A New Day: The Suffering Servant, Part 2

The members of the Sanhedrin bribed Judas with thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus. They needed Judas to show them where Jesus was staying, so they could arrest him in secret. They also needed Judas as a witness to testify against Jesus, but he committed suicide before this could happen.

The Bible tells us that Judas was given a cohort of soldiers. According to Roman law, a cohort could not be dispatched to make an arrest until someone appeared before the governor to accuse someone of a crime punishable under Roman law. This means that when he left the Passover meal, Judas not only went to the chief priests; he also went before Pilate to accuse Jesus. This explains why Pilate was dressed and ready to conduct the trial in the early hours of the morning. He anticipated this because he had already released the cohort to make the arrest.

A Roman cohort consisted of several hundred soldiers. According to the Gospel accounts, this cohort was joined by the captains of the temple — basically, the temple police — members of the Sanhedrin, and the servant of the high priest. John tells us that this servant’s name was Malchus.

When this posse arrives to arrest Jesus, Simon Peter decides to take action. It really is an act of great faith by Simon, even if it misses the point. On one side you have hundreds of Roman soldiers, temple guards, and many others carrying torches and weapons. And on the other side, you have Simon Peter with his one sword. But Simon is ready to take them on; he draws his sword and cuts off Malchus’s right ear. But Jesus rebukes Simon Peter; and with a touch, He miraculously heals Malchus. Even in this critical moment, Jesus heals someone who actually stands against Him. He loves His enemies, even to the very end.

These arresting forces take Jesus to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiphas, the high priest. Annas had served as high priest about twenty years earlier but he retained control of the priesthood because he was succeeded by several of his sons; his son-in-law; and later on, his grandson. He was the head of what the Pharisees referred to as “the Bazaar of the Sons of Annas,” a money-changing and sacrifice-selling business. Annas was sort of like “The Godfather” of the Temple in those days. He and his family were greatly feared; they controlled everything that happened in the Temple; and, best of all, they received a cut of all the action.

Why would they take Jesus to Annas first? Because he had a grudge against Jesus. Remember earlier in the week, Jesus went to the Temple and drove out the money-changers and poured out the coins and drove out the animals being sold for sacrifices. Those money-changers were Annas’s underlings. The tables he overturned belonged to Annas. More importantly, the money lost on that day came directly out of Annas’s pocket. Luke says that on the heels of this, the chief priests (the Sadducees) and the scribes (the Pharisees) and the principal men of the people (that’s Annas and his cronies) were seeking to destroy Jesus (Luke 19:47).

By going immediately to Annas, they begin Jesus’s religious trial. But doing so at night and in secret violated the Sanhedrin’s law, which signals what a sham trial this is going to be. The religious leaders presented one false witness after another, trying to find two that could agree. But one by one, their testimonies were disqualified. Mark 14:56, For many bore false witness against him, but their testimony did not agree.

All of this seems to frustrate Caiphas, the high priest. He asked Jesus, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? (Matt. 26:62) But Jesus remained silent. Legally, He was not obligated to answer, because asking Him to speak when they failed to produce reliable witnesses was a violation of their own regulations. Yet all of this further exasperates Caiphas, so he says, I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God (Matt. 26:63). In a Jewish court of law, the phrase, “I adjure you,” is a way of putting someone under oath, which obligated the adjured to answer. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus responds to the question by saying, I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62).

This is where the lawlessness of the “law crowd” really shows. Caiphas rips his garments, something he was forbidden to do except when someone blasphemed the name of God; yet Jesus did not do this. Furthermore, Caiphas initiated the charge of blasphemy, which also violated Sanhedrin regulations. They broke yet another of their laws by announcing the guilty verdict on the same day as the trial. Mark 14:64, And they all condemned him as deserving death. This decision was unanimous, which should have proven the innocence of Jesus.

Mark 14:65, Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him. According to their own law, judges were to be kind and humane. Their own law also stated that a person condemned to death was not to be scourged or beaten beforehand. But these restrictions were completely ignored. To hit someone with the fist was punishable by a fine of four days wages. To slap someone with the palm of the hand was even more insulting, punishable by a fine of two hundred days wages. Worst still was to spit in someone’s face; this was punishable by a fine of four hundred days wages. More than a year’s salary is what it would cost you to spit in someone’s face. Yet no one was fined on this night.

