6. The Mysteries of God (4)

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 6: The Mysteries of God (4)

Isa 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.

(Additional Reading: Isa 9:6,7, 11:1-9)

More from Isaiah: We have already seen how Isaiah dropped the ‘breadcrumb’ showing where the Messiah, the Son of God, would come to reveal the glory of God, a ‘great light’ in dark Galilee. The only trouble was that in the eyes of the scholars at least, some of these things he said seemed contradictory or even unbelievable. Following that Galilee prophecy the prophecy flows on getting more and more incredible until in v.6 we find references to this coming one who will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” a ruler over the throne of David, a rule that will go on for ever. If you have never heard those words in the crescendo that builds up in Handel’s Messiah, you have never heard anything! But what did they mean? The coming one will be God the everlasting Father? How can that be? Already Isaiah had prophesied in another mysterious way about a child to be born to a virgin, (7:14), a child to be called Immanuel and that name means ‘God with us’. How can this be?

The David Link: But there is more: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit,” (Isa 11:1) and, ““In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it– one from the house of David –one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.” (Isa 16:5) and, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” (Isa 55:3) We commented yesterday about Bethlehem being David’s home. This coming one is going to linked with David who was a ruler who brought deliverance and peace to Israel.

The Suffering Servant: So, on one hand we have talk about God coming, a ruler coming with a mighty reign, and then we find Isaiah prophesying a number of ‘servant songs’ about the coming one and in chapter 55 we find, “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.  Just as there were many who were appalled at him—  his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness.”  (Isa 53:13,14) This is the confusing mix of these ‘breadcrumbs’, these clues, these prophetic words that filtered through the other prophecies of Isaiah, that left no other conclusion than One is coming to instigate a new, unique, everlasting reign, an expression of God with us, and yet somehow there is this black cloud hanging over it all with the mention of suffering and rejection. How could it be?

Advent? Now we have to concede that many of these prophetic references do not see their fulfillment until the Son has come, revealed the Father’s love through his ministry, and then suffered and died for us, been raised from the dead and ascended back to heaven. But here is the point: Advent, we said, is a time of waiting and expectation and this expectation, built by an amazing trail of breadcrumbs (it is said there are over 300 prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament) is what was there in those whose hearts sought after God (see Simeon Lk 2:26) and there, probably in not such a strong way but there nevertheless, in the general Jewish population and taught in the synagogues. All of this is the backdrop to the coming of the babe in Bethlehem, but it is no wonder the expectation was so unclear because it had so many different shades that would not become clear for at least another thirty or so years.

And to prayer: “Lord, again, in anticipation we want to say thank you for the wonder of this time that we remember this month, of your coming to earth. Father, thank you for this amazing kaleidoscope of breadcrumbs, so many different aspects of his coming which must have left a quizzical anticipation in your people, wondering how all these things could be. Thank you that we now have the whole picture and so we can see, Lord Jesus, how you fulfilled them all. Help us please, Lord, to handle the aspects of life and our understanding of you and your desires for us, where we don’t yet see it all clearly. Please give us patience to wait your timing, trusting in your goodness that will be revealed in the way you want it to come. Thank you Lord so much. Amen.”

5. The Mysteries of God (3)

Christmas Threads Meditations: Thread 5: The Mysteries of God (3)

Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”

(Additional Reading: Isa 9:1,2, Mic 5:1-4)

Recap:  We are following some of the ‘breadcrumb trails’ in the Old Testament, not because it is just fun to do so, but because each of these ‘breadcrumbs’, these prophetic clues that we find there, are highly significant when it comes to examining the Nativity, and without them just reiterating the Nativity story misses some of the key aspects of it all. The two breadcrumbs we are going to consider in this study are both to do with location. Each of the places have great significance.

Location breadcrumbs – Galilee: Our first of the two we are going to consider here, and seen in our two starter-verses above, comes from Isaiah. Being one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, it is not surprising that his book is littered with these ‘breadcrumbs’. Chapter 9 starts with, “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations.” (9:1) Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the tribal areas in the north of the land, both tribes of which had failed to completely oust the Canaanites in the original taking of the land. Perhaps because of this or perhaps because they were simply first in line to encounter enemies coming from the north, they had suffered through the years; it had been a dark area, so often in conflict.

Isaiah, referring to this darkness, speaking in the prophetic future, speaks of “a great light” coming to light up this darkness. In their history, what light came to that land? Only that of Jesus. It should not be surprising, therefore, to note that both Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth, located in the centre of lower Galilee, (Lk 1:26) and it was to there they returned after their stay in Egypt after Jesus was born. It was to Galilee that Jesus returned after being baptized and where he carried out most of his ministry.

It was indeed like a great light coming into the land. Why Galilee, perhaps because it was furthest away from Jerusalem in Judah in the south, with the buffer of Samaria in between so that the interference from the religious authorities from Jerusalem was strictly limited. So Mary and Joseph start out from Galilee and return there in order that Jesus be raised there and so that he may start his ministry there.

