Isaiah 59:14-19 Justice is beaten back, Righteousness is banished to the sidelines, Truth staggers down the street, Honesty is nowhere to be found,  Good is missing in action. Anyone renouncing evil is beaten and robbed. God looked and saw evil looming on the horizon—so much evil and no sign of Justice.  He couldn't believe what he saw: not a soul around to correct this awful situation. So he did it himself, took on the work of Salvation, fueled by his own Righteousness.  He dressed in Righteousness, put it on like a suit of armor, with Salvation on his head like a helmet, Put on Judgment like an overcoat, and threw a cloak of Passion across his shoulders.  He'll make everyone pay for what they've done: fury for his foes, just deserts for his enemies. Even the far-off islands will get paid off in full.  In the west they'll fear the name of God, in the east they'll fear the glory of God, For he'll arrive like a river in flood stage, whipped to a torrent by the wind of God. (THE MESSAGE)
Rev. 2:10-11 "Fear nothing in the things you're about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won't last forever. "Don't quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you.  "Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. Christ-conquerors are safe from Devil-death." (THE MESSAGE)
COMMENT: The joining of these two texts remind me this morning why I am a Wesleyan, that is, I interpret the Scripture through a Wesleyan lens. The Isaiah text comes as a surprising insight... I have so often interpreted the armor of God (via Ephesians 6) as the armor that God supplies the believer for the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged. But here, God is the one who wears this armor - to engage in the battle that only God can win. In fact, it is helpful for me to realize that the armor given me is God's own armor - and it speaks to me of God's wonderful "condescension" - that the armor that fits the God of heaven and earth, the Lord of all creation, the All-Sovereign One - that very armor is custom fitted for me... It is the armor that Jesus wore as he battled the world, the flesh, and the devil... and the same power, the same Spirit, the same resources that equipped Jesus for this earthly life are now available to me. They are given me in the great gift of the abiding, empowering Spirit of God! (Romans 8:11)
But I digress. The Isaiah text focuses on the divine initiative. Seeing no one else to set this world right, God takes that task upon God's self. The first step is always God's. God always takes the initiative. Without the prior movement and work of God, there would be no movement or work from us. Salvation is the work of God. And in this work of salvation, all the glory belongs to God. But we join to this text, the testimony of Revelation (and all the rest of Scripture) that reminds us that we have a role to play in this salvation scheme of setting the world right. So the Spirit says to the church: "Fear nothing in the things you're about to suffer—but stay on guard! Fear nothing! The Devil is about to throw you in jail for a time of testing—ten days. It won't last forever. Don't quit, even if it costs you your life. Stay there believing. I have a Life-Crown sized and ready for you." There is a divine-human partnership at work here - a synergy if you will. The church does have a work to do - faithfully following and testifying to the Captain (author) of our salvation. As Wesley said, "Because God works, we can work... Because God works, we must work... but all of our working is a responding to the God who moves and acts first. To borrow a tennis analogy, God serves the ball, we return the serve... and the game goes on. To use a dance analogy, God takes the lead, and we, holding on to God's strong frame and feeling the signals the leader gives, simply follow the leader.
One other insight from today's Isaiah text. As I am preparing this class on the parables, I have been re-reading Capon's trilogy on the parables (he is an Anglican priest, thus we share a common tradition and lens). He speaks so often of God's left-handed ways of saving the world and showing God's power, rather than our worldly right-handed ways, and (rightly, I believe) contending for a view of left-handed judgment that always has salvation in view. It seems to me that this is evidenced in the last verses of the Isaiah text. The note of God's judgment is sounded, but when God visits in judgment (verse 18), it will reach to the far-off islands (those places that do not know the God of Israel) so that God's name and glory will be made known from east to west. God comes to save all humanity, and God's judgment (on our sins) is the first step in God's reclamation of all who stand opposed to God's good will for the cosmos.
Am I a universalist? Probably not... I still want to see vengeance enacted upon my enemies (who I suppose to be God's enemies as well). My struggle is... the more I hear the voice of this God who loves the world so much that there is just no limit to the steps that God will go to reclaim this hostile world, I am coming to believe that God is a universalist - at least in God's desire that none should ever perish, but that all may partake of life.
Oh, God, expand my heart to be a copy of your heart, enlarged to love this world you so love!
Soli Deo gloria