A Messenger Likely to Get Shot – Isaiah’s Story
How we live matters. We can have the best worship services with all the lights and great music but the worship God really wants are lives of obedience, love for others and care for the victims of injustice. If we wander off that path God will do anything it takes to get our attention again and restore us to that full and abundant life he wants for us.
It may be pretty hard to see how ancient text like what we have in the book of Isaiah could possibly be relevant for us today. I mean, have you tried actually reading the whole book – or just a chapter? These prophets were cranky! Their favourite phrase seems to be ‘Woe to you …’ and there’s all kinds of doom and gloom.
And yet … in these books a picture emerges of how messed up life can be, and how determined God is to not let us get lost in that. If you think that ignoring or disobeying God isn’t a big deal then reading the prophets will grab your attention. If you think God is a merciless, vengeful tyrant always breaking things then these passages will show just how loving and tender God can be. These passages are raw with emotion, brutally honest and heartbreakingly tender. If you think God doesn’t have feminine, mother-like qualities you need to read Isaiah …
In this session we’re going to dip into just one chapter of Isaiah’s book. You should balance this one with other passages like chapters 9. 55, 58 and 65.
In the Old Story, God decides to begin restoring the damage caused by human rebellion by creating covenants.
Think of the prophets as the Covenant Enforcers. Their job was to keep reminding the people about the Covenants and the laws and what would happen if they obeyed and disobeyed. In a nutshell the Covenants were basically this:
God says: I promise to be your God. I will bless you and everyone through you, and you get enjoy the things you were made to deeply desire. You, just need to let me be God – that means being holy and faithful to me – not worshiping anything else.
Seems simple enough right? So how did that go in those old days? Turns out …
Not very well.
Around 740 BC Isaiah gets called into action. Things have been going pretty badly. People have been worshiping other things, and when people DO worship God their services have become a bit routine. They’ve got all the bells and whistles and smoke but their hearts are someplace else … God doesn’t like that. What Isaiah writes in the first chapter of his book is beautiful, harsh, shocking, sad, hopeful … Check it out
Let’s dig into the passage a bit:
Verses 1-4: The ancient, great command – the one that captured everything God wanted from his people was this:
Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! (Deuteronomy 6:5 The Message)
But look what’s happened: In Isaiah 1v1-4 God tells it like it is. It’s not pretty.
My people have walked out on me, their God, turned their backs on The Holy One of Israel, walked off and never looked back.
verses 5-9: in the next section Isaiah explains why life is not going very well. Whether it’s their physical bodies or their whole country – things are pretty messed up: people are sick and broken – just like God said would happen.
‘From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, nothing’s working right.’.
Is that a decent description of how things can still be today?
verses 10-17: Now things get pretty hectic. People are praying, fasting, burning incense and offering costly sacrifices to God – all the things good God-people should do right? But God says he hates it all. What? God hates people worshiping him? Yes – if the songs they sing in church aren’t backed up by what they do outside of church…
“I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.”
Ok, so what is the worship God really loves?
- Actually stopping doing the stuff you know is wrong
- Pursuing the things you know are right
- Making a noise when unjust things go down
- Encouraging people who’ve been stepped on
- Standing up for people who are weak
verses 18-26 This part is a great summary of what the whole book of Isaiah is about: The people have rejected God so God honours their choice and lets them experience life with God. It’s ugly. There’s so much bad stuff going on in Israel that God decides to shake them out of their slackness. The people are forced to pay attention to God when God hoofs them out of their towns and dumps them for a while in other places – like Babylon and Assyria.
A bit of hardship is often a sure way to get people to pay attention to God again. Israel ends up spending many years in exile. It’s a tough time. People like Daniel and Esther and have to figure out life with God in a hostile place. But, God promises to use their suffering to draw his people back to him and to make them more holy – if they repent and learn to worship God with their whole lives. One day God will bring his people back and make things right again (read Isaiah 40 for one of the best passages about this.
Finding your life in the Story
So how is the story about a tribe from long ago relevant to us? A lot of water has passed under the bridge since 740BC. Well actually, we are actually quite a lot like those poor Israelites – living in a world that is in many ways, far from ‘home’ for us. It’s a bit like being in exile. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be – and life can be hard and painful.
And here’s where there’s genuinely GOOD news for us:
1) We can live faithful and holy lives when everyone around us is doing messed-up and crazy stuff. Just like Daniel and Esther and Isaiah (and a bunch of other heroes from the Old Testament) we are free to live lives that are aligned with God’s ways. Just like those people, we’ll probably need to be brave and risk being mocked. We’ll need to trust that God knows what he’s doing. Just like those people we have the God who never changes with us in every situation we face.
2) God can use hard times to get our attention. Do you find that the better things are going the more you tend to forget about God? Sometimes God allows us to suffer and go through tough times in order to teach us things we wouldn’t learn otherwise. There are lots of worship songs out there about being refined and made holy. Being refined is a hot, uncomfortable and painful process! The bad stuff is literally burned away – ouch! But the result is a whole new level of purity. If you’re going through a tough time maybe stop and see what God might be saying through it to you.
3) How we live our lives really matters. Worshiping God in cool Christian events has no meaning if we don’t align our hearts with the things on God’s heart in our lives each day and then try to live that out. Isaiah 58 is a beautiful description of what that looks like.
Life can be tough, and often we are our own worst enemies when we wander off in crooked directions away from God’s will through our pride or just plain stubbornness. Sometimes God needs to discipline us in order to get our attention again and bring us back to where God wants us.
The good news is that God disciplines us because he loves us. He keeps drawing us back to the straight line of enjoying life with him.
In the end the choice is ours. How much will we embrace God’s training of us so we can truly live?
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
How do you or your friends explain what’s happening when things go badly in life? Is it bad karma from somewhere? Just bad luck? Or is God somehow involved?
Can you think of a moment when you were really worshiping God? What did that look like? What things helped it happen?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Some questions to help you replay your story
o Did what you encountered sound more like good news or bad news to you? Any idea why?
o Was there anything in this Story or in the passage in Isaiah that was particularly meaningful for you? Did any parts describe your experience of life, or of Christian worship?
o What feelings or emotions did you experience while hearing that part of the Story?
o Are there people in your life who sometimes tell you the truth about your life? How well do you tend to listen to them?
What practical action, response,or new way of thinking do you need to take into the week?
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Could you spend some time this week ‘listening to your life’ – reflecting on the things you do and listening to what God might be saying to you? Maybe that will mean talking to someone who knows God and who you trust – and hearing what they say.
o What could you do to express a life of worship for God through being obedient in something or caring for someone?
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic: