Scripture: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
Title: The Season of Hope
Our writer shares with us how His Hope in God leads Him to:
1. A Call for an Intervention 2. A Call of Confession 3. A Call of Co-Mission
Grace and peace from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Grace and peace from the One who gave Himself for us so that we might be rescued, redeemed and restored into His Holy Image.
One of the most interesting men to have lived on our planet was also one of the most depressing men to have ever lived on our planet. His name was Jean-Paul Satre. He was a playwright, a philosopher and a political activist. Two of his most famous works were a couple of books entitled NO EXIT and THE FLIES.
Jean-Paul did not believe in God. He did not believe in any supernatural being. He believed that for the most part mankind's existence is much like a man adrift at sea in a boat without a rudder or a compass. He believed that it doesn't matter which direction a person takes in their life because there is no Absolute, there is no God, no Creator or Redeemer. There is no One to either reward his good deeds or punish his bad deeds.
Jean-Paul believed that if God did at one time exist then He is now dead. He believed that there is no absolute truth, no eternal purpose and no meaning to life or to the Universe. People, plants, animals and planets merely exist. They have no ultimate meaning or function.
Every person born must stand alone without proper and complete understanding, without agape love and without any true purpose. Each one of us comes into this world, we rejoice, we suffer and we die. For Jean-Paul physical death is the final and complete end. There is nothing past the grave. What a sad thought. What a sad way to look at creation. What a sad way to look at being human.
Jean-Paul no doubt would have trouble this morning watching us light our First Candle of the Advent Season and listening to the words of Isaiah 64:1-9. However, he might have applauded our writer words in the latter part of verse 6
"We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."
And he might have applauded in a rather strange way the beginning of verse 7 -
"There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you;"
But in each case he would be appalled at the fact that before and after these verses there is a Call for Divine Intervention, a Call of Confession and a Call for Co-mission. Jean-Paul would not have been pleased at all with the tenor of Hope that this passage calls for, yearns for and lives in anticipation.
Some have thought that Jean-Paul lost hope because he had to live during the time of WWII. He lived during a time when his beloved homeland of France was being devastated by Nazi Germany. Others wonder if he lost hope because at the age of two he lost his father and then later at the age of twelve his mother remarried and the family moved to La Rochelle where he was the victim of school yard bullies and abuse for a number of years. Still others say that his loss of hope came about during his nine months stay as prisoner of war in Stalag 12-D.
We may never know. All we know is that at some point in his life Jean-Paul became a man who choose to live without hope. One of the odd facts of his life is that while he was a prisoner of war Jean-Paul wrote a very moving piece centered on The Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. It was like for a moment he saw a glimpse of True Hope only to shut it down and live the rest of his life dedicated to telling others that they must live without hope, without purpose and meaning.
The writer of our passage this morning could have joined Jean-Paul Satre. He too lived in a very difficult time. Many Bible Scholars believe that our writer was among the Jewish exiles that had been taken to Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. He was therefore a displaced person forced to live in a foreign and hostile country some 700 miles away from his homeland, his livelihood and the center of his faith - Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Our writer was condemned to live out the rest of his life away from family and friends, away from the comforts of Israel and away from hearing the Torah and participating in the Festivals of the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.
He could have given up all hope. He could have packed it all in and decided to reject the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY and take up following one of primordial beings or gods of Babylon like Tiamat, Hadad, Anu or Dagon, He could have merely decided to go the route of Jean-Paul Satre and decided there is no god, there is no truth, no meaning or purpose in life.
But in his heart our writer knew different. He knew that the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY existed. He knew that God not only existed but that God cared for His Good Creation here on earth. He knew that God watched over creation and that God loved mankind. This man had hope in God and penned all of his hope on God.
His Hope in God lead him to do some amazing things. Three of those things I would like to share with you this morning. Let's look at our passage and see where this man's hope led him.
I. His Hope Calls For An Divine Intervention
Our writer did not abandon God. Our writer does not back away from God nor does He dismiss God. In fact, he does the very opposite. He calls out for God to intervene. He calls for the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY to come from Heaven and to create all kinds of havoc. He calls on God to start a fire that would overtake all of evil and destroy it. He wants God to do to evil what a common fire does to a brush pile of sticks and leaves.
He wants the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY to shake up the nations around the world. He wants the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY to step into history and create a commotion. He wants God to come down and put all things right. He wants God to reveal Himself to the world as He has done many times in the past. He wants the world to acknowledge and worship the only True God of the Universe.
