Isaiah 9:6 | Christmas Gift

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Christmas is upon us. The celebration should be about the birth of Jesus more than the consumerism, but I still enjoy the lights and everything about Christmas except for my expanding waistline. One well known Old Testament promise that foretells the birth of Jesus is found in Isaiah chapter 9. The people of Israel wanted to be an autonomous nation free from the constant threats of evil kingdoms around them. Unfortunately, Israel looked more like the evil nations around them than they looked like a nation called by the one true God. But God in his mercy wanted them to have hope and to trust in him first.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 ESV

The messiah would be a winning King. He would lift the nation above all the other nations and everyone would bow to his authority. The Disciples recognizing Jesus as the messiah were excited for him to establish that kingship and take over the world. Jesus would destroy the hated roman empire and then Jesus would establish the Disciples as the new rulers of all the people. John and James even pull Jesus aside and tell him they want the left- and right-hand spots in his kingdom. Presumably they want the most important and powerful roles when this promised child comes into power.

37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  … 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Mark 10:37; 41 ESV

When we read the prophecy of the Old Testament about the birth of Jesus it is no wonder the disciples had expectations about what Jesus came to do. Not until after his death, burial, and resurrection did they finally understand God’s timeline. Even the night Jesus was arrested Peter was expectant of a war that Jesus would win. One can imagine the disciples looking at Jesus as the Soldiers came to arrest him. “Jesus! Now? Now is the hour? We will win with your power!”

49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Luke 22:49-51 ESV

Here is more text of the prophecy in Isaiah chapter 9. The disciples were confused because they knew these verses. This promise was built into their very culture.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 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 9:6-7 ESV

If the baby was not born to sit on the throne of King David and reestablish the nation of Israel then did God fail? How could the disciples be so wrong about Jesus? How could God have failed? God has promised to do this out of his own “zeal” so it will be accomplished. The disciples were not wrong. God had not failed. God’s plans will always be accomplished, but up until this point, even today, God has not established Jesus on a throne. This brings us back to Christmas and why it is so wonderful. Let us look at the birth announcement that came the night of this amazing birth.

10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:10-14 ESV

The birth of Jesus came with a proclamation of peace on earth. Peace between God and men. Jesus represents the greatest act of mercy and outreach to all people the world over. Even today Christmas songs sing of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. The disciples were ready for Jesus to crush their enemies. Jesus came to die for their enemies. The Disciples were ready to rule over everyone. Jesus came to serve the world with his perfect sacrifice. Even today Christians would do well to take note of this example from Jesus.

Christmas is the opening act of the prophecy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given”. Let us live in this moment and take inventory of where we stand with God. Have we embraced the wonderful gift he has given through Jesus. That gift is reconciliation with the Creator of all things. There is nothing greater that could be given this Christmas than a relationship with God himself.

the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 6:23b ESV

Isaiah 7:9 | Christmas Hope

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Ahaz the King of Judah, an heir in the line of King David, receives news that Israel the northern kingdom that split from the kings of David has joined forces with Syria to attack Judah. Fear grips the nation of Judah over this news.

When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind. Isaiah 7:6 ESV

Isaiah the prophet of Judah is instructed by God to give encouragement to the people and the king that they can win this battle if they would trust in God and have faith in him. God has made promises in the past. Ahaz is an heir to that promise. Ahaz has a responsibility as leader of the nation to live up to the promise made to each king to succeed David.

4 And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, 5 then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ 1 Kings 9:5 ESV

God has instructed Isaiah to remind Ahaz that this promise is still in effect. Isaiah calls Ahaz to stand firm in faith as the nation of God’s people.

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” Isaiah 7:9b ESV

The fear of war is ahead not because all will be lost but because the faith of Ahaz is not in God but in his own power and strength. Ahaz knows he will loose his kingdom and his life when these armies march to own his land. One would think that Ahaz would at last at this moment turn to the God of his fathers. God reaches out with loving mercy. Through Isaiah God wants to give Ahaz encouragement and strength.

