Someone Must Pay

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 40.1-2, 9-10
1 Comfort, comfort my people, 
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, 
and proclaim to her 
that her hard service has been completed, 
that her sin has been paid for, 
that she has received from the Lord’s hand 
double for all her sins. 

9 You who bring good news to Zion, 
go up on a high mountain. 
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,  
lift up your voice with a shout, 
lift it up, do not be afraid; 
say to the towns of Judah, 
“Here is your God!” 
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, 
and he rules with a mighty arm. 
See, his reward is with him, 
and his recompense accompanies him.

Reflection: Someone Must Pay
By John Tillman

When a baseball flies through a window.
When a distracted driver rear-ends a car.
When a phone, knocked to the ground, shatters.

When property is damaged, humans have a common instinct: “Somebody has to pay for that.” If we damage the property, the “somebody,” is us. If someone else damages our property, we seek restitution from them.

Even those who deny God or the Bible have a sense of this kind of justice. They cannot explain these intuitions or ground them in any logical cause, but they have them. The desire for justice is part of our created nature—a sliver of shattered imago dei within.

Sin goes beyond breaking God’s rules carved on stone tablets. Sin harms us, other humans, or God’s world, and for this reason, sin breaks God’s heart. This is why David, who harmed Bathsheba, Uriah, and Joab, says he sinned against God. (Psalm 51.4) This is why David’s line of kings, who crushed the poor, widows, and foreigners and promoted idolatry, grift, and violence, sinned against God. Sin is harm instead of health, poison instead of nutrition, and decay instead of cultivation. Someone must pay.

Shattered glass in windows, automobiles, and phone screens can easily be repaired or replaced. But what if the damage goes beyond cracked glass or bent metal? What about losses that cannot be replaced with an identical item from the shelf of a store? What about harm that is not easily assigned a monetary value? What recompense can we give for even a ruined day, much less a ruined life?

We often use metaphors of payment to discuss sin and salvation. There were earthly “payments” for Judah’s sins. Political and military defeat and exile were coming. But that didn’t pay for it. How could 70 years in exile pay for generations of harm?

We may have earthly consequences we must pay for our sins and failures. But these don’t pay for our sins.

Like Judah, our comfort is that God’s mercy, through Jesus Christ, cancels the sins of the repentant. Jesus brings reward and recompense we could never carry. He restores things we destroyed, repairs things we broke, and repays what we stole.

Join the voice in the wilderness proclaiming good news. (Luke 4.17-21) Speak tenderly of comfort to those harmed. Tell sinful Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias, and the world to repent and believe the good news. (Luke 24.46-47; Acts 1.8)

For every harm, Jesus paid it all.Music:Jesus Paid it All” lyrics by Elvina M. Hall, recording by Shane and Shane.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion. — Psalm 116.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 40 (Listen 5:09)
Acts 27 (Listen 6:09)

Read more about Treasure in Our Sacks
We come with the false belief that we must buy blessings and the false pride that we have the means with which to do it.

Read more about Unobligated God
But thank God that he pays debts that he does not owe. He is a God who gives when he has no obligation.

Ozymandias & Hezekiah

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 39:8
8 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my lifetime.”

Reflection: Ozymandias & Hezekiah
By Erin Newton

In the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley, a traveler comes upon an ancient statue’s remains that were just two stumps of legs that stood upon an inscription: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! The sad fate of the statue closes the poem: Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

This poem echoes the prophetic oracle spoken to Hezekiah. The king of Israel, puffed up by his own accomplishments, took the Babylonian envoy on a tour of his grandiosity. He showed them his storehouses of gold, silver, oil, and spices. These things heralded his life of luxury. Hezekiah also showed off his armory, his storehouse of weapons. This revealed his power and might.

While parading his wealth and power, the text says that Hezekiah did this gladly. He was proud of what he had. He was proud of the level of luxury he had secured for himself. He was proud of the level of might he had obtained. Did he not just recover from an illness of insanity? Did we not just read about the oppression of the poor, hungry, and vulnerable?

Despite the reality of his own mortality and the suffering of the people, Hezekiah was still sick—sick with pride. Look on my works and despair!

Isaiah rebuked the king and foretold of destruction. Like the statue in the desert, everything he 
boasted in would be gone. All of his spices, gold, and silver would be carried away to the same place the envoy came from. In his pride and arrogance, he had tried to impress the same people who would later imprison his community.

