Thursday, April 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-19 [Insights from Isaiah] A beautiful hope and a great power

A beautiful hope and a great power

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.      (Isaiah11:6-9)
These verses are a lovely example of Hebrew Poetry:
  • Vivid imagery featuring polar opposites (wolf & lamb) (child & cobra)
  • Parallel structures: Two strophes with three lines about animals and one (or two) about a child
  • The two lines about children and snakes are a parallelism
  • It ends with strong inclusive imagery (mountain, earth and sea)

This vivid, imagination-igniting imagery was carefully and poetically crafted as a powerful expression of the hope that Isaiah has in the coming Messiah.

But you may ask:
"Isn't it all pie-in-the-sky?"
"What possible comfort can these verses offer when these images describe a reality that is just too good to be true?"
"Isn't Isaiah creating false hope? There is no point in Israel's history where any of this happened."

Three points need to be made about this:

Firstly, this poetic language that is being used to describe our ultimate destiny. It's talking about heaven and the peace and harmony that we will experience in the presence of the Lord. The poetry points to peace, harmony and healing. This is a strong hope.

Secondly, while this is poetry, it hints at the significant power of the Messiah to bring about restoration. He is more than able to heal and restore and renew. Can He heal my broken soul? Can He restore my broken relationships? Can He bring justice to a broken world? Well... He can bring the wolf and the lamb together, He can make the lion a vegetarian and He can make the world safe for a child. While we don't see it in its full reality yet, but we have experienced this incredible power when we were forgiven and when we forgive others...

Which brings us to the third point... While the full reality is yet to come, it is not just pie-in-the-sky. Every time we ask for God's forgiveness, every time a relationship is restored and every time a memory is healed, we are experiencing a taste of the hope and power we referred to in points one and two. Think about the peace that flooded your heart when you knew your sins were forgiven - was that not the leopard lying down with the goat? Think about the relief of a relationship restored - was that not the cow feeding with the bear?

When Jesus died on the cross, His sacrifice was powerful enough to heal the world. While the full healing is still coming, the magnitude of its goodness inspires us and gives us hope, and in the meantime we draw on the power of the Messiah to bring hope and healing to our corners of the world.

And so we regularly pray:
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven."

(Tomorrow we'll take a look at a BEAUTIFUL example of heaven on earth from the life of Hezekiah)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-18 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #4

A shoot from the stump #4

and He will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.      (Isaiah11:3-5)
As Isaiah lists the qualities of an ideal "shoot from the stump", we recognise that these are high standards for any king.

Here's Isaiah's list:
- delights in the fear of the Lord
(loving, loyal obedience)
- is impartial
(not being deceived by "hearsay" and "eyesay")
- judging with righteousness and justice,
- and being fair to the poor and the needy
(when the powerful and rich can exert such pressure)
- carries strong authority in word and deed
- leads so that righteousness and faithfulness are seen as part of his uniform.

This is the standard for a good king.

Hezekiah had many of these qualities.
And we desperately hope for these qualities in our presidents and leaders.

But when we look at Jesus we see all of them!

  • Think of His loving, loyal obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Think about how he shielded the woman caught in adultery from injustice at the hands of the religious tyrants, but also confronted her sin
  • Think of how He overturned the money-changer's tables and confronted hypocrisy.
  • Think about how Pilate and the Roman Centurion instinctively recognised his righteousness and innocence.

Indeed Jesus was the ideal "shoot from the stump".

But we also recognise that Hezekiah embodied many of these qualities, albeit imperfectly, and we pray the same for our leaders.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-17 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)

Isaiah worked during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah...
  • Uzziah was a good king, but he became ambitious and wanted to be priest as well as king. He was struck with leprosy and completed his reign from isolation, but left the legacy of a good son.
  • Jotham was a good king and brought blessing and prosperity to Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Unfortunately his son Ahaz was incredibly evil and his reign brought disaster and suffering on the land.
  • Hezekiah was a really good king who did a lot to bring the people back to the Lord. He restored the temple, re-established the celebration of the passover, and many other things.

This prophecy originated from the dark 16 years of Ahaz's reign.
It was temporarily fulfilled by Hezekiah who was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, acted with wisdom and understanding and walked in the fear of the Lord.

But Hezekiah also made mistakes and so Israel (and all of humankind) waited for the the prophecy to be ultimately and finally fulfilled.

The One who would fulfil this was conceived by the Spirit to be born into our world. He was filled with the Spirit as He was baptised and commenced His mission to be our sin-bearer. Then He was forsaken by the Spirit on the cross as He bore our sins and God's wrath. Ultimately He was raised from the dead by the Spirit and sends the Spirit into our hearts.

While David, Uzziah and Hezekiah and many others feared and respected the Lord, all of them came to a point where they placed their own desires ahead of God's glory. For David it was lust, for Uzziah it was power, for Hezekiah it was material comfort. Jesus steadfastly put God's will ahead of His own. His "fear" of the Lord was displayed in passionate love and costly obedience when He said "Not my will but Yours be done..."

What an amazing Messiah!!!

Friday, April 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-13 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
Today we're going to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in the Jesus, the Messiah, but also in us.

We've already seen that this is a double-prophecy, partially fulfilled by Hezekiah, but ultimately fulfilled by Christ. It is important that this prophecy applied also to Hezekiah, otherwise we will have to assume that these aspects of the Spirit's work are only available to Christ.

Isaiah believed that the gift of wisdom could be bestowed on people. He gives a full explanation of what it means to have the wisdom of the Spirit.

  • Understanding: The ability to have insight into circumstances, to penetrate the story behind the story. To understand the forces behind the surface issues.
  • Counsel: The ability to give good advice - to be strategic. Particularly to be able to listen, discern and direct.
  • Power: In this context, I would suggest that power has to do with self-mastery and self-control. People who are exceptionally wise are usually people who don't let their tempers or tongues get the better of them.
  • Knowledge: This may refer to supernatural knowledge (knowing things that we would not know by normal means) or an exceptional ability to assimilate knowledge. Elisha demonstrated supernatural knowledge when he knew in advance where one the enemy kings was going to launch surprise attacks. Solomon was renowned for his botanical knowledge (demonstrating the ability to assimilate knowledge)
  • The Fear of the Lord: This has to do with doing things God's way and interpreting life with the clear understanding that God is the Sovereign and Supreme ruler over all and that we are answerable to Him.

