Spiritual Ruins

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This is a nation that has in the past been a great instrument of God for taking the gospel out into the world. Now it is a spiritual ruin.

O God, the nations have come into your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of your faithful to the beasts of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all round Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. We have become a taunt to our neighbours, mocked and derided by those around us. (Psalm 79:1-4 NLT)

The generation that should now be in the churches have effectively given themselves over to a spiritual death. Jesus defined life as knowing God and Himself (John 17:3) Those whose lives are focused elsewhere give themselves over to this spiritual death. The beasts of secularism and immorality devour the Lord’s people who give up the life of God for their own sensual pleasures. The church is haemorrhaging through a thousand cuts. We have become the scorn of our enemies.

How long, O Lord? Will you be angry for ever? Will your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out your anger on the nations that do not know you, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon your name! For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation. Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. (Psalm 79:5-8 NLT)

It is noteworthy that the author, Asaph appeals to God on the basis of His compassion. Often we appeal on the basis of the spread of the gospel.  We seem to believe that we the church are the hope of the nation, that God must use us as a necessary step to save the people of this country.

With this attitude about ourselves the Lord would be jealous for his name. Setting ourselves up as The Hope is idolatrous. How can the Lord respond with anything but a jealous fire towards us? The Lord has a way of developing the instruments of his message before his message can be used. One of the reasons that we are unable to see what God is doing among us is because we are so impatient for him to work in everyone else that we don’t recognise his work in us.

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants be known among the nations before our eyes! Let the groans of the prisoners come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die! (Psalm 79:9-11 NLT)

A consequence of the Lord choosing to deal with our issues is that at the same time He is mocked by the secular voices that surround us. He is willing to take the hit of dishonour that comes his way, because His concern is not for the shallow head count of people being saved. He is looking for a depth of relationship in his people. He is looking for spiritual life.

Asaph appeals to God for deliverance and atonement. We think of the need of those people out there who need salvation. The first step is our own need of reconciliation with God. Thanks be to God that through Jesus we have this atonement.

Return sevenfold into the lap of our neighbours the taunts with which they have taunted you, O Lord! But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you for ever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:12-13 NLT)

The response that God is looking for from us is to honour His name and give thanks to Him forever. It is a response that takes the focus off ourselves and return it to our true centre, the Lord. Meanwhile, it is in his hands to deal with those who taunt him, and us.

Hope in discouragement

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Psalm 42

Thirst Observed in discouragement

1 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.

Living in discouragement, the one thing I need above all is God. He is my lifeline.

Sometimes I have to be pushed beyond all my resources before I am willing to recognise this need. My body cries out for the living God but my mind interprets the cry as – eat more comfort food, get emotional space from those around me, be entertained.  Our society in elevating happiness brings us to a place of discouragement because actually it is not often that we are happy.

2 I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?

It is not even as if God is so easily encountered. Often in our discouragement the Lord seems even further away than normal.

3 Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”

Our discouragement is not just a reflection of what is happening within. In our outer world we are under constant attack with our ‘friends’ asking us again and again, “Where is this God of your?” In a world that is turning its back on God we have few answers that we can easily point to that would be comprehended by the secular world so we are forced to take the criticism in silence.

4 My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!

We look back to days that were different. We look on times when there was a great throng of people worshiping God and maybe we even held a place of honour among them. Such a throng is a great source of encouragement, there is a buzz and our spirits are lifted.

5 Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?

We are not even sure why we are discouraged.  The only thing we do know is that we are.

Hope in God alone

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and 6 my God!

From this state of discouragement, there is only one hope and he is my Saviour and my God.

Discouraging times are testing times. They ask us where our hope is. They expose situations where our hope is anywhere other than the Lord. Not that we should berate ourselves when we discover that we had been living with other hopes, but rather when we find ourselves discouraged, this is the opportunity to choose to put our hope in God and not other things.

Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar.

In discouragement we find ourselves in a lonely place, even if surrounded by people who love us, it seems few understand or few are consciously with us in this place.

In discouragement we find ourselves far from the deep waters of spiritual nurture.  The Jordan is a long way off, we just have the trickle of water that is its source. Yet this is what we have. Are we willing to receive from the Lord all the nurture he can give us through this spring?

Confront reality?

