I, the Lord…I Am He

1 Listen to me in silence, O coastlands;
    let the peoples renew their strength;
let them approach, then let them speak;
    let us together draw near for judgment.

Who stirred up one from the east
    whom victory meets at every step?
He gives up nations before him,
    so that he tramples kings underfoot;
he makes them like dust with his sword,
    like driven stubble with his bow.
He pursues them and passes on safely,
    by paths his feet have not trod.
Who has performed and done this,
    calling the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord, the first,
    and with the last; I am he.

The coastlands have seen and are afraid;
    the ends of the earth tremble;
    they have drawn near and come.
Everyone helps his neighbor
    and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith,
    and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, “It is good”;
    and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.

But you, Israel, my servant,
    Jacob, whom I have chosen,
    the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
    and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, “You are my servant,
    I have chosen you and not cast you off”;
10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

11 Behold, all who are incensed against you
    shall be put to shame and confounded;
those who strive against you
    shall be as nothing and shall perish.
12 You shall seek those who contend with you,
    but you shall not find them;
those who war against you
    shall be as nothing at all.
13 For I, the Lord your God,
    hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
    I am the one who helps you.”

14 Fear not, you worm Jacob,
    you men of Israel!
I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
15 Behold, I make of you a threshing sledge,
    new, sharp, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff;
16 you shall winnow them, and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
And you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

17 When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
    may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. – Isaiah 41:1-20 ESV

Judah was in an unenviable position, in both a physical and spiritual sense. It seems that they were located in the very epicenter of a region that attracted conquering nations like honey draws bees.

Assyrian domain.jpgIf you look at any maps that reveal the extent of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, you find Judah positioned precariously in the middle of all the action. The threat of defeat at the hands of more powerful nations was a constant reality. If it weren’t the Assyrians, it would be the Babylonians.

Babylon's domain.jpgAnd God has already warned Hezekiah that Jerusalem would eventually fall to the Babylonians, who weren’t even a major player on the scene at the time.

But even more unenviable than Judah’s geographic location was its position in respect to Yahweh. They had been unfaithful to the Faithful One. They had repeatedly disobeyed Him and dishonored His name by worshiping false gods. And God, by virtue of His holiness and righteousness, was obligated to punish His people for their serial spiritual adultery.

And yet, God has provided His rebellious people with a somewhat surprising message of assurance, saying, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1 ESV). In spite of all that the people of Judah had done to offend a holy God, they would find Him to be compassionate and gracious. He promised to one day restore them.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

It would have been easy for the people of Judah to look at their circumstances and lose heart. They were a seemingly insignificant nation surrounded by more powerful enemies who were intent on their destruction. What was Judah when compared to the world-dominating power of Assyria? What hope did they have when the ten tribes of Israel to the north had fallen to Sennacherib and his forces? But in chapter 41, God assures His people that they have nothing to fear from these other nations. They were mere pawns in His hands, and their power was insignificant when compared with His.

God summons as witnesses all the Gentile nations of the world. Like a prosecuting attorney in a court of law, He addresses them, delivering in no uncertain terms a defense of His sovereignty.

“Who has stirred up this king from the east,
    rightly calling him to God’s service?
Who gives this man victory over many nations
    and permits him to trample their kings underfoot?
With his sword, he reduces armies to dust.
    With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind.
He chases them away and goes on safely,
    though he is walking over unfamiliar ground.”– Isaiah 41:2-3 NLT

In response to these questions from God, the Gentile nations would have most likely stated that the pagan gods of the Assyrians and Babylonians were responsible for their victories. But God’s questions are intended to be rhetorical, and He provides the only correct answer: “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4 ESV).

And yet, the pagan nations continue to place all their hopes in their false gods. They attempt to manufacture some semblance of security just as they manufacture the idols they worship.

The idol makers encourage one another,
    saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
    and the molder helps at the anvil.
    “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
    then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT

But these man-made totems will prove no match for the Lord of Hosts. They have no power. And any power that the kings of these pagan nations wield has been given to them by God. As God revealed to Daniel in a dream:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.” – Daniel 2:20-21 NLT

So, God turns His attention to the people of Judah, reminding them of their unique position as His chosen people. Of all people on the earth, they were to be envied, despite all that was happening around them. The nations beyond the seas had no god to save them. Their idols would prove powerless in the face of the Assyrian and Babylonian armies. But Judah had no reason to fear because they belonged to God.

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 NLT

If they looked at their circumstances, they were bound to experience fear and discouragement. But, as God’s people, they were to look to Him. They were to trust in Him. Because He had promised to do what no other god could do: To strengthen them, help them and hold them up. They had nothing to fear, even though they were surrounded by more powerful enemies because God was in control and was on their side.

Those who attack you
    will come to nothing.
For I hold you by your right hand—
    I, the Lord your God.
And I say to you,
    ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” – Isaiah 41:12-13 NLT

Notice what God tells them. They would be attacked. Their enemies were real, and the prospect of warfare was as well. God didn’t promise them freedom from warfare, but the assurance of His help. And the apostle Paul reminds us that we can expect warfare in our lives as well.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. – Ephesians 6:10-13 NLT

God promises the people of Judah that a day is coming when the tables will be turned. They will become the victor rather than the victim. The lowly “worm” will become the aggressor, wreaking havoc on its enemies and gladly glorying in the greatness of God.

Then you will rejoice in the Lord.
    You will glory in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 41:16 NLT

God tells them that, just when things are looking like they couldn’t get any worse, He will show up.

“When the poor and needy search for water and there is none,
    and their tongues are parched from thirst,
then I, the Lord, will answer them.
    I, the God of Israel, will never abandon them.” – Isaiah 41:17 NLT

At their greatest moment of need, their great God will show up. And He will provide for them in ways that are beyond their imaginations. He will work a miracle that leaves no doubt that their salvation was divinely ordained and orchestrated. And God tells them why He is going to act on their behalf.

“I am doing this so all who see this miracle
    will understand what it means—
that it is the Lord who has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel who created it.” – Isiah 41:20 NLT

God’s greatest works always appear at our greatest moments of need. It is in our periods of most intense crisis that God reveals His power and proves His faithfulness to us. It is when we need Him most that God tends to show up best. It is in those times that He intervenes and says, “I, the Lord…I am He.”

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

Trust God

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
    and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
    and weighed the mountains in scales
    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult,
    and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
    and taught him knowledge,
    and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
    behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
    nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him,
    they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,
    or what likeness compare with him?
19 An idol! A craftsman casts it,
    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
    and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering
    chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
    to set up an idol that will not move.

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
    calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
    and because he is strong in power,
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:12-31 ESV

This chapter opened with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people.” And the next ten verses revealed the form that comfort would take. God was going to intervene on behalf of Judah. Isaiah was given a vision of a future day in which the Lord God will appear in glory and might.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. – Isaiah 40:10 NLT

God will one day come as Shepherd of Israel, carrying his lambs in His arms and “holding them close to his heart” (Isaiah 40:11 NLT). But how can the people of Judah know for certain that all of this will take place? What assurance do they have that this future revelation of God’s glory and deliverance will happen? Isaiah has already provided an answer to these questions. It is because “the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 ESV). He is trustworthy and true, and His word is as immutable as His holy character.

But God knows that the people of Judah have their doubts. They are still obsessed with God’s declaration that the city of Jerusalem is going to fall to the Babylonians. So, any news of God’s future redemption sounds a bit hollow and too good to be true. The immediate prospect of defeat carries far more weight with them than any promise of future restoration. So, God addresses their apprehension with a series of 13 questions. And these queries from God are meant to reveal His greatness and the everlasting nature of His nature. God is eternal. He stands outside of space and time. Which is why He speaks of future events as if they have already happened. He is without equal and beyond comparison, and Isaiah stresses His incomparability with three rhetorical questions:

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?

Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?  

The answer to all three questions is the same: No one. There is no one else like God. He doesn’t need advice or instruction. He doesn’t require anyone else to tell Him what is right or wrong. Compared with God, the “the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket” (Isaiah 40:15 NLT). Like dust on a scale, they are infinitesimal and inconsequential. Their weight or glory doesn’t even register. In contrast, God’s glory is so great and His power, so beyond comparison, “He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand” (Isaiah 40:15 NLT). To put it bluntly, “The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes, they count for less than nothing—mere emptiness and froth” (Isaiah 40:17 NLT).

This series of questions is reminiscent of an exchange that took place between God Almighty and His servant Job. After having lost virtually everything near and dear to him, including his children, his wealth and his health, Job was confused by the dire nature of his circumstances. He questioned the nature of his suffering and defended his own righteousness before God. In a sense, he expressed his doubts concerning God’s justice. And God responded with a series of questions for Job that contrasted His own character with that of Job’s. For two chapters, God bombards Job with a series of questions designed to juxtapose God’s glorious deity with Job’s humanity.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much. – Job 38:4 NLT

“Do you know where the gates of death are located?
    Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
Do you realize the extent of the earth?
    Tell me about it if you know!” – Job 38:17-18 NLT

“Can you shout to the clouds
    and make it rain?
Can you make lightning appear
    and cause it to strike as you direct? – Job 38:34-35 NLT

And two chapters later, God wraps up his inquisition of Job with the stinging words:

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
    You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” – Job 40:2 NLT

This was all about a mere man questioning the integrity of the God of the universe. Job may not have liked his circumstances, but that gave him no right to doubt the goodness or greatness of God. Which is what led God to ask:

“Will you discredit my justice
    and condemn me just to prove you are right?
Are you as strong as God?
    Can you thunder with a voice like his? – Job 40:8-9 NLT

There is no situation that provides justification for man’s questioning of God’s integrity. Our first reaction, when faced with difficult circumstances, is to measure God’s character by human standards. We tend to analyze His actions by using our own flawed sense of right and wrong. But Isaiah asks, “To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?” (Isaiah 40:18 NLT). God is not a man so He cannot be judged like one. And He is not a false god, made by human hands. He is uncreated. He has no maker. And He owes no one an answer or explanation for His actions.

So, God repeats Isaiah’s previous question:

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?” asks the Holy One. – Isaiah 40:25 NLT 

And the answer remains: No one.

Yet, God knows that His people still have their doubts about Him. So, He confronts them with the real issue behind their refusal to believe His word.

“O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? – Isaiah 40:27 NLT

There were convinced that God was blind to their current circumstances. Not only that, they were questioning God’s integrity by accusing Him of ignoring their rights. In essence, they were labeling God as unjust and unrighteous. They were measuring God by their circumstances, rather than viewing their circumstances through the lens of God’s character. So, Isaiah gave them a much-needed reminder of how just and righteous, good and gracious God is.

He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion. – Isaiah 40:29-30 NLT

Notice the circumstances in which God reveals His power and strength. It is in the midst of our weakness and powerlessness. It is when we are tired and exhausted that God tends to show up in all His glory. God told the apostle Paul, “My power works best in weakness” and Paul responded by saying, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).

How could Paul take pleasure in weakness? It was because he trusted God. He knew from experience that God tended to show up when things were looking down. God’s power was best manifested when Paul’s weakness was on full display. Which is why Isaiah reminded the people of Judah:

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 NLT

Trust is the greatest antidote to trials. Relying on the incomparable, unquenchable power of God when our strength is gone is the key to surviving and thriving in this world. But we must trust what He has said. We must not question His word or doubt His integrity.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? – Numbers 23:19 ESV

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 Day of Distress, Rebuke, and Disgrace

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord. And he sent Eliakim, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary, and the senior priests, covered with sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz. They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’”

When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”

The Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria fighting against Libnah, for he had heard that the king had left Lachish. Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, “He has set out to fight against you.” And when he heard it, he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 “Thus shall you speak to Hezekiah king of Judah: ‘Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands, devoting them to destruction. And shall you be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them, the nations that my fathers destroyed, Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden who were in Telassar? 13 Where is the king of Hamath, the king of Arpad, the king of the city of Sepharvaim, the king of Hena, or the king of Ivvah?’” – Isaiah 37:1-13 ESV

The Assyrian army surrounds the city of Jerusalem. An emissary from the Assyrian king, speaking fluent Hebrew, has taunted the people of Judah, warning them not to trust in their king, their allies or their God. And he has tempted them with the tantalizing offer of peace and prosperity if they will only surrender. And though the text tells us that “the people were silent and did not utter a word” (Isaiah 36:21 NLT), the thought of giving up must have crossed the minds of many that day. Why suffer certain defeat and death when the king of Assyria was promising so much more?

“Make peace with me—open the gates and come out. Then each of you can continue eating from your own grapevine and fig tree and drinking from your own well. Then I will arrange to take you to another land like this one—a land of grain and new wine, bread and vineyards.” – Isaiah 36:16-17 NLT

Even King Hezekiah was devastated by the news of what had taken place outside the walls of Jerusalem. He immediately went into mourning and entered the temple to pray and seek the aid of God Almighty. He even sent two of his administrative aids to Isaiah the prophet with a request that he intercede with God on their behalf.

“This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. It may be that the Lord your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the Lord your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.” – Isaiah 37:3-4 ESV

These were dark days, and the outlook was grim. But rather than give up, Hezekiah looked up. He turned to God for help. And he sought the aid of the prophet of God, hoping that Isaiah had a direct line to the Almighty and could enlist His support.

Hezekiah, while a good and godly king, had a somewhat limited view of God’s sovereignty and power. He questions whether God has heard what the Assyrian emissary has said. It’s as if He thinks God might be unaware of their predicament and must be informed of all that is going on. What he failed to understand was that all of this was God’s doing. The Almighty was not clueless, He was in control of all that was going on. The Assyrians were His instruments of judgment upon the people of Judah, but they could do no more than He permitted. And while their army was impressive and their taunts were impactful, they were not to be feared.

“This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” – Isaiah 37:6-7 NLT

It’s interesting to note how Isaiah prefaced his message from God. He said, “This is what the Lord says.” When the Assyrian emissary approached the walls of Jerusalem with a message for King Hezekiah, he had stated, “This is what the great king of Assyria says” (Isaiah 36:4 NLT). Isaiah seems to be purposefully juxtaposing the word of God against the word of King Sennacherib. Both sovereigns had spoken, but only one would be right. The word of God would trump the arrogant boasts of the Assyrian king. His threats of destruction and deportation would never happen. Before Sennacherib could even launch an attack on Jerusalem, he would receive news that would force him to return to Assyrian, where he would be assassinated. His grandiose plans for conquest would end in his own death at the hands of his own sons.

What is interesting to note is that God does not tell Isaiah or Hezekiah another important detail regarding His defeat of the Assyrians. The book of 2 Chronicles records that God did far more than plant a message in King Sennacherib’s ear. He destroyed the Assyrian army.

And the Lord sent an angel who destroyed the Assyrian army with all its commanders and officers. So Sennacherib was forced to return home in disgrace to his own land. And when he entered the temple of his god, some of his own sons killed him there with a sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21 NLT

Most likely, Sennacherib would have left the majority of his army in place and returned home without them. But God had other plans. Not only was the king forced to leave Judah, his army would be destroyed. He would return home in disgrace and defeat, where things would get only worse.

Sennacherib’s sin was that he had mocked the living God. He and his men “talked about the God of Jerusalem as though he were one of the pagan gods, made by human hands” (2 Chronicles 32:19 NLT). His officers “mocked the Lord God and his servant Hezekiah, heaping insult upon insult” (2 Chronicles 32:16 NLT).

And they were not done. Isaiah records that the Assyrian emissary continued to mock Hezekiah and his God.

“Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria.” – Isaiah 37:10 NLT

And he gave as proof all the other nations and gods the Assyrians had conquered along their way to Jerusalem. But Sennacherib’s mistake was in thinking Yahweh was nothing more than just another impotent god who would prove incapable of standing up to his power and might. In a sense, he saw himself as greater than God. And he had a track record of success against all the other pagan gods to prove it. But this time, he was wrong. He was up against the one true God. And as God told Moses centuries earlier:

“Look now; I myself am he! There is no other god but me! I am the one who kills and gives life; I am the one who wounds and heals; no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

Sennacherib could brag and mock, but God would have the last word. The Assyrian king could boast about all his previous victories, but this battle would not go his way. It would end in defeat and his own death. God was about to turn the day of distress, rebuke, and disgrace on its head. It would be the Assyrians who saw their army and their hopes of victory crushed.

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

 

Keys to the Kingdom.

15 Thus says the Lord God of hosts, “Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here, and whom have you here, that you have cut out here a tomb for yourself, you who cut out a tomb on the height and carve a dwelling for yourself in the rock? 17 Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you 18 and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. There you shall die, and there shall be your glorious chariots, you shame of your master’s house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be pulled down from your station. 20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. 24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. 25 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 22:15-25 ESV

In this portion of the oracle against Jerusalem, attention is focused on two individuals, Shebna and Eliakim, whom God will use as human representations of Jerusalem’s problem. Shebna was the official secretary to the king. In a sense, he was the second most powerful man in the kingdom, acting in a role similar to that of secretary of state. Evidently, Shebna had used his influential position to amass for himself great wealth and prestige. He had even made plans to build an opulent tomb to memorialize himself after his death. While the people of Judah were worrying about how they were going to survive the threat of an Assyrian invasion, Shebna was focused on his legacy.

But God had other plans for Shebna. This egotistical and self-obsessed man was warned by God that his position was in jeopardy and that his tomb would never be occupied, at least not by him.

For the Lord is about to hurl you away, mighty man.
    He is going to grab you,
crumple you into a ball,
    and toss you away into a distant, barren land.
There you will die… – Isaiah 22:17-18 NLT

There is no doubt that Shebna was a powerful and influential man, but he was no match for God. He had used his access to the king to line his own pockets and build his own reputation. His love of self had long ago replaced his love for God and the people of Judah. Isaiah refers to Shebna as a shame to his master’s house. He had become a disgrace to his position as the royal administrator to the king of Judah, and God was going to replace him.

“Yes, I will drive you out of office,” says the Lord. “I will pull you down from your high position. And then I will call my servant Eliakim son of Hilkiah to replace you.” – Isaiah 22:19-20 NLT

We know from chapters 36 and 37 that both of these men served in the administration of King Hezekiah. In the fourteenth year of Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invaded Judah and sent an emissary to Jerusalem with a warning that the king surrender the city or face annihilation. The text tells us that Hezekiah sent two men to meet with Sennacherib’s spokesman.

And there came out to him Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, and Shebna the secretary… – Isaiah 36:1 ESV

These two men both served the king and enjoyed unprecedented influence over his affairs. But God warned Shebna that the day was coming when only Eliakim would remain, and he would step into the role from which Shebna would be forcibly removed by God.

The real point in all of this is not the fates of these two men, but the future well-being of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Shebna had been obsessed with his own personal well-being, in the form of material wealth, power, and status. He had used his royal position to further his own agenda. But God was concerned about the future state of His people. Which is why He was going to remove Shebna and replace him with Eliakim.

“I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court.” – Isaiah 22:21-22 NLT

God knew the hearts of both men and saw in Eliakim a radically different disposition. Unlike Shebna, Eliakim would be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. He would be selfless, not self-obsessed. He would use his influence over the king to improve the nation’s welfare, not his own. And God mentions that He will give Eliakim the key to the house of David. As the personal secretary to the king, he would have unprecedented power and authority. He would hold the keys to the kingdom in his hand, acting as a representative of the king himself. And God knew that He could trust Eliakim to use his representative authority wisely and with the best interests of the king and the people in mind.

Jesus used this concept of the keys to the kingdom on several occasions. The first was when He blessed Peter for having acknowledged Him as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). Jesus told Peter:

“I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:19 ESV

In due time, after His death and resurrection, Jesus would pass on His royal authority as King to His disciples. They would serve as His representatives on earth, acting as His emissaries with full access to His authority as King. Later on in his gospel, Matthew records another occasion when Jesus referenced the keys of the kingdom again. This time it followed a discussion He had with the disciples regarding sin within the body of Christ. Jesus warned that if a brother or sister in Christ commits a sin against a fellow believer and when confronted, refuses to repent, He is to be removed from the fellowship and treated as an unbeliever. And Jesus followed this teaching with the assurance:

“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 18:18 ESV

Again, in the scenario, Jesus described, He was letting the disciples know that they had authority to act on His behalf. He was entrusting His power as King to them.

And back in Isaiah, God was stating that any kingly authority Shebna enjoyed was going to be removed and given to Eliakim. Why? Because Shebna had abused his access to the keys to the kingdom. He had misused his authority.

And while Eliakim would prove to be a much more faithful steward of the responsibilities placed upon him, he too would eventually fail. Yes, for a time, Eliakim would exhibit the characteristics of a reliable and trustworthy steward, and God would use him.

“He will bring honor to his family name, for I will drive him firmly in place like a nail in the wall.” – Isaiah 22:23 NLT

But no man can live up to the standard required by God. In fact, no man was ever meant to replace God as the keeper of the keys to the kingdom. Even faithful Eliakim would prove unable to live up to the task handed to him by God.