This Spirit-given Wisdom resided in Jesus, but He is the same Spirit who would work in us if we would allow Him to...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-12 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
This is a beautiful prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.
We'll have to spend a few days on it...

In the preceding chapters (9-10) Isaiah has talked about how Assyria has arrogantly trampled over Israel and Judah, and they destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. They came close to destroying the Southern Kingdom of Judah, even camping their army outside Jerusalem but God promised deliverance. We know that God did indeed rescue Jerusalem (You can read about it in 2 Kings 18-20)

Hezekiah was the king at this time. We must remember that the Hezekiah was a descendent of David, who was from the tribe of Judah. David's father, Jesse, was a descendant of Judah - one of Jacob's 12 sons. Jesse was the "stump" back when Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin) was king and was shipwrecking the nation. When Jesse's young son David became king, he was a "shoot" that grew into a nation at its best.

So the Israelites hoped that just like David (from the stump of Jesse) restored Israel after Saul had reduced them to chaos, Hezekiah would restore the nation from the ashes of Assyrian domination.

Indeed, the early part rule of Hezekiah was a time of blessing for the Israelites, but eventually Hezekiah was consumed by materialism and ended up having a son who became one of the most evil kings ever to reign.

Israel would eventually be attacked and defeated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the nation would go into exile, but out of that stump, Israel continued and the lineage of Judah, Jesse and David would lead through the domination of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans to a certain Joseph and Mary, a young couple engaged to be married who would have a son and call Him Jesus.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-10 [Insights from Isaiah] A Saviour with four titles

A Saviour with four titles

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      (Isaiah9:2-6)
This is one of the most loved prophecies of Jesus' coming. We often hear it at Christmas time (though often with vs.3,4,5 left out). Lets look at each of the verses and how they relate to Jesus...

v.2. When He opened the eyes of the blind, Jesus identified Himself as the light of the world. John identified Jesus as the light that shines into the darkness and cannot be overcome.

v.3-5.The Midianites were defeated by Gideon's small army of 300 soldiers armed with lanterns, clay pots and trumpets. In the same unexpected way, the birth of a child would bring about the end of violence and war.

v.6. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, (Jn.18) Pilate asked Him if He was a king. Jesus answered by saying that His Kingdom was not of this world. It is not a socio-political kingdom, but one of the heart. It is a kingdom where people's hearts are transformed and set free. It is a kingdom that has seen lives and communities impacted for nearly 2000 years as people have lived lives of love and grace in the name of Christ and have died with the name of Christ on their lips.

While on earth Jesus was the WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR who made truth, hope, love and forgiveness come alive as He taught and forgave. When He ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue being our Counsellor.

He showed that He was more than just a good guru when He healed the sick and rose from the dead. He is the MIGHTY GOD who conquered brokeness, sin, death and Satan.

He revealed the EVERLASTING FATHER. In John 14 and 17 He made it clear that He and the Father are One and that He has revealed the Father perfectly. To a confused Philip He says: "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father."

He is the PRINCE OF PEACE. Paul puts it best: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Not world peace (which never lasts long) but peace with God - and when we all find peace with God we will find peace with one another and peace in the world.

This beautiful prophecy is not only fulfilled, but FILLED out by Jesus. Let's worship His majesty!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-29 [Lent2018] One... Single... Day....

One... Single... Day....

Listen O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you who are symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,and I will remove the sin of this land in one single day.      (Zechariah3:8-9)
In the first part of this symbol rich chapter, Zechariah has had a vision of the high priest Joshua (Joshua is a variant of the name Jesus) who appeared before the throne in scruffy dirty clothes. Satan was there to accuse him for his sin, but God re-clothes him in clean clothes, taking care of sin and the accuser.

The vision continues with the promise that the Branch is coming. This is the same word as the word translated shoot in Isaiah 11 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse...") Then the imagery changes to another Messianic image: The stone. We have seen this before in Psalm 118, and we remember that Peter declares that Christ is both cornerstone (the stone that is the orientation and foundation of the building) and he is the capstone (the purpose and glory of the building.)

The seven eyes on the stone are in all likelihood symbolic of God's omniscience - that He sees all our sin and brokenness. It means that God sees us as we are and doesn't give up on us.

We don't know what the inscription on the stone is, but the result is forgiveness in one single day! It is a breathtakingly accurate and to-the-point Messianic Star: It comes right down to why He came and what it means for us. The image of the stone takes us straight to the rocky outcrop of Golgotha. I have often thought that the inscription on the stone will be 'It is finished!'

Tomorrow we will remember the "one single day" on which our sins were forgiven.

May our hearts be filled with wonder, worship and love and may you be blessed and renewed as you contemplate, remember and celebrate the Cross and the Empty Tomb!

(The picture below says it very well...)



(I'll be taking a break from eDevs until the gov schools start again...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-28 [Lent2018] Beautiful

Beautiful

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9 "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.       (Matthew26:6-10)
John's gospel tells us that the woman was Mary (the sister of Lazarus) and that the perfume was worth more than a year's wages. The disciples were taken aback - this was an expansive gesture - it was 'over the top'. We're also told that Jesus' approval of her actions triggered Judas' decision to betray Him.

If i knew that i were facing death by Roman Crucifixion in a few days time, an act of tender and generous love like this one would help me and comfort me a great deal. It is as if the woman, moved by the Spirit, gives Jesus a hug from God the Father Himself.

Some commentators have suggested that as Jesus sweated as He prayed in the garden, as He was whipped and as He carried the cross, His sweat would have pushed the perfume to the surface and Jesus would have been comforted by the scent and the reminder of this act of love.

The soldiers who were manhandling Him may have smelt it too. Perfume, in the culture of the day, was a symbol of blessing and privilege. It may just have given them a hint that they weren't just dealing with a common criminal. Ultimately it may have been just one of the cues that caused the centurion to say: "Surely this was the Son of God!"

The woman's actions challenge us to perform "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" and it is a challenge we must accept.

But this passage is more than just a call to do good and beautiful things for people... I invite you to picture this woman who is moved by Jesus' love and life to do this beautiful thing. She recognises His majesty and His Divinity and treats Him accordingly with great reverence and devotion. She instinctively realises that He is going to die and does a good and beautiful thing for Him.

When you consider what Jesus has done for you, what does it move you to?
This Easter may we be moved to acts of worship and service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-27 [Lent2018] Triumphal... Tears???

Triumphal... Tears???

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes.      (Luke19:41-42)

The Triumphal Entry is recorded in all four Gospels.

