Monday, October 31, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 125

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 125

The people of Judah are going to be taken captive to Babylon about a hundred years from the time Isaiah preached these words, but even in a foreign land the Lord won't desert them, anymore than He deserted them while they were slaves in Egypt. Judah is going into captivity but her God is going with her. He will preserve her and bring her back home.

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." (Isaiah 43:2) Bible commentator Harry Bultema says of this passage, "Israel is just as indestructible as God's word and covenant are. Whoever can annihilate Israel can do more than Satan and all the powers of hell have been able to do in ages past." God has made a covenant promise and He will keep it, even as His people make the long forced march to Babylon, as they cross swift streams, and as they follow the Euphrates River. The Lord will even be with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they stand in the fiery hot furnace of Nebuchadnezzar and He will bring them through safely. "The fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them." (Daniel 3:27b)

"For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead." (Isaiah 43:3) The Lord reminds His people He is the same one who said, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." (Exodus 20:2) If God was able to rescue them from Pharaoh and the great nation of Egypt, can He not also rescue them from King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire? What are kings and empires compared to the Lord? He has already proven His dominion over them. "Faced with Egyptian intransigent refusal to let the people go, the Lord, so to speak, weighed up whether He was prepared to shatter Egypt in order to free Israel. There was no contest, and it was at the expense of' Egypt that Israel were freed." (from Isaiah, by J. Alec Motyer, pg 268)

"Since you are precious and honored in My sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life." (Isaiah 43:4) The Lord will shatter Babylon as He did Egypt, calling a man named Cyrus of Persia to set His people free. Babylon will reap what she has sown and will be plundered as she plundered Jerusalem.

"Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back'. Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth---everyone who is called by My name, whom I created for My glory, whom I formed and made." (Isaiah 43:5-7) This passage is about more than just the return of the Babylonian exiles to the land. It sees far into the future to a time when God will gather all twelve tribes of Israel from every corner of the earth. This is a new exodus, greater than that from Egypt or from Babylon. The Hebrew people have been scattered all over the world but God knows every one by name. They will be recalled to their homeland, never again to be threatened or dispersed, when Christ claims the throne of David.

In Christ, we who are Gentiles can claim some of the promises from Chapter 43. We can certainly take to heart, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name, you are Mine." (v 1b) We can count on the Lord's word, "I will be with you." (v 2a) And we firmly stand on the assurance that God says to us, "you are precious and honored in My sight...I love you". (v 4a) As the little children's song goes, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so". 

Our world seems so dark and uncertain and insecure at times. This election year appears to have been more about which candidate is the "least worse" than the other. We turn on the news to hear of wars and rumors of wars, terrorist attacks, workplace or schoolhouse shootings, parents killing their children and children killing their parents. On top of all this we each have our daily struggles to deal with: stress on the job, problems in our families, marital discord, health issues or unpaid bills. Some days the only thing we can really be sure of is, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." We have moments when all we can cling to is the promise, "I will be with you." The death of Christ was enough to cover every sin and save every soul of all who will trust in Him. Won't His life and His continual presence with us be enough to see us through? How can He possibly be less than enough, the One who created us and called us by name, who spoke the word and a universe sprang out of a vast nothingness, who rose victoriously from the grave holding the keys of death and hell in His hand? Let's lay our troubles at the feet of the One who laid His life down for us. 

Our worship song link is below. This song is special to me; it was my "theme song" for several years. I was going through a time when it felt like the Lord was all I had but in that time I learned He was all I needed. He was enough. He meant it when He said, "I love you. I will be with you." 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 124

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 124

The Lord has been describing for us His perfect Servant, One who will come to make us healed and whole. Now He contrasts this faithful Servant with His faithless servant Israel. We concluded yesterday with God once again pointing out the futility of trusting in idols, and today's passage picks up from there to describe Israel as disobedient children.

There have been scholars who have attempted to equate the Faithful Servant of Isaiah 42 and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 with the nation of Israel, but this won't hold up under scrutiny. This Servant can only be Christ. This Servant accomplishes things only Christ can accomplish. Israel is indeed a servant of the Lord (with a lower-case "s") because God made an unbreakable covenant with that nation. We too, as followers of Christ, are servants of God and a party to His unbreakable covenant. But none of us is "the Servant". If we had any doubts about that, the following words should dispel them, for the next section is titled "Israel Blind And Deaf".

"Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! Who is blind but My servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with Me, blind like the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen." (Isaiah 42:18-20) God is so merciful to the weakness of mankind! He has just finished calling His covenant people willfully blind and deaf, but yet He has already promised to send them One who will "open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness". (Isaiah 42:7) He could have left them in their sins, just as He could have left any of us in our sins. God would have been within His rights to  have said, "You have chosen to turn a blind eye to Me. Therefore, remain blind." Or He might have said, "You have refused to listen even though I have given you ears to hear with. So remain deaf, if that's what you want." God's people had ignored the words of Moses and the prophets, but He didn't give up on them. He saved the best for last. "In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2a)

"It pleased the Lord for the sake of His righteousness to make His law great and glorious. But this is a people plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They have become plunder, with no one to rescue them; they have been made loot, with no one to say, 'Send them back.'" (Isaiah 42:21-22) In Egypt and on the way to the promised land, God made His awesome power and glory known to the people. His righteousness was revealed to them both by His actions and by the laws He gave them to follow. But because in later centuries many had ceased to revere Him or respect His commandments, and because idolatry was rampant, instead of a victorious mighty nation they became a plundered people. Lest anyone think I am being critical of Israel, I want to point out we've all been in that condition at one time or another. I've been a lawbreaker, wandering lost in sins, without hope and without God in the world. I've been a captive to my own foolishness, sitting in darkness. It's grace alone that helped me and it's grace alone that we find God extending to Israel.

"Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come? Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned?" (Isaiah 42:23-24a) God, like any good Father, knows there are times when we disobey so heartily that consequences must be imposed for our own good. God had the power to hold Israel and keep her safe, but He handed her over to the plunderers, "For they would not follow His ways; they did not obey His law." (Isaiah 42:24b) How would we learn to respect the authority of our Creator if He just shrugged His shoulders at our disobedience? Would we have respected our parents or school officials if they had never given us discipline as children? 

My parents were fairly lenient with me. I was their third child, so nothing much sent them into a panic anymore. This also meant I was the spoiled baby, an unexpected "gift" my parents received in their forties after they'd already raised two children. I got away with a lot of things I shouldn't have gotten away with, but I knew there were certain lines that couldn't be crossed. My father, for instance, wouldn't tolerate being spoken to in disrespect. That would earn me a spanking quicker than anything. My mother didn't like to spank but she was a firm believer in time-outs long before that term was ever coined, and I received time-outs on pretty much a daily basis. I was headstrong enough as it was; just imagine what an unlikable child I'd have been if my parents never drew the line and never imposed consequences. I wouldn't have respected them or anyone else. I would have thought I could live any way I pleased and treat others any way I pleased. But because I sometimes had to endure the unpleasant consequences of my actions, I learned to respect those in authority over me. And this is what the Lord is doing with Israel in today's passage. They kept going in the wrong direction despite knowing the commandments of a holy God and despite the preaching of the prophets over the centuries. So God took their freedom away from them by allowing them to be conquered and taken captive. He gave them a time-out. 

"So He poured out on them His burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart." (Isaiah 42:25) These children have not yet gotten to the place, spiritually, where the Father is leading them. They are willful and headstrong, stubborn and independent. But God isn't giving up on them and casting them aside. He loves them. He will keep His covenant with them. That is why the next chapter opens with words that take us in a completely different direction. At this point we might expect words of condemnation and rejection, but instead we find a promise of help. "But now, this is what the Lord says---He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine." (Isaiah 43:1) 

Forty-odd years ago when I sat sulkily in time-out, I was still my mother's child. The consequences I chafed under in no way indicated I was cast off. I might have been pouting in a corner but she could still say to me, "You are mine." When I exasperated my father beyond measure and he spanked me for my impertinence, I was still just as much his child as ever. He could still say to me, "You are mine." This is what God, who is a Father to Israel, is saying to them. He has had to take them to the woodshed a few times. He has had to put them in time-out. But He never stopped loving them or wanting the best for them. God, in a mercy so infinite we can never comprehend it, looks at them in their disobedience and sin and shame and still claims them as His own, "You are Mine!"

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 123

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 123

We concluded yesterday with the Lord's promise to send His chosen Servant, the Messiah, who will be a light for the Gentiles and the glory of God's people Israel. After receiving news like that, a song of praise breaks out. "Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. Let the wilderness and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim His praise in the islands." (Isaiah 42:10-12) 

We have a new song to sing because God has made a new covenant with mankind. In Christ we are saved by faith, not by works. In Christ we are living under grace, not under law. When the psalmist understood, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that God would work out a plan of salvation for mankind, he cried joyfully, "Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him. The Lord has made His salvation known and revealed His righteousness to the nations. He has remembered His love and faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." (Psalm 98:1-3) Salvation is His work and only He could accomplish it for us. Knowing this mighty God, Isaiah confidently predicts victory, "The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior He will stir up His zeal; with a shout He will raise the battle cry and will triumph over His enemies." (Isaiah 42:13)

The Lord speaks, "For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and have held Myself back." (Isaiah 42:14a) God had not yet gone silent in the days of Isaiah, but there would be a period of four hundred years of silence between the Old and New Testaments. No prophets were called to preach. No visions were given. The people had ignored the Lord when He pleaded with them through the prophets and with signs and wonders, but He caught their attention when He stopped speaking. The prophet Amos predicted this ominous silence, "'The days are coming,' declares the Sovereign Lord, 'when I will send a famine through the land---not a famine of food or thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord." (Amos 8:11) 

Then suddenly, after four hundred years of deathly quiet, a voice cries in the wilderness. The miraculous birth of John the Baptist occurs and the Lord calls him to be the final Old Testament prophet, bridging the gap between the old and the new, testifying to the divinity of Jesus by proclaiming to the people, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29b) The famine of God's silence had been so severe that the people thirsted and hungered for His voice. They were ready to hear the words of John who prepared their hearts for the teaching of Jesus. After being declared the Son of God by both John the Baptist and God the Father's voice from heaven, Jesus began His ministry. "When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed. 'Where did this man get these things?' they asked. 'What's this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing?'"( Mark 6:2) "When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law." (Matthew 7:28-29) "The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, 'What is this? A new teaching---and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey Him.'" (Mark 1:27) Upon witnessing one of Jesus' miracles, "This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this!'" (Mark 2:12) 

During the years of silence, the people mourned like those who have been cast off and rejected, but this was not the case. The silence was for the purpose of preparing them to receive the Servant of God when He came; it was not intended as proof of rejection. You may have heard the expression, "When God is silent, He is working". In our frail humanity we are tempted to take silence as proof of desertion, because this is often what it means when another human being stops communicating with us, but we can't judge God's behavior by man's behavior. Israel thought they had messed up one too many times and He was done with them. They cried out, "O God, why have You rejected us forever? Why does Your anger smolder against the sheep of Your pasture?...We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be." (Psalm 74:1,9) God had not rejected His people. He had not washed His hands of them and walked away. His greatest work on behalf of His people Israel and all the world was yet to come.

After four centuries of stillness, the Lord says, "But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant." (Isaiah 42:14b) Bible scholar Barry G. Webb describes this passage beautifully, "Like a woman in childbirth He gasps and pants. Redemption is accomplished with tremendous effort and at great cost, and it is the glory of the Lord that He spares Himself neither." (From The Message Of Isaiah, pg 173) Redemption is the Lord's work. He put in the effort and He paid the price. It cost Him a great deal to save us. The Lord Jesus, our Kinsman Redeemer, thought no price was too high to pay to buy our lives back from sin and our souls back from death. The Lamb of God, perfect and spotless and without blemish, thought us worth the sacrifice, though at the time we were weak and sinful and unprofitable servants. He loved us when we were unlovable. I don't know what He saw in us that caused Him to love us so! I don't know what moved Him to such compassion for our sinfulness, such pity on our brokenness. But He was willing to go to any lengths to save us. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)

God's work of salvation accomplishes what we could never accomplish for ourselves. We will never be able to boast we got to heaven by our own power or through our own works. All the glory belongs to Him. The new song of praise will be for the One who said. "I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. But those who trust in idols, who say to images, 'You are our gods,' will be turned back in utter shame." (Isaiah 42:15-17) Again the Lord turns back to the useless idols He has called into His courtroom. Have any of them ever restored sight to the blind or hearing to the deaf? Have any of them ever turned anyone's darkness to light? Idols cannot save mankind and anyone who has trusted in an idol will be ashamed when faced with the Mighty God. Our help is found only in the One who says, "For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:13) 

I can't tell you what caused Jesus to find us worth saving. I'm amazed He thought us worth the price He paid, but because of His redemptive work on our behalf, we can spend all eternity singing a new song to Him.

Below is our worship song link for today.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 122

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 122

We continue on in Chapter 42 this morning in a Messianic portion of Isaiah. The Lord has been been telling us of His chosen Servant, the One so meek He helps the broken, the One so powerful He rules the nations.

"This is what God the Lord says---the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it:" (Isaiah 42:5) We can believe what the Lord is about to say next because of who He is. We must stop to consider the power and authority of the One speaking, for He created all there is. He who is able to call into existence this vast universe is able to send us a Deliverer.

Now the Lord speaks directly to His chosen One, "I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness; I will take hold of Your hand. I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." (Isaiah 42:6-7) I don't think God the Son had any doubts that God the Father would be with Him and help Him, but God made these promises anyway, and Isaiah and the people who heard these words became witnesses to the promises. About seven hundred years later, when Joseph and Mary brought the baby Jesus to the temple to present Him to the Lord, an elderly man named Simeon met them there, because, "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah." (Luke 2:26) The Holy Spirit said to Simeon, "Today is the day!", and he got himself to the temple to behold the fulfillment of the promise. He took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised the Lord. In his praise we find words that echo what was said in verses 6 and 7, "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." (Luke 2:29-32) 

The people of Isaiah's day get some hints in Chapter 42 of what the credentials of the Messiah will be. He will open the eyes of the blind, both literally and spiritually. In the gospels we read of Jesus' healing ministry, "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." (Matthew 11:5) Jesus will also open eyes spiritually, "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Matthew 4:16) The Messiah will set free those who are held captive by illness and those who are held captive by sin. 

After making these great and precious promises, the One who has the power and authority to fulfill them proclaims, "I am the Lord; that is My name!" (Isaiah 42:8a) The name here is YHWH, usually translated as Yahweh. This is the name the Lord gave Himself when speaking to Moses, when He referred to Himself as "The I Am". The Jews considered this name too holy to speak aloud and they rendered the written version of it without vowels as YHWH, just as they would render the written "God" as G-D. His name is so great and so worthy or reverence that they dared not speak it aloud or spell it with all its letters, lest they make a mistake. After reminding the people of who He truly is, after making marvelous promises, He calls their attention to His ability to make these things come true. He says something like "I am 'The I Am! I was not created and I have no beginning or end. Nothing exists that I did not make. Before I created, there was nothing but Me in My eternal existence. I am fully sovereign and self-existing, needing nothing from outside of Myself. I am the Creator and I hold all creation together without help from anyone. My character is what is has always been and always will be. I do not change. I am complete and perfect and whole at all times and My works are altogether good. I am the Maker of laws and no authority is higher than Mine."

As we were earlier in the week, we are still beholding the proceedings in God's courtroom. He has called the idols before Him to give their defense and they have been unable to speak a word. He concluded they weren't just worthless: they were less than worthless. What are they in comparison to His great glory? What have they ever done for mankind? They were made by human hands, hands created by God. They were made of blocks of wood carved from trees created by God. They were plated with metals created by God. They were fashioned on a world created by God in a universe created by God. What can they say for themselves? They would not even exist if the Creator had not one day said, "Let there be light!" Their very presence depends on the fact that there is a God who existed before anything was ever made. How can the created thing be greater than the Creator? It cannot! It is a lie! 

So the Lord reminds the idolaters who He is. "I am 'The I Am!'" And He goes on to say, "I will not yield My glory to another or My praise to idols." (Isaiah 42:8a) God does not insist upon praise because He needs it. 'The I Am' needs nothing. But praise is due Him because of who He is. It should be the nature of the creation to praise the Creator, for it would not exist without Him. We wouldn't be sitting here right now taking our next breath without Him. We ought to be moved to praise His name because of all He has created and done. But even more importantly than giving God what is due Him, I think He created praise for our sake. We need a God who is bigger than we are! We live in a scary and insecure world and if we are not careful our problems will become bigger in our eyes than our God. Praise reminds us of who He is and of who we are in Him. We serve 'The I Am', the One who can do all things. We serve someone so much greater than ourselves that it is safe to trust our problems to His care. His thoughts and His plans are perfect because He is perfect. God created all that exists and a God who created life is able to handle anything this old world throws at us. Praise is necessary for the Christian. It keeps our hearts and minds settled on the One who performs all things for us (Psalm 57:2), who created the universe and everything in it to support our existence here, who loves us so much He thought we were worth dying for.

In contrast to the inability of idols to predict anything, or to foretell the advent of a Redeemer centuries before His birth, the Lord says of Himself, "See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you." (Isaiah 42:9) Why bow to a worthless idol when we can bow to Almighty God? Why present our requests to wooden images when we can lay them before 'The I Am'?

Below is our worship song link for today.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 121

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 121

We've been studying a man who will be a servant of the Lord, because although he does not know the God of Israel, he will do His bidding. This man is known as Cyrus the Great of Persia, who will set the people of Judah free from Babylonian captivity. But today we get a glimpse of a greater Deliverer and a more righteous Servant: the Messiah.

As with Chapter 41, it is the Lord's voice that speaks these words, "Here is my Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen One in whom I delight." (Isaiah 42:1a) There is nothing about this Servant which is not delightful, and the Lord is thoroughly pleased with Him. I am reminded of the voice that came from heaven at Jesus' baptism, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased," (Matthew 3:17b) and the voice which came from heaven at Jesus' transfiguration, "This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!" (Matthew 17:5b) 

We can safely trust the words of the One in whom God is well pleased. We must listen and obey God's chosen Servant, for in Him "all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" and He is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being". (Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3) Or as the Lord Jesus so beautifully expressed it, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) 

"I will put my Spirit on Him, and He will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1b) No mortal king or president or dictator is going to bring justice to the nations or establish peace on the earth, no matter how many campaign promises they make. It will take the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, to set everything right in this world. This righteous Servant is God in the flesh, filled completely with the Holy Spirit, and on the day Jesus begins His public ministry He will quote a Messianic passage from Isaiah 61 as His credentials to preach in the name of the Lord, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) 

"He will not shout or cry out, or raise His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out." (Isaiah 42:3a) This is the meek and humble Lamb of God. While preaching or performing miracles, the Lord Jesus always pointed mankind to God the Father and not to Himself, for He was here on this earth as a Servant. Though Jesus Christ is equal with God, He did not draw attention to Himself but to the goodness and mercy of God the Father. He didn't stand on the street corners and shout, "Hey, look at Me! Look what I can do!" In every way and in every deed the Lord Jesus displayed a servant's heart toward God and toward man. He didn't point His finger and condemn the sinners but was gentle with the broken ones, mending them in patient love. It is the Lord's will that the "lame may not be disabled, but rather healed". (Hebrews 12:13) He did not cast anyone aside due to their brokenness but instead set about putting them back together. Jesus didn't snuff out the smoldering wick that had burned low, symbolizing those whose faith had wavered to the point of almost giving up, but by signs and wonders He strengthened their faith so that it burned brightly again. He did not look at their sputtering flame and decide it was worthless and needed to be put out; He gave the flame what it needed to leap to life again.

"In faithfulness He will bring forth justice; He will not falter or be discouraged til He establishes justice on the earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope." (Isaiah 42:3b-4) Though He was bruised for us, Jesus is no bruised reed, no broken soul or powerless victim. Though His candle was snuffed out on the cross, the flame burned brighter than ever when He rose from the dead. As Bible commentator David Guzik points out, "The Servant is gentle, but not weak." Christ came to earth as the Lamb of God at His first advent, but at His second advent He will be the Lion of the tribe of Judah. We met Him first as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah but will someday behold Him as the Conquering King of Revelation. 