7 I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

Instead of deep waters of spiritual nurture and encouragement we are overwhelmed by waves and surging tides; the trials of life that sweep over us reinforcing the question, “Where is your God?”

8 But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.

A challenge in such times is to reflect on life and see where the Lord’s unfailing love has actually come to us, where he has shown himself. Then to move on from there and in the loneliness and in the darkness to praise God who gives us life.

9 “O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?” 10 Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”

Discouragement needs honesty. If there is a sense that the Lord has forgotten us, we need to tell him that we feel he has forgotten us. If we are wandering around oppressed by enemies, with no sign of help, then we need to tell God that this is where we are.

A road with God

11 Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!

The answers of what has caused the discouragement are not there. There is nothing here that is going to pull us out of discouragement. What we do however is choose to praise God as saviour and God. He is our only real hope and it is to him, not circumstances or other people that we must turn.

1 Declare me innocent, O God! Defend me against these ungodly people. Rescue me from these unjust liars.

We look for God to turn our circumstances around. It is he who can intervene and justify us before others. It is God who can rescue us from the lies that surround us.

2 For you are God, my only safe haven. Why have you tossed me aside? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?

However we feel about the place God has put us, he is our only genuine safe haven. Even when we feel tossed aside by him so  that we are unable to answer those who taunt us, he is the only one we can go to for help.

3 Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live.

God is the only one who can bring us to the place of real refreshment. In depression we desperately need God’s light and truth to come to us in new ways. We need God’s word to come to us, living and leading to bring us into his presence. No other source of encouragement will really do it.

4 There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. I will praise you with my harp, O God, my God!

When God has sent his word, when he has brought us to the place of life, then we will encounter a joy worth holding out for. Then we will praise God with all our hearts.

5 Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!

The choice of putting our hope in God is re-stated. I will put my hope in God, I will praise him again. It is this certainty that God will come through that holds us through discouragement.

This is faith. This is when faith as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see is being expressed and developed in its deepest form.

Glory on God’s people

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I am tempted by passages that tell of God’s blessing to think that God is going to do great things for me because I am right with God. This leads to a focus on myself rather than on God. When looked at through the filter of the atonement and the grace of God for unworthy sinners, then there is a new light, the focus is off ourselves and onto the Lord’s great love.

“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see. For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you. (Isaiah 60:1 NLT)

Jerusalem, the people called God’s people are called on to arise. When we are called to arise it is not because we are so great. We do not need to worry that people might think we believe ourselves to be worthy. This is about the light of the Lord shining on us. If he chooses to make us a spectacle he has that privilege.

Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you. (Isaiah 60:2 NLT)

The context for this is not a world of godliness, but a world of darkness. We spend our time resisting the rise of darkness in the land. That is good, we are called on to be salt. At the same time, the Lord has an amazing ability to twist evil into good, to bring about his purposes however much evil has tried to twist all towards spiritual death. When darkness covers the earth the light of his people stands out.

The people of God were not shining all along. It is in the context of a dark world that the Lord chooses to make his glory rise and appear over us. He waits his time for effect.  Are we willing to be patient with him?

All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance. “Look and see, for everyone is coming home! Your sons are coming from distant lands; your little daughters will be carried home. (Isaiah 60:3-4 NLT)

In a dark world the light of God shines out far and wide across the world, it shines high and low to every strata of society. In this dark world, the little ones, prodigals, who have wandered far from the light of Christ come to their senses and return.

Your eyes will shine, and your heart will thrill with joy, for merchants from around the world will come to you. They will bring you the wealth of many lands. Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord. The flocks of Kedar will be given to you, and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars. I will accept their offerings, and I will make my Temple glorious. (Isaiah 60:5-7 NLT)

Vast wealth is brought to God’s people. This is not because we are worthy to receive such gifts. The gifts are an offering to the Lord who accepts them to make his temple glorious. Since his people are his temple, we can be fooled into thinking that the glory is ours and that we can do what we want with the gifts. They are given to God, and we need to be careful that God is honoured.

“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel, like doves to their nests? They are ships from the ends of the earth, from lands that trust in me, led by the great ships of Tarshish. They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away, carrying their silver and gold. They will honor the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has filled you with splendor.  (Isaiah 60:8-9 NLT)

The wealth of the world coming as a gift to God is added to by God’s lost people finding their way home. Then it becomes apparent why the Lord would have made us arise and why he would shine his light on us. He has made us a lighthouse to guide people home.  What a privilege.

