Monthly Archives: July, 2014

Isaiah 59-63: Uncomfortable

When I first read through this section of scripture, I was struck by a couple of things. First, Isaiah 59 is probably one of the best descriptions of sin and it’s consequences that the Bible has to offer. It covers the full gamut from how it creates barriers between us and God, to how it distorts our ideas of justice and righteousness, to God’s reaction to sin and his desire to eradicate it.

The second comes from chapter 63, where a day of judgement is described in which God will bring punishment on the nations for disobeying him and following after their own ways.

The truth is, both of these topics can be very uncomfortable, and neither of them are nice to read about. I know some Christians who will not read some parts of the Old Testament because of these sections of scripture. We don’t like to think about God’s wrath or the consequences of sin in our lives. We are quite comfortable with a God who loves us, will die for us and who offers us an eternal place in his presence. The very reality of that New Testament truth is unattainable without an understanding of sins wrongness and God’s inability to accept sin. It is because of those two things that Jesus had to die for us, had to appease God’s wrath and take our judgement on ourselves.

We mistakenly think that somehow God’s wrath and judgement are not present in the New Testament, when in reality they are very present. It is just that God took that wrath and judgement for sin and redirected them, away from us and our sin and onto Jesus Christ. He took wrath out on his son instead of on us.

The other thing that makes me chuckle about this whole conversation about God’s wrath and judgement is that people make it sound like God is wrong in his response, that if somehow God would just get hold of his anger issues then wrath and judgement wouldn’t be an issue. But Isaiah 59 makes it very clear it is our sin that is the problem, it is our sin that kindles God’s wrath. He can’t turn a blind eye to it. If he did he would be allowing us to wallow in the consequences of sin that Isaiah 59 describes. Let me tell you, you think our world is pretty screwed up now, can you imagine what it would look like is justice was completely out of the picture, if goodness was punished instead of rewarded?

But also notice something that can be very easy to overlook when reading through heavy pieces of scripture like these ones. Notice that both chapter 59 and 63, in the midst of talking about these negative things, describe God’s response to them. Notice that it is not a response of destruction. Both chapters end talking about God’s plan for redemption, God’s love and graciousness. Even in his anger at OUR sin and OUR unfaithfulness, God does not treat us as we truly deserve.

My friends do not run away from these uncomfortable pieces of scripture that make you look at the sin in your life and it’s consequences; these sections that make you realize that the root of God’s wrath is humanities sinfulness, not some cosmic inability to deal with his anger. Remember that God does not sin, that even his judgement and wrath are holy. And then remember that God worked to turn his wrath and judgement away from us. Unlike Isaiah’s original audience, we have the privilege of reading these things in light of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 64-66

Isaiah 49-53: Servant Poems

The chapters you are going to read today and tomorrow have been cited uses many different names over the years.  The Servant Songs, the Servant Poems, the Gospel according to Isaiah (OK, I made that one up). Isaiah 49-57 are probably the most comprehensive picture of God’s Messiah we have outside of the person of Jesus Christ we encounter in the Gospels. These chapters paint many pictures for us both of who Messiah would be (Saviour, Redeemer, Sovereign), and of what the Messiah would do (be crushed for us, extend God’s love to the Gentiles).

Two quick things to comment on. First, pay attention to the scope of the Messiah’s ministry. Notice that right off the bat God reveals to Isaiah that this chosen one will also be a light to the nations, his salvation to the ends of the earth (49:6). Up till now, God’s focus has seemed to be very much on Israel (although I have pointed out several occasions where God’s interest in others nations is apparent), but here we have stated clearly that the role of God’s coming Servant would be universal in nature. This is especially important when we look at how Israel responded to Jesus. Israel was so focused on a Saviour that was solely for them that they were unable to comprehend Jesus as the Messiah for the whole world.

Second spend some time in Isaiah 53.  Old Testament scholar Dr. Kyle Yates wrote of Isaiah 52:134-53:12: “These five matchless stanzas of the fourth Servant poem are the Mount Everest of messianic prophesy.” Like the literal Everest takes time and attention to climb, so this section of scripture deserves special time and attention. Watch especially the journey described by Isaiah, from ugly reject, to humiliation, to silent suffering, to vindication and victory. Of course we know, or should know, that these verses are clearly prophetic of what Jesus endured for us on Calvary. But I wonder how many of us take time to unpack these verses on their own.

The real key though comes in Isaiah 53;11 “My righteous servant will justify many and He will carry their iniquities.”

