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. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 178

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 178

Isaiah foresees a day in which his people, captive in Babylon, will repent of their waywardness. They will long for the days of old when they walked closely with their God and He fought their battles for them. Then they will cry out, "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make Your name known to Your enemies and cause the nations to quake before You. For when You did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down, and the mountains trembled before You." (Isaiah 64:1-3)

When we concluded yesterday, the people were beginning to understand that their predicament was a result of their sin. So they did not plead for God's help on the basis of their own righteousness, which did not exist. They asked the Lord to intervene for the glory of His name. They felt He might not find anything in them worthy of coming to the rescue, but that for the sake of His name and reputation He might step in and show the world that He is God alone.

The nation that was once up to its neck in idolatry now says, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him." (Isaiah 64:4) 

They see that their sins have separated them from God, "You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have given us over to our sins." (Isaiah 64:5-7) Bible scholar David Guzik sums this passage up beautifully, "The praying one asks the question, 'What kind of man does the Lord answer in prayer?' He noted that it was the one who waits for the Lord. Now the praying one expands the idea, and notes that the Lord will answer the prayer of the one who rejoices to do righteousness. The Lord will answer the prayer of the one who remembers the Lord in his ways. Knowing that, there is a problem. For we have sinned---in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved."

The Lord allowed Judah to experience national disaster because of her many sins against Him and her refusal to repent. The people now say, "If we had done right, God would have helped us. But we continued to live in sin. We stopped calling on His name and following His ways. We became unclean, like a leper. And God hid His face from us as one hides his face from a leper. Now how can we be saved? If God, the one and only God, does not help us, there is no help to be found."

This penitent attitude of the people is something God can work with. Their hearts are broken over their sins. Their minds are mournful because they realize they have brought their troubles upon themselves. This passage reminds me of Psalm 51 when King David repented of his affair with Bathsheba and of the blood that was on his hands in orchestrating the death of her husband in battle. Isaiah's people are bringing to the Lord the only sacrifice that is truly acceptable to Him, according to David, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise." (Psalm 51:17) 

Our attitude when coming to Christ for salvation is like the one we see displayed here. We realize our sins have separated us from a holy God. Our sins have made us unclean and the Lord is too righteous to look upon sin. In our sad state, the only prayer He wants to hear from us and to answer is the prayer of repentance, then He can get to work on other problems in our lives. We will become those whom the Lord answers: those who wait upon Him and gladly do what is right.

In grief over their sins, realizing what has become of them, the people ask, "How then can we be saved?" Like King David, they arrive at the conclusion that there is nothing to which they can appeal but to God's mercy. David prayed tearfully in a spirit of brokenness, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2) We don't come to the Lord and say, "We've been pretty good guys and girls. Sure, we've messed up here and there, but don't our good works count for something?" The answer to that is a big "no". Our works are like filthy rags. We are unclean. But suppose we were able to perfectly keep all the commandments and the laws. Would these save us? Not according to the Lord Jesus, who said, "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" (Luke 17:10) It's nothing but the grace and mercy of the Lord that saves us and it's to this which we must appeal. We appeal to His unfailing love and His great compassion. He alone can blot out our transgressions and wash away our iniquities and cleanse us from our sins. 

The prophet Jeremiah understood that God would be within His rights to make an end of mankind and be done with us. Jeremiah knew that the only reason we continue to exist is not because we are righteous or are contributing anything of value to the Lord, but because of His love and mercy. "Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail." (Lamentations 3:22) The people of Judah understand the same thing in today's passage and appeal to the compassion of the One who made them His covenant people, "Yet You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all Your people." (Isaiah 64:8-9)

They say, "Lord, do not destroy the work of Your hands. We know You could speak the word and make us, along with the entire universe, blink out of existence. But remember that You called our forefather Abraham out of a pagan nation and promised to make a great nation from his descendants, a nation that would call on Your name. We have failed in keeping our part of the bargain. But we appeal to you as David did, the one who said of You, 'As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.' (Psalm 103:13-14) Lord, we are so weak! We are made of the dust of the ground. Please remember how fragile and helpless we are. As a father, have mercy on our weaknesses. You have created us; please preserve us."

If their plight is not enough to call God into action, they remind Him that the nation and His temple are in ruins, "Your sacred cities have become a wasteland; even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised You, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will You hold Yourself back? Will You keep silent and punish us beyond measure?" (Isaiah 64:10-12) 

The Lord will answer. He will first deliver a stinging rebuke regarding their sinfulness and the generations of idolatry He has endured. But He will also offer mercy to those who seek Him. He will call them "My servants". And He will reveal the future of Zion, not simply the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but a future in which their nation stands forever in safety. This is His work and His mercy in action when He assures the people they are going to "be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create". 

The One who created us is the only One who offers us a means of salvation. We can't attain it ourselves. We've committed the same sins as God's covenant people in the book of Isaiah. We've all fallen short. But thanks to His love and mercy, God provided the answer for us. Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh to live a perfect life so that work He did on our behalf would satisfy the Father's righteous and holy requirements. We look to Him for help, not to ourselves. Christ is the mediator between God and man, our Defender in God's courtroom, and our only hope of glory. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 177

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 177

We study the song of Isaiah in today's passage and it's also the song of his people, the song of a people who know their Savior and Redeemer.

"I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which He is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us---yes, the many good things He has done for Israel, according to His compassion and many kindnesses." (Isaiah 63:7) The word used here for "kindnesses" is the Hebrew "hesed" which is a steadfast, continuing, unfailing love and an adherence to the covenant God made with Abraham. 

It's good for us to think back on the kindnesses of the Lord. He's brought us a long way from where we were, when we stumbled about in the darkness, groping our way through this world. He's come through for us in many ways and has healed us of a number of things and has answered a great deal of our prayers.

