God's Solution when things go wrong
Who do you blame when things go wrong?
There's always someone to blame isn't there? If I can't get employment – it's the immigrant's fault for taking "my" job.
If my treatment goes wrong it's the hospital's fault. (I received an interesting prayer letter this week that mentioned the motto inscribed on the walls of a mission hospital in Kenya – it read "We treat, He heals" – surely something that we would do well to remember.)
Or what if you have you read the newspapers this week? Have you watched the news? What did you make of the appalling revelations about child abuse in the Manchester area? We had thought that Rotherham was an exception -
And what is the reaction if you mention God in all this? Well many will turn round and blame him! He's either so weak that he can't do anything about it all and so not worth thinking about or he's so bad because he could but won't do what they think he ought to do – and so not worthy of our trust. Many have few, if any, qualms about shifting the blame and accusing God.
The situation that Isaiah addresses in ch.59 is grim and he begins by repudiating the suggestion that God is so weak that he can't act or that his faculties are so diminished that he can't see or hear what's going on.
No, cries Isaiah, the blame is not to be laid at the door of God it is the nation's sin that has erected a barrier between themselves and God and because of that sin God has "chosen" both to hide his face from the nation and to refuse to listen to their complaints.
Some centuries earlier Solomon had said that it was righteousness that exalts a nation (Pr.14:34) adding that sin was a reproach to any people. Earlier still his father David had asked:
Ps.24:3 "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?"
Before supplying the answer to his own question:
Ps.24:4 "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully."
But if we were to ask Isaiah how the nation he had to addressed matched up his answer would be stark: his nation was not characterized by this kind of righteousness, anything but, and he catalogued what it was that marked his nation's attitude and behavior.
Isaiah's analysis contains a devastating critique of the society of his day, and what a litany of violence, dishonesty and injustice it is! Men act without restraint and rush to do evil and wicked things. They have no idea how they ought to ordering their lives and consequently no-
Isaiah began his critique of national life by talking about others – in vv.4-
But a change comes in v.9 where the emphasis shifts and Isaiah no longer stands aloof but identifies with the people (or at least with a believing remnant amongst the people). He uses different words – "us", "we" and "our" are the personal pronouns that dominate from now on.
Denial is a huge problem. If someone refuses to acknowledge they have a problem they won't seek any solution for it. We know in the medical realm that very often a illness can be successfully treated if diagnosed early enough don't we? Well, in the spiritual/moral realm too we can only move forward when we give up denying that there is a problem, that we have a problem, that we are the problem!
Although we are in the midst of a dark description of Israel's national life there are nevertheless glimmers of light. When Isaiah had been first appointed to his prophetic ministry he was told that his ministry would prove to have little effect upon his hearers. The words at his commissioning service were far from optimistic:
And Isaiah found that this was just what his ministry was like. Do you remember the opening words of Is.53?
"Who has believed our report?"
Well here there is some evidence that while not many heeded what Isaiah had to say there were some! There was a remnant who were affected by the message he preached and who acknowledged their sins. This is evidence of that preparatory work of the Spirit of God who convicts us of our sin before he can lead us to Christ.
We live in days when Isaiah's description of his nation seems to fit very closely with the life of our own nation. If that is so then we may also take comfort that even in these dark days there is a remnant saved by grace – the preaching and sharing of God's word bears its fruit!
As Isaiah highlights the sins of his people he also points out their frustrations too.
Those who long for righteousness to be brought about naturally are disappointed. Those who hope for light are obliged to walk in darkness and stumble along like a blind man fumbling his way along a wall. Where strength and vitality are needed only weakness and infirmity seem to be known.
In the face of such frustration we'll try anything swinging from one extreme – roaring aggressively like a bear – to the other – moaning pathetically like doves. But whatever method is adopted the result is the name – failure.
The man on his way to faith passes this way. Convinced of problems and made to face up to them, he tries anything (everything) but finds that nothing works – he is brought to an end of himself and shut up to acknowledge his problem of turning away from God and offending him by sin.
And man's extremity becomes God's opportunity!
God to the Rescue
Sin offends God – it always has and it always will.
When God saw the state of his people in Isaiah's day he was offended:
Is.59:15b "The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice."
In that displeasure he deliberately turned his face from them – this means that the blessings they might have expected as being in relationship with their Creator and Sustainer were withheld.
All sin offends God and sin that is deliberately pursued and persisted in may well cause God to take drastic measures. The apostle Paul writing to the Romans spoke of God "giving men up in the lusts of their hearts" (Rom.1:24) – small wonder then that men find God not acting in their favour and not listening to their prayers!
But turning his back and refusing to listen is not the same as indifference or inability to do anything and we should never imagine that it is.
God was fully aware of what was happening and he fully knew that men, try as they may, could not find solutions to the problems for which they themselves were responsible – at length, at the right moment, he determined to act. His intervention however turns out to be the intervention of a double-
Isaiah describes the way in which the LORD went about his plan of salvation in military terms.
v.17 "He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak."
God would set out as a soldier setting out for war – clothed in the appropriate body armour and ready for decisive action. This would be no half-
One of the effects of his victory would be judgment: those who persisted as his enemies would suffer his wrath and be made to pay for their crimes and they would nothing of the benefits of his salvation.
v.18 "According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment."
But God amazingly, wonderfully, chose to intervene not simply to bring judgment and retribution but also to save. We should not lose sight of how astonishing this is. We are so used to hearing about God's love and his readiness to forgive sins that we can begin to imagine that this is what God is really all about. We come to him imagining that it is somehow his duty to be kind to rebel sinners. We come to him thinking that every rebel sinner has the right to be forgiven and kindly treated.
But, friends, God is no domesticated doddery grand-
And yet, and yet… salvation is secured because God is wonderfully, remarkably, surprisingly generous and kind.
The victory would be won because the LORD himself went to battle to secure it. The beneficial fruits of that victory would be distributed and enjoyed – but by whom?
Isaiah tells us the answer:
v.20 ""And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression," declares the LORD."
The salvation that the LORD brings is of one kind and of one kind alone – it is salvation from sin. And so it is for those who turn from their transgressions. Salvation is not brought to us at the great cost of the LORD going to battle on our behalf in order that we might go on living in sin.
If you are looking for a salvation that will enable you to go on unchanged and unchanging then you are in the wrong place listening to the wrong message. Ah, but if you are weary of your sin, weary of stumbling around in the gloomy darkness never at peace and always being frustrated then know that there is a full salvation in the Redeemer who has now come and secured it, even in our Lord Jesus Christ.
And what a salvation it is!
Isaiah concludes with a brief reference to the new covenant that the LORD promised to establish with repentant, converted sinners.
It is an everlasting covenant whereby the LORD fully commits himself to his people. His people will know the presence of the Lord's Spirit with them, they will know and enjoy his word, and this will continue on through their offspring too – forever and forever.
And it was on a similar note that Peter ended his sermon on the day of Pentecost. He preached and his word struck home to his hearers. They cried out to him asking what they should do to which Peter replied: