The Golden Rule: H.C. Question 111

What does God require of you in this commandment? 
 
Isaiah 58:5-10 – Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?  Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast,  a day acceptable to the Lord?
 
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
 
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
 
Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
 
Galatians 6:9-10 – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity , let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Ephesians 4:28 – Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.



King of kings: H.C. Question 51

How does this glory of Christ our head benefit us?

Acts 2:33 – Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

Ephesians 4:7-12 – But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

Psalm 110:1-2 – The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”

John 10:27-30 – My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Revelation 19:11-16 – I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.

 



All Hell Broke Loose: H.C. Lord's Day 16

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 16

Q 40. Why did Christ have to suffer death?
A 40. Because God’s justice and truth require it: nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the Son of God.

Q 41. Why was he “buried”?
A 41. His burial testifies that he really died.

Q 42. Since Christ has died for us, why do we still have to die?
A 42. Our death does not pay the debt of our sins.  Rather, it puts an end to our sinning and is our entrance into eternal life.

Q 43. What further benefit do we receive from Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross?
A 43. By Christ’s power our old selves are crucified, put to death, and buried with him, so that the evil desires of the flesh may no longer rule us, but that instead we may offer ourselves as a sacrifice of gratitude to him.

Q 44. Why does the creed add, “He descended to hell”?
A 44. To assure me during attacks of deepest dread and temptation that Christ my Lord, by suffering unspeakable anguish, pain, and terror of soul, on the cross but also earlier, has delivered me from hellish anguish and torment.

The narrative of Christ’s death is, bar none, the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to a human being.  Our emphasis on the events of Jesus’ last 24 hours on earth is rightly placed and the sorrow that we feel is certainly warranted for all that happened.  He endured hell on earth for us, experiencing the physical pain of torture beyond that of what many humans could bear.  More than that, however, He bore the spiritual burden of divine abandonment, crying out to God and hearing nothing but silence for what would be the first and last time in all eternity.

It is as much a fact as any that this act, and all of the details that come with it, cannot be overstated.  It is, hands down, the most horrific and the most loving thing we could ever talk about.

That said, it is important that we don’t dwell on the details.  Conversations, sermon topics, and even the media that we are exposed to in this time often focus on these events whilst tagging their description with a hollow “He did this for us” comment that comes with a minimal explanation at best.  The Catechism, however, makes sure to answer some of the natural questions surrounding Jesus’ sacrifice as well as rightly emphasizing the purpose of this act, not simply the details.

Jesus suffered through all of this not simply for the purpose of taking on our sins, but also for the purpose of dying to pay for them.  Scripture says, “The wages of sin is death.”  Therefore, Jesus, to fully pay the price, had to die.  He was buried to testify to this death.  In the same way that, when you get pulled over by a police officer and are given a ticket, and for that to be resolved you have to pay the fine, so too Jesus paid the price for us by dying.

In doing this, Jesus took on our sins so that, as Scripture says, our old selves would be crucified with Him and buried with Him.  All these things that seek to control our lives, the sin that keeps us in bondage, it was all nailed to the cross with Him; driven into Him like the nails in His hands and feet.

The Catechism also addresses the question of “hell” as it relates to Jesus.  There has been a considerable question about this over the years, wondering what this actually meant.  When the Apostles’ Creed was originally drafted, the word “hell” didn’t appear.  Instead, the word “dead” was present.  However, at some point, this was replaced by the word “hell” thus giving us this question to consider.  Perhaps this is just another way of signifying that Jesus actually died; “hell” or “hades” is often considered to be the realm of the dead.  It is also possible that using this terminology, also draws our attention back to the suffering and anguish that Jesus experienced on earth and especially going to the cross.  Both are certainly good thoughts.

One thing theory that has been put forward with regards to this phrase is the idea that Jesus actually went to Hell, the place separated from God where sinners are eternally tormented.  What He would have done there is up for some debate.  Did He witness to the sinners there trying to save them?  Did He experience more torment and suffering?

