Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas in Isaiah

Isaiah 40 is rich with Christmas, the coming of Christ into the world (Handel found it to be fertile soil for his Messiah oratorio). Speaking to a people who would soon be going into Babylonian captivity, Isaiah prophecies a wondrous future beyond. It begins:
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.” (v.1)
There is the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (v. 3). The Gospel writers reveal this figure as John the Baptist.

Then there is the promise of the Gospel, good news to Israel:
O Zion,
  You who bring good tidings,
  Get up into the high mountain;
O Jerusalem,
  You who bring good tidings,
  Lift up your voice with strength,
Lift it up, be not afraid;
  Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (v. 9)
There are four “Beholds” to consider. When God tells us to behold something, it is to fix our attention, our focus, our gaze upon something that our human eyes cannot yet discern. It is to look into the realm of the spirit and see truth “behind the scenes.” It signals something unexpected, something that is known only because God reveals it to us.

In verse 9, the command is to “Behold your God!” There is the dimension of the divine, but there is also the personal aspect, because He is called our God. After the time of captivity and darkness, the Good News comes: Our God is now here to deliver and take care of His people.

The second “Behold” immediately follows:
Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand.
And His arm shall rule for Him. (v. 10)
Our God comes exercising power and authority.

Then comes the third “Behold”:
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him. (v. 10)
The NIV has the second line as “And His recompense accompanies Him.” These are the spoils of victory. For our Lord Messiah comes to destroy the works of the enemy and set the captives free, while making prisoners of those who held His people hostage. He lifts up the humble but repays those enemies who have lifted themselves up in pride.
  • “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)
  • “Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’” (Ephesians 4:8)
In Isaiah 40:11, we find that our warrior God, who prevails so powerfully against our oppressors, is also a tender shepherd:
He will feed His sheep a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.
Handel’s Messiah marries this text to Matthew 11:28-29:
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I wil give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
But we are also drawn to the Good Shepherd in John 10:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (v. 11)
The fourth “Behold” comes in Isaiah 40:15.
Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted s the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.
God is big! All the nations taken together cannot compare to Him. They do not even come close. Do not let the nations shake you, for God will shake the nations and bring them into line. For He is not like the false gods and idols of those nations. He is the true God and Judge who comes to set things right. Therefore, “lift up your eyes on high” (v. 26).
Why do you say, O Jacob,
  And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
  And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
Have you not known?
  Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the LORD,
  The Creator of the ends of the earth,
  Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
  He gives power to the weak.
  And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
  And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the LORD
  Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
  They shall run and not be weary,
  They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:27-31)
That is why Jesus came, to deliver you and me, to shepherd us and restore us to God. Isn't that the promise of Christmas?