“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” Is 9.1-2
I have been so impressed with Isaiah this Advent; not only by the incredible magnitude of Messianic prophecy it contains, but with its powerful and broad-reaching revelations of God’s character. In yesterday’s passage in Isaiah 50, there was this beautiful two-verse conclusion: “Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.”
At first reading, I was very confused; the people walking in darkness go off free, while those living in light are condemned? How does this match up with everything else I read in Scripture? But then I saw the key point: “all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches”. This is the same statement Jesus made in Mark, when he told the Pharisees (who proudly flaunted their own self-made torches), “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Obviously, the clear truth here is that those who find themselves healthy (or “in the light”) are merely deceiving themselves. Jesus came to shed light into the darkest places of us, but only those who recognize their deep depravity would welcome any such light in the first place.
My God, remind me that You are my only source of light. You are the author of Light in this world, the very source of it in the first place. Keep bringing me to my knees. Keep reminding me that I have not made any of this bright fire on my own. All the glory and credit is Yours.
“For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4.6
“The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary. Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mockery and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. He who gives me justice is near. Who will dare bring charges against me now? Where are my accusers? Let them appear! See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side! Who will declare me guilty?” Is 50.4-9 (NLT)
This is the incredible thing about our Jesus: the more you see Him, the harder He is to pin down. If you just read v. 6 (which was the only Advent verse for today), it would be fairly easy to see Him as a patient victim, someone who put on a bold face while being treated in the worst possible ways.
But v.4 shows him to be a shrewd and wise prophet. Powerful, knowing exactly what to say, and broken-hearted toward the hurting.
Then we see him as one desperate for the Living Water. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34) Obedience results in pleasing his Father, the only One whose approval carries any weight.
And finally, he rests in the Sovereignty of the Holy Father. It is as if he says in this passage: I see your brokenness and I have been given the exact remedy. Because I abide in my Father, I can see clearly what it is He would have me do. And so, with worshipful resolution, I walk forward, purposefully pursuing this atrocious maltreatment, for I know that my God and Father sees, knows and will act in justice. I know that He knows I am guiltless, and He is my only righteous judge. My standing before Him is all that matters.
What an example. There are no words to express…
“Listen to me, you islands, hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name, He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.’ And now the Lord says – he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength – he says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49. 1-3, 5-6
Israel was born to be a nation of missionaries. As seen God’s promise to patriarch, “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him” (Gen 18.18), God chose this people to be his shining light to the world. A people set apart by God to emulate his character, to reveal his blessings, to proclaim his truth and love the world. But they failed. Rather than emulating his heart, they took the Law and followed the letter while missing the point. They became so consumed in their own sin and rebellion that they ended up looking just like the world.
Enter Jesus. The Creator God become incarnate flesh, Yeshua was set apart before conception to be God’s holy servant, perfect in obedience and love. He is the Light of the World, shining God’s truth and character to Jew and Gentile.
Ultimately, the nation of Israel shows us one thing: we all need Jesus. We are all equally/completely broken; it is so easy for me to take God’s calling made clear in the scriptures and turn it into some pious act of discipline to become proud, “following” the letter and missing the point. Jesus came as the Great Missionary, gathering for himself a people from every part of the world to call to his heart. From Nazareth all the way to Kenai, Alaska. And even farther…
“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy… the will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with a vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” Isaiah 35.1-6
Yesterday was a gift. The one small day in between two bigger events, I approached with wondering how to best refresh and relax in the time given. And God orchestrated it perfectly. I had friends with my, in my own space, all day long. Music was played, much laughter flowed, even Disney games and cat-naps showed themselves. And the icing on the cake was privilege of having a dear friend over for dinner. Whenever she and I get together, we are both so encouraged. Even though there’s an age gap of more than 20 years between us, life experiences have allowed us to understand the soul-deep struggles and heartaches within one another in a powerful way. One of the many things we discussed last night was the concept of joy. When I was in high school and things were very painful for me most of the time, I began to see how “consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds” could even be possible. As explained in the next verse in James 1, joy means that nothing is wasted. God sees my pain, He knows my pain, and He will make sure that none of it ends up for nothing.
That’s why I love verse 4 of today’s Advent reading. The only way I can be strong when I feel crushed, the only way I can be courageous in the face of gripping fear, my only hope for strength and steadiness is the promise that my God will come. Jesus is with my in my pain, He will be with me on the other side (if there even is one), and, even more gloriously, He is coming back to herald in the day when this will all be over. Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly.
Great caravans of camels will come, from Midian and Ephah. They will come from Sheba, bringing gold and incense. People will tell the good news of what the Lord has done!” Isaiah 60.6
Today, my sister turns 20 years old, and so happy birthday Lauren. Here’s one of the weirdest Advent verses I could’ve come up with. 🙂
Last year I spoke about the Wise Men and my lovely theory about why they were so interested in this prophesied Messiah King and what would inspire them to leave everything they knew to follow a star, only to end up in Bethlehem at the feet of a young child.
The beautiful thing is God’s powerful hand seen in all aspects of the Nativity. A young virgin gets pregnant. Her fiancé sticks with her and claims his unusual family, with all its responsibilities. An empire-wide edict moves a paycheck-to-paycheck couple from their hometown to Jesus’ prophesied birthplace. And men from hundreds (perhaps thousands) of miles away drop everything to bring gifts finer than Mary or Joseph would’ve ever seen to offer in worship before their young Savior.
Gold for a king. Incense, burned in the Holy of Holies to symbolize God smelling the sweet prayers of his people, for the Great High Priest. Some of the very first worshippers to bow before Jesus were Gentiles, not Jews. Even his birth was a missional, Gospel opportunity.
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Is 53.3-6
I praise God that he is “familiar with pain”. A man of suffering, my Great High Priest knows my heartache firsthand, not just because he created me, but because he experienced it himself. But Jesus is not only familiar with my trials and sufferings; he is deeply acquainted with the pain caused by my own hand. Like the people of Israel in the book of Judges, so often I live my life with no king, doing whatever seems right in my own eyes. He takes the pain that I can’t control and the pain I deserve for myself…. And by his wounds, I am healed.
Praise You, Jesus.
My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic in his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. Is 53.2
I find it an interesting contrast to compare Jesus in this prophecy with someone like Moses in Exodus 34. Moses only spent 40 days in the presence of the Lord (an incredible experience only paled by the fact that Jesus was God Himself), and every single person could tell that there was something different about him. But when God, the source of Moses’ different, comes as a man… nothing. No shiny-ness, no special stature, no majestic manner. I don’t have any special conclusion today; instead, I’m going to ponder why Jesus would “not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, [making] himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant… and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” (Phil 2.6-8)