Matthew sees it as a fulfilment of prophecy and notes how Jesus healed many blind and lame in the temple courts. (Healing the blind was a sign of the Messiah). Matthew also notes that there were children singing praises in the temple - and when the Pharisees complain, Jesus comments: "have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" (A quote from Psalm 8)

Mark makes it clear that although Jesus visited the temple on Palm Sunday, it was only on Monday morning that he overturned the tables of the money changers and sacrifice sellers. This negates the argument that Jesus lost His temper in the temple. His actions were deliberate and focussed. The space that the traders and money-changers were in was the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only place in the temple where a non-Jew could go to pray. His desire and passion was that all could come to the Father.

John's account of the triumphal entry emphasises His Mission. Jesus makes it clear he is going to die for doing the Father's will: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:23-24). As He asks God to be glorified in Him, the Father answers: "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." - A clear sign pointing to the resurrection.

But Luke, who gives the most detailed account brings us an unusual insight. In the midst of the crowd crying Hosanna and the in the midst of the joyful and hopeful celebrations, Jesus weeps over the city. He weeps over their fickleness and unfaithfulness, over their shallow commitment and their bondage to darkness. He weeps because they will call for His crucifixion and take Him to the cross. He weeps over their brokenness and warns that even the faithful can harden their hearts...

This is why He goes to the cross...

What do you see at the start of this Holy Week?

  • A Healer - More than a Man - heading to fulfil all the promises and bring us healing?
  • A Passionate Saviour - Overturning tables so that we can be with God?
  • The Son of God doing what the Father wants?
  • A Son of God who loves us and weeps for us?

May we see Jesus in all His compassion, love and glory this Holy Week.



Friday, March 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-16 [Lent2018] Life's biggest question

Life's biggest question

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."      (Matthew16:13-16)
I'd be fascinated to put out a survey to get people's opinion on what "Life's most important question" is.

I think we'd get some of these...

  • What is my purpose?
  • How do I find happiness/fulfilment/peace/hope/success/etc ?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Who should I marry?
  • etc...
Jesus asks a life-changing question of the disciples:
"Who do you say I am?"

And there are many answers: A prophet, a guru, a wise man, a preacher, a teacher, an example, a guide, a significant influence, and a good man.

There could be negative answers too, like deranged, deluded, manipulative, dishonest, etc but strangely enough none of these negatives stick under a close scrutiny of the narratives about Jesus - critics criticise Christianity, but very few who have looked at the evidence criticise Jesus - most speak with grudging admiration of his ethics and example.

But Peter articulates the core truth:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Here are thoughts that could keep us busy until Easter:

  • Christ - the long awaited Messiah who will rescue us
  • The Son - part of the God family, obedient to the Father, all of His Divine Majesty squeezed into a human existence, frail, fragile and killable.
  • of the Living God - the Father sends and gives Him to us.

Lent culminates in Easter - the death and resurrection of the One who asks "Who do you say I am?"

Our Lent journey needs to include your own wrestling with this:

  • Is He a historical religious figure at the centre of stories you have heard since childhood?
  • Is He part of a religious outlook you have on life, the custodian of some life-rules that you have?
  • Or... is He the One who shows you what God and love are about
    The One who is powerful enough to save you completely
    The One who conquers death by His own death
    The One who calls you "my daughter" / "my son"
    The One who deserves all your love and allegiance

This is Lent's big question!
I imagine Peter answered this while looking into Jesus' eyes.
So should we...

----------------------------------------------
I'll be taking some time-out next week.
The eDevs will continue in Holy Week...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-15 [Lent2018] Saltiness

Saltiness

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.      (Matthew5:13 )
There is a problem with regard to Jesus' metaphor of salt. Salt, or NaCl - Sodium Chloride as we learnt in high school chemistry, is actually very stable as a chemical. It isn't easily broken down - It doesn't lose its saltiness. So what did Jesus mean?

Salt in Palestine came from the area of the Dead Sea - there were a lot of other mineral impurities that made their way into salt - notably gypsum, which in crystalline form looked like salt but was tasteless hence flavourless salt!

So truth remains truth and grace remains grace, but it can be diluted by substitutes and look-alikes. The Gospel - our faith and relationship with Christ as our Saviour and Lord is the saltiness of our lives. But when too many other tasteless elements enter our lives, we lose saltiness.

The Greek word for losing saltiness (moorainen) also means become foolish.

Makes you think, doesn't it ????

Lent is all about sifting out the "gypsum" in our lives and retaining the "salt". Salt preserves, brings out flavour, creates thirst and purifies.

We easily fill our lives up with lots of things. Lots of them are like gyspum - looks ok but bring no flavour, preservation, purity or thirst. To be the opposite of foolish (losing saltiness) we have to filter out the gypsum.

Lent thought for today: What gypsum can you filter out today so that your life can be a little saltier?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-14 [Lent2018] Unexpectedly Blessed

Unexpectedly Blessed

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you
because of me.       (Matthew5:3-11)
Jesus is talking to the gathered crowd which is made up of a broad spectrum of society who have started following Him because of the healings He has been doing.

And He starts with the word: "Makarioi -- Blessed, fortunate, happy."
What do you think of when you think of the word "Blessed"?
If someone says: "Well! I'm blessed" ?

  • That it's going well.
  • That my family is well.
  • My business is well.
  • My health is good....
So basically... to be blessed is prosperity....

The people of the day would have agreed with you...
They thought that blessedness had to do with financial and material and physical security.
And, put the other way round: If you were healthy, wealthy and secure -- you were blessed by God -- God was with you...
And, if not, then God wasn't with you...

Job's Comforters had the same circumstance-based theology... In their minds, Job's diminishing circumstances proved that he had fallen out of favour with God.

If you looked at the crowds that were there that day -- there would have been many there who felt that that they were not prosperous. When Jesus starts with the word "blessed are"... they would have expected words like "the holy, the perfect, the successful, the prosperous." And they would expect to be shut out, once again by the divides of class, wealth and structure.

But let's look at Jesus unexpected list of the blessed:
- the poor in spirit, - those who are dependent
- the mourning, - who have suffered loss
- the meek, - who have resisted the temptation to go the route of power
- the hungry, - who long for something better
- the merciful, - give kindness where it is not deserved
- the pure, - untainted
- the peacemaking, - there is always a cost
- the persecuted and insulted ones.

This is incredibly subversive! Jesus is calling the poor, the sick, the downtrodden and the struggling blessed!