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Isaiah 7:10-12 ESV

Ahaz however is an evil and rebellious man. Facing a war, he can’t win God tells him to ask for a sign in advance of the deliverance that God will bring about. God is telling Ahaz he can ask for anything and it will be done. But Ahaz refuses the request.

Often, I hear from the Atheist or the skeptic. If God is real then why does he not just speak and reveal himself. Why must he remain hidden. My response is that based on the numerous examples throughout the bible when God does speak audibly and reveal himself the outcomes remains the same. The person is still an Atheist and a skeptic. Ahaz is such a selfish evil man that he refuses to acknowledge God because if he did then there would be an obligation to submit to God’s authority. Ahaz would rather die at the hands of men than submit to a God other than himself.

13 And [Isaiah] said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:13-14 ESV

God would have welcomed and given power to Ahaz but Ahaz did not want any part of God’s plans. The problem for Ahaz however is that God is going to move forward because God’s will not be stopped. One has a choice to follow God where he is a work or one has the choice to avoid God’s work and be swept away into a life apart of God which is hell. Ahaz failed himself and his people but God’s work was still completed. Not only was it completed but one of the greatest signs of deliverance to ever be promised was given at this time. This prophecy, a sign, was held for hundreds of years until Jesus was born.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:20-23 ESV

Not only would God deliver Ahaz from this temporary crisis. God promised to deliver the world’s sin by coming to earth in the form of a man. God with us. Immanuel. The greatest event in the history of the world. God taking on the form of a baby born to a virgin in order to save His creation. It is beyond belief. It is an amazing, epic event that we celebrate every year at Christmas. The birth of God in the form of a baby boy. God just as he spoke to Ahaz thousands of years ago he speaks to us now. A sign has been given to all people. “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The miracle has been recorded. The event came to pass just as Isaiah foretold and we each have a decision to make. Remember the words of Isaiah to Ahaz.

If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” Isaiah 7:9b ESV

Do you choose to be like Ahaz and refuse the miracle of salvation accepting death and hell or do you accept by faith the firm hope of “God with us” in the form of Christ and what he has sacrificed?

Isaiah 43:1 | Claim the Prize

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Isaiah 43:1 | Claim the Prize

In contemporary English when I think of “redeem” I think of a transaction where a coupon or voucher is used in place of money to purchase something. Specifically, I think of tickets that I have redeemed at the fair in an attempt to win a prize. Years ago, I purchased a ticket to throw a baseball at what looked like aluminum jars. There were two jars on the bottom and one on top if I remember correctly. The vendor gave me the ball and then turned his back to walk off to the side when I threw at the jars. It must have been a perfect shot because all the jars went down. I was young and thought I could do anything so I was not surprised. But what I remember most was the shock on the vendor’s face when he turned around and saw my accomplishment. He was stunned almost like he had no idea what to do next. Upon reflection I realized that the game must be rigged in such a way that all of those jars should not have fallen. The satisfying part of my success was that the vendor pulled down the largest and the plushest of all the stuffed animals as my reward. The crew I was with shared carrying around this gigantic toy the rest of the day at the fair drawing attention from everyone we passed. When I redeemed that voucher to play the game of skill I got everything I could have wanted.

The voucher I redeemed at the fair was practically worthless. There was no reasonable expectation that my throw should have accomplished what it did. If it was that easy the vendor would be out of business on the first day. In the Biblical language redeem is used to identify a person who is acting on behalf of someone else. If a husband died then the next of kin would step in and be a kinsman-redeemer to provide children or financial support as needed. The redeemer would take on the burden for someone who was not able to carry out their responsibilities. Redeemer is a concept that God wants us to understand and so he built the model into the culture of Israel.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1b ESV

He wants us to know that we are the prize. He has the ticket and he is exchanging that voucher in order to win our hearts. The game that must be won is overriding the curse of our sin and rebellion. God’s standards, his perfection, and his laws are broken by our selfish desires. So God created a voucher that he could use to exchange our sin nature with a life lived perfectly.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us Galatians 3:13a ESV

When it comes to God’s laws I can’t win. There is no way I can live without falling short. Perfection is non-existent for me. Some people think they are perfect but their mother knows they are not. Even in America is it impossible to live life without breaking laws. Speeding laws are broken every time I drive. Attorney Harvey Silvergate wrote a book with the catchy title Three Felonies A Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. It is impossible to win.