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 54-58

2 Kings 18:9-19:31; Psalm 46, 80 & 135: Even the godless speak truth from time to time

Today we begin our journey through Kings and Chronicles with Hezekiah, the king that raised the bar in Judah so high that no other Judean king could match him. Just as Ahab set a new standard for evil in the reign of the Israelite Kings, so Hezekiah set a new standard for doing right in God’s eyes. He not only destroyed all of the idols in Judah, he destroyed all of the high places that the other kings, even the good ones, failed to remove.

Hezekiah has more scripture spent on him than any other Israelite King, except David and Solomon of course. Eleven chapters in total are devoted to Hezekiah and his story (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32 and Isaiah 36-39). We read through the Isaiah passages last week, but it is interesting to note the differences in focus and perspective as we read the accounts from Kings and Chronicles this week. But you notice some major theme in all three sections of scripture. The accounts of Hezekiah can teach us a lot about faith, prayer and the dangers of pride.

Today we see the introduction of the first of these themes as we see Hezekiah act completely in faith in dealing with the Assyrian invasion of his country. I find the comment by ‘the Rabshakeh” (an Assyrian military title, not a name) in 18:29 very telling. He says “Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you; he can’t deliver you from my hand.” This is a truthful statement. Hezekiah couldn’t deliver Judah or Jerusalem from the invaders hand. The Assyrian army had a reputation for violence and brutality. They were dominant in numbers and military equipment. Hezekiah had no hope of saving his people from this military machine, EXCEPT BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

Hezekiah was fully aware that he could do nothing against these invaders, but he was fully aware of who could. Hezekiah paints a wonderful picture of what it looks like when men and women of God rely on Him even when the odds are stacked full and completely against them.

Consider how that applies to your own life. How many times have you shied away from a situation precisely because you thought it impossible. What we forget is that we serve the God of the impossible. It is a sad fact my friends that we limit what we expect of God’s power. There is no limit to God’s power, but our minds and our hearts have such a hard time accepting that fact.

What is truly worth pondering as you finish today’s reading from 2 Kings 18 and 19 is how God honours Hezekiah’s faith in him. God alone defeats the Assyrian army. Hezekiah could do nothing to save his people, but he had faith in the one who could.

What are you facing in your life right now that you know you have no power to change? Are you trusting God to change it for you? Have you even asked him about it?

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 49-53

Back at it!

Greetings my friends. We are back into the regular swing of things here at PEMC now that our “Jungle Safari” VBS program is over. We were extremely blessed with the privilege of ministering to 116 wonderful children over this past week. We learned all about God as our Creator, Provider, Protector, Saviour and King and that because of those things we can count on him!

Now we get to continue on our own adventure as we walk further into the history of the southern nation of Judah and the prophets that ministered to them. I hope you have been keeping up with your readings and have continued to be encouraged as you see God’s plan for Israel unfolding in the words of the prophets; a plan that extends beyond Israel’s sinfulness; a plan that displays God’s incredible grace and mercy.

I know this section of readings can be challenging as the topics of judgement and punishment show up a lot; but pay attention to the other themes and pictures the prophets paint.  Pictures of God’s care for his people and his plea for them to turn from their ways and follow after him. Also pay attention to what these chapters of scripture have to teach us about God himself, his power, his sovereignty, his plan, his graciousness and his intolerance of sin.

We’re off and running again!

Happy reading.

Isaiah 23-27: Judgement

Have you ever looked at our world and thought: “How much worse can it get?” If you have, let me admonish you a bit and remind you that we can expect nothing but sin from sinners. That is why God employs us to tell the world that there is another way to live, with Jesus as Lord and guide. Let me also remind you that some of you reading this blog were just as eagerly participating in the nature of your sinful flesh before you found Jesus (or Jesus found you).

These chapters from Isaiah also tell us the truth about the worlds refusal to ignore God’s teachings and walk in it’s own way: it cannot and will not go on forever and in the end the entire world will be judged by God. None will escape his scrutiny. Isaiah talks about this as the day of the Lord, a day that will be terrible and frightening to behold.

But even in the midst of this judgement, Isaiah proclaims some hope that we should be paying attention to, especially if we are tempted to mourn over the way that our world is walking.

1) Isaiah 24 reminds us that God’s enemies will be judged. People who are doing wrong and seem to be getting away with it will be brought short.
2) Isaiah 25 tells us that God’s people will be preserved
3) Isaiah 26-27 paint a picture for us of God’s plan to restore the nation, ending in a massive celebratory feast.

