January 2, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Thursday through Saturday, Week of the First Sunday after Christmas


Thursday

Morning – Ps. 66, Is. 64, 1 Jn. 3:13
Evening – Ps. 34, Is. 65:8-16, Heb. 4:14-5:14

Isaiah 64 continues a deep and moving prayer for redemption of the people of Judea.  Much of the prayer confesses the sins of Israel, but much of it also expresses the faith that God is willing to help His people.   Chapter 63 asked God to remember that He is the “Father” and God of the Jews, and to remember mercy even in His very just anger.  The Jews in Babylon would read these words, and, by the grace of God, some of them would understand that their captivity was God’s just response to their sin, meant to correct them and to call them back to God’s gracious blessings.  God does cleanse and chastise His people.

By faith Isaiah sees that God will do more for  the Jews than simply return them to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  He will send the Messiah, who will ultimately deliver them into a Kingdom that is far greater than they can imagine (vs. 4).  The most earnest prayers for relief are worthless without real sorrow for and turning away from sin, and in verse 6 the prophet is moved to a prayer of humble confession and repentance for all of Judea.  The prayer will be read by the captives in Babylon, many of whom will be moved to confess their own sins, and to really and truly seek God.

The evening reading shows God’s merciful response to those who truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel.  There will be blessings for them (65:8).  They will inherit the holy mountain, meaning Jerusalem and the Temple mount, and, ultimately, the Kingdom of the Messiah (65:9).  Places now barren wasteland will blossom with abundance (65:10).

The blessings will not come before repentance, and repentance will not come before chastisement.  Thus God says again that the sword will come to Jerusalem.  Verses 11-16 tell of both wrath and grace.  Some will be saved from the sword and will repent and return to God.  How sad that they would not repent before the sword came to them.

Friday

Morning – Ps. 92, Is 65:17, 1 Jn. 4
Evening – Ps. 91, Is 66:1-13, Heb. 6:1-12

The Jews returning to Jerusalem will be under the special protection of God.  They will be delivered from war, and life will not be cut short or hampered by battle.  The Lord will answer their prayers before they pray, and the land will enjoy a time of peace and rest.  But the language of this passage obviously looks for more than just the restoration of Jerusalem.  Isaiah is supernaturally enabled to see far into the future to the new heavens and new earth, which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smoked glass. He describes it in terms of earthly blessings, using things we understand to describe things we cannot really understand while we live in this world.   So, as wonderful as the Messiah’s reign sounds in Isaiah’s words, its reality will be immeasurably greater in every detail.  His Kingdom will not be completed until the end of time, but it has begun already.  We in the Church have begun to reap the fruit of it.  One day we will see it fully.  We will walk in its streets and know its joy more fully than we now know the present world.  We now call that Kingdom “Heaven.”  One day we will call it “Home.”

Isaiah 66 takes up a different subject.  There are those, in both Israel and the Church who attempt to mix the pure Gospel with the unbiblical views and practices of the people around them.  In the time of Isaiah and the Jews, they mixed Biblical teaching with pagan religion.  Today it is more likely to be mixed with pop psychology and humanistic ideas of self-fulfillment and personal happiness.  Either way, God is dethroned and man becomes the center of his own religion.  In Isaiah’s time, pagan people believed their deities lived in houses built for them by people, and ate as food the sacrifices offered to them.  Many Jews applied the same ideas to God, the Temple, and the Sacrifices.  God explicitly denies any dependency on people (66:1-2).  He owns all things, so, people can really offer Him nothing.  Furthermore, anything offered unto God under such false understandings or motives is absolutely rejected by God.  An ox sacrificed to God in such a way (even with the greatest sincerity and best intentions) is as bad as murdering a man and offering him up on the altar of God  (66:3).   A lamb offered in this way is no better than a dog.  This passage is a clear and desperate call to true repentance and to Biblical faith and practice.  Those who truly repent will be welcomed to God as a loving mother welcomes her beloved child.  Even Gentiles are welcomed into the love of God.  “As one whom his mother comforteth, so I will comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (66:13).

