Sunday, July 31, 2016

"God's plans for Jerusalem …"

Day #214

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 29 - 33 ...

God’s relationship with the Jews as a people and His promises to them concerning Jerusalem and His plans for the future dominate Isaiah’s prophecy.  The prophets spoke often of the city of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.  John writes in his Revelation of the nations gathered against Jerusalem just prior to the return of Jesus Christ.  God will be vindicated when the nations of the earth are defeated by Jesus and His mighty army of angels from heaven.  If all of this sounds like foolishness, remember that the Bible speaks of angels and the spiritual realm many times.  Jesus Christ will literally reign over all the earth from Jerusalem!  But first, God’s judgment will come on the nations.

For more than fifty years God used Isaiah to speak to a remnant of people whom He had chosen from the nation of Judah.  While God had chosen Abraham and his son, Isaac, and his son, Jacob, and through him, Israel, to be His special people, only a small number were chosen by God to be His children for eternity through faith in the coming Savior.  These heard the words of the prophets and lived with hope while those around them cried out to a God they didn’t know.  So it is today.  People claim to believe in God but do not know who He is.  I remind people often that the God who reveals Himself in the Bible is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He promised that the Savior would come from this line, through Jacob’s son, Judah.  It would be the coming One, the Messiah, who would finally establish His throne in Jerusalem.

The people in Isaiah’s day heard the words of Isaiah and looked for this coming ruler who would bring victory to His people.  They could not have understood that He would come first as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53, who would offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin on the cross.  Yet all of this is written for you and me today so that we may live by faith in a world that continues to reject the truth of the prophets, the apostles and of Jesus Himself, the One the prophets pointed to.  In order to understand Isaiah's prophecies, you need to understand that God was using Isaiah to speak to the people in his day, but also about a FUTURE day.  These prophecies are intertwined so that one verse may be speaking about Isaiah's present or the near future and the next may be speaking about what will take place when Jesus returns.  With that in mind, you begin to see certain themes being repeated throughout Isaiah's prophecies.

One of those themes is, as we have seen, Jerusalem.  Chapter 29 begins with a warning for Jerusalem.  Isaiah uses the word "Ariel" to refer to Jerusalem. The word is an unfamiliar one that may be repeated at the end of verse 2: "altar hearth."  Or it may mean, "lion of God."  Either way, it points to God's judgment upon Jerusalem.  Hard days are coming for Judah and Jerusalem ... then and now.  God says, "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men" (29:13). The Babylonians would come and destroy the temple and take the people into captivity more than a century later.  Judgment would come, but God’s promises would stand.  It is so important to remember that God’s promises are for the remnant, for those chosen by God to be His forever.  Nothing can stop God from keeping His promises!

God would bring a remnant of these people back to the land promised to the descendants of Abraham and the temple would be rebuilt, and then after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Jerusalem would once again be destroyed by the Romans.  This city still exists today amidst the turmoil of the nations that surround her, and God says there is an even greater time of tribulation coming on Jerusalem in the future - perhaps the near future. Isaiah writes that the nations will be gathered against the city of God.  Then, "suddenly, in an instant, the LORD Almighty will come" (29:5-6).  "The LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights. ... the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; He will shield it and deliver it" (31:4-5).  God will do what God says He will do!  His Name will be exalted through these people and through this city!!

Throughout his prophecies, Isaiah refers to this future time when the "Holy One of Israel" (30:11-12) will confront those who have rejected Him and move them to repent and to receive Jesus as Lord.  The nations will be destroyed and the people of Israel will "once more ... rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel" (29:19).  “They will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel” (29:23).  God will keep His promises!!

Chapter 32 speaks of "a king who will reign in righteousness" (32:1).  God promises, "My people will live in peaceful dwelling-places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest" (32:18).  "Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved. ... No one living in Zion will say, 'I am ill'; and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven" (33:20, 24).  The prophet Zechariah speaks of this time in Zechariah 12:10 and 13:1.  In a future time, when the nations are gathered against Jerusalem, Jesus will come to her aid and stand on Mount Zion.  The armies of the nations will be destroyed and Jerusalem will become the location for Jesus' reign in His millennial kingdom.  God has said it; it must be so.

As you and I read Isaiah today, the words point us to our Sovereign God who is guiding the affairs of the nations toward the conclusion that God Himself has determined.  Those who reject Him, who despise the truth that He alone is God, who mock Him by worshiping other gods, will face His wrath.  But those who trust in the Savior, who worship the Holy One of Israel through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, will one day reign with Jesus in the city of David, Jerusalem ... praising and glorifying the one true God ... forever!!