“The time will come when I will pull out the nail that seemed so firm. It will come out and fall to the ground. Everything it supports will fall with it. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Isaiah 22:25 NLT

God knew that the people of Judah were prone to put their faith in men. He was well aware that their natural tendency was to trust in anything and everyone but Him. So, God would one day remove Eliakim to further expose the peoples’ ill-placed hope in man.

But this brings to mind yet another reference concerning the key of David, the keys to the kingdom. It is found in the last book of the Bible. Once again, it comes from the lips of Jesus Himself, who introduces Himself to the church in Philadelphia with the following description:

“The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” – Revelation 3:7 ESV

Jesus is the King. He is the one who holds the key of David. He is the fulfillment of the promise made by God to David.

“And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” – 2 Samuel 7:16 ESV

Eliakim would enjoy the privilege and responsibility of wielding the key of David for a time. The disciples too were given the unique privilege of acting as Christ’s representatives on earth, stewarding His power and authority as they spread the good news of salvation. And every other follower of Christ who has ever lived has been given the keys to the Kingdom, the supernatural power of God, made ours through the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Son of God.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

It is faith in God that matters. It is the power of God as displayed in the Son of God that gives us hope. Our faith is to be in Him, not man. Our hope is to remain focused on what He has done, and He will do.

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

There Is Only One God.

24 The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned,
    so shall it be,
and as I have purposed,
    so shall it stand,
25 that I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.”

26 This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.
27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:24-27 ESV

God makes it perfectly plain: What He has said, He will do. What He has planned, He will accomplish. His words are not idle threats. His prophecies of doom and destruction are not potential possibilities, but certain realities. And God points a divine finger at Assyria, declaring that it will be one of the nations which succumb to His divine wrath.

In the previous verses, God outlined the pride and arrogance of Babylon. While this nation had not yet risen to its full power and prominence in Isaiah’s day, it would eventually become a major player on the scene. And it would be Babylon, under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar, that would defeat Judah, destroy Jerusalem, demolish the temple, and deport many of the people as slaves. Throughout the Bible, Babylon is used as the personification of man’s pride, arrogance, and self-exaltation. It comes to be the epitome of fallen mankind under the influence of the prince of this world: Satan.

But in these verses, God focuses His attention on Assyria. They were going to be the “Babylon” of Isaiah’s day, representing the most recent manifestation of man’s hubris and arrogant opposition to God. Assyria was the nation that had begun to dominate the landscape of Isaiah’s day, conquering the area that is now made up of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. In 733 BC, the Assyrians, under King Tilgath-pileser, came against the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took many of its people captive. Not many years later, they returned under King Shalmaneser and besieged Samaria, the capital city of Israel, finally defeating and destroying it.

And Isaiah had already warned the people of Judah that God would use the Assyrians to punish them as well.

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria! – Isaiah 7:17 ESV

In Isaiah 10, God refers to Assyria as “the rod of my anger.” He will use them to bring judgment against the people of Israel and, eventually, the nation of Judah. It was in 701 BC that the Assyrians captured 46 of Judah’s fortified cities and laid siege to the capital city of Jerusalem. During that siege, King Sennacherib sent an emissary to the king of Judah, with a word of warning.

“Tell Hezekiah: ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: “What is your source of confidence? Your claim to have a strategy and military strength is just empty talk. In whom are you trusting, that you would dare to rebel against me? Look, you must be trusting in Egypt, that splintered reed staff. If someone leans on it for support, it punctures his hand and wounds him. That is what Pharaoh king of Egypt does to all who trust in him! Perhaps you will tell me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God.’ But Hezekiah is the one who eliminated his high places and altars and then told the people of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘You must worship at this altar.’ Now make a deal with my master the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, provided you can find enough riders for them. Certainly you will not refuse one of my master’s minor officials and trust in Egypt for chariots and horsemen. Furthermore it was by the command of the Lord that I marched up against this land to destroy it. The Lord told me, ‘March up against this land and destroy it!’”’” – Isaiah 36:4-10 NLT

Sennacherib, the pagan king of the Assyrians, ridiculed the people of Judah, claiming that their king had eliminated the sacred high places and altars of their God, forcing them to worship at one location. But the trust was that Hezekiah had instituted a series of religious reforms, in an attempt to rid Judah of its many idols and return the people to the worship of Yahweh alone. But Sennacherib mocked them, claiming to have been sent by God to destroy their land. You can sense his arrogance and pride throughout this passage.

But while Sennacherib saw himself as the conqueror and the ultimate victor in this lopsided circumstance, he had no idea who he was fighting. He saw a demoralized and defeated enemy in the people of Judah. But he failed to see God Almighty standing alongside them, ready to protect and preserve them. God would use Assyria to punish Hise people but on His terms. They could only do what He allowed them to do, and no more. Sennacherib was an instrument in the hands of God, the rod of His anger. And when God had accomplished His divine purpose through Assyria, He would deal with them appropriately.

“I will break the Assyrian in my land,
    and on my mountains trample him underfoot;
and his yoke shall depart from them,
    and his burden from their shoulder.” – Isaiah 14:25 ESV

The kings of Assyria, like the kings of Babylon who would follow them, saw themselves as gods, limitless in their power and unstoppable in their quest to dominate the world. But like Satan, their power was limited by God. They existed only by the will of God.

Yet, man has always seen himself as the master of his fate and the sole arbiter of his future. From his vantage point here on earth, man sees things through the cloudy lens of his limited perspective, failing to take into account the sovereign will of God in the affairs of the world. But God makes it clear that He is the one who is in control.

“This is the purpose that is purposed
    concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out
    over all the nations.” – Isaiah 14:26 ESV

God is the one who mocks at the futile and flawed aspirations of mere men. He looks down on their vain attempts to usurp His authority and mimic His divine power and laughs.

Why are the nations so angry?
    Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
    the rulers plot together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one.
“Let us break their chains,” they cry,
    “and free ourselves from slavery to God.”

But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
    The Lord scoffs at them.
Then in anger he rebukes them,
    terrifying them with his fierce fury. – Psalm 2:1-5 NLT

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. – Psalm 46:67 ESV

Man, in all his misplaced arrogance and pride, has attempted to make himself like God. But the Almighty wants us to know that there is no one else like Him. The kings of the earth can plot and plan, dreaming of world domination and a global kingdom of their own making. But they will fail. And the day is coming when God will defeat all the kings and nations of the earth, bringing to a final and abrupt end their attempt to replace Him as the sovereign ruler of the universe. And in Revelation 11, John hears the voices of the 24 elders as they bow before God, seated on His throne in heaven, and sing:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty,
    the one who is and who always was,
for now you have assumed your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were filled with wrath,
    but now the time of your wrath has come.
It is time to judge the dead
    and reward your servants the prophets,
    as well as your holy people,
and all who fear your name,
    from the least to the greatest.
It is time to destroy
    all who have caused destruction on the earth.” – Revelation 11:16-17 NLT

God eventually dealt with the Assyrians. And when the Babylonians showed up on the scene, He handled them as well. All the great nations of the earth have come and gone. Every single king, dictator, president, ruler and human authority has eventually fallen from power and, in time, died. And most of their kingdoms have come to untimely ends.

