Archive for June, 2010

June 30, 2010

Can you hear the singing of the groom?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 62, Matthew 10

The Focus on the Groom

Having been in seventeen weddings, I know that the bride is the center of attention.  She is the one who is showered with gifts and parties.  She is the one who dons “the dress” and is surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting.  It is at her entrance that the guests stand.

In 2003, however, I began questioning this.  That year, although I walked down the aisle as a bride’s attendant, I stood at the altar as the groom’s sister.  Rather than watching my sister-in-law walk down the aisle, I watched my brother as he looked upon her coming toward him.  I couldn’t stop crying as I saw his beaming smile, fixed gaze and tiny tears.  Although normally a thoughtful lawyer and competitive athlete, he was emotionally captured.

I now watch the groom at weddings.  And – at the end of the age – I’ll be watching the groom as well.  And – mysteriously and miraculously – He’ll be watching me.

The Groom’s Work

In chapters 1-39, we see that God is going to purify Israel through the Babylonian exile; in other words, He is going to remove her stains and clothe her in white.  Then, in chapters 40-55, we learn how God will console them in their exile; in other words, He will display His love and woo them to Himself.  Finally, here, in chapters 56-66, we see how God is preparing His people for salvation.  The bright spot of His plan is chapters 60-62, in which God speaks of the final glory (60), the Year of Jubilee (61), and the watching for salvation (62).

The Bride’s Beauty Based on the Groom’s Work

As He anticipates showering His people with salvation, He compares His joy to that of a groom on his wedding day: “ … the Lord will take delight in you … as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” [1].  God does not hesitatingly admit His people into His kingdom as though Christ were a loophole.  Rather, He prepares the aisle for us: “ … go through the gates, clear the way for the people” [2]. He gives us His name: “It will no longer be said to you, ‘Forsaken’ … but you will be called, ‘My delight is in her’” [3]. As the redeemed, “the nations will see [our] righteousness, and all kings [our] glory” [4].

If you could hear His singing and see His joy over you, how would your life be changed?

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[1] Isaiah 62:4-5 NASB  |  [2] Isaiah 62:10 NASB  |  [3] Isaiah 62:4 NASB  |  [4] Isaiah 62:2 NASB

June 29, 2010

What brings you joy?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 61, Matthew 9

God’s people should be joyful.  Knowing that Jesus holds the universe in His loving hands should make us confident in the face of current adversities or future uncertainties.

Joy under the Law

Even before Jesus, joy marked God’s people.  Under Levitical law, Israel celebrated the Year of Jubilee every 50 years.  All prisoners were released, all previously surrendered property was returned to its original owners, and all debts were canceled [1].  Yet, the Year of Jubilee merely foreshadowed the coming of the good news of the kingdom of God.

Joy under the Prophets

When Judah was exiled in Babylon, however, there appeared to be no good news.  They felt forsaken by God and oppressed by their captors.  Yet, Isaiah proclaimed the same message that the law foreshadowed: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD …” [2].

Joy under Jesus

Yet, “the favorable year” wouldn’t take place for another 700 years.  When Jesus launched His public ministry, He went to the synagogue in His hometown, Nazareth.  The apostle Luke recorded: “And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” [3].

Jesus personified the Year of Jubilee.  When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he said: “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” [4].

Christ the King has come; we now live in His favor.  Yet, our joy is often rooted in our ever-changing circumstances rather than in the knowledge of His presence among us.  To what extent is your foundation rooted in the Year of Jubilee and Christ’s having come to dwell among His people?

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[1] See Leviticus 25  |  [2] Isaiah 61:1-2 NASB  |  [3] Luke 4:17-19 NASB  |  [4] Luke 2:10-11 NASB

June 28, 2010

Does your church have double chins?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 60, Matthew 8

While Luke is the first to refer to God’s people as “the church” [1], Isaiah refers to them as “Zion”: “And they will call you the city of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” [2].  It is through Zion that God has chosen to display His glory to the world: “For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you” [3].  Thus, our attitude about the church reveals our attitude about God and His glory.

The Church as We See It

Yet, oftentimes we do not see the church as royal.  Rather, we see it as Screwtape – the mentor devil in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters – hopes us to see it. He writes to his apprentice:

“All your patient [the human] sees is the half-finished sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.  When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face … When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided.  You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors.  Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew … Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.”

The Church as the Lord Sees It

Yet, that description is inaccurate. The visible church is the kingdom of Christ since it brings the good news of the gospel.  Even Screwtape admits that the Church, as viewed with spiritual eyes, is “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banner.”

