Who loves the sound of the alarm clock waking you up in the morning! Are you leaper-out-of-bed, a snoozer, or a coffee-grabber?
On Sundays at OCC, we're just starting a series exploring the message of Isaiah, one of the so-called 'major prophets' in the Old Testament (OT). Why are we looking at an obscure part of the Bible, when there is plenty of more straightforward teaching in the New Testament (NT) we could straightforwardly apply to our lives today? After all, Isaiah is ancient-near eastern literature, and poetic - so very old, from another culture and not easy to understand.
Why study Isaiah?
Here are seven reasons that we think will convince you to join us in exploring Isaiah 40-55 together on Sundays this term (and we'll come back to the alarm clock too).
Reason 1: God gave us a library not a single book and it's ALL useful. The Bible is a collection of books of different styles (genre), written over several thousand years, and reflecting many different national cultures. Of the OT, the apostle Paul famously said, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness".
Reason 2: Because of Reason 1, OCC has a long-term teaching plan. Since 2007 we've had a 3-year cycle which guides us to look at different parts of the Bible, so that we pay attention to "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) not just the bits we like, or the bits that resonate with the way we do things already, or the bits that don't offend the modern world.
Reason 3: In Isaiah, we can see both history and God's view of history. Isaiah prophesies to encourage and challenge the people of God in a moment when life isn't going as they expect. He helps people get God's view of their exile. We too are in a tricky historical moment and we need God's view. Isaiah invites the people of God to "wake up!" their spiritual eyes and see what God is doing in their day - rather than just hitting the snooze button! A big theme of Isaiah is hope and we all need that, especially as this pandemic rumbles on.
Reason 4: The NT looks back at Isaiah loads, as does Jesus himself, so reading Isaiah helps us understand the NT better. 20% of the NT references to the OT come from Isaiah, which only forms 7% of the OT. Why this focus on Isaiah? N T Wright suggests: "Some of the early church Fathers saw the book as ‘A Fifth Gospel’. It’s easy to see why. … These chapters constitute one of the greatest poems ever written, touching the heights and depths of human and spiritual experience, reaching a sustained climax which opens a vista on creation itself renewed and restored."
Reason 5: In Isaiah, there is loads of messianic prophecy about Jesus, so reading the whole book will help us understand Jesus. Jesus consciously saw himself as fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah, most famously in Luke 4 when he applies the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 61 to himself:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.”
Reason 6: Reading Isaiah helps us understand the church. After Jesus fulfilled the mandate of the Servant that Isaiah introduces to us, he commissioned his disciples to carry on his mission after his example. In other words, we're the Messiah's people, and we get to continue his servant-mission!
Reason 7: Isaiah is a much-referred-to book, in prophecy, in song and even in popular culture. There is so much hope and perspective and encouragement! So it's really important to understand the big story rather than cherry-pick the bits we like, giving us the right understanding of popular soundbites like:
"The mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains and all the nations shall flow to it."
"The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light … unto us a child is born"
"They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles."
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you."
"Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
"Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion."
"He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; by his stripes we are healed."
"Enlarge the place of your tent."
"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters"
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness … to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?"
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me ... to bring good news to the poor ... to bind up the broken-hearted."
"Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down."
"Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth."
Want to follow along?
As we study Isaiah together as a church, why not join us in making it a focus of your patterns of personal Bible reading? These two daily reading guides are both really good:
- Straight to the Heart of Isaiah, Phil Moore - arranged as 60 daily readings (Phil Moore is a Newfrontiers church leader in London)
- Isaiah for Everyone, John Goldingay - arranged as 2 months of daily readings (this is the series for which Tom Wright does the NT titles)
Before you dive in, to get an overview of the book we highly recommend the Bible Project resources on Isaiah (two 7-minute videos).
Or, you may prefer a more conventional commentary, in which case check out one that our preaching team are using to help us with this series: The Prophecy of Isaiah, Alec Motyer