Messiah

Truly Blessed

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:2-12 ESV

Jesus wastes no time. Once the crowd has taken their seats in front of Him, He jumps right into His lecture, and begins with what has come to be known as the “beatitudes.”  This portion of His message derives its name from the repetitive use of the word “blessed” that appears at the beginning of each line. The Greek word for blessed in the original text of Matthew’s gospel is makarios. In the Latin Vulgate, the word is beati, which is derived from the Latin beatitudo/beatus. Therefore, the name of this section of Jesus’ message became known as “The Beatitudes.”

In order to fully understand what Jesus was saying, we must know what He meant by using the word “blessed.”  There is no doubt that it has a positive connotation. To be blessed was a good thing. But what kind of blessing did Jesus have in mind? We tend to use the word quite loosely and indiscriminately. Perhaps you’ve heard someone say something like, “He’s been blessed with good genes” or “Grandchildren are such a blessing.” From our perspective, we can be blessed by good health, a new job, a strong constitution, a loving spouse, and good friends.

Even in Jesus’ day, the word carried the connotation of being “supremely blest; by extension, fortunate, well off” (“G3107 - makarios - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 21 Apr, 2017). The problem we face in reading The Beatitudes is applying our definition or understanding of what it means to be blessed and missing out on what Jesus was actually saying. Our natural tendency, just like the 1st-Century Jews sitting in Jesus’ audience that day, is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Our natural tendency is to think that the blessings to which He refers are purely physical in nature and apply to our personal prosperity and happiness. But Jesus had something far more significant in mind.

Warren Wiersbe states that the blessing to which Jesus referred is “an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that does not depend on outward circumstances for happiness.” So, while we might connote blessing with personal prosperity and a lack of problems, Jesus was speaking of something entirely different. The root idea behind blessing is approval. God does not bless that which He does not approve. If you take the full context of Jesus’ message, it becomes clear that He is teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven and the character of those who belong to it. In essence, He is teaching about justification; how to be made right or approved by God. In the very next section, Jesus will bring up the Mosaic law. Why? Because for the Jews in His audience, the Law had always been the sole requirement for attaining a right standing with God. It was through the keeping of the Law that man attempted to gain God’s approval or blessing.

All the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, we have recorded the words spoken by Moses to the people of Israel on behalf of God.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 30:15-16 NLT

They were to live in obedience to the commands of God. If they did so, they would be blessed by God. If they refused to do so, they would be cursed. In the previous chapter, Moses made clear just what the blessing He promised would entail.

“You are standing here today to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God. The Lord is making this covenant, including the curses. By entering into the covenant today, he will establish you as his people and confirm that he is your God, just as he promised you and as he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 29:12-13 NLT

By obeying God, they would enjoy the approval and presence of God. They would know what it was like to have His protection and to experience His provision. The curses would be the result of having lost that relationship. But the Jews had ended up placing a higher value on the material blessings they enjoyed than on God’s approval. The idea that the God of the universe approved of them was less important to them than the personal prosperity they enjoyed as God’s people. And this misunderstanding of the blessing of God had resulted in them turning the Law into a means to an end. They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy. He had become nothing more to them than a conduit to more important things: health, happiness, material goods, crops, children, peace, long life, or whatever else they desired.

They tried to keep the Law in an effort to keep God happy, so that He would keep blessing them with the things that kept them happy.

So, here comes Jesus, preaching a radically different message of what it means to be truly blessed by God. And what He said must have rocked the world of His listeners. Much to their shock and dismay, He tied the blessing of God to such things as poverty, mourning, meekness, deprivation, and persecution. He talked about heavenly rewards versus earthly ones. He commanded His listeners to rejoice when they were persecuted, to turn the other cheek when they were slapped, to willingly go the second mile, to love their enemies, and to give to those who ask to borrow, expecting no payment in return.

None of this would have made sense to His listeners. None of it would have sounded the least bit appealing. In the mind of the average Jew, it was the wealthy who were blessed by God, while the sick and the lame were cursed by God. They believed material prosperity was a sign of God’s blessing, so poverty must be a curse.

But what Jesus says in this passage turns the tables on that kind of thinking. A great deal of His message is in direct contradiction to their skewed understanding of the Law and what they believed was necessary to be right with God. They tied proof of righteousness (a right relationship with God) to outward signs of His blessing. But Jesus was going to blow up that presupposition. He was going to go to the heart of the issue – literally. Because Jesus was out to change the hearts of men. With His coming, the days were finished when men would be able to judge their righteousness based on outward evidence.

