Isaiah 49:1-13 God’s Servant and God’s People

 

First the Servant Himself speaks in verses 1-6. Two messages to the exiles follow in verses 7-12, drawing out implications of what the Servant has said. The movement is from the Servant Himself to the people of God who are associated with Him. With the return of the Servant the sharp rebuke of the previous chapter gives way, once more, to comfort. Strangely, although the sinfulness of God’s people is crying out for remedy, the Servant does not address them directly at all. He speaks to the world at large (v. 1).

A polished arrow (vv. 1-6): But who is the Servant? Verse three says His name is Israel. But how can this be, since, as we have already seen, a key aspect of His mission is to restore Israel to a proper relationship with God (v. 5)? We are forced back to the conclusion we reached in chapter 42, that He is a figure who embodies all that the nation of Israel was called to be, and therefore one who is truly worthy of the name – God’s perfect Servant. He is far greater than Jeremiah, or any other Old Testament prophet for that matter. He is prophet par excellence. If that doesn’t satisfy us, we shall just have to wait, because for the moment He is hidden in the shadow of the Lord’s hand, and concealed…in His quiver like a polished arrow (v. 2).

A new people of God (vv. 7-13): As we move on to verse 7, however, the word Israel reverts to its normal sense, and the focus shifts back again from the Servant of God to the people of God, the surviving remnant of the nation. After the repetition of previous promises in these verses we discover new things here; the whole passage is nuanced by its close relationship to the Servant Song which follows. Of course, neither of the expressions is new to us; they were both used with reference to the Servant Himself in 42:6 and, as we saw there, they refer to God’s intention to extend His salvation to all peoples, to bless the whole world that He has created. Isaiah underlines the fact that God will achieve this great goal through the Servant Himself and through His restored people. As they are brought back into right relationship with God, God’s people become one with God’s Servant in His worldwide mission.

This means that the very idea of the people of God begins to undergo a kind of metamorphosis. Those whom God restores to Himself become a sign of His commitment to extend this same blessing to all people. The shout of praise then, in verse 13 is the “Hurrah!” of mission accomplished – a cause of rejoicing to the whole earth. But by the time we reach that point the theme of comfort for the people of God is no longer focused narrowly on the captives in Babylon. They may be its most immediate point of reference, but it reaches beyond them to embrace all people. And the key to all this is the Servant of the Lord, Israel is to understand that its entire future in God’s purposes is intimately bound up with Him.

Isaiah 49:1-13 Reflection Questions:

Why do you think the Servant addresses the world at large and not directly to His own people’s concerns?

Why do you think the New Testament Jewish people had a hard time with God offering salvation to the whole world (Gentiles)? Do these attitudes happen today?

Why do you think that the exiles found these sweeping visions from Isaiah difficult to grasp?

Hebrews 12:1-4 The Example of the Son of God

 

If the Apostle Paul were alive today he would be a huge sports fan. Why? because several athletic references in his letters indicate his interest in sports. Of course, both the Greeks and Romans were keenly interested in athletic contests, not only for their physical well-being, but also for the honor of their towns and countries. It was a patriotic thing to be a good athlete and to bring glory to your country. The writer of Hebrews combined these two themes of athletics and citizenship in this important twelfth chapter. First the writer pictures the race, and then emphasizes citizenship in the heavenly city. In the minds of his readers, these two themes would go together; for no one could take part in the official games unless he was a citizen of the nation. The one theme that runs through this chapter is endurance. The Jewish believers who received this letter were getting weary and wanted to give up; but the writer encouraged them to keep moving forward in their Christian lives. He pointed out three divine resources that encouraged a Christian to keep going when the situation is difficult.

Today we are going to look at the first resource; the example of the Son of God. There are three approaches that are used in these verses (vv. 1-4) to encourage us in the Christian race. Look around at the winners (v. 1a): “The great cloud of witnesses” was introduced in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith that bear witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them and they are bearing witness now to us. One of the best ways to develop endurance and encouragement is to get to know the godly men and women of the Old Testament who ran the race and won.

Look at yourself (v. 1b): A baseball player who swings a bat with a heavy metal collar on it before he steps to the plate helps him prepare for the fast pitches. Too much weight would tax one’s endurance. What are the “weights” that we should remove so that we might win the race; everything that hinders our progress? They might be even “good things” in the eyes of others. A winning athlete does not choose between the good and the bad; he chooses between the better and the best. We should also get rid of “the sin that so easily entangles” (v.1). While he does not name any specific sin, the writer was probably referring to the sin of unbelief. It is unbelief that hinders us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” is used twenty-one times in Hebrews 11, indicating that it is faith in Christ that enables us to endure.

Look at Jesus Christ (vv. 2-4): “Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.” It was in “looking to Him” that we were saved, for to look means “to trust.” “Looking unto Jesus” describes an attitude of faith and not just a single act. When our Lord was here on earth, He lived by faith. The mystery of His divine and human natures is too profound for us to understand fully, but we do know that He had to trust His Father in heaven as He lived day by day. The fact that Jesus prayed is evidence that He lived by faith. Our Lord endured far more than did any of the heroes of faith named in Hebrews 11, and therefore He is a perfect example for us to follow.

What was it that enabled our Lord to endure the cross? Please keep in mind that, during His ministry on earth, our Lord did not use His divine powers for His own personal needs. Satan tempted Him to do this (Matt. 4:1-4), but Jesus refused. It was our Lord’s faith that enabled Him to endure. He kept the eye of faith on “the joy that was set before Him.” He knew that He would come out of the tomb alive. Throughout this epistle, the writer emphasized the importance of the future hope. His readers were prone to look back and wanted to go back, but he encouraged them to follow Christ’s example and look ahead by faith. Since Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith,” trusting Him releases His power in our lives. Christ is both the exemplar and the enabler! As we see Him in the Word and yield to His Spirit, He increases our faith and enables us to run the race.

Hebrews 12:1-4 Reflection Questions:

Have you ever wanted to give up when the life gets really difficult? How did you handle it?

During hard times (financial, physical, illness, etc.), what do you look to for encouragement?

Which of the three approaches do you lean towards? Can you see the need for all three?

Weekly Seed of Faith 12-22-18

Seed of Faith – Living Out & Watching Out   By Pastor Dave  

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” Luke 2:8

Dear Friends and Saintly Seed Sowers:
The final countdown for Christmas is here! Depending on when you read this — you will have less than 7 days to make the final preparations for your home and your heart for Christmas. Why not take a few moments in the next few days to read Luke 2:8-20? Reflect on the announcement of Jesus’ birth.  How has this announcement changed your life? Just think, if the Savior had not been born, December 25 would be a regular Tuesday this year. No holiday parties to attend, no kids’ Christmas plays or concerts, either. No extreme shopping–online or in the stores. Perhaps the big buzz would be New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I seriously want you to sit down and think about this? What if Jesus had never come to earth? What if Jesus had never been born?

Just about every spare minute I have this month, I am studying; looking over my Scripture passages for this week’s final Advent message on love. I keep getting stopped by the fact that there were shepherds … who lived out in the fields…doing what shepherds do:  keeping watch over their flocks.  It made me think,  “How do I apply that to me today?” These shepherds were just doing what shepherds do.  Kind of like you and me.  We go to work.  We come home.  We all have some sort of routine and rhythm to our days just like these shepherds. You have to bet that this day, this night was very ordinary in their very ordinary lives and, then, in one split second, everything changed completely and forever!  In the darkness of the night, an angel of the Lord appeared—all shiny and glowing!  It made me think of this question,  “Am I watching out for God to break into my daily routine?  Would I even notice if He moved into my neighborhood?” 