"O LORD our God, when we hear the prophecies of judgment and wrath written so long ago, it reminds us that You are holy and just.  We thank You, Father, that You are also compassionate and merciful and that as Isaiah predicted later, You provided a Savior who took our sins upon Him and through whom we who believe are healed ... forgiven!  Give us grace and strength to proclaim Your truth to our world as we await the fulfillment of all Your promises when Jesus returns to reign over the nations in Jerusalem.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

Saturday, July 30, 2016

"Do you know THIS God?!"

Day #213

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 23 - 28 ...

At some point in the near future every person and every nation will be forced to acknowledge that there is one true God and that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who reveals Himself in His Word, the Bible, and in His Son Jesus Christ.  And when that day comes there will be cries of despair and overwhelming fear and grief coming from all who do not know God as “Abba, Father,” through faith in Jesus.  As Isaiah continues to declare God’s coming judgment against the nations, these words are repeated over and over again:  "Wail!  Be silent!  Be ashamed!  Wail!  Wail!!” That's Isaiah 23, and the reason for their wailing lies in Chapter 24 ..

We have seen that many people want to read these words of Isaiah and the words of the rest of the Bible as symbolism for lessons God wants people to learn.  These do not believe that any of this will really happen and have no explanation of why the prophets wrote these things, but they pick and choose the words they like and arrive at a place where they find comfort in a “god” that doesn’t exist, for they do not know THIS God!!  Listen carefully to some of the things Isaiah says will happen, not by accident, not by “natural causes,” but by the hand of  the Almighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth!

All of this is from one chapter in God’s Word, from Isaiah 24:  "The LORD is going to lay waste the earth and devastate it; He will ruin its face and scatter its inhabitants” (vs. 1). ... “Earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left” (vs. 6). ... “ ... all gaiety is banished from the earth. ... So will it be on the earth and among the nations” (vss. 11-13). ... “The floodgates of the heavens are opened, the foundations of the earth shake.  The earth is broken up, the earth is split asunder, the earth is thoroughly shaken ... it falls - never to rise ... In that day the LORD will punish the powers in the heavens above and the kings on the earth below ..." (vss. 18-21).   That's Isaiah 24.  Some might be surprised to read these words here, as they seem to fit in John’s Revelation!  But both are speaking about the same events!!  This is the coming judgment of God upon this planet, and it is REAL!!!

Yet, at the same time, there is hope for those who know God and who worship Him and give thanks to Him for His gift of salvation through the Messiah, the Savior, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ.  Seven hundred years before His birth, Isaiah declares, “From the ends of the earth we hear singing:  ‘Glory to the Righteous One!’” (24:16).  And in verse 23 we read, “for the LORD Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem.”  This is God’s promise to those who know Him and who worship Him. 

Do you know THIS God?  He is the LORD of the heavens and the earth, and His judgment is just and certain upon all who do not know Him.  It is THIS God who is the God of salvation.  It is He who will reign on Mount Zion, His holy place in Jerusalem.  This will happen LITERALLY!   Isaiah goes on in Chapter 25 to say that for those who know Him a glorious future awaits:  "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples” (for all who believe from every people, tribe, nation and tongue),  ... “On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of HIS people from all the earth" (25:6-8).

What a beautiful picture for those who know this God!  “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us.  This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation’” (25:9).  Are you rejoicing in God’s salvation today through faith in Jesus or are you caught up in the things of this world, imagining that all of this is just some religious fairytale that has no chance of coming true?  No wonder that so many live in despair, “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Those who know THIS God find peace and rest as they trust in Him.  “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (26:3).  Those who know this God desire but one thing:  "Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts" (26:8).  To these God says, "Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until His wrath has passed by.  See, the LORD is coming out of His dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins" (26:20-21).

THIS God is still the God of Israel ... those descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Whatever people may think of the political state of Israel, these people, and others of their race around the world, are special to God, and the city of Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, will feel the very feet of the Savior, the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ.

"In days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit" (27:6).  "And in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem" (27:13).  The temple mount will again be host for the worship of the One, True God.  "In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of His people" (28:5).

In the midst of God's pronouncements of judgment, He reveals the way for those who are His to come to Him:  "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed" (28:16).  Peter quotes this verse in I Peter 2:6 and points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Isaiah's words.  THIS God has provided a way through the cross of Christ for sinners to escape the coming judgment.

I hope YOU know THIS God!  "Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts!"  (Isaiah 26:8).

