The Value and Necessity of Salvation.

I am standing on a cliff top looking out at a vast and beautiful scene. A scene with patches of colour, a village, roads – human activity all bustling along.

“Come fly with Me”. Jesus lifts me up and I am floating up, up, up into the heavenly realms. “Come with Me into the presence of the Father – you have been set free – totally free from the guilt and power of sin – you have been set free! So, this morning just enjoy Me as I envelop you, enjoy the freedom I have won for you on the cross and appreciate Me. I am most glorified when you are most satisfied with Me. Just be satisfied, allow your mind to drink that in so that it is a reality that flows over you.”

I have been sharing my blog with you twice a week for the last 20 months. It has come to me that, putting out my blog so often is maybe overwhelming you and discouraging you from getting to grips with the scriptures that I have been reading. So I have decided to only publish a blog once a week from now on. I will do it on a Wednesday in future. Please continue to join in and share if you feel you would like to.

Just a few words on Isaiah 59 for today. The writer continues to emphasize the need for salvation, against the backdrop of Israel’s sin. 58:1. There is plenty of food for thought but two things struck me. The reminder in vs 2 of the fact that sin alienates one from God, building a barrier, as it were. Causing Him to hide His face and warning that He will not listen. This is a serious thought and one to meditate on.

That is one important reason why the work of the Redeemer (vs 20) is so important. Because we all sin and if that were to remain as a barrier between us we would not be able to communicate with God.

The second thing that stood out was God’s disappointment at the fact that within the community of Israel, “There was no one interceding”. How are we doing as individuals, but especially as a community in this area? Are we sufficiently concerned for all those who need our prayers? The many out there that are still lost?

So the passage wraps up again as to the seriousness of God’s judgement vs 18, 19 and the great need for a Redeemer vs 20. Notice the second part of vs 20 though. The work of the Redeemer is tied to repentance.

Then finally in vs 21 we see the repeated promise that God’s word is entirely dependable and permanent.

So for me today I ask myself, “How is my intercession? Am I still in awe at the value of the work of Jesus? Do I continue to recognize how important it is for the lost so that I will continue to pray for them?”

See you next Wednesday.

True Religion.

“Then came the morning“ – I see a picture of the whole old Testament – the history of God’s people – almost covered in darkness – until Jesus comes – “then comes the morning“ and everything changes where there was darkness and doubt and misunderstanding there is now light.

“ I have come to show you the perfect man and from the moment I rose that is available through forgiveness and the presence of my spirit to each one who believes and receives Me. Yes each person carries scars of some sort in their hearts and spirits – some are much deeper than others – but everyone has scars – but once you receive Me, I start healing those scars – not necessary taking them away but using them to build each person’s character into who they are today. Using the scars as building blocks, as it were. When the final morning comes who you are now will be completed and my purpose will be finally fulfilled in you. So allow me to continue this work of healing in my own unique way for each of you”.

We’ve reached Isaiah 58. Why not read through it and let God show you the powerful message it contains? Powerful, especially because it speaks to us so strongly today. The opening sentence affirms that: “Shout out aloud, don’t hold back”.

Okay so do you see what the message is? The people of God are very actively practicing their religion. They say they are seeking God day by day (v 2), they are fasting (v 3), they have even been keeping the Sabbath. But what is wrong? God is showing them that while they are appearing to be so religious, their actions are showing the complete opposite. It is all summed up in the phrase, “you do as you please” (V 3), bracketed with vs 13 a.

Allow that to sink in. This underlies so much of what is false and shallow in religious observation. Doing as one pleases rather than what pleases God. But that again reflects another much deeper problem. Although they appear to be worshiping, that is just a superficial veneer, their hearts have not been changed. IOW true religion starts from a changed heart and reflects a desire to please God.

In that context then, keeping the Sabbath would only have true meaning if they were doing it from their hearts, demonstrating a true submission to and worship of Yahweh. Understanding its meaning under the New Covenant, it highlights the need to have an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus through the Spirit, if our “religious practices” are to have their true meaning. This intimate relationship will only be demonstrated to be real if it is reflected in an ongoing changed behaviour. The words in John 15:5 “If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear fruit” are so true. I am afraid that many people think they are OK as Christians as long as they practice outward religion, not flowing from the heart. That is like giving a rusted old car a new coat of paint. It may look different but underneath it is still falling apart.

