Tag Archives: Isaiah

God’s People, part 83: Isaiah

Read Isaiah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!” (2 Kings‬ ‭20:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 83: Isaiah. Isaiah is a name well-known in Christianity because of the prophetic book named after, and traditionally considered to be written by, the prophet. While Christians may not know much about the prophet himself, they know some of his famous prophecies such as, the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), pastoral images of heaven such as the lion laying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), and other such prophecies in which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah was a prophet who was actively prophesying for 64 years. He played an adviosry role with a number of kings. His early ministry started in the last few years of King Uzziah and he died under the reign of King Hezekiah, whom he was influential in advising. With that said, not all of Isaiah’s ministry was smooth and easy. A number of years were spent standing up to the wickedness of King Ahaz. In fact, Isaiah 7 was written as a message to be sent to that wicked king.

In that chapter of the prophet’s book that God challenges Ahaz to demand a “sign”. The king refused the challenge and answered in a “religiously correct” way. He said, “I will not ask for a sign. I refuse to put the LORD to the test.” Yet, the king was insincere and Isaiah called him out on it. He may not have asked God for a test; however, he was TESTING God’s patience with all of the injustice and unrighteousness Ahaz and his courts were engaging in. God had enough and sent Isaiah to call him out on it.

It is to Ahaz that Isaiah declared that God would, indeed, provide a sign anyway. The sign would be a “virgin” or a “young woman” giving birth to a child. This child would one day grow up to be righteous, to reject what is wrong, and before fully maturing destruction would come upon the wicked king. This prophecy, in the moment, was announcing the end of Ahaz’ reign. Of course, as with all reigns, Ahaz’ did come to an end and his son, Hezekiah, was a righteous king.

With that said, it is wrong to only read the prophecy as having to do with Ahaz. God was announcing the end of the wicked world order. While Hezekiah may have been righteous, he was still sinful in some areas, and most of the kings who succeeded him fell short of even his standard, let alone Gods. This prophecy, through the eyes of those who knew him and came to believe in him, pointed right to Jesus Christ who would reject wrong and live a perfectly righteous life. It is the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ that sets God’s plan of redemption and the upheaval of the wicked world order in place.

Powerful words for Isaiah to deliver to a king who, know doubt, might have had Isaiah thrown in prison or executed. Yet, the bold prophet was not always so bold. At the outset of his call, according to his own words in Isaiah 6, the Isaiah had a vision of God. The vision was so intense that he feared he might die from having looked upon God’s holy presence as a sinful man. As is a common human experience, Isaiah could not believe that God was choosing him. Clearly he was wrong and, when God affirmed his call in the vision, Isaiah’s response was “Here I am, Lord send me.”

From that point on, everything changed for Isaiah, who went down as one of the most influential prophets in the history of Israel. The same is true for you. As you read this, you are probably thinking, “Who? Me? I am not called! Not me!” That, my friend, is the response most of us have when we feel God’s call. Let me put it this way, God is calling you! God is calling us all. You may be called in the same way as me, or you may be called differently than me, but you are called. The question is, what will your response be? If you answer yes to the call, I can promise you this, nothing will ever be the same again! Everything will change for you and for the world around you. May it be so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Denial is a common human response, but it seldom exacts any change.

PRAYER

Lord, here I am. Show me what you are calling me to do and send me to do it. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 5: The Poor

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and His disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (Mark 2:15 NLT)

315proclamationRecently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

The scroll of Isaiah was unfurled, opened to the sixty-first chapter, and handed to the familiar face of hometown carpenter boy turned prophet and healer. Jesus of Nazareth looked at the scroll, found the place from which he was to read, and began to utter the words slowly and clearly. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he began. All eyes were fixed on him intently, waiting to hear these words which had been read countless times before. Prior to this day, plenty of people had read the famous words from the profoundly influential prophet Isaiah. They knew these words and had heard the discussions surrounded its meaning. Everyone knew that these were the words that foretold the coming of the day of the Lord, the day when God would level the playing field, right the wrongs, and liberate all of Israel from her oppressors. Still, they had NEVER heard these words from the mouth of a commoner, the mouth of a carpenter, the mouth of someone who had been gone a while and come back so remarkably different than the person they they knew.

