Isaiah 51:12-52:12 Awake, Zion!


These few chapters (51:12-55:13) reveal the riches of God’s grace more brilliantly than any other part of the book. They bring us to the very heart of Isaiah’s gospel. This part of the book sets out from the same point as the previous one, and again the message of comfort moves against the backdrop of the terrible events predicted in 39:5-7. Isaiah’s cry, “Awake, awake!…O arm of the Lord” (51:9) is answered here by the challenge, “Awake, awake!…O Jerusalem…Awake, awake, O Zion” (51:17; 52:1). In other words, the ball is thrown very firmly back into the human end of the court. It’s not the Lord who needs to awake, but His people! It is not the inactivity on His part which is blocking the fulfillment of what He has promised to them, but their own spiritual lethargy. Although it was Isaiah’s cry in 51:9 which called forth this challenge, the challenge itself is not directed to him. In fact, it is Isaiah himself who delivers it. His own eagerness for God to act is admirable, it is the lack of such eagerness in others that is the problem.

God and His people (51:12-16): This opening part of the passage is basically an affirmation that the covenant between the Lord and Israel is still intact (vv. 15-16). This is the language God had used when He had first claimed Israel as His own at the exodus (Ex. 20:2). It’s the language of relationship and commitment – not their commitment to Him, but His commitment to them. And that had always been the solid ground of their security and comfort. Therefore, they had nothing to fear (vv. 12-14), and nor do we. As Paul put it, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)

Not condemned (51:17-23): Security, however, does not justify passivity. Quite the reverse; it calls for decisive action. The first call to action is to awake and rise up (v. 17). Fear paralyses us; being secure in God and His love for us sets us free. Fear is not the only thing that paralyses. So does a sense of being condemned, of being under judgment. Jerusalem certainly experienced this in the eighth to sixth centuries BC, and for her it was not just a feeling but an actuality. God gave her the cup of His wrath to drink, and she staggered and fell under its potent impact. It was a bitter draught, and it unmade her (vv. 17b-20). She was down because God had struck her down. But here she is told that that wrath has been removed. God has taken the cup from her and given it to her enemies (vv. 21-23). The objective facts are that she is not condemned anymore; she is forgiven. The problem is that she is still laboring under a sense of condemnation, and it is like a drug which stupefies her. “Awake,” Isaiah says, “Rise up, you are not condemned, and you must not go on behaving as though you are.”

Loved and valued (52:1-10): The second call to awake, in verses 1-6, is intended to counter a third deadly cause of spiritual paralyses – a sense of utter worthlessness. Zion had been defiled, enslaved, sold, oppressed, and mocked; no wonder she felt worthless. The word [nothing] in verses 3 and 5 captures it exactly; she has been sold for nothing and taken away for nothing. Sadly, as we all know, those who are treated as nothing eventually come to feel that they are nothing, which is exactly how Zion feels here, and it’s hard to awaken people to love, life and confidence again when they are sunk so low. No one whom the Lord values so highly (that’s you!) can be worthless, no matter what indignities they have suffered. And the exciting news that breaks out here again and demands to be shouted from the rooftops is that the Lord is about to give fresh expression to His love for Zion by totally reversing her circumstances – and all the world will see Him do it (vv. 7-10).

Ready to leave (52:11-12): The climax is reached in verse 11 which echoes the Awake, awake of the two previous units and brings us to their logical outcome. The people of God are to keep alert because their salvation is near. They are to live as those who are expecting the Lord at any moment, as travelers who are packed and ready for the last leg of their journey home. That is how it had been in the original exodus. They were not delivered yet, but they were sure they would be soon. The same air of keen expectancy permeates the present passage. A new exodus is about to take place. All they will carry this time will be the vessels of the Lord (v. 11), the holy vessels that Nebuchadnezzar removed from the temple when exile began. Nor will they leave in haste, as their ancestors did when they fled Egypt. They will go out with dignity and decorum, like priests in procession (v. 12a). But the real glory of this exodus, as of the first, will be the presence of God with them. He will go before them and behind them, guiding and protecting them every step of the way (v. 12b).

Isaiah 51:12-52:12 Reflection Questions:

Are you stuck in spiritual lethargy? What are you going to do about it?

What encourages you most about this study? Why?

What has God called you to do? What is stopping you?

