Our Patient, Merciful God.

Isaiah, 29-30, 2 John

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Isaiah 30:18 ESV

In the midst of all of Israel's rebellion and stubborn refusal to honor God, God repeatedly called them to repentance. “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’” (Isaiah 30:15 ESV). He made it clear what they had to do to receive rest and restoration. All He asked them to do was repent and return to Him. If they would simply be still and place their trust in Him, He would bless them. He would show mercy to them. But verses 15 goes on to say that they were unwilling. Rather than trust God, they relied on their own plans. “‘Ah, stubborn children,’ declares the Lord, ‘who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt’” (Isaiah 30:1-2 ESV). They were like children “unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9 ESV). They refused to listen to what the prophets were telling them. They preferred to be told lies. It sounds familiar. Paul warned Timothy that this same scenario would exist in his day. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3 ESV). Paul described a day in which the sins of the people of Israel would be lived out again – in the life of the church. “You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT).

What does this passage reveal about God?

The very fact that this planet still exists and the human race has not been completely obliterated by God speaks volumes about His patience, faithfulness, mercy and grace. He continues to watch as even those who call themselves by His name reject His will for them and refuse to acknowledge His sovereignty over them. In Isaiah's day, God accused the people of Israel of going through the motions spiritually – “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Jesus would quote this very passage when speaking to the religious leaders in His day. “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you…” (Matthew 15:7 ESV). God was not interested in religious rituals and acts of pious posturing. He wanted His people to show Him love through their faithful obedience to His commands. He wanted them to trust Him and to rely on His plan for them. Obedience is not just a matter of going through the motions. It is to involve the heart. It is to include the will. God had repeatedly told His people: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV). But in spite of the disobedience of His people, God has continued to show patient, faithful endurance. He has continued to pour out His grace and mercy. And He will faithfully fulfill each and every promise He has made to the people of Israel and to His Church.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Our capacity for stubbornness and disobedience is astounding. After all of God's blessings, the people of Israel still could not bring themselves to remain faithful to God. They even believed that they could hide their disobedience and unfaithfulness from Him. “Who sees us? Who knows us?” (Isaiah 29:15 ESV). God accused them of turning things upside down – of reversing the roles – making themselves the gods of their own lives. “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say to its maker, ‘He did not make me’; of the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:16 ESV). The apostle Paul would echo this thought in his letter to the believers in Rome: “Who are you, a mere human being, to argue with God? Should the thing that was created say to the one who created it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Romans 9:20 NLT). What arrogance and pride we can exhibit as God's creation. How easy it is to forget the one who made us. How quickly we can forget the grace and mercy of God that led us out of darkness into the light. Peter reminds us: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV). Like the people of Israel, we owe all that we have to God. Our very existence as His people is due to His love, kindness, mercy and grace. And yet, how easy it is for us to return His unmerited favor with disobedience, stubbornness, and a willful rejection of His will for our lives.

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

In John's second epistle, he commends his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4 ESV). He encourages them to continue obeying the command of Christ to love one another. He wanted them to live out their faith in real life, even in the midst of false teaching and daily difficulties. God had been faithful to them and he wanted them to remain faithful to God by abiding in the teaching of Christ. As Christ followers, we must never forget that God has showered us with His mercy and grace. He has placed us into His family and made us His children and heirs. He has promised us an eternity with Him free from sin, pain, sorrow and death. All He asks is that we remain faithful to Him while we wait for the final fulfillment of His plan. He tells us the same thing He told the people of Israel in Isaiah's day: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT). While we wait on Him, we must rest in Him. He must trust Him. We must abide in Him. He calls out to us, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10 ESV). He knows what He is doing. He is patiently, graciously working out His plan. And we must patiently, faithfully trust Him.

Father, forgive me for abusing Your mercy and grace. Forgive me for taking Your mercy and grace for granted. I would be nothing without You. I have no right to question Your authority over my life. I have no reason to question Your faithful love and sovereignty in my life. Help me learn to continually return to You and find my rest in You. Amen

Too Hip For Our Own Good.

