Saturday, July 2, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 11

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 11

In Chapter 6 Isaiah is describing how Lord called him to be a prophet. We ended yesterday with Isaiah saying, "Here I am. Send me." Isaiah couldn't go out as a prophet until God commissioned him, until God sent him to do the work. 

When Isaiah says, "Send me," he really has no idea how difficult the job is going to be. He's going to preach the truth of God to a people who don't want to hear it. He's going to bring God's message to people who have turned their backs on Him. This isn't a friendly crowd, a congregation of people who have willingly gathered in a church to hear a sermon. These are people who want to close their eyes and cover their ears when they see Isaiah coming. The Lord begins giving Isaiah his instructions, "He said, 'Go and tell this people: 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'" (Isaiah 6:9-10)

This is a complex passage and if we just take it at face value it would almost seem as if the Lord doesn't want the people to repent and be healed. But we know that the Bible tells us God doesn't want anyone to perish, that He wants everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9) So what does He mean by His instructions to Isaiah? I believe He is describing the current spiritual condition of the people and also what their spiritual condition will be even after listening to the prophet for many years. At this time their hearts are already hardened. They are already willfully blind and deaf to the law of the Lord. They are bringing their offerings to the temple as commanded, they are sitting under the teaching of the priests, but none of this is having any effect on them. They are going through the motions while their hearts are someplace else. What happens when we sit under the teaching of God's word without allowing it to minister to our hearts? Don't we become dull of hearing? Don't we become blind to the truth? Don't our hearts become calloused and hard? The longer we resist the power of the Holy Spirit, the less responsive we become to His pleading. 

I'm going to describe the passage above in the way the Lord revealed it to my heart. He used something very simple and familiar to explain it to me and I hope this little illustration will be of help to all of us. Do you have any callouses on your hands or feet? I tend to always have them on my big toes and the ball of my feet because I like to jog and do high impact aerobics. This means the front part of my feet take most of the pressure. Over time the friction of my socks and shoes against the skin has formed callouses. This is a natural process of our bodies. The skin thickens in order to protect itself from injury. That's what has happened to the hearts of the people Isaiah is sent to preach to: they have resisted the word of the Lord for so long that their hearts have acquired a thick callous, a layer of protection against the guilt and shame the people would feel if they allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal their sins to them. When we hear something that reveals our sins to us, it hurts. We have the choice of responding to the injury in one of two ways. We can either allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in bringing us to repentance and healing. Or we can resist Him and harden our hearts against the pain of our guilt. The thicker that callous grows, the harder it is for anything to get through to us. So the Lord is saying that, over the years of Isaiah's ministry, the people will continually hear the word of God but will keep denying it. This is why He says to Isaiah, "Make the heart of this people calloused." The continual hearing and the continual resisting is going to make their calloused hearts harder and harder. The friction of God's truth against the rebellion of their spirits is going to make the protective layer denser all the time. The very preaching of Isaiah itself will add to the callous, because every time the people resist the truth, the callous adds another layer of protection. The Lord isn't saying He wants this to happen, but because He knows all things, He knows it will happen. He's saying, "You are going to preach to the people through the reigns of four kings, but your preaching is going to accomplish nothing but making their hearts harder, because they will refuse to listen."

I don't know about you, but if the Lord commissioned me as a missionary to a people who, for the most part, are never going to listen, I would probably feel discouraged. I might be tempted to ask the Lord, "Why bother? If nobody is going to repent, why send me? If judgment is still going to come, let it come. All my hard work isn't going to change a thing." But just imagine how heavy God's heart must feel, knowing there are those who are never going to repent no matter what, knowing that all His hard work on their behalf is in vain. Yet He does it anyway. In the final judgment, nobody will ever be able to claim God is unfair or that He never gave them an opportunity. When the people who rejected Isaiah's preaching stand before the Judge they can't claim they never heard the truth. God's hands are going to be clean. He is doing everything that can possibly be done because He is good and righteous. Even if not a single soul in Israel or Judah ever listened to Isaiah and repented, God would have sent him anyway. Even if none of the prophets ever brought a sinner to repentance, God would have sent them anyway. Even if no human being on the face of the earth ever accepted Jesus Christ as Lord, God would have sent Him anyway. 

Isaiah may have felt the heaviness of the mantle placed upon him. He doesn't refuse to go into the mission field, but he does want to know how long he must preach to people who refuse to listen. "Then I said, 'For how long, Lord?' And He answered: 'Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.'" (Isaiah 6:11-13) The people's hearts will remain hard until they are conquered and carried captive to foreign lands: Israel to Assyria, Judah to Babylon. Although a remnant will later return and rebuild, the majority of them will reject Jesus at His first advent and about forty years later Rome will destroy Jerusalem and the temple, fulfilling the words above, "it will again be laid waste". 

But there is a glimmer of hope in all this darkness. Have you ever cut down a bad tree only to have new shoots come up from the stump or roots? We had a rather large, nice-looking persimmon tree on our property but it was heavily damaged during the construction of our house by earth-moving equipment. To our happy surprise, a new and even more shapely tree sprang up from the roots of the old. It came up off to the side of the original tree, in an area where it has more room to spread out, where it receives better sunlight. It grew very quickly and began to bear fruit within the first couple of years. This is the promise the Lord makes to Isaiah and to Israel and Judah. A time of awful devastation and judgment is coming, but the stump will remain. It may look dead, but it won't be. A new, fresh shoot will spring up. The nation will be wounded several times but it won't be completely destroyed. But most of all, there will be a "holy seed" from this stump. In the book of Isaiah we will find him speaking of both the first and second advent of Christ. Christ first springs up as a "tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2a). He will suffer for the sins of the people and be "cut off" (Isaiah 53:8). But later we see Him as the Branch from the royal line of Judah, a coming King who will hold the title to David's throne. "'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.'" (Jeremiah 23:5) "In those days at at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; He will do what is just and right in the land." (Jeremiah 33:15) "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---the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord---and He will delight in the fear of the Lord...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious...He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:1-3a, 10, 12)

At one point in history it appeared as if Israel and Judah were cut down to the ground, nothing but a dead and dry stump, but God gave these words to comfort the people. All is not lost. They will pay the penalty for their rebellion but God has not cast them aside. He is not finished with them. For out of the stump will come a fresh new shoot, who at His first advent will be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. But at His second advent He will be the reigning King of Isaiah 11, the One who gathers the tribes together again and makes of them one nation, who will rule the earth from David's throne in righteousness forever. That is when everyone will be at peace with his fellow man. The earth will be redeemed to an Eden-like state. The animal kingdom will be redeemed and the wolf will lie down with the lamb. We will live in the light of our glorious Redeemer and King forever in a land where there will be no sorrow, for where there is no sin there is no curse, and where there is no curse there is no death. 

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