Monday, December 1, 2014

Oh That You Would Tear Open the Heavens

   “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”  So begins the writer of Isaiah 64.  For many of us who believe in God, this statement rings true.  God, why don’t you dispense with all the subtlety?  God, why don’t you stop messing around?  God, why don’t you stop procrastinating?  God, why don’t you just reveal yourself to the world in such a fashion that everyone will tremble before you and absolutely know that you are real; that you take an interest in what goes on in our lives; and that you are indeed worthy of worship?  God, why don’t you just show yourself to all of us?

    I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if God did just such a thing?  Wouldn’t it be nice if God revealed Himself to us all so that there would be no doubt?  I mean, we could stop all the silly debates between believers and non-believers.  We would truly find out if there were many paths to one mountaintop–if every religion indeed was pointing toward the same God.  We would be able to revel in God’s glory or be terrified of His wrath and power.  At the very least, our priorities might change.  If God revealed Himself to us and made the mountains tremble, then, perhaps then, people would make worship on Sunday mornings a priority.  No longer would other things compete for their time and energy.  If anyone dared to try and usurp the time which belonged to God, we would be able to point to His rending of the heavens and say, “Ahem!  Do you remember when God did this?  Do you want to rekindle His anger?”  Think of how God’s appearance would change the world.  Think about how it would clear up your doubts if you had questions.  Think about how it would affirm your faith and convictions if you are a believer.  Would there even be a downside?

    Is it any wonder the author of Isaiah 64 says, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!”?  It seems to be the most rational action God could take.

    Seems to be.

    But let’s take a moment or two to continue reading what the author of Isaiah 64 says, and I want to take just a minute to put this snippet into context.  We believe this portion of Isaiah was written as the ancient Israelites returned from their exile in Babylon.  They had been taken captive and had spent 70 years away from their homeland.  Many wondered what had happened to their special relationship with God.  Many wondered if God had deserted them.  Many had turned to false worship and other gods.  Others to lawlessness.  In these last chapters of Isaiah, there seems to be a dialogue going on between the people and God, and chapter 64 is part of that dialogue.  The people are talking to God and pleading with Him.  It is refreshingly honest.

    “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!  3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.  4 From ages past no one has heard,   no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.”

    This opening statement hearkens back to the time when God appeared on Mount Sinai to give the Law of Moses to the people.  God rent the heavens and came down upon that mountain.  Fire and brimstone shook the earth, and the people trembled as the Lord spoke.  The author says, “Do it again.  Make the nations tremble at your presence.  Vindicate those who wait for you and you alone.”

    Then the author continues, and I find this next part extremely fascinating, “5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.  But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.  6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.”

    The candor here is remarkable–absolutely remarkable.  If verse five is translated correctly–it is very ambiguous in the Hebrew–these sentences almost seem to be a rebuke of God.  Did you catch it?  “Because you hid yourself, we transgressed.  There is no one who calls on your name or attempts to take hold of you for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.”  If I am reading this correctly, the author, lifting up the situation in Israel says, “You know, God, the reason people are sinning; the reason no on is looking for you, is you are absent.  You are not revealing yourself to us.  You are hiding.  It’s all your fault.”  Now, the author is admitting guilt on the part of the people.  He is admitting the people have transgressed–have sinned.  He is admitting the people are in the wrong, but the author is also pointing the finger at God and trying to say that God has some culpability in this matter.

    Striving to persuade the Almighty even further, the author, speaking on behalf of Israel says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.  9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever.  Now consider, we are all your people.”  Here we have a reference to God creating humankind out of dust.  We are indeed the work of God’s hand.  We are created in the image of God.  And just as Adam and Eve sinned and God did not turn His back on them; the author says, “Do not be exceedingly angry at us.  Do not hold our sin against us forever.”  And, in addition to this, Isaiah references the covenant with Abraham.  “Consider, we are your people.”  You made a covenant with us.  You promised to bless us so that we may be a blessing.  You should keep your promises.  And, if we were to read the rest of Isaiah 64, we would get to the point where the author asks, “Haven’t we been punished enough?  Haven’t we suffered enough?”

    Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!!!  Oh that you would reveal yourself and make everything right!!!   Oh that you would reveal yourself and make the nations tremble!!!  Oh that you would stop punishing us and bless us remembering your covenant with us!!!

