For the Glory of God

DSCN0790Isaiah 42:5, 8-9

“We need to see first and foremost that God is God—that he is perfect and complete in himself, that he is overflowingly happy in the eternal fellowship of the Trinity, and that he does not need us to complete his fullness and is not deficient without us. Rather, we are deficient without him; the all-sufficient glory of God, freely given in fellowship through his sacrificed Son, is the stream of living water that we have thirsted for all our lives” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, pp. 18-19, his emphasis). Obviously, what Dr. Piper writes—and more importantly, what the Bible teaches, is completely at odds with the so-called wisdom of mankind and all its ideas, attitudes, words, and actions. Yet only in the glorious God can defeated, debauched, and dying people find real hope. The truth revealed in these verses serves to exalt God’s Servant as Matchless Redeemer, and so this brings more glory to God. This is the best thing that can happen to people, because when we know the glory of God in Christ, then we can enjoy eternal life and all the overflow of his glory to us.

In our previous articles on this passage, we saw that verses 5-9 of Isaiah 42 are a unit, put together something like a sandwich. And we have already considered the innards of the sandwich, the great Servant of the Lord and what he does. But the outside, the “bread” of the sandwich is just as important and provides us with a clear view of the glory or value or shining brilliance of the Lord God.

God identifies himself as the Sovereign Creator (Isaiah 42:5). We hear three couplets in which God describes his creative acts. First, the Lord God talks about his creation of the heavens. In Biblical thought, God’s creation of the vast, spectacular heavens reveals his majesty in a special way (cf. Psalm 19:1-6). Anyone in their right mind who looks at the sun, moon, and stars, and ponders their immensity and the great display of light connected with them begins to wonder. A sense of awe strikes them. And when we think from a Biblical perspective that the Almighty God made them all, we are humbled and stirred to worship. Also when we think of heaven, we think of the place that speaks of God’s throne (Matthew 5:34), of his absolute rule over everything (Daniel 4:25-26). God’s throne was made by God alone. His sovereignty flows from his most excellent being.

Second, God talks about his creation of the earth. He made the earth; in poetic language, he spread it out, like he was unrolling a map. Picture it, as God spread it out. “Hmm, let’s put a large inland sea in the midst of three continents, and while we’re at it, let’s have two large continents cut off from the others by two mighty oceans. Now, where should we draw the rivers? And mountains, hills, and valleys can also show our glory!” God also made what comes out of the earth, like vegetation and animals. To use our picture again: “And we need to make fertile places from which people can get food and build their civilizations. And let’s give them animals and their environment to rule over wisely; then they can reflect our glory in the way they live. When they are wise, caring rulers of creation, they will show our surpassing glory.”

The Sovereign God talks about his creation of people. God created people, too. He made mankind, men and women, to bear his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). This is what gives every person value and significance. This also means that we must respect everyone (James 3:9-10). This is why every word we speak must be spoken in order to build others up (Ephesians 4:29).

Someone might object, “But there is so much that is wrong with that person’s attitudes, words, and actions!” I answer, “Perhaps that is true, but we’re talking about how you must please the Lord. You please him by building others up by your words. And if you can’t think about how you can do that while you disagree with them, then clearly you ought not to get in conversations with them until you learn how to talk godly and wisely.” God gives life and breath to all people. Therefore, all are dependent on him! And it should generate a great deal of holy reverence when we realize that the God to whom we must all give account has such total control over our lives.

All this is not isolated truth; we should admire it, learn it and submit to it. Here, God tells us this in order that we might exalt God’s Servant, who is our covenant and liberator. The Sovereign Creator’s power was displayed in his Son. We are wise to submit to him by living for his glory.

Grace and peace, David

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Christ Our Covenant (Part 3)

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Isaiah 42:7

God tells his purpose for his Servant’s mission. The Father sent his Son to give sight to the blind. One of the great needs of mankind is to be healed of spiritual blindness (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; cf. John 9:35-41). When Jesus gave sight to the blind (Mark 10:46-52; John 9:1-5), it was evidence that he was the Messiah and able to give both physical and spiritual sight (Isaiah 35:4-6; Luke 7:18-23).

