Friday, December 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 178

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 178

Isaiah foresees a day in which his people, captive in Babylon, will repent of their waywardness. They will long for the days of old when they walked closely with their God and He fought their battles for them. Then they will cry out, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make Your name known to Your enemies and cause the nations to quake before You. For when You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You." (Isaiah 64:1-3)

When we concluded yesterday, the people were beginning to understand that their predicament was a result of their sin. So they did not plead for God's help on the basis of their own righteousness, which did not exist. They asked the Lord to intervene for the glory of His name. They felt He might not find anything in them worthy of coming to the rescue, but that for the sake of His name and reputation He might step in and show the world that He is God alone.

The nation that was once up to its neck in idolatry now says, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him." (Isaiah 64:4) 

They see that their sins have separated them from God, "You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have given us over to our sins." (Isaiah 64:5-7) Bible scholar David Guzik sums this passage up beautifully, "The praying one asks the question, 'What kind of man does the Lord answer in prayer?' He noted that it was the one who waits for the Lord. Now the praying one expands the idea, and notes that the Lord will answer the prayer of the one who rejoices to do righteousness. The Lord will answer the prayer of the one who remembers the Lord in his ways. Knowing that, there is a problem. For we have sinned---in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved."

The Lord allowed Judah to experience national disaster because of her many sins against Him and her refusal to repent. The people now say, "If we had done right, God would have helped us. But we continued to live in sin. We stopped calling on His name and following His ways. We became unclean, like a leper. And God hid His face from us as one hides his face from a leper. Now how can we be saved? If God, the one and only God, does not help us, there is no help to be found."

This penitent attitude of the people is something God can work with. Their hearts are broken over their sins. Their minds are mournful because they realize they have brought their troubles upon themselves. This passage reminds me of Psalm 51 when King David repented of his affair with Bathsheba and of the blood that was on his hands in orchestrating the death of her husband in battle. Isaiah's people are bringing to the Lord the only sacrifice that is truly acceptable to Him, according to David, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:17) 

Our attitude when coming to Christ for salvation is like the one we see displayed here. We realize our sins have separated us from a holy God. Our sins have made us unclean and the Lord is too righteous to look upon sin. In our sad state, the only prayer He wants to hear from us and to answer is the prayer of repentance, then He can get to work on other problems in our lives. We will become those whom the Lord answers: those who wait upon Him and gladly do what is right.

In grief over their sins, realizing what has become of them, the people ask, "How then can we be saved?" Like King David, they arrive at the conclusion that there is nothing to which they can appeal but to God's mercy. David prayed tearfully in a spirit of brokenness, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) We don't come to the Lord and say, "We've been pretty good guys and girls. Sure, we've messed up here and there, but don't our good works count for something?" The answer to that is a big "no". Our works are like filthy rags. We are unclean. But suppose we were able to perfectly keep all the commandments and the laws. Would these save us? Not according to the Lord Jesus, who said, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" (Luke 17:10) It's nothing but the grace and mercy of the Lord that saves us and it's to this which we must appeal. We appeal to His unfailing love and His great compassion. He alone can blot out our transgressions and wash away our iniquities and cleanse us from our sins. 

The prophet Jeremiah understood that God would be within His rights to make an end of mankind and be done with us. Jeremiah knew that the only reason we continue to exist is not because we are righteous or are contributing anything of value to the Lord, but because of His love and mercy. "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) The people of Judah understand the same thing in today's passage and appeal to the compassion of the One who made them His covenant people, "Yet You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all Your people." (Isaiah 64:8-9)

They say, "Lord, do not destroy the work of Your hands. We know You could speak the word and make us, along with the entire universe, blink out of existence. But remember that You called our forefather Abraham out of a pagan nation and promised to make a great nation from his descendants, a nation that would call on Your name. We have failed in keeping our part of the bargain. But we appeal to you as David did, the one who said of You, 'As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.' (Psalm 103:13-14) Lord, we are so weak! We are made of the dust of the ground. Please remember how fragile and helpless we are. As a father, have mercy on our weaknesses. You have created us; please preserve us."

If their plight is not enough to call God into action, they remind Him that the nation and His temple are in ruins, "Your sacred cities have become a wasteland; even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised You, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will You hold Yourself back? Will You keep silent and punish us beyond measure?" (Isaiah 64:10-12) 

The Lord will answer. He will first deliver a stinging rebuke regarding their sinfulness and the generations of idolatry He has endured. But He will also offer mercy to those who seek Him. He will call them "My servants". And He will reveal the future of Zion, not simply the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but a future in which their nation stands forever in safety. This is His work and His mercy in action when He assures the people they are going to "be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create". 

The One who created us is the only One who offers us a means of salvation. We can't attain it ourselves. We've committed the same sins as God's covenant people in the book of Isaiah. We've all fallen short. But thanks to His love and mercy, God provided the answer for us. Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh to live a perfect life so that work He did on our behalf would satisfy the Father's righteous and holy requirements. We look to Him for help, not to ourselves. Christ is the mediator between God and man, our Defender in God's courtroom, and our only hope of glory. 

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