The small beginnings of grace {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 42:1-9}

Settle into the book of Isaiah. Soak in the portraits of Christ that we’re going to see in the poetic prophecies of the servant songs.

Isaiah 42 is the first of the songs, appearing in the book just after God calls out idolatrous religions for their futility. His argument in Isaiah 41 concludes:

But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind.
(Isaiah 41:28-29 ESV)

Against these delusions and works of nothingness God introduces his servant. Where the idols are abomination, the servant is delight. Where the idols are full of an empty wind, the servant comes with the Spirit’s power.

Behold 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 aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
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 on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for 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 carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”
(Isaiah 42:1-9 ESV)

Compare this picture of God’s Servant to portraits of Christ painted by the gospel writers. Christ opened the eyes of the blind. He dealt justly with the people around him. He didn’t draw attention to himself with aggressive advertising campaigns and the first-century equivalent of social media buzz.

And, perhaps most impressive of all in a world impressed with power, he was gentle with the weak and patient with the questioning. John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, described it as “cherishing the small beginnings of grace.”

Bruised physically, emotionally or spiritually by events in your past or present? Christ will not break you. He will restore.

Faith weak and full of questions? Christ won’t abandon you. He’ll protect what you have so the flame can burn strongly again.

Discouraged when you see the way our culture treasures money and fame but rejects the poor and oppressed? Christ will bring justice.

Closed in by darkness and depression? Christ is the light.

Imprisoned by addictions? Christ offers release.

In these little moments when we seem weakest and furthest away from God, we turn to the servant to see and cherish our own small beginnings of grace.

Dead Sea-Judean Hills spring weeds in bloom

This post is part of a 31-day journey on the road to Emmaus. To begin at the beginning, click here. To see other “31 Days of …” posts from other bloggers, visit The Nester.

And all flesh shall see it together {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 40:3-5}

A moment of sheer, unadulterated honesty here.

I love the Bible. I read it often, but not as often as I like. I love exploring it in community. I love hearing someone teach from it.

I love it when it reveals something new.

And I love it most when I read a passage that I have have read a gazillion times before and for some reason at this time and this place, it absolutely sends a chill right through me and makes me spontaneously whisper a word of praise.

That just happened. Continue reading

Bringing fruit to a barren landscape {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 11:1-5}

The prophetic landscape at the end of Isaiah 10 is dark and foreboding. Destruction has fallen on the Assyrians from the hand of the Almighty. Only a remnant of Israel remains.

Then comes a brilliant point of light. A splotch of green against a bleak, gray landscape.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
(Isaiah 11:1 ESV)

A son of Jesse growing like a tiny twig on the stump of a fallen tree. The twig will grow into a strong branch bringing fruit to a barren landscape. Continue reading

Are we there yet? {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 9:7}

Yesterday’s post left us reflecting on the child born to us as “a gift of divine grace to sinners.

Still a bit overwhelming to think that we, as messed up as we are, can call on Christ, our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace, isn’t it?

But, we’re going to move ahead one verse to look at the final part of the prophecy of Isaiah 9.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
(Isaiah 9:7 ESV)

This child, who comes from the royal line of David, establishes a never ending kingdom of peace, filled with endless, expanding grace.  It’s a kingdom characterized by justice and righteousness that can only be achieved by the Lord himself.

Don’t read that too quickly.

Peace. Grace. Justice. Righteousness. Everlasting. Ever-expanding. For all people.

Can I be honest?

It puts me to tears.

The image is just that beautiful.

Today, I heard of a young, 14-year old blogger in Pakistan who was shot in the head for daring to stand up for her rights. In a CNN interview in 2011, she said, “I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to market. I have the right to speak up.”

And of the systematic cheating that enveloped a sport I love throughout most of the time that I have been following it.

Not to mention, the crime log in the local paper.

And the stories of the addicted, the broken homes, the poor, the sick.

And I want to know what’s going on.

To mix metaphors and scramble similies, if this train is bound for glory, I’m the kid in the back seat yelling, “Are we there yet?”

No.

We’re not there yet.

One day the child of Isaiah 9:6 will return as the triumphant king of Revelation. Then, the kingdom envisioned in Isaiah 9:7 will come in its fullness.

We see glimpses of it here now.

We work to see more of it now.

And, believe tonight that the kingdom is expanding. One by one, it is expanding.

Somewhere, someone living in darkness is seeing a great light.

For unto them, a child has been born …

Dead Sea-Judean Hills spring weeds in bloom

This post is part of a 31-day journey on the road to Emmaus. To begin at the beginning, click here. To see other “31 Days of …” posts from other bloggers, visit The Nester.

A gift of divine grace {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 9:6}

It doesn’t look promising for the people of Judah.

From Isaiah 7:18 through the end of chapter 8, it’s a message of despair. Armies will march. People will be humiliated. The population will be diminished to the point that just a couple of animals can provide enough food. They will find themselves oppressed by the nation to whom they turned for help. Spiritually, they will turn from God seeking the advice of spiritualists and the occult.

