The Way of Holiness

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.[a]
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 35:1-10 ESV

The preceding chapter was filled with imagery of devastation and destruction, the results of God judgment on the world, meted out by Christ when He returns at the end of the period of Tribulation. During the seven years of Tribulation, as described by John in his book of Revelation, the world will suffer under a series of unprecedented judgments brought upon the unbelieving world by the hand of God. Jesus Himself described the severity of those coming days in stark terms.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” – Matthew 24:>21 NLT

The Tribulation will be a time of great distress. The world will be under the rule of the Antichrist, a powerful world leader who will use his influence to persecute the Jewish people. As the earthly representative of Satan, he will make his life’s mission to destroy any who worship the one true God, including both Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Christ during the darkest days of the Tribulation. But God will bring a wave of ever-increasing judgments against the unbelieving world. He will devastate the earth itself, destroying crops, livestock, and even the fish in the sea by turning the water into blood. In a series of inescapable divine judgments, God will destroy more than one half of the earth’s population. And yet, the unbelieving world will remain unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Him as God.

And the seven years will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and His defeat of the armies of the world. Antichrist will be dethroned and permanently imprisoned by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Satan will be bound and placed in divine custody, “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:3 ESV). And this will set up the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal 1,000-year period of time when Christ will rule in righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem. John describes this remarkable period of time on earth.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

With Christ on the throne, the world will experience a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. For the first time since the fall of mankind, Satan and his demons will have no influence over the world. They will have been removed by God, and their ability to tempt and deceive humanity will be non-existent.

And in chapter 35, Isaiah uses the news of this coming day of Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan to encourage his readers to stay strong in the midst of their current circumstances.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.” – Isaiah 35:3-4 NLT

As bad as things appeared to be, they needed to remember that their God was in control. He had a plan in place. And while their current suffering was real and the threat against them was formidable, God was sovereign over all. This entire chapter was meant to remind the people of Judah, and us, that a day is coming when God will restore the land and His people. The words of Isaiah are meant to convey a sense of hopeful anticipation.

…the wilderness and desert will be glad. – vs. 1

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom – vs. 1

there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! vs. 2

The deserts will become as green… – vs. 2

While the people of Judah were focused on their current circumstances, Isaiah attempts to redirect their attention to the future, when God will do great things on the earth. He wanted them to have an eternal perspective. God has a long-term plan for His creation, and He intends to rectify all that has been marred by the presence of sin. But we must learn to wait for that day. The apostle Paul understood that fact and encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep their eyes focused on the future God has planned for them.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

Isaiah describes a day when things will be markedly different on the earth. The blind will receive their sight, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the dumb will speak. It will be a day when disease and disabilities will be permanently removed from the earth. Isaiah paints a picture of restoration and renewal, where all the defects caused by sin are eradicated. Even nature itself will be rejuvenated by God’s gracious hand.

Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
    and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
    and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish
    where desert jackals once lived. – Isaiah 35:6-7 NLT

And running through this lush landscape will be a road, a highway called the Way of Holiness. Whether it is a literal road or not is unclear. But Isaiah seems to be emphasizing a path that leads to Zion, the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus will reign. And all those who take that road or path will willingly make their way to the holy city to worship the Son of God. This roadway will be reserved for the holy, those who long to see God. “It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways” (Isaiah 35:8 NLT). The prophet Micah describes pilgrims from all over the world making their way to Jerusalem in that day.

People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. – Micah 4:2 NLT

The prophet Zechariah describes it this way:

The Lord says, “Shout and rejoice, O beautiful Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the Lord’s special possession in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city.” – Zechariah 2:10-12 NLT

These prophetic descriptions of God’s future plans for Jerusalem and the nations of the world are meant to bring encouragement to God’s people of all ages. No matter what difficulties we may face in this world, God has a future planned when all trial, troubles, and tribulations will be no more. All those who belong to Him will one day experience the fulness of His grace and mercy as He makes all things new. His long-awaited promises, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled. The return of His Son will take place, just as Jesus He told the disciples. The world will be restored to its former glory. Jerusalem will once again be the holy city of God, ruled over by the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David. And Isaiah reminds his readers that, even in the midst of their current circumstances, they have reason to rejoice, because God is far from done.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:10 NLT

 

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

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

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

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They Shall Return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Iniquity.

