When People Listen to God
Friday, April 05, 2013
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes” (Isa. 61:1–3).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 61:1–11
The prophetic word found in the Bible was given by the Lord for one purpose—that people might listen. The preaching of “good tidings” is of no avail apart from the people who will hear.
Dorothy L. Sayers, in her play The Man Born to Be King, warns against treating God’s drama of redemption as though it were a dull, ordinary nursery tale. By and large, her warning goes unheeded.
At best our world is willing only to tolerate the preaching of the gospel. Like a domineering conversationalist who occasionally, with an air of polite indifference, pauses to allow someone else to speak but uses the pause to contemplate the next verbal onslaught, our enlightened age has little interest in hearing from God. Yet the hope of the world hinges on the few who do listen to the divine message.
1) They have freedom (Isa. 61:1–2).
People who hear God’s Word are set free. The immediate audience of Isaiah 61 is exiled Israel. The good tidings from God are that they are to be allowed to return to their homeland of Palestine (Isa. 40:1–2). The good news amounts to a proclamation of emancipation. God’s message comes “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (61:1–2).
To identify with the exiled captives is not difficult. Return from captivity is an experience needed by every person. The word captives literally refers to booty carried away by conquerors. What person is not enslaved by Satan’s devious allurements, by selfish pride, and by barren habits and empty activities? Such persons need to escape the kingdom of darkness but are unable to do so. If only they will stop toying with the chains that bind them and listen to the good tidings that set people free.
“The acceptable year of the Lord” alludes to the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25. It occurred every fiftieth year and was a type of messianic era. Commencing at the end of the Day of Atonement, it was heralded by the shrill blasts of the silver trumpets as priests in every hamlet from Dan to Beersheba announced the good news. In effect, the message was “You are free; all debts are canceled.” Those who had been forced to sell themselves as slaves to their creditors were set free. Family property was restored. God’s law decreed that an Israelite’s inheritance could remain “sold” only until the next Year of Jubilee. This was God’s way of periodically granting a new start for those defeated by circumstances of life.
Sadly enough, there is little evidence to show that Israel adhered to the requirements of the Year of Jubilee. For this reason, it became a shadow of the promised messianic era. The heart yearns to be set free, for all things to be made right. Jesus spoke to this yearning as he stood to read in the synagogue at Nazareth and selected Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:16–21). In that moment, he set himself before the world as the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise of freedom. The eternal Year of Jubilee became possible in Christ. All of sin’s bonds are broken. People are set free.
2) They have peace (Isa. 61:1).
Those who listen to God have peace as well as freedom. Isaiah appeals particularly to the “brokenhearted.” Literally the word means “that which is shattered.” A broken arm can be set, and in time it will heal, but a broken heart is another matter. Only the grace of God can heal hurts.
But what kind of blow breaks a heart? Alas, there are many answers. Circumstances can pile one on another until the heart despairs. Anxieties can leave the heart empty. To feel oneself an outcast from the inner circle of things can break a heart. I remember reading somewhere about a preacher who said that as a young man, he worried about what the world thought of him. Later in life he came to the place where he did not care what the world thought of him. Then, toward the sunset of life, he discovered the world never had been thinking of him.
You diagnose a broken heart by looking for inner peace. As long as the heart has peace, it is not utterly broken. That which deprives the heart of peace is sin and the damning guilt that accompanies sin.
God’s offered peace is not a ticket to security away from all life’s raging storms. Rather, it is a calling to purpose. Nothing is quite so haunting as the fear that life is slipping away without anything being accomplished. Those set free in Christ are called to a purposeful labor that carries with it a certain inner peace that cannot be crushed by outward circumstances.
The rampant revolt and conflict sweeping today’s world has come in the absence of inner peace. Paul Tournier ably depicted our civilization in terms of a neurosis. Like a rebellious child, our world is asserting itself in a purely negative form. We are suddenly against all the past, all authority, and all values, without offering anything to replace what we would wreck. Tournier defined a neurosis as an inner conflict. Quoting Jung, he said that the neurotic suffers because he is unaware of his problems. Having thrown Christ and the gospel out the back door, our world now wonders why it is sick, never dreaming what the real problem is. Tournier wrote that when God is dethroned, fear rules us. He attributed much of the emphasis on scientific research to humankind’s desire to escape fear by banishing all mystery. Yet Harold Urey, one of the scientists who contributed to the development of the atomic bomb, said, “I write to make you afraid. I myself am a man who is afraid. All the wise men I know are afraid”.
Only the gospel offers peace. Only God can garrison the human heart and ward off Satan’s advances: “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
3) They have a crown (Isa. 61:3).
The promise of a crown is crouched in a poetic figure: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes.” By divine decree, those who listen to God are promised “beauty for ashes.” To understand the promise, one must remember the customs for mourning among the Israelites. Ashes were put on the head as a grim crown. By God’s grace, the ashes shall be replaced by a royal diadem denoting the heritage of God’s people. “Beauty for ashes” is equivalent to “joy for mourning,” hope for sorrow, life for death, and heaven for hell.
Apart from God, every person’s life and works come at last to ashes. Ashes are but a useless form of what once was of value. Sin, like a gluttonous fire, consumes a person’s kingdom and dreams, leaving only ashes. Eternal mourning is one of the most frightening aspects of hell.
In Egyptian mythology a bird called the phoenix brought about its own destruction by fire every five hundred years and then rose anew from its own ashes. The phoenix was a symbol of the ancient desire for immortality. People have always feared coming to the end of life without any hope. Only God’s message offers anything beyond the ashes of human strength.
People who listen to God with a sincere desire to claim his promises have made a choice. The gospel presents both the glorious and the fearful. The prophet dares not speak of the “acceptable year of the Lord” (the day of God’s grace) without also warning of the alternative, “the day of vengeance of our God” (61:2). To offer good is to concede the presence of evil; to offer reward is to imply the reality of punishment; to present heaven is to acknowledge the alternative of hell.
Now in Conclusion
Jesus Christ promises to visit us in an hour we know not. This visit will be glorious for those prepared, ruinous for all others.
How strange, in the light of this, that people throw up every conceivable argument against making preparation to meet God. A few years ago the newspapers carried the story of a condemned killer living on death row. When news reached him that a pardon was being considered, he pled fervently against it. His action brought on additional psychiatric study, for no rational person would reject a pardon. So it is with God’s offer of salvation. It would seem that no rational person would reject it. The fact that multitudes argue against it is a monument to the power of Satan to blind people to their greatest need. There is hope only when people listen to God.
God bless you, Pastor Mike