Go up on a high mountain, O herald Zion!
Shout out loudly, O herald Jerusalem!
Shout, don’t be afraid!
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
Look, the sovereign Lord comes as a victorious warrior;
his military power establishes his rule.
Look, his reward is with him;
his prize goes before him.
Like a shepherd he tends his flock;
he gathers up the lambs with his arm;
he carries them close to his heart;
he leads the ewes along. Isaiah 40:9-11
Maybe I didn’t know what I was getting myself into—posting each day. If I were capable of just writing a little blurb about the scripture—600 words or less—this wouldn’t be a problem. But once I start breaking a scripture down, I’m sucked in! Call me a nerd, but I love this stuff. I like to research and study. I love history and God’s word. So, the two together? It’s a feast, I tell ya. I’ll have my bible and eight websites open at once. That’s really not practical for a post a day!
Isaiah fascinates me because his prophecies easily speak to today’s church. He describes judgment and exile for Israel, which had continued in religious activity but was still not righteous. They marked the sacrifices and feasts prescribed in the law of Moses, but they also sprinkled in practices from pagan nations (2:6), including the sacrifice of children at Gehenna. Isaiah refers to Jerusalem, once “the faithful city”, now as a “harlot” (1:21). Among Isaiah’s charges against Judah is social injustice, neglecting the “oppressed . . . the fatherless . . . the widow.”
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it? That the people chosen of God and the recipients of His favor should fall so far—even to the point of continuing in their sacrifices to the LORD while also giving themselves over to idols. But, is the American church so different? Have we not seen blessing upon blessing of God’s favor? Yet, churches will spend millions upon millions on themselves—buildings and programs and fluff—and neglect the needy right outside their doors. In doing so, who is our idol? We are. Alright, now what about child sacrifice? Did you know that the views on abortion within the church mirror secular views on abortion? I just gave a cursory glance to a web article defending a “Christian” view in favor of abortion. It’s okay if your theology allows for it. Wait– what??? Does God’s feelings about sin–murder, even–fluctuate because of the theological views we choose to adopt? That’s absurd! Again, look no further than yourself to determine which idol you worship if you can be convinced that God accommodates this sin. To that writer, I say, read Isaiah’s laundry list of horrors in store for Israel and then get back to me.
Where I see the most obvious parallel between Isaiah’s prophecies and the modern church is what we’re willing to call worship. Too often, church membership and attendance is flashed around like some kind of Jesus talisman. I attend. I sing a few songs—but only if they are the songs I prefer performed only by certain instruments. I hear a little lightweight preaching and call it good for the week. What is neglected is devotion—a devotion that can only come about in a heart that knows it has been rescued.
Which brings me to our scripture.
I haven’t had a ton of time to study up for this post, but if I can believe the notes in my NIV Study Bible, I’ll assume that chapter 40 is written for the time when “the Babylonian exile is almost over.” God’s people endured years of suffering, which He intended as a purging of the evil they had absorbed into their community. But even as far back as chapter 1, Isaiah gave the people God’s assurance that despite the prevalence of their evil acts, their “scarlet” sins would be made “white as snow” (1:18). What I love about chapter 40 is the softer tone of the language. “Comfort, comfort,” it says in verse 1, and in verse 2, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . her hard service has been completed.”
Looking specifically at our verses for today, 9-11, I love the contrast between God’s power (v.10) and His care (v.11). The good news for the people in exile is that God in all His power will come to lead them back home. In love, He will not only lead as a shepherd, but “carry them close to His heart.”
What does this say to us? God will have His kingdom, made up of a people who are righteous— that is, in a right relationship with Him. This can only come about because of Christ, because He rescues us from evil. I believe God will purify His church of the drivel—the teaching that accommodates sin, the ho-hum worship of a people who barely realize what was done on their behalf, the preaching that amounts to little more than life coaching rather than conviction. He purged the people of Israel to make them righteous. He wants to purge us of our sin–of the way we’ve let the world’s theology creep into our worship. That kind of purging is painful.
If you claim faith in Christ, it doesn’t hurt to evaluate your worship. If it accommodates you, your preferences—or worse, your sin—then make this Christmas a time to re-devote yourself to Him. There’s no reason to adopt a theology that accommodates sin—the Lamb shed His blood to make those scarlet sins white as snow. He came for you, to gather you up like a little lamb and lead you home, cancelling your debt in the process. Does your worship reflect a gratitude for your rescue?
Maybe you don’t know God. Maybe you feel conviction over the things I’ve listed above. Abortion, maybe? Know that He also came for you. He simply doesn’t accommodate your sins—but He pays the price for them with the blood of His Son. Our sin would separate us from God forever except for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Here’s some really amazing news—no sin (that’s right, not even abortion) is so great that you can’t be redeemed by God. You see, the worth of Jesus Christ is incalculable—His blood’s power to rescue cannot be exhausted by the number or depth of your sins. He will scoop you up like a little lamb and carry you close to His heart.
We celebrate the birth of a little baby on Christmas Day. Now, imagine. That little baby came with power to rescue you. It is the “good news of great joy that will be for all people”. Receive the Lord Jesus and be at peace.
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God . . . [your] sin has been paid for . . .” Isaiah 40:1-2 (NIV)