He’s Coming – An Unexpected Expectation
As I’m sure you all know, Christmas is coming! Happily, we have about a month to go so there’s plenty of time to get all the things done we need to do like buying and wrapping presents and decorating the tree and all that and I think all that frenetic activity is worth it, especially when it comes to our young children.
I remember looking forward to Christmas as child and it seems Ki is no different from me. He’s been talking about it for months just like I did when I was young. He really wants to get into those presents. According to my parents, one of my more notorious reactions to getting a Christmas present was the time I got Superman underoos. For those of you not in the know, underoos are underwear for kids made that are more like costumes. Well, the moment I go those Superman underoos I immediately put them on and refused to put on anything else, so for the rest of the day including when we went to my grandma’s I ran around in my underwear without hint of embarrassment.
But of course Christmas is far more than trees and presents or even Superman underwear, though perhaps it is not right to say Christmas is not about presents because about 2000 years ago the world received a present that the people at the time looked forward to with great expectation but at the same times could never had expected, the coming of Jesus, the Messiah Himself, as a baby.
We are going to be starting a new sermon series where we will meditate on the coming of Jesus titled, appropriately enough, He’s Coming! We are going to start off by going back a time well before Jesus came, about 700 years before, to the days of Isaiah.
What we heard was from Isaiah was his prayer to God. In this part of his prayer he is asking God to “rend the heavens and come down!” It could have been that Isaiah wanted God judge all the sinners amongst him. In time God would indeed come down and the heavens would be rent, but not in judgment. Instead the heavens would burst open with the angels singing about the arrival of a newborn baby that was Christ the Lord. [Luke 2:8-12]
But it seems like Isaiah wasn’t thinking of such mercy and grace, but judgment! He saw God making the mountains quake and if that’s what happened to the mighty, unmovable mountains just imagine how all those enemies of God would feel!
They would face the very holy fire of God Himself! Like water automatically boils when heated, sinful people, without the forgiveness of Jesus, would fear God with all that is within them. After all, if Moses, a Godly man if there ever was one, could not see God without dying [Ex33:20], an unsaved person would have no hope at all if God were to come down to them.
While all this might make it seem like Isaiah was bent on revenge, what he prays next shows us something else. Isaiah wanted God’s name to be known to God’s enemies. Isaiah is not concerned with himself but with God! He knew the power of the name of God.
God has revealed His special name to us, I AM. [Ex 3:14] God’s name is blessed forever. [Dan 2:20] We are saved by it [Ps 54:1] and there is other name by which we are saved. [Acts 4:12] His name is always near. [Ps 75:1] And so we praise His name [Ps 69:30] and glorify it. [2 Thes 1:12]
But even with all that God has revealed to us about His name, no one could ever say they have even begun to fully understand God. He has always been mightily blessing His people in ways they never could have expected.
Isaiah speaks of mountains quaking possibly thinking of how Mt Sinai shook when God came down to Moses to give him the law. [Ex 19:17-18] But even that miracle of God meeting man pales in comparison to one that would happen on Christmas night some 700 years after Isaiah prayed this prayer to God.
He sent His beloved Son to the earth as a baby. The omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God of the universe was helpless little baby much like you I once were but this baby would grow up and one day would go to the cross to lay His life down for us, His people.
It seems as if Paul was thinking of this part of Isaiah’s prayer when He said, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Cor 2:9] We here know the “revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages” [Rom 16:25] in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and we still have more to experience from God for we have not even begun to live our glorious lives on the New Earth where will live in sinless perfection at the side of Jesus Himself.
There is no other so-called god that could do such a thing and in the lands around Isaiah there any number of other gods to choose from but they are nothing more than “gods of wood and stone, the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.” [Deut 4:28]
We alone worship a God who acts as He wills. We wait for Him not He for us. The wait may be a long one. Isaiah’s many prophecies about Jesus did not come true for 700 years, but God will always make good on His promises.
And yet for all this graciousness, it seems as if Isaiah had a word of warning too. He said God would come to those who “joyfully work righteousness.” We know we are saved without works of any kind [Eph 2:8-9] but we are still to obey God and dare not willfully sin against Him and then expect Him to bless us. We all have many works to do that God has prepared for us. [Eph 2:10] And it is our joy to do so. We delight in the law! [Ps 119:16] We give cheerfully [2 Cor 9:6-7] because we have been given more in Jesus than we could ever have expected.
If we are ever confused at how to obey God, we need only remember what Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” [John 13:35]
God’s word has equal measures of law and gospel and we must hear both. For it the law that shows our need for the Gospel and the Gospel that releases us from fearing the law. Isaiah saw that he and his people had been sinning for a long time but even then God did not leave them even though He would have been justified to do so.
