Sunday, July 24, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 33

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 33

We have been studying Isaiah's prophecies of the kingdom of Christ and today we come to a chapter of praise. There is nothing but good news in Chapter 12.

"In that day you will say: 'I will praise You, Lord. Although You were angry with me, Your anger has turned away and You have comforted me." (Isaiah 12:1) The chastening of Israel is past. God was angry with her unfaithfulness but now she is His and He is hers forever. 

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid." (Isaiah 12:2a) In the past, the kings of Israel and Judah trusted in alliances with pagan kings rather than in a relationship with the living God. But now Immanuel, God With Us, sits on the throne at Jerusalem and never again will His people turn to anyone else for help. 

"The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation." (Isaiah 12:2b) We recall that Isaiah's own name means "the Lord is salvation" and that his name and the name of his sons were signs for the people. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz meant "speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder", indicating defeat by an enemy. Shear-Jashub meant "a remnant shall return", a promise that all is not lost even when the people are taken captive. And now once again we are reminded that "the Lord is salvation", that He is the One who brought Israel out of bondage in Egypt and the One who brings mankind out of bondage to sin. From the time the first man was created til the final person is born, the Lord alone is the only hope of salvation for mankind. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3) In time past, the Lord said, "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13) No help was to be found in the idols, the work of their own hands. It is faith that saves and nothing else. Without the Lord we are like a dry and broken well, but in Christ we have this promise, "Let whoever is thirsty come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." (John 7:37b-38) The Bible has a lot to say about wells. They were vital for the survival of people and animals. Israel was a dry and thirsty land, just as this sin-laden world is a dry and thirsty land, but in Christ we need never have a thirsty soul. "Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14b)

"In that day you will say: 'Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that He is exalted.'" (Isaiah 12:4) Israel is to tell the world what her God has done for her, just as we are to tell the world the good news of the gospel. Before Jesus went to be with the Father, He gave this commission to all who are His, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

"Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world." (Isaiah 12:5) It's good for us to think back on all the glorious things the Lord has done for us. I'm going through a troubling season right now and sometimes I wake up in the night with my mind racing, with my thoughts crowded full of all the things I feel like I'm up against. But I'm not up against them alone. During the darkness of night when our troubles seem their biggest, going back over all the glorious things God has done for us will remind us that He is bigger than anything we will ever face. As the familiar hymn Amazing Grace asserts, "Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come; 'tis grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home". 

It's because of how far God has brought them that Israel can sing His praises. It's because of how far God has brought us that we too can sing His praises. "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." (Isaiah 12:6) At last all is as it should be. The power of sin is broken. Death is defeated. The curse is lifted. Creation is restored and mankind reaches his full potential through his relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. "No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and His servants will serve Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever." (Revelation 22:3-5) 

No matter what troubles us today, a future awaits us that is beyond anything we are capable of imagining. 

Before we listen to our worship song for today, I wanted to let you know we will need to pause our study for a week while I go out of town, so the blog will resume on Monday, August 1st. I won't have access to wifi for several of those days and I'm way too slow typing on my tablet to do the blog using 4G, so I apologize for the delay in our study. But we are pausing it in a great place, in a place of praise. Today's passage has encouraged me in my current struggles and I hope it has encouraged you too.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 32

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 32

Chapter 11 is dealing with the glorious kingdom of our Lord and the redemption of the creation. Normally when we hear the words "chapter eleven" we think of a type of bankruptcy filing. That term tends to have a negative connotation. But not so in the book of Isaiah! Chapter 11 is one of the most marvelous passages of this book. Nobody will be spiritually, morally, or literally bankrupt in the kingdom of Christ.

Isaiah informed us yesterday that when the Lord reigns, all the faithful of the nations will rally to Him, both Jew and Gentile. Today's passage deals with the the restoration of the twelve tribes of Israel in the eternal kingdom. Although Israel once again became a sovereign nation in 1948, this did not completely fulfill today's prophecy. It set the stage for it, as there must be a nation for the King to claim. It also set the stage for the end times, leaving nothing that must be fulfilled before Christ comes for the church. But it wasn't the fulfillment of the ingathering of all twelve tribes from every corner of the world. That will occur at the second advent of Christ when He assumes the throne of David.

When Jesus Christ sits on the throne of David, "He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth." (Isaiah 11:12) I'm sure you've heard of the "ten lost tribes of Israel", meaning the ten tribes of the northern kingdom who were conquered by Assyria in 721 BC. There has been much speculation over the centuries about the scattering of these ten tribes and their current locations. Their genealogy records are generally considered lost, but they are not lost to God. To God there is no such thing as ten lost tribes. He knows every single soul on the earth who descended from these tribes and when Christ comes as King, He will gather them in to Israel, and all twelve tribes will be one united nation just as they were under King David.

"Ephraim's jealousy will vanish, and Judah's enemies will be destroyed; Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah, nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim." (Isaiah 11:13) The people will no longer think of themselves as either the northern kingdom or the southern kingdom. Isaiah often uses the name of Israel's largest tribe, Ephraim, to represent all ten tribes. He is saying that the enmity between the two kingdoms will vanish. We could apply some words from our own Pledge of Allegiance to the condition of all twelve tribes in those days because they will be "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all". The allegiance of all twelve tribes and all the people of the earth will be to Christ, the One who is the banner God raised up for all nations. We won't be saluting flags in those days or swearing allegiance to any creed or ideal. We will salute a Savior and swear allegiance to a Redeemer, to the One who loved us and gave Himself for us.

"They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will subdue Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them." (Isaiah 11:14) The peoples mentioned here are the same enemies of Israel that David conquered during his reign. A brilliant commentator on the book of Isaiah, J. Alec Motyer, believes this verse is intended as a metaphor, for there will be no need under Christ for Israel to fight or plunder any nation. Just as when David assumed the throne he brought about a time of peace and stability for the united twelve tribes of Israel, under Christ there will be an eternal time of peace and stability for the united twelve tribes of Israel. It would seem odd to think that, under her Messiah and King, Israel would fight any battles, and so I tend to agree with Motyer that this plundering and subjection is not literal but symbolic. "The picture of warlike conquest by the united people jars against the vision of the Prince of Peace..., but in fact what we have here is a consistent use of metaphor, not a forecast of events...Kings customarily extend their kingdoms by armed conquest. Within the picture of the coming King, therefore, Isaiah envisages the spreading royal dominion; but the force to which the nations fall is that of the Prince of Peace, the gospel." (from Isaiah by J. Alec Motyer, pg. 107)

"The Lord will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind He will sweep His hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that anyone can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt." (Isaiah 11:15-16) It may seem impossible to us that every descendant of every tribe can be gathered in from all over the world, but nothing is impossible for God. He will make it easy for His people to return to their nation. He will also make it easy for every people of the world to come up to Jerusalem to worship the King. The Apostle John was given a vision of what the world will be like when Jesus Christ rules it, and he said, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea." (Revelation 21:1) Evidently there will be no oceans separating the continents from each other, so that all people of the earth, both Jew and Gentile, will be connected as one kingdom under Christ.