Jesus is not sent to Israel only, but also to "the islands". This means that citizens of distant lands will hear of Him and believe. Isaiah was one of the first, or perhaps the first, prophet to clearly state God's intention of saving the Gentiles and including them in His family. The Apostle Paul lived in a time when this prophecy came true and so he said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16) Christ came first to His own nation where He was scorned and rejected by the religious leaders. "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him." (John 1:11) Because they rejected Him, "salvation has come to the Gentiles". (Romans 11:11) But to those who did believe, both Jew and Gentile, "He gave the right to become the children of God". (John 1:12) This fulfills what the Lord promised in His covenant with Abraham, "through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed". (Genesis 22:18) The word "offspring" would be more accurate if capitalized as "Offspring", for the descendant in view here is Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul affirms this by saying that the offspring, or "seed", promised to Abraham is "one person, who is Christ". (Galatians 3:16)

We will behold more and more of this righteous Servant as Isaiah builds up to the conclusion of his book. The Servant will act wisely in every way. He will be raised up and be exalted. By His blood He will sprinkle many nations. He will take up our pain and bear our suffering. He will be pierced for our transgressions and be crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brings our peace will be laid on Him. We will find ourselves healed by His wounds. And God the Father will say of Him, "By His knowledge my righteous Servant will justify many". Amen! We love You, Lord Jesus. We are thoroughly delighted with You!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 120

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 120

In yesterday's passage we saw the Lord call the idols into court to present their case, but they remained mute and useless as always, so the Lord's verdict was, "You are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless." 

Now the Lord compares Himself in all His omnipotence to these worthless idols, for He is the One who makes kingdoms rise and fall. "I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes---one from the rising sun who calls on My name." (Isaiah 41:25a) This "one" whom the Lord stirs up is thought to be the same man from verse 2 who has been "stirred up from the east", namely Cyrus of Persia. At its height of glory, the Persian Empire contained territories both north and east of Jerusalem and Babylon. There may also be a play on words here in referring to Cyrus as one who comes from the rising sun because his name was derived from the Persian khurvas which means "sun-like".

The Lord is telling this to the people of Judah long before it happens so that when it happens they will know that God is real and in command of all events in history. It is the Lord who incites Cyrus to become a great conqueror and it is the Lord who will move the heart of Cyrus to proclaim freedom for the captives. (2 Chronicles 26:22-23) What idol has the power to speak to a man's heart? What idol can decide whether one kingdom conquers another? What idol gives freedom to the captives? In contrast to the idols who stood woodenly behind the defense table in the Lord's courtroom yesterday, the Lord is able to do all these things and more. 

The Lord is going to give awesome power to the man He has chosen to help His people. "He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay." (Isaiah 41:25b) There is an interesting legend about Cyrus as a baby, that his maternal grandfather King Astyages (king of the Median Empire) had a dream that someday this child would grow up and take the throne from him, so he ordered the baby killed. But the official who was given the task of killing Cyrus instead gave him to a shepherd to raise. This deception was discovered when Cyrus was about ten years old and his grandfather allowed him to live. The dream came true when, as a grown man, Cyrus revolted against Astyages and overthrew him, with the Median Empire surrendering to Cyrus in 550BC. If this legend about the near-death of Cyrus as an infant is true, we see the similarity between this and the order Pharaoh gave the midwives in Egypt to kill all the baby boys of the Hebrews, leading the mother of Moses to place him in a basket on the river where he was found and raised by Pharaoh's daughter. We also see the similarity between this story and Herod's orders to kill all the baby boys of Bethlehem, causing Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus to flee into Egypt for safety until after Herod's death. In both those cases, Satan desired to remove deliverers from the earth. He wanted to kill the man who would deliver the Hebrews from Egypt and the Man who would deliver the human race from sin. It's not far-fetched to assume, if the story of Cyrus is true, that Satan also wanted to wipe out the man whom the Lord would choose to deliver His people from Babylon. 

Cyrus considered himself more of a liberator than a conqueror. The "Cyrus Cylinder" found in Babylon has been praised as the world's first declaration of human rights, for in it Cyrus speaks of removing the shameful yoke from the captives in Babylon, allowing all the citizens to have religious freedom, and permitting foreigners to return to their own lands. Though the religion of Cyrus was almost certainly Zoroastrianism and he did not worship the God of Israel, we can understand how the religion of Cyrus shaped his views on human rights. He believed in a supreme deity who required mercy and kindness to one's fellow man. He believed in a god who would judge mankind by his deeds. His book of the law would have stood up well in comparison to that of Moses. If he could have heard Jesus speak these words, he would have agreed with them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Matthew 22:38-39) Cyrus would have been nodding his head if he could have heard Jesus say, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31) A man like this is one the Lord can work with, which is why He will say of Cyrus, "For the sake of Jacob My servant, of Israel My chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge Me." (Isaiah 45:4) 

When all these things come to pass, God's people will know that He ordained them. "Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, 'He was right'? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you." (Isaiah 41:26) No man, and certainly no graven image, predicted these things. The Mighty God is the One who gave this prophecy to Isaiah, who then gave the news to the people that, though defeat and captivity were in their future, deliverance was also there.

"I was the first to tell Zion, 'Look, here they are!' I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good news. I look but there is no one---no one among the gods to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion." (Isaiah 41:28) The Judge has made His ruling. The gods sitting before Him in the courtroom are nothing but lies. They have no minds, no power, no strength. The Lord is saying to His people, "Why would you forsake Me, the Holy One, for these unprofitable images? Choose whom you will serve. Will it be these mute blocks of wood and gold-plated images who cannot hear your prayers or save you? Or will you serve Me, the One who loves you and is able to help you?" The Lord offers us this same choice today. Will we serve Him, the One who loved us and gave Himself for us? Or will we serve the idols of the world?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 119

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 119

The Lord has been promising Israel a day when she will have rest from all her enemies. God's people have traveled through this world just as they traveled through the desert to the promised land but as always God supplied their needs along the way. "The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them."

In that day the earth will flourish like Eden. "I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set junipers in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it." (Isaiah 41:18-20) Who but the Lord could make the dry desert produce streams of water and burst forth into bloom? Isaiah used similar imagery in Chapter 35, "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God." (vv 1-2)

The Lord tells us these things beforehand so that, when they happen, the whole world will know that they are His doing. But what of the idols? Have they ever predicted anything? Have they ever pronounced a prophecy and have it come true? Have they ever possessed the power to create or to change the world? "'Present your case,' says the Lord. 'Set forth your arguments,' says Jacob's King. '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 we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.'" (Isaiah 41:21-23) Bible commentator David Guzik says of this trial of the idols in God's courtroom, "God is fair. He will not condemn idols, the false gods of the nations, and those who worship them, without a fair trial." 

The Lord gives these false gods their day in court. I can't help but picture a literal courtroom with the Lord dressed in His magnificent judge's robe, a robe which Isaiah once told us had a train so long it "filled the temple". In ancient times the kings wore very elaborate robes with long trains. Every time the king defeated another king in battle, he cut off a portion of the conquered king's train and added it to his own. The length of the train indicated the king's power, so that the king with the longest train wins any argument regarding who is greatest. The Lord, as King of kings, had a robe so long it nearly overflowed Solomon's temple, which the Bible tells us was sixty cubits long which equates to about ninety feet. It would be pretty much impossible for a human king to drag a ninety-foot robe behind him, but nothing is too heavy or too difficult for the Lord. So He sits in the courtroom wearing this robe which symbolizes His authority and power over all kings and authorities, over all idols, and over the entire creation. 

