December 28, 2015
December 27, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist
1 John 1:1-10
John was one of the inner circle of disciples, and is thought to be the one whom Jesus loved in John 20:2. He was with Christ in many of His most important moments, including the crucifixion, where he was given the charge of caring for Mary. The stoning of Stephen began a deadly persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, causing most to flee to safer places, but John, and the other Apostles remained in Jerusalem. As the Church grew, the Apostles realised they needed to move out of Jerusalem and oversee the churches in specific areas. John moved to Ephesus to aid the Church in Asia (modern Turkey). He wrote the book of Revelation to warn the churches of the growing persecution, and to encourage them to be faithful to Christ during it. He also wrote the Gospel of John, and the books of First, Second, and Third John.
His influence extended far beyond Asia, through men mentored and ordained to the ministry by him. He taught Polycarp, the influential Bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp mentored and ordained Irenaeus, who traveled to Gaul (modern France), where he became the area’s most influential bishop. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome, and who left several epistles which describe the situation and organisation of the Church during the time of the Apostles, was also taught and ordained by John.
“Merciful Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being illuminated by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ 1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 101
December 28, Holy Innocents
1 John 5
This day remembers the children who died in the world’s first attempt to end the life and Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Herod, moved by fear that the “King of the Jews” would attempt to free Israel from Roman rule, and establish Himself as a worldly king in Jerusalem, attempted to kill the Messiah by killing all the children in and around Bethlehem under the age of two. The horror of this event must have been terrible, and is an example of not only the world’s opposition to Christ and Christianity, but also governmental abuse.
Many wonder why God allowed the death of so many children. Why didn’t He let Herod die? Why didn’t the soldiers refuse to carry out their orders? The answer is, we don’t know. But let us not forget that, while there is no peace for the wicked (Is. 57:21), the death of the righteous brings peace (Is. 57:1, 2).
Is. 61, Acts 27:21-44
Is. 62, 2 John 5
These words, so familiar to even the novice student of the New Testament, are said by Christ to be fulfilled in Him (Lk. 4:21). The Servant of the Lord, described in previous chapters, steps into the mind of the prophet and describes His ministry with such force and clarity that no doubt can be left about His identity. The establishment and final glory of His Church is foreshadowed in the deliverance and care of the Jews after their return from Babylon. Its devisions and heresies are healed, the Gentiles are brought into it, and it is rich with the souls of the redeemed, the truth of the Scriptures, the means of grace, and the fullness of God’s Spirit. All of this is accomplished through the ministry of the Servant of God, who gives Himself for the sins of his people, and who's Gospel is published throughout the earth.
We have obviously not yet reached the pinnacle of glory described in this passage. It begins to be fulfilled in the life and ministry of Christ in His first advent. Its completion awaits His second advent. But we have begun the ascent. We do live in the hope of it, and in the hope and expectation that, even now, the Gospel of Christ is going forth binding up the souls of believers, delivering them from the prison of sin, and calling them into the hope of the Day of the Lord.
Our Lord was anointed with the Spirit at His baptism. He delivers His people from the prison of sin as He delivered the Jews from the prison of Babylon. He binds (bandages) the wounds of our hearts as He bound the wounds of Israel, making us whole and well in our souls. Even our Lord applied these words to Himself. After reading them in the synagogue in Nazareth, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Lk. 4:21).
Isaiah 62 continues to look toward the restoration of Jerusalem and Judah after the Jews return from their captivity in Babylon. But, like much of the prophecy of Isaiah, it uses the return from captivity to foreshadow a greater return, a greater glory of Jerusalem, and a greater Salvation than from mere human enemies. It foreshadows the grace of God given to Jew and Gentile through the Saviour Christ. Jerusalem here represents the entire people of God; the Church of Christ in all ages. The love of God is poured out upon them forever.
Is. 64, 3 John
Chapters 60 through 62 of Isaiah describe the blessings of Israel after the time of the Babylonian Captivity is over. Chapter 63:1-6 inserts a short note about God’s judgment on Edom and its capital city, Bozrah. Located just south of the Dead Sea, Edom had a long history of aggression against Israel. But its aggression does not go unnoticed by God, nor will it go unpunished. “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (vs. 1) is shown coming from Edom with blood on His garments because He has trodden down the Edomites like grapes in a winepress (vs. 3). These verses are very similar to Revelation 19:13-16, where Christ goes forth to judge the nations who resist His will and Gospel. Those who remain in their sin will be trodden out in the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Verses 7-19 are a prayer offered to God by Isaiah, who is speaking as the representative of Israel. There is deep thanksgiving in the prayer, for the “great goodness toward the house of Israel” (vs. 7). There is also contrition and confession because, though having been blessed by God, Israel rebelled against Him and vexed His Holy Spirit (vs. 2). Therefore God became their enemy and fought against them in the form of the conquering Babylonian army (vs. 11). The prayer asks where God is now when they need Him. Where is He that brought Israel up from Egypt and led them through His servant Moses (11-13)? Israel asks God to look upon her from Heaven and return to her in mercy (vs. 17). The chapter closes with the statement that Israel is God’s elect. The people who now oppress Israel were never subject to His rule or called by His name (vs.19).
Isaiah 64 follows a deep and moving prayer for the redemption of the people of Judea. Isaiah did not live to see Judea invaded and conquered by Babylon. But, by the Spirit of God, he saw in prophesy both the conquest and restoration of the land. 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 is 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.
In verse 4, the prophet tells of God’s merciful answer to their prayers. He will do more for them 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 the one they imagine (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 Judah. The prayer will be read by the captives in Babylon, many of who will be moved to confess their own sins, and to really and truly seek God.
Isaiah 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.
Is. 66, Jude
This is another chapter of contrasts. Gentiles, who have not sought God or been called by His Name are finding Him (1). Israel, to whom God has spread out His hands (sought to embrace) turn from Him in rebellion (2). They provoke Him to anger continually (3) by their idolatry and immorality (3-12). Yet, as the keeper of the vineyard saves some of the grapes because he sees their usefulness for good wine (8), God will spare some of the Jews, and bring them into the new heavens and earth described in verses 17-25. Death and age (20) in the new heavens and earth, which is the Kingdom of the Messiah, show that the meaning of this passage applies to the Church Age, not the full restoration of the physical universe, where death and physical disintegration are unknown forever. The elect of God, though they die in the physical sense, during the Church Age, will never die spiritually. Thus, we who are in the Church, are spiritually in the new heaven and new earth already. We dwell by faith in that land where God’s reign is universally known, and where the curse and consequences of sin are gone forever.
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 (65:17), which God will bring into existence in the Kingdom of the Messiah. Like us, the prophet sees this dimly, as through a smokey 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. Today we will walk in its streets and know its joy by faith. But the day will come when we walk its streets in person, and know its joys 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, 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 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 (1-2). He owns all things, therefore, 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 (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” (13).
Verse 15 begins to reveal how grace toward Israel and indignation against the wicked will be executed. God will come with fire, chariots, and whirlwind, meaning destruction and death by military conquest (16).
First to feel God’s wrath are 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 ran with the blood of their sacrifices. Those who have done these things will be consumed as by a consuming fire (17). 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 (5). They and their gods will be consumed.
Second to feel God’s wrath are 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). In the same manner, 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 conquered by another, which is also conquered by another. From Egypt to Assyria, Babylon, Persia, 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 (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 aspect 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 Judah. 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.
December 19, 2015
Is. 53, Acts 22
Is. 54, 2 Pet. 3
In this chapter we find one of the highlights of the Old Testament. It has, naturally, received careful attention from scholars throughout the centuries. According to the Pulpit Commentary, “The Messianic interpretation of the chapter was universally acknowledged by the Jews” until about A.D.1150. Our Lord clearly saw the passage as a reference to His crucifixion and resurrection, as does the Church (Mt.8:17, Acts 32-33, Rom. 10:16).
The chapter describes a Person growing up before the Lord as a tender plant, without the trappings of fortune or comeliness to make Him attractive to us (2). Instead of being attractive, He is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, from whom we hid (turned away) our faces and esteemed Him not (3). Yet He “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” on His cross, where “we did esteem Him smitten of God and afflicted” as He received the wrath of God for our sins. His suffering was for us, for our transgressions. With His stripes (the gashes and cuts left by the scourge) we are healed of our sins (5). The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all (6). The chapter continues to describe the Messiah’s suffering, death, and even His burial as “an offering for sin” (10), which “bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (12).
Verse 11 describes the Messiah’s willingness to bear the cross. He is satisfied with the results of His suffering, because it has redeemed His people from their sins. He suffered for them in our places. He represented us on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself and bearing the punishment for them in His own body (2 Cor. 5:21, Eph. 1:5-7). But the suffering of the cross is followed by the exaltation (12). This goes far beyond the resurrection, with its healing and restoration of Christ’s physical body. It refers also to His ascension into Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, and to His return in glory to judge the world and bring all things together in recognition of His deity and authority (Eph. 1:10).
Isaiah 54 is about God’s faithfulness and mercy. The barren (childless) woman is Judah, whom God has allowed to be conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians. God says He will not leave her in Babylon. He will rescue her with great mercy, and gather her back to her home in Jerusalem (vs. 7). The symbolism of this passage refers to God’s deliverance of the Jews from Babylon. It also refers to our deliverance from the spiritual Babylon of sin that has held us captive until Christ our Redeemer set us free. It is a beautiful and moving passage.
December 21, St. Thomas
1 John 1
It will be profitable to read John 20:24-31 in addition to the regular lessons for today. It is interesting that we remember DoubtingThomas four days before Christmas. On this day, most people are so consumed with parties, gifts and preparations for over indulgence on Christmas Day, they do not even think about Christ, or the significance of His life and ministry. Like Thomas, it would take a literal appearance of Christ to shake them out of their “holiday rush.” Others are even more like Thomas. They are consumed with doubt. Like Pilate, they ask derisively, “what is truth?” implying that it does not exist. They will not believe unless they see Christ with their own eyes and touch the scars from the spear and the nails.
Though Christ has ascended into Heaven, He left much evidence for the Thomases. The empty tomb, the transformation of the Apostles from fearful deserters to faithful martyrs, and the Gospel attested to by hundreds who saw the resurrected Christ with their own eyes, all testify to the truth that Christ is truly God become flesh for us. Today, let us pause from the Christmas preparations, to take an honest look at the Gospel of Christ. Let us, like Thomas, leave our doubts and fears behind, bow at the feet of Christ, and proclaim, “My Lord, and my God.”
