Flourish or Perish
Lord, I am Your servant, and I tremble at Your word.
Read ISAIAH 66:1–16
This is what the Lord says:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
Where will my resting place be?
2 Has not my hand made all these things,
and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
and who tremble at my word.
3 But whoever sacrifices a bull
is like one who kills a person,
and whoever offers a lamb
is like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
whoever makes a grain offering
is like one who presents pig’s blood,
and whoever burns memorial incense
is like one who worships an idol.
They have chosen their own ways,
and they delight in their abominations;
4 so I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and will bring on them what they dread.
For when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, no one listened.
They did evil in my sight
and chose what displeases me.”
5 Hear the word of the Lord,
you who tremble at his word:
“Your own people who hate you,
and exclude you because of my name, have said,
‘Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy!’
Yet they will be put to shame.
6 Hear that uproar from the city,
hear that noise from the temple!
It is the sound of the Lord
repaying his enemies all they deserve.
7 “Before she goes into labor,
she gives birth;
before the pains come upon her,
she delivers a son.
8 Who has ever heard of such things?
Who has ever seen things like this?
Can a country be born in a day
or a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor
than she gives birth to her children.
9 Do I bring to the moment of birth
and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
when I bring to delivery?” says your God.
10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
all you who mourn over her.
11 For you will nurse and be satisfied
at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
12 For this is what the Lord says:
“I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”
14 When you see this, your heart will rejoice
and you will flourish like grass;
the hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants,
but his fury will be shown to his foes.
15 See, the Lord is coming with fire,
and his chariots are like a whirlwind;
he will bring down his anger with fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For with fire and with his sword
the Lord will execute judgment on all people,
and many will be those slain by the Lord.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Rejoice in God’s promise: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree… They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green” (Psa. 92:12,14).
Today’s reading takes us to an ending so severe that when it is read in the synagogue, verse 23 is read again after verse 24 to soften the effect. Jesus also used worms to describe the severe ending awaiting those who chose to ignore God (Mark 9:47,48). There is an alternative ending, however: as after a long pregnancy, a return to Jerusalem, their mother—a re-birth into their mother’s loving arms (12,13). The sudden ending would require no human effort but rather a choice. In other words, those rejecting God would choose their own ending—not to flourish but to perish.
Followers of Jesus will not perish (John 3:16), but what does it mean to
flourish in today’s world? Simply having enough food and shelter would be a great improvement for many, but Miroslav Volf suggests that flourishing in family life, in creative work and in care for others is the needed Christian witness in the first world today (A Public Faith). Just as the reformed alcoholic finds the money and the discipline to carve out a new life, so doing it God’s way brings natural benefits because that is how God allows us to be fully and wonderfully blessed. We may not consider the idea of flourishing as having plenty of breast milk (11)—though new mothers experiencing feeding difficulties or poverty would put milk as their priority. We can, however, count on the God who is remaking us to help us flourish.
The Gospel maintains this mix of warning and hope: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved” (John Newton, 1725–1807). In responding to the message of God’s restoration, we acknowledge how far short we fall and how much we need that grace. We do not wallow in our inadequacy but accept the free salvation and the new community the Messiah offers, and we rejoice in the gift of Christ’s righteousness.
Are your roots deep, your fruit coming in season? Are you flourishing?
Lord, plant me beside the river of Your compassion so that my leaves would never wither.
Click here to sign up to receive the EXTRAs via email each quarter.