Hezekiah’s reply can be read in one of two ways: he either accepted the divine fate of his people with some sort of faith-bound resolve or he remained focused on himself, pleased that at least the destruction would come after him.

Perhaps I am too pessimistic, but I think Hezekiah was still exhibiting self-absorption. His joy was bound up in his wealth and power. He gleefully exalted himself by exhibiting what he had. In the end, his concern was always for himself.

How we view our responsibility for the world that remains after us tells more about our character than what fills our storehouses. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
What terror you inspire! Who can stand before you when you are angry? — Psalm 76.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 39 (Listen 1:35)
Acts 26 (Listen 5:17)

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Festus believed Paul was crazy…Paul, however, was no fool, no lunatic. Paul had great learning but a greater ministry.

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Our culture has a hard time seeing what Hezekiah did wrong…Storing up for ourselves is prudence…our own peace and prosperity is honorable.

The Impression That We Give

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 38.15-19
15 But what can I say? 
He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this. 
I will walk humbly all my years 
because of this anguish of my soul. 
16 Lord, by such things people live; 
and my spirit finds life in them too. 
You restored me to health 
and let me live. 
17 Surely it was for my benefit 
that I suffered such anguish. 
In your love you kept me 
from the pit of destruction; 
you have put all my sins 
behind your back. 
18 For the grave cannot praise you, 
death cannot sing your praise; 
those who go down to the pit 
cannot hope for your faithfulness. 
19 The living, the living—they praise you, 
as I am doing today; 
parents tell their children 
about your faithfulness. 

Reflection: The Impression That We Give
By John Tillman

Have you ever been close to tragedy or been close to folks who have?

If you are humming a tune right now, you probably recognize the question above as the opening line of a popular song from 1997. “The Impression That I Get” doesn’t give the first impression of a song with deep meaning. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones bouncy, ska-infused beat sounds like a perfect summer party jam for the beach or pool, with a chorus people love to scream-sing along with. But the lyrics are deeper than a party pool or the shallow swim area at the beach. The song discusses seeing someone’s tragedy up close and doubting if you would have the faith, the strength, or the courage to face it.

“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested
I’d like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested and think “There but for the grace go I”
Might be a coward, I’m afraid of what I might find out”

We find out a lot about Hezekiah’s faith when he faces a deadly illness. Hezekiah described a painful time of emotional anguish as being crushed by the jaws of a devouring lion. Yet in prayer, weeping, and lament, Hezekiah reached out to God and was miraculously healed.

In Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, he found that the survivors of Nazi death camps had in common a transcendent source of meaning outside of career, family, or possessions. The greatest sources of inner hope and meaning are not self-created but discovered in God. 

With purpose, we suffer on. With hope for something better, even if we’ll never experience it, we endure the present. Meaning and hope discovered in God create and sustain courage and cannot be taken away in suffering, even if everything, including your life, is. 

What we discover in God, we must help guide others to discover. Hezekiah’s psalm isn’t a party jam but it is a freedom song, a testament of faith and hope not fear and panic. The next generation has plenty of panic and fear. They need the hope and purpose we discover in the gospel. Pain is not purposeless and God’s grace is sufficient for us. (2 Corinthians 12.9)

What stories of suffering have you been telling and what songs of hope have you been singing?
What impression of God’s faithfulness do we give?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing to you with the harp, O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will sing with joy when I play to you, and so will my soul which you have redeemed.
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long, for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought to do me harm. — Psalm 71.22-24

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 38 (Listen 3:20)
Acts 25 (Listen 4:40)

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Deep richness comes to people who face suffering biblically…joy and contentment difficult experiences cannot steal.

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Every time the work was hindered, the apostles persevered. They had to…no, they got to continue preaching through many dangers.

The Way of the Remnant

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 37.32
32 For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, 
and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. 
The zeal of the Lord Almighty 
will accomplish this.

Reflection: The Way of the Remnant
By John Tillman

At this point, Isaiah has seen kings come and go. He has seen that ultimately his country is doomed to destruction and his people are destined for exile. But even with darkness looming, there is light and hope for God’s remnant. 

Isaiah has no illusions about suffering, hope, and ultimate reality. After seeing God’s throne room, kings like Sennacherib, who threatens Judah, seem unimpressive. Isaiah brushes off Sennacherib’s boasts with a strong rebuke and a promise of God’s protection. 

Sennacherib’s army will be conquered by the God he compared to a powerless idol.
Sennacherib will be killed while praying to his own powerless idol, which could not save him from the ambition of his own sons.