Isaiah clearly saw the sin in him and those around him. They were unclean. In that time such a state was the worst things that could happen to a living person. To be unclean meant that you were prevented from any and all Godly activity. You could not worship in the temple. You could not offer sacrifice. You could not even come around other people. You were cut off from God and everyone else.
Isaiah even said our righteous deed were like polluted blankets. The meaning behind those words isn’t really something we can talk about in polite company. It is a graphic, maybe disgusting, description of sin. Think of it like a vomit soaked rag. It’s meant to powerfully drive home the evilness of sin and how we should feel about it.
While we might be willing to admit that our sins are exceedingly evil, are our good deeds also evil to God? Maybe. I think we can see that all we do might be touched, to one degree or another, by our sin. But does this mean that there is hate in our love? Greed in our giving? Blasphemy in our prayers?
Of that I am not so sure. On this verse Martin Luther said, “Know, however, that it is the command by God’ Word which are the true, holy, and divine works in which He rejoices with all the angels. In contrast to them all human holiness is only stench and filth, and merits nothing but wrath and damnation” [LC I 197-198]
Maybe Isaiah was saying that when people continue to sin without repentance and instead try to earn their salvation with good works, those good works only serve to condemn them because they are done in spite of God’s mercy.
For those of who know what Jesus did for us the situation is even worse. To try to earn God’s good favor is to scorn the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross by saying it was worthless because you can do it all on your own.
It is understandable why Isaiah wonders aloud if they can be saved. It might be that he doesn’t at all doubt that God can save them, but is awed the vast and overflowing mercy of God. Isaiah saw that we seem to have as much control over our sin as we do over the wind. I know there have been times in my life where I was surprised, saddened and sickened at how quickly and easily I gave into sin.
Isaiah even said no one calls on His name. This would seem to be an exaggeration much like asking if God could save them. We can see this because Isaiah himself is calling on the name of God in this very prayer. Perhaps Isaiah was saying that no one is making full use of the privilege of prayer. No one is calling on God as often or powerfully as they should.
It is in prayer that we can take hold of God because it proves we know that God always listens to His children and that we know He answers our prayers in the way that brings Him the most glory. When we do this, when we take hold of God, it is us who are affected not God. We get overwhelmed by God. Taking a hold of God is as all consuming as labor pains. [Jer 49:24] When we do this we take hold of something else, eternal life. [1 Tim 6:12] Even though we are thoroughly unworthy because we have forgiveness in Jesus we can indeed boldly take hold of God and all He freely offers. [Heb 4:16]
Isaiah knew and lived all this but still he felt that God’s face was hidden and it may very have been. I think there are two reasons we might feel that God hides His face from us, His children. It could be that our sin makes it appear to be so, though in that case it is not God that is hiding from us, but us hiding from God, like Adam and Eve hid from God when they sinned. [Gen 3:8] It’s like this [fist example] God never leaves us but we can leave Him.
But it could be that God allows us to experience times when we can’t feel His presence like we normally do to test our faith. We want to cry out like the psalmist, “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long.” [Ps 74:9] When we continue to trust God during those dark times, we will find God was always there and our faith can grow stronger because of what we trial we made it through.
We need not lose faith or doubt God during these times because it even happened to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Indeed, He fully felt the terrible impact of His Father hiding His face when He hung on the cross when He became our sin. [2 Cor 5:21] Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matt 27:46]
Still feeling the burden of his sin Isaiah said he felt as though he were melting. Isaiah knew what God had said to His people, “If you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins.” [Deut 26:21] Jesus said something similar, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” [Mark 8:38]
It is feeling the depths of our sin to this point that drives us to Jesus. It’s when we feel like David said, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me…” [Ps 32:3-4] When see the wrath of God against our sins is justified. As David says, “For we are brought to an end by your anger…” [Ps 90:7]
But that was not all Isaiah said. He aslo said, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father…” Our God does the unexpected in that even if His children forsake His laws and do not walk according to His ways, He does not remove from us His steadfast love or be false to His faithfulness because He has sworn by His holiness.[Ps 89:30-35]
God never leaves us. The Lord your God carries us, as a man carries his son. [Deut 1:31] If God is Almighty then surely He can and will transform us to be more like His glorious Son.
Isaiah asked God not to be angry and to not remember their sin forever and God did that very thing. Psalm 103 tells us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” [Ps 103:11-12] We are God’s people just as Isaiah said.
And we were made so through the most unexpected gift we ever received, a little baby born in a manger.
And so my beloved I leave you with this: Rejoice for we have received the gift of Jesus!