Collect Prayer for St. Thomas Day
“Almighty and ever living God, who for the greater confirmation of the faith, didst suffer thy holy Apostle Thomas to be doubtful in thy Son’s resurrection; Grant us so perfectly, and without all doubt, to believe in thy Son Jesus Christ, that our faith in thy sight may never be reproved. Hear us, O Lord, through the same Jesus Christ, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for evermore. Amen.”
Is. 55, Acts 24
Is. 56, 1 Jn. 2
Isaiah 55 is a wonderful offer of God’s free grace. We are represented as being needy, as hungry and thirsty. But our need is not for physical comforts. Our need is for peace with God. Our need is for fellowship with God. Our need is to be justified and cleansed of sin so we can be fit to have fellowship with Him. But we are unable to provide for these needs. We cannot make them by our own works, and we have no “money” to buy them. We are spiritual beggars. But, even as we recognise our poverty, we hear the word of God saying, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat ye, come buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
The clear meaning is that our spiritual food and drink are given to us freely by God. He gives them to us without cost because He has payed the price Himself. The Jews in Babylon have not earned the right to go back to Judah and Jerusalem. Most of them are not even repentant about the sins that sent them there in the first place. They have grown comfortable in Babylon, and become very Babylonian in their lifestyles and in their religion. It is by God’s grace only that they will be restored, not by their own actions. He will give them the water of everlasting life, the bread of life, and all His blessings, out of His grace, not their worthiness.
The application of this to the situation of all people is easy to see. All have sinned, and all are in a spiritual Babylon, in which we think we are happy and content. But, in reality, we hunger and thirst for God, though most of don’t realise it most of the time. If we are going to be released from Babylon, and placed in Jerusalem, the city of God, we will have to be placed there by God. He will first have to build in us the desire to go to Jerusalem. He will then have to enable us to turn from sin and trust Him. He will then have to take us to Jerusalem and feed us with the blessings of God. All of this must be done for us, and without expectation of payment of any kind, for we have no money to buy what we need and He has.
We know that the One who purchased these things for us is Christ Jesus. We know this promise extends beyond the Jews to all people (5) who, hearing the word, seek the Lord (6).
The everlasting covenant (3) is the Covenant of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The grace of God will accomplish the salvation of His people as surely as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven (10). God’s word will accomplish it, and not return unto Him void, or without accomplishing His will (11). The word of God refers to the word which came to the prophet Isaiah. All that God has said about the captivity and release from Babylon will happen as God has foretold. In a broader sense, the word includes all of the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16). In its fullest sense, the word is Jesus Christ. He is the full revelation of God because He is God. He is the word become flesh.
The only proper response to the grace of God is shown in verse 7: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord.” Sacrifices and ceremonies without true faith and obedience are meaningless to God. He demands the whole person.
Isaiah. 56 continues the message of God’s grace and forgiveness. But His mercy is not confined to the Jews alone. His House is a house of prayer for all people. “Whosoever will may come” to Him and find mercy and hope and peace and forgiveness.
Verses 9-12 turn from the future hope to the sins of the past. The contrast serves to emphasise the fallenness of man and the holiness of God. This contrast also emphasises man’s need and God’s provision. Man hungers, but has no money to buy bread (55:1). God gives bread as a gift of His grace.
The Jews were like a person being eaten by wild beasts (9). Their leaders were unable to see the dangers into which they were taking the Jews. They were like blind men charged with the task of watching for enemies (10), or watchdogs that cannot bark to warn of intruders.
Even worse, they were like greedy dogs fighting over food, and the Jews were the food (11). Each dog wanted the most and best parts of the carcass. Thus, Judah’s rulers saw the people only as something to be consumed to satisfy their greed and lusts, not people whose rights and liberties they were duty bound to defend. The shepherds who do not understand are leaders who do not know where they are going. They don’t know the way to green pastures and still waters. Therefore, their actions and policies harm the sheep, and fleece the flock for personal gain. They are like men whose habitual condition is drunkenness. Therefore, they are unfit and unable to fulfill their duties. Surely most of the shepherds of most of the nations in most of the eras of human history can be described this way.
Is. 57, Acts 25
Is. 58, 1 Jn. 3
Verse 1 opens the chapter with some of the most profound words in the Old Testament. It talks about the death of the righteous and merciful person, which is ignored by those who cause his death. They do not know that the righteous dead are at peace in God (2), and are spared from the “the evil to come,” which the wicked will be see and by which they will be afflicted. God’s grace will abound to the righteous, but the wicked are troubled like the sea. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
Isaiah is allowed to see a dim shadow of the state of God’s people after life on earth is over. He does not see death as the ironic end of life in an upside down world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. He sees it as rest for the righteous, but trouble for the wicked. The righteous will be at peace, but there is no peace for the wicked, even in death.
One of ancient Israel’s worst sins is more of an idea than an action. It is the idea that God is completely satisfied with the outward motions of sacrifices and fasts, and cares nothing about they way a person lives, or the thoughts and values of the inner being. Therefore, while they appear to seek God daily through the outward forms of religion, such as fasting (2, 3) and keeping minute rules about the Sabbath (13, 14) they are not really seeking God at all. They are like many hypocrites today, who go to church religiously, but mistreat and oppress others habitually through the week, and whose worship is all about themselves instead of God (4). God has no pleasure in such people (5). Instead, He encourages His people to do good, rather than harm, to others (7). Such people will be blessed by God, and will see the waste places and foundations rebuilt (12).
The waste places are the areas of Judah and Jerusalem leveled and depopulated by Babylon. In another sense they are the lives of people under the destructive power of sin; and they are the world, now, under the power of the evil one. One day they will see the Lord return in power. On that day sin and evil will be broken forever, and the New Heaven and New Earth will be given by Christ to His faithful people.
Is. 59, Acts 26
Is. 60, 1 Jn. 4
The Christmas season is one of the highlights of the year, and is made even more precious as we follow the daily Bible readings. Today we read again about why we need the Saviour. Verse 2 goes right to the heart of our need by telling us we all have a problem with God. Our problem is not that God is unable or unwilling to do good to us, but that our sins have separated us from Him. Fallen humanity, and some Christians also, blame God for the mess of the world. Because God does not give world peace, personal affluence, freedom from disease, and a general happiness, they conclude He either does not care, does not hear their prayers, or is unable to do anything about their problems or desires. Such people impose two contradictory demands upon God. First, they demand total freedom to choose their own way and shape their own destinies. Second, they expect God to force all others to act in accordance with general principles of goodness, so they can live in peace. They refuse to see that their own sin is the cause of their separation from God, and that they themselves have contributed greatly to the general malaise of life on planet earth.
Because of sin, judgment and wrath have come upon all people. Isaiah addresses first the people of Judah and their situation when the Babylonians come upon them in bloody and murderous conquest. But the principle is true of all nations, all peoples, and all individuals. We live in a world of sorrows because our sins have made it so. The human race is naturally reaping what we have sown, and it is important that we see that sin has consequences for us in this world as well as in eternity. Yet there is hope. God has not deserted us, nor has He abandoned His plan to save His people. "The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression" (20). Throughout the Bible we see God working out His plan of salvation. He called Abraham to be the father of a new people. To them He gave His Commandments and His Word. Through them He sent the Messiah. He came not for Israel alone, but for all who will receive Him as their Saviour and their God. The descendants of Abraham were not always faithful to God. More often than not, they were like sheep straying from the protection of the Shepherd and away from the safety of the Fold. Though God allowed them to reap the bitter fruit of sin, He did not abandon them. In the fullness of time the Saviour came to purchase their forgiveness and to call both Jews and Gentiles into His Kingdom and Church. By His grace He overcame our sin, and even now He is working in the lives of His people to prepare us to be with Him in Heaven forever. The surprise is not that we suffer hardship and troubles in this world. The surprise is that God has not abandoned us to destruction and hell. The surprise is that He came in grace to redeem us.
When Isaiah speaks of God coming to the Gentiles, he sometimes means in wrath, or a combination of wrath and mercy, as in Isaiah 66. But Isaiah 60 is about God’s pure grace given to Gentiles as well as Jews. The passage is addressed first to the Jews, naturally. It tells of a great darkness that is upon the whole earth. The darkness represents the moral and spiritual condition of people who do not “see” their sins or their ignorance. This is true of both Jew and Gentile.
Yet God says, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” The prophet has foretold many sad tidings to his people. He has told them of their continuing refusal to hear the Word of God and turn from their sins. He has told them that even now they reject the word of God and remain in their rebellion and rejection of God. He has told them that, in faithfulness to His Word, God is going to bring the Covenant curses upon them. (We must always remember that the Covenant with Israel contained both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. God will faithfully uphold both parts of it (Dt. 11:27 & 28)). He has told them of the coming destruction of their land and of the suffering of their people in military conquest and captivity. This is also part of the darkness referred to in 60:2. But God will arise upon them in Light. He is rising already, even before the dark days of conquest and captivity, for He has sent Isaiah to give them a chance to repent. He has also sent good tidings through the prophet, for a major part of Isaiah’s message is that God will not be angry with the Jews forever. He will forgive them and bring them back to Jerusalem, and give them another chance to love Him and to live in His blessing.
The Light of the Messiah is rising upon the Jews. The plan laid before the foundation of the world, by which the Saviour will come into the world to save His people from their sins and to establish His Kingdom as the fulfillment of all the promises made to humankind through the nation of Israel, is rising even in the time of Isaiah, who gives a clearer picture of it than was yet seen in Old Testament times. Christ is the Light, the Lord rising on Israel, whose glory “shall be seen upon thee” (60:2). Even the Gentiles “shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” (3).
December 25, Christmas Day
At last the Day arrives. Only, its not “day,” it is “night.” Nor is the King of Kings born in a palace, but in an animal shed. The Good News of His birth is not announced to Caesar, or even to Herod. It is announced to shepherds and Gentiles. Thanks be to God that the Good News has come to us. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.”
Collect Prayer for Christmas Morning
“Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.”
~ 1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 96
Collect Prayer for Christmas Evening
“O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thine only Son Jesus Christ; Grant that as we joyfully receive Him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold Him when He shall come to be our Judge, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.”
~1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 98
December 26, St. Stephen
Our attention is immediately drawn from the birth of the Saviour to the cost of following Him. Stephen is the first Christian martyr, whose death reminds us that being a Christian is not just about going to Heaven or having a wonderful life. It is an absolute and life-long commitment to observing all the commandments of God, and being faithful unto death. The murder of Stephen begins the persecution of the Church, which continues unto this day. Acts 8:1-4 tells us the persecution in Jerusalem became so severe that all Christians, except the Apostles, fled from the city. But the persecution followed them, with governmental blessings. Saul was probably only one of many sent to capture Christians and bring them to Jerusalem to die (Acts 9:1).