Likewise, Isaiah says that Zion is a light: “ … darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you” [4], a magnet: “ … the wealth of the nations will come to you” [5], and a home: “Your gates will be open continually; they will not be closed day or night …” [6].

How do you treat the church – as a reflection of God’s glory or as an oily neighbor with double chins?

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[1] Acts 5:11, Luke uses the word “ekklesia” for church. |  [2] Isaiah 60:14 NASB  |  [3] Isaiah 60:2 NASB  |  [4] Isaiah 60:2 NASB  |  [5] Isaiah 60:5 NASB  |  [6] Isaiah 60:11 NASB

June 25, 2010

How to become loyal, not rebellious?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 57, Matthew 5

Indicting & Hoping

Although the Lord indicts His people for their rebellion, He also says that He “will not accuse forever” [1].  He “will heal [them]” and “restore comfort to [them]” [2].  In foreshadowing the coming of God in the person of Jesus, Isaiah prophesied: “For this is what the high and lofty One says – he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite …’” [3].

Surprising & Uncompromising

John Piper illustrates how surprising, yet uncompromising, it is that the high and lofty One whose name is Holy dwells with the contrite and humble [4.  He tells of a great king whose people once adored him for using his wisdom, power and riches for their good.  Over time, however, they came to resent him – seeing his laws as burdens, not blessings.

Then something happened.  The king left his throne to visit his people.  They trembled, yet he spoke nothing.  He walked the streets and knocked on a widow’s door.  When she opened it, she began to weep and then welcomed him in.  They talked all night and he departed in the morning, leaving a velvet box.

The people wondered why He came – especially to her!  She and her husband had been rebel leaders.  In fact, she only recently stopped protesting.  This was surprising: the lofty One whose name is Holy would dwell with his subjects, especially former conspirators.

Yet, this widow had recently discovered the king’s edicts in the town’s archives.  Reading them, she wept.  She found his plans to be good and glorious.  She felt freedom in accepting them rather than in rebelling against them.  She was contrite and humble.  If the king would have her, she would be a loyal subject.  Thus, when he entered her home, he entered the house of a broken and contrite spirit, not a rebel.  This was uncompromising: the lofty One whose name is Holy dwells with contrite and humble saints.

In the morning, the woman’s hands trembled as she opened the box.  In it, she found a ring and a hand-written note:

  • “With this I cancel every sin
    And heal now every hurt within.
    The one who wears the royal ring
    Will be the daughter of the king.”

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[1] Isaiah 57:16 NIV  |  [2] Isaiah 57:18 NIV  |  [3] Isaiah 57:15 NIV  |  [4] John Piper, sermon, “The Lofty One Whose Name Is Holy”

June 24, 2010

Do you hope in a better name than your surname?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 56, Matthew 4

Old Covenant Procreation

Under the old covenant, God established His people through a physical family.  He told Adam to procreate: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it …” [1].  He covenanted with Abraham: “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars … So shall your descendants be’” [2].  He promised Isaac:  “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham” [3].  He told David: “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body …” [4].

Thus, for the Israelites, having children was paramount.  So, when Saul saw that David would replace him as king, he begged David, “So now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me and that you will not destroy my name from my father’s household” [5].

New Covenant Procreation

The family formation under the old covenant is what makes Isaiah 56:4-5 shine so brightly: “To [the covenant-keeping eunuchs] I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off” [6].  Though they may never marry or have children, these eunuchs receive an everlasting name and memorial.

Under the new covenant, God’s family is created by spiritual regeneration, not sex.  As a result of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, He produced many children of faith and, therefore, is able to “see His offspring” [7] as a result of His atoning work on the cross.  Jesus spoke of His family in these terms: “ … unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” [8] and “Who is My mother and who are My brothers? … [W]hoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” [9].

How is this good news to you?  Do you struggle with being confident of your membership in the family of God since you come from a family that disregards the Lord?  Do you fear never being able to procreate your own physical children?  How does the new covenant give you hope in a better name?

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[1] Genesis 1:27-28 NASB  |  [2] Genesis 15:5 NASB  |  [3] Genesis 26:3 NASB  |  [4] 2 Samuel 7:12 NASB  |  [5] 1 Samuel 24:21 NASB  |  [6] NASB  |  [7] Isaiah 53:8, 10 NASB  |  [8] John 3:3 NASB  |  [9] Matthew 12:48-49 NASB

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