Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 63-64; Psalm 107; John, chapter 2
Scripture: John 2:1-11 (NRSV) – On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no more wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
Observations: I have always been intrigued by this passage, because there are so many layers of meaning and symbolism to it. It also contains a number of major themes that run through John’s gospel – Jesus’ “signs” (miracles), the matter of “his hour,” and the importance of water as a symbol, just to name three. But today as I read this passage, I’m drawn to the attitudes of the servants at the wedding. Jesus’ mother tells them, “Do whatever he tells you.” These were not her servants, nor were they Jesus’ servants – but they were willing to listen to her, and they put themselves at Jesus’ disposal. When Jesus told them to fill the jars with water, “they filled them up to the brim.” And then when Jesus told them to draw some water out of the jars that they had just filled and take it to the chief steward, they did so.
The reason that this is important is because none of those things made sense from a human perspective. Why should these servants listen to Mary, or to Jesus? Why was their obedience in filling the jars so enthusiastic that they filled them to the brim? And why would they dip from jars that they had just filled with water and take it to the chief steward to test? That seems like a recipe for disaster: the wedding has run out of wine, so let’s take him some water to drink! But they did it without hesitation, and Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine.
Applications: God is reminding me today of the importance of faith and obedience, even when it doesn’t “make sense” from a human perspective. I’ve been rereading the story of Abraham this week, and how Abraham believed God and obeyed him even when it didn’t “make sense.” God is not calling us to abandon the mental capacities that he has given us, but he does call us to not make our own intelligence and understanding our god. He tells us to “test the spirits” – by knowing his Word, understanding what he has revealed about himself, and spending time listening to him – but there are times when God will call us to do things that we may not understand. When we know he’s speaking, and he calls us to act, we need to “fill the jars to the brim” and trust that he will bring everything together in his plan.
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me that sometimes you call us to things and places that don’t “make sense” from a human perspective. Thank you for being willing to call me, and use me, for your glory. Help me to know your will, and to faithfully obey, trusting that when I “fill the jars to the brim” you will glorify your name and bring others to faith in you. Help me today to fill my jars to the brim in obedience and trust, that your Kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 60-62; John, chapter 1
Scripture: John 1:29-37 (NRSV) – The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
Observations: There are a couple of things that catch my attention in this passage today. First, John identifies Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is a clear declaration, at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, that Jesus’ mission is not to conquer the Roman government, restore the dynasty of David to the throne, or engage in any other such political activity. His mission is to take away the sin of the world.
We know that, of course, but what strikes me today is the combination of John’s declaration with Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 61 – a prophecy that Jesus later would apply to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives, and to release the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1; see Luke 4:16-21 for Jesus’ application of this prophecy to himself). The reason that this strikes me is because there is obviously a connection between what Isaiah said the “good news” would be – the end of oppression, comfort for the brokenhearted, liberty for captives, and release for prisoners – and John’s testimony that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. We must not lose sight of the fact that the good news which Isaiah proclaimed must flow from the forgiveness of sin that Jesus came to bring. We cannot talk only about forgiveness, while ignoring God’s call to bring freedom and comfort and release and justice; nor can we be content to work for those things while ignoring the fact that sin is the overriding problem of our world. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the rest of the good news that Isaiah proclaimed only results from the forgiveness and cleansing that Jesus offers.
The other thing that catches my attention is that, after John makes his great declaration that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (vv 29-34), when he sees Jesus the next day, he again says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” It’s clear that he recognized that his calling as the “forerunner” did not end with one declaration; his call to announce that God’s Messiah had come would continue until the day he died. Even with his own disciples – presumably people who were close to him – it is almost as if he’s “pushing them out of the nest” and telling them to go follow Jesus. And that’s exactly what they did.
Applications: God is reminding me today how important it is to stay focused on and committed to our call to be witnesses to Jesus. It is easy for us to get distracted by other things – other causes and activities that may seem important, but which pale in comparison to the call to proclaim Jesus. He is also reminding me that the good news which we proclaim has some tangible results in people’s lives: the end of oppression, comfort to the brokenhearted, liberty for the captives, and release for the prisoners. It’s not enough to just “think good thoughts” for people; Jesus calls us to be his hands and feet in ministering to them in his name. Our lives must bear witness to the claim that the coming of Jesus is “good news.” Finally, God is reminding me that our call is not “satisfied” by proclaiming Jesus once; we’re called to keep announcing the good news, by our words and our actions, as long as we’re here.
