A Lack of Light.

But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me. Gilead is a city of evildoers, tracked with blood. As robbers lie in wait for a man, so the priests band together; they murder on the way to Shechem; they commit villainy. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing; Ephraim’s whoredom is there; Israel is defiled. For you also, O Judah, a harvest is appointed, when I restore the fortunes of my people. – Hosea 6:7-11 ESV

At the heart of Israel’s sin was their failure to keep their covenant with God. When He had delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God had given them His law and made a bilateral covenant with them at the base of Mount Sinai in the wilderness. That remarkable event was accompanied by thunder, lightning, smoke and fire. After seeing this dramatic display of God’s power and hearing the holy requirements of God, the people were petrified. “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:18-20 ESV).

God had chosen the people of Israel as His own. They were to be His representatives on earth, living according to His holy law and revealing to the world the blessings that come with obedience to His will. But God had warned them that there were going to be consequences to their disobedience. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me” (Deuteronomy 28:20 ESV). Over the years, the nation of Israel proved remarkably unfaithful, even before the kingdom was split in two. And after God had divided the kingdom, the ten northern tribes, known as Israel, took their unfaithfulness to a whole new level. And as a result, God was forced to keep His word. He was going to bring about their destruction.

Forsaking God always has dire ramifications. You cannot ignore God and hope that all will go well for you. Failure to honor and worship Him as God always leads to devastating consequences. In the case of Israel, their sinfulness spread like a plague among the people. Murder and robbery became common place, even in those cities that had once been known as sacred sites. The priests and religious leaders, rather than being icons of spiritual virtue, were fully complicit in the immoral and unethical acts of the nation. They were guilty of leading the nation astray, not only by advocating the worship of idols, but in committing acts in direct defiance of God’s commandments. God had made His will crystal clear. His commands were non-negotiable and free from interpretation.

You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods … You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy … Honor your father and motherYou must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. – Exodus 20:3-17 NLT

And Israel had violated them all. Just as Adam, the first man, had broken God’s covenant in the garden, disobeying His command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Israelites had willingly and persistently broken God’s covenant with them. They had failed to take God seriously. They had doubted His word and ignored His warning about curses and promise of blessings. It is interesting to note that their failure to love God as expressed in their disobedience of His law, manifested itself in a lack of love for one another. Murder and robbery are relational crimes committed by one individual against another. Just as murder followed the initial sin of Adam and Eve, the Israelites’ forsaking of God was followed by a hatred for one another. The great Shema, based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9, was a required daily prayer for all Israelites, learned at an early age. It reads:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

The law of God and a love for God were to be inseparable. God’s commands contained both vertical (God-focused) and horizontal (man-focused) elements. If someone obeyed God’s law out of love for Him, they would automatically express love for those around them. Obedience to God would manifest itself in mutual respect and love for others. But notice that the Shema contains the admonition to teach God’s commands to the next generation. They were to be a constant part of everyday life, dictating and determining behavior and influencing every aspect of life. But failure to keep God’s laws always follows failure to keep God as the center of your life. Disobedience is a byproduct of disbelief and distrust. Adam and Eve sinned because they listened to Satan and doubted God’s word. The people of Israel had sinned because they had forsaken God. Just as darkness is an absence of light, so sin is an absence of God. Walking away from God is like walking away from a light. You will eventually find yourself stumbling around in the dark, incapable of knowing where you are going and what you are doing.

The apostle John wrote, “God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants” (John 3:19-21 NLT). Israel had walked out of the light and into darkness. Their behavior was a result of their failure to honor and esteem God. And we can experience the same tragic outcome if we fail to keep God as the central focus in our lives, honoring Him for who He is and lovingly obeying His will because we know He loves us.

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Bright Lights In A Dark Place.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:19-21 ESV

When it comes to man’s relationship with God, it seems that everyone has an opinion, but not everyone’s opinion counts. It really doesn’t matter what I think. What you determine to be the truth about God, sin, righteousness, salvation or any of a number of other important spiritual matters is unimportant if what you believe does not come from the Word of God. Peter was preparing his readers for a rather in-your-face attack on false teachers and prophets – those individuals who were rising up among the people and secretly bringing in destructive heresies (2 Peter 2:1). Peter will accuse them of blaspheming the way of truth with false words (2 Peter 2:2, 3). He will warn the people to avoid them like the plague. But why should his opinion matter? What made Peter any different than anyone else when it came to spiritual truth?