God looks at the heart. And Jesus came to die so that men’s hearts might be redeemed, and their behavior radically changed. What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment.

What Jesus describes in this passage is a new way of living, based not on human effort, but on divine empowerment.

He is speaking to a pre-cross crowd, explaining to them a post-cross reality. He knows something to which they are oblivious. He recognizes that all He is saying to them is not only impossible for them to understand, but impossible to pull off until He has died, been resurrected, and the Holy Spirit comes. His words are preparatory in nature. He is expanding on His previous message of “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

Things were about to change. The Messiah had come. The Savior of the world was in their midst. And the means by which men might be made right with God, permanently and perfectly, had finally arrived. But before anyone could accept what Jesus had come to provide, they would have to recognize their need. And Matthew later records Jesus’ offer of the Great Invitation:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

The Sermon on the Mount is not intended to be a new list of laws, rules, and requirements for people to follow in order to gain God’s approval. It is a glimpse into the lifestyle of those who will find their approval by God through faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross. It is a pre-cross explanation of how right behavior will flow from having a right relationship with God made possible by the sacrificial death of Jesus for the sins of mankind. The key message behind the Sermon on the Mount is the approval of God. And Jesus is in the process of helping His audience understand that right behavior stems from having a right relationship with God, not the other way around.

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

The Kingdom Is At Hand

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them… – Matthew 5:1 ESV

It was Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, who first referred to this text as the Sermon on the Mount. But that title is somewhat of a misnomer, in that the content and the context appear to make it much more of a teaching than what we would know as a sermon. Obviously, the setting is outdoors, on a hillside located at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It is early on in Jesus’ ministry, and yet, we know from chapter four, that Jesus has already begun attracting vast crowds.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. – Matthew 4:23-25 ESV

Those who made up the audience sitting on the hillside that day to listen to Jesus speak were made up of all kinds of people from all over the area. And within the crowd would have been disciples or followers of Jesus. This term was not exclusively used of the 12 but was commonly used to refer to any and all who followed Jesus and were attracted to His message and miracles. As John will make clear in his gospel, many of these individuals would later choose to abandon Jesus when His message became increasingly more convicting and the price of discipleship, more costly (John 6:66).

Also in the crowd that day were the men whom Jesus called to be His official students. Chapter four reveals how Jesus had called two brothers: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, as well as another two siblings: James and John. All four of them were common fishermen. But when Jesus extended the invitation to join His ranks as His disciples, they all willingly followed. These four were accompanied by Nathanael and Philip, who had also responded affirmatively to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me.”

Another group that listened to Jesus teach that day were the merely curious. They probably made up the largest contingent within the crowd. These were people who were enamored with Jesus’ miracles and intrigued by what He taught, but, for the most part, were attracted by the novelty of it all. So, as Jesus sat down to teach, He found an audience made up of the called, the semi-committed and the curious. And it is essential to keep these three groups in mind as we listen to Jesus’s words because each of them will have a slightly different take on what He has to say.

The danger we face in reading a passage like this one is to do so from our modern vantage point and with our unique perspective as modern believers who know how the story ends. In other words, we have insights the people in Jesus’ audience would not have had. We know about His death, burial and resurrection. We are well aware of the Holy Spirit and the role He plays in helping us live out the Christian life. We know that our salvation is based on faith alone in Christ alone, and not on words or human effort. We also know that our ongoing sanctification is based on faith, as well. We can’t make ourselves more holy. We must depend upon the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

So, when we read the Sermon on the Mount, we hear it with redeemed ears. We are privy to insider information that the original hearers would not have had. They were not yet sure who Jesus really was. Some would have thought Him to be the Messiah, but they would have been few in number. Even the men whom Jesus called likely had some doubts and reservations about Jesus’ identity. Yes, when Philip had told Nathanael about his encounter with Jesus, he had seemed fairly convinced of who He was. 

“We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” – John 1:45 ESV

And it was Nathanael who, upon meeting Jesus for the first time, responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 ESV). But at this point in their relationship with Jesus, these men were still wrestling with what they believed about the Messiah and what they saw in Jesus. There were points of disconnection and discontinuity. Not all they saw about Jesus was matching up with their expectations concerning the coming Messiah.