In considering a question like this it is important for us to remember that the Creeds and Confessions, like the Heidelberg Catechism and the Apostles’ Creed, are both witnesses to Scripture and not Scripture themselves.  So, what we need to do here is look to Scripture to gain some clarity.  It is safe to say that the Bible doesn’t give any real indication that Jesus was actually in “Hell” as it pertains to a location, the realm of the devil.  It also gives no indication that Jesus was witnessing to people in that location.  In fact, Jesus, while talking to the repentant sinner on the cross, says, “today you will be with me in paradise.”  A phrase like this would seem to be proven false if indeed Jesus went to Hell on that day.

Indeed this question seems to be related to question 42 regarding why it is that we still have to die if Jesus died for us.  The Catechism is fairly clear that our physical death becomes our entrance into eternal life and puts an end to our sinning.  You may not hear this preached much at a funeral but it is none the less true.  Whereas some people battle cancer until they can fight no longer and gain victory through death, all of us fight the battle with sin until, at some point, we claim victory in death.  Everyone who passes on to glory no longer deals with thoughts of lust, jealousy, or resentment.  All of those things pass away too.

Jesus too experienced this moment, having taken on the sins of the whole world, put them to death with His own death that we would experience eternal life through faith in Him.



Payment: H.C. Question 13

Heidelberg Catechism Question 13

Can we make this payment [for our sins] ourselves?

Matthew 6:12 – And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Romans 2:4-5 – Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.



True Justice: H.C. Lord's Day 4

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day 4

Q9. But doesn’t God do us an injustice by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?
A9. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law.  They, however, provoked by the devil in willful disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.

Q10. Does God permit such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
A10. Certainly not. God is terribly angry with the sin we are born with as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge, God will punish them both now and in eternity, having declared: “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”

Q11. But isn’t God also merciful?
A11. God is certainly merciful, but also just. God’s justice demands that sin, committed against his supreme majesty, be punished with the supreme penalty—eternal punishment of body and soul.

There is a lot of talk about love these days.  Whether it’s the now famous slogan “Love wins,” or the rather unique and emotional poetic proclamation that “love is love is love is love is love,” it seems like everyone is proclaiming that love is rather important.

People do this too when we talk about sin.  They may shrug or scoff that Christians focus too much on sin and that the “hellfire and brimstone” God that used to be preached is not the God of today.  God is love; that is what He is.  So do we really need to talk about judgment, punishment, and wrath?  Isn’t God merciful?

Quite simply the answer is Yes.  Yes, God is merciful.  Yes, God is love.  Yes, God forgives.  Yes, God is also just.  As a matter of fact, these two things are inextricably linked together, woven and bound in such a way that you cannot have one without the other.

Far too often we talk about God’s justice, God’s wrath, and God’s punishment for sin as if it is somehow unfair.  If we are all sinners and have been since we have been born, it’s impossible for us to keep the law.  You wouldn’t punish your 8-year old for not doing his advanced calculus correctly; God shouldn’t punish us for sin, then, either.

The reality of our questions this week is that we were indeed created with the capability of following the law.  However, because of Adam, we all inherited sin.  We call this “Original sin.”  It is something that we are born into and something we have to face, even though, like Adam, we are created with the capability of following the law.  Simply put, though, we just don’t.  In the same way that we yell at the T.V. when a ref makes a bad call, so too is God angered by the sins that we commit against Him.  He has every right to be as well.

If God is holy, and completely set apart, He is the very antonym of sin.  As that is the case, sin (and all those who commit it) must be held accountable.  God is just in doing so.  When someone breaks the law, they have to pay a fine; that is the natural way of things.  No one questions a police officer for writing a ticket to a speeding driver or arresting someone who drives drunk.  Why, then, do we somehow think that God should just overlook sin in the name of “love” and “grace?”