"LORD God Almighty, You alone are God.  Your judgments are just and right.  Yet, Your promises are sure and Your salvation delivers those who place their trust in the One Who is the Cornerstone!  Blessed are those who know You, the only true God, for we will be saved on the day of judgment and will feast at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb!  Thank You, LORD, for Your amazing grace, in Jesus' name, Amen"

Friday, July 29, 2016

"What does the future hold?"

Day #212

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 18-22 ...

As you and I live in this world we all have our frustrations.  Some of them are minor things, while others occupy our minds and hearts and weigh heavily upon us.  It seems that life is filled with unexpected events and we get easily stressed by what we perceive to be injustice in the world.  Security is an illusion as we watch the world around us spiral into chaos.  You may experience stress and insecurity at work or in your personal relationships with others, even in your family or in the church.  So how can you be optimistic about the future?  Many try to pretend and to produce a measure of hope for the world, but they rely upon a change in the thinking and behavior of people and there is no evidence that such a change will take place.

Trying to predict what the future holds is like trying to predict the weather!  James writes, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).  Life is truly unpredictable.  All around you there are people who are looking forward to some difficult times in their lives with regard to their health or their finances or their family situations.  Terrorism can disrupt our lives at any place and at any time.  Where can you and I turn for hope?

At first glance, it is NOT Isaiah 18-22!!  These chapters, along with most of Isaiah 1-39, pronounce judgment on nation after nation, indeed, as we will see in our next reading, upon the entire planet!  There is not much encouragement in these chapters.  In fact, the word "terror" and words like it are used several times.  Judgment is going to fall even on Judah, and God says why:  "You counted the buildings in Jerusalem and tore down houses to strengthen the wall.  You built a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, but you did not look to the One who made it, or have regard for the One who planned it long ago" (22:10-11).  And several times Isaiah writes, "The LORD has spoken!"  It is set.  It is going to happen.  The One who controls the future as He has the past will bring all these things to pass.
As I watch the world scene and hear the reports of what is happening among some of the most prominent nations in the world, I often think about what the future holds - perhaps the near future ... and in one word, it is judgment.  God's wrath is even now being poured out in so many ways upon the peoples of the earth, yet they refuse to acknowledge the reason for their misery.  And here, in what is arguably the most outwardly blessed nation in the world, people in record numbers ignore the God from whom all blessings flow.  God has said that He will not share His glory with other “gods,” yet even in the visible church there are false teachers and those who promote other religions and by doing so reject the Gospel that proclaims that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, come in the flesh, who died and rose again and ascended into heaven.  They deny that He alone is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6) and that no one comes to God except through faith in Him.

Judgment is coming on this world - GOD's judgment!  It must come because He has said it will.  As Isaiah pronounces judgment on the nations around Israel in his day some of what he predicted was for the near future, but most of it was for the days yet to come.  This is not just Old Testament “judgment talk!”  God is at work in our world today to save the remnant that we heard Isaiah talk about earlier, but He will not hold His wrath forever.  It will be poured out as certainly as Jesus will return to rescue His Church, His Bride.  And here is where we find hope.  Justice WILL come and those who look to themselves or the world or other gods for escape will not find it.  They will perish in their sin and endure the horrible judgment of God for all eternity.

Those who believe otherwise need only listen to Jesus.  Isaiah pronounces judgment on those who come against God’s people and who scorn the God of Israel.  In Matthew 25, verses 31-46, Jesus reveals the scene when He returns and gathers the sheep and the goats before Him.  To those who have believed in Him and who have shown love for His “brothers” (specifically, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and believers in Christ), Jesus will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).  But to those who have not believed in Him and who have not shown compassion and love to His “brothers,” Jesus will say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

As certainly as Isaiah predicts the judgment of God upon the nations, Jesus taught about the reality of God’s judgment upon all those who reject God’s offer of forgiveness and eternal life through faith in His sacrifice on the cross, the shedding of His blood, the perfect Lamb, the perfect offering.  Only Jesus, true God and true man, could pay the debt you and I owe to Almighty God.  Peter declared in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

OUR hope is in the LORD, the Great "I AM," the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  While people try to unite all mankind into one global community and seek to establish a "religion" where each person is free to believe what they want about "god," or a "higher being" ... or not to believe at all ... God is not mocked.  Everything Isaiah predicts will come to pass just as God says it will.  Where do YOU find encouragement, comfort and hope?  Isaiah found his in the one true and only God (you may want to look ahead to Chapter 40).  You can find comfort in the same place, for in knowing Him there IS hope ... for today, for tomorrow ... for forever!!

"Father, today is a gift from You, to be used for You.  Help me, today, to give my life to You and to find in You my hope, my strength and my JOY!!  For in you my future is secure.  In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

"Will you be found praising God when His judgment comes?"