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me that the call to proclaim the good news does not end; all of us are to be witnesses to Jesus every day. Help me today to live and to speak in ways that proclaim that good news. Help me to bring comfort to the brokenhearted, liberty for captives, and release for prisoners, so they may experience the good news the way that you intend. Guide me in your paths today, so I may be a faithful witness to Jesus. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 57-59; Psalm 103; 2 Peter, chapter 3
Scripture: 2 Peter 3:14-18 (NRSV) – Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, since you are forewarned, beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Observations: In the passage immediately preceding this, Peter urges his readers to lead “lives of holiness and godliness” (v 11), because the day of God will come and “the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire” (v 12). The “therefore” which begins this passage, then, is answering the question, “What does it mean to live lives of holiness and godliness?”
(1) Strive to be found by him at peace. I’ve journaled several times on Scripture’s call for us to be people of peace, and what that means. I’m not claiming to understand all of what it means, and I’m certainly not claiming to have this “dialed in,” but I know that when we are “at peace” – with God, with ourselves, and with each other – that will be evident to those around us, and they will see Christ in us.
(2) Without spot or blemish. This is a tough one, because our tendency is to do the things that we think make us without spot or blemish. We also tend to determine whether we are without spot or blemish by comparing ourselves to each other. There are several problems with that. First, of course, is the fact that Jesus told us not to do it. Second, when we compare ourselves to each other, we’re not getting a true picture of where we are spiritually; we need to compare ourselves to Jesus to get a true picture. Third, when we compare ourselves to Jesus, we get discouraged, because of course we will come up on the short end of that comparison. But the fact that we’re called to be without spot or blemish ought to remind us that Jesus has cleansed us, and continues to do so – in him we are able to be without spot or blemish.
(3) Beware that you are not carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. The “error of the lawless” is described in the preceding sentence – twisting Scripture. Peter talks about the fact that some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand, but that we should not fall into the “error of the lawless” and twist those Scriptures to suit our own desires or circumstances. The best insurance we have against misinterpreting Scripture is to know all of Scripture, and what it tells us about God. Misinterpretations of Scripture generally result from a failure to understand the broader context of Scripture and the nature and character of God.
(4) Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I notice that Peter uses verbs in this passage that emphasize our participation in God’s work: strive to be found by him at peace; beware that we’re not carried away by error; grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. We have a part to play in God’s work, by daily surrendering ourselves to him, asking him to show us his way, and then obediently walking in that way each day. As we do that, we will grow in grace – as God works in us, forming us in the image of Jesus – and we will grow in the knowledge of Jesus, as we spend time in his presence.
Applications: God is reminding me that daily vigilance and effort is an important part of the Christian walk. We cannot just put ourselves on “autopilot,” thinking that we’ve got it all under control; each day is a new surrender, a reaffirmation of our commitment to God. Each day we confirm that God is our priority, that we’re seeking first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and that we’re ready to be used by him to see his Kingdom come. But God is also reminding me that he supplies everything that we need in order to do that!
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me today that I need to submit each day to you. As I begin the day, I seek your presence. Help me to know your will, to hear your voice, and to walk in your way today. Thank you for the opportunities that you have prepared for me today to glorify you and lift you up; help me to do your will in each opportunity, so others may see you and come to know you. I pray in the name of Jesus, your Son. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 53-56; 2 Peter, chapter 2
Scripture: Isaiah 54:1-5 (NRSV) – Sing, O barren one who did not bear; burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate woman will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord. Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left, and your descendants will possess the nations and will settle the desolate towns. Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the disgrace of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
Observations: As I read this passage this morning, I was reminded that God had used this passage to speak to me once before, about 15 years ago. I was at a pastors’ prayer retreat, and one of the things that the facilitator had us do was to go off by ourselves and read Isaiah 40-66, and see if God used any passage from those chapters to speak to us. When we came back together, he asked if anyone had “heard” anything, and I said that God had directed me to this passage. He asked me what I thought it meant, and I shared that I felt it was a promise from God that he was going to expand his work in Traverse City, and that we – pastors from the area – needed to prepare for him to do that work. He shared that God had used that same passage to speak that same message to people at other prayer summits around the world. God used that experience to confirm for me that he does speak through his Word, and that experience gave me the confidence to read his Word in that way.
