In Isaiah 55:8 the Lord declares: ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways’. Perhaps these words are familiar but it is important for Christians and churches to be reminded of their significance again and again. God’s ways often do puzzle us. On occasions I was disappointed that the efforts put into Christmas ministry appeared so unfruitful.
The context of this verse is the completion of the Suffering Servant’s ministry in ch53. On that basis the great invitation to ‘seek the Lord while he may be found’ is given in the earlier part of ch55. The unexpected way in which the Lord operates is illustrated by the idea of buying wine and milk without money and without cost. How can you buy without money?! The concept helps us grasp the undeserved mercy of God’s salvation.
Later in 55:11 we are reassured that the word of the Lord does accomplish what the Lord desires. The implied contrast is that the word of the Lord does not accomplish what we desire or what we think is best. All Christians, and especially those engaged in some form of word ministry, need to recognise this.
The events surrounding the birth of Jesus perfectly illustrate the surprising way the Lord works. The familiarity of Christmas means we can lose sight of this. At the start of his gospel Luke says that he has written an orderly account of the things that have been fulfilled (or accomplished) among us. This is so that early Christians like Theophilus might know the certainty of what they had been taught.
The birth of Jesus Christ did not come about in a way that human beings expect. So Luke encourages us to lay aside our own thoughts of the way salvation should be accomplished and reflect on how Jesus’ birth did fulfil and accomplish what the Lord desired. Luke relates how Jesus came to be born and had to be placed in a manger. Yet the Lord employs the extraordinary nature of these circumstances to provide a sign which vindicates the message that the shepherds were told by the angel of the Lord.
The shepherds had been told that a Saviour had been born in David’s city and that he was the Messiah and the Lord. Bethlehem was not large and there would be no question that if they found a child lying in a manger then that would be the one the angel had been speaking about. Thus in the Lord’s way of accomplishing his purposes, the difficult and humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth actually provides a sign that gives the shepherds certainty about the angel’s message. They are able to praise God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
When we have confidence in the Lord fulfilling what He desires in His own way then we can see that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth do not undermine our certainty about the gospel. Far from it – the Lord’s ways serve to reinforce our conviction of the message’s truth and reliability. We should learn to build on this today. We must not read the significance of what is going on in our lives and our churches through human eyes. We must interpret the significance of such events in the light of the Lord’s determination to fulfil his purposes in His own way. His Word is the reliable guide to what is going in the world around us. It is not media headlines or huge numbers of subscribers and followers which provide that. Remember – the Lord’s ways are not our ways.