The way of kings seems to have a pattern:
Out of callousness, cruelty.
Out of confidence, despair.
Out of pride, disgrace.

There is a different pattern for the remnant that God will zealously protect:
Out of hopelessness, faith.
Out of shame, honor.
Out of loss, victory.

This faith, honor, and victory won’t always look like that on the surface. There won’t always be miraculous deliverance from armies. We won’t always see the convenient self-destruction of our foes. Sometimes the enemy army will win. Sometimes, like the faithful remnant, we will be taken into exile. Sometimes, like Isaiah, we will suffer, and perhaps die. 

This suffering we endure won’t always be at the hands of enemy kings, like Sennacherib. That might be easier to understand. We are just as likely to be harmed at the hands of unfaithful or misguided fellow believers as unbelievers. 

Isaiah was killed by the last king of Judah he served, Manasseh.
Jesus was killed by the Romans, but it was at the insistence of the most dedicated and well-respected of Jewish scholars, scribes, and teachers. (Luke 19.47)
Stephen, the first martyr of the church was killed by zealous followers of God, the Sanhedrin.

If we suffer, let it be for doing good, not evil. Let us suffer for generosity, not selfishness. Let us suffer for kindness, not violence. If we, like Isaiah, keep the image of God’s throne room in mind, that vision can wash away misplaced reverence for human leaders or fear toward human enemies. 

Let us embrace the way of the remnant—rejecting callousness, confidence, and pride. God is zealous on the remnant’s behalf. Let us be faithful in hope and trust in God’s ultimate victory.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. — Psalm 19.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings

Isaiah 37 (Listen 6:47)
Acts 24 (Listen 4:11)

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Whatever trials we face, formal or informal, keep Jesus’ words and Paul’s example front of mind.

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There’s a saying that we don’t have to attend every fight we are invited to. God doesn’t need our defense but he desires our devotion.

Comeuppance or Compassion

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 33.1, 17-19a
1 Woe to you, destroyer,
you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, betrayer,
you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
you will be betrayed. 

17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty 
and view a land that stretches afar. 
18 In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror: 
“Where is that chief officer? 
Where is the one who took the revenue? 
Where is the officer in charge of the towers?” 
19 You will see those arrogant people no more

Reflection: Comeuppance or Compassion
By John Tillman

When we warn about something repeatedly and are ignored, rejected, laughed at, shouted down, or told off, there is a mixture of satisfaction and anger when our predictions play out. 

Whether we warned about a leader’s behavioral red flags, an ill-advised policy, the dangers of ignoring abuse, or the slippery slope of moral relativism, when bad fruit falls it brings vindication and grief. When people who ignored our warnings panic and suffer consequences, it’s easier to celebrate comeuppance than express compassion.

We want to shake our heads and laugh or shake our fists and yell, “I told you so!” Anger kicks in. “Why didn’t they listen!?”

God, through his prophets, repeatedly warned that pagan political partners would lead to sin and suffering. God’s people chose practicality that promised peace. Assyria, predictably, broke their treaties with Judah.

We expect God to say, “I told you so,” and walk away. But, despite anger with Judah for not trusting him, the Lord promised justice. The betrayers would be betrayed. The destroyers would be destroyed.

God did not remove all consequences for Judah and he won’t do so for us. However, instead of rubbing Judah’s nose in their mess, he saved them in the moment and lifted their heads to see greater salvation in the future. In the distance there is a more beautiful king and a more gracious land.

We live in the world of destroyers and betrayers. Despite God’s warnings, at some point, we will be conned by kings, misled by leaders, and fooled by friends. At some point, we’ll face destructive outcomes and consequences. When, not if, you are fooled, deceived, or tricked, confess and call out to God.

God isn’t waiting to rub your nose in your failure, he wants you to lift your head and look. The beautiful land awaits. Christ’s kingdom is both distant and present at the same time—it is already among us and not yet fully manifest. The betrayers and destroyers will fade from memory in his presence.

As we experience betrayals and watch people being deceived, ask God to give you as much compassion for them as possible when they confess. Yes, we told them so, but don’t rub their noses in their repentance. Yes, we warned them, but don’t shame those freed from deception or admitting their errors. Lift their head and bid them look to the beautiful land and Jesus, its king.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My heart is firmly fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and make melody. — Psalm 57.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 33 (Listen 3:45)
Acts 20 (Listen 5:22)

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They sought convenient confirmations of what they already believed. But prophecy often holds inconvenient truths.

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