So as I read this passage today, two thoughts came to my mind. First, God’s promise has not changed; he still wants to expand his work in the Traverse City area, and he is waiting for his people to “enlarge the site of their tents…and lengthen their cords and strengthen their stakes.” Second, he is still speaking to his people, and waiting for them to listen and respond. Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; do not be discouraged, for you will not suffer disgrace…For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. God’s promise does not change; his power to fulfill his promise does not change; he will not leave his people to be ashamed or disgraced.
As I think of that, I think too of what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus in chapter 53: “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (53:7) If we trust in God and his promises, we do not need to defend ourselves; God will do that for us. I’m struck by the contrast between the description of Jesus in Isaiah 53 (and Philippians 2, for that matter) and the way that Peter describes false prophets and false teachers in 2 Peter 2:18-19 – “For they speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them.” Jesus “did not open his mouth”; the false teaches and false prophets “speak bombastic nonsense.”
Applications: I believe that God is reminding me that he is still working and moving toward fulfilling his promise. At the beginning of this year, our congregation adopted the theme for the year, “It’s Time!” We’ve expressed that theme in a number of ways, but one of the primary ways is that God is telling us that it’s time for us to see him work to fulfill the promises that he’s given us. This passage is reminding me to not lose sight of the fact that God has declared that “It’s Time!” The second thing that God is reminding me is that he told me years ago to “enlarge the site of our tent,” and he is reminding me that his promise – and call – in that regard still holds. Those two reminders encourage me that God is at work in our congregation, and we should continue to work, continue to believe, and expect to see him do great things!
Prayer: Father, I thank you today for your reminder of your faithfulness. Help me to walk in faith, knowing that your promises are unchanged, and that you are at work to bring glory to your name. Thank you, too, for the reminder of your call for us to have the same attitude as Jesus – not opening our mouths to defend ourselves, but trusting in you; avoiding the “bombastic nonsense” that seems to be so prevalent in our culture. Help me to live today like Jesus. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 50-52; Psalm 92; 2 Peter, chapter 1
Scripture: 2 Peter 1:3-11 (NRSV) – His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
Observations: As I read this passage this morning, the first verse I’ve quoted grabbed my attention: His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness. That phrase struck me because I’m thinking about two families that I know who lost young adult children in a horrific accident last night. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for me to be in their position – but I take heart in the knowledge that God has given us everything needed for life and godliness. Whatever we need, whatever the circumstances, God has promised to supply it – and he knows what we need, because we have a great high priest who was tested in every way like we are. He knows the strength we need to defeat temptations that come our way; he knows the strength and the comfort that we need when our world is rocked by tragedy; he knows the direction that we need on our best days, and the help and the hope that we need on our worst days. Everything needed for life and godliness.
I’m also struck by the reminder of our part in this process: support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. God has been reminding me lately how important it is for us to be a part of the body – not in some generic sense, but in the sense of regularly participating in a group of believers – because we need the kind of mutual affection and love that can only come from brothers and sisters in Christ. As I deal with people who are going through difficult circumstances, one question/statement comes up time and time again: “How do people who don’t have Christ deal with things like this?” I don’t know; but I know that the way that those who do know Christ deal with life’s challenges is through the support, prayers, and love of their fellow believers. Peter is writing to the church– in verse 1 he says that he’s writing “to those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” He’s telling the church– you, me, everyone who has received that faith and proclaimed their faith in Jesus – that we need to encourage, support, and love one another as part of our progression in that faith. To borrow a phrase from the title of a book from a number of years ago, “We Really Do Need Each Other.”
Applications: God is reminding me how important it is for us to build relationships within the fellowship of believers, because we need to have the foundation to support and encourage each other – or to receive that support and encouragement. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of that encouragement over the course of the past 12 months, which have been a difficult year for us. God is reminding me that all of us will have those difficult times, and that it’s vitally important for us to encourage each other, in good times and in bad. The members of the early church met daily, in their homes and in the temple courts; they shared fellowship together, studied God’s Word together, and supported one another in a culture and a world that did not support them. That’s what God wants us to do!
