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!!

Day 233: The source of salvation

Isaiah 10-12; Romans 14

Consider the context of Isaiah’s writings… Syria and the northern Kingdom of Israel were threatening Judah. King Ahaz reached out to the great world power, Assyria, for help – and then Isaiah looked into the future to see that Assyria was God’s chosen instrument of judgment against the Northern Kingdom of Israel – Assyria would completely destroy Israel – and most of the cities of Judah – but God would not allow them to destroy Jerusalem.

So it is in this context in which Isaiah is writing – he writes that Assyria is just a tool in God’s hands – that this world-super-power would be utterly destroyed – as judgment for the destruction of God’s people.

And then Isaiah looks forward to the day when God would gather his remnant and the Messiah would rule in peace.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1-2).

Out of the stump… God’s judgment would reduce Israel to a stump, but from this stump would come the Messiah! And from the Messiah would come salvation! This salvation was a supernatural salvation – the kind that King Ahaz scorned for a short-sighted, political savior.

Where do you look for salvation?

Do you look to Christ, alone, for salvation – or, like Ahaz, do you look for help from worldly sources? Our salvation is based on grace that comes through faith. Romans 14 reveals that the gospel of Jesus Christ nullifies many of the Jewish “ceremonial” laws. These laws were sacred to Israel because it gave them a way to be symbolically righteous. In other words, if they adhered to the strict diet, observed the festivals and performed ceremonial washings, they could be clean.

But those things don’t save!!!! Jesus came and set us free from the demands of the law ! We are free to obey by faith – so there is no room for judgment.

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7).

Both Isaiah and Paul were trying to focus the eyes of their readers on the source of salvation. Ahaz was looking to Assyria for help. The Jews were still relying on their laws to gain righteousness. Both pursuits were in vain.

Jesus is the beginning and the end, the source of all things. He is our Salvation. In Him, alone, we will trust!

“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

Day 232: A swirling symphony

Isaiah 7-9; Romans 13

Before we dig into the text, we need to understand more about the book of Isaiah as a whole…

Isaiah can be divided into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-39: Written for Isaiah’s contemporaries, the rebellious people living in Judah under the Assyrian threat (during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah). They were tempted to look to political saviors instead of to God.
  2. Chapters 40-55: Looked beyond the future destruction of Jerusalem and was written for the remnant of Jews living as exiles in Babylon.
  3. Chapters 56-66: Looked even further forward in time and was written for the restored Jews including all people until the end (which includes us!)

Isaiah 7-9 is part of a larger section (that will conclude tomorrow) that is written in the context of the military threat against Judah from neighboring Israel and Syria (2 Kings 16). Isaiah comes to king Ahaz of Judah and exhorts him to trust in God – even encouraging him to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refuses, and instead turns to Assyria to rescue him from the hands of Syria and Israel.

God, in his grace, gives a sign anyway (7:14-15). He promises that after the birth of a certain boy, and before the boy reaches the age to discern right from wrong, both Syria and Israel will be conquered (7:17). God’s word proves true, but even though the imminent threat to Judah is averted, Ahaz’s sin of looking to Assyria instead of to the Lord will bring about a greater future threat – in the form of Assyria, itself (7:7:17-18)!

…behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel (Isaiah 8:7-8).

Here Isaiah predicts Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah (2 Kings 18:13 – 19:37). He took all of Judah except Jerusalem. Do you notice how the nations are like puppets in the hand of God?! Romans 13 alludes to God’s sovereignty over rulers as both his instruments of blessing and of judgment. Even the great and mighty Assyria was subject to God’s will!

Just after Isaiah predicts Sennacherib’s invasion, he looks forward to the day when God will execute justice over all the nations (8:9-10) and establish and uphold David’s throne with justice and righteousness forever (9:7)!

What makes the book of Isaiah so beautiful (and complicated) is that he weaves the present with the future so seamlessly. Judah’s tragic choice of a political savior forces Isaiah’s eyes forward – first to judgment through the Assyrian army and then further forward in time to how God will save the faithful remnant of Israel!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Isaiah’s work is a symphony of words swirling into the climax of the saving work of Jesus and the restoration of all that is good and right! I think our time in Isaiah is going to be rich :)

Day 231: Worthy of our worship

Isaiah 4-6; Romans 12

In today’s reading, Isaiah 4 opens with a prophecy of hope – and then Isaiah 5 turns dark as it describes how the people of Judah had rejected his grace (5:4) and consequently, would experience God’s wrath (5:13-14).

It is this context of future hope (chapt. 4) and imminent judgment (chapt. 5) that we see God’s grace and calling to Isaiah in Chapter 6.

