How is your year ending? Do you review your 2019 events with a Christmas letter, or take stock of your spiritual progress? Do you have goals or prayers for 2020? Every December, between Christmas and New Year’s I, ask the Lord to give me Scripture to guide my sanctification for the new year, rather than “resolutions.” This year God has shown me the tremendous value of time spent with my brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I seemed to have jumped right into my prayer for next year, which is humbling, challenging, and somewhat embarrassing. It appears that I need to work on my problem with pride that is rooted in an old attachment to rebelliousness. Thank God for his help in exposing our sins and their roots. I was a rebel from the time I was young, rejecting not only my Jewish heritage, but my parent’s rules, societal restraints, and the expectations of most of my authorities and elders. By the time I was 17, I was a rebel hippie, self-righteous, and completely lost. My only offense for my confusion and insecurity was rebelliousness. I give thanks for the Holy Spirit, who works in me, through his redemption in Christ, to see myself his soldier instead of a rebel. I also thank him for revealing lingering threads of attraction for movie and TV characters, politicians, and musicians as lost as I was in those days—rebels to the core.. The world is full of rebelliousness, even Star War’s heroes are rebels—and they offer no peace whatsoever. No wonder the Lord led me to end the year with this passage from Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.’” (Isaiah 48:17-19)
God, our holy Redeemer, calls us to pay attention to Him for true peace and security. The passage begins with an acknowledgment of the Lord’s character as the One who emancipates his people—Israel in the Old Covenant and believers in the New Covenant. Isaiah knows him as his Lord and master, as Israel’s rescuer, and Israel’s promised Messiah, the Holy One. “The preface to this message is both awful and encouraging: Thus saith Jehovah, the eternal God, thy Redeemer…[who] will be faithful to the engagement, for he is the Holy One, that cannot deceive, the Holy One of Israel, that will not deceive them. The same words that introduce the law, and give authority to that, introduce the promise, and give validity to that: ‘I am the Lord thy God, whom thou mayest depend upon as in relation to thee and in covenant with thee.” (1) “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.” (Isaiah 48:10-11) Movie and book heroes, philanthropists, scientists, and physicians cannot save us from our entrapment in rebellion and self-centeredness. Only God is omnipotent, steadfastly gracious and merciful, using his ordained providence for our good, and the One to liberate us from Satan’s grasp permanently. Whenever we put our trust in anything or anyone else, for our spiritual security, we are rebelling against Christ, our Redeemer. Perhaps our meditation on these words will help us to pay more attention to and apply the doctrines of Christ and the gospel for our peace. God calls us to listen carefully to him: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go. Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!”
Those who genuinely know and love Christ want to hear from him, to sense his presence and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. He calls believers to come near, just as he did Israel, through the prophet Isaiah’s ministry. “Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.’ And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.” (Isaiah 48:16) It sounds simple, since we know the way we should go is in Christ, our profit is from the doctrines and promises fulfilled in him. But the world offers many things that are unprofitable and tempting, not to mention the desires we all have that compete with our spiritual calling. The benefit we obtain in Christ is not only more reliable, but the means by which we will persevere in this life, through these obstacles. However, as we take stock at the end of the year, it may be helpful to hear God saying to us, in the past tense, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!” How many have we ignored by the sin of omission? Or sidestepped when they seemed burdensome, made so by our legalism? I know I should help my neighbors, but I don’t like to cook or fix things. So what? Do something else, or just visit with them and get to know them; go out for coffee together. I know I should read the Bible more but my mornings are so hectic. So we find another time, make another time to set aside for contemplation, to withdraw from the world for our profit. John Gill reminds us that those “Whom God redeems, he teaches; he teaches to profit by affliction, and then makes them partakers of his holiness. Also, by his grace he leads them in the way of duty; and by his providence he leads in the way of deliverance.” (2) We squander the blessings of Christ’s atonement, through which “…the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14)
All of God’s instructions and commands have consequences. If Israel had not engaged in idol worship, but turned toward God, and submitted to his commands, they would not have been expelled from the Promised Land. “Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…’” (Isaiah 48:18) The picture Isaiah paints is that of a sea of righteousness with a river flowing to it. “Large, abundant, numerous as the waves of the sea; which may regard acts of justice and righteousness, which are the support of a people and state, and blessings the fruit thereof; and which God of his goodness bestows on such a people, as all kind of prosperity, protection, safety, and continuance.” That is “what could have been,” for Israel and perhaps for us in 2019. (3) But the cost of neglecting and disobeying God’s commands was catastrophic for Israel. Maybe we need to look back and see if it valid for us this year because “Even if God’s prophecies of the future were difficult to believe, his practical commandments lay within range of human understanding.” (4) Jesus Christ, our holy Redeemer, calls us to pay attention to him for our peace and security. He calls us to pay attention to and apply the biblical doctrines and gospel for our faith to enjoy the blessings of shalom.
Will you ask the Lord to strengthen your obedience and faithfulness in the new year? I happened upon an excellent tool to use, from Tim Challis’s twitter feed: “Ten Questions for a New Year,” by Don Whitney. (5) Maybe we should use these instead of worrying about New Year’s resolutions we probably won’t keep. How did God and Isaiah encourage Israel as he released them from their captivity? “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!’” (Isaiah 48:20) Let us leave 2019 and enter the New Year proclaiming the good news of our salvation, in whatever way we are able, as soldiers of Christ.
(1) Henry, Matthew, Complete Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 48:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/isaiah-48.html
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Isaiah 48:18, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/isaiah-48.html
(3) Gill, ibid.
(4) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 48:17-19, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
(5) Whitney, Don, “Ten Questions for the New Year, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/ten-questions-for-a-new-year
December 27, 2019