Series: The Lion and the Lamb
Message: Gospel According to Isaiah
Preacher: Japhet De Oliveira
Reflection: Becky De Oliveira
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Jenniffer Ogden
Live Beyond: Adrian Peterson
Live Purpose: Kyle Smith
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Isaiah 66 in the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: At the lab where I work, we seem to talk about the inhabitants of the supermax prison—officially known as the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) right here in Colorado, near a small town called Florence—almost every week. ADX Florence, the Alcatraz of the Rockies, houses some of the most notorious criminals of our generation. These include the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, and the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was housed at ADX until his death sentence was conferred and he was transferred to a federal prison for death row inmates. ADX Florence has most recently made the news as the likely destination of Joaquin Guzman, known to most of us by his nickname, “El Chapo.”
ADX Florence is thought to be impenetrable and that’s part of the point. There is simply no way to escape. It is also designed for punishment, to be what a former inmate told the Boston Globe was a “high-tech version of hell, designed to shut down all sensory perception.” Inmates are basically placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours per day in small cells. They have five hours of recreation time per week where they are placed outdoors but inside another cage where they can only see the sky. Cells are soundproofed to prevent prisoners from communicating with one another through tapping or other auditory signals. Some cells have black-and-white television offering religious and educational programming. Former warden Robert Hood described incarceration there as “much worse than death.” It does sound pretty boring.
All this is really a prelude to questions about justice and vengeance which this chapter mentions at some length. Verse 24 specifically says:
As they leave, they will look on the corpses
of the people who rebelled against me.
For their worm will never die,
and their fire will never be quenched;
but they will be abhorrent
to all humanity.
Interesting sentiment. I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy for El Chapo, whom evidence suggests is a truly horrible person, but I have always believed that the measure of a society is how it treats the abhorred. He may not deserve mercy—and the ADX certainly doesn’t involve the kind of physical torment that he imposed on his victims, but mental torment is not inconsequential. How do we come to terms with a God who seems to enjoy swearing vengeance on those who displease Him? How are we supposed to feel about this?
Recalibrate: How do you feel about vengeance? Does it feel better when it is God taking revenge because we can assume that He is justified in what He does?
Respond: Pray for your enemies and for those you don’t like.
Research: Investigate current forms of punishment as well as the meaning of the phrase “cruel and unusual.”
Remember: “Look, the Lord is coming with fire. The Lord’s armies are coming with clouds of dust” (Isaiah 66:15, ICB).
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, editor, and graphic designer. She is working on a PhD in research methods at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
Sing this song with your little one. Jesus is my best friend! Isaiah says in the middle of Verse 5, “Let the Lord be glorified that they may see your joy!” Let your little one see your joy in claiming Jesus as your best friend.
Take time to build a fire today (safely!) or find a crackling fire video online and listen to the sounds of the wood snapping and popping. Spend at least two minutes just listening to the sounds of a fire. As you listen, think about why God would compare His return to a fire. What about the sounds of a fire makes you excited to know God is coming to take you to live with Him?
I am the youngest in my family so I’ve never seen a mother experience the pain leading up to giving birth. The first time I ever saw that sort of pain was when my wife experienced it—and believe me, that was an eye-opening experience! What about you? Do you have a young brother or sister? Do you remember seeing your mom in pain before she gave birth? Ask her about it, and maybe for something extra fun ask your dad about his experience with watching it all happen!
In the middle of Isaiah 66, God uses the metaphor of childbirth as new start for Jerusalem and also for you and me. Read Verse 9: “Would I ever bring this nation to the point of birth and then not deliver it?” asks the Lord. “No! I would never keep this nation from being born,” says your God.”How bad would this be? Think about a new mom having to go through all the pain of childbirth and not getting a baby at the end of it. It would be the worst! God is encouraging us with these words; we might experience pain, loss, and heartache but God promises that something new will come, a new life— and even a new world—if we just hold on and see it through. Hope is just around the corner!
Last February I went to Jerusalem. While I was there I got to learn about the history of Israel. The nation of Israel was a God-dream. God chose people to be His people and thousands of years later we see a city filled with stories of the faithfulness of God. But in the time of Isaiah it would not have been this simple. The nation of Israel went through many ups and downs. As you look at the Israelites, you see the story of people loving God, leaving God, wandering on their own despite God being their leader, and only crying out for God’s help in times of trouble. I’m tempted to call the nation of Israel crazy, but so often when I look at the history of Israel I see myself. I’ve been fickle and have run from God when I should have pulled closer. Yet despite this, God is faithful. This is the picture we see in Isaiah 66. A picture of a mother taking care of her child despite the troubles and issues in the past or future. Verse 13 says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” God has this amazing ability to let the past be the past and come to our aid in the here and now. He also has great plans for the future, filled with redemption and prosperity. Have you ever run from God? How have you seen evidence that God has never left you?
Zan Long is GRC director for faith development groups. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Jenniffer Ogden serves as the children and family pastor at the Walla Walla University Church in College Place, Washington.
Adrian Peterson is the associate pastor at Burwood Adventist Community Church in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.
Kyle Smith is the associate pastor of youth and family ministries at New Haven Adventist Church in Overland Park, Kansas