The Lord speaks, "He said, 'Surely they are My people, children who will be true to Me"; and so He became their Savior. In all their distress He too was distressed, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and mercy He redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old." (Isaiah 63:8-9) As we studied yesterday, our God sees our afflictions. He sees the wrongs done to us and He never turns a blind eye to our suffering. When we are distressed He is also distressed, just like an earthly father whose child is hurt. The Lord told the prophet Zechariah that He would avenge the people on their enemies because whoever touched them touched the apple of His eye (in other words, whoever hurt them was also poking their finger into the pupil of the Lord's eye, something He cannot ignore). The same thing can be said of those who make up the church. An offense against one of us is an offense against God Himself.

Isaiah sighs heavily in the midst of this prayer, thinking about how his people turned aside from the Lord in spite of all His goodness toward them. "Yet they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He turned and became their enemy and He Himself fought against them." (Isaiah 63:10) After pleading with the people through many prophets and several godly kings, God had no recourse but to discipline these wayward children. You may recall from Isaiah 28:21 that the Lord referred to this fighting against His own people as "His strange work" and "His alien task". It went against the grain to act against the people He had always acted for. Like a parent who would much rather not have to sit a child in a corner or remove a privilege because of disobedience, the Lord would much rather not have had to discipline His people. He had no choice, but He found it distasteful and sad. It broke His heart but, for the good of these children, He had to use strong measures to get them back on the right path.

Isaiah knows the people will be taken captive to Babylon and this must have grieved him very much, but the Lord graciously gives him a glimpse of their eventual repentance there. "Then His people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people---where is He who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, who sent His glorious arm of power to be at Moses' right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble; like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. This is how You guided Your people to make for Yourself a glorious name." (Isaiah 63:11-14) In their distress the people cry out, "Where are You, Lord?" Haven't we all asked this in our troubles? Haven't we said, "Where are You, Lord? Why have You let this happen to me? Are You going to come and rescue me?" You may have heard the expression, "If you feel far from the Lord, guess who moved?" The Lord was not far from His people; they had moved far from Him. This was the reason for the defeat of their nation and their captivity in a foreign land. God had begged them for centuries to repent, to turn back, and to be close to Him and know Him. 

Thinking back on all the awesome works of the Lord on behalf of Israel, the people mourn. God has done great things in the past and they need Him to do great things again. They realize they have fallen very far from the Lord and they wonder if He has forsaken them. So now they implore this God, who has been so merciful in the past, to look down on their plight and help them. "Look down from heaven and see, from Your lofty throne, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us. But You are our Father, although Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; You, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name." (Isaiah 63:15-16) The captive people no longer feel like descendants of Abraham or citizens of Israel. Their nation is in ruins. They have lost everything they had. And the blame for all of this is laid at their own door. "Abraham would be ashamed of us," they say in grief. "He would not recognize us as the covenant people of the Lord. We have fallen so far from our Redeemer and have sinned against Him for so long, and now we are captives in a pagan land, given new names that strip us of our national identity, speaking a language that is foreign to us, living according to the customs of our conqueror. If the Lord lined us up in front of Abraham, he would have no idea who we are."

Yet they still are the covenant people of the Lord. At the beginning of our passage today, they had already come to the conclusion that God's kindness (hesed) toward them is a never-ending covenant love. So they remind the Lord, "You are our Father! Please don't forget us. Please rescue us and take us home. You performed great works on our behalf in the past and gained glory for Your name. Do it again!"

The people, like little children, wonder why God didn't stop them from their wayward ways sooner. I remember a nasty fall I took once as a child, climbing into the lower limbs of a tree in the yard while my mother sat nearby in a lawn chair reading a book. If you've ever fallen flat on your back and experienced all the breath being knocked out of your body, you can imagine how scary this was for a small child. When I was able to get some air back in my lungs, I turned angrily on my mother and said, "Why didn't you stop me?" Now mind you, I was in the habit of climbing halfway up that same little tree just about every day and had never fallen before, but I blamed my mother for not seeing it coming. As the parent, I felt it was her duty to supernaturally foresee all harm and to save me from it. This is the attitude of God's people in the next verse. God did not really harden their hearts against Himself; God never turns away the one who seeks Him. But as they grieve miserably in a foreign land the people ask their Father why He didn't stop them before it got this far. "Why, Lord, do You make us wander from Your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere You? Return for the sake of Your servants, the tribes that are Your inheritance." (Isaiah 63:17)

The truth is, the more we sin the harder our hearts grow. God didn't harden their hearts; they did it themselves. Now that they have seen the error of their ways they want to know why God didn't take away their free will and force them to obey. But God is a gentleman. He doesn't force His way in where He is not welcome. 

"For a little while Your people possessed Your holy place, but now our enemies have trampled down Your sanctuary. We are Yours from of old; but You have not ruled over them, they have not been called by Your name." (Isaiah 63:18-19) A clearer and perhaps better translation of this verse can be found in some other versions of the Bible, "We have become like those over whom You have never ruled". They have drifted so far from the Lord they are like the pagan nations who never knew Him at all. But they want to find their way back to Him. And if He will not intervene for their sake, perhaps He will intervene for the honor of His own name. His nation and His sanctuary lie in ruins. The nations surrounding Israel are blaspheming His name, claiming He is a God who cannot protect His own temple. The people, in their sorrow and repentance, say, "Lord, we know we don't deserve Your help. We have sinned so much we wouldn't blame You if You abandoned us forever. So we come to You not on the basis of our own righteousness, but on the basis of Your righteousness. Show the world that You are God, the only God!"

