Saturday, January 7, 2017

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 186

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 186

Today we come to the end of our six-month journey through the book of Isaiah. I want to thank those who faithfully studied with me every day and also those who were not able to join us every day but studied with us from time to time. No amount of time spent in the Bible is ever wasted. I pray God will bless each of you for your devotion to His holy word. 

For me this has been the most difficult of all the Bible studies we have done so far, in part because of its length, but I think what wearied me the most was the constant repetition of Israel's sins. There's nothing more wearisome than the same old sins committed over and over, is there? No wonder the Lord said to them, "You have wearied Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offenses." (Isaiah 43:24) He can say the same thing to us that He said to Israel. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all been bogged down, at one time or another, in committing the same old sins over and over, and we have been tired of it. We've been caught in a trap of our own making and could not find a way to extricate ourselves in our own power. But thanks be to the God of Israel who has always been willing to reach down and pull mankind out of a pit when we have been willing to reach up to Him. 

In Chapter 66 the Lord has been promising peace at last to His people: peace with Him and peace with their fellow man. When the believing citizens of the world see the King on the throne, and Israel accepting her Messiah, and the nation revived and restored to all God ever wanted it to be, we will all rejoice with Israel. And Israel herself will rejoice and flourish in the Lord's hand. "When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the Lord will be made known to His servants, but His fury will be shown to His foes." (Isaiah 66:14) This is the day of which the prophet spoke in Isaiah 40:10 and 62:11, "See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and He rules with a mighty arm. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him." "The Lord has made proclamation to the ends of the earth: 'Say to Daughter Zion, 'See, your Savior comes! See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.'" 

All through the book of Isaiah we have dealt with two sides of God's character: His love and His wrath. Love is offered to everyone, but not everyone is willing to accept it. If we refuse His love, then we are left with His wrath. The choice is up to us. Accepting His love also means accepting His authority over us, living in a way that honors Him, and desiring to do what is right. To all who have this heart toward Him, He extends mercy and forgiveness and salvation. God's hand of blessing will be upon our lives. But because He is holy and righteous, if we do not accept His solution for sin in the person of Jesus Christ who bore those sins for us, we will bear them alone when we stand before our Judge. And then God will be forced to do what He says feels "strange" and "alien" to Him: His hand of wrath will be upon us. (Isaiah 28:21)

The Prince of Peace will rule the world someday and He has promised peace like a river in His kingdom. It stands to reason that the first thing He must do, after ascending to the throne, is deal with His enemies. As the kings of the Bible often did when receiving the crown, He will sentence those who have committed treason against the government. You may recall from our study of the kings that David, when passing the crown to his son Solomon, warned him of those in the kingdom who were not his friends and advised him how to deal with them. An incoming king had the duty to squash any threats to the throne or to the nation that were left over from the previous administration. And this is what the Lord Jesus is going to do when He takes the government of the world onto His shoulders. All who have despised His authority and have rebuffed His offers of salvation and have scorned His holy laws will be judged by Him. These enemies of His and of His sanctified people will not be allowed to remain in the kingdom. "See, the Lord is coming with fire, and His chariots are like a whirlwind; He will bring down His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with His sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord." (Isaiah 66:15-16)

Isaiah cannot conclude his book without once again reminding the people of the dangers of idolatry and pagan practices. In his day they were up to their necks in it and it was only going to get worse until they were conquered and taken captive by Babylon. Israel has never fallen into such a pit of idolatry ever again, but Isaiah wanted to make certain they didn't. In a courtroom trial there are strict procedures about which attorney can speak first and which can speak last, because of a belief that people are more likely to remember the first and last things they heard than everything in between. Isaiah began his book with a very fierce indictment against Israel from the Lord in which He rightfully accused them of rebellion. "Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: 'I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand." (Isaiah 1:1-3) Isaiah began his book by speaking words that were certain to gain the attention of the people, and he ends his book by speaking words that are certain to gain the attention of the people. A harsh judgment awaits idolaters, "Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one who is among those who eat the flesh of pigs, rats and other unclean things---they will meet their end together with the one they follow,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 66:17)

"And I, because of what they have planned and done, am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations---to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of My fame or seen My glory." (Isaiah 66:18-19) The nations mentioned here represent Spain, France, Italy, the whole of Africa, North-Eastern Europe (Russia), and Greece, along with "the distant" islands which represent the remainder of the earth. The gospel is to go into all the earth and the "sign" mentioned here is likely the message of the cross or what the Lord referred to as the "sign of Jonah" which was His resurrection from the dead. "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Isaiah 12:40) Some scholars disagree and believe the "sign" Isaiah speaks of in Chapter 66 is the sign he predicted in Isaiah 7:14, "Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign: The virgin shall conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." But if they are correct, this is still part of the gospel message and when viewed as a whole we find the sign of the virgin birth, the sign of the name given to the child which means "God with us", the sign of the cross on which our Lord was crucified for us, and the sign of His resurrection from the dead which proves to us that everything He said about Himself was true. Taken as a whole, this is the gospel! This is all we need to know for salvation in Christ. Isaiah tells his people that the gospel message will spread throughout the world, making into one family all the believers of the world, both Jew and Gentile.

Because the Gentiles will love Israel, the nation from which the Savior sprang, they will take an active part in restoring the people to their native land. "And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to My holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the Lord---on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,' says the Lord. 'They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the Lord in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,' says the Lord. 'As the new heavens and new earth that I make will endure before Me,' declares the Lord, 'so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before Me,' says the Lord." (Isaiah 66:2-23) The people of the earth will no longer be unclean because of sin and idolatry but will worship the Lord with clean hands and an upright heart. 

Now Isaiah closes with a verse that I've wrestled with for a solid week. Why does the prophet whose message from the Lord has primarily been to "comfort My people" conclude with the image of death and eternal judgment? During the night when I woke up several times and tossed and turned and looked out the window at the snowstorm, I believe the Lord gave me the answer. In calling Isaiah to be a prophet to the people, I think the emphasis could be placed on a specific word, "Comfort My people." The words found in the sixty-six chapters of Isaiah are meant to be a comfort to those who belong to the Lord, who love Him and are faithful to Him. As the Apostle Paul pointed out, "They are not all Israel, which are of Israel." (Romans 9:6 KJV) Not all the descendants of Abraham were faithful to the Lord. And we can say of every generation since Christ, "They are not all the church, which are in the church." The book of Isaiah offers a message of hope and comfort for those who are truly Israel and truly the church, faithful to the Lord, loving and honoring Him. But the book offers a message of unavoidable judgment and loss to those who are not of Israel and not of the church, to those whose hearts have rejected the Lord and desire to know nothing of Him. Those who are truly Israel and truly the church are comforted not only by God's love but also by His wrath on the enemies of the godly, "And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against Me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." (Isaiah 66:24) The message of comfort in the book of Isaiah is to those whom the Lord calls "My people". 

May anyone who is not certain they are a part of the true church search their hearts to see whether they know the Lord Jesus. Salvation is not found in our works or in our religious observances. We can sit in a church pew every Sunday and still not know the Lord. The true church is meant to subsist on a relationship, not a religion. Do you know the Redeemer and His comforting love and the power of the sacrifice He made for you? If not, there's no better day than today to become a part of His true church, His glorious bride, the crown jewel of His entire creation. He loves you. I love you too and I hope this study of the book of Isaiah has been a blessing to you.

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