Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 151

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 151

This morning we begin the section that Isaiah has been moving us toward all along. In my Bible it's titled "The Suffering And Glory Of The Servant". Isaiah has revealed glimpses of this Servant to us from time to time, but the passage that begins in Chapter 52 and goes through Chapter 53 describes in detail the crucifixion seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. The prophet has been proclaiming, on inspiration of the Holy Spirit, freedom for the captives, and this freedom bought for us by the Servant is greater and more all-encompassing than the people of Isaiah's day could have imagined. It may have been more than Isaiah himself could quite imagine, but he believed the word of the Lord, and he obediently passed along the message he received regarding this perfect and holy Servant who would do God's will and justify by faith all who would believe on Him.

I feel overwhelmed at the thought of tackling this portion of Scripture. It feels too holy for my hands to touch, too sacred for me to attempt to write about, yet the Lord placed these words in our Bibles for our instruction and our salvation and He intends for us to study and interpret them. So, with the help of the Lord, I believe we will receive a fresh glimpse of our Savior as we look at this portion of the holy word of God for the next several days. 

"See, my Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted." (Isaiah 52:1) The Lord Jesus was "raised and lifted up" on the cross for us as He worked redemption for mankind, and because He was willing to suffer in our place, He deserves to be "raised and lifted up and highly exalted" in our hearts. He will be exalted by those who believe on Him and He will be exalted by God the Father. The Lord says, "See, my Servant!" in the same tone one would announce the arrival of a great king, and it's in contrast to the mocking words Pontius Pilate used when he presented the beaten and broken man from Nazareth, "Here is your king." (John 19:14) 

"Just as there were many who were appalled at Him---His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness---so He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand." (Isaiah 52:14-15) When Pilate brought Jesus out before the people after the Roman soldiers beat Him, I believe quite a few people in the crowd covered their eyes. I believe many people's mouths dropped open. I think a great deal of those who had gathered to see the spectacle were sickened and shocked and rendered speechless. But the blood they viewed on this Man was the blood that would sprinkle many nations, the blood of an offering so pure that it sanctifies forever those who are made clean by it. On the day of the crucifixion, there were those who were appalled and unable to speak at the sight of Him. There were those rendered unable to say anything against Him, and this is why Isaiah says "kings will shut their mouths because of Him". The word of God and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit will convert kings and subjects alike, bringing salvation to the Gentiles, and rendering those coming to the faith incapable of finding anything to say against the Lord Jesus or against His gospel. When the Apostle Paul stood before King Agrippa and presented the gospel, Agrippa said, "Almost you persuade me to be a Christian," and then he sent Paul out of his presence speedily so he would have to hear no more. Agrippa was under conviction of the Holy Spirit. He could not speak a word against Christ or against the gospel, so the only thing he could think to do was to stop listening. He could come up with no argument against believing on Christ and becoming a Christian, (as Isaiah says, kings will shut their mouths because of Him), and because he did not want to submit to the Lord he shut his ears to the truth.

We have to do something with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can dismiss it as a fairy tale or reject Christ as our King in favor of serving the "caesars" of this world as the chief priests did. We can close our eyes and cover our ears to the truth as King Agrippa did. Or we can join the joyful ranks of the faithful, believing on this wise Servant of God who wrought salvation for us, who secured our freedom by taking the punishment we deserved. We can have new life in Him and become new creatures. We can honor and exalt the One who gave up everything for us. He thought we were worth dying for. He paid for all our sins and failures and mistakes so we wouldn't have to. He rose from the dead so that we who believe on Him could have eternal life. We need not fear the grave or the judgment because Christ has gone before us, suffering death and the grave and the judgment of sin in our place. Who else offers a deal like this? 

We must do something with the gospel of Jesus Christ and I'm going to close today with my favorite quote by the late C.S. Lewis, "I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Our worship song link and video for today is below.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 150

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 150

Today we begin Chapter 52. Yesterday the Lord promised His people that their time of discipline would end and their enemies would drink the cup of His wrath. Today He paints a beautiful picture of renewal and restoration.

"Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor, Jerusalem, the holy city. The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now captive." (Isaiah 52:1-2) Yesterday the people lay on the ground in the stupor of their punishment, drunk on the dregs of the cup of wrath, but today the Lord foretells a better day. The time of chastening will soon be past and they are to be bright and alert, shaking off the dust of their past failures, redeemed from their sins by the Lord. He could speak these same words to us who have been made new in Christ. He could say, "Awake! It's time to put on the new robes of righteousness. You are no longer unclean and defiled. Shake off the dust of the mistakes you made while you lived in sin. I'm doing a new thing: I'm exchanging your chains of captivity for a crown of freedom!"

"For this is what the Lord says: 'You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.'" (Isaiah 52:3) Satan rarely has to steal anything from us; we give ourselves away. We relinquish our authority. We surrender without a fight. We forget sometimes who we are in Christ and that He who lives in us is greater than he who lives in the world. (1 John 4:4) This is what God's people did when they abandoned themselves to idolatry. They forsook the One who took them by the hand and led them out of slavery in Egypt. In forgetting Him in favor of false gods, they simply exchanged one form of slavery for another. They gave themselves away, "were sold for nothing", but because they weren't sold for money, the Lord isn't going to buy them back with money. "What can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" (Matthew 16:26b) There isn't enough money in the world to buy back even one soul, much less pay the price for all mankind. How can an immortal soul be bought with something perishable like money or the things of this world? Such a feat requires a much greater sacrifice, something so perfect and holy and powerful that the invitation to salvation can be made to every human being for all time. And we will soon read of the price that was paid to redeem our souls, for in Chapter 52 Isaiah is leading up to the description of the Suffering Servant, the One who gave Himself for us. 

"For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'At first My people went down to Egypt to live; lately, Assyria has oppressed them. 'And now what do I have here?' declares the Lord. 'For My people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,' declares the Lord. 'And all day long My name is constantly blasphemed. Therefore My people will know My name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I." (Isaiah 52:4-6) Can't you just imagine the sneers of the captors as they made fun of the God of Israel? While severely oppressing His people, the enemy mocked the name of God, calling Him a God who cannot save, calling Him a false and unfaithful God who could not protect His people. Imagine how hurtful this was to the captive people! They knew why they were being disciplined in a foreign land under the rule of ungodly kings, and it had nothing to do with God being weak or ineffective. People in our own times mock the name of the Lord and jeer at those of us who trust in Him. Rather than becoming distressed and anxious, God said to His people Israel and to us today, "The world may not know Me, but you know Me, and you will rejoice in the light of My love. The day is coming when the whole world will see how much I love you. The day is coming when no one can deny that I am "The I Am", the Maker of heaven and earth, and in that day every knee will have to bow to Me. In that day every tongue, even those that have blasphemed My name, will have to admit that I alone am God."

In the meantime, there is work to do. We must get the gospel out to the whole world. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7) It will be good news to the northern kingdom of Israel when Assyria falls. It will be good news to the southern kingdom of Judah when Babylon falls. But the best good news of all, the gospel, means the fall of sin and death and hell, the fall of Satan and his eternal punishment. It means Jesus Christ will rise in victory from the dead, holding the keys of death and hell in His hand, for He is Lord over all. Our God reigns!

"Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God." (Isaiah 52:8-10) In ancient times the Lord showed His strength by bringing the people out of captivity in foreign lands, and in the book of Isaiah we are about to see the strength of the Lord displayed in the Suffering Servant who frees mankind from captivity to sin. Our salvation cost God the Father the highest price imaginable and here we find Him preparing to do this great work, rolling up His shirtsleeves like a man going into a fight. Our Lord was willing to take a beating on our behalf. He threw Himself into the fray in order to take hold of us and lead us out of sin and shame into the brightness of a new life. The world will someday know that the Lord has redeemed Jerusalem and that He has loved Israel "with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3) and it will also know that the Lord has redeemed all the Gentiles who have trusted in Him, "I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you." (Revelation 3:9b) 

The day is soon coming when the captives will be delivered, and when that day dawns, "Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the articles of the Lord's house. But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard." (Isaiah 52:11-12) When the Son sets us free, we are free indeed! (John 8:36) "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1) Don't look back like Lot's wife on the city of sin, don't yearn for the pleasures of Egypt, don't think fondly back on the idols of Assyria or Babylon. The Lord is doing a new thing! He is offering a new life! There is nothing behind us worth going back for! When Christ saves us and sets us free from slavery to sin, He calls, "Depart, depart, go out from there!" 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 149

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 149

This morning we continue on in Chapter 51 regarding the deliverance of God's people. There will come a day when they can say, "Where is the wrath of the oppressor?"(Isaiah 51:13b) The enemy will be no more.

"The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread. For I am the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar---the Lord Almighty is His name. I have put My words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of My hand---I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who says to Zion, 'You are My people.'" (Isaiah 51:14-16) Nothing can get to God's people without going through Him first. They are covered by the shadow of His hand and no affliction that is not divinely ordained by Him can touch them. If He says they are going into captivity, they are going into captivity. But if He says they will be freed from the dungeon, they will be freed from the dungeon. The One who created the heavens and the earth is in control.

"Awake, awake! Rise up, Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord the cup of His wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes people stagger." (Isaiah 51:17) The people are going to suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness and idolatry but, once the time of their chastening is past, the Lord will call, "Awake! Awake! Be sober and alert; your time of deliverance is at hand!"

"Among the children she bore there was none to guide her; among all the children she reared there was none to take her by the hand. These double calamities have come upon you---who can comfort you?---ruin and destruction, famine and sword---who can console you? Your children have fainted; they lie at every street corner, like antelope caught in a net. They are filled with the wrath of the Lord, with the rebuke of your God." (Isaiah 51:18-20) By the time Jerusalem would fall to Babylon, the times of the good kings was past. The last several kings were wicked and ruled for short periods of time; there was no one among the people who could or would rise up and be a leader like Moses or Joshua or David. So war and destruction came because everyone had gone his own way. As King Solomon once said, "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." (Proverbs 19:18) 

"Therefore hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk, but not with wine. This is what your Sovereign Lord says, your God, who defends His people: 'See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of My wrath, you will never drink again." (Isaiah 51:21-22) The Lord, like a good Father, knows exactly how long to carry out discipline. He won't make us endure it one second longer than necessary. Quite honestly, I've been through discipline that seemed way too long to me, but the Lord knew what He was doing.

Not only is the Lord going to remove the cup of wrath from His people at the proper time, He is then going to force the cup into the hand of their enemy. "I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who said to you, 'Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.' And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked on." (Isaiah 51:23) This was a literal practice in ancient times. The enemy would tell the conquered people to lie on the ground to be walked on and humiliated. The Assyrians, who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, were especially known for enjoying this type of inhumane treatment of prisoners. It wasn't enough that they had conquered them; they wanted to push them into the dirt. They wanted to kick people while they were down and the Lord is disgusted with that attitude. Yes, Assyria conquered Israel according to the Lord's purpose, just as Babylon conquered Judah according to the Lord's purpose. But they didn't have to add insult to injury. They didn't have to be cruel and spiteful. So now the Lord is going to put the cup of His wrath into the hands of those who who treated His people so brutally. Because they had no pity on God's people, He will show them no pity as they drink the bitter cup. 

There are those who gloat when God disciplines His children. There are those who have a desire to walk by and kick us when they see us on the ground, who want to step on us, who rejoice when Christians are in troubled circumstances. But God is severely displeased by that attitude. He sees it and it will not go unpunished. During a time of deep distress and troubles, this verse was a comfort to me, "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light." (Micah 7:8) We can say this of those who are our enemies and of that one who is our chief enemy: the devil. "Do not gloat when I'm down! Unlike the wicked, I will rise again. My God will lift me up! He has hidden me in the shadow of His hand and at the proper time will relieve me of my distress and give the cup of His wrath into the hands of my enemy. Do not gloat, for your time is coming, and the fall of the wicked will be without remedy. But I, a child of the living God, will see His goodness in the land of the living."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 148

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 148

The Messiah is still speaking in the following passage, "Hear Me, you who know what is right, you people who have taken My instruction to heart: Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But My righteousness will last forever, My salvation through all generations." (Isaiah 51:7-8) The approval of others is a fickle and temporary thing. We must never compromise our principles in order to be popular. The Lord never promised us the unbelieving world would admire us, but instead He said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first." (John 15:18) 

Usually, as Christians, those who like us most are other Christians. We were never promised we would be loved by everyone. Even Jesus, perfect and holy Son of God, was betrayed and abandoned by men who were His closest friends. So we might as well live in a way that's pleasing to our Lord, for we can't please everyone anyway. It's useless to violate our principles to gain the admiration of man; our neighbor might love us today but betray us tomorrow. It's pointless to live like the world to gain popularity. Will any of our fair weather friends be able to stand up and defend us before God someday? If we have a few good and trustworthy friends in this life who value us for who we are in Christ, we are blessed. But we should never fear the scorn of others or worry about whether they will still like us if they find out we are Christians. As David said, "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) We are to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, being His witnesses, living in a way that honors Him, so that perhaps those around us will be drawn to His light. We will have no authority or testimony as Christians if we don't live according to the word of God. The world is watching us and will take note if we behave as hypocrites.

The people respond to the words of the Messiah and they respond appropriately, "Awake, awake, arm of the Lord, clothe Yourself with strength!" (Isaiah 51:9a) They are saying something like, "Yes, Lord! May Your salvation come now! Let Your deliverance come in our times!" This is similar to what the Holy Spirit and our own redeemed spirits cry out in Revelation 22:17, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!'" When we hear the voice of the Savior and our hearts respond appropriately, the cry of our hearts can only be, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. We long for Your appearing! Let Your deliverance come in our times!" 

"Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old. Was it not You who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through? Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over?" (Isaiah 51:9b-10) The word rahab means "pride" and it's often used as a synonym for Egypt. The people look back on the powerful works of the Lord in bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, taking them across the Red Sea on dry ground, and delivering them to the promised land. They say, "Do great things like these again, Lord! You are the same God. Do in our times the mighty deeds you did then!" Passages like these always remind me of the words of the prophet Habakkuk, "Lord, I have heard of Your fame; I stand in awe of Your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy." (Habakkuk 3:2) Habakkuk knew he and the nation were deserving of wrath because of their sins and idolatry, but he also knew the Lord is merciful. He says, "Do in our times what You did for our people in the past. Deliver us from the slavery of sin. Bring us through the deep waters of our failures on dry ground. Redeem us from our mistakes and lead us into the promised land of redemption."