Location Breadcrumbs – Bethlehem: The second ‘location breadcrumb’ comes from Micah:  “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  (Micah 5:2) That had the Jewish scholars scratching their head and yet when the Wise Men, the Magi, turned up it was the verse the scholars of Jerusalem turned to in the Greek Septuagint version, ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler  who will shepherd my people Israel. (Mt 2:6 quoting Mic 5:2 & 4) There it was, a ruler to shepherd Israel, who would come from Bethlehem.

Now what is intriguing about this is that Bethlehem was king David’s home (see 1 Sam 16:1) but David lived long before Micah prophesied so Micah prophetically had another in mind and so, yes, this prophecy was added to the many others that the scholars pondered over in the writings of the scrolls that we now call the Old Testament. And then, of course, we find Jesus being referred to as the Son of David (Mt 9:27, 15:22, 20:30, 21:9) but we’ll have to wait for the next study to see more of that.

And so to prayer: “Lord, thank you for the wonder of your word, thank you that you dropped all these clues, referring to the coming of your Son that had been agreed there in heaven even before You created this world. Thank you that we see your wisdom in the way you set him up in the north to reveal your love to us through his incredible ministry, away from the political and religious pressures of Jerusalem. Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you blessed your people in Galilee, revealing yourself and your Father’s love through those three amazing years. Thank you that all of this flows from that amazing episode we call the Nativity that reveals the way you came in humility to bring all this about. Thank you so much. Amen.”

30. Guilt?

Meditations in Job : 30 :  Prison means Guilt?

Job 11:10,11 “If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him? Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?

We’ve just seen Zophar condemning Job for being a sinner, even if he doesn’t realise it. Now he leans back on the wisdom of God and the next three verses might be summarised as, “He’s a lot smarter than you are, Job.” Observe: Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens–what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave–what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.” (v.7-9) That is pretty simple and straight forward.

Then he comes up with our verse at the top today, “If he comes along and confines you in prison and convenes a court, who can oppose him?” (v.10). In other words, if God decides to put you in ‘prison’ there’s not a lot you can do about it! But then comes the crunch line: “Surely he recognizes deceitful men; and when he sees evil, does he not take note?” (v.11) which is surely another way of saying, you can’t sneak past God with your deceit and, by implication, that means you, Job! Nasty! But it gets worse: “But a witless man can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born a man.” (v.12). i.e. you can’t make a stupid man wise any more than a wild donkey can be born human – no hope! (Seems like another nasty implication in that!)

It’s that word ‘prison’ that stands out. “If he comes along and confines you in prison”. A prison is a place, not of your choice, where you are restrained and cannot get out. Psalm 107 speaks of prisoners: “Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.” (Psa 107:10,11) Clearly there ‘prison’ is the outworking of rebelling against and rejecting the Lord, but elsewhere it speaks about the Lord releasing from prison: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down.” (Psa 146:7,8). There ‘prison’ is simply being oppressed and not being able to do anything about it, being hungry and not being able to find food, being blind and not being able to see, and being bowed down by burdens and not being able to get rid of them and stand upright. Each of these things is a ‘prison’ from which the prisoner cannot escape on their own. The messianic cry in Isa 61 opens with this, The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me…. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” (Isa 61:1) Jesus comes to release us from such prisons.

In the same way, surely Job is ‘in prison’ in the prison of suffering from which there appears no escape. That’s how Zophar sees it, and he sees it as of God’s making and in this respect he is right – but he’s got the wrong reason. It wasn’t because of Job’s sin; it wasn’t because Job was wicked or deceitful!  All that follows would be right if Job had sinned but because he hasn’t it is truth but applied in the wrong place!

In what follows we have a condition followed by an outcome, and both are legitimate IF there is sin. First, the condition which is a double thing: Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,” (v.13,14). For God to bring forgiveness, cleansing and restoration there needs first to be repentance and repentance involves a determination not to continue the sin of the past. This is a simple but vital principle for salvation. For God to bring salvation there does have to be a renouncing of the past.

But then comes a whole series of outcomes that will mean total change, and again these are truths, if only they are applied in the right place. Observe again: then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear.” (v.15) i.e. you can start feeling good about life again. Then, “You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” (v.16) i.e. you can forget about this miserable experience. Then, “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.” (v.17)  i.e. your life will be totally transformed. Then, “You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety.” (v.18) i.e. you will have a new sense of security and peace because of the awareness of being safe in God’s hands, and because of that, “You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid, and many will court your favor.” (v.19). It will be a new day where peace reigns! That’s what it will be like for you, but in the meantime, the eyes of the wicked will fail, and escape will elude them; their hope will become a dying gasp.” (v.20). Those who are wicked will know what you are experiencing at the moment (implied) and they will feel trapped by their suffering.

Now, please, realise that this IS all truth. It does work like that – so often! There isn’t a guarantee as much as we’d like to think there is, for things DO go wrong in life. However repentance and renouncing sin DOES lead on to blessing and salvation, which means that life is often a blend of the wonderful together with the occasional hiccup which can appear nasty until we receive God’s grace, wisdom and guidance. But, if we’re in a time of testing, it may have nothing to do with sin; it may simply be your time in heaven’s gymnasium, getting fitter and stronger spiritually. Zophar, unfortunately, doesn’t know the difference!