Be horribly afraid

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Jeremiah 2

What could be so bad that it warrants this warning?  A scientist morphing into an insect?  An alien monster rampaging through a spaceship?  What dread terror might have birthed the saying: “Be horribly afraid”?

Answer:  The refusal of God’s abundant grace.  According to God, that is the horror of horrors!

This striking imperative – “Be horribly afraid” – occurs in the book that follows Isaiah – Jeremiah.  And, incredibly, it’s addressed to the heavens:

“Pass over the isles of Chittim, and see; and send unto Kedar, and consider diligently, and see if there be such a thing.  Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.  Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”  (Jeremiah 2:9-13)

Here’s the picture.  When God’s people exchange their Glory (i.e. Christ) for foreign gods, it’s a bit like walking past an overflowing Fountain and, instead, sinking your shovel into dry ground.  You forsake Living Waters (i.e. the Spirit) and dig for mud.  You exchange fullness of life for emptiness and death.

And the LORD says: “Be horrified!”

I don’t know what you consider to be a ‘nightmare scenario’, but this is God’s.  He is appalled that people would refuse the Fountain of Life that is His Son and instead prefer broken cisterns.  How can we spurn Christ in favour of false saviours that will not satisfy?  The LORD’s question echoes against a desolate heavens.  There can be no answer.  The angels are astonished and horribly afraid.

Here we have a profound definition of sin. At bottom, sin is not a failure to act or give or pray or perform.  It’s not about doing wrong or even neglecting what’s right.  First and foremost, sin is a failure to receive. It’s our refusal to drink from the Fountain of Living Waters.

Some refuse to drink from Christ and dig at the broken cistern of greed.  Some slake their thirsts with lust.  And some sink a murky well of moral self-righteousness.  But the primary sin – the sin underlying every other sin – is the forsaking of Christ.  And we see its horror when we realise that He is a Fountain of Living Waters!

The LORD’s picture here is haunting: we are thirsty souls, chasing satisfaction in all the wrong places.  And when the cisterns run dry we’re left with a mouthful of mud.  At those times we may feel foolish enough to confess our stupidity.  But Jeremiah 2 tells us we haven’t come to the heart of the problem yet.

Every evil we have ever committed has been twofold.  We may end up hating our broken cisterns (but usually only once they’ve failed us).  Yet the first evil is to spurn the love of Jesus.  We have despised His overflowing grace and prized ditch-water instead.

And yet – be astonished O earth at this – He still offers His Living Waters today.  That is the kind of LORD He is.  He continues to overflow for appalling sinners.

In John chapter 4 the LORD Jesus stands by a literal well.  He speaks with a woman who, figuratively, has dug many broken cisterns in her life.  She has gone through 5 marriages and is on her 6th partner when Jesus meets her.  She is a prime example of ‘looking for love in all the wrong places.’  So how will the LORD of Jeremiah 2 approach her?  Does He stand over her in judgement and make her “horribly afraid”?  No, He stands with her and offers the Living Waters yet again.  As you hear His words to this woman, know that He makes the same offer to you today:

Jesus answered and said unto her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water”.  The woman saith unto him, “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?”…  Jesus answered and said unto her, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life”.  (John 4:10-14).

A new heavens and a new earth

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Isaiah 66

Isaiah could be called “a tale of two cities”.  Yet both cities are Jerusalem.

There’s an old Jerusalem – the one in which Isaiah’s listeners live.  They face a terrifying judgement: threatened by Assyria but effected by Babylon.  The city is sacked, God’s house (the temple) is destroyed, the people are carried away into exile and the LORD’s judgement is all too clear.  The second half of chapter 2 is a good example of the judgement upon old Jerusalem.

But there’s a new Jerusalem too.  This city is an unbreachable stronghold, a place of eternal peace and prosperity.  Those who dwell in the new Jerusalem will have nothing to fear.  This is expounded in first half of chapter 2.

Isaiah holds out no hope for old Jerusalem.  Neither better defences nor greater godliness will avert the coming judgement.  The LORD’s universal judgement will not avoid but rather begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).  “God’s house” has an interesting triple meaning: it can mean the temple, it can mean God’s household (i.e. His people) and it can mean Christ (John 2:19-22)!  Judgement on the world starts at the top and works its way down.

