Seek God Now, Not Later.

An oracle concerning Damascus.

Behold, Damascus will cease to be a city
    and will become a heap of ruins.
The cities of Aroer are deserted;
    they will be for flocks,
    which will lie down, and none will make them afraid.
The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts.

And in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean.
And it shall be as when the reaper gathers standing grain
    and his arm harvests the ears,
and as when one gleans the ears of grain
    in the Valley of Rephaim.
Gleanings will be left in it,
    as when an olive tree is beaten—
two or three berries
    in the top of the highest bough,
four or five
    on the branches of a fruit tree,
declares the Lord God of Israel.

In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense. – Isaiah 17:1-8 ESV

DamascusWith the opening of chapter 17, Isaiah delivers God’s oracle against Damascus, the capital city of Syria. As verse three reveals, Israel is included in this oracle, referred to by the name of Ephraim, the largest of the ten tribes that made up the northern kingdom. Israel had formed an alliance with Syria in order to attack the southern kingdom of Judah (see chapter seven).

As has been the case with each of the other oracles, God is speaking a word of warning aimed directly at His own people, the divided nations of Israel and Judah. Their repeated attempts to seek help from foreign nations rather than trust in Him were going to bring His judgment. He has already told what will happen to Babylon, Philistia, Moab and Assyria. Now, He turns His attention to Syria, located to the northeast of Israel. And He cuts to the chase, describing the Syrian capital as “a heap of ruins.” He predicts the utter devastation of the fortified cities of Syria and Ephraim, which would include the Israelite capital of Samaria.

The fortress will disappear from Ephraim,
    and the kingdom from Damascus;
and the remnant of Syria will be
    like the glory of the children of Israel,
declares the Lord of hosts. – Isaiah 17:3 ESV

Syria would share Israel’s fate. Both nations, because of their arrogance, would suffer greatly under the hand of God Almighty. But God’s primary judgment seems to be directed at the children of Israel. He states that their former glory will be greatly diminished, and He describes it is stark terms:

…in that day the glory of Jacob will be brought low,
    and the fat of his flesh will grow lean. – Isaiah 17:4 ESV

Once again, we see God promising to humble the proud and destroy bring low the self-sufficient. Israel had reached the point in their downward spiritual spiral where they no longer believed they needed God. Under the leadership of their king, Jeroboam, they had long ago created their own gods and set up their own places of worship.

Jeroboam then built up the city of Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and it became his capital. Later he went and built up the town of Peniel.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “Unless I am careful, the kingdom will return to the dynasty of David. When these people go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the Temple of the Lord, they will again give their allegiance to King Rehoboam of Judah. They will kill me and make him their king instead.”

So on the advice of his counselors, the king made two gold calves. He said to the people, “It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”

He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:25-30 NLT

And a long line of kings who succeeded Jeroboam continued the idolatrous trend, leading the people of Israel further and further away from God. But God does not leave sin unpunished. He cannot and will not overlook the rebellion of His people. So in 732 BC, the Assyrians fulfilled God’s word by destroying Damascus. And then years later, they would destroy Samaria, the capital city of Israel.

And the aftermath of the Assyrian conquest will leave the land looking “like a grainfield after the harvesters have gathered the grain. It will be desolate, like the fields in the valley of Rephaim after the harvest” (Isaiah 17:5 NLT). It is a picture of desolation and devastation. All the glory is gone. Everything the people had placed their hope in and based their pride upon would be gone. Only a remnant of the people of Israel would remain in the land.

“Only a few of its people will be left,
    like stray olives left on a tree after the harvest.
Only two or three remain in the highest branches,
    four or five scattered here and there on the limbs,”
    declares the Lord, the God of Israel. – Isaiah 17:6 NLT

This image stands in stark contrast to the promise God had made to Abraham.

“Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” – Genesis 15:5 ESV

God had kept His promise to Abraham and had made of him a great nation. While the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 400 years, their numbers had grown to such a degree that the Pharaoh had become fearful of their presence in the land. So he began to treat them as slaves, keeping them under intense subjection so that they might not rise up against the Egyptians. But God had delivered them from their slavery and had brought them to the land of Canaan, where He had given them victory over their enemies and provided them with land, villages and houses in which to live.

But the people of Israel had proved unfaithful to God. Over the centuries, they had repeatedly disobeyed God by worshiping the false gods of the Canaanites. They had intermarried with the nations, failing to maintain their ethnic purity but, more importantly, their spiritual identity as the chosen people of God. They had been set apart by God and commanded to live according to His laws. They were to be a living example of how sinful man can live in covenant community with a holy God. But they had failed.