So while we may be tempted to grouse a bit about world going to “hell in a hand-basket”, let’s remember that God is working out his plan for the nations. Rebellion will end.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: 2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31; Psalm 48

Isaiah 18-22: Swear loyalty

We are still considering the “letters” that God is sending to various nations through Isaiah.  I want to focus on one particular part of chapter 19 this morning, namely verse 18: “On that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear loyalty to the Lord of Hosts.”

To me, this seems to indicate that through God’s punishment, Egypt will learn to fear and honour God. Of course, this lines up with what God declares in Isaiah 45:23 “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”

One of the tenants of end times theology is that God’s supreme sovereignty will be acknowledged by all persons, pauper to King.

But these incredible verse that finish off chapter 19 in Isaiah proclaim more than just Egypt’s loyalty to God. These verses proclaim that Egypt and Assyria will not just be conquered nations, but that indeed they are valuable in God’s sight, much the same as Israel is. There is incredible truth in these verses about God’s care for and plan for all of the nations (which I mentioned yesterday), but there is also a good reminder in these verses that God’s plans will come to completion.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 23-27

 

Isaiah 13-17: At Work

Have you ever stopped to consider just how much of the Old Testament is NOT aimed at or about the nation of Israel? I don’t know about you, but I was taught throughout my early church career, that the Old Testament is the story of the nation of Israel and their fall from grace.

I don’t mean to step on the toes of the wonderful men and women who taught me through my formative years (and trust me when I say I had some incredible spiritual mentors along the way), but it is just not true that the Old Testament is the story of the nation of Israel.

The Old Testament is God’s story, first, foremost and always. The Old Testament is the story of God’s work in the world, the whole world not just the nation of Israel. The 10 chapters that we have begun reading today, from Isaiah 13-23 are a wonderful example of that.These 11 chapters are letter from God to Judah and ten foreign nations; letters that reveal God’s plans for each of them. Now, granted those plans aren’t particularly pleasant, but if you will notice the judgement levied against that nations comes as a result of their disobedience and refusal to turn to God.

These letters kind of remind me of the letters from Jesus to the 7 churches of Asia Minor in the New Testament book of Revelation. They are letters of warning, but like in the story of Ninevah in Jonah, if the nations had turned from their ways and repented before God, their destruction may have been averted. Unfortunately history tells us that the nations refused these warning and continued on their own path to destruction.

These chapters remind us that history is “HIS story” as missionary leader Arthur T. Pierson put it. These chapters remind us that God’s sovereignty supersedes all earthly kingdoms, rulers or authorities. Daniel 4:25 says: “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.” That’s a powerful description of God’s sovereign right to give and take away earthly reign.

Pay attention in these letters to the Kingdoms. Although there is certainly judgement and destruction, there are also moments of assurance, promise of redemption (like 14:1-2) and assurances of God’s power and authority to work within the nations to accomplish his will. Our God is not impotent, then or now. He has power and authority to act in the nations, through the nations, and against the nations.

We would do well to remember that.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 18-22

2 Chronicles 28; 2 Kings 16-17: Fall

We have reached a sad point in our reading schedule my friends, and I hope you have taken time to recognize it. Israel, the northern Jewish Kingdom, falls to the Assyrians. Evil Kings, military failure, social corruption, injustice, oppression of the poor, idolatry and complete disregard for God’s ways all add up to a Kingdom that God hands over to foreign invaders for destruction. For me, the section of our reading today that is more important is 2 Kings 17:7-20. This section gives us a complete explanation of why Israel fell, and serves as a warning to everyone who reads it, including us. It is not hard to imagine many of the causes listed for Israel’s downfall existing today. It is not hard to imagine those same reasons being levied against our country by God.

Do we have idols that we serve? Sure we do. Success, power, sex, “freedom”, tolerance,
Do we tolerate social injustice? Sure we do.
Do we reject God’s statues and ordinances? Yep. Just look at abortion laws
Do we live according to the customs of the nations surrounding us? Yep, and even worse we are the ones influencing other countries to live outside of God’s will.

The list could go on. The point is that those types of things can only go on so long before God has enough of our foolishness. I heard a preacher not that long ago talk about how we as Christians do not even consider or talk about God’s exercising judgement on the nations today, as if the actions of God in the Old Testament are outside of the realm of possibility today. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, invading armies, drought…we consider all of these things as merely natural occurrences or the result of socio-economic factors. We don’t ever stop to consider that God is at work in these things. But how often does God use exactly those methods to punish, rebuke and call nations to repentance in the Bible.

