But the Lord…

17 Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
    and instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
    instead of stones, iron.
I will make your overseers peace
    and your taskmasters righteousness.
18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
    devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.

19 The sun shall be no more
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
    that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will hasten it. Isaiah 60:17-22 ESV

Peace. Righteousness. Salvation. Praise. Light. Glory.

In the midst of Judah’s darkest days, as they faced the God-ordained and inescapable reality of their judgment at the hands of the Babylonians, God gave them hope. He spoke a future day in which their darkness would be replaced with light. He promised a deliverance like nothing they had ever experienced before. And that deliverance would be in spite of them, not because of them. In the first 16 verses of this chapter. Isaiah has unveiled a prophetic promise that paints a starkly different picture than the one in which they were currently living. In place of the chaos and confusion brought on by the threat of judgment, God would bring peace and tranquility.

While God’s wrath was going to be unleashed against them due to their unrighteous and ungodly behavior, there was a future day coming when righteousness would reign – in their lives and in the world. God was promising to bring salvation to a people who had repeatedly rerjected His calls to repent and His gracious offers of redemption if they would only do so. The saving hand of God will result in the removal of all violence and destruction from their midst.

In Isaiah’s day, the lips of the people of Judah were full of lies and the mouths spewed corruption (Isaiah 59:3). And when God punished them for their wicked behavior, rather than confess, they called out to Him, asking that He show them justice.

They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me. – Isaiah 58:2 NLT

But again, Isaiah tells them of a day when their praise of God will spill out into the streets and gates of the city of Jerusalem. In place of corrupt and wicked speech, they will offer songs of praise to the greatness and glory of God.

All of these images are meant to convey the radically different atmosphere that will pervade the city of Jerusalem during the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth. This Millennial Kingdom will be like nothing the world has ever seen before. Jesus will rule over the earth in righteousness, dispensing justice and administering the divine will of God without opposition or interruption.

And Isaiah describes a never-before-seen feature of this future Kingdom, in which the source of all light will be the glory of God. The apostle John was given the privilege of seeing this future scene and the responsibility of conveying its reality to the church.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 ESV

And John confirms that the city of Jerusalem and the world will receive their light from a source other than the sun or moon.

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. – Revelation 21:23-25 NLT

And this fits right in with comments John made in an earlier letter.

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. – 1 John 1:5 NLT

The light of God’s glory will permeate everything. His Son, the light of the world, will shed His influence over everyone and everything. And the dark influence of sin will be eliminated by the very presence of God and His Son. Satan will be bound throughout the duration of the one thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign. The apostle John was given a glimpse of Satan’s fate and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.  – Revelation 20:1-3 NLT

There is little doubt that all of this sounds fantastic and difficult to believe. But God is describing end times events that will be truly remarkable in nature. Their reality, while beyond the human capacity to understand, is guaranteed by Almighty God, and nothing is impossible for Him. And He tells us why He is going to accomplish these things.

in order to bring myself glory. – Isaiah 60:21 NLT

And as if to assure His doubt-prone people, God tells them:

At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen. – Isaiah 60:22 NLT

It will not be a matter of if, but when. God has promised it, so there is to be no doubt about it. And God is delivering this message of future hope in the midst of Judah’s current context of coming judgment. From their perspective, things looked bleak and foreboding. God had already promised to bring the Babylonians against them and the end result would be the conquering of their city and the captivity of its people. They had 70 years of God-ordained exile looming on the horizon. But they also had the unfailing promise of God that restoration and redemption were their eventual lot. And the fulfillment of the promises found in these verses was not going to be limited to the return of the remnant to the land of Judah under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. God had something far more permanent in mind.

What makes these promises truly incomprehensible is that God eventually sent His Son as the Messiah He had promised to send, but His chosen people had rejected Him. Jesus had not come as they had expected. He was not the conquering King, riding into Jerusalem at the head of a mighty army. They had been looking for a political and military savior, but God had sent His Son to provide salvation from the oppression of sin, not that of the Romans. Jesus came the first time in order to offer His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He came to conquer sin and death, not a foreign military power. He came to sacrifice His life and offer Himself as the payment for man’s sin debt. And with that sacrifice He satisfied the wrath of God against all those who accept His death on their behalf. The apostle Paul reminds us:

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NLT

you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. – 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT

The people of Judah were rebellious. They had stiff-armed God for generations, rejecting His gracious offer of restoration and redemption if they would only repent. But one day, God is going to redeem them. He will no longer pour out His anger, but instead He will shower them with His grace and mercy. And the change in them will be be powerful and permanent.

For the Lord will be your everlasting light.
    Your days of mourning will come to an end.
All your people will be righteous.
    They will possess their land forever. – Isaiah 60:20-21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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No Peace

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one enters suit justly;
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
They hatch adders’ eggs;
    they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
    and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
Their webs will not serve as clothing;
    men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
    and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
    no one who treads on them knows peace.
Isaiah 59:1-8 ESV

Judah’s sorry state of affairs was not an indictment against God’s power to save. He was fully capable of bringing them relief. After all, He was the very source of their current condition. It was God who had chosen to use the Assyrians as His instruments of judgment against His rebellious people. And He was the one who had warned that future judgment would come in the form of the Babylonians. The circumstances in which the people of Judah found themselves were, in a sense, self-inflicted. They had brought it on themselves because they had refused to listen to God’s calls to acknowledge their sin and return to Him. They had repeatedly stiff-armed God’s prophets, including Isaiah, rejecting their messages and stubbornly maintaining their love affair with false gods.

So, in this chapter, we see Isaiah delivering a message to his fellow Judahites that leaves them without excuse. He will not allow them to blame God. He refuses to let them cast God as the villain and themselves as the innocent victims. This was not a case of divine parental abuse or abandonment. They were the cause of their own pain and suffering. And Isaiah conveys that message in stark terms.