The false gods are standing woodenly behind the defendant's table facing the Judge and King, but they are useless and mute, unable to even blink an eye or lift a finger. They cannot answer the Lord's questions. Finally the Lord says, in what I imagine to be a sarcastic tone, "Do something, whether good or bad! Amaze us!" Still they stand there like the impotent gods they are. I picture the courtroom erupting with shouts from the idol worshipers, pleading with their various gods to speak up, to perform a sign or wonder, to open their carved lips and defend themselves. But nothing happens, so the Lord concludes, "But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable." (Isaiah 41:24) The idolaters had to carry their idols into the courtroom and stand them in place and, if they choose to continue serving idols, they will have to carry them back out. They are faced with a choice. Do we serve God, the One who tells us things to come? Or do we serve idols who can't even speak up to defend themselves? Whoever chooses to pick his idol back up and carry it out is "detestable" in the Lord's eyes. The Webster's dictionary defines detestable as something or someone "arousing or meriting intense dislike". The Thesaurus likens the word detestable to being "abhorrent, accursed, degenerate, heinous, monstrous, offensive, repugnant, repulsive, revolting, vile and worthless". The Lord is saying that whoever chooses a detestable idol over the living God is just as detestable as that idol. The author of Psalm 115 pointed out the fact that those who serve idols will be just like them: with mouths that cannot speak, eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear, noses that cannot smell, hands that cannot feel, and feet that cannot walk. Serving idols causes the server to become as powerless and ineffectual as the idol he serves. 

In some portions of the world there are still folks bowing down to literal idols, but here in the United States our idols are less tangible but none the less detestable. The more sophisticated the culture, the more sophisticated the idols, for Satan adapts his tactics to the times and places. But the Lord Jesus said we must love and value Him above all other things and relationships or else we cannot be His disciple. (Luke 14:25-27) We can be His fan if we don't put Him first, but we cannot be a disciple. And if we are not His disciples, how much can we do for the kingdom of God? How can we draw others to Christ? Mediocre faith leads to mediocre living but in these last days, with people all over the world starving for love and acceptance, mediocre faith won't cut it. We need to be all in, fully persuaded and fully committed, so that in Christ we can accomplish all that He has called us to do. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 118

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 118

Our section of Scripture this morning begins with a beautiful passage, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10) They are not to fear because they are a chosen people and God has made a covenant with them which He will not break. There are some promises in the Scriptures which are intended solely for Israel but in my opinion this is not one of them. Yes, the Lord has been referring to His covenant with them and His friendship with their father Abraham. But the Apostle Paul points out to us that in Christ, we are all "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise". (Galatians 3:29) The Apostle Peter assures us that we who are in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, are a "chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession". (1 Peter 2:9) Because we are in Christ, even we Gentiles are now a part of the family of God. He is our God and can say to us "do not fear". He is our God and can say to us "I will strengthen you and help you". 

God is our Father and it is His responsibility to deal with our enemies. "All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish." (Isaiah 41:11) There has always been a spirit of anti-Semitism in the world and it comes straight from the evil one. Throughout history, all the kings and kingdoms and dictators and nations who sought to wipe the Jews out have suffered defeat instead. This will continue until the end, for we noted in our study of Revelation that anti-Semitism will reach its peak in the kingdom of the Antichrist. Since Christ came and offered Himself for us, this rabid hatred has spread to Christians as well, and countless Christians have been persecuted and even martyred for the faith. This is still going on today and, as we learned in Revelation, the Christian persecution will reach its zenith during the reign of the Antichrist. But no king or dictator, no matter how powerful, will stand before the God who promises us, "No weapon formed against you shall prosper." (Isaiah 54:17) 

A time is coming when this promise will be fulfilled, "Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all." (Isaiah 41:12) When Christ rightfully claims the throne of David and reigns as supreme and righteous leader over all, where will our enemies be? They will not be found. To hate the Lord's people is to hate the Lord who redeemed them and He will not tolerate such a spirit of rebellion. Those who longed to see God's people taken from the earth will be removed from the earth themselves and "only the redeemed" will walk here in the light of our Lord's love. (Isaiah 35:8-9) 

"For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,' declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 41:13-14) Bible commentator Adam Clarke points to a rabbinical writing which expounds on why Jacob (Israel) is called a worm here. In the writing of Rabbi Yelamedenu, he states, "As the worm does not smite, that is, gnaw the cedars, but with its mouth, which is very tender, yet it nevertheless destroys the hard wood, so all the strength of the Israelites is in prayer, by which they smite the wicked of this world, though strong like the cedars, to which they are compared." This makes sense in light of our next verse.

"See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel." (Isaiah 41:15-16) Jacob, the small and meek and toothless worm, will be transformed by the power of God into a sharp instrument with teeth. This is the God who moves the mountains out of our way and this is the God who parts the waters so we can walk through on dry ground. Jacob, in his own strength, is nothing. But Jacob plus God equals a formidable foe. 

With God on our side we can say along with King David, "I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side." (Psalm 3:6) We can echo the words of the sons of Korah, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging." (Psalm 46:1-3) We can nod our heads in agreement with King Solomon who said, "Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge." (Proverbs 14:26) As children of God, we can boldly proclaim this statement of faith, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31)

Satan would have us believe we are outnumbered, already defeated before we even take up the sword, so that we surrender without a fight. But this is a lie, for "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1) Christ earned us the right to walk in victory through this world and has urged us not to fear, for He is with us, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20b) In Christ, we are a chosen people of God. He is for us. With the powerful and almighty Creator on our side, what is there to fear?

Our worship song link for today is below.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 117

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 117

We continue on this morning in Chapter 41 titled "The Helper Of Israel". Of course, we know without being told that God is Israel's true helper, but yesterday we noted that God often calls others into the work of helping His people. He was going to raise a man of Persia to power who would set the captives free almost two centuries after the lifetime of the prophet Isaiah.

God orchestrates events on the earth in such a way that mankind can participate in the deliverance of His people. The Lord has often helped me through my Christian brothers and sisters. People have come up to me in church or in public to say, "The Lord put you on my mind to be praying for you." They had no idea what troubles were going on in my life but they knew, through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that I could really use some prayers. When my deliverance from troubles came, these people felt like they had a stake in the outcome. Their faith was strengthened because the Lord allowed them to participate in my circumstances. The Lord calls others in to help us not because He needs help but because the faith of our fellow man grows when they labor alongside us in prayer and see those prayers answered. When God comes through in a mighty way for someone you've been praying for, don't you have more faith to ask big things of Him? Don't you have more confidence He will work things out in your own life? He's so gracious to allow His children to work together in this way, comforting and encouraging each other.

Today the Lord talks about the fact that He has revealed Himself to mankind ever since the creation of the world. God is a personal God and He has interacted and intervened in many ways. But not everyone who has had a glimpse of His glory has responded correctly. Some responded by choosing other gods, pagan idols, and they encouraged their fellow man in the worship of false gods who cannot save. "The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; they help each other and say to their companions, 'Be strong!' The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, 'It is good.' The other nails down the idol so it will not topple." (Isaiah 41:5-7) The nations surrounding Israel and Judah forsook the awesome power and comfort that was available to them through a personal God and chose instead to fashion household idols, personal little icons that posed no threat to the way they wanted to live their lives. They wanted gods they could take out of the box when needed and ignore when not needed. They wanted gods who would be on their side because they had followed a short set of rules or had brought a specific offering. They didn't want a God who commanded righteous living, who wanted their love and respect, who would accept nothing less than a personal and ongoing lifelong relationship. 