But if that’s the bad news, here is the good news: resurrection will also start with the house of God.  Christ will be raised up, and He – as the true Temple – will provide the true meeting place with God.  Thus a people will be raised in Him.  A new Jerusalem will rise from the ashes.  And this new Jerusalem will be the capital of a new creation.

For those who take refuge in Christ, they will come through cosmic judgement to cosmic salvation.  They will survive the judgement of old Jerusalem and find themselves in the new Jerusalem.  And this new city will be the centre of “a new heavens and a new earth.”

Isaiah is the first person to use that phrase in the bible, but it’s picked up by Peter and John in the New Testament.  In Isaiah 65 the LORD says:

“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.  But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.  And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying”.  (Isaiah 65:17-19)

The word “new” does not imply that the “old” world will be thrown away.  It’s a word which, if left by itself, means “new moon.”  There’s not a brand new moon every month – but each month the moon goes through a kind of death and resurrection and is renewed. It will be the same with creation.  The whole world will take the path of Christ Himself – through death and into resurrection. Just as Christ did not replace his old body in the tomb with a resurrection body, so this world will not be cast aside but rather redeemed.

And Isaiah means this quite literally:

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.  (Isaiah 65:25)

In a culture that says “Make the most of now– Isaiah begs to differ.  You don’t need to see the Himalayas before you die.  You can see them afterwards.  You don’t need to despair when your body stops working, it will start again.  You can mourn your loved ones who have died in Christ, but you will hold them in your arms again.  This body, this kind of life and this world will be raised, redeemed and renewed into even greater glory.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.  And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.  (Revelation 21:1-5).

Holier than thou

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Isaiah 65

Isaiah addresses the blindness of human unbelief.  He proclaims the LORD’s word to a “people walking in darkness.”  But while he insists that human wickedness is a disease, he never prescribes human religion as the cure.  No, healing is found only in the Righteous King.  He is the LORD of the temple vision, He isImmanuel, the Prince of Peace, the Spirit-filled Branch and ourSacrificial Lamb.  The Messiah alone is our salvation.  Only He can bind up the brokenhearted.  Therefore we cannot save ourselves and all our own efforts at righteous living fall under this damning indictment from the prophet:

“We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  (Isaiah 64:6)

Notice that Isaiah does not label our unrighteousness as filthy.  It’s our righteousness that is the problem!  Isaiah campaigns tirelessly against human religion because it transmits that foulest of diseases: self-righteousness.

And so Isaiah begins and ends by opposing this dreaded enemy.  Chapter 1 sees the LORD taking aim at the religion of his day.  His soul hateth their “vain oblations” and “solemn assemblies.”  (Isaiah 1:13-15).

At the end of his prophecy, he returns to this theme.  The LORD preaches against those religious folk

which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.  (Isaiah 65:5)

“Holier than thou” is the slogan of the self-righteous.  A “holier than thou” person curls their lip at the unwashed heathen.  They consider sin to be beneath them.  They are apart from the masses and above reproach.

And the tragedy of these kinds of people is that they claim to represent God.  Worse still, the world tends to believe them.  Thus, a world that despises “holier than thou” Christians, feels roughly the same way towards God.

But here is what God wants the world to know:  He also despises the “holier than thou” types.  Here is His verdict on the religious:

“These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day”.  (Isaiah 65:5)

God hates the “holier than thou” religious, because they commit two grievous errors.

Firstly they have no actual interest in holiness in itself.  What matters is their holiness in comparison to you.

CS Lewis sees this clearly in “Mere Christianity”:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone”.

The same can be said of holiness.  Those who are “holier than thou” are not interested in holiness.  They simply use it as a tool for exalting themselves over you.

That’s the first problem with these people.  The second is this: they completely misunderstand holiness.

For them, holiness is about standing apart and keeping others at bay.  Yet the truly holy person is not estranged from, but committed to others.  We know this because we have already met the One who is superlatively holy.  In Isaiah 6 we saw the LORD Jesus who is “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  While His holiness makes Isaiah cry “woe is me” it is not because the LORD wants separation.  The problem is Isaiah!  And so in His holiness the LORD makes forgiveness fly to him.  He sets Isaiah on his feet and commissions him to preach to the people.   Instead of a shut-off holiness – this is an outgoing holiness.

