Welcome back to the waiting room. Yes, now that the cheer of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations have passed, it’s time to settle in. We’ve swept up the pine needles, taken down the lights, tossed out the stale cookies, and hunkered back down to wait.
What are we waiting for? Sure, a vaccine. Our hoped-for “get out of jail free card.” But what else? In the back of our minds, we simply want life to return to normal. No more masks. No more isolation. We want to gather and hug, to ditch our masks and show our smiles. We want the freedom of spontaneity, instead of the constant worry of avoiding crowds and contact points.
Fortunately, Isaiah stands ready to encourage our faith. How? By showing us how to wait.
After soaking in the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 9:6–Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, we have now jumped into the harsh reality of Israel’s messy history. God’s people are in trouble, but they’re turning to all the wrong people for help. God wants them to wait for him. But, quite frankly, they are making a mess of things while engaging in some very busy “not-waiting,” as our pastor observed.
Can you relate?
Waiting is hard work, which is why we try to avoid it. Waiting for help when you’re in trouble is even harder. The instinct to save ourselves is hard to resist.
Israel was a small nation sandwiched between hungry superpowers. They dwarfed her like a massive thunderhead building over unprotected desert. However, they had not been left without help. God himself would be their protector, if they would simply trust him.
Not only that, but God’s word was very specific to their situation. Sargon I, Assyria’s great king, had just died, leaving a power vacuum. Conventional wisdom urged Israel to make the most of the situation by running to Egypt for an alliance. Either empire was happy to help little Judah. In fact they were more than content to gobble her up and swallow her whole.
Fear had Israel running in circles between superpowers, but God rebuked her and offered something more sure, the help of his Spirit.
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin…”
I remember my own stubborn, childish foolishness, when I tried to set off a firecracker in a pile of dry leaves, then ended up running in circles to stamp it out with whatever object I could find–including a basketball! Only when I called for help did the grown ups hear and come running.
All because I refused to wait.
Waiting Room Snacks
It’s hard to wait. Whether you’re waiting at the IRS or in the clinic, you eventually get bored and hungry. Invariably you turn to the soda and snack machines, throwing all caution to the wind as you choose between junk foods. Later you’re not only sick of waiting, you’re sick from what you ate while you were waiting.
God’s people are meant to feed on his word while they wait: the wisdom of his law, the hope of his promises. During Israel’s crisis, God faithfully sent his prophet Isaiah to bring his word to their situation. But they weren’t willing to chew and swallow it. Instead, they began feeding on fear, craving false hope. They were acting like children, spoiled, stubborn children:
… they are a rebellious people,
children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD;
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,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
God’s people didn’t want to hear one more word about the Holy One of Israel, but fortunately, their childishness that didn’t stop Isaiah from speaking. Instead, he turned his message from warning to wooing.
The Holy One of Israel began extending them a personal invitation.
The Waiting God
How do you feel when you receive an invitation? Singled out? Privileged? Sometimes. But other times you look for an excuse to get out of the obligation.
On the other hand, how do you feel when you send out invitations and no one responds? There’s no quicker way to pop a party balloon than that! But the Holy One of Israel doesn’t give up that easily. He threatens judgment, but then surprisingly extends his grace.
Suddenly, right in the midst of his righteous indignation, that threatens to break them like a hostess throwing crockery(Isaiah 30:12-14), the LORD injects his gracious offer:
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
God had already opened his arms wide to his people. He had repeatedly offered them the chance to turn from chasing other deliverers and return to him. He would save them, not just from the outside threat of armies, but from the internal enemy of unbelief. It was, in fact, their return that would bring them rest.
Suddenly the Holy One of Israel speaks surprisingly gentle words to his stubborn, recalcitrant people. He will not punish them for their rebellion. Instead he will wait. Isaiah explains:
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.
Astonishing. What could explain such a sudden change of tone?
And His Waiting Son
Jesus made a similar offer to the people of his day. “Come to me,” he invited the weary and burdened, “and I will give you rest.”
Then he repeated himself: “Take my yoke upon you,” he offered the restless rebels of his day, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-29).”
Indeed, the LORD waited to be gracious to us. Then the day came, when his Son was lifted up on the cross to bear the fury of God’s storm against our sin. From that strange throne, he exalted himself to show mercy to you and me. On that day the LORD showed himself to be truly a God of justice, bringing justice through the cross.
And by returning to him through faith in Christ we will find our rest.
Blessed are all who trust in him.