Turning God’s Wrath Away.

Singing “I stand amazed”.

“Are you truly amazed? Are you truly in awe? Do you really drink in who I am, that My ways are infinitely higher than your ways, that My words are infinitely higher than yours? Do you understand the vastness of My presence, like the waters cover the sea? The whole world in My hands? Do you understand My power, My ability to do anything I choose to do? Mankind managed to split an atom and 100 000 people were killed. But I split whole suns, whole constellations. Stand truly amazed, because even as amazing as all that is, the most amazing thing, the most wonderful thing of all was the death of my Son on the cross. That act transformed the whole of history and it was done as much for you as for anyone else. Yes, ponder and absorb and stand amazed”.

I am looking today at the rest of Isaiah ch 9 and ch 10. Seen in the context of the Son who is prophesied to be born because of the darkness, gloom and distress in Israel/Judah. The surprising thing is that the prophecy reverts again to God’s judgement, chiefly of Israel and Judah. Yes Assyria is going to be God’s vehicle of destruction, but it will be initiated by Him cf 10:13, 23!

There is an interesting twist to this judgement of God in 10:5 ff. Despite the fact that God specifically chose Assyria to be His “rod of anger”, He will judge Assyria even more severely for carrying His judgement out. cf 10:5 ff. Mmmm seems a bit unfair doesn’t it? Unless one understands that He wants to make the point that despite their waywardness, Israel still had a special place in His heart.

Now a couple of things stand out. Even as God declares the litany of Israel’s sins, I have looked to see what the basic underlying sin was. The fundamental sin from which all these sins arose. We can see the answer in 9:9, 10. The people wanted to go it on their own. They were boasting of what they had done and would do, without any reference to God. That was the basic sin of Adam, it was the basic sin of Israel and Judah. It is still the basic sin today. While we look at all the awful things mentioned and shake our heads, we ourselves, may be going ahead and taking pride in what we are doing every day, not recognizing God’s hand in every aspect of our lives. In all of our creative thinking. Not relying on Him completely.

The good news is that God has decreed that there will be a remnant. 10:20. Now look how they are described in that vs “They will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel”. The aim of God in developing a remnant was to establish a people, for Himself that would “truly rely on Him”. As I have said before, that theme of the remnant, will continue to be developed in Isaiah. The very next chapter (11), will again give us a clue how it was going to arise.

Something else of significance comes out in this section: Four times the statement “yet for all this, His anger is not turned away” 9:12b; 17c; 21c; 10:4b., is repeated. Do you know why that is so significant? It is significant because it points directly to Jesus and the work He did on the cross. Look at Romans 3:25 and look at the note in the margin of your NIV bible. The word translated as “a sacrifice of atonement” is actually a “propitiation”. This is a unique word used for Christ’s ministry and means that through His death on the cross He “turned away the wrath of God”. So what God was seeking in Isaiah’s time, was someone to turn His wrath away from His people. He Himself, would eventually supply that someone many years later when Israel had born the brunt of God’s wrath. This is how a Remnant would be formed. One that would truly rely on God.

Stop and think about that. God’s wrath remains the same today as it was then, against all sin. Which, as we have seen, arises from Man’s basic desire to be like God and to act independently from Him. For man to seek his own glory, like the Tower of Babel. It is only as we flee to Jesus that we can be protected from that wrath, as He turns it away from us.

Do you hear Jesus speaking to you? Do you stand amazed at His presence? How do you respond to what you have read today? God bless all of you.

Immanuel – a Child is Born.

Singing “Let there be dancing in the darkness”. How can we dance in the darkness, when so much of the world is in darkness?

“This is the enigma of Christianity, of My coming, of My life on earth. I came as the most lowly, born in a dirty stable and laid in a manger, recognized first by equally dirty shepherds, as a helpless baby – yet the Creator of the universe. As little as the picture suggests the reality lying behind this baby was that the ‘government would be on His shoulders’. I am and was and will be the ruler of the world. I came in complete weakness, lowlier than the lowest – yet to be exalted above all. This is the enigma which you must replicate – as you follow Me you must regard all others as higher than you. You must be prepared to take the full role of a servant – the most humble position – and then you will be closest to Me. And the enigma extends that despite the world’s darkness, you can dance the dance of victory in Me – because I have overcome the world and as you dance the real dance of victory, others may see and want to join you”.

