Session 1 – Isaiah 40:1-11
The people of God were in trouble. Deep, deep trouble. Their capital city, Jerusalem, had been sacked by the Babylonians and they were a nation under occupation. The temple had been destroyed and the ruling house of David either killed or taken off into exile. Those left behind faced a desperate, broken existence where even getting the everyday basics was a struggle and it was hard to make ends meet. There are few more poignant passages in Scripture than the book of Lamentations which so eloquently describe the misery of those days.
So how had God allowed this to happen? After all, the people of Judah and Jerusalem knew all about the covenant promises He had made to them. They had seen His hand at work in delivering from their enemies before. So why was this time different?
As they wrestled with this question they began to look back and reflect on the words that their prophets had spoken over the years. Now there were many prophets at work in Judah. Most of them acted as special advisors to the king, generally supporting his policy and assuring him that no disaster would befall him. But there were just a few prophets whose message had been somewhat different, a message that unless Judah and Jerusalem mended their ways, they would face judgement, exile and the full wrath of God. And as the people struggled to make sense of what had happened the words of these prophets began to fall into place. They saw it was these prophets who had been speaking for the Lord all along, and it was their words that needed to be preserved, treasured and acted upon. Prophets, for example, like Isaiah who, so tradition goes, was prepared to be killed by bad old king Manasseh rather than change his call for God’s people to serve the Lord Almighty in righteousness and justice.
So as the people looked around at their ruined, shattered city they began to see, that however hard it might be to understand, somehow this was the work of the Lord, the logical consequence of their failure over many, many years to heed his voice and recognise His sovereignty. But was that it? Had the Lord simply abandoned and given up on His people once for all?
The answer, surprisingly enough, was no. For as the people began to study the words of Isaiah and the other prophets they found that alongside the words of judgement were also words of salvation and hope for those had been left behind, for the remnant. God was still their God, and Jerusalem was still His city. There was the possibility of a new relationship, and a time when God would once again, and more permanently, dwell among His people. And so even at the lowest point in the nation’s history, folk once again began to look forward, to a fresh start and a new identity as people under God.
It is against this background that we turn now to Isaiah 40:1-11
- Read verses 1-2. How would these words of Isaiah been a comfort to those who heard them?
- How should these words comfort us?
- Read verses 3-5 and then see how they have been adapted in Luke 3:1-6. How has the glory of the Lord been revealed in the coming of Jesus Christ?
- Read verses 6-8. If these verses are true, then how should they shape the way we live our lives? (Then compare your answer with 1 Peter 1:22-25)
- Read verses 9-11. What is the good news about God we are called to proclaim?
Session 2 – Isaiah 42:1-9, 18-25
Who was your favourite teacher at school and why?
Whoever it was you chose, the chances are that what you remember is not so much the contents of the lesson, or the textbooks your teacher used, as his or her personality. The best teachers, it seems to me, stand out because of their enthusiasm, and their ability to communicate, and their care and concern for the pupils they teach. They are the ones who can make even the dullest subject seem interesting, and they shape young lives for many years to come.
Which all goes to show that the best way we learn is by watching and copying from other people who have greater wisdom than ourselves. And this is as much true for our Christian faith as in any other area of our lives. When we come to talk about how we came to believe in Jesus, we won’t usually talk in abstract theological constructs. But we will talk about the people who influenced us and shaped our decision.
And this should not surprise us. Because the Lord uses people to communicate the truth about Himself. A simple enough notion, but one that churches often seem to forget in their agendas and committees and strategy meetings! So as we turn to our reading from Isaiah, we will see it is all about a person and a people God chooses to carry out His purposes on earth. Because as we saw last time, God is coming to His people with a message of comfort, and that message needs to be shared throughout the earth. How is the Lord going to do this? By sending a servant, as Isaiah 42 makes clear. We’ll be reading verses 1-9, 18-25 in this session, but you might later on like to read the whole of Isaiah 40-42 to see how the whole section of this book fits together.
- Look at verses 18-25. Who should have been the servant of the Lord and why?
- How had the people of Israel shown themselves to be blind and deaf?
- Go back to verses 1-4. Three times in these verses Isaiah states that the servant of the Lord will bring justice to the earth. What do we understand by this term “justice”?
- Read Matthew 12:9-21. How according to Matthew has Jesus fulfilled this passage from Isaiah?
- How does Jesus set an example for our life as the church?
- In what ways can we as a church be blind and deaf to the calling God has given us?
See here for background notes to Isaiah 40-66