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From the Series: Restore My Soul
September 21, 2008

“For this is what the high and lofty One says–
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
‘I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” Isaiah 57:15 (NIV)

Some folks may be feeling far from God. It may be that the reason you feel far from God, is that you are far from God. And if you are far from God, then He is far from you.

If that’s where you are, I‘m glad you are here today, because Isaiah’s message in this chapter is about how God reaches out to people who are far from Him. God says “Peace, peace to those far and near” (Isaiah 57:19). God is speaking to people who are far from Him.

And notice what He is doing. God speaks about “building up the road,” and “removing the obstacles out of the way of God’s people” (v14). God is clearing the roadblocks so that you can get to Him, or better yet, so that He can get to you. The message today is about how that happens, and how that can happen for you.

Where can I find God?

 

“For this is what the high and lofty One says–

he who lives forever, whose name is holy

‘I live in a high and holy place…’” (v15).

God’s presence is everywhere, but there are two places where He can be found. One is in heaven. God says “I live in a high and holy place” (v15). If you could ascend to heaven you would find God there. The problem is that none of us can do that.

But God’s people in Old Testament times knew another place where they could find God. When God’s people came out of Egypt, He told them to build an ark. It was a rectangular box, housed in a tent, and that was where the High Priest would offer sacrifices. God said “I will meet you there” (Exodus 25:22). [1]

When God’s people entered the Promised Land, God said they must not worship Him as other nations worshipped their idols. Other nations set up shrines and altars anywhere they chose. Pagan altars sprang up like McDonald’s. Every community had an altar, but God made it very clear that He would choose one place where He would meet with His people.

We don’t meet with God at the place of our choosing…

…but at the place of His choosing

“You are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices…There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and shall rejoice…”

(Deuteronomy 12:5-7).

It was David, the great king of Israel, who identified Jerusalem as the place God had spoken about. There was great joy when the Ark was brought to Jerusalem. David built the temple in Jerusalem and when it was opened, the cloud of God’s glory filled the temple (I Kings 8:10,11).

If you asked an Israelite in Old Testament times, “Where can I go and meet with God?” He would say, “Go up to Jerusalem. Take a pilgrimage. Go to the Holy City where God has put His Name and promised His Presence and seek Him there.”

That is why pilgrimage to Jerusalem was so important in the Old Testament. Every year crowds of people would pour into the Holy City. They would sing the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) as they climbed the hill on their way up to the city of God.

Separated from God’s presence

Remember that in the year 722 BC, right in the middle of Isaiah’s ministry, the northern kingdom was over-run by the Assyrian army. The people were deported, repatriated in foreign lands. These folks would never see Jerusalem again.

These folks must have owned Psalm 42: “My soul thirsts for God… When can I go and meet with God?… I remember… how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy” (v1-4).

150 years later, something even worse happened: The Babylonian army marched against the southern kingdom, and destroyed the Holy City. The Ark of the Covenant was lost and has never been found. Jerusalem lay in ruins for 70 years, with God’s people reduced to a small group of refugees living by the Kebar River in Babylon.

What hope is there?

Try to put yourself in their shoes: You know God lives in heaven but you can’t go to meet Him there. You know that God has promised to meet with His people in Jerusalem, but the city is destroyed; you can’t meet Him there. What hope is there for finding God when His Holy City is destroyed, the temple is in ruins and the Ark of the Covenant is lost?

So there you are: Far from home; feeling far from God, and you open the book of the prophet Isaiah. “This is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy; I live in a high and holy place…” (Isaiah 57:15).

You would respond “Yes, God is in heaven, but I can’t go there to meet Him.” Then you would anticipate Isaiah’s next words: “I live in a high and holy place… and also in Zion, My Holy City.” And in your mind you would already be thinking “There’s another place I can’t go!” But that’s not what God says!!!

The place where God is found is not heaven and Jerusalem, but heaven and the contrite heart! “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit” (v15).

This is mind-blowing stuff for these deported people, who are miles from Jerusalem, and feeling far from God. Its mind-blowing stuff for all of us who feel far from God today.

Look at what God is saying, and try to take it in: “I live… with him who is contrite!” (v15). “Contrite” means penitent; humbled by our own sins and failures, and seeking after God.

 

And God says, “When I see a person with a contrite spirit, I will choose him or her as My friend. I will hang out with that person. I will stay with that person. I will live with that person. I will make My home in that person’s life.

 

Revival: When God comes to the contrite

God lives with the person who is contrite. Notice what God does when He comes to this person: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in Spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (v15).

We’ve called this series “Restore My Soul: Nine Heart-Cries for Revival.” Notice the word “revive.” When God comes to the contrite, He revives the spirit. He breathes new life into the heart.

Revival in the Bible isn’t a series of meetings with a traveling evangelist. Revival in the Bible is God coming to a contrite heart. It is God’s life, God’s Spirit being poured into you, bringing you new life, and peace and hope and joy.

At first sight this looks easy. If you want your soul restored and your heart revived, all you have to do is have a contrite heart and God will come to you. Just be contrite, penitent, humble, and you will find God. That’s easy, right? Wrong! Because being contrite isn’t natural.

Why is My Heart Not Contrite?

 

“I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways” (v17).

