June 27, 2011 David Balzer

Isaiah 61: The God of Change

There’s a saying: “The more things CHANGE, the more they STAY THE SAME.” Governments come and go, but the same old problems of self-interest and injustice, and a hunger for power still remain. The dictators of TODAY look pretty similar to the dictators of 500 years ago. Companies are now multinational, automated and computerised, but greed, maximising the profit, and squashing the competition are just as important as ever. Technology’s changing. Cars are safer than ever, but there’s still just as many people dying in car accidents. There are new MEDICAL discoveries every day, better drugs, better equipment, more advanced operations. But more people die of cancer. New scientific discoveries have the potential to solve the energy crisis, world famine, and poverty. But we’re just as much at the mercy of earthquakes, drought, tsunamis and storms as we EVER were. Cars, TV’s, cameras and phones are getting more advanced every day. But so are missiles, bombs, chemical weapons, and guns. Wars are still going. And we’re working out smarter and smarter ways of killing each other. The internet and computers are getting faster and faster, but files and web pages still don’t load quick enough. We know more about how to keep our bodies healthy, but obesity is on the increase. We’re eating ourselves to death. The standard of living is higher than it’s ever been, cities are busier, and there’s more to entertain us. But people are lonelier, more depressed, more stressed. And the suicide rate continues to increase. For all our cleverness and activity. All our ingenuity and inventions. Our ability to manipulate our surroundings. What are we really capable of changing? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Is real change possible? Is change that LASTS – change that MATTERS – really achievable? Or are we just kidding ourselves? I wonder if that was a question many people in Israel were asking. God had rescued them miraculously out of exile. Brought them from Babylon back to the Promised Land. Through King Cyrus of Persia, the temple had been rebuilt, and the city walls too. Things were CHANGING. And that was just PHYSICAL things. When it came to their RELATIONSHIP with GOD, things were changing TOO. God had announced, through Isaiah, that their sin was paid for. That he wasn’t angry with them anymore. That his anger was for a moment, but he’d replace it with compassion. Back in Ch 54, he promised 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. 8 In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer. Things were CHANGING. And FOR THE BETTER. But as we’ve already seen, sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. God had changed THEIR SITUATION. Changed their location. Changed their STATUS. Now he called on them to CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOUR. Ch 55. “Come to me, all you who are thirsty. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live. Or down in v6. 6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. The need for change The OFFER to change was there. But how did the people RESPOND? The SITUATION might have changed. But the SINS were still the SAME. Nothing had really changed AT ALL. The NEED for change was still just as great. Jump across to Ch 59. Don’t blame GOD for things not changing. He’s got POWER enough, and FORGIVENESS enough to change ANY situation. V1. Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. No, the fault’s not with GOD. It’s with God’s PEOPLE. v2. 2 But YOUR INIQUITIES have separated you from your God; YOUR SINS have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. 3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things. The fault’s not with THE RESCUER, it’s with the RESCUED. It’s like a story Luke Tattersall was telling me about a time he was surfing. Luke was floating on his board, waiting for a wave. A swimmer was about 15m away from him sort of treading water. He’d go under, then surface again, flail around a bit, then go under again. After a couple of minutes Luke paddled over, and said, “Are you okay?” The guy said, “Actually no, I’m drowning!” He’d been sinking, but hadn’t said a word. And so Luke hauled him up on his board, and he was safe. Luke had been close enough, and buoyant enough to rescue him. But the guy had been too stubborn to call out. And that was the situation with Israel. God’s there, ready to hear, ready to save. But the people were too stubborn, too sinful, to reach out to him. And so it goes on, from v3. Verse after verse describing how thoroughly sinful the people are. How TOTALLY DEPRAVED. Hands, lips, feet, thoughts. Every area of life utterly contaminated with rebellion and pride. From the INDIVIDUAL sin to the CORPORATE sin of the whole society. And then, from v9, the people THEMSELVES pick up the chorus. Perhaps the righteous remnant, acknowledging their sin. Their blindness and darkness. Like v12. 12 For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: And so, in v14, the report card comes back. How’s society going on its self-improvement drive? How many OBJECTIVES have they reached? How many KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS have they achieved? 