Today’s Eurasia Blog Wednesday devotion is based on the readings for Easter 4 in the one year lectionary. You may find it helpful to read all three. The Old Testament lesson is printed below. The Epistle is 1 Peter 2:11-20. The Gospel is John 16:16-22.
To whom then will you compare Me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, and because He is strong in power not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:25-31 ESV).
These words of comfort from the prophet Isaiah come on the heels of terrible news. In Chapter 39, Isaiah reveals to Hezekiah that the envoys from Babylon will return to plunder the Kingdom of Judah. Isaiah says, “Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isaiah 39:5-7 ESV). Hezekiah, in his foolishness or selfishness, responds that this is good, thinking that at least it means there will be peace in his day (v. 8). However, Yahweh, through Isaiah, still speaks these words of comfort because He knows that future generations will need them.
Jerusalem was captured and held in captivity and many of the people were carried off to Babylon, as well as all their treasures, about 125 years later during the Babylonian Captivity. The exile lasted from 586-538 BC, when a contingent was allowed to return and begin rebuilding the Temple (the captivity lasted until 516 BC). In that time, they lost everything. The temple was destroyed and its gold and other sacred items pilfered. Many of the people were led into exile in Babylon where they faced such difficulties as the threat of death for continuing to worship Yahweh. It is nearly 50 years before they begin to return, and 70 years before the rebuilding of temple is completed. The Psalms are filled with weeping laments as the people long for Zion, the temple of their God and their homes.
We, too, are exiles in a fallen world that often brings us to weeping (1 Peter 2:11). We are different and other in a world that hates the Truth and punishes those who confess it. There are Christians all over the world who are literally imprisoned, killed or facing death because they confess Jesus. In the Sudan, there is the pregnant mother being held for “apostasy” and “adultery” because she was born to a Muslim father, but was raised by a Christian mother, confesses Jesus and married a Christian man. Each day as she sits in a cell with her 20 month old child and the babe in her womb, she confesses Christ and refuses to deny Him. Yet, the days must seem long. And she and we cry and pray for God’s deliverance to be speedy. Her strength must be fading, her fears overwhelming.
Though not of the same character, we too face the effects of exile in this hostile world. Our bodies literally faint and grow weary as weakness and illness sap our strength. We watch in sorrow as countries like Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic, historically Christian countries, turn increasingly into agnostic and atheistic nations. We watch in sorrow as governments around the world, even in the West, slowly tear down our ability to believe as we would and to follow our conscience in freedom and without restrictions or caveats. And we cry out and we pray for God’s speedy deliverance from our bodies of death, from a hostile world. We ask with the disciples in John 16, “How long, O Lord? How long is ‘a little while’?”
Praise be to God that we have words of comfort from our God on high. Words that were first spoken to King Hezekiah for the benefit of those who would go into exile. When we are weary, when our strength fades and the days seem long, Yahweh does not faint, He does not grow weary, and He gifts us with strength and renewal and refreshment in the midst of our weariness. He renews our strength. He walks with us in our exile, strengthening us for the journey. And Jesus speaks His promise that it is only “a little while.” When the “little while” is over, despite the desperate attempts of the world to steal our joy and sap our strength, and even when it is successful, yet will we see Jesus again. “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). No one — not the world, not our own sinful flesh, not the devil, not governments, not even death — can steal our joy. Our joy is this: It is Jesus. It is the resurrection of the dead. It is life eternal with our Savior. That joy is always ours. That joy is forever. Just “a little while” now, and we will see Him face to face!
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord, when we grow weary and faint, when the world threatens us and succeeds in harming us, uphold us with Your promise and bring us to the resurrection on the Last Day so that we may proclaim Your refreshment and Your second coming to all people; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.