The absurdity is that others have followed them, thinking that they will be the ones to establish their own dominions and rule the world according to their own sovereign will. But they fail to recognize one very important thing: God. He is in charge. The world and all that exists within it and on it belongs to Him. His purpose is supreme. His will is certain. His power is unmatched. And His plan will be accomplished.

For the Lord of hosts has purposed,
    and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out,
    and who will turn it back? – Isaiah 14:27 ESV

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 Question of Authority.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” 

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. –  Matthew 21:28-46 ESV

church5

In yesterday’s passage, Jesus was asked a question by the Pharisees designed to malign His actions by questioning His authority to do the things He did. They had asked Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” To understand the gist of their question, you have to consider the context. Jesus had walked on to the Temple grounds and angrily cleared out the moneychangers, overturning their tables. He drove away all those buying and selling animals for the sacrifices. And most importantly, Mark tells us, “he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace” (Mark 11:16 NLT). If you think about it, Jesus completely disrupted the entire sacrificial system for that day. He threw a wrench into the well-oiled machine of the corrupt religious system that had somehow replaced what God had established through Moses in the wilderness.

That sets up the passage we are dealing with today. Jesus had arrived back in Jerusalem from Bethany ande was immediately confronted by the leading priests, the teachers of religious law and the elders. They demanded to know who had given Him the authority to do what He had done. They were specifically talking about His disruption of the sacrificial system the day before.

By asking their question, they are inferring that Jesus had no right or authority to do what He did. His actions were not in keeping with accepted tradition. In their mind, Jesus was a renegade and a trouble maker. He was not one of them. He had not gone through the proper channels or training. He had no authority because He had never been a disciple of one of the great rabbis. He was an imposter and needed to be dealt with as such. Without knowing it, they were actually questioning Jesus’ kingship. Remember, just a few days before Jesus had rode into town to the shouts of “Praise God! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NLT). Jesus had been welcomed as a king. But now they were questioning His authority and attempting to paint Him as a radical and a revolutionary.

Rather than answer their question, Jesus countered with one of His own. “I’ll tell you by what authority I do these things if you answer one question,” Jesus replied. “Did John’s authority to baptize come from heaven, or was it merely human? Answer me!” (Mark 11:29-30 NLT). Jesus put them squarely on the horns of a dilemma. If they said John’s authority was from heaven, they would be guilty of rejecting God. If they said it was of human origin, they risked alienating the people who saw John as a prophet. So they decided to plead ignorance. “We don’t know,” they responded. And as a result, Jesus refused to address their question regarding His authority. But in reality, Jesus did answer their question. He did so by telling three short parables. He turned to the crowd and began to teach in His usual method, using simple stories to teach a much deeper truth. But the context tells us what Jesus had in mind by telling these stories. The issue is one of authority and Jesus used these stories to address their original question.

Over in Matthew’s account, we have the three parables and they are the parable of the two sons, the parable of the landowner, and the parable of the wedding feast. In the first one, Jesus tells about a father with two sons, who orders the first son to go into the household vineyard and work. The son refused, but later repented and did what the father had asked. He orders the second sons to go and he initially agrees, feigning obedience, but later refuses, never doing what the father asked. Jesus asked, “Which one obeyed?” and they answered, “The first son.” So what’s the point? The religious leaders believed they were sons of the kingdom due to their heritage as descendants of Abraham. Jesus made it clear that corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes would get into God’s Kingdom before they did. Why? Repentance and belief. The religious leaders refused to repent. They refused to believe. They would not acknowledge Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah and His authority as their rightful King.

In the second parable, Jesus tells of a landowner who planted a vineyard and then leased it out and moved to another country. When the grape harvest came, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers to whom he had leased the land, beat one servant, killed another and stoned the last. So the landowner sent a larger group or servants and they were treated in the same way. Finally, he decided to send his own son, hoping that they would show him the respect he deserved. But when he arrived, they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard and killed him. Jesus asked what they think the landowner will do to these farmers when he returns. “The religious leaders replied, ‘He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest’” (Matthew 21:41 NLT). Their own answer condemned them.

Over the centuries, God had sent His prophets to His people, and they had been abused, rejected, and in many cases, killed. So He sent more, and they were treated in the same way. Now He had sent His Son, but He too would be killed in just a matter of days. In telling this particular parable, Jesus was referring to a story from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 5:1-7). Jesus makes sure they get the meaning of the story. “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on” (Matthew 21:43-44 NLT).

Jesus was the stone that the builders will reject, but He will become the cornerstone. And Jesus, as King, had the authority to do as He wished – even if it meant taking away the Kingdom of God from those who rejected Him. The Pharisees didn’t miss the point. Matthew will later reveal: “When the leading priests and Pharisees heard this parable, they realized he was telling the story against them – they were the wicked farmers. They wanted to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowds, who considered Jesus to be a prophet” (Matthew 21:45-46 NLT).

Jesus had authority as the Son of God. The entire Old Testament message from the prophets spoke of Him. The nation of Israel had been invited to enter into His kingdom, but they would refuse. They had rejected the message of the prophets, of John the Baptist and would reject the offer of Jesus Christ. And the question you have to ask today, is whether Jesus Christ is the authority in your own life. Do you listen to what He says and obey it? Have you accepted His invitation, or are you too busy, too good, or too smart to buy into something so hard to believe? Does the way you live your life reveal that you sometimes question whether Jesus has authority over your life? Do you refuse to put on the righteousness He has provided because you prefer your life just the way it is? Jesus not only wants to be the Savior, He wants to be your King. He wants to rule and reign in your life. He wants to lead you and direct you. He wants you to worship and obey Him. He wants you to live in submission to Him. Because He loves You and He alone knows what is best for you. He is a gracious, loving, merciful, righteous King who longs to provide for and protect His people.

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

It’s Lonely At the Top.

1 Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh.

Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.

Again, I saw vanity under the sun: one person who has no other, either son or brother, yet there is no end to all his toil, and his eyes are never satisfied with riches, so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

13 Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14 For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15 I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16 There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16 ESV

As the king of Israel, Solomon had the God-given responsibility to perform the function of a judge on behalf of his people. That required him to take his place each day at the gate of the city of Jerusalem, where he would hear and try the cases brought before him. This would have exposed him to all kinds of unethical, immoral and unjust actions, perpetrated by one human being against another. And it is likely that Solomon witnessed many examples of injustice, as the poor and oppressed brought their cases to him, hoping for some form of protection and righteous representation.

In his Book of Proverbs, Solomon recorded the words of the mother of King Lemuel, reminding her son of his God-given responsibility to defend the defenseless and to protect the rights of those who who suffered at the hands of others.

Open your mouth for the mute,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
    defend the rights of the poor and needy. – Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT

But Solomon must have seen his fair share of abuses and injustices. And no matter how many times he might have judged rightly and justly, the next day would reveal yet another case of the powerful taking advantage of the powerless. He had seen it all, which is what led him to say, “I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1 ESV). He had a front-row seat to the feature-film that is human life. He had watched the tears of the oppressed, who stood before him helpless and hopeless, with no one to plead their case or protect their lives from the powerful and ruthless. The oppressors had money and authority on their side. It was a mismatch, with the oppressed usually getting the short end of the stick. And for Solomon, it boiled down to a simple, yet sad conclusion: The poor are better off dead, because then they no longer have suffer anymore. And better yet, it would be preferable to have never lived at all. That way you would never have to experience the pain and suffering that comes with life under the sun.