Let’s get busy dissecting the Greek. The Greek word for “keeping” is a present-active verb–meaning the action of “watching” is a constant, ongoing, day-in and day-out, hour in and hour out, minute by minute, second by second action.   The shepherds were constantly watching their flocks–by day and by night. It never stopped. Those shepherds were always watching over their flocks.  This then made me think of another question and as the Holy Spirit prompted me, I now prompt you:

What is it that you are keeping watch over–by day and by night? Be honest.  What is it that consumes your life? What eats up your time, your money, your thoughts?

Back to the shepherds who are out in the thick darkness of night watching sheep.  To them it was an ordinary night with ordinary sheep and ordinary shepherds. And SUDDENLY,  God broke into their ordinary story.   You know this God of ours, the God Almighty who loves to hook the word “extra” onto the front of ordinary—extraordinary!? That’s where the shepherds were.   A night starting out just like every other night: watch the flock settle down for their night’s sleep; tomorrow will come soon enough. Try now to imagine being out there as a shepherd. Maybe you’re cooking stew over the make-shift fire? Maybe you are unrolling your sleeping bag and setting up under a tree? Maybe you and a few other shepherds are swapping funny, sheepish stories? It’s all quiet. It’s time for settling down. And then the greatest news in the history of the world is announced! An angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds — in the fields, in the outskirts of town,  and the shepherds are terrified.  I need to translate this part of the passage  because it’s important:  they were terrified, terrified greatly. Have you ever been greatly terrified? The night has a light of its own. It’s not twinkle, twinkle little star. It’s an angel. Lighting up the night sky.

Has God ever interrupted your nice, quiet, ordinary life?  Surely the shepherds’ ordinary night has now turned into an extraordinary night!

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Immediately, the shepherds had to think, “Isaiah!  The Prophet Isaiah foretold us of this very thing, 750 years ago.  Holy stinking smokes!” and then the entire night sky is not filled with just one angel but it is filled with a whole heavenly host of angels…all praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth…peace!”  Come on, think about being there. The entire skies are filled with angels and they are all singing. What would you do or say? What we do know is that when the angels were gone, those ordinary shepherds high-tailed it to find that baby; the baby who would be wrapped in cloths…and lying in a manger—an animal’s feeding trough.  These were lowly shepherds but they knew exactly where to find a manger. And when they found the manger,  there they found the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths!

So What?
Well, it’s here.  The last week before Christmas!  We sit on the edge of our own ordinary Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Eve, people everywhere throughout the world will gather together.  Many will gather in homes, surrounded by family.  Others will gather in churches.  All around the globe, ordinary people just like you and me, will gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ the Lord.  It’s really no ordinary night and we are no longer ordinary people.

God came down to earth in the form of a baby. God wants to live in our hearts and our homes.  Immanuel—God with us!  This was the cry of those ordinary shepherds on that ordinary night in their ordinary lives. God broke into their darkness of their night.  Angels!  Terrified!  More angels!  Singing! Glory and Praise to God!  Go find the Baby in a manger! Those shepherds went and they found the baby. They were no longer ordinary.  They were now glorifying-and-praising-God-extraordinary!  This is my prayer for you as you read this SEED OF FAITH. May the Holy Spirit break into your ordinary, routine life and may you sense the presence of heavenly angels this last week of Advent. When you gather with your family, or with your church, may you, too, sing just like those angels and those shepherds.

Christmas is the PROMISE that GOD IS WITH US. May there be a song in your heart as you run to find the baby lying in the manger. You’re not ordinary if you know the King of Kings!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

See You Sunday!
Mulungu aku kondani, naine nikukondani—God loves you and so do I”
Mulungu aku daliseni — God bless you

God loves you with an unfailing love and so do I,
Pastor Dave
www.theseedchristianfellowship.com

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Isaiah 47:1-48:22 A Tale of Two Cities

 

Conceptually, chapters 47 and 48 form one large unit dealing with the fulfillment of the Lord’s purpose to use Cyrus to free His people from captivity in Babylon. The captives are portrayed here as residents of one city but citizens of another, a tension between place and citizenship that can be resolved only by returning to where they belong. The logic of the whole unit is that Babylon is doomed (chapter 47); leave it, and set out for Jerusalem, your true home (chapter 48).

