Isaiah 63: I’ll make a list of God’s gracious dealings.
The old gospel song says, “Count your blessings – name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” I don’t know that hymn writer Johnson Oatman was inspired by this passage but it certainly fits. Isaiah says he’s going to make a list of the things “God has done that need praising” and then work his way through that list. Like many Christians I have a prayer list that’s filled with concerns and needs. I think it’s a good idea; after all, there are many genuine needs and the Lord welcomes us to share our heart’s concerns. However, I need to balance that out by having, in addition to a prayer list, a “praise list” as well. Otherwise, I’m in danger of behaving like the nine lepers who are healed by Jesus. They rush on into their new lives without a backward glance while only one returns to say “thanks” to our Lord. I need to purposely make the effort to spend time each day rejoicing in all the Lord has done for me.
Take Away: Our “need filled” prayers should be balanced by strong component of “praise filled” prayers.
Isaiah 62: You’ll be called Hephzibah and your land Beulah.
The best known song of singer and songwriter Squire Parsons is “Beulah Land.” That song is inspired by this passage, in fact those words are found nowhere else in the Bible. Isaiah is describing God’s love for the people he created, picturing it as being like the love a groom has for his bride. Things haven’t gone well for Israel up to this point. Their sin separated them from God and brought destruction to their land. As a people they’ve earned the nickname “Rejected” and their land can be rightly called “Ruined.” Because of God’s love and forgiveness everything’s going to change. The “Rejected” people will be restored and the “Ruined” land will be brought back under the protection of the Lord. The new name for God’s people will be “Hephzibah” or “My Delight” and the land will be called “Beulah” or “Married” meaning that the land will reflect its unique connection to the Lord. Squire Parsons took the idea of a land uniquely the Lord’s to refer to heaven and his song is that of God’s people who long to go to that place that’s God’s very own.
Take Away: The love and forgiveness of the Lord for us changes everything about us.
The people with the blessing
Isaiah 61: I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
As Jesus begins his public ministry he picks this portion of Isaiah’s writings as his text. Our Lord’s ministry will heal heartbroken people and pardon those held captive by sin. Jesus doesn’t read the entire “year of the Lord’s favor” sermon from Isaiah, but in that sermon Isaiah continues proclaiming all the good things God is about to do for his people. God is turning toward them in favor and there will be blessing upon blessing. They’ll be the recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham and with David and the whole world will know them as the people with the blessing. At this point in the message Isaiah becomes so excited about what God’s about to do that he declares that he’s exploding in praise from deep in his soul. Since Jesus picks these words to describe his ministry to the world we who follow him read this sermon of promises, not from only a historical point of view, but as though it’s directed to us, personally. In our lives we’re set free from the dominion of sin and enjoy “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of life, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from being a people God has blessed. Even as Isaiah is moved to explosive praise by this promise of the Lord, we too are filled to overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, and is doing, in us.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be a people God has blessed.
How wonderful to have a message of hope
Isaiah 61: The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
Through the years of his ministry Isaiah brings a variety of messages to his people. Often, his words are those of warning and condemnation. At other times, his sermons contain wonderful words of hope and comfort. That’s the kind of message we hear from him in this passage. Isaiah considers it an honor to be commissioned and empowered to preach good news to a people who are living as captives in Babylon. His message is one of encouragement to the poor and heartbroken; to those who mourn and wilt under the burden they carry. This message is so powerful that hundreds of years later Jesus selects Isaiah’s words to describe his own ministry. The message of hope is Isaiah’s and then it’s Jesus’ and now, well, now it’s mine. The proclamation of God’s favor, his healing mercy and grace, isn’t just Isaiah’s and, while it uniquely belongs to Jesus, I can lay claim on it too. For those in Babylonian captivity and for those today that are bound by sin, this is good news.
Take Away: In Christ, we have Good News for people desperately in need of some Good News.
That we may be one
Isaiah 60: I am God. At the right time I’ll make it happen.
Sin separated them from their Maker and destroyed their nation. God sent their enemies to conquer them and then to scatter them throughout the world. Now, the Lord is making plans to gather his people from the four corners of the earth and make them into a nation of especially blest people once again. Isaiah encourages them that it won’t be long now before it happens. What plays out in the history of Israel reflects the larger journey of humanity. We read in Genesis of the fall of the human race in the Garden and the resulting “driving out” that takes place. Later on, Cain’s sin causes him to, again, be driven out. Then, after the Flood God tells the renewed human race to fan out and populate the face of the earth. Instead, they gather at Babylon to build a tower. The Lord confounds their languages, forcing them to scatter into many different people groups. This, though, isn’t the final intention of God. When the time is right, he’ll gather his people to himself. Jesus tells his followers that God wants to make us one. He encourages us that in his Father’s house there’s room for all and that he’ll take us there. Even as Isaiah describes a reuniting of Israel, the larger picture of the Bible describes God’s plan to reunite humanity in an eternal relationship with him. Since that’s God’s plan we can be sure that he’ll “make it happen.”