The Messiah came to give liberty to those in bondage. People live in spiritual bondage, unaware of the chains of darkness that bind them (John 8:34; 2 Tm 2:26). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy and set people free (John 8:36; Galatians 5:1). All this was accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:17-21; 7:18-23; Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 3:17). We become part of God’s purpose to set people free (Ac 13:47; 26:18).

We must think seriously about spiritual bondage. Many people are enslaved by various things:

  • Some are in bondage to pleasure. Their life is a constant pursuit of the next high, whether from food, sex, alcohol, the sights and sounds of casinos, bars, or video games, etc.
  • Some are in bondage to the need to feel in control. What can they do to make it seem that life will go their way? Some become obsessive-compulsive, others pour their lives into politics (that is not why everyone is in politics, but it is why some are), others must watch the news endlessly, thinking that by knowing what some talking head says, they have a little better grip on their lives, etc.
  • Some are in bondage to the past. They look upon it as the time when they were happy, so they desperately try to create the illusion that the past is still present and will be their future. Those were the glory days, and they constantly hug their trophies or keepsakes. Others are in bondage to the past in another way. There is some “big sin” they committed or that was committed against them. They feel that God can never forgive them, or that they are morally filthy, because someone abused them for their evil pleasure. Everyday their past haunts them. They do not rejoice in the Lord.
  • Some are in bondage to fear. Oh, their fears might not be as extreme as the fears of some, but their lives are ruled by the desire to feel safe. Some build shelters and hoard food and water to feel safe. (I wonder if they have a tank to protect their stuff.) Some build shelters of various kinds around their children, supposing that if they can keep their children within their sphere of protection, all will always be well. Some have been hurt and never want to be hurt again, so they build walls around their hearts. Some seek protection from God, because they have never trusted him. They try to buy God off by rituals, going to church, reading their Bibles, praying, spiritual disciplines, and/or doing good works.

What kind of bondage are you in today? My friends, only the Lord Jesus Christ can set you free. This is the good news. Christ, the Son of God is able to set people free! Do you understand that Christ can be your new and better covenant with God? In Christ, you know the Lord, God becomes your God and Father, and forgives your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Has the Lord Jesus Christ given you spiritual sight? Do you see that he is your salvation? Has he set you free from sin and its partner, death? Today, you may have light, life and liberty in the Lord Jesus Christ. Turn from the ways of darkness and death. Trust in Christ alone for salvation, for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10).

Grace and peace, David

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Christ Our Covenant (Part 2)

E67272F0-E623-42C4-92EC-1864B7C445DDGod explains his mission for his Servant (Isaiah 42:6b). The Father called his Servant to be a covenant for the people. A Biblical covenant that God makes is a solemn agreement between God and people to provide rescue for them and/or a relationship with them. The core of the covenant varies according to the covenant made. The core of the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, and David were God’s promises to each one. The first two had signs—something that testified to the reality of the covenant. The covenant with Noah had the sign of the rainbow and the one with Abraham had the sign of circumcision. The core of the law or old covenant was the law written on tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments. Its sign was the Sabbath (Exodus 31:12-18).

The core of the new or better covenant is a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Note carefully that Christ is the covenant (cf. Isaiah 49:8) as well as its Messenger (Malachi 3:1) and Mediator (Hebrews 9:15). Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, himself is the fulfillment of all that comes before him, and so we read here that he himself is the covenant. “In Christ alone my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song, This Cornerstone, this solid ground Firm through the fiercest drought and storm…” (Getty and Townend). The sign or evidence that a person is in the new covenant is the reception of the Holy Spirit when he or she believes in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38).