Babylon: defiant but doomed (47:1-15): The portrait of Babylon is a classic study in worldly power and arrogance. She is the queen of kingdoms (v. 5) and believes that she will remain so forever (v. 7). She has an utterly false sense of security, which leads her into self-indulgence and complete indifference to the needs of the weak and vulnerable in her midst (vv. 6, 8). She considers herself so self-sufficient that all notions of accountability are excluded. She is proud of her wisdom and knowledge (v. 10), and has perfected a form of religion (astrology) which enhances her sense of power over her own destiny without making any moral demands upon her (vv. 9b, 12-13). She is the complete symbol of worldly success. However, the virgin city will be violated (vv. 1-3, 8b-9, 12-15). In short, her sense of impregnability is a complete illusion. She is like the man who built his house on the sand, or the rich man who did not reckon on what the night would bring. Babylon is the city of destruction.

We must note two things carefully before we move on. First, Babylon here is not merely the ancient city of that name, and the poem does not simply look forward to what was to happen to it in 539 BC when Cyrus conquered it. Like Jerusalem, with which it is contrasted, it is both a concrete historical reality and a symbol, and it is the symbolic significance of Babylon which is primary here. Secondly, the sin of Babylon is not simply its pride and self-absorption, but its self-deification. Twice uttered I am, and there is none besides me (vv. 8, 10), is a direct challenge to the Lord’s identical claim in 45:5. Babylon represents humankind organized in defiance of God – the kingdom of mere mortals, in contrast to the kingdom of God. In this sense “Babylon” is still with us, and still stands under judgment of God. The historical Babylon of the sixth century BC was merely on manifestation of it.

“Leave Babylon!” (48:1-22): Now we are in better position to understand the challenge of chapter 48, where the contrast between Babylon and Jerusalem is developed. The reference to Jerusalem as the holy city in verse 2 has symbolism associated with it also, because by the sixth century it was to be little more than a forsaken ruin with most of its citizens in exile. But for all that, it would continue to be the place God had chosen as the center of His kingdom on earth, and the announcement concerning Cyrus in the previous chapters have made clear His intention to raise it up again. It would once again be “the holy city”, not just in the sense that no evil will be found in it, but that God Himself would return to it and rule from it. The holy city was to become the symbol of their future hope – the coming of God’s kingdom. The challenge of chapter 48 is that they should live constantly in the light of that hope, expecting its realization at any moment.

The people certainly profess to be citizens of the kingdom, but their lives give little evidence of it; the old sins live on, it is as though their suffering taught them nothing (vv. 4-6). The Lord is tempted to discard altogether what is left (vv. 9-10), but there is more at stake here than their own betterment; there is the honor of the Lord’s name (v. 11). The world must know it is He, and not Babylon, Bel and Nebo, who rules the world and for that reason He will press on, regardless of how His people respond.

There is anger but also sadness in this chapter and this brings us to the heart of Israel’s sinfulness (vv. 1, 12, 16-18). God has opened His heart to them. He has given them His Law; He has spoken to them through His prophets, but they have not listened, and they are still not listening! Verse 22 is a tragic note on which to end, but it underlines powerfully the serious nature of failure to listen to God; it shuts us out from the peace of God. Isaiah has been speaking here of a situation that was to emerge after his own lifetime. The basic sins and failures he describes may just as well have been looking at himself, or even speaking directly to the church in our own day and age. We need no great imagination to recognize ourselves in his stinging rebukes. Sadly, the sins of the people of God do not alter.

Isaiah 47:1-48:22 Reflection Questions:

How does the symbolism of Babylon touch your life (now and/or in the past)?

Are you living constantly in the light of the hope of expecting Christ to return at any moment? What does that mean to you?

God has opened His heart to you, are you listening?