Saturday

Morning – Ps. 144, Is. 66:18-23, 1 John 5
Evening – Ps. 29, 98, Is. 49:1-7, Lk. 3:15-22

This morning’s reading from Isaiah 66:18 and following is a continuation of Is. 66:1-16 and cannot be understood apart from those verses.  The passage actually begins in verse 14, which tells of God’s grace toward His servants and His indignation toward His enemies.  Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace and indignation will be executed.  God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning the destruction and killing of military conquest (66:16).

Two kinds of enemies of God are portrayed.  First is Jews who have departed from the faith.  Verse 17 pictures them participating in pagan rites and worshiping idols.  Most Jews did not leave their religion behind to join pagan cults.  Instead they imported elements of paganism into their own faith.  At times, even the Temple of God was filled with pagan idols.  It halls rang with their prayers and altars ran with the blood of their sacrifices.  Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17).

With these things firmly in our minds we are ready to look into our reading for today.  Verse 18 refers back to 17 as justification for God’s wrath.  He knows the works and thoughts of idolatrous Jews.  He has seen them give His glory to idols and attribute His providence to inanimate objects.  He knows they have followed gods that blessed their sins, rather than live the pure and holy life He demands of them.  They have even persecuted Jews who would not join their sin (66:5). They and their gods will be consumed.

The second group of God’s enemies consists of Gentiles who come to make war on Israel.  They lift up their sword against God’s anointed people, and that is the same as lifting up their sword against God Himself (Ps. 2:2).  The Church is the Body of Christ, and he who persecutes it persecutes Christ (Acts 9:4&5).  As the Gentile empires come to make war on Israel, they find themselves also falling to the sword.  We see in the history of the Jewish people a parade of conquerors taking the land, each conqueror conquered by another, which is also conquered by another.  From Assyria to Babylon, from Persia to Greece, and even mighty Rome, empires have come and gone while Israel, both old and new, remains.

Not all Gentiles are destroyed, for the grace of God extends to them as well.  Many survive the judgment of God and are brought into His Kingdom of Grace.  The Jewish people often enjoyed a steady stream of Gentiles coming to God and becoming members of the Covenant People.  Converts often took their new faith back to their own countries and people (66:19).

Seeing the application of this chapter to the Jews of the Babylonian era and beyond, we again come face to face with an important part of the book of Isaiah, namely its Christological meaning. The events of these verses cannot possibly be fulfilled by a simple return of the Jews to Jerusalem and Judea.  They can only find their ultimate meaning in the Kingdom of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom in the hearts and minds of people of every race and nation, and in their elevation into the New Heaven and earth, which is the glorious fulfillment of all the promises of God in Heaven forever.).


13 comments:

  1. Yes,
    unfortunately many people think that they have reached the end of the journey when they enter a church building. Many church buildings are more like entertainment centres, and some are like tombs. Jesus is alive, but within the scriptures, not a building.

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    1. Brenda,

      I can certainly appreciate your sense of frustration over the worldliness on the one hand and museum-likeness on the other of too many churches both here in the States and on your side of the pond. And it is almost a cultural norm to question the viability of the visible, institutional church, especially of the traditional/historic sorts. However, I believe the problem your comment rightly laments is always more with the persons rather than the places, individuals rather than the institutions. The church building, of whatever shape or size or time of service, is the designated place of corporate worship. This is more often than not the location that the organic body of Christ meets to worship, experience the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, and discipline. So, there is a real sense in which the gathering of believers for worship in a church building is both holy space and holy time. Additionally, I would seriously suggest that insofar as the corporate body gathers together in a church building, Christ is alive among them by the Spirit. Similarly, Christ is spiritually present with his Church in the Eucharist. Ultimately, though, Jesus Christ is bodily and really alive in heaven, seated on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Although we meet the living Lord Jesus in the Scriptures, they primarily point us to these other realities, so that we might “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1; cf. Eph. 1:20).

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  2. Kevin,
    I believe there is a danger of the quenching of the Holy Spirit within the assembly of God's people because the church is not always operating as it should do, as it did two thousand years ago when it was first formed, as in 1 Corinthians ch..14 v.28. 'What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.' I think this is very sad. As all the parts of the body must function in the natural body for it to operate as it is meant to, so too must the body of Christ. The gathering together of Christians must incorporate the building up of one another in the Holy Spirit in order for each one to mature in Christ.

