Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who will go for us?

 In Isaiah 6, Isaiah relates a vision he has of the Lord in the temple, attended by seraphim. This vision is absolutely packed with meaning: The glory of the Lord fills the temple, the foundations shake with God's voice, and there is even an anticipation, a glorious anticipation among the unclean people of Israel, of atonement for sin. Towards the end of the vision, Isaiah tells us, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'" And it is here that we find even more meaning.

This is not just a question posed at this time, in this place, to one particular person. This is the driving question behind the story of redemption. This is the question that results in the prophets, judges, and kings, as God, again and again, sends messengers to a sinful and rebellious people, calling for them to return. This the driving question behind almost every act of God.

This question tells us a lot about the character of God and his attitude towards us. First, the question itself is based on a presupposition: that God will send someone. And why does God want to send someone? To call his people back to him. Then we ask: why does God want to call his people back to him? Have they not forsaken the Lord, and despised the Holy One of Israel? Do they not exalt the work of their hands over the Lord?

As Isaiah (and even our own experience tells us), indeed they have, and indeed they do. And the "normal" reaction, or should I say the "human" reaction, would be to do as Caesar does with Christ--to wash one's hands of the matter, and say, "I am innocent of their blood." The human reaction in the face of such utter faithlessness and scorn would be to leave us to our own devices, helpless and hopeless, until we meet our just and deserved death.

How fortunate for us, then, that our Lord is "God, and not a man." So the Lord stands above the earth, looking out upon a wicked and foolish people--and he asks, as if merely talking to himself, "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?" Whom shall I send to this wicked people, to call them to repentance? Whom shall I send, to remind this foolish people that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel? Who will call this people back to me?

This is the divine reaction to faithlessness: Love, going to greater and still greater lengths to call his people back to him, where they can be safe and happy once more.

And it is to greater and greater lengths. We see the prophets, the judges, the kings, as God involves himself with these mere humans, these created beings made of clay, who consistently and consciously revile and deny him. Again and again God calls to them, pleading with them to return. And after all this, after Moses and Samuel and David and even after Isaiah himself, there is still only a broken people, unwilling and unable to return to God.

And we can imagine the scene, outside this created world, outside time itself, as the Father sees all that is come to pass among his created children. He sees the people killing themselves with their selfishness and their pride and their sin. And then,with His divine voice echoing through eternity, He asks, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And in that timeless space there are the visions--visions of the one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A man smitten by God, afflicted, crushed, wounded, oppressed, stricken, cut off from the land of the living. Darkness and an agonized scream from a cross.  And with that hoarse scream of pain and terror still ringing in our ears, we can hear the voice of the eternal Son of God, saying, "Here I am; send me."

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