Thursday, July 31, 2014

5 statements from God that will sustain You

Read Isaiah 41.

God is sovereignly in control of nations to do His will, whether they know it or not.  He declared in these opening verses that it was not merely the notions of a great power to invade and conquer.  The LORD "stirred" or raised them up to fulfill His purposes.

Though Israel often failed in their obedience, God said that He would remain faithful to them.  In verses 8-9, He chose them as His own and will "not cast you off."  Though enemies will continue to endeavor to annihilate the Jews, the LORD repeatedly states that all their foes "shall perish" and amount to nothing (vv.11-12).

How have the Jews survived since the time of Abraham?  How are they sustained to this day in their national lack of spiritual awakening and obedience to the LORD?  Even more, how do we survive our personal challenges?  The answer is in verse 10.

1. I am with you.
"Fear not" is not whistling in the dark with positive thoughts.  Our peace comes from knowing that God is personally present with us.  We do not walk through trials alone.  There is no greater Friend.

2. I am your God.
We can become discouraged when our faith in other things or other people have disappointed us.  But God is ever faithful.  The Hebrew word here is Elohim.  He is the supreme ruler and in full control.

3. I will strengthen you.
In a time of Paul's own sense on inability, Jesus spoke to him.  "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)

4. I will help you.
Sometimes God resolves issues without us to demonstrate His power and control.  Most often, He wants to show His grace as He enables us to face difficulties.  There is an old saying, "If He brings you to it, He will bring you through it."

5. I will uphold you.
Imagine that at the Almighty God of the universe personally supplies His power to us as we have need.  There are no better hands in which we could trust our lives.

God's character does not change.  He cares for His own.  He care for us.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How big is your God?

Read Isaiah 40.

After all the pronouncements of coming judgments, the book turns to themes of great encouragement.  Terrible days are ahead.  Assyria will return and put enormous pressure on Judah in every way.  Babylonia will rise as the world power, conquer Judah and take them away captive for 70 years.  But there is hope.

God warned the people through Moses in Deuteronomy 28 that if they did not obey Him they would lose the blessing of being on the land He had given to them.  The national punishment for their sin had come.  In His faithfulness the LORD sent His spokespersons, the prophets.  Those messengers were preaching like voices crying out in the wilderness (v.3).  The people lived in a spiritually dry place, not much growth, and only a few had ears to hear.

The message of hope is the King is coming!  Prepare for Him now.  As with all the Old Testament prophets, they often blended the two comings of Jesus and could not see the time distance between them.  Isaiah described His coming in great glory.  But when Jesus came the first time, all the Gospel writers attributed this passage to John, the Baptist.  He was preparing the nation for the Suffering Savior whom Isaiah describes in chapter 53.

Despite the challenges and rough days they will be facing, the focus of this message is on who God is.  The key question in verses 18 and 25: "To whom then will you liken God...?"
1. He is King of Kings (v.10)
When Jesus returns, as depicted in Revelation 19, He will rule the entire world.

2. He is like a Shepherd. (v.11)
Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd who cares, and even lays down His life, for His sheep.

3. He is all knowing. (vv.12-14)
There are five questions that have to do with the origins of knowledge and information.  The God of the Bible is the source of all wisdom and knowledge.

4. He is a living Being. (vv.19-20)
Following Christ is not a religion.  It is a relationship with a real Person.  Every religion is based upon a dead hero and a made up system of good works.  As an alternative or a strange spiritual brew, people worship inanimate objects of nature or idols crafted by humans.

5. He is the Creator of all things. (vv.21-26)
God is not an invention of man's ideas.  He not only owns the universe, but He superintends it as well.  Anyone reading this section would have known that the earth is not flat.

6. He is the eternal God. (vv.27-31)
With no beginning and no ending, the LORD is not a cultural whim or a belief of only a particular group.
His endurance is unending.
His understanding is unsearchable.
His power is unlimited.
And, He freely offers His strength to us by His grace (v.31).
"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever." (v.8)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guarding personal character when under Pressure

Read Isaiah 39.

Under pressure from the Assyrians, any words of kindness would have been more than welcomed by Hezekiah.  History reports that the King of Babylon rebelled against Sennacherib and was actually deposed by him.  With the stated pretense of checking on Hezekiah's health, the Babylonians may have been looking for an ally.  Flattered by such attention, Hezekiah wanted to impress these visitors.  It is obvious that instead of giving God the glory for all His blessings, Hezekiah took credit.  Whatever the motive of the Babylonians, they now knew of all Judah's treasures.

The LORD sent Isaiah to confront Hezekiah concerning his pride and lack of discernment.  Indeed, the Babylonians later overthrew Assyria and then returned to conquer Judah.  One cannot read Hezekiah's response to the prophecy without sensing his self-focus.  

1. Beware of flattery.
This is especially so when it comes from those whom you do not know.  Receive the kind words at surface value with a "thank you" and then move on.  The admitted downfall of so many well-known people came when they began believing the flattering words others were saying about them.