His name throughout Isaiah is “the Holy One of Israel” – a title indicative of His redeeming activity.  He goes out to save a people.  His holiness certainly contrasts with our sin.  But that’s not because He shuts Himself away from us – the very opposite.  While we shut ourselves down, He pursues us with a fierce and relentless passion.  This is His holiness – His complete commitment to the salvation of His people.

And so, in contrast to those who claim to be “holier than thou”, Isaiah 65 begins with a picture of true holiness:

I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people.   (Isaiah 65:2)

From early morning until last thing at night, the LORD Jesus stretches out His arms to reconcile His people.  His holiness does not seek distance from sinners.  It doesn’t erect an insulating wall against sin.  It’s the opposite:  holiness is an arms-wide offer to the wicked.  It’s about pursuing the rebellious with steadfast love.

May we turn from “holier than thou” self-righteousness.  Instead let us know true holiness in the outstretched arms of the Holy One.

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard

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Isaiah 64

It’s probably Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 64 that has become the best known version of this phrase:

“As it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man…  (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Such words can be the equivalent of a magician’s puff of smoke.  When stumped for answers, the Bible teacher can stroke their chin and chant: “Ahhhh… Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard…”  Ignorance is rebranded as “mystery” and we’re all ushered away from the scene of the controversy.  But that’s not what Paul nor Isaiah meant.

Let me quote Isaiah 64 in a more modern translation:

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)

Here is the thing which “eye hath not seen” – a living God.  In a world full of gods who claim to be God – there’s only One true God.  And the mark of this true God is this: He works and His people wait.

All the other gods wait while their people work.  They sit back on their thrones, distant and waiting to be impressed.  Human religion has humans working and the gods waiting.

Isaiah says that the real God is the One who works while we wait.  “He acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.”  It’s the total reverse.

Human religion has humans working for a waiting god.
The Bible has God working for His waiting people.

Human religion has humanity centre stage doing it all while God idly watches.  The gospel has God shooing us off the stage. He seats us in the audience to watch Him work salvation for us.

That’s what marks Him out as the true God, and this is what “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard.”  It’s utterly unique: He acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

Why does He do it that way?  Well we all know the phrase “If you want a job done properly, do it yourself!”  That’s what He’s said earlier in Isaiah:

The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation.  (Isaiah 59:15-16)

If you want a job done right, do it yourself.  So His own Arm works salvation for Him.  We have already met “the Arm of the LORD” in Isaiah 53:1.  He is the King who became the Servant who became the Lamb.  Christ is God’s Arm who works salvation for Him.

Jesus comes into our world, into our humanity.  He is God the Son, doing human life for us.  In our place and on our behalf He lived the life we should live and then died the death that we should die.  He rose again to new life and ascended to the Father as our perfect Sacrifice and Priest.  As the Arm of the LORD He does it all and scoops us up into the Father’s presence.

What do we do?  Well we are simply beneficiaries of His mighty acts of salvation.  He works for us, we wait on Him.  What a God!  Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard such condescension and love!

No rest for the wicked

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Isaiah 57

It’s the sort of phrase your cheery postman might say on his rounds.  “Must push on I’m afraid, no rest for the wicked eh?”  We smile and wave and get on with our day.

Yet this saying is the biblical equivalent of verses such as “these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46) or “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11).  “No rest for the wicked” describes exactly the same dreaded reality.  The rest-less fate of the wicked is a chilling thought.

Let’s hear it in its context in Isaiah.  First the LORD declares,

“Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the LORD; and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.“  (Isaiah 57:19-21)

For Isaiah, there are two options: peace or turbulence.  “Peace” has to come upon a people who would otherwise walk in the darkness of death.  It’s the result of the LORD’s “healing” of a sick humanity.  Left in our natural state, we are a “troubled sea.”

That’s important to note.  The wicked are not at the mercy of a troubled sea.  The wicked are a troubled sea.  Their judgement is not an imposition from outside.  Their judgement is to be left to their own unruly ways.