We are deep into an election year in the United States and many of us feel we are deep into trouble. I don't like to mix politics with religion and so I say very little about politics on the blog. But today I'd like to compare our two candidates with our righteous King. One candidate has repeatedly lied about an email server and continues to defend her statements even though the FBI has proven them false. The other candidate promises he will "give you everything" and says "I'm the only one" who can. In the midst of the discontent many of us are feeling with our political parties, we have the promise of a King so honest we can entrust our eternal souls to Him. We have the assurance of a King who truly is the only One who can give us everything. No matter how bleak we may feel about our nation and our world today, no matter how frightening the almost-daily terrorist attacks and mass shootings are, there is a Leader who will come and make all things new, a Prince of Peace who will make an end of wars, a King who will restore mankind and the animal kingdom and all of nature to a perfect state.

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, '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. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then He said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'" (Revelation 21:3-5) Hallelujah! This is a Candidate we can get behind! This is the glorious future of the children of God! The Lord Jesus wanted His words written down so we can cling to this unshakable hope. His words are trustworthy and true. We can take them to the bank. We can depend on them. The old order of this world will pass away and God With Us, Immanuel, will dwell with us and be our God and King forever and ever. Amen!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 31

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 31

Isaiah has been describing the kingdom of Christ on earth and this morning we begin with one of my favorite passages, "The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra's den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:6-9) 

Nature itself will be redeemed. No animal will prey upon another animal. Humans and animals won't prey upon each other. There will be perfect harmony among all God's creatures and earth will be like Eden once again. There will be no need for animal rescues or animal rights organizations because nobody will ever neglect or abuse any creature. We won't need social services or orphanages, for nobody will neglect or abuse a child. The curse of sin will be lifted from the earth and all of creation will live in peace. 

"In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of His people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean." (Isaiah 11:10-11) Isaiah preaches a day of redemption for Jews and Gentiles alike. When he says "the peoples" and "the nations", he means all other cultures of the world. When he says "the remnant", he is referring to the people of Israel. God promised Abraham that all nations would be blessed by the seed that would come from his descendants, and that seed is Christ. The offer of salvation is all-inclusive. "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:26-29) When God looks on His children in Christ, He sees us all as Abraham's seed. Even though I'm a Gentile, in Christ I too am an heir of the promise made to Abraham. All who are in Christ are "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ". (Romans 8:17)

Isaiah has so much to say about Jesus that in my mind I like to think of this book as The Gospel By Isaiah, because from beginning to end the real theme of this book is Christ. The theme is the Messiah, the Suffering Servant, the King of the line of David, and the One who will come in the last days to sit on the throne forever. Like the Apostle Paul many centuries later, when we get to Chapter 53 Isaiah will "preach Christ crucified". (1 Corinthians 1:23) Isaiah lived about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ but, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he looked down through the centuries and preached a gospel message as powerful as those of the apostles. The same could be said of his preaching as of the Apostle Paul's, "When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Corinthians 2:2b-5)

We don't need to be a gifted orator or have a vocabulary full of fancy words in order to tell people about God's offer of salvation. All we need to know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That message preaches itself. The power of the message comes from the Holy Spirit, not from our own powers of persuasion. We are weak and mortal vessels, vessels God has chosen so that His light may shine even more brightly. "For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness', made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not of us." (2 Corinthians 4:5-6) When God chose Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt, Moses protested and said, "Pardon Your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." (Exodus 4:10) Moses asked to be excused of this duty, knowing he had no talent for public speaking, fearing he could persuade neither Pharaoh nor the Israelites. But the power in Moses' words was going to come from the Lord, not from his own weak flesh.

Our education and background don't matter when it comes to sharing the good news of the gospel. We may do it in fear and trembling like the Apostle Paul. We may do it while being mocked like the prophet Isaiah. We may do it while being slow of speech and tongue like Moses. But the power in the message is from the Lord and not from us. All we need to know is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He will take care of everything else. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 30

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 30

Today the Lord concludes this particular section regarding Assyria's punishment. Then He gives His people even better news: news of a King of the line of David.

The Assyrians march down from the north to the south on their way to Jerusalem. "They enter Aiath; they pass through Migron; they store supplies at Mikmash. They go over the pass, and say, 'We will camp overnight at Geba.' Ramah trembles; Gibeah of Saul flees. Cry out, Daughter Gallim! Listen, Laishah! Poor Anathoth! Madmenah is in flight; the people of Gebim take cover. This day they will halt at Nob; they will shake their fist at the mount of Daughter Zion, at the hill of Jerusalem." (Isaiah 10:28-32) With each city mentioned, the Assyrian army is growing closer until it halts outside the gates of Jerusalem, with King Sennacherib's field commander shouting insults against Judah's king and against her God in the days of Hezekiah. We looked at this event during our study of the kings and will revisit it later in the book of Isaiah. The Assyrians were at the very walls of the city but in one night the Lord defeated them with a plague of death.

"See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One." (Isaiah 10:33-34) This verse may apply to both the Assyrians and the Judeans. The towering strength of Assyria will be broken, but so too will the stubborn and prideful citizens of Judah. God is about to cut down those who refuse His authority, who will not humble themselves before Almighty God.

Jerusalem won't fall to Assyria but about a hundred years later she will fall to Babylon. A remnant will return after Babylon falls to Persia, but the land of Judah will never regain her former prosperity until her true King reigns. Through Isaiah the Lord now comforts His people regarding how He has cut them low like trees. Out of a stump a fresh new Branch will sprout, a King of the tribe of Judah, a Son of the line of David, and now the Lord goes on to describe the kingdom under Christ. "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him---the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord---and He will delight in the fear of the Lord." (Isaiah 11:1-3a)

The kingdom under Solomon was the largest and wealthiest it had ever been, but it pales in comparison to the glorious kingdom of Christ. Solomon was the wisest man on earth, but his wisdom doesn't even begin to compare with the wisdom of the Lord. Some of the kings have been men of God but they were all completely human, incapable of living a perfect life, prone to falling into temptation. This will not be true of the King of kings. He will be filled with the Spirit, having all wisdom and understanding, being perfect and incapable of sin. He will know every word ever spoken by God the Father and will delight in His laws. He will judge all matters according to God's infallible word and nobody will be oppressed or treated unfairly.

"He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears;" (Isaiah 11:3b) This is of utmost importance. An ordinary human king can only go by what he sees and hears when cases are brought before him. Unfortunately, appearances can be deceiving. Plaintiffs coming before the king are capable of telling some very convincing lies. Unless a king is wholly led by the Spirit, he cannot have perfect discernment. But the Lord looks on the heart and judges by what He finds there. It is not possible to deceive Him.