Hebrews 13:7-9, 17&24 Submitting to Spiritual Leadership


Three times the writer used the phrase, “Them that have the rule over you.” The phrase refers to the spiritual leaders of the local assemblies. The church is an organism, but it is also an organization. If an organism is not organized, it will die. Wherever Paul went, he founded local churches and ordained qualified believers to lead them (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). “Saints, bishops (elders), and deacons” (Phil. 1:1) summarize the membership and leadership of the New Testament churches. Each Christian has three responsibilities toward the spiritual leaders in the local church.

Remember them (vv. 7-9): The word “remember” may suggest that these leaders were dead, perhaps martyred, and should not be forgotten. How easy it is to forget the courageous Christians of the past whose labors and sacrifices made it possible for us to minister today. But while we do not worship people or give them the glory, it is certainly right to honor them for their faithful work (1 Thes. 5:12-13). These leaders probably had led the readers to Christ because the leaders had spoken the Word to them. Today, we can read the Bible for ourselves, listen to the radio or TV sermons. We are in danger to taking the Word for granted.  When local churches change pastors, there is a tendency also to change doctrines or doctrinal emphases (v. 9). We must be careful not go beyond the Word of God and the spiritual foundation of the church. That is why I believe the writer of Hebrews pointed to; “the outcome of their way of life” (v. 8) – “Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Their lives pointed to Christ!

Obey them (v. 17): When a servant of God is in the will of God, teaching the Word of God, the people of God should submit and obey. This does not mean that pastors should be dictators (1 Pet. 5:3). Some church members have a flippant attitude toward pastoral authority, and this is dangerous. One day every pastor will have to give an account of his ministry to the Lord, and he wants to be able to do it with joy. A disobedient Christian will find on that day that the results of disobedience are unprofitable, not for the pastor, but for himself. It’s much easier to “win souls” than it is to “watch for souls.” The larger the church grows the more difficult it becomes to care for the sheep. Sad to say, there are some ministers whose only word is to preach and “run the program”; they have no desire to minister to the souls placed in their care. Some are even “hirelings” who work only for money, and who run away when danger is near (John 10:11-14). However, when a shepherd is faithful to watch for souls, it is important the sheep obey him.

Greet them (v. 24): The Jews used to greet each other with “Shalom – peace!” The Greeks often greeted one another with “Grace!” Paul combined these two and greeted the saints with “Grace and peace be with you!” When Paul wrote to pastors, he greeted them with “Grace, mercy, and peace.” (I wonder why?) Of course, the writer of Hebrews was sending his personal greetings to the leaders of the church; but this is a good example for all of us to follow. Every Christian should be on speaking terms with his pastor. Never allow any “root of bitterness” to grow up in your heart (Heb. 12:15) because it will only poison you and hurt the whole church. While it’s true that each member of a local body has an important ministry to perform, it is also true that God has ordained spiritual leaders in the church.

 Hebrews 13:7-9, 17&24 Reflection Questions:

Are on speaking terms with your pastor?

Are you obedient to your church leadership?

Do you honor church leaders for their faithful work?

Isaiah 51:1-11 The Highway to Zion


These verses are about the pilgrimage to Zion – the pilgrims themselves, the doubts that trouble them, the faith that sustains them, and the joy that awaits them at their journey’s end. Pilgrimage to Zion was something that every Israelite of Old Testament times knew about. Three times every year, at the three great festivals – Passover, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles – the pilgrims came, streaming to Zion from every corner of the land. When possible, whole families went together, meeting friends along the way. They laughed, they talked, they sang, and finally they rejoiced together before the Lord in Zion as they recalled God’s goodness to them and renewed their commitment to Him and to one another. Some of the happiest memories of childhood and family belonged to these occasions.

The exile to Babylon, however, was to produce an experience of deprivation more terrible. Many were to grow up with no personal memories of Zion at all, never having seen it, let alone gone there. For them pilgrimage to Zion could only be hoped for, not remembered, and the hope itself must often have seemed like a distant mirage – enticing, but cruelly unreal. Many would simply give up believing that it could happen. A minority, however, would cling to it, not as a kind of mental trick to help them feel better, but as the evidence of an unquenchable confidence in the faithfulness of God and the reliability of His promises. These are the ones the Lord addresses with obvious pleasure in verses 1-7; they are plainly dear to Him.

