Monday, July 22, 2013

Deliberate (Isaiah's Doxology, Part III)

"He has clothed me...He has covered a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels." Is. 61:10-11

The source of Isaiah's joy is not just that God's deliverance is absolute and total but also that it is neither arbitrary nor random. This is the meaning behind the next set of metaphors. Isaiah says that God has completely covered His people in deliverance and justification just like "a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments" and "a bride adorns herself with her jewels." The Hebrew words here are very interesting. "Decks" does mean "to dress," but it has specific religious connotations. The word literally means "to meditate," and thus is often used to mean "to dress as a priest for a religious service." The image is of purpose and function: you do not dress this way for just any reason or any day. There is a specific reason: it's your wedding day, or it's your turn to fulfill the priestly office. This is why the word means "to meditate": you do not meditate on the air or nothingness or anything that you want. Rather, you become focused, amassing all of your concentration on one thing. There is a purpose and function to what you're doing. Likewise, there is a purpose and function to God's deliverance and justification.

It's a Jared.
A bride adorns herself with "jewels," which in Hebrew means "something prepared or prearranged." The idea is not just of jewels but jewelry, i.e., not separate gemstones placed anywhere in any which way, but rather arranged in a pattern that matches and sequences color and size and shape into a single item whose parts enhance the whole. It is rich with purpose. Finding a lone jewel on the ground somewhere suggest no purpose, but finding them prearranged into jewelry does. There is a purpose and function; the thing is meant for a specific reason. In fact, the Hebrew word for "jewels" literally means any prepared or prearranged thing---the armor and weapons of a soldier or the luggage and bags of a traveler. The idea is the same: the prearrangement is all part of a larger plan and purpose (whether to make the bride more beautiful, the soldier more dangerous, or the traveler more prepared). So too is the deliverance and justification of God's people.

"That was deliberate!"
God does not cloth His people in salvation and righteousness, does not envelope them and hide them in deliverance and justification, just because. Redemption is not random. The Messiah did not set captives free on a whim, abandoning them right after the rescue. It is all deliberate, with a two-fold reason given at the beginning of the chapter: (1) "that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified," and (2) "they shall build the wastes of old, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities" (vs. 3-4). Herein is the double-barreled purpose for those who belong to God: that God would be glorified in their redemption and that they would continue the work started by the Messiah. The first speaks to their identity and ultimate purpose. The second speaks to their activity and immediate purpose. Both are interconnected, one leading to the other.

The identity of one who belongs to God is one who has been swallowed up in deliverance and justification. Where once they were captives to sin, they now belong to God, and the transaction itself is glorious to God who wrought it. Now, our identity is the foundation of our activity. Who we are determines what we do. This is why identity is so vital to people (especially today when identity is a nebulous beast at best). Until we know who we are, our meaning is lost to us: we don't know why we're here or what we're meant to do. For most people, the best they can do is make a half-educated, half-guessed approximation and hope for the best. The identity of God's people, however, is not a guess on their part but a calling on His (Rom. 8:28-30). They are "called" the "trees" and "planting" of God, called to be absolutely God's---planted, watered, tended.

This identity is not something we make for ourselves. It is something we are made by God, and there is the ground for glorifying God: we are the work of His hands, not our own. Any strength we have, any good we do, any purpose we find all comes from the life we've been given by Him. That is our ultimate purpose, viz., to let all that we do be an act if worship to the one who made us His own. Worship is to be our life, because we are God's and God is ours.

What that life of worship looks like leads us to the activity of those who belong to God: praise is to be the permanent pulse of their existence. But there is more to praise than singing and music. It is not less than that, but it is more. The way they worship is to continue on the work of the Messiah, the work of redemption, the "ministry of reconciliation" begun by Him (II Cor. 5:18-19). It is what Jesus meant when He called His own "salt" and "light" (Matt. 5:13-16): they savor and preserve all things with goodness and beauty and truth, and bear bright witness to God's goodness and beauty and truth. Men will see their works and glorify their Father who is in heaven.

"It's simple, really."
This is the place of "good works" in the Christian Faith, and it is the solution to James' paradox (James 2:14-26). To say that "faith without works is dead" is to assume that activity springs from identity, and if your identity is one who belongs to God then your activity will necessarily be good works that glorify Him before men. If there is no activity, then there is no identity. If there are no works in any shape or form, then your faith is not real, i.e., it is "dead". Paul is saying the exact same thing when talks of the "fruits if the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16-25): if we belong to God, if we are now the people of the living God (II Cor. 6:16) wherein His Spirit dwells (I Cor. 6:19-20), then there will necessarily be certain results, certain quantifiable ways of worship. If there are none, then you do not belong to God. It is that simple, that practical.

Only star-gazers change the world.
Everybody seems to miss the practical side of our doctrines, which is not how it should be. Christianity is practical mysticism, i.e., its divine realities are meant to be practical realities. Its word is to be made flesh. To belong to God, to be wrapped up safe and snug inside of His deliverance and justification, is not to become some airy abstraction. On the contrary, it has purpose and function, identity and activity, just as a bride and groom prepare for their wedding day, or as a priest prepares for his duties. You would not see a groom in his glory, dressed in his finest and surrounded by his "best men," and accuse him of impractical abstractionism. You would not look upon the bride in her beauty, in shining white and sparkling jewels arranged in perfect accentuation, and dismiss her as a hopeless day-dreamer whose actions have no function. You would not (though some might dare) consider a priest, dressed in his robes and rushing towards the church with bible and books in hand and glasses tilted down his nose, and say that his garb and gestures served no purpose. There is a purpose, whether you like it or not.

It is the same with those who belong to God, who have been buried deep into salvation and righteousness. They have been bought with a price and decked out for a purpose so that they might glorify God in their body and in their spirit, which our God's.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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