I sure hope you are still enjoying our work together as we continue our journey through the Bible. Today we will conclude our look at the Book of Isaiah. There is so much to cover, but we need to save some of it for later. So, let's see what we discover today.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance if our God, to comfort all who mourn..." (Is. 61:1-2)
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus walked into the synagogue and stood up and read from a scroll. What did he read? He read from the above passage. In a way Jesus used this passage as his inaugural speech. (Luke 4:18-19) Why would Jesus read this and how did it connect with what was intended in the Book of Isaiah? In both Isaiah's day (3rd Isaiah-Post Exile) and Jesus' day the people were desperate. Now, there were different reasons for the desperation, but they were desperate nonetheless. In Jesus' day the people were under Roman oppression. But, I think that if we really looked into it, the oppression that Luke deals with went beyond just being at the hands of the Romans. We'll look at that later. What about Isaiah? As you may recall the exiles have returned home. Of course, there were those who were not exiled. So, the exiles return home and encounter those who never left. *Or who were not taken. The people who stayed in Jerusalem were known as "The People of the Land." Now, keep in mind the returning refuges have been gone for seventy years. Some of them (many actually) would have been born in exile. So, the refuges, regardless of being natives or not, were strangers. How did this go? Not well. There would be dissention between the people.
But, the dissention between the people was not the only problem. When the refugees returned they could not help but be reminded that the temple was still gone. There was no building to house God. This would present a problem for the people as they would struggle for faith in the absence of a temple. Let me ask, "What would people do today if there were no church buildings?" Think about that for a moment. Now, I have heard all my Christian life (from 1987 to present) that its not about the building. I'm sure you have heard variations of this saying. There are all kinds of clichés that people use in regards to the church building. "Oh, its not the name on the door, but the...." I'm sure you've heard that one. But, in reality if you listen long enough the same people think their church is the only one. Yep, clichés. So, is the building important? Let me tell you why I would argue that it is. Don't get me wrong, God is God regardless of whether or not there is a building, that's not my point. We are people who need visual reminders. We need tangible things, things we can touch, to make things real. While there are those who are against having a cross visible in the church I would argue that we must have it. Why? To visually remind us of the cost of our salvation. The church building is a visual reminder of many things. We can argue all day and beyond whether we need visual reminders of God or not, but hey, the truth is the truth. When I drive by the Church, I think about what church means. I think about Sunday morning, I think about singing the hymns, and hearing the sermon. I wonder what I will hear about God, and hopefully from God. I think about my church family, and wonder how brother or sister so and so are doing. This then leads me to say a prayer for them. I think about old times and folks who have entered that glorious community of faith. Who knows, someone may drive by a church who has not been to church ever, or perhaps in a long time. As they drive by something hits them, no not another car or a deer, but a thought. Hmm...I need to go there to that place. I need to go to church. Who knows...just maybe. If the church building were not there...who knows, perhaps they would still have the same thought...but again, who knows. Yes, the church building is important. But, God is still God without it. But, these people struggled to know that. So, Isaiah deals with this issue.
"This is what the Lord says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being? declares the Lord." (Is. 66:1-2)
God declares himself to be present even if there is no building to house him. God is God over the entire world. As time continues on the people will build another temple. Then, upon its completion they will struggle with the fact that the new temple is nothing in comparison with the old one. The Lord is continuously having to teach these people a lesson about just who God is. One of the things they are constantly forced to learn is that God is not stuck in the past. God is not stuck in the past, nor is God stuck in a box. We can't, as these people could not, say "Here's God! This is God! This is how God is!" God said: "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create..." (Is. 65: 17-18a) You will read this verse elsewhere in the Bible; in Revelation 21. God is constantly creating. Did you ever think about God that way. The first action God ever took was to create. God created the world and everything in it. So, God's nature, one could argue, is to create. So, could it have been that it was only a matter of time before the first temple was destroyed? I would argue, yes. Why? Because the temple was God's way of being with the people. But, it would only be a matter of time before God realized it wasn't the best way. All of God's temples were only temporary. We even hear Jesus say in the Gospel: "Tear this temple down and in three days I will raise it up" What was he talking about? His body.
Well, tomorrow we will begin to look at another prophet who is quite different than Isaiah. Who is this? Jeremiah. Yes, I invite you to join me for an interesting look at the Book of Jeremiah. I was just thinking. Wouldn't it be great if we can get to the New Testament, and in particular, the Birth Narratives of Jesus just in time for Christmas? That would be neat. Maybe we can. Well, have a great day! God Bless! -Pastor Rick