In the film Grand Canyon a man diverts from a traffic jam and ends up on a dangerous street where his car breaks down. He was taunted and threatened by a group of teenagers. Upon arriving, the tow-truck driver tried to school the leader of the gang with these words: “The world ain’t supposed to be like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait for his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here.”
Looking around the country, particularly in the week following the 2016 Presidential Election, no matter how you voted, many look around and say, “this isn’t how it should be.” Isaiah chapters two through five capture a picture of the nation of Israel, not only describing what is, but capturing what should or could be:
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:2-3
Isaiah gives us a picture of nations streaming to the Lord’s temple. There is often discussion over whether the church should be attractional or missional. Should the church attract people to it or should the church go out to the people? In the Bible, the image cuts both ways. But in these verses in Isaiah, we see great attractional imagery. The people of God are in the temple and they are so winsome that nations stream to the temple. There will come a time when the Word of God will be so central that people will want to come and know it. It is a picture of a community so marked by devotion and allegiance to God that it attracts the world.
We also see a commitment to peace in Isaiah 2:4-5: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” To settle disputes means to arbitrate to a thoughtful conclusion. Not only will the Word of God be exalted but God will settle disputes and put right all that is wrong. Weapons of war will be made like garden tools. In his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantiga pictures it this way:
As the great writing prophets of the Bible knew, sin has a thousand faces. The prophets knew how many ways human life can go wrong because they knew how many ways human life can go right. These prophets kept dreaming of a time when God would put things right again. They dreamed of a new age when human crookedness would be straightened out. When rough places would be made plain. The foolish would be made wise and the wise humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower and mountains would run with wine. Weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People could work in peace and work for fruitful affect. All nature would be fruitful, benign and filled with wonder upon wonder. All humans would be knit together. Shalom means human flourishing, delight, and wholeness. It’s really just the way things should be.
It’s a God-given longing that things should be better. Not only did it manifest in Israel as they faced an Assyrian invasion, but it manifests today. You find it in music from country to pop to hip-hop. In this longing, we search in the same way the Israelites searched for fulfillment as seen in Isaiah 2:6-9. We search for it in authority outside of God. We look for it in wealth. We rely on military might. We worship idols that have no substance. But God answers this searching with a warning in Isaiah 2:11-18:
The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled)…The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear.
The world is consumed with power, wealth, and authority with human arrogance. Isaiah 2:22, warns us to “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” A day is coming when the world will prioritize the Word of God. A day is coming when the world will prioritize the peace of God. Continue reading in Isaiah chapters three through five and there are several observations and warnings to the people:
- God will take everything that you rely on (Isaiah 3:3:1-2).
- Frivolous qualities were being accepted as adequate for leadership (Isaiah 3:6). In his commentary The Prophecy of Isaiah, Alec Moyter, “Isaiah, in reality, is describing a breakdown in national character and seriousness – the spirit which treats national welfare, politics, and leadership as a joke.”
- God desired righteousness, justice, and people who cared about the least, but instead he got bloodshed. He desired right-living, but instead the words of the disenfranchised were heard. (Isaiah 5:7)
- A self-interested leadership was elevated (Isaiah 3:13-14).
Injustice was tolerated (Isaiah 3:15).
- The nation was celebrating self-indulgence (Isaiah 3:16-24).
Isaiah 2 begins with the overall picture of what should be – a time of peace and a time of celebrating God’s Word. It then moves to what is – the people of God living in self-indulgence, elevated interest in their leadership, and disregarding God. Then Isaiah 4:2 brings us back to what should be – a time of cleansing and holiness looking ahead to the time of Jesus Christ. God describes what should be, brings us to the reality of what is, and then extends His grace by cleansing and making holy so we can experience what should be. John Oswalt describes it like this:
God doesn’t intend judgment to be His last word. If it’s true that there are certain inevitable consequences that follow sinful choices, it’s also true that God can take us through those sinful choices and bring us out the other side without annihilating us. Judgment is not intended to destroy, but to cleanse. The only issue is whether we will be the ones who will allow judgment to do its cleansing work.
The things that God allows is a way of God allowing us to be cleansed so we can experience what will be and what should be. John Oswalt also describes it like this: “Relocate your happiness in the future, in a world that doesn’t exist yet except in the promises of God. If you do that, you won’t be devastated when the idols of human pride are trashed, as they will be. In God, you possess both the present and the future.” Author C.S. Lewis also put it in this perspective: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”
We see an invitation in Isaiah 2:5, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The cleansing work is providing light. Even though you live in a corrupt society, you are called to be the people who prioritize and reflect the Word of God and the peace of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 6 describes it like this:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are called to be a light in the midst of the division seen in our nation. You will prioritize the Word of God. You will live out its implications. You will be a light. You will be radically committed to what it means to bring human flourishing and peace in this world.
Some answer this call by voting for one party or another. Jesus was never afraid to challenge all political groups. In His day, it was the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees. Jesus loved both groups but at times was at odds with both groups. Jesus was willing to challenge both sides of the spectrum. No matter where you land, don’t be afraid to challenge what is objectional to the Word of God in the peace of God even within your own political side of the spectrum. Don’t be afraid to listen to what the other spectrum thinks or feels.
NBA on TNT host Ernie Johnson had some poignant comments about the 2016 Presidential Election after choosing to resort to a write-in vote. He had this conclusion: “I never know from one election to the next who will be in the Oval Office, but I always know who will be on the throne… Scripture tells us to pray for our leaders.. I’m going to pray for Donald Trump. I’m going to pray for all those people right now who feel like they are on the outside looking in and are afraid at this point… In short, I’m praying for America.”
Ernie Johnson expressed Christian hope and a commitment to the process in this world. It matters who’s in the White House, but ultimately God is on the throne. It’s important to live out biblical principles here and now by loving your neighbor, making this world a better place, and praying for leadership. It takes people to be committed to living out the peace and justice of God in this world. We should be a mirror of what should be, not what is.
In this world, the what should be/could be are just glimpses. One day you can share in the what should be in it’s entirety if you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior and acknowledge that, at times, you contribute to the world as it should not be. Jesus came and lived a perfect live, died on the cross, and did for you what you could never do for yourself. His grace and gift gives us the opportunity to live simultaneously in this world and for another world.