From the martyrdom of Stephen, and countless other Christians, we see that becoming a Christian is not something we do to improve our self esteem, or to enhance our quality of life. We become Christians because we owe God absolute love and obedience. We become Christians because Christianity is true. We become Christians because we have been made to understand we were living in rebellion and sin against God, and because we want to turn away from sin and begin to do what is right. We become Christians because it is the right thing to do. All other considerations are secondary, at best.
Stephen’s martyrdom makes us think we spend too much time and energy today inviting people to become Christians so they can go to Heaven, or to come to church to have a good time and make new friends, or telling people God is going to bless them with the comforts and luxuries of the world. Perhaps we talk about these things because we don’t like to think about the cost of following Christ, and people don’t want to hear about persecution, and service, and being faithful unto death. Stephen’s short time as a Christian was spent in prayer, worship, and service to God’s people. He was faithful in these things, even as his enemies murdered him. Perhaps the Church should talk, and think, more about Stephen and less about feeling good about ourselves.
Collect Prayer for St. Stephen’s Day
“Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings here upon earth for the testimony of thy truth, we may steadfastly look up to Heaven, and by faith behold thy glory that shall be revealed; and being filled with the Holy Ghost, may learn to love and bless our persecutors by the example of thy first Martyr Saint Stephen, who prayed for his murderers to thee, O blessed Jesus, who standest at the right hand of God to succour all those who suffer for thee, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
~1928 Book of Common Prayer, page 99
December 15, 2015
Is. 39, Acts 18:1-17
Is. 40, 1 Peter 1
Merodach-baladin, son of the king of Babylon, is a spy. His father has sent him to Hezekiah under the guise of friendship, with a gift because he heard he was sick. In reality, the Babylonians are attempting to learn about Judah’s defenses and wealth. This will enable Baladin to assess what kind of ally, or enemy, Judah could be in time of war. At this time, Babylon is still under the shadow of Assyria, but after Sennacharib’s murder by his sons, there is a period of unrest in the Empire, and Babylon intends to gradually become strong enough to take it from Assyria. Israel, has recently fallen to the Assyrians, and the Babylonians know Judah wants an ally. They know Judah will eventually look to Egypt again, but hope they can convince Hezekiah, or his heir, to join them against Assyria.
Hezekiah welcomes Merodach, and shows him everything. He probably knows the Babylonians’ real intent, and may be considering an alliance with them. He is making the same old mistake of trusting in allies, who only want to use him, rather than in God, who only wants to bless him.
God tells Hezekiah, through Isaiah, that the Babylonians he welcomed so openly, will, one day conquer Judah and sack Jerusalem (6, 7). Apparently Hezekiah realises this will not happen in his lifetime (8). His words do not mean he does not care about the future generations. He simply recognises that the sentence is just because of his, and his nation’s, sin of not trusting God. Unfortunately, though Hezekiah has previously been a good king, there is no sign of repentance in his words. Had he repented, and led the people to repent, God surely would have forgiven them.
My mind always hears these verses sung to the music of Handel’s Messiah. Though more than a hundred years in the future, from Hezekiah’s time, the word of the coming destruction of Jerusalem must be devastating to him. The entire nation shares the sins that will bring God’s wrath, but Hezekiah probably blames himself for the coming disaster. Therefore, the Father of all mercies, sends words of comfort to him and all Judah.
God allows Isaiah to see beyond the Assyrian crisis, and beyond the Babylonian exile, to the restored Jerusalem. The words, much like the book of Revelation, are intended to strengthen the faith of God’s people during the trying times of conquest and exile. Their city will be destroyed, their people murdered, and their Temple leveled. They will be forcibly taken from their homes to dwell in a foreign land, where they will sometimes face persecution and death. But the time of tribulation will not last forever. God will return them to Jerusalem, and enable them to rebuild their city and their lives. More importantly, He will give them another opportunity to return to the Covenant and be the people of God. This is their only true hope. Therefore, God tells the prophet, “comfort ye my people.”
Verse 2 tells the Jews they can find comfort, even in the conquest and in Babylon. “Her warfare is accomplished.” The time of war and conquest will end. More importantly, God will no longer be at war with her. Her iniquity is pardoned.
Verses 3-5 are about her return to Jerusalem. God will make provisions for the Jews, and strengthen them for the journey. Though it is a dangerous and strenuous trip, the Lord will enable them to make it. It will be as though He sends a messenger into the wilderness to prepare the way, and the way of His people is as the way of the Lord. He will make the desert a highway, as though every mountain is lowered, every valley (ravine) is raised up, and every rough and rocky place will be made plain and smooth. This promise, like God Himself, will not pass away nor fail (8).
One of the most beautiful verses in this chapter says “He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd” (11). It pictures an of Divine love and providence leading His silly, needy, and wandering “sheep” back to Jerusalem like a Good Shepherd leading His flock. The prophets make many references to the shepherds of Israel, and to their failures and sins against God and His people. But God is not like them. He is the Good Shepherd who carries the lambs and gently leads those that are with young.
It is no wonder that our Lord uses these verses to identify His ministry (Jn. 10:1-18). He came to take His people to the New Jerusalem. He came to prepare the way for us, and gently lead His flock. He Himself is the way to the Promised Land (Jn. 14:16).
