The beginning of a new year presents the opportunity to consider how we’re doing. Heart evaluation is essential. Once more, we can learn from Israel. Lack of follow-through on good intentions was the problem that plagued them. Unfortunately, our hearts mirror theirs.
Upon returning to their homeland after their captivity in Babylon, Israel assumed that if they kept the outward rituals of their faith, then God would answer their prayers. But, God said he would not answer, for mere ritualistic faith is no faith at all. The Lord desires hearts of true faith that care for the needy and the poor, and that even invite the hungry right into our homes.
The hearts of Israel didn’t display this type of compassion, and I’m guessing most of us don’t either, myself included. Therefore, we’re all in a dangerous place. We feel safe, complacent, and comfortable in what we have — a perilous spiritual attitude. When we live in a climate of comfort, we don’t think justice is important, for we’ve never experienced gross and/or deadly injustice.
For instance, we’ve generally forgotten the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, unless they’re our girls. We haven’t concerned ourselves much with the children who have died in US custody after being separated from their parents, unless they’re our children. We’re not worried about the broken state of our justice system, unless someone we love is in or has been in prison. We think racism has been dealt with, unless we’re people of color who have experienced the opposite.
In short, we tend to be complacent and selfish. All of us. I include myself. And yet, because God is just, compassionate, and merciful, these concerns are significant to him.
Before Christmas, I pondered the state of my heart. I begged God for a solution, and I asked him to help me follow through on my good intentions. He’s doing this work in me. Thanks be to God, for Christlike selflessness does not come naturally.
As I continue my study of Isaiah, I’m increasingly impressed by the Lord’s understanding of human nature. The entirety of Isaiah 59 captures who we really are. But, God in his mercy didn’t leave us there. No he did not, for the Holy One of Israel is great in our midst, and one day he will return!
15b The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
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.
18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives.
20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,”
declares the Lord.
(Isaiah 59: 15b-20 ESV)
When God “wonders” about something (v.16a), it’s significant. The Hebrew word used here informs us that God was “appalled” and “astonished” by the depth of our human depravity. No one on earth could or would intercede or implement the changes in society that would make justice the norm – no king, no president, no leader. No one on earth ever had the intention to make it right for the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, nor the ability to carry it out.
And, so God himself did it in the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. That was the only possible solution. It’s a three-part action all rolled into one: the then, the now, and the not yet.No one on earth ever had the intention to make it right for the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, nor the ability to carry it out. And so, God himself did it in the person of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet
THE THEN is what came before. At the fall of mankind, God promised a Redeemer, One who would crush the serpent’s head and buy back humankind from sin and death. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology states: “Humankind is held in the captivity of sin from which only the atoning death of Jesus Christ can liberate.”
God already had this plan in place before creation. He foreknew that human beings of curiosity, intellect, and free human agency would sin. All of Old Testament history and prophecy built toward the arrival of this One – Jesus Messiah, who conquered sin and death by his perfect life and by his sinless sacrifice, making us right with God by bringing justification through his death and resurrection. He promised to come again, to restore the earth to its pre-fallen state, and to bring justice.
THE NOW is the living out of his kingdom here on earth. Now we strive to live like him, to obey his instructions – all of those demanding statements about how he will know who is truly his when he returns, based on our profession of faith and how we live, all of the commands that result in a godly life, and all of our responses to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
In this Psalm, merely by being himself, the Lord models the type of behavior he desires from those who love him:
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
(Psalm 146:5-9 NIV)
While we walk in his steps, relying on him for the ability and desire to obey, growing in his grace day by day, we lean in anticipation toward the final act, the not yet.
THE NOT YET is fulfilled when he returns and establishes his eternal kingdom, captured beautifully in the above passage from Isaiah. Jesus’ strong arm accomplished the necessary redemption. When he returns he will accomplish the restoration of justice, righteousness, and beauty — no more pain, hunger, injustice, discrimination, or death. Our hearts will be repaired, made fully and totally his.
And O! how we lean in hard toward that!
We turn our eyes toward this reality, toward the foresight and kindness of our God who superintends all of history to bring about his purposes of grace, mercy, and kindness above and beyond all we can imagine. Seeing him clearly impacts our actions, our follow through, and our ability to walk in his steps.
Do you see him there? The Holy One of Israel is great in our midst!
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