Prayer: Father, thank you for the reminder that your faithfulness is expressed through your children. Help me today to receive your encouragement, and to communicate your encouragement to others. Lead me in your ways today, that I may help others to experience you. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 46-49; 1 Peter, chapter 5
Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-11 (NRSV) – Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
Observations: There is a contrast in this passage that struck me this morning – between “exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it” and “Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.” From the human perspective, those who exercise oversight willingly tend to “lord it over” others. I remember a number of years ago, I was seeking volunteers for a particular ministry at our church. I had someone from the congregation come and say, “If you’d like me to be in charge of that, I’ll do it.” I told them, “I’m not really looking for someone to be ‘in charge’; I’m looking for people to serve. God will decide who is ‘in charge.’” My experience is that people who are willing to be ‘in charge’ are often seeking to serve themselves rather than God.
That’s a particularly dangerous mindset for those who are ‘elders’ – those in positions of authority within the church. Jesus made it clear that while the “rulers of the Gentiles” lorded it over them, it was not to be that way in God’s Kingdom. The fact that Jesus talked about this repeatedly – whoever would be first must be the servant of all; for the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve; etc. – is a clear indication of how dangerous it is for us to seek to be “in charge,” and how often we tend to do it.
But that doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to do what God has called us to do. The phrase “as God would have you do it” reminds us that God has established authority and structure within the church. When he calls us to a position of “authority” he expects us to serve – by being examples to the flock. Of course, our example is Jesus – so if we can serve as he served, in the same spirit of humility, then we’ll do well. All of us have a role to fill in God’s Kingdom; those who are called to lead must lead by example, and those who are called to follow must do so faithfully. The devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour, so we need to stay connected to Jesus and to each other. When a lion is hunting, it looks for an animal that is alone, and vulnerable. That’s what Satan does – and that’s why it’s important for us to stay connected, to look out for each other, and protect each other from his attacks.
That’s why it’s also important for us to resist the devil, and stay steadfast in our faith, because we know that [our] brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to tell us that nobody else understands what we’re going through – so they can’t tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. In that way, he isolates us from the help that God intends for the body of Christ to provide – and ultimately isolates us from God himself. We need to remember that Jesus was tested in every way like we are, yet did not sin – so Satan can never truthfully say that Jesus doesn’t understand. As Peter says in verse 7, Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
Applications: God is reminding me that one of Satan’s tricks is to convince us that we don’t “need” the church – don’t need to gather together for worship, don’t need to pray together, don’t need to serve together, don’t need to encourage and support one another. He deceives us into thinking of all of those things as “obligations” rather than blessings, so we look for ways to avoid them. Participation in the life of the body of Christ is no more an “obligation” than eating, drinking, or breathing are. They’re vitally important – if we don’t do them, we’ll eventually die – but they’re not an “obligation.” And neither is participation in body life – it’s a blessing that God has given us to supply all that we need, because the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish us!
Prayer: Father, thank you for the reminder that you are the One who restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes me. Thank you for the assurance that when I walk in your way, you supply all that I need. Help me today to be an example to your flock, in humility and service, so that others may be drawn to you, and grow in their faith. Lead me today in your way. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 43-45; 1 Peter, chapter 4
Scripture: Isaiah 45:15-19 (NRSV) – Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me through chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.
Observations: Three things stood out to me in these verses. The two parenthetical comments – “(he is God!)”and “(he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!)” – are interesting to me because they are obviously inserted to further explain who God is and how he works. In the midst of a passage that condemns idol worship (see Isaiah 44:9-20) and promises to deliver Israel, these comments are interesting because Isaiah obviously thinks they will help people to understand what God is doing. In 43:18-19, Isaiah reports that God says that they should forget the former things, because he is doing a new thing. In the immediate context, that “new thing” appears to be the use of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, to rescue God’s people in exile in Babylon. In the longer-range context, though, we need to remember that although God is always at work to bring his plans to fulfillment, we do not always know how God will do that. The danger is that if we focus too much on the “how,” we will miss the fact that God is at work.
