Let the Word Speak!

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11: The Plan for Restoration

Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that she has served her term,

that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Get you up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

See, the Lord God comes with might,

and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead the mother sheep.

New Revised Standard Version

Isaiah was consistent in delivering his messages from God that Israel had rebelled against God, repeatedly and arrogantly discrediting and killing those who would carry God’s pleas and commands to change their ways. The trial had already taken place, the evidence had been presented, the guilty verdict had been issued, and Isaiah and his peers proclaimed the sentence of punishment that was to come for Israel’s grievous sins. There was no credible defense for their rejection of God and their embrace of the sinful, godless practices of their neighbors. There was no doubt that Israel deserved the punishment that was coming.

The only remaining question was whether God would bother to restore such a rebellious and deceitful people. If God were to act against them in anger, Israel would be completely destroyed. If God repaid them with rejection for the many ways they had repeatedly rejected God, they would cease to exist as a people. Those responses from God appear reasonable, even wise. But Isaiah saw that God would not give up on Israel. Instead, God responded in love.  God carefully measured out a limited punishment, following the direction of the Law in sentencing to double the infraction. Even as the punishment was being prepared, God was preparing the reconciliation. God was already at work presenting the amazing Plan that would bring salvation to God’s people, and not just those in Israel, but throughout all the earth across all of time.

Over and over again, God’s responses do not make sense from a human perspective: to forgive what we find unforgivable; to plan the redemption before handing down the punishment; to bring good news out of the most desolate of places; to turn the world upside down by leveling the mountains and building up the valleys; to come in might and power, but act as the lowliest herdsman caring for a flock. We read and marvel that God’s ways are not our ways, and there is no greater testimony to that truth than in the coming of the Messiah and the life of Jesus Christ.

Through Isaiah, God promised to move mountains to forgive the sins of and restore the relationship with Abraham’s children. That promise still applies to us today.

We think of Lent, those weeks of preparation leading up to Holy Week, as a time for repentance, preparing for Easter. The prophets would proclaim that the same is true for Advent, that in our time of waiting for the coming of the Messiah we should be repenting from sin from our lives, accepting God’s forgiveness, and living changed lives that show Christ in us. For that matter, there’s never a better time than the present to repent, to renew our relationship with God, and to let God make us new!

Each year when my wife and I put up our Christmas decorations, naturally we rearrange the furniture and put away the normal knickknacks to make room for festive candles, singing angels, and cozy nativity scenes. However, every time we move a piece of furniture we have to clean the dust that has accumulated under it. Every shelf we clear needs to be dusted. Otherwise, our guests would be distracted from the beauty of our Christmas decorations by the old dust and dirt.

The same is true in our walk of faith. For us to share the beauty of our salvation, we must have a cleansing from our sins. The coming of Jesus Christ, reconciling us to God, had to come just after the coming of John the Baptist, preaching repentance from sin. During this Advent season, as we commemorate waiting for the coming Messiah, let us remember our salvation and embrace God’s redemptive power that restores our relationship with God so we can celebrate more wholly the Christmas season.


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2014 Jonathan Morris
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