“…for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” The words quickly reverberated off of the walls of the small stone synagogue and into the ears of those gathered around this carpenter. They knew these words and had prayed to be able to live to see the day of their fulfillment. After all, each person in that synagogue were peasants. They were poor, hard-working people who had barely anything to show for all of their hard work. They not only were taxed on any kind of income, but they also had to yield a tenth of their grain crops, a fifth of their wine, fruit and oil, and they had to pay off the crooked publicans that collected their taxes. Yes, these people could hardly wait for the day when there was finally Good News for the poor.

It, no doubt, came as a surprise to the people of Nazareth, as well as the people in ancient Palestine (aka Israel), that this Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to them as the poor. Nor did the “good news” he preached seem all that good to them! There Jesus was saying that he was anointed by God (which is code-speak for Messiah) to bring the Good News to the poor, and yet he was traveling with a tax collector and other sinners! The tax collectors were particularly despised because on top of the regular taxation the Romans forced them to pay, they would raise the amount owed and keep the rest for themselves, becoming rich off of their own.

How could Jesus preach about bringing Good News to the poor and hang around tax collectors, who were themselves rich in their corruption? How was that possibly Good News for the poor villagers of Nazareth? Whether they realized it at the time or not, Jesus was about to shatter their understanding of God’s justice as well as their understanding of what it means to be poor. In fact, he’s about to do the same for us as well. Jesus does not, ever, define who the poor are. Nor does he define the “least of these.” Instead, he simply served the poor and the least of these whoever they were. Good news for the impoverished is the cessation of being shunned and away out of their poverty. Yet it is not just the impoverished who are poor. The rich, though not impoverished, are poor in other ways. God does not call us to only fill the need of some, but to fill the needs of all who are in need. While the rich might be first in the bank, they might be the “least of these” in terms of spiritual depth and purpose. The question for us today is this, who are “the poor” in your communities, and what is the GOOD NEWS for them?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
PRAYER
Lord, help me to hear the Good News that I need in my life, as well as be the conduit of the Good News in the lives of others. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 4: The Prophet

Read Luke 4:14-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me…to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Isaiah 61:1a, 2a).

004-jesus-nazarethRecently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

The last three devotions were focused on introducing Jesus’ Christian Manifesto to us and the lead up to Jesus’ confrontation at the Synagogue in Nazareth. Now it is time that we look at the manifesto itself. Prior to talking about the specific social/spiritual concerns that Jesus addresses in the manifesto itself, it would do us good to introduce the very Scripture that Jesus is both quoting as well as reframing. In the Gospel, it says that Jesus is handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah, also known as the Book of Isaiah as found in the Hebrew Scriptures within our Christian Bible.

Jesus opens up to what we now know as Isaiah 61 and reads the section we now number as the first and second verses. In it, the prophet writes following: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, for the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. He has sent Me to tell those who mourn that the time of the LORD’s favor has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” What’s important to note is that this text is not some isolated text written on a napkin; rather, it is surrounded by other passages written by the same person in order to convey a message that Jesus most definitely was aware of and intentional about.

Isaiah 61:1-2 is preceded by, for instance, 59:19-21 in which it is written: “In the west, people will respect the name of the LORD; in the east, they will glorify Him. For He will come like a raging flood tide driven by the breath of the LORD.  ‘The Redeemer will come to Jerusalem to buy back those in Israel who have turned from their sins,’ says the LORD.  ‘And this is My covenant with them,’ says the LORD. ‘My Spirit will not leave them, and neither will these words I have given you. They will be on your lips and on the lips of your children and your children’s children forever. I, the LORD, have spoken!'”

In other words, Isaiah 61:1-2, which is the text hat Jesus reads, is an announcement that is both condemning and liberative all at the same time. In it, the Spirit of the Lord through the prophet procalims that God is coming to establish divine justice on Earth.  For those who are suffering, oppressed, captive, imprisoned, poor, and blind, this is indeed GOOD NEWS. Yet, for those of whom God’s justice is not in their own personal interest, these words come with fear and trembling for, as it is suggested in Isaiah 61:2b, God’s favor for the oppressed also ushers in God’s anger against the enemies of the oppressed (aka the oppressors).

