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

June 23, 2010

Répondez s’il vous plaît

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 55, Matthew 3

Two years ago, as I was working as a summer associate in New York and London, I enjoyed fantastic food at some of the top restaurants in the world – Per Se, Jean Georges, Daniel, Le Bernardin, Sushi Yasuda, Maze, Gordon Ramsay etc.  Thus, I compare the gospel feast in Isaiah 55 with these world-renowned meals, according to Zagat’s four criteria.

Food

Similar to the food served in internationally acclaimed restaurants, the gospel feast is not merely meant to satisfy hunger.  From its visual presentation to physical taste, it’s meant to be enjoyed and savored as “the richest of fare” [Isaiah 55:2 NIV].  At the gospel feast, water is served for life, milk is served for growth, and wine is served for joy.  This food satisfies the eternal soul, not just the taste buds: “hear me, that your soul may live” [1].

Décor

Although the décor in top restaurants lends itself to pretention, the décor at the gospel feast welcomes all.  There are only two types of people and both are invited.  First, the poor – those who are aware of their need for the gospel – are invited: “Come, all you who are thirsty … Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” [2].  Second, the wealthy – those who are not aware – are invited: “Why spend money on what is not bread … ?” [3].

Service

Unlike the small meals served at top restaurants, however, the gospel feast is abundant.  Even in spite of invitee failure, the Lord is abundantly generous: “Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” [4].

Cost

Although top restaurants are expensive, the gospel feast – subject to two caveats – is free.  First, although free to us, it wasn’t cheap to Jesus – His life bought our meal [5].  Second, although it is free on delivery, we must receive it by coming, listening, seeking or calling [6].  Yet, what could be simpler?  He has done all the work; we need merely to RSVP.  Yet, since Isaiah hints that the invitation has an expiration date, our RSVP must be timely: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near” [7].

If you haven’t RSVP’d, why not?  Do you think the food is lacking or the décor is awkward or the service is below par or the cost is too high?

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[1] Isaiah 55:3 NIV  |  [2] Isaiah 55:1 NIV  |  [3] Isaiah 55:2 NIV  |  [4] Isaiah 55:7 NIV  |  [5] see Isaiah 53  |  [6] Isaiah 55:1,2,6  |  [7] Isaiah 55:6 NIV

June 22, 2010

Do You Pray in Joy or Despair?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 54, Matthew 2

The Last Word

Joy – not despair – will have the last word at the end of the age.  Things will not always be as they are today.  As Paul wrote, “ … we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet …” [1].

The Edge

This is the good news of Isaiah.  Even in the darkness of this book, there are hints of light.  Although the Lord says, “there is no peace for the wicked” [2], He tells of a child who would be called the “Prince of Peace” [3].  Even in the darkest moment – when Judah faces Babylonian exile as discipline for their having forsaken God for hundreds of years – the Lord introduces the Servant of the Lord who would save them [4] by being all that they weren’t.

The Reward

Although the earthly reward for His faithfulness and obedience would be suffering, the eternal reward would be an enduring and certain covenant of peace with His people:  “I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you.  For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken” [5].

The Response

Since this covenant of peace is certain, His people should be joyful – even as they face exile: “Shout for joy … Break forth into joyful shouting” [6].  This covenant is unshakable because He loves His people and He accomplishes that which He purposes: “For your husband is your Maker … and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” [7].  Moreover, He tells them to reject any temptation to avoid Him out of guilt: “Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not be humiliated, for you will not be disgraced” [8].

The Certainty

This salvation has already been accomplished in the work of our Lord Jesus, the Servant of the Lord who bore our punishment.  Such a great and certain salvation produces a great joy with triumphant and exuberant singing.

How can focusing on His mighty victory cause you to joyfully sing about your great and mighty salvation even in the face of adversity or “exile”?

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[1] 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NASB  |  [2] Isaiah 48:22, 57:21 NASB  | [3] Isaiah 9:6 NASB  |  [4] Isaiah 53  |  [5] Isaiah 54:9-10 NASB  |  [6] Isaiah 54:1 NASB  |  [7] Isaiah 54:5 NASB  |  [8] Isaiah 54:4 NASB

June 21, 2010

Is the Cross Foolishness or Power to You?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 53, Matthew 1

The Cross

All religions do not seek after the same God.  What makes Christianity utterly unique is that we claim that our God died on a cross.  And this makes us foolish: “ … the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing …” [1 Corinthians 1:18].

Understanding the foolishness of the cross, Islam denies Jesus’ crucifixion:  “ … they did not slay [the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, the Messenger of God], neither crucified him, only a likeness of that was shown to them …” (Q’ran sura 156-157).

Yet, Christianity puts forth that it was the Lord’s pleasure “to crush” Him – a pleasure of which He spoke through Isaiah more than 700 years before Jesus entered the world and before Roman crucifixion was even invented.

The Death

Isaiah prophesied that the Servant of the Lord – the one who would save Israel from her sin problem (see here) – would Himself die:

  • … He was cut off out of the land of the living (8)
  • His grave was assigned with the wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death … (9)
  • But the Lord was pleased to crush Him (10)

Just as the Law of Moses required sinners to sacrifice unblemished lambs to atone for their transgressions, so the sacrifice of the sinless Servant of the Lord would serve as atonement for our sins:

  • … our griefs He Himself bore (v4)
  • … our sorrows He carried (v4)
  • He was pierced through for our transgressions (v5)
  • He was crushed for our iniquities (v5, see also v11)
  • By His scourging we are healed (v5)
  • The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (v6)
  • He was cut off … for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due (v8)
  • Yet He Himself bore the sin of many (v12)

The Resurrection

Yet, He would rise again and live:

  • He will see His offspring (v11)
  • He will prolong His days (v11)
  • The good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hands (v11)

Is Jesus the Servant of the Lord whom you worship and in whom you find your hope of salvation?  Is the word of His cross “foolishness” to you or is it “the power of God”?

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[All Scriptural references are taken from the NASB.]

June 18, 2010

What Guides Your Decision-Making?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 50, Revelation 20

Why I Like Biographies

I like biographies because I’m far more interested in the decision-making process than I am in final decisions.  Although history books give the facts, biographies give the story behind them – the initial spark of an idea, the threats to its success, and the tiny victories that inspire endurance.

The Bible is like a biography.  It’s not merely a collection of moral stories or an obedience guidebook.  Rather, it’s one story with one overarching message that tells us who God is and what He is like.

How the Bible Is a Biography

As a biography, the Bible reveals God in the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets, e.g., Isaiah [1].  Yet, He most fully shows Himself in His Son: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being …” [2].

Seven hundred years before His birth, Jesus spoke through Isaiah, offering insight into His unique relationship with His Father.  Unlike others [3], Jesus listens to God:  “Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.  The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious …” [4].

Jesus as Biography

As this biography progresses, God enters into history as Jesus and we see how He listens, makes daily decisions and approaches conversations.  He wasn’t primarily guided by circumstances or man’s wisdom, but He was saturated in God’s Word [5].  He quoted the Law and the Psalms in response to temptation [6].  His Sermon on the Mount was a refinement of the Law of Moses [7].  Unjustly accused, He was sustained by the Word [8]. Finally, when He faced His own suffering, He cried out Psalm 22.

Being a fully obedient human, Jesus was teachable and submissive to the Father by reading, studying and meditating on the Word.  Thus, in every decision and conversation, He was guided by the Word of God.

Yet, how often do we follow His example?  What gets the most weight in our decision-making – the things and “signs” that happen around us, the opinions of others, or the Word of God?