“Foreigners will come to rebuild your towns, and their kings will serve you.
For though I have destroyed you in my anger, I will now have mercy on you through my grace.  (Isaiah 60:10 NLT)

God brings outsiders to rebuild the home to which others will be coming to live. This is not because of the righteousness of God’s people but is an expression of God’s mercy. It is important not to get these confused. When confronted with a reality of kings serving, one is tempted to ask, “What did I do right for this to happen?” The answer is clear, nothing! This is an act of mercy by God.

Your gates will stay open day and night to receive the wealth of many lands. The kings of the world will be led as captives in a victory procession. For the nations that refuse to serve you will be destroyed. “The glory of Lebanon will be yours— the forests of cypress, fir, and pine—to beautify my sanctuary. My Temple will be glorious!  (Isaiah 60:11-13 NLT)

Glory will be brought to God’s people, yet the purpose of this is clear – It is for God’s temple to be glorious.

The descendants of your tormentors will come and bow before you. Those who despised you will kiss your feet. They will call you the City of the Lord, and Zion of the Holy One of Israel. “Though you were once despised and hated, with no one traveling through you, I will make you beautiful forever, a joy to all generations. Powerful kings and mighty nations will satisfy your every need, as though you were a child nursing at the breast of a queen. You will know at last that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel.  (Isaiah 60:14-16 NLT)

The world turns on its head. The context of all this is darkness over the world and in such a context there are many tormentors who despise and hate us. It is not even the tormentors who now submit to the reality that God has revealed but the descendants of the tormentors. This implies that darkness needs to reign for some considerable time.

The outcome is that we know that the Lord is our saviour and redeemer. The implication is that this was in doubt. The darkness had so enveloped that many of God’s people had given way to doubts about his goodness, his sovereignty and even his redemption.

I will exchange your bronze for gold, your iron for silver, your wood for bronze, and your stones for iron. I will make peace your leader and righteousness your ruler. Violence will disappear from your land; the desolation and destruction of war will end.
Salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter there.   (Isaiah 60:17-18 NLT)

A wonderful other side to this glory is that of the transformation that God will bring about for his people. This is something that is easily taken credit for by those who look to their own spirituality, yet here it is clear that it is a work of God.

“No longer will you need the sun to shine by day, nor the moon to give its light by night, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down. For the Lord will be your everlasting light. Your days of mourning will come to an end. All your people will be righteous. They will possess their land forever, for I will plant them there with my own hands in order to bring myself glory. The smallest family will become a thousand people, and the tiniest group will become a mighty nation. At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”   (Isaiah 60:19-22 NLT)

The Lord’s glory will shine for the duration! What a wonderful finale is that!

Relational Battles

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There is a person blocking our way in a manner that is both hurtful and done through betrayal. The obstacle is to an endeavour we sensed the Lord directing us towards. It had seemed a clear cut case of praying and seeing what the Lord would do to protect his endeavour. Then Psalm 18 challenged me.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. [Psalm-18v37-38-NLT]

Here the Lord entrusts the battle to us. This is a challenge of faith to someone like me, who tends to avoid confrontation.

You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. [Psalm-18v39-NLT]

The Lord gives encouragement that since he is the one who directs the battle he is also the one who gives both the strength and the victory. He helps my challenged faith.

The Lord desires destruction. This is a challenge to my tendencies of showing compassion. There is however a reason.

We have seen people caught in sin, but failing to truly repent. They only apologised to the extent they were caught. There was remorse for having been caught, but not a brokenness that owned their guilt. Instead, they explained away what happened and fault was assigned to others. The adversary had not been humbled. They have not turned their backs in flight. They have withdrawn to a new defensive position where they stand in defiance.

They cried for help, but there was no one to save them – to the Lord, but he did not answer. I beat them as fine as windblown dust; I trampled them like mud in the streets. [Psalm-18v41-42-NLT]

The destruction of the enemy challenges their spirituality and self-righteousness. Those who have stood in defiance justify themselves and presume God is with them in their cause. Only defeat can force self-righteousness to acknowledge it is not as righteous as had been presumed.

