TEXT: Isaiah 52:7-10; Romans 10:8-10,14-15
Jesus once told a story to some religious folks at a dinner party about a person who owed a small debt and another who owed a debt 10x as much. Both were forgiven. After telling the story Jesus asked which one would be more grateful (he actually said “who loved him more?”)… and the dinner guests answered the one who owed more. (cf. Luke 7:40-50)
That story comes to mind this week as we look at a second part of the prophets’ message to Israel. Let me take a moment to remind you where we are in our series…
We are on week six of “The Old Testament in Seven Sentences,” from the Bible study of that same name. Here’s a quick reminder of what we’ve covered and where we are today.
- CREATION: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)
- ABRAHAM: All people on earth will be blessed through you. (Gen. 12:3)
- EXODUS: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)
- DAVID: The Lord has sought out a man after His own heart and appointed him ruler of His people. (1 Samuel 13:14)
- PROPHETS: What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
- GOOD NEWS: How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news. (Isaiah 52:7)
Last week I said that the prophets had a two-fold task. We talked about the first part of that: calling God’s people back to covenant faithfulness. We then focused last week on Micah’s message about what lived-out faith looks like: kindness, justice, humility.
This week we turn to the second part of the prophets’ message: God’s abiding faithfulness toward us. The context for most of the time the prophets were writing was one of extreme loss… God’s people were losing or had lost their homes, their land, the holy city, the Temple, and seemingly… God Himself. But into that extreme sense of loss the prophets also spoke a hopeful word, one all the more powerful because of the great despair and need of God’s people.
Good News for Desperate People
The Good News the prophets spoke were that God had not forgotten His people or His promises. God was with them in Exile (a powerful message in and of itself!). God would eventually restore what was lost and bring them home. And God had a future and a hope for them and – still – through them for the world. All the promises to Abraham were still good. All the promises to David were still good.
As we’ve moved through successive weeks of this series I have tried to connect some dots between the promises God made with Abraham and David and their fulfillment in Jesus. In the prophets we start to see indicators of those connections, later made explicit by Jesus and by the New Testament writers.
In short, the message of prophets like Isaiah was Good News because it offered present and future hope to God’s people. The PRESENT hope was that Exile would come to an end and the people would eventually return home. The Temple would even be re-built. But there was a noticeable FUTURE overtone to some of those same messages that seemed to speak beyond the immediate time of the prophets. Figures like Isaiah’s “suffering servant” portrayed someone God would send who would suffer on behalf of humanity in order to bring about God’s glory. And we’ve talked about the language of a Messiah, a returning King from David’s line.
There was also an even FUTURE-FUTURE element to some of the prophecies… things that pointed beyond God’s redemption to the end of all things… things still yet to be.
But through all of it ran this message: Do not despair; God is good and God is faithful!
Let me say that again: God is good and God is faithful!
Let it sink in: God is good… and God is faithful!
The more desperate you are, the more you need to hear that. God sees you and hears you and has not forgotten you. And God is still on the move, even as in Isaiah’s time, even as in Jesus’ time. God is bringing about the redemption and restoration of humanity, the nations, and the earth.
I think about the Good News we celebrate as the Church. In so many ways we’ve been spoiled. We’ve worshiped freely and we’ve lived in times of plenty, particularly thinking about Christians in other parts of the world. We own many Bibles and have our choices of devotions and prayer journals and opportunities to serve. And indeed we are thankful. But we are probably exactly the ones Micah needs to remind it’s not about the externals, but about lived faithfulness. That’s the first part of the prophets’ message: God desires our faithfulness, and we and the world will be blessed through it.
And I wonder if we are able to hear the second part of the prophets’ message in a new way today. I wonder if this time of quarantine and separation with COVID19 has given us a new perspective on exile, loss, and need. Has it in any way increased our desire for God’s Word, for the fellowship of God’s people, for worshiping in community? Have we come to a new appreciation of the power and effectiveness of prayer? And do we have any good and hopeful news to share? Can it be said of us: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
In Romans 10, Paul writes that God’s Word is near us, in our mouth and our heart. But he goes on to ask how others will hear and believe if we do not share this Good News. That may seem hard in these COVID days, but like the Exile, it seems like there is no better time than now to share Good News. We may all be listening and looking with fresh ears and eyes. May God give us voice and opportunity. Amen!
Some Music Used
- Creation Sings the Father’s Song
- CONFESSION: You Never Turned Away
- Shout to the Lord
- CHORAL BENEDICTION: Go Now in Peace