Friday, August 26, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part three

e) Favor extended

Isaiah prophecies that favor will be extended. Often for the person who has experienced abuse, the victim feels that he is an outcast, that he does not have or deserve the Lord’s and other people’s favor. In this promise Isaiah tells God’s people that as they come under the ministry of the Lord that they will walk in God’s favor, or pleasure. When the Spirit descended upon Jesus, it marked the Father’s pleasure. And when the believer comes to the cross and draws close to the Lord, the person experiences the Father’s pleasure. This fundamental concept of acceptance before God is pivotal to understanding grace. Because of Jesus, believers are accepted and loved. It is because they are in Christ that they experience all of the riches of heaven. Perhaps no chapter of the Bible depicts so many of these riches as does Ephesians 1. In that chapter, Paul describes some of the benefits of being found “in Christ.” Included in every spiritual blessing in Christ are the gifts of holiness, blamelessness, love, adoption as God’s sons, God’s pleasure and grace freely given, redemption through Christ’s blood, the riches of his grace lavished upon us with all wisdom and understanding, and the ability to walk in his will. Now, because a person is favored in Christ, that soul will be a trophy for the praise of his glory. As a person continues to heal from abuse, this wonderful grace will “remove the doubts which might arise” and distract the heart.

Childs believes that Isaiah’s reference to the year of the Lord’s favor, or the good-pleasure of Jehovah, reminds the Jews of the Levitical Year of Jubilee which brought “the great change in Israel’s fortunes initiated through God’s favor.” Smith describes this promise as proclaiming for Yahweh a year of grace. For the believer in Christ, every year and every day is now one of grace, of receiving the Lord’s favor. The Christian can learn to rejoice in the good favor of the Lord, who welcomes him with open arms much like the father of the prodigal son.

f) Vengeance coming

One of the promises to God’s children through the Scriptures is the word, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” Referring to this word from God, Paul instructs the Romans, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. . . . Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” The abused person has been violated. He will feel that someone has stolen something precious from him. The natural response will be, probably many times, to want to hurt the abuser or persons in the abusive system. God’s Word says to refrain from that desire. God will one day settle the scores, the day when God “sets right all that is wrong and perverted in his world.” The idea of the vengeance of the Lord accompanies the idea of forgiveness.

g) Comfort provided

One of the titles of the Holy Spirit is Comforter, and this Comforter promises to care for the wounds of the hurting. Nothing will ever be able to separate the child of God from his perfect, transforming love. With this enduring love comes assurance that the sovereign Lord is El Roi, the God who sees. The Bible reveals this name of God in Genesis 16, when Hagar has been mistreated and cast out from Abram and Sarai’s presence. Pregnant, alone, and afraid, she encounters the presence of the Lord, who comforts her and promises her a future. Hagar responds by saying, “You are the God who sees me.” Few truths can bring as much comfort to one that is hurting like the realization that God is intimately acquainted with all of the ways of his children: “You hem me in – behind and before . . . . All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” This knowledge coupled with the assurance that God will use everything in the life of his child to conform him into the image of his son – God’s ultimate purpose for our lives – brings rest to troubled hearts.

Romans 8 explores this concept. Verses 28-30 tell us that in God’s foreknowledge of who would receive Christ, he purposed and predestined that believers would become like Christ. Therefore he is able to use everything past, present, and future to work together for that outcome – the glorification of the Father in the lives of his children. Verses 31-34 explain that God is for his children – he is not against them. They receive his favor, grace, and provision. Then verses 35-39 celebrate the fact that nothing in all of creation – not even abuse – is able to separate God’s people from God’s love.

Leanne Payne comments that many believers and churches emphasize the presence of God in the past and the future but say little about the manifest presence of God in the present. She writes, “The Early Church had no such difficulty, no schism between mind and heart. Their worship was quite literally a celebration of the Presence. After our Lord’s death and resurrection, the early Christians came together knowing that He would meet with them in a special way once again. Rather than going to church (their minds were not clouded with the notion that buildings or organizational structures were the Church), they came together as the Church to fellowship in His Presence. And we might say they ‘practiced the Presence’ in a number of ways or modes. ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen,’ part of the earliest liturgy, was in some of their hearts an incredible remembered experience. Memories of lives shared together in the breaking of bread, in long journeys, and in the teaching of multitudes must have been vivid ones for many. Beyond memories of Christ’s Presence, however, they knew by virtue of His Spirit descending on them at Pentecost that He was always present, indwelling them. In yet a third way, pertinent to what we are here considering, these early disciples knew that when they invoked Him, Christ would ‘come again’ by His Spirit as they gathered to worship, hear the Word, and break bread (make Eucharist) together.” The Healing Presence (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), 48-49.

The reality of the incarnation evokes worship – that the presence of God tabernacled among people in Christ. Today the Lord continues to tabernacle, or dwell, among his people through the presence of the Spirit. It is the constant presence of God, available to all who believe, that brings comfort and assurance in extreme circumstances. The knowledge of God’s presence enables a believer to accept and endure many hardships. With this fact is the reality that Christ intercedes for his people today. He is regularly and constantly before the Father praying for his church. Even when Christians do not know how to pray, when they are “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life,” believers can submit to and trust the Holy Spirit to help us in their weakness and intercede the will of God for them when they cannot. Nothing comforts the hurting child like the presence of the heavenly father.

The prophet pictures the comfort of the Lord being offered in three ways: a crown of beauty instead of ashes [“The words garland instead of ashes are a paronomasia. The word for garland is from the same root as ‘beautify’ or ‘glorify’ (cf. 60:7,9,19), a symbol of joy, festivity, and dignity.” George Buttrick, ed., The Interpreter’s Bible: Volume V (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1956), 711.], the oil of gladness in place of mourning, and a garment of praise to replace a spirit of despair. A crown would represent the endowment of blessing and the achieving of victory in contrast to the ashes of mourning. In the life of a believer who has experienced the pain of abuse, God is able to do a work over time that will make his life seem beautiful again. The psalmist declared that “weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Oil is often a symbol in the Bible for healing, refreshment, worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. Enjoying God’s favor, his child can be glad, reveling in his anointing. The person who once kept a despairing spirit can now exchange that dismay with celebratory praise. As God continues to move in this person’s life, he will experience the Lord releasing him from the wounds of the past and moving him into the joy of the future. Joy will be released in the life of the one moving closer to Jesus, letting go of the wounds of the past, and enjoying the presence of God. [Childs writes, “The effect of the prophetic proclamation on the servant’s offspring is the outpouring of joy and praise, occasionally expressed in the language of the Psalter: ‘oil of gladness’ (Ps. 45:8; cf.23:5; 133:2) ‘planting of the LORD’ (92:13).” 505-6.]

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