You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; you have made me the head of nations. People I did not know now serve me, foreigners cower before me; as soon as they hear of me, they obey me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds. [Psalm-18v43-45-NLT]

The battle is not one sided. The enemy fights back and fights dirty, yet God delivers.

The enemy has been protecting itself from the conviction of God by erecting strongholds – hardening their hearts towards God. Following destruction, the enemy comes out in submission. Through our victory the enemy’s road to reconciliation with God is cleared.

Restoration of God’s people

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Many people who made a commitment to Christ in childhood are living with no real connection to Christ. They desire the lifestyle of their peers and recognising this is inconsistent with Christ, they abandon him.  Isaiah’s message has resonance –

Wake up, wake up, O Zion!  Clothe yourself with strength. Put on your beautiful clothes, O holy city of Jerusalem, for unclean and godless people will enter your gates no longer. (Isaiah 52:1 NLT)

The people of God are spiritually asleep. They are called to awaken and be clothed. In the New Testament we are called to clothe ourselves with Christ, putting on his character and his lifestyle. Here, there are key motives, strength, beauty and holiness. In a broken world looking for identity in sexuality and failing to find it, this is significant.

Rise from the dust, O Jerusalem. Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. (Isaiah 52:2 NLT)

Secular culture offers ‘freedom’, but the consequences of the choices made in this ‘freedom’ enslave and disgrace us. The Lord calls those enslaved to rise from their place of dishonour and sit in honour; to remove the chains of slavery created by inappropriate relationships and addictive behaviours.

For this is what the Lord says: “When I sold you into exile, I received no payment. Now I can redeem you without having to pay for you.” (Isaiah 52:3 NLT)

Those enslaved think it was their lifestyle choice. The Lord however sees their situation as the outworking of his sending them to exile. They turned their back on him. These were the consequences.

The Lord says that he will bring them back to himself. Those enslaved feel as all slaves, there is no hope, the cost is too great and they are too emotionally weak to pay it. Yet the implication is that a choice of turning back to God will put the people back into the Lord’s protection and he will rescue them from their slavery.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Long ago my people chose to live in Egypt. Now they are oppressed by Assyria. What is this?” asks the Lord. “Why are my people enslaved again? (Isaiah 52:4-5 NLT)

Egypt represents those enslaved by religion and law. Assyria and Babylon represents those enslaved by license and the consequences of immoral living. In our culture we have moved from Egypt to Assyria in a very short space of time.

Those who rule them shout in exultation. My name is blasphemed all day long. But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” (Isaiah 52:5-6 NLT)

The secular world rejoices in its victory; it is justifies its depravity by drawing others into its value system and shouting down any opposition. The situation seems hopeless but at his appointed time, the Lord will reveal himself and his people, who have been lost for so long, will recognise him and know his power.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! (Isaiah 52:7 NLT)

Once the Lord has revealed himself the message can go out through those he has touched. These are the messengers who bring good news.

The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem. Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the Lord has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:8-9 NLT)

Those who have mourned the loss of their children to the ravages of a secular lifestyle rejoice at their return to the Lord. Those who have seen the collapse of the church rejoice that people presumed lost are restored. Things do not return to normal. Those who have gone out, come back differently and it may be a challenge for those who have longed for their return to receive them back!

The Lord has demonstrated his holy power before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God. (Isaiah 52:10 NLT)

All those of the secular camp will see the Lord exercising his power by restoring his people.  All the world, whether those of faith, agnosticism or atheism will see the Lord’s victory. This will be a testimony to all of the Lord’s holy power; the power to take people from rubbish lifestyles back to his holiness.

Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean. Get out of there and purify yourselves, you who carry home the sacred objects of the Lord. (Isaiah 52:11 NLT)

Captives always presume that when the day of freedom comes they will be ready and willing to get out. This cry says otherwise. Just as it was a challenge for those in Babylonian captivity to return, so it will be for the captives of today. The price of purity is lifted up, activities and relationships to be left behind.

The people carry home the sacred objects of the Lord. In Ezra’s time they literally carried the objects from the temple that had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Who knows what it will mean when these people return to God.

