Today’s readings are Isaiah 43 and Revelation 1. Both readings are addressed to the people of God, a people who are under the pump, whose backs are up against the wall. Israel remains in Babylonian exile and the first century churches are suffering severe persecution under the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian. Like them, we too languish in a land not our home. Peter describes the Christian community as ‘foreigners and exiles’ (1 Peter 2:11). Like them, our home is in glory with King Jesus. Our context is also marked by opposition. The Christian community is increasingly being pushed to the margins of mainstream society. Our voice is being drowned out. The fundamental Judeo-Christian biblical principles, which formed the strong fabric and solid foundation for a just and moral society, are being denied and overthrown. Today our children and grandchildren are being brought up in a world where values are fluid and flexible. It’s a bit like playing football on a field without any boundary lines no one knows what’s in and what’s out? This chaotic and disturbing situation can unnerve and unsettle us. Like ancient Israel and the first century church, we need to hear and embrace the encouraging words of the LORD so that we may not grow weary in well-doing and fulfill our vocation to live for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7) and proclaim his praise (Isaiah 43:21) in the power of His Spirit (Isaiah 44:3).
Isaiah 43-44:5 (44:1-5 properly belongs to Isaiah 43)
This section of Isaiah reaffirms that exiled Israel remains the LORD’s servant despite the promise of another greater servant (Isaiah 42). Dr Barry Webb helpfully notes that there are six statements of encouragement in this passage. Six words of affirmation for all people of God to be encouraged by:
- Isaiah 43:1-7 There is no need to fear the world, for the LORD is invested in his redeemed. Yet there is no promise of a quick fix or a trouble-free future. What is promised, using some of the most tender language in Scripture (see 43:1, 4, 5), is God’s sustaining presence right through until journey’s end, no matter what.
- Isaiah 43:8-13 The people of God may feel inadequate and feel like failures but the LORD has a ministry for them anyway. This ancient people of God, and also Christians today, are called to be witnesses to God’s uniqueness in the world (43:10-12).
- Isaiah 43:14-15 The LORD reminds his people that he is King, the invisible, yet greater reality that will bring Babylon and indeed all nations, to heel in his perfect timing. The fact that history records the fall of ancient Babylon should encourage us that the Lord is able to do the same in our time, when he is ready.
- Isaiah 43:16-21 Nothing can stop the LORD fulfilling his promises. The history of the Exodus from Egypt testifies to this (43:16-17). But he will now do a new thing in providing a way through the desert out of exile (43:19-21). Jesus is the way through our wilderness (John 14:6).
- Isaiah 43:22-28 Despite this text drawing attention to Israel’s failure to obey God and worship him rightly, the heart of the text’s encouragement comes in the LORD’s description of himself as the one who ‘blots out transgressions and remembers sins no more’ (43:25). We Christians know that it was the Lord Jesus who was the means of this grace for all time.
- Isaiah 44:1-5 This sixth and climactic encouragement focuses on the future and the outpouring of the Spirit (43:3), when not just Israel but non-Jewish people will also become the LORD’s (43:5, see also Acts 2:16-21). What a spectacular promise we see fulfilled today. The very same Spirit that energized Jesus’ ministry and who wrote the Scriptures, lives in us as we engage with a less than friendly society.
Ultimately all of God’s promises would eventually find their spectacular ‘YES’ in Christ, which is exactly what we find in the second reading.
Despite its strange apocalyptic (unveiling) language and scary beasts, the overall message of this book is this: The people of God win in the end. The Satan inspired world and our society may huff and puff and seek to blow God’s house and purposes down. However they will fail, as did the evil one when tempting Jesus in the wilderness. The book calls Christians of every generation to endure opposition, to hold fast to the truth, resist the devil and to obey the commandments of God. The symbolic visionary image of the risen glorious Jesus (1:12-15) reminds us that while he is human, he is also much more gloriously and sublimely divine. This glorious Jesus stands among the churches (lampstands). He is the chief Pastor (Elder/Bishop). He is walking among the churches, patrolling, supervising and assessing, as the following two chapters will reveal. But here in Revelation 1, we do well to note that the image of the lampstand for the church is one. This indicates that it is designed to be a light bearer in the darkness of the world. However, to do this the church needs to remain in Christ’s presence.
We must not be surprised when an unbelieving society acts like an unbelieving society and does all it can to shut us down and turn us off. But we must not be afraid. We have the LORD on our side and one day he will call all to give account. Just like the Babylonian nation, all nations and societies that persist in opposing the Lord and his church will be called to account. Remain close to the Risen Lord Jesus today as you engage society. Be encouraged by his promises. Remember you have come to know he who is ‘the Alpha and Omega, who is and who was, and who is the come, the Almighty.’ (Revelation 1:8). Represent Jesus to the all you meet in word and work. Be a witness to his grace and glory.