This is how we all must come to the Lord, knowing we are unworthy of His love but willing to ask for and receive it anyway. We will never be saved by our own works but must trust in the One whose work on the cross was enough to save us all. He did it not because we were righteous, but because He is. He loves us not because we are worth it, but because it's His nature to love. And He is our only hope, for He is the only God, and the name of Christ is the only name by which we can be saved.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 176

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 176

We ended Chapter 62 yesterday with the Lord saying to His covenant people Israel, "See, your Savior comes!" And in Chapter 63 they do see Him. They see Him coming to establish His kingdom on earth, after His every enemy has been vanquished. Even more importantly to Zion, her own personal enemies have been vanquished by this One striding toward her in victory. Here is her kinsman-redeemer, meaning the closest male relative who possesses a number of rights on her behalf, and who in today's passage is acting upon His right to avenge blood. Zion's Savior has come and as her kinsman-redeemer He will avenge all the wrongs done to her.

As Chapter 63 opens I believe we are glimpsing what is known in the Scriptures as "the day of the Lord". We don't know how Zion pictured her Savior but His appearance in Chapter 63 startles her and fills her with awe, causing her to ask, "Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with His garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of His strength?" (Isaiah 63:1a) His garments are red because they are stained with blood. When the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, He wore His own blood, shed for us. He was the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. But when He returns as the King of kings and Lord of lords, the blood He wears will not be His own, but that of His enemies. And these enemies are those who have persecuted Zion and the church. Any enemy of His faithful ones is an enemy of His. When Saul of Tarsus zealously prowled the land, persecuting Christians, the Lord appeared to him on the road to Damascus and asked, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4) Saul's attack on the church was the same as a direct attack on the Lord Himself. 

Although Zion is startled at the sudden appearance of this One whose robes are dipped in blood, she recognizes He is acting in His role as kinsman-redeemer. He is her closest male relative and has the right to avenge all the wrongs done to her, and He appears to her still wearing the blood of her enemies so she will know He has kept His word. Through long centuries of oppression and persecution Zion felt deserted and desolate, as we learned in Chapter 62. The nations around her viewed her this way as well, believing God would not stand up for her, feeling that He had abandoned her forever. They did not understand that God was being a Father to her and disciplining her in love. But a good father does not destroy the child. A good father does not abandon the child by the side of the road. A good father does not stop loving the child when the child disobeys. And a good father is angry when his child is mistreated; he will take action.

Most of the background materials I studied suggest that the use of the words "Edom" and Bozrah" is meant to be taken figuratively. "Edom" means "red" and "Bozrah" means "grape-gathering" or "wine vintage". We will see as we continue that the Lord likens the blood on His robes to the juice that stains the garments of one who treads grapes. Bible scholar J. Alec Motyer takes the imagery a step further by likening the return of this victorious King to the return of King David from conquering the Edomites in 2 Samuel 8:13-14, "And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The Lord gave David victory wherever he went." Edom, founded by Isaac's son Esau, had long been an enemy of Israel, founded by Isaac's son Jacob. These twins who wrestled in the womb continued to wrestle as nations. While David was king he manged to gain victory over the Edomites for a time, but this descendant of David will gain victory over Israel's enemies forever. The people who view their kinsman-redeemer in His bloodstained robes seem to understand He is a king like David, a king mighty in power who subdues enemies and unites the twelve tribes of Israel, who returns in victory from the battle.

The people asked, "Who is this?" not because they didn't know, in my opinion. I think they asked it in the same tone of voice the disciples used when they said in awe, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him!" (Matthew 8:27) The words and the miracles of Jesus amazed the people. And the works He accomplishes on His day of vengeance will amaze the people. They will know who He is but will be so overwhelmed by His power and majesty they can't help but ask the rhetorical question, "Who is this? Who can do such mighty works? Who else can this be but our Savior?"

The Lord answers their question, "It is I, proclaiming victory, mighty to save." (Isaiah 63:1b) He is the Righteous One, the only One who brings salvation.

The people want to be sure they understand the meaning of His bloodstained garments. Has He really conquered their enemies? Has He come to reign in righteousness? Is deliverance at hand? "Why are Your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?" (Isaiah 63:2)

His answer is, "I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and trod them down in My wrath; their blood spattered My garments, and I stained all My clothing. It was for Me the day of vengeance; the year for Me to redeem had come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so My own arm achieved salvation for Me, and My own wrath sustained Me. I trampled the nations in My anger; in My wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground." (Isaiah 63:3-6) We find similar imagery in the Apostle John's vision of the day of the Lord in Revelation 19, when Christ in justice and faithfulness judges and wages war, wearing a robe dipped in blood because He has trod the winepress of the fury of Almighty God. 

To us the passage above may sound gruesome and brutal, but to a persecuted people these are welcome words. Their kinsman-redeemer is claiming His right to avenge them. He has come to set them free. In addition, the church ought to view these as welcome words, for in Revelation we find the Lord treading upon every enemy who has persecuted the church. He has come to do this work alone because no one else can do it. No one else has the right to do it. He is the kinsman-redeemer of Israel and the kinsman-redeemer of the church, our closest male relative who will avenge every wrong done to us. No cruelty that has ever been perpetrated against you or me has gone unnoticed by the Righteous One. In sinning against us, our enemies have sinned even more against Him: the One whose laws and commandments they have broken. This is why the Lord says, "It is Mine to avenge; I will repay." (Deuteronomy 32:35) When we repay our enemies we aren't able to do it with justice and righteousness because we, as feeble and sinful humans ourselves, cannot mete out punishment without becoming a little bit like our enemies. When we repay we dirty our hands. But the Lord, because He is perfect and holy and righteous, can repay without any change of His character whatsoever. He is the lawgiver. It is His laws that have been broken, therefore He has the right to judge and to pass sentence. 

