Dear people who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.
How does the future look to you? Are you still bearing some optimism for the months and years ahead? It can be very disheartening to look around at our world and think about where things might be in ten or twenty years. There seems to be a big social upheaval waiting in the wings for its moment to grab the spotlight.
We have recently witnessed riots in the city streets, violence against peace officers, and our institutions of higher learning and media outlets, which were founded on the idea of free speech debate and open public investigation, are persecuting and silencing any conservative voices that would try to stem the social upheaval that seems ready to take over the show. It is no wonder we feel somewhat ill at ease and apprehensive about the future of our society.
But the same can be said about our personal lives as well. We have been battling the spread of this novel coronavirus which threatens not only to take the lives of people we know and love, but it has prevented us from spending any quality time with them. How isolated will our lives be in the future? Perhaps you have already dropped contact with a significant number of family and friends. We lose them far too often in much better times. Whenever we lose someone close (a husband or wife, father or mother, grandparent or child) it causes us to wonder what the years ahead will be like without them. How different will life be if we lose contact with our wider circle of relations?
This doesn't only lead us to doubt God's love and providential care, it also impels us to set aside our love and care for others in need. Our lives become driven by sins of self-preservation. We circle the wagons and become curved in on ourselves, lashing out against anyone who might oppose us or get in our way as we seek to hold on to what seems to be slipping from our fingers while society crumbles around us.
The people in Isaiah’s day slowly came to the realization that their lives were going to change drastically in the coming years. They watched the nations around them get stronger and expand while their own nation grew ever weaker. They were also running out of options for defensive alliances and means to stave off the great world empires that were beginning to come on to the historical scene. The prophets had been warning them that because they were looking to the false gods of the pagan nations for help, the LORD their God was going to hand them over to the rising Babylonian colossus.
Furthermore, Isaiah the prophet had begun to tell them that it was now unavoidable. There was no way to prevent it. God’s mind had been made up and He was going to bring it about. It was too late to try to change the future. What would their lives be like as a nation and individually, as families and people with friends and jobs and property and homes? Yes, bad times were coming. What should they do?
The LORD spoke again through His prophet: “Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug” (Isaiah 51:1). We often hear the quote, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.” The LORD seems to be saying something a little different, something like, “If you know your history you know that God will repeat it.” Specifically, if you know that God has saved His people in the past, then you know that God will save you, too, in whatever dire situation you find yourself today or in ten years.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn.” You’re a chip off the old rock, so to speak. You are one of God’s faithful people, so look at how God saves His faithful people. “Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for [Abraham] was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him” (Isaiah 51:2).
Let's have a look: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abram hadn’t done anything to deserve this individual attention from God. The LORD just called him to go and receive His blessing. Abram didn’t have much hope for his future apart from the LORD. He had no children. So he went ahead and waited for the LORD to bless him. He waited and waited and waited. He moved from one place to the next waiting for the LORD to establish him and his descendants. He expected many children and kept expecting until all expectation was gone.
But at the age of one hundred as dry as a stone, and when his wife was 91 as barren as a gravel pit, the LORD gave them the child He had promised. Because Abraham believed the LORD’s promise, God declared him to be righteous. Abraham was saved from all his sins by faith in God’s promised blessing. By faith Abraham received a heavenly country as his homeland (Hebrews 11), and a family of faith that extends through all nations of the earth.
This is why St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome that Abraham was saved by faith and so are we all (Romans 4). It doesn’t matter whether or not we have followed all of God's commandments all of our lives. What matters is whether or not we believe God’s promise to save us from our sins. If we share in the faith of Abraham we are Abraham’s true descendants, God’s people, the people through whom all the families of the world are blessed.
In the dire situation for the people of Isaiah’s day, facing conquest and captivity and exile, the LORD told them to look to Abraham and Sarah, blessed to be the patriarch and matriarch of God’s people. They were called, blessed, increased, and saved even when childless, with no real estate, prone to domestic quarrels, moving from place to place, threatened and attacked by surrounding kings and their tribal groups.
