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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Isn’t it amazing that when the heir to David’s throne was lifted up on the cross, hope was offered to all people making it possible for us to have a personal relationship with this very king?! Isaiah foretold of a time yet in the future when the banner will again be lifted high as a rallying point for drawing people together to worship and serve the Messiah King. All obstacles will be removed for the remnant of believers (Jews and Gentiles) to come to the place of glorious rest.

I see a parallel of scaffolding the teaching of Biblical truth to young children as they are able to comprehend with the way God chose to use progressive revelation to show Himself more and more clearly over the course of history. Now you and I are also on His timeline and as we observe how faithfully God has kept His promises so far, we are assured that all of prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled when the omniscient and sovereign God decides it’s right.

Following the Millennial reign the New Heavens and New Earth is beyond exhilarating to ponder. A restored Eden – isn’t that what we long for every day? When the weather is lousy and we keenly feel aches and pains, when we grieve over broken relationships and difficult coworkers, when we want to quit being aggravated with temptations and failures, it’s because man was first created to live in Eden. In our humanness we tend to want to demand Eden NOW!

Seeing scripture as a whole – the books of history, wisdom, prophecy, gospels, epistles, and Revelation –with the knowledge of God’s control of everything before and after the Fall increases our faith as we trust in a God Who always does right. At the right time.

The music group GLAD has a song with these lines: “We are receiving a Kingdom whose foundation lies in the heart of God, whose walls are eternal truth . . . so let’s run with endurance and grateful assurance with praises that never cease.” (Floodgates album, 1994)

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Like all Old Testament prophets, Isaiah tells of the judgment that must fall on Judah (and all Israel) because of her sin; but he also foretells the glorious reign of Messiah when He returns to restore Israel and issue His kingdom on earth.

John Phillips, Bible commentator, draws together the contrasting subjects of the book: One moment his book is black with the thunder and the darkness of the storm. The next, the rainbow shines through, and he sweeps his readers on to the Golden Age that still lies ahead for the world. He speaks with equal conviction on the Messiah as a Savior and the Messiah as a Sovereign, bringing both the Cross and the Crown into focus in turn. Christ is as much the Lamb of God to Israel as He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Some have suggested that the theme of this prophecy is Messiah and the key word is salvation. After all, Isaiah’s name means “the salvation of Jehovah.” “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (ch. 45:22). “The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (ch. 52:10).

In today’s reading from chapter 11, verse 1 shows the human origin of Messiah, “the stump of Jesse,” who was David’s father, clearly recognized elsewhere as a forefather of Jesus. He is referred to as “a branch,” the term first introduced in ch. 4:2, describing one who will bring in a “future and glorious day” for Israel.

Although not clearly identified in the Old Testament, allusions to the Trinity can be seen, for example in 11:1-2 reference is made to the “Branch” (Jesus), the “Spirit of wisdom…” (the Holy Spirit” who is “the Spirit of the LORD, (Jehovah God). The prophet offers a long list of the characteristics and ministry of the Branch, including

  • wisdom, counsel, power; judgment with righteousness and justice.

Jesus’ earthly ministry clearly demonstrated those characteristics, but the context is no doubt referring to the Messiah’s future Kingdom reign, which will be characterized by unheard of features like:

  • wolves and lambs living together
  • leopards and goats lying side by side
  • calf and lion together
  • a child leading them all
  • and more (vv. 8-9)

What are we to understand from these unusual features of a future King and His Kingdom? It all began, of course, in the plan of God before creation. It has been working out through the centuries of history, as God invaded that history in the amazing incarnation of His Son, the Jesus of Christmas. We celebrate that wonderful event at this Christmas season, but the more important lesson for us is that the same Jesus will return to establish His eternal kingdom, and we must be ready and active in recruiting worshipers who can be included in that glorious eternal kingdom, too.

— JD

Next week is a significant event: it marks the release of the next installment in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi.  If you have seen the previous episode in the Skywalker saga, The Force Awakens, you will remember that much of the story is all about Luke Skywalker, even though the legendary Jedi doesn’t say a word in the entire movie.  His presence is felt throughout, and there is an escalating buildup to the very end, where you finally see Luke after all these years!  There is so much anticipation throughout the movie, however, that even when he isn’t in it it’s still about him.