Grace isn’t sweeping sin under the rug.  Love isn’t overlooking sin for the sake of the sinner.  What would God’s love amount to if He just let us get away with whatever?  It would actually be less fair, less just, and downright harmful to His creation.  Sinners need to be held accountable… sin needs to be punished.  “Overlooking sin does not exalt God’s mercy, it undermines it,” says Kevin DeYoung in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot.

Enter Jesus.

God sent His Son to this earth to take on that burden.  Jesus lived the perfect life as a human and then died, taking on the punishment of a sinful universe, all so that our relationship with God could be put right again.  God’s justice and wrath are satisfied in Jesus’ death… Sin as been dealt with in Jesus Christ and because of that (and only that) God can and does freely extend His grace and mercy to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Consider this parable of Jesus.  The debt that is owed by both men is not simply swept aside; the money lender doesn’t look the other way and not acknowledge the lack of repayment.  The debt is FORGIVEN.  This means that the money lender himself has to take that debt on, and the magnitude of the forgiveness is amplified by the amount of the debt.  So it is with us.  Thanks be to God!

Luke 7:36-50

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”



Luke 11 – Bath Time

Read Luke 11

I always enjoy reading a narrative where Jesus calls out religious leaders for the different things that they do and say.  It’s like seeing someone known for corruption being caught in the act and brought to justice; it is wholly satisfying.

Everytime I read something like this passage though, there is a little twinge in my heart.  I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am too am a hypocrit, guilty of many of the things that Jesus calls the pharisees out on.  Seeing others’ sins brought to light may seem satisfying until we realize that we are guilty of the same thing.

For many of us, this is of what it means to be Christian.  Sunday mornings are full of arguments, threats, screaming, yelling, crying, and anger until we get out of the car at church, then everything is fine with us.  At the same time, while we are walking around with our masks on to hide our imperfections, we are more than happy to call out others for things they aren’t hiding quite as well.

This epidemic of illusion is something we as the Church cannot continue.  In many ways, those outside of the Church are much better at being authentic than we are, understanding their own imperfections whilst calling us out on ours.  We are no different than they are… except for one crucial fact: We Are Forgiven.

Jesus doesn’t call for us to hide our sin from the world.  In fact, the Light of the World shine into the dark corners of our lives for the very purpose of cleaning them out so that, rather than being a slave to that sin, forced to wear the mask, we can live in freedom from it, washed and clean both outside and inside as well.



Day 279: Matthew 1-4; Intro to the New Testament, The Gospels, and Matthew

The New Testament Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

The New Testament
Photo Credit: www.thinktheology.org

And so we come to it at last, the New Testament, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Messiah, the fulfillment/expansion of the covenant that God made with His people.  In the New Testament, the term “God’s People” also takes on a new meaning as the promise of reconciliation and redemption extends outward from the people of Israel to encompass the whole world!  In addition to this, we see the culmination of God’s work throughout the whole of the Old Testament to bring about the coming of Jesus in the New Testament and the fulfillment of hundreds of prophecies and covenantal promises that had been spoken of for over 1000 years, all coming to fruition in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The Gospels are the first books of the Old Testament, four books that recount the life and work of Jesus Christ from His birth all the way to His ascension.  Each book is written by a different person, two Apostles, Mark who was an associate of Paul, and Luke (also the author of Acts) who was a doctor and one of the first gentile Christians.  Each of the Gospels is written to a different audience with a different purpose.  This will become apparent as we read through each of these books, however here is some basic information about each of the four Gospels, taken from both the NIV Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House Publishing, 1991) and Reading the New Testament Today by Robert E. VanVoorst (Wadsworth, 2005).

Wordle of the Gospels Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Wordle of the Gospels
Photo Credit: www.petergalenmassey.com

Matthew: Written specifically to the Jews in an effort to prove that Jesus was indeed the Messiah that the prophets foretold and was the eternal King in the line of David.

Mark: Written to Christians in Rome to encourage the Christians who were undergoing persecutions by relating the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Mark is said to be the first of the Gospels written.