Samaria’s king shall perish like a twig on the face of the waters. The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, “Cover us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

From the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, O Israel; there they have continued. Shall not the war against the unjust overtake them in Gibeah? When I please, I will discipline them, and nations shall be gathered against them when they are bound up for their double iniquity.

Ephraim was a trained calf that loved to thresh, and I spared her fair neck; but I will put Ephraim to the yoke; Judah must plow; Jacob must harrow for himself. Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. – Hosea 10:7-12 ESV

Over in the book of Jeremiah, God accused the nations of Judah of having done something even the pagan nations would have never considered. “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit” (Jeremiah 2:11 ESV). Even the idol-worshiping pagan nations would have never dreamed of abandoning their false god for another one. And yet, the people of Judah had forsaken the one true God for a plethora of false gods. And God went on to say, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV). They had turned their backs on God, the source of all life, hope, blessing and fruitfulness. Like a source of clear water in the desert, God was to have been vital to their very existence. But instead of relying on His life-giving sustenance, they turned to man-made sources of help and hope that could never deliver. Like cracked cisterns that could not hold water, their idols would prove to be incapable of meeting the expectations of the people of Judah. They had left God and replaced Him with false gods.

The people of northern nation of Israel were guilty of the very same thing. Which is why God warned them that they would be “bound up for their double iniquity” (Hosea 10:10 ESV). Their destruction was coming at the hands of the Assyrians. Their guilt was long-standing, going all the way back to the events surrounding Gibeah. It was there that the concubine of a visiting Levite was brutally raped and murdered by the men of the town who were actually desirous of having sexual relationships with the Levite. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, this town had become highly immoral and completely corrupt. And God accused the entire nation of having followed the example of Gibeah. Immorality, corruption, idolatry, and moral decay had spread throughout the nation. Now God was going to discipline them for their unfaithfulness.

The king and his capital city of Samaria would be destroyed. The high places where the Israelites worshiped their false gods would be abandoned and overgrown with weeds. The city of Bethel, which meant “house of God” would become known as Beth-aven (house of wickedness or vanity). They had abandoned God and now they would discover what it was like to have God abandon them. They would find out what it was like to no longer have His hand protecting them or providing for them.

God compared Israel to a young heifer used for threshing grain. In the early days of His relationship with the nation of Israel, they had enjoyed a unique and relatively easy relationship with Him. Threshing involved a cow or ox walking over the recently harvested wheat in order to separate the edible grain from the chaff. The cow was unmuzzled and free to eat the grain as it worked. It was rewarded for its labor. But now Israel was going to learn what it was like to be under the yoke of oppression, laboring under the hand of its new master, the Assyrians. Rather than threshing grain for God, they would plow for their oppressors. But God told them it was not too late. Even in their captivity, they could seek Him. So He encouraged them, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12 NLT). While living in exile in Assyria, they could seek God. They could choose to do His will. As they endured God’s loving discipline, they could respond in repentance, turning from their idolatry and renewing their commitment to and dependence upon Him.

They had committed two sins: They had forsaken God and then tried to replace Him with gods of their own making. And while God, because of His holiness and justice, was required to punish them for their sins, He was also willing to forgive and restore them. But they must willingly return to Him. They must forsake their false gods and return to the fountain of living water. It was Jesus who said, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart’” (John 7:37 NLT). He told the woman at the well, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:13-14 NLT). God is all about restoration and renewal. He wants to redeem the lost and restore the wandering. So He calls. He invites. 