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A New Day: The Suffering Servant, Part 1

Today we have reached the heart of Isaiah’s message. He sees a new day when God’s Messiah would enter into the experience of human suffering on the cross. This is a claim so scandalous that Paul would later say, I am not ashamed of the gospel. Have you ever thought about why Paul would even need to make a statement like that? He does so because what Jesus endured on the cross was designed to be the most shameful way to suffer and die.

As they sought to make sense of what happened to Jesus, the New Testament writers went back to an old prophesy from the pen of Isaiah. Here are a few sections of this prophecy from Isaiah 52-53.

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted….there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness…

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces…

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter….He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

Isaiah sees God’s Messiah who will bear the sins of the people, becoming a kind of sacrificial lamb. Over the next few posts, I want to look at how Isaiah’s prophesy was fulfilled through the death of Jesus.

One of the reasons the Pharisees rejected Jesus as the Messiah was because He rejected their traditions and man-made laws. And yet, the Pharisees and Sadducees were willing to break their own rules and regulations when it came to the arrest and trial of Jesus. The following list was modified from a list compiled by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum showing a number of the laws of the Sanhedrin that were broken in the arrest and trial of Jesus.

  1. There was to be no arrest by religious authorities that was effected by a bribe.
  2. No steps of criminal proceedings were to take place after sunset.
  3. Judges or members of the Sanhedrin were not allowed to participate in an arrest.
  4. There were to be no trials before the morning sacrifice.
  5. There were to be no secret trials, only public hearings.
  6. Sanhedrin trials could only be conducted in the Hall of Judgment of the Temple compound.
  7. During the trial, the defense had the first word before the prosecutors could present the accusations.
  8. There were to be two or three witnesses and their testimonies had to agree in every detail.
  9. There was to be no allowance for the accused to testify against himself or be condemned solely on the basis of his own words.
  10. The high priest was forbidden to rend his garments.
  11. Judges could not initiate the charges; they could only investigate charges brought to them.
  12. The accusation of blasphemy was only valid if the name of God itself was pronounced.
  13. The verdict could not be announced at night.
  14. The trial and the guilty verdict could not occur at the same time, but had to be separated by at least 24 hours.
  15. A unanimous decision for guilt showed innocence, since it was impossible for 23-71 men to agree without conspiring. (There were 71 members of the Sanhedrin. Not all members needed to be present for the proceedings, but there had to be a minimum of 23 members present. We don’t know how many were present for the trial of Jesus, but it seems that at least two of them were missing: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.)
  16. Judges were to be humane and kind.
  17. A person condemned to death was not to be scourged or beaten before his execution.

That’s at least 17 Sanhedrin laws that were violated during the arrest and trial of Jesus. This fulfills what Isaiah prophesied: that the Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted.

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A New Day: The Year of the Lord’s Favor, Part 4

Everything about the ministry of Jesus reflects the Kingdom of God. That means everything about the ministry of the church should also reflect the Kingdom of God.

The church is to be an outpost of the Kingdom. That means our churches should look like God’s Kingdom. We should be living out the values of the Kingdom of heaven here on the earth. We should be resolving conflict in a way that reflects the Kingdom; loving our neighbors in a way that reflects the Kingdom; serving our communities in a way that reflects the Kingdom, etc. Above all else, we are to embody the self-giving, sacrificial love that is a hallmark of God’s Kingdom. This is our calling.

But this also means that the church should be a place where the outcast can find the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus always seems to find those people who are on the margins of society and He makes room for them in the Kingdom, makes sure they know that they are cherished by the Father who created them.

How do you think we’re doing when it comes to reaching the people on the margins? Who are the modern day “lepers?” Sometimes I wonder if the church projects such an image of success that people who are on the margins might feel as if they don’t have a place among us. I could be wrong. But I wonder. Jesus said He came to preach good news to the poor. Are we following in His footsteps by preaching good news to the poor in our communities?