And the core issue here is not the litany of sins the people of Israel committed, but their lack of belief in God. The goal of Satan is not so much to get mankind to commit sins as it is to get them to doubt God. That’s the tactic he took in the garden with Adam and Eve. He came to the woman in the guise of a beautiful serpent and said, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NLT). Notice that he raised doubts about God’s command. And Eve correctly responded, “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die’” (Genesis 3:3 NLT). Then Satan did what he always does, he contradicted the very word of God. “You won’t die!” (Genesis 3:4 NLT). And he followed that up with a compelling lie: “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NLT).

Eve and her husband listened to the lies of the enemy. But it was not the eating of the fruit that was the cause of their fall. It was their rejection of the word of God. They failed to believe what God had said. The enemy replaced the truth of God with a lie, and they accepted it. They took the bait. Satan’s promise sounded more plausible and appealing than God’s offer of life in the garden with Him. And mankind has been taking the bait of Satan ever since.

The fellowship with God that Adam and Eve had once enjoyed came to an abrupt end. Sin broke the bond. It severed the relationship they had enjoyed. They were cast out of the garden and away from the presence of God. And, as time passed, they and their descendants would find themselves moving further and further away from God – physically, as they journeyed away from the garden, and spiritually, as they allowed sin to separate them from Him.

But God describes a day when the fall of Israel would leave His people calling out to Him once again. In their devastated and demoralized state, they would find themselves without hope and devoid of any other source of help.

Then at last the people will look to their Creator
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
They will no longer look to their idols for help
    or worship what their own hands have made.
They will never again bow down to their Asherah poles
    or worship at the pagan shrines they have built. – Isaiah 17:7-8 NLT

It is amazing how easy it is for the people of God to turn their backs on Him until they find themselves in a state of hopelessness and helplessness. In those moments of trial and trouble, when they no longer have any other options or tricks up their sleeves, they tend to turn back to God for help. When their man-made gods no longer come through for them, they decide to give God one more try.

And the same is true of us as God’s people. While our false gods to be more sophisticated, they are still man-made and poor substitutes for the one true God. Yet, we find it so easy to place our trust in anything and everything but God, until those things fail to come through for us. When all the money in the world can’t heal us from cancer, we turn to God. When our intelligence proves insufficient for the crisis we face, we turn to God. When all our possessions fail to bring us the happiness they promised to deliver, we turn to God. And while it is true that “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1 NLT), He longs for us to seek Him at all times. He desires that we make Him our first and only option. Which is why Jesus said, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 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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Don’t Celebrate Too Soon.

28 In the year that King Ahaz died came this oracle:

29 Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of you,
    that the rod that struck you is broken,
for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder,
    and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.
30 And the firstborn of the poor will graze,
    and the needy lie down in safety;
but I will kill your root with famine,
    and your remnant it will slay.
31 Wail, O gate; cry out, O city;
    melt in fear, O Philistia, all of you!
For smoke comes out of the north,
    and there is no straggler in his ranks.

32 What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The Lord has founded Zion,
    and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.” – Isaiah 14:28-32 ESV

The Philistines were another powerful nation that had made its presence known during the days that Isaiah prophesied. They occupied land to the west of Judah between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Their presence in the Land of Promise, the land promised to Abraham by God and conquered under the leadership of Joshua, was due to the failure of Israel to remain obedient to God. The book of Judges tells us that God left the Philistines in the land as a test.

“Because this people have transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23 ESV

SouthernTribalAllotments2Earlier, in the book of Judges, we are told that the tribe of Judah had been successful in conquering the cities of Gaza and Ashkelon, located in the Philistine territory along the Mediterranean coast. They had also taken possession of the hill country, located to the east, along the Jordan River. But they had failed to take the area in between, known as “the plains.” This was a region occupied by the Philistines.

Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:18-19 ESV

So, as a result of Israel’s failure to obey God and cleanse the land of its immoral and idolatrous occupants, God allowed those pagan nations to remain in the land. With their various false gods, they became a constant source of temptation to the people of Israel, drawing them away from the one true God. They remained a constant thorn in the side of the people of God, conducting raids and plundering their towns and villages. Interestingly enough, the very name, “Philistine” is derived from the Hebrew word, Philistia. In the Greek, it is rendered palaistinei, from which we get the English word, “Palestine.” Even to this day, those who occupy this land to the west of Jerusalem and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, remain a threat to the people of Israel.

But in this oracle, Isaiah delivers a message from God to the Philistine people. And Isaiah ties the oracle to the year of the death of King Ahaz. The book of 2 Kings provides us with a bit of insight into the life of Ahaz.

Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:2-4 ESV

We’re also told that at one point during his reign, Ahaz made a visit to Damascus in Syria, where he met with the Assyrian king, Tiglath-pileser. Syria and Israel had formed an alliance against Judah, threatening to destroy them. So, Ahaz had made a treaty with Assyria, paying Tiglath,pileser tribute money for his assistance against Syria and Israel.

Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. The king of Assyria marched up against Damascus and took it, carrying its people captive to Kir, and he killed Rezin. – 2 Kings 16:8-9 ESV

While visiting Damascus, he saw the altar that the Syrians used to worship their false god. So, he sent word back to Judah, providing Uriah the priest with detailed instructions to make a replica of the pagan altar in Jerusalem.

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. – 2 Kings 16:11-12 ESV

Ahaz then had the brazen altar removed from the temple and replaced with this new pagan altar, where he offered sacrifices to the false gods of the Syrians. He repurposed the brazen altar, using it for divination.

So, this oracle is tied directly to the death of Ahaz. He died in 715 BC and his death marked a low point in the spiritual condition of the people of Judah. They had wandered from God about as far as they possibly could. Their land was filled with altars and high places to false gods. They were immoral and idolatrous. And yet, God focuses His attention on the Philistines.

God warns the Philistines not to be too quick to celebrate.

Don’t be so happy, all you Philistines,
just because the club that beat you has been broken! – Isaiah 14:29 NLT

It’s not exactly clear who is being referred to here. The “club” may be a reference to the house of David. All throughout his reign, David had waged war against the Philistines. As a young boy, he had defeated their champion, Goliath, in battle. And the tribe of Judah and the Philistines had remained enemies up until the days of Isaiah.

With the death of Ahaz, the Philistines could have been rejoicing over the loss of yet another king from the dynasty of David. It may be that they knew of Ahaz’ agreement to serve Assyria in return for their aid against Syria and Israel. Ahaz had told Tiglath-pileser, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me” (2 Kings 16:7 ESV).

The Philistines would have seen this alliance between Assyria and Judah as a good thing, further weakening Juhah’s power in the region. But it seems more likely that the Philistines were rejoicing over the removal of Syria as a threat to the region. These recurrent power struggles were taking place constantly, causing tremendous instability in the region. And the fall of one nation in the area was viewed as good news by all the rest. But God warns the Philistines to tap the break on their enthusiasm. In fact, rather than rejoice, they should weep and mourn.

Wail, O city gate!
Cry out, O city!
Melt with fear, all you Philistines!
For out of the north comes a cloud of smoke,
and there are no stragglers in its ranks. – Isaiah 14:31 NLT

While the people of Israel had failed to remove the Philistines from the land, God had plans for them. They could sit back and relish the troubles taking place in Judah, but the fate of the Philistines was sealed by God. There was judgment coming, and they could not escape it. While the nations could rejoice over the struggles of Israel and Judah, the would not escape from God’s wrath. God had promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).

God had vowed to bring His curses upon any and all nations that attempted to treat His people with contempt. And the Philistines were part of a long list of nations that had made a habit of mistreating the people of God. So, Isaiah warned them:

How will they respond to the messengers of this nation?
Indeed, the Lord has made Zion secure;
the oppressed among his people will find safety in her.  – Isaiah 14:32 NLT

We know that, in 712 BC, the Assyrians invaded Philistia. And again, in 701 B.C. they returned under the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, meting out judgment against all those, including the Philistines, who stood opposed to them.

But there is a future judgment reserved for all those nations who have stood opposed to God and His people. There is a day coming when Christ will return, and He will wage war against the nations of this earth – all those who, in their pride and arrogance, have chosen to reject the reign of God Almighty. During the final days of the Tribulation, they will join the Antichrist, choosing to worship him instead of God. They will persecute the people of God, putting many of them to death. But at just the right time, God will send His Son again. And this time, He will come as a conquering King, not a baby in a manger.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 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

Fear God, Not Man.

11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

16 Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17 I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18 Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness. – Isaiah 8:11-22 ESV

Like any prophet of God, the greatest danger Isaiah faced was compromise. He had been commissioned by God to speak truth and deliver what would be a very unpopular message to a very stubborn people. They were not going to accept what he had to say and he would find himself facing intense opposition. Isaiah would soon discover that he was a lone voice, crying in the spiritual wilderness of the city of Jerusalem. So, God warns him “not to walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11 ESV). He had been called to walk a different path. But he would face the constant temptation to soften the message given to him by God in order to find acceptance among the people. If he was not careful, he would end up telling them what they wanted to hear, rather than what God had told him to say. And God was very specific in His warning to Isaiah.

“Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
    and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.” – Isaiah 8:12 NLT

The Hebrew word translated as “conspiracy” is qesher and can also refer to “an alliance.” But it refers particularly to an unlawful alliance. If you recall, there had been an alliance made between the northern kingdom of Israel and the Syrians. These two nations had joined forces with the intention of conquering Judah. In their fear, the people of Judah, under the leadership of Ahaz, had made their own alliance with the Assyrians. Rather than trust God, they had chosen to put their hopes in a pagan nation. And God has already warned Ahaz that his unlawful alliance would prove to be disastrous.

Now God is warning Isaiah not to allow fear to cloud his thinking. He is not to see things the way the people do. Their fear of Israel and Syria was driving their behavior and influencing their decision making. And they had determined that the only solution to their problem was an unlawful alliance with Assyria. If Isaiah was not careful, he could easily find himself swayed by the fears of the people and placing his hope in something or someone other than God. But God strongly warns Isaiah not to let this happen.

“Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
    He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
    He will keep you safe.” – Isaiah 18:13-14 NLT

Isaiah was to fear God, not man. He was to put his hope and trust in God Almighty, not an unlawful alliance with a pagan nation that would prove to be no match for the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. And, as far as Israel and Judah were concerned, God had their fate already planned out.

“But to Israel and Judah
    he will be a stone that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem
    he will be a trap and a snare.
Many will stumble and fall,
    never to rise again.
    They will be snared and captured.” – Isaiah 8:14-15 NLT

Ahaz and the people of Judah feared the Israelites and the Syrians more than they feared God. And in doing so, they had failed to regard God as holy. They had refused to believe that He alone could keep them safe. As a result, they had allowed their fear of man to trump their fear of God. Now, the God who could have saved them, would be the God would cause them to fall. Because they had refused to see God as their sole source of safety and refuge, He would become a trap and a snare to them.

But Isaiah was to maintain his trust in God, no matter what happened. And when he discovered that the leadership and the people of the nation had rejected his message, Isaiah determined to take it to as many faithful followers of Yahweh as he could find. And Isaiah, having heard the warning from God, boldly claims his intention to remain faithful.

“I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” – Isaiah 8:17 ESV

Yet God knew that Isaiah’s commitment to remain faithful to Him was going to be constantly challenged. The people around him, even his own disciples, would eventually tempt him to turn to something other than God in order to gain insight and help.

“Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” – Isaiah 8:19 NLT

In their desperation, people will seek guidance from the dead, rather than turn to God. They will resort to witchcraft and sorcery. In a sense, they will make another unlawful alliance with the occult. Yet Isaiah is encouraged to “Look to God’s instructions and teachings,” because all those who “who contradict his word are completely in the dark” (Isaiah 8:20 NLT). And, not surprisingly, when the people fail to get the answers they are seeking from the unlawful alliances they have made, they will curse God. When they find themselves weary and hungry, they will blame their king and their God. Rather than take personal responsibility for their circumstance, they will find a convenient scapegoat. But everywhere they look, they will see “trouble and anguish and dark despair” (Isaiah 8:22 NLT).

Failure to fear God is costly. It has severe ramifications. Their future circumstances were directly tied to their refusal to place their hope and trust in God. Their decision to make unlawful alliances with the ungodly and unrighteous was going to result in undesirable consequences. But, through it all, Isaiah was to remain faithfully fearful of God. He was to keep on trusting even when everyone around him was abandoning ship. They would find themselves in a state of spiritual darkness. But there is good news and it comes in the very next chapter. In spite of Judah’s rebellion against Him, they would experience His grace and mercy. He would one day penetrate the darkness of their lives with “a great light” (Isaiah 9:2 ESV). But more on that tomorrow.  

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

God With Us.

1 Then the Lord said to me, “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, ‘Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz.’ And I will get reliable witnesses, Uriah the priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah, to attest for me.”

And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”

The Lord spoke to me again: “Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.”

Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered;
    give ear, all you far countries;
strap on your armor and be shattered;
    strap on your armor and be shattered.
10 Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:1-10 ESV

If you recall, in the previous chapter, Isaiah told King Ahaz that God was going to give him a sign.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14 ESV

Now, as we open chapter 10, God gives Isaiah a rather bizarre set of instructions. He was to inscribe on a clay table the name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which roughly translates, “speeding to the plunder, hurrying to the spoil.” The act of inscribing this name on the tablet was intended serve as a prophetic pronouncement of what was to take place. And God had Isaiah seek two men to attest to the validity of the document’s content and date. Then we’re told that Isaiah had sexual relations with “the prophetess.” We are not told who this woman was, but the phrase, “I went to…” conveys the idea of drawing near to someone or somthing. In this case, Isaiah drew near for the purpose of sexual relations. And it appears as a euphemism several other places in Scripture for the first sexual encounter between a husband and his new wife. So, it would appear that Isaiah married this unnamed prophetess and she became pregnant with a child.