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. I will make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David.” – Isaiah 55:1-3 NLT

Renewal and Restoration.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me “My Husband,” and no longer will you call me “My Baal.” For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. – Hosea 2:14-20 ESV

The unfaithfulness of Israel was deserving of the punishment that God had prophesied against it. Their failure to love and obey Him would not be overlooked. And yet, God promised restoration. It is amazing how often we can read the Old Testament prophesies against Israel and Judah and concentrate only on the anger and wrath of God. If we are not careful, we can paint a one-dimensional image of God that makes Him out to be vengeful and prone to destruction. But as God shared with Hosea, He had something more in store for the nation of Israel than their devastating defeat to the Assyrians and their subsequent captivity. God offers them a word of good news, telling them of what would eventually follow their self-inflicted fall from God’s good graces. He announces through the prophet, Hosea, “in that day.” A day was coming when God would restore His wayward people to their original position as His chosen possession. “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal’” (Hosea 2:16 ESV). 

It is important to remember that God had told Hosea that his wife, Gomer, would bear him three children and then prove unfaithful to him as she turned to a life of prostitution. And Hosea was going to learn that his God-given responsibility would be to buy his wife back from a life of prostitution, forgiving and restoring her to her original place as his wife. All of this was going to visibly illustrate what was going to happen between God and the people of Israel “in that day.” When the time came, according to God’s divine plan, the people of Israel would once again call God “my husband.” In other words, the once broken relationship would be restored. Not because of anything Israel would do, but all because of the grace and mercy of God Himself. And instead of calling on Baal as their god, they would begin to recognize and honor God as their sole source of sustenance and the object of their worship and adoration.

God says, “I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth” (Hosea 2:17 ESV), and “I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground” (Hosea 2:18 ESV). He tells them, “I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land and I will make you lie down in safety” (Hosea 2:19 ESV). But there was more: “I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness” (Hosea 2:19-20 ESV). In spite of all that Israel had done to dishonor and disobey God, He would one day restore them and renew their relationship with Him.

But the most amazing promise God makes to the people of Israel is at the end of verse 20: “And you shall know the Lord.” There is a tone of intimacy in those words. This is not referring to mere intellectual knowledge, but to a close and personal relationship. The prophet, Jeremiah, told of this same great day.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. – Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

All of this will be based on the initiative of God. It will have nothing to do with Israel’s earning of God’s mercy or grace. It will not be based on their future obedience or determination to repent of their sins and return to the Lord. From start to finish, this will be the work of God, done on behalf of the nations of Israel and Judah, and in spite of their years of rebellion and rejection of Him as their God and King. God’s unfailing love will one day be revealed in such a way that Israel, His unfaithful bride, will be restored by Him and given a second chance at experiencing His love, mercy and blessings.

Our God is a tender, loving, compassionate and forgiving God. He is always faithful. He never stops loving His children and He never fails to accomplish what He has started or fulfill what He has promised. God will not wait until Israel gets its act together and turns back to Him. He will be the instigator and originator of the restoration process, proving yet again His unfailing faithfulness.

Dead to the Power of Sin.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.. – Romans 6:5-11 ESV

For Paul, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus were more than mere events that took place. They were the key to his salvation, sanctification and ultimate glorification. As he stated in chapter one, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16 ESV). The gospel, God’s abounding grace as revealed through the sacrificial death of His own Son, had not only justified Paul in God’s eyes, it had provided him with the power needed to say no to his old sin nature that waged war against the Spirit of God within him. But Paul knew that, for believers, “our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its lower in our lives” (Romans 6:6 NLT). Paul stresses that, in placing our faith in Christ’s substitutionary death on our behalf,  we are united with Him “in a death like his.” And if that is true, then we are also “united with Him in a resurrection like his.” From God’s perspective, we died alongside Christ. Not only that, we were raised with Christ, to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:5 ESV). His death put an end to sin’s control over mankind. No longer do we live as slaves to sin, unable to resist its influence in our lives. Because we died with Christ, sin’s claim on our lives has been broken. We have been ransomed out of slavery and have been freed to live in the newness of who we are: children of God.