There is a racial component to this, too. Jesus is pretty clear that the Jewish Messiah is the Messiah for ALL people. Talking about race is really difficult right now. But if (1) our church is supposed to reflect the Kingdom of God and (2) the Kingdom of God is made up of every tribe and tongue and nation, then (3) the church should be a place of robust racial diversity. So, why do we look so much alike in so many of our churches? I don’t have easy answers here — nor do I have easy criticisms. I understand that matters of race are incredibly complex. But I just wish our churches were more racially diverse — because I believe that would better reflect the diversity of the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God breaks down a lot of our categories of “us” and “them” — which is what makes it so radical. Our world thrives on the “us” and “them” of politics and race and economics and “haves” and “have nots” and so on. But in Jesus, the Kingdom of God is available to everyone.

Where do you find yourself today? Do you find yourself on the margins? An outcast? In Jesus, you have a champion, a redeemer, and an advocate. Have you strayed from Him? Could today be the day that you turn back for home and ask Him to receive you once again? I know what He’ll say; He’s said it to me many times. He will receive you with joy if you would simply turn to Him again.

Could today be the day that you give your life to Him in baptism? Could today be the year of Jubilee for you — the moment when you are set free from your bondage to sin, when all your debts are forgiven and you are set free? If you would turn to Him and ask Him for this, I know what His answer will be — He tells us in His Word. He says there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

May today be the year of Jubilee, the year of the Lord’s favor.

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A New Day: The Year of the Lord’s Favor, Part 3

What really sets off the crowd in Nazareth are the two Old Testament examples Jesus uses as paradigms for His ministry:

  • He says that there were plenty of Israelite widows in the days of Elijah, yet the prophet was not sent to any of them; rather, Elijah ministered to a poor non-Israelite widow in Zarephath in Sidon, which was the heart of Baal worship in Canaan.
  • Likewise, in Elisha’s day, there were many Jewish lepers, yet the only one that was healed was Naaman, another non-Israelite from Syria.

Jesus is making a pretty clear statement that He has been sent to minister not only to His “own” people, but to focus His efforts much more broadly. He’s not interested in making much of the city of Nazareth. Rather, He is focused on making much of the Kingdom of God.

And the radical idea that nearly gets Jesus killed is this: the Kingdom of God is available to everyone, even those people we might think have no business being included in the Kingdom.

Jesus is clearly saying that the Kingdom of God will extend beyond racial and national boundaries. Just like Elijah and Elisha before Him, Jesus is going to serve the non-Jewish peoples who were considered to be “unclean.” The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day taught that the Jewish people couldn’t even use utensils and plates and cups if they had been touched by Gentiles. Better to throw these things out than to risk being contaminated by their Gentile “cooties,” or so the teaching went. But Jesus blows up that idea by saying that such people are going to be included in His ministry, in His year of Jubilee. His kingdom will be made up of every nation…all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9).

These two examples also include those who were from lower economic and social classifications. Widows were usually among the poorest in the community because they didn’t have a husband to be their bread-winner. Lepers were considered the lowest of the lowly, not even allowed to live in community with everyone else but instead were banished to live only with other lepers.

Jesus is declaring the year of Jubilee for Gentiles and widows and lepers — basically, all the outcasts and misfits and all of those who were considered “unclean.” Jesus takes in all the stray dogs, rescuing them from the street and giving them a home. He is the all-time champion of the outsider and the underdog. Nobody in the history of the world has spoken a blessing to the meek, only Jesus. He says, “I have come to preach good news to the poor, to set the captives free, to give sight to the blind, and to declare the Good News of God’s favor.”

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A New Day: The Year of the Lord’s Favor, Part 2

In the Year of Jubilee, debts were forgiven; captives were set free; land would lie fallow. (You can read all about it in Leviticus 25.)

Jesus is declaring that in Him, the Year of Jubilee has come. In fact, it has been fulfilled. The debt of sin and guilt and shame is being lifted. We no longer have to be slaves to fear and doubt — because our Liberator has arrived! When Jesus said, Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, people understood EXACTLY what He was saying.

He was claiming to be the Messiah, the One who would usher in God’s Kingdom once and for all.

Understandably, people loved the first part of this sermon. Luke says that everyone was speaking well of Jesus; they marveled at His gracious words. They understood these to be words of good news.

They also said, “My, my, this is Joseph’s boy! He’s the next big thing!” But in doing so, they completely miss His identity. He’s not really Joseph’s boy. He’s someone else’s Son. Furthermore, Nazareth was the kind of backwater place where nothing ever happened. But with this new hotshot rabbi, some of the people of Nazareth were surely thinking that this might finally put them on the map. I’m sure the members of the Nazareth Chamber of Commerce were seeing dollar signs as Jesus was preaching! They had heard about the ministry of Jesus, how He had been doing great things in Capernaum. “Now it’s time to spread some of that magic around your own hometown, son.”

