Mary was walking in the garden – distraught at the thought that she had been separated from the love of her life – separated by the final separator – death. When she met Me she did not recognize Me till I spoke. So in your life you can and are meeting Me in ways and forms that you don’t recognize. The word of love and encouragement, the word of compassion, the offer of help, the words read and taught from My word, there are umpteen ways you are meeting with Me personally because that is how I do things. And all the time I am present, unseen around you – in you, affirming you and enabling you to see Me more clearly by faith. Remember my words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you“. Once you are part of me nothing can separate you from Me again – nothing – neither height nor depth – sickness or setback and least of all death because that is the ultimate gateway into My physical presence. Expect to meet Me in the most unexpected places.
I grew up in the Karoo on a farm. My grandparents were VERY devout Christians. They held a church service every week on the farm and “Huisgodsdiens” was a serious part of every evening. Now my father told me one day that as a young boy, he was not allowed to play on Sundays, he had to wear a suite the whole day and was only allowed to read the bible. He hated it and probably died unsaved. That is the sort of thing that happens when one does not interpret the Old Testament right, so that you can apply it correctly.
Not everyone goes to that extreme, but if your life is in any way governed by the “law”, you are in bondage to it. That is what Paul addresses in Galatians. “Did you receive the Spirit by obeying the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit are you now trying to achieve your goal by human effort?” (Gal 3:2b).” It is for freedom that you have been set free, do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery (to the law)”. Gal 5:1. It is so widespread among Christians because even many theologians often don’t apply the correct interpretation to the Old Testament scriptures.
The whole of the Old Testament is a prelude in the unfolding story of God’s salvation plan. When Jesus came He made the important point in Matt 5:17b “I did not come to abolish them (the law and the prophets ie the whole Old testament) but to fulfill them”. What He is saying is that the whole Old Testament period was a prelude, preparing the world for Jesus’ coming. Therefore when we read it we need firstly to see how the passage we are reading fits into that plan.
As I have laid out before. Very briefly, putting this important and often complex task in the simplest terms. As you read any passage you need to determine what it was saying and how it would have been understood by the first hearers. To do that one needs first to see the context, where it fits into the bigger story and then where it fits into the immediate story. Take into consideration all the usual things about reading anything, like what sort of literature it is etc. Many people stop there and want to apply what they have read directly to themselves. That is where the huge misunderstandings come in and end by taking people into all sorts of dead-ends.
The second step is to ask the question, “How did the coming of Jesus change and enrich the disciples’ understanding? In what way could this passage shed light on who He is and what He came to do? How did they understand this passage in the light of the gospel?”
Only then can we apply the passage to ourselves. There is obviously more to all this, but just making a practice of these three steps as you read he Old Testament will make it much more powerful and real.
Now today I have read the 7 verses from Isa 57:14-28. The immediate context is the revelation of God’s salvation plan in Jesus in ch 53 and the subsequent invitation. Isaiah 56:9 – 57:13 is a passage of judgement again. The theme of today’s few vv is a picture of God’s longing to bring His apostate people back into the fold as it were. There are several glimpses of the result of their sin. They are feeling lowly, and their hearts are faint. Underlying all this sin seems to be an attitude of greed, which has separated the people from God. And finally and very importantly they have lost their peace completely.
After the people demonstrate their sorrow for their sin and are contrite, God relents and offers to heal and restore them, guiding them and comforting them. They will have a new joy on their lips and find true peace. That seems to be the message of God’s attitude towards these people who are wayward, yet showing some contrition.
That is how the original readers would have understood the passage. Let us take the next step. Under the New Covenant, has God’s attitude towards sinners changed? Have the effects of sin on every person mentioned here changed? Not at all.
But the New Covenant heralds a complete change, in that through Jesus’ death on the cross sin can and is effectively dealt with for the contrite of heart. This results in a much closer and intimate involvement through the presence of the Holy Spirit, whom John calls the Paraclete or Comforter, than the relationship in the OT, with a distant Yahweh who is only approachable through the priests. Through Him (the Comforter) the contrite not only experiences forgiveness but healing (wholeness, not physical) and true peace. Their hearts will be revived and their countenances will be lifted and they will be restored.
That is how the disciples would have understood this passage, can we apply it to ourselves like that as well? Absolutely! Now do you see how much more powerful that reading is than just scanning those few verses?