Summary: In Isaiah 66 God gives his people a reason to rejoice when all signs pointed to despair. We need this kind of hope today
Happy 4th of July! I love the 4th of July because I can’t help but spend some time re-reading some Revolutionary War History. What a wild time in our nation’s history. And what bravery it took to declare independence from the preeminent military power of the day. Think about the courage it must have taken to put your signature on a document, which ended with these words:
We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.
Brave indeed. But the thing that took a long time for me to understand is that the 4th of July was only the beginning of what would be a long, and intense, and often time uncertain fight for freedom. And for much of the Revolutionary War, it has to be said, things did not look good at all for the Colonial Army and their General, George Washington. Do you know that George Washington actually lost more battles than he won? The 4th of July was a wonderful day, it is a wonderful day, but we can’t lose sight of the hardships and trials our nation endured following the Declaration of Independence. And we can’t forget that it was the promise and vision of freedom that emanated from the Declaration of Independence that drove the colonists to keep fighting and striving for freedom, even in the bleakest hours. The hope of a better future is what sustained them, even when their present was dark, and the bright future was impossible to see.
It is just that kind of hope, hope in the midst of uncertainty and hardship, that permeates our reading today from the very last chapter of the book of Isaiah. We join up with God’s people in a time when they were struggling as a nation. Now, to be sure, they were not struggling because they had declared their independence from Assyria, or some other nation. They were struggling as a people because they had, in essence, declared their independence from God himself.
They had turned to false gods, they had tried to rely on themselves to get through difficult times, they had trusted in alliances with other nations and kings, rather than relying on God, or calling out the Almighty when things got rough for them. And now they had only misery and fear, and uncertainty about the future to show for it. And this is where Isaiah come in.
Isaiah is a very long book, in which he talks about all kinds of different things. He points out the unfaithfulness and sin of God’s people and boldly condemns all of it. He clearly predicts what is going to happen, and how the people will be taken captive and exiled from the land God gave their forefathers so many centuries before. He expresses in no uncertain terms, that for a time God’s own people will suffer under the rule of wicked leaders who have no concern for them. Not exactly an inspiring message!
But Isaiah also talks about the great hope that God’s people will have, even in the midst of these very trying times. He points ahead to a “Suffering Servant,” to Christ Jesus himself, who will come years later to rescue all God’s people, even from the ravages of sin and death! He points to a time in the near future for God’s people when they will be allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, which were destroyed by invading armies. Isaiah says essentially, “Even now, even now rejoice, and learn these songs of praise, because God has promised you redemption, and if God has promised it, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now, it is as good as done.”
And that is the message that we get from our reading today. The main word is actually a command. REJOICE! “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her, rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her…” Do you get how important that is? Rejoice! Rejoice right now! Rejoice, even if everything around you looks totally hopeless. Rejoice, even though outsiders would think you were totally crazy. Rejoice, even if you are in so much pain, even if your heart feels like it has been ripped out. Rejoice, because God has made you a promise, and he will keep it. You will be satisfied, you will be comforted, you will see hope!