Comfort O Comfort My People
Isaiah 65:17-25 In our four-part series Comfort O Comfort My People we have gone through three steps: First, we received God’s word of comfort (Isa 40:1-11). On the second week, we drew near to God to lament and listen (Isa 49:1-6). Last week we caught a vision for the blessings we receive in doing acts of justice (Isa 58:1-14). To conclude our series, the prophet strengthens our hope and stirs our imagination for a future to die for—in the words of Paul, “an eternal weight of glory” beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). My hope is that when your children or friends ask you what heaven is like, you’ll be able to reframe their question and light their hearts on fire with a vision of a new earth, which is crammed with the life of heaven.
Isaiah 58:1-14 Our text this week opens with a heated exchange between God and his people. The people are disgruntled because they have been zealous in their ritual observances, but find that God no pays absolutely no attention. “Why do we fast, but you do not see?” Sound familiar? In response, God sounds an alarm from heaven, as if this is a life and death matter, therefore we better get it right. There is gaping disconnect between their “religion” and their relationships, an insidious hypocrisy that perverts righteousness for profit and destroys lives. In relentless severity God exposes their “religion” for what it really is. What happens next is not what we would expect. Instead of thundering down judgment, God shows them the road home and the manifold blessings that pour forth when his people join him in doing the holy work of justice. Read his appeal (vv.6-14) out load before Sunday and allow the repetitive cadences to wash over your soul with increasing intensity. This is God’s “I have a dream!” speech. May it stir our hearts and awaken us from sleep to “ride on the heights of the earth” (58:14). After the message we will partake of the Lord’s table together. So have the elements ready before we start. The love of Christ be with you all.
Isaiah 49:1-13 In the first message (Isaiah 40:1-11) of our series, “Comfort O Comfort My People,” God gave voice to his unshakable commitment to rescue his people from exile and, in so doing, set in motion the salvation of the whole world. This week the good news will continue, but to embrace it fully we will have to learn to do what our culture fears doing—to lament. The reason they are afraid, suggests Tom Wright, “is because it seems to be afraid of the fear itself, frightened that even to name grief will be to collapse forever. We have keep going, we tell ourselves, we have to be strong. Strong, yes. Strong like Jesus who wept at the tomb of his friend. Strong like the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies too — but who, right now, is pleading for us with groanings too deep for words.” If we embrace the biblical pattern of lament in its bold honesty and audacious trust, we will discover as the psalmists, prophets and Jesus found, hidden treasures of God’s presence that surpass understanding.
Isaiah 40:1-2, 27-31, 43:1-7 The pandemic continues unabated and it’s not going anywhere soon. For many us, it is getting personal, as the virus has infected co-workers, friends and/or family members. Along with increasing human, economic and social costs, many are experiencing a crisis in their faith. As Tom Wright suggests, “Tears, locked doors and doubt…sum up a lot of where we are globally.” Living lives in fear and isolation erodes our faith, darkens our hope and paralyzes our love. The length and severity of the pandemic would have shaken my soul, had I not been teaching a course on Isaiah 40-66 for the last 25 weeks. The prophet’s words address the greatest disaster in the Hebrew scriptures, the Babylonian exile. In midst of unending darkness and despair, God’s words blaze with light, comfort, healing and hope. As we immersed ourselves in Isaiah’s oratorio, we experienced a renewal of our faith, a strengthening of our hope and a new flame for our love. For the next four weeks we will be exploring significant themes in these chapters in the hope of giving you a prophetic imagination to see how God is at work in the midst of the darkness.