Fairmeadow Community Church of The Nazarene
November 29, 2020
  • Prisoners of Hope

    Isaiah 64:1–9 NIV
    1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! 2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! 3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. 4 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. 5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. 8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.
    When everything is lost—when homes and lives are destroyed by war or natural disaster, when there is seemingly no way out—we call it a hopeless situation.
    That is where our text lands us today—right in the middle of a hopeless situation. After decades of exile in Babylon, the Judeans are free to return to their homeland, only to find it destroyed and barren. What they thought would be a joyous homecoming has ended in feelings of despair. They told the stories of this place to their children and their grandchil- dren, only to return to a place that was unrecognizable.
    And in their despair, they feel this incredible distance from God. They question whether God is working on their be- half—if God is listening at all. In the midst of this great sorrow, in the midst of this despair, they raise up a great lament to God: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” The imagery here gives a great sense of longing for God to be revealed, to intervene, to interject some light into the midst of this darkness, to bring about some kind of hope into a seemingly hopeless situation.

    Because of their hopeless situation, the Judeans cry out in lament to God.

    a. They wonder where God is. i. They think they’ve been abandoned by God, and they want to know why God would leave them this way. ii. They ask God to draw near.
    1. The language “come down” and “make known” point to the reality that they long for a great and visible intercession from God.
    iii. They recall the ways God has interceded in the past and wonder where God is this time.
    1. These people have heard their entire lives the miraculous stories surrounding Abraham and Moses, how God established their nation, freed the people from slavery in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea.

    The lament of the Judeans leads them to confession.

    a. As they petition God to draw close and reveal God’s power, the lament shifts to confession: they have continued to sin, and no one calls on the Lord’s name anymore.
    b. There is some true honesty happening in this lament-turned-confession. They believe their sin has caused God to turn away from them. They view their righteous acts as “filthy rags” in light of their sin. They are unclean and have forsaken God.
    c. This is a communal confession. It is not about individual sin. Many of these individuals weren’t even born yet when the nation of Israel entered exile—which means this confession is not about individual acts but about who they are and have historically been as a community of people.
    i. This is about corporate sin—the ways that they as a society, as a people, have forsaken God; the ways they have been disobedient to whom God has called them to be.
    1. Whom has God called them to be? A hospitable people who love God and love their neighbors.
    2. They have repeatedly lived in opposition to the people they were called to be. (This is a theme repeated throughout the Old Testament.)
    3. We can see the idea of collective sin in the language of their confession: “we continued to sin” in verse 5; “all of us” in verse 6; “no one” in verse 7.
    d. This act of confession shows a shift in their thinking. God is not to blame for their present circumstances. They have a responsibility to own the choices and actions that have gotten them into their current situation.
    e. Even in their desperation, they trust that God is listening to them.
    i. Confession and lament often go hand in hand.
    1. Lament is the act of crying out about circumstances. 2. Confession is both a plea for forgiveness and for relationship. 3. In both lament and confession, they long for something to be restored and renewed.
    3. They reach a point where there’s nothing left to say.
    a. There is a gap in the text between verses 7 and 8. It seems they have expressed so much despair that they have nothing left to say. All that’s left is complete and utter hopelessness.
    4. Glimmers of hope eventually appear.
    a. After the gap, however, the entire tone of the text changes. It’s like a switch is flipped between verse 7 and verse 8. God is now “Father” and “potter.” The people are now “the clay” and “the work of your hand.”
    b. Their circumstances haven’t changed from verse 7 to verse 8. They are still looking at a desolate place to call home. They still face insurmountable odds.
    i. What shifts is their view of their relationship with God in the midst of this hopeless situation.
    ii. There is hope—not because of the good the people have done. Their confession shows they have lacked good and right actions.
    iii. There is hope—not because of their circumstances. Their homeland still lies in ruin. They have had no triumphal homecoming. They still have nowhere to live.

    Yet there is hope—because of who God is.

    1. God is their Father. This is about relationship. They express their confidence in a God who loves them in spite of their failings.
    2. God is the Potter. God is at work molding them, actively moving in ways that make God’s people look more like God.
    3. They are God’s people. After the lament and the confession, the people remember their identity. Regardless of whether they have a home, they remain the people of God.

    There is hope for us too, even in the midst of our hopeless situations.

    a. On this first Sunday of Advent, many of us are also walking through or toward seemingly hopeless situations.
    i. Maybe we are looking ahead at spending time with family with a deep apprehension that our longing for a picture-perfect holiday could easily be tattered by addiction, unhealthy relationships, or unspoken pain.
    ii. Some of us walk toward the holiday season knowing we won’t have a loved one with us. What is supposed to be a joyous occasion has become one of distress and heartache.
    iii. Others of us were looking forward to a great year, only to be faced with financial hardship or illness, and we wonder how we will make it.
    b. God feels distant in the midst of hopeless situations.
    i. Despair has a way of robbing us of joy. We wonder where God is in the midst of this pain. We look longingly at where God has worked in the past and ask whether God is still close to us now.
    c. Confession is an important part of Advent. Not all of our hopeless situations are caused by our own choices, our own sins. Sometimes they are caused by the sins and choices of others. Yet we know there are places we need to confess.
    i. Sometimes we have participated in collective action that has wronged others. Other times we might need to confess our attitudes or thoughts in response to others.
    ii. We don’t always think of Advent as a time of confession, but confession often leads us to look at things with new eyes.
    d. Through our lament and our confession, in the midst of our desperation, we are led to remember who God is and who we are. Our circumstances this Advent might not change. All of those hopeless situations we are
      • Isaiah 64:1–9NIV2011

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