By the time of Isaiah's writings, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen before the enemy because she had fallen to her knees before idols. Judah too was prone to waywardness. The reign of the good King Hezekiah was when Isaiah apparently performed the majority of his ministry, but after Hezekiah there will only be one more godly king out of the remaining seven kings. The other six will be idolatrous and wicked men. It's a steep slide into decay from here on out for the southern kingdom of Judah. But all is not lost because the covenant God made with Abraham still stands. The twelve tribes of Israel, scattered though they may be, will never cease to exist before God because He never breaks a promise. "But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham My friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, 'You are My servant'; I have chosen you and have not rejected you." (Isaiah 41:8-9) 

The citizens of Israel and Judah must have wondered in their hearts whether God had rejected them. After being conquered by Assyria and being dragged captive to that foreign land, Israel must have wondered if it was all over for them. When Isaiah penned these words we study today, Babylon was a friend of Judah, but the days were coming when a new a powerful king would rise in Babylon and would come to take everything away from them, including their citizens and the royal family. The days were coming when the people of Judah would say, "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!' How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Psalm 137:1-4) 

Weeping at the riverside, the captive citizens of Judah must surely have wondered whether the Lord was through with them. But long ago God made a promise to a man who rejected the false gods of his hometown of Ur, a man who turned his back on the wealth and comfort of his own nation to serve a God his ancestors did not know. Abraham was so convinced he had met the one true God that he rejected all the riches that could have been his in Ur and set out for a land he had never laid eyes on, trusting that the God who promised this land to him would keep His promise. This elderly and childless man and his elderly and childless wife trusted that the God who called the universe into existence out of nothing could call a child out of their frail bodies, a child from whose descendants a great and chosen nation would arise. There are some covenants that are unbreakable, which depend only on God's performance and not on man's performance, and this is one of them. Not all of Abraham's descendants were faithful to God, but God was still faithful to Abraham. In making an unbreakable promise to King David, when He promised that the kingly line would always endure, the Lord displayed another example of a covenant that depends solely on His own power. Not all of David's descendants were faithful to God, but God was faithful to David. The Lord preserved the people of Judah in Babylon, raising up a king of Persia who would come and conquer the nation and set the captives free, and David's line continued on down to a carpenter named Joseph and a young maiden named Mary in Nazareth. Both of these were descended directly from King David, giving the Lord Jesus both legal title (through His adoptive father Joseph) and spiritual title (through His mother Mary) to the throne.

If all these things happened because a man named Abraham had the faith to reject the idols of his nation and the lies of false prophets to follow a God whom he was certain was the one and only God, what might the Lord do for our own families and descendants because of our faith? There is much value in intercessory prayer! The Lord invites us to participate with Him this way in the lives of others. We sometimes feel like we have prayed and prayed for someone until we don't have the strength to pray any more, but we can't assume God is not working just because we haven't yet seen visible results. I know of godly men and women who have already been in the presence of the Lord for some time now, but their grandchildren and great grandchildren are coming to Christ and becoming great leaders in the church and becoming wonderful examples of how to walk by faith. Even though their godly forebears didn't live to see these things happen, I believe their intercessory prayers lived on after them. God heard their prayers while they lived and, in response to their faith, has done magnificent things in answer to those prayers. Who knows what awesome things the Lord will do in the future as a result of our prayers today? We mustn't faint or grow weary. We mustn't lose heart. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16b) To our mortal eyes it may seem as if not much is happening when we pray, but if only we could see into the spiritual realm we would see mountains shaking and being moved! We would see deep waters being parted! In our frail flesh we may feel like our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling but in the spiritual realm, God is on the move!

Our worship song link for today is below and it's an upbeat, faith-affirming song about the works of God on behalf of those who call out to Him.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 116

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 116

We begin Chapter 41 today and it is titled "The Helper Of Israel". This chapter is reminiscent of the beginning of the book of Isaiah, when the Lord sat on the bench as Judge and called His people into court. But in Chapter 41 it is not God's people who are commanded to give an account to Him: it is the nations and the idols of the nations. In the Bible I am not sure we ever find Israel included in "the nations" as these generally represent the Gentiles who, in Isaiah's day, were "excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world". (Ephesians 2:12) We learned earlier in Isaiah that the prophet was given a glimpse of the future salvation of the Gentile nations and this came true when, after the advent of Christ, a remarkable thing happened, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ". (Ephesians 2:13) 

In Chapter 41 we find the Lord promising to give the descendants of Abraham relief from the nations who have formerly been enemies of the people of God. We even find Him calling a helper out of the nations to assist His people. 

The Lord speaks, "Be silent before Me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment." (Isaiah 41:1) Have you ever been in a courtroom or watched a court case on TV? When the judge enters the room, everyone is silent out of respect and also out of fear, for he can have anyone unruly removed from the premises. When the Lord enters the courtroom, splendid in power and majesty, the nations stand in silence until He tells them to be seated and present their case. Another reason the nations are silent before God is that they have come to the realization that it is He, not they, who determines the fate of kingdoms. Even the mightiest kingdom on earth cannot stand if God decides to allow it to fall. And something is happening in the world in this vision of Isaiah's: a new ruler has come to power and nations are falling before him, just as they once fell before Sennacherib of Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Something is happening which proves to the ancient world that nothing is permanent but God and His powerful word.

We must keep in mind that Isaiah is seeing something that is yet quite far in the future. Judah is still about a hundred years away from being taken captive to Babylon where her citizens will languish for seventy years. But at the end of that seventy years a deliverer will come, someone who will set them free to return to their own land. The Lord wants the people to understand He has personally called this man out of the Gentile nations to help His people. God has orchestrated these events and He's telling the people about it almost two centuries before it happens. "Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to His service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to windblown chaff with his bow. He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not traveled before." (Isaiah 41:2-3) 

Isaiah will not call this man by name until Chapter 44. It could be that his name hasn't yet been revealed to Isaiah in our present chapter, but we know he is Cyrus of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great. And the Lord will say of him, "He is My shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid.'" (Isaiah 44:28) The prophet Ezra tells us that as soon as Cyrus took control of Babylon, in the very first year of his reign, the Lord moved his heart to issue a proclamation allowing the people of Judah to return to their land and rebuild. Cyrus, though a Gentile, believed in religious freedom and in no way wanted to hinder the descendants of Abraham from worshiping the God of Israel. He even recognized that God had chosen him to set the people free, for he said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of His people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them." (2 Chronicles 36;23)

God has already revealed to the people through the prophet Isaiah that Babylon, currently friendly with the nation of Judah, will come someday and conquer them. Isaiah told King Hezekiah that all the riches of the kingdom and all the articles of the temple will be carried away to a foreign land, along with Judah's citizens and even the members of the royal family. But there is hope after the fall. The people will spend close to two centuries in exile but the Lord has already called a man by name, a man who will be born many generations later, and he will be a helper to God's people. They will see the promised land again. They will rebuild. They will again worship at a temple in Jerusalem. All is not lost. And God is telling the people these things far ahead of time so that, when they take place, they will know God has ordained it. 