King Ahaz in all his weakness, acts as a foil for the presentation of this magnificent prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-8. The enigma starts with the very place that the prophecy initially addresses. Zebulun and Naphtali, the weakest and most northern parts of Israel’s territory, which would be the first to be invaded. But would also be the first where Jesus would exercise His ministry. And note the reference to the “the land of the gentiles”. This King in the line of David’s rule would not be limited to Israel and Judah.

Notice too the strong reference to victory in vv 3-5. It is exactly in this victory that we can celebrate with dancing. As we look all around us in the world to-day, there is an all-pervading darkness. As I mused earlier, how can we dance at a time like this? Yet the dance is a dance of celebration for those souls in whom the darkness has been rolled back. That is why it is the purpose (the zeal) of God, above all else to overcome the darkness, one soul at a time. And He will accomplish it . Very important is that the verb tense of this passage is present perfect, which means it is spoken as if it has already happened, because in God’s economy it is so certain that it as if it has already happened.

Then the son is presented. In this passage the focus is on His humanity and described from a human perspective. There are 4 components:

1.Wonderful Counsellor: He will rule with unparalleled wisdom.

2.Mighty God. Not only with supernatural wisdom but superlative strength.

3.Everlasting Father. All the attributes of fatherhood would characterize His dealing with those who follow Him.

4.Prince of peace. This is slightly ambiguous because it reflects back to Ahaz’s inability to secure peace. But it is also an important feature of Messiah’s reign. His death being the means by which God is making peace between Himself and alienated mankind.

This is no doubt a goose-bump accurate, forward look down some 7 centuries at the arrival of this “Son”.

As I stand back and consider this passage, I am overwhelmed, with the reality and accuracy of the prediction, spoken in the present tense as if it has already happened. In the times of the darkness of distress or doubt, this prophecy, among many others, should be a huge reassurance to each one of us, as we compare it to the events as they did eventually unfold. Is this not the motivation for us to get out there and dance the victory dance? This is the only Way, the only victory and the darkness of the world out there can never douse the flame of hope.

God is with Us.

“The king is coming”! I am singing this beautiful song his morning and my eyes are filled with tears as I am taken back to those first weeks after my rebirth in Christ. – the expectation of Your return.

“Yes, since I walked the earth and passed to heaven there has been an expectation of My immanent return. That is right because my return has been as immanent then as it is now – because I am outside of time. The huge display of sound and light, trumpets and chariots are a mere symbols of the reality of what it is going to be like. In an instant, the present will roll back – everything will be transformed. I will display Myself in all My majesty and every knee will bow an every tongue will confess My Lordship – and you will be part of My Bride consisting of myriads of others who will be celebrating their redemption and rescue from the sin and evil of this world. Let this vision and thought transform you this week. Let it soak into your conscious right down to the bottom of your subconscious, so that it affects every part of your life.”

I am going to leave the vision in Isaiah for the time being and move on to the next section of Isaiah. Chapters 7 t0 12 have been called “the book of Immanuel”. Now the challenge is to read this meaningfully as a devotion, without doing a deep bible study. War is always complex and the biblical wars no less. To understand all the aspects of the conflicts which form a backdrop to Isaiah’s prophecy, one would have to study Kings and Chronicles and follow the thread of the whole history of Israel. So what I suggest we do is visualize a framework, within which Isaiah’s prophetic words can fit, in such a way that we can draw an intelligent conclusion on which to base what we feel Jesus is saying to us daily, without necessarily grasping all the details of the different hostilities and the intricacies of all the prophecies

So this is how I see the basic framework at the moment. The book has begun with 5 chapters describing Israel’s apostasy, with warnings of God’s judgement because of that. In ch 6 we see the beginning of God’s reaction. He has raised up and called a spokesperson to bring His message to the people. In this chapter we see the wrath and judgement of God as the immediate message. However there is a glimmer of hope, a remnant. Now we know where this picture of a remnant is ultimately aiming. From it God will raise up a “Servant” who through His suffering will bring release from God’s judgement to that remnant and later to the whole world.