After looking back on the many ways God delivered them in the past, the people now look forward in faith, believing that the Lord will bring them out of captivity. "Those the Lord has rescued will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." (Isaiah 51:11) This is a twofold prophecy. It looks forward to the return of the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, but it also looks far into the future to the kingdom of the Messiah, when Israel will at last be at rest from all enemies, when peace will reign and wars will cease, when all the believing Jews and Gentiles of the world will be one family in the household of God.

Our section today is appropriate for Thanksgiving week. It's a time for looking back on all God has done for us. We have experienced dark days of grief when we felt like we'd never be ok again, yet here we are by the grace of God, still breathing. We have been in circumstances where it looked like there was no way out, yet here we stand, free. We have had bills to pay and not enough money in the bank, but God came through, and I expect all of us reading this blog today have some clothes on our backs and something to eat in our kitchens. Some of us have had broken marriages restored, wayward children brought home, and serious illnesses healed. Most of all, we have received in Christ the redemption of our souls, for we were dead in our sins, without hope and without God in the world. What miracle could be greater than this? We were as dead as if we were buried in the ground, hopeless, broken, unable to help ourselves. Yet Christ bought us back from the dead and gave us a place at the Father's table and Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11) How, then, dare we be ashamed of Him? Let's proclaim His saving grace all the more! Let's live joyfully in this world so that unbelievers will want this same joy for themselves. Let's live by His holy word, so our testimony will have the power of God in it. And most of all, let's be thankful for all that our mighty God has done and for all that He's going to do.

We will be taking a break from the blog until Monday because I'm going out of town today for the Thanksgiving holiday and won't be able to write until I get back. I wish all of you a safe and happy Thanksgiving and I especially wish blessings on any of you who feel lonely at this time of year. I wish I could give you a great big hug, but since I can't reach all of you, I'm asking Jesus to make His presence and comfort so real and so great that you can't possibly feel alone. I ask Him to fill your hearts with joy unspeakable and full of glory. (1 Peter 1:8) When we are alone or when our family circumstances are not as we would wish at this time of year, it can be hurtful, but I promise you Jesus would love to sit down at the table with you. You are never alone as long as the One who gave His life for you is with you. He loves you more than anything. He thought you were worth paying any price. He will never betray you, never leave you or forsake you. We are thankful for Him above all else.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 147

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 147

We begin Chapter 51 today and it is titled "Everlasting Salvation For Zion". It contains the promise of return to the land from captivity and the rebuilding of the nation. The Lord reminds the people what He has done for them in the past and, since His character has not changed, He can be counted on to do great things in the future.

"Listen to Me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many." (Isaiah 51:1-2) The people feel discouraged and defeated in a foreign land. They have lost many sons to war. How can God make their numbers great again? How can they ever again be the mighty people they once were? The Lord reminds them their nation began with only one man and his wife: an elderly man and his elderly and barren wife. Yet look what God did with one couple who had the faith to believe He was capable of doing what He promised! Is He not still the same God as He was to Abraham and Sarah? Can He not do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine"? (Ephesians 3:20) We so often limit Him in our minds because we view Him in human terms. For us it is impossible; for God all things are possible. 

As surely as the Lord gave Abraham the promised son of his old age, "The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; He will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing." (Isaiah 51:3) This is a prophecy for a time both near and far. It involves the setting free of the captives and their return to rebuild their land, but it also involves the restoration of Israel in the kingdom of Christ when He claims the throne of David and rules the earth. 

As in yesterday's passage, it is still the Messiah who is speaking. Up til now Isaiah has presented Him as the Servant of the Lord, but today we find He is something more than a mere mortal Servant. He speaks with authority. He makes promises in the name of the Lord as if He and the Lord are one and the same. He speaks of His own justice, righteousness, and salvation. A mere man cannot speak this way, unless He is delusional. But the Son of God can speak this way, for He speaks the truth. "Listen to Me, My people; hear Me, My nation: Instruction will go out from Me; My justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, My salvation is on the way, and My arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to Me and wait in hope for My arm." (Isaiah 51:4-5) Perhaps most surprising of all (to Isaiah's nation) is the revelation that the Messiah will be the hope, not only of Israel, but of the world. The Gentiles are included in His plan of salvation; they are invited to come and warm themselves by His fire. Somehow He is going to draw to Him the nations who, at the very time Isaiah is making this prophecy, are bowing down to useless images and making sacrifices to false gods. Who could have imagined such a thing? Could God's chosen nation have ever conceived He would bring the Gentiles to salvation, that He would make the pagan nations the same offer of salvation He made the children of Abraham? Who could accomplish such a mighty act? What kind of intelligence gave birth to such a thought? The Lord alone is able! And He makes it clear in our passage above that all this will be accomplished in His power. He says, "It is My justice, My righteousness, My salvation, and My arm which does these things."

In a world that frequently appears to have gone mad, there is one thing we can always count on. There is one firm foundation we can always stand on. Our Redeemer lives and His word will never fail. Nobody can take from us what we have in Christ. Wars may come, kingdoms may rise and fall, earthquakes may shake the earth, the mountains may crumble and the seas may roar, but our Redeemer is faithful. "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But My salvation will last forever, My righteousness will never fail." (Isaiah 51:6) 

We've heard a lot of campaign promises this year and we are experienced enough to know that no political candidate ever does all he or she has promised (or threatened). But there is One whose promises we can take to the bank. There is One who will make not only America, but the whole earth, great again. There is One who will keep His word to the children of Abraham and to we Gentiles whose forefathers bowed in futility to powerless idols. We may turn on the news today only to find more evidence the world is crumbling around us, but we can also turn to the word of God and reassure ourselves with the fact that God is still in control. "Therefore we will not fear", as the author of Psalm 46 affirms in a bold statement of faith. "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 46:2-3) The psalmist can proclaim his unshakable faith because he knows "The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress". (Psalm 46:7) Because he trusts in the Lord, he has a calmness of spirit and is able to obey the command "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

Be still. He is God. He is bigger than anything that will face us today or any day. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 146

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 146

Yesterday we concluded with the Messiah speaking of the scorn and pain He will endure, yet He said, "I will not be put to shame," because He knew the Father would vindicate Him. The Father was going to give Him the name above all names and the highest honors.

"He who vindicates Me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!" (Isaiah 50:8) Many accusers came forward both in the court of the Sanhedrin and in the court of Pontius Pilate, but none could prove their charges. They had difficulty even making their stories agree with each other. Pilate found Jesus innocent and blameless but gave in to the religious leaders who shouted in riotous fervor, "Crucify Him!" There was no charge Pilate could write on the board nailed above Jesus' head except what His detractors accused Him of: declaring Himself king of the Jews. Since this statement was the truth, since "He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11), this was not a charge of crime but a statement of fact. Who, indeed, will bring any charges against Christ the Lord? Who can stand and face Him and prove there is any fault in Him? No one! His miracles and the power in His teaching provided His credentials as Messiah and His rising from the grave should have put an end to all dispute over His claims to deity. Nevertheless, though there are still those who argue the divinity of Christ and whether or not He was just a good man or a prophet, His ultimate vindication and reward will come from God the Father.