To be left to oneself is to be restless.

Those who assume the government to be on their shoulders can have no peace.  It doesn’t require the LORD to send such people into a state of turmoil.  Their very rebellion is their judgement.  They clamour for an independence from the Prince of Peace, yet He is the One who rules over the surging seas.  Judgement is only ever a confirmation of what a person is, and therefore of what a person has chosen.  The LORD stands for peace.  But the wicked stand against His ways.  Thus there can be no peace for them.

Yet over and above the troubled seas, Jesus still brings a word to still the storm:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Bind up the brokenhearted

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Isaiah 61

In the Bible, hearts can be failed, faint, glad, hard, willing, stirred, sorrowful, obstinate, lifted up, circumcised, wicked, grieved, hot, astonished, trembling, melted, inclined, merry, rejoicing, naughty, offended, dead, desirous, despising, lion-like, bowed, upright, understanding, large, turned away, turned back, sore troubled, tender, double, perfect, tried, prepared, free, united, proud, soft, walking, deceived, enticed, hypocritical, trembling, firm, proved, wax-like, pure, enlarged, strengthened, disquieted, panting, meditating, clean, contrite, sore pained, fixed, overwhelmed, poured out, set, froward, smitten, brought down, wounded, inclined, fat, sound, desolate, subtil, perverse, heavy, sick, haughty, fretting, despairing, hasty, ravished, awake, moved, stout, fearful, revived, evil, washed, rebellious, uncircumcised, deceitful, turned, affected, whorish, stony, idolatrous, weak, new, bitter, of flesh, divided, exalted, rent, lowly, waxed gross, far from God, good, slow, burning, troubled, pricked, single, not right, opened, impenitent, anguished, veiled, blind, true, established.

Today, heavy, hard, pure and stout-hearted, have survived as common sayings.  But perhaps the most popular variation on this theme is “broken-hearted.”  We have all felt “broken-hearted” at times.  But wonderfully, the LORD Jesus has healing for us.  The very reason He was sent into the world was to bind up our broken hearts:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.  (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Throughout Isaiah, the prophet lifts up the King before us.  The true King is the LORD of the temple vision, He will become the miraculous Child Immanuel, the Prince of Peace, the Spirit-filled Branch and our Sacrificial Lamb.  And here in chapter 61 we read about the just and gentle rule of this Spirit-filled King.  This Ruler does not use His power to dominate but to heal and bless.

What king cares about the hearts of his subjects?  This King does.  He binds up the broken-hearted.

And part of the reason He can bind up the broken-hearted is because He has experienced the ultimate heart-break Himself.

We know Psalm 69 to be the words of Christ (cf John 2 and Romans 11) and here He lays bare His soul:

“Hide not thy face from thy servant; for I am in trouble: hear me speedily.Draw nigh unto my soul, and redeem it: deliver me because of mine enemies. Thou hast known my reproach, and my shame, and my dishonour: mine adversaries are all before thee. Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”.  (Psalm 69:17-21)

Christ died of a broken heart in every sense.  Read the whole Psalm to get a sense of the pain of unrequited love which He experienced.  Yet His own heart was also bound up – healed – in resurrection.  And by His Spirit He offers the sympathy of One who knows, and the power of One who has conquered.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

Rise and shine

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Isaiah 60

When morning comes, the phrase trips off our tongues.  Yet we rarely notice its strangeness.  To say “Rise and shine” is odd.  We’re not simply exhorting the sleeper to notice or respond to the sun.  We’re telling them to be the sun – or at least, to be like the sun.

The sun rises.  We rise.  The sun shines.  We shine.  Or we’re supposed to if we take this saying seriously.

People are meant to be miniature suns.

To understand how and why, let’s go back to the source – Isaiah chapter 60.  Listen to the interaction of “rising” and “shining” here:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.  2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.  3And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

In verse 1 the people rise and shine.  But in verse 2 we learn that their rising and shining springs from no power of their own.  They live in “gross darkness”.  It is “the LORD” who rises and shines (note that in verse 1 He is called “the Glory of LORD”).  But then in verse 3 we see that the people do have a “light” and a “rising” they can call their own.  And who do they rise and shine upon?  The nations.