While Jesus’ synagogue crowd, and no doubt ourselves, get excited at Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 61:1-2, it begs the question: “How excited should we be?” Are we the oppressed, or are we the oppressors? Honestly, it can be legitimately argued that we are on both sides depending on the day and the circumstances. What goes without saying, the fact that Jesus chose his reading wisely and is, certainly, calling his listeners into an introspective and reflective moment. It is a moment that should give us pause and bring us to our knees both in repentance and in joy at the coming of our Lord, our Redeemer, and our Savior. It should inspire within us, the need and the desire to be a changed, transformed and, ultimately, redeemed people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Ears to hear and eyes to see—both are gifts from the LORD.” (Proverbs 20:12 NLT)
PRAYER
Lord, create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Read Matthew 1:18-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.’” (Isaiah 7:13-14)

O Come, O Come, EmmanuelIt is hard to put into words the fear, anxiety, sadness, depression and confusion that ran through most people’s minds at the close of this past Friday, December 14. By the end of the day we had learned, following spending the day watching the drama unfold on live TV, that 28 people had been shot and killed at an elementary school in Connecticut. Out of the 28, twenty of them were children between the ages of six and seven years old.

Often times, in tragedies such as this, people ask the question, “Where is God in all of this?”  After all, what kind of God would allow children to be born and grow up in a world that is seemingly as evil as this one is?  What kind of God would create “monsters” who go out and destroy those who are innocent?  What kind of God would be so cold as to not intervene when the lives of the innocent are at stake?

These are all valid and good questions to ask ourselves.  It is also safe to say that there really aren’t any answers that fully satisfy our need to understand how evil and God co-exist? I could offer a ton of Christianese clichés that sound good off the cuff, but that would only be to simplify something that is very complex; so, rather than offering easy answers to really tough questions, I will provide one of many possible ways in which we can reflect on what happened and what our response will be.

It is very easy for us to look at where we don’t see God only to miss out on where we are seeing God.  For instance, we look at Adam Lanza and see his actions as a prime example of God failing to be with us. Yet, we also fail to see that God was with the principal who lunged at Adam and was the first to be shot and killed. God was with the teachers as they did everything they could, including cover children with their own bodies, to save their students.  God was with the first responders.  God is also with those who are looking at ways to address the societal issues that end up allowing people like Adam to fall through the cracks unnoticed until it is too late. When Jesus called his disciples to care for “the least of these”, that included those who suffer from mental illness. Yet, in our society, mental illness is stigmatized and our health care system often doesn’t provide affordable ways for people suffering from mental illness to get the kind of care (not just drugs and a locked asylum door) that they need.

The fact of the matter is that bad things do happen. People have free will and choose to do all sorts of things that God would not wish for anyone to choose. But aside from that fact, we still have a God who loves us, a God who is with us, a God who provides hope even in the darkest of circumstances.  The Nativity story is a reminder of the hope of Emmanuel, or rather, the hope of God being with us. This God came to earth and became one of us; this God put others first and sought to be present with all people, regardless of their status or condition. This God was crucified by God’s own creation and resurrected back to life despite being put to death.  This God is the same God who was present with the teachers, administrators and first responders who worked desperately hard to save as many as possible, risking their own lives in the process. This God is the same God who is turning the media’s attention from labeling Adam as “the face of evil”, to looking at how people like Adam haven’t received the care they need.

While we cannot definitively answer the question of why bad things like this happen, aside from the obvious answers, we certainly can still have the hope of Emmanuel. Let us not forget that God never leaves us, nor forsakes us.  We can know that God is with us, and we can let God guide us to be instrumental in sparking the changes that are needed in the communities around us, the very changes that could protect other children and people from such acts of evil. Let us welcome Emmanuel in this world, by seeing God’s revelation in us.  We have been equipped to be the presence of God in the lives of those in need, whether they are children in distress or Adam Lanza’s slipping through the cracks. Let us be like the writer of Hebrews who with confidence proclaims, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:6).

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

We need not look any further than our own hearts, and the hearts of those around us, to find God.

PRAYER

Lord, I thank you for always being preset me, and thank you for revealing your presence in me. Let me witness to that Good News! Amen.