time I thought that the “worship wars” started in my generation with battles between “traditionalists” and “contemporaries.” In Isaiah’s case the Lord is weary of all the “I like it this way” approaches to worship. He says that when I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.” The Lord tells them that they can do worship in technically correct ways but because of their attitude, it’ll be seen as an act of sin rather than an act of worship. What does the Lord think of my approach to worship? As a pastor am I so wrapped up in keeping the program on track that I fail to give myself over to the act of worship? It’s likely that only a pastor or worship leader will understand this, but I find myself in services wondering why the sound person doesn’t adjust the volume down a bit or if the head usher is aware that one of the regular ushers is out of town or if anyone has greeted the guests who’ve just slipped into the back row. While I’m worrying about such things, the “worship” service is proceeding without me. If I’m giving more energy to organizing and running the service according to my standards, whatever standard that might be, than I am in surrendering myself to worship, then my worship experience is self-centered rather than God-centered. Isaiah reminds me today that that isn’t a good thing!
Take Away: When I insist on worshiping “my way” that, no matter “what way” might be, it isn’t “his way.”
A given life
Isaiah 66: But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.
I don’t know much about the wise men in the Christmas story, but I do know that they come to Jesus. The gifts they bring are, I understand, expensive ones. Beyond those material things, though, the important thing is that they bring themselves. In this passage Isaiah reminds me that God made it all and he owns it all. He’s not depending on me to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh or anything else for that matter. He is, though, counting on me to bring him my reverent obedience. I believe a person ought to practice their faith in Christ in practical ways, including being a good steward of all that has been placed in his or her hands. However, the offering I give is simply an outflow of a given life. That’s a gift that’s guaranteed to please the Lord.
Take Away: Our offerings are an outflow of our given lives.
Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!
God doing something new
Isaiah 65: I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
This is an interesting passage. Later on, the Revelator will remember these words when the Lord describes to him what’s coming at the end of time. In fact, some think that Isaiah is having a vision of the same thing John sees in Revelation. However, left in context Isaiah’s describing the end of the exile of his people; the return to their beloved Jerusalem. The language is that of poetry: God’s doing something new and is, therefore changing everything. Life’s going to be much better than it has been. Wonderful blessings are in store. I think this is another dual prophecy. Isaiah’s speaking to current events, describing things in a big way but unaware that his words will literally come true in his (and our) distant future. If I leave things there, I still find the transformational language of Isaiah quite interesting. The Lord is bringing salvation to his people and as a result, everything’s going to change for the better. However, at an entirely different level than Isaiah speaking to his contemporaries or John writing about the New Jerusalem I find myself thinking of the change Christ makes when he bring salvation to an individual’s life. When I’m forgiven of my sins and become a child of God “all things become new.” If Isaiah’s view of the restoration of Israel brings to mind visions of “new heavens and a new earth” I don’t think that it’s off base to find a parallel to the radical transformation being “born again” brings to each life.
Take Away: The Lord doesn’t just forgive us our sins – he also goes to work in us, transforming our lives, remaking us in wonderful ways.
Speaking the truth in humility
Isaiah 65: There are still plenty of good apples left.
Even as Isaiah reports that the Lord’s running out of patience with the stubborn resistance of many, he reminds us that God’s very aware of those who live obedient, faithful lives. The nation of Israel is about to go through a culling. Many will face the wrath of God but others will be preserved by his grace. Frankly, from the devotional side of things I’m not sure what to do with passages like this. Am I to be somewhat frightened and spend a few moments doing a personal spiritual inventory? Am I to take on Isaiah’s role and start warning those “sinners” that the clock on God’s mercy is running out? I guess the answer is somewhere in the middle. I never arrive at the place where I’m above consideration of my own spiritual condition. Just a quick of reading the gospels reminds me that it’s spiritual pride that’s the downfall of the religious people of Jesus’ day. On the other hand, if I’m going to be effective in both warning and inviting the “outsiders” to come to the Lord I must do so in a sense of humility. Otherwise, I’ll drive them away from both myself and their Savior.
