Series: The Lion and the Lamb
Message: I Need a Hero
Preacher: Dany Hernandez
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 59:14-60:1 in the New International Version (NIV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: To help me with my reflections, my husband printed out three passages from Bible commentaries about the book of Isaiah and left them on my chair. He knows that it would never otherwise occur to me to look at a commentary. Most of the time I forget that they even exist, a fact that I disclose in the hopes that it will dissuade those who insist on insisting that I am some kind of theologian, just because my husband is a pastor, from continuing to push this point. I’m like an identical twin, trying desperately to differentiate. “Look, my hair is longer! I like mushrooms! I never read commentaries!”
With a red Sharpie, he marked the printouts “easy,” “medium,” and “hard,” which made me laugh since it reminded me of the way my father will write “breakfast” and “lunch” on the Ziplock bags he packs for hiking. For me, all the commentaries fall into the category of “hard,” mostly because they are printed in white six-point type on a charcoal grey background. But the one of “medium” difficulty offered the following useful comment about repentance, under the subheading “A desperate situation”:
Repentance does not come easily to any of us, and it is hardest of all for people who have become accustomed to using religion as a cover for their sin. When their sins go unanswered, they find it easier to blame God than to take a long, hard look at themselves. (Barry Webb, The Bible Speaks Today: The Message of Isaiah)
The writer goes on to point out that God is not the problem. We are the problem. Our lack of repentance is the problem. Why would this be so? I often think about the reality that human beings are here on this tiny planet in the middle of an incomprehensibly vast universe and in spite of the many physical threats we face (earthquakes, fire, hurricanes, diseases) we could have a reasonably good gig down here if we could only stop doing things that are stupid and destructive. But maybe the problem is that no one thinks that they are the problem. Sometime it’s hard to figure out what the problem even is. It’s like one of those urban myths—stories that are always told second hand, coming from a friend-of-a-friend’s uncle’s brother so that they are impossible to verify. I look around at my neighborhood, at my church, at the university where I study and work, at places I’ve lived in the past, and it’s hard to figure out what the problem is with the world. It’s not just that I don’t think I have anything to repent for especially; it’s more that it seems like almost no one does. Who is causing all the trouble down here? Everyone I know seems pretty chill. Many of the people I know are absolutely wonderful, in fact. And the ones who aren’t are interesting.
I don’t often find myself blaming God for the things that happen on earth. I’m not sure I necessarily think He is that directly involved. My mother, for instance, has had Parkinson’s disease for more than twenty years, and I don’t blame God for that. There are diseases; people get them. I don’t know why the world has to be a place that features diseases but I have a fairly good grasp of the difference between “things that are a product of personal choices” and “things that just happen.” I don’t have a special mental category for “things that God smites you with.” The quote from the commentary, from this perspective, is not that helpful. It would be pointless for me to blame God for my mother’s illness; it would be equally pointless for me to “take a long, hard look” at myself. Or her.
I agree, however, that repentance is obviously difficult. We like to believe that we are good people, that we are right in the things we do. Perhaps the best hope we have is in asking God for daily guidance and attempting to be open to His leading, even if that means having to repent and admit that we are less than perfect.
Recalibrate: How might religion operate as a cover for sin, making it more difficult to genuinely repent?
Respond: Pray for the genuine ability to repent.
Research: Read the commentary on this passage, Isaiah for Everyone.
Remember: “I promise that my Spirit and my words that I give you will never leave you” (Isaiah 59:21, 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.
Make a drawing of your family with your little one. It may just be you and your child or it could be your whole extended family. Talk about what you love about each person as you draw them on the page. Know that God wants to bring His family together, drawing us close in love. Choose to look at each other in love. Let this be a way of living that you pass onto your children and their children.
Read Isaiah 59:17 and draw a picture of what you imagine God looks like in this picture. Try to explain to a friend what you feel when you think of God like Isaiah describes Him here. In some stories in the Bible God seems almost scary, and in some places He seems like a teddy bear. God is always calling us to choose the best and greatest ways to live. Think about why this can make God seem both scary and like a teddy bear and talk with a friend about your ideas.
“He put on righteousness as His body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head. He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion” Isaiah 59:17, NLT). This sounds a bit serious, doesn’t it? Isaiah describes God as putting on armor. I can only think of two reasons why anyone would put on armor: 1) they are about to attack, or 2) be attacked. In this case, God is about to attack. He is going to attack injustice, oppression, lying, and deceit. He is going do it so powerfully that later on it is described as a raging flood. The crazy thing for me is that we can put on God’s armor! Have a read of Ephesians 6:13-17; this armor is not yours and mine but it belongs to God. It is His, but it comes with His power. He doesn’t give it to us so we can attack but for the other reason one puts on armor, for defence—defence against Satan’s attacks so we can stand in support of goodness and truth and against evil.
Verse 18 tells us that God will repay us according to our deeds. As I look at my deeds, I see a terrible sight. My life bears a record of sin and failure. If I’m honest, it feels like I have done more wrong than I have good. But here is the good news; Jesus doesn’t want you to be good. So many times we focus on being “good people” and doing “good things.” I have even heard people say, “God only cares about you being a good person.” But friends, that is the furthest thing from the truth. God doesn’t want you to be a good person; He wants you to be a saved person! How are we saved? Through accepting Jesus as our Savior and having a daily relationship with Him. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, our record no longer shows our deeds, but the deeds of Jesus. God no longer looks down upon us and sees sinner, rather He sees saved, covered in the blood of Jesus. When the Bible tells us that God will repay us according to our deeds, it isn’t lying. That is the truth. But the only deed we must worry about is accepting Jesus. And believe me, from that relationship will come many good deeds. God will put the desire to do good things within you because you will no longer do them out of guilt but as an act of worship.
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.