Saturday, December 31, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 179

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 179

The people have been praying for God to come to their rescue and also to come in judgment of their enemies. They are not simply praying for release from Babylon but for "the day of the Lord" to come. In Chapter 65 Isaiah is picturing the day of wrath and then the kingdom of the Messiah. In today's passage the people imagine themselves as victors in the battle when God rends the heavens and comes down to judge the world. They believe that they, through God's covenant with Abraham, will be spared His wrath. But God's judgment is going to be based on the conditions of the heart of each man and woman. It won't matter who our forefathers were or whether our grandmothers were great women of God: we will not be judged by the heart or the deeds of anyone but our own. The prophet Amos warned the people about longing for the day of the Lord to come, because in his day they were living in opposition to God and were not ready to meet Him. If the day of the Lord came during his generation, Amos knew many of his people would not fare very well before a holy God. "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light." (Amos 5:18)

In view of the seriousness of the people's request for God to come in wrath, He points out their need to get everything right with Him. Instead of concentrating on the sins of their enemies, it would be a good idea to examine their own hearts and lives. The people want Him to come and judge the nations (the Gentiles) but God opens His speech by using the Gentiles as a shining example of a people of faith. At the time Isaiah passes on these words of God, these prophetic words may not have made much sense to Israel, but here in the church age, following the death and burial and resurrection of Christ, we Gentiles rejoice to read verse 1 because it's about us, "I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. To a nation that did not call on My name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'" (Isaiah 65:1) We can be certain this verse refers to the salvation of Gentiles who come to Christ because the Apostle Paul quotes it in Romans 10 when speaking of the believing Gentiles and his ministry to them. 

The Gentile world was not seeking the God of Israel. The nations weren't going through their days longing to know this God whose laws and requirements they didn't understand and even scoffed at. But the Gentile world was seeking love and acceptance and forgiveness and newness of life. The Gentile world had tried every god and every ritual they could imagine to obtain eternal life by works and yet their idols never answered a single prayer or granted anyone salvation. The Gentiles weren't seeking Christ, but He was seeking them. I don't know about you but when I was living in sin I wasn't seeking Christ either. In fact, I was running as fast as I could in the other direction. But He was seeking me. 

In contrast to the Gentile nations who would come to believe in the one true God and find salvation in Jesus Christ, the Lord says of His people Israel, "All day long I have held out My hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations---a people who continually provoke Me to My very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; who say, 'Keep away; don't come near me, for I am too sacred for you!' Such people are smoke in My nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day." (Isaiah 65:2-5) The Lord reveals their hypocrisy. They look down on the Gentiles because the nations practice idolatry and eat unclean foods and indulge in occult rituals. But God says, "Take a look in the mirror! You look exactly like them! You too are sacrificing to idols, eating foods that are contrary to My laws, and attempting to contact the spirit world to speak to the dead. You believe you are better than everyone else in the world, but you are exactly the same." 

The only people the Lord Jesus criticized in the gospels were those who were self-righteous. He had nothing but compassion for the sinner who knew he was a sinner, but He had nothing good to say about the one who was a sinner but believed he was a saint. The Pharisees and Sadducees and teachers of the law looked down on the people Jesus associated with, considering Him an unrighteous man because He was a "friend of sinners". (Matthew 11:19) But these "sinners" were flocking to Jesus because they saw something in Him they desperately needed: a cure for their sin. They were willing to humble themselves and face their deeds and repent of them. They didn't think they were too good to need a Savior. Most of the people Jesus ministered to in His lifetime were of His own nation, but they never claimed not to need Him simply because they were God's covenant people. They acknowledged their own individual sinfulness and repented of it. 

John the Baptist saw the Pharisees and Sadducees lurking about the Jordan River as he performed baptisms and, knowing what self-righteous hypocrites they were, he called out to them to repent. They didn't dare come close to those who were confessing their sins to the Lord and receiving forgiveness, to those who were wading into the water to be baptized as a symbol of their mended relationship with God. John knew what was in the hearts of the religious leaders and so he said, "And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." (Matthew 3:9) John the Baptist knew the religious elite were counting on God's covenant with Abraham to save them, and because he knew this he delivered a very blunt rebuke. "Abraham won't save you! You believe you are better than the rest of the world because you sprang from Abraham, but God could take any stone out of the Jordan and turn it into a descendant of Abraham. You aren't any better than anybody else and you need to repent just like everybody else."

John the Baptist concluded his fiery message by predicting both the first and second advent of Christ. "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." (Matthew 3:11) Verse 11 describes the works and the ministry of Christ during His earthly life and the works and the ministry of the Holy Spirit upon all who would believe in Christ. But John goes a step further to describe the day of the Lord, when Christ will return with rewards for the faithful and judgment for the unrepentant, "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12) There is blessing for the believer in John's message but certain judgment for the unrepentant. Like a fearless and faithful prophet of old, John is not afraid to tell the self-righteous to repent of their self-righteousness before it's too late. 

In today's passage we find the principle of first getting the beam out of our own eye before trying to mess with the speck in someone else's eye. (Matthew 7:5) Jesus urges us to search our own hearts and repent of anything wrong in them. It's not our business to be pointing our finger at our fellow man, judging him for his sin, when we still have sin in our own lives. Only when we are walking in fellowship with the Lord can we minister to others, and this should be done in a loving way as Jesus did it, not in a holier-than-thou way. At all times we must keep in mind that we were once lost in sin, and that in our weak flesh we are still going to make mistakes from time to time, and that we have no right to think we are better than anyone else. Christ died for everyone because everyone had fallen from grace. In this spirit of humility we are to serve and minister to others, helping them find the grace we ourselves have found, not looking down on anyone. If the Son of God didn't consider Himself too good to minister to the lost, neither should we. And we must do it in the same humility of spirit He had. 

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