Take Away: Always deal with lost people with a strong sense of personal humility.
Better pay attention
Isaiah 65: I reached out day after day to a people who turned their backs on me.
Sometimes I think we read passages about the merciful patience of God and conclude that we can get away with about anything; that in the end, God will still be there, willing to forgive and forget our sins. Isaiah’s picture of the Lord isn’t quite as comforting. Things start off that way though. God says, “I’m available, ready to be found and reaching out day after day to even those who turn their backs and walk away.” Know what? We’d better keep reading. In that same message the Lord says he’s sick of them and their home made religion. Even while God has been waiting he’s been watching and as he watches he takes note of all the rebellion that’s going on. It may be that the most important words in this message aren’t that God has continued to reach out to them even in their sin. Rather, the words that arrest our attention ought to be, “I’m not putting up with this any longer.” It’s one thing for a person to have honest doubts and even honest misconceptions about the Lord and how he works in this world. It is something else to take the patience of mercy of God for granted.
Take Away: Don’t take for granted the mercy and patience of the Lord.
Isaiah 64: We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated.
My hope isn’t that God will look beyond all my failures and decide I’m still basically a good person. I’m not the victim of circumstances and my problem isn’t that I’ve been mistaken about a few things. Isaiah’s words point to the core problem: I’m a sinner. Beyond that, I’m not just a sinner by action; rather I’m a sinner by nature. I’m not a traveler who somehow wandered onto the wrong road; I’m a rebel who rejected God’s way because I preferred mine instead. Even when I try to do my best I’m a failure at it. The picture Isaiah paints is of a human race that’s rebellious, stained, and lost. Any possible hope must come from the outside. That’s where God comes in. This God specializes in mercy and hope. He doesn’t patch up my messed up life; instead he makes it brand new. Isaiah does a frightfully good job of describing my perilous condition, but he doesn’t leave me there. As great as my sin is, Isaiah reminds me of the greater grace of the Lord.
Take Away: The Lord specializes in mercy and hope.
Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Isaiah 64: Since before time began no one has ever imagined…a God like you.
I know there’s much (and that’s too mild a word) about God that’s beyond my imagination. However, it isn’t the vastness of God that’s on Isaiah’s mind here. Isaiah’s talking about what he does know. The Almighty has revealed his intentions concerning his broken people and their enemies. Isaiah isn’t saying “no one knows what God’s going to do.” Instead, he’s saying “here’s what God’s about to do and it’s something no one has ever before imagined.” The Lord is about to move in their lives bringing restoration to them. Everything’s going to change as the Lord works in a never-seen-before way on their behalf. His plans aren’t a secret; they’re being announced ahead of time. This verse reminds me of the passage from the New Testament that’s based on Isaiah’s words here. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” A lot of folks stop right there, thinking Paul’s talking about the future and unknowable plans of God. However, they need to go right on reading. Paul continues with: “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Paul’s saying the very same thing as Isaiah. No one could ever guess ahead of time how God is going to redeem his people, and now that we know it we stand amazed. From our point of view, who could ever imagine that a baby born in a barn can save the world? But God, through his angelic messenger right up front announces that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Take Away: The Lord’s wonderful plan of salvation is both known by us and amazing to us.
Looking back and looking forward
Isaiah 64: Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and descend.
Isaiah longs for God to move and bring salvation to his people. He envisions the sky splitting apart as the Lord comes in dramatic, powerful fashion bringing hope to their hopelessness and healing to their brokenness. Hundreds of years later when that coming takes place its earthshaking indeed. The Gospels tell us of that powerful event, especially at the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord. However, this passage causes me to look forward as much as it causes me to look back to the first Easter. Even as Isaiah anticipates the coming salvation of the Lord, I anticipate his Second Coming. What an event it will be as Jesus splits the eastern sky and causes the mountains to tremble. “What a day that will be, when my Jesus I shall see.”
Take Away: Never doubt it – Jesus is coming back.