Isaiah 63:16b, 17; 64:1–9
You, the Lord, are our Father. Our Redeemer from everlasting is your name. 17 Why do you cause us to wander from your ways, Lord? Why do you harden our heart so that we do not fear you? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your heritage.
1 Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and come down. Mountains then would quake because of your presence. 2 As fire ignites stubble and as fire makes water boil, make your name known to your adversaries. Then nations would quake in your presence. 3 You did amazing things that we did not expect. You came down. Mountains quaked because of your presence. 4 From ancient times no one has heard. No ear has understood. No eye has seen any god except you, who goes into action for the one who waits for him. 5 You meet anyone who joyfully practices righteousness, who remembers you by walking in your ways! But you were angry because we sinned. We have remained in our sins for a long time. Can we still be saved? 6 All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth. All of us have withered like a leaf, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you. So you hid your face from us. You made us melt by the power of our guilt. 8 But now, Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. 9 Do not be angry, Lord, without limit. Do not remember our guilt forever. Please look closely. All of us are your people. (EHV)
Have you noticed the chaos more and more gripping parts of our country—stories of crime unheard of in most of our lifetimes? How quickly civility has declined, right along with spirituality in our country. Have you noticed how much less Christian America feels? The same happened in Judah 2700 years ago. Isaiah, the prophet, could only look on in sorrow, as he preached and prayed for his people. “Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and come down!” he desperately cried out to God. We can cry out to God with the same prayer as we await Christ’s second coming while preparing to celebrate His first Advent 2000 years ago. “O Lord, Rip Open the Heavens and Come Down!”
Why Isaiah Prayed His Desperate Prayer
Israel had become a sorry excuse for the kingdom of priests God had made them to be. They were the people of God! Of all the peoples of the earth they were the ones God had chosen to hold onto His Gospel promise! The Messiah was supposed to come from them. Their job was to preserve the Bible for all the nations and all the future generations yet to be born!
Instead, so many treated these priceless gifts like so much garbage. They hardened their hearts so many times that God finally said, ‘OK, if that’s the way you want it, then so be it! Be hardened in your unbelief!’
That’s what happens when people harden themselves again and again against God. “I’ll sin just this once,” people think to themselves, “Then, afterwards I’ll repent and when I really need it, God will accept me back.” … “Oh, it worked last time. I’ll do it again…and again…and again.” Only it doesn’t work that way. If we willfully, deliberately keep sinning against God, coldly calculating that we can repent at leisure, we are hardening ourselves against God. And that hardening leads to the unforgiveable sin—rejection of the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith. Willfully sinning is “playing with fire”—the fire of hell.
Seeing it happen all around him led Isaiah to cry out in desperation for his people. “Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and come down!” Lord, before it is too late! He prays, You meet anyone who joyfully practices righteousness, who remembers you by walking in your ways! But you were angry because we sinned. We have remained in our sins for a long time. Can we still be saved? 6 All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth. All of us have withered like a leaf, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
God had burdened Isaiah with foreknowledge of what the future held for Israel. He knew that Israel would refuse to repent, and that God’s patience would run out. Invading hordes of Babylonians would come as instruments of God’s wrath and take them all captive—men, women, and children. The nation that had once been God’s prized jewel would be swept away!
By God’s grace, things are not yet that bad in our day. Not yet anyway. But we must remember that there is nothing in us that makes us any better than God’s ancient people. It is by God’s grace alone that we still believe and follow our Savior. It’s a miracle of mercy that God has kept us all from becoming hardened, just as God had miraculously preserved a small remnant of believers in Isaiah’s day. May we never harden our hearts to God!
God has also put on our hearts the burden of Isaiah. We can see what’s happening and it saddens and frightens us, just like it did Isaiah. Like him, we’ve been given the lot in life of living in and praying for a nation and world increasingly bent on its own destruction. Sadly, so many have hardened their hearts to the real, true, and faithful answer to our problems God offers. Even so many churches have stopped preaching the truth of God’s Law and Gospel. By God’s grace, we still have the pure water of life in our churches, but how do we even show people their thirst so that they want to drink? we wonder. And so we join Isaiah in his prayer to the Lord, Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and come down. Mountains then would quake because of your presence!
Isaiah never saw the answer to his prayer during his own lifetime. But God did hear and answer. 2000 years ago, the Lord did rip open the heavens over Bethlehem and came down Himself and dwelt among us as “Immanuel — God with us.”