God also called his Son to be a light for the nations (Gentiles). Notice carefully that not only does Christ bring light (Ephesians 5:13-14), but that he himself is the light (John 8:12; 9:5), as he is the covenant. Some have balked at the idea that Christ is the covenant. But that should give them no more concern than the truth that Jesus is the light for the nations. “Light” is a figurative way of saying “salvation” (Isaiah 49:6b). Matthew points this out in the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:16-17). Christ’s mission has a worldwide significance: “to the nations”. The people who are in covenant (“in Christ”) will include not only the believing Jews but believers from all nations (Ephesians 2:11-22; etc.) Read Jesus’ words (Luke 24:44-47).

Since Christ is our covenant and light, we have salvation in him. We have our relationship with God in him and through him. How can we be sure that we can draw near to God? Christ is our covenant relationship with God. How can we be certain of salvation? Christ is our light. If you are struggling about your relationship with God or with assurance of your salvation, refocus on Christ our covenant and light (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2).

Grace and peace, David

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Christ Our Covenant

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Isaiah 42:6-7

I really enjoy a good Reuben sandwich; in fact, I like to make them. But a good Reuben sandwich can be hard to find, because often the restaurant or diner cuts various corners that lower the quality of their Reuben. All parts of the sandwich are important, and having the right ingredients and putting them together the right way can dramatically increase the taste of the Reuben. For example, having delicious rye bread is essential. Skimp with the bread, and the sandwich is inferior. But the insides of the sandwich are just as important: quality corned beef, coleslaw, sauerkraut, and homemade Russian dressing. (To use factory made Russian dressing is probably the worst thing you can do to a Reuben sandwich!)

Our text is like a sandwich. The bread is found in verses Isaiah 42:5 and 42:8-9. And we could rightly have started with those verses. But today, I want to focus on the innards of the sandwich, verses six and seven. However, don’t think for a moment that the “bread” is nonessential.

First, God appointed his Servant for a mission (42:6a). God the Father has an active part in the plan of salvation. Though the Bible should be read in a Christ-focused manner, it is thoroughly Trinitarian. In various places in the Bible we see this truth. For example, in 42:1, we saw that the Father is the One who chose the Servant. In John 3:16 we are told that the Father gave his Son so that people who believe in Jesus might be saved. The Father presented his Son as a propitiation (Romans 3:25). And in many places we learn that the Father raised the Son from the dead after his finished sacrifice for sin (Ephesians 1:20; etc.)

Here, the idea is that the Father called his Son “in righteousness” or “for a righteous purpose”. God wants all people to know that his plan of salvation is right. Justice is satisfied and sinful people are justly forgiven and declared right with God when we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us. In addition, since God’s purpose is righteous, it is also wise, good, and loving. This is important, because for anything to be wise, good, or loving, it must first be righteous. All God’s love alone could not have saved us apart from Christ’s propitiation on the cross (Rm 3:25-26).

God the Father guarantees his power to help his chosen Servant in his mission. When God says that he is holding your hand, he is letting you know that he is with you. In this way, the Father watched over the Son up to the cross. After the Son paid the full price for our redemption, the Father was there to receive his spirit (Luke 23:46). Three days later, the Father raised Jesus from the dead! So then, in the psalm of the cross (Psalm 22), we read great words of hope and trust from the Suffering Messiah by way of prophecy.

The Father promised to keep him. And so, after forty days of fierce temptation, the Father sent angels to serve his Servant (Mark 1:13). At Christ’s baptism (Mark 1:11) and transfiguration (Mark 9:7), God owned his Servant as his Son. At the conclusion of the public teaching ministry of Jesus, the Father spoke from heaven to affirm the message of his Son (John 12:27-28). After the resurrection, the Father had him sit at his right, the place of honor. He kept him all the way to glory.

