Isaiah and Life as Hope
1 - BIBLICAL HOPE
What does it mean to anticipate a future that is better than the present? We call it HOPE.
The prophet Isaiah depicted God as a farmer who planted vines, and the hopes for good grapes. In the period of Israel’s prophets, as the nation was sinking into self-destruction, Isaiah said, “At the moment, the Lord is hiding his face from Israel, so I will hope for him” (Isaiah 8:17).
The only hope Isaiah had in those dark days was God himself. And biblical hope is like that. It’s based on a person, which makes it different from optimism. Optimism sees configurations of the way things could work out well. But hope is not focused on circumstances, in fact, hopeful people in the Bible often recognize that there’s no evidence things could get better, but you hope anyway.
What hope does, is it recalls what God has done in the past and let’s this fuel your view of the future. We look forward by looking backward, trusting in God’s character and faithfulness.
The apostles referred to Jesus’ empty tomb as our hope. Peter said Jesus’ resurrection opened up a new and living hope that people could be reborn to become new, different kinds of humans.
It all comes down to hope is a choice to wait on God to bring about a better future that is as surprising as a crucified man rising from the dead. So, Christian hope looks back to the risen Jesus in order to look forward.
Read & Study: Read the text above. What is the difference between biblical hope and mere optimism?
Reflect & Pray: Think back about God’s faithfulness in your life. How can his faithfulness in the past fuel your hope in the present?
2 - THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
Hosea 2:15 & Genesis 12
As a pastor, I often meet with people who have begun to lose sight of hope. So hope is something I’ve schooled myself in. I’ve studied it. I look pretty hard for it, and am often in prayer with people who are desiring it.
There’s a verse in Hosea (who lived in a dark time) and I regularly pull this verse out of context in my pastoral prayers with people. But I feel okay doing this, because it’s a verse that works out of context; it’s a verse that beautifully describes the way the Lord brings hope into our lives: “I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope” (Hosea 2:15).
Just the past couple of weeks, I’ve met with half a dozen people who have felt like they’ve lost view of hope in their personal, relational, and spiritual struggles. The struggle is real. It can surprise us how quickly the horizon of hope we were walking toward now seems like storm clouds and darkness.
Which takes us to Isaiah. Isaiah saw the gathering storm clouds of judgment and spoke of this, which was part of his prophetic calling, but he also saw rays of light just over the horizon.
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the latter half of Israel’s kingdom period. And he spoke on God’s behalf—first of judgment and warned Israel’s corrupt leaders about their rebellion against their covenant with God—that there would be a cost. But this was combined with a message of hope. Isaiah believed deeply that God would one day fulfill all of his covenant promise, that he would send forth a king from the line of David to establish God’s kingdom and blessing would flow out to all of the nations, like God promises Abraham back in Genesis 12.
Read & Study: Read the passages above and think about what it means to have hope even amidst life toughest challenges.
Reflect & Pray: Where are you currently struggling? Pray for a hope in the midst of your current challenges.
3 - ISAIAH: THE SIXTH LONGEST BOOK OF THE BIBLE*
Isaiah 40, 43:18-19, 49:6, 53 & Acts 8:26-40
Of the 66 chapters in Isaiah, chapters 1-39 develop Isaiah’s warning of judgment, and that all culminates with an event at the end of chapter 39 (the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people into Babylon). But in chapters 1-39 there’s also a message of hope, that after the exile God would fulfill all his promises. So chapters 40-66 take that promise of hope and develop it. Right away in Isaiah 40 he speaks words of hope and comfort.
Isaiah is the one who spoke of the coming Messiah in such memorable passages as Isaiah 9:6. And in Isaiah 49:6 he refers to the coming Messiah of God’s people, their coming king, as the servant who is coming to bring salvation and renewal to the ends of the earth. And this servant is referred to as the suffering servant in Isaiah 53:3-7.
Isaiah 53:3-7 is the passage that we see an Ethiopian man trying to make sense of in Acts chapter 8. And one of Jesus’ disciples named Phillip used this very same scripture to tell him the good news about Jesus. And so should we. Isaiah is talking about Jesus!