But that’s simply a number of fans that have waited over three decades to see the Jedi on-screen again; so imagine what the anticipation must have been for Israel waiting for their Messiah!  They waited hundreds upon hundreds of years for the Messiah who would rule in the line of David as a wise and just and mighty King forever.  They waited… and waited… and waited…

In today’s passage from Isaiah 9:1-7, we read of that coming Messiah, and it is written in past tense, because the promises of God are so certain to come true that the prophet writes it as if it has.  Isaiah writes about Israel being in anguish and defeated, but that there would be a time coming when they saw the glory of this Messiah.  Then there would be light in the midst of darkness. Then there would be increasing joy.  Then there would be the breaking of oppression. Then there would be mighty victory.  Imagine the longing that Israel had for that to happen!  Then there would be a child, a son, who was given to rule.  One who would have the government on his shoulders, who would be a wonderful counselor, the mighty God, an everlasting father, and a prince of peace.  He would be a wise, just, righteous king far greater than David, and his kingdom would continue on forever.  This seems impossible by man’s strength, but it is the Lord who would do this!

Of course, we now have the benefit of hindsight, and what was prophesied to Israel in Isaiah has come to pass, and we celebrate it in particular at Christmas-time, but really year-round as well.  Jesus – the Messiah, the eternal Son of God – was born, and he is a mighty King.  But he came to liberate captives, to be a light in the darkness, to have resounding victory over sin and death, and to bring unflinching joy.  We have the privilege of reading in the New Testament about this Savior and about his awesome and miraculous works, and we too wait in eager anticipation for his return when he will establish his eternal Kingdom in fullness.  He already kicked off the Kingdom, but it’s not here in fullness yet.  So we too long for that day, but in the meantime we reflect on how glorious of a Messiah we have!  That Messiah, that King, whom Israel was waiting desperately for has come!   That is the true miracle of Christmas, that a son was given to redeem and make atonement for sins, providing victory and freedom and joy and light as he established his eternal Kingdom, which he will reign as the wise and just and righteous King.

 

So this Christmas season, what are you waiting in anticipation for?  Is it Star Wars?  Is it giving – or receiving – gifts this Christmas?  Is it time with loved ones?  Is it time off from school or work?  Whatever it is that you’re anticipating, let that anticipation remind you of the anticipation Israel felt awaiting the Messiah, and let it drive you to rejoice that the Messiah has come!  And let that anticipation drive you all the more to anticipate that day when our Messiah will once again come to be with his people, ruling over them forevermore.

Friday, December 1, 2017

It’s a little word that’s really too big for its britches—as the saying goes. We love ice cream. We love sports. We love automobiles. Yet . . . We love God. We love one another. Really? How is loving chocolate in the same category as loving God? How is loving the beach like loving one another?

Might the word love be used too frequently and for too many feelings? Perhaps we should say we like chocolate, and we like going to the beach. But we love God and love one another. There is a difference after all.

Now don’t jump to the conclusion that the Greeks solved the problem by having different words for love. It’s true they did, but they didn’t define them differently, for example, so that one applied to divine, sacrificial love and one to human, sentimental love. The words (agape and phileo) could be used interchangeably.

So does the Bible provide a clear definition of what love is? Well, yes and no. It offers great examples more than straightforward explanations.

Want to know how we should love one another? Ponder Jesus’ parable about a Samaritan and what a hated foreigner did for a wounded Jewish traveler. Or reread about the early Christians and all that they did with and for one another. Or, best of all, think about the depths of Jesus’ love and all that He did for you and me.

If we pull all the pieces together from Scripture we can see four primary features of how the Bible redefines love.

  • It is volitional. We love because we decide to, not because it feels good. True love doesn’t depend on someone being lovable. It is an act of the will, not because it’s convenient, or easy, or is based on receiving something in return.
  • It is beneficial. It seeks ways to bless and benefit others. It means caring about the needs of others more than our own. As noted in the devotional this past Wednesday, love is doing what is best for another person.
  • It is sacrificial. Love doesn’t go part way. If we see a need, we “give the shirt off our back” to meet that need (even if it means giving up our favorite shirt). Love holds nothing back but is all in. True love never thinks it has done enough; it always wants to do more.
  • It is unconditional. In cases where someone doesn’t appreciate our expressions of love, or has a critical spirit, or mistreats us, we still treat that person with respect and continue to show them love. Love never ceases.

Jesus said love is the greatest commandment. John writes in his first letter that love is the litmus test of our salvation (see yesterday’s devotional).

Questions: Is it possible to put too much emphasis on love? Do we truly love as the Bible redefines love? Faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is LOVE!

DBS

Simon THE FISHERMAN, Matthew THE TAX COLLECTOR, Thomas THE TWIN, the other Simon THE ZEALOT, Luke THE DOCTOR… We know about the apostles’ lifestyles and nicknames before they were called, and some of these things continued after they were called. But what of John? He and his brother James were both fishermen. Along with Simon Peter, they were often the “inner three,” allowed in when the other nine apostles were not (Mark 5:37, 9:2, 14:33.) But John and James were disturbingly brash. For instance, in Mark 10:35-44 they ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left hands in His Kingdom. Understandably, the other ten apostles were offended. But the thing that best describes John’s behavior is Mark 3:17 where Jesus nicknames them the SONS OF THUNDER. (Remember that “thunder” is all noise and no power.) Why that nickname? When a village did not receive Jesus, Luke 9:51-56 records the two hotheads saying, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” John either gets his way or gets all fire and brimstone about it. That was John BEFORE the Holy Spirit got a hold of him. While in this rather unsanctified state, this was the John who was also referred to as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20; but note none of the other gospel writers refer to him that way.) Jesus loved John first while he was still decidedly undeserving.