It seems that Solomon, in his daily dealings with the injustices of life, saw a pattern. The oppressors were people who were motivated by greed and a desire for wealth. They were addicted to acquiring and retaining, and would do anything to get what they wanted, even if it meant oppressing others. And, as far as Solomon could tell, the driving force behind their actions was nothing but normal, run-of-the-mill envy.

I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors.– Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT

James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote some powerful words in the letter that bears his name, where he seems to describe the kind of civil cases Solomon was forced to judge.

1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3 NLT

And for Solomon, it all added up to yet another example of the futility of life. “But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 NLT). The poor get taken advantage of by the rich and powerful, and end up with nothing to show for it but tears and greater poverty. The rich get richer, but their lives end up empty and their lust for more, unquenched. Enough is never enough. More never satisfies. It’s a dead-end street with no outlet. So, what should be the proper response? Is accumulating wrong? Is hard work and a drive to attain sinful? Well, if you fold your hands and do nothing, you may keep from hurting others, but you’ll ultimately destroy yourself. He seems to conclude that the answer is somewhere in the middle. You have to make a compromise. Do something, but be willing to be content with less.

“Better to have one handful with quietness
    than two handfuls with hard work
    and chasing the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:6 NLT

From sharing his objective observations regarding the suffering of others, Solomon seems to turn his focus inward. He takes a look at his own life as judge and king. This next section of verses seems to be a personal reflection, outlining Solomon’s assessment of his own life. Remember, he is at the latter stages of his life and reign. He is older and facing the realization that his life is not ending well. His kingdom is full of idols to false gods, erected by Solomon on behalf of his many pagan wives, 700 to be exact. And the very fact that he had so many wives was a direct violation of the law of God.

The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. – Deuteronomy 17:17 NLT

And if there’s any doubt whether Solomon’s disobedience had an impact on his life, the book of 1 Kings clears it all up.

1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women. Besides Pharaoh’s daughter, he married women from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Sidon, and from among the Hittites. The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them, because they will turn your hearts to their gods.” Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway. He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines. And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord.

In Solomon’s old age, they turned his heart to worship other gods instead of being completely faithful to the Lord his God, as his father, David, had been. Solomon worshiped Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites. In this way, Solomon did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; he refused to follow the Lord completely, as his father, David, had done. – 1 Kings 11:1-5 NLT

In verses 7-11 of Ecclesiastes chapter four, Solomon paints the picture of a man lacking companionship. He describes this individual as “one person who has no other, either son or brother” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 ESV). He is alone and lonely. And this is likely Solomon’s own description of himself. Yes, he was the king of Israel, and surrounded by thousands of servants, slaves, concubines, wives and administrative personnel. But he was alone. He was isolated and understood just how lonely it can be at the top. Solomon describes this unnamed individual as someone who “works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, ‘Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?’” (Ecclesiastes 4:8 NLT). And Solomon’s own personal experience requires him to conclude: “It is all so meaningless and depressing.”

Solomon knew what it felt like to be alone, without someone to walk alongside him, to pick him up when he fell. Even with 700 wives and 300 concubines, he knew the lonely feeling that comes with sleeping alone and unloved. Friendship and companionship is vital to human flourishing, and Solomon recognized it and longed for it.

The final four verses of this chapter appear to be blatantly autobiographical. In them, Solomon describes himself as “a foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice”, and compares himself to “a poor and wise youth” (Ecclesiastes 4:13 ESV). That was Solomon at the beginning of his reign. He was young and had yet to accomplish anything. He was poor in the sense that he had not accomplished or accumulated anything on his own. It had been given to him by his father. But he had wisdom. Yet, at the end of his life, Solomon had all the money in the world, but lacked the ability to take wise counsel.

Solomon seems to compare his life to that of his father, David. It was David who had been in “prison” – living as a fugitive, constantly pursued by King Saul. But David had moved from prison to the palace, from living in caves to sitting on the throne. And Solomon would become the “youth who was to stand in the king’s place” (Ecclesiastes 4:15 ESV). Solomon succeeded to the throne of his father, David, and while he ruled over a great land, enjoying the subjection and adoration of the people, he sadly concludes that “those who come later will not rejoice in him” (Ecclesiastes 4:16 ESV). In other words, his 15-minutes of fame will one day end. Another generation will rise up who refuse to accept him as king. And Solomon can’t help but come to the same pessimistic conclusion he has reached before: “Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.” Even the man at the top, who has everything going for him, who has money, power and influence, will one day find himself rejected and replaced. He is no better off than the poor person seeking justice at the gate or the lonely person desperately in need of companionship. It is lonely at the top, and there is no position or any amount of power or possessions that can remove the futility of life lived under the sun, but without God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

New Life in Christ.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. Acts 19:8-20 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

In Ephesus, Paul would have one of his longest and most spiritually prolific periods of ministry. He would remain in the city, ministering among its people for two years. And Luke tells us that, during that time, “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11 ESV), and he proceeds to describe just how extraordinary they were. 

…even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. – Acts 19:12 ESV

This is unlike anything we have seen up to this point in Luke’s story. While both Peter and Paul had performed miracles of all kinds, including the healing of the lame, the exorcising of demons and, in Peter’s case, the raising of someone from the dead, we have no previous mention of anyone being healed by handkerchiefs or aprons. But we do have a precedent established in Luke’s gospel, when a woman was healed simply by touching the garment of Jesus.

42 As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. 43 A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44 Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

46 But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48 “Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” – Luke 8:42-48 NLT

The key to this woman’s healing was her faith. She believed that Jesus had the power to heal her, but was only doubtful that she might be able to get His attention. So, she simply touched His robe and was completely healed, and Jesus commended her for her faith.

It would seem that the very same thing was taking place in Ephesus. We are not told why this particular form of healing seemed to be prevalent there, but it most likely had to do with the fact that Ephesus was a hotbed of demonic activity due to the large percentage of sorcerers and magicians who practiced their trade there. The people of Ephesus were used to seeing strange and inexplicable things take place. Some, no doubt, was the result of demonic activity, while much was the work of charlatans and religious fakes. So, it would seem that God was confirming Paul’s ministry and message through these out-of-the-ordinary signs and wonders. Luke even indicates that Paul’s reputation in the city had grown to such a degree that a group of traveling Jewish exorcists tried to improve their success rate at casting out demons by saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” (Acts 19:13 NLT). Here were Jews, who didn’t believe in Jesus trying to use His name to further their own ends. And as Luke indicated earlier in this chapter, Paul had found the Jews in Ephesus resistant to his message, forcing him to abandon his efforts to reach them. He had spent three months ministering in the synagogue but had been met with met with unbelief on the part of some, who had publicly ridiculed Paul’s message regarding Jesus. As a result of the stubborn resistance of the Jews, Paul had moved his daily discussions into a public hall owned by a man named, Tyrannus. And, for two years, Paul would continue to use this facility to hold meetings with all who were interested in hearing His messages about Jesus. Luke indicates “that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10 NLT).

