Lesson Scripture: Isaiah 48:14-22
Some keys or commands on our computers are more important than others. The delete key comes in handy after expressing something that might be better left unsaid. The shift key allows us to change the form of our words to communicate exactly what we need to say. The UNDO command also serves a great purpose. If you hit the incorrect key or delete something you want back, all you have to do is select the UNDO command. After that, you get another chance to complete your document without your mistakes forever haunting you in black and white. Unfortunately mistakes happen in every part of life, not just in our computing. It’s good to know we serve a God who offers infinite chances and incredible grace to undo our sin which leads us astray. Let’s listen in as Isaiah speaks to the exiles who, like us, desperately need a second chance.
Needing second chances
I am thinking of someone in this moment, a kind and gentle soul, who needs a second chance. Yet he continues to face one challenge after another. You know someone facing the same situation. The exiles must have felt the same way, wondering if their second chance would ever come. Isaiah has something to say about their concerns.
In Isaiah 48:14-16a, God proclaims to the people a new and surprising word. Their second chance comes in the form of Cyrus II of Persia. Chosen by God, Cyrus conquers Babylon, occupies their land and rules her people. In Ezra 1:3, Cyrus proclaims “any of you who are His people may go to Jerusalem in Judah to rebuild this Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives in Jerusalem. And may your God be with you!” (Ezra 1:2-3) Up to this point, salvation for the people always came from within the bounds of the covenant. Now, God boldly chooses Cyrus, a foreign king and nonbeliever, to free His people from the bondage of exile. The children of Israel hardly knew what to think or how to respond.
The exiles’ predicament feels familiar to us. Often when I need a second chance, I want to define the parameters of that second chance. It must look like this, come from this source and provide this, that and the other. These verses bring to mind that old preacher joke about the man caught in a flood, sitting on the roof of his house as the waters rise, praying that God would save him. A boat and a helicopter come by offering assistance. He refuses their offer, assured that God will save him. The man drowns and finds himself at the Pearly Gates. He asks God: “Why didn’t you save me?” God replies: “I sent a boat and a helicopter!”
“We do not necessarily understand what God is doing for us in the events of our lives. However, what we do know is that they are glorious and wonderful and that they will draw us to God’s side in heaven.” (Daily Bible Study) Truly, God works in our lives in mysterious and unpredictable ways. Who are we to limit the limitless Sovereign of the Universe? Open your eyes and hearts for you never know when, where or how God will show up to save your life. If you still feel blind to the Lord’s presence, fear not! The Lord of heaven and earth is still working in us and among us, whether we recognize it or not.
Dealing with mistakes
Human beings make mistakes. None of us makes it through life without making a few at least. In fact, the saying, “You’re only human” points out that making mistakes and errors in judgment come with the territory of being born into this world. In Isaiah 48:18, the Lord laments the mistakes His people made again and again which resulted in their exile in Babylon. “O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18)
God created the people in His own image. God gave them their law, leaders and the Temple. Yet, in the light of all this divine grace, His people chose disobedience. They fell away, worshipping other gods and claiming God’s blessings as their successes. They neglected the needy and God as well. Their exile in Babylon served as a punishment. In exile, the people discovered their deep need to repent of their sins.
Like them, you and I stand in the shadow of our own sinfulness, in a captivity of our own making. God laments over our unfaithfulness and mistakes just as He did over the exiles so long ago. So what do we do? It is good to know that we don’t have to earn our forgiveness for we never could. Christ offers forgiveness through His death on the cross. “On our part, we must know the afflictions of our own hearts – that is, have a high level of spiritual self-awareness of our need before God. This means our weakness before temptation and our daily struggle with sin. On God’s part, we have the consolation that God hears our prayer and is forgiving.” (Daily Bible Study) With God’s promise and our personal intention, you and I no longer have to live under the power of sin and the regret of past mistakes. Instead, our God of second chances offers us something new.
What comes next for the covenant people? What is God’s exit strategy? “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed His servant, Jacob!’” (Isaiah 48:20) The exiles begin to undo the effects of their sin and punishment through PRAISE! Isaiah invites them to believe in the truth of God’s promise they could not yet see and move forward with shouts of joy.
In anticipation of grace and love moving among us, let us join their song of gratitude. If believing is seeing, may we truly believe in a God of second chances who presses the undo button in our lives, draws us close and moves us forward. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
Rev. Teresa Edwards is the associate pastor at Forest Hills UMC in Macon. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.