Awake and Sing!

December 22, 2013 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Christmas, Church Calendar, Eschatology, King Jesus, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
Isaiah 51:9-11 (NKJV)
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. AreYou not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent? 10 Are You not the Onewho dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the Lordshall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
In our passage today Isaiah calls upon the Lord to fulfill His promise to rescue His people Israel from exile; indeed, not only to rescue His people Israel but to rescue all the peoples of the earth. The nations that sat in darkness needed the light of God. And so Isaiah cries out to God to fulfill His promises, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!”
Isaiah calls to the Lord’s mind His previous acts of deliverance and implores Him to act again. “Was it not You, Lord, who acted to destroy Egypt? Was it not You who dried up the Red Sea? Who made the depths of the sea a road for Israel to cross upon? Yes it was You, Lord, who did this.” So Isaiah calls upon this same Lord, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, Yahweh, the Creator of all men and nations, to fulfill His promises, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”
And this, brothers and sisters, is what we pray in Advent. During Advent we recall the cries of our fathers like Isaiah and issue cries of our own. We rejoice because God answered Isaiah’s cry by sending our Lord and Savior Jesus to rescue the world from sin and darkness. But we not only rejoice that God has fulfilled Isaiah’s prayer, we also lift up prayers of our own. For the Lord has yet to fulfill all His promises. He has yet to fill the earth with the knowledge of His name, yet to spread justice to all the ends of the earth, yet to bring history to a close in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the just and unjust. And so we are instructed by our Lord Jesus to cry out, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” In other words, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”
One of the chief ways that we issue this cry is in our singing – we praise the Lord who has acted and beseech Him to act yet again. Note that Isaiah’s vision of God’s redemption in Jesus is filled with singing. “So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing.” Because God has answered Isaiah’s cry to “Awake!”, we ought to sing and praise the Lord, to come to Zion with singing. And even as Isaiah, remembering the Exodus from Egypt, remembering God’s past deliverance, petitioned the Lord to rescue Israel again, so we cry out in song for the full revelation of Christ’s kingdom.
So how ought we to sing? Isaiah models and instructs us. Note that his cry to God is filled with passion, conviction, entreaty, hunger, longing, joy, and delight. “Awake! Awake!” he cries. Then he describes our singing, So the ransomed of the Lordshall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. May God make it so and fill us with joy and peace in believing and in singing.

Reminded that we are yet in need of the Lord’s mercy, that the Lord has exhorted us to sing and pray for the full arrival of His Kingdom, let us confess that we are often complacent and do not cry out to the Lord to fulfill his promises.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

November 15, 2013 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Eschatology, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Postmillennialism
Isaiah 42:4 (NKJV)
4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
When we are tempted to grow discouraged with the state of the world and the current condition of Christianity in Western Society, it is helpful to remember the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Here in these songs, God revealed millennia ago the calling of our Lord Jesus Christ – a calling which Jesus self-consciously fulfilled in his earthly ministry. Having fulfilled the calling of the songs to suffer, Jesus is now, as the Ascended and Exalted Messiah, fulfilling their call to rule and reign.
So what shall be the nature of His reign? As Jesus spreads His influence throughout the world, what will be the result? The result will be, according to our text, the spread of true justice and liberating law. Jesus as the Word of God made flesh will cause His Word to prevail in the earth and for justice founded on His law to triumph.
So what are we to think when we witness times of setback? What are we to think when the cause of justice, so strenuously established over hundreds of years, is in the course of just a few decades undermined and in many cases destroyed? Is this cause for despair? Should we perhaps rethink whether our Lord and Savior Jesus means to establish justice in the earth?
Here the Servant Songs come again to our aid. Notice the promise in our text: He will not fail nor grow discouraged until he has established justice in the earth and the coastlands shall wait for His law. Jesus is not discouraged. God is not looking down at the world and declaring, Well it sure seemed like a good idea at the time. God is in control; He has seated Jesus at His right hand where He rules and reigns over the earth. No one can thwart Him or say to Him, “What have you done?” For he does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the nations of the earth.
Isaiah’s promise reminds us of the lessons Jesus endeavored to teach during his lifetime. What is the nature of the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed which starts as the smallest of all seeds but when it is planted gradually grows until it becomes a great tree in which the birds of the air make their nests. To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman hid in a lump of dough until the entire lump was leavened.
The task of preaching and spreading the kingdom of God is not an easy task; throughout church history there have been times of great success and there have been times of abysmal failure. At the moment in Western society we are in the midst of a largescale apostasy. But Jesus is not discouraged; He knows precisely what He is doing and His calling to us is to be faithful to Him – to preach the Gospel, to teach the Word of God, and to worship the Living God.