"But with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist." (Isaiah 11:4b-5) The world will be judged by the word of God. This is the only true standard of measure. This is the only righteous law and the Bible compares the word of God to a weapon here and also in the book of Revelation, when the Apostle John sees a vision of the Lord and "coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations". (Revelation 19:15a) The sharp sword in the mouth of Christ is symbolic of the word of God by which Jesus will judge the world. Both our passage of Isaiah today and this passage of Revelation regard the second advent of Christ when He returns to rule from David's throne. 

Not only will Christ judge by the word, but He is the Word. "His name is the Word of God." (Revelation 19:13b) "In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) Because He is the embodiment of the entire word of God, and everything in the law, and has been with God from the beginning and has all wisdom and all knowledge, Christ is able to judge with fairness. He knows the word and He is the Word. There is no error in Him. There is no blemish in Him. He is, in every way, a perfect Messiah and King.

Tomorrow we will move on into the prophecy of a renewed earth and a redeemed creation, and will find that the animal kingdom and all nature itself will be transformed. Man will be at peace with man. Animals will be at peace with one another. No longer will anyone or anything hurt or destroy. The desert will bloom like the rose. No thorns will infest the ground. This old world will be made new.

Below is our worship song link for today.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Comfortable Words: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 29

Comfortable Words:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 29

Today's message continues the theme of a future punishment of Assyria and a future return of God's people to the land.

"In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 10:20) Judah is depending on Assyria for help but Assyria will end up being as much of an enemy as those Judah fears. There will come a day when they will not trust in Assyria, (him who struck them down), but will turn back to the Lord.

"A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God." (Isaiah 10:21) We recall that Isaiah has a son named Shear-Jashub which means "a remnant will return", and shear-jashub is the word Isaiah uses here. 

"Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land." (Isaiah 10:22-23) When we did our study of Genesis we found the Lord making an awesome promise to Abraham, "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore." (Genesis 22:17a) The Lord has kept His word and has made a multitude of descendants from the once-childless Abraham. But only a remnant of this great nation will return. 

My mother used to listen to a daily Bible study program on the radio called "Thru The Bible" which was taught by J. Vernon McGee. And I remember him saying, "God has never had anything but a remnant of Israel." Or in other words, only a portion of that nation's citizens were ever faithful to Him in the Scriptures. The ones who will return from captivity are the ones who will "rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel." (v 20)

The current population of the world is estimated to be upwards of seven billion and out of that seven billion the Lord still only has a remnant who are faithful to His name. A quick Google search reveals an estimated two billion who claim the name of Christ. Ever since mankind fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, only a remnant of the earth's population has clung to the Lord. This should do away with the claims of false teachers who say everybody is going to heaven. I'm sorry but that simply isn't Scriptural. It's not what Jesus Christ taught. Because of this, we have an urgent commission to get the gospel out to every corner of the world, so that as many as possible become part of the believing remnant.

In our passage today there is a mixture of good and bad news. God has decided to allow destruction to come upon the land, upon the territories of all twelve tribes, but He will limit the power of the mighty Assyrian army. They will not be able to destroy the descendants of Abraham as a people and they will not be able to overthrow Jerusalem. "Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord Almighty, says: 'My people who live in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. Very soon My anger against you will end and My wrath will be directed to their destruction.'" (Isaiah 10:24-25) At one time the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, literally beaten with the rod and club, but God brought His people out of that wicked land with many signs and wonders, humbling Pharaoh who dared to boast about himself with the same pride the king of Assyria now boasts about himself. The plagues the Lord brought on Egypt likely affected her agriculture and economy and entire society for quite some time; in fact the great powers of Egypt never fully recovered, and now He promises to humble the Assyrians as powerfully as He humbled Egypt.

Isaiah goes on to give us a vivid description of God's punishment of Assyria, "The Lord Almighty will lash them with a whip, as when He struck down Midian at the rock of Oreb; And He will raise His staff over the waters, as He did in Egypt." (Isaiah 10:26) At the rock of Oreb, God gave Gideon and only three hundred men a great victory over the large Midianite army. The power of Gideon's army was in the Lord, not in strength of numbers. The time will come when Assyria will look like an invincible foe, a nation that will bring God's people down to the grave, but God is the champion of His people. He will preserve their lineage on the earth. The Lord is going to make a way for His people to get through the coming calamities just as He made a way for His people to get through the Red Sea.

"In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat." (Isaiah 10:27) The Lord isn't telling the people they are so heavy they will break their bonds but is saying something like they are "fat with oil" or "prosperous". The Lord their God will make them to multiply during the years of their captivity as He made them multiply in Egypt. Pharaoh once feared the Hebrews would rise up against him because their numbers had grown so large but they didn't escape slavery by forming a large army; they escaped because God brought them out. The Lord will break off the yoke of Assyria just as He broke off the yoke of Egypt. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high." (Leviticus 26:13)

We once were held in bondage to sin, imprisoned by our failures, but Christ came and brought us out of darkness into light. He broke the bars of our yoke and enabled us to walk with our heads held high. In our lost condition, we were just as much slaves as the Hebrews were in Egypt, with our backs bent under the weight of our mistakes. But our Lord took the stripes that heal us. He took the beating we deserved. He embraced the death that was our penalty. "But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him." (Acts 2:24) Death could not keep its hold on Him and it will not be able to keep its hold on those who belong to Him by faith. Christ tasted death for all mankind and He conquered it, removing the sting of sin, snatching away the victory of the grave. I have stood by the bedsides of both my mother and my father, witnessing their deaths. I saw their coffins lowered into the earth. But because they died in Christ, the grave can't hold them! They are absent from the body and present with the Lord. I have the certain promise of seeing them again. 

Christ has taken the sting of death for us and has conquered the grave. Below is a link to a song that praises Him for this victory.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 28

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 28

We've been studying the judgment that will come upon Assyria for her treatment of the Hebrews and for the pride in the king's heart. His boasting in himself reminds me of a few years back when a comedienne went onstage to receive an award and said something like this, "Why are people getting up here and thanking Jesus for their awards? Jesus had nothing to do with it. I did all the work for this." Then she added an ugly expletive to the name of Jesus and concluded her speech. Jesus loves her and I pray she comes to know Him as the best friend anybody could ever have, but my point in telling this story is that none of us has done anything on our own. If God hadn't given us strength, we wouldn't have woken up this morning. He protected us through the night and kept our souls in this world. He gives us the ability to go about our daily lives, to take care of our homes and families, to work, to pursue hobbies. If not for the protective hand of God, none of us could take the next breath, much less accomplish anything else. The Lord is the One who deserves all the honor and thanks for everything we have because we have it only by His grace and mercy.

