Saturday, July 16, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 25

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 25

I was just thinking about how painful it must have been for Isaiah to deliver the prophecies of coming troubles. Nobody enjoys having to give bad news and I think it made his heart hurt to deliver God's message of judgment. Imagine what strength of faith and what determination it must have taken to get up morning after morning to deliver a warning not many citizens wanted to hear. I wonder if he ever felt discouraged or if he dreaded climbing out of bed to face another day of preaching to people who refused to believe him. At the same time, the urgency of the message compelled him to keep pleading with the people to repent. He knew invasion and defeat could be avoided if only the people would cast away their idols, stop seeking the advice of mediums and false prophets, and turn back wholeheartedly to the living God. Souls were at stake. Lives were at stake. The very existence of the nation was at stake. He must have felt much like the Apostle Paul who said, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16b) 

We have a duty as Christians to proclaim the gospel in words, actions, and attitudes. There is a saying that has been attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, although the saying originated in modern times and it's likely he isn't the author of it, but it makes a good point nevertheless, "Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words." Saint Francis was a very prolific preacher and I'm sure he used a lot of words in getting the gospel out, but the intention is that our very lives proclaim the gospel. People should at least suspect we are Christians just by our attitude and our love for others. Who will be drawn to Christianity if Christians seem discouraged and grumpy and bitter, unwilling to help our fellow man? If unbelievers don't find something attractive in Christians, how will they be attracted to Christ? Our lives must match the gospel we proclaim. Of course we're all going to have bad days, times when we are worried about things, occasions when we are troubled and might not be as quick to pick up on the needs of others. But by and large we should behave toward others in such a way that they sense the unshakable hope and victory we have in Christ and, in so doing, will want this in their own lives. Souls are at stake. So, whether in words or actions or loving attitudes, woe to us if we do not preach the gospel. 

Yesterday we concluded with the sad news that, even in the face of troubles, the majority of the people of the northern kingdom had not repented and turned back to God. Our verse today picks up right there. "So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and dignitaries are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail. Those who guide this people mislead them, and those who are guided are led astray." (Isaiah 9:14-16) Judgment will begin with the leaders and the false prophets because they bear the greater responsibility for the downfall of the nation. They have set poor examples and have told outright lies. The palm branch represents the leadership because it is closely associated with kings. The people at Jerusalem waved palm branches and laid their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus on Palm Sunday, thereby making a political statement that He should be their king. They were looking for a literal, human king who would lead a revolt against Rome, but the religious leaders clearly understood the symbolism of the palm branches. That's why they rushed up to Jesus to implore Him to rebuke the people and make them stop calling Him "Son of David". 

The reed represents the prophets because reeds grew near the waterways and acted as a cleansing filter. Scum and impurities tended to settle near the reeds while the clean water flowed on. Prophets were intended to act as a cleansing filter for the nation. Their job was to know and proclaim the word of the Lord, to instruct the people how to live, and to give godly advice about the future. But many prophets had gone astray and were telling the people lies, tales of good news that they wanted to hear, instead of telling them the truth. I think they must have been people-pleasers, caring only about whether the citizens liked them and looked up to them. Isaiah certainly won no popularity contests, nor did any of the other true prophets of God. They were generally disrespected and mocked. Very few people probably ever invited Isaiah over for dinner and I'd be willing to bet a lot of people ran inside and shut their doors when they saw him coming down the street. God never promised His prophets the work would be easy; He only promised them the work was necessary.

Judgment will begin with the leadership and the prophets because they held so much authority over the people. They will bear the guilt of leading the citizens astray. In the same way, the Apostle Peter warned that, in the church age, judgment will begin at the house of God. (1 Peter 4:17) If we as Christians water down the Scriptures or adulterate the word of God, we will bear the guilt of leading people astray. I don't know if there's anything more abominable in the eyes of God than corrupt spiritual leadership. Every soul is precious to Him and the one who professes to be in Christ but leads a soul astray will come under harsher judgment. It's a scary thing to handle the word of God. It's a huge responsibility. But it's as necessary in our day to get God's word out as it was in Isaiah's day. Woe to us if we don't proclaim Christ. It means life or death for our fellow man. Souls are at stake and so we must be willing to say, just as Isaiah said, "Here I am. Send me."

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