The last 3 months have been some of the hardest in my life. Every week has presented itself with a new struggle and/or pain. Whether it is losing a best friendship, wrecking my car, the IRS saying I owe money, jeopardy in my job, kids dying, friends being physically attacked, a friend dying and more. I long for a week to sit back and rest….rest in good, comfortable times. But these days, all I am left with is the feeling in my heart of how much I long for more..how I long for escape from this world and its pain….and how much I hope in my sweet Savior to come and literally rescue me. Because see, when I attach my hope to the things in this world, I always come up needing more. And all too often, I tend to attach myself to hope that will never deliver what I’m asking it to deliver.
Over the last few months, I have been reading through the Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Some might think these books are terribly boring, however, the Lord continues to pull at my heart and challenge me in my depravity through these books. In all three of these books, the Lord is speaking to the prophets to tell the nation of Israel they are about to be basically wiped out, almost completely destroyed and taken into exile because of their idolatry, pride, and rejection of their covenantal God.
To set the scene of where Israel finds itself in Isaiah 59, the nation of Israel is in a completely hopeless and dark place. They have been in captivity in Babylon, have come back to Jerusalem, and for the first time, see the destruction their city has been left in. There are no city walls, no more temple, no central government, no enforceable set of laws, no obvious leadership, and no justice. There is violence in the street, massive poverty….basically, a complete, fundamental, widespread social breakdown. It’s a mess. And into that darkness, there is a brilliant discussion of hope, maybe one of the most brilliant discussions of hope in all of Scripture. Because in those dark moments, your true, real hope will be exposed. And your true, real hope will come through for you, or it will deeply disappoint you.
The Israelites find themselves with nothing, and anger towards God begins to set in. They question the faithfulness and love of God because life hurt and doesn’t make sense. Like Israel, I often times find myself questioning His faithfulness, goodness, wisdom and love in times like my last 3 months have been. Usually it is not hard trust in the providence of God and know His hand is on all events in my life, but it does not erase the pain, nor the questioning on why He has to use this painful method to teach me something I feel like could have been learned in a much easier way. When I allow my heart to begin to question God’s wisdom and goodness, it becomes really hard to run toward Him for help. Because you don’t go for help to someone who you have come to doubt, someone who is less than faithful to His promises. Here is where Israel has found themselves.
But in fact, Israel was just as hard-headed as I myself am, and it takes extremely painful circumstances to teach them to return to their God. Our God is not a God who hurts and wounds with no cause, He is a God of love, but He is also a jealous God who demands wholeheartedness of His people. The people of Israel ran off with other gods, given themselves to creation rather than the Creator, and the Lord’s wrath was displayed, in order for His people to return to their God. He does not punish nor display His wrath unjustly, but He does so only because He loves us. It is like a parent who punishes their child because they ran out in the busy street, in order to teach them to never do it again. Our God is a God of love, and sometimes that love hurts. So He has brought us through difficulty, not because He doesn’t love us, not because He can’t hear our prayer, not because He’s too weak to help, not because He doesn’t care. He has done so precisely because He loves us and is near.
Israel had placed themselves in a hopeless state. They ran off with other gods, gave themselves to creation rather than the creator and refused to acknowledge Him as their God. We are just like Israel today; we do the exact same thing. Sin haunts us in the exact ways it haunted man 2,000 years ago. The sin of man creates a hopeless state. There is something that lurks inside of me that is dark and dangerous, that kidnaps my thoughts, that diverts my desires, that distorts my words, that drives my behavior: iniquity,transgression and sin. Our biggest problem is ourselves, we ourselves are in a very hopeless state.
The doorway to hope for Israel was the hopelessness they found themselves in. Could this be true for me as well? When all of life is falling apart and I feel like everything is hopeless, is that the start to real hope? Christmas was 6 days ago. The Christmas story that I have heard many times over the past month is about a Nativity, a baby who is God in the flesh and….it is all about hope. Hope found in a stable in Bethlehem..the God-man who brought the hope of salvation to the depravity of man.
The doorway to hope is hopelessness. The only way I will ever find true hope is to give up on all those places/all those people where I’ve tended to put my hope that can’t deliver. Only when realizing they can not bring me fulfillment, realizing the magnitude of my own sin, do I realize I am hopeless in this state. The doorway to real hope is hopelessness. It tells you not only is it hopeful to hope in Him, but it’s hopeless to hope in anybody else. All my friends suffer from the same condition I find myself in. And all those other things in creation I try to put my hope in, all those situations and all those places where I tend to run are populated by people who are desperately as hopeless as I am. There is no hope to be found in this world. We need something outside of ourselves, something unlike anything in creation to save us.
Hope, to be reliable, to be trustworthy, to be hope, must fix what is broken. Hope, to be hope, must address the biggest, deepest, darkest dilemmas of my life. If hope can’t fix what’s broken, why would I hope in it? Hope is not a situation, hope is not a location and hope is not an experience. Hope is a person, and His name is Jesus. Hope is going to come.
After we find ourselves at this moment where we utterly have no hope, nowhere to look, we find Jesus. That’s the Christmas story. The Christmas story is hope coming. That’s why the angels sang those glorious songs. That’s why the wise men came to worship. That’s why the shepherds were blown away. Because hope had invaded the earth in the person of the Lord Jesus. Hope had come. Hope that had been so long lost, hope that seemed to have been destroyed is now returning in the person of the Lord Jesus.
33 years after that night in the barn where shepherds and wise men bowed down in worship to the baby who was God in the flesh, He died on the cross and paid the price that my sin deserved in order to ensure my righteous state before God the Father. He is my propitiation. Jesus died on that cross, but then defeated death and rose again. That day, on the cross, the wrath of God and the grace of God kissed. His wrath was satisfied by the blood of Jesus and his grace is seen. On the cross, the One who is hope brings together with the justice and grace of God. And hope is returned, because that moment where justice and grace kiss, delivers to us the one thing we need – help with our deepest problem, sin.
Today, my hope rests in the anticipation that soon, He is returning. One day, He will return to defeat death and drive away all pain and evil. Sin is serious, sin is evil, sin is disastrous and sin leads to death. And this just, holy God will never say, “It’s okay for you to sin. As long as you’re happy, I’m fine.” No, He is a holy God who hates sin. He will not tolerate it. He will punish every sin. There is a way in which God’s righteous anger and His holy justice is the hope of the universe. God’s anger with sin and God’s commitment to justice mean He will not rest until sin is forever defeated. He will not relent and He will not quit until every molecule of sin is delivered out of every cell of every heart of every one of His children. There will be a moment where sin will be no more because there is a holy God committed to justice and we’ll be able to go to the one funeral we want to go to, the funeral of sin. Sin will die and we’ll live forever in a place where there is no sin, there is no violence, there is no evil, there is no transgression and there is no sickness, suffering or any of those things. They will be forever defeated because He is a just God who longs for the day this world returns to how it was intended to be, a full unhindered relationship with man.
And so, I close with John Piper’s prayer, “O Jesus! When will “soon” be? We know that you are not slow to fulfill your promise “as some count slowness” (2 Peter 3:9). Forgive us when it feels slow to us. You know we are dust (Psalm 103:14) and that our brief years are full of toil and trouble (Psalm 90:10). Many of us are weary and struggle to keep perspective. Our indwelling sin plus trouble plus waiting tempts us to cynicism as “soon” unfolds over millennia. We do believe, Jesus; help our unbelief (Mark 9:24)! So our prayer at this year’s end is simply, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20)! We will wait for you as long as it takes. We trust that you will come when the time is full. May that time be soon. You said it would be. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Come Lord Jesus. I am ready to be in Jerusalem.