You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the Lord will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 52:12 NLT)

One of the great concerns for someone returning is fear. Our slave masters have held us through constantly telling us the terrible consequences if we leave them. Yet the Lord will be protection for his returning people. He will cover for the consequences of their return.

God who shows true righteousness

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Isaiah 42:5-7

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out. He created the earth and everything in it.

The Lord is the Lord. He is the one who has created everything, and so it all belongs to Him. He created both heaven and earth; He created everything in both. People demand the right to do whatever they like with their lives, but the reality is that we are created beings with  a leasehold on our lives while we live. The day will come when we will have to hand it back to the freeholder and give an account for what we have done with that which was entrusted to us.

He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth.

The Lord did not only create, he also gives the breath of life to all who live on the earth. This breath is a gift of his spirit. He gives and he takes away. It is for him to entrust life to us for a while, as he chooses.

And it is he who says, “I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.

The Lord has called Jesus to demonstrate his righteousness. What an amazing righteousness Jesus demonstrated. When we think of righteousness we can easily be confused by the self-righteousness that we see around us. A righteousness that is strong on responsibility and weak on love. Self-righteousness takes the moral high ground and demands that all conform to its image. Love walks in humility and shows us a way. Before Jesus we were stuck with the law which talked about righteousness but failed to demonstrate it. It gave standards but failed to express the quality of life that demonstrated such standards.

The Lord not only calls Jesus to demonstrate his righteousness, he also calls on us to live the same way. He desires that our lives demonstrate that righteousness.

I will take you by the hand and guard you,

When anyone lives this sort of righteousness they need the protecting hand of the Father over them. Self-righteousness will eventually take offence at those who live with God’s righteousness and, taking the moral high ground, seek to destroy it.

This guarding is not the result of a tit for tat negotiation. I will live in righteousness if you guard me.  Rather, the Lord commits to take the ones he calls by the hand and lead them down a path that is guarded by him.

The Lord makes the same commitment to those he calls to live in his righteousness. He will take us by the hand and guard us. When we walk the path he has set out for us in righteousness, we are intrinsically in that place of protection.

and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them.

Jesus is not only a demonstration of God’s righteousness, he is also a symbol of the Lord’s covenant with his people.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”.” Jeremiah 31:33

Jesus was a demonstration of the covenant lived out.  Who else can one point to who has so clearly known the Lord and lived his way.

Jesus became the initiator of this covenant when he became the sacrifice through whom the covenant was enacted. He became the focal point when he died on the cross. Jesus on the cross is a powerful symbol of the covenant brought into place.

Maybe we become an example of the covenant in play. We demonstrate that God is with us and that we know the Lord. We show people that they too can enter into this covenant relationship.

And you will be a light to guide the nations.

Jesus is certainly a light to the nations. We are all guided by Him. His guidance comes not only through his teaching and his example, but supremely through the light of the Spirit whom he has set in our lives. We do well to follow his light.

As we follow the light he has set within us, and live according to the truth of his word, so our lives become a beacon of light to others. It is in following Jesus that we demonstrate to others that Jesus can be trusted to lead anyone. We give hope to those who are struggling to follow his way and show them that he is trustworthy.

You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

Jesus opened the eyes of blind people both physically and spiritually. When Jesus opened the eyes of the man born blind the Pharisees asked him, are we blind too? Jesus’ response was that they were under greater condemnation because the claimed to be able to see. If they had been able to humble themselves and come to him, Jesus could have given them the light of life.

People are not only blind, we are also captives in prisons. These can be spiritual or emotional prisons, often that we have constructed ourselves, or through poor choices allowed others to build around us. This release from prison comes through two means. One is through prayer when we pray for the spiritual hold on us to be broken.  The second is through faith as Jesus leads us down a path of obedience that leads us to freedom. Both are needed.

A call to return

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Isaiah 44 (NLT)

We live in a spiritual environment where many have put their faith in Christ as children and then turned their backs on Him. They choose to live the way the world does and feel trapped in that place. They have made bad choices and feel unable to return to the Lord because they are ashamed of their behaviour.

In this passage the Lord addresses himself to a people in a very similar situation. A people who are in exile because of their evil behaviour. They live in shame and far from their spiritual roots.

21 “Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel.

