Day 243: I need Him!

Isaiah 36-39

I love Hezekiah. I’ve already written about him on days 154 & 223. But Isaiah writes about Hezekiah as his contemporary…He knew him.

Isaiah uses this historical interlude as a bridge between sections in his book. He is transitioning from addressing Judah under the current Assyrian threat to addressing the (future) Babylonian exiles in chapters 40-55. Because of this transition, Isaiah makes interesting narrative choices…

The events in Chapters 38-39 occur before those in Chapters 36-37. Hezekiah’s illness, prayer of repentance and subsequent foolish interchange with the Babylonian envoys occur before Sennacherib’s threat. Isaiah switches the order in order to conclude the first section of his book by telling the story of God’s miraculous defeat over the Assyrian army (Chapters 36-37). He then transitions into the Babylonian exile by narrating the story of Hezekiah foolishly revealing all of his riches to the Babylonians (Chapter 39).

God’s hand was on Hezekiah. First, God used the threat of death to root out the pride that was in Hezekiah’s heart (38:1). Hezekiah repented, and God gave Hezekiah a miraculous sign to assure him his life would be extended 15 years (38:2-8).

Then, the Babylonian envoys arrived (39:1-2). 2 Chronicles sheds light on this incident:

But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart (2 Chronicles 32:31).

When God “left him,” the sin in Hezekiah’s heart was revealed. Showing the Babylonians his riches was a humanistic attempt to gain their favor. In essence, Hezekiah exchanged the Lord’s favor for the Babylonians’. He repeated the same sins of his ancestors – he looked to human alliances instead of to God for salvation from his oppressors. When Isaiah linked Hezekiah’s sin to the future Babylonian exile (39:5-7), Hezekiah’s response was puzzling…

Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Isaiah 39:8).

This response revealed that Hezekiah was short-sighted and selfish. But he was also faithful…

A short-time later, Hezekiah faced Jerusalem’s most serious threat to date. The Assyrian army had already destroyed the Northern Kingdom and most of the cities in Judah. In the face of the Assyrian army, Hezekiah fled to His God (37:1) and prayed a most beautiful prayer of dependence and faith. He asked God to save Jerusalem – not for the people’s sake – but for God’s name’s sake! Hezekiah prayed on behalf of God himself (37:14-20).

God delivered Jerusalem in a way that could only be attributed to Him. He, alone, would receive the glory – for the sake of his name!

Hezekiah was so like many of us.

In the face of great trial and suffering, we run to our God. But in times of blessing and plenty, we become self-reliant and selfish.

We have to fight to abide in times of blessing. We have to fight to stay connected to the vine. We have to be intentional to seek God’s help and direction when our lives are good not just in times of crisis.

I love Hezekiah because his life reminds me of the importance of God’s presence. I can’t let ease and comfort lull me into lazy self-reliance. need Him every hour. I must live like it!

Day 242: The Lofty and Mundane

Isaiah 33-35; 1 Corinthians 6

I would not have chosen to pair the soaring beauty of Isaiah with the practical how-to’s of 1 Corinthians. But, as I think further, I’m thankful for the reminder that the beautiful, sweeping truths of Isaiah can be applied to our nitty-gritty daily grind.

In typical ‘Isaiah’ fashion, he skips around in time – first declaring that God would save Jerusalem from the impending Assyrian threat (chapter 33) and then fast-forwarding in time to the end of the age – when the nations would be judged (chapter 34) and his people would be saved (chapter 35).

Meanwhile, Paul is talking about court cases and sexual purity. Great. But at the heart of the sins of the Corinthian church was a shallow understanding of the gospel. Both Isaiah and Paul commended their readers to delve into the depths of God’s character found in the beauty of the gospel.

Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you (Isaiah 35:4).

Isaiah points forward to the sure promise of God’s salvation. Hope in God is the key to persevering faith.

Paul encourages the Corinthians to look past the physical world and acknowledge the forever spiritual realm. In doing so, he challenges them to apply the truths of the gospel to their everyday lives.

He argues that our present-day actions will have an eternal impact. The deeds done in the body affect us forever spiritually because even our bodies are “members of Christ.”