2. Beware of a lust for kindness.
When people people are under great pressure or in pain, there can be a lustful longing for any encouragement from nearly any source.  The emotions desire a pleasurable escape, even if temporary.  The devil knows how to provide the wrong sort of such escapes.

3. Beware of a lack of discretion.
At all times, we need to guard our thoughts and our words.  We need God's wisdom to discern daily interactions with other people.  Being prudent and careful about our behaviors is an indication of personal character.

Monday, July 28, 2014

6 insights on praying through Pain

Read Isaiah 38.

In what he felt was the "middle" of his life (v.10), good King Hezekiah became severely ill.  The LORD sent Isaiah to inform the king that he would die.  According to verse 6, this event took place prior to the Assyrian invasion of Judah.  It is obvious from the king's prayer that this sickness was not because he had done anything wrong.  Indeed, with quite a degree of confidence he was able to say to God that he had been faithful (v.3).

God heard his prayer and extended the king's life for fifteen more years.  The prophecy came with a miraculous sign (vv.7-8).  As it turned out, this episode was a test of Hezekiah's faith.  How would he respond under this threat?  Would he blame God or thank God?  Would he curse or pray?  Hezekiah made an A on the test.

What do we learn from this story?

1. Not all sickness is the result of sin or wrongdoing.
This was a faithful, godly man.  Passing this personal, life-threatening stress prepared him to trust God even more during the national threat.  God's tests are designed to strengthen us spiritually.

2. All healing is temporal.
Sooner or later, every one will die.  Even Lazarus died again.  Hezekiah's healing simply gave him fifteen more years to serve the nation in a time of great need.  God answered his prayer in order for the LORD to fulfill His plan.  God was not through with him.  With 15 years of added life, history records that Hezekiah died in 686 B.C.  That places this stressful time in 701 B.C., the same year the Assyrians invaded.

3. It was for his welfare.
In verse 17, Hezekiah could see how this turned out for his benefit.  The Apostle Paul wrote: "All things work together for good" (Romans 8:28), but we have to look for and trust God for the purpose in pain.  This is a difficult task when it does not make sense to us.  The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:71: "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes."

4. It is the mercy of God that we do not receive what we deserve.
High stress causes all our impurities to rise to the surface.  The king was grateful in verse 17 that the LORD "cast all my sins behind your back."  Acknowledging one's sins and receiving God forgiveness helps us understand God's compassion on us.  It is also the basis for us to understand the sin of others and our ability to forgive them.  Those who know the mercy of God become merciful people.

5. Trust God and take your medicine.
Isaiah came with a treatment for the boil that cured the illness.  This was  not a lack of faith on Hezekiah's part but thankfully receiving God's provision for him.

6. There is a promise for every pain.
God gave Hezekiah two promises in verses 5 and 6.  His life was extended and his people would be protected from this enemy.  How crucial it is for our well-being and spiritual growth to know the word of God!  His written promises sustain us, come what may.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Will you trust Him when things get Worse?

Read Isaiah 37.

The Assyrians surrounded Jerusalem with an overwhelming show of force.  They not only demanded immediate surrender, but they mocked the LORD saying that trust in Him was vain.  King Hezekiah said, "This is a day of distress, or rebuke, and of disgrace" (v.3).

The test of faith was on.  The question: Whom do you trust?  Judah did not have the resources to fight and win.  God had promised to protect them.  He even said through Isaiah that the Assyrians would be defeated and go home.  How could that possibly happen?  There was no answer but to cast their total dependence on the faithful LORD who had promised.

What did Hezekiah do?
1. He asked for prayer. (v.4)
The king first turned to his number one prayer warrior to ask for God's help.

2. He sought godly counsel. (vv.5-7)
In those days, the word of God was delivered through the prophets.  Isaiah provided advice straight from the LORD.  First, "Do not be afraid."  Fear is the opposite of faith.  Confidence in God pleases Him.  Second, God has a plan to fulfill His promise.  Most often He uses us in His plan, but, as in this case, He does not need us.  He is in total control

After those two major steps in the process, things became worse!  That is not an uncommon experience.  We think if we pray and do what is right, everything will be fine.  The reality is that the test of our faith may become harder.  When God acts in an impossible situation no one else can take the credit.  It also provides an unprecedented opportunity for personal spiritual growth.

What did Hezekiah do when things got worse?
3. He "spread it out before the LORD." (v.14)
Having received Sennacherib's threatening letter, the king physically laid the letter down in front of him as he prayed for God to intervene.  The Assyrians' biggest mistake was to assume that the God of Israel was just like all the man-made gods of other nations.  This had become a spiritual war.  The motive of Hezekiah's prayer was "that the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the LORD." (v.20)

In verse 28, God said He heard every word.  God saw the complacency of some toward Him and the outright rage of others.  185,000 Assyrian soldiers died without one arrow having been shot from Jerusalem.  Sennacherib went home in disgrace and was assassinated by his own sons.

This actual, historically verified account cannot be dismissed by any naysayer.  Our God is all-powerful.  Our God is faithful to fulfill His every word.  Do not be afraid.  Spread it out before the LORD in prayer and trust Him.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Faith, when facing an overwhelming Situation

Read Isaiah 36.

The fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign places this event in 701 B.C.  Twenty-one years prior to this they defeated the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians marched down the coast conquering city after city.   The last significant piece left standing in the land was Jerusalem.

Sennacherib sent thousands of troops to surround the city and demanded its surrender.  One of his field commanders, with the military rank of Rabshakeh, stood to negotiate the final terms.  King Hezekiah dispatched three of his most trusted men to the meeting.

 With enormous confidence and sarcasm, the Assyrian spokesman presented his case in no uncertain terms.
He began in verse 4 with the question that everyone must answer when facing an overwhelming situation.
"On what do you rest this trust of yours?"  Then, he made five pronouncements.  Some of these may sound familiar.

1. Hope is not a strategy. (v.5)
Positive thinking and words of affirmation about a crisis will not resolve the problem.  This is a war.  Just saying, "We will do the best we can and hope things will all work out" won't win the battle.

2. You cannot trust your neighbor to help you. (v.6)
In this case, Egypt was not the powerhouse of the past.  They could not be depended upon to come to Judah's rescue.  Isaiah had already said this in his messages.

3. You cannot rely on your own gods. (v.7)
Two things are at work in his point here.  One is that every city Assyria had systematically destroyed had their own faith systems.  None of them proved effective because they were false gods.  The big mistake by this spokesman was that he lumped the One true God along with all the others.  He, perhaps, thought that Hezekiah had lost his faith due to the removal of all the false altars to strange gods.  The truth is that the king had purged the land of all but worshiping the LORD.  (2 Kings 18)

4. You do not have enough resources to win. (v.8-9)
He even bet them that if they could come up with enough riders, he would give them 2000 horses.  But evidently he knew Judah did not have that many.  Even if they did, he sarcastically said that all of those could not win a fight with one of his captains.

5. This is what God wants. (v.10)
The pagan who did not know God at all tried to bully Judah by claiming to speak for the LORD.  He was lying and using it as a manipulative tactic.  Beware when someone who does not profess a personal relationship with the LORD and who has never read and studied God's word endeavors to quote God.

This encounter caused the three men to return in near despair.  Much of what the Assyrian had said was true.  What could they do?  How could they respond?  How could they survive?

But God in His faithfulness had already delivered His word through the Prophet Isaiah.  Jerusalem would not be conquered by the Assyrians.  Indeed, the Assyrians would be defeated and go home.  That required a ton of faith.

The Easters sing a wonderful gospel song that says:
"Over and over, again and again, God is faithful.
Over and over, again and again, through it all He's made me able
To stand and survive, to come through alive, when it sure looked like I could not win.
But Jesus is with me, so I'll claim the victory, over and over again."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A picture of peace in the World

Read Isaiah 35.

After all the prophesied devastation in chapter 34, the message continues with the rest of the story.  What a difference Jesus will make when He rules during the kingdom age!

1. The land. (vv.1-2, 6b-7)
In that day of Messiah's reign, the desert areas of Israel will flourish with abundant agriculture.  But notice that it is not the crops that will cause the rejoicing.  The glory of the LORD in all His majesty will be visible to everyone.  He will receive full credit due Him for these blessings.

2. The weak. (vv.3-4)
Those who endured the hard times and those who folded in fear, will be strengthened and encouraged.

3. The infirmed. (vv.5-6a)
All physical maladies will have been remedied by the Great Physician.

4. The redeemed. (vv.7-10)
The righteous will make their way to Jerusalem to worship the King.  Even the road will be called the Way of Holiness.  The pilgrims will journey safely, singing praises along the way.

Oh, how we look forward to this time of world peace.  Individually, those who know the Savior enjoy peace with God right now and can enjoy the promise of Jesus' personal peace.  "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14:27)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is the God of the Old Testament different in the New Testament?

Read Isaiah 34.

Years ago, a man tried to tell me that the God of the Old Testament was a God of hate, while the God of the New Testament was  a God of love.  The error of that false statement is immediately evident to anyone who has ever actually read the Bible.  At the root of such heresy is the concept that God has changed His character over time.  Ridiculous.  "For I the LORD do not change." (Malachi 3:6)

When Jesus returns it will be a day of worldwide judgment upon the nations, especially on those who sought to annihilate Israel.  "For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion" (v.8).  In this chapter, Edom is used as Exhibit A.  Israel's neighbor to the southeast was a constant enemy.

The descriptions in this chapter parallel with the Great Tribulation judgments as the seals are broken in Revelation.  These events then culminate in Revelation 19.  "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.  He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty." (Revelation 19:15)

Therefore, the time of earthly peace and blessing will only come after the returning Christ has decisively dealt with His enemies.

At the root of all current actions of man's inhumanity against others is sin.  It is not possible to negotiate that away.  There is only one cure in the universe for sin.

For now, we look forward to the day when Messiah will right every wrong and bring true justice to this world.  The Apostle Paul wrote: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Looking for stability in times of Trouble

Read Isaiah 33.