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  3. Dear Sister Rees,

    Thank you for your comment, thoughtful, as always. If I understand you correctly, you see 1 Corinthians 14:26 as the standard of worship which Paul established at Corinth. Since that is the standard of worship, Paul presumably also established it in all churches he founded, and it remains the standard for the Church today.

    There is another view which sees 1 Corinthians 14:26 as a corruption of worship as established in the Apostolic Church. This view is based on the following. First, the Corinthian Church adapted and imported pagan practices and ideas into its theology and worship. In doing so, it copied pagan emotional, ecstatic experiences and made them the essence of being a Christian. Second, the church refused to follow its God-ordained ministers, including St. Paul and Apollos, and divided into factions striving against one another. Because of this, open sin was permitted and worship declined into chaos. Rather than gathering to hear and feed on the word of God, people came to have, and impress others with, ecstatic experiences. In other words, worship became a performance, and each person wanted to be the star. So, instead of gathering to hear the sermon by their dully ordained pastor, each one came to show off his own psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation, or interpretation (14:26), clamouring for recognition as the best of the day. As in the pagan temples, drugs and alcohol seem to have been used to "enhance" the ecstatic experiences, thus many even became drunk at the Lord's Supper.

    In hopes of leading the church back to Biblical belief and practice, Paul wrote First and Second Corinthians. First Corinthians 1:1-14:25 admonish the church for these sins. First Corinthians 14:26-40 attempt to re-establish a sense of orderliness and Godliness to the worship, which Paul intends to fully repair in a personal visit (16:5). Meanwhile, he has sent Apollos, and plans to send Timothy (16:10-12). Chapter 15 is a call to return to the true faith, which Paul briefly summarises, including the authority of the Apostles to deliver the faith they received from Christ (15:3). This is also a call to the Corinthians to return to the Apostolic teaching by purifying their understanding and practice of the Christian life.

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  4. Yes, I am well aware of corruption in the church and how people promote themselves and their 'star' speakers, and 'great men and women of God'. To me this can sometimes ( not always ) be 'worshipping the created instead of the creator'. I have seen things that are totally unscriptural going on in church gatherings, and have even had a pastor who was praying for me to be made well try to push me down onto the floor to try to make it appear as a supernatural happening, which I totally resisted and commented on. I believe absolutely that the church is meant to operate as Paul states in 1 Corinthians ch.14 v.26, and I have seen it operate in several gatherings of worshipers, with very good, humble pastors, that I have come into in my walk with the Lord, and seen people grow wonderfully in the Lord. I also believe absolutely that the Lord does heal, both miraculously and over a period of time,and have experienced both myself. Sadly however, as prophesied, the same corruption that was in pre Christian Israel and in the early church can also be found within God's church today and this is why I believe that it is important for the Holy Spirit not to be quenched and for Christians to test everything against scripture.

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  5. This has been a good conversation. Again, Brenda, I completely agree with your bottom line. However, as Bishop Campbell’s able exposition above demonstrated, the Apostolic Church, in its various local instances, was anything but pure, not least at Corinth. Most of the NT epistles were occasional letters; and many of those were ‘occasioned’ by a gross doctrinal or moral lapse within the body. For example, it isn’t until Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council, that the primitive Church finally figured out that circumcision wasn’t required for justification (cf. Gal. 2). Therefore, the NT itself stands as a warning against idealizing the primitive Church, taking what was the case then as what ought to be the case today. In fact, with Bishop Campbell, I believe that is precisely what 1 Cor. 14:26a was doing. Verse 26a reports what ‘was’ the case in Corinth as St. Paul wrote, whereas vv. 26b—33 give us what ‘ought’ to have been the case for reforming the confusion of their public worship and thus leading to edification and love. Analogous to the individual Christian, the Church is a growing body, moving from infancy toward maturity through redemptive history (Eph. 2:21; Col. 2:19). This growth happens primarily through the various gift-offices Christ gave to his Church (Eph. 4:11—12), “Till we all (i.e., the Church universal) come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13).

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  6. Yes,
    the only verse that I could not understand was about women keeping silent in church, because it had been stated in 1 corinthians ch.11 that women must cover their heads when praying or prophesying. Paul appeared to be contradicting himself. However when I sought the Lord over it He revealed to me that there is no male nor female in Christ Jesus. I have found that the more I seek the more He reveals to me, as is the case with everyone, and have found that His word proves itself.