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[1] Luke 24:44  | [2] Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV  [3] Where Israel is “many,” the Servant is “one.”  Where Israel is unconvinced of God’s love for them, He is sure of it.  Where Israel doubts God’s deliverance, He is confident of it.  Where Israel thinks God is far off and will not help, He knows that God is near and ready to help.  Where Israel suffers for her disobedience, He suffers for His obedience.  Where Israel is charged rightly for her sins, He is charged wrongly and is declared to be innocent.   |  [4] Isaiah 50:4-5 ESV  |  [5] Jesus quoted from twenty-four of the Old Testament books – the only ones from which He didn’t quote are Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs.  Moreover, there are many instances where He alludes to Old Testament images or references without directly quoting it, e.g., Matthew 12:42/1 Kings 10:1.  |  [6] See Luke 4:1-13, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, 6:16; Psalm 91:11-12  |  [7] Matthew 5-7  |  [8] He constantly referred to the importance of the Scriptures being fulfilled in Him, see, e.g., Matthew 26:54, 56; 27:14.

June 17, 2010

What Savior Do You Seek?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Isaiah 49, Revelation 19

The Problem

God’s answer to Israel’s political problem was an earthly messiah.  Cyrus king of Persia would overthrow the Babylonian Empire, release Israel from exile, and restore God’s people to Jerusalem.

Yet, Isaiah’s good news is not merely a message of political freedom.  He also speaks of another Messiah that would answer Israel’s sin problem [1] by rescuing them from spiritual exile.

The Type

According to Isaiah, the Servant would be divine and human.  As divine, He would speak with authority: “Listen to Me, O islands … ” [2].  As human, He would have a mother and a name: “The LORD called Me from the womb; From the body of My mother He named Me” [3].

He would also be a prophet, yielding the Word as a weapon: “He has made My mouth like a sharp sword” [4].  Yet, God would hide Him for a time: “In the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me” [5].

The Task

He would bring Israel back to God: “To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him” [6] and all nations as well: “I will also make You a light of the nations, So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” [7].

He would be called, “Israel,” [8] because He would possess the qualities that Israel lacked.  He would bring forth justice, be a light to the nations, listen to and obey the Lord, and remain faithful to God. Thus, He would function as Israel was always intended to.

The Fulfillment

Jesus is the Servant because He fits the type.  He is divine [9] and human [10].  He is a prophet, speaking words that penetrate [11].  Finally, He was hidden until the right time in history arrived [12].

Moreover, He fulfills the task.  He is the new Israel and “the true vine” [13].  Where Israel failed to trust God in the wilderness [14], Jesus trusted Him in the desert [15].  Thus, He is able to gather God’s people and bring salvation to the world.

The Savior

Although Cyrus was Israel’s political savior, Jesus would be their ultimate one – the one they were to long for and the one to whom all of history points.

Is He the Savior whom you seek, the one who answers your deepest problem?  Or do you seek after lesser and temporary saviors who merely do the bidding of the Lord?

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[1] See Isaiah 1-5  |  [2] Isaiah 49:1 NASB  |  [3] Isaiah 49:1 NASB  |  [4] Isaiah 49:2 NASB  |  [5] Isaiah 49:2 NASB  |  [6] Isaiah 49:5 NASB  |  [7] Isaiah 49:6 NASB  |  [8] Although Isaiah refers to the Servant as “Israel” (v. 3), we know that he cannot be referring to the nation of Israel because (1) at this point, Israel doesn’t exist, and (2) Israel – unlike the Servant mentioned here – is imperfect and unable to save itself.  Thus, Israel must refer to a person – namely, the Servant of the Lord.  |  [9] One of the main ways that Jesus claimed divinity was by forgiving sins: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’   Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, ‘Why does this fellow talk like that?  He is blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” (Mark 2:5-7 NIV).  [10] Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7, Psalm 22  |  [11] Ephesians 6, Revelation 1:16  |  [12] John 1, Hebrews 1:1 |  [13] The vine was the symbol of Israel (John 15:1-6).  |  [14] Exodus 14-17  |  [15] Luke 4:1-13

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