Assyria's king believes he has achieved mighty things through his own strength. He doesn't understand that his success on the battlefield is only because God has allowed it to chastise His wayward people. The king is nothing but an instrument in the hand of God, yet he boasts against the Lord. "For he says: 'By the strength of my hand have I done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of the nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings. As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp.'" (Isaiah 10:13-14) In reading this passage we can't help putting emphasis on the word "I" because that's probably how the king said it, "I am brilliant, I am strong, I have conquered nations and taken their kings captive to serve me. It was as easy as taking candy from a baby."

But the great I Am has this to say about the king's pride, "Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it? As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up, or a club brandish the one who is not wood!" (Isaiah 10:15) God is saying, "King of Assyria, you could do nothing without Me. You've conquered kingdoms simply because you are the ax in My hand. You are merely an instrument of discipline that I will wield for a little while. You are powerless without Me."

Because the king will not humble himself and acknowledge the sovereignty of God, his day of downfall is coming. Then we will see who has the last word. "Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors; under his pomp a fire will be kindled like a blazing flame." (Isaiah 10:16) This is fulfilled when King Sennacherib of Assyria sends a blasphemous and insulting letter to King Hezekiah about his intentions to come and overthrow Jerusalem. "That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp." (2 Kings 19:35a)

God is going to humble the king and the nation who will not humble themselves before Him. "The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers. The splendor of his forests and fertile fields it will completely destroy, as when a sick person wastes away. And the remaining trees of his forests will be so few that a child could write them down." (Isaiah 10:17-19) A strong nation by the name of Babylon will arise and lay waste to Assyria's capitol, to all the fine government buildings, to the palace and the mansions of the officials, to the pagan temples, to the world's first known library at Nineveh and all the cultural centers of their society. Babylon will burn through the land like a wildfire, consuming everything in its path. Where then is the power of Assyria's king, the one who boasted no king and no god could stand in his way? The new ax in the Lord's hand will be King Nebuchadnezzar and he will chop down Assyria as a man chops down a tree.

I confess to all of you and to the Lord that I've been prideful. There are days when I've taken the wrong type of enjoyment in my abilities and accomplishments as if I had anything to do with them. At times I've delighted in them as if they weren't achieved solely through the power of the Lord. I've thought more of myself than I should instead of seeing myself as the broken beggar I truly am, not realizing all my righteous acts "are like filthy rags". (Isaiah 64:6) Even at our best, we humans are nothing to brag about. If we boast in anything, it should be as the Apostle Paul boasted, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14) Amen, Lord! We have nothing without You! You formed us out of the dust with Your own hands and apart from You we can do nothing. May our boast be only in the cross of Christ, in His awesome work of redemption, in the glorious liberty we have in Him. He alone is worthy of honor and praise. We bless the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and glory and power forever. Amen.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 27

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 27

Sunday's passage dealt with God's judgment on Israel for her injustice and lack of compassion on the poor and the weak. Today's passage deals with God's judgment on Assyria, Israel's enemy, who also lacks compassion for the poor and the weak. Israel had not yet been conquered by Assyria when the Lord gave these prophecies but passages like this one today will be a welcome hope for the people in their coming troubles. Later on, sitting captive in a foreign land, these words will be like music to their ears.

"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of My anger, in whose hand is the club of My wrath!" (Isaiah 10:5) We talked the other day about how God is dealing with Israel like a Father disciplining a wayward child. Assyria is the "rod" or the "paddle" He uses to apply the discipline, but as Barry G. Webb says in his book The Message Of Isaiah, "this did not absolve Assyria of moral accountability". The Lord allowed Israel to be conquered by this pagan nation, just as He later allowed Judah to be conquered by pagan Babylon, but Assyria's day is coming. She will be vanquished by Babylon and Babylon in turn will be overthrown by Persia.

The Lord is able to use any method He chooses to discipline wayward children. Whoever or whatever He uses may be no more righteous than we are, (they may, in fact, be quite wicked), but that doesn't mean their judgment isn't coming. We noted in our study of the kings that at times the Lord allowed very wicked kings to rise up in order to oppress the people to the point of repentance. In times of discontent we are more likely to think about what might be wrong in our lives that has brought the trouble upon us. It's intended to convince us we need to turn around and go back in the right direction. But that does not mean God lets our oppressors off the hook. If any human being or even Satan himself mistreats us because God allowed them to do what comes naturally to them, He will still judge them for their cruelty. A few profoundly cruel things have been done to me in my life and, although the Lord worked these things out for my good, those who did them will still have to answer to Him.

The Lord explains His purpose in using Assyria's king as an instrument of discipline, "I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger Me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets." (Isaiah 10:6) By the time she is conquered, Israel will have become about as godless as Assyria, so it isn't a case of God letting an enemy attack faithful people. It's a case of one idolatrous people fighting against another. 

But Assyria intends to overreach her purpose. God broke down His protective hedge around Israel so this enemy could pour in, but they go above and beyond what is necessary to subdue a nation. The Lord let the Assyrian king in to "seize loot and snatch plunder", to humble the Israelites, "But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations." (Isaiah 10:7) The Assyrian king wants to overwhelm the entire region and destroy the Arameans, the Israelites, the Judeans, and all the people of the area. He views himself as the greatest king on earth, the greatest king in history, and he pictures himself conquering the known world. 

Assyria's king is boastful that he will come to Judah and overthrow Jerusalem just as he has overthrown the capitols of other nations, "'Are not my commanders all kings?' he says. 'Has not Kalno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria---shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?'" (Isaiah 10:8-11) The king does not know it, but at this point he is boasting against the living God. He will not succeed in trampling Jerusalem underfoot for the very reason he believes it will be easy to do so: her images are few and unimpressive compared to the images the other nations possessed. This is because Judah has not yet fallen as far into idolatry as her neighbors. When King Sennacherib sends his army to stand outside the gates of Jerusalem and threaten siege, Judah's godly King Hezekiah will cry out to the Lord for help and the Lord will answer. 

It's ironic that the king brags no nation's gods have resisted him and that the idols of Jerusalem are pitiful in comparison to the idols that have already fallen. It's precisely for this reason that he will fail to take Jerusalem. Jerusalem's God does not reside in a carved block of wood overlaid with gold. Jerusalem's God is the great I Am, the Creator of all things, who is so big and so awesome that "the heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain" Him. (1 Kings 8:27) 

The oppression by Assyria is for a specific purpose and for a limited time. God does not bring harsher discipline than necessary and He does not allow it to continue longer than necessary. The Assyrians were well-known for their enjoyment of humiliating their captives but God will judge their cruelty. They will reap what they have sown. They who have taken so many captive will become captives themselves. "When the Lord has finished all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will say, 'I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.'" (Isaiah 10:12) There were actually several kings who ruled Assyria during the years they oppressed Israel and Judah, but the Lord speaks of them as if they are all the same because the spirit in them was the same. They believed they were invincible, that they had a right to rule the world, that they were worthy to have all other kings bow to them, and that no god could stand up to them. 

