Luke 15:20-24 So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The biblical God we believe is the God of promises. The Bible is a book of promises and their fulfillments. The most powerful things we can rely on are God’s promises, as long as we know and trust in them. We study the Bible to know what they are and how to cash in on them. The birth of Christ was promised by God in the beginning of human history. This was fulfilled in the first Christmas 2,000 years ago. God continues to fulfill His promises through the ages and in our personal lives.
Today we have a wonderful promise of restoration from the book of Isaiah. God promised restoring power for all His children when the nation of Israel was smashed and scattered around the world, or our personal lives are in the darkest valley. If we trust in this restoring God and wait for God’s timing, we will see how great this restoring power will be. If we don’t know this promise, or don’t trust God or wait for His timing, we will have no hope and no future. We would subject ourselves to the satanic power of destruction. The devil’s job is to blind people seeing God’s restoration.
The Israelites are chosen by God to be His people. The history of Israelites is rich with God’s interactions with them to show who God is and who His people are. God led this rebellious people through the entire history. God told the stiff-necked people that they would lose their fatherland and be dispersed around the world if they rebelled against God, but God also promised to bring them back to the land that God had promised to Abraham. Since the Jews lost their country and identity, they became wandering sheep under the roof of other peoples. However, centuries of cultural assimilations in Europe and other areas could not stamp out the Jews among other peoples. They went through many persecutions and destructions, but their faith in God, the language and tradition of their ancestors, and their Hebrew Scriptures kept their identity alive. The Jews knew for sure that they were the descendants of Abraham, waiting for the restoration of the nation in Jerusalem.
80 years ago, a German dictator, Adolf Hitler, and his NAZI party were determined to exterminate the Jews. They developed the most sophisticated and organized slaughtering mechanism to kill all the Jews they could lay their hands on. Some of us peered into this darkest page of human conscience by visiting Auschwitz Concentration Camp. I visited Lublin Concentration Camp in Poland, the second largest massacre site where half million of Jews were killed there. The NAZI gassed, shot and starved 6 million of the Jews, one third of all the Jewish population in the world during the war. It seemed that God’s chosen people were pushed to the verge of eradication from the face of the earth, and the witness to God would disappear for good. But, God would not let it happen. The dispersal and destruction of the Jews for 2,000 years could not overshadow God’s promise. God remembered it in Ezekiel 11:17, “Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” By the end of the World War II, the United Nations granted a portion of the land of Palestine to Israel. The scattered Jews came back from over the world. They assembled together to restore the nation according to the promise of God. On May 18th, 1948, a new nation of Israel was born again from the ashes of blood, shame, tears and pain. The enemies of this young nation wanted to snuff out this Israel many times through wars and terror. Under God’s protection, the nation still stands strong. King David’s flag is a powerful witness to God’s restoration in our days.
In the year of 1929, the first group of Zionists was flying to Palestine, the land of their forefathers, aboard an airplane of the British Royal Air Force. Before the plane had touched the ground, one Rabbi was suddenly struck by the verse from Exodus 19: 4, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” He and his group began to cry and to proclaim the fulfillment of an impossible promise in their life. The figurative eagles’ wings from the mouth of God 3,400 years before turned to be literal airplane wings, an airplane carrying God’s people to the Promised Land. Remember, this happened only 26 years after the Wright brothers launched the first flying machine into the sky on a Massachusetts beach. There is no co-incidence in the fulfillment of God’s promises.
What God did was to fulfill what the Scriptures say, Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” 68 years ago, the Jewish nation was truly a bruised reed and dimly burning wick. But the United Nations, out of compassion, generosity and the best interest of the entire world held Israel up and restored this ancient nation. God blesses those who restore others for peace, justice and love because Jesus is the Lord of restoration.
Destruction or restoration is always a hard choice for people to make. Humans are constantly struggling with it. Shakespeare spoke of this dilemma through the lips of Hamlet, “To be or not to be.” To restore what people are struggling for is a tedious and even painful work. Restoration takes faith, good will, patience, perspective and perseverance. However, self-destruction is an easy way to get out of the consuming and painful difficulties. Out of their bad emotions, impatience, distrust and powerlessness, humans are easily led toward destruction of their health, marriage, relationship and God’s gifts. We often receive negative input when we are in need of wise clarification, encouragement and support. It takes years or decades to build up a relationship but it only takes minutes to smash it. It takes many nurturing years and love to build up a young person but it takes only a few thoughtless rebukes to destroy his or her future.
We Christians need to be very careful for our choice between destruction and restoration in our interactions with others. We need to be clearly aware and very sensitive of what we say and what we do, asking ourselves which side we take along the line of destruction or restoration. We have to see in history and personal lives what the damages and hurts the destructive mentality has caused, and what a beautiful fruit people reap through reconciliation and restoration. We feel sorry for the destructive things we have done in our lives and in others’. We ask God for forgiveness. We have to see in the Bible how restoring our God is. After World War II, The United States turned two vowed enemies to be great allies by restoring dignity and productivity of Germany and Japan. May we all take the side of our loving God to build up and to restore each other.