Isaiah’s vision is truly awesome. He is face to face with the glory and holiness of the Lord, and he is terrified. Never has Isaiah been more aware of his own shortcomings – he was absolutely destitute in his sin.

But see God’s severe grace. Forgiveness does not come cheap. Sin always bears a price…

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7).

Then God gives Isaiah his calling and purpose. Isaiah was called into a life of suffering – as he would proclaim God’s impending judgment on a hardened people.

But look deeper into the text and notice that Isaiah is describing the very throne room of God! God’s robe fills the temple and the foundation of the temple shook at the power of His voice. Isaiah, in his sinful state, could only crumple under the Holiness, but the seraphim, the pure seraphim, were engaged in worship.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)

This song is echoed in Revelation 4 – where we are also transported through vision to the throne room of God – and there we find the four creatures (representing all of creation) gathered with the 24 elders (who probably represent the unity of Israel and the church – combining the 12 tribes of Israel + the 12 apostles) – and what are they ALL doing??!! Worshiping the Lord!

And the four living creatures, …day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:8-11)

What is our response to the God we serve?? First, we say with Isaiah, “Woe is me!” And then, we must worship.

Romans 12:1 instructs us in this worship. We don’t contain our worship to Sunday mornings. No! We worship with our very lives!

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Jesus demands our all. How will you worship Him today?

 

Day 230: God’s Redemptive History

Isaiah 1-3; Romans 11:25-36

We begin Isaiah today, and what a glorious book it is!! The whole gospel is beautifully woven throughout the book…

It is important when reading Isaiah to remember that future events can be compared to a mountains in a horizon. It’s impossible to tell the distance between the mountains in the horizon. So as Isaiah describes future events, sometimes he is referring to the close mountains – or relatively short future events – such as the Babylonian exile. And other times he is referring to mountains farther in the distance – such as the coming of the Messiah – and oftentimes, he groups mountain ranges together! So his prophesies can have multiple layers and meanings.

His style is very poetic, and the language is beautiful, but ultimately, Isaiah leads us to Christ.

It is fitting that we are beginning Isaiah right alongside the last half of Romans 11, because these verses in Romans can only be understood in the context of all of history. Remember, Paul is trying to prove that God has not rejected his people. Yesterday, Paul argued that God had saved a remnant, but in the last half of the chapter, Paul looks forward to the day when the fullness of Israel will be saved!

Paul summarizes both past and future “history” in verses 11:30-32

  1. vs. 30a: “For just as you were at one time disobedient to God…” Paul is speaking to the Gentiles, and for most of ancient history, God allowed the nations to walk in their own way while He focused on Israel.
  2. vs. 30b-31a: “but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient…” Most of the Jews stumbled over Christ and rejected the gospel – whereas the gospel multiplied among the Gentiles. We are still living in this part of history – where a large number of Gentiles have received and are continuing to receive God’s mercy, alongside a small remnant of Jews.
  3. vs. 31b: “in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy.” Paul is teaching that at some point in history, the Jews will receive mercy – just as the Gentiles have – and great numbers of Jews will be saved!

Paul’s last two points coincide with Isaiah’s message of hope for Israel’s future…

It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Do you see how Isaiah describes blessing for the nations because the word of the Lord has gone out from Jerusalem? This is both a description of our current age and the age to come…Isn’t it amazing how we are seeing the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies made thousands of years ago??!!!

But we must return to Paul’s teaching in Romans… He concludes 11 chapters of systematic gospel theology by summarizing the WHOLE of history in this one statement… “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (11:32).

Do you see the depth of grace in this statement? He has planned – from before the creation of the world – for all to receive mercy – both Jew and Gentile!

As we consider God’s great plan of salvation, which originated before the world was created and continues until the end of the age, we echo Paul’s doxology!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34-35)

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (11:36).

Day 229: Has God rejected His people?

Psalm 106, 123, 137; Romans 11:1-24

Today’s Psalms must be read in the context of history. They were spoken by a people in exile… A people who probably wondered the same question with which Paul opened Romans 11… “Has God rejected His people?”

We know from Psalm 106 that the exiles looked backward in time to gain the answer to this question. As they contrasted Israel’s consistent rebellion with God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, they trusted that God had not rejected them, but rather, planned to restore them!

Paul also looked back through history to prove that God had NOT rejected his people, but, had preserved a remnant of faithful Jews who trusted in Jesus as their Messiah (11:5). But God has now opened the door of the Kingdom to the nations, so that we, Gentiles, have been given a great mercy from God!  We have been grafted into the family of Abraham and enjoy the same covenant promises given to the Patriarchs of the faith!

But Paul warns us that we must not become arrogant (11:18). There is no room for antisemitism among Christians. For if the “natural” branches (Jews) could be cut-off from the root – how much more could the “unnatural” branches (Gentiles) be cut-off (11:21)! Paul exhorts us to persevere in the faith by looking at both the kindness and judgment of God (11:22).