Paul brings up the logical conclusion that anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Dead people don’t sin. This is why he states, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing” (Romans 6:6 ESV). When Christ hung on the cross, He took on our sins. And He died a gruesome, painful death. When He was placed in the borrowed tomb, He was lifeless, limp and powerless. Death had been victorious over Him. But then, three days later, something remarkable happened. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was brought back to life. But He was not just resuscitated. He was resurrected to new life with a new body. Yes, it had the nail prints in His hands and the wound in His side. He was still recognizable to the disciples, but He was also different. He was no longer susceptible to pain and death anymore. He had the capacity to move about freely, unencumbered by the physical constraints of the normal human body. He had conquered death and, in doing so, He had made it possible for those who believe in Him to undergo a spiritual resurrection to new life. And, as Paul puts it, “so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7 ESV).

In his letter to the church in Colossae, Paul encouraged them, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3 NLT). He went on to tell them, “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). This new life in Christ is not without its struggles. We still have our old natures living within us. We still have the capacity to sin. But Paul’s point is that we are no longer slaves to sin. We have a choice. The key is that we must remember our new life in Christ. Paul put it this way to the church in Galatia: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NLT). It is a matter of faith. I can no more conquer my old sin nature on my own than I could have saved myself on my own. Martin Luther described it this way: “Our spiritual life is a matter not of experience, but of faith. No one knows or experiences the fact that he lives spiritually or is justified, but he believes and hopes in this. We live unto God, that is, in our spiritual and new life to eternity” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).

Paul’s main point in this section seems to be that we must recognize that our new life, made possible by Christ’s resurrection, is to be lived to God. We are to “think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” As Paul stated, each believer is to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you.” He tells us to “put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him” (Galatians 3:10 NLT). Our new life in Christ requires a constant vigilance that includes putting off the old and putting on the new. We are to pursue righteousness and flee from sin. We are to constantly consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. We belong to Him. We exist for His glory. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).

 

Corporate Confession.

O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. – Daniel 9:4-5 ESV

Daniel 9:4-19

Daniel was living in exile with his fellow Jews in the former Neo-Babylonian empire. He was one of the thousands of Jews who had been sent into captivity when Nebuchadnezzar and his army had conquered and destroyed Judah. At the point David prays this prayer, he has been in captivity for almost 70 years. As the book that bears his name tells us, Daniel had been a faithful servant of God even from his earliest days as an exile when he was forced into servitude in the king’s palace. Now, as an old man, he was reading the scroll containing the writings of the prophet, Jeremiah, and ran across God’s promise concerning His chosen people. “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet, must pass before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years” (Daniel 9:2 ESV). In essence, Daniel had been having his “quiet time” and while reading the book of Jeremiah, he discovered the following words from God: “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:10-14 ESV). What a rush it must been when Daniel read these words and realized that the 70 year time period had arrived. God was going to visit Israel. He was going to fulfill His promise to bring them back to Judah. He was going to restore their fortunes, return them to the land, and renew His relationship with them.

And what was Daniel’s response? Did he jump for joy? Did he run outside to tell all his friends the good news? No, Daniel prayed. “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:2-4 ESV). Faced with the unbelievable good news of God’s pending deliverance, Daniel prayed a prayer filled with confession, repentance and an appeal for God to show mercy. He knew they didn’t deserve what God was about to do. And God had clearly indicated what they were to do. They were to call on Him and pray to Him. They were to seek him with all their heart. And if they did, He would hear and restore their fortunes. So Daniel did just that. He prayed. He called. He cried out to God and he confessed on behalf of the people of Judah. He directed his prayer to “the great and awesome God.” He appealed to the covenant-keeping, consistently-loving God of Judah. He acknowledged the greatness and goodness of God, fully recognizing and admitting that their predicament had been their own fault. “…we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules” (Daniel 9:5 ESV). Daniel wasn’t taking any chances. While his math convinced him that the 70 years was just about up, he was going to make sure that he did his part and call out and confess just as God had commanded. He may not have been able to coerce or convince the rest of the exiles to do the same, but he was going to everything in his power to see that God’s command was kept.