The dismal news comes to a climax in Isaiah 8:22: “And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.”

But … (don’t you love it when God says, “but.”) … into the darkness comes a great light. Continue reading

A sign fulfilled {An Emmaus look at Isaiah 7:14}

Behold a Virgin shall Conceive

Behold a Virgin shall Conceive (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

 

Ahaz is scared. Oh, he probably wouldn’t use those words, but he was.

Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to march against the southern kingdom of Judah. Though they were prevented from taking Jerusalem, the king of Syria was able to regain a key town from Judah through which they gained control of a key transportation route. Ahaz turns to the king of Assyria for help, giving him silver and gold from the temple of God in exchange for protection.

But God was waiting for him to turn to him in faith.

Continue reading

A rest stop along the Emmaus Road

We started this journey nine posts ago. Yes, the 31 Days project officially began on Oct. 1, but I thought it would be cheating to just repost items from last spring when I abruptly stopped the series just a few posts in.

It’s time for a rest stop.

It’s time to think back on the journey.

It’s time to be awestruck by what we’ve seen so far and take a deep breath before anticipating the next leg of the journey.

We started in the garden, the perfect paradise created by God for his created. Our ancestors barely had time to start covering the tracks of their sin (and their naked bodies) before God came calling. He handed down punishment tempered with the promise that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

Then we moved ahead to the call of Abram. Before he became the father of Isaac, grandfather of Jacob and ancestor to a nation, he was the holder of a promise – a promise that through him the entire world would be blessed.

But the promise came with a trial. Abram, now rechristened Abraham, was told to sacrifice the son of the promise on an altar of stone. A few days later with a knife mercifully cast aside, Abraham knew for certain that God would provide and that it would be one of his descendants who would deliver the world.

Fast forward many years and even more miles to the deathbed of Jacob in the land of Egypt where his people found refuge from a famine ravaging the land. As he blessed his sons, the blessing carrying the promise that the scepter, a symbol of a ruler, would never depart from the house of the least likely one.

But the Egyptian refuge became a prison for four long centuries. Release came, but only after a long struggle to break the hardness of a ruler’s heart. With release came rebellion and a rescue that hinted at salvation yet to come.

As the nation of Israel neared the end of their 40-year journey through the wilderness, a fearful king called on a sorcerer to bring down curses on them. He simply couldn’t. He was compelled to speak the blessings of God over the encamped Israelites – blessings that foresaw the coming of a triumphant king.

Then they stood on the edge of the promised land where the man who led them and interceded with God for them over the past forty years reminded them of all that God had taught them. That man, Moses, promised them that one day God would give them a prophet like himself.

After the turbulence of the time of the judges, we reach the unlikely rule of David. The youngest son of a Bethlehem shepherd, he rose to become king of the nation. He wanted to build a home for the God he worshiped, but in the denial of that dream he received the promise that his throne would be established forever.

So where do we go next?

Don’t worry about it just now. Just rest. We’ll resume our journey tomorrow.

For now, enjoy this beautiful song of anticipation from the late Rich Mullins.

The promise in a dream denied {An Emmaus look at 2 Samuel 7:12-16}

English: Samuel anointing king David

English: Samuel anointing king David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been a long road for David.

He was the youngest of eight sons, nearly forgotten by his father on that fateful day that Samuel, the nation’s mediator before God, came to anoint the future king of Israel.

He spent years on the run from a jealous king and, in the process, was torn away from his best friend.

He fought numerous battles on the way to establish his throne, first in Hebron and then in Jerusalem.

But now, the ark of the covenant was safe in the City of David and the king was settled in his home. Yet, he wasn’t quite at ease.

Now when the king lived in his house and the LORD had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.”
(2 Samuel 7:1-2 ESV)

And with that was born the dream of building a house – a temple – for the Lord.

It was a short-lived dream.

That very night the Lord gave Nathan, the prophet, a message for the king.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
(2 Samuel 7:12-16 ESV)

In short, God said, “No, I’m going to build you a house. And your throne? It’s going to last forever.”

This man, who had shed too much blood to be permitted to build the temple (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Chronicles 22:8), would be the father of kings. Through the years, those kings may fall away or rebel against God, but they would be disciplined and the line of David would remain a royal one.

The promise, known as the Davidic covenant, found its initial fulfillment when David’s son, Solomon, came to the throne. After him came 20 more rulers. Some, like Hezekiah and Josiah, did what was right in God’s eyes. Others, like Manasseh, were evil. Most were a mixture of the two.

But when these human kings failed and the nation was led into exile and subjugation under other nations, that didn’t mean the promise was null and void. There was another, perfect fulfillment left to come.

Ultimately, that came in Jesus, the son of David, the Son of Abraham.

The Son of God.

Dead Sea-Judean Hills spring weeds in bloom

This post is part of a 31-day journey on the road to Emmaus. To begin at the beginning, click here. To see other “31 Days of …” posts from other bloggers, visit The Nester.

