Reflections on Isaiah 47:1-15; Hebrews 10:19-31 and John 5:2-18
Those readings are from the Morning/Evening Prayer lectionary on Sunday (on which I base Sunday School teaching)
Is 47 is a classical Biblical reversal. Babylon was the dominant power of that age and it had included Judah in its conquests. (deutero)Isaiah has spent time professing God alone is God and mocking the gods of Babylon (whose temples dominated the landscape of the exiled Jews) and explaining that idols, which must be made and then carried, can hardly be worthy of worship or trust. Chapter 47 declares the abysmal end of Babylon. She will go from 'all powerful queen' to a throneless peasant grinding grain in the dust. In place of her robes she is reduced to dishonor and nakedness. [This is the archetype used in the Book of Revelation to pronounce similar judgment on the Roman Empire--and by extension every Empire since!] The loss of husband and children are 'types' of her desolation. Her predicted disaster and ruin are declared by God as final. And when it came to pass, it was final.
One verse seems especially relevant to our times: "your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray"... The technological advances of Babylon had been unparalleled. She stood secure in those and believed she would never fall. She saw herself as sufficient. This is why she is the type used in the Apocalypse--Babylon is every human institution which fails to see its place in God's plan. A reminder to every nation which replaces God with itself--especially the trust in scientific advances. As we all know, progress in knowledge produces equal parts of blessing and threats. Cures and plagues can pour forth from the same biological research. Computers and robots can be helpful or destroy us...
Hebrews 10 explains that Jesus is the High Priest who has made the perfect sacrifice (once and for all) which provides access to the heavenly realm. Hebrews employs sacramental language, discussing the unseen heavenly Temple and its relationship to our human adventure in the concrete world. We have access, here and now, to the Father in and through Christ Jesus. Hebrews is big on hope, and the foundation for the anchor of hope is God ("for He who promised is faithful"). Often times I am in prayer for people whose faith is wavering, but sometimes it is an issue of hope. Despair, even among Believers, is common. God can do anything, we just wonder if He wants to and if He will? Hebrews is written to people in a tough spot, struggling with the "cost" of discipleship. The reason we can pay the price is we know whom we serve, a faithful God who has given us covenant promises. As God is faithful and trustworthy, we are challenged by the author to stir up love and good works among us (the Greek word literally means to pester!). Christianity is a communal affair (and our contemporary individualism is condemned here). Go to church and be active without "neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some." It appears even in the early church missing services was a problem. As attendance in church in our time continues to fall, we do well to hear these words with fresh ears. For they are tied to a dire warning of losing the salvation we received and experiencing judgment and punishment. Say what you will about threats from the pulpit; the Bible is full of them.
John 5 could be an illustration of what Hebrews warns us. Jesus asks a man if he wants to be healed (as he lay beside a pool which was thought to be stirred by angels and the first one in got healed). The man fails to answer the question and instead explains the obstacle (no one to carry me in the pool in time) to healing. How often in the healing ministry do we hear reason after reason piled up to explain why it is impossible! Jesus needs no angel or water, He simply commands the man to walk (which, by the way, He authorizes His followers to also do). The man is warned to "sin no more so something worse does not come upon you." Illness is a sign or type of damnation, it is a pointer to the possibility of eternal misery. Jesus makes clear that there are worse things than temporal suffering. The man, who was healed, had been confronted by leaders for carrying his mat. He blamed Jesus ("the man who healed me told me to") much as Adam blames God ("the woman you gave me told me to"). When asked who the man was, he declared I do not know. However, after meeting Jesus again and being warned not to sin (which in the Fourth Gospel is first of all unbelief and failure to trust Jesus) the man goes off and tells the officials "it was Jesus." How is that for gratitude? Jesus heals me, so I turn His name into the authorities. The Gospel author says that healing on the Sabbath was a reason for Jesus' crucifixion. The man who had been healed (three Greek words are used: made whole, made healthy and a third which conveys being made whole or saved) fails to recognize Jesus and be faithful to Him. His own wants satisfied, he seeks to ingratiate himself with the enemies of the One who offered him salvation. A warning for those who would pray to God for wants and needs and not also obey and worship God as members of His covenant people.
Ancient words and contemporary applications. As we read these words in Scripture we are invited to hear God speak to us!