Daniel prayed. He humbled himself before God, “seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” This was a serious, sold-out, no-holds-barred kind of prayer session. And it was anything but selfish. His was a corporately focused prayer, lifting up the entire nation of Judah and offered as an intercessory petition to God on their behalf. David could have simply focused on himself, regaling God with the stories of his of faithful service over the years. He could have reminded God of his unwillingness to worship the false gods of Babylon. He could have tried to impress God with his incredible faith illustrated by his encounter in the lions’ den. But instead, Daniel included himself in the sins of the people. He knew that God was interested in a corporate confession because He was offering a corporate restoration. Daniel was painfully aware that the people of God had not been faithful during their time in exile. Many of them had ended up acclimating quite well to their new environment, growing comfortable and complacent. They had compromised their faith and rejected their God for the gods of their captors. Having felt abandoned by God, they had chosen to put their hope and trust elsewhere. But Daniel knew that their only hope rested with the only true God. He alone could restore them. He alone could turn their fortunes around, taking them from captivity to freedom, from their well-deserved exile to their unmerited restoration to the land and His favor.

Daniel was comfortable in his circumstances. He could have been content to live out his days in Babylon, worshiping God and working at his government job. But he wanted what God wanted. He desired to see God’s power revealed in the affairs of his people. So he prayed. And he prayed diligently, fervently, passionately, persistently and expectantly.

Renewed From Within.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. – Psalm 51:10-11 ESV

Psalm 51

Dependence upon God. It’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. Most of us don’t like being dependent, but God created us to have a healthy dependence on Him. He created us, but He also sustains us. “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10 ESV). Not only do we need God for life, but we need Him in order to experience abundance of life. Since the moment sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, mankind has suffered from a broken relationship with God. Our hearts were damaged as a result of the fall, resulting in an internal disease that manifests itself in our outward behavior. The prophet Jeremiah gives us the sobering diagnosis: “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT). Years later, Jesus would confirm Jeremiah’s diagnosis. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:21-23 ESV). Mankind suffers from a deadly heart disease. The external sins we commit, as listed by Jesus, are simply the symptoms of a much greater problem going on inside. And David was well aware that his real issue was worse than even his sin with Bathsheba. He desperately desired a healed heart. He knew he would never stop himself from sinning unless God did something drastic. What he needed was soul surgery, a radical realignment of his very nature, something only God could do. While David was fully capable of confessing his sins, only God could cleanse and renew him. Only God could take care of the source of the problem, David’s sin-saturated heart. While David could admit that he had done wrong, he had no capacity within himself to stop it from happening again. He needed a clean heart and a renewed spirit. His natural inclination was to drift away from God. His heart was prone to give in to his sin nature, feeding his passions and desires, even when they were contrary to the will of God. Paul described this dilemma well. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). It’s interesting to note that David begs God, “take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He knew that God’s indwelling presence was essential for him to be able to experience true heart change. Without the Spirit’s help, David would be left to give in to the inclinations of his flesh, which, according to Paul, would result in a less-than-ideal outcome. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). David had just experienced the truth of Paul’s claim. Now he needed cleansing and renewal. He needed God to do what only He could do.

Admission of guilt does not eliminate responsibility or remove condemnation. It simply paves the way for God to perform the miracle of extending His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. When we come to Him with a heart broken by our sin and shamed by our disobedience toward Him, He offers us cleansing and renewal. In the words of the apostle John, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We confess, God cleanses. We repent, God renews.

