It doesn’t take a lot of insight to notice that there is something terribly wrong with our world. Scrolling through Facebook, Twitter, or the news only makes this reality even more blatant. Ignominious acts are being perpetrated by the people who are supposed to be leaders, by the people we admire or that we thought we admired, by the people who should be an example to our society. This phenomenon is not only transpiring in the U.S. or the West alone: the entire world is in despair. Corrupt governments, injustice, disasters, poverty, genocide, terrorism, are only some of the things that burden the nations.
The situation only gets more atrocious if we add our own personal suffering and struggles to the already grave world problems. Injustice is bad enough at an international massive scale, but it becomes more palpable when we ourselves are the victims of injustice. World illness is appalling, but it hits home when we or a family member of ours is struck by cancer. Genocide at the hands of dictators in developing countries makes us feel angry, but the sting of death is more bitter when it pierces our loved ones.
It requires a lot more insight, however, to acknowledge that many of these wounds are self-inflicted. We need a great deal of insight and humility to recognize that apart from God’s mercy, we are a part of the problem; that we have brought this multi-level suffering upon ourselves.
In many ways, our current situation is similar to the one in which the people of Israel (and the world) found themselves when Isaiah 59 was written. I encourage you to read the first section of Isaiah 59, from verses 1 through 15a.
Did you read it? The situation is depressing. These verses could be quoted word for word by any one of us today. They resonate so much with us, or at least they resonated with me. The pinnacle of this dreadful situation is expressed vividly in verses 9-11.
Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among those in full vigor we are like dead men. We all growl like bears; we moan and moan like doves; we hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.
The reason for this grim situation is directly explained in verses 2 and 12: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” … “For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us.”
There is Hope
My wife and I were reading this passage simultaneously in our own Bibles. For some reason she had to take a pause. After she was done doing whatever she needed to do, I asked her how far she’d read. She’d only gotten to verse 13. I immediately urged her to finish the chapter. Verses 1-15a are so hopeless. You’d be depressed for the rest of your day if you don’t finish the chapter. She was so glad she read verses 15b-21. You should read those verses too.
Have you read them? This is such a hopeful picture. God sees that there is no one to usher justice, no man can bring salvation; humanity is hopeless. But instead of saying, “too bad, they’ve brought this upon themselves, they deserve it,” he promises that he will roll up his sleeves, and by his own arm, he himself will bring that salvation that the people so desperately needed. He will bring the justice that was so lacking, he will bring redemption “to those in Jacob that turn from their transgression” (v. 20). It is no wonder that the faithful remnant of Israel was so eagerly waiting for that redeemer to come.
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
I believe that Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn (which happens to be my favorite), “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” magnificently captures the sentiment that the remnant of Israel must have had when they read passages like Isaiah 59, as well as the plethora of passages that prophesy the coming of that expected redeemer. Take a thoughtful read of the first verse of this beautiful hymn.
COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS,
BORN TO SET THY PEOPLE FREE;
FROM OUR FEARS AND SINS RELEASE US,
LET US FIND OUR REST IN THEE.
ISRAEL’S STRENGTH AND CONSOLATION,
HOPE OF ALL THE EARTH THOU ART;
DEAR DESIRE OF EVERY NATION,
JOY OF EVERY LONGING HEART.
An Essential Difference
I mentioned above that the dire situation of Israel and the world before the coming of the Messiah resonates with us. Our current situation is very similar to the one of the Israelites back then. There is, nonetheless, an essential difference to our situation from theirs. Our expected redeemer has already come. God has already rolled up his sleeves and brought salvation for himself in his Son Jesus, the Christ. Jesus is God “putting on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head” (v. 17). Jesus came, just as Isaiah along with all of the other Old Testament prophets foretold, and brought redemption for God’s people.
In a sense, like the remnant of Israel, we still sing “come, thou long expected Jesus,” but unlike them, we have the certainty that he already came once and began the work of redemption, which he will bring to completion when he comes again. He has already come to set his people free, yet we wait to be fully freed from the injustice of this world, freed from our own fears and sins, our suffering and struggles. We can find our rest in him even now. He is already reigning in our hearts by his own eternal Spirit. By his own sufficient merit, he is our high priest that intercedes for us before the throne of God. In the face of the fallenness of our world, we need to sing, and not just sing but wholeheartedly believe, and live in light of hymns like Wesley’s carol. We need to pray: come, Lord Jesus. Come to set this world free, come to release us from our fears and sins. Let us find our rest in thee.