DOES GOD REALLY CARE?
Everyone has asked it: Does God really care? Is he really concerned about the people on this planet, or is he caught up with himself-seeking to glorify himself without any real regard to our hurts and failures? It is as if it is God's overall plan to glorify himself, and in part of achieving that goal, he created man. If man obeys, God will be pleased; but if man does not, God will not be devastated by it, for he can find some glory elsewhere. The truth is quite the opposite. In reality, God's glory is connected to his love for the people he created. His strongest desire has always been for us to be in a good relationship with him, and we hold his constant attention.
TYRANTS' FORCE AND GOD'S LOVE
The pages of history are full of tyrants who came into power through violence and ruled without mercy or any sense of justice toward the people of the nation. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, known there as the Angka Loeu (Organization on High) began ruling Cambodia in just this way. This Marxist-Communist group fought its way in and set itself up as a god in this nation, and two to three million people died as an effect of their campaign to rule and maintain power (Cormack 178). In an article in Time magazine dated July 31, 1978, David Aikman commented concerning the Cambodian experience, "it is the deadly logical consequence of an atheistic, man-centered system of values, enforced by fallible human beings with total power, who believe, . . . with Mao, that power grows from gun barrels" (qtd. in Cormack 176).
God is very much the opposite of the Khmer Rouge. He did not attain power or glory; he always had it. Before Jesus was crucified, he prayed, "And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (Jn. 17:5). Jesus was not praying that he would be glorified like he was before he came into the world, but like he was before the world existed, showing that God's glory has extended through eternity past.
GOD HAS BEEN ALWAYS GLORIFIED
Throughout the ages God has been glorified. He did not lose any glory at the fall of man, and we know that "the Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high" (Is. 33:5). Paul, speaking in Athens, noted that "the God who made the world and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth . . . [is not] served by human hands, as though he needed anything" (Acts 17:24, 25). He does not need people to serve him or even pay attention to him for his state of glory to be maintained. He is God on high, and he does not need man to cheer for him in any way, as if there were a heavenly applause meter that must maintain a certain level.
WHY IS GOD INTERESTED THAT WE NOTICE WHO HE IS?
If God does not need anything from man, why is it that he is so interested that we notice who he is? It may almost seem like he is imposing on us. After all, God is in a good position, and I'm well enough off, so why don't we each just do our own thing? When we look at God's character-of love, compassion, righteousness, justice-we must ask what the real motive is behind his interest in us. If it is not to fulfill a need in himself, it must be an expression of love toward us. Let us take an example from the account of Isaiah.
TO RECOUNT THE STEADFAST LOVE OF GOD
Isaiah writes in order for his people to remember the mercy the Lord has had upon Israel: "I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love" (Is. 63:7). This verse uses key words such as steadfast love, great goodness, and compassion to describe the Lord's character. It is clear that his actions toward his people were an expression of his character and his deep love for them.
The record proceeds to describe the way Israel rebelled against God and "grieved his Holy Spirit" (v. 10), but it also recounts that God was faithful to lead them, keep them from destruction, and give them rest. Again we see God's love for his people. This account is concluded with the statement, "So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name" (v. 14). Here we may immediately get the impression that God was not in fact genuine in his compassion for Israel but that he was instead only interested in making a name for himself. That is, God didn't care whether or not Israel would respond, because either way he would have gotten glory as he showed himself off.
THE PROPHET IS HERE
We must remember that "the prophet is here, in the name of the church, taking a review, and making a thankful recognition, of God's dealings with his church all along" (Henry OT). He is expressing thankfulness, not bitterness, for God's desire to glorify himself, and he does it within the context of being thankful for God's compassion, goodness, and steadfast love. The reason for this is that Isaiah realizes that God's glory is strongly connected to his love for his people.
TO SEE WHO GOD REALLY IS
This begins to answer the question of why God would continue to lift himself up even though he has all the power and authority in the universe. God puts himself on display so that we will see who he really is: the God who loves his people. When Jesus came to earth as a man, he announced his ministry with a quotation from Isaiah. He read this passage and said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Lk 4:21): "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Is. 61:1, 2). Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the prophecy shows the year of the Lord's favor giving the people "a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified" (v. 3).
GOD INTENDS TO BLESS THE POOR AND THE BROKENHEARTED
God's heart is clearly to bless his people. He intends to bless the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the bound, the mourners, and the faint in spirit (v. 1-3). He is love, and it is his deepest desire to be in a reconciled relationship with man. The greatest expression of the love of God is Jesus Christ. Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted, "to comfort and cure afflicted consciences, to give peace to those that were troubled and humbled for sins, and under a dread of God's wrath against them for them, and to bring them to rest who were weary and heavy-laden, under the burden of guilt and corruption" (Henry NT). Indeed, man finds himself with a deeply broken heart which feels bound to condemnation. This heart lends itself only to a life of anxiety, wondering if God is angry and what price I must pay to have peace like when I was a child. As man gropes around in this dark cell of fear and condemnation, Christ stands with open arms, ready to embrace those who will accept the liberty he has proclaimed to the captives.