Luke: Written to “Theophilus” which mean one who loves God, but also to Gentiles and people everywhere in an effort to present an accurate account of the life of Christ and also to present Christ as the perfect human and Savior.  Luke also makes an effort here and in Acts to challenge believers to be more devoted to the faith, especially its growth and defense.

John: Written to Christians and searching Non-Christians to prove that Jesus is the divine Son of God, the Word of God incarnate, and also to deepen faith in Jesus as Son of God and the giver of life, and to encourage readers to confess this faith  openly in the face of threats from synagogue authorities.

The Gospel of Matthew Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

The Gospel of Matthew
Photo Credit: www.spreadjesus.org

As I said, the book of Matthew was written to a primarily Jewish audience, which is apparent right from the beginning of the book.  If you remember some of the culture we learned about the Hebrews, which are now referred to as “the Jews,” the orientation of their lives was towards God, which for them meant looking backward to creation and backing into the future.  This is a bit different than contemporary orientation of looking toward the future.  So naturally we being with a genealogy, a way of linking Jesus Christ with the ancestors of Israel, all the way back to Abraham and the original calling of the people of God by God Himself.  In effect, Matthew is proving right off the bat the Jesus is a decedent of Abraham and from the house and line of King David, two prerequisites for the coming Messiah which, as was said earlier, was one of the purposes of Matthew: to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, the predicted King that was to come, in the line of David, to set up God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Saint Matthew Icon Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Saint Matthew Icon
Photo Credit: www.internetmonk.com

Matthew does a great deal of linking the Old Testament Scriptures to the person and work of Jesus Christ.  There are multiple ways in which he does this.  The genealogy which we just talked about is just one way.  Matthew’s account of the angel visiting Joseph also signifies a divine happening, a message directly from God.  Matthew points to this as well, something he does throughout his book.  He writes, “All this took place to fulfill…” In this case, the happening of Mary’s conception took place to fulfill with Isaiah wrote about in Isaiah 7, “The virgin will be with child…”  Interestingly enough, the course of Jesus’ life in the book of Matthew actually mirrors that of the course of Israel’s life as well going to Egypt to escape death while he was very young, a wilderness experience which lasted for 40 days (a mirror of Israel’s wilderness wanderings), and a Baptism before he began His ministry (which is reminiscent of Israel crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan before entering the promised land).  This too, we see was “to fulfill all righteousness” as Jesus says.

Today we also see a taste of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as well.  The very route the Jesus took, Matthew says, was to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 9 about those being in darkness who have seen a great light.  From there he begins calling disciples, preaching and healing the sick.  For one reason of another, the work of Jesus as it has been preached in the Church is often boiled down to His work on the cross to die for our sins.  While this is a very major part of the work of Jesus, we also need to remember that His work was also with the sick, the poor, the homeless, and all those who were downtrodden.  As we will see in the coming chapters of books, Jesus work in the world is the very embodiment of what Israel was suppose to be, an assault on the powers of darkness in the world.   In many ways, Jesus too is an example of the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin, disease, and all forms of injustice.  He has come to bring healing, forgiveness, and restoration… the true nature of the Kingdom of heaven.



Day 270: Micah 5-7; What Does the Lord Desire?

In one verse, Micah summarizes pretty much the point of the entire message of all the prophets:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

This is indeed what the Lord is calling the people back to.  Idle repentance, veiled holiness, and pretend religiosity is nothing to the Lord.  Actions without inner change are worthless.  God does not want their sacrifices or offerings, He does not desire festivals or celebrations.  God desires those who walk along the path that He has set out for them, the path of justice and mercy, in a humble and contrite manner.

What is at the core of this statement?  The fact that this is exactly what the people of Israel were not doing.  In fact, as we read in Micah and other prophets, the people of Israel were acting unjustly towards all, especially those who were poor, downtrodden, and could not defend themselves.  The original call of God to His people was both to love Him with all of their heart, soul, and mind, but also to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This idea was in contrast to that which the world seeks, motivated by self-interest and the desire to promote the self at the expense of others, particularly the poor.  This is not how God created the world and God wanted to show the world through Israel the right way to be in relationship with others, and the mercy that He shows to all those who are downtrodden.

