Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Rend the Heavens

The phrase that has captured my heart for this Christmas season is from Isaiah 64:1 – “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down!” I’ve been picturing it as a ripping apart that veil that so often stands between us and the experience of the Father’s moving amongst us. Even though the birth of Messiah seemed to most like any other night, the awesomeness of that event staggers the imagination – if we take the time to contemplate just how scandalous is that sentence in John 1: “The Word became flesh”. It was a quiet rending in a way, but the shockwaves still reverberate through creation. During Jesus’ time on earth there were more dramatic demonstrations that “rending the heavens” was exactly what God was doing: the Spirit descending on Jesus at His baptism and the rending of the temple veil at the moment of His death being the two most obvious. I’m finding it helpful to read this verse as the culmination of chapter 63, as it is in the Hebrew text. Or, better yet, read all of Is. 40 to 66 this Christmas. The cries for mercy and deliverance as they acknowledge their rebellion and the consequent destruction of Jerusalem tune the heart for a desperate call for God to act. And He did.

But this rending of the heavens was not just a past event: There is a future aspect to it as well. In the book of Revelation the descent of the new Jerusalem is accompanied by the cry, “Look! God’s home is now among His people! He will live among them and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them!” (21:3, NLT) The question to us is, are we hungry for God’s ultimate rending of the heavens, the permanent ripping up of everything that separates us from Him? Are we desperate for God to make everything right, as he intended it? Or are we just a bit too comfortable here? I find that I am prone to a mild satisfaction with the status quo. When that happens, I know that my vision of God’s amazing purposes is too small. My heart needs to cry out, “Oh! That you would rend the heavens and come down!” “with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19), when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to come!" (v. 21)

But what about “until that day”? Is there any hope of God rending the heavens and coming down in the present, today? Is our cry only for that full, final consummation of the Kingdom, or can we have a foretaste of that “rending” today? In a world of gun violence, of terrorism, of people fleeing from wars and persecution, of unparalleled climate change, of economic exploitation, of a thousand other ills, WE NEED GOD TODAY! Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down! But the cry for God’s presence now, for Immanuel, is not just in the big crises, but the little things in our own lives as well: for forgiveness and for forgiving spirits; for hearts that automatically turn to generosity rather than anxiety over our own well-being, to compassion rather than willful blindness to suffering; to joy rather than to criticism; to thankfulness rather than complaining; to love rather than one-upmanship. I need God today! And the good news is that His promise is not just for 2000 years ago, it is not just for some future return, it is for now. Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I am with you always” is the only hope for entering into the Shalom that God has prepared for us. And he fulfills this promise through the Holy Spirit, the deposit guaranteeing that we are not abandoned and that transformation is possible now. The veil has been rent; the only problem is that we are so good at rebuilding barriers even though God has broken through ‘the heavens’ to us. Oh, that you would break through the barriers in my own heart and come in!

Two things are necessary to live in the reality of God’s breaking through: repentance born of humility and courage born of faith. God’s promises will not come true for those who refuse to walk in His ways. If we go back to the chapters leading up to Isaiah’s cry of “Oh! That you would rend the heavens and come down!” we see clearly God’s desire for us to turn from our rebellion and walk in His ways. Not ritual or religion: Even empty fasting is condemned. Seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. And as Isaiah and the people of Israel confessed their wandering and remembered how far they had wandered, it opened the way for the promises, for the promised breaking through of the Kingdom.

And courage. Courage that believes God’s promises and that He has not abandoned us, that He is here with us now. Courage to do things that seem totally foolish and idealistic to the world, to do whatever God calls us to. To love our enemies. To feed the poor and clothe the naked. To walk on water. O Lord, rend my heart and come down.

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