Paul’s presence was having an impact. His preaching, teaching, and miracles, all done in the power of the Spirit of God, were setting him apart and drawing crowds to hear him, in much the same way as the messages and miracles of Jesus had done. But some were drawn to Paul’s power, not his message of salvation. They were attracted to his miraculous ability to perform signs and wonders, not his offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. And Luke describes the seven sons of Sceva, whose father was a leading Jewish priest. These men were attempting to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, but had no relationship with Jesus. And it would appear that their efforts had been successful, until one particular occasion, when they met resistance from the demon there attempting to exorcise. Now, their previous exorcisms were most likely nothing more than shams. They were simply utilizing the name of Jesus in their fake exorcisms in order to attract the attention of the people and prove that they had the same power Paul had. Since these men were not believers in Jesus, they had no power to cast out demons. And if their efforts were demonic in nature, it would have made no sense for them to cast out a demon. Jesus made this point clear when He had been accused of casting out demons in the power of Satan.  

24 But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26 And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. 27 And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28 But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you.” – Matthew 12:24-28 NLT

These men had no power to cast out demons. Satan would not have empowered then to cast out one of his own. That would have made no sense. And, as unbelievers, they had no access to the Spirit of God, so they had no ability to cast out demons by the power of God. And when they eventually ran across a real demon, they were in for a real surprise. When they had tried to cast out the demon in the name of Jesus, it had responded, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:15 NLT), and then, Luke records that the demon-possessed man attacked them. They ended up running for their lives, beaten and stripped of all their clothes. They discovered the true nature of spiritual warfare. It is not a show or a game to be played. And Paul would later write to the believers in Ephesus, warning them:

10 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:10-12 NLT

Demonic activity must have been high in Ephesus. And with the increase in the number of believers, the resistance on the part of Satan grew in strength and intensity. The encounter of the seven sons of Sceva with the demon had made an impact. It left the people in even great awe of Jesus. It attracted more people to the teaching of Paul. And Luke indicates that many of those who had placed their faith in Christ confessed their sinful practices, most likely a reference to their participation in sorcery and the occult. No doubt, some of those who had been involved in exorcisms, witchcraft and demonic activity, had a change of heart when they saw what had happened to Sceva’s seven sons. And as these individuals came to faith in Christ, they were moved by the Spirit of God to change their behavior. And Luke reports that their life change was tangible and costly.

19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. – Acts 19:19 NLT

They were giving up their old ways. They were turning from darkness to the light. And Luke tells us that their visible signs of repentance and rejection of their former lifestyles caught the attention of others in the city. As a result, “the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect” (Acts 19:20 NLT). The message of the gospel was leaving its mark. Not only were people coming to faith in Jesus, they were experiencing remarkable transformations in the way they lived they lived their lives. It was not going to business as usual. The indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was empowering these people to experience new life in Christ. And Paul would later write about this life-transforming power.

17 …anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-18 NLT

New life. New nature. New hope. New power. The old life is gone; a new life has begun. That is the message of the gospel.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

The Deity Is In the Detail.

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:11-24 ESV

pauls-second-missionary-journeyHaving revisited the cities in which Paul and Barnabas had ministered in their first missionary journey, Paul takes Silas and Timothy had heads across the Aegean Sea for Neopolis, the port of Philippi in Macedonia, a journey of 125 miles. Luke makes note of the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony. In an attempt to bring the strongly nationalistic and somewhat unruly Macedonians under control, The Romans had divided Macedonia into four distinct districts, with Philippi becoming an important operations hub of military and commercial importance. There was a large Roman population in the city, because Rome had a policy of filling its colonies with Roman citizens who would be faithful to the state, many of them former Roman soldiers and their families. So, not only was Paul going to encounter a Gentile population made up of pagan Macedonians with a strong sense of nationalistic pride, he was going to encounter a larger-than-usual contingent of Roman citizens, faithful to Rome and its pantheon of gods.

Luke records that, on the Sabbath, their party ended up searching for a place where any Jews might have gathered for the prescribed hour of prayer. The fact that they did not head for the local synagogue indicates that there must not have been one. For any city to have a synagogue, there had to be a required number of Jewish males living there. Before a synagogue could be built, the local community was required to have at least ten adult Jewish men of bar mitzvah age. So, it seems likely that Philippi had a very small contingent of Jews, far too small to justify the construction of a synagogue. In the absence of a synagogue, Jews were known to gather by the sea shore or a river for prayer. Luke reports, “we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13 NLT). There, they found a group of women who had gathered to pray. Notice that only women were mentioned. This corroborates the assumption that there were not enough Jewish males to justify a synagogue. There were no men present at the river at the time of prayer. But one of the women, who was names Lydia, struck up a conversation with Paul, Silas and Timothy. Luke would have been in Paul’s entourage as well. Lydia is described as a worshiper of God, which means she was a Gentile proselyte to Judaism. She was also a businesswoman, a seller of purple good, and it is likely that she was in Philippi on business, because Luke indicates that she was from nearby Thyatira. What we have here is yet another example of one of those seemingly chance encounters that the apostles had. They end up in Philippi and, on the Sabbath, they find themselves down by the river where they run into a woman who just happens to be in town on business and, because she is a Gentile God-fearer, she was at the river at the prescribed hour for prayer. There, her path crossed that of Paul, Silas and Timothy, and her life would be changed forever as a result. Lydia, upon hearing the gospel as declared by Paul, became a Christ-follower and was baptized. And Luke indicates that her salvation ended up impacting her entire household. because she implored the apostles to come to her home, and her family members and household servants ended up placing their faith in Christ as well and were baptized.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke had yet another “chance” encounter that day. They ran into a young slave girl “who had a spirit that enabled her to foretell the future by supernatural means” (Acts 16:16 NLT). As we will see, the source of her supernatural ability was demonic in nature. But that didn’t matter to her owners, because their only concern was that she made them a lot of money telling people their fortunes. This young woman began following Paul and his companions around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17 NLT). And Luke indicates that she was very persistent in her efforts, carrying on for a number of days. Now, at first blush, it would seem that this would have been a positive thing for the apostles, like a form of free advertising. After all, what she was saying was true, and her words would have been like having a free ad campaign played over the local radio station. But Luke records that Paul became annoyed, and finally spoke to the demon who possessed her, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18 ESV). Paul cast the demon out and the publicity campaign came to an end. But we have to ask the question: Why did Paul become so annoyed? Why had the words the girl had been speaking ended up rubbing him the wrong way? It is important to keep in mind that this young girl’s ability came from a demon. The words she spoke concerning Paul and his companions were not hers, but were from the demon who possessed her. And it likely that this demon was causing the words to come out of her mouth in a sarcastic and demeaning manner. While what she was saying was true, it probably came out with more than a hint of disrespect and intended to ridicule not respect the apostles.