The prophet Isaiah and his people view the events of the passage today as something to celebrate. As we continue on in Chapter 63 tomorrow we find a song a praise breaking out, a song about the Lord's love. God is love but He is also righteous and holy. His love and His vengeance are two sides of the same coin. His love and His vengeance are both parts of His character and cannot be separated. If we celebrate His love we must also celebrate His vengeance. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and loving Him makes us His children, whom He will avenge. Our enemies are His enemies. The battle is His and He alone can fight it, just as He alone wrought salvation for us on the cross. It is His to repay because He can do it correctly. Our responsibility is simply to rest confidently in His love, knowing our Father is watching over us, caring for us, and preparing Himself to make right for us everything that is wrong.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 175

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 175

The Lord's people have been promised restoration. Their nation will be rebuilt never to be destroyed again. God is going to show the world that the people the Gentiles once believed were forsaken by Him are actually His crown jewels. There would be no salvation if there had been no nation of Israel, no tribe of Judah, and no Messiah and Lamb of God. 

The Lord reveals the prosperity of Zion when at last she is fully His, "The Lord has sworn by His right hand and by His mighty arm, 'Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; but those who harvest it will eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather the grapes will drink it in the courts of My sanctuary." (Isaiah 62:8-9) In affirming this promise the Lord swears upon the greatest name He knows: His own. This takes us back to what He said to Abraham in Genesis 22:16-18, "I swear by Myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me." In explaining this passage in the book of Hebrews, the Apostle Paul said, "When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself." (Hebrews 6:13) The Lord makes the promise of eternal protection to His people and that promise is unshakable because He took an oath on His own name to uphold it.

"Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations." (Isaiah 62:10) The people are looking forward to freedom from Babylon and the return to Jerusalem, but this verse seems to speak of a more permanent return to the land. It will be an everlasting possession and the nations will be drawn to them because of the Child who was born to them and the Man who died for the sins of the world. In today's world some of the best friends Israel has are Christians. We think of them as our Savior's people and whether or not we agree with everything they do, we feel a kinship with them. We desire to see them live in peace as a sovereign nation and we want to see them live in peace with God. We may or may not agree with Israel's every action or political decision, but the last thing we'd want to see is the nation destroyed. Like Isaiah, we understand how critical the existence of Zion is to God's plan. 

"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.' They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted." (Isaiah 62:11-12) Works are not what save us but, as both the Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul attested, a day is coming in which the deeds of every man and woman will be judged and rewards will be given in accordance with those deeds. (1 Corinthians 3:8-14, Revelation 22:12) In today's passage we see the blessings that will be given to the faithful ones of God's people Israel when the Savior comes. The faithful ones look forward to His appearing, just as we who are the church long to see His face. It will be a glorious day when the Savior appears to those whose spirits say, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!" But as we will see in tomorrow's section, it will be a dark day indeed for those who have made themselves His enemies.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 174

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 174

We get back into our study of Isaiah today with Chapter 62 and the vision of a glorious future for Zion. The birth of Christ began the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham, "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed" (Genesis 22:18), and the promise comes to full fruition in Isaiah's vision of a day in which nothing ever separates Israel from her God, when the Lord dwells on earth and reigns from David's throne. We can just imagine the joy the prophet experienced at the thought of his people's future. As Bible scholar Barry G. Webb says in his book The Message Of Isaiah, "Zion was profoundly important to Isaiah, not just because he was a patriot, but because he was acutely aware of its strategic significance in God's purposes."

The continuance and the prosperity of Zion were vital to God's plans. Isaiah foretold some dreadful things for the people such as defeat and captivity, but he knew these conditions could not be permanent. Nearly two hundred years before it came to pass, the Lord revealed to him the name of the man called Cyrus who would set the prisoners free. The Lord showed him the long desert road back to Jerusalem that the people would travel and He promised to be with them on the journey. Isaiah caught a glimpse of the Suffering Servant and described the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in Chapter 53. The prophet knew a Redeemer was coming and that He was coming from Zion in her own land. Of course the captives would return! Of course God would keep His promise to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham! Of course God would be true to His word to King David that one of his descendants would reign forever!

It's in this spirit that Isaiah and the Lord cannot keep silent about the beautiful days ahead. The words burst out joyfully and cannot be contained. "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, til her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch." (Isaiah 62:1) The Lord gave Isaiah this vision during the years he preached about a coming captivity, but the Lord wants the people to know their defeat won't be the end of them. We learned earlier in Isaiah that the Babylonians treated the captives shamefully, even the elderly and the sick among them, and the Lord intends for the Babylonians to reap what they have sown. Their wickedness is going to boomerang back on them. And not only on them, but on all who have cruelly mistreated God's covenant people throughout the ages. 

"The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow." (Isaiah 62:2) It was a common practice of conquerors to rename the captives they carried to foreign lands. It stripped the people of their identities, both personal and national. It was a demoralizing act and a demonstration of the power the conqueror held over them. But the Lord also bestows new names on those who surrender to Him, names that recognize their new natures and the fact that they are no longer who they used to be. These are names of honor, names that lift the spirits of those who receive them. For example, the name Jacob meant something like "supplanter" or "deceiver", but the Lord changed his name to Israel, which meant "he who wrestles with God", and it suggests that the one who wrestled gained that which he sought. Jacob wrestled all night with God and said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me." (Genesis 32:26) The one who formerly grasped his brother's heel at birth, signifying that someday he would deceitfully grasp his brother's birthright, grasped the Lord with all his might, refusing to let go, deeply desiring a relationship with his creator, wanting something more than what this world offers. And because God saw what was in his heart, He gave him a new name, one that did not carry with it the shame of being a deceiver. 

"You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hepzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you, and your land will be married. As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:4-5) Hepzibah means "My delight is in her" and Beaulah means "married". There have been times when other nations have shaken their heads at the downfall of Zion, believing God had forsaken her like a man who divorces his wife, certain that God had deserted her forever. But this is not so. God takes delight in her in the same way that a bridegroom rejoices over the woman he loves. He will be joined with her forever and no one will ever again accuse Him of setting her aside.

"I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth." (Isaiah 62:6-7) As the Apostle Paul would have put it, the people are urged to "pray without ceasing". (1 Thessalonians 5:17) The Lord Jesus would have said, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8) The message is, "Don't give up! Don't stop asking the Lord to step in. No matter how dire your circumstances appear, and no matter how long it takes for deliverance to come, don't give up."

