Day 264: A godly sorrow

Ezra 9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:16

In today’s reading, Ezra learned that the Israelites had already succumbed to the temptation to intermarry with the local foreigners. Even though less than one hundred years had passed since the people first returned to Judah, they were already diluting the Jewish faith with foreign gods.

Some might judge Ezra’s response as extreme. He tore his clothes and wept and mourned. But he knew what this meant for the future of his people. He knew that compromising in this one area would open the floodgates and lead to apostasy and judgment. He did not want Israel to repeat her history!

Fast forward to today’s reading in 2 Corinthians and we find Paul addressing the exact same issue. Paul uses Old Testament imagery to drive home the point that the church is God’s covenant family, and because of His grace and mercy, we should strive to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

Our sin should bring us much grief and sorrow. But, it should not lead to despair and hopelessness! Listen to the Israelite’s response to their sin (from Ezra)…

…the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah […] addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:1-2)!

Why was there hope? Because of God’s Great Grace and Mercy!

But God’s grace and mercy can only be experienced through humility and repentance. Both Paul and Ezra describe repentance in today’s passages. Ezra describes how the people not only “wept bitterly” over their sin, but made drastic decisions to make things right. And Paul describes how the Corinthians’ repentance brought him much joy.

In both cases, repentance restored the relationship with God and brought about God’s comfort and grace. This is the beauty of repentance!

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret… (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

We must never believe that our sin is out of the reach of Forgiveness. The shadow of the cross covers our greatest sins!

Day 249: The transcendent gospel

Isaiah 51:9 – 53:12; 1 Corinthians 10

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).

Paul details the Israelites idolatrous history in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians as a warning to the church… “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (10:12).

We, too, should heed Israel’s history, for hidden in her history is the love of Jesus Christ for the sinner.

Consider the flow of today’s passages from Isaiah.

Isaiah 51 is written to the Babylonian exiles. Why were they exiles? God’s chosen people were being punished for the gross sin of breaking God’s Law, especially for the sin of idolatry.


God gave his afflicted people good news. He exhorted them to no longer fear men – because He would rescue them from their oppressors! And God, in Isaiah 52, promised that His people would return to Jerusalem in peace for the sake of His name!

The exiles experienced the gospel. They experienced salvation based on grace, alone!!

And then we come to the final servant song…the familiar words of Isaiah 53. Here we learn how forgiveness is made possible…how grace is made available to us all…Forgiveness and Grace are available because of The Servant…

He was pierced. He was afflicted. He was silent before his accusers. He was the sacrificial lamb, led to slaughter.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Here is the gospel – written by Isaiah 700 years before Jesus came in the flesh!

This gospel must be the agent for change in our lives…for we are also called to walk in the way of “the servant.”

This is the message Paul has been preaching to the Corinthian church over the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians…

He teaches that as members of Christ’s body, every decision and action we make should be influenced by affecting good to others (10:24) and bringing glory to God (10:31). We are called to lay aside our self-interests. We are called to become like The Servant.

Day 246: The folly of idols

Isaiah 43-45; 1 Corinthians 8

Imagine that you are an exile living in Babylon. You have lived through hell on earth – seeing the Babylonian army destroy your people and your beloved Jerusalem – and now you are a foreigner in a strange land. You might think that your God, the mighty God of Israel, has abandoned you.

But then somehow you find the scroll of Isaiah – the prophet that lived so many years earlier… before the destruction, before the horror.

Imagine how you would respond – knowing that God had planned for you to receive comfort through a hundred-year scroll. That he had ordained all of history… that he planned for you to be in Babylon, but not only that, he had a plan for the destruction of Babylon and the restoration of Jerusalem!

These familiar words take on new meaning in this context, don’t they?

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:1-3).

Now continue to think of yourself, living in Babylon and reading these words… And imagine your amazement as you read further…

I am the Lord, who made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself, (44:24)

who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited,’
and of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built,
and I will raise up their ruins’; (44:26)

who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,
and he shall fulfill all my purpose’;
saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’
and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” (44:28)

Cyrus?? Cyrus the Great, King of Persia!!?? How could Isaiah have known? How could he have predicted? And as you read further through Isaiah 45, you see that the great and mighty Cyrus is just a pawn in God’s hand.

The Babylonians feared Cyrus. The people would make idols – in hopes that some god, any god, might save them. But because of the truth found in Isaiah’s scroll, you would know… that salvation comes through God, and God alone!

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other (Isaiah 45:22).

This was a great lesson for the Babylonian exiles… They were to trust in the power of God who ordains all of history and reject the Babylonian idols. In light of the power of God, to think that a piece of wood fashioned from man’s hands would have any saving power is pure folly!

Yet idol-worship was still prevalent in Paul’s day… (see 1 Corinthians 8) and idol-worship is also prevalent in our culture… our idols just look different!

We might not be tempted to eat meat offered to idols or to bow before a wooden statue, but we are tempted to look to other things to rescue and save us from difficult circumstances…like relationships or job-security or success or comfort. Yet, these are all powerless to save. They might bring temporary comfort – but nothing that has any real staying power.

Think of the God of Israel! He hasn’t changed! He still orders the universe and has plans to restore and prosper his people! He still is the only God powerful enough to rescue you for eternity!!

Trusting in idols is nothing but folly.

They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
are deliverance and strength.’ (Isaiah 45:24, NIV)