The Father was actively involved in the saving work of his dearly loved Son. The God who made covenants with people is the one who called Christ to be a new and better covenant. He was directly involved in this event. And Jesus did all to glorify the Father (Jn 17:4). Are you honoring the Father for the way of salvation? To honor him, you must first believe or trust in Jesus Christ whom he sent (Jn 17:3). God the Father is close to his Son (John 1:1-2); the only way to get near the Father is through the Son he sent (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:18). The way to nearness to God is through Jesus, the Servant of the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

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On Groundhog’s Day

A very happy Groundhog’s Day to you! And a Happy Birthday to my lovely daughter, Sarah Janelle! I was born near Punxsutawney, PA, and so Groundhog’s Day was always an event in our family, and when Sarah was born on February 2, it became more special. I must admit that our family never made the pilgrimage on Groundhog’s Day to “Punxy” as my grandparents usually called the town. But I did take Sharon and our children there one day, while we were on the way to visit my grandparents, who lived in good old Homer City. There are a lot of towns with different names in that area, including Coral, Black Lick, Commodore, Glen Campbell, which was not named after the singer, and my birthplace of Indiana. Many times when asked, “Where were you born?” I would answer, “In Indiana.” Before I could complete the phrase, they would ask, “What town in Indiana?” But I digress.

Today Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, and so according to legend, “Spring is just around the corner!” This is a rather safe prediction, since the vernal equinox is on March 20 this year. If he had seen it, six more weeks of winter would have been a confident prediction as well. You can do the math.

However, that is not my subject today, but rather it is this: What forecasts do you build your life upon? Most people obsess over weather forecasts and the over-hyped storm warnings that promise even a couple inches of snow or even rain. “Ladies and gentlemen, we might get up to an inch of rain today! For your own safety, please stay inside! This might signal the coming apocalypse!” Okay, I made up the last line, but I’ve heard the middle one too many times. Other people are into horoscopes, card and palm readings, and psychic predictions. Why do people love the forecasts, predictions and prophecies of so-called experts? Could it be we have a problem with fear of the future? What “future fear” are you struggling with this week?

There is a forecast that we ought to pay attention to. It is one of the oldest in human history, beginning with Enoch (Jude 14-15) and confirmed by Christ (Matthew 24:44) and his apostles (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 2 Peter 3:10-13). The Lord Jesus Christ is going to return. He will come to judge his enemies and to rescue his dearly loved people. Are you thinking about that certain future event? If we are wise, we will be ready for it, and living according to it. We do not have to fear it, if we know the King of kings and Lord of lords who is coming to take us to himself.

Grace and peace, David

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The result of the mission of the Servant of the Lord

DSCN0110Isaiah 42:3c, 4b

The Servant established justice. Jesus the Messiah acts in a big theater of operations: “on earth”. For nearly 1800 years, it looked like Jesus was only at work in western Asia, Europe, North America, and northern Africa for a time. Then suddenly, he started to shine his light in other places for about the next 200 years. Now, all around the world people from every tribe and language are coming to the Lord and Savior, Jesus. We live in great days of the progress of the mission. We need to abandon our local, provincial interests and praise the Lord for what he is doing in the world today. Certainly, the darkness is dark, but the true Light is shining and more and more people have received the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6). We should shake off the gloom and get involved in Jesus’ mission, as the early apostles did (Acts 5:41-42; 13:46-52).

Christ told Peter that he would build his church (Mt 16:18). This prophecy expresses that same certainty. His justice will be brought to earth, because God’s appointed goal is to make a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1-2; 22:1-5) to share with his new creation people.

The Servant of the Lord established hope. The idea of the Hebrew word is “to wait” or “to hope”. The word can mean either. Here I think the second is better because of Matthew’s use of hope in his use of the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Isaiah (Matthew 12:21). The islands, the most remote places of the earth, will have hope or confident expectation. The eternal inheritance his people share in him provides them with a certain basis to expect much more than they could have in this world that is destined to pass away. Let us live as people with an eternal destiny ought to live. To be specific, this means that we will need to invest time in setting our thoughts on things above. Reread and meditate on Colossians 3:1-4. This requires us to meditate on what we have in Christ, including what we will surely have in heaven. We must strengthen your heart with these things!