So we have a picture – we rise and shine because the LORD rises and shines.  And just as He rises and shines on us, so we rise and shine on the world.  Appropriately enough the shining of the LORD is an outgoing brilliance that doesn’t terminate on His people but, once  received, it then radiates out to the nations.

We should note that in Isaiah, neither rising nor shining comes naturally to God’s people.  In fact, the book is an extended wake up call to Jerusalem (i.e. Zion):

Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust:  (Isaiah 26:19)

Awake, awake, put on strength, (Isaiah 51:9)

Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem, (Isaiah 51:17)

Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion… Shake thyself from the dust; arise,  (Isaiah 52:1-2)

And darkness seems to be their natural habitat.

We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.  (Isaiah 59:9)

Yet, famously,

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

The people are naturally in the dark, yet there shines an other-worldly Light.  He is the Miraculous Child – the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  In Isaiah 42 He is described as the Servant who will be a Light for the Gentiles, “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:6-7).

The Messiah is the Divine Glory of the LORD.  He not only shines upon those in darkness:  He has the power to make them radiate this glory to others.  He is a Sun who rises to transform gloomy sleepers into shining stars.

So in the morning, just as you let the sun rise and shine upon you to brighten your face and give you warmth, let Christ rise and shine upon you to give you hope and peace.  Know His glory chasing away every shadow and His love as free as the sunshine.  Then see if you don’t shine yourself.  And the world will be drawn to your brightness.

Led like a lamb to the slaughter

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Isaiah 52:13-53:12

When someone is “led like a lamb to the slaughter” it’s ugly.  Perhaps a partner in the firm is about to be ousted for the sake of the company.  As he blithely enters the boardroom he’s like a lamb to the slaughter.

This is a brutal verbal picture.  An innocent lamb will follow a leader no matter where they’re taken.  No protests, no questions asked.  At the slaughterhouse they train a “Judas sheep” to lead the others to their doom.  “Judas” escapes through a hatch, whilst the others get it in the neck.

But Isaiah says that the true Lamb to the slaughter is the LORD Almighty!

Pause there and meditate on the LORD… led like a Lamb… to the slaughter.

We’ve considered Isaiah’s vision of the LORD Jesus in the temple.  Isaiah described Him as “high and lifted up.”  But in our reading today, Isaiah sees Him again.  Still He’s “high and lifted up” but in a very different way.

“Behold, my Servant… he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high”.  (Isaiah 52:13)

The King of Isaiah 6 is now seen as the Servant of Isaiah 52-53.  In both visions He is “exalted”, “lifted up”, “very high” etc.  But think of these two liftings: in one, He sits on a throne; in the other, He is slain on an altar.  But both are glorious exaltations!

Listen to the upside-down glory of the LORD Jesus who is lifted up in sacrifice:

2 For he shall grow up before [God] as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.  (Isaiah 53:2-7)

Notice the wonderful exchange.

We are the ones with transgressions, He is the One bruised for them.

We are the ones who gain peace, He is the One who takes the chastisement.

He takes the stripes (the wounds), we are healed.

We are like wilful sheep.  He is the lamb to the slaughter.

In this gracious exchange we see the true glory of the LORD.  A King may remain on his throne “high and lifted up.”  Yet there is a far greater majesty.  It’s the majesty of Christ.  He is the King of the temple, the LORD Almighty to Whom angels cry “Holy, Holy, Holy!”  This same King becomes the Servant who descends even lower to be slain as a Lamb.  He is “crushed” under the weight of a world’s sin (Isaiah 53:10).  And He “pours out His soul unto death (Isaiah 53:12).  This is true glory.

When John wrote the final book of the bible – Revelation – he returned to this truth.  In his vision of heaven he saw to the heart of divine majesty, and what did he see?

Lo, in the midst of the throne… stood a Lamb as it had been slain  (Revelation 5:6)

He calls Jesus,

the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne.  (Revelation 7:17)

The throne is the manifestation of divine power and glory.  And at its centre is the Lamb.  If we push through to the deepest depths of divinity what do we find?  A Lamb led to the slaughter.