They are described in verse 1 as those who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord. They have grasped the heart of true religion: holiness of life flowing from personal relationship with God. Jesus said that the only future that matters (the kingdom of God) belongs to such people (Matt. 5:6). Their expectation of what God will do in the future profoundly shapes how they live in the present. They do not rely on their unaided consciences to tell them how they should live; they know what is right, because they have God’s law in their hearts (v. 7).

These pilgrims, then, are faithful Israelites. They may not have literally set out yet, but they are pilgrims none the less. For they know where their home is and long for the day when they will be there, and it is the promises of God, which they believe, that draw them towards it. Zion will be rebuilt; the wastelands around her will blossom again like the garden of the Lord (v. 3). It will again become a place of joy and gladness and thanksgiving (v. 3), and it will stand forever as undeniable evidence of God’s righteous, saving character (v. 8b).

Another group of pilgrims is alluded to in verses 4-6. They are a much larger group, coming from the nations and the distant islands, drawn towards Zion by the promise that light is about to dawn, and the justice they long for is soon to become a reality. These are the “other sheep” Jesus spoke about who would one day hear the shepherd’s voice and be gathered into the fold (John 10:16). They have joined the pilgrimage because they are convinced that only the Lord, the God of Israel, can mend the world’s ills; and they are right (v. 6)!

In the end there are only one people of God, the ransomed of the Lord, and when all God’s purposes for them have reached their goal they will all be together in one place – Zion, the city of God. They will enter it with singing, and joy will be their crown forever (v. 11).

As so often, Isaiah’s vision reaches far beyond the particulars of history to its end; beyond the return from Babylon to the consummation it foreshadowed. And he can hardly wait for the dawning of that final day. There were many obstacles in its way, but he was sure that the strong arm of the Lord had not lost any of its ancient power (v. 9). Isaiah did not doubt either God’s ability or His will. But there was what we might call a “holy impatience” about this great man of faith. “Do it now,” he cries in effect, “Do it now” (vv. 9-10). The Bible itself ends with a very similar cry (Rev. 22:20-21). It should be our cry also.

Isaiah 51:1-11 Reflection Questions:

How often during the year do you recall God’s goodness to you and your family? Will you do it more often?

When going through tough times, do you have an unquenchable confidence in the faithfulness of God and the reliability of His promises?

Do you have God’s Word in your heart?

Where are you with your personal relationship with God?

Hebrews 13:1-6 Enjoying Spiritual Fellowship


As you read this last chapter in Hebrews, you get the impression that the writer had a great deal of miscellaneous matter to discuss and saved it till the end. In chapter 12, we were rejoicing on Mt. Zion; and now we are discussing such everyday topics as hospitality, marriage, church officers, and who was the last one to be released from jail. But in the Bible, there is no division between doctrine and duty, revelation and responsibility. The two always go together. The emphasis in this last section of the book is on living by faith. The writer presented the great examples of faith in chapter 11, and the encouragements of faith in chapter 12. Here in chapter 13, he presented the evidences of faith that should appear in our lives if we are really walking by faith and not by sight. We will study four such evidences as we study chapter 13.

The basis for this fellowship is brotherly love. As Christians, these Hebrew people no doubt had been rejected by their friends and families. But the deepest kind of fellowship is not based on race or family relationship; it is based on the spiritual life we have in Christ. A church fellowship based on anything other than love for Christ and for one another simply won’t last. Where there is true Christian love, there will also be hospitality (v. 2). This was an important ministry in the early church because persecution drove many believers away from their homes. Also, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). Many poor saints could not afford to stay in an inn; and since the churches met in homes, it was natural for a visitor to just stay with his host.

Love also expresses itself in concern (v. 3). It was not unusual for Christians to be arrested and imprisoned for their faith. To identify with these prisoners might be dangerous; yet Christ’s love demanded a ministry to them. To minister to a Christian prisoner in the name of Christ is to minister to Christ Himself (Matt. 25:36, 40). In our free country we are not arrested for religious beliefs; but in other parts of the world, believers suffer for their faith. We need to pray for them and share with them as the Lord enables us!

The home is the first place where Christian love should be practiced (v. 4). A Christian home begins with a Christian marriage in the will of God. This means loyalty and purity. Sex outside of marriage is sinful and destructive. Sex within the protective bonds of marriage can be enriching and glorifying to God. In these days, when sexual sins are paraded as entertainment in movies and on television, the church needs to take a stand for purity of the marriage bond. A dedicated Christian home is the nearest thing to heaven on earth, and it starts with a Christian marriage.

