It could be argued, and perhaps should be argued, that tuning into your daily news feed is dangerous to your health. If you are prone to anxiety or depression, I might be best to just leave your phone at home and go for a walk. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, no matter what self-curated talking heads you prefer to listen to, it seems as if powers beyond our control are doing everything they can to pull us into yet another long and costly war. The shock and horror of a surprise attack by Hamas was captured on surveillance video and cellphones and then broadcast for all of us to watch, as are the horrors of watching civilians dig through the rubble in Gaza for their lost children. Once again, we are getting comfortable with terms like proportional retaliation, collateral damage, and proxy war. Yet, we know there is no righteousness in any of it, no real victory, only a desire for immediate and swift vengeance surrounded by pain and hatred.
However, wars and rumors of wars are nothing new. This is the reality of living in a world that rose up in rebellion against its Creator. Sin has its grip on all of humanity. It leads us to exploitation, brutality, and domination. What we watch on the news seems incomprehensible for most of us, beyond any human dignity and decency. Yet, these are the acts of sinful men, blown up and magnified to a monstrous scale, too be sure. But still this is the work of fallen humanity, men and woman, young and old, rich and poor. What we see is not just “them,” not just sides in a struggle we only understand from the outside. No, what we see is us, and it hurts to watch. Could our own sin lead to such a place? Could our own anger and desire for vengeance allow our hearts to commit such acts? You might think it is impossible, but perhaps the monsters are not always “out there.” Perhaps, in a much smaller way, in a weaker and less bold version, they lurk right within all of us.
There seems to be no end to it, no simple solution. Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” This, then, is just the next stanza in a long ballad of human history. One thing which starts to become clear is how any hope to escape this, any desire for something truly different, must come from outside our closed system of rhymes. So, we begin to wonder, where is our God? Where is the end of violence and war? Where do we turn for hope? Is there an answer? Is there comfort?
Isaiah 45 offers us hope and comfort in times of great distress and turmoil. The people of God have been taken into captivity, exiled into the great fortress city of Babylon. What led them to this moment is a sad story. They refused to trust in the promises of God, refused to turn to Him in their time of need. Instead, they trusted in their own wisdom and strength. They relied on human alliances and machinations of war to deliver them from their enemies. In the end, they turn to idols made by the hands of men rather than the Author of all life itself. And this is their undoing. Now, they are taken from the land promised to their fathers, removed from the holy city of Jerusalem, cut off from the Temple and dwelling pace of God in their midst. You can imagine that, for a while, their prayers must have gone up with desperation and great sorrow. There, imprisoned in a foreign land, they pleaded with God, confessed the foolishness of their ways, and asked for his forgiveness.
But I wonder how that may have changed as the time passed. As their earnest prayers were met with the silence of God, how long until the tone and demeaner shifted again? Wallowing away in their captivity, did they then begin to pray saying, “Where are you God? Don’t you care about your people, about what is happening to us?” Surely, they must have felt forsaken, left for dead in a foreign land. And there is nothing in their own power they can do to fix the situation. There is nothing they can do to save themselves. They, like us, long for something outside of the system which might deliver them, something that can break into their imprisoned reality and set them free. They long for God to act, to deliver, to be on their side, to take up their cause.
But in Isaiah 45, we are reminded of a rather terrifying truth. It is one we do not necessarily want to be faced with, especially when we are inundated with war and violence, despair and turmoil, imprisonment, and the brutality of mankind. For in this text God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” All these things fall beneath the control of our God. All these things, light and darkness, well-being and calamity, all of them are the Lord’s for there is no other. So, yes, God knows. Yes, He sees. Yes, He is involved, for there is no other. At some point, we begin to realize how God is beyond our ability to control. He is not our handmaiden doing our bidding. He is the Almighty with whom we wrestle, with no hope of winning.
Therefore, it is a shocking thing, a surprising turn of events, when God has mercy. It is surprising when He acts not in anger and hostility, but with compassion and grace toward His broken and terrified people. In our text, God sends His Anointed One to deliver His people. A hero comes to break open the prison doors which lock away the children of Israel. Now, just so you can appreciate how wonderful this is, the Hebrew word for “anointed” is Messiah. Messiah, in the New Testament, is rendered as “Christ.” So, God is sending someone to deliver His people, outside of our merit and worth. And we begin to think, at last we have it figured out. After all, we know all about the Messiah, all about the promises of deliverance from God through His Anointed One. But in Isaiah 45, the “anointed one,” the great deliverer of God’s people is named Cyrus. He is Cyrus the Great, the Persian king. This man was not even a believer in the God of Israel, but he is anointed by God to set His people free. And truly God is with him, for by the time he gets to the great city of Babylon, they actually open the gates to him, admitting defeat before the battle even begins. It is Cyrus who returns the Israelites to their land, Cyrus who restores their treasure and future.
Truly, we see there is no other besides our God, for no one saw this coming. He can break down and bind up, kill, and give life. All of creation is His, from the Babylonian exile of the ancient people of God, to the rise and fall of great empires. History itself lays in the palm of His hand, so that wars and rumors of wars, victory and defeat are splayed out before Him. The monstrosities of sinful man, from the greed, lust, and hatred lurking within your own heart, to the atrocities of war, and those who prosper on the broken hearted, all are exposed to your God. He is not distant, blind, or deaf. He sees and knows and is not answerable to any of you. We cry out as we tear each other apart, as we pick sides and get comfortable with collateral damage. Yet, outside of your worth, outside of your merit, God in His divine grace and mercy acts for you, for your deliverance, for your hope and assurance.
This time it is not a foreign king who God uses. Rather, this is the fulfillment of what Cyrus was but a poor foreshadowing. God turns us to His Anointed One, to the Messiah, to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made. This is the One who sets us free from the real imprisonments of life. He sets you free from your sin, free from your guilt, free from your attempts to justify yourselves, free from your weak offerings of work to make amends, free from your desire for revenge, free from your broken and empty ramblings, and free from eternal condemnation. God works outside of our repeated history and does a new thing. He takes your sin as His own. He takes your fears, your brokenness, and gives you His life, His healing, and His promise of a more glorious day to come. Salvation is yours in Christ alone. Forgiveness is yours. Love is yours. This is the work of your God, your King, there can be no other. He has done this for you.