It would be sometime later that Jesus would ask them who the people believed Him to be. And they would respond, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say you are one of the other ancient prophets risen from the dead” (Luke 9:19 NLT). So, at this point, early on in His ministry, there would have been much confusion and speculation about His true identity. And that point will make what He has to say in this sermon that much more critical.

How would they have heard His message? What kind of impact would His words have made on them? The challenge we face when reading this all-too-familiar passage is to not allow our status as modern, 21st-Century Christians to taint or influence the message. Because we know how the story ends, we can have the unfortunate tendency to remove from Jesus’ words all their power and revolutionary nature. What Jesus had to say that day in that bucolic setting was radical and unheard of. His teachings would have grated on the ears of his listeners, kike fingers on a blackboard, causing them great confusion and raising all kinds of questions in their minds.

For too many of us, because of over-familiarity, His words have long ago lost their power. The radical, counter-cultural calling found in the words of Jesus no longer has the same impact as it did the day He spoke it. It is almost as if we know too much. Our privileged insights into the rest of Jesus’ life and ministry, His death, and resurrection, have robbed what He had to say that day of its intended impact and shocking significance.

The challenge is to read the Sermon on the Mount with fresh eyes. To the best of your ability, get into the mindset of someone hearing His words for the very first time. In fact, try to hear them like a 1st-Century Jew. It is important to remember that even the disciples of Jesus were not yet technically believers. They had not heard all of His teachings. They knew nothing about His impending death. They were unaware of His eventual resurrection. He had not yet told them about the future coming of the Holy Spirit. No one in the audience would have known what we know. So, listen to His words from their perspective. Hear what they would have heard. Allow yourself to be shocked by the radical nature of what He said and how it would have dramatically altered your concepts of life, religion, relationships, and God.

Everything these people knew to be true was about to be turned on its head. All they had been taught and had learned to lean on as reliable, right, and non-negotiable, was about to get rocked. There would be no mind-blowing miracles performed, no demons cast out, or lame people healed. That hillside was not going to be some carnival sideshow, but a classroom. And the subject was going to be the kingdom of heaven. For the very first time, Jesus was going to expand on what He and John the Baptist had been preaching. Both of them had been declaring, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 ESV). Now, Jesus was going to begin explaining what life in the kingdom was to be like. And it was going to be more mind-blowing then any miracle He could have performed. This was going to be radical stuff.

Jesus is going to teach that persecution and poverty bring blessing, that lust carries the same penalty as adultery, anger is equivalent to murder, enemies are to be loved, and reconciliation trumps revenge or retaliation. He is going to demand a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. And any righteous acts done in order to get noticed don’t count. He’s going to outlaw worrying and judging. He’s going to require that his audience put the needs of others ahead of their own, including their enemies. And to top it all off, Jesus is going to demand fruitfulness. Oh, and as if that were not enough, He throws in a life of perfection for good measure.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 ESV

It all sounds impossible. And it is. It all sounds so radical. And it was. So much so, that over the years, there have been many who have decided that Jesus’ words were never intended to be followed. They have concluded that this message was speaking of some future time when sin would be eliminated, and men enjoyed a perfection made possible by God. In other words, they believe Jesus’ words that day were a prophetic message concerning His future Millennial Kingdom.

But while there is some truth to this notion, I don’t believe Jesus would have said all that He did if there were not some expectation on His part that obedience to these commands was not only possible but non-negotiable. The key to understanding what Jesus was teaching is to realize the impossible nature of it all. Like the Law of Moses, Jesus' words were exposing the inability of men to live up to the holy standards of God’s Kingdom. Jesus was not teaching a new set of rules or requirements in order for men to be made right with God. He was teaching a new way of life that was possible only by the power of God. The righteousness Jesus was demanding was not to be self-made but Spirit-produced. The behavior that He was expecting would not be the result of human effort, but divine power.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus had told the people the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Now Jesus is going to explain what life in that kingdom was to look like.

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

To Fulfill All Righteousness

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Matthew 3:11-17 ESV

John was the opening act for the main attraction. He was the precursor to the primary player in God’s redemptive plan. His job was to prepare the people for the arrival of the anointed one of God. And no one knew this better than John. Luke records that many of those who were making their way to the Judean wilderness were doing so because they believed John might be the long-awaited Messiah.