The basis of this is the Servant’s instruction (torah). One of the great truths of the Gospels is that Jesus is the great Prophet or Teacher. His instruction becomes a crucial part of our hope, which restructures our world and life view. We now are to think of ourselves, our lives, and our share eternity with the living God in conformity with Christ’s instruction. Since he is the fulfillment of the old torah, his new torah, given through him and his apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit becomes our torah. He is God’s final revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2); he is the Word or Message. His instruction about God’s saving reign becomes the basis for our hope. He has revealed the Father (John 17:6-8). Believing his message is the way to life (John 5:24). To believe his instruction means the difference between eternal wisdom and eternal foolishness (Matthew 7:24-27). Don’t be foolish! Let’s build our lives on Christ and his instruction!

Grace and peace, David

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How the Servant of the Lord Served

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Isaiah 42:3c-4a

He served faithfully. The Hebrew word used here presents the idea of certainty and dependability. It is used of God’s nature (Exodus 34:6), God’s words (Psalm 119:142), and his rescue and protection of his people (Psalm 91:40). Here it points out that Jesus the Servant of the Lord is faithful to the mission that God the Father gave him. At the end of his earthly ministry he could say that he had completed the work that the Father had given him to do (John 17:4). He faithfully obeyed God by always doing what pleased him, and by being the perfect and final sacrifice for sin. In the same way, Christ will be faithful to his people (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

He endured in the work God gave him to do. He provided his strength for the neediness of the people. The words translated “grow weak” and be “discouraged” in verse four pick up words that are translated “bruised” and “smoldering” in verse three. Though the Servant would have to face the same pressures as his people, he triumphed where we fail. We can see this at various points in the Gospels. Jesus sleeps in the boat while his disciples are filled with fear (Mark 4:38). Jesus has compassion on the crowds when the disciples wanted to send them away (Mark 6:34, 36). Jesus cast out a demon when the disciples couldn’t (Mark 9:25-29). Jesus welcomed the children when the disciples wouldn’t (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus prayed while the disciples slept (Mark 14:32-41). And he conquered the devil and temptation while we often fail (Hebrews 4:15).

He persisted in the face of difficulties. One of the biggest failings all of us have is to become discouraged, depressed, and to quit or want to quit in the face of hardship and opposition. Jesus kept on when the people of his hometown tried to throw him down a cliff (Luke 4:29), when the Jewish religious leaders became critical (Luke 5:21-26), and when all the people of an area asked him to leave (Luke 8:37). Jesus would not quit when people laughed at him (Luke 8:53), when the Samaritans wouldn’t welcome him (Luke 9:53), and when Jerusalem rejected him as king (Luke 13:34). He persevered when only one man said thank you (Luke 17:17), when a prospective convert walked away (Luke 18:23), and when he saw his Father’s house turned into a den of robbers (Luke 19:46). Most of all he endured while he was mocked, beaten, spit on, scourged, crucified, and forsaken by all. Praise God, the Lord Jesus did not grow weak or become discouraged! His love and obedience were so great that he endured all to save us!

This is an excellent time to bow and to ask the victorious Jesus to save you. If you are saved, say “Thank you, Jesus!” We have a strong Savior who sticks with us and who will carry out his work in us (Philippians 1:6). Approach your life situation today with faith in him. Make Christ’s way of serving the Lord part of the way in which you look at your life. “Yes, this ____________ is happening to me, but the Lord Jesus is faithful, endures, and persists in his grace to me.”

Grace and peace, David

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Jesus and the Nations

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Isaiah 42:1-4

Every builder of houses knows that a building must rest on a firm foundation. If the foundation is defective, the house will eventually have other structural problems that will lead to an inevitable collapse. In the same way, every local church must be built on the Lord Jesus Christ. Read the words of the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). For this reason, every gathering of believers in Christ and individual members of these assemblies (local churches) need to pay careful attention to these words of God about Jesus Christ. Even more, all need to focus on Jesus the Messiah as God encourages. In this text, God the Father lifts up the Son and calls everyone to look at his Son, who is his Servant. He tells us that his Servant is his Chosen One, that he delights in him, and that he has put his Spirit on him. Next, let us listen carefully to the mission or task that the Father sent his Servant to accomplish.

God assigned a task to the Servant of the Lord (42:1d). It was to “bring justice to the nations”.