What's even more interesting is what He promises them:

  • To the poor - God's Kingdom is Yours;
  • the mourning - God will comfort you;
  • the meek - You will inherit the earth (you will fulfill God's purposes);
  • those who hunger and thirst - your hunger will be filled;
  • those who are merciful - you will receive mercy;
  • the pure in heart - you'll see God;
  • the persecuted ones - you'll be called God's Children: certain of your heavenly citizenship.
So the kingdom of God is inaugurated with these powerful words:
The people who least expect it discover that they are blessed!
At the very start of His teaching Jesus makes it clear: He has not come for those who have it all together, but for those who struggle and strain. Blessing has nothing to do with circumstances and everything to do with God's care for those in these tough circumstances.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-13 [Lent2018] Goalposts

Goalposts

Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
22 But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
      (Matthew8:21-22)

On face value, this passage shocks our sensibilities. How could Jesus demand that a son not even attend his father's funeral? What about the commandment to "honour your father and mother"? At another point Jesus even confronts the Pharisees for their neglect of this command...

The critical thing to understand here is that the father is not dead yet. It was Jewish custom to bury the dead as quickly as possible and so, if the father was dead, the son would be very busy making funeral arrangements and wouldn't be in the crowd listening to Jesus.

So, the young man was talking about staying with and working with his father until he eventually died.

This kind of procrastination or goal-post shifting is something we are familiar with:

  • "Lord I'll serve you more fully when I'm out of school and have a car."
  • "Lord I'll follow you more wholeheartedly when I have my degree..."
  • "Lord I'll do more for you when I've settled into the job."
  • "Lord, as soon as I've settled into married life, I'll be more available"
  • "Lord, when the kids are older...."
  • "Lord, when I've got this promotion..."
  • and so on...

Jesus answers: "Let the dead bury their own dead." Most commentators have interpreted this as "let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead."

We're being challenged to prioritise God's work in our lives. It's very easy to get sucked into the "imperatives" of this world. We're often waiting for something "over the horizon" instead of putting God first in our lives.

We also must be sure that those who followed Jesus also spent time eating, sleeping and looking after family - earlier in this same chapter we read that Simon Peter was looking after his mother-in-law at home and Jesus healed her there. Jesus attended the funeral of Lazarus and I'm sure He attended others too.

The call here is not to neglect others, but to make sure we are prioritising Christ. We easily get stuck on our "over-the-horizon-procrastinations." Jesus would shake us to get our attention...

Friday, March 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-09 [Lent2018] Follow Me

Follow Me

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of people." 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.      (Matthew4:18-19)
These pictures of the calling of the first disciples are well-known and well-loved. They are evocative. We picture the boats, the labourers, the call and the response.

But there is a basic disconnect that happens for many people when they read this verse because, unlike Simon-Peter and Andrew, most of us don't leave our nets. We don't leave our jobs and go into full-time ministry living by faith like Jesus and the disciples did for three years.

But actually.... even those who go into "full-time ministry" in a church structure or missionary organisation have a position, income and security. It may be a "spiritualised" net, but it is a net...

And so, for most of us, there's a disconnect when we read this verse... We read it and say: "Ah that's for the full-time-live-by-faith folks... And we file it away as one of those beautiful verses that are quoted by missionaries and such like as their "calling".

But I can't help but wonder if we are missing the point...

The point is not that Jesus is calling us away from the nets, but calling us to follow Him. I think this verse is about priority and not about vocation. (We'll look at Jesus and the young man who wanted to bury his father next week)

I think that Jesus calls us to prioritise Him over our nets and then He leads many of us back to our nets, but now we're not just catching fish, we're reaching souls.

This verse does not apply only to those who have left their nets (i.e. gone into some kind of "full-time" ministry) This verse is about following Jesus and placing Him first. I believe He will lead many of us back to nets with new hearts.

For way too long we have highlighted church work as "sacred" and denigrated "secular work". The longer I work in the church, the more I realise that the real life changing happens where the people are. If we're going to be fishers of people, we will find them at work, in the neighbourhood, across the street and in our social circles.

This beautiful passage is for EVERY Christian - including you. He's calling you to FOLLOW HIM. He may lead you away from your net and something new, or He may just give you a new heart and lead you back to the net because that's where the people are....



Tuesday, March 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-06 [Lent2018] Kingdoms...

Kingdoms...

From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."      (Matthew4:17)
Matthew is a typical Hebrew. For him the name of God was so holy and so sacred, that he avoided using it unnecessarily. To talk of the "Kingdom of Heaven" is Matthew's respectful way to refer to the Kingdom of God. (Mark and Luke speak of the "Kingdom of God")

But Matthew's euphemistic language makes a good point. How does heaven have a Kingdom? It can only be that way if someONE is on the throne. A kingdom is about who is on the throne.

Jesus begins His public ministry with the core-decision or question that every one of us must answer:

Who is on the throne?

Heaven's kingdom has God on the throne. Matthew's reverent language makes it clear that this God is to be respected and honoured.

But Jesus' opening sermon recognises that God is not respected and honoured in our own hearts. When we talk about ourselves the truth has to be that most of the time it is the "Kingdom of me" and not the "Kingdom of Heaven."

And so we must repent.

We have to take ourselves off the throne.
Our pride, our ambition, our opinions, our agendas, our cravings and even the brokenness that causes us to behave defensively or aggressively must come off the throne.

Who or what is usurping the throne of your heart? There is a better kingdom that is just one repentant decision away...

Maybe for the rest of Lent we need to start each day by listening sincerely to Jesus' eight word opening sermon: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."



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Friday, March 2, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-02 [Lent2018] Galilee

(Apologies for the missed devs yesterday and Tuesday!!)

Galilee

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali-- 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
15 "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles--
16 the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."      (Matthew4:13-16)
I have never visited Israel, but those that have tell me that visiting the Sea of Galilee is a highlight. While Jerusalem and the possible sites of Golgotha and the Garden Tomb are awe-inspiring, they tell me that there is something special and peaceful about Galilee.

Galilee.
Where Jesus started His public ministry.
Where the disciples were called.
Where the 5000 and 4000 were fed.
Where the Sermon on the Mount was preached.
Where He went to the "other side" to reach a demon possessed man
Where Jesus walked on water and calmed the storm.
Where the disciples discovered abundance in big catches of fish.
Where Jesus walked on the beach with Peter and restored Him.