So reminded that we are not to grow discouraged but instead to trust in the Sovereign pleasure of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us kneel and confess that we have often failed to look to Him in faith.

Rescuing Creation

January 7, 2013 in Bible - OT - Malachi, Eschatology, Meditations, Postmillennialism

Malachi 4:5–6 (NKJV)
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 6 And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
When God created the world, He created it a realm of righteousness and peace – a place of blessing. When human beings rebelled against Him, however, the entire creation became twisted and distorted, it came under judgment. Where once there was only blessing now curses touched the animate and inanimate creation.
This was no surpise. After all, God Himself had announced that were our first parents to reject His Word they would surely come under His judgment. Further, since God Himself is the source of righteousness and peace, to turn away from Him is to sever ourselves from all that is good and right, from that which gives us blessing; even as a lamp depends for its light upon the electrical outlet, we depend for blessing and joy upon the living God. To reject God and imagine that we could preserve righteousness, peace, and joy is foolish – yet this was the sin of our first parents – and it is a sin repeated by countless millions of human beings to this day.
The ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. Satan’s intention in tempting the man and the woman was to destroy all creation, to destroy that which God had designed and made, by bringing it like himself under God’s wrath and curse. Human beings became his tools, his instruments, to accomplish this objective.
But God had other plans. God intended to rescue the world not abandon it to the folly of our first parents or to the malevolence of the Evil One. He would rescue His creation. And it it this intention that is celebrated every Epiphany Sunday when Jesus was revealed to foreign kings, to the magi. It is also this intention that is announced one final time in the closing verses of the Old Covenant:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
Uniformly the NT interprets the promise of Elijah’s arrival to refer to John the Baptizer. He is Elijah who was to come before the arrival of the Messiah; he was the one commissioned to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers – a worthy theme for discussion in and of itself. But I’d like you to note the reason God gives for sending John. Why send John to restore family relationships and bring people back to the Lord? “Lest,” the Lord declares, “I come and strike the earth with a curse.”God sent John as the forerunner of His plan of salvation, His plan to rescue the entire creation from the bondage in which it was trapped.
And this is precisely what Jesus declares to us. “For God so loved the world, the kosmos, the creation which He had so lovingly and painstakingly crafted, that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life…He did not send the Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved through Him.” God acted in Christ to rescue the creation from its bondage to decay. And how did He accomplish this?
Remember that the ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. In justice our rebellion must be judged. And so, wonder of wonders, the eternal Son of God took on human flesh by being born of the Virgin Mary, he lived among us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He bore the judgment that was due to us because we had rebelled against Him. And what’s more, God raised Jesus from the dead. In this way, He broke the power of death, reversing the curse that once enslaved all creation. He came lest the earth be struck with a curse; he came to rescue all creation.
So what of you? The ultimate end of rebellion is always judgment. Either we face that judgment ourselves – the end of which will be our condemnation – or we turn in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the judgment for all His people, and so receive blessing from the Lord in Him. None of us can face the Lord in ourselves; we have all rebelled against Him. And so, as we enter into His presence this day, He commands us to seek refuge from judgment through Jesus. Reminded of our need for a Savior, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

All Nations Shall Serve Him

November 16, 2012 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Eschatology, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Worship

Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; Make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.”  Selah  
Psalm 66:1-4
When we look toward the future, what do we expect? And how does our expectation shape the decisions and investments that we are making with our time today?
For the last 100 years, the predominant Christian view of the future has been pessimistic. It is believed that we are living in the last generation before Christ’s return, that the world is destined to get worse and worse prior to this momentous event, and that there is nothing Christians can, or even perhaps should do to reverse the trend. After all, to attempt to reverse the trend would be to postpone the imminent return of our Lord.
The impact of this particular vision of the future upon our nation has been catastrophic. America has become, in many respects, an increasingly ugly place – sexual licentiousness, covenantal unfaithfulness, and governmental intrusiveness have become the norm. And a large share of the blame belongs to the Church and to our erroneous view of the future.
So how does this pessimistic view of the future mesh with David’s view in the psalm before us today? It is the exact opposite. Notice that David’s describes his anticipation for the future like this:
Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.
Did you catch David’s vision? In light of the power of God, David sees the future full of hope: all the earth shall worship the Lord, all shall sing praises to Him, even His enemies shall submit themselves to Him. Why? Because God is Almighty.
How does this vision of the future shape David’s exhortations in this passage? Notice that David is issuing an exhortation to the nations – “Make a joyful sound to God, all the earth!” David calls upon all creation, upon all the nations of the earth, to worship and serve the Lord; to join him as he praises God for His might and power. Jesus is Lord so throw down your weapons and surrender!
It is in response to David’s summons that we have gathered here today. And we in our turn now join David in calling the nations to join us: smell the fragrant aroma, behold the goodness of God, come see the glory of our King and join us in praising Him. And this praise, which starts here each Lord’s Day, is to eek out of here and make its way into our lives during the week so that folks can’t help but declare – how good and how pleasant it must be to know the Lord. And in this way the world will be transformed into a better place, a more beautiful place.
This morning, then, as we enter the presence of the Lord to sing let us consider how David exhorts us to enter. Note three things:
              i.         We are to sing joyfully – Make a joyful shout to the Lord
            ii.         We are to sing loudly – Make a joyful shout
          iii.         We are to sing beautifully – make His praise glorious
And so let us fill this building with the praise of God – but let us begin by seeking His forgiveness for failing to live now in light of the glorious future that He has promised – let us kneel and confess our pessimism and doubt to Him.
Our Father,
You promised Abraham that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed – and Abraham believed you and you credited it to him for righteousness. This promise to Abraham you have repeated again and again and have fulfilled in the Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus. But instead of embracing your promise in faith, anticipating the day when all the families of the earth shall be blessed, we have responded in disbelief. We have grown weary and despondent and failed to look to you in faith. Forgive us our sin and doubt; enable us to trust your promises and so to act that all nations might serve You and bow before You. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Anticipate the Future

October 18, 2012 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Eschatology, Meditations, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:20–26 (NKJV)
20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. 24 Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.

Last week we remarked that as Christians we are called to be a people anchored and rooted in the past. Today we learn that we are not only to be anchored in the past, we are to anticipate the future. Christianity does not proclaim that what we see now is all that ever shall be. Rather, we are called in faith to look to the future, the day when Christ shall return in glory and triumph over the last of His enemies – death. And when He triumphs over death this shall be glorious news for us – for we shall rise from the dead. Even as Christ rose from the grave bodily ever to live and reign as King, so we shall rise from the dead to rule beside Him, vice-regents over all creation. Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead.

It is Jesus Himself who has taught us to live – not only anchored in the past but eager for the future. After all, for the joy set before Him He endured the cross despising the shame. Jesus lived, sacrificed, bled, and died in hope. He died anticipating God’s faithfulness to Him and that the grave would not be victorious over Him. And He held out this same promise to us – now verified by his own resurrection. Jesus declared, “…the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29).

So what does the hope of the resurrection mean for us? It means that no matter the trials we endure now, no matter the suffering and hardship that we may be called to endure as Christ’s disciples or as humans living in a fallen world, we live in hope. These sufferings, as Paul explains in Romans 8, “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption in to the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope…” (8:18-24a). In which hope? In hope of the resurrection.

So we can count it all joy, my brethren, when we encounter various trials; we can rejoice to the extent that we share Christ’s sufferings; for we know that if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him. Praise God for the hope of the resurrection.