This demon had no intention of truly heralding and honoring the apostles. It was turning their ministry into a three-ring circus. No doubt, her efforts were attracting crowds, but it was making life difficult for Paul and his friends. But Paul set the girl free. Not only had she been a slave girl, she had been enslaved to the demon who had possessed her. But she had been spiritual emancipated. While this would have been a happy occasion for the young girl, it would prove to be a blow to the men who owned her. Without the demon, she was worthless. She had lost her ability to tell fortunes. And these men were so upset, that they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. They wanted justice and, most likely, financial compensation for their loss. But it’s interesting that their accusations against Paul and the others says nothing about what had happened. Instead, they say, “These men are throwing our city into confusion. They are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us to accept or practice, since we are Romans” (Acts 16:21 NLT). Basically, they accuse Paul and his companions of proselytizing. They claim that these Jews were trying to convert Roman citizens to Judaism, a crime under Roman law. The crowd, which would have been made up of primarily Roman citizens, joins forces with the two disgruntled slave owners, and the magistrates are forced to beat Paul, Silas and Timothy with rods, then throw them into prison.

Once again, it would be easy to see all of these occurrences as nothing more than chance, the unforeseen, unplanned outcome of life. They just happened. No rhyme or reason behind them. But we have already seen too much take place in the lives of the disciples of Jesus Christ to accept that conclusion. The lives of Paul, Silas and Timothy were being controlled and directed by God Almighty. Their destinations and even their interactions with others were under the divine direction of God. They didn’t just happen to end up in Philippi. Their encounter with Lydia wasn’t just some form of kismet. The presence of the demon-possessed slave girl wasn’t some strange kind of unlucky coincidence. It was the hand of God. And Paul, Silas and Timothy ending up in jail was not some unfortunate turn of events that had caught God off guard and left Him scrambling to intervene. It had all been part of His sovereign will and well-orchestrated plan for these men and their message. Only time would expose God’s purposes behind all of these things. We see only the immediate circumstances, while God knows their outcomes. We are restricted in our ability to recognize the handiwork of God, even in the dark days of our lives or the pedestrian circumstances that fill our lives. God doesn’t slumber or sleep. He never takes the day off. He is intimately involved in the details of life. Nothing escapes His notice and nothing is outside the purview of His sovereign will.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Growing in Numbers and Reputation.

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. – Acts 5:12-18 ESV

After the surprising deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, Luke provides a brief description of the emotional state of the church: “Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:11 NLT). News of God’s judgment against Ananias and Sapphira had spread. And it seems that, because Peter had been the primary spokesperson during the interrogations of this unfortunate couple, their deaths became associated with him. He was the one who called them out and so, it must have been him who struck them down. At least, that’s how it appeared to all those who had witnessed the events first-hand. And as a result, the reputation of Peter and the other apostles grew in stature among the people. Their ability to perform “signs and wonders” was attracting crowds and the attention of the religious authorities. Just as in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the high priest and the Sanhedrin found themselves dealing with a growing movement that was threatening their status as religious leaders. The people were turning to the apostles, initially attracted by their miracles, but also intrigued by their message concerning Jesus’ resurrection and His offer of eternal life. Luke tells us, “more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women” (Acts 5:14 NLT). But there were others who, out of fear of the Jewish religious leaders, avoided any association with the apostles and their ever-expanding congregation. There was still a risk associated with this new and growing sect, and many wanted to steer clear.

Peter, John and the other apostles continued to meet in Solomon’s Portico, one of the few spaces large enough to hold the growing number of converts who flocked to hear their teaching. And anywhere the apostles went, large numbers of the infirm and suffering followed them. These people had everything to gain and nothing to lose. They had no reason to fear the Sanhedrin, because their lives were already filled with suffering because of their physical conditions. And Luke records that their desire for healing was so great and their belief in the apostles’ miraculous powers was so strong, that they thought even Peter’s shadow passing over them could provide healing. Luke does not tell us whether this actually happened or if it was simply a case of wishful thinking on the part of those who were sick and lame. But this kind of thing would not have been unheard, because Luke later records a similar scenario involving the apostle Paul.

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. – Acts 19:11-12 NLT

All we know is that God was at work, moving among the people and utilizing the apostles as His instruments of healing and as His witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus. People were hearing of all that was happening within the city of Jerusalem and soon, there were others arriving in town from the outlying villages. Good news travels fast. Miracles attract crowds. Messages of hope tend to get peoples’ attention. News of what was happening in Jerusalem was getting out. The rumors that Jesus was alive had begun to spread. Reports were circulating that the very same kind of miracles, signs and wonders He had performed were taking place again. This time, at the hands of His disciples. The lame walked. The blind saw. The demon-possessed had their demons dispossessed. And thousands of Jews were placing their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. These were heady days for the disciples. It seems that all they did was blessed by God. Their preaching was powerful and impactful. They possessed the power to heal and the authority to cast out demons. They were respected and, due to the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, feared by the people. But they were also despised. Luke will use these verses as a transition to set up the battle the apostles were going to face due to their efforts on Jesus’ behalf. They had already been hauled before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, Luke tells us:

17 The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. – Acts 5:17-18 NLT

Suddenly, the apostles found themselves experiencing incarceration, rather than public adulation. They went from basking in accolades to confinement in the stockade. And it was all in fulfillment of Jesus’ words.

“Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” – John 15:20-21 NLT

“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.” – Luke 21:12 NLT

It would have been easy for the disciples to have looked at what they had been able to do and see their efforts as fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 ESV

But, their ability to do the works of Jesus would be accompanied with the requirement that they suffer like Jesus. They had most likely forgotten what Jesus had said regarding this matter.

“Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:20 NLT

Jesus faced opposition, and so would they. He was forced to endure the hatred and animosity of the religious leaders, and so would they. Doing the works of Jesus will inevitably bring with it the suffering of Jesus. Obeying the will of the Father will always attract the wrath of the enemy. The disciples were quickly discovering that they were in a spiritual battle. There were forces gathered against them that were determined to oppose and annihilate them. Peter and his companions were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul so clearly pointed out:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Their good deeds would be met with evil intent. Their efforts on God’s behalf would be opposed by Satan and his minions. And the sooner they realized that this was a spiritual battle, the more seriously they would take their role and their total need for God’s assistance. The apostle Paul understood the nature of this spiritual battle and man’s complete dependency on God for survival and success.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT

Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles found themselves in jail. They were facing some serious opposition. The Sanhedrin was made up of powerful men who had tremendous influence and who could not only make the apostles’ lives miserable, but non-existent. Their hatred for the apostles was palpable. Their animosity toward the name of Jesus and anybody associated with it was unquestionable. And they were out to destroy any and all who spoke in His name. The growing number of followers and growing reputation of the apostles was being met with the increasing animosity of the enemy. The battle lines were being drawn. The tension was mounting. But the apostles would soon learn that what Jesus had said to Peter was true. When Peter had confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus had responded: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:17-18 NLT). All the powers of hell will not conquer the church that Jesus was establishing on this earth. The efforts of the apostles would be opposed, but they would not be thwarted. The church would face persecution, but it would never face elimination. What the apostles were doing was the work of God, and as a result, they would face the worst the enemy had to offer. But they would prevail.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 200z

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