We should take into account the way God communicates. He uses names, for instance to pronounce concepts, like Isaiah’s two sons. Into the mix comes a significant name “Immanuel” which means “God with us”. Initially, though this “name” is not necessarily attached to one particular person, but rather a general statement of God’s presence with His people cf 8:10b.

God also uses pictures to make the truth and severity of His judgement more real. Like 7:18, whistling for flies and bees, the result of calling on Egypt and Assyria for help. 7:19 the danger of hiring Assyria to help is likened to a razor that will shave everything even their private parts. 8:7,8 Assyria coming like a mighty flood to sweep everything away before them.

Behind this appears this mystical figure called Immanuel, which is a faint prediction, at this stage, of the real Saviour. We remember that He is later known as Immanuel. Matthew tells us that in Matt 1:23. We also read the familiar description of a figure who is a Stone to cause stumbling, a Rock which makes them fall. cf Isa 8:14. For now this description focuses on His role as judge. From ch 9 we will see Him in a different role.

So as I read now with this framework in mind, I see Ahaz, a weak king faced by aggressive nations, who are being used by God to enact His judgement. Ahaz is warned of this and reminded of the importance of standing firm in his faith. 7:9b. The Lord says “ask Me for a sign” 7:11, as He appears to offer help. However Ahaz is hard hearted and follows the plan he has already devised in his own mind 7:12. In the light of this attitude of rejection, God pronounces judgement, and the name Immanuel as the “sign” of that.

So what do I hear Jesus saying to me? God’s judgement looms large, even in the name Immanuel. This reminds me again of the reality of God’s judgement, as severe today as in that time. I only have to look around at the world to see the signs of that. Understanding this makes me ever so grateful that I have escaped it through the very figure we are getting the first glimpse of for now. I am also reminded of the urgency with which I should be telling this message to others.

But what speaks to me more clearly, is the interaction between Ahaz and God. Ahaz’s reaction reflects what many of us, myself included, often run to when we are faced with a crisis. Rather than stop and turn to God for His guidance, I immediately start devising my own plans and seeking another rescuer. This will not call God’s judgement down on me, however like Ahaz, because Jesus has taken that judgment on Himself. It may, however lead me down a path which takes me away from God rather than towards Him. Nevertheless I have His promise that He will always be with me.

What do you hear Jesus say to you from these two chapters?

God’s Commission

Singing this morning: “By grace I am received, by grace I am redeemed”.

I have a picture of the sea – calm – the swells gently lifting and falling – I am floating on it – it extends to the horizon on all sides. “That is like my grace – it extends further than you can see, it surrounds you completely. That word describes the whole of My relationship with you. Everything that I do, everywhere we interact – Grace is operating – it is the basis of every action I take towards you. It is a word which is used so often, without true comprehension of its deep significance and meaning. Allow the knowledge and experience of My grace to transform you continually.”

Isaiah 6. This is such a magnificent chapter that I have found myself coming back to it several times. Here are some of the things that have caused me to ponder:

The significance of Uzziah’s death in relation to the previous 5 chapters of Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s pending judgement. Uzziah died from leprosy which is attributed to God’s judgement on him for desecrating the temple (2Chr 26:16). So this is the completion of the backdrop against which Isaiah is called. Judgement is prominent and apparent throughout this chapter. In the presence of the vision of Yahweh, Isaiah repents (v 5). God’s action towards Isaiah shows his cleansing by a coal from the altar. Significantly coming from the altar, which reminds us of the substitutionary death this forgiveness requires. Secondly the burning coal is a picture of judgement. Remember what I have said that salvation is always closely linked to judgement. So Isaiah is prepared for his mission.

