Isaiah 35:4 “Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.’”
“He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution,” Isaiah says. Does that sound right? “There’s that Old Testament God,” some people might say, “all wrath and judgment. He is nothing like the New Testament God of love and peace.” But Isaiah isn’t describing God as an otherworldly law enforcement officer who has lost his cool. He isn’t an angry policeman who snapped and now is beating some man in handcuffs senseless.
Vengeance and retribution, when God is dishing it out on behalf of his children, is simply a matter of justice. Don’t we still want a just God? Don’t we all have an inner sense that demands justice ourselves? A criminal in Texas admitted from prison that he shot a sixteen- year-old girl so that she would not testify against him at his upcoming trial. When she didn’t die immediately after being shot twice, he stepped on her neck until she stopped breathing. We all watched on video as a Minneapolis policeman kneeled on George Floyd’s neck until he expired. Do we really feel that it would be right to give all the guilty parties a free pass in cases like these? Is it only a cruel and unenlightened heart, some uncivilized savage deep within us, that wants to see the guilty pay for what they have done?
Or do we recognize a sense of fairness in justice? Do we see that is better for the guilty themselves that they have to answer for their crimes, rather than to let them live with the illusion that their behavior was acceptable? Do we believe this even if we can’t bring them all the way to genuine regret for what they have done?
That introduces a scary thought. We have been guilty of our own sins. Should God bring his vengeance and retribution down on me? He would be completely within his rights to do so. But that isn’t what happened when he came the first time, was it? Jesus was the only man who ever lived who lived his entire life without owing anything to justice. He committed no crimes to pay for, not even petty sins. Then he turned around and paid for all the crimes of everyone who ever lived. When our God came with his vengeance and retribution, he served justice on himself. He shielded us from the punishment our sins deserved by giving up his life on the cross.
Some might call that “unfair” or “injustice.” But God himself has taught us to call it “grace.” Our sins have not been approved. They have never been excused. But they have been paid for and forgiven. That’s why in Jesus, our God has come with justice and salvation. As Isaiah said, “He will come to save you.”
For one reason or another, most remain unwilling to receive the salvation God has provided. And for one reason or another, that makes them resent and persecute the children of God who do. Many times the people who do not love our Jesus will make us suffer. In response we will do all we can to help them find the same grace of God we have found. Since we remember that we were no better ourselves, we will pray for them, and plead with them, and patiently endure from them to help them find faith and forgiveness in Christ.
But where that fails, Isaiah’s promise applies again to make us strong and brave. In Jesus, your God has come. He came to save you 2000 years ago. Jesus promises that he will return. For us, too, your God will come. When he does, there will be justice for his enemies who make his people suffer.
The Apostle John assures us that even now the Christians who died for their faith and have found their place in front of God’s holy throne are praying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” The Lord tells them to be patient, to wait a little longer. But he does not deny that the day is coming.
When our God comes, there will be salvation, deliverance, rescue, an end to every enemy that attacks us, body or soul. The issues that make you suffer now, whatever they are, are only temporary. Their end is only a matter of time.
So what are we afraid of? Why do we let life freeze us in fear? Your God has come. He will come again.