“I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then said I, ‘Here am I; send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8)
So began the mission of a man who loved his country, cared for his people, and sacrificed his life for God’s reign of justice. Sometimes called “the Shakespeare of the Bible,” he is among world literature’s greatest poets. Severe toward tyrants, compassionate toward the disadvantaged, and expectant for God’s intervention in history, Isaiah gives voice to the cry for justice by oppressed peoples still today.
The prophet whose name means “The Lord is salvation” lived seven centuries before Jesus’ birth. After receiving his divine vocation, Isaiah worked tirelessly for sixty years, rebuking the people of Israel for putting their faith in military power and political alliances and urging them to trust in God alone. With his wife, called “the prophetess,” he had two sons whose names were themselves a prophetic message: Shear-Jashub means “a remnant will return,” while Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz means “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Willing to do anything to convince the people to repent, he walked Jerusalem’s streets “naked and barefooted” to illustrate what would happen if God wasn’t obeyed (Isaiah 20:3).
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:2, 4)
When I began work on a portrait of Isaiah, I needed someone to pose as the prophet. My longtime friend Larry Mason immediately came to mind. Larry’s life has been full of struggle and hardship from childhood on. He fought in the Vietnam War as an E6 staff sergeant in the 101st Airborne and First Cavalry Divisions, serving three consecutive tours and seeing intensive combat. Years later, he took a pilgrimage back to Vietnam to pay his respect to the Vietnamese people for their losses and to seek healing from the wounds of war. Now Larry considers himself a soldier in God’s army. He is an example of turning swords to plowshares, and he has dedicated the rest of his life to living out the Sermon on the Mount in full Christian community.
Knowing Larry’s love for Isaiah’s prophecies, I asked him how he thinks they apply now. His answer: “When I look around at today’s world, I often pray the Aramaic prayer for the early return of Christ: ‘Maranatha – O Lord, come!’ I read in the news about the craziness of man, the shootings and wars, the corruption of politicians, the greed of big business. Hardworking people so often don’t stand a chance. Then I think of God’s promise: ‘Behold, I make all things new!’ (Rev. 21:5)
“A lot of what Isaiah prophesied is still going to happen: God will ‘create new heavens and a new earth’ (Isaiah 65: 17–25). So we all better get off our butts and be prepared, because God’s kingdom is coming very soon! As I sit with my morning coffee in front of the house, I often look to the sunrise where we are promised there will be signs in the skies of Jesus’ return. ‘For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God’ (1 Thess. 4:16–17). Then Isaiah’s vision will finally become reality.”
Jason's friend Larry Mason passed away October 23, 2014.