The natural inclination of the human heart is not to come to God, but to hide from Him. That goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, when you find God coming into the garden to enjoy fellowship with Eve and with Adam. Where are they? Hiding among the trees! Why?  Because they are ashamed (Genesis 3:8).

We like to think of ourselves as sincere seekers after God. But the truth is that by nature we hide from God, even when we pretend to be seeking Him. “There is no-one who seeks God… not even one!” (Romans 3:10, 11).

Some of us were brought up with teaching that majored on a contrite heart. It sounded easy: “If you want to draw near to God, all you have to do is have a contrite heart. You’ve got to be sorry, really sorry for your sins. You’ve got to hate your sins and love Jesus.”

The message sounded easy, but the reality was harder. You found that you loved yourself more than you loved God. Your love for sin was stronger than you thought. You found that even when you were sorry, you went back and did the same things again. You found that your own heart was more stubborn than you thought. Repentance is easy for those who haven’t tried it!

A picture of the stubborn heart

“You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint” (v10).

If you are battling an addiction, or you love someone who is an addict, you know exactly what Isaiah is describing here. You know this is killing you, but you still do it. The sinner gets tired of his sin but he will not give it up. He finds strength and energy to repeat the same destructive behavior again and again.

Sin is a great mystery. It makes no sense. Why would you do again something that made you miserable last time you did it? The stubborn heart is never contrite. The stubborn heart says “I know this is killing me, but I am going to do it anyway.”

Let’s not limit this to addictions: You can have a stubborn heart even while you have your bible open. Jesus said to the Pharisees: “You diligently study the Scriptures… yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40).

That’s a stubborn heart! The problem that alienates you from God is not on God’s side. The roadblock that stands in the way of God coming to us is the pride and stubbornness of our own hearts.

This third heart-cry is a prayer asking God to “Restore repentance!” In this prayer, you are asking God to change your stubborn heart. You are asking God “Pour out Your Spirit on me. Cause me to hate what you hate and love what you love. I can’t get there on my own.”

Repentance: A command or a gift?

You may be asking, “Isn’t repentance something God tells us to do?” Repentance is a command (Acts 17:30), but it is also a gift (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25).

God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), but in Acts 11:18, we read that “God…granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.” Paul says that we must gently instruct the people who oppose us “in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).

God grants repentance. So you can ask God to give you a contrite heart.  You can ask Him to change your heart. You can cry out to Him “Lord, restore repentance!”

This is the promise of the gospel: God will give you a new heart. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove… your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees…” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

How Does God Make A Stubborn Heart Contrite?

“I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry,

for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me, the breath of man that I have created.

I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways.

I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;

I will guide him and restore comfort to him” (Isaiah 57:16-18).

These verses teach us that the stubborn heart is not changed by judgment. It is changed by mercy.

“I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways” (v17). God is provoked by the “sinful greed” of His people. God is angry: “I was enraged by his sinful greed.” God “punished,” and He “hid [His] face in anger.” What was the effect of this? God’s people “kept on in [their] willful ways.”

God’s judgment makes the sinful heart harder. It makes the sinner hate God more! That’s why at the end of the Bible when God’s judgments are poured out you don’t find repentance, but resistance. “The kings of the earth… called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne’” (Revelation 6:15-16).

Judgment cannot make a sinful heart contrite before God. The sinner would rather die than repent. How does God change a stubborn heart?

The Persuader of God’s mercy

It is as if God is saying: “I poured out my judgments on these people. But it made no difference. They did not turn to me. They just kept pursuing the same willful ways. But I want to heal them. Therefore, I will stop punishing them, and I will show them mercy.”

That is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. God’s law condemns, but His love redeems. And repentance begins with a sense of God’s mercy. The natural inclination of your sinful heart will always be to run and hide from God but, when you are persuaded of God’s mercy, you will gather the courage to repent.

That’s why faith comes logically and psychologically before repentance. The two are born in the heart together, but repentance flows from faith not the other way round. Faith tastes the mercy of God and that makes repentance possible. That is why “Restore faith!” is the first heart-cry. When you see that God is totally for you in Jesus Christ, then you will gather the courage to repent.

The prodigal son eats with the pigs. He is absolutely miserable. But then he comes to his senses and remembers, “I have a father who will receive me.” That’s what gives a person courage to draw near.

Some of us have drifted far from God. But right now God is speaking to you. He is drawing near, not to punish you, but to heal you. He has seen your ways, but He wants to show you mercy. He comes to revive your heart. J. Alec Motyer writes:

“Without repentance there is no entering into the comforts of salvation, and only God can sovereignly create the ability to repent… There is nothing in the whole of salvation that is not God’s sole, creative work, not even the words of sorrow by which the penitent comes home.” [2]

That is why you can ask God to “Restore repentance!” in your life. You can ask Him to change your stubborn heart and make it a contrite heart. He will do that for you as you fix both eyes on His mercy, poured out at the cross.

Today, I want to invite you to make these heart-cries your own. Begin by saying “Lord, restore faith. Help me to grasp Your redeeming love for me in Christ. Help me to taste Your mercy. Then Lord, restore repentance. Give me a contrite heart.” Ask God to do this in your soul.

[1] You can read in Exodus 40 about how the cloud of God’s glory of filled the tent when the priest offered the sacrifice, (Ex 40:34-35).

[2] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 477.



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