We who are in Christ can say something quite similar of ourselves when the world assaults our character. "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died---more than that, who was raised to life---is at the right hand of God and is interceding for us." (Romans 8:33-34) God, as the lawgiver and judge, is the One who has been trespassed against when we sin. Since He has chosen in Christ to declare us not guilty, who then can bring any charges against us? The highest authority has ruled that we are innocent! Who can accuse us to Him? If one should confront God with a list of the sins of the redeemed, all He has to do is say, "But those are under the blood of My Son! They are where I cannot look at them anymore, so I have cast their sins as far from them as the east is from the west. I have put their sins out of My mind for the sake of My Son whom they trust in. He has redeemed them and set them free. He daily intercedes with Me on their behalf. I will not bring up again what I have already forgiven them for." 

The Messiah continues, "It is the Sovereign Lord who helps Me. Who will condemn Me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up." (Isaiah 50:9) His accusers, the unbelievers, are as fragile as a cloth garment stored up on earth "where moths and vermin destroy". (Matthew 6:19) There is no substance to them or to their accusations. Where will they be when Christ stands before the Father to receive His reward? They will be gone, like a moth-eaten garment; they will not be hurling insults at God's chosen Servant or at any whom the Servant has redeemed.

"Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God." (Isaiah 50:10) This world seems dark and scary a lot of the time but we who have trusted in Christ know our God is with us. Whom shall we fear? We are not like those who stumble about in the dark with no sense of direction, but we have this sure and certain promise, "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) This is the reward of those who trust in the name of Jesus Christ. 

In contrast to the redeemed who say of God's word, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105), those who go their own way are trying to warm themselves by fires that will never give comfort. The Lord has sobering words for those who reject Him in favor of other gods or in favor of making gods of themselves. "But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from My hand: You will lie down in torment." (Isaiah 50:11) A campfire can only provide limited light and warmth in a circle around it. If a person should wander a few feet from it, he would find himself in the dark and the cold  A torch, though held in the hand, only enlightens the path a few steps ahead of a person: he could run up to a cliff's edge at any moment. Living without the Lord, by our own standards and in our own worldly lusts and ambitions, won't keep us very warm. We will be like a man tossing and turning in his sleeping bag beside a feeble fire, unable to find peace or rest, cold and uncomfortable, tormented by a sense of emptiness in the soul. This is the reward of those who reject Jesus Christ.

Chapter 50 ends on a very solemn note with the wicked reaping what they have sown. We humans tend to like ending things on a positive note, but I think maybe the Lord ended this chapter with such bleak words because He wanted mankind to stop and think about them. Who wants to lie down in torment? Who wants to toss and turn and find no rest or comfort? The only escape is in the One who is justified by the Father, who is not guilty of any sin and who can make us clean from our own sins. 

We find here the righteousness of the Lord's judgments. He will let man have what he wants. To the person who seeks Christ, daily taking up their cross and following Him, the light of life is given. To the person who rejects Christ, daily following the lusts and ambitions of the flesh, the reward is the darkness that he preferred over the light. As the late C.S. Lewis once said, there are those faithful ones who say to the Lord, "Thy will be done." And then there are those who wanted nothing to do with Him, to whom the Lord will say, "Thy will be done."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 145

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 145

As we begin our final sixteen chapters of the book of Isaiah, we see more and more of God's chosen Servant. Today's passage contrasts the unfaithfulness of Israel with the faithfulness of the Servant. We could insert our own names here in place of Israel, for we have all sinned and fallen short; we have all been rebellious and stubborn.

"This is what the Lord says: 'Where is your mother's certificate of divorce with which I sent her away? Or to which of My creditors did I sell you? Because of your sins you were sold; because of your transgressions your mother was sent away." (Isaiah 50:1) Yesterday the people of Zion said in doubtful response to God's promises, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me." (Isaiah 49:14) So today the Lord says, "Prove it! If I have truly put you away, where is your certificate of divorce?" In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 we find the regulations concerning divorce under the Mosaic law. If a man decided, pretty much for any reason, that he did not want to be married to a particular woman anymore, he could write her a certificate of divorce and send her away. He was then free to remarry, as was she. If the two of them reconciled before the woman remarried, the husband had the right to take her back. But if instead she remarried and divorced again, the husband could not take her back, because he was to consider her defiled. So the Lord is saying, "Prove to Me that I gave you a certificate of divorce and sent you away. Though you have been unfaithful to Me, I have not divorced you, and you are not free to belong to another. Therefore, I have the right of a husband to take you back and be reconciled to you." 

The Lord, because He owns everything, can never be in debt to anyone. So the accusation that He sold them into slavery does not stand up. This is why He says, "To which of My creditors did I sell you?" The people sold themselves into slavery by racking up an insurmountable debt of sin. Their captivity was not a result of God being unable to rescue them; it was the result of reaping what they had sown. Certainly God could have defeated their enemies but what would His people have learned from that? That He rewards sin? That mankind can live in any way that he pleases and God will overlook it? That God is to be called upon in seasons of trouble but ignored the rest of the time?

"When I came why was there no one? When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was My arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you? By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst. I clothe the heavens with darkness and make sackcloth its covering." (Isaiah 50:2-3) The Lord called to His own and no one answered. Some commentaries liken Him to a man returning to the household after a hard day's work, calling out to his family, "I'm home!", only to find that his wife and children have deserted him. While he labored on their behalf they were unfaithful and went astray. Like a betrayed husband, the Lord allowed His people to go their own way. He could have turned Assyria back from Israel and Babylon back from Judah but He did not, because His people needed to learn from their mistakes. This is why He doesn't always rescue us from our foolishness. There have been times I've had the Lord literally block my path when it was the wrong path, but there have been other times when I was so stubborn and persistent He stepped aside and let me have what I insisted I needed. I'm sad to say I've learned the majority of my lessons the hard way but we don't forget those lessons, do we? The Lord knows each of us so well that He recognizes situations in which we will only learn the lesson if we are allowed to experience the consequences of our rebellion.

The remainder of Chapter 50 is spoken in the voice of the Messiah, God's chosen Servant, the Redeemer of Israel and the Redeemer of mankind. "The Sovereign Lord has given Me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed." (Isaiah 50:4-5) In the gospels we see how closely Jesus remained connected with the Father, often going out alone to pray, daily communing with the Father and receiving instruction. We see here the obedience of the Servant and how vital His constant connection to the Father was to Him.