It’s your sins that have cut you off from God.
    Because of your sins, he has turned away
    and will not listen anymore. – Isaiah 59:2 NLT

They had abandoned God. Not the other way around. In fact, God had patiently and persistently called on them to repent. He had rescued them time and time again from the consequences of their own sinfulness. He had lovingly disciplined them for their unfaithfulness, welcoming them back with open arms. But they had responded to His grace with ingratitude and continued infidelity. And the prophet Jeremiah describes their stubborn refusal to repent with a sense of shock and surprise.

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down,
    but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them,
    but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock;
    they have refused to repent. – Jeremiah 5:3 ESV

That the people of Judah were guilty was beyond debate, and Isaiah reveals why. He provides a list of evidence that is both lengthy and appalling. It includes murder, depravity, lying, injustice, perjury, dishonesty, and violence. And these manifestations of their own wickedness were showing up in every area of their lives – from their homes to their courts of law. Iniquity was ubiquitous. And while not every member of their society was equally complicit, they all stood equally condemned. There was a corporate culpability shared by all, from the youngest to the oldest and the richest to the poorest. At some level, every single individual in their community stood before God as guilty, having committed their own fair share of sins against Him.

The list Isaiah shares is similiar to one that the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colossae. He reminded them that, even as Christians,  they needed to continue to purge their lives of those sins which mark the lives of each and every human being who walks this planet.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:5-6 ESV

Mankind, apart from help from God, is hopelessly addicted and attracted to the very things that bring the wrath of God. We can’t help it. And Paul warned the believers in Rome how a holy God must deal with those who continue to live lives of unholiness.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 ESV

But not only does a life of ungodliness and unrighteousness bring the judgment of God, it breeds destruction. Isaiah describes the people of Judah as hatching adders’ eggs. Their evil actions were going to produce some seriously negative consequenes. And it doesn’t take a herpetologist to understand that hatching the eggs of a poisonous snake brings more of the same.

And Isaiah compares their sinful actions with the weaving of spider webs.  You can’t expect to produce clothes with that which is ephemeral and fragile. The life of ungodliness can produce nothing of lasting value. It may appear attractive but, in the end, it leaves you with nothing tangible or beneficial from all your effort.

Just how bad was it in Judah? Isaiah is unsparing in his assessment.

All their activity is filled with sin – Isaiah 59:6 NLT

Their feet run to do evil, and they rush to commit murder – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

They think only about sinning… – Isaiah 59:7 NLT

Not exactly a flattering picture. Their lives were inundated by sin and rebellion. It permeated their community. It influenced every facet of their corporate experience, from the halls of the king’s palace to the lowliest peasant’s hut. And, as a result, they were all experiencing the consequences that come from living in open rebellion against God and pursuing a way of life that is in direct violation to His call to holiness.

They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace. – Isaiah 59:8 NLT

No peace. No joy. No justice. No righteousness. Without God, none of these things are achievable. You can’t walk away from Him and expect to find what only He can deliver. A life of sin is a dead end. It offers hope, fulfillment, satisfaction, and peace. But it can’t deliver on its promise. Pursuing the false gods of this world may appear attractive, but they will never produce a single promise they offer. God was offering His people peace. They could be restored to a right relationship with Him and enjoy peace with the One who had made them. They could enjoy peace in their community as they allowed God to guide their actions and change their attitudes. But as long as they continued to refuse Him and choose their own paths, they would find themselves living in turmoil and in constant pursuit of the one thing for which all men long: Peace.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

No Peace For the Wicked

12 “Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!
I am he; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
13 My hand laid the foundation of the earth,
    and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I call to them,
    they stand forth together.

14 “Assemble, all of you, and listen!
    Who among them has declared these things?
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him;
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way.
16 Draw near to me, hear this:
    from the beginning I have not spoken in secret,
    from the time it came to be I have been there.”
And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

17 Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you to profit,
    who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
    Then your peace would have been like a river,
    and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
    and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
    or destroyed from before me.”

20 Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,
    declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it out to the end of the earth;
    say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
    he made water flow for them from the rock;
    he split the rock and the water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:12-22 ESV

That last line is a virtual promise from God and it is all-encompassing in its scope. As the book of Isaiah has made painfully clear, God was going to deal with the wickedness of His chosen people. He would no longer tolerate their blatant acts of spiritual infidelity and moral compromise. They had sinned against Him, and they were going to suffer the consequences. And God has revealed that His chosen method of punishment would be the Babylonians. Just as He had chosen Israel to be His prized possession, He had chosen Babylon to be His preferred means of punishment. He would use King Nebuchadnezzar and his army to invade the land of Judah, destroying its cities and taking captive its people. Babylon’s victory over the people of Judah would be according to the will of God. In fact, according to the prophet Jeremiah, God decreed that their rise to global dominance would be His doing.

“With my great strength and powerful arm I made the earth and all its people and every animal. I can give these things of mine to anyone I choose. Now I will give your countries to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who is my servant. I have put everything, even the wild animals, under his control. All the nations will serve him, his son, and his grandson until his time is up.” – Jeremiah 27:5-7 NLT

But notice that God puts a time limit on Babylon’s rule. And it will be because they act wickedly, punishing the people of God disproportionately and wrongly taking credit for their success.

“I was angry with my people;
    I profaned my heritage;
I gave them into your hand;
    you showed them no mercy;
on the aged you made your yoke exceedingly heavy.” – Isaiah 47:6 ESV

They would let their many victories go to their heads and assume that they would remain in power forever. They would get cocky, claiming, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 48:8 ESV).

But as God has promised, “There is no peace for the wicked.” He would bring judgment against the Babylonians, and Jeremiah makes that fact plain.

“Then many nations and great kings will conquer and rule over Babylon.” – Jeremiah 27:7 NLT

And God has already decreed that His chosen instrument for bringing judgment on the Babylonians will be King Cyrus of the Persians.

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:

“For the sake of my servant Jacob,
    and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
    I name you, though you do not know me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me.” – Isaiah 45: 1, 4-5 ESV

God would punish wicked Judah by using the Babylonians. Then He would repay the Babylonians for the wickedness by using the Persians. And God would use Cyrus, the Persian king, to return the people of Judah to the land of promise.