No doubt our writer's reference to the fire of God was a reference back to the times of Moses and the burning bush. No doubt he was referring back to the time when the Pillar of Fire protected the Children of Israel during the time of the Exodus. No doubt he was referring to the time when the Mountain of God was on fire as Moses was given the 10 Commandments and the Code of Holiness. No doubt he was referring to the time when the Fire of God came down upon both the Tabernacle and the Temple in all its Shekinah glory. And perhaps he was even referring to the times when Elijah brought down fire or when Isaiah was touched by the fire by the seraphim in his vision in the Temple.
This man knew that what his world and the whole world needed was for the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY to supernaturally intervene. He knew that things on God's earth were such a mess that the only hope mankind had was for God Himself to come down to earth and intervene. He knew that mankind's only hope was centered in God - the God of Israel - the Good God of Creation - the God of the Covenant - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He knew that without God there was no hope, no future and purpose for life.
It is that Good God of Creation that we are gathered here to worship and have hope in this morning. It is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is the Great I AM. It is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is the God who some 500 - 600 years later would come down in the form of His Son Jesus Christ to intervene in our world. It is the God who did come down in the power and presence of the Fire of the Holy Spirit who cleanses and purifies and transforms us into God's Holy Image. It is the God who infills us this morning with His Holy Spirit. It is that God that we can have hope in this morning.
But notice this morning, our writer's hope not only called for an intervention it also called for a time of confession.
II. His Hope Led to a Time of Confession
Our writer understands that his exile was not something that happened by chance. He understands that everything that had happened to Israel was because of Israel's sin. He does not place the blame on God or on fate or unfortunate circumstances. He places it solely on the result of the sin and rebellion of his fellow Israelites.
Notice very carefully the words that he chooses in verses 8 - 9. Words like unclean and polluted garment.
The word that he chooses and that is translated as "unclean" is the Hebrew word - tame' (?????). It is a word that means that one is unclean in a religious sense and in a spiritual sense. It was not a word that was used to describe the way that a person kept their house or their cookware. It was not a word that a person used to describe their untidiness.
Rather, it was a word that spoke to the heart of how they had followed the LORD. It was a word that spoke of how well they had done in living out a life committed and dedicated to the LORD. It was a word that spoke of their relationship with the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY.
Our writer goes to God and confesses straightforward the problem of sin in his heart and in the hearts of his people. He acknowledges that they have been unclean before the LORD in their prayer lives, in their discipleship lives and in their stewardship lives. They have been unclean in the ways that they have loved the LORD with all their heart, mind and soul. They have been unclean in the ways that they have loved one another.
He goes on and uses another word to describe their sin - it is the word `iddah. It is a word that was associated both with a woman's monthly cycle and a robe or garment being so soiled that it cannot be used or worn any more. The idea is that Israel has allowed their sins to pollute the beautiful garments of salvation that the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY had designed for them.
Just a few chapters before our writer proclaims the garments that they should be wearing -
"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; for he has covered me in the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adores herself with her jewels." (Isaiah 61:10) ESV
Our writer now confesses that he along with the whole nation have taken those garments and misused them and allowed them to become like filthy rags. They have polluted their garments of salvation and righteousness. They have forsaken their high estate and have allowed sin to stain them. They have become so polluted that even their acts of righteousness are polluted. We can be assured that our writer is understanding that more than mere sacrifices the LORD had sought obedience, commitment and love. He knew that as long as a people surround themselves with sin that no matter how holy their religious acts appear they are merely righteousness done in sin polluted garments.
In verse seven he shares where all of this has led the people of Israel. Their sins have not only polluted them they have caused them to no longer be able to be aware of their sins. Their sins have caused them to be both deaf and blind when it comes to spiritual matters. They have lost their ability to hear the LORD and their ability to see the LORD.
No one says our writer is even attempting to call upon the name of the LORD. No one understands that before God can intervene sin must be put aside and cast out in their lives and in their nation's life.
It reminds one of the sin of Achan recorded back in Joshua chapter seven. Up to that point in Israel's journey under Joshua everything had been going as planned. Joshua had been anointed to take the place of Moses. The Bible says that the LORD had given Joshua great wisdom and courage. Through one of His Holy Angels, the LORD had told Joshua:
"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) ESV
That wherever you go did not include the area of sin. Achan by his sin stopped God's blessings and stopped the victory of God's people. Achan's sin displayed that within God's people there was a desire for greed, for self-idolatry and for selfishness. Achan's sin displayed that within God's people there was a desire to lie to the LORD, to hide things from the LORD and to choose to go one's own way rather than obey the leadings and guidance of the LORD.