Comfort from the Ultimate Comforter.

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?

The Blessing of the True Sabbath.

In the light of the resurrection, the whole world, the whole universe – looks different. That light shines into the darkest recesses and changes everything. But what about all this suffering and hardship we are experiencing? In 1Peter 5:6,7, I have said humble yourself under my Mighty hand. Now the world is filled with pride even in my children – believing that their victories are theirs and not mine – just remember clearly –“ you are just a sinner saved by Grace”. Everything that you are achieving are just signs of the process of salvation I am doing in your life. So I need to strip away your sense of security placed in the wrong things so that you will find your security in me alone. everywhere where my children are suffering I am working in many ways and I always sustain them and not test them or you more than you can bear with my help. But I am teaching you to have the correct perspective. What you are and what you do are just gifts from Me. So 1 Peter 5:7 Roll your burdens onto me and I will tenderly care for you – you must just trust that promise and do it.

Now we come to Isaiah 56. At a quick glance you will see that the phrase “Who keep my Sabbaths” is repeated. The question is, “how should we interpret this under the New Covenant?” The danger is that the wrong interpretation actually can skew our Christian walk. I recently heard a speaker going on about how the church has fallen away and his solution? To go back to celebrating the Sabbath. He was focusing on the many people who braai and drink on a Friday evening when they should rather be celebrating the Sabbath.

OK, so let us look at ch 56. The key word is in vs 1, “salvation”. This chapter continues with the invitation issued in ch 55. The whole of what is discussed falls under the umbrella of salvation. Remember that salvation is not a once-off act, it is a continuous process which is started at a specific time, but only completed when we are with the Lord. So the invitation in ch 55 has been to the Israeli nation. To continue with this process, 56:2, “Happy (blessed”, is a picture of a right relationship with God) is the one who, does right, and preserves justice and keeps his hand from evil. These are signs of what, in ch 56? They are signs that the person is keeping the Sabbath.

From vs 3 – 8 he now includes two other groups of people who have apparently been excluded from this blessing. Eunuchs and foreigners. Many men have been made into eunuchs in Babylon and as such have been cut off from their inheritance. Also this is a reminder that it is part of God’s plan to include foreigners in His salvation plan.

Why is the key to this the keeping of the Sabbaths and holding fast onto the covenant? Briefly this is how it works. The Sabbath celebration in the Old Testament was looking forward to being fulfilled in Jesus when he came, as part of the New Covenant. The Sabbath had two components. The concept of rest and a sign to remind the people of the conditions of the Old Covenant, placing Yahweh at the center of their whole lives. (Exodus 31:13).

Under the New Covenant, Jesus represents the center of worship in Himself. It is no longer appropriate to only worship Him on a specific day, we are to do that at all times and continually cf Romans 12:1. Furthermore, we find rest in Him cf Matt 11:28. “Come unto me and I will give you ??? REST”. In Jesus we find the ultimate rest from our works in trying to achieve our own salvation. To keep the Sabbath under the New Covenant is another way to say we must maintain our ongoing relationship with Jesus. It is a continuous experience and responsibility.

So when we look at Isaiah 56, we see that those groups of people (that actually means everyone), mentioned three times will be happy or blessed with the ongoing benefits of salvation if they maintain their ongoing relationship with Yahweh. And the “house of prayer”? Well, Jesus made it clear that He also came to fulfill the role of the temple, or God’s house of prayer. So those who keep the Sabbath can enjoy and rejoice in Jesus, with all the others who are doing the same.

Beautiful isn’t it? Such a waste to focus on a day when we should be focusing on Jesus in person and our relationship with Him. Easter is such a great reminder of just that. Of course it is also a very strong reminder, as we saw how important God saw the role of the Sabbath in the OT, of the importance of keeping our regular times of worship and prayer and rejoicing in Him.

Easter Devotion.