And in verses 12-21 of Isaiah 48, God calls His people to recognize His hand in all of this. He has told them all that is going to happen, long before any of it has begun. He has predicted their fate, including their fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their eventual restoration to the land. And two times, God calls on the people of Judah to pay attention to what He is saying.

Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called!” – Isaiah 48:12 ESV

“Assemble, all of you, and listen!” – Isaiah 48:14 ESV

Draw near to me, hear this…” – Isaiah 48:16 ESV

But the people of Judah suffered from a severe hearing problem. God even laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea…” (Isaiah 48:18 ESV). If they would have listened to what He had said, obeying His commands and living in keeping with His divine decrees, things would have been markedly different. But listening proved difficult for them. And, through His prophets, God had continually called to them, begging for them to heed what He had to say.

“Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear. Have you no respect for me? Why don’t you tremble in my presence?” – Jeremiah 5:21-22 NLT

The root of their problem was rebellion, fueled by a lack of fear of God.

“But my people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned away and abandoned me. They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God.’” – Jeremiah 5:23-24 NLT

And God reminds the people of Judah that He has been there from the beginning. The one who created the world, had called them and made them His own. He had been beside them all along the way. He had spoken to them, provided for them, and guided and protected them. They had no reason to doubt His goodness or question His word, and now He was telling them that King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians were coming. But He was also letting them know that He had plans for the Babylonians as well.

“I have said it: I am calling Cyrus!
    I will send him on this errand and will help him succeed. – Isaiah 48:15 ESV

God was going to punish Judah for their wickedness, but He was also going to redeem and restore them. And to make sure they understand the inevitability of His plan, He speaks of it in the past-tense, as if their exodus from Babylon has already taken place.

“Yet even now, be free from your captivity!
    Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.
Sing out this message!
    Shout it to the ends of the earth!
The Lord has redeemed his servants,
    the people of Israel.” – Isaiah 48:20 ESV

God’s word is irrefutable and unchangeable. His prophecies are not wishful thinking or some form of positive motivational, name-it-and-claim-it rhetoric. He is the God of the universe who is all-knowing and all-powerful. His word always comes to fruition. Which means, had the people of Judah done what He had said and lived in obedience to His commands, their “peace would have been like a river.” But, instead, they would learn the painful lesson that “there is no peace for the wicked.”

Taking God at His word is difficult. We are wired to doubt. Just as Eve allowed Satan to cast doubt on the word of God and cause her to disobey His command, we are prone to hear the promises of God and question their validity and credibility. Not only do we wonder whether God will do what He has said, we find ourselves questioning whether He can. And when we do, we fail to live in awe of the Lord our God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Recipe for Restoration.

And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
    and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
    as a witness forever.
For they are a rebellious people,
    lying children,
children unwilling to hear
    the instruction of the Lord;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
    and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions,
11 leave the way, turn aside from the path,
    let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12 Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,
“Because you despise this word
    and trust in oppression and perverseness
    and rely on them,
13 therefore this iniquity shall be to you
    like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,
    whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14 and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
    that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
    with which to take fire from the hearth,
    or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

15 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, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
    therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
    at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
    like a signal on a hill. – Isaiah 30:8-17 ESV

God commands Isaiah to make a permanent record of all that He has said against Judah. He wants it all in writing so that the people of Judah cannot disagree with the words that Isaiah spoke to them, or deny that they ever heard them. It seems that Isaiah is commanded to use two different mediums upon which to record God’s words against Judah. One was a tablet, on which he would inscribe the words and place in the public record. The second was a book or scroll, made of papyrus, on which he would record the very same words, but for future use. This scroll would be set aside and kept safe so that Isaiah could bring it out at a later date and remind the people of their refusal to listen to God. It would act as a permanent witness against them.

And all of this was necessary because the people were stubborn. God describes them as “a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). Like immature children, who think they can avoid anything bad by simply refusing to acknowledge its presence, the people of Judah begged their seers and prophets to stop giving them bad news.

They tell the seers,
    “Stop seeing visions!”
They tell the prophets,
    “Don’t tell us what is right. – Isaiah 30:10 NLT

three-wise-monkeys-sculpture-in-bronze-finish-111676-p

They truly thought the could just escape the bad news by denying its reality. If they covered their ears, they wouldn’t hear. If they closed their eyes, they wouldn’t have to see what was happening around them and to them. And if the could only get everyone to stop talking about all this doom and gloom, they could go on with their lives. They could get back to business as usual. They even demanded that Isaiah change his message and tell them what they wanted to hear.

“Tell us nice things.
    Tell us lies.
Forget all this gloom.
    Get off your narrow path.
Stop telling us about your
    ‘Holy One of Israel.’” – Isaiah 30:11 NLT

This reveals just how bad things had gotten in Judah. They were tired of hearing about God and His holiness. They even distance themselves from Yahweh, describing Him as Isaiah’s God, not their own. This desire to ignore God’s holiness and escape His judgment is nothing new. Remember, they had convinced themselves that God couldn’t see what they were doing anyway.

“The Lord can’t see us,” they say.
    “He doesn’t know what’s going on!”
How foolish can you be? – Isaiah 29:15-16 NLT

This tendency among God’s people has always been around. Paul warned Timothy that the day would come in his own ministry when people would want their preachers to tell them nice things.

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths. – 2 Timothy 4:3-4 NLT

For some reason, we think we can escape the truth by simply redefining it. In our day, we deny the reality of hell, by turning it into nothing more than the earthly results of our bad decision-making. Hell becomes figurative, not literal. But denying hell or redefining it, does not make it go away. Another major trend in modern evangelicalism is the emphasis being placed on the love of God, at the expense of His holiness. It goes something like this: A loving God would not send condemn anyone to an eternity in hell. Or another manifestation of this redefining of God shows up in a message of tolerance. We demand that a loving God is accepting of everyone and everything. He is all-loving. But in reaching this seemingly correct conclusion, we leave out the very important doctrine of God’s holiness and His hatred of sin. God does not tolerate sin. He sent His Son to pay the penalty for sin with His own life.