While our sin deserves God’s rejection and righteous retribution, He offers us restoration and renewal. David’s greatest fear was a loss of fellowship with God. He knew just how dependent he was upon God. He was nothing without God. That is why he prayed, “Cast me not away from your presence.” Alienation from God was a scary thing to David. Earlier in his life, long before he had become a powerful king, David had spent years living in exile, with a bounty on his head. He had known what it was like to feel alone and seemingly abandoned by God. In one of his earlier Psalms he had written, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2 ESV). He had cried out to God, “Be not far from me” and “do not be far off!” During those bleak times of his life, when he had been surrounded by external enemies and threats on his life, he had learned to depend upon and turn to God for help. And now that his life was threatened by an eternal enemy: his own heart, he turned to God again. He knew that unless God helped him, he was helpless and hopeless. But David knew the words of the Lord, spoken as the people of Israel stood on the edge of the Promised Land facing the enemies who lived there. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV). God would not abandon him or leave him to fight his internal battles alone. Our battle with sin is not ours to fight. If we try to defeat sin alone, we will fail. But if we recognize our need for God’s help and dependence upon His Spirit’s strength, we can experience victory. We can know what it means to be cleansed and renewed, from the inside out.

Daniel 9-10, Revelation 21

The Dwelling Place of God.

Daniel 9-10, Revelation 21

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” – Revelation 21:3 ESV

Daniel and his contemporaries had been in captivity in Babylon for nearly 68 years. He was probably in his 80s at the time these two chapters were written, and had spent the majority of his life living in exile, away from the city of God, and unable to worship in the temple of God. When Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem in 586 B.C, he had completely destroyed the temple, the dwelling place of God. So since that time there had been no place for the people of Israel to go in which they might worship and offer sacrifices to their God. For almost 70 years, the people of Israel had endured exile and had lived with the awareness that their great temple lay in ruins. But by the time Daniel received his vision recorded in chapter 10, a group of Jews had been able to return to Jerusalem and had begun the restoration of the city of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple – all by virtue of a decree issued by King Cyrus. God had miraculously provided a means by which His people would be returned to the land and the city of Jerusalem could be rebuilt – all in keeping with His promise. But the real emphasis in these two chapters seems to be the presence of God. In spite of the fact that Daniel lived in a foreign land, far away from the city of Jerusalem and the temple where God’s presence was supposed to have dwelt, He received word from God Himself. When he prayed to God, He answered. “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision” (Daniel 9:23 ESV). God then proceeded to give Daniel a glimpse into the future as it related to the people of Israel. He provided Daniel with the assurance of His ongoing presence and unwavering commitment to His people – the Jews. God told Daniel, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage” (Daniel 10:19 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

Much of what God shared with Daniel regarding the future of Israel was confusing and disturbing. He received news of “a troubled time” in which “desolations are decreed.” He heard about floods and war, abominations and destruction of the city of God. But Daniel also received encouragement. He was told not to fear. He was given news from God Himself, providing him with a reassurance that everything was going to be okay. God was working behind the scenes, orchestrating the affairs of men and implementing His divine plan, according to His perfect timeline. God sent an angel to Daniel who told him that he “came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come” (Daniel 10:14 ESV). God was sharing with Daniel news about the future. He was reminding that He had not forsaken His people. He had seen Daniel and had been aware of His mourning. He had heard Daniel and responded to His cries for mercy. God was not restricted to heaven or relegated to a temple built by human hands. He was the transcendent God who omnipresent, able to be everywhere at once and capable of being with His people wherever they were at any moment and at any time. He is not hindered by time or space. And in spite of the sins of the people of Israel, He was still with them and would one day restore them to a right relationship with Him.    

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man’s greatest need is God. And yet our greatest weakness seems to be our insatiable desire to try and live without Him or simply in place of Him. When Adam and Eve were created, they enjoyed unbroken fellowship and intimacy with God. But sin changed all that. They went from having unrestricted access to God to being physically removed from His presence and denied entrance into the garden where they once walked and talked with Him. The story of the Bible is about God’s plan to make right what sin destroyed. Sin marred the world. So God is going to make it new again. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1 ESV). He will start fresh. He will recreate. He will even make a new Jerusalem. “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2 ESV). When the remnant of Jews returned to Jerusalem during the days of Daniel, they were able to rebuild the temple, but the finished product was a shadow of its former glory. It was nothing like the once-glorious temple that Solomon had built. Because man cannot restore like God can restore. Man can’t fix what is wrong in the world. Everything we do is little more than a band-aid on a problem that requires extensive restoration and healing. Even Daniel understood that his people were helpless to fix the problem they were experiencing. Their own sins had gotten them where they were. But God had not abandoned them. He was still among them. And He was always giving them assurances of His ongoing presence and power. But any glimpses they got of God were nothing compared to what was to come. Sin still mars God’s creation and damages man’s relationship with God. But the day is coming when those things will be remedied once and for all.