Peter has already made it clear that he was an eye-witness to the majesty of Christ, having been there when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain top. Peter was a hand-picked follower of Jesus and had been privileged to see the words of the Old Testament prophets concerning the coming Messiah literally come to life in Jesus. That is what he seems to mean when he says, “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV).  That day on the mountain, he, James and John had heard God audibly declare, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5 ESV). God had testified as to the deity of Jesus. He was the Son of God. They had heard from the mouth of God Himself that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the words of the prophets. And they were to listen to Him. Which is why Peter tells his readers, “you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). What Peter and the other apostles were teaching was the truth of God as revealed directly from the Son of God. They were carrying out the commission given to them by Jesus.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18-20 ESV

Peter was simply teaching what he had been taught by Jesus. He was expanding upon the teachings of Jesus and clarifying the nature of the good news as revealed in His death and resurrection. As Peter has already stated, what he was teaching was not “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16 ESV), but “the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). And “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20 ESV). In other words, the prophets didn’t make up what they wrote. It was given to them by God through the inspiration of the Spirit. In fact, Peter asserts, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV). Which is exactly what Paul confirmed when he wrote:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:17-18 ESV

Peter’s primary concern seems to be that his readers stay attentive to the Word of God. He wanted them to recognize the truth that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophetic words of the Old Testament. The good news was to be like a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 ESV). This appears to be a reference to the return of the Lord for His bride, the Church. Peter is speaking of the rapture. Like the morning star that appears in the sky and foreshadows the coming of the dawn, Jesus will one day return for the Church and that day will usher in the dawn of a new day, the day of the Lord. Peter wanted them to live with that day in mind. They were to keep their minds focused on the reality of Christ’s eventual return.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 ESV

The false prophets and teachers were attempting to mislead the people by teaching something other than what the prophets wrote and the apostles declared. So Peter was warning his readers to not lose sight of the truth of God’s Word and the promise of Christ’s coming. They were to stay focused on the task at hand. They were to not allow themselves to be deceived or distracted from the calling they had received from God. Jesus had appeared to them like a bright light in the darkness, illuminating their sin and eliminating their guilt and shame. Now they were to be bright lights in the darkness surrounding them. They were to live like Christ, fully reliant upon the Spirit of God and obeying the Word of God.

Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Philippians 2:15-17 ESV). That was Peter’s desire as well. He wanted his readers to shine as lights in the world – bright lights in a dark place. But to do so, they would have to stay committed to the truth of God as revealed in the written Word and the Living Word. God did not leave His plan of redemption up to the opinion or interpretation of men. The apostle John made perfectly clear God’s grand plan for the redemption of mankind:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

We have that light shining within us. And we would do well to recall the words of Paul, written to the believers in Corinth.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 ESV

Isaiah 59-60, Revelation 13

God, Our Redeemer.

Isaiah 59-60, Revelation 13

and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. Isaiah 60:16b ESV

From the perspective of the Israelites, God seemed to be either ignorant of their difficult predicament or unable to do anything about it. It appeared as if He was oblivious to their condition or powerless to save them. But made it clear that the problem had nothing to do with Him. It was because of their sin. “…but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isaiah 59:2 ESV). It was their sins that were bringing about their own punishment. God was allowing their enemies to harass them, and He would eventually allow them to defeat them. The people of Israel were guilty of bloodshed, lying, iniquity, wickedness, injustice and violence. There was an absence of God’s peace or shalom in the land because there was no justice and righteousness. “Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us” (Isaiah 59:9 ESV). Because they failed to extend justice to one another, God was withholding His justice from them. God’s justice comes in the form of His rule setting all things right, restoring things to their proper order. Because they refused to live righteously, they were missing out on the righteousness of God. God’s righteousness shows up in the form of His presence and power as He vindicates and delivers, fulfilling all His righteous purposes on behalf of His people. Because of their sin, the people of Israel were experiencing an absence of God’s justice and righteousness on their behalf. God was not happy with them. “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice” (Isaiah 59:15 ESV). God had intended for His people to be the conduit of His justice, mercy and righteousness. He had told them what He expected of them. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV). But they had failed. And when God looked to see if anyone would intercede, He saw no one. “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede” (Isaiah 59:16a ESV).  