2 John

Anyone who gets so progressive in his thinking that he walks out on the teaching of Christ, walks out on God. But whoever stays with the teaching, stays faithful to both the Father and the Son. – 2 John 9 MSG

Today there is a trend in Christian circles to be relevant and contextual. It is the mantra of the postmodern crowd who believe that we have to do all we can to make the gospel more palatable and approachable to a new generation of believers. Now, don't get me wrong. I am all for relevancy and making the scriptures relateable to your audience, but we always run the risk of altering the message in such a way that the central message of the cross can become clouded and even lost. This seems to be the message behind John's short little letter. Whether he is writing to an actual woman (lady) or referring metaphorically to one of the churches in Ephesus, we don't know. But it seems clear that he warning his reader(s) about false teachers. This was a growing problem as the church spread throughout the known world at this time in history. The apostles were the gatekeepers of the truth and their numbers were declining. New churches were springing up as the gospel spread, but there were not always knowledgeable teachers in place to educate the people. So it was easy for well-intentioned, but misguided individuals to pop up and begin teaching their version of the Truth.

John simply warns about "anyone who is so progressive in his thinking that he walks out of the teaching of Christ." The New International Version translates it this way: "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ…" This person has "run ahead" or gone too far according to the New American Standard Version. The Greek word means "to go further than is right or proper." They've overstepped proper bounds. So much so, that John was bold enough to say that they don't have God. Their teaching was so wrong it revealed that they were not even in Christ.

So what was it they were teaching that was so bad? Well, according to John, "They do not believe that Jesus Christ came to earth in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist" (Vs 7 NLT). At best, they were denying the incarnation of Jesus. He didn't really come in human flesh. He wasn't really born of a virgin. But they also were probably denying His death, burial and resurrection. If He didn't really come in a human body, there was no reason for Him to die and resurrect. And that means He doesn't have a human body today. So in essence, they were denying the key elements of the gospel message. Most likely because it didn't sell well in their cultural context. They had updated the gospel story to suit their own tastes and to attract an audience that might have found the original version a little too hard to swallow.

Is this happening today? You bet. In countless ways. There are entire movements within Christianity that downplay everything from the divinity of Christ to His miracles. There are churches and teachers out there who over-emphasize Jesus' humanity and downplay His deity. They stress His role as a model for life as a man, and lift Him up as an example to follow. But in doing so they virtually eliminate His role as Savior andredeemer. They turn Jesus into more of a life coach and self-help guru than the Savior of the world. These teachers stress social action and civic awareness, but downplay man's sin and our need for a Savior. In their efforts to make the church more missional, they fail to teach the gospel as life-transformational. Behavior modification takes the place of heart transformation. The Bible becomes little more than a blue print for living and Jesus gets turned into a life coach with some great tips for making a difference in the world.

This is another gospel. But it is NOT the gospel of the Bible. So John warns us to not even give someone who teaches this kind of stuff a greeting. "If someone comes to your meeting and does not teach the truth about Christ, don’t invite him into your house or encourage him in any way" (Vs 10 NLT). Sounds a little rude doesn't it? But John knew that false teaching of any kind was dangerous and especially among new believers who were not yet grounded in the truth. They were susceptible to the lies, the pretensions or plausible lies, that sounded so good, but were far from the truth. The lies are subtle and deceptive. They sneak in and catch us unawares. They are cloaked in a lot of terms that seem familiar and give them a sense of validity and credibility. But we have to check to make sure that the truth of the gospel message regarding Jesus Christ remains unchanged. The context should never change the content. Relevancy should never change the reality of Jesus Christ and His incarnation, substitutionary death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, and coming return. Or the fact that salvation is available through Him alone, but grace alone.

Father, keep us pure. Help us stay focused on the truth of the gospel message. False teachers abound today and sometimes we have a hard time seeing them. Give us eyes and ears to see and hear truth and recognize falsehood. Protect Your church Father from the lies of the enemy. Help us to see that they are subtle and we can be so susceptible to them if we are not grounded in Your Word and knowledgeable of Your truth. Amen