…the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ. – Luke 3:15 ESV

But John quickly put these rumors to rest by stating, “I baptize you with water, for repentance, but the one coming after me is more powerful than I am—I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11 NLT). There was to be no confusion. John was not going to tolerate any misperception on the part of the people. He was not the Messiah. He could not offer the people of Israel salvation from their sins. All he could do was baptize them in water as a sign of their willingness to repent of their sins. But the true Messiah was coming to offer far more. And He would have a power far greater than anything John or the people of Israel could ever imagine. 

The Jewish people were very familiar with the prophetic passages found in the Hebrew Scriptures that told of the coming of the Messiah. They knew there were to be great signs and wonders associated with His coming. And John reminded them that the Messiah would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. This imagery was designed to tie Jesus to the words of God as spoken through the prophets.

“And it shall come to pass afterward,
    that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” – Joel 2:28-29 ESV

John wanted the people to know that the Messiah would bring the capacity for true life change. He would offer far more than repentance from sin. He would bring release from slavery to sin and the condemnation of death. But there was more. The Messiah would also bring judgment. He would separate between the holy and the common, the clean and the unclean. He would create a clear delineation between the sheep and the goats, the saved and the unsaved.

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” – Malachi 3:2-5 ESV

John was prophesying about aspects of Jesus’ role as the Messiah that had long-term implications. These prophetic statements concerning the Messiah would not all take place at once – at the moment of His arrival. But they spell out the full scope of His redemptive role, from start to finish. Jesus was going to show up on the scene as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But the day will come when He returns as the conquering King of kings and Lord of lords. His first advent was not as judge, but as the sacrificial offering to satisfy the just judgment of God Almighty. The second time He comes, He will appear as the judge of all mankind. The apostle John was given a preview of coming attractions when he saw and wrote about the Messiah and His second advent.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. – Revelation 19:11 ESV

Yes, Jesus came to make possible atonement for the sins of mankind. But the complete eradication of sin will not take place until He returns a second time. And John the Baptist knew that there was going to be far more to the ministry of Jesus than baptizing for the repentance of sin. He came to deal sin a death blow.

But before that happens, Jesus was going to have to do the will of His Father. And part of that will involved His incarnation, but also His submission to the Spirit’s leading in His life. Matthew makes it clear that “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13 ESV). It was time, and Jesus, moved by the Spirit of God, knew where He was supposed to be and what He was supposed to do. He showed up that day in order to follow His Father’s preordained plan for His life.

John, recognizing the superior nature of Jesus, was reluctant to baptize one “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (Matthew 3:11 ESV). But Jesus responded to him with an interesting and somewhat cryptic statement: “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15 ESV). But what did Jesus mean by the phrase: “to fulfill and righteousness?”

It seems obvious that Jesus was not inferring that His baptism by John would somehow make Him righteous. This verse is not a reference to salvation, but to ethical righteousness, which has to do with doing that which is in keeping with the will of God. It was God’s will that Jesus be baptized and, in obediently doing what God had willed, John and Jesus would be acting righteously – in keeping with God’s desires.

God desired that Jesus be baptized, not as a sign of his repentance of sins, but as a way to validate the message and ministry of John, and to associate Himself with all those who had repented because the kingdom was at hand. The King was aligning Himself with His subjects. In allowing Himself to be baptized, Jesus was illustrating His complete submission to the will of His heavenly Father, something all those who would eventually come to faith in Him would do.

It is interesting to note that, upon His baptism, God validated and lauded Jesus’ actions by stating: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 ESV). God affirmed the deity of Jesus. And He let all those who had witnessed the baptism of Jesus know that His Son’s actions had been pleasing because they had been in keeping with His will.

And the apostle John records that John the Baptist had been given a divine tip concerning the coming Messiah. He would know who He was based on the Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove.

“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

The Spirit’s presence and God’s own words both confirmed Jesus’ identity. He was the Son of God. And, as we have seen, that is one of the primary point Matthew was attempting to make with the writing of his Gospel account. Jesus’ identity as the Son of God had been firmly established from the moment the angel told the virgin Mary she was going to have a baby.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:31-33 ESV

When Jesus was born, He came into the world as the Son of God. When He went to the temple at the age of 12, He had done so as the Son of God, which is why he had declared to his parents, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” (Luke 2:49 ESV). Jesus had been the Son of God all those years He had worked alongside His earthly father, Joseph, in the family business. But the earthly ministry of Jesus began with His baptism by John. The Son of God, anointed by the Spirit of God, and validated by the words of God, officially launched His ministry to fulfill the will of God.