How are we united with Christ? How is it that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit? Because of our faith in the gospel… that Jesus’ sacrifice has reconciled us to God. Our faith seals us with the promised Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). We are his.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Isaiah reminds us of the beauty of the salvation of God. It comes as “waters break forth in the wilderness” (35:6) and causes “sorrow and sighing [to] flee away” (35:10). But Paul makes the gospel practical – and challenges us to make these beautiful truths affect our moment-by-moment choices.

Remember. You were bought with a price. The love of Christ should compel us to obey.

Day 241: Our Helper

Isaiah 30-32; 1 Corinthians 5

Today, Paul addresses a specific sin in the Corinthian church… incest. Lovely.

The problem was… this person’s sin was damaging the church’s witness in Corinth, so for the sake of the gospel, Paul directed the church to “remove him from among you” (vs. 2). But this instruction was not given solely for the good of the church, but also for the good of the sinner. For it was Paul’s hope that the severe discipline would result in a change of heart. So the church was not to excommunicate the member in harsh judgment – but rather in mercy… “so his spirit could be saved in the day of the Lord” (vs. 5).

Many times, I have misunderstood God’s judgment for being unloving. God’s character is unchangeable. He is not only loving – He is love. It is impossible for him to act in a way that is unloving.

Consider today’s reading from Isaiah. These chapters were written less than a year before Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah. Isaiah 30 denounces Israel for looking to Egypt to save them from the mighty Assyrian army. Ironically, Israel made this same mistake years earlier… They looked to Assyria to defend them from other foreign invaders – and now they are being threatened by the same country they trusted in for help years earlier.

At the heart of Judah’s sin was unbelief. Their unbelief in the God of Israel led to impatience. They could not wait on the Lord’s salvation…

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling… (Isaiah 30:15-16)

Isaiah reveals Israel’s true “Helper” in 31:4-5. With the fierceness of a lion and the gentleness of a bird hovering over its nest, He will guard his people.

…the Lord of hosts
will protect Jerusalem;
he will protect and deliver it;
he will spare and rescue it (Isaiah 31:5).

Despite their unbelief, God showed grace to Jerusalem.

And then Isaiah looks farther in history – to the Messiah – where in the beginning of Chapter 32, he describes life under the Messiah’s rule. It will be like “a shelter from the storm” and like “streams of water in a dry place.”

This is the love of the Lord…offering mercy to the sinner, extending grace to an unbelieving people, not only to the people in Isaiah’s day but ultimately to all nations through the life and death of Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God! He is our Help – Let us wait, trust and rest in His salvation!

Day 240: God’s response to pride

Isaiah 28-29; 1 Corinthians 4

The Corinthian church was divided over leadership… Some claimed to follow Paul, others followed Apollos – and still others were loyal to Peter. Paul tries to help them see that they should be united in following Christ!.

Each group was puffed up – thinking their “leader” was better than the others. Paul cuts straight to the heart of the matter… pride.

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Similarly, in Isaiah, we read two chapters of vivid imagery describing the pride of both Ephraim in the north (Chapter 28) and Jerusalem in the south (Chapter 29). Isaiah, like Paul, cuts straight to the heart of the matter… “Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim” (Isaiah 28:1).

Pride caused the Israelites in both the Northern and Southern kingdoms to set aside their God and look to self for salvation. They exalted human wisdom, alliances with foreign kings, self-sufficiency and shallow worship to the place of deity. They had turned the order of the world upside down – foolishly thinking that they, as the clay, could mold the Potter to their whims (Isaiah 29:16). Pride was at the root of their sin – just as it was in the Corinthian church.

But thankfully, God’s grace abounds. He always gives an opportunity for repentance – just as Paul echoes at the end of today’s reading:

What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness (1 Corinthians 4:21)?

What would you want? Discipline for an unrepentant heart? Or forgiveness in the face of humble repentance? I know what I would prefer!!!! But hear this… both discipline AND forgiveness are rooted in love.

God brought judgment on the Israelites out of love for His people and zeal for His name!! Even as the great pride of His people is on display in these two chapters, God promises that He will break their pride and change their hearts! This is a message of hope for those who struggle with pride (like me). It’s a message steeped in His persevering love!

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
no more shall his face grow pale.
For when he sees his children,
the work of my hands, in his midst,
they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
and those who murmur will accept instruction” (Isaiah 29:22-24).

Day 239: In light of eternity

Isaiah 26-27; 1 Corinthians 3

Isaiah continues his vivid descriptions of the end of the world when God will gather his remnant from the ends of the earth.