And God would tell us the same thing He said to the people of Judah:

“Because you despise what I tell you
    and trust instead in oppression and lies,
calamity will come upon you suddenly.” – Isaiah 30:12-13 NLT

They didn’t like what God had to say. His words of condemnation and the constant call to repentance were not what they wanted to hear. So, they trusted in lies and half-truths. They changed the rules of the game. But their denunciation of Isaiah and their denial of his message would do nothing to alter the outcome. Their calamity was going to come – suddenly. Like a bulging wall that is on the brink of failure, their demise would take place quickly, and the consequences would be devastating. Their wall of lies and self-constructed truth was not going to stand the onslaught of God’s judgment. And God warns them, “You will be smashed like a piece of pottery—shattered so completely that
there won’t be a piece big enough to carry coals from a fireplace or a little water from the well” (Isaiah 30:14 NLT). 

But it didn’t have to be this way. Their inevitable destruction could have been avoided. And God makes it clear how they could have escaped what was about to happen.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:

“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength. – Isaiah 30:15 NLT

And it’s essential that we not miss how God refers to Himself in this passage. He is the “Holy One of Israel.” Remember, they had refused to recognize Him as such. But here, God is letting them know that He is their God, not just Isaiah’s. And He is holy. He is also sovereign. He is in complete control of all things, whether they want to admit it or not.

As the Holy One of Israel, He lets them know that remedy for their coming fall was simple. All they had to do was return to Him and rest in Him. Repent of their sin of trusting in Egypt, and rely upon Him instead.  It was that easy. And God lets them know that it was the only way they would find salvation. He uses two Hebrew words to describe what they had to do: shaqat and bitchah. The first refers to a state of rest or inactivity. It’s the thought conveyed by the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NLT). It carries the idea of tranquility, even in the midst of trouble.

The second word has to do with a confidence that is a direct byproduct of trust. It is the same idea expressed by Isaiah earlier in this book.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!
 – Isaiah 26:3 NLT

God spells out the remedy for what ailed them. But He also sadly states, “But you would have none of it” (Isaiah30:15 NLT). Rather than repenting and returning to God, they had made the decision to trust and find confidence in Egypt.

“No, we will get our help from Egypt.
    They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.” – Isaiah 30:16 NLT

But God breaks the bad news to them that their so-called savior was going to prove completely unreliable. The only swift horses they were going to see would be the ones their enemies rode. It would be a lopsided battle with the people of Judah completely routed and destroyed. And God describes their post-battle condition in bleak terms.

“You will be left like a lonely flagpole on a hill
    or a tattered banner on a distant mountaintop.” – Isaiah 30:17 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Peace, Peace.

To whom shall I speak and give warning,
    that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised,
    they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn;
    they take no pleasure in it.
Therefore I am full of the wrath of the Lord;
    I am weary of holding it in.
“Pour it out upon the children in the street,
    and upon the gatherings of young men, also;
both husband and wife shall be taken,
    the elderly and the very aged.
Their houses shall be turned over to others,
    their fields and wives together,
for I will stretch out my hand
    against the inhabitants of the land,”
declares the Lord.
“For from the least to the greatest of them,
    everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
    everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
    saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
    when there is no peace.
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination?
    No, they were not at all ashamed;
    they did not know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
    at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,”
says the Lord.
Jeremiah 6:10-15 ESV

Sometimes we fail to think about the lot of the poor prophet who was tasked with the God-ordained responsibility of delivering a very difficult-to-hear message to the people of God. Jeremiah was just a man. He had feelings and emotions. And, on top of that, Judah was his homeland and the people to whom he was called to minister were his people. He took no pleasure in pointing out the peoples’ sins and warning them of the coming disaster. He was simply doing what God had commanded him to do. But at the same time, he knew the frustration of putting himself on the line everyday, facing the ridicule and rejection of the people, and watching them refuse to believe his words. He had to have felt like a failure at times. He would have known what it was like to get angry at the unwillingness of his own people to listen to what he had to say. And Jeremiah shares with God just a bit of his growing frustration:

“To whom can I give warning?
    Who will listen when I speak?
Their ears are closed,
    and they cannot hear.
They scorn the word of the Lord.
    They don’t want to listen at all.
So now I am filled with the Lord’s fury.
    Yes, I am tired of holding it in!” – Jeremiah 6:10-11 NLT

Jeremiah knew he was speaking for God, but he took their rejection of his words personally. No one likes rejection. The prophet Samuel, went through a similar experience. At one point, the people of Israel came to him and demanded that they give them a king just all the other nations. This request made him angry on two accounts. First of all, he had been serving as the judge over Israel, and he took their request as a personal affront. Secondly, because he had grown old, he had appointed his two sons to serve as judges over Israel as well, but they proved to be corrupt. So, the people demanded a king instead. And Samuel took his frustration with the people to God. But God let Samuel know that he was not to take this personally.

“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment.” – 1 Samuel 8:7-8 NLT

Anyone who speaks on behalf of God will experience the frustration of having their words rejected by those to whom they are called to minister. It comes with the territory. The truth is not always welcome. Even Jesus said, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Jeremiah was experiencing the inner conflict of a man who was obligated to speak the word of God, while watching his own people refuse to accept a single thing he had to say as truth. And he knew their refusal to listen was going to have dire consequences. Jeremiah fully believed in the words of God. He had no doubt in his mind that God was going to fulfill every single thing He had said He would do. And God responded to Jeremiah’s growing frustration over the peoples’ stubborn refusal to listen with another warning.

“I will pour out my fury on children playing in the streets
    and on gatherings of young men,
on husbands and wives
    and on those who are old and gray.
Their homes will be turned over to their enemies,
    as will their fields and their wives.
For I will raise my powerful fist
    against the people of this land,”
    says the Lord. – Jeremiah 6:11-12 NLT

God’s wrath against their sin would be unchecked. From the youngest to the oldest, all would suffer the result of His justice, for all were guilty of sin against Him. The entire nation was worthy of facing His judgment. “From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed” (Jeremiah 6:13 NLT). The permeating influence of sin was everywhere and had infected everyone. And it had started at the top and worked its way down.