The Assyrians had a haughty spirit and King Solomon included this type of spirit in a list of seven things the Lord cannot stand. "There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community." (Proverbs 6:16-19) Solomon also warned, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." (Proverbs 16:18) God would not be true to His word if He did not punish Assyria for their superior attitude and for their genocide of the peoples around them. Their haughty spirit will be their downfall. 

The prophecy of future vindication may not have meant much to a people who scorned Isaiah's words in favor of false prophecies of coming peace, but someday the captive Israelites and the fearful people of Judah will cling to the promises of today's passage. God will be the enemy of their enemy. God will treat Assyria just as Assyria has treated them. A time is coming when the Lord will have "finished all His work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem" and that is when He will say "I will punish the king of Assyria". 

In troubled times God's promises may be all we have, but they will be enough. They will get us through. He will be the enemy of our enemy. He will punish the haughty spirit that dared to perpetrate cruelty upon His children. We have an enemy greater than any human enemy but he has the same haughty spirit that was in the king of Assyria, the same attitude that the Lord hates. Satan, the enemy of our souls, will be punished by our faithful Father who will give us the satisfaction of trampling him underfoot. "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a) 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 26

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 26

Because the leadership of the nation has broken down and because the spiritual advisers have led the people astray, lawlessness reigns in the land. "Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men, nor will He pity the fatherless and widows, for everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks folly." (Isaiah 9:17a) There are citizens of all ages, of every level of society, both male and female, who are living in rebellion toward God and have lost compassion for their fellow man. They feel no pity for each other and so God will feel no pity for them. 

Doubtless there were godly people in the land. We know there were faithful prophets and that many of them sprang from godly families where they were taught the fear of the Lord. I think there was a remnant of the nation who still clung to the Lord but they were probably pushed somewhat underground by the intense political and societal corruption. There was no temple in the northern kingdom of Israel and the people were discouraged from going down to Jerusalem to worship there. Ever since Israel's first king Jeroboam set up the golden calves in place of God, there was no real support for true worship. Those who remained faithful to God had to bring offerings to lonely altars on hilltops or on their own farmland. There was no large meeting place like the temple where believers could experience a sense of community and unification and fellowship. They were disenfranchised, not having a voice in their government, not getting their cases heard, not being treated fairly by the law.

"Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 9:17b) The woes that have already come upon the northern kingdom are just the beginning. The leaders have not repented and turned back to God. The fallen priests and false prophets are still promising peace and the return of prosperity. 

"Surely wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns, it sets the forest thickets ablaze, so that it rolls upwards like a column of smoke." (Isaiah 9:18) Sin began as a small spark but now it's like a wildfire burning out of control. It keeps spreading outward from its point of origin. It's funny how both righteousness and sin have this effect. Righteousness living pours over into the lives of those around us, but so does wicked living. Nothing we do really affects only ourselves. If we live godly lives, our right decisions make the lives of those around us better. But if we live ungodly lives, our poor decisions make the lives of those around us worse. 

Have you ever lived in a home where a person was entangled in sin or addiction? Didn't it disturb everyone and everything in the home? Didn't the other family members suffer from the actions of one person? That's how the burning wildfire of wickedness got started in the family of Israel. The nation went wrong at its core, in the government and spiritual leadership, and it spread out from there until it troubled every home in the land. 

"By the wrath of the Lord Almighty the land will be scorched and the people will be fuel for the fire; they will not spare one another. On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of their own offspring; Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah." (Isaiah 9:19-21a) Instead of banding together in their time of crisis, the people will turn on each other. They have lost the natural affection people normally feel for their family members and countrymen. They will not join together in solidarity. Instead a man will kill his brother for a piece of bread. Instead of being willing to do without anything so her child can live, a woman will kill her own baby to satisfy her hunger. Barbaric as all this sounds, these are the depths to which mankind can sink when we honor the creature more than the Creator. Without regard for our Maker, we lose regard for lives other than our own. The sanctity of life loses its meaning and we develop the attitude of "every man for himself". Believing there is no righteous God and Judge does not free us. It makes us slaves to the flesh. It reduces us to the most squalid, despicable, and depraved depths a to which a human can possibly sink.

"Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 9:21b) If they had turned back to the Lord during any of their national crises, I believe He would have lowered His hand of discipline. God is not wasteful. Discipline won't endure one second longer than necessary. No good parent administers a spanking any longer than it takes to simply get the child's attention and interrupt the bad behavior. No good parent puts a child in time-out and leaves him or her there for an unreasonable amount of time. And God doesn't do these things either. His hand is still upraised because the calamities that have already fallen have not gotten the people's attention. They have not interrupted the bad behavior.

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of My people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches? Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 10:1-4) Widows and orphans were usually the poorest among the citizens. So too were foreigners (Gentiles) who lived among the Israelites in cities of refuge. Because the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner had little money or social standing, they tended to be overlooked by those better off and they tended to receive unjust treatment by the courts. This is why the Lord says of Himself, "He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." (Deuteronomy 10:18-19) Asaph, the author of Psalm 82, implored the people to "Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked." (Psalm 82:4)

It's a very bad sign of the spiritual condition of a nation when its citizens lose compassion for the weakest among them. It indicates corruption to the very core. The way we treat those who can do nothing for us says everything about us. So we will close with a quote from the One who said it best, "For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite Me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe Me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.....Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me." (Matthew 25:42-43, 45)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 25

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 25

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 24

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 24

We have been seeing a pattern in the book of Isaiah of alternating the good news and the bad news. In Thursday's passage we read some of the best news there is: a King of the nation of Israel was going to be born, a Child from the tribe of Judah, and someday the government of the entire world will rest on Him. 

The book of Isaiah doesn't necessarily follow a chronological order all the way through but I believe it does have a divine order. If God hadn't interspersed the prophetic warnings with the promises of future deliverance, how could anyone bear it? This book could have been written in two sections, with the first being about all that was wrong in Israel and Judah and the trouble that was going to come, and with the second being the glorious promises of a reigning King and Savior. But I think it would have been very difficult to even get to the second section because the first would have been so disheartening. It would be easy to give up before ever getting to the good news. Even while proclaiming judgment, God is gracious. He gives the people something to hope for.

Today's passage deals with God's righteous anger against Israel. "The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. All the people will know it---Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria---who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 'The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.'" (Isaiah 9:8-9) This prophecy is about the northern kingdom of Israel, the ten tribes that separated from Judah and Benjamin. The Lord often uses the words "Jacob" and "Israel" interchangeably and in Isaiah we find "Ephraim" being used interchangeably with "Israel" as well, since Ephraim was the largest tribe of the northern kingdom. They have fallen prey to raids of their enemies but boast that they will build back bigger and better. In place of plain bricks they plan to set beautifully dressed stones. In place of fig trees they intend to plant mighty cedars.

