August 31, 2015

Black or white? Listening or not?

Isaiah 63:1–64:12, Luke 23:26–24:12, Job 14:1–10

Once I told a friend that if I were an animal, it would be a zebra — black and white and totally untamable. We laughed. Now as I read Isaiah this explains why this Old Testament book is such a favorite; Isaiah is black and white also.

For instance, this prophet declares the world has only two kinds of people; those who listen to God and those who will not listen. To those who won’t listen, Isaiah tells what the Lord says, “But you who forsake the Lord, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter, because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.”

Therefore the Lord God says: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart and shall wail for breaking of spirit.” (Isaiah 65:11–14)

In the next chapter, Isaiah again proclaims God’s word: “I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.” (Isaiah 66:4)

However, for those who do listen to God, Isaiah offers the good news: “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)

He later adds that God will heed those who listen. He says, “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word . . . . “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.” (Isaiah 66:2, 12–14)

In the reading from Job, it’s easy to see that Job also knew that God calls and wants people to listen and be redeemed. He says, “You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. For then you would number my steps; you would not keep watch over my sin; my transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and you would cover over my iniquity.” (Job 14:15–17)

However, hearing the Lord speak is only part of what is needed before I will experience any of His promises. Israel proved that even when they heard, they could not sustain an appropriate humble obedience. They continually fell into sin and unbelief. Something more was needed and Jesus explained what it is. He begins with the hearing part . . .

Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44–49)

Hearing is important, but to respond as I should, I need my mind opened to what God is saying. Even if I see incredible works by God, I might still have a closed mind. Even the disciples saw Jesus’ death and resurrection, but until He granted understanding they could not grasp the reality of it. Not only that, until He granted His power, they could not respond in obedience to what He said.

I am like that too. I am weak and needy, unable to grasp the Word of God even as I read it. Without the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sin, all His promises mean nothing. Without the grace of God and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, the Words of God go in one ear and out the other, no matter whether those ears are black or white. 

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