In days to come Jacob shall take root,
Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots
and fill the whole world with fruit (Isaiah 27:6).

The whole earth will be like the garden of Eden – bursting with fruit and kept in perfect peace by God himself. Isaiah’s sweeping imagery makes the context of Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 3 seem trite.

The people were fighting amongst themselves. Their differences were petty and threatened the testimony of the gospel in Corinth.

Paul painted a broader picture for the Corinthians – a picture of the end of the age when all believers will be saved… but their works will be judged. Each man’s work will be revealed by fire. If their work survives, they will be rewarded, but if their work is consumed, their lives will be saved, “but only as through fire” (3:15). Only those works done in faith by the power of the Spirit will survive the fire and receive a reward (3:10-15).

The way we choose to live our lives today will affect our eternity. Paul challenged the Corinthians to look at life with an eternal perspective. In light of eternity, their divisions seemed insignificant.

What areas of your life become trite when you look at them through the lens of an eternal perspective? Let it go. Your eternity awaits!

Day 238: Secret Wisdom of God

Isaiah 24-25; 1 Corinthians 2

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”

Chapter 24 of Isaiah begins a four-chapter-section where Isaiah looks forward in time to the end of the world. We learn that God will destroy the earth (24:1-12), but will preserve a remnant (24:13). This remnant then emerges from every corner of the earth “singing for joy” (24:14-16)!

Chapter 25 describes the final salvation of God’s people when they will feast together on Mount Zion and the Lord will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

What a wonderful promise – a promise that we anticipate with great longing!

We know this promise of salvation is only made possible by Christ’s once and for all sacrifice on the cross. This is the “secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).

Paul makes it clear that the revelation of God’s wisdom – the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection – can only be attained through the Spirit.

…no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:11b-12).

If you understand the gospel, do not think yourself wise – but consider yourself loved by God. Your understanding is a gift – just as your salvation is a gift!

And because of the grace of God, we can look forward to the fulfillment of all God’s promises – to when death will be swallowed up forever and there will be no more tears and no more pain!!

Day 237: The foolishness of God

Isaiah 22-23; 1 Corinthians 1

Isaiah looks forward to a day when Israel will be threatened by foreign invaders…

In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago (Isaiah 22:8-11).

Do you see the irony? The people of Judah were working so hard in their own strength – but they failed to look to the only source of salvation – the God of Israel. He was the one who ordained their plot, and he was the only one who could deliver them. They chose to trust in their own wisdom – and they perished as fools in their self-reliance.

The ways of God are contrary to the wisdom of men. Worldly wisdom says that salvation comes through power. The gospel says that salvation comes through death.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18, NIV).

What other world religion teaches that the way up is down – or that the weak of this world are really the strong – and the lowly and despised are really the most valued?? This is foolishness in the world’s eyes! But this is the wisdom of God!

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:25).

In God’s kingdom, people like my daughter, who suffer with debilitating disability, find hope in the “foolishness” of God. My daughter might be looked upon as “lowly” in this world, but in God’s kingdom, she is priceless. She is valued in the Kingdom of Heaven because she knows no pride here on earth. In many ways, her disability is a blessing. Her hope is in Christ, alone.

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, […] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).

In God’s kingdom, self-reliance is a liability and pride is the way of death. Christ stands as the world’s only true hero and we are left with nothing but worship. We must put off our “strength” and embrace our weakness. Our hope must be in Christ, alone!

Day 236: Blessings of the gospel

Isaiah 19-21; Romans 16

Judgment comes before blessing. This was true for Israel. And this was true for the nations. We see this trend exemplified in Isaiah 19… First Egypt is judged (19:1-15) – and then they are blessed (19:16-25). The end of Isaiah 19 describes a day when both Egypt and Assyria would worship the Lord. These two nations represented Israel’s greatest enemies – both past and present. God would not only save Israel from their enemies – but gather them together to be allies in worship of the Lord! What a beautiful picture of grace and restoration…

The idea of judgment coming before blessing is not unique to the Old Testament, but spills over into the good news of the New Testament.  Jesus received our judgment so that we could receive His blessing! Paul has just spent 16 chapters in his letter to the Romans detailing every good gift we receive because of the death and resurrection of Christ! After reading through Romans, we should be deeply grateful for the gospel and all of its implications in our lives!