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

Man was created to have a relationship with God. Sin threw a monkey wrench into the plan, driving a wedge between man and God, and requiring God to do something radical to remedy the problem. God sent His Son to pay for the sins of man and to make possible the restoration of the relationship between God and His creation. But even now, sin continues to make it difficult for man to experience God’s indwelling, ongoing presence perfectly, without interruption. So God has one last thing He needs to do. He is going to eliminate sin and its devastating influence. He will destroy Satan and remove him completely from the equation. John was told that God would “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV). God reminds us, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV). A new heaven and a new earth. A new Jerusalem. A new relationship between God and man. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). Over in his gospel, John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV). The word for “dwelt” in this verse means to “fix one’s tabernacle” and it pictures God’s choice to dwell among men in a physical form. In Revelation 21:3, John records the noun version of the same word when he writes, “the dwelling place of God is with man.” When Jesus came to earth, He made God visible to men. But the day is coming when God Himself will dwell with men once again. We will enjoy unbroken, unhindered fellowship with God. Sin will be eliminated. Confession for sin will no longer necessary. There will be nothing to get in the way of our relationship with God. He will be our God and we will be His children.

Father, on this earth we only get glimpses of what fellowship with You can be like. Sin continues to make it difficult to see You, hear You, and experience You. The world can be a constant reminder of sin’s reality and make it feel like You are distant and removed from everyday life. But the day is coming when we will experience You in uninterrupted glory. You will dwell among us and we will enjoy Your presence. Help me to stay focused on reality of that promise. Amen

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

2 Chronicles 17

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!

“They took copies of the Book of the Law of the LORD and traveled around through all the towns of Judah, teaching the people.” ­– 2 Chronicles 17:9 NLT

Don’t ask me where the phrase, “Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat” comes from or what it means. No one really seems to know. But I couldn’t help but think about it as I read today’s chapter. Nowhere in the story of the life of Jehoshaphat do we see him jump, but we do see him take a leap of faith and decide to follow after God, something most of the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have a hard time doing. When he became king of Judah, Jehoshaphat did what just about any king would do: he fortified the cities, strengthened his defenses, and prepared an army to protect his nation. But more importantly, he sought the God of David and served Him rather than the false gods of the nations around him. This guy instituted some pretty serious spiritual renewal efforts on behalf of the people of Judah. One of the most intriguing ones was his commissioning of  officials from his administration to travel around the countryside with a copy of the law and a couple of Levites, teaching the people God’s commands as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Here was a king who took the law of God seriously and wanted his people to know it. Obviously, they must have needed a remedial lesson in the law or Jehoshaphat wouldn’t have bothered sending out his own officials to make it happen. In teaching them the law, he was enabling the people to know the will of God. If they knew the will of God, they would be less likely to disobey it out of ignorance. So Jehoshaphat not only fortified his kingdom physically, he strengthened it spiritually.

God blessed his efforts. Not only did Jehoshaphat’s kingdom grow strong, he grew rich. Even the pagan kings brought gifts to the king of Judah because the people of Judah were faithful to God. What an incredible reminder to us all of the need to make spiritual formation a foundational part of our lives. We will never know the will of God without the written Word of God. We will never know how to live in obedience to God if we never hear from Him. Jehoshaphat knew that a kingdom with military might was useless without the power of God made available through faithful obedience to His Word. We could learn a lot from the life of Jehoshaphat.

Father, without Your Word I am directionless and powerless. Never let me attempt to build my life on anything other than Your Word and Your will revealed in it. Amen

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