God delivered a series of judgmental "woes" against those who rejected and ignored Him.  Judah knew better, but they chose to place their faith elsewhere.  In verse 1, the LORD called them traitors.  They betrayed the God who loved and cared for them.  The betrayer will be betrayed by those they trusted.  Placing one's faith in anyone or anything other than the LORD will ultimately prove to be in vain (vv.11-12).

All their efforts to negotiate alliances and bring peace to their land would not work.  When the Assyrians invade, they will make everything desolate.  But Jerusalem and the remnant of those who turn to God will be spared.

Like many of the prophetic passages, the message blends the historic happenings with future hope.  The prophets could not see the gaps between the two, unless God revealed to them an exact amount time.

In trouble, there would some who will cry out for God's grace and deliverance (v.2).  When the LORD is exalted, "he will be the stability of your times" and provide the "salvation, wisdom, and knowledge" they so desperately needed.  However, it came with the stipulation that they respond in obedience to God's word.  Such holy fear, or respect, for the LORD is called "Zion's treasure" (v.6).

In that day when Messiah reigns, things will be different (vv.13-24).  The godless will be afraid.  The righteous will openly demonstrate their faith by what they do and do not do.  They will dwell securely and with abundance.   The focus will be on the Jesus.
"Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty..." (v.17)
"...there the LORD in majesty will be for us..." (v.21)
"For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver; the LORD is our king; he will save us." (v.22)

In the meantime, we are "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

8 characteristics of the Millennial Kingdom

Read Isaiah 32.

Those who do not believe in a literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth, that the Apostle John wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also have enormous difficulties with the prophets who provide details of such a kingdom.  This chapter, like many others, is a message to Judah of that future time.  Part of the proof that this indeed still remains unfulfilled is the fact that there has been no Jewish kingdom over that land since 586 B.C.

What will be the characteristics of Messiah's kingdom from David's throne in Jerusalem?
1. Righteousness. (v.1a)
God's standard of what is right will be upheld absolutely.

2. Justice. (v.1b)
All wrongs will be made right.  The Righteous Judge will be on the throne and His decisions will be carried out perfectly.

3. Security. (v.2)
Those who govern with the King of Kings will provide genuine safety and shelter for those in need.

4. Truth. (v.3-4)
In a previous message the people were chastised because they had closed their eyes and stopped their ears from the truth.  But in that day all will all see, hear, and communicate God's word with clarity.

5.  Generosity. (vv.5-8)
No longer will the foolish and sinful decisions be tolerated.  No longer will leaders be in power who are lying, especially about the LORD, devising "wicked schemes", and taking advantage of others.  In that day, those with influence will be "noble" or known for being generous with their service to people.

6. The Holy Spirit. (v.15a)
Verses 9-14 warn against complacency about God implementing His announced judgment.  Most likely, this is a reference to the immediate crisis of the Assyrian invasion into Judah and ultimately the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.  "For the palace is forsaken and the populous city deserted..." (v.14a).  "Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high..."  This not a reference to what happened in Acts 2.  Several of the Prophets (Ezekiel 36-37; Joel 2; Zechariah 12) looked forward to a time when all of Israel would personally experience the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  He would be the One to give them the spiritual understanding and ability to live a godly life they lacked.

7. Productivity. (v.15b)
This is not the only passage that predicts that even Israel's deserts will flourish with agriculture.

8. Peace. (v.17-18)
Since the establishment of the political state of Israel in 1948, there has been no peace in that land.  Indeed, throughout history, some satanically energized leader and/or peoples have announced their intent to annihilate the Jews.  But in that day, with the Prince of Peace ruling over this world, genuine peace will come .

For those of us who have a personal relationship with Jesus, we will rule and reign with Him.  Given the current state of affairs around the world and in Israel today, we pray with the Apostle John, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:20)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Do we need a powerful national Defense?

Read Isaiah 31.

Everyone should know that might does not make right.  But might does not insure success either.  A powerful national defense is always desirable for the protection of a country.  However, if that is what the people and the leaders are depending upon for their future, their faith may be sadly misplaced.

God continued to give Isaiah messages for Judah.  They thought if they could amass a big enough allied force, the kingdom would be delivered from the Assyrians.  The problem was not military preparation but trust.  If Judah's national trust was in Egypt and their army, the plans would fail.

The LORD tried to teach them to "look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the LORD!" (v.1).  God's power and His plan always supersedes human efforts.  So, why not ask Him what He wants done?  Why not ask His help?  And, then living in obedience to what He wants done, why not trust Him for the outcome?

God had already announced through Isaiah that He would protect Judah against this enemy.  So, what should they be doing?

1. Turn to him. (v.6a)
The people of Judah had rebelled against the LORD and His expectations of them.  Their sin had brought the pending punishment on themselves.  God proves His mercy and His grace to us by faithfully calling the wayward to change directions.  By coming to Him, they would find forgiveness, peace, and the protection they desired.

2. Cast away false beliefs. (v.6b)
In their rebellion against God, the people had turned to other sources for direction and decisions.  They even placed their faith in inanimate objects they had made with their own hands and prayed to them for help.  Such thinking borderlines on insanity.  Instead, why not trust the One who created the elements and controls the universe?