The well-known author and pastor, John Piper, spent over 8 years preaching through Romans! In his last sermon on Romans, he prayed the entire sermon. Imagine that! He looked at the congregation – with eyes wide open – praying to Jesus the whole time. He was so thankful for the whole of the gospel that He took an entire sermon to thank Jesus for the work he had accomplished on the cross.

In this final sermon, he listed the benefits of the gospel that are taught in the book of Romans. This list is astounding! But remember, He is praying…

  • We embrace the truth that we have died to sin and to the law and now belong to you alone, alive from the dead forever (Romans 6:2-5; 7:4-6).
  • We embrace afresh the forgiveness of our sins (Romans 4:6-7).
  • We embrace the reality that our condemnation is past (Romans 8:1).
  • We exult in the truth that our justifying righteousness is unshakable, because it is performed by you, not by us (Romans 5:17-19; 4:4-9).
  • We affirm with joy that you indwell us by your Spirit and are with us forever (Romans 8:10).
  • We embrace the truth that you unite us to each other in loving harmony (Romans 15:5; 12:16).
  • We hold fast the promise that we are being conformed to your image, and that your death and resurrection guarantees that this will be completed (Romans 8:28-30).
  • We receive the gift that you enable us to do significant work for the advance of your kingdom (Romans 15:18).
  • We glory in the truth that we are fellow heirs with you of all that God owns and all that God is (Romans 8:17; 4:13).
  • And we take heart that nothing can separate us from your invincible love or from the love of God the Father because of your work on our behalf (Romans 8:32-39).
  • And rooted in all of this, we receive afresh the promise of your everlasting joy. In Paul’s words, spoken to us on your behalf, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).

By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

John Piper prayed his sermon because he was overwhelmed by the love demonstrated for us in the gospel. We must take these gifts and treasure them. We must meditate upon them and let them sink into our soul so that they define our very selves. They must shape our decisions and the way we interpret world events. These are the truths of the gospel. These are our life.

Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

Day 235: God’s desire for a People

Isaiah 16-18; Romans 15:14-33

Isaiah continues his oracles for the nations in today’s reading. And Isaiah broadens his message to include the whole world in Chapter 18…

All you inhabitants of the world,
you who dwell on the earth,
when a signal is raised on the mountains, look!
When a trumpet is blown, hear! (Isaiah 18:3)

In other words, pay attention to the works of the Lord! He holds the nations in his hands. No ruler or authority will ever be more powerful than the God of Israel!

Isaiah not only reveals God’s absolute power and sovereignty in these chapters, but also God’s compassion. From the oracle concerning Moab…

And joy and gladness are taken away from the fruitful field,
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
no cheers are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
I have put an end to the shouting.
Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
(Isaiah 16:10-11)

Even though God brought judgment on the proud nation of Moab, it grieved Him to watch the people of Moab – people created in His image – turn away from Him and choose lesser gods.

God not only wants good for us, He knows what is good for us! And it grieves Him to see us choose lesser gods.

Paul finds his purpose in the compassionate heart of God…”to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16).

Paul understood God’s great desire has always been to have a people. Paul could look back through history and see that everything God has ever done, and everything that He will ever do… will be for the purpose of gathering a people for himself.

And God wants you to be a part of His people!! He knows what is good for you, so do not grieve the heart of God. Rather, trust in His goodness – his strong-arm to save and His grace to change you. Turn to Him in repentance and faith and rest in the compassionate heart of God.

Day 234: God’s plan for the nations

Isaiah 13-15; Romans 15:1-13

In Isaiah, we begin the oracles against the nations. These type of judgment oracles are typical of the prophecy genre. They show that God is sovereign, not just over Israel, but over the Gentile nations as well.

In Romans, Paul stresses again that God’s plan for salvation has always included the Gentiles.

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy (Romans 15:8).

That’s a mouthful, but oh, the riches contained in that verse!! Christ’s life, death and resurrection proved that God’s word was true. Every Old Testament promise was fulfilled in Christ. And because of Jesus, the way has been opened for all to receive his mercy and enter the Kingdom of God!!

Isaiah’s judgment oracles should remind us to run away from God’s judgment by running into His kindness… Let the truth of the gospel sink into your heart and cause you to wonder at the awesome power and goodness of our God!!