This past Sunday, John Mark began a sermon series on Hope and Justice in the Book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet, and like some of his contemporaries, he called on the people of God to repent and to turn to God. Unlike many other of his contemporaries (the class of prophets who worked for the King and who we might classify as “Yes men”), Isaiah was not content with the social, religious, and political establishments of his day. He spoke boldly against many of the practices that benefited some while oppressing others. These practices ranged from social to economic to political, and even religious. Every area of life was placed under Isaiah’s microscope and if it did not contribute to a society in which God’s people flourished as God had envisioned and laid out in the Law and throughout Israel’s history, Isaiah would condemn it.
In fact, this was the way all of the prophets operated. Into each of their situations and contexts, the prophets sought to bring about a type of “Kingdom Ethic” in which all persons are cared for within the society as the entire group seeks God. It is into this kind of society, and only this kind of society, that God is truly present with the people.
However, as was the case then, and throughout all of history, societies are flawed and sinful. God’s presence is cast out, sometimes by the very people who seem to be the ones who should be most interested in bringing God’s presence closer. (Isaiah and Amos both explicitly condemn the religious festivals of the people of Israel in Isaiah 1:10-17 and Amos 5:21-27).
And as you read through the prophets, over and over again we see God’s judgment against his people. We see God’s response to a people who are sick with sin. And if you aren’t careful, you may begin to wonder where God’s compassion and mercy reside? Where is the God that we see in Jesus who is quick to forgive and slow to cast judgment on those that are brought before him (such as the woman caught in adultery in John 8). But the truth is that God’s compassion is ever present, even in the midst of these prophets. That even in the midst of the distress that may be coming, God’s love and compassion and mercy are ever present.
Read these passages from Isaiah:
- Isaiah 2:1-5
- Isaiah 11:1-10
- Isaiah 29:17-24
- Isaiah 35
- Isaiah 41:17-20
- Isaiah 65:17-25
All throughout Isaiah, there is hope. Hope for a society where God’s creation and creatures flourish. Hope for a future where God’s love is enacted throughout all levels and layers of the community. Hope for a future in which the world is recreated and where sin and death no longer have the final word in our lives, but instead God’s beautiful and perfect creation is able to come forth for all.
The prophets may have an idyllic future in mind. Their judgments may sound harsh and unrelenting. But ultimately, they have hope that what God started in creating this world, God will see through. That God will not lose this world, nor anyone who resides in it. That God will not rest until all of creation knows that they are loved and find their true identity and purpose in God alone.