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

The Messiah Has Come!

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:1-10 ESV

Matthew has an agenda and he wastes no time on anything that will not support his overall objective. His primary interest is to establish Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, and so, after providing an abbreviated overview of Jesus’ birth, Matthew fast-forwards to His baptism and the beginning of His earthly ministry.

In keeping with his more truncated and sparse narrative style, Matthew provides little details regarding the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. Luke’s Gospel contains a much-more detailed account of this seminal character, providing information about his birth, unique lifestyle, and the nature of his God-given assignment to prepare the way for Jesus.

But Matthew eliminates all the background information regarding John the Baptist, introducing him into the narrative in a somewhat abrupt and jarring manner. Matthew fast-forwards from the news that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had settled in Galilee and brings us to a future point in time when John was baptizing somewhere in the Judean wilderness. He makes no effort to explain who John was, but simply gives us a description of his work and his wardrobe.

John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea… – Matthew 3:1 ESV

John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. – Matthew 3:4 ESV

It’s fairly clear that Matthew saw John as a supporting character in the story. He was vital to the narrative but played a clearly subordinate role to that of Jesus. And John the Baptist had been fully comfortable with his secondary status, having recognized the divine nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission. The apostle John records the words that John the Baptist spoke to his disciples when they expressed concern that Jesus was also baptizing in the Jordan and drawing large crowds.

“You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

”He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.“ – John 3:28-31 ESV

Once again, Matthew sees the events surrounding the life of Jesus as fulfilling the words of Scripture. He refers to John the Baptist “preaching in the wilderness of Judea” and calling the people to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1 ESV). And these actions by John were in direct fulfillment of a message delivered by Isaiah hundreds of years earlier.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” – Isaiah 40:3 ESV

John had been sent by God to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. He had delivered his message of repentance, warning that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. The long-awaited Messiah was about to reveal Himself.

In his Gospel, Mark shares that John “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 ESV). But what was this “baptism of repentance?” What exactly were these people repenting of? And why was John attracting such large crowds?

Some of John’s attraction might be linked to his rather strange attire and bizarre lifestyle. Matthew describes him as wearing “a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist” and subsisting off a diet of “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4 ESV). John’s attire linked him with the Old Testament prophet, Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). After the last Old Testament prophet spoke his final words, God went silent for 400-years. There were no prophets. There was no communication from God. And then, suddenly, John the Baptist shows up on the scene, bearing a striking resemblance to Elijah and reminding the people of the words spoken by God to the prophet, Micah, hundreds of years earlier.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV

John was the fulfillment of this prophetic promise. He came in the spirit of Elijah, accomplishing the same prophetic ministry as his Old Testament predecessor. And God had promised Zechariah,  the father of John, that all of this would take place.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” – Luke 1:13-17 ESV

Once again, Matthew is establishing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And John the Baptist was sent to prepare for his arrival by calling the people to repentance. But as we asked earlier, what kind of repentance? The Greek word for “repentance” is metanoeō and it means “to change one’s mind.” We tend to think of repentance as exclusively linked to behavior, but it has a much more robust and all-encompassing meaning. Repentance begins, first and foremost, in the mind, not the actions. John was calling the people of Israel to change their minds about everything. They were going to have to radically change their minds about God. They had developed a warped perspective about Yahweh that had allowed them to treat Him with a bit too much familiarity. They were going to have to change their minds regarding righteousness. They were living under the false impression that their status as descendants of Abraham and their relationship with the Mosaic Law made them righteous. But all of that was about to change. They were going to have to change their mind about sin and the means by which the sinner is made right with a holy God. The sacrificial system had never been intended to make anyone righteous.

Years later, the apostle Paul asked the question: “Why, then, was the law given?” and then he answered his own question: “It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised” (Galatians 3:19 NLT). And now, here was John letting the people know that the child who was promised had arrived. He was now a 30-year-old man and, as John would later describe Him, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NLT).