Paul is not teaching that we can lose our salvation. But he is encouraging us to continue in the faith – by running toward God’s kindness and away from his severity.

So consider the context of history if you are ever tempted to believe that God has rejected you. We, as objects of God’s mercy, must look backward to the saving work of Christ – and forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s Redemptive History – where the full number of Israel and the Nations will stand together in the enduring fellowship of the glory of our King!

Day 228: A Conundrum

Psalm 89, 102; Romans 10

Yesterday, in Romans 9, Paul taught that God predestines some people to be saved.

Today, in Romans 10, Paul teaches that God longs for ALL people to be saved (10:21) – AND saving faith comes through hearing the gospel (10:17)!

Even though these teachings seem to contradict one another, the Bible emphatically teaches both. We can’t say that God couldn’t have predestined some to be saved because He wants all to be saved. That argument goes against what the Bible teaches. And similarly, we can’t say that it doesn’t matter if we share the gospel because He has already determined who will be saved – or that God doesn’t desire all people to be saved just because He has only predestined some.

Somehow, Romans 9 AND Romans 10 are both true. And mysteriously, God has involved us in the blessing of “speaking” the gospel so that others will “hear” the gospel and be saved. Reconciling Romans 9 &10 is another area where our human perspective limits our understanding!

The Israelites also experienced a conundrum. As you read Psalm 89, the people were trying to reconcile God’s covenant promises with their dire circumstances of invasion and destruction. You can imagine their confusion! God had promised to establish David’s throne FOREVER. Solomon built God a house that was supposed to last FOREVER, Listen as they recounted God’s promise:

I will not violate my covenant
or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David.
His offspring shall endure forever,
his throne as long as the sun before me.
Like the moon it shall be established forever,
a faithful witness in the skies” (Psalm 89:34-37).

The irony is thick as the people turn to describe their circumstances.

But now you have cast off and rejected;
you are full of wrath against your anointed.
You have renounced the covenant with your servant;
you have defiled his crown in the dust.
You have breached all his walls;
you have laid his strongholds in ruins (Psalm 89:38-40).

The people could not reconcile the truth of God’s covenant promise with the truth of Jerusalem’s destruction. Their limited perspective couldn’t possibly imagine how God would keep his promise. That God had not cast off or rejected them, that David’s crown was not defiled in the dust. It was impossible for them to look forward in history to see God establish His Kingdom with His only Son at the helm. Their only choice was to trust in God’s word and character in the midst of their conflicting circumstances.

When we are faced with what seems like conflicting information… When it is hard to reconcile God’s truths with our reality, we must give God the benefit of the doubt. Surely He knows something we don’t and surely we can trust that He knows what He is doing…. even if we don’t always fully understand. His word assures us that His will is always done – for His glory and for our good!

Day 227: Predestination

Psalm 79, 80, 85; Romans 9

Warning… If you have difficulty with the doctrine of predestination, you might want to skip Romans 9!

Paul makes a pretty convincing case for predestination. Paul argues that human will has no influence over salvation, only God’s mercy. Paul even goes so far to give examples of God hardening hearts so that they can’t be saved. This is a difficult teaching, but Paul is clear.

After Paul presents his position, he even acknowledges the problem that many struggle with… ““Why does [God] still find fault? For who can resist his will?” (9:19).

Interestingly, Paul offers no explanation for this “problem.” This is his answer:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:20).

To paraphrase Paul, “God can do what he wants, so get over it.” Here is a summary of Paul’s teaching:

  • We are responsible for our sin, and if we die apart from Christ, it is our own fault for disbelieving, and we will suffer eternal torment (Rom 1:20).
  • God has chosen “before the creation of the world” (Eph 1:4) whom He will save. He chose his children before anyone was even born, so it is illogical to think we can do anything to earn salvation (9:11). It is based on God’s mercy alone, and His children will reap an eternity of bliss which they do not deserve (9:16).

This teaching is a stumbling block to many, but personally, I love it! Not being able to explain predestination in human terms makes me wonder at the transcendence of God. And knowing that I have done absolutely nothing to earn my salvation assures me that I can do absolutely nothing to lose it. If I know that God saved me by His mercy, then I can trust that He will keep me by His mercy. I’m free from the burden of performance. I can rest.

Salvation has always come through faith that is revealed in a humble seeking of God… not through the prideful assumption that one could earn righteousness by observing the law perfectly (9:32). The Psalms in today’s readings are examples of turning back to God from a place of brokenness. They show the humble faith of a sinful people…This is what God desires!

Rest in the mercy of God. Trust in his goodness that is revealed in the saving work of Christ!

The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 145:8).