For the week of March 20, 2010 / 5 Nisan 5770
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 - 44:23
Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. (Isaiah 44:21,22; ESV)
With these words, Isaiah captures much of the essence of the message of the Hebrew prophets. The people of Israel - God's people, rescued from slavery in Egypt, gifted with the revelation of God, the Torah, and established in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - were estranged from God. Called to be a reflection of the reality of the Creator and Master of the universe and destined to be a light and blessing to the entire world, they instead had corrupted themselves by adopting the lifestyles of neighboring cultures. At times they ignored God altogether, following false religions, while at other times they attempted to adapt the true God to these false religions. Either way, they distanced themselves from God and his ways.
And so God sent his spokesmen, the prophets. Year after year, these holy men and women would confront their kinsmen with the errors of their ways and foretell the consequences of their misbehavior. Their neglect of God would result in enemy invasion and exile. Removal from the Land symbolized their alienation from God.
Israel's alienation was to demonstrate to the world that all nations were in a similar condition. The consequences of our first parents' rebellion in the Garden of Eden had fallen upon all people for all time. Israel's inability to live up to its chosen status was to be a sign to all peoples of the depth of our sin.
All of mankind, no less Israel, has sought to cope with our sinful condition in all sorts of ways. When our religious fabrications don't prove effective, we may try harder: more fabrications and/or with more intensity. Others assume that all religions must be false and thus try to divorce themselves from anything spiritual. Either route leads us to self absorption as we seek to find peace and security within ourselves, resulting in addictive and destructive behaviors far more oppressive than Israel's bondage as slaves in Egypt.
All the while God calls to us, just as he called to the people of Israel in Isaiah's day. What we ourselves could not do to restore us to a right relationship to God, he himself has done. There is nothing we can do to cleanse ourselves of our sin. Our greatest efforts can never bridge the gap between us and God. Yet, through the death and resurrection of the Messiah, all that is necessary to restore us to God has been accomplished. There is no reason to remain distanced from God, lost in our sin and destined for judgment.
Some may think that because God has done it all, then all that is needed on our part is to simply realize what he has done. They assume that because God has made full provision for our restoration, then we are already restored. Our only problem then is that we don't realize it. But that is neither what God was saying to Israel in Isaiah's day nor what he is saying to us today. Rather because God has made the way for us to return to him, he now calls us to return. To return is not just a state of mind. It is a lifestyle. It includes a change in our thinking, of course, but also a change in behavior. Our efforts can never bridge the gap between us and God. Only God can do that. But because of what God has done, we can return to him. What's stopping you?
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