And God commanded Isaiah to name his new son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. But it appears that, upon the birth of their son, Isaiah’s wife had named the boy, Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” But God had clearly told Isaiah to use the rather strange name, Maher-shalal-hash-baz. It is interesting to note the difference in meaning between these two names. One communicates a promise of God’s intimate and pervasive presence and protection. The other describes powerlessness at the hands of an enemy and the resulting state of being plundered. In a way, the people of Judah had the mistaken notion that, because they were the chosen people of God, He would be with them and protect them. But they had forsaken Him. And faced with the threat of the military alliance between Israel and Syria, they had chosen to put their trust in Assyria, not God.

But God warns that, before Maher-shalal-hash-baz was old enought to speak his first words, Syria and Israel would be conquered by the Assyrians. And the book of 2 Kings records for us exactly what happened.

27 In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah the son of Remaliah began to reign over Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. 28 And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin.

29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-bethmaacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria. – 2 Kings15:27-29 ESV

God was going to punish the nation of Israel. But the people of Judah would not escape the judgment of God. Because of his alliance with Assyria, Ahaz saw the fall of Israel as a good thing. It seemed to justify his decision to make the alliance in the first place. His plan had worked to perfection. But this alliance would prove to be ill-fated.

And God makes it clear that the entire nation of Judah was guilty. From Ahaz on down, the people of Judah were guilty of unfaithfulness. They were worshiping false gods and placing their hope and trust in the strength of the Assyrian army. So, God accuses them of rejecting “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (Isaiah 8:5 ESV). The Shiloah was a gently flowing stream that carried fresh water from the spring of Gihon into the walls of Jerusalem. It was unimpressive in its size, but faithful in its provision of clean, drinkable water. It had always been there for them.

Yet, when the Syrians and Israelites had fallen before Assyria, the people of Judah had rejoiced. They were glad. Their allies had saved the day and destroyed the threat that had been looming over the heads of the people of Judah. But God had bad news. In place of His gently flowing stream, they would experience the devastating impact of the fast-moving waters of the Euphrates River, a symbol for the Assyrians. The very “river” in which they had placed their trust would overflow its banks and inundate their land.

“And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.” – Isaiah 8:7-8 ESV

And notice the use of the name, “Immanuel.” In spite of the dire predictions found in these verses, God informs His people that He will be with them. So, the name given to the baby by his mother was correct. But so was the name given by Isaiah. There would be plundering and devastation, but also the consistent and persistent presence of God.

The prophecy takes a dramatic turn, with God speaking a word of warning against the nations. He turns His attention from Judah to the pagan nations who surround them, including the Assyrians.

“You will be broken, O nations;
you will be shattered!
Pay attention, all you distant lands of the earth!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
Get ready for battle, and you will be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted!
Issue your orders, but they will not be executed!
For God is with us!” – Isaiah 8:9-10 NLT

God was going to use the Assyrians to punish His people. In His holiness and righteousness, He could not simply overlook their unfaithfulness. Their sin deserved judgment. But as the author of Hebrews reminds us, God disciplines those whom He loves.

For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child. – Hebrews 12:6 NLT

The psalmist echoes that sentiment.

I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous,
    and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. – Psalm 119:75 ESV

God was going to punish Judah, but He would also deal with those nations which played a role in their punishment. He would avenge His people. He would wage war against the nations who, like Assyria, brought destruction and devastation to the people of God.

And God makes it perfectly clear that, in spite of all that would happen, He would be with the people of Judah. “God is with us.” They would one day recognize His all-powerful hand and all-pervasive presence. For the time being, it was going to be difficult. Their sins were going to bring His judgment. But His love and mercy would show up at just the right time. He would eventually avenge them and restore them. Because He is always Immanuel, God with us.

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

Whom Will You Trust?

1 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.

And the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord God:

“‘It shall not stand,
    and it shall not come to pass.
For the head of Syria is Damascus,
    and the head of Damascus is Rezin.
And within sixty-five years
    Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.
And the head of Ephraim is Samaria,
    and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah.
If you are not firm in faith,
    you will not be firm at all.’” – Isaiah 7:1-9 ESV

This section of chapter seven sets up a long discourse regarding the lack of faith among the people of Judah, and it began at the top, with their king. Isaiah summarizes the situation, mirroring the words found in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28.

1 In the seventeenth year of Pekah the son of Remaliah, Ahaz the son of Jotham, king of Judah, began to reign. Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God, as his father David had done, but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. And he sacrificed and made offerings on the high places and on the hills and under every green tree. – 2 Kings 16:1-4 ESV

Ahaz was a wicked king who proved unfaithful to Yahweh. And, through his leadership, he led the people of Judah to practice all kinds of idolatry. In doing so, he emulated the actions of the northern kingdom of Israel, where they had long ago replaced Yahweh with their false gods.