The Lord calls to Jacob, the deceiver, the one who grasps the heal and reminds him that from his perspective he is Israel, the one whose spiritual identity is the servant of the Lord, the one who wrestles with God.

The Lord knows the spiritual condition of those who are struggling with faith and failing. He knows  it and is seeking restoration rather than condemnation and punishment.

I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you.

Looking back on how Jacob was made into Israel in Genesis 32 &33 we see Jacob pitted against odds he knew he could not cope with.  He gave up everything except his own self. In that place the Lord challenged him and wrestled with him, ultimately having to dislocate his hip before Jacob would surrender. The form of Jacob’s surrender was to refuse to let go until the Lord had blessed him. The blessing involved a change in name, which clarified that the Lord had ownership of Jacob.

22 I have swept away your sins like a cloud. I have scattered your offenses like the morning mist. Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.”

Now the Lord makes the point that he has already dealt with Jacob’s sin. Even though Jacob is still living in this place of shameful sin, the sin has been paid for. From our New Testament perspective we know that this was achieved at the cross, but we have a hard time accepting Jesus’ work on the cross for our restoration beyond having become Christians. Many feel trapped in their life circumstances because they have stumbled and even fallen.  They do not feel they are able to go back to God. In John 21 Jesus restores Peter and even entrusts him ministry, whereas in our day most would have simply written him off.

23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done this wondrous thing. Shout for joy, O depths of the earth! Break into song, O mountains and forests and every tree! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob and is glorified in Israel.

Even if we don’t really understand what God has done, the Lord calls all of heavens and earth to sing out his praises for what he has done. These praises are shouts of joy. They come from every angle, from the heavens, from everywhere on earth, from mountains, multitudes and individuals.  Even if people won’t praise him, the mountains and trees will.

The subject matter of the song of praise that all creation will sing is nothing less than the redemption of God’s people.

24 This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer and Creator:

Having given a perspective on how creation looks at him, the Lord now goes on to address Jacob.  He announces himself as Jacob’s redeemer and creator.

These are two titles that are questioned by those who are in need of this redemption. In view of the shame that is felt by Jacob, he cannot really believe that the Lord’s redemption is still available. He wallows in that shame rather than turn to the Lord.

The people of Israel have been taken off into exile by a nation that defeated them.  This puts in question the Lord as creator of the universe.  Likewise in our day, science claims omniscience, it claims to have solved all the riddles of the universe in such a way as to deny any need for the Lord as creator.

“I am the Lord, who made all things. I alone stretched out the heavens. Who was with me when I made the earth?

The Lord challenges the cultural view and states emphatically that He alone is the creator. His challenge to those who doubt is to point to the person who was there at the beginning.  This obviously cannot happen. Those who speak as if they really understand the beginnings of creation are speaking presumptuously.

25 I expose the false prophets as liars and make fools of fortune-tellers. I cause the wise to give bad advice, thus proving them to be fools.

The Lord now moves onto the experts’ claims. He declares that he exposes them as liars and fools. He speaks to the false prophets – those who look at the current state of things and predict what is going to happen either in the political or in the physical world. He undermines those who speak with wisdom, making their wisdom come out as foolishness.

The whole point of this is that if we leave the Lord out of the equation, then we have missed the whole point that he is the creator and he can do with his universe as he chooses.

26 But I carry out the predictions of my prophets!

In contrast to the false prophets who speak of things that are not perceived, yet exclude the Lord, the Lord works to bring about the words and predictions of those who have stood in his presence and speak from that perspective. (Jer 23:21-22)

By them I say to Jerusalem, ‘People will live here again,’ and to the towns of Judah, ‘You will be rebuilt; I will restore all your ruins!’ 27 When I speak to the rivers and say, ‘Dry up!’ they will be dry.

The words of the Lord’s prophets are no more or less audacious than those of the surrounding culture, but the difference is that the Lord will bring their words to be.

In our day, the thought that the churches could be restored, that people would return to the ruin that is currently the state of the church and rebuild it seems beyond comprehension.  Yet these are the kinds of things that the Lord can bring to being.

28 When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’ he will certainly do as I say. He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’; he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’”

The most audacious statement of all is that the Lord would recruit his own shepherd to do this, one who does not even know or recognise him.  What does this say of the holiness of the Lord? It puts a whole different perspective on what that word means.

 

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