The first parenthetical comment confirms that the God who created the heavens is the God of Israel. Our response to that might be, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!” But in Isaiah’s day, with all of the idol worship and the tendency to try to blend the worship of many different gods to “cover all your bases,” this declaration is a strong reminder to the Israelites that they dare not fall into that trap. The God of Israel is the true God; all others are pretenders. We, too, need to remember that – not only because of the proliferation of “gods” and beliefs in our world, but also because of the tendency of many to try to blend the worship of God with allegiance to “the gods of this age” – which includes belief systems and practices which are contrary to God’s revealed truth, famous or powerful people, material wealth, popularity, or anything other than God and his ways.
I found the second parenthetical interesting because it addresses another belief system that is still around: “(he established it [the earth]; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited).” There are those today who say that the earth, and life itself, is just a cosmic accident, the result of an incredibly improbable series of factors which all came together in spite of the admittedly almost impossible odds that it could happen. They claim that belief in a Creator God “doesn’t make sense” and “isn’t logical.” How much more logical is it to believe that this all just “happened”? Isaiah reminds us that God created the earth out of chaos (see Genesis 1:2); he didn’t create it to be chaos. Now, this is not a scientific argument about how God created, or when God created; it is simply a faith statement that God created. God’s people need to remember that today just as much as the people of Isaiah’s day did.
The third thing that caught my attention is the fact that in verse 15, Isaiah says, “Truly you are a God who hides himself…” while in verse 19, Isaiah quotes God as saying, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in chaos.’ I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.” So how do we reconcile “God hiding himself” with “I did not speak in secret”?
I’m not sure. (One of the things about my reflections is that I don’t turn them into study sessions by going to commentaries or Greek and Hebrew texts; I simply listen to what God says to me.) I can see two possibilities; there may be more than I’m missing. The first is that Isaiah is quoting people who say that God hides himself. Maybe that’s the Israelites, claiming that God has hidden himself from them as they go into exile. There are certain Psalms which talk about seeking God and not finding him. Perhaps Isaiah is reflecting on what others are saying about God, before giving God’s response in verses 18-19. The other possibility in my mind is that Isaiah is saying that God hides himself from those who chase after other gods. The next verse (verse 16-17) says, “All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.” As I ponder this, I think it’s probably a combination of the two – that there are those (both Israelites and Gentiles) who say that God has hidden himself, and Isaiah’s (and God’s) response is that God hides himself from those who don’t want to find him. He doesn’t force himself on us; he offers himself to us. Those who seek him will find him; those who close their eyes and their ears to him and refuse to acknowledge him won’t. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)
Applications: Sometimes we just need to be reminded that “there is nothing new under the sun” (see Ecclesiastes). All of the fallacies about God’s existence (or non-existence), the creation of the world, and God’s purposes (among many others) have been around as long as people have been around; we just find new vocabulary and new examples to try to dress up the same old falsehoods. Satan has nothing new to offer; he just keeps trying to peddle the same old garbage. If he can convince us to disconnect from the wisdom and experience of the past – Scripture, church teaching, the “cloud of witnesses” that has gone before us (see Hebrews 12:1) – he can rob us of the benefits that they offer. That’s the whole point of the book Divine Mentor, which started me on this part of my journey a little over a year ago: God offers us the wisdom of his Word, and the examples of those who have gone before us, if only we will take the time to read, and listen to what God has to say. I’m grateful today for the reminder of how important this has been for me, and how valuable it can be for others!
Prayer: Father, I thank you for your faithfulness in meeting with me each day and leading me through the truth of your Word. I thank you for the ways that I have seen how you’ve prepared me for the events of my day, time and time again, through what I’ve read that morning. Help me, today and each day, to hear your voice, to know your will, and to walk in your way. Lead me not into temptation; deliver me from the evil one; lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 40-42; 1 Peter, chapter 3
Scripture: Isaiah 42:1-9 (NRSV) – Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
Observations: There are a couple of concepts that stood out to me as I read today’s passages. First, in verses 2-4, we see that the Lord’s servant will not cry out or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. We live in a world where many people “cry out and lift up their voices.” I’ve commented before that our culture has become one which validates anger and outrage, and with each passing day the noise seems to grow louder and louder. When God talks about his servant in these verses, I get the sense that the Lord’s servant is not one who seeks to yell louder than everyone else, doesn’t seek to bully people (intellectually or physically) into agreeing with them. I know that Jesus certainly didn’t do that! A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. I know this passage is viewed primarily as a prophecy about Jesus and his earthly ministry – but aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus? In our passage from 1 Peter today, Peter says this: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15b-16a, NRSV)
The second thing that stands out is what the servant of the Lord will accomplish: “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Jesus never lost sight of God’s purposes nor his plan, and he walked in obedience every day. As Paul says in Philippians 2, our attitude should be like Jesus’ attitude – humble, obedient, and willing to serve.