This is a lesson we can apply to our own lives. Sometimes our circumstances look impossible and it seems like no help is coming. But don't give up. Call on the Lord, give Him no rest, pray without ceasing. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Story, Day 3

The Christmas Story
Day 3

Yesterday I enjoyed reading about the birth of Jesus with you. It was such a holy night when our Lord came to earth. It made me happy to know He was loved and adored on that night, since He endured such awful things later on. Today Mary and Joseph take Him to the temple according to the law and they meet up with two people who recognize this Child as God's Son.

"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He was conceived." (Luke 2:21 ) This was according to the law as it says in Leviticus 12:3, "On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised." This is another example that Mary and Joseph did their best to live by all the Lord's commands.

"When the time came for the purification rites required by the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law 'Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord'), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the law of the Lord: 'a pair of doves or two young pigeons'." (Luke 2:22-24) According to the law, forty days of purification followed the birth of a child, at which time the mother had to present a sacrifice. The preferred sacrifice was a year-old lamb for the burnt offering and a young pigeon or dove for the sin offering. But the law made allowances for circumstances of poverty, which was a reality in the world then and is still a reality in the world now. Bringing a lamb could present a hardship to a low-income family, so if the mother couldn't afford a lamb she could bring two doves or two pigeons instead. (Leviticus 12:6-8) Because Joseph and Mary brought two birds we know they were too poor to afford a lamb.

Oh, but why bring a lamb when the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world was here? God's holy and spotless Lamb had come to earth to save the poor and the rich alike, to save the reverent and the wicked alike, to make children of God from all who would accept Him. Jesus Himself never made any kind of sacrifice that we know of. There's no record of it in the Scriptures. Though sacrifices were required by the law, they were made to atone for sin, and Jesus had no sin. In this area the law would not apply to Him because He was sinless. On the one hand, as a man we might expect to see Him follow every regulation to fulfill the law, but on the other hand if He had presented sin offerings His enemies could have falsely accused Him by saying, "Aha! We knew it! This man has sin in his life!" 

"Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the law required, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying: 'Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You may now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.' The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about Him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.'" (Luke 2:25-25)

This man Simeon had received a promise from God that he would live to see the Messiah. The Holy Spirit instructed him that the Savior was in the temple so he went over to see Jesus in person. Now Simeon could depart this life in peace knowing God's promise had come true. The preaching of the Lord Jesus was going to reveal to people what was truly in their hearts: whether or not they were right with God. Those who eagerly heard Him were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sinful state and they found in Him a Savior. Jesus would lift up those who had turned to Him from wicked lives. But many would also fall: those who thought they were righteous by their own works, because they were the seed of Abraham, because they were God's covenant people, but these were the ones Jesus referred to as hypocrites because on the outside they appeared religious but on the inside their hearts were far from God. 

Simeon prophetically tells Mary, "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." I think this prophecy is twofold like most of the prophecies in the Bible. Just as the Lord Jesus would be pierced by a sword on the cross, Mary would be pierced to the soul at the same time, witnessing the death of her precious boy. Some of my readers may have lost children and you know exactly how Mary felt. Also I believe that the sword of the Holy Spirit was going to pierce her soul and show her that she needed a Savior just as we all need a Savior. Mary was aware that she wasn't perfect for we see her keeping the law and bringing the required sacrifices for sin. But after the resurrection of Jesus she believed on Him as Savior. At that time she fully understood all the things she had formerly marveled at and kept in her heart.

"There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38) At the temple that day Jesus bestowed the same honor on both a man and a woman who were waiting for the Messiah. These two were granted the privilege of seeing the face of the One whose appearance they longed for. In a patriarchal society women were often treated as the lesser sex, as if they weren't as important as men, but in the ministry of Jesus we find Him treating women with respect and dignity. He even taught women, which a rabbi didn't do. This is why Martha and Mary (the sisters of Lazarus) loved Him so, because Jesus believed their instruction was as important as the men's. We all are equally valuable to Him and we all are equally loved by Him.

"When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on Him." (Luke 2:39-40) Jesus went home with Joseph and Mary and grew strong in this household where the Lord was respected. The Lord Jesus was filled with wisdom and the grace of God was on Him. Someday this Child would become a man and go to the cross for us all, pouring out the grace of God on all mankind.

At His first advent the Lord was loved and respected only by those whose hearts longed to be close to God. The Lord Jesus, King of all creation, Maker of heaven and earth, lived humbly His entire life. Instead of sitting on Davids throne at His first advent, our Lord was born in a stable. Instead of having all mankind bow down to Him as King, they hung Him on a cross. But someday Jesus Christ will return as King of kings and Lord of lords, magnificent in glory, mighty in power, and the government of this world will be on His shoulders. Righteousness will reign. Peace will prevail. Love will be the law. Amen! Come soon, Lord Jesus our King!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Story, Day 2

The Christmas Story 
Day 2

Yesterday we saw that Mary and Joseph had arrived in Bethlehem to be taxed. Today we study the birth of Jesus.

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." (Luke 2:6-7) Can you imagine how nerve-wracking this experience was for a young couple far from home? If Mary had been home she could have had her mother and female relatives to help with the birth but we don't see any mention of anyone being with Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. Plus, no inns had any room for them even though she was about to have the baby any minute. Mary and Joseph had no experience with labor and babies and I can't help wondering if they were frightened and upset. This is how the Son of God was born: to a young and poor couple far from home, in a shelter for animals, with no royal robe to dress Him in and no soft feather bed to lay Him on.  

