Idolatry and redemption today

IdolatryChristians readily agree with the statement that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-sufficient. But when trouble turns up, how many of us really know how to respond as if we believe it? We turn to idols instead.

Our idols aren’t quite the same as those of the ancients, but they work the same way. We trust our own resources more than we trust God. Certainly God expects us to use our own resources much of the time, but we must not trust them. We must trust God. Otherwise, whatever we trust instead becomes, functionally, an idol, the god we truly worship.

Once we realize that we as individuals and as a society are only superficially different from the people Isaiah had in mind when he wrote Isaiah 44:14-20, we can look at the promises that follow with real understanding.

Four things to remember

Beginning in verse 21, Isaiah writes not in his own voice, but as the voice and words of God himself. “Remember these things,” says God. What things?

  1. His word about idolatry and the foolishness of trusting on manmade things more than God.
  2. Our proper relationship to him. He made us so that we would serve him. We are not independent free agents, no matter how many ways society and the devil want us to believe we are.
  3. That we have sinned, but also that he has swept away our sins. We cannot do anything about our sins. They cling to us, cripple us, and stain us. To God, however, our sins are as insubstantial as a cloud or a mist. He not only can sweep them away without difficulty, but he already has.
  4. That God has redeemed us.

Redeemed. We don’t use that word much any more. If any Israelite ran into such hard times that he had to sell himself into slavery, his relatives had the obligation to redeem him and restore him to freedom. It cost something.

We are slaves to sin. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, and it cost him his earthly life. Isaiah had little idea of what it would cost God to redeem us from that curse and from our slavery to sin, but he boldly proclaimed that God had already accomplished it.

Redemption now, redemption to come

swept away sins

“I have swept away your sins,” says God–and he’s hung up his broom.

Now I want you to notice a point of grammar. God did not speak in future tense. He did not say, “I will sweep away your sins and I will redeem you.” He spoke in perfect tense. “I have swept away your sins and I have redeemed you.” The matter is settled. It is finished.

The people of Judah have not yet finished sinning. The judgment for their sin has not yet fallen. As we will see, the restoration promised in this chapter is not a full spiritual restoration, and so the people will continue in sin one way or another after they return to Jerusalem. But God has already swept all of that sin away, too.

Today we’re still waiting for the final redemption. As many as read Revelation try to puzzle out what it means. Here’s all we really need to understand: God has already swept away our sins and redeemed us. From our perspective, we’re waiting and puzzling. From God’s perspective, it is an accomplished fact.

But wait, there’s more. Isaiah is still writing to people in Jerusalem who have fallen so deeply into idolatry and other gross sins that God has decreed the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its people. But remember, he had also created the nation of Israel to serve him and accomplish his purpose for them.

God does not always get his way in details. He did not intend for Adam or anyone else to sin in the first place. But he does always get his way in the grand sweep of the universe. His people will serve him and accomplish his purpose, and that requires their return to Jerusalem.

And so, through Isaiah, he proclaims some basic facts about himself:

  • He made the whole universe with no help or advice from anyone.
  • He carries out the words of his servants.
  • He makes fools of the false prophets and the wise of this world. Their predictions will not come true.

The Assyrian empire had long had a policy of deporting conquered peoples, and not one had returned to their original home. The Babylonian empire would continue that policy and deport the residents of Jerusalem.

But then, declared God’s servant Isaiah, by the command of someone named Cyrus, the descendants of the deportees would return to Jerusalem and restore it.

Isaiah looked even farther ahead. In four “Servant Songs” he described the ministry of Jesus Christ himself. That Cyrus, not the Servant, accomplished the immediate redemption shows it wasn’t intended to be permanent.

We’re still waiting. We’re still living in a rough neighborhood, assaulted with a bewildering array of problems. Let’s wait in faith and turn away from our idols.

Photo credits:
Wooden idol. Some rights reserved by Criss!
Broom closet. Some rights reserved by wayne’s eye view. (link no longer work as of June 2015)


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