DISOBEDIENCE AND OFFENSE AGAINST GOD
Before Jesus made his proclamation, man lived under the condemnation of his sins. All the things he did to disobey and offend God left him in a disharmonious relationship with his Father. I remember times as a teenager when I did something that made my dad upset. Though he loved me, there was always something in the air whenever we were together after that. It would only go away when I apologized and restored the relationship. Christ came so that we could apologize to our heavenly Father. God demands death as the punishment for sin (Rom. 6:23), and he loves us so much that he came to earth to bear that punishment for us.
THE PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT
The punishment was taken not only to save us from eternal death in hell but to give us new life on earth. "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4:10). A propitiation is a wrath-removing sacrifice. Jesus died to remove the wrath of God that hangs over our heads. He died to remove that anxious feeling of wondering if you are good enough. He died in your place, and having taken all of the wrath of God away with his death, there is nothing to get in the way of your relationship with the Father now.
In this is love. This is God's expression of the yearning he has to know you as a friend. He went to incredible lengths to restore the relationship that was broken by the sins that were committed. Jesus' actions to make the way for this restoration are described in Isaiah 52-53. The passage begins with a declaration of Jesus' glorification (an important point to note, considering our study here): "Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted" (52:13).
TO REMOVE THE WEIGHT OF OUR SEPARATION FROM GOD
Jesus came to earth humbly, and he did not stand out like many modern preachers do. He was actually "despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not" (53:3). When he bore the terrible taste of crucifixion, we all turned away. We thought he must have done something appallingly wrong to deserve this kind of death. He must have done something to offend God horribly. He was, in fact, suffering for what we had done to offend God horribly. On the cross he carried all the weight of our separation from God. He was "wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (v. 5). His stripes-"the severe scourging of our Lord is understood as the meaning here" (Hoffmeier)-and torturous death were the punishment that opened the way for us to have peace with God.
IT DELIGHTED THE LORD TO CRUSH HIM
As we can see, God went to terrible lengths to cover the punishment necessary for our sins to be removed from his memory. The Father sending the Son to be given to death was not regrettable for either of them. Isaiah notes that "it delighted the Lord to crush him" (53:10). He knew what would be able to happen as a result-the ability of man to fellowship with God in a perfect relationship-and he counted the cost worthy. Jesus was more than willing to die, because he loved us. He stepped out and carried the sorrows that we could not carry. Knowing that with our sins we were separated from God, he "shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
ACCEPT HIM BY FAITH
We should mention a bit about the life of fellowship with God that he died to give us. First, it is accepted by faith. By believing that Jesus is God and that he died to bear your punishment, you acknowledge his great love for you. Humility is needed to accept that punishment as your own as you confess that Jesus died for your sins as well as those of the rest of the world, and as you repent of the things you have done that have offended God. By submitting to Jesus as Lord, you appropriate the work he has done to bring you peace with God. Conversely, if you are still in command of your life, you still bear the responsibility for paying for your sins, and you remain separated from God. Remember that Christ isn't out to win followers for his campaign in order to boost his ego. He loves us and wants the best for us: righteousness, peace, and joy (Rom. 14:17).
PEACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST
The life that follows is one of a new standing before God. Instead of having shame on our shoulders, we are made righteous. Jesus died to "make many to be accounted righteous (Is. 53:11). Through our faith in him, we are looked upon by God as righteous, because he sees our sins (past and future) as having been paid for. This being true, "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God" (Rom. 5:1, 2).
This is the life God always wanted for us. We may draw near to him in faith and know that we will be forgiven when we sin. We are pulled out of the sick system of the world and are "hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:4). There is a whole new standard for us now, and it is based on Christ's sacrificial death. It is a standard of God's unending favor upon us. We draw near and grow closer to God in love, knowing him as a Father and friend. It is a life allowing God to free us from our fears and teach us to live as we continue to follow and learn to trust him.
GOD'S LOVE FOR US IN HIS DEATH
There is much more to be said about the life God provided for us through Jesus, but I want to underline just three things about it. First, it is made possible by God's love as expressed in his death for us. Second, it is clearly for our good. This new life gives us access to the loving God in the here and now and also in the hereafter. Third, fellowship between God and us is the fulfillment of a deep desire in his own heart.
Let us return to Isaiah 61 and begin to look again at how God's love and peoples' salvation relates to his glory. We read that the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the bound, the mourners, and the faint in spirit would be called "oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified" (v. 3). These people would experience salvation and a new relationship with the Lord-one of righteousness. This, of course, is the binding of the broken heart, the setting free of the captives, etc. As they are blessed, the Lord is glorified. Again, I do not mean that God chalks up another point when someone comes to salvation. Instead, he is glorified and shown for the loving and compassionate God he really is so that others will come to him and be blessed by him.
