As they sped by us, driving on the shoulder of the highway, we could see a carful of teenagers out for a joyride. We wondered to ourselves, “Where’s the police when you need them?” How often is it you see someone drive through an intersection while the light changes to red? Now if you or I went on a joyride or rushed through a changing light, we’d surely be pulled over by a watching police cruiser and ticketed.
In the spiritual realm there are also outrageous acts of violence, blasphemy, and unbelief. We wish the Lord would do something to stop the rampant ungodliness, much like a parent disciplines naughty children or the police catch thieves and ticket speeding motorists. Yet the world seems to go on its merry way, with people acting badly and churches suffering from dwindling numbers and resources.
In his day (740 – 680 BC), six centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah lamented the sad state of affairs in Israel (Isaiah 64:1-9). He called for divine intervention. Israel had sunk to new lows of apostasy and unbelief. The prophet called to the Lord for justice, crying out in righteous indignation for the crimes he witnessed under Judah’s colonial status subjugated to the colossus of Assyria (701 BC) and the imminent captivity and exile under the Babylonians (587 BC) and Israel’s future release under Cyrus (559 – 530 BC; Isaiah 40-55). If only the Lord would reveal His might as He had when He freed Israel from Egyptian bondage (Exodus)! When He came down on Sinai, the mountain quaked, fire and smoke billowed, and the people shrank in reverent awe.
Isaiah prayed for the Lord to come and set things right once again. “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence . . . From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides You, who acts for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:1, 4). Creation reveals the splendor of God’s universe. Those who heed the Lord’s teachings are blessed. Scripture records the Lord’s dealings with the patriarchs and the promises made with them. By God’s grace His people prospered (Isaiah 64:4-5a).
Yet Isaiah must admit he should be careful what he prays for. He wants God’s justice, yet he’s afraid of the consequences. “Behold, You were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon Your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (Isaiah 64:5b-7).
The diagnosis is severe, the indictment: all are guilty. If God were to come down as Isaiah prayed, we’d all be condemned, and rightly so. Israel’s only hope, and ours too, would be in a gracious God. As the Psalmist had written, “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). And so Isaiah pleads for mercy, as a child would beg a loving father. “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all Your people” (Isaiah 64:8-9). Isaiah’s prayer is for the Lord to intervene, to act on Israel’s behalf, to save them from their sinful condition.
As Advent begins, Isaiah’s prayer is ours too. And the Lord acts. He rides a lowly beast of burden into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9). Jesus comes to “Save! Help, we pray!” (Mk 11:9), to take away the sins of the world! Drive carefully.