I love coming across scripture passages that immediately take on a certain cadence because I first learned the words in song. In college I used to sing Isaiah 43, and the best version of it I could find I included below. (I found other versions of the song with better production quality, but this is almost exactly how we sang it with the echoes and everything.)
There is a great little section in chapter 44 of Isaiah that in describing the making of an idol in such a mundane way, shows the whole endeavor to be a bit absurd.
Isaiah describes the whole process, start to finish. You plant a tree and let it grow. Then you cut it down for its parts. You use some for a fire. The fire warms you, and then while you’re at it, you throw on some dough and make some bread. You’ve got some wood leftover? Let’s make a god. And then we may as well worship this piece of wood that we just grew, cut down, burnt, and used to carve into some likeness.
How can we think something that we just used for the simple needs of warmth and for cooking can then also give birth to a statue worthy of worship? Verse 17 says, "the rest he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!""
Sounds crazy, right? Do we condemn such an action, or just pity the person?
It’d be easier to judge if we weren’t susceptible to idolatry in our own ways. But regardless of the idol–a wooden totem or the idol of power of money–not one of them can answer when we cry out "deliver me!" God alone is savior and only he hears our cries.
People are often giving things up for Lent like chocolate or other foods. While this may not be a bad decision, Lent is to prepare us for Easter, and simply removing something like a candy bar may not get us to that goal. Instead of just taking something out and leaving that hole empty, fill it with something good. Give up something and then seek out a new habit to build up in these forty days.
For example, if you give up TV of Facebook, it doesn’t do you any good to sit around for an hour staring at the wall instead. Take that time to read the Word. If you’ve already been reading all of our reading plan for Year in the Bible, keep going. If not, join in. Join in today.
Since the week is half over, just read 1 Thessalonians. You could keep with the New Testament readings if you want to start slower. That’ll have you read 1 & 2 Thessalonians and finish with Revelation. That may not sound like a normal Lenten reading, but in Revelation we do see signs of the victory won by Jesus–a victory that he won on the cross. We finish the Bible on March 24th, which is a little bit before Easter, so you can use that last week to reread a gospel and focus your attention on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In summary: give up something, and fill it with Christ. May Lent be a great time of preparation for you. I hope it is a time when you carve out new space for Christ in your life.
PS – If you’re coming to our service tonight and have to errands to run today, think about putting them off until after the service. That way you can go out to the grocery store having been marked with ashes, as a sign of the season for others to see.
There were a number of prophecies against Assyria and their fall and in Isaiah 37 we see those prophecies fulfilled. In chapter 31 we read:
And the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of man;
and a sword, not of man, shall devour him…
In chapter 37, after Sennacherib, the leader of the Assyrians, mocks the God of Israel in his dealings with Hezekiah he leaves to attend to an uprising in the south by the king of Egypt.
Sennacherib has been very successful in his rule, as he notes to Hezekiah. Assyria has been used by God to bring his judgment on the land and Sennacherib says, “Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed…?”
Hezekiah must be in great fear, for himself, his people, and Jerusalem. But he knows that those other gods were no gods at all. He goes to the temple and prays for God’s deliverance, and does so with the purpose that the kingdoms of earth may know that Israel’s God is truly God.
As I said, the prophecy is fulfilled and Hezekiah’s prayers are answered. In going to fight off the Egyptians, Sennacherib is dealt a grew blow, loses thousands of men, and retreats back to the capital of Ninevah.
There is an interesting comparison between these two leaders. Hezekiah goes to the temple and is heard by God and is spared. Later, after backing down following the loss of so many of his men at the hand of God’s angels, Sennacherib goes to his temple. There he is not delivered, rather he finds his end as his own sons kill him in order to seize power for themselves.
Also-in reading about this passage I found two accounts of how the 185,000 of Sennacherib’s camp were put to death. One is an account of some pesky mice that came out in the night to gnaw away at the bows and the straps of Assyrian shields, leaving that army weakened. The other is not as exciting, and records disease as the tool used to bring about their destruction.
When we think of the word “wait”, what does that look like? If someone is waiting for someone or something, what are they actually doing? It is easy to think of waiting as doing nothing. Waiting can seem like inaction, waiting for a later time when you will act. But read the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians. Read it all but the last verse.
Paul writes of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” they are imitators of Paul–who was no slouch, and they did this in affliction. The church has been an example all around Achaia and Macedonia, and beyond that, the word of the Lord has sounded forth from them everywhere. They welcomed Paul and his colleagues and they turned from idols to worship the living and true God. Does that sound like they’re doing nothing? This is how they wait, waiting for the the Son from heaven.
Waiting for Jesus’ return is not sitting on our hands. Later in his letter Paul explicitly tells them to admonish the idle. To wait upon Jesus is a vigilant life. It is active, for he did not leave us here to do nothing. We have a purpose and he has given us his Spirit! Why would we be blessed with the Holy Spirit if all we’re expected to do is nothing? Let’s wait, but do so in a way outline here in 1 Thessalonians.
Whenever we have a book that is especially long, like Isaiah, it is easy to hustle through it just to get it done. Was it easier to read James and read it in a way that gave you time to study and learn from than this week’s readings in Isaiah? But for how much more difficult it can be, don’t miss out. Even if you’re just highlighting some meaningful nuggets from Isaiah.
There were some great passages on trust this past week, like Isaiah 26:3:
Trust in the LORD forever,
For the LORD, the LORD, is the rock eternal.
The in chapter 30 we read:
In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength…
Great reminders of the simplicity of the faith. We are to trust in the one who can provide, and lean on God. Sadly the last passage goes on to say, "but you would have none of it." Isaiah spends much time on the theme of bringing low the proud, and raising up the humble. The people trusted in themselves, built up their own power, and looked to other gods. They would have none of this repentance and trust in God.
When we have times of great clarity, when we know how much we absolutely need and depend on God, it seems crazy to turn to anyone else. Who wouldn’t want quietness and rest? But we need to hear Isaiah as warning for it is easy to turn from that and forget who God is and what he has done for us. It is tempting to rely on ourselves. Isaiah holds out hope for us all, for all who wold repent and then find ourselves trusting in God.
As we continue to read through the Bible we are learning all about God’s story. But as we come near the end of Year in the Bible, I want to hear your stories, too. I want to hear how spending this time reading God’s Word has shaped you and challenged you. I want to hear how God is working in and through you. What passages have especially stood out to you over the year? Have there been parts that were unexpected and surprising?
Have you been reading alone or with a group? How has that experience been? Have you learned more about God? Does God’s plan seem all the more amazing having read in this way? Are you encouraged to continue on? Have passages been brought to your mind in times of need? How has what you’ve learned helped you be a better follower of Christ?
If you have something to share–which I reckon you do, I’d love for you to email me. It can be just a few sentences or as long as you’d like. If you’re less of a writer, just contact me and we can get together and talk. Part of the joy of being the Church is coming together with fellow believers and sharing how God is moving in our midst.