The Futility of Fear, 2

Help.jpg

Help Is On the Way!

Isaiah 35:2

Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.  (Isaiah 35:4  KJV)

Anybody with a car can appreciate this “fear not.”  No, they didn’t have cars in Isaiah’s day and cars have nothing to do with the context of this, our second “Fear Not.”  If you’ve ever run out of gas or gotten a flat tire miles from home, you know what it feels like when a friendly, helpful person stops to offer you a hand, and thanks to their intervention, you were on your way.  Even in our rushed, paranoid, cold world, there are people who don’t mind helping others, and we who have been the beneficiaries of their generosity are thankful.

We’ll look at the context of Isaiah 35 in a moment, but let your eyes take in verse 2.  Can you appreciate what’s being said in it?  There was no need for Isaiah’s people to be fearful.  On the contrary, they could be strong and courageous because God was on their side.  It was just a matter of time before He would arrive with help enough to save them.

We often grow impatient with our Lord when the rough times persist.  We wonder how He can let us suffer for so long if He loves us so much.  Even though these ancient words were intended for other ears, we can learn something very important that will make our lives a little easier.

A look at context

A promise for the future

This is a prophecy of the future – the far future.  Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of a wonderful future for the righteous in “the day of The Lord.”  That Old Testament phrase refers to two aspects of the future; a time of both judgment and salvation.  For the righteous, the people of God, there will ultimately be salvation.  Isaiah used his considerable talents to encourage a discouraged people by assuring them that one day God’s people would return to their city; that they would be happy and redeemed.  God hadn’t abandoned them nor had He forgotten them.

Even the wilderness and desert will rejoice in those days; the desert will blossom with flowers.  Yes, there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! The deserts will become as green as the Lebanon mountains, as lovely as Mount Carmels pastures and Sharons meadows; for the Lord will display his glory there, the excellency of our God.  (Isaiah 35:1, 2  TLB)

Naturally this is poetry.  The Greeks wrote about “the music of the spheres” and in Job, this is how God described the creation of the world:

What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?  (Job 38:6, 7  TLB)

Yes, the glory of the Lord causes both man and his environment to rejoice and to sing His praises.  Nothing else; no one else is capable of doing this.  The knowledge and the presence of God is what causes all creation to experience joy.  It’s unfortunate that so many Christians seem to miss out on this joy.  For believers, the source of our joy is in God, yet how much time and energy – not to mention money – do we expend looking for it elsewhere?  We are a restless people; always looking for something we already possess!

Hope for the present

With this news bring cheer to all discouraged ones.  Encourage those who are afraid. Tell them, “Be strong, fear not, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.”  (Isaiah 35:3, 4  TLB)

This chapter in Isaiah was written with a very discouraged people in mind.  God’s people reading this were strangers in a strange land; dispersed all over the Babylonian Empire.  Some were facing the long trek back to Jerusalem, which was in rubble.

This was the reality.  Yes, the future looked wonderful but what about the present?  How would God’s people deal with the present misery and fear that had gripped the hearts of so many?  Fear is a debilitating affliction. It can manifest itself all over the body:

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. The lame man will leap up like a deer, and those who could not speak will shout and sing!  (Isaiah 35:5, 6  TLB)

Everybody’s “real life” falls far short of what Heaven will be like.  Sometimes “real life” obscures God’s promises of our future.  We are not so far removed from these ancient Israelites.  Their problems aren’t ours, but what God promised Israel applies to believers in any age and in any location!  The sense of Isaiah’s words is this:  How can Israel fear since the Lord is near and will defend them and fight for them?  That’s a message for any Christian facing any difficulties:  get your eyes on the eternal, almighty Sovereign of the Universe!  Imagine that!  He is on YOUR side!  As one Bible scholar put it:

Vengeance is His prerogative.  Recompense is His retribution.  Salvation is His deliverance!

He saved Israel; He will save you, too.  It doesn’t matter what your “enemy” may be, God is more than able to deal with it.  Your enemy could be your health, your finances, your emotions, your job, maybe your mind.  God will cause you to be the overcomer you are promised to be.

