devotional 4

advent: the plan

"10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."

ISAIAH 53:10

We love Top 10 lists. They populate our social media, sports highlights, celebrity magazines and blogs. As we round out this Advent devotional, I want you to come up with your own Top 10 list. Write down ten things that bring you pleasure. Some of the things on my Top 10 list, specifically regarding the Christmas season, would be the variety of cookies available, decorating my tree, cooking Christmas meals, and having all our children together for the holidays. 

Save your list for later; there’s a Reflection Question for it at the end. For now, here’s what you need to understand about pleasure and Christmas: everything we have considered in this Advent devotional is connected to pleasure in the heart of God. Isaiah 53:10 - “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” I like using other translations for this verse, because they use a variation of the word pleasure - “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief” (NASB) or “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” (NKJV). 

You need to get your mind around this radical phrase. How could it be that God the Father would ever find pleasure in the crushing and the grief of his Son? If you’re a parent, think of the protective heart you have for your children. You don’t want any harm to come to them, and you try to protect them from danger and difficulty. You can’t imagine them being crushed or grieved, nevertheless inflicting that pain on them personally. This radical verse is meant to make you stop short and ask questions. 

What could be so powerfully motivating in the heart of the Father to make him crush his own Son, and find pleasure in his grief? The answer is found in John 3:16 - “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God looked at relational separation between Creator and creation, and his grieved heart couldn’t bear it any longer. Motivated by a deep and personal love, the only solution was to crush his Son. 

Make sure you don’t interpret the pleasure of God incorrectly. He’s not a sadist or a masochist, one who enjoys giving or receiving physical pain. God didn’t experience pleasure from the particular moments of physical and relational suffering. Rather, the pleasure of God was rooted in what resulted from the crushing and grief of Christ - a restored relationship between God and man

For many of you, John 3:16 is a verse that can be found on your refrigerator, a coffee mug, or a picture frame somewhere in your house. You know that God “so loved world;” you probably learned this verse in Sunday school. But sometime next week or next month or next year, you will be tempted to doubt the love of God. In some circumstance, location, or relationship, you will have your questions. 

Maybe it will be a moment of physical suffering, and you will question why God has permitted this pain to be your experience. Maybe it will be a very significant relational disappointment, and you will wonder why God led you to that relationship in the first place. Maybe in a moment of financial difficulty, even when you have sought to be a good steward of your money, you will have your doubts about why a loving God would choose to allow you to lose your job or your financial stability. 

Maybe all it takes is for you to turn on the local news or read the international headlines. It looks like evil is prospering. Sex slaves and Internet pornography dominate your world. Young children are kidnapped. Unarmed citizens are executed by a tyrannical government. Cancer and disease ravage humanity. Hunger and poverty and homelessness are the reality for millions around the globe. 

Where is God? Where is his love? How can a God who “so loved the world” actually allow this to be our reality? To answer these questions, we need to consider two words in Isaiah 53:10 - Crush and Grief - and then consider what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:32 - “He who did not spare his own Son but have him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Crushing has to do with the physical suffering of Christ. Every moment of Christ’s life was physical suffering. The Cross was an extremely painful culmination of a life of suffering, but it wasn’t his only location. Every day he subjected himself to the harsh realities of life in a fallen world; the manger marked the beginning of his crushing. 

There was emotional suffering for Christ as well - that’s why Isaiah uses the word Grief. Jesus was “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He was continually mocked and rejected and scorned by people, and his life of emotional suffering reached a crescendo on the Cross when he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?” (Mark 15:34) There was no greater moment of pain for Christ when the Father turned his back on the Son. 

Now back to Romans 8:32. Here’s the logic that the Apostle Paul is using - if God subjected Christ to the extreme physical and emotional suffering for our eternal salvation, it would make no sense for God to turn his back on us during our present time of need. In other words, the guarantee of our future (sealed by the Cross) also guarantees everything we need right here, right now. 

We have other Scriptural evidence of this promise too: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV) and “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). 

Your Creator will meet all your needs; that’s a biblical promise. That doesn’t mean, however, that God is going to sign your wish list. You and I have a problem with the word need. We load all kinds of things that we want onto our list of needs. Perhaps these are not sinful requests in and of themselves, like some of the pleasures on my Top 10 list, but here’s the danger with our need list: when we name things as needs that aren’t actually defined by God as needs, we begin to judge his goodness and love by whether or not he delivers. If he delivers what I think I need, I love God and I praise him and I tell others about him, but if he fails to deliver what I think I need, I question his love and goodness and become bitter. All the while, I set myself up for this disaster because I wrongly named things as needs. 

God knows what we actually need, and he will provide. This means we don’t have to be afraid of what the future holds or lose sleep at night playing out all the “what ifs” of life. There will be moments in life when God will confuse you, but read what I’m about to write: peace of heart will never be found in understanding. Your ability to rest is found in the pleasure of the Father and in the willingness of his Son to be crushed. There is no more clear-pointed, rest-giving demonstration of the love of God for you than the gift of his Son. 

This Advent Season, if your heart is not at peace, and if you don’t have a stability and security in your soul about what you’re facing, maybe you haven’t understood the full implications of Christmas. Yes, your life will be confusing, and yes, your life will be difficult, but God never turns his back on you. Jesus Christ faced the ultimate rejection from the Father so that we would never have to see the back of God’s head. The fulfilled prophecy of Isaiah 53:10 and the promise of Romans 8:32 guarantees that God will be with us in every moment, right here, right now, all the way until eternity. 

reflection questions

What physical or emotional pleasures populate your Top 10 list? 

Are you at risk of turning any of these God-given pleasures into idols? 

Where do you see brokenness in your life or in your world? 

Are you ever tempted to look at this brokenness and question the love of God? 

Fill in the blank: “If only I had _______, then my life would be ________.” 

What are you defining as a need? Does the Bible name this as a need? 

Where is your heart struggling to find peace with God’s plan for your life? How can the Advent season serve as a reminder to help put your soul to rest?