The Lord will ask the people in that day, "Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord---with the first of them and with the last---I am He." (Isaiah 41:4) The fulfillment of the prophecies given here in Chapter 41 will testify to the fact that God is in control of all things. He decides who rules the nations. He decides which kingdoms stand and which kingdoms fall. From this standpoint the Lord will later move from questioning the nations to questioning the idols. Have any of the idols predicted these things? Has an idol ever chosen and named a deliverer many generations before he was even born? Has an idol ever saved a nation from being conquered? Has an idol ever called anyone out of the darkness of sin into the light of righteous living? These questions are intended to lead the people into the truth, to the fact that God alone is sovereign over the earth. God alone is able to save. The One who calls Himself the first and the last, the beginning and the end, is the One who delivers and redeems us from the power of sin and death. 

Below is a link to a worship song that I think I may have used before in our study of the kings, but it goes so wonderfully with our study this morning that I'm reposting it today.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 115

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 115

Isaiah has been presenting us with the power of God and today he reassures us that God gives power and strength to mankind. 

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom." (Isaiah 40:28) Sometimes we feel like we have wearied God with our neediness and weakness, but as far as I can tell from the Scriptures, the only thing God feels weary about is the faithlessness and idolatry in the land. He showed His power and might to generation after generation and yet the people kept falling into the sin of idolatry while keeping up the appearance of remaining faithful to God by. This type of weariness doesn't indicate a flagging of God's strength but could be compared to something like an exasperated feeling, the way we ourselves tend to feel when we repeatedly try to help someone who refuses to be helped. But God is not weary of the prayers of those who love Him. Like any good Father, He desires that we come to Him with everything that troubles us. There is power in prayer and renewal of our strength. We are turning problems that are too big for us over to One for whom nothing is too big. What relief and comfort there is in this! 

When we come to Him in faith believing He is able to help us, great things happen. "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." (Isaiah 40:29) Sometimes I go through seasons of weariness. There are times when almost everything seems like too much and I start to feel anxious and burned out and irritable. I've noticed over the years that this tends to happen when I am relying mostly on my own strength and not on the Lord's strength. Of course we will get weary when we try to do it all on our own, because God never intended for us to do it on our own. Satan loves it when we fall for the lie that we are the ones holding everything in our families together, or that we are the ones holding everything at work or at church together. The devil is thrilled when he can take our focus off the Lord and put it on ourselves, causing us to forget that the Lord is the One who holds all things together by His powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3) If you're a Type A personality like me, a multi-tasker who feels like everything at home or work will fall apart if we don't stay on top of it, then you know how prone we are to falling into reliance upon self rather than reliance upon God. Every time I think about the way my heavenly Father has His hands outstretched to me, ready to lighten my load and bear my burdens, I am reminded of this picture of my earthly father and me on my first Christmas:

This picture says everything you need to know about my intense and driven personality: I'm trying to ride a pony, tend my baby, and talk on the phone all at the same time. My father is holding his hand out ready to catch me because he knows I'm overdoing it and may topple over at any second. This is the same attitude of our heavenly Father. He has His hand out to us, saying, "You don't have to bear these burdens alone. You are wearing yourself out believing it all depends on you. But I am the one who spoke the words that caused the universe to spring into existence and My word still stands, holding the galaxies in place and keeping the planets spinning. Can I not hold things in your life together too? My Son made a beautiful and refreshing offer to you when He said, 'Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.'" 

Isaiah concludes Chapter 40 with one of my favorite verses, "Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:30-31) The "youths" and "young men" represent those who trust in their own strength and power. They will grow tired along life's highway. They will stumble in the way because their own strength won't be sufficient for the journey. But those who hope in the Lord will get a second wind exactly when they need it. Those who hope in the Lord are not merely existing, plodding along just putting one foot in front of the other....they are soaring like eagles! They aren't dragging their feet in the dust....they are running the race! They aren't staggering from exhaustion walking up steep hills....they are climbing steadily and with purpose!

If you've been feeling weary of mind and soul, you know that's harder to deal with than weariness of body. Weariness of body can be cured by a good night's sleep but weariness of the mind and soul requires the healing touch of the Father. If you've been feeling burned out, irritable, burdened down or discouraged, it just might be that all you need is some time in the Father's presence. Maybe you've been trying to carry the load all by yourself, something the Lord never intended you to do. He has His hand out ready to help, just like my own father had his hand out ready to help me in the picture above. Our heavenly Father knows the load of this world is too much for us to carry and that we will faint along the way if we don't let go and trust Him to hold things together. He invites us to hand our troubles over to Him. "Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken." (Psalm 55:22) "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you". (1 Peter 5:7) God, our perfect and most loving Father, is ready and willing and able to handle everything that comes our way. We will find sweet relief for our souls and renewal of our strength if we just go to Him and say, "These problems are too big for me. But they are not too big for You. I can't fix what needs fixing. I don't know how to change my circumstances. I am not able to change other people's hearts. But for You these things are easy. So I cast all my anxiety and cares upon You, knowing You care for me. I have entrusted my eternal soul to You, therefore I also will entrust my problems to You. Like King David, I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly to see what You will do. (Psalm 5:3) Thank You for daily bearing my burdens, Father. (Psalm 68:19) Thank You for being my refuge in times of trouble. Amen."

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 114

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 114

Isaiah has been describing the greatness of our Creator and he asks, "With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?" (Isaiah 40:18) In yesterday's passage, Isaiah already established that God is unique. There is none like Him. He has existed for all eternity and there was no god before Him. He will continue to exist for all eternity and there will be no god after Him. 

But in Isaiah's day the Gentile nations, the northern kingdom of Israel, and even some citizens of Judah had "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and animals and birds and reptiles". (Romans 1:23) They cried out, "Give us anything but the holy God of Israel! Give us gods who won't require righteous living. Give us gods who expect little of us, who will grant us salvation on the basis of our offerings and religious rituals. Don't ask us to serve a God who wants our hearts and souls, who requires us to admit we are sinners in need of salvation."

Isaiah now compares useless idols to the all-powerful Creator, "As for an idol, a metalworker casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A person too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot; they look for a skilled worker to set up an idol that will not topple." (Isaiah 40:19-20) The rich are able to commission a finer idol to be made, one covered in gold and draped in silver, but this idol is no better than the idol of the poor man which is carved of a durable species of wood. Neither the gold idol nor the wooden idol possesses any power to help or to hurt, to hear the voices of those that pray to it, or to grant salvation to needy souls. These idols can't even remain standing on their own but must have extremely level bases designed to keep them upright. Who wants a god that falls over every time somebody walks through the house? Who wants a god made of a type of wood that will decay? Rich and poor alike are willing to waste their money on the finest materials they can afford, yet they can't see the foolishness of worshiping gods made by human hands. If the god the wooden idol represents is real, can it not prevent itself from rotting? If the god the golden idol represents is real, does it not have the power to remain standing without human help? 

"Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?" (Isaiah 40:21) Of course the people of Israel and Judah had heard the truth of the word of God and they had been fully aware of His existence throughout the centuries. And even if they hadn't heard, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities---His eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse". (Romans 1:20) The very creation itself testifies to the existence of a Creator, one who is awesome in power, one who is able to do all things. His character is revealed to us in the beauty of the world and the variety of living creatures and plant life on the earth. The God who called the universe out of nothing by saying, "Let there be light," also said, "Let there be lovely flowers. Let there be companion animals to give friendship and affection to humans. Let there be magnificent sunsets and glorious sunrises. Let there be music in the roaring of the ocean and in the songs of the birds. Let fruits and vegetables grow that not only nourish the body but taste good on the tongue. Let all creation testify that I love mankind and have made all these things for the men and women of the earth, to sustain and comfort them." 

"He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than He blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff." (Isaiah 40:22-24) Isaiah knew the earth was round, either because the scientists of his day understood this or because God revealed it to him. God sits on His throne and observes everything on the earth. He created all of it and He is sovereign over it. What are the kings and kingdoms of the world compared to Him? His existence is eternal. In light of eternity, what is a great kingdom or nation? No matter how long it endures, in comparison to God it is like a flower that withers in the heat and is blown away. All these things are temporary: kings and leaders, kingdoms and nations, and the lives of men and women. In light of man's temporary existence and God's eternal existence, why not call on Him? Why not put their trust in the One who can give them eternal life in His presence?

"'To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?' says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing." (Isaiah 40:25-26) This God is so great that He knows every star and has given a name to every one of them! Astronomers estimate there are about one billion trillion stars in the observable universe. This doesn't take into account all the galaxies that are too far away for us to observe. Some believe a very conservative estimate would be that there are at least ten trillion galaxies in the universe, and since we don't know how large the universe actually is, and since it is believed to be expanding, it's almost pointless to try and calculate how many stars there may be. There is no way for us to know. But in the day when God created the universe, He called each star into existence by name. He is a God so brilliant and imaginative that He can think of an individual name for trillions upon trillions of stars. Considering He has taken the time to name every star, and knows the location and characteristics of each one, how then could the people of Isaiah's day (or any day) claim that God couldn't see them? "Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?'" (Isaiah 40:27)

The God who gave every star a name knows each one of us by name. Mankind is the crowning glory of God's creation, therefore can He not see us? Can He not hear us? If God thought each star worthy of a personal name, how much more must He care for mankind whom He created in His image? God sees you today! He knows your name. He knows your personal story and the challenges you face. He is so great that nothing in the universe is hidden from His sight and He knows what you are facing today. Why not turn everything over to such a mighty Creator? As the old hymn says, "Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer." 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 113

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 113

Yesterday Isaiah promised the people of Zion that their God is coming. All eyes will see Him in His power and majesty. "Here is your God!", Isaiah cries. Today we take a look at the Lord in His role as Creator. We get a glimpse of His unfathomable wisdom and His complete sovereignty over all things.

"Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?" (Isaiah 40:12) Creating the universe and everything in it was effortless for someone as powerful as our God. He knows every ounce of water in the oceans, every grain of sand on the seashore, and the weight of every rock and every mountain. 

Next we view the Creator in His wisdom, for as King Solomon said, "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations, by understanding He set the heavens in place; by His knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew." (Proverbs 3:19-20) God needs no teacher. His thoughts are so far above our thoughts that we can't comprehend them. Isaiah asks, "Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as His counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten Him, and who taught Him the right way? Who was it that taught Him knowledge, or showed Him the path of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:13-14) Isaiah asks a series of rhetorical questions because he already knows the answer and so do his listeners. God, since eternity past, has possessed all wisdom and all power. God, through eternity future, will be the same. He has always known what He will do and He has needed no help or advice from anyone. As the Lord will plainly declare later in our study of Isaiah, "Before Me no God was formed, nor will there be one after Me." (Isaiah 43:10b) God is not saying He had a point of origin or that He will have an ending; He's saying that His existence encompasses all time. No one has instructed Him or understood His mind because He is one of a kind.

"Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. Before Him all nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing." (Isaiah 40:15-17) Throughout history, great nations have risen and great nations have fallen. Some have dared to believe themselves mightier than God. Some kings and leaders have boasted against God as if He were nothing more than a false idol. God regards the greatness of a nation and the strength of its military as nothing. What is the power of man compared to the power of God? No matter how great the nation, the best thing its citizens can do is bow to the One who is greater. God is not saying that His creation and the people of earth are nothing, but that the wealth and the pride of nations amounts to nothing when compared to His sovereign power. 

What can we give to the God who has everything? If all the tall cedars of Lebanon were felled, they could not make enough altar fires to thank God for everything He has done on behalf of man. If every animal of the land were given in sacrifice for sins, it would not be enough to atone for man's waywardness. What can we do to thank Him enough? What can we do about our problem of sin? How can we be made righteous in the sight of a holy God?

The Creator, the One who possesses all wisdom, and the One who is sovereign over all creation, has always had a plan for this too. As Abraham said to Isaac, "My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for the burnt offering." (Genesis 22:8) This lamb was Christ, the perfect and spotless sacrifice that is able to cleanse every one of us for all time from unrighteousness. His suffering on our behalf was a foregone conclusion even before the creation of the world, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake." (1 Peter 1:18-20) Jesus was already on His way to the cross before the hill on which He would be crucified was formed. Before God breathed the breath of life into the very first man, the fate of the Lamb of God was sealed. His atoning sacrifice was planned way back in eternity past, so far back that the plan of salvation really had no beginning. It always was, just as Christ always has been. We've heard the expression, "When He was on the cross, I was on His mind." But I want to tell you something even more awesome and mind-boggling. Before the Lord ever spoke the words, "Let there be light," we were on His mind. Before the earth ever formed out of the dust of the universe, we were on His mind. Before the atmosphere became habitable, we were on His mind. Before any mountains or valleys or oceans were created on this planet, we were on His mind. We have been on the Lord's mind as long as He has existed and, since He has no beginning or end, this means we have been on His mind for all eternity past and will be on His mind for all eternity future. There has never been a single second when He was not thinking of us.

And because we have always been on His mind, and because He has always loved us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), God has always planned to provide us with a means of redemption through His one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. "How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3a) God has given us His very best! If we scorn the one and only atoning sacrifice provided for our sins, there is no other means to be made righteous in His sight. There is no other solution. We cannot each find God in our own way through "many paths" as the world would have us believe. There is one way and one way only. We do not set the terms of our redemption; God sets them, and He has chosen His Son. This is why Jesus was so careful to make sure we understand that, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)

God is the One whom our sins have offended and He alone gets to set the terms by which our wrongs can be made right. He couldn't have made it any simpler when He provided us with one clear way into His presence. How shall we escape if we scorn the Lamb who gave Himself for us? How shall we be made clean? There is no other way. There's nothing but the blood of Jesus.