"And yet he is wise and brings disaster; he does not call back his words." (v.2a)
No human is a match for God's wisdom.  His word is absolute.  Trust Him and see.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What are you waiting For?

Read Isaiah 30.

Living in fear as they awaited the Assyrian invasion, the southern kingdom of Judah looked to Egypt for help and protection.  But Egypt was no longer a strong world power.  Representatives of Judah were dispatched anyway to secure an alliance.  The result would be "shame and disgrace" (v.5).

God had already made it clear that the northern kingdom of Israel would be conquered and the people scattered.  However, God also promised to use the Assyrians to punish Judah, but not conquer them.

How did they get into this mess?  They decided that they knew better how to run their lives and their nation than the God who created them and brought them this far.  "Stubborn children," He called them, making their own plans, seeking alliances and protection from everyone and everything except Him.  In doing so, they "add sin to sin" (v.1).

The people did not want to hear what was right.  They wanted someone to flatter them and help them feel good about themselves.  In other words, they deliberately sought to believe in fantasies in place of the truth (v.10).  None of those false ways dealt with the root issue of their sin and guilt.

God's gracious offer to them remained.  "In returning (repentance) and rest you shall be saved: in quietness and in trust shall be your strength" (v.15).  Making a u-turn toward the LORD, accepting His forgiveness, and trusting Him alone would bring them peace and the provision they needed.  All along, the LORD wanted to be their Teacher showing them how to live (v.21).  One day they will listen to Him.  At that point, they will get rid of all the false ways they used to trust with a simple "Be gone!" (v.22).

In the middle of the chapter is the invitation.  "The LORD waits to be gracious to you and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.  For the Lord is a God of justice;".  But there is more.  "Blessed are all those who wait for him" (v.18).  Whom are you trusting today to meet your real needs?  God is waiting.  What are you waiting for?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why can't they see the Truth?

Read Isaiah 29.

This chapter could be labeled as bad news, good news.  First the "woe".  Ariel is a direct reference to Jerusalem, the city of David (v.1).  The city would come under siege by the Assyrians.  Indeed, Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem in 701 B.C. but was unable to conquer it.  Notice in verse 3, that God takes personal credit for putting the city under such pressure.  And, He will protect the city this time.  Like a person with a bad dream, when awakened the frightening thing was not there.  The whole reason for God's judgment was to motivate them to repent.  But they did not.

Why could they not see what God was doing?  Why could they not hear the prophet's message and change their ways?

Their sin had caused them to become spiritually insensitive to the things of God.  They had blinded their eyes from seeing the truth and stopped their ears hearing what God was saying to them.  Their so-called spiritual leaders could not make sense of God's word.  Even reading the messages did not make sense to them.  They were religious (v.13) but their words of worship were empty because "their hearts are far from me."

Believing they had no accountability to the LORD, they took full credit for their lives.  Their thoughts toward the Creator included: "He did not make me" (v.16)

And now the good news.  What a change, "in that day," when the Messiah will return to rule the world from the city of Jerusalem.  "In that day" the Jews will hear the message and see the truth.  Justice will come to the oppressed and upon the "ruthless."  As a nation of God's people, they will acknowledge who Jesus is and give Him full credit for their lives.  

As the Apostle Paul looked forward to the day of Israel's national repentance, in Romans 9 he wrote of the same potter and clay comparison.  In Romans 11, he wrote of Israel's spiritual blindness and deafness.  His point was that this opened wide the door for the Gentiles to be "grafted" into God's plan of redemption.  As individuals, he wrote in Romans 10:12-13- "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Is the message too simple for You?

Read Isaiah 28.

Woe to the northern kingdom of Israel!
The people prided themselves in their prosperity.  But having rejected God, they became like a fading flower.  The LORD would use the Assyrians to trample upon them without mercy.  Meanwhile, the people and their leaders were depicted as drunkards, staggering, confused, and unable to make right decisions.

They even mocked Isaiah's clear message from the LORD as being to simple, formulaic, and rote.  They rejected what God was saying to them as being childish, like teaching the ABC's (vv.9-10).  But when a person will not listen to God's word, He will send a stronger messenger to teach them.  If they refused to repent of their sin, then He would have an ungodly, foreign power instruct them about accountability and judgment.  They will "be broken, and snared, and taken" (vv.11-13)

In great contrast to the fading glory of Israel, there will come a day when the LORD will sit on the throne and be a "crown of glory" to His people (v.5).

Woe to the southern kingdom of Judah!
The leaders of the south were no better.  They, too, had rejected God and His word.  Openly, they had committed their lives to false gods, to lies, and trusted in them to protect them (vv.14-15).  In short, they tried to build their lives and the nation on a foundation of sinking sand.

In great contrast the unreliable underpinning of Judah, the LORD said, "Behold, I am the one who had laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: 'Whoever believes will not be in haste.'" (v.16)

New Testament believers cannot read verse 16 without thinking of Jesus.  The Apostle Peter quoted Isaiah in 1 Peter 2:6 and applied it to Jesus.  The Apostle Paul wrote: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:20)

There are only two ways to build a life: trust in the false beliefs of this world, or trust in the sure foundation of Jesus.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Israel's future and Ours

Read Isaiah 27.

