Summary: Do you realize how much we need God to intervene in our world? The prophet Isaiah modeled for us a heart longing for God.
This morning we are going to look at a deeply heart-felt prayer from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah. As I read it for you perhaps you’ll recognize that his longing for God to come and stir up God’s people of his day is a longing that many of us are also feeling deep down inside. And perhaps one of the most important preparations that we can make to be ready for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is to get in touch with why we need him so much.
I encourage you to open up one of the pew Bibles and have it open in front of you as we talk about it. You’ll find it on page 694. Listen to the cry of Isaiah’s heart as he pours out his heart to God, as recorded for us in Isaiah 64:1-12.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
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!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness,
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
After all this, will you restrain yourself, O LORD?
Will you keep silent, and punish us so severely?”
Can you feel the desperation in Isaiah’s prayer? He’s serious, isn’t he?
Why was Isaiah feeling like God was so far away? Why was he so concerned about his nation? This passage is one of those where the scholars disagree as to the precise moment in Israel’s history that Isaiah was experiencing here. But the broad picture is clear enough. Isaiah lived well past the glory days of Israel, the days of King David or King Solomon, when they were secure and prosperous and God’s blessings were evident all around them.
Isaiah lived in a much later time, when generations of ungodly kings had led the people astray, when people had turned from the living God to all sorts of other religions that didn’t have such high moral requirements. It was a time when the seeds of moral laxness had had time to produce the fruit of social injustice and violence. It was a time when God could no longer in good conscience bless what Israel was doing, and they had been attacked and invaded and plundered again and again by enemies. And Isaiah was one of the few people who even realized that the problem was that the people had abandoned their God. And now God seemed so far away, as if God had abandoned the earth and was hiding up somewhere behind the clouds.
In verse 5 of our passage, he said it out; it felt like God was hiding from them. In verse 6, as he looked at the people of his country, he could see that they were unclean, morally polluted. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” In verse 7, they didn’t even have the sense anymore to go looking for God or calling out to God. “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you.” In verses 10 and 11, Israel’s cities and even the great temple itself had been plundered and burned and laid desolate.
And where was God? Was he going to come and bless them again? Who else could they turn to? But how could he expect God to bless people who had so disobeyed? How in the world could they get out of this mess?