“From prophets to priests,
    they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
    for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
    when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT

Jeremiah had competition. There were others who claimed to be speaking on behalf of God, but their messages were much more acceptable and tolerable. While Jeremiah was busy warning the people of coming disaster, the false prophets were contradicting his words with messages of peace. They were assuring the people that all would be well. God was not going to punish them. But God calls them frauds, and He deems their care for His people as superficial. They were putting band-aids on a mortal wound. Later on, Jeremiah would bring up this problem again, telling God exactly what these false prophets were telling the people:

“All is well—no war or famine will come. The Lord will surely send you peace.” – Jeremiah 14:13 NLT

And God will make it clear that these people did not speak for Him.

Then the Lord said, “These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.” – Jeremiah 14:14 NLT

Their unbelievable willingness to claim their words came from God was going to prove disastrous. They would be held accountable for their lies. God would punish them for their deception.

Therefore, this is what the Lord says: I will punish these lying prophets, for they have spoken in my name even though I never sent them. They say that no war or famine will come, but they themselves will die by war and famine! As for the people to whom they prophesy—their bodies will be thrown out into the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and war. There will be no one left to bury them. Husbands, wives, sons, and daughters—all will be gone. For I will pour out their own wickedness on them. – Jeremiah 6:15-16 NLT

These people were unashamed for what they were doing. They knew they were lying, but were not even embarrassed when called out about it. God accuses them of not knowing how to blush. There was no remorse or sorrow over sin. There was no regret over having rejected God or for having lied in His name. They weren’t sorry for what they were doing. And, as a result, they would suffer the same fate as the people.

“Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 6:15 NLT

Jeremiah was frustrated, but he was faithful. He was angry over the failure of his people to listen to his words of warning. But he was committed to speaking the truth, regardless of the outcome. He was going to keep saying what God gave him to say, no matter what happened. He wasn’t going to take the easy road and simply tell the people what they wanted to hear. That route would make him more popular. That message would garner him a following. But it would not stop the inevitable. Lies will never stop the truth of God. They may make us feel better for a time, but they will prove short-lived and incapable of preventing the inevitable. The world cries out, “Peace, peace” but God calls out, “Repent!”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not What They Expected.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:1-12 ESV

Before we dig into what Jesus is saying in these verses, take a close look at the list of those whom He refers to as approved by God:
…the poor in spirit
…those who mourn
…the meek
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
…the merciful
…the pure in heart
…the peacemakers
…those persecuted for their righteousness
…those reviled, persecuted and slandered because of their association with Him

Now think about how His audience would have reacted to that list. Most, if not all, of these descriptions would have been off-putting to his listeners. What would have been remotely attractive to these oppressed and, oftentimes impoverished people, about spiritual poverty? How in the world were they supposed to see mourning as a form of blessing from God? And within the culture and times during which they existed, meekness wasn’t exactly a handy asset. It got you nowhere and achieved nothing. Then there’s his mention of hunger and thirst. For what was most likely a crowd made up mostly of farmers, shepherds and other common laborers, the mention of hunger and thirst stirred up fairly negative connotations. They knew what it was like to suffer both and would not have viewed either as a blessing from God. Then there’s mercy. These were people living under the cruel and sometimes crushing rule of Rome. The Romans weren’t exactly known for being merciful, so what possible good could come out of showing mercy? And peacemaking wasn’t exactly an attractive option for Jesus’ listeners either. Peacemaking meant giving in and compromising with your enemy. Once again, the average Jew didn’t want peace with Rome, they wanted their destruction. For hundreds of years, ever since returning to the land of promise from captivity, the Jews had been without a king and at the mercy of virtually every nation that wanted to enslave them. They had become easy prey to anyone who wanted what they had. And the last thing they wanted was peace. What about purity of heart? For a people raised on the belief that a strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was their only hope, the idea of purity of heart would have been foreign. Theirs was a behavior-based society. You had to live up to certain rules, laws, and regulations. You had to keep the prescribed holy days, feasts and festivals. You had to do what the law required. It was your outward actions that mattered most. The heart had nothing to do with it.

And then Jesus ends His list by bringing up persecution, reviling and slander. In other words, He tells them that those who suffer for His sake will be approved by God. Now, that would have been great news to his listeners! No, persecution, reviling and slander would have been the last things these people wanted to go through – for anybody’s sake.

Can you imagine the murmurs going through the crowd as Jesus spoke? Can’t you just see people in the crowd turning to one another with looks of confusion and even disgust. Who was this guy? What was He talking about? If He truly was a rabbi trying to attract followers, He wasn’t off to a great start. Maybe He should give up public speaking and stick to doing miracles. I believe there were many in the crowd that day who, after hearing Jesus’ opening remarks, began to have serious questions about not only His subject matter, but His sanity. But He had their attention. And He was just getting started.

One of the things we must remember is that John the Baptist and Jesus both came preaching a message of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). The Greek word for “repent” is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind for the better”. It entailed changing how you believed about things. We tend to think of repentance as turning from our sins and heading in another direction. But before you can turn from your sins, you have to have a change of mind regarding your sins. For the Jews in Jesus’ audience, they were going to have to experience a change of mind about everything from the Law and works to the kingdom of God and who was qualified to be a citizen of it. They were going to have to change their minds about what it meant to be approved by God. And they had been indoctrinated by hundreds of years of teaching that taught them that they were the chosen people of God. They were the descendants of Abraham. And to receive the blessings of God, they simply had to obey the commands of God. But Jesus called them to repent. And now He was giving them an explanation of just exactly what their repentance or change of mind should look like.