True prophecy is telling history in advance.  After the death of Solomon, the land divided into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.  In Isaiah's day, the Assyrians were cruelly conquering every nation in their path.  The LORD told Isaiah to prophesy that Assyria would crush Israel.  As a result, Judah would experience great pressure but God would protect them a while longer.  Later, the Babylonians conquered Assyria and then captured Judah to take them away in exile (v.8).

Not since the time of Solomon had there been a single nation of Jews on that land under its own rule until 1948; roughly, 3000 years.  Still, the world has yet to see what God told Isaiah would ultimately happen.

Four times the phase "in that day" or "in the days to come" appear.  Most often, that is a trigger phrase concerning the time of Christ's return and events that will follow.  Here is some history in advance.

1. The LORD will slay his enemies. (v.1)
This is the exact picture of Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16.  The sword of the LORD is the Word of God.  As we are told in Genesis 1, He spoke creation into existence.  So, in His return He will speak the command and all the enemies of God will be defeated.

2. The LORD will restore Israel spiritually. (vv.2-6)
The spiritual picture of God's relationship with the Jews is one of taking care of His vineyard.  Previously, the message to Isaiah was that the vineyard produced only wild grapes, so God would remove His protection of His people.  But these verses look forward to a day when the Jews will "blossom" "and fill the whole world with fruit."

3. The LORD will forgive the sin of Israel. (vv.7-11)
God had to deal with their sin of unbelief and blatant false worship.  The exile of Judah that took place in 586 B.C. was predicted.  To this day, the world has not seen the fulfillment of this national removal of sin and restoration.  There is only one solution to sin and that is the forgiveness God alone offers through the shed blood of Jesus, the Messiah.  By faith the godly of the Old Testament looked forward to the cross, as we look back to it in faith for our complete and final atonement.  One day, the Jews will embrace Jesus as the Messiah and know this forgiveness personally and nationally.  The Apostle Paul wrote clearly concerning this in Romans 9-11 and even quotes Isaiah several times to prove his case.  He then concluded, "And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written..." (Romans 11:26)

4. The LORD will be worshiped in Jerusalem. (vv.12-13)
The entire region that is in such turmoil and terror today will "in that day" be sacred territory.  Jesus will reign for 1,000 years from Jerusalem and the world will come to bow before Him.

The good news is that anyone may experience God's personal forgiveness and life-restoration right now by calling on Jesus.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A promised peace with a Price

Read Isaiah 26.

In the last chapter, Isaiah wrote prophetically what believers in Jesus will say "in that day."  Here, now, is the song we will sing when Messiah rules and reigns.

Notice all the benefits of the redeemed.
1. A perfect peace because our trust is in the unchanging and sovereign LORD. . (v.3)

2. A clear and smooth path for life because God takes care of the consequences of our obedience. (v.7)

3. A living Savior. (vv.13-14)

4. A joyful resurrection. (v.19)

In the meantime, the Apostle Paul encouraged:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ( Philippians 4:7)

"The price tag of renewing the mind with Scripture is time and discipline, but the benefits are always disproportionate to the expenditures.  If we are shallow in the Word, we will be superficial in our knowledge of God and less effective in our relationship with others."-Ken Boa

Friday, July 11, 2014

A hope worth the Wait

Read Isaiah 25.

Knowing the truth about God's judgment against unbelievers may cause distress.  In the previous chapter, Isaiah felt the weight of the message and cried out, "I waste away, I waste away.  Woe is me!"  But for those who have placed their eternal faith in the LORD, there is hope and joy in our future.

Isaiah wrote this beautiful song to praise the LORD as he looked forward to that day when God would once and for all deliver His people.

There is no mistaking the fact that this speaks of an earthly kingdom where Messiah will rule and reign.  That will be when the Prince of Peace will rule and all the nations will glorify Him.  Don't miss all the descriptors of how the LORD will protect those who love Him.  It will be a time of great celebration.

From the prophet's view, all of the future events blended into one picture.  The New Testament provides many details, filling in some of the gaps the prophets could not see and did not know.  It is always best when we have the Scriptures commenting on other Scripture, enlightening our understanding.  For instance, the same wording of verse 8 appears in Revelation 22:4.  After the Millennial kingdom on earth, Revelation 22 explains that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  In that eternal place, there will be no tears and no such thing as death.  We will never say good-bye to our love ones who are with us because of our mutual faith in Christ.

Like us, how Isaiah longed for that day!  In verse 9, he even wrote what we will be saying: "It will be said in that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.  This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'"


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Worldwide judgment is Coming

Read Isaiah 24.

There is decided shift in Isaiah's messages from the LORD, beginning here and continuing into the next several chapters.  No longer is the predicted judgment directed against the individual neighboring nations and the obvious threat is no longer the immediate Assyrian invasion.  The subject now is a worldwide devastation from God Himself.