Take Away: The Lord’s intention is to unite the human race with one another and, especially, with himself.
The battle of the ages
Isaiah 59: So he did it himself, took on the work of Salvation.
The Lord God looks out to the horizon and sees the ugly advance of sin. Before him is a sea of lies and hate and evil and death. He looks to his right and left and sees no one who can raise the standard of righteousness. He comes to a decision. He, himself, puts on armor for battle: Salvation, Judgment, and Passion. There’s no one else who can take on the rising tide of evil; all others are tainted and overrun by this enemy. He, alone, will go into the battle with Righteousness as his strength. Two millennia ago that battle took place, not in the heart of God’s prophet but at a place called Calvary. There, God, the Son, does what no one else can do. On that old rugged cross the battle for righteousness is fought and won. With the fate of humanity in the balance this hero enters the conflict and defeats the enemy once and for all.
Take Away: Jesus fought and won the battle for humanity on the old rugged cross.
Admitting personal failure
Isaiah 59: There’s nothing wrong with God; the wrong is in you.
Ever since Adam blamed Eve, and in reality, blamed God, people have tried to pass the buck for their sin. “God’s too strict” or “the temptation is too great” or some other lame excuse is used as a defense for spiritual failure. As a pastor I’ve probably heard more than most. I immediately think of lines like: “I was absent from church for two weeks and no one called me” or “the church just isn’t as spiritual as it ought to be.” Isaiah has heard enough and he reacts especially to excuses that place the blame for spiritual failure on the Lord. He tells his people that the thing that has come between them and God is none other than themselves. It’s their sin that has messed things up and until they admit that things are only going to get worse. Listen, I know that the church has a responsibility to reach out to people; even people who know better than what they’re doing. The church is accountable before God when it fails along this line. However, Isaiah’s message places the blame for personal failure directly on the shoulders of the one who willfully sins against God. Don’t blame God, the church, your spouse, your boss, or your friends for your sin. Take responsibility for your own actions, confess, and make it right. You’ll find that the grace of God is sufficient and that brings a whole lot more peace than making excuses does!
Take Away: Take responsibility and make things right.
Hope of restoration
Isaiah 57: I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit crushed.
God is the Almighty and I’d better never forget it. His ways are higher than mine and he’s right at home in Eternity. This awesome God is a demanding God. He calls me to live in fellowship with himself and his standard for me is nothing short of holiness. If I rebel it’s not his purpose that is broken, but me. However, this God is not untouched by that brokenness. He not only sits on his throne way up in Heaven, but he also inhabits the world he created. When my sins have divorced me from the Lord and I begin to realize the awfulness of those sins I find that he’s been there, reaching out to me all the time. The same God, this high and towering Being, cares for me even in my ruined state. He longs to transform my “spirit-crushed” life into something wonderful and new. His language to me is filled with powerful and welcome words: healing, leading, comforting. As I reach up from the bottom, I realize that God has been there all the time, reaching down from the top.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Trusting when God is silent
Isaiah 57: Because I don’t yell and make a scene do you think I don’t exist?
The Lord states his charge against a people who follow every god who comes along while ignoring the only One who’s real. Through the generations he’s done some awesome things, so it isn’t as though he’s been unseen or absent. Still, if a person wants a god who’ll perform on demand and can be manipulated by some magic incantation, well, to them, the Lord God might seem to be out of the picture. However, just because the Almighty won’t let them call the shots doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what’s going on. Even as they practice their secret sex-oriented religion he’s been watching, and he isn’t amused by it all. Every detail of their absurd, twisted efforts at religion is going to be brought to light as God assumes the role of both Judge and Prosecutor. On that day they can call on their wooden and stone gods all they want. There’ll be no answer because there’s nothing there that can answer. Thankfully, part of this message has nothing to do with me. I’ve no secret religion and no idols are hidden away in the closet. However, it’s to my benefit to take hold of the other point here. Just because God isn’t doing what I think he ought to be doing about some situation and just because he’s silent about some issue in my life doesn’t mean he’s distant or unconcerned. At times like that I simply have to conclude that God is God and that he’s operating at a level beyond my grasp. I may not always like it, but I don’t have to. I do, though, have to keep on trusting him. That’s part of being one of his people.
Take Away: I don’t have to always understand but I do have to always trust.