But why is Matthew so excited about this?
The history is significant here. The names Zebulon and Naphtali haven't been heard for a long time... These were two of the northern most tribes of Israel and were the first to be invaded and colonised by the Assyrians around 721BC.

In Isaiah 9 the prophet Isaiah, who'd been witness of the destruction at the hand of the Assyrians spoke longingly about restoration for this part of Israel. Now Matthew is now able to quote these verses because of the fulfilment that Jesus brought:
the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

So too today Jesus restores and renews, even when pain has been there for a long time.

Lent Challenge: Are there old brokenesses you need to hand over to the Lord and ask Him to teach, feed, heal, walk on the water or calm the storm? Maybe today is the day for that healing to begin.



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-28 [Lent2018] Core motivation

Core motivation

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."      (Matthew3:17-18)
Jesus' baptism was a significant moment. John's baptism was one of repentance. By being baptised (although He was sinless) Jesus was identifying Himself with broken humanity. This was yet another significant step in the journey towards the cross.

There is a dangerous moment in this baptism... John the Baptist protests at the idea of baptising Jesus: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus, instead of trying to grasp at equality with God the Father, lovingly submits: "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness."

The irony is that Jesus, in baptism, is symbolically stepping into our "dirty bathwater" and picking up our unrighteousness. Jesus wittingly and willingly undergoes baptism, thus ceremonially identifying himself as the sin-bearer. (Think of the Old Testament priest confessing the sins of the nation on the head of the scapegoat before driving it into the wilderness (Lev16:21)) His baptism makes the cross inevitable.

But He considers it righteousness. Why?
Because He is doing the Father's Will.

Why does He do it? Why is He willing to do this?

Because He loves the Father and the Father loves Him.

Jesus lived and flourished in the presence and love of His Father.
It was the Father's pleasure and love that gave Jesus clarity, meaning, purpose, joy, comfort and fulfilment.

Can you say the same?
Do you know that your Father in Heaven loves you??
Does His pleasure guide and inspire your life?
Are you living for an audience of One?


Friday, February 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-23 [Lent2018] Lent and Repentence and Preparation

Lent and Repentence and Preparation

"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " ...
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.      (Matthew3:3-8)
John the Baptist is an interesting character:
  • He danced in the womb when pregnant Mary came to visit.
  • He was set apart from childhood to a hermit-like priestly order where he spent his time studying the law, fasting and leading a self-denying lifestyle.
  • He came from the desert wearing sackcloth and eating locusts as a protest against materialism
  • He came preaching repentance, justice and change
  • He denounced evil - especially among influential and powerful people
  • He announced the coming Messiah
  • He baptised Jesus (although he felt it should be the other way round).
  • But he was confused when he landed up in prison and Jesus' ministry wasn't that of a conquering Messiah

A quick glance at John could lead one to conclude that he represented to "old way" that required one to deny yourself, obey the law and live an austere lifestyle to please God. This "old way" or "old covenant" could also be interpreted as a "works based" salvation and one might argue that John was everything that Jesus was not.

But John isn't a contrast or foil for Jesus. He is Jesus' forerunner.
Jesus says this about John: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist"(Mt.11:11)

How can this be? John seems to represent the old covenant.
So why does Jesus hold him in such high regard?

I think it was because John was Hungry. Hungry for God, Hungry for Holiness, Hungry for Righteousness, Hungry for Justice, Hungry for change, Hungry for Service, Hungry for God's Messiah.
When one is as hungry and passionate as John was, it points beyond the desire to pull oneself up by one's bootlaces. It points towards the Spirit's spark in our souls. This is the image of God in us. John had this in bucket-fulls! And Jesus loved him for it.

Lent thought for today:During Lent we deal with sin and pursue justice in our lives, not to save ourselves or prove ourselves, but because we are getting hungry. How hungry are you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-22 [Lent2018] Magi: Obedient Adventurers

Magi: Obedient Adventurers

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
...10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.      (Matthew2:1-12)
Ironically, the "East" these star-following wise-men probably came from was the area of Babylon and Persia (which was (in)famous for its astrologers and where horoscoping comes from). It was to the Babylonians that the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isa.40:26)

These Magi were attentive to the signs that were visible in nature and instead of exploiting nature's signposts for their own ends, they were simply obedient to what they heard and saw.

Imagine packing up and heading off on a long and dangerous journey just to follow a star! (If you haven't read TS Elliot's "Journey of the Magi" you should read it after this...) The Magi were not only obedient to God's prompting, but they were courageous enough to head off on an adventurous journey and gutsy enough to defy Herod's wishes.

What would the modern day Magi look like today? And how could we be like them?
Firstly I think one needs to be sensitive to the "signs of the times" - not astrology per se - but rather a being sensitive to what God might be doing in our world that many others aren't seeing. The writer of Chronicles talks about the men of men of Issachar, "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..." (1Chron12:32)

Secondly we need to be sensitive and obedient to the promptings and responsive to the signs and needs that God is drawing to our attention. We need to be willing to go and willing to be prompted. The Magi followed the star's guidance, but also listened to the dream they had about Herod. But their greatest sensitivity is shown in the gifts they bring: Gold symbolising Jesus' kingship, Myrrh which anticipated Jesus sacrificial death and Frankincense which pointed to His role as our priest.

Thirdly, we need a courageous adventurousness that would take us into the unknown and uncharted, just because we believe that we will find what God is doing there and that we would do it with a sense of worshipful extravagance!
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(This dev is a "reprint" from something I wrote a few years ago...)




Wednesday, February 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-21 [Lent2018] With us

With us

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."      (Matthew1:22-23)
In the midst of his troubles and suffering Job utters the heartcry of all humanity: "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" (Job.23:3)

But Job's longing to go and find God in His dwelling could not be fulfilled. In Psalm 15 David explains why:
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous..."
(Ps.15:1-2)

Job wasn't blameless and nor are we.

BUT when we could not go to God, God came to us!

John says it so well:
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1John.4:9-10)

Your Lent challenge today is simple:
Spend the day delighted that You are so loved by God that He came for you!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-20 [Lent2018] Gentle

Gentle

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
      (Matthew1:18-19)

Mary and Joseph were called by God to be the earthly parents of Jesus. We do not believe they were chosen because they were worthy. They didn't "earn the right" to become the parents of the Son of God. They were sinners, just like us. And, after all, just what would one have to do to earn such an incredible privilege??

But God prepares the ones He calls and He uses the gifts and fruit of those He calls...