MY SOUL IS TROUBLED, BUT FOR THIS I CAME
We have seen that it was for man's benefit that Jesus came. We have seen that it was an extreme expression of love that he chose to die for us. Now let us consider how this fact is indivisible from Jesus' overall purpose to bring glory to God. Near the time of his death, Jesus prayed, "Now is my soul troubled . . . but for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name" (Jn. 12:27, 28). The Father's thundering voice replied from heaven, and everyone crowded around Jesus heard him say, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again" (v. 28). Jesus explained to the crowd that "This voice has come for your sake, not mine," and foretelling his imminent crucifixion, he added, "And I , when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (v. 30, 32). From this account we can see that Jesus connected the point of his death (and the blessings upon man that came as a result, as we have mentioned before) with God's glorification. Jesus' death on the cross would glorify God's name.
As Jesus said, his death to bring righteousness, peace, and joy was the purpose of his coming to earth. His heart was to glorify God by drawing people to himself so that they could be blessed in a relationship with God, and so his heart full of love and compassion for people would be fulfilled. When we look back to the first announcement of Jesus' birth, we see the elements of glory and love inseparable again. It was an angel that visited a group of shepherds who announced to them the birth of the Savior. Soon, "there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!'" (Lk. 2:13, 14). We should note that God's peace is given "to those who are recipients of God's good will or favor" (Walvoord and Zuck). This favor was achieved with Christ's propitiation. The angels were declaring, then, that God be glorified as his Son comes to bring man into the place of God's favor.
A MODEL PRAYER
Jesus taught about prayer, telling those who gathered to listen to him to pray to the Father, who "knows what you need before you ask him" (Mt. 6:8). He modeled a prayer (v. 9-13) that has become liturgy in many churches today. This prayer shows that God is glorified in his love for his people:
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
This prayer begins by glorifying God. His name is hallowed, treated with reverence and kept holy. It continues by asking for God's will to be done on earth just as it is in heaven. It is God's will for man to be brought out from the bondage of evil into new life in fellowship with him. Next, we see the blessings God will give us: the fulfillment our daily needs, forgiveness of our sins, guidance, and deliverance from evil. The Father desires so much to fulfill our deepest needs. He is greatly passionate that the people he created live lives richly blessed. It is what he has always wanted, and the reason he planned from the beginning of time to send Jesus into the world to bring about the reconciliation needed for man to fellowship with his Father. All of this is for God's glory, that he may be lifted up and that others may see who he is and turn to him. Peace with man is what he wants most. He does not need or want glory so that he can feel more secure in who he is. As we have said, he is already completely exalted.
Just before he was arrested and crucified, Jesus prayed to the Father, "And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you have me to do" (Jn. 17:3, 4). Jesus had done all that the Father had willed, and he would complete the work of the cross as well. Indeed, he did bring God glory by doing the things he announced from the beginning that he would do: by binding up the brokenhearted, healing the sick, and bringing people out from underneath the yoke of sin. These things he did while on earth, and he does them now.
CONTINUANCE OF THE YEAR OF THE LORD'S FAVOR
Since Christ came, the year of the Lord's favor has continued. He still heals the sick, he still frees us from fear. Through our faith in him and his ultimate expression of love in his death on the cross for our punishment, he allows us to have peace with the God from whom we were once estranged. In the same prayer, Jesus asked that the people who would come to believe in him would be united, "so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (v. 23). As these people have unity in love, Jesus is glorified, for the Father's love is made known. As his love is made known, people are drawn to him and are made righteous by their faith in Jesus, bringing them into a perfect relationship with the Lord. This is God's greatest desire, and the fulfillment of man's needs at every level.
THE BRANCH OF THE LORD: BY OUR FAITH WE GLORIFY HIM MORE
This is the picture given early on in the book of Isaiah. The prophecy of Jesus as the "Branch of the Lord" shows how he is made glorious as the people are blessed: "In that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem" (4:2, 3). The Lord is glorified; the people are made righteous and are called holy.
After considering the facts of this study, we are able to better answer the questions we asked at first. We see now that God does genuinely care about his people. We hold his constant attention, and he has gone to extreme lengths throughout history to show himself to us that we might turn to him. He has no need for people to ascribe to him power. He does not even have a need for friendship with us. And yet this friendship is exactly what his heart burns for. It is the longing of his heart for us to know him, and he knows that it is also the fulfillment of everything we will ever need. He is glorified when we expose him (or when he exposes himself) for who he is: the loving God who cares deeply for his people. As we realize his love, we turn to him in faith and receive a new life in relationship with him. Through this faith we glorify him more, and others begin to see him and his love as well.
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Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Old Testament. CD-ROM. QuickVerse 7.0. Omaha, NE: Parsons Church Group, 2000.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the New Testament. CD-ROM. QuickVerse 7.0. Omaha, NE: Parsons Church Group, 2000.
Hoffmeier, James K., ed. New Commentary on the Whole Bible: Old Testament Volume. CD-ROM. QuickVerse 7.0. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1990.
Walvoord, John F. and Zuck, Roy B., eds. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament. CD-ROM. QuickVerse 7.0. USA: Victor, 1983.