But Jesus had other plans. And the next part of His sermon does not go over as well as the beginning.

And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Luke 4:23-30

What makes for a good sermon? Some might think a good sermon is one with a funny story or one that affirms everything we already believe. But if we take Jesus as our example, we see that the best sermon is one that gets under our skin a bit. The best sermon might actually upset me if it is a proclamation of the truth of God. So the best sermon is one that might challenge what I believe. And that’s exactly what Jesus does in the application portion of this sermon.

Jesus says to the people of Nazareth, “You’re probably thinking of the old proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ You’re probably wanting me to put on some awesome display of power, to heal someone or to feed a crowd or perform some miracle.” And honestly, could you blame the people of Nazareth for wanting to see a little of that power? Like we said, Nazareth is the kind of town where nothing ever happens. So, yeah, if I’m sitting in the synagogue that day, I’d probably want to see a little magic, too.

But Jesus refuses to give in to that expectation. In fact, he subverts that expectation with some really radical, even controversial statements. And when he makes these controversial statements, the hometown crowd becomes an angry mob — and they take him to the highest point in town so they can throw him down and kill him.

Now, every preacher I know has to deal with a little bit of criticism from time to time. You make a statement in a sermon that someone doesn’t agree with or you say something that is a little too controversial or whatever. It happens. You can’t have something to say week after week without this sort of thing coming up occasionally. It’s happened to me; it’s happened to every preacher I know. And people are usually kind about it; they’ll send an email asking if we can talk or they’ll kindly wait around after the sermon to ask for some clarification.

But in all my years of preaching, I’ve never had anyone take up to Monte Sano (highest point in Huntsville) on a Sunday afternoon so they could murder me for something I said in my sermon! But that’s what they try to do to Jesus here! Just look at how quickly things change: in the first half of the sermon, the entire crowd was speaking well of Jesus; but by the end, they want to have him executed.

If we’re reading Luke carefully, our question ought to be, “What does Jesus say that makes these people so angry that they want to kill him?” How is it that the same people who changed his diapers in the church nursery all those years ago now form a posse to have him executed?

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A New Day: The Year of the Lord’s Favor, Part 1

Today we continue our study of Isaiah, but we’re going to begin in the Gospel of Luke. Luke tells us how one of Isaiah’s prophecies came to be fulfilled. And even though Isaiah delivered this prophecy about 2,700 years ago, it is one that directly impacts the way we live out our faith today.

Today we look at Luke 4. To set the scene: Jesus has been baptized; at His baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and indwelled Him in a powerful way. Luke says that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and that He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil (4:1). Sidebar: in a few weeks, we will return to this episode; immediately after Easter, we will launch a new series about resisting temptation. So be praying about that.

Everything about the ministry of Jesus reflects the Kingdom of God.

Following this time of temptation, Jesus begins His public ministry. Here’s how Luke describes it:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.

Luke 4:14-15

So Jesus has officially launched His ministry which is powered by the Holy Spirit. We know that this ministry included healing and feeding and — most importantly — teaching about the Kingdom of God. Everything about the ministry of Jesus reflects the Kingdom of God. It reflects this new day that Isaiah envisioned all those centuries earlier.

When Jesus heals someone, He does so because the Kingdom of God is the place of ultimate restoration. When He feeds someone, it’s because the Kingdom of God is the place of true sustenance and satisfaction. He teaches the truth because the truthfulness of God’s Word is foundational to the Kingdom of God.

And His ministry takes place in public view. As Paul would later say to Festus and King Agrippa, these things were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26). Word begins to spread about the ministry of Jesus. And Luke says that Jesus was being glorified by all. People are saying a lot of good things about Jesus at this point.

The Year of the Lord’s favor

And then Luke records an incident that takes place in Nazareth, the place where Jesus grew up. And this is where we find the fulfillment of one of Isaiah’s most important prophecies.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

Luke 4:16-22

After a successful teaching tour throughout Galilee, Jesus returns to Nazareth, His hometown; and He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, according to Jewish custom. Synagogue services usually consisted of singing a psalm, several Scripture readings, and then a sermon. So Jesus has been invited to read the text and deliver the sermon in his “home church.”