Verses 12-31 are a hymn of faith, based on the revelation of God’s power and glory. They show that He is able and willing to accomplish what He promises. Therefore, let His people wait for the fulfillment of them. Let them continually look for their fulfillment by living in the hope and faith that the fulfillment will come. Verse 31 appropriately closes the chapter with a vision of the comfort of those who receive God’s word and live in His hope. Their strength (faith) is renewed, they mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.
Is. 41, Acts 18:18-28
Is. 42, 1 Pet. 2
Still looking forward to the restoration of the Jews, chapter 41 continues to encourage them to have faith in God through their trials. Isaiah is told of a righteous man from the east, to whom the nations are given to rule (2, 3). The man is Cyrus, the Persian king, who conquers Babylon and sends the Jews back to Jerusalem with gifts and money to rebuild the city and Temple. But, who has raised up this man and given the nations to him? The Lord, the first and last.
He has not cast away His people (9). He will strengthen them (10) and confound their enemies (11). He will provide for them (14-19). He will do it all for this worm Jacob (14), which has no power to do them for itself, so all may know it has been accomplished for him by God (20).
God challenges the nations to show another god who can do what He does (21-29). Let the gods lead their people against the Jews. Let them defeat them, so all may know their power. It is as though He is challenging the gods of the nations to a duel. But none accept the challenge because they do not exist. Their works are vanity, nothing. Their images are wind and confusion.
The Jewish people believe the Servant in Isaiah 42 is the remnant of Jews who survived the Babylonian Captivity and returned to Jerusalem to carry on their calling as the people of God. In one sense they are right. In another sense, no mere human person or group of people is able to do and be the things expected of the Servant in the book of Isaiah. Yes, it is true that Isaiah spoke to the situation at hand, and that his words had meaning to that time and place. It is also true that he foresaw things far ahead of his own time, and that he told the people about them also. In this sense Isaiah’s work was much like that of the Apostle John writing the book of Revelation.
Thus, the Servant is ultimately none other than Christ, the Word become flesh. In verse 1 Christ brings judgment to the Gentiles. They have abandoned His law, and lived for the fulfillment of their sinful desires. They knew the will of God, but lived in sin by their own choice (Rom. 1:18-2:1). The Jews have also sinned, and are equally worthy of God’s wrath. This point is made clear in verses 17-25. But the Lord is gracious. He will not harm the tiniest faith though it is no stronger than a bruised reed or a smoking flax barely able to smolder. This grace is for Jew and Gentile alike, and verse 6 tells us Christ is the Light of the Gentiles. His mission to open the eyes of the blind and to bring us out of the prison and darkness of sin and hell, (42:7), is for all people.
Is. 43, Acts 19:1-20
Is. 44, 1 Pet. 3
The Holy One of Israel (3), who is the Lord and Saviour, reiterates His intentions of grace and mercy to the Jews (1-7). They will be moved from their homes and forced to dwell in a foreign land. As Isaiah writes these words, the northern kingdom of Israel has already been captured and scattered to various places in the Assyrian Empire. But God will free a remnant of them to return to their homeland (5-7).
Verses 8-13 send a challenge from God to the Gentile nations and their gods. Let them bear witness to the mighty acts of their idols, if they can (8). The challenge takes for granted that wood and stones carved into images have never accomplished anything for anyone. It is God who raises up nations, and casts them down again, according to His purpose. Israel is His witness to this (10). There is no other God, now, or ever. The closing words of verse 10 do not mean there was a time when God did not exist, or will be a future time when He does not exist. The point made here is that God exists from eternity to eternity, therefore, it is impossible that any other god ever existed before Him, will exist after Him, or can exist while He lives.
Verse 14 begins another series of threats against Babylon. Though the fall of Babylon is far in the future from Isaiah’s time, God speaks of it as an accomplished feat, as though it has already happened. The decrees of God will happen as He says. This is so certain, their accomplishment can be stated as though already completed. God brought the horse and chariot of the Babylonians to conquer Judah. But He will make them lie down in death, under the sword of another (17). The desert, the river, and the wild beasts will honour God (19, 20).
The Jews, too, will honour God (21). In spite of God’s mighty acts on their behalf, the Jews have not honoured Him as they should. Not calling upon God (22) refers to the neglect of prayer, which equals the neglect of God. The Jews, like some Christians, often thought the mere recitation of prayers, and the mechanical offering of sacrifices, is all God wants. So they were often very diligent about them. At other times they did not even try to keep up the appearance of Godliness by prayer and sacrifice. In Babylon, sacrifices were impossible, but prayer was not, yet the people neglected it. Their whole attitude toward God was marked by indifference and neglect.
The chapter continues to rebuke the Jews for neglecting God. It ends with the conclusion that such sins are what caused God to profane the princes of the sanctuary, meaning He allowed the Temple to be destroyed and the priests to be forced to stop offering the sacrifices (28).
God addresses the nation as though He is speaking to the man, Jacob. He formed the nation as surely as He formed Jacob in the womb. He chose the people of Israel over the Gentiles as surely as He chose Jacob over Esau. “Jesurun” (2) means righteous. Israel is accepted as righteous only because God justifies the nation and forgives its many sins. Ultimately, forgiveness is only possible because God bears our sins on the cross of Christ.
