One of our greatest weaknesses in contemporary Western Christianity is the poverty of our knowledge of God. This is not only doctrinal, in terms of our ability to articulate God’s character and attributes, but essentially practical—we do not know this relationally in all the challenges and changes of our lives. Where would you go to strengthen your understanding of God’s sovereignty as the ruler of the world he has created, to deepen your understanding of his essential nature as the faithful covenant-keeping God, who promises and fulfils? Where would you find Scriptures which build confidence in God’s commitment to his people and the absolute certainty of his eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace? The answers are in Isaiah.
How would you seek to be a faith-builder for your congregation? How would you try to woo them away from the siren voices of our contemporary culture, with its superficial understanding of human nature, glib ‘fix it’ remedies which cannot mend broken hearts and lives, reductionist and materialist ways of life in this world which fail their adherents over and over again? If you want to encourage faith in God’s promises, rather than a desperate resort to human policies, whether political, social, ecclesiastical or personal, you will preach Isaiah.
In a pluralist culture, with its many faiths and ideologies demeaned and reduced to mere variations on an out-of-date theme, how will you build up your people to believe in and defend the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ as the only son of God, the only Saviour of the world? How will you equip your hearers to share the non-negotiable essentials of the gospel, in a warm-hearted and relational way, with those who do not yet share their faith? What tools will you put in their hands to construct confident structures of faith in the unique accomplishments of the Lord Jesus, and so to give them a strong undergirding for their witness by life, as well as lip, in an unbelieving world? You will need to preach Isaiah.
What ought to be the priorities of the church at this point in world history? How should we regard the competing ideologies of the global village in an age of instant information? If much of what Isaiah prophecies has already been fulfilled, what should be our attitude between the first and second comings of the Messiah? How should we occupy the ‘waiting time,’ in which we live, looking towards the eschatological completion of God’s salvation plan? What are the values that should predominate, both within the Christian community and also in its relationships with others, whether structurally or personally in the light of what we know about the end of all things? These vitally important issues constitute just another reason to preach Isaiah.
So many of our current needs, problems and deficiencies are met in this magnificent book. We shall need to think carefully and prayerfully about how best to divide this word of truth, in view of the uniqueness of the particular congregations we each serve. Short series, with frequent breaks, may well be the answer. But there is a deep mine of theological and practical treasures here to explore, so that the time and energy put into its study and proclamation will be more than rewarded by its powerful impact on our own lives and on those whom we serve. My hope is that what follows will both strengthen your resolve and equip you with the tools to preach Isaiah.
Isaiah’s place in the Bible
The book stands at the head of the last major section of the Old Testament, which we call the Prophets, sometimes the ‘writing prophets,’ or in Hebrew terminology the ‘latter’ prophets. Of these fifteen books, twelve are grouped together as the ‘minor’ prophets (Hosea to Malachi), so called because of their shorter length, not their comparative importance. This leaves the three longer or ‘major’ prophets, led by Isaiah, who comes first in chronological order, followed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. It is important to see Isaiah’s ministry as exercised near the start of the prophetic period, which spanned approximately three hundred years. It acts as something of an overture to the whole, laying out God’s agenda for his purposes in the present and immediate future, as well as stretching forward to the Babylonian exile and the return. There is a remarkable sweep of events foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy—some of which we have yet to see fulfilled (e.g. 65:17–25).
David Jackman, Teaching Isaiah: Unlocking Isaiah for the Bible Teacher, ed. Robin Sydserff, Teach the Bible (Ross-shire, Scotland; London, England: PT Media; Christian Focus, 2010), 20–22.
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