King David wrote about the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) and he knew his subject. David knew great victories as well as the calamities resulting from his own ego and selfishness, but he also knew the restoration God's grace can bring to us in the darkness. Israel has come to the darkest night of the soul, when every day is more disastrous than the previous and it seems they are no more than a valley of dry bones.
I remember baptisms from my earliest days in ministry, one at a lake in a beautiful park, others in a stock pond with red mud up to my knees, as we sang “Shall we gather at the river where bright angel feet have trod?” The waters of baptism offer a memorable image of a new beginning to life.
Somebody had to tell the truth – even though nobody wanted to hear it! Everybody wants good news: healing, a restored marriage, a perfect grandchild, financial freedom, no more war, relief from everything! Wouldn't it be wonderful to be the good news messenger?
In the history of the world the enticement of power has created wars, fostered injustice and resulted in pain for generations. Our text is timely, as we focus on Isaiah's words of hope that portray the ultimate sovereign who embodies the deepest longings of the human heart.
Our today is too much like Judah's yesterday when “God's Spirit came upon Azariah, Obed's son, (and) he confronted Asa (king of Judah)” and said “listen to me” (vv. 1-2). Like ancient Israel we often have trouble recognizing what is from God and what is religious-political doublespeak. We long to hear God's voice.
How many times have you been impressed by the dramatic testimony of a missionary guest in your church or the biography of a person who survived persecution because of their faith? We thrill to the stories of Peter, John or Paul, as we should. But is it not equally impressive when someone consistently lives a Christian witness against the challenging influences of our everyday world?