During this unprecedented time, everyone on earth will suffer loss and the devastation. Why?  Verse 5 explains that the earth is defiled by human sinfulness.  God's laws, statutes, and His eternal covenant have been violated.

This will be followed by a period of time when the nations from the ends of the earth will "sing for joy; over the majesty of the LORD" and "give glory to the LORD" (vv.15-16).  But then, there will come a time of final judgment.

Since sin entered in the Garden of Eden, God has always been implementing His plans of redemption, judgment and cleansing the earth of its corruption.  In Noah's day, He sent a worldwide flood to cleanse the earth.  "But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." (2 Peter 3:7)

These descriptions and their sequencing fit perfectly with the Biblical understanding of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 6-19), then the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1-10), followed by the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15).

It should be remembered that God's wrath is not aimed at believers.  Just as in Noah's day, He provides protection and escape from such judgment for those who turn to Him.  Jesus said, "Whoever believes n the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pride and God's Purpose

Read Isaiah 23.

Tyre and Sidon were two of the most important trading centers in the Mediterranean at the time.  Buying and selling with nations from Egypt to Spain, these merchants of Phoenicia became wealthy.  The people deemed themselves self-sufficient and sensed no need of God.  Like many port cities, they had become places known for carousing and open sin.  But their "pompous pride" and self-glorification were to come to an end.

To be sure, the Assyrians were marching in their direction.  The trade fell to the control of the Assyrian Empire for the 70 years, exactly as prophesied here, from 700 B.C. to  630 B.C.  However, behind the visible threat was the power of the invisible God.  There is a question in verse 8 with the answer in verse 9.  "Who has purposed this" destruction of these great cities?  "The LORD of hosts has purposed it."

A heart full of pride, the sense of self-sufficiency, and the actions of living life the way one wants are the very reasons Jesus was nailed to the cross.  Those form one of the key Biblical definitions of sin.

Isaiah later wrote, "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Though we are not told how, at the end of the chapter, it is mentioned that the brief time of restoration of commerce there will be holy to the LORD.  And, isn't that what God is after all along?  His desire is for everything and everyone in His creation to bring Him glory.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Facing an impossible Situation

Read Isaiah 22.

God used the Assyrians to put pressure on Judah to repent.  But instead, they fortified Jerusalem's defenses.  They armed themselves with weapons (v.8).  Those who tried to flee were captured.  Judah was helpless to save themselves.  The LORD called to them to repent and turn to Him.  Instead of mourning and repenting, they feasted.

Shebna, evidently was one who could have been in a position to negotiate with the Assyrians.  However, it seems he wanted to use this opportunity to make a lasting name for himself.  Therefore, God rejected him as an unfaithful "steward" and replaced him with Eliakim.  Eliakim served as a father figure to Judah, with the full royal authority that God place upon him.  In verse 14, he had God-given power to make things happen on behalf of his people.  But as secure as Eliakim's leadership was even it would one day come to an end.

At the heart of the problem was their unbelief that God could deliver them and that He wanted to deliver them.  That sin of unbelief "will not be atoned for..." (v.14).

The writer of Hebrews stated, "Without faith it is impossible to please him." (Hebrews 11:6)  When facing impossible situations, we first and foremost gladly cast our full dependence upon the God of the impossible.  He alone can forgive sin.  He alone can deliver us.

"Faith, mighty faith, the promise sees and looks to God alone;
Laughs at impossibilities, and cries it shall be done." -Charles Wesley

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Protection from pending Disaster

Read Isaiah 21.

Judah looked to any nation that could possibly stay the invasion of Assyria.  In His faithfulness, God told Isaiah what was about to happen and then the prophet delivered the word of God.

Looking to the east, there were the desert peoples of Dumah (Elam), Media, and the city of Babylon.  Surely, one of these could help.

A rebellion against Assyria did take place from the area of the desert sea, now known as the Persian Gulf.  But while Isaiah emotionally and physically felt the awfulness of the coming battle, some sat down to feast as if nothing was going to happen.  Then, the prophecy stated the news would come that Babylon had been "shattered to the ground."  Isaiah described Judah's dashed hopes as grain that had been threshed.

The message from the LORD even included the time.  The rout of the region would happen within one year.

Though a similar wording is used concerning Babylon in Revelation 14 and 18, these are two distinct events.  Isaiah wrote concerning the Assyrians' defeat of Babylon.  Later, in Daniel's time, the demise of the Babylonian Empire took place at the hands of the Medes and Persians.  Then, prior to the return of Christ the new Babylon will be destroyed.

God will be faithful to Judah and protect them from the cruelty of the Assyrians.  The lesson here appears to be that they need to stop looking to other sources of help and turn to the only One who can truly protect them.  That is a good word for all of us today.

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the LORD, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" (Psalm 91:1-2)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

The awesome consequences of Neglect

Read Isaiah 20.

In a graphic display, God instructed the prophet to deliver His message.  Assyria would cruelly conquer and humiliate the nations.  With hopes dashed for any regional alliance, Judah would have to stop and take stock  about their future.  There is an evaluative statement and then a question that applies to everyone who ever lived.

