Today I was reading from the book of Isaiah, and I was struck by the holiness and justice of God. God was in the midst of chastising the nation of Israel. This judgment was proceeding because of the Israelites’ great sin, namely bowing down to idols, pursuing the gods of other nations, and exalting themselves and their own will above God’s. After repeated warnings to repent and turn from their ways God told His people via Isaiah that he was going to send men from Assyria, a wicked nation in their own right, to destroy them.
Despite many admonitions and divine intervention throughout biblical history it seems the Israelites just can’t keep out of trouble. Even after the miraculous parting of the Red Sea we find these stiff-necked rebels cornering Moses’ brother Aaron, and convincing him to cast a calf out of gold for the people to worship. After witnessing this scene or one like it play out in nearly every book of the Old Testament one begins to wonder, “What were they thinking?” As if we in our glorious hindsight could have done, or presently do, any better.
Consider for a moment the state of our country, our churches, and our homes. Are we any different from the Israelites who share with us the simple misfortune of being a member of a fallen humanity? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
I too have been subject to the chastisement of God. I could make excuses and tell you that I have never bowed down to an idol, but that wouldn’t be true. I have bowed down to my work and my craft while ignoring my relationship with God. I have given my allegiance to news and entertainment while ignoring the family that God has given me to care for. I have put my wants and desires above the needs of the widow and the orphan.
These are not statements made from hyperbole or out of a desire to elicit some feeling of shame or guilt. This is simply the truth of my sin, and it is why I must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Israelites and bear the judgment that God meted out to them. I am no better, I am no worse. I am a sinner.
The wonderful thing about the book of Isaiah, and the rest of the Bible for that matter, is that the story does not end with the Israelites destruction or the damnation of humanity. God tells his children, even in the midst of armies laying siege to Jerusalem that he is going to send a deliverer. He sees that they are weak. He knows that they are unable to achieve righteousness on their own; so he sets out the most bizarre and devastatingly merciful rescue plan ever conceived of.
Yes we will experience pain and there will be devastation, but as a result we are shaken from the prison of ourselves so that we can see God and in seeing Him, understand that a holy God cannot abide sin, not any at all. It is in this revelation that we see the Lord high and lifted up, and we hear his voice as it shakes the very foundations of the earth. So along with the angels we can’t help but bow down and cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.” We humbly confess that, yes, we are a people of unclean lips and we live among a people of unclean lips, but we rejoice with shepherds who while going about their duties are the unlikely audience to a heavenly chorus who proclaims the arrival of the Deliverer.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14)
For it is only in the blanket of salvation offered by the tiny babe born in a manger that we find true hope, lasting peace, and genuine restoration.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, (Isaiah 9:6)