Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 183

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 183

There is a great divide in the nation during Isaiah's time. It is the divide between the godly and the ungodly. There are those who, like Isaiah, remain steadfast in their faith. And then there are those who have abandoned the Lord and mock the faithful for the hope they have in Him.

The Lord has words of comfort for those who look to Him for help. "Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: 'Your own people who hate you, and exclude you because of My name, have said, 'Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy!' Yet they will be put to shame. Hear that uproar from the city, hear that noise from the temple! It is the sound of the Lord repaying His enemies all they deserve." (Isaiah 66:5-6) The wicked scoffed at the believers and said, "So you say the Lord is coming to the rescue of Zion? That we should not stop hoping in Him? Well, let His deliverance come on then! The nation is falling apart and the enemy is on its way to destroy us. If God going to act on our behalf, let's see Him go ahead and do it so we can witness your joy and vindication. Then we will believe what you say about this God."

The enemies of the Lord in verse 6 are not, in this case, foreign invaders who plunder His people and carry them away captive. These enemies are citizens of Zion who hate their own countrymen. Ever since man began to multiply on the earth, the faithless have hated the faithful. Cain was not right with the Lord in his heart and did not bring the proper atonement sacrifice. He brought an offering from the work of his own hands, in pride, without a repentant spirit. Hatred rose up in him when his brother Abel's sin offering was accepted before God while his own offering was rejected. The Lord said to Cain, "Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it." (Genesis 4:7b) But Cain did not have a teachable spirit and was not the type of man to tremble at the word of God, so in the very next verse of Genesis we find him luring his brother to his death in the field. There have been "Cains" since the beginning who have hated their brothers and sisters for their faith and have persecuted their own people.

Some scholars believe the people who are hated in verse 5 of today's chapter may be the Jews who accepted Christ. Their fellow countrymen (Saul of Tarsus is a good example of this) would persecute them and attempt to stamp out Christianity. The Lord Jesus warned His followers, "They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God." (John 16:2) "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:18-19) The Lord knew that the nation, and eventually the world, would be deeply divided over Him. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law---a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" (Matthew 10:34-36)

Jesus is quoting the words of the prophet Micah who, like Isaiah, witnessed the deep spiritual division of the nation prior to the Babylonian captivity. Micah knew the ungodly hated the godly and would continue to do so until the Lord comes to vanquish all His foes and rule in righteousness over the earth forever. "Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with the woman who lies in your embrace guard the words of your lips. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law---a man's enemies are the members of his own household." (Micah 7:5-6) Knowing that all who strive to live godly lives will endure some form of persecution, Micah's mind was made up. He was going to follow the Lord no matter what. He was going to keep on putting one foot in front of the other, not looking to the right or the left, because he knew his God was faithful. "But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me." (Micah 7:7)

Micah was a prophet during the same time period as Isaiah and would have known what Isaiah meant when he said that those who hate the godly mock them. People were scoffing at Micah's faith and saying, "Where is the Lord your God?" (Micah 7:10) And he agrees with Isaiah that those with this attitude will be put to shame. Some of his fellow citizens, who rejected the Lord, did not believe in deliverance for the nation. The pagan nations around him laughed and said that God had deserted His people forever, that they would never rise again. But Micah knows that his faith is on a firm foundation. He has hope in God for his personal needs and struggles, and he has hope in God for the nation's needs and struggles. He does not share the belief of the wicked that God has deserted the nation, because he understands that God is a God of mercy and compassion, a promise-keeping God who will not revoke His covenant with Abraham, "Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as You pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago." (Micah 7:18-20)

The Apostle Paul knew that the ungodly hate the godly and he warned his young friend Timothy, "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:12-15) Paul says, "The wicked of the world will mock you and blaspheme the name of our God, but don't be distracted by this. Keep your eyes on the Lord, putting one foot in front of the other, not looking to the right or the left. You have salvation through the One in whom you believe. Let the evildoers say what they will; you know the truth."

Persecution of the godly takes many forms. Sometimes it's exclusion, as Isaiah mentioned today. Because of our firm faith, we may be left out or ostracized by certain groups. We may be passed over for promotions because we don't socialize with co-workers in bars or strip clubs after work or because we are unwilling to be dishonest at our jobs. Our children, because their schoolmates consider them "fanatics" or "Jesus freaks",  may not be voted homecoming queen or chosen as captain of the football team or invited to the birthday parties of classmates. Throughout history, and even in some areas of the world today, persecution takes more sinister forms. It may include the removal of religious liberty, imprisonment, the seizure of  income or property, and even death. Since God first placed mankind on the earth, the ungodly have hated the godly. And the godly have had to make a stand by saying what Micah said, "But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me." The godly must be willing to do what the Apostle Paul urged Timothy to do, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of." 

Let the scoffers say what they will about us. We know the truth. We know our Savior and Redeemer, the One who gave everything He had to rescue us, who loves us and hears our prayers. The ungodly may exclude us because of our faith, leaving us out and picking us last. But the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, valued us above His own self. Let the world think what it wants. We have Someone who thought we were worth dying for, worth leaving all the glories and treasures of heaven to come to our rescue, and that Someone calls us His friends. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) 

Our worship song link for today is below and it reminds us of who Jesus says we are in Him.

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