First Focus


Cut off from the Land of the Living. That phrase well describes how I feel about being quarantined these days – how we all must be feeling. We give thanks for all we have, we have enough; we have food, shelter, sunlight, birds singing, books, long walks; we have time that we always wished we had. Yet, something is missing. We miss the freedom to go where we choose, we miss friends and families, our normal activities, going to church; we miss the absence of worry about what we might have touched, who might have breathed on us, and did we wash our hands enough? Living behind our own doors, we feel cut off from the land of the living. The land of normal life, normal day to day living is indeed cut-off from us.

The enemies of the prophet, Jeremiah used these words when they plotted against him saying —

“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
And let us cut him off from the land of the living,
That his name be remembered no more”

The plotters don’t just say “Let us kill him,” rather they say, “Let us cut him off from the land of the living.” Somehow it sounds worse to us, doesn’t it? Why? Maybe it’s because to be alive — but imprisoned, fettered, cut off from all else that is alive and vibrant and living around us, is perhaps worse. It sounds a lot like what hell might be like.

And then there’s plain old fear. We worry that our nagging headache or that one little cough might be the start of “it.” We worry about running out of toilet paper! Seriously, we wonder and worry about our future, our family’s future, our world’s future. It has seldom appeared so uncertain. And yet, though we may feel fearful and cut off, Proverbs 23:18–19 tells us:

Surely there is a future,
And your hope will not be cut off.
Listen, my son, and be wise,
And direct your heart in the way.

Our hope will not, cannot, shall not be cut off — if it is directed “in the way,” the Person of Jesus Christ. We can place temporal hope in governments, doctors, medicines, and the economy. We can have hope in our health, our family, our home. We can even place our hope on how well we follow all the rules of sanitation and social distancing. All these are good and worthy of our attention and gratitude, but they are all subject to failure. They can all let us down.

Our true hope, the hope that breaks the fetters of our sin, releases us from imprisonment behind the bars of death, rescues us from the paralyzing fear of the future; the hope that does not cut us off but rather opens up to us the world of all that is alive and vibrant, and living; the hope of rescue, freedom, release, and redemption; Our ultimate and unfailing hope is revealed in the words of the prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah 53: 3–8

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely, he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so, he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished

Our hope lies in Christ, who was cut off from the land of the living for our sakes, and who offers deliverance, forgiveness, freedom, and life abundant and eternal to all who ask. His faithfulness is new every morning. No matter how cut off we feel, we are NEVER cut off from Jesus.

Reading on in Isaiah to chapter 55, we find words to hang on to. A promise of better days ahead:

For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
“Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

— Penny Folsom