Now, our writer is sitting in the land of Babylon. A land that forever had been in rebellion against the LORD. A land no orthodox Jew wanted to ever step in much less have to live. A land that stood for ever thing unholy, unclean and ungodly. A land our writer knew that he was condemned to live because of his sin and the sins of his people.
And so, he began to do what Daniel later on does in Daniel chapter nine. Our writer, like Daniel confesses his sin and the sins of his people. He does what Ezra would later do in Ezra chapter nine as he lifts up his hands and confesses his sins and the sins of his people. He does what Joshua had done for his people back in Joshua chapter three when he commands the people to confess their sins and consecrate themselves to the LORD.
Today, we need people who are willing to be intercessors for God's People . We need people who will join the likes of Job who would each morning intercede for his children and their families. Job would rise early in the morning and offer burnt sacrifices for his children and their families so that the LORD would look upon them with grace, mercy and favor.
Today, we need people like our writer Isaiah, like Daniel, Ezra and Job. We need people who can come before the LORD and pray a prayer like Psalms 139:23 - 24
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me and lead me in the way of everlasting." (ESV)
There seems to be a spirit of haughtiness among the ranks of people today. Even among the ranks of people of Holiness. There seems to be this thought that we are above sin and that we possible could not have done anything wrong. Or else there is this thought that we will always be under the effects of sin and so it is impossible for us to be holy even if we tried. Both taken to their extremes are dangerous.
So, let's just do what Isaiah does along with Daniel, Ezra and Job. Let us confess that there is sin in the Church of Jesus Christ that is here on this earth. That in our ranks and perhaps in our very own hearts there is bitterness, unforgiveness, idolatry, immorality, lust, greed and a number of other sins. Let us confess that we need the LORD to take away our polluted garments and cleans us of our unrighteousness and uncleanness.
Let us do what Jesus desired of the Churches of Revelation - let us confess our sin, repent and then be cleansed and renewed in God's Holy Spirit. Let us not cling to a spirit of spiritual arrogance nor to a spirit of continual spiritual failure. Let us instead come before the Lord during this season of Advent and allow His Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us to enjoy His redemption and renewal. Let us confess and repent if need be and then go on and allow our Hope to lead us to experience a life of Co-mission with our LORD
III. Finally, we see our writer's Hope leads Him to Anticipate a Co-Mission with the LORD
In verse 8ff our writer uses some powerful images -
+The image of God as our Father - not just some supreme deity that is distant, immoveable or absent. Not the image of a Dagon or a Hadad or even a Baal.
Instead, it is the image of a loving father. A father that provides and teaches and at times, yes, even disciplines. A father that watches over their children and knows how to give them good gifts. A father that will do all he can to rescue, redeem and restore His Children.
+The image of the Potter and the Clay
Of all the OT images this one is full of intimacy and love. You may of course be familiar with the great Potter and Clay story back in Jeremiah chapter 18.
There is a closeness that develops between a potter and their clay. The shape that the clay takes on comes from the innermost depths of a potter's heart and mind. It is through their touch that the clay responds and joins to become the vessel of the potter's choosing. There is a mystery of connectedness and oneness that happens between a potter and their clay.
Here our writer is sitting in a foreign country as a result of sin and God's discipline and he asks the LORD to shape his life and the lives of His people around him. He is asking the LORD to continue to mold them in such a way as they would be a witness for Him. He is asking the LORD to place his hands on them, moving them this way, pushing that way and pulling this way so that they can become a vessel of honor and glory. He is asking the LORD to center them so that they can be used by the LORD.
And as we read the book of Daniel we can see this very thing happening in the lives of certain Jewish individuals. We read the story of Daniel along with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We read the stories of how these young men were clay in the hands of the LORD for Him to shape them and use them as the LORD wished even though they too were living in exile in Babylon. Like our writer they wanted nothing more than to be clay in God's hands.
Later on during the time of Cyrus and beyond we see this same thing happening in the lives of people like Nehemiah, Ezra and Esther. We see people who allow the Lord to center them, shape them and use them to pour out His Holy Spirit.
Perhaps as we think of this Advent Season there are no better examples of this than both Mary and Joseph. As their story will unfold over the next few weeks is it not the story of two people who allowed the Lord to center them, to pull and tug and push so that they could each become a vessel of honor for Him?
Our writer lets us understand that as we pray for God to intervene in our world it is to be a co-mission of intervention. The writer possess great theology in the fact that he knows that God does at time simply rescue man by His own accord. But as you read the Bible you realize that so many times God intervenes alongside us humans.