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7 ESV

God “Abba! Father!” has redeemed me. He has exchanged his perfect life lived out in Christ for my sin filled wrongdoing. My sins were punished on the Cross of Christ fulfilling the requirements of the law to set me free. He only needed to redeem one voucher to turn the tables on the carnival and win me forever.

*Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/@markusspiske

Isaiah 26:7 | Level Paths

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I enjoy hiking on mountain trails in search of new views or waterfalls. Just being out to get exercise with family in tow is part of the most important activities of life. I pray my children will fondly look back on these times and will desire to explore God’s creation when they come into their own. After miles of up and down on technical terrain one of the most enjoyable places of a hike is a level area of soft ground covered in pine. Usually this calm level area might be near a winding stream with plenty of smooth rocks to hold and throw. This section of the trail is perfect for a break and a place of rest to enjoy on an otherwise difficult trail.

I find that hiking is a wonderful analogy to life. Both are a journey. Both are more difficult if we try to forge our own path. Both contain beauty. And both are unknown as to what the journey or the destination will reveal to our own eyes. Until I walk the path and arrive at the destination I don’t really know what will be experienced. Even if I have a map or a guide the journey is still unique to my experience. Life is this way also. On this journey of life, the Bible tells us that God has a path for each person and he has made available a light for that path through his Word the Bible.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 ESV

But he has done even more than provide a light and direction on the path. He can be active to a life that is surrendered to his direction.

The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. Isaiah 26:7 ESV

He makes “level” the way. God levels the path of the righteous and I think about those level soft sections of trail where the switch backs and difficulty are put on hold. Where one can walk comfortably and revel in the glory of the trees. This is the kind of path that God makes for the righteous.

Now this begs the question who are the righteous that God has given a lamp and a level path? Especially if an attempt at righteousness for many is a burden of work and journey of its own.

For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. Proverbs 5:21-23 ESV

Am I righteous? Have I done enough good things or prepared enough for the trail ahead? God knows that I have not. God knows my thoughts. He knows my ways and they are not his ways. He has seen all my selfish thoughts. He has seen all my evil done in secret.

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. Romans 3:10-11 ESV

Never could I be found righteous before his perfect standards. So, God provided a solution so that his plans for me will be accomplished. God has made those who are called by his name righteous. Not by works or by effort but by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God knows we fall short of his perfect standards so he came to earth in the form of a man and lived a perfect life on our behalf. Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. God lowered himself to be part of his creation. To save his creation.

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Romans 3:20-22 ESV

Righteousness is given to all who put their trust and faith in Jesus. For those that accept what Jesus has done God is then free set them on a path that brings them home as his children. Dear reader now is the moment of grace to accept Christ and submit to his desire and plans for your life. God calls to you as a loving father calls his children home.

Does a level and lighted path mean that life becomes easy? Well no it does not. This life is full of consequences many of them our own doing. There is a promise that I hang on as I daily put my trust in God. Daily as I want to submit and honor him. That promise is that the righteousness given to me through Christ allows me to get back up every time I fall short of where I should be.

for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. Proverbs 24:17 NIV

This proverb tells us the righteous will fall but get back up. But those that reject God will stumble in that day of judgement. But note that the righteous do not get back up on their own. It says that even if they fall seven times they rise. Seven is the number of God and stands for perfection. It is through God’s perfection, through Jesus Christ and the perfect life he lived that those who are called by his name will rise again and continue on the journey to find rest in God.

Here I am! Send Me.