Then Isaiah is warned that his ministry of preaching God’s word is going to have the response of hardening peoples hearts and closing their ears. A difficult concept which is taken up by Jesus in Mark, as He describes His reason for teaching in parables. So the preaching of God’s word is a form of God’s judgement on those who do not want to listen. Those who are open to God, will hear and be enriched while those who do not want to hear, for whatever reason will be hardened even more. This explains so much about people who are so obviously blind to and cannot comprehend what we feel are obvious facts.

The difficult part is v 10 b “Otherwise – they might see, hear or turn”. What do you guys make of that?

Secondly we see this whole chapter against the backdrop of vs 3. Declaring God’s Almighty, universal power and authority. Remember I said at the beginning of our reading of Isaiah, the key vs for Isaiah is 40:5? Says the same thing. So we are reminded both by the vision and those words again who this whole book is about. General when one writes there is an concept of “show, not tell”. That means if you can show a concept it is much more powerful than simply describing or narrating it. I have been pondering over the vision as such and will chat more about that on Monday.

Finally the reminder in the last vs brings up the shining hope we should have against the background of all this judgment. That power and universal authority of vs 3, is fully focused on the “Stump” which is the “Seed (vs13.b)”. A pinprick of light, at this point, that is going to come alive in a blazing furnace later, to fulfil the whole purpose of God for the world..

So how are you hearing? Notice I said “how” not what.

Fruit, the Sign of a Healthy Vine.

“It is your heart that I seek – since you were born I have been working in you and around you to win your heart. This is not about obedience, this is about your heart, but as you find more and more satisfaction in Me, you will give Me your obedience as a full and appropriate response to My love for you. As you taste and experience My love for you, you will give Me more and more of your love. However while you are still in the “now but not yet”, there will still be other things that are drawing your love away from Me. I am weaning you away from those things as I seek to win those parts of your heart as well. It is OK to enjoy life, good food, warm fellowship, long walks in My creation, as long as you don’t love those things for themselves but see them all as gifts that I have and am giving you, flowing from My love for you.

Focusing on Isaiah Ch 5 today, it starts with this song that God sings about the one He loves, His vineyard. Stop there. This is food for thought. It gives the reader a picture of God’s purpose in calling His people Israel into a covenant relationship with Himself. The picture is familiar and clear in symbolic agricultural language. God poured His love out on this people whom He called to Himself. He gave them every start. All He wanted was an appropriate response to His love, “producing the appropriate fruit”. Now that purpose and expectation has surely passed on to the Church. God has planted His Church and tended it with love. As the story of the Church unfolds in the NT we are constantly reminded that God seeks fruit from it. Fruit can only be produced if the Church remains connected to the Vine. The question which we must ask ourselves as we look at SA is; “What fruit do we see from the Church?” Bringing that home to each one of us, “What fruit is God harvesting from your or my life?”

In the rest of the chapter He catalogues a number of Israel’s sins which could easily be a description of life in many places in SA today. This is clearly because of the prevalence of sin due to the people’s general disregard for God. We need to remember that SA and for that matter the whole world is already under God’s judgement. The solution to the problem does not lie in warning society to change its behaviour. It cannot do it. The solution comes from God and the starting point will be revealed as Isaiah’s prophecy goes on, as the curtain is slowly pulled aside and we can see the Gospel peaking out. There is only one solution for this awful state of affairs. That is wrapped up in the tiny word “Gospel”.

So what do I hear Jesus saying to me from this litany of sins and warnings of evil and God’s judgement? As much as they were aimed at the Israelites, we should all now read them individually and corporately as members of the Church. Firstly the call is still to produce fruit. As I said earlier, we can only do that if we are intimately connected to the Vine who is Jesus. Receiving the life-giving sap of His Spirit and the word. This reminds me of this absolute basic requirement and joy of a relationship with Jesus, spending quality time with Him daily.

What about all those sins? They look so gross at first glance, but as we look carefully there may be embryo’s of sins which are present in our lives. Like V 19, for instance. I am sure I have felt like asking God to hurry, when I can’t see the answers to my prayers. Maybe asking Him to lay out His plan for my life. It seems that expresses a doubt in God Himself.