    This is a remarkable piece of scripture because if you look at it in this fashion, you almost get the sense of the Israelites trying to tell God how to be God!!  This is what you should do to make the nations believe; to make us believe; and to make everything work right!!!

    There’s a lot of chutzpah in this snippet from Isaiah 64, and some of us here this morning might say, “Well, it takes a lot of guts to be this way toward God.  It takes a lot of guts to come before Him in such a fashion.  They should be more humble.”  Really?

    I mean, how many of us are truly humble when we come before Almighty God in our requests toward Him?  Before you have a knee jerk response and say, “Well, I am humble when I make my requests before God,” let me push the envelope a little bit.  How many of you, when you really stop and think about it, believe that if God just answered your prayers in the way you think they should be answered, then everything in the world would be perfect?  Be honest.  How many of you believe that if God would just give you everything you asked for, then the world would be a pretty good place? 

    God, if you would just let the Democrats win, then all will be well.

    God, if you would just teach my neighbor to be a little more considerate when his dogs are barking at 4:30 in the morning.

    God, if you would just get my kids to behave, then I would be at peace.

    God, if you would just give me the strength to deal with my pushy boss and nosy co-workers.

    God, if you would just let traffic be a little lighter on the way to work this morning.

    You see, we oftentimes like to make our claims on God and plead for Him to act in the way we thing He should act.  We like to think we have some special insight into humanity and into how things work, and if only God would act “correctly,” then everything would be great–especially for us.

    Yeah, I’m saying we have just as much chutzpah as the Israelites did when they spoke to God in Isaiah 64.

    But, let’s take just a second to process their requests.  Do you know what happened when God revealed the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai?  Do you know what happened when He made the mountains tremble and made the people shake with fear?  40 days later, the people turned from God and made an idol and worshiped it instead of their Creator. 

    Do you know what happened when God struck down the Egyptians with 10 plagues?  Do you remember what happened when God revealed His power through the plague of death?  A few weeks later, Pharaoh sent his armies after the Israelites once more. 

    Do you know what happened after God delivered the people of Israel from the Egyptians by parting the Red Sea?  A few days later, they were complaining and wanting to go back to Egypt.

    Each and every time God has torn the heavens and come down making people tremble and putting His fear into them, the people eventually revert back to what they were doing in the first place.  Each and every time God has revealed Himself in power and in might, the nations trembled, the people trembled, they stopped sinning for a time.   But they always returned to their nefarious ways.  They always turned away from God once again.  The cycle repeated itself over and over and over.  And so the answer from God was always, “No, I haven’t punished you enough.  You keep sinning.  You keep turning away.  It doesn’t matter how much I reveal myself to you and show you my power.  Your hearts are never changed.”

    And so, if God showing His absolute power never changes people–if that never changes hearts.  If us begging Him to reveal His power in giving us what we want won’t change us or change the world, what will?

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world may be saved through Him.

    “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” the author of Isaiah begs.  And God says, “O.K., I will, but not in the way you expect.  I will not come in power.  I will not come in majesty.  I will not come with prancing armies and great wealth.  Instead, I will take on flesh and live among you.  I will become poor.  I will become limited, and I won’t act to instill fear.  I will act to instill love.  I will not reveal my power so that you live in fear; I will reveal my power in love for you.  A love that will not lead to a throne room, but a cross.”

    For it is on that cross that Jesus deals with our selfishness.  It is on that cross that Jesus deals with our fear.  It is on that cross that Jesus obtains our salvation and our righteousness–not because of who we are but because of who He is.  He is the spotless Lamb of God; born without sin, who lived without sin, who fulfilled God’s Law and God’s will since we could not do it on our own.  Who prayed, “Father if it is possible, let me avoid this cup, but never-the-less, not my will but yours be done!” 

    And in following the Father’s will, Jesus obtained our salvation.  Jesus clothed us with righteousness even in the midst of our brokenness.  And now, we no longer need fear the punishment of God.  We no longer need to fear that He will hold our sin against us.  We no longer need to blame God for our own iniquities.  He has come down.  He has torn the heavens open.  He has revealed His glory to us–the glory of a Father’s only Son.

    Today, we begin our preparations to hear the good news of the day when our Savior tore open the heavens and came down.  Today we begin the preparations for the announcement that our Savior has come to earth–not in fire; not in brimstone; but in swaddling clothes and in a manger.  Today we begin our preparations to hear of how God came to earth as a baby, weak and powerless so that our selfish nature is beaten back not by fear but by love.  Amen.

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