And so the book ends with forgiveness and a vision of the entirely renewed creation, where death and suffering are gone forever. And in this renewed world of God’s kingdom, people from all nations were invited to come and join God’s kingdom so that everyone could know their Creator and Redeemer and enjoy God’s justice, shalom, and beauty, fully realized as God’s kingdom comes entirely on earth as it is in heaven. And that’s the powerful hope of the book of Isaiah.
*The longest books by word count are (in order): Jeremiah, Genesis, Psalms, Ezekiel, Exodus, and Isaiah.
Read & Study: Read the passages above and think afresh about what it meant in Isaiah’s time to have hope. What about today?
Reflect & Pray: Go back to the passage in Acts chapter 8 and place yourself as one of the characters in the story. What does this passage say about hope to you?
4 - ISAIAH’S EXCHANGE
I was reading some commentary on Isaiah by Eugene Peterson, and he pointed out something extraordinary in chapter 61. Read the text above, and notice one word in particular. The word INSTEAD.
First, there’s a garland instead of ashes. In ancient cultures, ashes on the head signified disaster and desolation—a loss of hope. A garland, on the other hand, represented jubilant victory—leaves and flowers woven into a crown, showing the inner experience of hope.
Second, oil of gladness instead of mourning. Mourning dries the face; constant tears leave parched, dry skin. Oil, plentiful from olive groves, restored suppleness and a glistening youthfulness.
Third, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. A faint spirit is weak and lifeless, with no strength. The mantle (garment) represented strength and readiness for vigorous participation in life.
And this triple-instead declares an exchange is taking place. Isaiah was preaching to unhappy people. The Jews had been in exile for 70 years, and then it ended. And then Isaiah began to preach about these insteads. And this exchange happened in Isaiah’s time and hope was restored. Some of the happiest songs ever written came from this period and are now called the Psalms. And eventually, one person appeared in whom the whole promise to Israel and the world was summed up—Jesus.
And 500 years after Isaiah preached these words, Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read these very words from Isaiah’s scroll, lived out the role defined in Isaiah, and started bringing all of these insteads to the world.
Read & Study: Read the passage about these beautiful instead in Isaiah. Consider what this means for your life in this present season.
Reflect & Pray: Where you are faint, dry, and feeling desolate, talk it over with Jesus, who brings life, hope, and flourishing.
5 - JESUS IS OUR HOPE
Luke 24:13-35; Isaiah 40:30-31; 60:1-3; 1 Peter 1:3-6
After the cross and resurrection we come to a beautiful scene in Luke 24, where we see two disciples who had lost hope. They did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead—nobody did really. The Jewish people had repeatedly been oppressed and they were waiting on a deliverer. So when Jesus comes along cleansing the temple and announcing his kingdom, people were pretty excited. Then he’s nailed to a cross. Oh, man. Back to the drawing board!
Hope is gone, or so they thought. And you know it’s moments like this that reveal what your hope is actually in, when the bottom falls out of your life. So Jesus walks up (incognito) to the two distraught disciples and notices their downcast faces and basically says, “What’s wrong?” They tell him about how they had hoped Jesus was the one. They wanted deliverance for their people and didn’t realize God was bringing life and hope to the whole world.
Which begs the question, what story are you living in? The one where God gives you what you want? Or the story God that is telling of what he is doing in history, in Jesus conquering sin and death for the whole world?
This is the living hope Peter wrote about in 1 Peter 1:3-6. And Christ followers hope regardless of circumstances. The author of Hebrews says we have this hope as an anchor for our soul. Our souls are anchored in him. And in Hebrews 10:23 we read, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.”
So, just a few implications to reflect on in prayer…
- How can we excavate what the foundation of our hope really is? What is your hope truly built on?
- How can we create a culture of hope as the people of God? If people can’t find hope among us, where else could they turn?
- How can we become restorers of life, like Jesus? How can we find people who have lost hope and invite them back into the true story to refresh their life, then rekindle a heart of burning hope?
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