Advent 2012: Week - Hope in the one who we need
Hope in the one who we need - Isaiah 43:1-7, Matt 15:1-11
This week we’re going to be reflecting on our own need for a saviour and the need of the world for a saviour.
It might be helpful to start your housegroup session by sharing a story of a time when someone else came to your rescue and ‘saved’ you from a dangerous or difficult situation. How did you feel, what were your emotions?
To what degree can the same be said of your feelings towards Christ as saviour?
How do you retain a sense of gratitude and thankfulness to God in Christ for saving you? Do you find that it’s easy to take Christ’s gift of salvation for granted?
If your housegroup worship together using songs or hymns you could sing one or both of the following:
Draw me close to you
Draw me close to You
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I'm Your friend
You are my desire
And no one else will do
'Cause nothing else can take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace
Help me find a way
Bring me back to You
You’re all I want
You’re all I’ve ever needed
You’re all I want
Help me know You are near
My Jesus my Saviour
My Jesus, My Saviour,
We’ll begin our bible study by looking at the reading from Isaiah.
Picking up on one of the themes from last weeks study, we return to the Israel, living under exile in Babylon.
The prophet has changed his tack a little from earlier prophecies of doom concerning Israel’s future. In both last week’s reading and this weeks reading Isaiah has been speaking words of comfort that he hopes will sustain the people through the dark times ahead. Words of hope, words of comfort, words of promise.
In Chapter 43 we read some of the most tender words that God speaks to his people through Isaiah, but before we come to look at them, let’s look in a little more detail at the history and context of this passage.
The prophet, like any good preacher has, if you’ll forgive the imagery, the scriptures in one hand and a newspaper in the other. As well as speaking forth the word of God, Isaiah has an eye on the events of his day, interpreting and reading them in light of his theological convictions.
At the time of writing a new King was on the make. King Cyrus of Persia. Cyrus was making rapid progress and creating quite a stir. Not only had he freed Persia from Median oppression and pushed out the nations boundaries considerably, but he was also showing a strength to rival that of the major local power-brokers, including the Babylonians.
Unbeknown to the Israelites in captivity in Babylon, Cyrus would, in 539BC, capture Babylon itself and set the Jewish captives free, giving them permission to return to Jerusalem and restore the temple.
The prophet see’s the rise of Cyrus as connected with the promises of God to his people. Promises grounded in Israel’s status as God’s dearly loved servant, whom he has chosen and will not abandon.
The prophet knows that Cyrus was to be on one level their liberator and saviour, but as he says time and time again, it is the Lord who writes history, and the Lord who saves. Kings and governments are merely tools in his hands.
The power behind the shaping of word events is neither impersonal or capricious rather it is the powerful and loving hand of God. The mission of the prophet was to convince the people of this.
But the captive Israelites don’t see it. Cut adrift, precarious, at the mercy of forces beyond their control, they were seemingly passengers.
And so, returning to chapter 43 we read the tender and loving words of God to his captive people.
The particular verses that we read earlier are part of a chapter in which God speaking through the prophet reminds the Jews that he is their saviour, directing history and kings and nations, whilst always remembering is covenant with Israel.
To a people who are far from home, in the midst of ‘fires and deep waters’, and with many more trials to face before they were saved from their situation, the Lord says:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have summoned you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Why? And how can this be said with so much confidence?
Because “I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel, your saviour”
The Israelites knew they needed rescue, they knew they needed a saviour, and the prophet reminds them in whom they should put their trust. The Lord is their saviour, the Lord is the one they need and it is in him that they are to hope.
Fast forward now to the reading from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus addresses the Pharisees, a people in the same line of those who were rescued by the Lord from Babylonian captivity.
They are aware of their heritage, that they stand in a long line of people who are witnesses to God being the saviour of the Jews, the one who his people need above any other.
To them and about them Jesus says, quoting Isaiah, “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
Even the Jews, with such a rich heritage as the covenant people of God are still in need of the righteousness offered in Christ the saviour.
Paul, writing in his letter to the Church in Rome draws out a similar point, and then expands it to apply to the non-Jews too. He writes:
“there is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away…” Romans 3:10-12.
We all, each and every one – need a saviour. Jew or Gentile. Male or Female. Slave, free, old, young, white collar, blue collar…
The greatest need of all mankind is the need of a saviour.
The words that God speaks through the prophet to the exiled Israelites are words of comfort and words of hope, that in their dire he will rescue them and be their saviour. In the same way in the life and ministry of Christ, God speaks to people individually, trapped and enslaved, who require salvation but are powerless to bring it about – and his words are the same, words that offer hope. Hope that salvation is possible, that the enslaved may be set free, that the blind may be made able to see.
Q: It’s quite easy to loose sight of this need. We tend to grade ourselves in comparison to other people, and for most of us (I hope) we come out favourably when compared with those who traditionally are though of as being at the lowest end of society – murderers, rapists, abusers, etc etc.
This can sometimes lead us to an unjustifiably comfortable self assessment. That somehow our need for salvation is a little less serious. That perhaps we have a little less to repent of than most, and so require a saviour a little less.
Perhaps minimizing our need of a saviour also leads us to be less concerned with proclaiming Christ to family and friends and colleagues? If the need for a saviour is not that great, then our proclamation of the saviour will not be that urgent.
Spend some time reflecting honestly on these two points:
1 – Do you tend to forget or reduce the degree to which yourself and others need a saviour?
2 – Do you fail to proclaim Christ with a sense of urgency or boldness because of this?
Jesus says – I am that saviour, the way, the truth, and the life. He says that no-one comes to Father except through the Son.
How difficult / easy do you find it to speak of the need of Christ as saviour? How might you develop a greater confidence in doing so? Pray for one another with this in mind.
Are there any situations in which you might be able to do so, at home or at work, or in your family? Bring some particular individuals and situations before God in prayer and commit to allowing the need of manking for a saviour to spur you on and give your witness to others a sense of urgency.
Our next Welcome Evening is on January 16th and is an ideal event for those who are looking to get involved with Church after a time away, those who are new to the area, or new to church. The evening includes a meal, a chance to meet the senior staff team, and an brief talk about the priorities and structure of St Giles’ and St George.
For more information or to book a place please email: email@example.com
Alpha begins on January 23rd and is a 10 week course exploring the basics of Christian faith. The evening includes a meal, a short talk, and an opportunity to discuss and ask questions in a non-pressurized environment.
For more information or to book a place please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lord, there is none like You;
All of my days
I want to praise
the wonders of Your mighty love.
My comfort, my shelter,
Tower of refuge and strength;
let every breath, all that I am
never cease to worship You.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth,
let us sing
power and majesty, praise to the King;
mountains bow down and the seas will roar
at the sound of Your name.
I sing for joy at the work of Your hands,
forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand,
nothing compares to the promise I have in you.
Simon Butler, 16/11/2012