Applications: I reflected last week on God’s call for us to not make “dangerous alliances” outside his will. I think that it’s easy for us to get drawn into other agendas, and to seek other goals than the one for which Jesus taught us to pray: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ way of seeing God’s Kingdom come was to walk in God’s way each day, responding to the opportunities which God presented to declare that Kingdom by bringing freedom and healing and hope. As Isaiah puts it in today’s passage, I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. God wants us to proclaim the freedom and healing and hope that comes from life in Jesus, by our words and by our lives. God is reminding me today that we do that primarily by following the example of Jesus. If we’re not walking in Jesus’ footsteps, then it doesn’t matter very much what else we are doing.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the call to bring light and hope and freedom to those who are trapped in the prison of sin. Help me to recognize the opportunities which you provide today to share that hope. Help me to faithfully follow the example of Jesus, and to lift him up, so others may be drawn to him. Lead me in your paths today, for your sake and for your glory. Amen.
Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 20; Psalm 75; Isaiah, chapters 38-39; 1 Peter, chapter 2
Scripture: 1 Peter 2:4-10 (NRSV) – Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into glorious light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Observations: The reference to Jesus as “a living stone” and the “cornerstone” is familiar to many of us, but I never really thought too much about the way that Peter extends that metaphor to us: like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house… As I thought about that, God reminded me that a pile of stones does not make a house! When stones are just lying around on the ground, they are much more likely to cause stumbling than to be a help to someone. If someone gathers the stones together and piles them up, at least they’re out of the way – but a pile of stones doesn’t really do much to help anyone. But if a skilled worker takes those stones and builds them together, he or she can create a house that will last for generations to come.
As I understand it, the process starts with the selection of a cornerstone – the foundation on which everything that is added will rest. I don’t know anything about that process, but I can understand the metaphor in its spiritual application: Jesus is the cornerstone, and all who believe in him are “living stones” which God will build into a “spiritual house” – the Church. Every one of us is a living stone which God intends to build into that house – a spiritual house…a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ.
The image is that of a temple – where priests minister, where sacrifices are offered to God. But this is not just an earthly building; it is a spiritual temple, which God intends to stand for all eternity in his Kingdom. Our spiritual sacrifice begins with allowing God to build us into that spiritual house, but it doesn’t end there. In Romans 12, Paul describes offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” as “our spiritual act of worship.” To be “living sacrifices” means much more than allowing ourselves to be built into a “spiritual house”; it means that each day we willingly submit ourselves to God for his purposes. It’s hard for me to stretch the metaphor this far, because I’ve never seen a living stone. I’ve never seen a stone get up and move on its own; I’ve never seen a stone do anything other than just be there. But God says that we are “living stones,” and that means that we have the capability to act– and he expects us to do that. And we are not only “living stones”; we are also a chosen race, a royal priesthood, God’s own people, in order that [we] might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into glorious light.
Our presence as part of the “spiritual house” is a witness to the work of a master builder, who crafts us together to become that house, but our obedience does not end there. We are also a royal priesthood – priests being people who act as intermediaries between God and mankind. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul says that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation; Peter says that we are a royal priesthood called to proclaim God’s mighty acts. While each of us has particular “mighty acts” that God has done in our lives, Peter highlights two “mighty acts” which all of us can proclaim: he made a group of individuals who previously sought their own way and served themselves – who previously were not a people – to be “a people”; and he showed his mercy to people who had not previously received mercy, and had no reason to expect it.
