Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Compassion…’ – January 16, 2018
News of divisions within governments in the Western world continues – divisions over a wall on the southern border in the USA and a divided government over Brexit in the UK. Are Western democracies becoming ungovernable? Where do we look for hope? What can we do?
Two and a half millennia ago the Jewish people were in exile. In 586 BC Babylonian forces had rampaged through Judah, conquering Jerusalem, razing its walls and its temple to the ground. Political obliteration seemed inevitable as the cream of the population was taken to Babylon.
Yet the extraordinary thing was this: Judah’s morale was not destroyed. There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of God’s impending judgment on the nation, had also sounded a voice of hope.
“Comfort, comfort, my people,” Isaiah 40 begins and in the following chapters Isaiah speaks of a ‘Servant’ whom God would raise up to rescue and restore his people.
Isaiah tells us that God’s plan involved Cyrus, an insignificant prince from the north of Babylon. Despite humble beginnings Cyrus rose to defeat the Babylonian forces and paved the way for the Persian Empire under Darius. With his rise to power Cyrus had the authority in 520BC to decree the release of the Jewish exiles, permitting their return to Jerusalem and the restoration of their city – a miraculous event. Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as God’s anointed (45:1).
But as we read on we learn from Isaiah 49 that God had greater plans for his Servant. In verse 1 we read God’s words: Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!
God’s people were crying out for rescue, but this Servant doesn’t speak directly to them. Rather he speaks to the world at large, the islands and distant nations. The mission of this Servant is not just to God’s people, but also to the nations. His vision is global.
Yes, his work would involve the restoration of Judah, for in verse 5 we read: And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—
But there is something more. A needy world is waiting to hear the truth about God: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).
In fulfillment of his promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3b), God’s plan is to extend his salvation to the nations. And, while verse 7 says that God’s Servant will suffer at the hands of the nations, a day would arrive when they would come to him, even their leaders.
Centuries before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah was opening a window on elements that would characterize his life. Wise men did come from the East to pay him homage at his birth. People from around the world have been coming to him ever since.
As we look back on Isaiah’s words through the lens of the New Testament we see that Isaiah was right. God’s king has now come. In his words and his actions Jesus revealed that he is God in the flesh. He not only taught with great authority but he also revealed God’s compassion for a needy world – feeding the hungry and healing the sick, overcoming the powers of evil and even raising the dead.
As yet people may not always acknowledge him as Lord, but most are agreed that in Jesus we have the greatest moral teacher who has ever lived. Follow his teachings and the world would certainly enjoy peace. For nowhere did he ever encourage violence or evil. In fact, even when he was betrayed in a most ugly way, he told one of his followers to put away his sword. Jesus taught and exemplified truth and love, compassion and peace.
The Getty Music ‘Compassion Hymn’ sets out God’s love and compassion and calls on us to play our part in revealing this to the world:
There is an everlasting kindness You lavished on us when the Radiance of heaven came to rescue the lost; You called the sheep without a shepherd to leave their distress for Your streams of forgiveness and the shade of Your rest… / How beautiful the feet that carry this gospel of peace to the fields of injustice and the valleys of need – to be a voice of hope and healing, to answer the cries of the hungry and helpless with the mercy of Christ / What boundless love, what fathomless grace You have shown us, O God of compassion! Each day we live, an offering of praise as we show the world Your compassion.
© John G. Mason, Anglican Connection