Come Down Lord: We Wait for You!
We open the Word of God to the book of Isaiah the prophet. We are still in Isaiah chapter 64. We will be reading the first four verses even though our focus will really be on verses three and four. As we open our Bibles, you may remember that we've been looking at the prophetic prayer made by Isaiah all the way from Isaiah chapter 63:15 - 64:12. And it looks like we will be looking at this passage for a while to try not only to understand the prayer that the Prophet makes on behalf of his people but really to see the heart of God unveiled, the goodness and the greatness of God exposed as we come to terms with our own limitations and sinfulness. My prayer is that when we are done, we just like the prophet Isaiah, will be crying out and saying, "Look down on us, Lord, come down. Oh, Lord because we desperately need you.
Isaiah 64:1-4, Listen to what it says. "Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you, as when the fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down and make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you; for when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no I have seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him."
Bridging the Context
We've been looking at this prayer made by the prophet Isaiah at the moment of Israel's history that is probably the darkest moment ever. Now I have to keep reminding you, that the prayer the Prophet makes, is actually concerning things that have not yet come to pass. The prophet Isaiah, living in the seventh century BC, looks through the eyes of revelation at events in the future that will take place when Israel has been judged by God, banished from his presence and sent into exile far away from God's city and God's temple. At that time, God's people would recognize their crisis, and they would cry out to the only God who would save them.
At this time when their Prophet Isaiah prophesies or makes this prayer, there is trouble for the northern kingdom of Israel. The nation of Assyria is knocking at their door and is ready for battle. Assyria will not only invade the Northern Kingdom — they will also invade them like locusts. They will destroy their land, crops and the city of Samaria. The people of God will be scattered into the different corners of the world of that day; and unfortunately, they would never return back to the promised land! To this day, the 10 tribes of the northern part of Israel are lost among the Gentiles of the world, and they never come back to the land.
But beyond the northern part of Israel, the Southern Kingdom itself would go to Babylon. A couple of years later, God's people would be taken away from Jerusalem where God's holy temple stood and God was worshipped, and for the next 70 years, they would languish in slavery in Babylon. They would be beaten, scorned and killed, and many of them would never return back to the land. We read about people like Daniel, and the three young men who, by faith, walked through the fire. But the Bible does not give us an account of their return back to Jerusalem. This is a very serious devastation! This is a serious judgment from a holy God.
And the Prophet, living at the dawn of these events and looking through the power and the enabling of the Spirit of God, sees a moment in the history of God's people when at the point of serious hopelessness and helplessness, would remember Israel's God who had been their Savior and their protector and their provider. They would gather together one more time and cry to him.
So what you hear the prophet Isaiah praying here is not really his prayer, but the prayer that God's people would pray when the moment of crisis would come upon them. At that time, they would vocalize these very words as the prophet Isaiah prays them. Two things become paramount in this prayer: God's people woud be hey wouldn't be saying, "Look down on us Lord, at least one more time! Come down, Lord because if you don't, we are finished. If you don't, we are totally destroyed."
God's people would recount the former times when God had been among them. They would remember the wonders and the miracles that he had performed. They would remember a time when they were the set-apart people of God. They would remember the nations of the world themselves trembled before them. But now, they would look at themselves, and sadly realise that there is no difference between them and the pagans. The presence of God is now something they think about in their history and in their past as "the God who used work." And at the heart of their cry, would it be the question: "Where is the God that once moved among us, the God that was once represented by the tabernacle? Where is this God?"
And Isaiah cries out, not only calling God to come down, but probably even unknown to the prophet Isaiah, predicting the coming of God among men, God Emmanuel.
God would come down indeed. He would come down in the person of Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ, as the God-man, would not only hear the cry of God's people, but would deliver them — not just from their economic and political exile, but even more importantly, from their spiritual exile. In this prayer, we not only see the crisis of judgment and exile, but we also see echoes of restoration and hope.
