“What’s beyond the model is the most compelling thing.”
In this single sentence the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Anthony Doerr, summarizes a fundamental longing. It’s as if we recognize that there is something beyond what we can see and touch and feel, as if we live in a wooden model and if we could only break out of it we would touch the transcendent, the real, the other.
Today’s passage is all about our quest for the most compelling thing, and about the tragedy of what we do in pursuit of it. But at the same time it holds out hope that broken people like us can, in fact, get beyond the model.
Title: High and Holy, Contrite and Lowly
Text: Isaiah 56.9–57.21
photo courtesy of Christ Community Church
After Isaiah 55, you would be justified to wonder what more needs to be said. Over the past year and a half, we’ve worked through the first two major sections of Isaiah’s prophecy, his message to the city of Jerusalem. The first part, chapters 1–39) showed us the Lord as King of the city, and in it we saw again and again that no one would trust and obey the King, not even God’s people, not even God’s kings, Ahaz and Hezekiah. And that failure to take God at his word meant great trouble for the people of the city: because they persisted in relying on themselves, they would go into captivity at the hands of Babylon.
In the second part of the book, chapters 40–55, Isaiah focused our attention on the Lord as the Servant of the city, and in it we saw that God would not leave his people in captivity, but would redeem his people through the work of the Servant who would trust and obey God, and ultimately suffer and die for the people. And then the invitation: “come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost”! Everything has been prepared, all we need to do is come.
So what more needs to be said? So much more. For the good news of the Servant—the gospel—that invites people to Jesus and gives them new life is still at work in God’s people after conversion while we await the return of the Conqueror. And that transformation is evident in the very first verse.
Title: Hope on the Margins
Text: Isaiah 56.1–8
- shall we go on sinning?
- who then is blessed?
Posted in Isaiah
Tagged Eunuch, Family, Foreigner, Gospel, Hope, Isaiah, Jesus, Justice, Marginalized, Marriage, Singleness, The Servant of the Lord
photo courtesy of Victory Church
Since September we’ve been working our way through the second major section of Isaiah in a series I’ve called the Servant and the City. Today with chapter 55 we reach the end of this section. So let me summarize where we’ve been. The name for the series derives from the dominance of the Servant theme in these chapters. As you know there are four Servant Songs here, the fourth of which is so significant to the message of Isaiah that we examined it quite closely on communion Sundays. In many ways Isaiah 53 is the climax of the book, or at least presents the way that the central conflict is resolved. The central conflict, going back to the first part of the book, is the unwillingness of God’s people, specifically the people of Jerusalem, to believe and obey God. And in the fourth Servant Song, the conflict is resolved: the Servant of Yahweh will redeem his people through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection.
That brings us to the chapters 54 and 55. If Isaiah in chapter 54 details the objective results of the Servant’s suffering, then in chapter 55 the prophet tells his readers how they—indeed, how we—can enter into those objective results.
Title: The Invitation
Text: Isaiah 55
A full-page ad in the first section of the New York Times is designed to grab your attention. But when that ad is for Shinola watches, it’s bound to attract mine. Shinola manufactures watches and other goods in my hometown of Detroit. It was founded in 2011 by Tom Kartsotis with a goal of bringing manufacturing back to the city. Since that time, it has become a symbol of Detroit’s attempted turnaround from the dark days of financial ruin to (hopefully) better days ahead. Thus the words of this ad: “In Detroit we don’t need to look at our watches to know this is our time.” But Shinola is not the first such icon. If you look at Detroit skyline, you’ll quickly identify its tallest building: the seven interconnected skyscrapers known as the Renaissance Center. But it was constructed in 1977. It’s not easy to rebuild a city.
This image of a city rebuilt is one of two images that today’s passage employs to describe God’s plan for his people. The other image is that of a wife restored. Taken together these present a breathtaking picture of God’s love for his people.
Title: The Fruit of the Servant’s Suffering
Text: Isaiah 54
- city rebuilt
- woman restored
What would it be like to live your whole life knowing precisely what your future occupation will be, but then to have to wait decades for it to come about? Six decades, to be specific. And still counting.
Such is the case for Charles, Prince of Wales, who believe it or not is 67 years old. At a time when many people are at or near retirement, Charles waits for what he always believed was his purpose in life: to be king of England. As it happens the current occupant of the throne, Elizabeth II, became the longest-reigning monarch in British history in September and will turn 90 next month. That leaves Charles in an awkward place, and the subject of his share of late-night jokes.
But put yourself in his shoes: what would that be like? In her lengthy 2013 cover story for Time, Catherine Mayer observed, “I found a man not, as caricatured, itching to ascend the throne, but impatient to get as much done as poss.” That last phrase—impatient to get as much done as possible—could describe most of us. We possess an insatiable drive to do. But why? Charles answered that question a decade ago for Esquire magazine, an answer that could speak for us all: “All the time I feel I must justify my existence.”
Is there no other way? Is there any way we can live and work and build relationships free of this burden?
Text: Isaiah 53.10–12
- our attempts to justify ourselves
- the alternative
- God’s delight to justify
Posted in Isaiah
Tagged Approval, Easter, Faith and Work, Family, Freedom, Hope, Isaiah, Jesus, Justification, Religion, Resurrection, Self-righteousness, Welcome, Work