I have heard it mentioned that most everything Jesus ever had was borrowed. When the Lord said "the Son of Man has no place to lay His head" it was the truth. (Luke 9:58) His first baby bed was borrowed from the farm animals. He stayed at the homes of friends and disciples during the years of His ministry. The body of Jesus was even laid to rest in a borrowed tomb. Jesus, the Lord of heaven and precious Son of God, owned nothing but the clothes on His back here on earth. He did that for us! He considered us worth the cost of laying aside the glory and privilege of heaven. Just between you and me, we weren't worth it. We weren't worth the hard living, the suffering, or the death of our Lord. But love made us worth it to Him.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.'" (Luke 2:8-14) You would expect the Messiah and King to be born in a palace somewhere but the sign given by the angels was that He had been laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths, like a homeless child. Our sinful world thought we had it all but we really had nothing without Him, so He gave up everything He had to come here and save us. The Lord Jesus said to one a wealthy and materialistic church in the book of Revelation, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked." (Revelation 3:17) That's what we were without Christ: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. No worldly treasures could ever compare to what we have in Him. No amount of wealth can save our souls. When we get to heaven it's going to be by grace alone.

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." (Luke 2:16-18) I find it so touching that there were shepherds and lambs at the birthplace of our Lord because He was the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) I heard someone say once that only eyes that adored Him saw Him on the night of His birth and that blesses my heart, for so many eyes that hated Him saw Him on the day of His death. On the night the Lord was born He was looked upon with loving eyes. The Father looked down on Him with pride and probably some sorrow too, knowing what was to come. The angels looked upon Him in adoration and praise. Mary and Joseph looked upon Him in love and awe. The shepherds looked upon Him in worship. The animals looked upon Him as their Creator. The King had come and on this first night He was honored.

Mary, that young scared girl with a new baby, was tired and proud and awestruck at the events that had taken place. Luke says, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19) Doesn't that sound just like a mom? She treasured everything to do with her son and she treasured everything said about her son. Mary had a mental baby book for this precious boy, just as in our day a mom would save up all the cards, birth announcements, pictures, and the wonderful compliments said about her child.

"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:20) The word of God is true and we will find things just as we have been told. This child Jesus had been foretold by the prophets. His eventual sacrificial death was pictured in the Passover lamb and all the sacrifices which had come before His birth. At last God had come Himself, in the flesh, to His people. Nobody else could save us but Jesus and He was more than willing to do it. Who else's God ever died for them? What other religion offers us salvation through anything but our own pitiful works which will never be good enough? Thanks be to our precious Savior who came to our rescue, for our salvation is in the person of Jesus Christ, and in Him alone. Glory to His name for this great gift!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Christmas Story, Day 1

The Christmas Story
Day 1

On today, Saturday, and Sunday we will be temporarily postponing our study of the last five chapters of Isaiah to look at the Christmas story. We're doing this for a couple of reasons. First, as we get so near to Christmas, it's a good idea to pause and think on the birth of Christ. Second, I've ordered quite a bit of materials for our next study which will be on the book of Daniel, and not all of them have arrived yet. I want to make sure we don't finish Isaiah before we are ready to move on into Daniel. 

We begin our study of the second chapter of Luke today. It's going to be a very familiar chapter to most of us but I hope that we will get a fresh look at the birth of our Lord. We are going to take a look at some of the history as well as study the first part of the chapter which involves Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem to be taxed.

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register." (Luke 2:1-3) This particular census was for the purpose of taxation. Israel was under Roman rule in those days and taxation was a method of financing the Roman army, the building of roads, the upkeep of the palace and government buildings, and all the conveniences of their culture. 

Caesar Augustus was the adopted son of Julius Caesar and his real name was Octavian, but he took the name of Caesar (no doubt for the royal honor that came along with it) and added the name of Augustus which means "great" or "magnificent". Caesar Augustus evidently had a high opinion of himself and essentially called himself "Caesar the Great" or "Caesar the Magnificent", as if he were a god. 

His taxation idea was the cause of Joseph and Mary travelling to Bethlehem and the Lord Jesus being born there. This fulfilled the word of God as spoken by the prophet Micah, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2) This was a prophecy about the Messiah, as the Apostle John validates by saying, "Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David's descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" (John 7:42)

"So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child." (Luke 2:4-5) I think we don't give enough credit to Joseph for the godly man he was. In the gospel according to Matthew we learn that when Joseph found out Mary was expecting a baby, he intended to "put her away privately". In those days an engagement was a legally binding contract and it was similar to getting a divorce to break the engagement. Joseph had the right to put Mary away for being pregnant by someone else but being a good man and not willing to bring shame on her, Matthew tells us that he intended to put her away privately. (Matthew 1:19) In other words, he intended to go through the process of breaking the engagement without making any sort of public announcement as to why. He was not going to charge her with being unfaithful. Joseph could have made her a public disgrace but he was too tenderhearted to do such a thing. 

Knowing what was in Joseph's heart, God intervened and sent an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that the baby was fathered by the Holy Spirit and that he had no need to put Mary away. She had not been unfaithful to him. The angel said to Joseph, "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) The name of Jesus means "God saves". What a perfect name for Him, as God in the flesh who takes away our sins! The virgin birth of the Lord Jesus was prophesied by Isaiah who said that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. (Isaiah 7:14)

In the morning Joseph woke up and obeyed the Lord and accepted what the angel had told him. It wasn't going to be an easy road to travel, for all their friends and neighbors probably thought that Joseph and Mary had been together before marriage or else they believed Mary had been intimate with another man. I bet there was all kinds of ugly gossip floating around, with folks speculating who the real father of Jesus was. People would have wondered why Joseph put up with it and raised Jesus as his own son. They would have thought Joseph wasn't much of a man if he was willing to overlook Mary's unfaithfulness. It took a strong and godly man to stand up to this kind of whispering and gossip. Not only was it hurtful to his own pride, but it also dishonored Mary's name by making her sound like a loose woman. But God the Father knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Joseph and Mary to raise His precious Son. It takes faith to go against the flow and obey God when the world is against you. It takes faith to obey God even when it hurts. This is the kind of faith that Mary and Joseph had and I believe this is why God chose them to raise His only Son.

