They Shall Return.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon. They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 

O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them. – Hosea 14:4-9 ESV

The northern kingdom would end up in exile in Assyria. They would fall to the Assyrian army and see their beloved kingdom come to an abrupt and ignominious end. And their fate would be well-deserved, the result of their ongoing rejection of God and refusal to live according to His commands. And yet, these closing verses of the book of Hosea remind us of something remarkable that will happen in the future. They point to a coming event that reminds us of the unfailing love and unwavering faithfulness of our God. In spite of all that Israel had done to offend God, He would one day save and redeem them. He boldly states, “I will heal their apostasy” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). Even as they await His coming judgment, He comforts them by saying, “I will love them freely” (Hosea 14:4 ESV). While His punishment of them was inevitable, His love for them was inexhaustible. He would remain faithful. The prophet Isaiah recorded the words of God that remind us of His unfailing love.

For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always be angry. If I were, all people would pass away—all the souls I have made. I was angry, so I punished these greedy people. I withdrew from them, but they kept going on their own stubborn way. I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them. I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far,” says the Lord, who heals them. – Isaiah 57:16-19 NLT

Without God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness, “all people would pass away.” There would be no hope for anyone. And even when His people “kept going on their own stubborn way,” God saw, but said, “I will heal them anyway!” Rather than simply giving them what they deserved, He would give them His undeserved mercy and grace. He would lead them, comfort them, and cause them to worship Him once again. What they could not bring themselves to do, He would do for them.

The day is coming when God will restore His people. Israel will once again enjoy a right relationship with Him. He will be their God and they will be His people. Isaiah speaks of this coming day.

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to bring back the remnant of his people—those who remain in Assyria and northern Egypt; in southern Egypt, Ethiopia, and Elam; in Babylonia, Hamath, and all the distant coastlands.He will raise a flag among the nations and assemble the exiles of Israel. He will gather the scattered people of Judah from the ends of the earth. – Isaiah 11:10-12 NLT

With the return of Christ and the establishment of His earthly kingdom in Jerusalem, the nation of Israel will be miraculously restored to the land and renewed in their relationship with God. “He will make a highway for the remnant of his people, the remnant coming from Assyria, just as he did for Israel long ago when they returned from Egypt” (Isaiah 11:16 NLT). This will all be the work of God. It is part of His divine plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. He will keep the covenant He made with Abraham. He will fulfill the promise He made to David that one of his descendants would sit on his throne in Jerusalem and reign forever (2 Samuel 7:16). Our God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He keeps His word. His love is unfailing and His commitment to His promises, unwavering.

Hosea would have us remember: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them” (Hosea 14:9 ESV). The reason we should faithfully walk in the ways of the Lord should be because of His faithfulness. When we read of God’s commitment to keep His promises to Israel, we should be encouraged that He will do the same for us. He will not leave us, forsake us, turn His back on us, or fail to keep His promises to us. His love for us will never end. His future restoration of us to a permanent and sinless relationship with Him is guaranteed. Nothing can separate us from His love. As God promised the nation of Judah regarding their exile in Babylon:

You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:10-11 NLT

The people of Israel will one day be restored. A remnant of His chosen people will enjoy unbroken, undeserved fellowship with Him. And those of us who have placed our faith in Christ will also know what it means to enjoy the benefits of God’s grace and mercy as we spend eternity with Him, not because we deserve it, but because He is loving, faithful and a promise-keeping God.

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Isaiah 53-54, Revelation 10

Our Faithful, Loving God.