"I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting." (Isaiah 50:6) We find this prophecy fulfilled in the New Testament, "Willing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, into the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on Him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on Him. And they began to call out to Him, 'Hail, king of the Jews!' Again and again they struck Him on the head with a staff and spit on Him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took off the purple robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him out to crucify Him." (Mark 15:15-20) It was a disgraceful thing for a Jewish man to have his beard shaved, which is why captors usually did it. In Jesus' case His captors must have chosen a particularly cruel way of removing His beard: pulling it out, or at least part of it. The Bible doesn't describe this to us but later we will find Isaiah saying, "His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness". (Isaiah 52:14b) 

Gruesome as movies involving the crucifixion are, I believe they all stop short of portraying the level of brutality Jesus endured. Remember how viewers wept and some even fainted in theaters when The Passion Of The Christ came out? If we were shown the fullness of Christ's sufferings, as Isaiah saw them in his vision, we could not bear it. It would be more than we could stand. Isaiah tells us our Lord was abused to the point of barely being recognized as human and it makes me want to weep because those bloody beatings belonged to us! We are Barabbas! The man who went free in Jesus' place was in prison for murder and insurrection. He was deserving of his imprisonment and impending death sentence. He was set free only because another Man took his place. And this is who we are: murderers, rebels, liars and cheats. We covet what is not ours. We are unfaithful adulterers, dishonest servants, unreliable friends, covenant breakers. I have broken every one of the Ten Commandments, some literally and some figuratively, but the law said that anyone who broke one law was guilty of the whole law, so whether we have broken one or all, we deserved our death sentence. And the only reason we have gone free is because a Man took our place. He did not turn back from taking on the punishment we deserved. If we were shown what He really endured, we'd cover our eyes, we'd be sick, we'd faint. Yet the Lord Jesus looked upon all these sufferings and decided, for reasons I myself cannot fathom, that we were worth it to Him. 

The law said "cursed of God is one who hangs on a tree". (Deuteronomy 21:23) It was the ultimate disgrace. The enemies of Jesus looked at Him hanging there and felt vindicated in their accusations against Him. Would a godly person find himself in this position? Would not God rescue one who was faithful to Him? So they scoffed at Jesus and reviled Him, hurling insults at the holy Lamb of God, and as Isaiah foresaw, "We considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted." (Isaiah 53:4b) The people said to themselves, "If this Man were not a sinner, God would have helped Him. God would not have allowed a good Man to be disgraced like this. We were correct in believing the power behind this Man was the power of darkness, not light." But in the face of all this, here is what the Servant says, "Because the Sovereign Lord helps Me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set My face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame." (Isaiah 50:7) 

The Servant's eyes were on the Father, not on the scorn of mankind. His reward was coming from the Father, not from His enemies. He refused to look to the right or to the left, to be discouraged or to be detoured from the path to the cross. This Apostle Paul says this is the mindset that Christ had, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death---even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:6-11) The Bible tells us that Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2) The Lord endured the agony because He thought the end result was worth it. He thought we were worth it. And it's going to take us all of eternity to thank Him for it.

Our worship song link for today is below.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 144

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 144

Yesterday we concluded with the Lord promising comfort on those who have been afflicted. But the people, because of their captivity, reject this idea and doubt that God is still with them. "But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.'" (Isaiah 49:14) Have you ever feared the Lord was going to leave you in your troubling circumstances? Have you ever been so disheartened you believed He had deserted you? In our pain and dismay we often fall back on the very human belief that only what we can feel is real. In our distress we cannot always feel His presence, but the Lord never told us we could go by our feelings. We are to stand on His perfect, holy, and unshakable promises. I've gone through experiences where, if I went by my feelings, God seemed as far from me as if He were on the other side of the universe. Fear found me in the wee hours of the night and I doubted any relief was coming. Panic clutched at my throat and left me gasping miserably in an overwhelming sense of aloneness. All I could do was quote the promises of Scripture out loud even though in my heart I felt no comfort. I could only repeat the promises of the One who gave His life for me, for He is the One who said, "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday." (Psalm 91:5-6) He is with us even when we cannot feel Him! His promises still stand even when it seems like our world is falling down around us! It was hard for God's people to feel His presence in a foreign land, under the heavy yoke of captivity, but He was with them just the same.

The Lord calmly reasons with the people in their doubts. "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15) The reason we hear stories of motherly atrocities in the news is because this type of behavior is the exception to the rule. It's not normal for a parent to have no compassion on their child. It goes against human nature to harm our own offspring. And yet, though the rare parent visits cruelty upon a child, the Lord will never behave this way toward His children. As the old song goes, "He sought me and He bought me". We are chosen! He came after us when we were at our worst and paid a high price for us, the ultimate price, a price that cost Him more than our mortal minds can comprehend. Could He then forget us? He was willing to do anything it took to adopt us into His family and, though in ancient times a father could disown a natural son, he could never disown an adopted son. That relationship was irrevocable. In order to adopt us into His own family, God had to turn His back on His own natural Son as He hung on the cross. After paying such an indescribable price for us, how could He ever reject us? How could He ever count us unworthy of help when His own Son's sacrifice makes us worthy? 

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands; your walls are ever before Me." (Isaiah 49:16) The Lord can no more forget us than He can forget the nail scars in His hands! It's quite notable that the resurrected and glorified and immortal body of our Lord still bears the scars He endured for us. When He appeared to the disciples in the locked room, "He showed them His hands and His side." (John 20:20a) This proved to them that He was the same Jesus, now risen from the dead. When the disciple known as Doubting Thomas scoffed at the idea that the Lord was risen, Jesus appeared to him and offered him the proof he sought, "Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe." (John 20:27) I don't believe our own resurrected bodies will bear scars but, throughout all eternity, our Redeemer will proudly wear the stripes that healed us and the scars that made us whole. The Lord, about seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, promised His people through the prophet Isaiah that they would be engraved on the palms of His hands. The walls of Jerusalem, even while they were broken down, stood tall and proud in the Lord's sight, because He accomplishes everything He says He will. If He says walls will be rebuilt, they will be rebuilt. If He says captives will go free, they will go free. If He promises to engrave us on the palms of His hands for all eternity, it's as good as done.

"Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your children gather and come to you. 'As surely as I live,' declares the Lord, 'you will wear them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.'" (Isaiah 49:17-18) The Lord asks the people to look ahead, not with their natural eyes, but with eyes of faith. He will restore the fortunes of His people both in the near future and in the far future. This prophecy involves not only their release from captivity but the eventual restoration of Israel in the kingdom of Christ and the return of every exile from every corner of the world. There are no lost tribes in the Lord's eyes. He knows the precise location of every descendant of every tribe.

"Though you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste, now you will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away. The children born during your bereavement will yet say in your hearing, 'This place is too small for us; give us more space to live in.' Then you will say in your heart, 'Who bore me these? I was bereaved and barren; I was exiled and rejected. Who brought these up? I was left all alone, but these---where have they come from?'" (Isaiah 49:19-21) The Lord was going to increase their numbers in captivity, just as He increased their numbers in Egypt. This also looks far into the future to the eventual ingathering of all Israel, when the citizens of the nation will be astonished by the return of those scattered throughout the earth

"This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up My banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips. Kings will be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers. They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground; they will lick the dust at your feet. Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.'" (Isaiah 49:22-23) Somehow the Gentiles are going to play a huge part in the restoration of Israel. In Christ, the Lord has made us into one family, and we who are Gentiles by birth and children of God by adoption will help the scattered tribes of Israel return to their homeland.

"Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? But this is what the Lord says: 'Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save. I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh; they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine. Then all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob." (Isaiah 49:24-26) The Lord promised Abraham He would, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3a) The nations who have oppressed Israel over the centuries and who have visited atrocities upon her have suffered at the Lord's hands for their crimes. The imagery here is crude and off-putting, but cannibalism of the dead is a thing that occurs under prolonged siege conditions. Those who surrounded Israel and Judah in times past, causing them severe hunger and thirst, would eventually have these same conditions boomerang back on them. Bible scholar David Guzik extends the interpretation of the prophecy of taking plunder from warriors farther than I thought to take it by saying, "This was true for Zion when freed from the Babylonian captivity; it is even more true for those set free from the captivity of Satan. Jesus spoke of spoiling Satan in Luke 11:21-22: 'When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides the spoils.'" 

The Lord stormed the castle walls when He came to our rescue. He sawed through bars of iron and broke down gates of bronze to pull us out. And our enemy, that serpent of old called the devil and Satan, is a vanquished foe today. Someday the boot of our Redeemer will be firmly planted upon his neck and his face will be ground into the dust before he is cast forever into eternal punishment. Not only that, but Jesus is going to give us our own turn at planting our boot onto the neck of our defeated enemy, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a)

Amen, Lord! All glory and praise and honor to Your name forever, for You have set us free and have engraved our names on the palms of Your hands! You will be forever with us and can never forget us!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 143

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 143

The freedom the Lord speaks of in today's passage is more than the release of the captives from Babylon. He is foretelling the kingdom of the Messiah, under whose rule they will live in peace.

The Lord is speaking to His chosen Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, "This is what the Lord says: 'In the time of My favor I will answer You, and in the day of salvation I will help You; I will keep You and will make You to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, 'Come out!' and to those in darkness, 'Be free!'" (Isaiah 49:8-9a) Christ is the new covenant God has made with mankind.

"They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." (Isaiah 49:9b-10) The children of Israel had wandered the desert on their journey from Egypt and would cross the desert on their journey back home from captivity. But a day is coming when the Lord reigns from the throne of David and no one will wander in the desert ever again. The Lord will lead mankind like a shepherd leading a flock. As David said of the Shepherd of his soul, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters." (Psalm 23:2)

"I will turn all My mountains into roads, and My highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar---some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan." (Isaiah 49:11-12) The Lord made the mountains and He owns them and He can do anything He wants with them. If He tells a mountain to move, it moves. Both literally and figuratively, He is going to see to it that nothing gets between us and our King. "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way." (Isaiah 35:8a)

"Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on His afflicted ones." (Isaiah 49:13) When the creation sees the kingdom of the Lord come, it will break into song. This is the fulfillment of God's plan from eternity past. This is the moment that God, along with every faithful angel and every believer and all of creation have been waiting for. This is the moment when the One who makes all things new says, "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." (Revelation 21:3-4) 

At the right time God sent His Son into the world to pay the price for our sins and at the right time Jesus will return and claim the kingdom and all those who are His. This intention was formed farther back in eternity than our feeble human minds can fathom, but it's as good as done because the One who spoke this promise is faithful. As the Lord Jesus said to the Apostle John, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be My children." (Revelation 21:6-7) What beautiful, welcome words as we trudge through this weary land! A haven of rest is ahead of us. We have endured the heat of the day and the chill of the night. We have wept in the night but joy will come in the morning. And the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirits that we long for the day of our Redeemer's appearing, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let the one who hears say, 'Come!' Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life." (Revelation 22:17) 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 142

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 142

The Servant of the Lord is presented to us again in Chapter 49 and we find Him restoring the tribes of Israel and calling the Gentiles, both near and far, into His kingdom.

"Listen to Me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called Me; from My mother's womb He has spoken My name." (Isaiah 49:1) We have seen Cyrus of Persia being called before he was born, and we could almost believe this verse is in reference to him, except that as we continue on we find the scope of this Servant's purpose is so broad and all-encompassing that He cannot be anyone but the Messiah and King. Likewise, this cannot be about Isaiah, although he too could claim to have been called into the Lord's service before he was born, but Isaiah will have no part in the eventual restoration of Israel or the calling of the Gentiles into God's family. In verse 1 we see the Servant reaching out not only to His own nation, but to all nations. 

"He made My mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of His hand He hid Me; He made me into a polished arrow and concealed Me in His quiver." (Isaiah 49:2) The prophet Isaiah has used some sharp words with God's people, but he isn't speaking of himself here. He's speaking of the risen Lord we see in the book of Revelation, the King of kings, who fights with a double-edged sword. (Revelation 1:16, 2:12) The Lord has concealed this Servant until the exact time in history He should be brought forth. "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship." (Galatians 4:4-5) 

"He said to Me, 'You are My servant, Israel, in whom I will display My splendor.' But I said, 'I have labored in vain; I have spent My strength for nothing at all. Yet what is due Me is in the Lord's hand, and My reward is with My God." (Isaiah 49:3) We find something twofold here. Israel is a chosen people to the Lord and this makes them His servant, though they forsook Him time and again. But the majority of commentaries I consulted believe that in verse 3 the Lord is using the name "Israel" to symbolize this chosen Servant. The Servant is all that the Lord wants Israel to be but that she could never be on her own. Through Him she will eventually achieve the splendor God intended for her. The Servant looks at the mission set out for Him and sees how He will be scorned. He knows Israel will reject her Messiah and King, so He says, "I have spent My strength for nothing at all." He's not belittling those who believed on Him during His earthly ministry or after His resurrection, but by and large the vast majority of believers over the millennia have been Gentiles. The effort Jesus expended on His own nation must look exceedingly unfruitful compared to how successful His efforts have been among the Gentiles. But even so, Jesus recognizes something about His calling that we all would benefit from learning: our only responsibility is to obey God; He is responsible for the outcome and He will reward our efforts even if no one else does. Jesus' own nation never bowed at His feet and declared Him their Lord and King, but His reward is from God, not from man. The Servant fulfilled His mission on earth and now He looks to God for vindication, not to humans. Sometimes we too feel like we have labored in vain, working hard in the Lord's service, fulfilling what He calls us to do, being obedient to His word. But nothing we have done sincerely in the Lord's name is wasted. We might not see our full reward in this life, but when we stand before Him we will receive whatever is due us for our work on behalf of His kingdom.

"And now the Lord says---He who formed Me in the womb to be His servant to bring Jacob back to Him and gather Israel to Himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and My God has been My strength---He says: "It is too small a thing for You to be My Servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make You a light for the Gentiles, that My salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:5-6) This Servant is so great and so exalted in the eyes of God the Father that simply giving Jesus the adulation of His own people won't be enough. He will be King over all the earth, from shore to shore, from east to west and north to south. As the prophet Zechariah foresaw, "The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name." (Zechariah 14:9) This is the full reward of His labors. God will give all the kingdoms of the earth into His hands. "Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils of the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12) The sacrifice that Christ made was so great and so holy and so perfect that it could cover the sins of every tribe and nation for all time. Why limit this blessing to Israel alone? God in His mercy offers it to the Gentiles as well.