When we studied the kings we noted that there were six different kings in Israel's final years. None reigned very long. This was a symptom of the internal collapse that was taking place in their society. If her enemy Assyria had not eventually come and conquered her, I think Israel would have conquered herself in time. The nation fell apart just as its citizens fell apart: from the inside out. The downfall began in their hearts and spread out from there. There is no true and lasting peace and prosperity without the Lord. As the psalmist said, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord." (Psalm 33:12) 

Isaiah warns the northern kingdom that their boasting is in vain. Without turning back to the Lord their plans will fail. "But the Lord has strengthened Rezin's foes against them and has spurred their enemies on. Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west have devoured Israel with open mouth. Yet for all this, His anger is not turned away, His hand is still upraised." (Isaiah 9:11-12) Rezin is the king of Aram who ends up allying himself with Israel for the purpose of forming a large army against Assyria, but Rezin's enemies will become Israel's enemies. The northern kingdom hasn't yet been conquered when Isaiah preaches this message but it has already endured incursions by the surrounding nations and tribes. 

Isaiah warns the people that God's anger is not satisfied by the calamities that have already come upon Israel. His hand is still upraised, or in other words, He has already struck Israel and has raised His hand to strike her again. I was hesitant to word it this way, even though it seems to be clearly what the prophet is saying, because I didn't want to create the wrong image in our minds. When we think of a man raising his hand and striking someone over and over, we tend to picture it in the terms of some type of domestic violence, and that's not what's happening here. A better description would be that of a father disciplining a stubborn child by applying a spanking. God isn't abusing the nation; He's disciplining it out of love and concern. His intention is that the hardships to come will turn the hearts of the people back to Him. He intends for them to think back on the old days when the nation was glorious. It was glorious because the people made God the head of it. He wants them to take it to heart and get back to their roots. He has tried reasoning with them through the prophets for a long time now and they have not listened. Had they listened, the "spanking" would have been avoided, but now God has no choice. 

"But the people have not returned to Him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 9:13) This verse proves that the troubles in Israel were for the purpose of turning the people back to God. Affliction is often the quickest way for God to get our attention when we're going down the wrong path. There's nothing we hate more than troubles and sorrows, so it's natural for us to think about why a calamity has come upon us. If we let the Lord have His way in our hearts, He will show us if our troubles are the result of sin in our lives. If He didn't love us He'd let us go our own way, falling deeper and deeper into sin, making a mess of our lives and our families. But like any loving father, God wants what's best for us, and when we don't listen to verbal instruction He may have to resort to applying discipline. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11) The discipline isn't pleasant for us and it's not pleasant for the Lord either. It's painful for us and I believe it's painful for Him. But the purpose of it is to train us in righteousness and peace. It's not intended to beat us down but to raise us up. God doesn't want us living defeated lives. Christ didn't die for us so we could live defeated lives. The Holy Spirit didn't come to dwell within us so we could live defeated lives. God wants strong and healthy children with sound minds and faithful hearts, children who walk through this world in victory, children who overcome. 

I've said many times it seems like I've learned every lesson the hard way but you don't forget lessons learned like that. My God has been a faithful Father. He loves me too much to let me wander away from Him. And He loved Israel that much too.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 23

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 23

Yesterday Isaiah predicted a coming King, a man from Galilee, and that verse primarily has to do with the first advent of Christ, when He will emerge from a small town called Nazareth in the region of Galilee and begin His ministry and His work of redemption.

The following passage has to do with the kingdom He will establish at His second advent. "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before You as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, You have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor." (Isaiah 9:3-4) This is a reference to the book of Judges, when God called a young man named Gideon to free the Israelites from the Midianites. The Midianites were a large Arabic tribe who forced Israel to pay tribute to them, often raiding the land at harvest time and robbing the Israelites of the fruits of their hard labor. But God called Gideon to fight against this wicked enemy with only three hundred men. He was vastly outnumbered but won the battle because the Lord was on his side. We can imagine the rejoicing the people did when God gave them such a mighty victory and Isaiah is promising the nation that, under their righteous King, they will rejoice in His victory just as they rejoiced in the victory over Midian.

There will be no more war when Christ reigns on the earth. "Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire." (Isaiah 9:5) It was a common practice to burn blood-stained garments after the battle was won. Christ actually won every spiritual battle for us when He rose in victory from the dead, but when He reigns on David's throne He will have won every worldly battle as well. As Isaiah previously told us in Chapter 2, "He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4) Hallelujah! What welcome news for us all! I once heard someone say that in our times we need to be beating our plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears, and a quick glance at the newspaper backs up that opinion. There are wars and rumors of wars all over the earth. The United States has been involved in several conflicts for many years and terrorism has come to our own shores. But a day is coming when the Webster's dictionary may say something like this, "War: an outdated method of solving disputes, an antiquated approach to settling scores, an archaic practice abandoned when Jesus Christ assumed the throne of David."

And now we come to one of Isaiah's most well-known prophecies, one frequently quoted at Christmastime but which actually foretells not only the birth of Christ but also reaches forward into the eternal kingdom, "For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6) A Child, fully human, is born to the nation of Israel and to all of humanity. A Son, fully God, is given to save our lives from sin and our souls from death. In all ways He has been made like us so that in all ways we can be made like Him. Because Christ Jesus came and took on the image of man, we take on His image to become the sons and daughters of the living God. We see the indescribable mystery of the incarnation presented in Isaiah's simple words. Christ is both man and Lord at the same time and, as such, is able to fully identify Himself with us and also save us to the uttermost. He is able to be both High Priest and King. He is able to be both Judge and Redeemer. He is the humble Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 and the Mighty God of Isaiah 9.

"Of the greatness of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:7) Because we are in an election year, a great deal of airtime on the news networks is devoted to the candidates. The candidates themselves are actively engaged in a mud-slinging contest, seeing which of them can say the worst things about the other. Each of them tries to convince us they have the perfect plan for restoring everything that's wrong in our nation and for extricating us from our military conflicts around the world. They are both wrong. Neither of them, nor any other leader, is capable of bringing about prevailing world peace or making America, or any other nation, great again. The greatness of any nation has always been directly related to its reverence for God. As we learned in our study of the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings, Israel prospered when the king and the citizens honored the Lord, but Israel was plagued by troubles when the king and the citizens abandoned the Lord. 

We can be certain an eternal kingdom of peace is coming because "the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this". The dictionary defines zeal as "fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence". Our God has made up His mind to establish the throne of His Son and to make His kingdom glorious. The Lord has an intense fervor to see Christ seated on the throne. He has an eager desire to provide a righteous government. He has an enthusiasm for His precious children which compels Him to give us a holy and perfect King. 

