Dr. Jason Tan shares a timely exegeses on Isaiah’s call to repentance. We hope you will be encouraged by this first installment of a weekly devotional article. For more on Jason, the current situation in the Philippines, and what inspired his devotional, click here to view a short (1min15s) video.
“Here am I. Send me!”
A call to repentance amidst the panic.
Isaiah’s calling as a prophet started at a time of great political unrest. An imminent threat of invasion looms over the nation of Israel as the Assyrian army overtakes one nation at a time. National leaders scrambled for political and military solutions, yet God has consistently pointed out the real cause of their problems: the spiritual decay of the nation.
God had revealed to Isaiah that He was behind all the political turmoil in the region. And that it was at God’s direction that the feared Assyrian army had been summoned to punish the nation of Israel.
Why was God determined to bring judgment on His own people? Israel was committing rebellion against God by its idolatrous practices, social inequality, injustice, corruption, and neglect of the poor, the fatherless, and the widows.
As a result, the LORD refused to accept their offerings. He would not even acknowledge their prayers. The LORD declared, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (Isaiah 1:15, NIV)
History tells us that whenever God turns his face away from his people, judgment and punishment is sure to come! The idea that God judges and punishes people and nations, has long been set aside by modern-day preachers as if these were heretical teachings. Our age is easily reviled by the idea of divine judgment and finds this theme “politically incorrect,” when portraying the Christian God.
The problem with Christians today is in the way we read the Bible. We love to “cherry-pick” only the portions that we like and leave the rest of the truth behind. And from those portions of Scripture we’ve collected, we paint a caricature of God that is more consistent with what we like than it is with the Bible.
We peddle a God who never gets angry or offended, a god who always cares about our well-being; who respects our moral and political rights. This god will never punish us but will always pardon us. He will hold us in his hands but will never hold us accountable for anything. The god we have created is incompatible with the human realities of pain, suffering, and death, much more so with the divine and universal laws of justice, judgment, and punishment. So when something as bad or evil as this pandemic happens the world is confused. What is more surprising is that the Church is as confused as the world.
On the other hand, when we let God speak for himself through Scripture, we find a Sovereign King, who is nothing like the “loving easy-going grandpa” we picture in our minds. And as King, God requires and even demands that His people abide by His rule. Moreover, the Bible is clear that a Day of Judgment is coming when everyone will face judgment, whatever one’s political, social, moral, or religious beliefs are.
A large portion of the Old Testament is composed of sermons of God’s prophets warning the nation of Israel that God’s judgment will fall upon them if they continue in their path of rebellion and sin. In the New Testament, Jesus and John the Baptist consistently warned the leaders of Jerusalem that if they don’t repent, God will judge and punish the whole nation. This theme of divine judgment, that God will come to judge the living and the dead, is illustrated even more in the book of Revelation and is the main reason for God’s coming. God has consistently demonstrated in the history of Israel, that as King, he will bring punishment and retribution against this world on the Day of Judgment.
During Isaiah’s ministry, the LORD revealed an appointed time of punishment, when Jerusalem will be overrun and they will be taken captive by a foreign nation. “See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman, and clever enchanter. I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them” (Isaiah 3:1-4, NIV).
This prophecy was fulfilled in 587 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem and deported all the leaders and its officials to Babylon. The punishment was so severe that it took 70 years before the first batch of exiles were allowed to go back and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem again. Why then are preachers afraid to preach a message of repentance when the Bible is clear that the Day of Judgement is already at our doorstep?
Isaiah knew of God’s impending judgment and knew the need to tell people about it. During a time of worship, Isaiah heard the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’
Isaiah replied, ‘Here am I. Send me!’
So Isaiah asked God to be sent to warn God’s people. He said, ‘Here am I, send me!’ Send me as a herald of repentance!” (Isaiah 6:8, NIV)
Before we go around judging and calling the world to repent of their sins, remember that God’s anger and warnings were directed first at His own people. God, at this point in time, was not judging the Assyrians or the Babylonians for their evil deeds, He was calling out to His own people to repent of their deeds. Although God would later punish and judge the foreign invaders, what God was more concerned about was His own people. In the midst of this pandemic, how should we respond as God’s people? We can respond as Isaiah responded to God in chapter 6.
1. Acknowledge that God is sovereign.
The world might be experiencing an unprecedented event, but nothing surprises God. In the midst of the political turmoil that Israel was facing, God is seated on his throne. Isaiah wrote, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4, NIV).
In the same way, despite the pandemic, God is seated on his throne. This pandemic is a great reminder that we are not god, He is God, the LORD is King! We don’t own the world, God does. The universe does not revolve around us but exists because of Him and for Him. In the midst of this pandemic, acknowledging that God is on His throne sets us free from worry and enables us to worship.
2. Admit your sins and repent. The first thing Isaiah realized when he came face to face with God’s majesty is his own filthiness.“‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV). We all have contributed to the systemic evil of this world. While it is presumptuous and arrogant to claim that this pandemic is a form of punishment from God, it is equally arrogant to say that God will never punish us.
Responding in an attitude of contriteness and repentance is the most appropriate thing to do at times like this.
However, we must be reminded that the call to repentance is always directed first to God’s people, then to the world. When Solomon asked God’s blessing upon the temple, God gave Solomon a condition: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NIV).
The healing of their land is dependent on the willingness of God’s people to humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways. Sometimes, the greatest hindrance to the Kingdom of God is the institutional church.
Perhaps, it is time for the institutional church to acknowledge and repent of our sins. We preached a god that is inconsistent with Scripture. We made political loyalty more important than church unity. We made excuses not to help victims of injustice by labeling them criminals. We did nothing to help the plight of the poor, the immigrants, widows, and the fatherless. We made our church activities and denominational rules more important than winning the lost. Much worse, we refused to warn the world of God’s impending judgment, so that no one sees the need to repent.
3. Ask to be sent on a mission
In such a time as this, there will be plenty of opportunities to serve God. As Isaiah prayed, “Here I am. Send Me!” Some of the reasons why God punished Israel was because they neglected their duty to serve and protect the most vulnerable in society. “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Isaiah 10:1-2, NIV).
This is the time for God’s people to show true repentance by caring for the most vulnerable in society. How we respond to our neighbors today will largely determine how they will respond to us after the crisis. However, we should never forget our first calling, which is to preach repentance to the world because the Day of Judgment is coming. So ask the LORD to send you on a mission to usher someone to repentance. May Isaiah’s prayer be our prayer today, “LORD, Here I am, send me (Isaiah 6:8)!”
He has more than 20 years of ministry experience as seminary professor, pastor, and mentor. He and his wife Donna serve as missionaries in the Philippines. They have two kids, Joshua and Elisha.