God warns the people not to return to idolatry in verses 6-20. Easily led into idolatry by the Canaanites, they have also accepted the idolatrous religions of their captors in Babylon. In contrast to the idols, God gave them over to their blindness (18), and will also blot out their transgressions (22). The point being made is the singular existence of God. There are no other gods, therefore, the Jews must not fall into idolatry again.
Is. 45, Acts 19:21-41
Is. 46, 1 Pet. 4
Few places in the Old Testament set forth God’s mercy and hope to the Gentiles as clearly as Isaiah 45:20-25. “[Y]e that are escaped of the nations” (45:20) could refer to Jews who have survived their conquest and captivity by Babylon, or Gentiles who survive their own conquests by other nations. Either way, and, both ways, their God given task is to proclaim the grace of God to all people. Jews and Gentiles have been worshiping idols that cannot save (45:20). God has told them that was so. He has proved it by allowing them to be conquered in spite of their prayers to idols. The survivors, Jew and Gentile, are to bring their brethren near so they may know there is no God but God and no Saviour but Him (45:21).
One of the most glorious verses in all of Scripture is found in this chapter. It does not get the attention given to verses in chapters 7, or 9, or 53, but it is glorious none the less. It is verse 22, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God and there is none else.”
Still enabled to look beyond the captivity to the fall of the captors, Isaiah sees the destruction of the Babylonian idols as symbolic of the future victory of God over all enemies and all false religions. Nebo (1) is not the mountain from which Moses saw the promised land. It, along with Bel, is one of the primary idols of the Babylonians. When Babylon conquered Judah, it destroyed the Temple of the Lord and took the holy Temple furnishings to Babylon as plunder. God is saying He will plunder of the Babylonian temples through the Persians. Bowing down refers to the idols being removed from the temples. It is as though the idols are forced to bow to God. Being upon beasts, means they are transported in carts and on beasts of burden to Persia, where their gold and silver are melted into trinkets for the Persians. Verse 2 shows the inability of the gods to deliver their images from the conquerors. They are unable to rescue their images because they do not exist. They “themselves are gone into captivity.”
They are also unable to rescue Babylon from the Persians. By contrast, God foretells Israel’s deliverance from Babylon more than a hundred years before the Babylonians even become an empire. This shows that He allows the captivity of the Jews, and He frees them by His own power and decree. This shows that the Babylonian captivity and release are not simply random events; they are part of the pre-determined plan of God.
God compares His care of Israel to a mother caring for her child. She carries the child first in her womb, and, later in her arms. But, unlike a mother, God continues to carry Israel into manhood, old age, and forever (3, 4).
Verses 5-7 contrast God with the idols of Babylon. They are made by human hands (6) and carried to the temples (7). Once set in place they are as unable to move themselves as they are unable to save those who call on them for help. But God is too vast and great to be represented in the works of human hands. He moves where and when He wills, and holds the nations in His hand.
Thus, God calls upon the Jews to remember Him. He is God; there is no other (9). He declares the end from the beginning (10), and calls the ravenous bird from the east (11) which is Cyrus of Persia, who executes God’s counsel of conquering Babylon and releasing the Jews. “Hearken unto Me” God says in verse 12. “I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry.”
Is. 47, Acts 20:1-16
Is. 48, 1 Pet. 5
Babylon is compared to a virgin princess and a royal lady (1, 7), accustomed to soft living and people fawning at her throne. But her throne will be taken from her when the Persians conquer the empire. She will sit in the dust. Her fine clothing will be taken from her (3). Like most countries of that era, Babylon stripped her enemies, and marched them into the city, where they were often publicly executed. God says she will be stripped and marched out of the city to sit in the dust in disgrace. The rivers (2) are the Tigris and Euphrates, signifying that the Babylonians will be removed from their homes and transported to other areas.
Trusting in her wickedness (10) is the very heart of her sin. She built her empire on blood and oppression. Her wealth was stolen from her conquered peoples. She neither sought God, nor attempted to live by the principles of righteousness and justice. Her success filled her with such conceit she said of herself what can only truly be said of God; “I am, and none else beside me” (10). Though her religious leaders predict continued success, they will be as stubble burned in the fire (12, 13). The desolation of brutal and complete conquest predicted by God, will come upon Babylon, and she will be unable to prevent it (11).
God turns to the people of Israel, saying, “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel.” God says Israel is come out of the waters, or fountain, of Judah. This refers to Israel seceding from Judah to form its own nation (1 Kings 12:16-24). Solomon’s tyranny, which his son vowed to multiply as king, was the reason for Israel’s secession. But Israel did not follow God any better than Judah, nor did her shepherds lead her into the ways of God (1 Kings 12:25-33). Ahab and Jezebel, who murdered Naboth and stole his vineyard using their power as king and queen of Israel, were particularly known for idolatry and human rights violations. Yet they were only part of a stream of wicked rulers in Israel. The people were generally no better. God says the Israelites “make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (1). In other words, their faith was as false as the faith of their rulers and false prophets.
Because of Israel’s idolatry, the people will attribute Assyria’s conquest by Babylon to the will of their idols. Therefore, God is declaring the events before they happen (3-8). Though Israel’s original desire to escape the persecution of the abusive king of Judah was legitimate, the Israelites and their kings did not seek God. Instead they followed idolatry and wickedness from the beginning. As God says, they were transgressors from the womb, meaning the very beginning of their establishment as a nation.
