Avoiding wrong turnings

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How do we apply the book of Isaiah to our lives and context today? * Well, first of all, it’s important that we don’t attempt to pick it up and synthesise a set of principles straight from 700BC to 21st century life.  Instead, whenever we pick up an Old Testament book, we apply it first to Christ and then through Christ to life today.  This protects us from a number of risky wrong turns that have plagued the modern church.  In particular, it protects us from:

  • Legalism:  An attempt to find a set of rules and habits which if strictly obeyed, will in a mechanical manner will guarantee God’s blessing.
  • License: A reading of the Old Testament which treats it as all about a Law which is hostile to grace and so redundant following the death and resurrection of Jesus.

There are a few ways in which those errors have appeared in recent times. In particular, the Prosperity Gospel takes the promises of restoration and renewal and applies them directly to individual believers today as physical promises, meanwhile Theonomism and Christian Nationalism do the same but with specific countries being encouraged to seek the benefits.

So, we apply through Christ by first of all seeing how those prophecies pointed to him.  This is helped and made obvious because the Jesus and the New Testament authors frequently signal how Isaiah points to him.  Jesus is the obedient servant who willingly suffers for the sins of the people. He is the one who brings good news of freedom to the captives.  Jesus is the child of the virgin, Immanuel, God with us.  It is he who causes light to shine, in fact he is the light of the world and so, he is the one who is the mighty God and the prince of peace.

Not only that though but Jesus as the obedient Son and suffering servant can be seen as fulfilling Isaiah because he would have applied the teaching of the book to himself.  Jesus, unlike the disobedient people of Isaiah’s day, heard and understood, saw and perceived.  Jesus represents the faithful remnant.  He is the stump of Jesse.  Jesus stands with Isaiah, willingly saying “Here am I, send me.”  Jesus refuses the temptations offered him to idolatry, worshipping God alone.  Jesus shows love and compassion for the vulnerable and needy, “a bruised reed he will not crush.”

We apply Isaiah to Christ and we apply it through him.  This means that when we apply the book to ourselves, we realise that we are in Christ.  We benefit from its promises because we are co-heirs with him, because he has taken the judgements of the book on himself and because in that he has obeyed it, he imputes that obedience to us, so that God looks at us as though we had always kept his law and heeded his prophets, perfectly.

It also means that if Christ is pointed to as Immanuel, the Mighty God with us, that idolatry and deafness/blindness to God is about whether we accept Christ and worship him alone or reject him. We do not want to be blind, deaf and dumb like our idols, we want to be like Christ and that requires him to open our eyes and ears. 

If Theonomism and Prosperity Gospel heresy encourage us to attempt to apply the promises of restoration immediately and individually or to a nation (sometimes referred to as overreached eschatology), the temptation for many Christians is the opposite, to see those promises as merely metaphorical and spiritual.  Yet, if Scripture makes it clear that there are promises concerning Christ still to come, that a day will arrive when he will return to fully and visibly establish his eternal reign, then we can look forward to seeing those promises of physical renewal and restoration of creation fulfilled completely, not just for one bit of land but for the whole creation.

*Before Easter we spent 40 days working through the book of Isaiah. I would encourage those who spent time going through those devotionals to use the opportunity now, in the light of the Resurrection to reflect on some of the big messages of the book and how they apply to us, individually and as part of local churches today.

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