Thanks for Peaceful Mercy & Justice

No matter how much we dislike the quarrelsomeness of the American impeachment process, we can appreciate the fact that U.S. law allows for the investigation of possible infractions by those in high, powerful positions. Unfortunately, the process brings out the worst in some people, just as everything does. But, it also brings out the best in some. The benefit of a seasoned democracy that allows for freedom of speech is significant. I am particularly sensitive to the privilege of free speech, having lived in five countries with young democracies. While I cringe at some of the questions and comments made during the current hearings, I trust God to bring about the best result—not just for the president, but for every person involved or listening to the hearings. The Lord uses every aspect of life to strengthen our faith by its application, helping us to rely on him, the God of justice. “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses’; therefore you shall flee away; and, ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore your pursuers shall be swift’…the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30:15-16, 18) God’s timely mercy for believers strengthens, blesses, and brings us back to him for the blessing of shalom in Christ.

Our passage begins with an encouraging, uplifting proclamation of God’s desire to rescue his people from their wrong ways. “Isaiah warns his people—and Assyria—against the folly of self-trust, promising God’s abundant blessings to those who trust him (Ch. 28)…God will both punish and save Jerusalem, though Jerusalemites in their hypocrisy try to control him through false worship (Ch. 29)…When his people are faithless, God remains faithful. (Ch. 30)” (1) We who have the indwelling Spirit know that he uses Old Testament warnings to alert us to our waywardness. We who have studied God’s Word and experienced its power to transform our minds respect Scripture’s authority and application to our lives. Here is a warning for us about our self-trust. Here is a principle—our Lord both disciplines and prospers us. Here is a promise—God will remain faithful despite our faithlessness. Here is shalom for believers. No “ifs” attached, but no immediacy ascribed to God’s timing either. The salvation God provides in Jesus Christ is outside of our control and in his time. It’s hard to wait when we long for family members and friends to be redeemed. We want everyone to have the quietness, peace, and strength of the Spirit in Christ. God has plans that are unknown to us. As we wait, he wants us to put our complete confidence in him. If we wander, like Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved,” and his peace reinforces our faith; “in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

When the prophets communicated God’s word to Israel, the people, “were unwilling, and…said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses…We will ride upon swift steeds.’” You and I like to think that we’ll be strengthened by information, notifications, apps, achievements, physical endurance, or mental prowess. But we’re weakened, not fortified by our dependence upon our “horses.” Like Israel, God will use our idols to bring us to our knees. The more we depend upon others’ opinions, the less we will trust our own. As we submit with more frequency to the influences of the loud few, less often will we hear the quiet voice of the Spirit. As our anticipation for achievements increases, our peacefulness decreases, and so does our ability to wait on the Lord. It’s as if we have created our own “human gospel” that says, “Let me go and labor to find rest and reward. I can do it on my own without being weak or vulnerable.” That is not a gospel but the way of an atheist who has no confidence in God. Christ says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Our strength is through submission to God, fleeing to him, not away from him.

Let us be careful of so many platitudes with little awareness of our independence. I may think I am submissive, but what do I find? The unthinking, unplanned pursuit of my own desires, regardless of their consequences? Personal opinions roughly asserted, without hesitation or regard for their hurtfulness? Procrastination of difficult conversations or invitations because I’m tired, weary, or just plain afraid? Are these not reflective of an attitude of independence, as if God is not at work, as if he can’t be trusted? Do I really want to position myself to fight my own battles or do the work of sanctification without the Spirit? The Israelites were consigning themselves to military action by refusing God’s mercy. Instead of staying put, quietly resting in God’s timing, they impatiently pursued a fight. Isn’t that what seems to be happening in our world today—people looking for a fight? Some battles are necessary, those for justice, equality, and respect. But we do great harm to ourselves when we rise up against the consequences of our sin. God’s people were in exile due to their rebelliousness, and Isaiah finds warns them about continuing in it. “The Jews were the only professing people God had in the world, yet many were rebellious. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. The prophets checked them in their sinful pursuits, so that they could not proceed without fear [but]…They did not like to hear of his holy commandments and his hatred of sin; they desired that they might no more be reminded of these things. But as they despised the word of God, their sins undermined their safety.” (2)

Our impatience with our world is not the problem; it’s our impatience with God that threatens our peace. The world moves in its own time, out of sync with the Lord. It’s ironic, isn’t it, that a society so obsessed with syncing would be so out of step with God? Isaiah 30:18 reminds us that God has a particular time for his acts of compassion and grace. “…the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” “The Lord waits for the fittest and most proper time to show mercy; when things are brought to the worst, to the greatest extremity, and when his people are brought to a sense of their danger, and of their sins, and to repentance for them, and to see their need of his help and salvation, and to implore it, and to depend upon him for it; then, in the mount of difficulty, and hereby the mercy is the sweeter to them, and his grace is the more magnified towards them.” (3) Christ’s graciousness toward us when he redeems us continues in our life with him; his timing is particular and specific for our spiritual requirements—not necessarily for our physical, emotional, or intellectual desires. Our quiet and trustful dependence upon the Lord increases our thanks, which then strengthens and blesses us. As we return to him and wait on his help, we will have greater shalom. Are you experiencing Christ’s shalom as we approach Thanksgiving? Or is your gospel weak and worldly? Is your trust in God shaky? When are you most likely to assert your independence from God? For what mercy and blessing are you waiting? Are you willing to continue waiting, trusting that Jesus will give you what is needed at just the right time? Will you engage in thankfulness for God’s justice as you lean into him? “Kiss the Son…Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:12)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introductory remarks on Isaiah 28, 29, 30, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 30:16, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/isaiah/30.html

(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 30:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-30.html

November 22, 2019

 

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