“Holy holy holy is the Lord Almighty – who was and is and is to come.” Holy holy holy is the Lord Almighty – who was and is and is to come.“

See Me raised up on the cross – see me as a lamb – a sacrificial lamb being slain. Giving no resistance, in fact giving myself voluntarily for your life. This is not a time of mourning – through my death comes life – life with a new meaning, the old has been done away with – there is a new beginning – A clean slate – free from the drag of regrets and loss of faith. A life offered with the opportunity of joy – this is indeed the day that the Lord has made, a day washed clean by my blood so there can be a new beginning. Do not be sad, rejoice that is why I came – to bring new life and joy – which will rise from the ashes of My death on the cross.

I spend some time contemplating John 19:30. When he had sipped the sour wine, he said, “It is finished my bride!” Then he bowed his head and surrendered his spirit to God. This is The Passion translation. The explanation is that the Hebrew word for ”tetalestai” could be both ”it is completed” or ”bride”. Putting the two together indicates that the completed work on the cross launches His initiation of His ultimate aim, to prepare a bride for Himself.

Most blessed are we all to be part of that work. ”Come. Come today in response to His invitation and seek His face”. His promise is that you will find Him abundantly.

Accepting the Invitation.

Singing, “see Him in Jerusalem – see Him there upon the hill”. I let my mind caress that scene and I am thinking how the whole of the history of the world before then had waited with bated breath for that moment. Then I remember the events of the weekend at Noordhoek, where I met Him face-to-face for the first time. My whole life up to then was a preparation for that moment and that moment determined the path of the rest of my life. I think of Jesus’s suffering and relate that to my life – I don’t know that depth of suffering but I have experienced the fallenness of the world.

“As you move through this week in anticipation of next weekend, relate the week to your life so far in this world – remember Sunday when the light of the resurrection breaks through. There will be a moment when your faith will be turned to sight – and you will see Me face-to-face – in My brilliant glorious light – where there is no darkness anymore.”

Returning to Chapter 55. Look at the word, repeated four times in the first verse. “Come“. Further down we see another invitation in vs 6; “Seek the Lord“. Can there be a clearer invitation in this Holy week to move beyond the intellectual acceptance of the events prophesied in chapter 53?

There are a couple of conditions that are applied to the invitation which we should take seriously:

  1. We are to buy without money. A strange statement, don’t you think? Yet it is quite clear what is meant. What God is offering, is absolutely free. It is, in fact, an affront to offer Him something in return for what He wants to give us. This is such an important principle, which everyone, including us, should take seriously. We cannot earn what God wants to give us free. No matter how we may think our efforts are winning more approval for ourselves, we negate this basic principle.
  2. How do we receive the enormous benefits He is offering? Vs 3; “Pay attention to Me; Listen, that you may live“. We continue to be confronted by this command. His word is meaningless, unless we listen to it. Not just superficially, but in our hearts, and act on it.
  3. Vs 6 reminds us of the urgency of this invitation. “Seek the Lord, while He may be found“. It is never too late to be saved, yet the invitation fades if it is not accepted, while He may be found.
  4. The central point of the New Covenant is what the whole of ch 53 represents. The forgiveness of sins vs 7 b. That is what removes the barrier between us and God. Therefore the whole benefit of the New Covenant only becomes a reality when that forgiveness is received. For it to be received, there must be repentance, 7 a.
  5. The statement about God’s thoughts, in the immediate context, means we need to allow God to renew our whole thinking. cf Romans 12:2. (It also has a much broader application).
  6. Verses 10 and 11 remind us that God’s promises are absolutely sure. We can trust them completely.

Lastly, not a condition, but a reminder of the fact that the benefits of the New Covenant extend to the whole world cf vv 3b,4,5.

For me personally, this is a reminder that God continues to call us to “come to Him and to seek His face”. This is not just a once-off action. The more we come to Him, the closer we will get, as we remember all that this chapter is reminding us of. May the happenings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago be vivid in your imagination this week as we approach Easter.

The Invitation.

Watching the singing of “Jesus I give you thanks”,I am struck by the many beautiful faces, hairstyles, clothes, glitz and glamour – and I find myself comparing them with the simple band of disciples who followed Jesus – not always clean, home spun clothes – such a contrast.