But John’s ministry included proclamation and immersion. He baptized, which is how he got his nickname, John the Baptist. John was calling the people to prepare for spiritual restoration. The anointed one of God had arrived and they were going to have to confess their sins and prepare their hearts for what God had in store. Just as the prophet, Elijah, had called the Jews of his day to repentance, so was John. The Israelites were guilty of spiritual complacency and, at worst, apostasy. And God had graciously sent His messenger, John, to call them back.

But when John saw the religious leaders showing up to be baptized, he accused them of hypocrisy.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” – Matthew 3:8 ESV

They were simply going through the motions, attempting to align themselves with the large crowds that John was attracting. But John’s baptism was intended to reveal the heart of the one being baptized. It was a baptism of repentance, symbolizing a desire to be restored to a right relationship with God. But John saw through the charade of the Pharisees and Sadduccees. They were unrepentant because they saw no need for it. They viewed themselves as fully righteous and John knew that their false concept was based on their status as sons of Abraham. Which is why he stated:

“Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” – Matthew 3:9 NLT

Not exactly PC-language. But John was out to prepare the people for the arrival of the Lamb of God, who alone can take away the sins of the world. The Pharisees and Sadduccees saw themselves as sinless and, therefore, in no need of a Savior. But John warns these self-righteous men that their lack of fruit in keeping with true righteousness was going to result in their removal.

“Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.” – Matthew 3:10 NLT

There was a change coming. The status quo that had existed in Israel for centuries was about to be rocked. With the arrival of Jesus, everything was about to change. The first would be last and the last would be first. The self-righteous were about to be exposed as unrighteous. The sinners of the world were about to be embraced by the Savior of the world. The weak would find new strength. The spiritually blind would gain their signt. The captives would be set free. And the lost would be found. Because the Messiah had come.

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

Jesus, the Nazarene

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23 ESV

Matthew provides us with no timeline for the events recorded in this chapter. We only know that Joseph was warned by an angel to take his wife and child to Egypt. And sometime later, the angel gave Joseph permission to return to Israel because Herod the Great had died. The dates surrounding these events seem less relevant to Matthew than do the details concerning the return of Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as God had released the descendants of Jacob from their long stay in Egypt and restored them to the land of Israel, so Jesus was allowed to return to the land of promise.

There is an interesting parallel between Jesus and Moses. Both were presented as deliverers of their people. Moses was a Jew who had grown up as an Egyptian, but due to his murder of a fellow Egyptian, he had become an exile and a fugitive, living in the land of Midian. Yet God called Moses and sent him back to Egypt so that he might lead the people of Israel out of captivity and into the land HE had promised to their forefather, Abraham. And God called Jesus out of Egypt, sending Him back to the land of Israel, where He would become the deliverer of His people. Jesus Himself would later proclaim that His God-ordained mission was to provide release for those who were held captive. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” – Luke 4:18 NLT

But Jesus was not talking about release from physical slavery. He did not come to deliver those held captive by some political or military power. No, His mission was to set free all those held captive by sin and death. The author of Hebrews describes the role of Jesus as the deliverer of Israel in the following terms:

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. – Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT

There is a second parallel between Moses and Jesus, and it involves the killing of the innocent. In the opening chapter of Exodus, we are told that the Pharaoh feared the growing number of Israelites living in the land of Egypt, so he came up with a diabolical plan to manage the exploding birthrate of the Jews. He gave a command to the Hebrew midwives, designed to limit the number of male births among the Jews and so eliminate any future threat of an insurrection.

“When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” – Exodus 1:16 NLT

And Herod had issued a similar command in Jesus’ day, ordering the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of two.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. – Matthew 2:16 NLT

In both cases, God spared the lives of Moses and Jesus. One was hidden by his mother in a basket made of reeds and rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh. He would grow up in the wealth and opulence of the royal palace, living like a prince and enjoying all the benefits that come with being part of Pharaoh’s household. Jesus would be hidden by God the Father in the land of Egypt, only to return to the land of promise where He would grow up in relative obscurity and lacking any of the royal perks that Moses enjoyed. Interestingly enough, Moses was a Jew from a poor household who became a prince in the palace of Pharaoh. Yet, Jesus was the Son of God, who left behind His royal rights and privileges and took on the likeness of a man, being born into a nondescript Jewish household with little in the way of wealth or fame.