Last Sunday, we began to look at the argument that the prophet Isaiah was raising. One of the reasons he raises is that God needs to come down because God's people desperately need him. The Prophet said, "We need you because your church needs to be revived. Our hearts have been hardened. We are no longer sensitive to your word and your will. The fear of your name has gone out among us. The world has not only trampled us down but has also secularized the culture of the church to such an extent that when you see the person who goes to church and the one who doesn't, you can no longer see the difference. And in essence, they are saying, "Our hearts are too hard. Nothing we can ever do on our own can ever bring us back to God. The only way for us to be saved is if you — and you alone — will come down and save us." Then he adds on, "Come down Lord because we need you for the conversions of the nations around us — the sinners."
If evangelism is going to be effective, if sinners are going to come to the knowledge of who God is and what he has done and bow their knee in worship, God's power must be displayed. And using some figures of speech, the prophet was talking about the God who has power to bring the mountains down, the God who has power that can boil and melt even the frozen ice to water, and the God who is powerful enough to untangle everything that has been tangled and make his name known among the nations.
And so today as we come to verses 3 and 4, the prophet makes a flashback. He cannot help but remember the God who once lived among them, and he cannot help but miss his smiling face, his helping hand and his caring heart. And so he begins to remember: "When you did those awesome things that we did not expect, you came down and the mountains trembled before you. Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him." And one of the things that Isaiah points out in these two verses that you cannot miss as you look at this passage is that the God of Israel was a God of power — unspeakable, unmatched, incomprehensible power — that whenever he showed up in whatever he was in, things changed never to be the same again. And everybody, whether he was a believer or non-believer, acknowledged that God was here.
One of the things that distinguished the church as a community of God's people from the rest of the world is the centrality and activity of God's power and awesome presence. That when you first look at God's people, what do you see is not just people who go to church and worship, people who sing well or people who pray. Instead, what you see is the glory and the power of God in their midst. You recognise that something unique and the divine has come upon these people and has changed their ways of living, thinking, their relationships, their way of loving, serving one another, and understanding life around them. When you see God's people, the first thing you want to congratulate is not that these guys are good, but that whichever power is behind, and among them is really great and worthy of recognition.
And this is what the Prophet is saying, that there was a time when God moved amongst his people, and it was unmistakable that indeed he was among them. Even the mountings trembled and shook and young and old, heathen or godly, recognized that there was a God in Israel and he was no joke. You were either on his side and to you be all the blessings, or you were against him and anytime, judgment was coming upon you!
The Prophet looks about at that particular scenario on the Mount Sinai when God had come down and there was great trembling and earthquake on the mountain, there was great blackness and the smoke came out from the mountain and there was fire until the children of Israel said, "You know what, Moses, we are not sure that we are ready to face this. Now you go for us on the mountain, talk to him, whatever he tells you, come and tell us; we shall obey everything he has said. But for us we are not willing to meet this God face to face!You be the sacrificial lamb. If you don't come back, we are not surprised. But should you come back? Wonderful. Now you can tell us everything that he said."
There was great trembling! Everybody recognized that there was a divine being among us. And he was not like us the creatures. Clearly, he was a God with a distinction. He was worthy of all recognition. They feared him, they trembled at his presence. And the prophet Isaiah said, "We remember that time when you came. Even the mountain is recognized that you were around. How we pray, how we cry that you would demonstrate your power again, in a similar way, that people in our day would not only recover the greatness of who you are, but would begin to live in the reality of that very presence and power. We need that power.
If we are going to be a church that the world we recognize, if we are going to be a people that are set apart from the rest of the world, if we are going to be the people that the world looks to for answers: then God's unique presence and power must be evident among us — not because we sing about it, not because we shout about it (because God's power is not necessarily noise); but because God's power — transforming power, saving power, delivering power — must be central to that the worship service that the world may indeed see that God is among his people. And that's the cry every church should make. Every church only becomes an effective relevant church when that dynamic power and presence of God becomes central in the midst of God's people. If it is not there, then all you have are traditions and rituals and routines that you do Sunday in, Sunday out. And you're no different from Old Testament Judaism at the time of Jesus. How I pray that our congregation will be that church with the unique presence of God among us!
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