Going along with this was the Lord’s desire to love mercy.  For many this goes along with the idea of acting justly, but in many ways it is completely different.  From a strictly justice standpoint, debtors that are indebted to someone should have to pay them back and when the loan is called, the debt collector is justified in taking a person’s belongings to satisfy the balance of the loan.  But to do this heartlessly, without understanding is not what God has in mind either.  In fact, the Law is full of examples of when loans are to be forgiven, slaves are to be set free, and land is to be returned to its original owner, no matter what the circumstances are.  This is what true mercy is… this is the way God has called us to live… and it is in response to the way that He has shown mercy on His people as well.  Whether it is freeing them from bondage in Egypt or dying for their sins on the cross, God has shown us mercy upon mercy, grace upon grace.  There is really no two ways about it.  We are to be merciful in the same way that we have been shown mercy.

Neither of these have any traction without a true posture of humility that comes with following God and walking with Him.  The true purpose of the people of Israel was not in the actions of justice or mercy that they took, but in the posture in which they took them.  As the Psalmist writes,

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

Actions can be empty.  Anyone can fake niceness or happiness when they want to.  God desires something much deeper from His people: their heart.  Micah uses the word and in this verse as well… like the commercials about ‘and‘ and ‘or’ say, “and is better.”  All of these are what the Lord desires of us…

To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.



Day 206: Isaiah 32-34; Final Judgments

Today’s reading overflows with images of death and disaster while also intermingled with the message of righteousness and grace.  These are very different images and conjure up very different reactions.  In many ways, it is difficult to see how today’s reading flows together.  We’ve been talking about judgment for several days now, Isaiah‘s prolonged writing about the the coming judgment of the nations and also the continuing work of the Lord seems to get a little drawn out, yet there is a purpose for what He is doing here (or else it most likely wouldn’t be in the Bible).  I won’t claim to know what the purpose is completely, however I would like to try to weave these two very different images together today.

In many ways, much of what has been said in recent days is also applicable here so I find it hard to come up with any sort of new revelation about today’s Scripture verses what we have already read.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the same message that Isaiah has been giving to the people for the last 20 or so chapters.  Yet here we seem to come to a significantly more bloody portion of prophecy that we have recently encountered.  I’m sure Isaiah has his reasons, those being things that the Lord has told him which he is now repeating to the people of Israel and the surrounding nations.

I can’t help but notice, when I read this, the stark contrast between the imagery of grace and righteousness and that of those still under judgment.  The beginning of chapter 32 and most of chapter 33 have some imagery of the disaster that is coming, but primarily maintain the motif of God’s mercy, justice, and grace.  Even though the people are crying out in the face of disaster, God will still raise them up and exalt those who have turned to Him.  We see a vision of the one who will reign in righteousness, yet another Messianic prophecy, and all the good that comes with Him in spite of the judgment that is taking place.

The contrast then, is those who have not turned to God.  We are given the message of hope, but we are also given a vision of judgment that has a level of finality to it as well.  This judgment seems to be a bit different than what we have encountered thus far.  There is a significantly larger amount of bloodshed here, more speech about death and an air of finality that seems to be hovering over all of it.  I think that Isaiah is trying to point out the contrast between the judgment and the grace.  While those that find their strength in God (perhaps those that didn’t return to Egypt as we talked about yesterday) still experience difficulty in these troubling times, they will be lifted up and exalted after their perseverance.  However, those that do not turn to God (represented here by Edom) will indeed be cast out and destroyed in a final judgment.

Tomorrow, as we read Chapter 35 of Isaiah, keep this in mind, because I think that this message gets amplified.  Isaiah is talking about the time in which Babylon is going to be the instrument of judgment against the nations and especially against Jerusalem.  The point has been made, judgment will come.  However, as we read this tomorrow, and as we have heard before, judgment also comes to the instrument of the judge, and the people of God will not be forgotten and will be returned to their homeland and will be restored before God.  Not only will they be brought back, but it will be with joy and songs that they return.