If they had sought God in truth and righteousness, they would have been guided and protected by God Himself (17-19). Even now God calls them to return to Him, promising to deliver them from the Chaldeans (Babylon) and bless them as they live by His word and Covenant. His call also contains a caveat: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.”
Is. 49, Acts 20:17-38
Is. 50, 2 Pet. 1
Israel, in this chapter, refers to Judah and Israel as one people, calling it the servant of God (3). It is promised that God will be glorified by it. The people will be restored to their homeland, and their restoration will be a light to the Gentiles showing the glory and grace of God, “that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth” (6). Verses 8-26 foretell the restoration of Israel to the land God gave her. The captives of verse 25 are the Jews and Israelites. The “mighty” is the Babylonian Empire, which will rule both Israel and Judah. God will contend with Babylon, meaning He will fight for His people and deliver them from Babylon. He will deliver the children of His people. Then “all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thyRedeemer, the mighty One of Israel.”
Like much of Isaiah, and the Old Testament, this passage foreshadows things far greater than the release of Israel from Babylon, or the witness to the power of God the Gentiles will see in their release. It looks to the inclusion of Gentiles into the Kingdom of God through the Messiah. The New Testament makes it clear that Gentile believers are grafted into the Kingdom, and, in Christ, the former distinction between Jew and Gentile is no more (Rom. 11:17, Col. 3:11). Acts 13:47 applies this passage to Paul’s preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. Salvation was never meant for the Jews alone. They were always intended to be a light to the Gentiles, bringing them into the Kingdom of God and the expectation of the Saviour and Messiah. The true light to the Gentiles is Christ, and the true Kingdom of Christ on earth is the Church. Christ brings both Jews and Gentiles into the Church through the New Testament in His blood.
Chapter 50 begins a series of wonderful oracles about the Suffering Servant, culminating in the stunning words of chapter 53. The chapters are so obviously Christ centered it is difficult to think about their meaning to the Jews of Isaiah’s time, who are being told they will suffer conquest and oppression, yet will be delivered from their captivity and returned to their homeland. Back in Jerusalem, they will have yet another opportunity to live according to the Covenant given by God.
The chapter begins with assurance that God has not divorced the Jews, nor sold them to be another’s slaves (1). In verse 2 the chapter turns to the mysterious Servant of God, and His suffering on behalf of His people. The people of Jerusalem are probably completely unaware of the identity of the Servant. During and after the Babylonian captivity, the Jews attempted to identify themselves with the suffering ascribed to the Servant. To them, Israel is the servant of God (Is. 49:3), and the chapters describe her suffering at the hand of the Gentiles. In their minds, they suffered for the sins of all of Israel. Whatever the merits of this view, it cannot exhaust the meaning of the Servant, nor can the Jews’ suffering, accomplish the purification described here. Thus, even the Jews began to vaguely understand that the passage refers to the Messiah and His work. Those familiar with the crucifixion of Christ, recorded in the Gospels, have no difficulty understanding that the Servant, ultimately, is Christ, and His suffering is His sacrificial death for our sins.
Is. 51, Acts 21
Is. 52, 2 Pet. 2
God, who made a great nation out of Abraham and Sarah (2), is able to comfort His people. In Isaiah’s time, that comfort is promised in the form of returning the Jews to their homeland and blessing them abundantly in the land. In typical Hebraic style, these blessings are represented as making the dry, desert places verdant like Eden (3). His law will be known, and His judgements will bring justice to the land like a light in the darkness (4, 5).
The deliverance from Babylon looks ahead to the complete renewal of the creation. The heavens, meaning the created universe, will vanish away like smoke (6) The earth will wear out like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die. But the end of the cosmos is only the beginning of the full revelation and glory of the New Heaven and New Earth God will give to His people. Therefore, the Jews are encouraged to harken to God (7), awake, and put on strength (9). Their knowledge of the deliverance from Babylon, and their final deliverance from this fallen and corrupt world, should give them strength to endure the trials of life, even the horrible conquest of their homeland and city.
Since God is their deliverer, they need not fear any mere man (12). Oppressors, like Babylon, will not last. But the Jews do fear men. Because they have turned from God, they they drink the dregs of God’s fury (17), and have no one to guide them (18). They are afflicted and drunk with the wrath of God (20). Yet, God promises to remove the cup that makes them drunk and helpless with His wrath (22). In that day, He will give that cup to their enemies (23).
The Jews are now exhorted to rejoice. They are to put on their best clothes and shake themselves out of the dust. They were once slaves in Egypt, and the Assyrians have oppressed them without cause (4). Their oppressors have blasphemed God. But God will make His name known to them, and His people, by releasing them. The “gospel,” or, good news, refers first to the news of the release from Babylon and the renewal of Israel. But it is also the news of the ultimate renewal of the earth spoken of in chapter 51:6-9. The renewed earth must be populated by renewed people, and people are renewed by the work of God through Jesus Christ. Thus the good news is the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:15). It is through Him that sins are forgiven, souls are renewed, and the world will be brought fully and finally under the visible dominion of God.
The watchmen (8) are those who look for and tell of the coming deliverance. In the Old Testament they were the priests and prophets. Today they are the pastor/teachers of the Church. The proper response to their message is faith and joy. But Redemption will not be accomplished without suffering. Christ, the Servant of God, marred more than any man because He suffered the wrath of God for our sins, pays for our sins by His own blood. And His salvation will be given to people of all nations (13-15).