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God delivers and restores (June 12, 2022)

Uniform Lesson for June 12, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Isaiah 49:1-13

Now that the primary obstacle to restoration has been removed, the true work of re-creation begins afresh. God raises up a servant to lead God’s people home, to shine as a light to the nations, and to inspire the heavens and the earth to sing for joy. But who is this servant? And why is this servant so “deeply despised” and “abhorred” (v. 7)? Be forewarned. Any person, congregation, or community that would join in God’s work of restoration better be prepared.

The servant

We will not solve the mystery of the servant in Isaiah in our brief perusal of this book. Even within this second of four such songs, it’s apparent that the identity of the servant is manifold. In some places, the servant seems to be an individual, as in the deeply personal verses with which our passage opens — “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me,” (v. 1). At other places, the servant is named “Israel” (v. 3) and seems to represent the nation with whom God has established God’s covenant (v. 8). At other places, the servant seems to disappear behind the work of the Lord God, who performs feats no individual or nation might claim — “I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up,” (v. 11). Suffice it to say that the servant could have referred to a particular individual or leader in the past, but now broadens out to describe the character of anyone and everyone who would participate in God’s work of re-creation, then and now.

The first point is clear. This is not work for a solitary and self-sufficient person. This person must be formed and prepared by God. This person will require divine encouragement and inspiration all along the way — “my God has become my strength” (v. 5). This person is grounded in being created and formed within a covenant established by the faithful and trustworthy character of God — “I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people” (v. 8). Anyone and everyone who would claim the role of partner in God’s new creation must trust in God’s strength and encouragement every step of the way.

A big project

One of my favorite verses of Scripture is verse 6 of our passage. The translation reads: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob.” Perhaps a better translation might be: “It’s too trivial a thing.” Getting Israel back from Babylon was no easy project. But compared to the range of God’s overall project, it’s just a bunt to first base. God yearns for the restoration of all the earth. God dreams of leveling out any mountain or valley that would impede the forward march of God’s good creation. God foresees a day that is coming, and is in some ways already here, where all the heavens and the earth, the stars and the furthest galaxies reclaim their original purpose, to glorify and enjoy God always. This is a big project indeed.

Suffering

The suffering hinted at in this Servant Song increases as we move through the other songs we find in Isaiah. It culminates in the extended song in Isaiah 52-53, which is celebrated as a glorious and graphic description of the saving work of Jesus the Christ. It therefore must be stated that the suffering hinted at in our passage becomes essential to the songs that follow — “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” (KJV, Isaiah 53:3). As we move into this series calling us to be partners in God’s new creation, let us again be forewarned. Being nice to our neighbors is just a beginning. Building up our congregational rolls and budgets is insufficient. Recycling our aluminum and cardboard is only a first step and initial sign of a new way of living and consuming toward which God would call and claim us.

The reclamation project envisioned by Isaiah is not a “spiritual” project for a kingdom to come. It’s a land reclamation project in this world of princes and rulers and fortified boundaries. You cannot re-establish “the land” (v. 8) without displacements. We cannot “apportion the desolate heritages” (v. 8) without re-distribution of titles. One doesn’t level mountains or raise valleys without disturbing habitats and species who may not want anything to change. Change creates opposition. New creations necessitate reformation of the old. “Reformed and always reforming” is a nice phrase, but it always comes at a price. Sign up as a servant, and suffering will come your way.

For discussion

What opposition to renewal have you encountered?

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