Day 201: Isaiah 14-16; Oracles Against The Nations (Part 1)

If we look back at the first graph in the introduction to Isaiah, we come to the section in the book called “God vs. The Nations.”  This is a section in which God is speaking through Isaiah the judgments that will be carried out on all of the other nations around and including Israel.  Today we cover Assyria, Philistia, and Moab, three of the nations surrounding Israel that they had the most contact and conflict with.  Philistia especially, located to the southwest of Israel, continually brought war and strife to the nation of God; the struggle against them was never brought to an end.  One might be bold enough to say that the war is still going on today between Israel and the Palestinians, who live in the same area as the Philistines did in the time of Biblical Israel… though this would be a bold and rather not provable statement I think.

In any case, the next three days we will be reading through these Oracles that contain within them and majority of judgmental messages spoken against these nations.  That being said though, even in here we can find glimpses of hope and restoration that give the dark future a glimmer of light.

One might be tempted to think that it isn’t fair of God to judge the nations that He hasn’t revealed Himself to directly.  They clearly didn’t know the law and didn’t know what was considered sin and what would have been good behavior for them.  In many ways, these people could have been considered innocent by plea of ignorance to the law.  Yet that is not so in God’s eyes.  In fact, to God they stand as guilty as the sinful Israelites did, and were to face the same judgment as them too.

One might also be tempted to say that these other nations were just victims of unfortunate circumstances.  God raised up nations to judge His sinful, disobedient people and they happened to be collateral damage.  Isaiah seems to be saying that this is not so; their destruction and judgment was  also intentional.  This alone indicates to us that they too are under the same Law and judgment of God, even if they didn’t know it, which actually makes sense when you give it some thought.

If God chose Abraham and built Him into a great nation so that through His children all the people of the world would be blessed, then it is clear that God’s plans for the world do indeed go far beyond the boarders of His people.  That too would mean that God has been working for them as much as He has for the people of Israel themselves, and that they fall under the same blessing / curse formula that was laid out in the Covenant at Sinai.  Ultimately one of Israel’s main purposes was to be a light to these nations.  They were to be the ones that would reveal God and God’s will to the nations around them.  This was the way in which God’s love, holiness, and justice was to be communicated.  Clearly, Israel failed at this, but that doesn’t mean that the nations were any less responsible.  God did communicate Himself to them in many ways and we saw the nations of the world coming to Israel in several different circumstances, seeking the will of God through the prophets.

In the end, however, none could live up to the way of life God called them to.  No one was able to live the righteous life that God had commanded and all fell into sin.  Yet even here, found within the words of Judgment against these three nations can be found a word of hope for them as well.  God is not done with any of these nations, or any of the nations of the world.  Indeed God is still at work.  These judgments will come to pass for them for sin needs to be punished, but forgiveness also comes.  Isaiah writes in chapter 16 verse 5:

…then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
    and on it will sit in faithfulness
    in the tent of David
one who judges and seeks justice
    and is swift to do righteousness.

This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah, right in the middle of the judgment that will be coming on the nation of Moab.  Though judgment comes, so too will love, faithfulness, justice and righteousness… the true way of God.  Many times in Scripture, God is portrayed as a gardener amongst the nations.  He tends to his garden, carefully guiding and watering the plants that they may grow.  Sometimes though, a plant needs to be pruned back, for it has grown to big and reached too far.  Sometimes plants need to be pruned all the way down to the stump.  Always though, pruning happens for the good of the plant.  The loving gardener holds no malice for the plant he is pruning, but instead understands that doing this will ultimately lead to a stronger, healthier plant that will bear even more fruit than it already has.

This is the picture that is set before us for the nations as well.  God’s wrath against sin is clear, His judgment on it is righteous, and His purpose ultimately is to bring restoration to the people and all of creation that He has made and sustains.