Encouragement from Isaiah 57:14–19
December 3, 2020
When we encounter the Holy God, we don't get what we should expect and better than we deserve. Isaiah shows us that the two places where our great and glorious God feels at home are in the heights of the heavens unstained by sin and in the hearts of sinners who'e stopped pretending that they haven't hit rock-bottom. So take encouragement today to seek the Lord in humility and contrition and be free from the futility of your pride, frantic performance, and desperate perfectionism. #Isaiah #growgroups #Jesus #grace #gospel
Isaiah 57 anticipates a hopeful future for all those who abandon idolatry and sin and turn back to true trust in the Lord:
And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place…” (Isaiah 57:14–15a)
So far this is exactly what we might want. It is a message of hope. What has been reduced to rubble will be rebuilt. Anything that impedes restoration will be removed. And this destiny is secured not by human effort or success but is grounded in the authority of the divine word: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up…” But even if this is exactly what we might want, it probably isn’t what we should reasonably expect. So much of the language in these few lines recalls Isaiah’s initial encounter with the Lord seated enthroned above the temple. Like in Isaiah 6, God is described as “high and lifted up.” He is the One whose name is thrice holy. God is an infinite Person whose presence can hardly get his toe in a building as majestic as the temple and likewise whose existence is not limited to a single moment but who inhabits every moment simultaneously with his immediate attention and presence. But recall also Isaiah’s response to this encounter with the Holy One of Israel. His immediate expectation wasn’t hope and restoration. It was woe at a seemingly certain and well-deserved undoing. We should expect no differently standing on our own. But yet we do have a different hope because the King, the Lord, the Holy One is also the one who has named himself “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6). And so God rightly dwells in the high and holy place as befits his glory, but, as v. 15 continues, “also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Don’t miss the astounding grace loaded into those lines. The two places where the Glorious and Holy God feels at home are in the heights of the heavens unstained by sin and in the hearts of sinners who’ve stopped pretending that they haven’t hit rock-bottom. And the reason God is at home in the neighborhood of the repentant isn’t because of quirky boundaries in spiritual zoning laws. He’s not there by default or by accident. He has a purpose: to revive—to make truly alive—the spirit of the lowly and the heart of the contrite. When we confess our sin without excuse before God, when we acknowledge the brokenness of our lives that make us unable to rehabilitate ourselves or to do better with a one-hundred-and-second chance than we did with the first, then the high, holy, and glorious God moves in and breathes in a kind of life that we have never known before. It isn’t that God hasn’t noticed our sin or doesn’t care. Isaiah 57:17a says, “Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry…” God knows, but God is also gracious. He sees our wrong, but that only moves him to set us right again: “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners…” (Isaiah 57:18). And this isn’t merely a concession, but an expression of God’s deepest heart towards us. Hear how Dane Ortlund describes this grace in his book Gentle and Lowly:
That God is rich in mercy means that your regions of deepest shame and regret are not hotels through which divine mercy passes but homes in which divine mercy abides. It means the things about you that make you cringe most, make him hug hardest. It means his mercy is not calculating and cautious, like ours. It is unrestrained, flood-like, sweeping, magnanimous. It means our haunting shame is not a problem for him, but the very thing he loves most to work with. It means our sins do not cause his love to take a hit. Our sins cause his love to surge forward all the more. It means on that day when we stand before him, quietly, unhurriedly, we will weep with relief, shocked at how impoverished a view of his mercy-rich heart we had. (Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, 179–80)
And so as you consider the things that make you feel weak or unworthy, the ways that life is straining you and you feel like the seams you’ve stitched to hold things together are rapidly being pulled apart, leaving you exposed, don’t try to hold it together yourself. This has been a hard year, but God loves to draw near to those who see their need and look with reverent hope for him to meet their need. So how do we pursue the nearness of the Lord that is our good? It isn’t through our own pride or frantic performance or desperate perfectionism. It isn’t through comparison or cover-up. And while God wants us to strive for holiness, he opposes any attempt to earn his approval or to act as if anything we attain is apart from his enabling grace through the power of his Holy Spirit. God puts it bluntly in Isa 66: “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 66:1–2a) What have we ever made or done that he wasn’t the ultimate Source who deserves the gratitude and glory? If God is who he is, how could even our best impress? How could we even catch his attention?
“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (66:2b).
God draws near in our contrition. It’s through confession and repentance. It’s through a humility that sees everything in relation to God and his power and purpose rather than everything in relationship to ourselves. It is through a trembling confidence in the authority of God’s good word and a hope that he will fulfill his gracious promise to us. We’ll learn more about the kind of spiritual life that invites God’s kindness and blessing and what kind receives his condemnation when we continue on to Isaiah 58 this Sunday in our Grow Groups. So on Zoom or in the room, we’ll see you there.