For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:3)
Oftentimes, the Christian life isn’t the mountaintop experience we want it to be. We’re easily drug down into the doldrums by the circumstances of our daily lives. Sure, we want a deeper experience of God—who doesn’t? Yet the endless distractions of life get the best of us and we can’t seem to get a grip.
So let’s admit it, we’ve all been in this spiritual wasteland. Heck, maybe you’re there now, longing for a fresh encounter with God, but always coming up short.
If you can relate to anything I just said, God’s got just the thing for you. Isaiah 51:3 (see above) is our ticket to wholesale renewal. If we’ll stop our bellyaching long enough to really listen, it can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives.
Exile And Renewal
You see, the people Isaiah was speaking to weren’t exactly first-rate examples of how to live the Christian life. We aren’t talking about the Apostle Paul or Billy Graham here. No, these people had followed their course of un-repentance for so long that God had finally had enough. He couldn’t take any more of their pretension.
Thus, the time had come for Him judge them by putting the Babylonian Empire on the scene. And when God’s gavel had fallen, Israel found itself in the barren wastelands of exile once again. This time in Babylon.
And yet it was there—worlds away from their home—that God began His gracious process of renewing His people. His promises began to unfold in a new light, causing them to listen carefully for the first time in many years. And what they heard was astounding.
God gave His people a glimpse of their coming Redeemer—the Servant of the Lord (cf. Is. 50). Where they had failed miserably, He would succeed victoriously. Where they had disobeyed, He would be their righteousness. Where they had rebelled, He would be their salvation. In other words, this promised Servant would be everything they weren’t. And He would come to bring them back home—to a place greater than anything they could imagine.
Going Back to Eden
This is what makes Isaiah 51:3 significant for us. While we’re busy being bummed out in our wasteland, God is inviting us to get up and follow His Servant back to the Garden. When we get fed up with our pity parties, Jesus Christ, our ever-present Eden, breathes out the sweetness of His comfort to give us real, abiding joy.
Therefore, we can stop banking our lives on what we feel, and start banking them on what God says, focusing less on our circumstances and more on God’s righteous Servant. Even when all we can see for miles and miles is wilderness, it will still seem like heaven. Why? Because our Redeemer has come! In Him, our future is incredibly bright. We stand to gain everything!
And, according to Isaiah, it seems the only reasonable response to such happy News is to fill this wasteland with joyful songs of praise and thanksgiving. That’s what happens when the promises of God land on the people of God. It’s not hard to get someone who is holding onto Christ for dear life to sing in church.
Therefore, as we gather with His people this Lord’s Day, we can be certain that God wants us to touch Eden again. Will we stretch out our hands to receive all He wants to give us? Will songs of joy and gladness be found resonating among us? Even if you’ve been in the doldrums all week, exhausted and burnt-out by life, your answer to that question can still be an emphatic YES!—it’s not too late to take a good, long look at Jesus Christ. In fact, your wasteland is the perfect place to experience the joy and gladness that only the all-sufficient Christ can bring. So come to the Garden and be renewed in Him.
Liturgy for Sunday, July 19, 2015:
Call to Worship:
All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you! They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power, to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. (Psalm 145:10-13a)
Reading for Pastoral Prayer:
And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:21-24)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)