The grace of God is surprising. But it's also confounding. It’s nearly unbelievable. Why would the Holy, Righteous Creator be gracious to those who continually fail Him? Why did the King of kings institute a plan, a mission that spans the ages, to redeem a people from every culture, race, and language? Why in the world would you and I be given a purpose for our lives, a role to play to bring that mission to completion? Why grace? Isaiah 30:8-18 sheds light on this question. And the answer might surprise you.
SETTING THE STAGE
8 And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever.
This is a big deal - this message must be passed down to every subsequent generation. It was too important to risk dilution by oral transmission.
“9 For they are a rebellious people,
children unwilling to hear
the instruction of the LORD;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
Ouch....we do this all the time. Pastor, don't hurt my feelings. Friend, don't offend me. God, leave me to my business. Instead, just make me feel good, confident in myself. Don’t tell me the hard things. I just want to be comfortable. We don't like to hear about the holiness of God, because holiness sets a standard that we do not want to keep. Sure, it's probably one we can't keep anyway, but more likely, we simply don't want to keep it. If we gloss over the holiness of the Creator, the God of heaven Who not only created us, but Who saved us because of His graciousness, we then can go on living as if we do not have the Standard right in front of us. If we ignore His holiness, we can go on living as we want to. God's holiness demands our holiness. The Israelites knew this: Leviticus 11:44-45 "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy...For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." This call to holiness is extended to the New Testament and ourselves in 1 Peter 1:15 "as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct."
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
and trust in oppression and perverseness
and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
with which to take fire from the hearth,
or to dip up water out of the cistern.”
15 For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling,
God even told them the way out. Return (repent), rest, be quiet, and trust in the Holy One of Israel. Then will you have strength, then will you be saved. But they were unwilling still. The answer was right in front of them, how could they not listen? Not only did they not listen, they actively ran the other way!
16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.”
The Israelites were frightened and paranoid. And everyone knew it.
How could this be God's chosen people? The same people who received the promises of Abraham, that through them all the nations of the world would be blessed? The same people who were delivered from Egypt in a spectacular display of God's power, as a testimony to the rest of the world? Of any people on earth, the Israelites ought to have been confident, secure, and prosperous in the bountiful promises and provisions of God. But that is not what we see here. The Israelites were rebellious, lying, unable to take instruction, unholy, despising of the Word of God, relying on oppression and perverseness, stubborn, unwilling to repent, frightened, paranoid cowards.
This is quite a list. If we stopped here, there would appear to be no hope at all. And really, isn't that true? There was no hope in and of themselves, just as there is no hope in us either. If the chosen people of God were in this condition, what hope have we? Doesn't this list look just like us? Even us "Christians"? We have received the Word of God, watched Him do miraculous things, even have been redeemed from our sin and rescued for His glory out of our helplessness, yet we live defeated and frightened, striving for comfort instead of conviction, living for ourselves instead of giving ourselves wholly to His mission.
About now, I expect God to drop the proverbial hammer. Through His prophet, Isaiah, He has unleashed a litany of failures against His people. He has literally nothing good to say about them. And they are consciously still running away from Him. Now is the time to open the floodgates of destruction and judgement on this rebellious, worthless people. Sometimes He does that, true. Just read the book of Jeremiah. But that is not what we find in this passage. We find a glimpse into unfathomably gracious heart of our Savior.
This is the paradox of Grace.
“18 Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”
Wait, what? Read it again. Let it sink in. Therefore?? Therefore?? Isaiah just finished outlining all the ways in which God’s people have failed Him. How completely terrible they are. Therefore?? I have learned about the graciousness of God my whole life. I know about our own depravity. But I've always looked at the relationship between the two in a certain way. More like "even though," or "in spite of," our awfulness, God is gracious. This makes more sense to me, that despite my sinful condition, God still loves me. But that is not what this passage says, is it? It says "therefore." Because of, for this reason, hence, ergo. Because we are rebellious, lying and arrogant, He is gracious. He is gracious because we are without hope. This is a crucial difference. It's not out of pity that God is gracious. Why then?
Why is he merciful and gracious to Israel; why does He extend His free gift of grace through Jesus Christ? Yes, He loves his people with an everlasting and unfathomable love. But from this passage, there is also a deeper reason. He exalts Himself by showing mercy because He is a God of justice. Justice is not simply fairness. Justice is what is right. The ultimate justice is that God is rightly exalted. That He receives the glory due His Name. His extension of grace is a magnification of all that He is.
Note the incredible logic of God. Because He ought to be exalted, He is gracious. Because He desires justice, He is gracious. Because we are rebellious and hard-hearted and prideful and forgetful, He is gracious. And conversely, because He is gracious, we who were once not a people, are now the people of God. Because He is gracious, we extend justice into every facet of our lives, into the very fabric of our society. Because He is gracious, we proclaim the wonder and majesty of our God, magnifying His glorious Name. Because He is gracious, He is rightly exalted.
Grace is a paradox. Grace is wonderful, beautiful, and completely undeserved. But ultimately, Grace is not about us, the recipients. Grace is all about God.