“Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;Isaiah 6:9-10 (NRSV)
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes
and listen with their ears
and comprehend with their minds
and turn and be healed.”
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul all quoted this exact passage. This is what Jesus faced, what the apostles faced, and what you and I face today. People often do not want to hear the truth. Jesus kept teaching that those who had ears to hear and by applying His teaching would receive more understanding. But those who rejected Jesus’s message would lose even what little understanding they had gained thus far.
Paul added that in each generation down through the centuries there will be people who hear God’s truth and reject it. When they do, they fulfill God’s words here in Isaiah.
Even you and I who live by faith are to be aware of the condition of our own hearts, each time we come to God’s word. The more we harden our hearts today, the less you and I will be able to understand and receive tomorrow.
How Long, O Lord?
God’s word to Isaiah must have seemed very heavy.
How long would the people refuse to turn and be healed by God? he asked. Would it be weeks? Months? Years? When would the people finally repent?
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said,Isaiah 6:11-12 (NRSV)
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
The years must have seemed long and lonely to the young prophet, years of rejection, sorrow, years of isolation, clinging to a word from God that few would hearken to. For the rest of his life Isaiah would be speaking to a people hardened towards the Lord and the spoken word of God.
The losses would be ninety percent.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,Isaiah 6:13 (NRSV)
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
whose stump remains standing
when it is felled.”
(The holy seed is its stump.)
God’s people, Isaiah’s own country, would be like a forest cut completely down so that only the stumps were left, and those stumps would be burned over again. It would be the collapse of a nation, ignoring all the warnings of what was coming, and why. Only a time of complete devastation would wake up the nation to the reality of God, and the necessity to repent and turn to the Lord.
Cross of the Believer
Just as the cost of Isaiah’s call would be high, so the Lord Jesus did not make His call to discipleship any easier for us today. On the contrary, Jesus stressed the cost of following Him. Following Jesus means full obedience and the giving up of all other plans that a person might prefer to make for themselves.
The main way Jesus spoke about the personal cost of following Him was to talk about the cross, saying for example,
“If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”Luke 9:23-24 (NRSV)
Jesus made several points about the cross for a believer which you and I also see in Isaiah’s example
Conversely, those who do not shoulder their own cross and follow behind Jesus cannot be considered as His disciple. The cross is necessary, not optional, for every believer.
Isaiah’s ‘cross’ would be the long years of seeming ineffectiveness, with judgment coming closer and closer
The cross is personal; no one can pick it up and carry it for you or me.
Isaiah was the only person in the room when God asked, “Who will go?”
No one is compelled to take up the cross. A person must take up their cross willingly, because of a love for Jesus and a desire to share in His life. Jesus said “If you would come after me.”
And God asked Isaiah, “Who will go?”
The cross is meant to kill all self‑centered desires or ambition. You and I can make that decision once and for all, but the process is painful and can take a long time. Still, Jesus says you and I must die to self here on earth if we want to bear eternal fruit.
Isaiah had to give up all thoughts of success as a prophet. Elijah and Elisha before him had illustrious careers. He could not hope for that.
God knows the people in our lives who are difficult for us to love. God knows the people who will oppose us, who will be our enemies. The Lord brings us into situations where displaying God’s character is going to come at great personal cost.
The Lord knows the plans God has made for us, and the good works God has prepared for us, just as God ordained the role Isaiah would play in the lives of the people of Judah, and what it would take for Isaiah to be faithful.
A believer’s cross is suffering that comes directly as a result of following God’s will. Often that will mean giving something else up in order to do what God has for us to do.
- Often we will be humbled in our calling, one way or the other.
- Often there will be some form of opposition, either from people, or from circumstances.
- We will have occasions of doubt,
- wanting to quit,
- pure drudgery,
- seeing other people’s callings as more attractive and less costly than what we are doing.
These things are all part of the cross.
Believers sometimes talk about their cross to bear and they will mean the kind of suffering that everybody goes through. Plenty of people get sick, or have heavy schedules, or are in a troubled relationship, or deal with money issues. We all live together on a broken planet, and we ourselves grew up as broken people. Suffering is part of earth’s experience; nobody gets away from the painful toil and anguish sin has brought into the world.
But the cross is a particular kind of suffering. The cross comes from choosing God’s will even when it will mean suffering.
- Showing love to a person who is being difficult for you.
- Being gracious and kind.
- Repaying angry words with Spirit‑filled words.
- Offering care at one’s own cost.
Every time you and I are good to someone who was not good to us, that cost is our cross.
Each time you and I shoulder our cross and obey in love, God will increase our love and deepen our character. This is what pleases the Lord and blesses God.
Come After Christ
Jesus came into His glory on the cross, and after His resurrection was exalted. The cross promises resurrection and glory. All those who are willing to lose their lives for Jesus’s sake will find their lives have been saved. One day we will come after Christ and be with Him in His exaltation.
In Isaiah’s case, his words have been preserved for us to this day. We are, in a sense, a part of the fruit that Isaiah is still reaping from his willingness to answer God’s call.
Experiencing the holiness of God prepares us to answer God’s call.
God gave hope through a promise. Spiritual life would survive in one last stump, from which a little shoot would eventually sprout. As we get deeper into Isaiah we will see how this promise kept him going, as he labored in love for the Lord and God’s people.