Isaiah 53-54, Revelation 10

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10 ESV

What is the response of a holy, righteous God to the persistent sin and rebellion of His people? He gives us the answer Himself. “‘For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 54:7-8 ESV). It would appear as if God had deserted them. From a human perspective, it would feel like God’s anger had caused him to abandon them. But His compassion and everlasting love for them never diminished or truly disappeared. Even His punishment was an act of love. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19 ESV). “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6 ESV). And the greatest expression of God’s incredible love would come in the form of His own Son. In order to effectively deal with man’s ongoing sin problem, God would send His Son as the permanent payment for the penalty due. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16a ESV). “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all…” (Romans 8:32a ESV). Amazingly, God’s plan for man’s redemption has always included His Son. His first coming was designed to provide intercession – His death in our place. It was intended to make propitiation for our sins, satisfying the just demands of a holy God. It was meant to provide salvation from the condemnation we deserved and replace our sentence of eternal separation from God with eternal life in His presence.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Hundreds of years before Jesus Christ appeared on the scene, God gave Isaiah a detailed account of what His earthly life and ministry would look like. In chapter 53 of Isaiah’s book, we have an amazing description of the Servant of God who was to come. In this passage we see the painstakingly clear picture of the suffering Savior who was to come to the earth and take all of the sins of mankind upon Himself. We are told that He would be unattractive and unimpressive in appearance. He would be despised and rejected. He would be intimately familiar with sorrow, grief and suffering. He would be wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He would take on all the sins of mankind and suffer the punishment of God’s wrath on our behalf. And He would do all this willingly, out of obedience to His Father’s will and out of love for mankind. God makes it clear that the suffering and death of Jesus was His divine will. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10 ESV). Yes, God fully intended for His Son to die a criminal’s death and be buried in a borrowed tomb, so that the sins of mankind could be fully atoned for once and for all. And God did all this out of love. The result of this amazing display of sacrificial love is truly incredible. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11 ESV). Jesus would suffer and die, but also be raised again and see the fruit of His sacrificial love in the form of redeemed, justified sons and daughters of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

How easy it is for us to overlook and under-appreciate the love of God. Just like the people of Israel, we can find ourselves taking for granted His incredible mercy, grace and love. We can underplay our own sinfulness and in so doing, diminish the price that God paid for our sins: the life of His own Son. The biggest problem we all face as human beings is our own sin and guilt. Every man or woman who has ever lived has had the same problem: Their inherent sin nature and incapacity to do anything about it. Isaiah would later write: “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Solomon wrote, “Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT). All stand before God as guilty and He is fully justified in meting out the punishment of death for our sin. But instead, God came up with a plan of salvation that provided a way for His wrath to be satisfied and His love to be displayed justly and rightly. God couldn’t ignore or overlook man’s sin. He couldn’t turn a blind eye to man’s inherent sinfulness and guilt. To do so would have been unjust and unrighteous. It was out of His character as God. So He came up with a solution that made man’s salvation and His own satisfaction possible. And even though the people of Israel rejected His Son the first time He came, rejecting the very idea of a suffering Servant, God is still going to display His love to them a second time. The book of Revelation provides us with an end-of-the-story account of just how God will display His steadfast, unfailing love to His chosen people. He will keep and fulfill His covenant promises He made to them. “‘…my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10 ESV).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

God IS love. It is not just a character quality He displays. It is His very nature. He is love all the time – in all that He does. His disciplines are an act of love. His sacrifice of His own Son on my behalf was the ultimate act of love. When He sends His Son again, it will be the consummate act of love. It will be an expression of His steadfast, unfailing love for His creation, and will display His unfailing love for His chosen people – the Jews. For a brief moment, it appears as if God has deserted them. To our limited understanding it would seem as if God’s anger with Israel has resulted in His rejection of them. But God would have us understand otherwise. He WILL show them compassion. He WILL display His everlasting love for them. His steadfast love WILL NOT depart from them. His covenant of peace WILL NOT be removed. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17 ESV). In the book of Revelation, John is given a scroll to eat. He is told, “it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Revelation 10:9 ESV). On that scroll was contained “the mystery of God.” It was an account of the final plan of God for the world. There would be further punishments involved. There would be more judgments to come. But in the end, the love of God would be displayed as His Son faithfully fulfilled His role as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Sin and death would be dealt their final blow. Satan would be eliminated once and for all. Righteousness would reign on earth. God’s people, the nation of Israel, would be restored to favor in His eyes. All as a display of God’s unwavering, matchless, unfathomable love. The very same love He showered on me when He offered me the gift of His Son’s death on the cross in my place.