Day #211

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 12-17 ...

Reading Isaiah, especially Chapters 1-39, can be a little bit like reading a doomsday novel.  God pronounces His judgment on the nations and on Israel and Judah, too.  Like other prophecies, some of the things Isaiah wrote about would happen in the near future, while others still lie ahead of us.  The difference between other scenarios we read in books or see on television or in movies is that this is God's Word and everything that God prophesies for the future WILL happen.  As we have seen, while God announces His coming judgment, He offers hope to those whose eyes and ears are opened by His Spirit and whose hearts are moved to believe in Him by pointing to the One who will come who will someday reign on the earth ... the coming King, the One who will be Savior and Lord!

We saw in Chapter 11 that One would come who would be “a shoot ... from the stump of Jesse” (11:1).  At that time God says, “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.  In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His place will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the remnant” (11:9-11).  We who believe in Jesus Christ today are part of God’s chosen people and even now there is a remnant of believers among the Jews, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God has not forgotten His promises!

Chapter 12 is a bright spot!  "In that day" refers to the deliverance of God's people described in Chapter 11.  Those who experience God's deliverance will praise Him as they "draw water from the wells of salvation" (12:3).  Remember Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman in John 4:  “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).  Isaiah declares that those who are God’s people will give thanks to God and make His name known among the nations.  All of this should be a clear reminder that God's purpose throughout all of history is to make Himself known.  Jesus said, "This is eternal life:  that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. ... I have revealed You to those whom You have given me" (John 17:3,6).  That task belongs to those who believe in Jesus today!!

Chapters 13 - 17 speak of God's overwhelming judgment on the nations around Israel and Judah.  Notice the absolute control God has over the nations of the earth.  Imagine yourself living in the days of Isaiah.  To say it was chaotic would be an understatement.  It was a violent time, much worse even than today.  You would have been hard-pressed to find peace and tranquility anywhere.  Rulers came and went and struggled for power and wealth, and in the midst of it all were Israel and Judah.  Israel would be defeated by the Assyrians, but God had plans for Judah ... for from them would come the Savior of the world!  Those who opposed God, even those among the people of Israel and Judah, would eventually endure His judgment.  The same is true today.

In the days of Isaiah the nations were being aligned as God intended for the coming of the Savior and the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world.  Today the nations are being aligned for the rise of the antichrist and then the return of Jesus.  As certainly as the prophecies of the destruction of the nations who came against Israel were God's pronouncements of judgment, their final destruction lies in the near future ... and our own nation is not immune to God's just judgment.  In Chapter 13 Isaiah speaks again of the “day of the LORD” (13:6) and describes the scene in verses 9-10.  When you compare this to Matthew 24:29 and Revelation 6:12-14 you see that God intends to fulfill this and other prophecies exactly as He has said.

Most people today, if they believe anything from the Bible, believe these prophecies are symbolic rather than literal.  Such an interpretation, however, ignores the many Scriptures that speak of these things and that point to the consequences of God’s coming judgment on this planet.  Even Satan's destruction is foretold in Chapter 14, verses 12-17, and along with him the kings of the nations. No power will stand against the wrath of the Almighty.  "This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations.  For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart Him?  His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" (14:26-27).  

Yet, there is hope:  "In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it - one from the house of David" (16:5).  As you read through Isaiah do not miss God’s promises to those who know Him, who love Him and who live to serve Him.  God never leaves those who trust in Him without hope - NEVER!  God will not leave Himself without a witness and if that witness is not you it will be someone else.   "In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel" (Isaiah 17:7).   
You can do that today!  God knows those who are His because “He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.  In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will – to the praise of His glorious grace!” (Ephesians 1:4-6).  You can know you are HIS!

The hope of those who believed in Isaiah’s day was the grace and mercy of God and His promise to send a Savior.  Our hope is in the same God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Savior He sent, His own Son, Jesus Christ!  As you watch the nations of the earth jockey for power and position, as economies hang on the precipice of collapse, as politicians and religious leaders seek to use their own power and wisdom to "save the world," there is ONE Savior, and His name is Jesus!  Place your hope in Him today and do not fear, for there will come a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!!

"Father, I thank you for the hope that You give, even in the midst of the pronouncement of Your judgment and wrath.  You alone are God and there is no other.  Your power and wisdom and might are displayed all around us.  I place my hope and my trust in YOU, O God, and live to serve You, now and forever.  I rejoice in You, my God and my Savior.  In the name of Your Son, Jesus, Amen"