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If God is the same today as he was yesterday then he is constant never changing. If God changed something from wrong to right then he would not be God and he would not be perfect. God can’t change and God will not change.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? Numbers 23:19 ESV

The consistency of God is a blessing because the rules are set. The goal posts are not moving. The anger of sports fans when the officials are inconsistent is real and justified. Much of political discourse boils down to pointing out the person on the other side that did the same immoral behavior without consequence. Everyone wants consistent rules to play by and God is the perfect law giver and sustainer of those rules in life.

There are people who want to bend the rules to benefit themselves. This raw selfishness is the stuff of life and it takes ugly form in injustice. Those in power pull the ladder up after themselves. They pass rules that prevent others from the benefits of wealth they themselves enjoy. Politicians rig the system in favor of certain elites. Dictators take from the innocent to give to those with blood on their hands. In Israel before exile Isaiah warned the leaders that God would not tolerate breaking the rules.

21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! 22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right! Isaiah 5:21-23 ESV

Justice is a hot topic today. Supporting a business because of their social justice cause is popular and makes one feel good about themselves. Asking people to affirm the life styles of others is a fashionable way to root out bigotry and a wonderful way to make sure everyone knows what side of humanity one lives. The most current craze in this trend are teens and pre-teens who are telling the world they are not male or female, straight or gay, in their gender and sexual orientation (see Miley Cyrus being “pansexual”).

 In his book, the Benedict Option, Rod Dreher quotes from a poster to his blog “There’s nothing like having your twelve-year-old come home from school and start ticking off which of her classmates are bi, the reader said, “I told my daughter it was statistically impossible for there to be that many bisexual students in her class, and that for most girls – and they were all girls – seventh grade was entirely too early to make pronouncements on their sexuality. In return, I got a lot of babble about gender being fluid and nonbinary.” This is what children are being taught is true and they are aware of the shaming of anyone who does not celebrate the new norms.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 ESV

When I was younger the argument was “I was born this way”. Today such limiting options are not sustainable because everyone wants to be included in the celebration of the movement. Now born this way is irrelevant. Gender and sexual preference are “fluid” moving in whatever direction society wants it to move. God however has set boundaries and rules. Isaiah warned the people of his time “Woe to those” who break and bend the set rules of God the creator. Life lived contrary to God’s perfect law is not sustainable.

What is the “Woe” that Isaiah was warning about? What are the ramifications of ignoring God’s perfect plan? In Isaiah’s day, the woe was an incoming army that would destroy society. Israel as a nation was destroyed ending the rules they had set for themselves. It is hard to sustain rebellion against God when life becomes only about survival and death.

24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. 25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. 26 He will raise a signal for nations far away, and whistle for them from the ends of the earth; and behold, quickly, speedily they come! Isaiah 5:24-26 ESV

While that fate was pronounced on the nation of Israel in those generations what does such a “Woe” mean to the contemporary reader? First read into this a “Woe” on all the nations vs trying to tie it back to America. While God certainly could have America ruled by some other nation let the reader take a larger view of God’s intentions toward human kind of today. Second how does this Woe stand in relation to the revelation of Jesus Christ? In verse 24 above it states they have “rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One”. If the people and the society reject God and his Holy One, Christ, then what more can be done? Shall the game be continued to be played by these rules? Shall the creation say to the Creator “No more of you”? Christ has come to give life but if the people only want death then maybe his return is imminent.

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Matthew 24:36-39 ESV

No more armies from a faraway land will be needed to restore a lawless society. Christ himself will come like a flood sweeping away the disorder and the sin that has overcome societies. Third and finally in this “Woe” is the commission of those who are saved by Christ.

5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” Isaiah 6:5-8 ESV

Reader know that you can have the guilt and the rebellion atoned for in Christ. God himself will restore people who are currently breaking every rule. Real life and relationship with the Creator is possible, real, and wonderful. God is calling “Whom shall I send” who will live truth over lies, right over wrong, and sweet over bitter? I pray the answer be “Here I am! Send me.”