Because of human sins and our sinful nature, of growing human power and of the devil’s scheme, this world is under the law of the jungle. The world is merciless and destructive. Nations are at war against each other for territory, water, oil or taxes. Terrorists seek dominance by killing innocent people and destroying civilizations. In the competitive market and heartless office politics, there are always some people trying hard to squeeze others out. Bad emotions of people thirst to ruin themselves and others. Slanders from nowhere ruin the reputation of those people don’t like. Even the tension among siblings can be fatal, like the killing Abel by Cain. The less privileged and marginal people are easy victims of destruction. Predators sexually abuse children and destroy their innocence and future. Be aware that in this world there are so many bruised reeds and diminishing wicks everywhere. There are too many destroyers and too few restorers.
The prophecy of Isaiah, seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, indicated that Jesus’ mission was to restore people as the children of God. In the eyes of God, the bruised reed and dimly burning wick are as precious as the strong ones through Jesus’ restoration. Isaiah 61:1 “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” Jesus was sent by God for the oppressed, for the brokenhearted, for the captive and for the prisoners.
Truly, Jesus did it with his words and deeds. The father restored the prodigal son through gentle forgiveness. Luke 15:22-24 “But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe– the best one– and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.” The best robe would cover his shame and restore his dignity; the ring with the family seal on it would re-instate his status as one of the heirs; shoes for walking and fatted calf for celebration. He had a long way to go. The elder brother was not happy and demanded fairness and justice. But in comparison with restoration, his human fairness and justice was very secondary. It was the love of the father that restored this prodigal son and the relationship.
The woman caught in adultery was ready to be blown out of this dusty world as a dimmed wick. Those so-called morally pure men smelled blood and pulled up their sleeves. They were ready to destroy a bruised reed. Perhaps, they felt a justified excitement by turning a live woman into a pile of bloody bones. Jesus was cornered to take sides between destruction and restoration. At this watershed, Jesus just wanted to find a true sinless person to cast the first stone. He could find none. He meant to tell us that no sinner is called to destroy others. He restored this woman through encouraging her to repent and to lead a moral life.
Jesus restored health of the sick with His healing touch. He restored the blind with sight, the lepers with clean skins, the lame with walking, the deaf with hearing and speaking. He restored the demon-possessed by kicking out the evil spirits, particularly Mary Magdalene, seven demons. He restored tax collectors by liberating them from a guilty conscience and taking them in as his disciples. Before Peter denied him three times, Jesus had planned to restore him so that Peter was able to restore others. Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Satan’s plan is to sift out every child of God. Sifting here means to blow away Peter. Satan wants to crush and destroy all Jesus’ followers. But Lord Jesus wanted to protect, preserve and restore Peter and all of us. That’s the difference between Satan’s business and Jesus’.
The greatest restoration in the universe is the reconciliation between God and sinners through Jesus’ broken body and blood. The Holy God cannot live with sin. When time was fulfilled as Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was born to the Virgin Mary. He was baptized on behalf of all humanity for repentance. He said sorry to God for all people. And finally, his flesh body and blood was destroyed on behalf of the entire sinful humanity. God thoroughly poured His wrath on this sacrificial lamb, His only Son Jesus in human form. God’s Justice finally has been fulfilled by destroying Jesus’ body. Romans 5:8 “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Jesus paid the price to restore our relationship with God. From this point, Jesus began to restore his believers into the original image and likeness of God through the ages.
One year ago, I was knocked down by a bad stroke. I was at the end of my rope and at the lowest point of my health and career. A Brother encouraged me, “Charlie, always remember that the Lord is not going to break a bruised reed and quench a dimly burning wick like you. I am sure that the Lord will restore your health as His servant in time.” The encouraging words of the Lord carried great restoring power in my life. Yes, Jesus never stops restoring us, especially in our dark valley of death. You all have witnessed my faith, strength and improvement. Yesterday my doctor was surprised to see my recovery. Therefore, the most beautiful thing we can do is to unleash the restoring power from the word of God to those who are in despair.
Be thankful that Jesus’ restoring power is available to all. Never hinder Jesus from restoring you. He restores sinners, drug abusers, alcoholics, inmates, the damaged health, broken hearts, the divorcees, the jobless, the despised, the alienated, the lonely, the emotionally unhealthy, and all the hopeless. After we have tasted the goodness of this power, we are made whole again and ready to share this power with more people. There are millions like bruised reed and dimly burning wick in this world, longing for this power. If Jesus’ power works well in my life, it will do the same and even more for you and for others. The Lord commissioned Peter and all of us to do the same, “Once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” Christians are not called to destroy, but to restore the relationship between God and people, and restore people to be holy and healed children of God.
Tonight, in your prayer time before sleeping, can you count with your fingers how many people you know who need this restoring power? Pray for them. You may call them at the turning point of a new year, but be sure that you are ready to pass on this restoring power.