Father, thank You for Your love. I take it for granted far too often. I don’t fully appreciate it or understand it. I don’t think about it or thank You for it enough. Sometimes I just flat out miss it in all the busyness of life. When things don’t go quite the way I want them to, I can feel unloved by You. But Your love does not exist to make me happy. It exists to make me holy. You love me so that I might be like Your Son. You loved me so much that You sent Him to die for me and so that I might have His righteousness in exchange for my sinfulness. There is no greater display of love I need from You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11

By Faith…

Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV

It took a lot of faith for Nehemiah to leave his safe and secure job as a civil servant working for the king of Persia. It took faith for him to go before the king and risk his anger by asking for permission to return to his native land and rebuild the walls. It took faith for him to ask the Jews living in exile to make the long journey back to Judah and take on the formidable task of doing construction work on walls that had been destroyed 70 years earlier. It took faith for him to face the unceasing attacks of his enemies and continue to build in the face of opposition and the mounting discouragement of the people. It took faith for him to call the people to renew their covenant with God and give up their foreign wives and the children they had born. All Nehemiah had to go on was the word of God. He couldn’t see the outcome of his efforts. He had no guarantee as to how things were going to turn out. And there is no doubt that Nehemiah had second thoughts along the way. He got discouraged. He had misgivings. He questioned himself and his calling. But he kept trusting and building. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). The apostle Paul gives us similar sentiment: “…for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). In this life, we can’t always see the outcome. We aren’t always given a crystal clear image of how things are going to turn out. We simply receive a word from God and are expected to trust Him – sight unseen. That is the essence of faith. Like Nehemiah, we must learn to trust God, not the circumstances. While everything around us may point to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion, we must keep our eyes focused on God and His unwavering character. We must trust in His power and His uncanny ability to always keep His promises.

What does this passage reveal about God?

Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often called the Hall of Faith. It contains a list of Old Testament characters whose lives, like Nehemiah’s, demonstrated what it means to live by faith. We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the rest of the patriarchs. There’s the familiar story of Moses. And yet, the central character of the chapter is God. At the end of the day, it is He in whom they are placing their trust and basing their faith. Abraham left his hometown on nothing more than the word of God. He traveled a long distance to get to a land that God had said He would give him, then spent his entire life living in tents and never really occupying the land that had been promised. He waited years to have a son through whom God said He would make a great nation. But then God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. And we read that, “ It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). Abraham had to trust God. He couldn’t let reason take over. Nothing about what God was asking him to do made sense. But “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again” (Hebrews 11:19 NLT). His faith was in God. Abraham would not live long enough to see the promises of God fulfilled. He would never have a permanent home or see his descendants proliferate and spread throughout the land of Canaan. But he kept trusting. Over and over again we read those two powerful words, “by faith.” Each of these Old Testament saints lived by faith in God. Even Rahab the prostitute and a non-Jew, placed her faith in the God of Abraham, choosing to trust that He was able to defeat the gods of her own people. She took a huge risk and protected the Hebrew spies, asking them to spare her life when they conquered the city. With no guarantee of success, she trusted God. And time and time again, we see that God proved Himself trustworthy. 

What does this passage reveal about man?