First, they should be marked by poverty of spirit, a personal knowledge of their own spiritual bankruptcy. For a people who prided themselves on their status as God’s chosen people, this would have been difficult to hear and comprehend. But Jesus was telling them that, in order to be approved by God, they would first have to become conscious of their own unworthiness before God. Jesus would later tell the Pharisees, who took great pride in their spirituality, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). It is not until we recognize our spiritual unworthiness that we will see our need for a Savior.

Next, Jesus mentions an attitude or mournfulness, a personal grief over personal sin. Paul will later refer to this as “godly grief”.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV

Our mournfulness stems from an awareness of our spiritual poverty. It is the emotional reaction to our impoverished standing before God. We react with sorrow, which leads us to salvation.

Jesus then mentions meekness, the controlled desire to see someone else’s interests advanced ahead of our own. Meekness is not weakness, it is life of willing selflessness and sacrifice. It is the opposite of self-assertiveness and self-interest. In a world where everyone is out for themselves, Jesus was teaching that selflessness was what God was looking for in His people. And Jesus would go on to model this very characteristic throughout His life, all the way up to His selfless, sacrificial death on the cross.

When Jesus mentions a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he is speaking of having an insatiable desire for conformity to the will of God. Righteousness becomes the objective and our primary obsession. But righteousness on His terms, not ours. To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to desire a life lived in conformity to God’s will, not our own. It is to long for life as He has planned it.

What about mercy? What is Jesus saying? Mercy is the gracious and generous response to the mercy we have received from God. We are to extend mercy to others because we have received mercy from God. And just as the mercy we received from Him was undeserved and unmerited, so we are to show mercy to those around us who have no right to it.

The Christian forgives because he has been forgiven; he forgives because he needs forgiveness. In precisely the same way, and for the same kind of reasons, the disciple of Jesus Christ is merciful. – D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount

What does Jesus mean by purity of heart? Is He calling for perfection? The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). So how can we be pure of heart? But Jesus has something else in mind here. When Jesus was later asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” – Matthew 22:37 NLT

Purity of heart is not outward conformity to rules. The Greek word for “purity” is sometimes translated as “blameless”.  In the Old Testament, purity was associated with the idea of wholeness, completeness or integrity. God called Abraham to walk before Him and be blameless. We are to live our lives with integrity, before God and man. It is a wholehearted seeking after God that impacts all of our life. No compartmentalization. No holding back. Again, the Jeremiah speaks of the heart.

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. – Jeremiah 29:13-14 NLT

Jesus is calling for a wholehearted desire for God, not just a half-hearted attempt to keep His laws. Obedience is possible without love. That is not what God requires or desires. IN fact, later on in His ministry, Jesus will say to the Pharisees and religious leaders, quoting from the prophet, Isaiah:

“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’” – Matthew 15:7-9 NLT

Peacemaking is ultimately the desire for reconciliation between God and man. It has less to do with being at peace with those around me, than desiring that they have peace with God. And this desire will come from having been made right with God ourselves. The apostle Paul will later write, “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us” (Romans 5:1 NLT). And he will go on to say, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 NLT). We prove our status as sons of God by seeking what God desires: reconciliation between God and man. Once again, Paul provides us with insight into what Jesus is saying:

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. – Romans 12:17-19 NLT

Finally, Jesus speaks of persecution, reviling and slander. But His primary point is that those who are approved by God had a future focus that sees them through present suffering. Jesus would later tell His disciples:

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.” – John 15:18-19 NLT

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NLT

We can endure suffering in this life because we are confident of Jesus promises regarding the next life. As Paul reminds us, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

All of this was difficult to hear and even harder to comprehend. Remember, these people are on the opposite side of the cross from us. Jesus had not yet died. He had not yet been resurrected. He is speaking of life made possible by His death, burial and resurrection. He is describing a life available only through faith in His sacrificial death and empowered by His indwelling Holy Spirit. But He is preparing them for what is to come. It was not what they were expecting, but it was exactly what they needed.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Grace, Love and Fellowship.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. – 2 Corinthians 13:11-14 ESV

How do you close out a letter like this one? For 13 chapters, Paul has had to defend his ministry, confront the Corinthians about their lack of giving, encourage their continued spiritual growth, and expose the false apostles who were undermining his authority and impacting his work. Now, as he wraps up his letter, he does so with five simple statements. First, he tells them to rejoice. He doesn’t explain what it is they are to rejoice about, but he most likely is referring to their position in Christ. They are children of God, heirs of His Kingdom, recipients of His grace, and possessors of His Holy Spirit. They have much about which to rejoice. Yet it is so easy to lose sight of all that God has done for us and to allow ourselves to live ungrateful, joyless lives. The life of the believer should be marked by joy and rejoicing. But it is a choice. We must decide to express to God our gratitude for all that He has done for us. And even if we should find this life difficult and full of trials, we can rejoice in the fact that our future is secure and that all God has promised for us is guaranteed. We have an eternity ahead of us, free from sin, pain and sorrow. Even if we must suffer in this life, we face a suffering-free future because of our faith in Christ.

Secondly, Paul tells them to “aim for restoration.” This could actually be translated, “set things right” or “put things in order.” This interpretation seems to be more appropriate, because Paul has been pointing out some issues within the church that were not as they should have been. He was concerned about their lack of giving for the saints in Judea. He was worried about the impact the false apostles had had on their faith. Paul wanted them to get their proverbial act together and pursue spiritual maturity. It is quite easy for believers in Christ to find themselves distracted from their primary God-given directive: spiritual maturity. Yes, we are to witness. We are to share the gospel with those who have not yet heard. But our transformed lives are one of the greatest testimonies to the veracity of the gospel we can give. Disorder and disunity in the church are antithetical to our calling as the children of God. Selfishness and self-centeredness are not to be the characteristics for which we are known. As Paul had written them in his first letter, they had a habit of living as if they were still part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world? – 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 NLT

Paul wants them to put things in order, to restore things to the way God wanted them to be.