Luke wants to make sure there's no doubt in our minds that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the one promised by God and prophesied by the prophets. His birth was the fulfillment of the Scriptures. If He were just an ordinary man, there's no way Jesus could have arranged His birth to coincide with the word of God predicting He would be born in Bethlehem. It took a taxation law passed by a prideful ruler to bring this about. There's no way Jesus could have arranged being born of the line of David as the Scriptures foretold. It took the will and plan of God to bring this about. There's no way Jesus could have arranged for His mother to be a young unmarried virgin girl as Isaiah prophesied. It took the Holy Spirit to bring this about. All the prophets, speaking hundreds of years before His birth, were speaking by inspiration of God and likely had no idea exactly how God would put all these things together. But God has had a plan in place since the very beginning and things were going to happen exactly the way He intended for them to happen. Whatever God says is as good as done whether it happens next week or a thousand years from now.

In the book of Revelation the Apostle John calls Jesus "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world". (Revelation 13:8) The execution warrant of Jesus was signed at the moment that God created mankind. His death on the cross was certain. The date of His demise was set. Everything that came before that day was going to take place exactly according to God's plan and exactly as foretold by the prophets. This is so there would be no doubt in our minds that Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin, born in a stable in Bethlehem, is the Son of God. Mary and Joseph knew this to be true and could stand up against any gossip or harmful whispers. They had no doubts about the identity of this Child. Neither did the Apostles who risked their lives sharing the gospel with the world. Nor should we have any doubts. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 173

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 173

We concluded yesterday with the Lord promising His people Israel, "Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours." (Isaiah 61:7) 

He continues on, "For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In My faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them." (Isaiah 61:8) There will be no more injustice, robbery, or wrongdoing among the people. The Lord will be able to bless them as He wants to bless them. In some translations verse 8 says, "I hate robbery for burnt offering." In Isaiah's day some of the people who were still bringing offerings were living far from the Lord. In keeping only an outward veneer of true religion they were robbing God of what was rightfully His: their hearts. There were also those who had completely given up even the pretense of serving God and no longer bothered to bring their tithes and offerings. In Malachi 3:8 the Lord says, "You are robbing Me." Because the people were not bringing in their tithes and offerings, the storehouses were not full as they should be. The priests who served at the temple were supposed to be able to provide for themselves and their families from the storehouses and now they could not. The poor and the hungry were to be assisted from the storehouses and this was no longer possible. In robbing God, the people were robbing their fellow man, and the Lord Jesus beautifully summed up this type of behavior by saying, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me." (Matthew 25:45)

But an age is coming in which this type of behavior will not be found among the Lord's covenant people. And in that day, "Their descendants shall be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed." (Isaiah 61:9) The "nations" are the Gentiles. As far as I know, most or all of the blog followers are of Gentile heritage like I am, so this verse refers to us. In coming to Christ the Gentiles look to Israel as the nation from which our Lord and Savior sprang. Their Messiah has become our King. Because He came unto His own and His own received Him not, the gospel graced the Gentile world, but through the Gentiles the Lord intends to take the gospel back to Israel. He will make one sheepfold out of us all and we will have one Shepherd. Because our Lord came from the nation of Israel, from the tribe of Judah, of the lineage of David, we Gentiles who have come to Christ will give honor to God's covenant people and acknowledge that they are blessed. We will praise the Lord's name for them. For if He never made a covenant with Abraham or the promise of a continuing royal line to David, where would we be? If a Child had not been born to the nation of Israel, what joy could we find in a dark and fallen world? Without Jesus, what hope would we have?

Because a Child was born and because a Redeemer did die and because a King did rise in victory, I believe all who are redeemed can join with Israel in this song of praise, "I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of His righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations." (Isaiah 61:10-11) 

Our worship song video for today goes wonderfully with Chapter 61 of Isaiah, with the Christmas season, and with the question we have asked today: Without Jesus, what hope would we have?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 172

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 172

We move on into Chapter 61 this morning, titled "The Year Of The Lord's Favor". It begins with a passage that will be very familiar to us, for the Lord Jesus quoted a portion of it on the day He began His public ministry in Nazareth.

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion---to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (Isaiah 61:1-3a) 

Following His temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth and was in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He stood up and read verses 1 and 2, ending with the announcement that He was proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor. Then He sat down and said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21) The year of the Lord's favor began with the advent of Christ. This "Anointed One" preached the good news to the poor. He healed the brokenhearted. He set free those who were held captive by sin. The message of His gospel led out of darkness into light those who were immersed in idolatry and did not know the God of Israel. At His first advent He fulfilled the portion of scripture that He quoted in Nazareth. But the year of the Lord's favor will continue on until the remainder of the prophecy is fulfilled. The Lord will avenge His people against their enemies and will transform Zion into all He ever wanted her to be. The "Anointed One" who speaks in this passage, the Messiah, will return and reign. He will comfort all who mourn, providing for those who trust in Him, and will exchange sorrow and despair for a new life of blessing and joy.

"They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of His splendor." (Isaiah 61:3b) No one but God can uproot what God has planted. He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt into the promised land and told them they would remain there as long as they held fast to Him. When they broke their end of the bargain, the Lord cast them out of the land, but not for good. When this prophecy is fulfilled the people of Zion need never fear being cast out again. They will never turn from God and He will never remove them from the land. They are planted forever to the praise of His name.

"They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast." (Isaiah 61:4-6) The people completed some rebuilding when they were set free from Babylon and it was a long and difficult process, as we learn from the book of Nehemiah. This was the beginning of renewed hope for the people, but it was not the last time Jerusalem would be destroyed and rebuilt. According to some information I studied about the city, in addition to being destroyed twice, it has been besieged twenty-three times, attacked fifty-two times, and has been captured and recaptured forty-four times. But a day is coming in which it will be fully rebuilt as never before and no enemy will ever attack it again. The entire world will look to Zion for an example of how to serve the Lord. They will preach the gospel of peace to the nations, the nations who will in return flock to them with their wealth and honor. 

