December 31, 2016

The past, the future, and right now . . . .

The last day of a year prompts evaluation of the past, hope for the New Year, and thoughtful consideration of both in the light of today. Chambers selected a small bit of a larger passage that is also about the past, the future, and decisions to be made in the present.

The scene points to the people of God who had been exiled into Babylon due to their disobedience. They now detested the idols they once served and were ready to recommit their lives to faithfully follow the Lord. Isaiah the prophet speaks to their situation with these words:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord. For you shall not go out in haste, and you shall not go in flight, for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isaiah 52:7–12)

The good news was that they were now redeemed from captivity. It was so exciting that even the feet of the messenger appeared beautiful! Now they could return to Zion and those who had waited for this news were singing for joy. God’s people were both comforted and excited.

I can relate to this. It seems that my Christian life is a series of lessons in which I fail, God lets me try my own way — which puts me into a captivity to my own foolishness — then as I realize my folly, He sets me free to return to the joy of serving Him. Some of these lessons are very short, but a few of them cover weeks and even months where I’ve spun my wheels before lamenting and discovering that God still waits for me to wake up and repent. He will set me free when I’m ready to acknowledge that He reigns — and I no longer am the boss of my own life.

As the Jewish people celebrated their release and freedom, God wanted them to know that what was happening to them would be a message to the world about His power to save. He told them to go out of that place using similar words of the time when He told them to leave the bondage of Egypt. Only this time, there were not to take any plunder, or flee in a hurry. Their victory was certain so they did not need to rush, but they must purify themselves and take only those things which belonged to God.

One writer says, “There is more to be left behind than Babylon; there is the whole ambience of worldliness and estrangement from God that it represents.” Their physical leaving points to a pilgrimage away from sin and selfishness, from falling into immoral behavior and depending on their own ideas. This release marked a new beginning, not unlike their release from Egypt, but deeper and with greater impact.

I can relate to this too. When I was first saved, my deliverance was similar to their flight from Egypt. For me it is an image or depiction of being redeemed from the bondage of sin. God allowed me to bring something of that old life into the new, but only that I might realize how it would trip me up. He wanted me to learn how to rely only on Him and He did it by letting me find out that only He is reliable and worthy of my dependence.

He also taught these deeper things through my wanderings in the wilderness, and used my stubborn resistance to Him to take me places I did not want to be. This is His way of testing and affirming whether or not I would leave my own ways and be fully yielded to Him.

Finally, the Jews were also told that God would go before them and behind them. He would cover the past and take care of whatever happened then, but also be ahead of them to guide them in their renewed life.

Of course this is always the way of God. He never leaves or forsakes His people. He covers my past sin and guides me through the mazes of life. This is also good news.

There is a difference between God’s people of Isaiah’s time and my experience with Him today; the difference is Jesus. They looked forward in faith, which may have been more difficult than looking back and seeing the life, death and resurrection of my Lord and Savior. Yet all must learn the very same truth: faith in Him covers past mistakes, future uncertainties, and today’s desires. I can both celebrate the past and look forward to the future. I can also plan for this day knowing that without Him, I can do nothing, but with Christ I can do all things.

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