Next, Paul tells them to “comfort one another.” Actually, this might be better translated, “be encouraged” or “be comforted.” This seems to fit in with what Paul said earlier in his letter.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV

Paul wanted them to find encouragement in the content of his letter. He knew that their situation was far from perfect. He realized that their pursuit of spiritual maturity was anything be easy. So he wanted them to be encouraged and comforted. God was not done with them yet. And as they were comforted by God, they would be better able to live in unity and peace with one another. It was a common practice in the early church to greet one another with a kiss. It was a sign of their unity and common bond in Christ. But Paul insists that they must greet one another with a holy kiss. It must be without hypocrisy and not just for show. A holy kiss can only come from holy lips. You can’t tear down a brother in Christ, then greet him with a kiss as if nothing was wrong. James writes, “Sometimes it [the tongue] praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:9-10 NLT). Holiness is the key to true unity and peace.

Finally, Paul closes his letter with a salutation that alludes to all three members of the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Grace, love and fellowship. These three things are critical to the health and well-being of the church. We exist because of the grace of Christ, His unmerited favor, made possible by His death on the cross. And we are to extend that grace to all those within the body of Christ.

Jesus’ death was the direct result of God’s love for us. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). God loved us so much, in spite of our sinfulness and rebellion, that He sent His own Son to die on our behalf. And we are to love one another in the same selfless, sacrificial way.

Finally, as believers in Jesus Christ and recipients of the love of God, we have been given the Spirit of God. We are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, who makes our fellowship with one another possible. He has given each of us spiritual gifts designed for the benefit of the rest of the body. He empowers us with a capacity to love like Christ loved. He produces within us fruit that is designed to minister to one another: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Our unity is Spirit-empowered, not self-motivated. Our love for one another is made possible by the Spirit of God, not our own self-will.

Grace, love and fellowship – made possible by the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit. We have all we need for living together as the body of Christ, as sons and daughters of God.

 

 

God of Peace.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a ESV

The very fact that Paul is going into this great amount of detail regarding the gifts reveals that this was a real problem for the church in Corinth. This was not a case of the gifts being in short supply. They seemed to have them in abundance. But they were confused as to their purpose and were neglecting to practice them in a spirit of love. So now, Paul gives more specific comments regarding their use in corporate worship. “When you come together,” Paul says, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” The gifts were designed primarily for use within the community and Paul makes clear their intended purpose: “Let all things be done for building up.” They were not designed to get attention or to make the one with the gift look good. And they most certainly were not to be used in a competitive or chaotic way. It seems that the Corinthians were in the habit of practicing their gifts almost like it was a competition. There was no order to their services. Everyone was prophesying, singing, teaching, and speaking in tongues at the same time. Which is what let Paul to say, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”

The gift of tongues was not to dominate the corporate gathering. As Paul made clear earlier, tongues were intended for the lost, not believers. But if someone was going to practice the gift of tongues within the worship service, there must be someone there to interpret what was said. Otherwise, they were to remain silent. And Paul restricted the use of tongues to no more than three individuals per worship service. He did the same thing with the gift of prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV). The worship service was not to be a circus or free-for-all, with everyone speaking at the same time or saying whatever they felt led to say. Even those with a prophetic word were to be evaluated by others with the same gift. There had to be a confirmation of what was being said. Just because someone prophesied did not mean that what they said was true. There was a need for the congregation and others with the gift of prophecy to ascertain whether what was being said was of God. This is an important distinction. Not all tongues is of God. Not all prophecy is of God. Not all revelation is of God. The gifts can be easily replicated and done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many who claim to prophesy in the name of God, but their words are not from God. There are those who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they do not practice them according to Scripture. There is no interpretation. There is no message. And no one, except the one speaking in tongues, is built up. To Paul, this was all unacceptable. It was more evident of the former pagan background of the Corinthians than than it was of God’s intended form of worship for the church.  

The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly. – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Order. Edification. Peace. Godliness. Love. All of these things were to characterize the corporate worship of the body of Christ. God had given the gifts to assist in the building up of the saints. When the Spirit of God was at work within the congregation, it would be evident. There would be a spirit of love present. Orderliness, not confusion, would characterize the assembly. The gifts would be complimentary, not competitive. The use of the gifts would be dictated by the Spirit of God, not the selfish desires of men. And the result would be the edification of all, not the elevation of one.

 

The Fruit of Righteousness.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. – Galatians 5:22-26 ESV

When we live according to or under the control of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have to worry about producing the works of the flesh. His power can only produce good fruit, those characteristics and manifestations that align with God’s will and reflect godliness. Living dependent upon and in obedience to the Holy Spirit never results in either legalism or license, the two dangers facing the believers in Galatia.  And yet, like them, we can find it so easy to live according to our own sinful nature and end up trying to work our way into God’s good graces or taking advantage of His grace by living in sin and expecting Him to simply forgive and forget.

When we live according to our sinful nature, the outcome is always destructive, not constructive. Driven by selfishness and pride, we make ourselves the highest priority and end up using and, at times, abusing others. We tend to view others as competition. We struggle with envy and jealousy, anger and distrust. People become tools to get what we want and to satisfy our own self-centered agendas. Our sinful flesh has no love for God or others. It only loves self. Unknowingly, we become our own god, expecting the world to revolve around our wants, needs and desires.

But when we live in willful submission to the Spirit of God, we find ourselves with a supernatural capacity to live in love with God and in harmony with others. We suddenly want what He wants. We see others as more important than ourselves. We look for opportunities to extend grace and express love. The fruit produced in our lives becomes other-oriented instead of self-centered. It becomes uplifting and edifying, meeting the needs of others rather than feeding the insatiable appetite of self. What the Holy Spirit produces in us and through us is fully pleasing to God and there are no laws prohibiting its presence in our lives. Yet the works of the flesh are all in contradiction to the will of God and are specifically prohibited by the law of God. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are free from the law, because our lives produce fruit that is free from condemnation. Paul elaborated on this very thought in his letter to the Romans:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. – Romans 8:1-4 ESV

Paul encouraged the Galatians to live by the Spirit – to live under His control. They could either live under the influence of their old sin nature or that of the Spirit. And he wanted them to remember that those “who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 ESV). Those sinful passions and desires, while not completely gone, no longer have to control us. We have an alternative resource – the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul told the Romans, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6 ESV). If we try to live according to the law, we will be depending upon the flesh again. And if we assume that we can practice license, doing whatever we want, because we are guaranteed eternal life, then we are also allowing the flesh to control our lives. And the end result of both legalism and license is death. Our lives will be characterized by rotten fruit that does no one any good. But if we set our mind on the Spirit and His will for us, our lives will be characterized by life and peace, fruitfulness and selflessness, and a love for God that finds expression in our love for others.