"This is what the Lord says---the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel---to Him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers: 'Kings will see You and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen You." (Isaiah 49:7) The mission of the Servant was difficult and thankless, for He was "despised and rejected by mankind". (Isaiah 53:3) He was "the stone the builders rejected". (Psalm 118:22) But someday the kings of the earth will stand to honor Him. Someday all will bow at His feet. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is God. God the Father is making this promise to the chosen Servant. He is faithful and will fulfill it. God, who called the Servant, will reward the Servant for obedience. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 141

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 141

The second half of Chapter 48 regards the deliverance of the captives from Babylon, and also the deliverance of mankind from being captive to our sins. We see first a chosen servant, Cyrus the Great of Persia, who will set the people of Judah free. But we also get a hint of another chosen Servant, a Man of the line of Judah, who will set His own people and the people of the world free from bondage to sin and despair. Isaiah is preparing us for fuller revelations of the coming Redeemer.

"Listen to Me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am He; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together." (Isaiah 48:12-13) The God who is speaking to them is worthy to be heard. He is the one and only God, the Creator, and their Helper. Because these are His credentials, everything He says can be trusted and counted on.

"Come together, all of you, and listen: Which of the idols foretold these things? The Lord's chosen ally will carry out his purpose against Babylon; his arm will be against the Babylonians. I, even I, have spoken; yes, I have called him. I will bring him, and he will succeed in his mission." (Isaiah 48:14-15) No idol or fortune teller or false prophet could possibly have predicted that God would choose a pagan king, a man not even born in the days of Isaiah, to set the people of Judah free. The Lord specifically called Cyrus to do a good work for His people at a particular time in history. Nothing was going to cause this man to fail, for God was the power behind him. 

But an even greater Deliverer is coming, a Man of their own tribe, a King descended from David, and this is who is in view here, "Come near me and listen to this: 'From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.' And now the Sovereign Lord has sent Me, endowed with his Spirit." (Isaiah 48:16) We will find this claim repeated again in Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Isaiah 61:1-2a) The Lord Jesus, when beginning His ministry, quoted the passage above and applied it to Himself, saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:21)

"This is what the Lord says---your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before Me." (Isaiah 48:17-19) The Lord keeps calling the people to listen but they have not listened. They covered their ears and so were cast into a foreign land as prisoners of war for seventy years until the Lord's servant Cyrus set them free. But even then they will not listen when the Lord's Servant appears on the scene, proclaiming Himself by words and deeds to be the Messiah and King. 

Who is the Lord speaking of when He makes the dire pronouncement that some names will be blotted out of His book? He is speaking of all who, throughout history, reject the Lord Jesus Christ. In Psalm 69, a Messianic prophecy written by David, we find the Lord Jesus saying, "You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed; all My enemies are before You. Scorn has broken My heart and has left Me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in My food and gave me vinegar for My thirst...Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in Your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous." (Psalm 69:19-20, 27-28) In the book of Exodus we learn that God has a book of life with names written in it. Some scholars believe this book contains the name of every person who has ever lived and, when a person leaves this world still rejecting Christ, his or her name is blotted out. The exact nature of this book and how it works isn't fully explained in the Scriptures but the Apostle Paul affirms in the book of Philippians that his name and the name of believers in Christ are written in the book of life. The Lord Jesus announced to those who have victory in Him that, "I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and His angels." (Revelation 3:5b) We also find in Revelation that only those whose names are not permanently installed in the book of life will follow after the beast and worship him in place of the Lord, so we see something in their hearts that longs to stray from godliness. This book is mentioned in Revelation 20 when the dead are judged by what is written of them, and those who are not in the book of life are cast out. Following this we see the eternal city of God where all who have followed Christ live in His presence forever, and of that holy city we are told, "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life." (Revelation 21:27)

On the day of judgment, perhaps the Lord will repeat what He is saying today in our chapter of Isaiah, "If only you had paid attention to My commands, your peace would have been like a river." I don't know about you, but when I was living in sin and far from God, there was never any sense of peace. Every day was filled with anxiety and indecision and uncertainty. Nights were spent tossing and turning in fear. But when we know we have repented and have been redeemed by the Lord Jesus, there is a peace in our hearts nothing can take away. The world may crumble around us. We may suffer various kinds of losses. There may be wars and rumors of wars, hardship and deprivation. But nobody, not even the devil himself, can wrench the peace of our salvation from us. This is the peace that flows through us like a river, a constant source of refreshment.

Now the Lord returns to matters at hand. He has announced the calling of a deliverer who will set Judah free nearly two hundred years after Isaiah gives this prophecy. Whatever God says is as good as done, whether it happens today or centuries in the future, so He gives the people a command to leave Babylon when they are given the offer of freedom. "Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, 'The Lord has redeemed His servant Jacob.' They did not thirst when He led them through the deserts; He made water flow for them from the rock; He split the rock and water gushed out." (Isaiah 48:20-21) The people must not stay in Babylon out of fear of traveling hundreds of miles back to Judah. Just as He provided for them on their way from Egypt to the promised land, God will provide for them on their way back to rebuild Jerusalem. God provided literal water for their physical needs and He provided living water for their spiritual needs. If they will just rely on Him and walk in His ways, this peace like a river will be theirs.

The Lord concludes Chapter 48 with this stern word of advice, "'There is no peace,' says the Lord, 'for the wicked.'" (Isaiah 48:22) I can add my "amen" to that! I had never known any kind of peace until I came to Christ. I had no rivers of living water to refresh my soul or revive me on my journey through this dark and often scary world. King Solomon, a man who disobeyed many commands of the Lord in his youth, said in later years when he wrote the book of Proverbs, "The way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15) Living in rebellion is a long row to hoe, in country talk, and it's a weary, unproductive type of toil. It's labor without reward. But living in fellowship with our Lord is living with an unshakable confidence. No matter what comes against us in this world, we are His. No matter where we've been, we have a better destination ahead. Knowing our eternal destiny is certain, being assured Christ loved us more than His own life, standing clothed in His righteousness instead of the filthy rags of our own deeds, we take possession of the peace that passes all understanding. 

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:4-7)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 140

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 140

We begin Chapter 48 today with a change of subject. The Lord has been chastising Babylon for her pride but now He turns to Judahl, the people in covenant with Him, and reproves them for their stubborn hearts.

"Listen to this, you descendants of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of the Lord and invoke the God of Israel---but not in truth or righteousness---you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city and claim to rely on the God of Israel---the Lord Almighty is His name: I foretold the former things long ago, My mouth announced them and made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze." (Isaiah 48:1-4) Because He knows all things, the Lord knew to what miserable spiritual depths His people would fall. This is why He predicted captivity generations before it occurred. Because He knew what their conduct would be, He already had a means of discipline planned for them. By the time they would be conquered, trying to lead them was like trying to lead a strong and stubborn mule ("your neck muscles were iron"). Trying to reason with them was like trying to talk to someone whose mind was completely closed off ("your forehead was bronze")

Bible commentator David Guzik puts an interesting spin on verse 1, "God identifies His people as the house of Jacob,---the name Jacob essentially meaning "deceiver, cheater"---and says they only have the name of house of Israel, not the character of Israel, which means "governed by God". God reminds them of their tribal ancestor Judah who was noted for his cruelty and immorality." If this is indeed what God means by calling His people by these three names, then we see that all the way back to their forefathers they were a wayward and stubborn people. And the Lord could say the same things about you and me and our ancestors. We can't pick on Judah or Israel when we have some scoundrels in our own family trees and when we have been scoundrels ourselves. It's the carnal nature of mankind to want to follow our own foolish desires but, thanks be to God, it's His nature to pursue us with love and mercy.

