When I was younger I remember hearing people around me refer to someone who had just passed away by saying “RIP So-and-so.” Other times I’d see R.I.P. written out, including on fake tombstones in front yards around Halloween. I never bothered to find out what it meant, but it sounded irreverent, sort of a wooden way to distance oneself from the pain. It sounded like a cold, non-Christian response to death.
It was only in the last few years, really, hearing it used by some people who I know to be faithful and unflinching Christians, that its history and meaning and value became clear. I think it also has special application for Isaiah.
The letters RIP are an acronym for a Latin phrase, requiescat in pace, meaning “may (the deceased person) rest in peace.” It turns out that the acronym works when translated into English, rest in peace. The three letters have apparently been found on some gravestones in Christian burial places, some as far back as the 8th century. It became a common reference for the next thousand years.
Also, as it turns out, it is a Christian condolence, and as Christianity had such a dominant influence in a number of cultures, especially English speaking peoples, even those who didn’t believe in Christ still picked up the phrase.
It’s sadly not much more than shallow sentiment apart from Christ. When it comes to both rest and peace Christ makes all the difference in this world, and for the next.
Those who belong to Christ, who believe in Him, are given a taste of rest now and promised a full share in Christ’s rest forever. Christ finished His priestly work of offering sacrifice for our sins, of offering Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. So all who put their faith in Jesus look forward to eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3, 8-9). This rest doesn’t mean that we’ll be sitting around all day staring out the window, but that we’ll be doing our resurrection work without the frustrations and difficulties we endure in a broken world. Our works will be done in rest, not in bitterness or exhaustion.
And that rest will be in peace. God reveals in His Word that peace isn’t superficial, nor is it necessarily circumstantial. God’s peace is a fulness of soul. His peace is connected with real and joyful and loving fellowship. It’s better, and deeper, than just not being at war or in a fight (though it can include that, 2 Chronicles 14:6). The absence of conflict isn’t as good as grace and peace. This peace provides reasons for rejoicing beyond removal from a bad situation.
Ultimately, and certainly eternally, this kind of peace, in souls and on earth, only comes from the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Isaiah was looking for this peace. It’s part of what makes this memorial more heart-heavy, and it’s also what gives us comfort in the heaviness.
Through a series of choices, some that were his own and some outside his control, Isaiah was working to deal with various messes in his life. He knew that he wasn’t where he needed to be and was taking steps in a better direction. He desired to live in his own space, to have a place where his son could visit him. Isaiah was working to reestablish his responsibilities as a young man.
He had begun to reach out to make some new friends, even among some of us at TEC. He would sometimes be able to attend our meetings, most recently coming to the Meat Eat less than two weeks ago.
But he was still struggling, still reckoning with consequences and trying to get untangled from a number of challenges. It was hard. Just a day or so before his death, his mom and dad said that Isaiah told them that he really loved Jesus and he really wanted to find peace.
It’s understandable that we who remain ask, Why? Why Isaiah? Why now? Why when he was still so young, just 24 years old? Why when it seemed that there were so many possible good things ahead of him? And for us who remain, we are not likely to get complete answers.
But, we should remember that the Why? questions only make sense if there is a sovereign God who is in control of all things. In a godless world, Why? has no target, it floats out into the void of senselessness and meaninglessness. If there is no god, then there is no one to answer. When we ask Why? to God, we are asking the One who is sovereign and good, the God with omniscience and mercy. For Christians, we are asking our Father.
And though we can’t know for certain right now, perhaps part of the Why? is in answer to Isaiah’s longing for peace.
In the prophetic book with his name, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about a particular kind of mercy from God. The prophet was describing a society in decline, a society in defiance against God. Righteous men were perishing among such a people and no one cared. What stands out is that the prophet announced that the righteous man “is taken away from calamity.”
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, ESV)
Here is another translation:
no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, NIV)
We don’t naturally think this way, and in Scripture death itself is not a friend. But there are times when to be “taken away” and taken “into peace” is God’s mercy.
It may be God’s purpose to remove His people from seeing more trouble and enduring more torment, as He causes them to enter peace in His presence earlier than what we might have expected, earlier than we want. Though Isaiah’s fruit did not fully match his profession, he did long for this peace. And though we aren’t able to celebrate a life full of days, we do commit Isaiah into the Lord’s righteous hands. Again, our merciful Father can be trusted.
Since we remain, God is being merciful to us as well. Perhaps God is mercifully reminding you that no one is guaranteed another day, and that only in Christ is it possible to rest in peace.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience…No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11, 13).
We must look to Christ.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)
So now we grieve for the loss of a son, brother, dad, grandson, nephew, friend. We grieve with his family and we pray that the Father would grant them peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). We pray that this peace of God will guard their faith and comfort them, directly by His Spirit and using us as His agents.
While Isaiah may have remembered the “stupid people” part of Psalm 94 in verse 8, we also remember application from later lyrics:
When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
(Psalm 94:18–19 ESV)
So we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, may Isaiah rest in peace.