Applications: Every one of us who has received life in Christ can tell the story of receiving mercy from God. We are each like the man who was born blind, who said, “I was blind, but now I see!” (John 9) We’re all like Lazarus – we came stumbling out of the “tomb” of sin and death when Jesus called us to come forth (John 11). We’re the ones who have been healed, who’ve been set free from the demons that held us captive. We have a story to tell! And every one of us, by our inclusion in God’s great spiritual house, bears witness to the work of God in building us together. Who else could take a group of people with different backgrounds, different personalities, and different ways of thinking and speaking, and unite them into a great spiritual house to bear witness to the One who built it? We have a story to tell – mighty acts to proclaim! We need to be actively looking for opportunities to tell that story.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for the mighty acts you have done in my life. When I think of where my life was before I came to you in faith, it is absolutely amazing that you have forgiven me, blessed me, and helped me to grow into the person you have called me to be. Help me to be obedient to you, that you might continue to help me to grow. Help me today to recognize the opportunities that you give me to declare your mighty acts. You have prepared me for this day; help me to walk in faithfulness so that you may be lifted up. Lead me in your ways today. Amen.
Today’s passages: Isaiah, chapters 36-37; Psalm 76; 1 Peter, chapter 1
Scripture: 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NRSV) – Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Observations: An old saint once told me that he learned in Bible College that whenever you see the word “therefore” in a passage of Scripture, “you need to look and see what it’s there for.” “Therefore” always relates back to what has just been said, and in 1 Peter chapter 1, what has just been said relates to our “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3) Because we have been born again, because we have a living hope because Jesus himself is alive forevermore, there are certain things that Peter wants to encourage us to do. So what are they?
First, “prepare your minds for action.” I find that to be an interesting phrase, because too many times we don’t involve our minds in preparation for action. When we think it’s time for action, we dive right in without thinking about it – as one person put it, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Rather than just diving in, we ought to prepare our minds for action – think through, and pray through, what response God wants us to make. Now, the closer we walk with the Lord, this process of “preparing our minds for action” is an ongoing process, not something we go through every time we need to do something. For example, spending time with our “Divine Mentor” each day – reading Scripture, reflecting on it, and allowing God to speak to us – is an important part of the process of preparing our minds for action.
Second, “discipline yourselves.” When we consider that this follows the charge to prepare our minds for action, I think it makes sense to see the call to discipline ourselves as a call to prepare our bodies for action. That means, among other things, that we need to attend to the basic things that our bodies need in order to be at our best – eating right, getting enough rest, understanding that we cannot “burn the candle at both ends.” Because we are spiritual beings living in physical bodies, our bodies impact our spirits, and we cannot be at our best spiritually when we’re not taking care of our bodies physically. (Jesus called the disciples to “come apart and rest for awhile. The concept of Sabbath is based on the fact that we need both physical and spiritual rest in order to be at our best.) That doesn’t mean that we should obsess about our health; it simply means that we recognize that God created us with bodies, and he knows that we function best when our entire being is healthy and whole.
Third, “set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” Too many times, we put our hope in other people, or other things – which will bring us to disappointment. Peter’s call to set all of our hope on grace is a reminder that our only real hope is in Jesus – the living hope that Peter talked about in verse 3. When we are tempted to trust in money or other material things, or in political leaders, or organizations, we need to remember that all of our hope is to be in God.
Finally, “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” A holy God calls his people to be holy. The Bible makes it clear time and time again that it is a dangerous thing to be an unholy person in the presence of a holy God. But the call to be holy is also a promise that God is able and willing to make us holy. We can’t do it on our own, but God can and will make us holy to enable us to be holy in all our conduct. It’s time for us to recognize, or remember, that a holy God never shrugs off sin and says, “That’s no big deal.” He calls us to be holy, and we need to strive to live in the holiness he has made possible for us.
Applications: God is reminding me today that all of my hope is to be in him. At times, I find myself hoping that people will do certain things, or act in certain ways, in order to bring about what I think is the best course of action. God is reminding me that if my hope is in him, he will direct me to live and walk in the way that I need to, in order to see his plans come to pass. When I hold too tightly to my plans and expectations, I shift my hope toward the things and people that I think can make my plans “work.” When I stay grounded in God’s plans, he will never fail. Staying grounded in his plans doesn’t mean that I don’t have to do anything; I have to prepare my mind for action and discipline myself for the work he sets before me. I just don’t have to be responsible for the results, because my hope is not in my performance; my hope is in God.
Prayer: Father, I thank you today for the reminder that all my hope is in you. As I pray each day, remind me that your Kingdom will come, and your will will be done; help me to know what your will is for me. Thank you for guiding me each day as I come to you and seek your direction through your Word. Help me today to walk in your way, that your name may be glorified and people be drawn to you. Amen.