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  7. Mrs. Rees,

    I always urge caution about patterning worship or doctrine after the Corinthians. Paul addresses them as in serious error regarding both. Nearly thirty years later, the errors still persisted, according Clement of Rome's letter to them. Chapters XLII-XLVII are explicit regarding them.

    1 Cor. 14:26 admonishes them for the chaotic self promotion they called worship. Also, "Let all things be done unto edification" does not refer back to earlier things in verse 26. It introduces the next topic, which teaches order and reverence in the house of God. The point is that they have been coming in chaos, each wanting to have the spotlight while he gives his masterpiece. Now they are to seek the edification of the church. The new section culminates in 14:40, "Let all things be done decently and in order," the opposite of what is happening in 14:26.

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  8. I assume, by your addressing me as 'sister Rees' in one response and 'Mrs Rees' in this response that something I have mentioned in my last comment has caused you to draw away a little. I am not sure what you are trying to say here but I have to say that what I see written in the scriptures has proved itself true in my life and the Lord has always warned me about deviating from it. I do not find any self promotion in a group of believers who seek the Lord through reading the scriptures and building one another up in the Holy Spirit, I see a lifting up of the Lord Jesus and a humility that comes from acknowledgement of such a loving Saviour. I do not feel I have any more to say here as it is better to leave all convincing and convicting to the Holy Spirit. He knows what is in each heart.

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    1. Brenda,

      I am afraid you have misunderstood Bishop Campbell, which is one of the grievous woes of electronic communication. From my reading of the conversation, he is in nowise seeking to undermine your experiences, which are congruent with the didactic texts of Scripture. More than that, if I know him at all, neither he nor I are challenging that “believers who seek the Lord through reading the scriptures and building one another up in the Holy Spirit” are doing anything other than loving the Lord and one another in a way that pleases our Lord and God. What is evident from the posts is that Bishop Campbell, simply following St. Paul, is cautioning against the disorderly extravagances indicative of the first century Corinthian community. Now, if a community today is centered on the disciplines you described in your last post, the praise the Lord. But, it that same community exhibits the problems that Paul confronts in 1 and 2 Corinthians, then they are not striving against man but God. Bishop Campbell’s treatment of our topic has been soundly rooted in the text of our Scripture. As you said, it is the role of the Holy Ghost to convince and convict. If you have an issue with what the Bishop has said, then I would suggest you have misinterpreted his posts and intentions, and/or perhaps the Scriptures we are discussing.

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  9. Yes Kevin,
    I agree that the internet does not allow a person to discuss a subject in the same way that audible speech does, and I do believe that we can get an impression of mood simply by the change in wording. I think when we are comunicating with people that we have not had much contact with, then understanding that person is more difficult. However, as much as I enjoy communicating with other believers, I find it difficult and dangerous if a person diverts from the Bible content itself. As far as me misinterpreting what Dennis Campbell has said, I was not really sure how to respond to his last comment reply to me as it did not seem to be a response to my previous comment in any way. His first sentence:- 'I always urge caution about patterning worship or doctrine after the Corinthians.' did not appear to connect with anything that I had written regarding what Paul the apostle had said, nor did anything else in his response, so I thought that there was no more to be said on that particular subject. It may have been that he was just adding his opinion to what I had said, but I can assure you that the only reason I stated that I have no more to add on the subject is simply that, everything had been discussed, and that is what I enjoy - discussing the scriptures.

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  10. Sister Mrs. Rees,

    My comments on this page have been in response to your comments on January 7 which indicate the belief that 1 Corinthians 14:26 is the pattern for worship in all churches. My response has been that it is an admonition against wrong worship. It is presented as the opposite of the ideal given in 14:40, "Let all things be done decently and in order."

    Regardless of our disagreement here, I have attempted to discuss the issue respectfully and charitably. "Sister" and "Mrs." are terms of respect.

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  11. Yes, I understand your way of addressing people now. I think the misunderstanding, not disagreement, is probably due to the different kind of circumstances in which we gather and worship, and the size maybe of the group. I agree absolutely that all things must be done decently and in order, and that verse 26 goes together with verse 40. I believe that Paul is saying to do these things in an orderly manner when we gather together, and that is how the group that I gather together with operates at this moment in time. Anyway, God bless you in your work for the Lord.

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