How do you picture God?  How do you picture divine glory?  Look again to that willing Sacrifice and you will see.  And with the rest of heaven you will sing:

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.  (Revelation 5:12)

Seeing eye to eye

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Isaiah 52:1-12

When we use this phrase it’s usually in the negative: “I’m sorry to say we don’t see eye to eye on this issue.”

Not seeing eye to eye means disagreement.  The very nature of the phrase communicates an inequality of stature, perhaps also of power.

What would it take for  antagonists to start seeing “eye to eye”? One would have to shift their position.  We might imagine one of them raising themselves up to the height of the other.

But the Bible has another idea.  Isaiah shows us two parties who do see eye to eye, and they are as unequal as they come.  It’s the LORD and His people.  Yet when they see eye to eye it’s great news:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!  Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion.  Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.  (Isaiah 52:7-9)

Here are “good tidings of good”.  This is, perhaps, not the greatest King James translation, but what it speaks of is priceless.  The reigning God of heaven will see “eye to eye” with His people.

Is this because His people have raised themselves up?  Not at all.  God has stooped.  This eye to eye agreement and fellowship is all because “the LORD hath comforted his people.”

The word “comfort” is very important in Isaiah.  The prophet uses it to describe the LORD’s attitude to His people.  Listen to the LORD’s comfort:

O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.  (Isaiah 12:1)

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.  (Isaiah 40:1-2)

Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.  But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.  Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.  Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.   (Isaiah 49:13-16)

For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.  (Isaiah 51:3)

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound… to comfort all that mourn;  (Isaiah 61:1-2)

As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.  (Isaiah 66:13)

Just think of all that the LORD’s comfort involves:

It’s His resolute turning from anger, His pardon for all our sins, His mercy upon the afflicted, His renewal of the whole earth, His reversal of death and curse and His tender, motherly compassion. And because of His steadfast compassion, He comes down to our level.

Seeing eye to eye with the LORD is not about us raising ourselves up.  Nor does it mean giving broad consent to His moral philosophy.  It’s about face to face fellowship.  And how is it possible?  Because He has stooped.

Isaiah 52 continues by telling us of this LORD who became a Servant; a Servant who became a Lamb; a Lamb who was then led to the slaughter.  Who can doubt that the LORD wants to comfort us when we see Him join us in our depths?

We do not naturally see eye to eye with God.  Our lives are not in agreement.  We fall far short.  Yet look to the cross and there you see a divine condescension motivated by astounding love.  To see Christ and Him crucified is to see “eye to eye” with God.  In that encounter we know almighty compassion and we “break forth into joy!”

They shall mount up with wings as eagles

Isaiah 40:21-31

28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. 29 He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: 31 But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  (Isaiah 40:28-31)

The film, “Chariots of Fire” shows us two ways in which “young men” can run.  First, Harold Abrahams is every inch the driven man.  Explaining why he must win gold at the 100 metres, he says: “I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.”

On the other hand, we have Eric Liddell: a man who knows how to wait on the LORD.  Liddell even forgoes Olympic glory to rest on a Sunday.  Does this mean he has forgotten about running?  No.  It’s just that he runs for a very different reason: “When I run I feel His pleasure.”

One man runs to prove himself.  The other abandons himself to the LORD and simply enjoys it.  Two ways to run – two ways to live.  We can do it in our own strength, to justify our own existence.  Or, in dependence on the LORD’s strength, we can entrust our justification and life to Him.  When we do this we receive it back as renewed strength.

When verse 31 says that the LORD shall “renew” their strength, it’s a word that most often means to “change” or “exchange”.  Like a divine swap.

The LORD receives our weakness to Himself.  In that ultimate sense, He takes on our frailty, becoming flesh and running our race all the way to its bitter end at the cross (Hebrews 12:1-3).  But He rises again by the power of the Spirit and offers us a cross-shaped strength – a strength-in-weakness.

Sometimes this strength will be “eagle’s wings”.  Sometimes it will be running with endurance.  And sometimes it will be just enough to walk “and not faint”.  But at all points it’s the LORD Jesus who upholds us.

We can run in our own strength and run ourselves into the ground.  Or we can stop self-justifying.  We can swap human strength for Christ’s, and simply run in His good pleasure.