When God wanted to create a Eden like world he enlisted the help of Adam and Eve. When God wanted to rescue the world from annihilation He enlisted the help of Noah and his family. When God wanted to bless the people of the earth He enlisted the help of Abraham and Sarah. When God wanted to secure the land for His people He enlisted the help of people like Joshua, King David and King Solomon. When God wanted to bring about a revival He enlisted the help of people like Deborah, Elijah, Ezra and Kings like Josiah and Hezekiah. When God wanted to let His people know that He still loved them in spite of them being exiled He used the help of people like Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. When God wanted to bring His Son into the World to save the World He enlisted the help of people like Mary and Joseph. When God wanted to pour out His Spirit upon the Whole World He enlisted the help of people like Peter, Matthew and the rest of the 120 in the Upper Room.
Throughout History the LORD has been the Potter while people like Justin Martyr, Polycarp, Irenaus, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Martin Luther, John Knox, William Tyndale, John Wesley, William Cary, Charles Finney, William Moody, Phineas F. Breesee, William Greathouse, Billy Graham, N. T. Wright, Richard Foster, Jim Cymbala and millions more have been faithful vessels for the LORD. People like Agnes of Rome, Monica the mother of Augustine, Claire of Assisi, Teresa of Avilia, Susanna Wesley, Hannah Withall Smith, Fanny Crosby, Frances Willard, Evangeline Booth, Nina Gunter, Joyce Meyers, Beth Moore and millions more have been faithful vessels for the LORD.
Our writer understood a very key truth. He knew the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY loved him and wanted to work within his life to bring about change. Change that not only included his individual life but the lives of his people and the lives of people all around the world. For whenever people obey the LORD and allow the LORD to mold them, infill them and pour them out they become a blessing not only to those around them but to all of the world as well.
This morning as we look at our first Advent Candle it reminds us that we are living in a time of great hope. We are living in a time when we know that God intervenes in our world. We know that because we know the story of Jesus and we know the power and presence of God's Holy Spirit. God's Holy Spirit is present and alive. God's Holy Spirit guides us, leads us and infills us with power to be authentic human beings that are able to reflect God's glory and honor. God's Holy Spirit moves in our services and in our individual and corporate lives.
We live in hope because we know that we can bring all our hang ups, all our mistakes, all our brokenness and all of our sin(s) to the LORD. We can bring the LORD all our burdens and all those things that weigh us down and cause us to have doubts, to be apathetic and lukewarm. We can bring everything to the LORD because we know He loves us, forgives us, cleanses us and renews us.
We live in hope because we are clay in the hands of the LORD. He is molding us and making us this morning. Currently there is a song recorded by Mandisa that speaks about how God is not finished with us yet.
Not scared to say it
I used to be the one
Preaching it to you
That you could overcome
I still believe it
But it ain't easy
‘Cause that world I painted
Where things just all work out
It started changing
And I started having doubts
And it got me so down
But I picked myself back up
And I started telling me
No, my God's not done
Making me a masterpiece
He's still working on me
He started something good
And I'm gonna believe it
He started something good
And He's gonna complete it
So I'll celebrate the truth
His work in me ain't through
I'm just unfinished
I know His history
And the kind of God He is
He might make it a mystery
But He's proven I can trust in Him
And yeah, I believe it
Still, still working on me
He's still working
Still, still working on me
Publishing: Ariose Music / 9t One Songs (Admin. at CapitolCMGPublishing.com) / Colby Wedgeworth Music / Fair Trade Publishing (ASCAP) (Admin. by Music Services)
Writer(s): Ben Glover and Colby Wedgeworth
Those last words of her song are the key - "Still working Still, still working on me
He's still working Still, still working on me"
Our writer in Isaiah would like that song. He would tell us that the key to having hope is to seek the LORD to intervene in our lives, to confess our brokenness and to then place ourselves into the hands of the LORD. To let go and allow God to shape us and mold us into His image. To be clay ready to molded by the One who loves us most.
This morning, as we close in sharing Communion let us come to the table as People of Hope. Let us come as People praying for God to intervene in our lives, our church and in our world. Let us come as people who will intercede for our world. Who will confess their sin, their brokenness and ask the LORD to bring about a mighty revival. Let us come and place ourselves into His hands to be His clay. Let us come and allow the LORD to move us, push us, pull us and do whatever is necessary to be His Vessels in which He can pour Out His Spirit upon our World.
The Lord's Supper/Communion/Eucharist - Prayer - Benediction