Below is a link to a worship song which celebrates our wonderful Savior.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 22

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 22

Isaiah has been predicting defeat and capture for the nation but, just when his prophecy is at its darkest, a light begins to dawn. "Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress." (Isaiah 9:1a) Yesterday he warned the nation that times would come when the people would be distressed and hungry, roaming through the land, that they would look around them and see nothing but distress and darkness and fearful gloom. Assyria is coming to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel and to oppress the southern kingdom of Judah. The days will be very dark then. But there is a future day in which there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

The section of Isaiah's ministry we are currently studying is thought to have taken place during the reign of King Ahaz. We recall that Isaiah's ministry lasted through the reign of four kings, with Ahaz being the only wicked one of the four. Times are already dark in Judah when Isaiah preaches this message because the leadership is flawed. When a nation is being run by a sinful man, there will be discontent among the citizens, because a bad king makes bad decisions that affect the population. It's during this spiritually dark period of time that Isaiah speaks of a King who will come, One worthy for the government to rest upon His shoulders, One whose kingdom will be a kingdom of peace.

"In the past He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future He will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan---" (Isaiah 9:1b) The tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first to be conquered by Assyria. Galilee was situated in this northernmost area. There is some disagreement among scholars about its exact borders, but there is no question it was located in the upper region, the part of Israel where judgment fell first. In Isaiah's day Zebulun and Naphtali have not yet been "humbled" but he speaks of it as if it is already past, a common preaching method of the prophets. Isaiah sees it in his mind as if it has already happened and so he speaks of it in the past tense. In a sense it has already happened because the prophecy is certain; God has spoken and it is as good as done. Likewise, Isaiah sees the future King in his mind, and he speaks of Him by faith. Isaiah may not know when or how the King will emerge from Galilee, but we know it happened like this, "After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 'Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.' So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judah in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that He would be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:19-23) 

Isaiah calls it "Galilee of the nations" or, in other versions of the Bible, "Galilee of the Gentiles". There was a large Roman garrison there in the days of Jesus and many Gentiles resided in the area. Gentiles were considered unclean by pious Jews because of their dietary habits and religious practices. No rabbi would have wanted to live in Galilee if he could possibly help it. Neither would a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or any other ultra-orthodox Jew. The area of Galilee and Nazareth was considered so sinful that later, when the disciple Phillip told Nathanael (who would also become a disciple) about Jesus, he said, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46a) Yet the Lord chose this downtrodden region as the hometown of His own Son. The area which was the first to be humbled at the downfall of Israel will be the first to be honored when the light breaks through. Galilee has paid her penalty, has served her time, has endured the dark of night, and now the sun comes up.

When Isaiah preached this message a wicked and idolatrous king sat on David's throne but he assures the people that someday the One to whom the throne truly belongs will come. His kingdom will be holy and righteous and fair. And it will endure forever.

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness a light has dawned." (Isaiah 9:2) Many of the citizens of Galilee were walking in darkness when Jesus began His ministry. There was a large population of idolatrous Gentiles there, conducting their wrong religious rituals, and they were having a bad influence on the Jews of the region. This is one reason why we find Jesus casting out demons in the northern territory of Judah. The occult practices of that area had ushered in a spiritual darkness. But just as the night is darkest right before the dawn, so also was Galilee darkest before the dawn. In another sense they were walking in darkness politically and nationally because they were held down by the iron fist of Rome in the time of Christ. They were not a free people and were suffering the oppression of martial law and exorbitant taxation. The future looked very dark for Israel but in the midst of their distress a great light appeared, the light of life. "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) 

There will be a day when no war cry is ever heard in Israel. There will never again be the sound of soldiers' boots or rattling sabers. A righteous King will reign and there will be no distress in His kingdom. Tomorrow we will move into a description of His glorious kingdom and will study one of the most well-known passages of Isaiah: a Child will be born of the house of David. He will be the Prince of Peace. His government and His peace will never end. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 21

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 21

In our study on Monday, Isaiah was told by the Lord to put a binding on the book of prophecy, a protective covering, an outer layer that gives reverence and honor to what's contained inside. Everything the Lord has told him will come true; not one word of it will fail. As Isaiah will later say, "The word of our God endures forever." (Isaiah 40:8b)

After he has finished relating to the people what the Lord told him, Isaiah says, "Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion." (Isaiah 8:18) The Lord has given Isaiah two sons: Shear-Jashub which means "a remnant shall return", and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means "speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder". Their very existence along with their names are intended as prophetic signs to the people. Shear-Jashub is the elder son and his name contains the promise that, though Israel and Judah will be carried off into captivity, God isn't finished with them. They won't perish in a foreign land or integrate with pagan peoples to the point of losing their identity. A remnant shall return. They will see the promised land again. And we find an example of the merciful character of God here in that He gives a comforting sign before He delivers the bad news, giving the promise of return before giving the prophecy of defeat. The second son's name indicates overthrow. Assyria will succeed in causing the capitol city of Israel to fall, taking captive all but the poorest of the land. Assyria will terrorize the countryside of Judah and will eventually come up to Jerusalem itself, though they will not prevail against it. Later Babylon will rise and in those days Jerusalem will fall and her people will be carried captive to a foreign land. So Isaiah's second son's name is a sign that defeat is coming, that the promised land will be trampled underfoot and its citizens plundered. But through it all there remains the certain prophecy, "A remnant shall return".

Isaiah states that he himself is a sign to the people. His name means "in the Lord is salvation". There is no hope for the people except in the Lord. Their allies will be of no use to them. Aram has joined with Israel but Aram's king will die at the hands of the Assyrians and her capitol will fall to them before Assyria marches on and conquers Israel. Egypt will attempt to assist Judah but won't be able to defend herself, much less Judah, from Babylon. False idols will be no help to them because they are symbols of things that do not exist. They are useless images unable to hear or see or speak or do anything good or bad. The Lord, whom we have seen presented as the Judge seated on the throne in Isaiah, will call these false deities into His courtroom and demand an accounting of their ineffectiveness. He will offer them their day in court and an opportunity to mount a defense, "Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear." (Isaiah 41:22-23) The Lord flings these taunts at the mute idols because He knows they are incapable of hearing Him or giving Him an answer. Their painted eyes can't see. Their carved ears can't hear. Their red mouths full of fearsome teeth can't speak. The hands that hang at their sides will never lift to supply aid. The feet they stand on will never rush to anyone's defense. So the righteous Judge condemns the idols who have been the downfall of His people. 