1. The statement. (v.6a)
"This is what happens to those who ignore the LORD and put their hope in something else."
In predicting the demise of Cush and Egypt, God declared that they will evaluate what happened to them and why.  There proved to be no one to come alongside them to help.  They put their trust in the wrong place and in the wrong people.  They were sincere but sincerely wrong.

God provided all they needed for forgiveness, restoration and protection.  But His plans were not accepted.  They thought they knew better than God.  Therefore, they suffered the consequences.

2. The question. (v.6b)
"How shall we escape?"
Some will trust that there is no such eternal accountability.  They will not escape eternal punishment.
Some will trust in other beliefs.  They will not escape eternal punishment.
Some will trust in their own good works.  They will not escape eternal punishment.

There are not two answers to that question.  There is only one.  It is not a sectarian belief, but the gracious offer of the living God.  Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

In a different context, the writer of Hebrews included the same question: "For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:2-3)

Friday, July 4, 2014

God's peace plan for Egypt

Read Isaiah 19.

The LORD continued to reveal His prophetic messages for the nations through Isaiah.  With Assyria threatening the entire region, it would have been natural to look to neighboring countries for defensive alliances.  If all the north will be overrun by the Assyrians, what about Egypt in the south?  They, too, will be conquered by the same cruel invaders.

God will use this enemy attack as His instrument.  In addition, He will withhold blessings so as to bring about total economic collapse upon Egypt.  Why?  Because the Egyptians had put their trust in false gods.  At its root, the battle is always spiritual.  Verse 3 gives some detail.  The nation prayed to idols they had made with their own hands out of resources God created and provided.  They turned to shysters who claimed to be able to interpret the stars or other omens.  Then, there were satanically aligned wizards and conjurers who offered demonic counsel.  But when the LORD intervened, they all proved be of no use whatsoever.  This was accomplished by Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, in 671 B.C.

The second half of the chapter looks beyond the immediate threat to a distant time.  Five times the phrase "in that day" appears, giving a glimpse of Egypt's spiritual future.

1. Egypt will fear Judah. (vv.16-17)
When the Messiah rules the world from David's throne in Jerusalem, all the nations, including Egypt, will demonstrate respect and respond accordingly.

2. Egypt will worship the LORD. (v.18)
The prediction is that there will be five key cities.  The nation will abandon all false gods and be fully committed followers of Jesus, the Messiah.

3. Egypt will have its own altar. (vv.19-22)
With its own altar to worship the LORD and a public monument of testimony, the nation will openly declare to the world its embrace of the Messiah.

4. Egypt will be at peace. (v.23)
Given the current internal strife of that nation, it is hard to imagine them being at peace among themselves, let alone with their historic enemies.  But when the Prince of Peace comes, these three-Assyria, Israel, and Egypt-will freely travel back and forth in peace.

5. Egypt will be blessed and be a blessing. (v.24)
One cannot read these words in verse 24 without remembering God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3-  "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

God is waiting. Why?

Read Isaiah 18.

When God acts on behalf of a nation or in judgment, it affects all the surrounding nations as well.  The same is true with individuals.  With infinite wisdom, He works in everyone's lives at the simultaneously, in His time, to fulfill His plans.

Chapter 18 is a "woe" aimed at Ethiopia.  Apparently, there was a quick effort to align themselves with Israel to fight against the Assyrians.  Isaiah's wrote a terse response in verse 2: "Go home."  All the alliances in the world would not thwart the invasion.  God wanted to use Assyria as a penalty against the sin of Israel.  Later, He would deal with the Assyrians and their sin.

In the meantime, the LORD told Isaiah in verse 4, "I will quietly look from my dwelling..."  Quietly?  Waiting?

Isaiah knew what was going to happen, all the pieces seemed to be in place, but the LORD had not implemented the plan yet.  Indeed, the prophecy here looks even beyond Isaiah's day to the events that are still future to us.  In verses, 7 and 8, all the nations, including Ethiopia, will make their way to Jerusalem to bring gifts the LORD.  The government will be upon His shoulders and the Prince of Peace will reign.

What is God waiting on?  All of us have asked that question at one time or another.  If He is control and knows what He is going to do, why does not He not act now?
1. He waits to judge sin.
In Genesis 15:12-16, the LORD told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years.  The astounding fact is that he told him 500 years in advance!  What was God waiting on?  The sin of the Amorites.  To us, it seems that there is no connection.  But if God was going to move millions of Jews into Canaan, He needed to first deal with this nation living in the north.  Like falling dominoes, one movement in the plan effects everyone else.

2. He waits for individuals to repent.
2 Peter 3:9-10, "The Lord is  not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but hat all should reach repentance."  In His grace, He waits to allow every opportunity for people to change their minds about Him and His offer of forgiveness.  When He does bring judgment, there will be no excuse.

3. He waits to reveal things yet unseen by us.
Whether it is the eternal change of a life, the movement upon a person's heart to respond in a certain way, or the supply of a need, I believe God delights in surprising us with His goodness.  Even when we are certain what God wants done, it is a walk of faith to wait upon how and when He will act.  But each time, the wait will be worth it and our faith stronger.