Paul gives the Galatians an important insight into living according to the Spirit. “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:25 ESV). No compartmentalization. No hidden areas. No secular/sacred split. The Holy Spirit wants to influence and infiltrate every area of our lives. He wants to control every aspect of our character, eliminating the vestiges of our old nature and replacing it with the nature of Christ. And it will show up in the form of fruit that is God-produced and edifying to everyone around us: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do – He has provided a way for sinful men and women to live lives characterized by the fruit of righteousness. His Spirit within us is the key to seeing His righteousness flow out of us. The Spirit of God is the means by which we live as children of God.

The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Christ lived out in our lives for any and all to see. It is not hidden, but visible. Their display in our lives is evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. They are supernatural and impossible to duplicate in our own strength. We can attempt to mimic them, but we can’t manufacture them. We can fake them, but not make them. And if we try to emulate them without the Holy Spirit’s help, we will end up producing nothing more than conceit, anger and jealousy. Our self-made love will be insincere and self-serving. Our flesh-produced joy will be short-lived. Our self-manufactured peace and patience will last only as long as our troubles stay away. Only the Spirit of God can produce in us the righteousness of Christ. And when He does, God is glorified, we are sanctified and the lost are impacted by the love of God.

Only By God’s Grace.

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. – Ephesians 6:21-23 ESV

For the first time in his letter, Paul turned his attention to himself. He had written the letter while under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial. He had been arrested in Jerusalem having been accused by the Jews of defiling the temple by bringing Gentiles into it (Acts 21:28-30). The Jews had been so incensed at Paul that they were going to kill him, but he had been rescued by Roman soldiers. Paul ended up defending himself before the Sanhedrin, the Roman governor, King Agrippa, and eventually was shipped off to Rome because, as a Roman citizen, he had appealed for a trial before Caesar. So while under house arrest, he had written this letter to the Ephesians. In fact, Paul wrote many of his letters while physically detained in Rome. He made very good use of his time and continued to minister to the churches he had helped to plant.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the believers in each of the cities to which he wrote. He saw them as his spiritual children. He had a pastor’s heart for them, worrying about their spiritual well-being and knowing that they were all under spiritual attack from the enemy. That is why he wrote his many letters. He wanted to educate, encourage and instruct them in the faith. He desired to see them grow in Christ-likeness and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world.

Paul knew that the churches to which he had ministered so faithfully worried about him. They were concerned with his well-being. They each felt a certain sense of dependency upon him as their spiritual mentor and father in the faith. So Paul regularly kept them updated as to his condition. With everything else going on, he did not want them to have to worry about him. So he told them he would send Tychicus, “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” to bring them up to speed. It seems that Paul used Tychicus in this way quite often (Acts 20:4; Colossians 4:7; Titus 3:12; 2 Tiomothy 4:12). He was one of Paul’s constant companions and was able to travel to these various cities and keep the believers there informed as to the current status of Paul’s imprisonment and trial. Paul’s main purpose in sending Tychicus was that they might be encouraged. He did not want them worrying about him. He knew that they did not need any more distractions or discouragement than they already had.

Paul loved others. He cared deeply about them and was willing to do whatever it took to see that they grew in faith. He could be hard on them, pointing out their weaknesses and flaws. He could also be passionately compassionate, encouraging them in their weakness and calling them to not lose faith. Like a loving parent, Paul wanted what was best for his children, and he was willing to sacrifice his own life to see that the flock of God was healthy and whole. Paul was the consummate shepherd. Paul shared the heart of Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 ESV). As a matter of fact, prior to heading to Rome to await his trial before Caesar, Paul had called for the elders from Ephesus and told them, “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). And Paul had lived out that admonition in his own life – all the way from Rome. Paul had lived out the calling for elders penned by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly – not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. – 1 Peter 5:2 NLT

And in keeping with his role as a shepherd, Paul closed out his letter with a prayer for his flock in Ephesus. He prayed for three things: peace, love and faith. Peace is not an absence of trouble, but an awareness of God’s presence in the midst of trying times. Peace also can mean harmony between individuals. Paul knew that there would be plenty of potential for turmoil in the churches of Ephesus, because churches are comprised of people. And he knew that peace was going to be necessary if they were going to grow together and experience the unity that God desired for them. But peace is only possible when love is present. Mutual love is what brings about peace. The sacrificial, selfless love Paul for which Paul was praying is unifying, not dividing. It is healing, not hurtful. It is other-oriented, not self-centered. But the kind of love Paul is talking about is only possible through faith in Christ. It is not a self-manufactured kind of love, but is a natural expression of the love that God has for us by sending His own Son to die on our behalf. “We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:19 NLT). In fact, all three of these attributes – peace, love and faith – come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. They are divine gifts to the church and they are to be used for the mutual edification of one another.

Paul closed his letter the same way he opened it, with an emphasis on the grace of God. “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:24 ESV). The grace of God, His undeserved favor, is the most remarkable thing any of us have ever received. But it is easy to lose sight of His grace and mistakenly assume that we somehow deserve His love. We can end up thinking that we are worthy of His forgiveness and capable of living the Christian life in our own strength. But Paul would have us remember that it is the grace of God that made our salvation possible. It is the grace of God that makes our sanctification achievable. It is the grace of God that makes loving He and His Son feasible. All that we are and all that we do is made possible by the grace of God.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
there where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
grace, grace, God’s grace,
grace that is greater than all our sin!