We are wired to live by sight. We demand proof. We want guarantees. But the life of the believer is based on faith. It “is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). So the daily test for each of us is whether we will trust God and place our faith in Him. Will we do what He tells us to do or go with our gut? Had Nehemiah listened to his own inner voice, he would never have returned to Judah, never have attempted to rebuild the wall, and never experienced the joy and elation of celebrating its dedication a mere 59 days after having started. But even Nehemiah didn’t get to see all his hopes fulfilled. The city would remain in a state of disrepair and virtually empty for years to come. He would leave and return to find so many of his reforms and renovations having fallen by the wayside. And yet he would keep on believing and building. One of the main roadblocks to our faith is our tendency to be shortsighted in our perspective. We have a short-term mindset that tempts us to expect everything in the here-and-now. We expect immediate results. But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that those great saints of the Old Testament “all died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They somehow knew that there was more than meets the eye. They had an eternal perspective, “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Somehow they understood that God had something far greater prepared for them than just the immediate gratification of their hopes and dreams. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT).  

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Living by faith does not mean that everything always turns out for the better. It is not a guarantee of the easy life. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us of those who “were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT). The apostles themselves fit into this category. Most of them died martyr’s deaths. They didn’t live to see the return of Christ. But they never stopped believing that His promises were true and that God would accomplish all that He had said. They had an assurance about things they could not see – based on their understanding of the character of God. To live by faith is to live with an eternal, not a temporal perspective. It is to understand that what will be is not limited by what I can see. God’s plan is not hindered by my eyesight. The best is yet to come. God is not done yet. I must learn to place my confidence in my unseen, yet unfailing God.

Father, You are trustworthy. You are faithful. You are all powerful and completely in control of all things. I can place my faith in You. Forgive me for the many times I attempt to live by sight. I still find it so easy to focus on my circumstances and judge Your goodness based on what I can see. But we are to live by believing, not be seeing. I won’t always understand what is going on. I want always like what I am going through. But I can trust You. I must always remember that Your best is out ahead of me – “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

2 Kings 7-8, 2 Corinthians 13

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing.

2 Kings 7-8, 2 Corinthians 13

Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned said to the man of God, “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” But he said, “You shall see it with your own eyes, but you shall not eat of it.” – 2 Kings 7:2 ESV

Doubting God is almost a national pastime for many believers. We regularly hear the Word of God preached and taught, and we hear repeated messages regarding His power and faithfulness. But we still refuse to believe that what God says is true and that what the Bible teaches us about God can be trusted; especially in times of difficulty. When we are suffering, it is difficult to believe that God can and will deliver us. We can easily begin to doubt His Word and question His ability to intervene on our behalf. In 2 King 6 we read about the siege of Samaria by the Syrian army. They have the capital city of Israel surrounded and, to make matters even worse, there was a severe famine in the land. Things had gotten so bad that the people within the walls of Samaria had resorted to eating their own children. The king of Israel had lost all hope and gone into a permanent state of mourning. He wore sackcloth under his clothes and felt powerless to do anything to remedy the situation. He recognized their trouble as coming from God and didn’t believe that God was going to help them in any way. He had come to the point of saying, “Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33 ESV). But the king was not alone in his pessimism. Others had begun to doubt God as well. Their dire circumstances had caused them to lose hope.

What does this passage reveal about God?

But even in the midst of the extreme difficulties that Israel was experiencing, God was there. In spite of their open rebellion and years of unfaithfulness to Him, God had not given up on them. God, speaking through His prophet, Elisha, told them, “Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria” (2 Kings 7:1 ESV). This news was met with skepticism and doubt. What Elisha was telling them was unbelievable, even ridiculous. For years, food had become so scarce in Samaria, that “a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver” (2 Kings 6:25 ESV). Now Elisha was telling them that all that was going to change – overnight. As bad as their circumstances had become, God was telling them that He had the capacity to change those circumstances – immediately. He had the power to remedy their problem and could do so in no time at all. Their condition was going to go from famine to plenty in less than a 24-hour period.

What does this passage reveal about man?