Mary and Joseph lived in a patriarchal culture. It centred around men and their rights and dignity. A classic example of this is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The woman is dragged to Jesus - shamed and exposed - but where is the man? No-one except Jesus even seems to blink at this blatant injustice.

So when Mary falls pregnant and Joseph isn't the father, we expect him to conform to public norms and put her through a nasty, messy, public divorce. (Betrothal (being pledged) was considered as binding as marriage.) We expect him to make a big show of his bruised dignity and shame she has brought on him.

But Joseph behaves unexpectedly. He doesn't "power-up" - He "powers-down". He is gentle, considerate, gracious and even protective of her.

Think through the hot anger, bruised pride and the deep sense of betrayal and disappointment he would have had to work through. But he does it.

Joseph is called a righteous man - his righteousness came not from being right, but doing right.

Today's Lent challenge is to emulate this kind of gentleness - even when we may be right, even when we have the moral high ground or even when we may have earned the right to payback.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-15 [Lent2018] Ordinary

For the rest of Lent we'll be working our way through the gospel of Matthew, slowly making our way to the cross...

Ordinary

Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.      (Matthew1:15-16)

Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy. His original audience was predominantly Jewish and he started with the genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus was, in fact, from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David as the prophecies had foretold.

Many people look at the genealogy and pick out the significant names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and so on. Some pick out the unusual names - Rahab, Tamar, Uriah's wife...
But today I want to pause on the last few names...

Why?

Because we know absolutely nothing about them!
They may have been boring normal folk, peasant carpenters like Joseph. Or one of them may have been a wild character... Maybe one of them was a lazy layabout, another could have been an elder and leader in the community.

Jesus' lineage is a mix of kings and commoners, honourable people and ragamuffins. He comes for all of us and He comes in the midst of grandads finishing their lives, dads raising their families, and sons dreaming about starting their families.

We tend to limit our focus on God for "Holy" moments: Church, Daily Devotions, saying Grace and so on. But God comes in the midst of all our lives.

Today's Lent challenge is to go through the ordinariness of the day and remind ourselves that Jesus came to be with us in that...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-14 [Lent2018] Scruffy Valentine

Scruffy Valentine

God asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer. She was a prostitute, probably not by initial intent, but now trapped emotionally and spiritually in brokenness. She kept running back to her old life and Hosea would have to go and rescue her.

God asks Hosea to love her faithfully even when she didn't fully grasp his unconditional love and would return to her brokenness.

Hosea is a picture of God's love for us.

We are His "scruffy valentine."
We're broken:
- Damaged by the corruption, harshness and abuse of the world.
- Wounded by our own selfishness and greed.
- Scarred by our failures in the past.
- Intimidated by the bullies who push us into corners.

But God doesn't give up on us.

He pursues us and calls us to Himself.
Look at what he says:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.      (Hosea2:19-20)

God betrothes you and me, the scruffy valentine, to Him in love.

That's what Ash Wednesday is about.
We are scruffy and broken.
But He loves us, forgives us and makes us whole.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-13 [Lent2018] Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving


We're pausing our Isaiah series for Lent.
You can read all about Lent at www.emmanuel.org.za/events/lent-2018

Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.      (Psalms95:1-7)

Lent starts officially with "Ash Wednesday" but unofficially with Shrove Tuesday. "Shrove" is derived from the word "Shrive" which has to do with absolution. In the Early Church, the season of Lent was a season of fasting. They'd use Shrove Tuesday to use up the fat and luxury items in the house. It was the "feast before the fast" and pancakes were a good way to use up the leftovers which were used as fillings.

Shrove Tuesday became an opportunity to celebrate God's providence and His forgiveness.

Our Psalm does this too:

I love the verbs of worship:
Sing, Shout, Come Before, Extol, Bow and Kneel.

I love the description of God:
- He is the LORD ("I am who I am")
- He is the Rock of our salvation
- He is the great King above all other gods
- All of creation (depths to mountains, sea to land) are His.
- He is our Maker
- He is our Shepherd.

And who are we?
The flock of His pasture and under His care.
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Why not slow down this evening?
Enjoy a tasty meal with loved ones and let your hearts be filled with great gratitude to our wonderful God who gives us life and, as Lent teaches us, gave His us His Son.

Friday, February 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-09 [Insights from Isaiah] You can't ignore this truth...

You can't ignore this truth...

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured."      (Isaiah8:13-15)

Chapters 7 and 8 of Isaiah are all about the "hyenas" (aka Pekah and Rezin, aka Samaria and Aram), the panic-fear that King Ahaz has about them and the folly of trusting the Assyrians (the "bear"). Isaiah makes it clear - the hyenas will be sorted out by the bear, and the bear, in turn, will ravage the land, but God will rescue them and leave them as remnant.

Chapter 8 ends with Isaiah saying: "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion". His sons' names mean "A remnant will return" and "Quick to plunder / Emmanuel - God with us". His two sons offer Ahaz a message: God will rescue, the bear will destroy but God is with you.

It is fitting that we round off the "Bear and Hyena" section with our verses for today, because they remind us that hyenas and bears will come and go, but God is the rock solid reality that we ignore at our peril.

Ahaz is scared of the hyenas, he's put his faith in the bear.
But he has ignored the truly powerful One.
Isaiah urges him:
"The Lord Almighty is the One who is holy"
"He is the One you should fear and dread"

Something amazing happens when we right-size God and down-size our enemies... When we right-size the fearful and dreadful God, He becomes our sanctuary.
But when we overlook God we will stumble and fall.

We recognize the idea of "a stone that causes men to stumble" from the New Testament. This prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus.

Isaiah's message is straight-forward and simple. We can spend lots of time and energy on the hyenas and bears or we can downsize them while we rightsize God. If we don't rightsize God and don't downsize bears and hyenas, we're going to stumble and fall. God's holiness, love and faithfulness is a truth embodied in Jesus is a truth too great to ignore.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-08 [Insights from Isaiah] Emmanuel

Emmanuel

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."
12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."
13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.       (Isaiah7:10-16)
When God invites you to ask for a sign, you don't treat the gift lightly, but this is what Ahaz does. It is a clear indication that he has lost touch and connection with God. His relationship with God is distant, legalistic and fearful. And while he has quoted the same passage that Jesus quoted when Satan tempted Him to ask for a sign, the circumstances are completely different: When Jesus quoted it, Satan was asking for a sign, whereas it is God himself who invites Ahaz to ask for a sign.