But often we fail to live in hope, fail to live in anticipation of the future, in anticipation of the resurrection. Instead we focus on the suffering in the here and now. We forget the goal. So let us kneel and confess our need for His grace. We’ll have a time of silent confession following which I’ll pray on behalf of the congregation.

Our Father,

Not only do we forget the past, we also forget the future that you have promised. We get overwhelmed by the pressures of life, stunned by the sufferings we face. And so we doubt your goodness, we doubt your faithfulness, we doubt your Word. Forgive us, O Lord, for our sin is ever before us. We know that we are weak. But we praise you that you are strong! And that you have given us the firstruits of the Spirit. We pray that by Your Spirit you would continue to work within us and empower us to live in hope. Empower us both to remember the past and to ancitipate the future – through Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Josephus Quotations

September 12, 2012 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Nahum, Bible - OT - Obadiah, Eschatology, King Jesus

Quotations from Josephus’ The Wars of the Jews excerpt as found in David Chilton’s Paradise Restored: An Eschatology of Dominion.

“The first man who was slain by [the Sicarii] was Jonathan the high-priest, after whose death many were slain every day, while the fear men were in of being so served, was more afflicting than the calamity itself; and while everybody expected death every hour, as men do in war, so men were obliged to look before them, and to take notice of their enemies at a great distance; nor, if their friends were coming to them, durst they trust them any longer; but, in the midst of their suspicions and guarding of themselves, they were slain.” (p. 238) cf. Mt 10:34-36

“…I cannot but think that it was because God had doomed this city to destruction, as a polluted city, and was resolved to purge his sanctuary by fire, that he cut off these their great defenders and wellwishers, while those that a little before had worn the sacred garments, and had presided over the public worship, and had been esteemed venerable by those that dwelt on the whole habitable earth when they came int our city, were cast out naked, and seen to be the food of dogs and wild beasts.” (p. 250)

Already the city of Jerusalem was divided into two factions and the leading Jews made the remarkable decision to invite a third, the Idumeans, into the city under the leadership of Simon. Josephus remarks: “Now it was God who turned their opinions to the worst advice, and thence they devised such a remedy to get themselves free, as was worse than the disease itself.” (p. 255) (cf. with irony that it is directed against Edom, Obadiah 8-9)

The siege engines of the Romans wreaked awful destruction, reaching even the courts of the Temple where Jew and Gentile would be slain in the midst of offering sacrifice. So “the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcases stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves.” (p. 256)

Josephus speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem and urging them to surrender: “Wherefore I cannot but suppose that God is fled out of his sanctuary, and stands on the side of those against whom you fight.” (p. 262)

“It is therefore impossible to go distinctly over every instance of these men’s iniquity. I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: – That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world…” (p. 264)

Josephus writes of the tragedy of those who deserted to the Romans only to be slain by the Syrians who were searching for hidden gold in their bowels: “in reality it was God who condemned the whole nation, and turned every course that was taken for their preservation to their destruction.” (p. 269)

“I suppose, that had the Romans made any longer delay in coming against these villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by the ground opening upon them, or been overflowed by water, or else been destroyed by such thunder as the country of Sodom perished by, for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than were those that suffered such punishments; for by their madness it was that all the people came to be destroyed.” (p. 270)

Josephus speaking to John of Gischala after John rejected another overture of peace: “It is God therefore, it is God himself who is bringing on this fire, to purge that city and temple by means of the Romans, and is going to pluck up this city, which is full of your pollutions.” (p. 272)

Josephus remarks on the Providential timing of the Temple’s destruction by the Romans – it was destroyed on the same day that the first Temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians: “…as for that house [the Temple], God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of ages: it was the tenth day of the month [Ab], upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon.” (p. 274) cf. Jer 52:12-13

“Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething-hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of these bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them.” (p. 277) cf. Nah 3:3

“…before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover at the feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the] temple, as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, ‘Let us remove hence.'” (p. 279)

He remarks on the career of Jesus, son of Ananus, who went through the city of Jerusalem for seven years and five months announcing the same message of woe against the city. in the end he was slain by one of the stones from the Roman catapults. (pp. 279-80)