But many doubted Elisha’s words. They just couldn’t trust what he was telling them about God. Their circumstances overwhelmed their capacity to trust God and take Him at His word. The king’s captain put their doubts into words. “If the Lord himself should make windows in heaven, could this thing be?” (2 Kings 7:2 ESV). This man expressed what everyone else was thinking. He could see no way for God to intervene and change their circumstances overnight. There is a certain degree of sarcasm in his statement to Elisha. It is as if he is saying, “Even if God could open up the windows of heaven and pour out resources from His heavenly storehouse, this couldn’t happen.” It was impossible. He saw no way for their conditions to change. It would take a miracle from heaven. And he was right. Elisha told this man that he would see what God was going to do with his own eyes, but he would not get to benefit from it. God was going to work a miracle from heaven, but this man would not get to taste a single morsel of God’s gracious provision. And the next morning, much to the surprise of everyone in Samaria, they woke up to find the Syrian camp deserted and all of the food and provisions left behind. “For the Lord had made the army of the Syrians hear the sound of chariots and of horses, the sound of a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Behold, the king of Israel has hired against us the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Egypt to come against us.’  So they fled away in the twilight and abandoned their tents, their horses, and their donkeys, leaving the camp as it was, and fled for their lives” (2 Kings 7:6-7 ESV). God had intervened. He had opened the windows of heaven and poured out a blessing, but in a way that was unexpected and unbelievable. He used the very enemies of Israel, who had come intent to destroy them, to bless them. Their conditions were radically changed. Suddenly, they had an abundance of food. So much so, that the prices for flour and barley plummeted overnight – just as God had said they would. But the king’s captain was in for a surprise of his own. When the king discovered the good news regarding their situation, he appointed this very same man to oversee the gate through which the people would pass as the raided the Syrian camp and brought the new-found booty into the city of Samaria. Ironically, this man was trampled in the rush of people storming out of the gates to take advantage of God’s blessing.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

It is also ironic that doubt should come so easy to those of us who call ourselves believers. We say we believe in God. We claim to believe that the Bible is the word of God. But we doubt what it says. We question God’s ability to work miracles in our lives. We become focused on our conditions and fixate on what we believe to be the reality of our lives. But believing requires faith and faith requires action. It is not enough to say that you believe. You must put that faith to the test, by trusting in God’s love and faithfulness to provide a solution to your need. You must also have faith that God has a purpose behind every circumstance in your life. I doubt that the people of Israel saw any benefit to having their city surrounded by Syrians. They could not have seen any good coming out of a severe famine. But what they needed to understand was that God was in control of all that was going on, and that He had a purpose for what was happening in their lives. He was going to use even these dire circumstances to reveal His power and provide for their needs. The famine was a result of their own sin and rebellion against Him. But had the Syrians never have invaded their land and surrounded their city, their suffering as a result of the famine would have continued. God didn’t end the famine, He simply provided them with an unexpected source of good in the midst of it – from the hands of their enemies. The apostle Paul reminds me, “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4 ESV). When the disciples watched Jesus die on the cross, they thought their hopes and dreams of a new kingdom had died along with Him. They couldn’t understand why their Savior had to die. They couldn’t fathom why their King had to be killed by the Romans. But it was all part of God’s plan. He was in complete control. God would use the Romans, the enemies of the Jews, to accomplish His will and bring new life to the people of Israel. He would use death to bring about life. He would use weakness to accomplish His power. It’s interesting to note that lowly lepers were the first to benefit from God’s unexpected bounty that morning outside the walls of Samaria. In their desperation and need they risked everything in the hopes of receiving something that might sustain their lives. And they were rewarded with food and treasure beyond their wildest expectations. When we trust God and step out on faith, we too receive far more than we could ever imagine.

Father, forgive me for the many times I doubt You. Forgive me for the many times I express my belief in You, but fail to step out in faith and trust You to do what You have promised to do. I place way too much stock in my circumstances and not enough faith in Your power. I want to see and believe. I want to trust Your character and lean on Your promises. You can turn my enemies into a means for blessing me. You can turn even the darkest moment into an opportunity to see Your light shine and Your power revealed. You are faithful and good – all the time. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org