There are four themes that connect the biblical story of faith. These themes are:
- Creation by God
- Rebellion against God
- Exile from God
- Restoration with God
Within the 1,189 chapters of the Bible there are pivotal chapters that connect these themes. There are pivotal chapters in the Old Testament such as the first two chapters of Genesis that begin the biblical story of God as Creator who speaks order to chaos and breathes life into humanity. Chapter 3 of Genesis tells the story of rebellion against God as Adam and Eve trust a talking snake rather than God and the story of exile as they are banned from the Garden of Eden. Chapter 12 of Genesis tells the story of restoration with God as God calls Abram and Sarai (later known as Abraham and Sarah) to journey in faith to a land where they have never lived before.
There are pivotal chapters in the New Testament such as the first chapter of the Gospel of John that tells the story of creation and how in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God. There is the pivotal story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in the 3rd chapter of John where Jesus talks about rebellion against God and exile from God that occurs when people choose to love darkness rather than light. In the same pivotal chapter there is the story of restoration with God in John 3:16 as “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The 55th chapter of Isaiah is a pivotal chapter of the Bible. The setting for this scripture is that the time has come for Judah to be restored with God as the Babylonian Exile was coming to an end. For 60 years, the leadership of Judah had been living in captivity in Babylonia because of their rebellion against God through the worship of idols. The result of their exile was that the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and left in ruins. But now, after years of exile, Persia has defeated Babylonia and the exiled people of Judah are being called to a restored relationship with God as those who have lived on the rations of the captive are invited to a rich and royal divine banquet of God’s everlasting covenant of love as described in Isaiah 55:1-5:
1 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.
The restoration of God’s exiled people guides Isaiah 55:6-9 as God’s pardoning presence is the pivotal evidence of God’s love. These verses laid the foundation for John Wesley’s understanding of God’s searching love that does not give up on us even when we find ourselves in exiled times in our own lives. John Wesley’s teaching about God’s searching love from Isaiah 55:6-9 provided the foundation for the Wesleyan movement of God’s grace that, in turn, became the foundation of The United Methodist Church.
Philip Yancey, the author of What’s So Amazing About Grace, writes that as he studied Jesus’ life, the notion of grace kept hitting him in the face. All of Jesus’ stories “made the wrong person the hero: the prodigal son not the responsible older brother, Lazarus not the rich man, the good Samaritan not the Jewish rabbi. And Yancey began to see grace as one of the great, often untapped, powers of the universe that God has asked us to set loose. Human society runs by Ungrace, ranking people, holding them accountable, insisting on reciprocity and fairness. Grace is, by definition, unfair.”
“We need to let it soak in that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more…and nothing we can do to make God love us less. God is love—a noun, not a verb—and cannot help loving.”
Grace defines the love of God that has the power to redeem us and restore us even when we find ourselves in exile.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The certainty of God’s restorative power defines Isaiah 55:10-13 as the prophet states that God’s Word is as reliable as the seasons. Affirming the certainty of God’s transformational power, the prophet assures that redemption and restoration with God shall become reality as the exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem and restore the temple.
What makes God’s Word a pivotal reality in Isaiah 55 is the promise that not only will Judah be restored from exile, but that all of God’s creation shall be restored from exile as the mountains and the hills shall burst into song and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
What makes God’s Word a pivotal reality in Isaiah is the certainty of God’s restorative power that calls us from exile to become God’s pivotal people whose lives are defined by everlasting covenant as we witness to God’s creation and redemption by living lives that lead us out in joy and back in peace.
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12 For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
May God bless us to be the evidence of God’s love as we live as God’s pivotal people.
God’s Pivotal People
by Pastor Marc Brown
July 16, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: Isaiah 55
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for July 16, 2023
Scripture Lesson Isaiah 55
The Good News “God’s Pivotal People”
Music “Softly and Tenderly” Hymn #348
Closing Music “Come Christians, Join to Sing” arr. Eugene Englert