Monday, June 30, 2014

This Week in Isaiah #4–Chapters 51-66

Structure of Isaiah 40-66

I am just back from Palau and am now able to upload my final post on Isaiah. The final chapters of Isaiah deal mainly with the “Servant” who will be able to accomplish the fulfillment of the covenant in a way that the nation of Israel was never able to. Thus, he is able to provide salvation, not just to Israel, but to all the world. Finally, Isaiah pictures the eschatological (final) kingdom of peace and righteousness in which his people will live prosperous and secure lives. As always, the quotes are from the New American Commentary – Isaiah by Gary V. Smith. (Quotes are in blue – my comments in the normal font.)

This is a warning that people on earth should not assume that the things that are so important to their daily life and pleasures are permanent. One day God will cause all of this to disappear. In stark contrast to the temporal and unstable nature of this present world, God’s salvation is a sure hope that will last forever (it will not pass away). Isaiah 51.6, 397.

Isaiah is intent to get Israel to focus on and build their lives based on God’s promises. Lives focused on building toward the kingdom are the most productive right now.

These comforting words remind the reader that suffering sometimes is deserved, that suffering is only for a limited time, and that God has the power to remove suffering. Of course, just because God chooses to remove the suffering of one person in one situation does not mean that he will act the same way in all other situations. His plans differ, his purposes for bringing suffering change, and his reasons for acting or not acting are often beyond human comprehension. Isaiah 52, 428.

It is shocking to think that the righteous highly exalted royal Messiah was asked by God to intervene on behalf of terrible people all over the world by giving up his life to pay for the sins of others. The suffering and death involved in this plan demonstrates the heavy penalty for rebellion against God, but the peace, healing, and justification gained though these acts uncovers the tremendous accomplishments of this gracious plan. Isaiah 53, 465.

Any theology of suffering must take into account the suffering of the ultimate God-Man Jesus Christ. God can and does act to remove the suffering of his people, but sometimes we are called to walk in the same path of suffering that Jesus walked. Sometimes, our suffering enables others to experience the benefits of Jesus’ suffering for us.

Peace and salvation will be two of the great characteristics of the kingdom God has prepared for his people. In the last line of v. 10, God assures this audience that God’s promise is based on the fact that he is the one “who has compassion on you.” In this passage God’s love and compassion are two of the prime motivations for his actions toward each person on the earth.  Isaiah 54.9-10, 486.

Seeking to get into contact with God involves calling on him, praying to him, and developing a relationship with him. The time to seek and call is now, while God is available and near. Isaiah 55.6-7, 507–508.

Acceptance into God’s holy temple to worship is based on people’s relationship to God, not their relationship to one cultural way of worship, one class, one race, one nation, or one denomination. If God welcomes everyone who holds fast to their covenant relationship to God, can those who call themselves the servants of God do anything less?  Isaiah 56.1-8, 537.

God’s kingdom promises demonstrate his compassion and love for us. His offer of “free” blessings of his kingdom should motivate us to seek him in prayer and relationship. We come to him, not because we are afraid of a capricious god, but because we know that we are coming to a living father. We also, then, must welcome the outcast, the one different from us and even our enemy with the same openness that God has to us. 

God’s desire is not to destroy mankind (cf. Ezek 18:32) but to transform them through love and discipline. Isaiah 57.16-17, 64.

The well-being of the whole community is interrelated to the righteous behavior of each individual person within the community. Isaiah 58, 571.

Intercession requires that the intercessor identify with the failures of the wicked and love them in spite of their treachery and lies. In the end, only God can change these lives, and his power and grace are the only hope there is for them, but God can choose to respond to dedicated intercession. Isaiah 59, 607.

The wise leader should teach his people to pray for a renewed sense of God’s presence and a new demonstration of his zeal and power (63:15). God hears these kinds of prayers, and 65:1–66:14 demonstrates that he answers them too. Smith, Isaiah 64, 696.

Intercession should flow out of our relationship with God and the interconnectedness this brings to his people. God is transforming us into his image together as a community and prayer for each other is an important part of making this happen.

The audience should not doubt or wonder about these wonderful promises, for when the right time comes and everything is ready, God will quickly act and accomplish what he has promised. This assurance to every believer is an encouragement to faithfully persevere each day, but it also provides hope that soon God will come for his righteous people and end the misery that is associated with this sinful world.  Isaiah 60, 628.

One of the main goals of mankind will be to fulfill this joyful responsibility of glorifying God forever. Those who receive God’s good news, freedom, comfort, and experience this transformation will have many reasons to loudly praise and glorify God’s name. Isaiah 61.3, 636.

What this verse communicates is that God’s work of salvation is not limited to his work in Zion with his covenant people; his salvation is a world-transforming power that will impact the lives of all the people from every nation in the world. Isaiah 62.11, 654.

Honest reflection inevitably will cause people to lament about the depravity of this sinful world, confess their sins, and call out to God for compassion so that they can enjoy the blessings of the glorious eschatological kingdom described in chaps. 60–62. Isaiah 63, 668.

These chapters are an assurance that God will accomplish his KIngdom promises. The is the center of the final section of Isaiah. It is the section Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth. The good news is that Jesus has already done his work as king and his kingdom will come.

People like this stand in awe before the King of kings who made the heavens and the earth. They deeply respect what God has said, take it very seriously, internalize it and make it part of their worldview, and then they implement it in their daily walk and thinking. Isaiah 66.2, 730.

Our daily lives demonstrate how much we really believe God’s promises. God’s story must be the story that drives our lives and by which we make our daily decisions. That is what faith is really all about.

In many ways, the denominational, ethnic, and racial division within the church today should be an uncomfortable sign of just how far the modern church is from the ideals God has designed for his people. Isaiah 40-66.20-21, 751.

One of Jesus’ last commands was for his followers to live with each other in love and unity. (John 13-17). The church has not done a good job at that for most of its history. How will we enjoy God’s kingdom if we can’t live together with God’s people now?

Every reader must decide what destiny is most desired: (a) the joy of living in the wonderful kingdom of God before the very presence of his glory or (b) enduring the sword, fire, and worm of God’s judgment. The first choice comes with life-changing challenges and requires a complete commitment to trust God. Only those who love and serve God are able to enter his kingdom.  Isaiah 66, 753.

Throughout the book of Isaiah the choice is clear. Will you live your life based on God’s promises or based on your own interests and resources? Do our daily lives show this commitment to trust God and serve his people? Isaiah shows us that this decision has eternal consequences.

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