Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 158

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 158

The Lord has been promising return for the exiles, along with a glorious future that culminates in the Messiah reigning from the throne of David. The captive people will someday read Isaiah's words in a foreign land and wonder how the Lord will accomplish their release, much less the remainder of the prophecies. But their return to Zion is essential to all that will follow afterwards, and it is the first fruits of the bountiful harvest to come.

Bible scholar Barry G. Webb, in his book The Message Of Isaiah, has this to say regarding Chapter 55, "There are decisions to be made. There is a banquet spread, but the guests must come. There is pardon available, but the wicked person must forsake his own way and seek the Lord while He may be found. No one need be an outsider, but neither will anyone be forced to enter, and the invitation to do so will not be extended indefinitely. In the end, the vision of Isaiah has a very sharp evangelistic edge to it."

In this next paragraph Isaiah reminds me of the preachers I've heard all the way back to my childhood, men who have entreated sinners to come to the Lord, who have urged the lost to do what we found Christ urging the world to do in yesterday's passage, "Come to Me and live." Isaiah prophesied during the reign of four kings and he is nearing the end of his ministry as we near the end of his book. He was likely well into his eighties when King Hezekiah died and Hezekiah's son, the wicked Manasseh, had him put to death. But I picture him preaching today's message standing as tall and firm as an old soldier of God can. He may be going out of this world soon, but he's going out with his boots on. "Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, and He will freely pardon." (Isaiah 55:7) 

Isaiah has had some sharp words for the people during his ministry, but these have concentrated mainly on their sinful way of living. He does not preach hell fire and brimstone; we don't really get a clear picture of this type of imagery in the Old Testament. But Isaiah does present God as Judge to a wayward people, a holy and righteous Judge whose laws have been broken and disregarded, a Judge before whom all will stand and give an account. Remember how he cried out, "Woe to me! I am ruined!", when faced with a vision of the Lord in the temple? Isaiah feels a burden for the lost to turn them toward the Lord, for if they do not turn they will see this Judge face to face someday and cry, "Woe to me! I am ruined!" 

But Isaiah does more than paint the portrait of a righteous Judge; he also paints the portrait of a loving Creator who desires to do us good. "He will have mercy on them...He will freely pardon." This may have been the most puzzling part of all the prophecies of Isaiah which were so difficult to understand before they came to pass. How can a holy God pardon sin? How can we enter His presence without paying a price to redeem ourselves? And what price could ever be enough? It was all so much to take in: the sweeping scope of Isaiah's visions, the promise of freedom and return to the land, the glorious future ahead in which all nations will be drawn to Israel and to her God, the contradiction (in human thinking) of a Suffering Servant who is also the Redeemer of mankind and the eternal King. After seeing their city and their temple burn, after being dragged in chains against their will to a foreign land, believing they would never lay eyes on Jerusalem again, all these things must have appeared impossible. How many times have your circumstances and my circumstances appeared impossible? Yet God doesn't look on our troubles with the feeble eyes of man. He created everything; can He not also make a path through the deep waters? Can He not speak one word and cause the mountains in our way to move?

God has compassion on the confusion of the people. Like a loving father whose child is trying to grasp something a bit too advanced just yet for his age, I imagine Him patting the people comfortingly as He says, "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.'" (Isaiah 55:8-9) He says, "That's alright. I know you can't understand it now. I'm asking you to trust Me anyway." As children we didn't always understand what our parents were doing, but we trusted that they had our best interests at heart. We didn't know exactly how they were going to fix things for us, but we believed they would. This is all the Lord asks of us: the simple faith of a child.

The song in the link below was a great comfort to me in troubled times, when I had to hand it all over to my Father, trusting He could do something that I couldn't do myself. My circumstances were too big for me. Like a small child, there was nothing I could do but take my problems to my Daddy.

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