And so God, through Isaiah, gives the sign and seal of his promise:
"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a child and will call him Emmanuel."

Now we read this promise at Advent and Christmas - seeing it as a prophecy pointing to the coming of Jesus, but that is its final fulfilment. It's initial fulfilment can be explained by the rest of this chapter and the one that follows:

What Isaiah is promising Ahaz is as follows:
Very soon a child will be born and before the child reaches "the age of responsibility" the Northern Kingdom of Pekah and the Aram of Rezah (the hyenas) will be destroyed by the Assyrians (the big bear) who will plunder the land.

In ch.8 Isaiah will take a young prophetess as his wife and they will have a child - "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" which means "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil" but they also invoke the name "Emmanuel" which means "God is with us".

The child will grow up eating honey and curds - living rough off the land instead of enjoying the fruit of a settled agriculture because the Assyrians have invaded and plundered the land. The Assyrians will destroy the hyenas.

For many this initial fulfilment is a far-cry from the final fulfilment. The Assyrians were the coming super-power, a blunt instrument to execute God's judgement on the hyenas, but the clear point that Isaiah is making is that they are God's agents and are fulfilling God's agenda and that God will be with Israel.

We will see this prophecy initially fulfilled before Isaiah's child is between 4-5 years of age: Pekah and Rezin will be defeated and a little later when Ahaz is gone and Hezekiah is on the throne and the Assyrians arrogantly come to attack Jerusalem, God delivers the city and pushes the Assyrians out of the land. (This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that Isaiah had had to bring his first son "Shear Jashub" ("A remnant shall return") as a sign to meet with Ahaz)

Emmanuel means "God is with us" - He is not far off - He is as near to humanity as the birth of a child. This is a great comfort.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-07 [Insights from Isaiah] Stand #2

Stand #2

Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"It will not take place,
it will not happen....
"      (Isaiah7:2-7)
Back in the 1600's when soldiers used muskets that required shoving some gunpowder and a metal ball-bullet into the the barrel of the musket, Oliver Cromwell was reported to have said to his troops: "Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!"

As we noted yesterday, Ahaz was between a rock and a hard place. Assyria (the "bear") on one side and Aram-Ephraim (the "hyenas") on the other. (Ephraim is another name for the Northern Kingdom).

Ahaz has heard the rumours: "Aram has allied with Ephraim." He heads out to inspect the aqueduct that supplied water for the city as this water would keep them alive during a siege. On one hand, this is good responsible leadership - he's keeping his powder dry.

But he has forgotten to trust God.

God sends Isaiah to talk to Ahaz. His instruction has an unusual addition. "Make sure you take your son, Shear-Jashub, with you."
Unfortunately we know very little about this son of Isaiah other than that his name means "A remnant shall return."

This is a constant promise in Isaiah - no matter how bad things are, there will always be a faithful remnant. There will always be a way out. There will always be deliverance. Just when it looks like there is no way out - God will make a way.

Isaiah stands before a worried king to put things into perspective: The hyenas are smouldering stubs - they will not last, they will not endure. They may have their plans - they've even named a successor for Ahaz - but God says: "It will not take place - It will not happen."

How often are we like Ahaz? We might even be good at keeping our powder dry, but are we forgetting to put our trust in the Lord?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-06 [Insights from Isaiah] Stand

Stand

1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
...
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.' "      (Isaiah7:1-9)
It was a time of political uncertainty. Assyria was the dominant world power that was swallowing up smaller countries in her conquests.
Smaller nations were desperately trying to make coalitions to stand against Assyria, but this often came with great moral and spiritual compromises.

Ahaz was the King of Judah (the Southern Kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem). Pekah was king of the Northern Kingdom (with its capital Samaria) and his kingdom was on its last legs - the Northern Kingdom will be defeated in about 5 years time and utterly destroyed some 10 or 15 years after these events.

But Pekah (son of Remaliah) has made an alliance with King Rezin of the Aramites and they approach Ahaz: "Join us or we attack you!"

Ahaz has three options:

  1. Join the alliance (with the spiritual & ethical compromises involved) and provoke the "big bear" (the Assyrians)
  2. Refuse to join the alliance and face their anger and vengeance. (thus having two enemies Aram-Samaria (the "hyenas")and the Assyrians ("big bear"). Have no ally but God.
  3. Make a deal with the Assyrians: "We'll stay out of it but leave us alone." Pacify the "big bear" and they'll protect you from the "hyenas". Again there are huge compromises involved.

In the midst of all this political wrangling Isaiah meets Ahaz to convince him to stay away from options 1 and 3.

We'll look at Isaiah's meeting in more detail tomorrow. For now, just two things stand out:

  1. In verse 9 Pekah isn't even referred to by name - he's just human, just the son of Remaliah. Isaiah is saying: "Don't be overwhelmed - they're just human. They're just people. Don't give them too much power.
  2. Sometimes we just have our faith to stand on. Isaiah is emphatic - there is no other place to stand, stand anywhere else and you will fall.

We are so easily intimidated and made miserable by people to whom we give way too much power. They're just people and they must one day answer for who they are and what they've done.

We're also so easily rattled and lose hope so easily when life shakes us - but we must trust...

More tomorrow...

Friday, February 2, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-02 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#4)

When God called Isaiah (#4)

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"      (Isaiah6:8-10)
We come now to the nature of Isaiah's CALLING. Isaiah has seen God. He has received forgiveness and now he hears God's calling.

And God asks "Who will go in my name, who will represent me?"

And Isaiah, with his mind full of God's grandeur and his heart full of forgiveness, sticks up his hand and says "Me! Send me!" (In the original he uses an interjection that is used to attract attention which is often translated "Behold!" or "Lo!") If he were one of our teens he'd say "Yoe! Me! Send me!".

Then come the marching orders - and they're scary and unexpected.
He said, "Go and tell this people:
" Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."

Articles and books have been written about this call. On the surface of it, it looks like the complete opposite of John 3:16 (God so loved the world that He gave His only Son). It looks like God wants to get rid of Israel instead of saving them.

But one needs to recognise the desperate irony of this calling. Isaiah isn't actually making the hearts of the people calloused, he's simply going to prove that their hearts are calloused. For the next 60 chapters Isaiah will call the people to repent, he'll warn them about their wicked ways. He'll plead with them to soften their hearts and he'll promise deliverance and a the coming of the Messiah. He'll offer them hope and forcefully argue that there is only one true God. He'll peel off their masks and show them their need for God. He'll challenge them to be still and know they Lord their God and still they will stubbornly refuse to soften their hard hearts, leaving God no option but to let their rebellion run its course and land them in exile. In essence God is saying "Preach grace over and over and over again until it is utterly rejected."