What is the meaning of “justice”? Certain words are difficult to translate from one language to another. The Hebrew word for justice is more comprehensive than our English word. Every word must be translated in its context with other words. This is what can make word studies very dangerous, especially when they try to tell the meaning of a word from its supposed roots. Use word study tools, including concordances cautiously.

In the general context, Isaiah uses the word “justice” three ways:

  • God’s order in creation (40:14). God made everything according to his own counsel and wisdom.
  • In 40:27, it speaks of the judgment or legal decision that God’s people expect when they present their situation to the Lord. They expect the Lord to bring his holy order into their lives.
  • The Lord invites the nations to come to him for a hearing about who is in charge of history (41:1). In this meaning, the Lord asserts his rule over all, and his people can trust him (41:8-10). When the Lord’s justice comes, people live in peace.

What is very surprising in our text is that the Servant of the Lord will bring the Lord’s justice or order to the nations. All might seem chaotic as Cyrus and his Persian armies conquer many nations (41:2-3). But Cyrus and his empire was not the goal of history; instead, the Servant and his accomplished mission will be mankind’s ultimate destiny.

God had a purpose in this mission. This text is part of the unfolding of the story of God’s glory in Christ. Think of a paper road map or a trail map for hiking in parks. As you hold it in your hand neatly folded, you can’t see much of the trail or road system. But as you unfold it, you can find the way to your destination. God gradually unfolds his plan in the Scriptures, but he has one great eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:11). Our text is part of the unfolding plan, which God increasingly made clear (Genesis 12:1-3; Psalm 2:7-9; 117:1-2) until the Lord Jesus accomplished eternal redemption and his apostles explained it in the New Testament Scriptures.

All this leads to the new humanity that God would bring about in Christ and his people (Ephesians 2:11-16).

We need to keep God’s plan before us. God’s “unfolded map” has been given to us, so that we won’t lose our way in the foggy times of our lives. We need to keep the whole map before our eyes, so that we might know our place in God’s story. You see, we can become much to focused on our small situations. Yes, you have your sins to fight, your pain to endure, your calling (job, career) to fulfill, and your family and friends to love. But there ought to be more to your and my interests than the immediate situations we are in. We are here for God’s purposes, and so we need to look at the whole unfolded map and consider everything God is doing. Doing this helps us see the greatness of the Lord Jesus, and how we are to labor with him toward his goals. Since Christ will bring justice to the nations, and we are in him, we are to participate in this purpose. What are your group, your church, and you doing?

Grace and peace, David

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Christ’s Goal for His People

Isaiah 42:3a-b

IMG_0022The Lord Christ brings us from weakness to strength. Bruised reeds become flourishing olive trees in the house of the Lord (Psalm 52:8) and fruitful branches connected to the true vine bearing fruit (John 15). Smoldering wicks become the light of the world (Matthew 5:14) as we carry his light to the nations for their salvation (Acts 13:47). Even more, we shine like stars in the sky (Philippians 2:15). The Lord wants us to understand his purposes for us, and to lay hold of his strength to live them. He does not want you to waste your life as a smoldering wick. He expects us to be a town on the hill that can’t be hidden (Matthew 5:15-16). This purpose requires us to get out of depressed cave and to go out together onto the hills of this world (John 17:18). Each gathering of believers is to be making plans and carrying them out concerning what hills they will shine with their light. For example, plan a gathering like a game and movie night and invite people from outside your group to join you. But this will require winsome boldness!

The Lord Messiah makes us more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).   Notice very, very carefully that this does not mean that Christians live in some imaginary bubble of protection that keeps us from problems and suffering! Not at all! Read the context of this verse (8:18-39). There are many enemies and painful, stress-filled situations that we must live through. Conquerors conquer on a battlefield.