What does this passage reveal about God?

So God would intercede on man’s behalf. “…then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him” (Isaiah 59:16b ESV). In spite of Israel’s sin and rebellion, unrepentant hearts, and stubborn resistance to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with their God, He would intervene. He would intercede. God would step into the darkness and reveal His light. This was partially fulfilled with the coming of Christ. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). God promised the coming of the Redeemer. “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression” (Isaiah 59:20 ESV). But most of Israel rejected Him when He came. They refused to accept Him as their Redeemer and Messiah. But God is not done yet. His plan for Israel is not yet complete. There is a day coming when His Son will return a second time and He will establish His Kingdom on earth and rule from the throne of David from the city of Jerusalem. In chapter 60, God gives Isaiah a glimpse into the distant future, revealing the Millennial Kingdom of Christ that will be established after the days of the Great Tribulation on earth. Jesus referred to the period of the tribulation in very foreboding terms. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” (Matthew 24:21 ESV). But even during those dark days, the light of God will shine. “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isaiah 60:1 ESV). God will one day shine His light in the form of His Son on the lives of His people. As a result, they will once again reflect His glory and radiance. God will once again remember and redeem His people. “…and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty one of Jacob” (Isaiah 60:16 ESV). All of these things have yet to happen. They are future events still waiting to be fulfilled. But God will bring them about. He will cause them to come to pass at just the right time and according to His perfect plan.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

While the people of Israel were guilty of lying and deceit, they could trust in their faithful and true God. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19 ESV). God would do what He said He would do. And it might have appeared to the Israelites that His hand was shortened or His hearing diminished, God was fully aware of their circumstances and had everything under control. Even though God would allow them to fall at the hands of the Babylonians and experience the humility and despair of exile for 70 years, He would redeem them and restore them to their land. He would vindicate them and display His justice and righteousness on their behalf. But they would continue to sin against Him. They would continue to worship other gods besides Him. They would practice injustice and display their unrighteousness in a variety of ways for generations. Even when God sent His own Son to live in their midst and display His glory amongst them, they rejected Him. They refused to repent and turn to the physical manifestation of God living and walking as one of them. Even today, those of us who have been exposed to the reality of God’s Son and experienced salvation through acceptance of His sacrificial death on our behalf, can find ourselves living as if nothing has really changed in our lives. We struggle with the same sins as before. We are prone to turn to other “gods” of our own making or choosing. We rebel against God’s righteous rule in our lives and refuse to repent of the sins we so easily and regularly commit. We have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but still continue to wrestle with sinful habits and behaviors. We still fight against our sin natures, oftentimes losing the battle and succumbing to our own selfish passions. But God is not done yet. There is a day coming when our sin natures will be done away with permanently and completely. We will receive new bodies. We will have our sin natures eradicated once and for all time. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 15:53-56 ESV).

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

God is not done yet. He is not through redeeming me. His plan for my salvation, while completely taken care of by Christ, is not yet completed. There is a day coming when He will finish what He began. Paul tells us, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV). Elsewhere he reminds us, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 ESV). God has a plan for His church, the body of Christ. He is sending His Son back for us some day, and when that time comes, our salvation will be complete. The ongoing process of our sanctification or transformation into Christ’s image will be finished. We will be glorified. And God is not done with Israel either. He has great plans in store for them. And while the period of the Great Tribulation remains in their future, so does His redemption. The book of Revelation tells us of God’s future plans for Israel. These include the coming of the Antichrist and a period of difficulty and intense persecution. But it also includes the redemption of God and the restoration of His people. “For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended” (Isaiah 60:20 ESV). God will redeem. He will restore. “I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it” (Isaiah 60:22 ESV).

Father, Your redemption of mankind and Your restoration of Israel is not yet complete. You are not done yet. Your work is not finished. Don’t let me lose sight of the fact that Your arm is not shortened and Your hearing has not failed. You know what is going on in my life and in this world. Your salvation will come. Your great redemptive plan for mankind will be finished one day. You will do it in Your time. You have promised it and You will bring it about. Help me rest in Your faithfulness. Amen

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