What deliverance looks like

The beauty and value of these verses is that they show us what Biblical deliverance looks like.  Throughout Isaiah’s big book of prophecy, we read a lot about spiritual  blindness and deafness and the promise that one day, our “spiritual” infirmities will be healed.  That in itself will be a monumental day.  Can you imagine seeing God clearly; unfiltered by the filth and pollution of our sinful world?  Or how about hearing God’s voice with crystal clarity without having to block out all those other voices?  That will be a great day!  Deliverance looks like that.  The great thing about God’s deliverance is that no child of God has to wait until he’s physically dead, or until the Lord returns to experience it!  Right now, in our sin-cursed world, all saints of God are able to experience at least glimpses of our ultimate spiritual deliverance.  And that itself is cause for cheer!

But the New Testament alludes to what Isaiah wrote here and takes it literally.

The two disciples found Jesus while he was curing many sick people of their various diseases—healing the lame and the blind and casting out evil spirits. When they asked him Johns question, this was his reply: “Go back to John and tell him all you have seen and heard here today: how those who were blind can see. The lame are walking without a limp. The lepers are completely healed. The deaf can hear again. The dead come back to life. And the poor are hearing the Good News.  And tell him, ‘Blessed is the one who does not lose his faith in me.’ ”  (Luke 7:22 – 23  TLB)

John the Baptist was in prison and was losing heart.  Freedom for him, John knew, was a thing of the past.  In a moment of doubt he wondered if the Man he heralded as the Messiah really was or not.  Jesus got word back to Him that he was right:  Jesus was truly the Messiah and the Kingdom had come.  Evidence of that fact was all the physical healings and spiritual ones.  But note the last sentence:

Blessed is the one who does not lose his faith in me.

Jesus knows it’s not easy holding onto your faith and that’s why there is special blessing reserved for those who don’t lose it.  Some of you reading this may be feeling like John the Baptist did while he was sitting in his prison cell.  Your prison may not be a literal one, but perhaps your faith is waning; things you used to believe you now wonder about as real life has beat you down with one defeat after another.  God’s Word to you is a simple one:  HOLD ON!  Keep your faith.  Help is on the way!

God makes a way

Isaiah 35:8 is the a jewel; a focal point of the the whole chapter.  Translated from the Greek version of the Old Testament, it looks like this:

There shall be a clean way and it shall be called a holy way, and there shall by no means pass over there anything  unclean, neither shall be there an unclean way.  But the dispersed ones shall proceed upon it, and they shall in no wise be deceived [caused to err].

Remember, Isaiah 35 is a prophecy about the future of Israel.  They are the dispersed ones; they are the ones scattered all over, miles from home.  Essentially Isaiah’s  message was for the Babylonian exiles; the ones who would be making the long trip back home to Jerusalem to resettle it and rebuild it.  But it’s also a far reaching message to the Jews of our future; the ones who, at the Second Coming, will stream back to Jerusalem.

This “clean way” or Holy Highway, will be the route home for the homeless.  It’s a wonderful picture of how the Lord makes a way for His people.  Those believers walking along the Lord’s highway will be safe and secure and surrounded by people of like faith.

But how does this apply to us, today?  Today, we believers belong to the Body of Christ.  We are able to surround ourselves with other redeemed people who believe what we do.  We can belong to a local church and be involved in a local congregation as we walk through our lives.  No Christian needs to feel isolated or alone!  God established His church for many reasons, and this is one of them.

Back to Isaiah’s Holy Highway for a moment, Naegelsbach wrote:

The Lord built it and destined it to lead to His house.  It is a pilgrim way.  Hence nothing unclean, neither unclean person or thing, may come up on it.  Whoever goes on it is a sanctified one, under God’s protection and care.

The message for believers today

These verses were were not written to us.   They were written to a specific group of Jews about a situation specific to them.  Be that as it may, the Holy Spirit thought they were important enough to include them in the canon of Scripture for us to read.  Why?  Why do we, Christians in the 21st century, need to pay attention to promises made to people long dead?

Scripture may only have one meaning or interpretation, but there may also be many applications.  Isaiah’s message to his people is also a message to the downtrodden and oppressed; to people struggling because they have been wronged and experienced injustice.  To those, God’s promise is clear:  Vengeance is the His.  Justice will be meted out.  The broken hearted will be healed and restored.

It’s also a word to all those who see the wrong and the sin all around them and are appalled and frustrated that sinners seem to prosper and that the truth appears to be smothered.  It’s easy to become cold and cynical when wrong prevails and right seems lost.  But God’s Word is to hang on; God sees what’s happening and help is on the way.  God will come and He will make things right.

We can all take heart and be encouraged because in spite of the present, the future is well worth waiting for.

...all sorrow and all sighing will be gone forever; only joy and gladness will be there.  (Isaiah 35:10b  TLB)

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