14 So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. Justice, righteousness, truth and honesty in short supply. It sounds like Israelite society of 500 BC wasn’t much different from Sydney TODAY! Judges, politicians, property developers or businessmen. It really IS true that the more things change the more they stay the same. The God of change And so we come to a remarkable junction. The second half of v15. If WE’RE frustrated at how little things change, HOW MUCH MORE must it irritate GOD!? The LORD looked and was DISPLEASED that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was APPALLED that there was no one to intervene; No one who could CHANGE things. How shocking that after ALL THAT HAD HAPPENED. Everything Israel had been through. There’d STILL been no lasting change. And if ONE saying fits the situation (the more things change, the more they stay the same). There’s ANOTHER one that fits what God’s going to do next. If you want a job done properly… DO IT YOURSELF. God HIMSELF is going to step in and bring the change. Second half of v16. (God was appalled that there was no one to intervene;) SO HIS OWN ARM WORKED SALVATION FOR HIM, and HIS OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS sustained him. 17 He put on RIGHTEOUSNESS as his breastplate, and the helmet of SALVATION on his head; he put on the garments of VENGEANCE and wrapped himself in ZEAL as in a cloak. God’s own qualities are going to substitute for those he should have been seeing in his people. He’s the God of change, who’ll bring REAL change. Who’ll step into history to work his righteousness and salvation and vengeance and zeal in, and for, his people. There’ll be justice for EVERYONE. Tha’ts what it means that God’s RIGHTEOUS. Wrath and judgment for his enemies (18 and 19). But for those who TURN TO HIM (v20) 20 “The REDEEMER will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD. His answer to those who’ve REPENTED back in v9-15. And while it’s a promise from God for a particular situation in time. It’s also A GENERAL PRINCIPLE.
You think God’s not listening to your prayers? That he’s not interested? Not upset at your injustice? Not crying about your pain? The reality is HE FEELS IT MORE THAN YOU. He looks at his world, and he’s DISPLEASED at the injustice. APPALLED there’s no one to intervene. He mourns at your situation more than YOU do. And he’s more able to FIX it. And committed to RESTORING it. So keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep looking for change from the GOD of change. He sees and he feels and he knows more than you. And, for Israel, he gives his wonderful promise (v21) 21 “AS FOR ME, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. I can’t rely on what THEY’RE going to do. But I can count on MY word. Here’s what I’m going to do. “My SPIRIT, who is on you, and my WORDS that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the LORD. God’s change agent (61:1-62:12) At first glance it seems like a promise to God’s PEOPLE. But it’s probably to God’s SERVANT. God’s change agent. God introduces his covenant WITH THEM (plural) – with his faithful people). And then he starts talking to YOU, which is SINGULAR. Which is to his servant. Back in 42:6, God’s talking to his servant, and he says, 6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and WILL MAKE YOU TO BE A COVENANT FOR THE PEOPLE and a light for the Gentiles, His servant IS a covenant. Which is what he’s introducing. “As for Me, THIS is my covenant.” And then he goes on to talk about his SPIRIT being on his servant, and giving him WORDS that won’t depart from his mouth. We see it more clearly in Ch 61, where God’s servant himself takes up the song. And what does he say (v1)? The SPIRIT of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to PREACH GOOD NEWS to the poor. Both things God promised back at the end of Ch 59. His SPIRIT, and his WORDS. And God’s servant is USING them to bring change. Because he’s God’s CHANGE AGENT. God HIMSELF promises to clothe himself with armour, and step in to bring change. And now we see THE SERVANT doing the same thing. Down in v10 of Ch 61, notice the servant delights greatly in the LORD, who’s clothed him with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness. Just like God. Which makes us ask just WHO THIS SERVANT WILL BE. This one who comes as GOD HIMSELF. And before we look in a bit more detail at Ch 61, just skim your eye across Ch 60. Notice the sort of change God’s promising to bring. Verses 1 and 2, he’ll replace darkness with light. From v3 Instead of Israel being dispersed to the nations, the nations will come to Israel. And bring their riches with them. Verse 10. Instead of destruction, there’ll be re-building. Verse 18. Instead of violence, there’ll be peace. And v22. Instead of smallness and obscurity, there’ll be a mighty nation. And the chapter finishes, “I am the LORD, in its time I will do this swiftly.” The God who brought the Universe into being with his word will bring change on the same scale. Change that’s REAL, and that LASTS. And all according to HIS time-frame. And he’ll do it BY MEANS of his CHANGE AGENT, his SERVANT. Who begins speaking at the start of Ch 61. The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. God’s Spirit-empowered proclaimer of good news. Broken-hearted, disappointed people will be comforted. Things haven’t quite turned out like the Jews thought. They’re back in the land, but they’re still controlled by more powerful nations. Their crops go to the dinner tables of others. Their tribute to ANOTHER king. Their safety at the mercy of another nation. But God’s servant announces that CHANGE IS COMING. The year of the Lord’s favour. Jubilee. The freeing of slaves, the cancelling of debts, the restoration of society. Comfort for mourners. Beauty in place of ashes. And WHO’LL do it all? The last part of v3. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting OF THE LORD for the display of HIS splendor. ALL GOD’S DOING. Announced and introduced by his Servant. And from v4 there’s MORE of the change he’d bring. Rebuilding, and renewing. And, v5, instead of working for foreigners, it’d be THE OTHER WAY AROUND. V6 You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in THEIR riches you will boast. And it will be SO OBVIOUS that everyone will know who’s done it. v9. 9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people THE LORD HAS BLESSED.” Wonderful promises from God through his CHANGE AGENT, his Servant! And so the Jews waited. And waited. And waited. Waited for the SERVANT to come. Waited for the great changes God had promised. 