The nations are not slaves of Israel, but will voluntarily minister to Zion in order to free these priests to fully devote themselves to the work of the Lord. In the book of Deuteronomy the Lord cautioned the people never to muzzle the ox while he was treading the grain, because the ox was entitled to eat while he worked. The Lord Jesus and the Apostle Paul both applied the passage from Deuteronomy to those who preach the gospel by saying that the worker is worthy of his wages. (Luke 10:7, 1 Timothy 5:18) Paul added, "Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?" (1 Corinthians 9:13) When the nations bring their wealth into Zion to the Lord's altar, these priests will be sustained by the offerings, enabling them to use all their time to preach the word of the Lord and to minister to others. If at at possible, every church ought to provide a living wage to its pastor so he will be free to devote all his time to studying and preaching the word of God and ministering to the flock. A good shepherd should be able to concentrate fully on his sheep. 

Zion's day of trouble is past and the Lord says, "Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours" (Isaiah 61:7) This verse always reminds me of a beautiful promise the Lord makes to His people through the prophet Joel, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten---the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm---My great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will My people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed." (Joel 2:25-27)

The locusts ate many years of my life. I have little to show for the days when I was living far from God. As the Apostle Paul said, "What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!" (Romans 6:21) But in Christ we receive a double portion in place of our shame. He grants upon us what is His: the double portion that belongs to a firstborn son, for now we are joint-heirs with Christ and share in all that belongs to Him. (Romans 8:17) We receive the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit the Lord poured out in a double portion upon the prophet Elijah. We are also graced with the double portion of joy that belongs to God's people. 

Only the Lord can do such great things for Israel and for the church. He alone can redeem and restore, giving us beauty for ashes, crowning us with righteousness, and making us the children of God. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 171

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 171

We continue on in Chapter 60, titled "The Glory Of Zion", and get a glimpse of the future of God's covenant people.

"Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests? Surely the islands look to Me; in the lead are the ships of Tarshish, bringing your children from afar, with their silver and gold, to the honor of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for He has endowed you with splendor." (Isaiah 60:8-9) In ancient times Tarshish was a wealthy sea-trading city, and here it probably symbolizes one method in which riches will enter Zion: by sea. The exiles were not honored this way when they returned from captivity in Babylon, nor do the riches they carried out of Egypt compare with this. But when Christ reigns from David's throne, kings and kingdoms will honor Him, and the honor bestowed on Him will reflect on His people Israel. They will be "endowed with splendor". 

"Foreigners will rebuild your walls, and their kings will serve you. Though in anger I struck you, in favor I will show you compassion. Your gates will always stand open, they will never be shut, day or night, so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations---their kings led in triumphal procession. For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish; it will be utterly ruined." (Isaiah 60:10-12) Solomon received many gifts from his political allies while completing his building projects, from kings who eagerly wanted to be friends with one who led such a powerful kingdom. It seemed to their advantage to do favors for such a mighty king. But a day is coming when the Gentile world will bring their wealth into Zion because of the name of the Lord and His presence there. The King will reign from Zion, and all the world will honor Him. Anyone who rejects Him will perish.

"The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the juniper, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn My sanctuary; and I will glorify the place for My feet. The children of your oppressors will come bowing before you; all who despise you will bow down at your feet and will call you the City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 60:13-14) The descendants of those who were enemies of Israel will be her friend. In coming to the saving knowledge of the Lord, the Gentile world cannot help but love the nation from which He rose. 

"Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. You will drink the milk of nations and be nursed at royal breasts. Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." (Isaiah 60:15-16) There have been times in Israel's history when she lay in rubble, with those who passed by shaking their heads at her downfall. Tongues have wagged against her, accusing her of forsaking her Messiah and King, but a day is coming when the Gentiles will help her become all that God intends her to be. In a day when she fully knows her Savior, the world will rejoice with her.

"Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler." (Isaiah 60:17) God does away with the old and brings in the new. He gives His people the very best. They are not to settle for less as they have in the past. So often in this life the Lord offers us gold but we reach for the silver instead. He holds out the bronze to us but we settle for wood. He calls us to step up higher but we remain standing where we are. Not so in His kingdom. The very best is offered and accepted.

"No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise." (Isaiah 60:18) In verse 11 Isaiah told us the gates would always stand open. This was for the purpose of allowing all those on pilgrimage from other lands to enter, but it also indicates no fear of enemies. The walls and the gates will no longer symbolize the city's security: the Lamb on the throne will be her security. He will keep her safe. 

"The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory." (Isaiah 60:19) These words remind us of those of the Apostle John, who saw the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, and said, "I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there." (Revelation 21:22-25) I don't know what is intended by the word "sanctuary" in verse 13, but in the book of Exodus it was a place for God to meet with man and dwell with man. If there is no temple in eternal kingdom age, I assume that the sanctuary in verse 13 must be the place where God literally dwells with man, where the Lamb sits on the throne of David, where it is said, "Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God." (Revelation 21:3)

"Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. Then all your people will be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of My hands, for the display of My splendor. The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly." (Isaiah 60:20-22) King David once said, "There is no one who does good." (Psalm 14:1b) King Solomon proclaimed, "Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) The Apostle Paul declared, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) But the One who says "I am the Lord" makes the unbreakable promise to Israel that "all your people will be righteous". He bases this on the power of the Savior's work on man's behalf. 

All of mankind can say that none of us was good. None of us was righteous and without sin. We had turned away and become worthless. But Christ came anyway. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) And because of Him, only because of Him, are we counted righteous in the sight of the holy God.