A prophet like Moses {An Emmaus look at Deuteronomy 18:15}

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deu...

English: Moses Pleading with Israel, as in Deuteronomy 6:1-15, illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re standing with the Israelites on the doorstep of the Promised Land. They’ve tasted victory against some formidable foes, but the greatest challenge lies ahead … and it’s not with the people that are currently living on the land that’s destined to be theirs.

The military battles ahead will be fought with God at their side. More accurately, God will be leading the battles and providing miraculous victory.

No, winning the promised land isn’t as much of a problem as keeping it.

And that’s where we find Moses today. The closer the Israelites get to realizing the promise made to Abraham, the closer Moses is to his own death. For 40 years, he has guided a rebellious bunch through the desert. More often than he ever could have imagined, he found himself face down, pleading with God to turn back his wrath and spare the people from a fate they richly deserved.

Like a father on his deathbed imparting final lessons and reminders to his son, Moses recounts the covenant with God and the journey that the people have taken thus far. It’s a final warning in which he sets the way of blessing and the way of cursing before the people.

In the midst of this, we find a simple sentence with world-changing implications.

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’” – (Deuteronomy 18:15-16 ESV)

A prophet like Moses.

One from among the people of Israel.

One who will speak for God.

One who will intercede with God on behalf of a rebellious people.

Sound familiar?

Stephen thought so. The first martyr quoted the words of Deuteronomy 18:15 in his speech before the Sanhedrin in which he rebuked the Jewish ruling council for their role in the death of Jesus.

Peter thought so. Like his Teacher before him, Peter used a miraculous healing as a springboard for the gospel.

“And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. – (Acts 3:17-24 ESV)

A prophet like Moses has come, but He was more than a prophet. He is the Saviour.

Today, listen for his voice and remember that even as you’re sidetracked, worried, hassled and stressed, this Prophet like Moses is interceding for you at the throne of God.

Dead Sea-Judean Hills spring weeds in bloom

This post is part of a 31-day journey on the road to Emmaus. To begin at the beginning, click here. To see other “31 Days of …” posts from other bloggers, visit The Nester.

Unanticipated words {An Emmaus look at Numbers 24:17}

English: Balaam blessing the Israelites, as in...

English: Balaam blessing the Israelites, as in Numbers 24:1-5, 10-13, illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible; image courtesy Bizzell Bible Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Balak was scared. He may have been the king of Moab, but he saw Israel on the move. And he was scared. So he went to a sorcerer, a seer of sorts, and asked him to speak a curse over the people of God.

Between the sorcerer’s summons and his appearance before Balak, the sorcerer had a rather humorous encounter with his donkey … but that’s a story for another day.

Today, we join the sorcerer, Balaam, and Balak atop a mountain overlooking the desert. From here, there’s a clear view of the camping tribes of Israel. Three times already, from three different locations, Balaam spoke blessings over the people of Israel – not the curses for which Balak angrily pleaded.

Then, Balaam speaks again. This time, his mysterious, image-filled lyric looks not to the scene set before him, but to a glorious future for a people established in their land.

I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;
it shall crush the forehead of Moab
and break down all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be dispossessed;
Seir also, his enemies, shall be dispossessed.
Israel is doing valiantly.
And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion
and destroy the survivors of cities!”
(Numbers 24:17-19 ESV)

In this oracle, Balaam sees the deliverance of Israel, but it isn’t in the here and now on the scene playing out before him. His vision pierces into the future to the rise of David and the conquests that characterize the kingship of the warrior-poet king.

His vision, though, goes further – much further – than that. It foretells the rise of a future King who would also come from the house of Jacob.

In short, he saw Jesus. Not just the Jesus of earth, born in a manger as a star rose in the east, but also the triumphant, returning King at the end of the ages.

Balaam didn’t really want to say any of it. He was promised riches for speaking curses, but he was compelled to speak the words of God rather than the words desired by man.

The truth is that God, through the Holy Spirit, still prompts us to say what people don’t want to hear.

When your company wants to take an action that’s technically legal but morally ambiguous, God might be prompting you to risk your job to speak out.

When a friend comes to you to validate her rationalization for questionable life choices, God may be prompting you to risk your friendship to speak truth to her soul.

When the person in line in front of you is giving the cashier a hard time, God may be prompting you to step in and restore peace at the risk of becoming a target.

Our words aren’t exactly like Balaam’s. We don’t speak in poetry. We aren’t speaking centuries before the rise of the star above Bethlehem.

Yet, our words, too, point to the risen Messiah when they speak love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, faithfulness, grace, mercy, peace, justice, gentleness and joy.

Whose words are on your lips today?

Dead Sea-Judean Hills spring weeds in bloom

This post is part of a 31-day journey on the road to Emmaus. To begin at the beginning, click here. To see other “31 Days of …” posts from other bloggers, visit The Nester.