Jesus reads from Isaiah 61. Isaiah envisioned a new day in this passage, a day when God’s Messiah would arrive. In the time of Jesus, this section of Isaiah was read frequently with a fervent hope that God would fulfill it sometime soon. The hope was that God would send His Messiah to kickstart the Kingdom of God here on earth.

But it’s interesting to note what Jesus read — and what part of this passage he did NOT read.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…

Isaiah 61:1-2

Notice that Jesus stopped just short of the line about the day of vengeance. We should ask, “Why does Jesus do this?” I think it’s simply because He wasn’t ready to fulfill the day of the Lord’s vengeance just yet. The fulfillment of that day will come later — at the second coming. But at this “first coming,” Jesus announces the availability of the Kingdom as “the year of the Lord’s favor.” He later says in John 3:17, For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Instead of declaring the day of vengeance, Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor, which is connected with the Year of Jubilee in the Old Testament.

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400M Dash: New PR

Jackson had a big night earlier this week at his JV track meet. He set a new PR in the 400M Dash, shaving off three seconds and winning his heat. This is the first time he’s won a heat, which is a pretty big deal! Not too bad for a 7th grader! I love watching him run; it just seems effortless. Watch him take the lead on the final turn.

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A Good One to End On

Joshua was really starting to crush the baseball this spring…and then he slid into second base and dislocated his shoulder. Probably done for the spring. The good news is that he should be okay for summer ball after 6-8 weeks. But it still stinks.

Here’s a video of one of his last hits of the season, a solid line drive to center.

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A New Day: You Shall Go Out in Joy, Part 2

Here’s the good news: God offers us the “something more” our souls are seeking. He offers that which truly satisfies the soul. From our text in Isaiah 55, God says, Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live. God offers nourishment for the soul. There is a deep yearning in our souls for connection, for intimacy, for meaning and purpose. Yet too often we seek to satisfy these soul cravings with the wrong kinds of things; some of which we discussed in the previous post. That’s why we’re so restless.

Too often, we settle for happiness. But happiness is fleeting. Instead, God promises an everlasting covenant. Just as man cannot live on bread alone, it is also true that the soul cannot live on happiness alone. We need something deeper, something even more meaningful. And here it is: we need joy. And that’s exactly what God promises here in the next verses.

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace…

Isaiah 55:6-12

This is the deeper invitation: seek the Lord while he may be found. There is an eternal yearning in every soul. Ecclesiastes 3:11, God planted eternity in the human heart. When we seek to satisfy that eternal yearning with something fleeting like happiness or sex or power or a boyfriend or a wife, we inevitably grow restless because these could never satisfy our eternal yearning. Only something eternal could satisfy an eternal yearning.

Isaiah counsels us to forsake our ways: to abandon these fleeting pursuits and to call upon the Lord while He is near. Return to the Lord, Isaiah says, and He will have compassion on you; He will pardon abundantly. God’s heart is overflowing with compassion and abundant grace. We need only to return to Him, which simply means to turn to Him in repentance.

God’s invitations align perfectly with our soul yearnings: He says, Come, all who are thirsty. Come, all who are hungry. Come, listen to my words, that your soul may live. And now again, God says, Come to me, that I might have compassion on you.

Look at the final two verses of the chapter:

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55:12-13

God says, You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The picture here is certainly a joyous one: mountains and hills praising God for what He’s done, trees clapping their hands in worship. There is a great reversal at work here: thorns and briers have been replaced by cypress and myrtle. God transforms the desert space into a blooming garden. What an awesome God we serve!

Everyone is looking for this kind of joy — because joy is one of the deep yearnings of the soul. Do you see how this kind of joy is so much deeper than mere happiness? Whereas happiness is often dependent upon our life circumstances, joy is constant. And this is what God promises — to those who seek the Lord, to those who let themselves be led.

Isaiah envisions One who is out front, One who goes before God’s people and lead them in this joyful procession of worship:

  • He is the One who paid the price for those who cannot buy their own food. And no one can buy the kind of food He offers, the kind that truly nourishes the soul. It is given only by grace.
  • He is the One who transforms thorn and brier; by His grace, He turns the desert places into lush gardens.
  • The rocks and hills cry out His name; the trees of the fields clap in His honor.