It seems Isaiah understands his mission perfectly - he has only one question:

Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?"
And he answered:
"Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

And here we see God's heart: "Keep preaching Isaiah, even when they have wrecked themselves and brought my wrath upon them. Keep preaching even when they have broken themselves in rebellion and sin. Keep preaching even when they miss their second and third chances. Keep preaching when all around you is crumbling and all seems to have fallen apart. Keep preaching because you just never know when a dry old stump will produce a shoot and grow into something new."

This is our God's incredible love and sharing His love is our amazing calling.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-01 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#3)

When God called Isaiah (#3)

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."                  (Isaiah6:5-6)

What kind of person is Isaiah?

As he stands in the presence of a Holy God, Isaiah can think of only one word - and our English Translations struggle to render it. Some translations say "ruined" or "undone" or "lost". Eugene Peterson puts it "I'm as good as dead!". The original Hebrew says "I'm destroyed" - "I'm wiped out."

Isaiah knows that he cannot stand before the Holy Sovereign Creator of all and try to keep up pretences. He knows he is a sinner and it just takes the utterings of his lips to prove it.

But Isaiah is not only honest about himself, he is also honest about his people - they too have sinned and have nothing they can offer God.

This kind of honesty is not only refreshing, it is vital. Isaiah has conquered his greatest personal obstacle - the obstacle of pride. You see, the minute we think we have some scrap of righteousness to offer God, then God becomes our debtor. Isaiah has recognised that in the face of this righteous, majestic and magnificent God he has nothing to offer but his brokenness. And he offers his brokenness to God in confession and repentance.

I also love the fact that Isaiah doesn't distance himself from his people, he sees himself as part of them and when he confesses their sins he recognises his own complicity.

Who is Isaiah?

  1. Someone brave enough to see God so clearly that he knows without a shadow of a doubt that he (Isaiah) is not God and that he desperately needs the one true God - even if that means confessing his sin.
  2. Someone who has compassion enough to see the brokenness of his people and see himself as part of the problem. And it bothers him enough to bring it to God.
  3. Someone who is forgiven. This is not something that Isaiah achieves, but something that is done for him. He is the passive recipient. The coal comes from the altar of sacrifice and represents what Jesus would do for us. Isaiah simply receives beautiful magnificent forgiveness.

Are you like Isaiah?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-31 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#2)

When God called Isaiah (#2)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.                                        (Isaiah6:1-4)
Isaiah goes to the temple - Uzziah has died - the future is uncertain. Isaiah wants solid ground to stand on...
In the temple he has a vision of the Lord. The imagery in this vision offers us beautiful perspectives on the character of God.

The Lord is seated on the throne: Earthly kings may come and go, but God is on the throne. He governs the ebb and flow of history. Even when rulers use their free will to do mischief and evil God governs over them and accomplishes His purposes. He is high and lifted up, and, while we may not always understand His ways, they pure and blameless. The seraphs (serving angels) around his throne help us understand what He is like: The wings and their flying indicate their power (and yet they choose to serve). They cover their faces because His magnificence is incredible. They cover their feet (probably a euphemism for private parts) out of respect and reverence for God's greatness.

They sing a threefold "Holy". While we recognise a hint to the Trinity with our New Testament glasses, the Old Testament connotation around three is completeness - God is completely holy, righteous and pure. And His glory can be seen throughout the whole earth.

Isaiah doesn't describe God much beyond that He is seated on a throne. He seems only to have vocabulary for the angels (seraphs) and even their presence rocks Isaiah's world - doorposts and thresholds shake at the sound of their praise alone. How much bigger must God be if Isaiah is overwhelmed by the presence of the angelic servants?

The temple is filled with smoke (or maybe incense) - this again is a symbol of God's holy presence which penetrates everything and yet we cannot grasp or hold it.

What is God like?
He's incredibly majestic and yet the angels delight to serve and worship Him.
He's 3Xholy (perfect, righteous and good) and the whole earth reflects it.
His presence makes powerful angels bashful
His presence inspires powerful praise from these angels
His presence is obvious in the whole created world
His presence permeates our lives.

If we read on, we learn some more:
- This God forgives
- This God calls
- This God restores.

Take a moment to stand with Isaiah in the temple and contemplate the glory of the Lord.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-30 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#1)

When God called Isaiah (#1)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.      (Isaiah6:1)
This is one of the most beloved chapters of the Bible. The book doesn't start with the story of Isaiah's calling into ministry, but, as we saw, it starts with a summary of the message that Isaiah proclaimed: Israel was broken in her sin and corruption, but God was willing, able and eager to forgive.

In the first five chapters Isaiah has spelled out the heart of his message:

  • Israel's holy God sees their brokenness and wants to heal them.
  • Israel has a destiny as a light on a hill and a fruitful vineyard.
  • Their stubborn resistance and rebellion had and would result in consequences (their enemies would overcome them)
  • They would need to repent and return to the Lord)
  • God has a plan to restore His people.

Now that the basics have been laid down, Isaiah shares the story of how he came to be the preacher of this message.

As we explore this story of calling we are going to explore the questions raised by the title of our devotion:

  • WHEN did God call Isaiah
  • What is the GOD who called Isaiah like?
  • What kind of person was ISAIAH?
  • What did the CALLING entail?

Let's pick up on the "when" of Isaiah's calling...

Isaiah tells us that the calling came "in the year that King Uzziah died". Uzziah was one of Israel's few good kings, but he let his pride get the better of him and tried to act as the high priest and God struck him with leprosy and he completed his reign from quarantine. Uzziah would be followed by Jotham who was a good man but failed to lead the people back to God. Ahaz, a corrupt and evil king would follow him, and then Hezekiah would come and bring a short-lived revival, but he would be become obsessed with buildings and wealth and be followed by Manasseh who was probably one of Israel's most evil kings.

Along with the up's and down's of the kings, the geopolitical situation of the region was tempestuous. The Assyrians, coming from the North-East were about to defeat Samaria in the North and the power of Egypt in sthe South-West seemed like it could be a deterrent, but when the pressure mounted Egypt would collapse.

In the midst of all this uncertainty God calls Isaiah.
He still calls today.