Advent & Christmas 2013

Week 2 - Jesus Christ the final peace - for the whole world.

Isaiah 2:1-5 (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Before diving straight into Isaiah 2, it is worth taking the time to read the opening chapter of the book.  Isaiah 1 paints a sad portrait of the people of God.  Their failings are variously presented:  they have rebelled against God (1:2), forgotten God’s rightful place as their Lord (1:3), they are corrupt and have turned their backs on God (1:4).  So great is their sin that they are likened to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (1:9-10); they are spared from experiencing the full extent of the destruction that those people encountered (1:9), but in a deep spiritual sense they are just the same (1:10).
Israel is living in unsettled times (1:7) and Isaiah links their lack of peace to their turning away from God.  In fact, it is only by God’s grace that they survive at all.  In verse 9, Isaiah points to God’s hand at work in saving those few who would continue the line of God’s people.  This concept of a “remnant” is one that returns through Isaiah and in other prophetic utterances.  But the majority are condemned.
God’s denunciation of his people, expressed through Isaiah, is salutary and challenging.  As we read through verses 10 to 23 we find a people who continue in religious acts, but whose actions undermine any value those acts may otherwise have brought.  As in other places in Isaiah (notably chapter 58), the author clearly reveals God’s anger against those whose “religion” is merely outward show.  The bringing of sacrifices, celebration and even prayer, in and of themselves do not merit God’s approval (1:11-15).  The acts of piety have their place, but only when they are accompanied by lives which demonstrate the heart of God in every aspect.  In particular, Israel is called to care for the oppressed and disadvantaged, and to seek justice in everything (1:16-17).  Until they demonstrate this care for the other, the people’s worship will remain meaningless to God.
So Isaiah chapter 1 addresses a people who do not experience peace now, because they have turned away from God.  It also points them to the future, in which there will be restoration for some, but devastation for the many who continue to forsake the Lord (1:24-31, esp v27-28).  Many will never experience peace, for they have failed to understand what it means to be the people of God.
Suggested Questions:
Isaiah points out the duplicity of God’s people: their attention to God through religious activity is not matched by their attention to those around them.
  • How might our “religious activity” blind us to our own failings in this way?
  • How could we be proactive in helping one another to maintain a “whole life” perspective on our worship?
  • Isaiah highlighted several situations in which justice and care were not demonstrated.  What situations or groups of people might he point us to today?
  • What can we do together to tackle these issues of justice and care in a Godly way?
  • The promise of deliverance (1:27) is contrasted with perishing (1:28).  How can we faithfully yet appropriately hold onto this Godly distinction, especially in our outreach?
Having understood something of the situation in which the people find themselves, we now turn our attention to Isaiah 2:1-5 (which is closely paralleled in Micah 4:1-3).  There is quite a dramatic change of emphasis from chapter 1:  where the opening chapter focuses on repentance as the result of destruction, here the light shines on Israel’s future as a beacon for the nations.  The exact reason for the shift is not elaborated, but it does bring our attention to the certainty of Israel’s future.  Though difficult, rebellious, times lie ahead, ultimately the faithful will prevail and God will effect a sea change through them.
Maybe also the shift demonstrates something of Isaiah’s pastoral heart:  a carrot is more effective than a stick.   It is important for the people to be aware of the trouble that awaits those who continue to forsake the Lord, but their motivation is more likely to be secured by a positive focus on what God is to do.  This understanding may cause us to revisit our answers to the last question on chapter 1.
The symbolism of mountains as special places runs through the Biblical story.  As God’s mountain is established above all others (2:2) the supremacy of God (Yahweh) over all other gods is brought into sharp focus.  We also see that Israel’s God is God for the whole earth; even those who do not recognise or know him now will stream to him in those last days.
As people come from every nation, they will learn what it means to walk in the Lord’s paths (2:3).  The lack of understanding that Israel currently exhibit will be no more, because those who make it to the mountain of the Lord will not only come into his presence, they will also learn fully what it means to live life his way.  All will see that they live under God’s rule, and the acceptance of that and submission to his word will bring a peace, the likes of which has never before been seen.
Suggested Questions:
  • What implications does v2 hold for those who worship Gods other than Yahweh?
  • How might that affect the way we relate to those of other religions?
  • What does it look like when people walk in God’s paths (v3)?
  • Peace finds its basis, in part, in the application of God’s law, his word (v3-4).  Can you describe ways in which an ignorance of God’s word causes unrest in our world today?
  • How might we (individually or as a church) be able to speak God’s word into a world that does not yet know this all-encompassing peace?
  • Isaiah’s words demonstrate complete confidence in God’s ability to bring a restless world to peace.  Do you share that confidence?
  • As we wait for the fulfilment of this promise, what will it mean for us, corporately and individually, to meet the challenge of v5?
Prayer ideas:
  • Pray with anticipation for the things Isaiah describes that are yet to come
  • Ask God to teach us his ways, and to help us walk in his paths
  • Bring before him any areas of life which are not currently touched by his word
  • Pray for those whose experience is dominated by dispute and unrest

Jon Prior, 29/11/2013