Today in our Hebrew reading group we read the end of Isaiah 57. These are wonderful and challenging verses. Isaiah 57 is mostly doom and gloom over Israel’s sin and the LORD’s judgement, but towards the end the tone changes and we get these verses:
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 I will not accuse them forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
the very people I have created.
17 I was enraged by their sinful greed;
I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
yet they kept on in their willful ways.
18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
19 creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea,
which cannot rest,
whose waves cast up mire and mud.
21 “There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Verse 15 is especially striking because earlier in the chapter rebellious Israel are those who set their bed on a high and lofty mountain. It is as if they are trying to lift themselves up to the heights, but it is the LORD who actually belongs on the heights. He is the one who is truly exalted – and he is against all who try to raise themselves up – that was made clear back in Isaiah 2 which vividly sets out how the LORD is against all who raise themselves up.
By contrast with such self-promotion the LORD is one who not only dwells on high, but with the lowly of spirit and contrite of heart. Our God is not a God who is remote. No, he is a God who is near. A God who will not be angry for ever. A God who sees our ways, and promises to heal and restore and bring “peace”- “shalom” – wholeness, completion and rest for those who come back to him. There is no peace outside of God, only the restless pounding of chaos.
Earlier on in the day I had read Zechariah 9:
9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Familiar words, vividly acted out by Jesus on Palm Sunday – the king who comes humbly. The King who speaks peace to the nations. The King who breaks the bow and chariot with outstretched arms on a cross, on a hill outside Jerusalem. From that cross he speaks peace to those who are far and those who are near. Or as Paul puts it in Ephesians 2:
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
As I’ve pondered the words from Isaiah and Zechariah today I’ve wondered about the way we talk about how we know that Jesus is God in the gospels. Often we read a section of one of the gospels – say Mark. We read of Jesus forgiving sins, healing a paralytic and casting out demons, and so we say “only God has the power to do those things, therefore Jesus is God”.
That is true as far as it goes, but we also need notice how Jesus touches the unclean, talks to the gentile woman, eats with tax collectors and “sinners”, and washes the feet of his disciples. Those things are not what we would necessarily expect God to do and they don’t seem to have been what Jesus’ contemporaries expected. But I think if they and we spent a bit more time thinking about the God of Isaiah 57:15, and the King of Zechariah 9 we would realise that they are exactly what we would expect the LORD to do.
I think that means that when we think of the evidence that Jesus is God that the gospels give us we should look at his treatment of the poor and oppressed and lowly, and especially the compassion he shows them as the supreme evidence of his divinity – for it is this compassion that time and time again (beginning in Exodus 33) is one of the supremely emphasised characteristics of the LORD.
We have a God who shows his greatness, his exaltedness, his majesty and his glory in getting up from the table, taking off his robe, and washing the feet of his disciples. As one classic Vineyard song (Brenton Brown) puts it:
“You are the God of the broken
The friend of the weak
You wash the feet of the weary
Embrace the ones in need
And I want to be like you Jesus
To have this heart in me
You are the God of the humble
You are the humble King
Oh kneel me down again
Here at Your feet
Show me how much You love
The humility of the LORD, the humility of the King must mark us, it must mark me. His washing of my feet must lead me to a life of compassion, humility and gentleness. The only place to get the strength to do this is back at the cross, at the place where the LORD himself poured out his life that we might truly live in him.