Yet, we are hyper-conquerors through Christ who loved us. Our total conquest happens through him.  One day Christ’s bride will stand triumphant with him, beautifully dressed and shining with the glory of the Lord and reigning with him forever in peace and joy (Revelation 21-22)! Each former bruised reed and smoldering wick will be part of that eternal city where the living God floods it with his pure, satisfying light. You might appear to be a bruised reed or a smoldering wick now, but look at your destiny. You actually are more than a conqueror. So then, let us together go out bravely into the battlefield of this world, trusting in the power of his love. Live boldly for the glory of the Lord. But you can only reach this goal if Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord. Come to him, having a real change of mind about God, yourself, sin, and Christ, and have sincere faith in Christ alone.

Grace and peace, David

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Christ’s wisdom toward his people

Isaiah 42:3a-b

339F7E5D-E1FC-4656-9B5F-C83B1A206C4A (2)We must face what we are, instead of puffing ourselves up in pride. Sadly, we fail to live up to our heavenly calling (Colossians 3:1-4). (I write this not to beat anyone down, but to help us all live in reality rather than in some type of spiritual fantasyland. We must sense our ongoing need of Christ and the gospel at the same time as we trust in Christ and the gospel and enjoy the glorious position we have in him.)

Few things are as worthless as bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. A reed growing near marshes is rather useless and a bruised reed can’t support anything. A smoldering wick is too far gone and almost ready to go out. Though we ought to be walking in the Spirit and joy and light, these words often are an apt description of Christ’s people. Many are weak and damaged by sin. Very few Christians escape the stumbling walk caused by entangling sins (Hebrews 12:1). Though some rejoice in salvation, they moan over their wicked past, not seeming to trust fully that the good news means that all their sins are forgiven. Others were victims of abuse, and the memories of that abuse mar their view of themselves and their hope. How many have been through severe conflicts in the church, and are afraid to love Christ’s people again! And far too many have been taught false doctrine and their lives are constantly ravaged by the falsehoods that they have consumed. And what can we say about those whose minds are overcome by a wrong delight in one part of the truth, so much so that their lives are a hideous caricature of true Christian living?

The good news of these verses is that Jesus does not break bruised reeds. Nor does he put out smoldering wicks. Are you bruised? Be encouraged. Jesus is the Great Physician. Expose your wounds to him. Never fear to go to your Mediator, because he is not only your friend, but also your brother and husband (Sibbes, Works, Vol. 1, p. 46). Remember that peace and joy are two main fruits of his saving reign (Rm 14:17). Are you smoldering? Look at him, for he is the Light, and remember that you are in him!

Think of the tender care that Jesus has toward us. If you are observant, you can see how all these words about Christ are about what he would not do. We ought to most certainly understand these negatives, but they should also lead us to think toward the positive aspects of his ministry. In other words, it is a kind of litotes, which is a figure of speech using understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary (e.g., “you won’t be sorry”, meaning “you’ll be glad”). Think of Romans 1:16. Certainly, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, but the intent was to communicate his joyful confidence in it.

The Lord Christ goes with us into situations where we learn to trust him. One man in the Gospels said to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). Another said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). One questioned his power and the other his desire, but he graciously healed in both cases. Another time, Jesus saw the Twelve in trouble out on Galilee during the night. What did he do? He walked out on the lake, let Peter go for a short walk with him on the water, rescued him, and then he calmed the wind.

He sends us out into the world, as he did the Twelve and the Seventy, where we can see his saving power at work. When we come back rejoicing, he instructs us about how to rejoice more properly. He makes the weak strong.

He teaches us about the extensiveness of his grace, when we become narrow-minded and idle. Think of how he tenderly taught Peter to reach out to non-Jewish people when he was avoiding them (Ac 10:1-42).

He leads people gently from sexual immorality to honor, by telling them through the Scriptures about his call of grace and the gift of the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8). Although the Lord wants us to bear much fruit, he knows that branches need to be tended to in order to become fully productive. He knows that “a few grapes will show that the plant is a vine and not a thorn” (Sibbes, p. 58). For this reason, he leads us by his Spirit in faith, hope and love that we might become more fruitful.

What new fruit is the Lord producing in your life now? In other words, how is Jesus making you smile with the joy of increasing holiness? Respond to his kindness toward you!

Grace and peace, David

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