What Isaiah Prayed in His Desperate Prayer
Let’s learn from Isaiah’s prayer how we ourselves should pray in these latter days. He began with a humble confession of sins—not just for the “bad guys” around him. He includes himself in his prayer of repentance. All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy cloth. All of us have withered like a leaf, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. We have remained in our sins for a long time. Can we still be saved?… There is no one who calls on your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you. So you hid your face from us. You made us melt by the power of our guilt.
‘How do we get out of this cycle of destruction? We made you angry by sinning against you again and again. Then you got angry and hid your face from us. But without seeing your face, we can’t repent. Ah! Help! Can we still be saved?Or is it just too late?!’
Isaiah knew that God normally works through preaching Law and Gospel. But he saw how deaf people had become and that so few hearts were actually being changed. So, he desperately asked God to do something extraordinary—to dramatically intervene on Earth to shake things up. Rip open the heavens and come down. Make the Mountains … quake at your presence. 2 …Make your name known to your adversaries. Make the nations quake in your presence! Are we also at that point? Actually, Christians have been praying since the Book of Revelation, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
Isaiah did not feel hopeless, though. Neither should we. You, O Lord, are our Father. Our Redeemer from everlasting is your name. … Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes that are your heritage, he prayed(16b, 17b), The Lord is our loving Father, and “As a father has pity on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” He is our Creator. He made us for the expressed purpose that He might shower His love on us. He still shows His merciful love by feeding and clothing us. He protects us and fills our lives with good things. Best of all, He even adopted us in baptism as His own dear children.
He cares about our country, too. He has guarded and protected us in time of war. God has a vested interest in keeping this country free, so people can freely proclaim and hear His word. When we pray on behalf of our nation and community God will hear and mercifully answer.
Isaiah remembered that his heavenly Father was also his Savior, that He made a promise to send His Son and redeem His people and repeated it to all the patriarchs, and to Moses, and to King David. In his prayer, Isaiah reminds his God, ‘Lord, you have shown us your will to save us by the marvelous wonders you have done for us in the past.’ You did amazing things that we did not expect. You came down. Mountains quaked because of your presence. 4 From ancient times no one has heard. No ear has understood. No eye has seen any god except you, who goes into action for the one who waits for him. (3,4)
‘You rescued us from Egypt with the awesome plagues. You divided the Red Sea and led us through on dry ground. You brought down the walls of Jericho and gave us victory over all our enemies as we took possession of the promised land. You did all that Lord. Now, Oh, that you would rip open the heavens and come down. Mountains then would quake because of your presence!’
The Lord heard Isaiah’s prayer—and answered. The answer didn’t come in Isaiah’s lifetime, but when it finally did come, it came with awesome, with worldwide significance. The answer to Isaiah’s prayer is still celebrated with the greatest fanfare and pomp, and it still offers us the greatest hope as we pray for deliverance. From the devastated people of Israel, from the land that was laid waste by the Babylonians when they refused to repent, came the answer. Christ was born in the city of David in the land of Judah to redeem the world. Christmas was God’s answer to Isaiah’s desperate prayer! God miraculously interfered in the events of human history—and in a few short weeks, the whole world, whether they realize it or not, will be acknowledging the 2023rd anniversary of God’s wonderful answer to Isaiah’s prayer, when God Himself “ripped open the heavens and came down”—humbly, born of a virgin.
He now sits forever on David’s royal throne, exalted as the “Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” ready to hear our desperate prayer, and preparing once again to rip open the heavens and come down one final time to right all wrongs.
He has rescued us through faith in Him. Through the Gospel He has shaped a new people for Himself—the Holy Christian Church, far more glorious than the Old Kingdom of Israel. Lord, you are our father. We are the clay, and you are our potter. All of us are the work of your hand. He has re-formed the shattered shards. He has softened our clay by the Gospel. He is molding us into His own image, and His new people will never pass out of existence, until He rips open the heavens and comes again to take us to be with Him forever.
May we pray Isaiah’s prayer this Advent season—not desperately, but with all the hope that is ours, knowing the answer has already been given once. He sent His Son for us at Christmas to save us from our sins, and He will rip open the heavens and come down once again, to take us to our heavenly home. We are the clay; He is the potter. May His Word shape us this Advent season and polish us as His vessels of salvation to the dying world around us. A blessed Advent to you all. Amen!