The Lord reminds the people that it was He who predicted the events about to come upon them, "Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, 'My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.' You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them?" (Isaiah 48:5-6a) How can they deny the existence of God? How can they proclaim the existence of any other god? The Lord calls on them to admit the truth and renounce the false gods they have trusted in. We must admit our sins before restoration can occur. 

"From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, 'Yes, I knew of them.' You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth." (Isaiah 48:6b-8) Jacob, the patriarch and founder of the twelve tribes of Israel, was rebellious from his birth. So was the nation itself. So was mankind as a whole. So were you and I. Yet God still deals with us, "For My own name's sake I delay My wrath; for the sake of My praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I do this. How can I let Myself be defamed? I will not yield My glory to another." (Isaiah 48:9-11) 

It is to the praise of His name that the Lord extends mercy to us. We don't deserve it and we haven't earned it. It's His nature to offer us redemption, just as it's our nature to go astray. He's simply being who He is, and His purpose is to conform us into the image of His Son. (Romans 8:29) This conforming, more often than not, takes place in the furnace of affliction, for we are stubborn. Like silver purified in the fire, God was about to thrust His people into a foreign land of spiritual darkness so they would repent and turn back to Him. This is how He sometimes has to deal with us as well, thrusting us into unpleasant circumstances to gain the attention we have denied Him, to bring about repentance and restoration. As we continue on in Chapter 48 the Lord describes for us the desperate spiritual condition of His people, which is the same desperate condition facing the whole human race. The Lord is bringing the charges of sin against mankind so that humans cannot avoid coming face to face with their sins and failures. What is to be done? What is the answer? As Bible scholar Barry G. Webb says, "With this issue hanging heavily in the air, the scene is set for the Servant of the Lord to take center stage again in Chapter 49." (from The Message Of Isaiah, pg 192) 

I'd like to thank everyone who has been so faithful to this study on the book of Isaiah. It's the longest book of the Bible and we've been deep into it for many months, but I promise you the best is yet to come. Just when things look most hopeless, when the people have been judged stubborn and sinful, when the conqueror is outside the gates and it appears as if the destruction of their nation might be permanent, the Lord presents His righteous Servant. After concluding that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, the Lord bestows upon us a Savior. After announcing that there are no redeeming qualities in our character, the Lord provides us with a Redeemer. Isaiah has toiled over this book for so long because the people (and us, thousands of years later) needed that much time to come to the realization that there's nothing we can do to save ourselves and there is no one but the Lord who can save us. There is no other God. There is nowhere to turn for help but to Him. After coming face to face with our sins and failures, after acknowledging to ourselves that God is right to judge us, we find in Him something we don't deserve and never expected: a pardon instead of prison. He offers us a way out, a new life, a better future, a place at His table! We who are so unworthy that all our righteous acts hang on us like filthy rags are offered a robe of righteousness in Christ, a crown of victory, and the unmerited privilege of calling Almighty God our Father. We could not pay a price high enough to buy back our souls, so the righteous Servant of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, paid it for us.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 139

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 139

The Lord continues disparaging Babylon for her sinful attitudes. "You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, 'No one sees me.' Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me." (Isaiah 47:10) Wickedness can reign in the heart for so long that the owner of the heart prefers to believe there is no God. If there is no God, then we are answerable to no one and there is no coming judgment. If one has lived in sin and cruelty as deeply as the desperate human heart desires, how comforting it must be to believe there will be no day of reckoning, to say, "It doesn't matter what I do. No one sees me. There is no God." 

The Lord says their wisdom and knowledge have misled them, not that they have been led astray by their ignorance. They have become so intellectual they believe God is beneath them. In the United States today there are those who believe Christians are a bunch of backwoods rednecks, that we are uneducated fools. But the Bible tells us that God's knowledge is higher than man's knowledge and that His ways confound the wise. The Bible describes what it means to be a fool, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1a) And when our hearts become so depraved we denounce the existence of God, we make gods of ourselves and say along with the Babylonians, "I am!", (taking a title that belongs to the Lord), and saying, "There is no god besides me." 

Because of Babylon's overweening pride, the Lord foretells, "Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresee will suddenly come upon you. Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries, which you have labored at since childhood. Perhaps you will succeed, perhaps you will cause terror." (Isaiah 47:11-12) The people of Babylon trusted in their astrologers and sorcerers to warn them if trouble was coming, yet on the night Cyrus of Persia and his army conquered Babylon, no one saw it coming. No protective spell was able to keep the capitol city from being captured. Cyrus would not accept a ransom in exchange for leaving Babylon alone, for he was on a mission for the God who said of him, "I will raise up Cyrus in My righteousness; I will make his ways straight. He will rebuild My city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 45:13)

"All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!" (Isaiah 47:13a) This is in contrast to the counsel we receive from the word of God, "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." (Psalm 119:105) The counsel of Babylon's wise men brought only weariness and confusion, but the word of the Lord gives us renewal of strength and a light for our path. "It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze." (Psalm 18:33-34) 

"Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you." (Isaiah 47:13b)Those of you who have followed the blog for a long time may have heard this story before, but I know someone who got so deep into astrology that Satan gained a stronghold over their life. It began innocently enough, as these things do, with an interest in daily horoscopes, but it progressed to casting charts and allowing their life to be guided entirely by such predictions. No decision could be made without consulting the charts. This person's entire life was in shambles and they suffered the loss of many material things, of relationships, and of a good name. At a point when this person was so deep in a pit no human strength could pull them out, God reached down and took hold of them, and one reason He reached down was because of the intercessory prayer that kept going up for this person. I don't mind if this makes me sound silly or old-fashioned, but we have no business messing with things that are marketed as "for entertainment purposes" but which have behind them a demonic spiritual force. We have no business playing around with astrology, fortune telling, ouija boards, or anything of that nature. On the surface it seems like harmless fun, but behind the facade lurks something wicked.

The astrologers and sorcerers of Babylon led the people astray and the Lord says of them, "Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. These are not coals for warmth; this is not a fire to sit by." (Isaiah 47:14) False religion does not offer the comfort of a campfire. It masquerades as a pleasant light, but in truth it is darkness. All who sit by it, hoping to be warmed, will be burned instead. All who are drawn to it, hoping to be enlightened, will end up stumbling about in the darkness.

"This is all they are to you---these you have dealt with and labored with since childhood. All of them go on in their error; there is not one that can save you." (Isaiah 47:15) The people have labored in their religion. Their religion wasn't a joy to them, but an obligation. It demanded rituals and offerings and gave nothing in return. No one in Babylon could save them from being conquered: not the wise men, the astrologers, the sorcerers, or the idols. Salvation is found only in the living God who created us and calls us to a higher purpose. Serving Him is a joy. There is warmth by His fire and comfort in His light.