100 years went by. Persia rose and fell. 200 years went by, Greece rose, Alexander the Great conquered the world, including Israel. Still no servant, still no change. 300 years went by, then 400 years. Greece faded, and Rome began to shine. A new conqueror, Caesar, ruled Israel. And still no servant, still no freedom for captives, no comfort for mourners. Until about AD30, in a dusty corner of Israel, in a small insignificant synagogue in Nazareth, a travelling Jewish teacher was invited to read from the Scriptures. He was handed the scroll from the prophet Isaiah, and he unrolled it to this very chapter. Chapter 61. Flip over the Luke Ch 4 to hear what he said. V17 of Lk 4 (p727). Jesus stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on ME, because he has anointed ME to preach good news to the poor. He has sent ME to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “TODAY THIS SCRIPTURE IS FULFILLED IN YOUR HEARING.” Back in Isaiah 60 God had promised he’d do it SWIFTLY, IN ITS TIME. And now the TIME HAS COME. Jesus ANNOUNCES it. And then he starts to DELIVER on it. Starts to bring in God’s change. As we follow his footsteps through Luke’s gospel, even immediately after in Ch 4, we see him DOING JUST THAT. Preaching good news to the poor. And in v32 the people are amazed at his teaching. Then he drives a demon out of a man. RELEASING THE OPPRESSED. And then in the next section, he’s healing all kinds of sickness, and casting out more demons. FREEING PRISONERS, and MAKING THE BLIND SEE. And then at the end of the chapter, he heads off somewhere else. Why? V43. 43 But he said, “I must PREACH THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And the theme continues all the way through the gospel. Jesus PROCLAIMING change, and DELIVERING change. Preaching and healing. Just like God had promised. But even though Jesus delivers change like no one before or since. It’s still not the same as what God’s promised back in Isaiah 60 and 61.. And even here in Ch 4, we see it’s not change like people had expected. His home-town crowd try to stone him to death when he mentions God’s plan to include GENTILES in his people. Just like God had promised back in Isaiah. And then, after his all-day heal-a-thon, people are still seeking him out. Because there’s sick and broken people who’ve missed out. And as we keep walking through the gospel, it’s not change th
at people expect. He regularly throws cold water on the people’s hopes of political and military rebellion. And he ultimately dies, is raised, and returns to heaven. And he leaves Jewish society, at least on the surface, pretty much the same as when he arrived. He BEGAN the process, but it’s FAR FROM FINISHED. And so Jews in Jesus’ time were asking the question Jews had been asking for hundreds of years before. WHEN? When is God going to deliver on his promises? In Isaiah, he’d promised a new society with world-wide peace, with prosperity and health and abundance. With everyone centred around God and his temple. And even after Jesus’ return to heaven, things weren’t looking like that. And, even TODAY, WE join in the same chorus. When? When is God going to heal my arthritis, or repair my marriage, or find me a job, or bring me justice, or stop the pain? When is he going to bring peace in the war zones, or find homes for the refugees, and protect the innocent? Change – now, and not yet And God’s answer is both NOW, and NOT YET. Back in Isaiah’s time, he brought change. He restored them to the land, and there was peace. Of a SORT. But it wasn’t COMPLETE fulfilment of his promises. And perhaps Israel should have worked it out. The promises back in Isaiah 60 are almost too incredible to imagine. Too other-worldly. There’s the complete paradise of every nation joined together in unity around God’s temple. No jealousy, no fighting, no greed, no misunderstandings. Almost impossible to imagine in THIS world. And then there’s the TIME FRAME mentioned. Again and again, it’s about ETERNAL, and EVERLASTING. EVERLASTING pride and the joy of all generations (60:15). The Lord will be your EVERLASTING light (v19 and again in v20). His people will possess the land FOREVER (v21). Into Ch 61. EVERLASTING joy (v7). And so, Israel kept waiting. Until Jesus came and announced that the time had arrived. And God’s promises began to be fulfilled. Jesus set free prisoners, and opened blind eyes. Physically and spiritually. And he came and went. And God’s promises were still not COMPLETED. Begun, but not finished. And so, in the midst of OUR groaning. Our waiting. Our praying for God’s deliverance. We can trust in his reliability. That, in Jesus, he’s BEGUN to deliver on his promises. That he’s set us free from sin and guilt and meaninglessness. Truth has set us free – even if we’re still struggling with brokenness, and pain. And so we hope to his promise. That the change he’s BEGUN will only be COMPLETED when he brings this world to a close, and brings in a new heaven and earth. Where EVERYTHING will be JUST LIKE HE’S PROMISED. And if we think it’s all taking too long, then God will say AMEN to that. Because he TOO longs for the day when all pain will be over, and all peace will begin. And he promises “I am the LORD, in its time I WILL DO THIS SWIFTLY.” Our agenda for change And so, while we wait, our agenda for change is to point people to Jesus, God’s Servant, God’s change agent. He does preach good news to poor and blind and captive people. And he DELIVERS on it. But who’s got much more in store for us than we can possibly imagine.

Comment (1)

  1. Lina Lim

    Yes, indeed, “…he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit is working in and through us getting his body ready for Jesus’ second coming.

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