It was the northern kingdom of Israel that made an alliance with Syria in hopes of mounting an attack against Judah. And when new of this plan reached the royal court in Judah, “the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm” (Isaiah 7:2 ESV). They were terrified.

So, God commanded Isaiah to deliver a message to Ahaz, and he was to take his son, Shearjashub (“a remnant shall return”), with him. It is not clear why God had Isaiah take his son, but it could be that the presence of this young boy was intended to help calm the fears of Ahaz. The message God gave Isaiah to deliver to Ahaz was simple and clear.

“Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.” – Isaiah 7:4 NLT

After delivering God’s call to cease fearing, Isaiah was to provide Ahaz with insight into the plans of the kings of Syria and Israel.

“We will attack Judah and capture it for ourselves. Then we will install the son of Tabeel as Judah’s king.” – Isaiah 7:5 NLT

This two-fold message from God had to confuse and disturb Ahaz. How was he supposed to remain calm when two nations had allied against him and were planning to depose him? But this is where Ahaz had a choice to make. He could either look at his circumstances and lose hope, or he could look to God and trust Him. Which is why God had Isaiah provide Ahaz with a powerful assurance.

“This invasion will never happen; it will never take place.” – Isaiah 7:6 NLT

While Ahaz saw the kings of Israel and Syria as formidable foes and a real threat, God describes them as nothing more than burned-out embers. Ahaz and the people of Judah had nothing to fear from these two nations. Their plans would come to nothing. God even exposes the limited sovereignty of the king of Syria. He was the head of a single capital (Damascus) in a solitary nation (Syria). He was nothing compared to the Almighty God who rules and reigns over all. And God went on to provide Ahaz a prophecy concerning Israel’s fate: “within sixty-five years it will be crushed and completely destroyed” (Isaiah 7:8 NLT). Within 13 years, Israel would fall to the Assyrians. And about 62 years after this conversation between Isaiah and Ahaz, the king of Assyria would begin relocating people from other conquered nations into the former land of Israel, making repopulation by the Israelites virtually impossible.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. – 2 Kings 17:24 NLT

God knew what was going to happen to Israel, so He let Ahaz know that the entire nation of Israel was no stronger than their king and, therefore, there was no reason for Ahaz and the people of Judah to fear.

This is where Ahaz was faced with a choice. Would he trust the word of God, delivered by the prophet of God? Or would he allow the circumstances surrounding him to overwhelm him with fear? From Ahaz’s perspective, the news of Syria and Israel’s plans to depose him were real and deserving of his concern. He was facing attack from two powerful enemies, and God had even confirmed their plans. But God had also told him that it would not happen. Their plans would not to nothing.

And sensing Ahaz’s fear and anxiety, Isaiah gave the king one more message from God.

“If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” – Isaiah 7:9 ESV

Ahaz was going to have to trust God. Essentially, God was warning Ahaz that without faith in Him, they would fall. Fear and faith are not meant to co-exist. The presence of fear in the life of a child of God is evidence of a lack of faith. It reveals a distrust of God and doubt regarding His power and His promises.

As Moses was nearing the end of his life and the people of Israel were preparing to enter the promised land, under the leadership of Joshua, he told the people:

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the LORD your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

The circumstances facing the people of Israel were formidable and frightening. They were getting ready to enter a land filled with fortified cities protected by powerful armed forces. But Moses had told the people, “the Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy the nations living there, and you will take possession of their land” (Deuteronomy 31:3 NLT). And they had a choice to make. Would they cross over, putting shoe leather to their faith? Or would they remain on the wrong side of the Jordan, giving evidence of their lack of trust in God?

Ahaz had a decision to make, and it was not an easy one. The threat was real. The fears were justified. But His God had spoken. He had the word of God Almighty assuring him that nothing was going to happen. But he was going to have to take God at His word and trust Him.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. – Psalm 3:5-6 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

Just As He Had Planned It.