But after the resurrection and after the Holy Spirit, now this same John says about a dozen times in 1st John 4 that we should love one another because God loved us first. This was demonstrated by Jesus loving John and us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), but more importantly it was enabled by Jesus by our being born (again) of God (1 Jn 4:7) and receiving His Spirit (v.13).

There is a litmus test for being saved, and it is not tongues or baptism or tithing or anything other than this: that you love God AND your brother. This is not possible by a mere demonstration, but is enabled by our abiding in God (v.15-16.) If Jesus could love the sons of thunder, we know He loves us too, so we can love our brothers and sisters.

–SF 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Did Jesus make a rhetorical overstatement to challenge both His hearers and us to consider what we really value? Literal obedience of Matthew 5 taken too far could cause Christ followers to be financially destitute, yet we believe that loving others sacrificially is only realistic to those with eyes of faith and who look forward, with great hope, to His second coming.

A simple definition of love that I give to my fourth grade Sunday School students is, “Love is when the Holy Spirit prompts you to do what is best for the other person.” For us adults, is it difficult to love when

  • it may be an inconvenient time to listen to someone pour out their heart?
  • we’re too tired to make a meal for a family or to clean out their eaves troughs?
  • the other person is always negative, ungrateful, and feels entitled to a better life?
  • we sense the other person is being manipulative?

God wants us to love others as He loves us. Giving a gift to a close friend doesn’t require supernatural help. God wants us to depend on Him to show care to annoying or unlikable people as well as to enjoyable friends and family. Sometimes loving others also means NOT giving people what they want because wisdom tells us what they want isn’t what’s best for them.

During We Care Warsaw I cut the greasy hair of a 91 year old man in a wheelchair who may not have bathed for a very long time. I chose to pray (silently) and God filled me with compassion for this man who was unable to respond to my words of encouragement. I may never see him again.

Frankly, this was easier for me than it’s been to love friends I see frequently who seem arrogant and/or critical. I’m still trying to learn how to best love them in a God-honoring way.

How we treat others reveals our true character. Dare we ask God for His mercy if we don’t show mercy?

The logic of heaven runs counter to human reasoning.

We humans tend to shower love on those we deem worthy of love.  We might even go so far as to sacrifice our life for someone or something we esteem or value.  A lover lays down his life for his beloved.  A parent sacrifices himself for his child.  A soldier sacrifices his life for his country.  A martyr lays down his life for a noble cause.  More than a few novels and movies are built around this theme.  For example, in “Rogue One,” the most recent installment of the Star Wars movies, the main characters sacrifice their lives in order to get the plans for the Death Star into the hands of the rebels. We applaud this kind of sacrificial love.  It makes sense to us.  As Paul states it, “…for a good person someone might possibly dare die.”

This is all fine and good until we consider our relationship with God.  Then the question arises: “Am I worthy of God’s love?”  If we apply our human logic of love to this question, the answer is disconcerting.  There is nothing in us that commends us to God, so why should we hope that He loves us?  The human logic of love breeds fear.

Fortunately, the logic of heaven runs counter to human reasoning.

Paul put it this way: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  In other words, Jesus didn’t sacrifice his life for worthy people.  His love extends to unworthy people.  In fact, his love is defined by giving himself for those who least deserve it—rebels, sinners, God-haters, his enemies, us.  God’s love isn’t based on the worthiness of the beloved; rather, God’s love is rooted in his very nature.  This is very good news for us.

God’s kind of love banishes fear.  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”(5:10).  Notice the exclamation mark.  Those are kind of rare in the Bible, and you won’t find them at all in the Greek.  But I think it is a good interpretation.  This is extremely good news.  If Jesus died for us when we were his enemies, surely, now that we are his friends, he will save us from judgment. As John put it: “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Finally, notice that God’s kind of love has been give to us.  God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (5:5). The logic of heaven should not be foreign to the follower of Christ.  Instead, the one who has been saved by God’s “irrational” and outrageous love is empowered by the presence of God to love and even give himself for those who are not worthy…even his enemies.  Later in his letter to the Romans, Paul will make this a major application point: Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17, 19, 21).  In other words, choose to love others as God has loved you.

You probably won’t have to die for anyone today.  But you might have to die to your desire to get even.  What is a small way you can do good to someone who doesn’t deserve it today?

KC