Israel falls, Judah remains, at least for a short time. So say goodbye to the Israelite kings, we will read only of the Judean Kingdom from now on, a story that will ultimately end in destruction.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Tomorrow’s Reading: Isaiah 13-17

Micah 1-7: Social Justice

If you are paying attention while doing your readings, you will notice that there is a couple of recurring themes that run through many of the prophets. One of the largest of those themes is what we would call social justice. Special treatment of the poor, fair justice for those oppressed, establishment of social systems to help those who cannot care for themselves (orphans and widows), etc. These things show up in scripture as very important to God and much of the judgement levied against Israel and Judah through the prophets occurs because they refused to follow these principles that God has laid out for them.

When God gave Moses the law, one of the things that was very important was that the inherited land was to remain within a family unit, even if there were no sons alive in that family.  Numbers 27 tells us of the daughters of Zelophehad who were granted their father’s inheritance in the absence of a male heir. One of the major issues that Micah talks about is large land owners buying up land from family units and developing huge land holdings, something the Law of Moses was very clear was not good.

Micah prophesied during the same time period as Isaiah, Amos and Hosea, so similar themes and thoughts appear in much of their writing. What I find interesting is that both Kingdoms successfully ignored warnings from multiple sources, despite the incredible negative outcomes predicted if they failed to pay attention. Micah is one of the prophets who proclaims the destruction of Israel before the Assyrians (which occurred in 722 B.C.) and the eventual destruction of Judah to the Babylonians (which occurred in 596 B.C.)

But Micah is not all gloom and doom. The second part of the book (chapters 4-7) give incredible hope for the future, in spite of the impending disasters that were to occur to the divided Kingdom. Micah predicts a future King who would usher in the Kingdom of God. It speaks of trusting in God even in the face of the impending judgement.

One thing is made very clear by Micah: people are accountable for how they live in God’s eyes. This applies to us too. Don’t get me wrong, we are covered by the blood of Jesus and freedom from sin and guilt is ours at no cost. But God does expect us to live out our faith in tangible ways and according to his principles. Those principles don’t change between the Old Testament and the New Testament. So these books of the prophets are wonderful opportunities for us to learn about God’s heart and how our desires can and should line up with his.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?

Amos 1-9: Religiosity

I know that today’s reading is not in Amos, but I wanted to put together a post for the days that I missed last week in Amos. I want to make sure that there is at least one post for each of the minor prophets.

Amos’ name means “burden bearer”, and this is a pretty accurate description of the task that God had given to Amos; and is a pretty accurate description of what most of the prophets felt I am sure. Amos was no one special. A herdsman, and cultivator of sycamore trees (like the one that Zacchaeus climbed in order to see Jesus). Most importantly, Amos had absolutely no connection to the religious or political systems in play during this period of time (about 793-740 B.C.)

Amos primarily declares judgement on the Gentile nations as well as on Israel and Judah.

Here’s the thing about Amos: his warnings and pronouncements come during a time when both of the Jewish Kingdoms were experiencing prosperity and security. They were not in distress, they had stabilized themselves militarily and economically. The people were well fed and content, even bordering on living in luxury. On top of that, religion was on an upswing during this time. The chapel at Bethel was being well used by the Kingdom of Israel and the religious festivals were in full swing in Jerusalem (see Amos 5:21-22). Unfortunately, all of this religious fervor was not very pleasing to God because it masked a people who were not very interested in living out the principles that God had established for his people to follow.

Amos 8 tells us that people were eager for the religious festivals to get out of the way so they could go back to selling grain; and in fact were interested in selling it dishonestly (“We can reduce the measure while increasing the price and cheat with dishonest scales”).

There is also some major issues with dishonesty in the justice system and abuse of the poor was rampant (5:11-15 and 8:4-6). In fact, you will hopefully notice that most of the warning in Amos are aimed at the aristocrats.

So although things looked pretty good and the people were “religious’, the moral and ethical state of the nation was dismal and very displeasing to God.

As modern day Christians, we must be careful that we do not fall into similar patterns of empty religiosity and ritual that simply add a nice veneer to moral, ethical and spiritual decay. Attending church on a regular basis does not a Christian make. God wants and expects our lives to reflect his heart. That we be increasingly transformed into his likeness. Religiosity does not accomplish this, only a committed relationship with God does that.

Happy reading

  • What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
  • What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
  • Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
  • How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
  • What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?