His name is Jesus. And He invites us into His eternally joyous communion! You shall go out in joy! This is an invitation to something far greater than mere happiness. It is an invitation for your soul.

May you go out in joy today; may you be led forth in peace.

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A New Day: You Shall Go Out in Joy, Part 1

“Do whatever makes you happy.”

This is one of the major philosophies people live by these days. It’s Pinterest-philosophy, the kind of Etsy-fied life mantra that we love to paint on pieces of repurposed wood to adorn our homes.

I read an article written by a woman who was raised in London but she and her husband moved to the United States a few years ago for work. She said the greatest difference she’s noticed since moving here is that Americans are obsessed with happiness. And she’s right. Not only do all of our fairy tales end with the words, “and they lived happily ever after,” but the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” is baked right into our Declaration of Independence.

But to be fair, this is not a uniquely American problem, nor is it exclusively modern. As far back as 300BC, Epicurean philosophy was teaching a form of the same thing: do whatever makes you happy. And philosophical hedonism dates back even further, all the way to ancient Egypt and Babylon and beyond. People have subscribed to this worldview for thousands of years.

But when you break it down, this saying isn’t quite as inspirational as it sounds. I think it’s just deep cover for doing any old selfish, indulgent thing you want to do. I am going to suggest to you that doing what makes you happy isn’t a lofty enough goal. Happiness stops just short of God’s invitation for our lives. He invites us to experience something much deeper than the pursuit of happiness. And we find this invitation from God in the prophecy of Isaiah.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah 55:1-3

God begins with an invitation: Come, all who are hungry and thirsty. But He extends a special invitation to those who cannot buy their own food. And he who has no money, come, buy and eat! That’s a strange thing to say. How can one with no money “buy” anything? How can such a one eat? Only by grace. Only if the price has been paid by another. And I believe that’s the deeper meaning here. God is extending a gracious invitation that corresponds to a desire deeper than the appetite for food. God is speaking to us at a soul-level here.

And in the middle of this invitation is a critique: God says, Why do you…labor for that which does not satisfy? Can you relate to that? Have you ever wanted something so badly — something you thought would make you happy — but once you received it or obtained it, you realized that it didn’t really satisfy you?

I know a young man who recently lost his virginity. He and his girlfriend didn’t have the proper boundaries around their relationship and in a moment of weakness, they gave in to temptation. Afterward, this young man said he felt ashamed of what they had done. But in addition to being disappointed in himself, this young man noted that he was also disappointed in sex, too. He said that he had always heard of “sex” being talked about like it was this otherworldly experience. That’s certainly the way sex is glorified in our culture. But he said it didn’t deliver in the way he thought it would, which only compounded his feelings of guilt and shame.

I guess one point here would be that forbidden fruit is forbidden for a reason. That’s definitely true. But this also demonstrates how we tend to overexpect from so many things in this world. The kingdom of darkness is the worldwide leader in overpromising and underdelivering. It sells guilt and shame disguised as interest-free happiness. And we make that bad trade all the time.

What my young friend is really looking for is soul-level intimacy and communion; what he settled for was sex. And I’m not picking on my young friend. We’re all searching for the same thing. EVERYONE is looking for soul-level intimacy and communion. But like my young friend, we’re all capable of deluding ourselves into thinking that this soul-hunger can be satisfied by something fleeting and earthly.

We do the same thing in our marriages and our dating relationships. Relationship counselors have long pointed out that unrealistic expectations of our partners contribute to some of the greatest problems in our relationships. That’s because we listen to “Rabbi Hollywood” too much. We have been discipled by Hollywood’s ridiculous “you complete me” soulmate liturgy and we bring that expectation into our marriages. We expect our spouses to “complete” us, which creates an expectation that even the best husband or wife could never possibly meet. How could a flawed, sinful person ever bear the freight of “completing” you or bringing wholeness to your soul? That work could only be done by God. It’s not fair to put that expectation on your husband or wife.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable expectation is that we were made for another world.” This gets at the heart of the problem. I mean, if happiness is the ultimate goal in life, why are so many of us so miserable? I would say it’s because happiness is fleeting and our souls are longing for something more.

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