The LORD comforts His faithful people, that is, those who believe what He promises. He turned the barren womb of Sarah into a fruitful garden of delight. She bore a long-awaited son, a fulfillment of the LORD’s promise. And that promised son blossomed and increased to be a veritable garden of descendants. Abraham and Sarah had one child (Isaac). Isaac had two children (Jacob and Esau). Jacob had twelve and from him the nation of Israel was established.
But even that great multiplication of the physical seed of Abraham, only begins to hint at the glorious blessing hidden in the LORD’s promise that only faith can grasp. For among that restoration of Eden would come one flower, one blossom that makes it all possible, a Rose of Sharon, a Lily of the Valley that brings all the glory and life and blessing to us all. This is what Abraham believed. Jesus said to the Jews who denied that He had come from God, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
The faith of Abraham for his future, for the future of his children, indeed for his everlasting life in the promised paradise of God, was in Jesus, the descendant in whom all families of the world are blessed. The LORD told His people facing the upheaval of society that would come in the Babylonian conquest, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn… Look to Abraham” and how he placed his faith in the blessing of the LORD that would come with a promised Child.
All throughout history, as people have been confronted with instability and social upheaval and were in need of comfort, the LORD restated His promise of righteousness and salvation. Through Isaiah He told His people that the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham and his descendants was getting closer and closer. “Give attention to Me, My people and give ear to Me, My nation; for a law will go out from Me, and I will set My justice for light to the peoples. My righteousness draws near, My salvation has gone out, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for Me and for My arm they wait” (Isaiah 51:4-5). Salvation for all peoples, not just for the physical descendants of Abraham would come through his physical offspring.
This is the rock on which Abraham rested. This is the rock that gives stability and strength to the people of God in their times of turmoil. This rock is the promise of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus. When Jesus asked the disciples who people say that He is, “Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16-18).
Jesus is the rock. He is the promise that Abraham believed, and the LORD counted it as righteousness to him. Jesus is the rock on which the church is built, where founded on the confession of Peter and the other apostles we have our stability and security in the Son of the living God. We have our everlasting salvation secured in Christ Jesus who died and rose again to take away the sins of the world. We have the word of promise fulfilled as it went out from God Himself to be a light to all people, His righteousness and salvation coming into the world to stretch out His arms on the cross so that we might have a hope and future through faith in Him.
It is not only a Word that God has sent forth, but the Word. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law so that we might have adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). Through the redemption we have in Christ Jesus, we are adopted children of God and true descendants of Abraham. It is in us that the LORD is keeping His promise to Abraham. We are called, blessed, and increased just as He promised.
Jesus Christ is God stretching out His arm in fulfillment of His promises to give you a heavenly homeland (Hebrews 11), a kingdom that will not fade away, “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20). This is yours by faith in God's promise, which is given to you in Christ Jesus. His death and resurrection was to save you from your sins of self-preservation. In Him you have forgiveness for neglecting to care for others because you have only cared for yourself. In God's care for you in Christ Jesus. You are free from those sins and your life is one of everlasting blessing.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,” salvation by God’s grace through faith in His promise fulfilled in Christ Jesus. “Give attention” to His Word of promise which He has sent forth, the Gospel which proclaims your sins forgiven. And finally, “Lift your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner” (Isaiah 51:6). With your eyes fixed on Jesus, and your ears attentive to the word of promise from the LORD, look at this world and all of its evils passing away.
The only way to look with true hope upon the downfall of any social order, or the changing of the times, or even the passing away of friends and loved ones, is to see them through the eyes of faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. Look to the rock from which you were hewn. Give attention to the promises in God’s Word. Lift up your eyes to see that although everything else may pass away, God’s “salvation will be forever and His righteousness will never be dismayed” (Isaiah 51:6).
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.