If we love God and others as we should then we will have a right relationship to material things (vv. 5-6). Times of suffering can either be times of selfishness or times of service. It’s not easy to take “joyfully the spoiling of your goods (Heb. 10:34). But with economic and ecological problems in our world today, comfortable Christians may soon find themselves doing without some luxuries that they now consider necessities. The word covetousness literally means “love of money”; but it can be applied to a love for more of anything. Contentment cannot come from material things, for they can never satisfy the heart. Only God can do that (see Luke 12:15). When we have God, we have all that we need. The material things of life can decay or be stolen, but God will never leave us or forsake us.

The affirmation of faith in verse 6 comes from Psalm 118:6. This is a messianic psalm and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, so we may claim this promise for ourselves. It was a source of great peace to the early Christians to know that they were safe from fear of man, for no man could do anything to them apart from God’s will. Men might take their goods, but God would meet their needs. The important thing is that we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Helper, and that we not put our trust in material things. Contended Christians are people with priorities, and material things are not high on their priority lists.

Hebrews 13:1-6 Reflection Questions:

Do you have the gift of hospitality, if so how often do you use it for the body of Christ?

Do you have a gift for those (of all ages) who are in incarceration?

Do you struggle with covetousness? Are material things a high priority for you?

If you were to lose everything (maybe like Job) would you be contended with your relationship with Jesus?

Isaiah 50:4-11 The Servant, the righteous, and the wicked


Once more the Servant speaks, letting us into some of the most deeply personal areas of His life: His communion with God, the physical and mental suffering which marks His way, and the assurance of final vindication that lifts Him up. The words of the Servant are for Israel first of all; but, as a part of Scripture, they are also for us. In this third Servant Song the world at large is left out of the picture, and attention is focused on the Servant Himself and His ministry to the people of God.

The Servant is a skilled counselor because He himself has been taught by the Lord. He is a disciple before He is anything else, and as such His outstanding characteristic is attentiveness to God (v. 4). This, as we recall from chapter 48, is exactly what Israel has failed to do. In stark contrast to Israel, too, He is not rebellious (v. 5). His whole intent is to translate the instruction He receives into obedient action, no matter what the cost. As a disciple He does not shrink from the suffering: He does not draw back, or hide His face, but sets it like flint (vv. 5-7). There is nothing He will not endure if obedience demands it. But finally – and this is important – His confidence is not in His own power to endure, but in the Lord who helps Him, and who will vindicate Him in the end (v. 8). This Servant doesn’t speak from a lofty vantage point; far from it, no one has felt the struggle more intensely, or paid a bigger price for obedience. He is the perfect disciple.

Again His identity teases us. But more important at this stage is the question: why the powerful portrait of the Servant at this point? What impact is it intended to have on those still on the knife-edge of belief or unbelief that was reached at the end of the previous section? We don’t have far to look, because verses 10-11 at once drive the message home. The Servant is not simply to be admired or wondered at; He is to be obeyed (v. 10). In short, in describing His own discipleship the Servant has shown them what God requires of all His people; not empty profession, but wholehearted, costly obedience. The Servant and the challenge that He brings, force a separation between the true and the false, the righteous and the wicked, the saved and the lost – among those who profess to be God’s people.

While this should exercise our consciences mightily, and cause us to search our hearts, it is at the same time reassuring, and provides some relief from the impasse we were left with in verses 1-3. There will never be a generation of God’s people that rises as one to the faith and obedience that He requires of them. Some will and some will not. Some, by their persistence in indifference or rebellion, will show themselves, in the long run, not to be His people at all. But God’s ultimate purposes will not be frustrated by their mixed response. There will always be those who genuinely do rely upon their God (v. 10), and they will move on in faith to inherit all the glorious things He has promised. In the end, as we have seen, it will be the Servant, whose testimony we have heard in verses 4-9, who will force the division between the true and the false among God’s people. The “fear the Lord” and “to obey the Word of His Servant” are one and the same thing. We must all decide whether or not we will follow Him!

Isaiah 50:4-11 Reflection Questions:

Morning by morning do you listen to God’s instruction?

Are you willing to obey God’s Word even if it means ridicule or suffering a loss of some kind?

How much do you rely on your own strength in adversity versus relying on God who helps you?

Do you call yourself one of Christ’s disciples? If so, what does that mean for you?