“ Yes there is a huge outward contrast – but they were just as human as the singers and everyone around you. They had the same desires for making a name for themselves, for entitlement and self-centredness as you have and everyone in my creation. That is why I came – I came to rescue them, to rescue you and all mankind from their sinful, selfish desires. Your position has nothing to do with your worth. I create people for different purposes and put them into the places I will use them for my kingdoms sake. All of them have this in common – I am rescuing them and changing them and you Romans 8:28. All things work together for the good of them that love me and are called by my name, but to make sure I’m not talking about giving just good things I remind the reader shortly after that, that I am good! Why? It is because it is easy to misinterpret that passage and think I’m handing out worldly goods – instead the greatest blessings you may experience come during the most difficult of times – and in the midst of that you need to remember– I am good and my intentions are for your good – to grow you to be more like me. Prince and pauper – the beautiful singers – their reality is deep down the same as the shack dweller – I have come to rescue all – no one is more valuable than the rest!

Coming now to Isaiah chapter 54, the writer continues to put the events of the previous chapter into the perspective of Israelites.They are depicted as a barren woman and compared with the new covenant which is now being introduced as a mother of a great and growing family.This family will not be confined to the people of Israel but will spread across all the nations of the world.

The certainty of the fulfilment of this prophecy is depicted by the husband of the woman who is actually Yahweh himself. The future relationship with God will be as close as a marriage.

In verse 10 the love of God in the new covenant will not be removed from Israel, but will continue and be greater than his wrath. Verses 13 and 14 God promises prosperity but that should not be confused with physical prosperity it will be a spiritual prosperity.

So we come to chapter 55 which opens with this wonderful invitation to come and partake of the benefits of this new covenant. I suggest that you read chapter 55 and consider the application of what is written there in terms of understanding what that reveals about the new covenant and how that relates to us. Then we can revisit that chapter on Monday and discover what we have been shown. Don’t hesitate to share your discoveries. That’s how we can teach each other.

In the meantime what has Jesus been saying to me from our reading today? The clearest word from him is that it’s not just good enough to know the truth of chapter 53 but that one must actually receive it for yourself. You must apply it to your heart.

The Servant, Suffering for you and for me

We have a Father in heaven above,/ with eyes full of mercy and a heart full of love,/ He really cares when your head is hung low,/ consider the lilies and then you will know.

“Consider the fact – that you have a Father in heaven above. Consider My attitude towards you and all My children, an attitude of special care – I made you, I rescued you, I have always provided for you- spiritually as well as physically – that is Me! I do really care about you, just as you can see I care for the whole of My creation – I see when your head is hung low . I want to pick it up – I want you to start rejoicing – from the deepest part of your heart. You cannot start rejoicing when your head is hanging. So, by faith, trusting in Me completely – in My Fatherhood – pick it up and start rejoicing. I want you to fly with Me – stand on the roof-top and shout ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it'”

Today with Easter approaching, we come to one of the most precious sections of the Old Testament; Isaiah 53. It was from this chapter that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading, in Acts 8 that led him to the Lord. There is so much in this chapter. I am going to give a few pointers and invite you to soak yourselves in it.

We start at 52:13. which brackets the whole section with vs with 53:12a at the other end. Up till now the identity of the “Servant” has not always been clear. Sometimes it seems to be the remnant of believers, sometimes the prophet and sometimes a figure far in the future. These bracketed vv clearly show us the identity of this Servant. He is High and exalted and given a portion among the great. It can be no other than the Messiah Himself.

Secondly we see that the whole thrust of the section is on the substitutionary nature of the servant’s suffering and death. This is the central doctrine of our faith. Over an over He is depicted as marred, stricken, rejected, oppressed and ultimately assigned to the grave. But His sufferings have a specific purpose. Vs 4 He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. Vs 5 He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment which brought us peace was on Him. Vs 6b The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Vs 10b The Lord makes Him a guilt offering.