19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. Acts 11:19-30 ESV

In this section, Luke begins to introduce yet another phase of the church’s continuing spread and growth. Back in chapter eight, he had described one of the ramifications of Stephen’s martyrdom. It was the increased persecution of the church, in part, because of the efforts of Saul. Yet, in spite of the intensification of the persecution, he said, “the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went” (Acts 8:4 NLT). Then, by way of example, he chronicled Philip’s trip to the region of Samaria and all that happened as a result. Here in chapter 11, Luke picks up where he left off, letting us know that the persecution of the church had resulted in a dispersion of the Christians well beyond Samaria. The believers who fled Jerusalem “traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch” (Acts 10:19 ESV). But then Luke adds a telling detail, revealing that these Jewish believers kept their efforts to share the gospel restricted to their own people: The Jews. He says that they spoke the word to no one but Jews. This is significant because he shares it immediately after detailing the dramatic outcome of Peter’s journey to Caesarea, where Gentiles came to faith and received the anointing of the Spirit of God just as the disciples had on the day of Pentecost. This provides us with an important insight into the early days of the church. As the church continued to grow and the gospel made its way outside the confines of Jerusalem and Judea, the effort developed multiple fronts, each seemingly with its own emphasis and distinct motivation. Those Jewish believers who escaped and made their way to Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch in Syria, were still under the impression that this new religion was little more than a new branch of reformed Judaism. It was a religion of Jews and for Jews. After all, Jesus had been a Jew and had claimed to be the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. So, it made sense that they would concentrate their efforts to share the gospel by focusing on fellow Jews. And, as Jews, the thought of sharing their new-found faith with a Gentile would never have crossed their minds. Remember, it had taken a vision and a word from God to get Peter to go to the home of Cornelius.

Cyprus, Phoenicia and Antioch were located hundreds of miles from Jerusalem and illustrate the ever-expanding reach of the gospel. Antioch, located in the region of Syria, was 300 miles from the city of Jerusalem and, at that time, would have been the third-largest city in the entire Roman empire. It was a bustling metropolis, made up of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. It is estimated that Antioch had a population of anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000 people, with a seventh of them being Jews. As a city, it had a reputation for decadence and its citizens’ love of pleasure. And yet, Antioch would become a major hub for Christianity in the coming years.

As the believing Jews made their ways to these various destinations, they faithfully shared the good news regarding Jesus Christ. Luke tells us that, in Antioch, they included Hellenistic Jews in their target audience. And he records that “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21 ESV). Even though they were restricting their outreach to Jews, God was blessing their efforts. And when news of what was happening in Antioch got back to the leadership of the church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to check it out. When he arrived, Barnabas was greatly encouraged by what he saw and spent time exhorting those in the church there “to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose” (Acts 11:23 ESV). He knew that the days ahead would be difficult. It was not going to be easy to live out their new faith in the midst of a culture like that in Antioch. These people, as Jews, were already in the minority. Now, as believers, they were going to face further rejection by their own people. So, Barnabas felt compelled to strengthen the fledgling church by remaining with them for a prolonged period of time.  And knowing he would need help, he traveled to Tarsus to enlist Saul in his efforts. This would begin an important new phase in the God-ordained ministry of Saul. And it is essential that we recognize God’s sovereign hand at work in all these details. Stephen’s martyrdom had resulted in persecution and the dispersion of the church. It had also resulted in Saul’s intensified efforts in that persecution, after he approvingly watched the stoning of Stephen. And yet, the resurrected Jesus had confronted Saul as he made his way to Damascus to arrest and round up Christians and, as a result, Saul had undergone a dramatic conversion. And some three years later, when Saul had traveled to Jerusalem, it had been Barnabas who acted as his host and sponsor, introducing him to the apostles and explaining the dramatic details behind Saul’s conversion. Now, when the leaders in Jerusalem felt compelled to send a representative to Antioch to investigate all that was going on, they just so happened to choose Barnabas. This was anything but a case of happenstance or blind fate. It was the hand of God. Barnabas was chosen because God had ordained it. And his arrival in one of the largest, predominantly Gentile cities in the Roman empire was something God orchestrated. Now, he would have Saul working by his side, a man whom Jesus had chosen to be His witness to the Gentiles. It’s important that we recall the words spoken by Jesus to Ananias, commanding him to go lay hands on Saul immediately after his Damascus road experience:

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. – Romans 9:15 ESV

Here in this chapter, we see God instigating what will be another new front in the war against sin and death. He is putting one of His primary weapons into the battle, sending Saul into an environment where his gifts and abilities would be used by the Spirit of God to accomplish great things for the Kingdom. It had probably been close to nine years since Saul’s conversion, and during that time, he would have been growing in his faith and honing his Spirit-given abilities as a messenger of the gospel. God had been preparing Saul for this very occasion.
Luke records that Saul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch; ministering, evangelizing, and growing the fledgling congregation there. Interestingly, Luke provides us with the insight that it was at this point in the timeline of the church that believers came to be known and referred to as Christians. This was most likely about ten years after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. A decade had passed and the church, formerly called “the way” was now known for the name of the One in whose name they believed and had placed their faith. This name is significant in that it contains three important characteristics. First of all, “Christ” is the Greek translation of Messiah. The Messiah was the Jewish Savior, promised by God in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, we have in the name “Christian”, an obvious link to the Jewish roots of Jesus. But Christ would become the primary name by which Gentiles would commonly refer to Jesus. It became like a second name for Him, much as we use it today. And the ending, “ians” is of a Latin derivation, the language of Rome and the predominate language of the empire. Luke’s inclusion of the seemingly insignificant fact that the name, “Christian” had become the primary means by which believers were described is more important than we might imagine. The faith was becoming universalized. It was making inroads into the various cultures of the day, and developing a reputation as a free-standing religion, separate and distinct from Judaism or any other pagan religion. It was slowly, but surely, becoming a fixture in the culture of the day.
Luke ends this chapter with what appears to be another interesting, and far from unimportant anecdote: A prophecy regarding an eminent worldwide famine. Once again, we have to look beyond the black and white nature of Luke’s reporting of Agabus’ prophecy. Why did Luke, under the inspiration of the Spirit, include this information at this point in his book? As we will see, this famine will play a significant part in the future of the church. And Luke provides some insight into how it will impact the ministry of Saul himself.
29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. – Acts 11:29-30 ESV
The church in Jerusalem would suffer greatly because of this famine. The Jews there, already suffering from persecution because of their faith, would find themselves living in relative poverty and barely able to exist. While there had been a time, in the early days of the church in Jerusalem, when the rich believers had been able to provide for the less-fortunate in their midst, after the arrival of the famine, that would no longer be possible. Now, the global church would provide for the needs of those in Jerusalem. And Saul would make it part of his life’s mission to raise funds from among the predominantly Gentile congregations to which he ministered, and to see that those resources made their way back to the church in Jerusalem. God would even use a famine to accomplish His will regarding the spread of the gospel and the unity of the church around the world. As it spread, God would see to it that it remained unified in its love and mission.
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

Day 22 – Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44

Prayer-Fueled Ministry.

Matthew 4:23-25; Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” – Mark 1:35 NLT

News about Jesus was spreading fast. It had even reached as far north as Syria. Hundreds, if not thousands of people were making their way to the region of Galilee in search of this man who could heal diseases and cast out demons. Matthew tells us that “large crowds followed him wherever he went” (Matthew 4:25 NLT). His days were filled with teaching, preaching and healing. Again, Matthew tells us that Jesus was “teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23 NLT). But in spite of His growing popularity among the people and the seeming success of His ministry, Jesus started His day with a time of solitary prayer, talking with His Father in heaven.

We will see this pattern take place often as we read through the Gospels. This was not an isolated event, but an ongoing habit that Jesus had developed over time. It could very well have started early in His childhood, but we know that throughout the days of His earthly ministry, prayer was vital to all that He did. Jesus walked in unity and unison with His Father. He did what only what God the Father told Him to do. He said only what He was told to say by the Father. He obediently did His Father’s will because He always knew what it was His Father wanted Him to do. Because they talked regularly. They communed and communicated often. But mornings seemed to be His preferred time for getting alone with God. Before the hustle and bustle of His day began, and the pressures of ministry overwhelmed Him, Jesus sought out His Father.

It would be appalling to think how much of our ministry is done without prayer. Far too frequently, we jump into our day without having spent a single second with God. We simply assume we are doing His will, but we haven’t taken the time to ask Him. Jesus seemed to receive His marching orders from one source: His Father. Like any other minister, Jesus was getting pressures from all sides. His disciples wanted Him to teach and preach more, so the numbers of His followers would increase. The people wanted Jesus to heal their sicknesses and cast out their demons. Every synagogue in every small town through which He passed wanted Jesus, the rabbi, as their guest speaker. Jesus was getting famous. He was gaining a reputation. And He was under tremendous pressure to perform. But Jesus knew that His strength came from God. He knew that His “To Do List” for each day had to be given to Him by His Father. That is why when the disciples confronted Jesus right after His time of prayer, they said, “Everyone is looking for you!” and Jesus simply replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” (Mark 1:38 NLT).

Jesus was all about doing the will of His Father. Which is why He spent time talking to His Father – early and regularly. Jesus was not controlled by the crowd. He was not swayed by seeming success. He would not allow Himself to be pressured by the opinions and advice of His disciples. No, His will was to do the will of the one who had sent Him. And He knew exactly what that will was because He spent time talking to the Source.

Father, it’s easy to get distracted by the miracles that Jesus performed and lose sight of the fact that His days always seemed to begin with prayer. He put a high priority on prayer. And it seems that it was far more about communion with You than getting things from You. Those times of solitude were times of refreshing and fellowship. They were the small moments of time when He could cast aside all the cares and pressures of the day and simply sit with You and enjoy the fellowship He had enjoyed in eternity past. What a reminder of how much I need to spend time with You. But it is so easy to forego fellowship and simply launch into action. Help me learn to come into Your presence and rest, listening, learning, and enjoying fellowship with You. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org