There is one God and He is our only hope. He was the only means of salvation for the twelve tribes of Israel and He is the only means of salvation for you and me today. Why seek guidance from anyone else? Isaiah points out the foolishness of engaging in occult practices for spiritual counseling, "When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19) There was an attitude in the nation of seeking anyone but the Lord. Panic-stricken at the thought of a coalition of armies coming against them, the people were advising their friends to have their fortunes told by psychics or to have mediums call up the dead for advice. They didn't want to accept the sign of "speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder", which meant defeat was coming. And they didn't even want to acknowledge the sign that "a remnant shall return" because it meant captivity was coming first. They wanted to shut their ears to the truth Isaiah was preaching and run to someone who would tell them what they wanted to hear. The living God was urging them to repent or face the collapse of the nation and this simply wasn't what a large portion of the population wanted to do.

I like the way Isaiah says the fortune-tellers and mediums "whisper and mutter". The word of the Lord is clear. The prophecies He gave were simple. He plainly told the people what their problems were and what they needed to do about them. He presented the penalties for disobedience in language anyone could understand. But the mediums and spiritists, because they were fakes, put on a big dramatic show of speaking with the spirit world in garbled and unclear mutterings. It was smoke and mirrors. There was no substance to it. The messages they claimed to receive from the spirit world made little sense because the messages were entirely made up in wicked minds.  

Instead of paying good money for foolish advice, Isaiah pleads with the people, "Consult God's instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn." (Isaiah 8:20) Did the messages of the mediums line up with the word of God? If not, Isaiah says to discount everything they say. This is the fail-proof test of all counseling. Is it in line with the Bible or is it not? The people of Isaiah's day had all the books of Moses to consult, which denounce occult practices and attempts to contact the dead. They had the ten commandments and all the laws given for righteous living. The word of God was freely available to them for guidance and counseling. I like to picture Isaiah standing before the people holding a copy of the law in his hands, pointing to it and saying, "If anyone does not speak according to this word, there is no truth in them."

Isaiah said those who were seeking help from the occult, forsaking the laws of Almighty God and scorning His offer of redemption, would come to a bitter end. "Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness." (Isaiah 8:21-22) They will believe the lies they want to believe: the lie that they don't need to repent, the lie that God won't allow anyone to defeat them. Because they believe these things they will witness the coming destruction of the nation. Rather than admitting the distress is the penalty for their sin, they will blame the king for their predicament and they will blame the Lord. 

Chapter 8 ends on a disheartening note but, as always in the book of Isaiah, good news is about to follow. Though the book of Isaiah was written about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, in Chapter 9 we find the prophet speaking of a Man who will someday walk the shores of Galilee. In the midst of the darkness of today's prophecies the hope of a future redemption will dawn and Isaiah will say of the coming Savior and King, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light."

Monday, July 11, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 20

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 20

The Lord has been telling Isaiah that for those who trust in Him, He is a shelter. But for those who reject Him, He is their enemy. In The Message Of Isaiah by Barry G. Webb, the author says, "Before passing on, we must pause and reflect here, because something profoundly important has been happening in the second half of this chapter. There has been a marked sharpening of the demarcation between the faithful and unfaithful within the visible community of God's people, between those who respond to the word of God with obedient faith and those who do not, between the true and the false. This will happen more and more as the book runs its course until it becomes the a major strand of its message in the final two sections." Judgment is coming on the nation and the Lord is in the process of separating the wheat from the tares, taking note of who is faithful and who is not. So He provided a word of warning in the passage that we studied yesterday that He is a holy place and refuge, but also a trap and a snare. He is a hiding place for the faithful but the stone that causes the rebellious to stumble.

After giving these words to Isaiah, the Lord says, "Bind up this testimony of warning and seal up God's instruction among My disciples." (Isaiah 8:16) Those of you who studied the book of Revelation with us may recall we had to rely heavily on the book of Daniel to interpret Revelation. The Lord gave Daniel visions of the end times, things that Daniel couldn't possibly understand in his day, because they were "sealed". When the Lord Jesus appeared to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, He gave John visions of the end times which were "unsealed", meaning they were able to be understood right then. The revelations the Lord gave John also unsealed the book of Daniel because it can now be understood in light of Revelation. Today the Lord tells Isaiah to "bind up" this testimony, not seal it, because the people need to hear and understand it now. Because Isaiah is going to need to refer to this same message over and over for all the years of his ministry, the book of prophecy needs a protective covering over it. He is to bind it so it will hold together for a long time, just as in our day we print our books with covers on them to protect the words inside. 

The Lord tells Isaiah to "seal up God's instruction among My disciples" and this refers to the sealing of God's word in the hearts of His prophets. They are to hold fast to it, to keep it, and to cling to it for dear life. The message itself isn't sealed because it's for the current time, but the men preaching the word of God are to make it a part of their very hearts, to hide it there and contemplate it day and night. As the author of Psalm 119 says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You." (v. 11) 

In the United States we have the freedom to own a Bible and confess the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and assemble together for worship. But what if a time of persecution comes when we won't be allowed to do these things? What if we can't pick up a Bible or go online to access the word of God? We will need to have enough of His word sealed up in our hearts to see us through. Perilous times were going to come upon Israel and Judah during and after the lifetime of Isaiah and the other prophets. Men and women of God were going to need to have the truth firmly settled in their hearts. They were going to need to know God's promises so they could find their hope in them. I don't think many would deny we are living in perilous times now. It seems like every day we turn the TV on only to hear of another shooting in our country, another terrorist attack either domestic or foreign, some new virus to be concerned about, some new failure of our government leadership, and on and on. How will we get up every day and face these things without the confidence that comes from having the truth of God's word sealed in our hearts? How will we find hope to face the future? Where will we summon the strength to keep marching on? 

The Bible is clear that in the last days "perilous times shall come". (2 Timothy 3:1) The Apostle Paul was writing these words to his brother in the faith, warning him of conditions that will deteriorate more and more as time goes on. Because perilous times were coming, Paul instructs Timothy, "But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:14-15) Timothy knew what he believed because he had sealed it in his heart. In his day the church was coming under severe persecution and it was going to keep getting worse, but he had been taught the Holy Scriptures from infancy. This set the stage for him coming to Christ under the preaching of Paul and now God's word is such a part of Timothy's character that Paul has confidence this young friend in Christ is going to make it all the way through. 

I don't know of anything else other than the gospel that will get us through this life with an unshakable hope. Whoever wins the presidential election won't be able to fix what's wrong in our nation. No human leader anywhere will be able to fix what's wrong in this world, because it's a problem of the heart that only Christ can repair. We are living in perilous times and these will continue to the end. The Bible tells us there will be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and other upheavals of nature, disasters both natural and man-made, the pestilence of diseases, and economic woes. But the biggest bail-out since time began is the incredible rescue the Lord Jesus pulled off when He became flesh and dwelt among us, taking on our sin and shame and punishment, going to the grave in our place, then rising victorious having conquered sin and death and hell. This is the truth sealed in our hearts, the truth that will take us all the way home.