Isaiah of the Exile
The people of God had chosen to do life their way instead of God’s way and it had brought them great distress and harm. The Prophets had warned them. But hardly anyone would listen. They had brought destruction on themselves but God is much bigger than the destruction that had entered their lives.
The prophet Isaiah comes to the people with words of hope. He pronounces words of double comfort on them. It’s not God’s way that they would forever suffer. In fact, Isaiah tells them that God is on the way. God’s love for his people always outweighs his disappointment and Isaiah begins telling the people to make straight the way for the Lord in this spiritual wilderness that they’re living.
Take down the mountains. Lift up the plains. Smooth out the rough spots. Make it easy for God’s arrival because God is bringing good news, his Kingdom. His rule and reign will set everything straight. It will make all things new again. God will restore that which has been lost. His gentleness will restore their souls.
The Apostle Paul would write centuries later that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance and it is our repentance that leads us to salvation and renewal. And Jesus would be God in the flesh, living among us, saturating us with God’s rule and reign that takes shape as Jesus’s love.
Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.
The Setting Expectant Hope characterizes the setting. Wilderness and wandering are the setting. It’s this idea that the people won’t always have to “rough it.” Cries in the wilderness will turn into shouts of joy in the face of glory.
The Characters One crying out in the wilderness that there’s a time coming when God will make all things right.
The Tension Living in the old while still having hope.
The Resolution Being brought into the new having experienced the realization of this hope.
The Through Line God is at work, even in exile. As we cry out and proclaim that there is a day coming, God is active at work bringing about this day, even in the here and now in the form of hope.
Why has this story endured? It points us towards getting ready for God in the wilderness. Leveling the mountains, lifting the plains, and smoothing out the rough spots plays itself out as repentance in our lives. That’s how we welcome God into our lives.
What is true for them then that is still true for us today? We still live in the wilderness. And that doesn’t mean a physical wilderness. It’s emotional. Mental. Spiritual. And yes, sometimes even physical. It’s when we’ve had enough of it that we begin to cry out for God. People did back then too. There’s nothing new under the son, and both Isaiah and John the Baptist give us words of wisdom and hope that helps pave the way for God’s entrance into our own lives.
How does this story help us love God? Context helps in this story. Other cultures of the time often depicted god’s who would make their people suffer 30 times what they deserve. Yahweh only lets his people suffer twice what they deserve but he also gives them double comfort. According to Romans 6:23 we are marked for death because of our own sin. But Jesus is bigger than sin, defeated it, and made a way for us. We didn’t deserve it, but because of God’s love for us, Jesus was willing to pay the ultimate price to prove his love for us.
How does this story help us love others? I can only speak for myself, but it causes me to be mindful of other peoples mountains, valleys, and rough spots. We all have them. We all wrestle with them. Loving others involves not comparing mine against others and assuming I’m better off or worse then others. We’re in this together.
Reflections based onIsaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-4