Now I want to take you back to 51:22b “see I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger”. That is the cup, as we saw, of God’s wrath. God, Having reminded us of the reality of His wrath, then says He has taken the cup away (prophetically). Having shown us this important fact He now shows how He has done that in ch 53. He has asked Jesus to take it on our behalf. He was the only one that could do it, because He had never transgressed. Now the whole of Ch 53 depicts various aspects of Jesus suffering and death. How intense it was. Drawn out, ongoing, till He died.

I want to ask you to stop, as we approach Easter and consider. The cup of God’s wrath which is described as making us stagger, is what awaits every person who does not avail themselves of this vicarious death. By showing the extent of Jesus’ suffering, a picture of what God’s wrath is really like, should come home to us . That wrath that we have now escaped. In the inadequate words after taking communion service, “And be thankful”.

Thankful! How can we ever thank Him enough? There is no way we can repay Him. We must simply respond in love and thanksgiving. “Could my zeal no respite know/ Could my tears forever flow/ all for sin could not atone/Thou must save and thou alone/ Nothing in my hand I bring/Simply to thy cross I cling”. (Rock of Ages cleft for me). I invite you to come and cast yourself alongside me this Easter at the foot of the cross where He accomplished this and express our deepest thanksgiving, together.

Awake, Awake!

Jesus, Name above all Names, Highly exalted!

“Come and take My hand and let Me show you”. Its as if God is leading me outside where I can see into the distance – even up into the unplumbable depths of outer space. “I have created all things in order – despite the disorder you see around you, which is ongoing because of sin. Despite that, there is a massive well-oiled order which is driving the whole universe. I am the King of Kings, I have the authority over all of this, because I made it, I own it. I have made you to fit into that order and am orchestrating it constantly. Now the true contentment that comes from being in harmony with that order does not only come from making the right big decisions – it comes from recognizing that you have nothing intrinsically to commit to that order. Only doing what I have laid out for you, can you contribute to the harmony of My order. The starting point of your usefulness in My kingdom, is recognizing – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”. That is the starting point of true discipleship”.

Now back to Isaiah, from 51:9 to 52:12. There are three calls of ‘awake, awake’, which provide the structure. The first in 51:9 seems to come from the remnant, still in bondage in Babylon. They are feeling that God has abandoned them. Fallen asleep? So they are reminding Him of His relationship with them and His promises to them of their return to Zion. They are reminding Him of the great deliverance of the Exodus.

God answers “awake, awake” in vs 17. He puts their suffering into the context of His wrath. This passage strikes a special cord, as we read of God’s wrath being likened to a cup that makes you stagger v 22b. Look at the promise in vs 22 a. “See, I have taken out of your hand this cup”. How has He done that? Pause for a moment and allow your thoughts to go to a garden. The garden of Gethsemane and Jesus’ prayer. “take this cup away from Me, yet not My will but yours, O Lord” (Luke 22:42).

Prophetic words looking forward to the greatest event of all time, which started with the difficult submission of a Man/God to His Father’s will; to drink this awful cup on behalf of the whole of mankind, that we may have the opportunity of escaping the full effect of that wrath. See it is only God Himself that can take away the cup of His wrath so that we never have to drink of it again. (52:22 b).This little section illuminates that scene in the darkness of the night in he garden with the brightest of light, because it is only when we fully understand how awful God’s wrath is, that we can appreciate the full extent and value of what Jesus did there, taking it with Him to the cross.

That is why the last “awake, awake” (52:1), becomes so logical. This act of removing God’s wrath has made it possible for every one of us to be clothed with garments of splendour. These garments are further described in 61:10 “the garments of salvation and the robe of righteousness”. If we understand what this means, we will be the first to go out and proclaim what has happened 52:7. We will hasten to stand on a mountain top and shout it aloud. As we appreciate it we will burst into songs of joy as God comforts us while we “return to Jerusalem”, to His bosom.

Isn’t it wonderful how the Old Testament keeps referring us to the gospel. That is the key to life. That is the only key to life. The key that opens the door for God’s abundant blessings. We see also here how the word comfort is used to show how trusting in he gospel message brings the greatest comfort. Because comfort can only come when we are in a healthy relationship with the Lord.

Listening to Jesus, how does the promise of God’s comfort make you feel? Let us all rejoice together.