The apostle Paul describes the entrance of Jesus into the world in terms that express His humility and selflessness.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 NLT

Matthew later records the following statement by Jesus concerning His far-from-comfortable lifestyle.

“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” –  Matthew 8:20 NLT

There are several similarities shared by Moses and Jesus, but the author of Hebrews points out that any comparison between them falls far short. Moses was just a shadow of the one to come. He provided an incomplete picture of the

Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

Moses had been faithful, but not perfectly so. While he had managed to do God’s will and deliver the nation of Israel to the border of the land of Canaan, he would be denied entrance into the land because he had failed to be fully obedient and had treated God with disdain and disrespect. Yet, Jesus was able to confidently assert His full submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.

“I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 NLT

Jesus was the true deliverer. And He came to offer a rest unlike anything the people of Israel had ever known before. The land of Canaan was supposed to have been a place of rest for the people of Israel. But the first generation of Jews who had escaped captivity in Egypt had refused to enter the land when given the opportunity. And while the next generation had finally obeyed God and crossed over the Jordan and taken possession of the land, they had never fully experienced the rest God had offered, because they had refused to live in obedience to His will.

The author of Hebrews points out that Joshua was able to get the people into the land, but they had never enjoyed all the blessings God had promised, because they had refused to keep their covenant commitment to Him. And yet, God’s promise of rest was not eliminated or invalidated. He would still keep His covenant promise.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. – Hebrews 4:8-9 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, the offer of rest still stands.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

Jesus would return from Egypt, settle in the land of Galilee in the city of Nazareth. This was the actual hometown of Joseph, so, in a sense, they were returning home.

Matthew seems to state that Joseph’s decision to settle in Nazareth was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. But the problem is that there is no Old Testament passage that speaks of Nazareth as being the home of the Messiah. Bethlehem is mentioned, but never Nazareth. So, is Matthew making this up? Is he playing fast and loose with his facts? It seems that he is tying together a variety of Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah being despised and associating them with the city of Nazareth. At the time Jesus was born, neither Galilee or Nazareth was held in high esteem. Even Thomas wondered how Jesus, the Messiah could hail from such a lowly place as Nazareth.

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him,  “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 NLT

Matthew seems to be suggesting that all the Old Testament passages that predicted the suffering and ignominy of Jesus were directly tied to His hometown of Nazareth (Psalm 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Daniel 9:26). Jesus would be referred to as a citizen of Nazareth, a designation that would be viewed with scorn and derision, not respect and honor. He would be born in the backwater town of Bethlehem and raised in the lowly environs of Nazareth. He would not be impressive in appearance, renowned for His pedigree, or admired for His roots. And yet, He would be the anointed one of God, the deliverer of His people, and the Savior of the world.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. - Isaiah 53:2-3 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

God With Us

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. – Matthew 1:18-25 ESV

In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, he takes his defense of Jesus’ messiahship one step further. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, but He was also the Son of God. Right from the very start, Matthew establishes Jesus as being divine, referring to Him by the name pronounced by the angel of God: Immanuel. And, just to make sure his readers understand the significance of that name,  Matthew provides them with its meaning: “God with us” (Matthew 1:23 ESV). 

In announcing the coming birth of Jesus and declaring His name and identity, the angel reiterated the words of God recorded by the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.

“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

As with many of the prophecies found in the Old Testament, this verse from Isaiah passage had a now/not yet aspect to it. In its original historical context, this message from God was delivered by Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. It spoke of a child being born during the days of Ahaz and this birth would give evidence that the military alliance between Syria and Israel against Judah would be unsuccessful. The essence of the message was that life would go on in Judah, while the northern kingdom of Israel would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians.

“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.
Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing;
    speak a word, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us. – Isaiah 8:6-10 ESV

Matthew picks up on this prophetic vision, recognizing its future fulfillment in Jesus. The primary focus of the message delivered by Isaiah to King Ahaz was that God would be with the people of Judah. The Assyrians would come upon the northern kingdom of Israel like a river that has overflowed its banks. They will devastate and destroy everything in their path, even making their way into the southern kingdom of Judah. But they will fail in their efforts to defeat Judah. Why? Because of the presence of God.

And Matthew, knowing that the angel of God had designated Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us,” understood that His birth signified that God had determined to dwell with His people once again. In the darkness that cloaked the land of Israel, a light was shining. The apostle John picked up on this imagery.

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

And John went on to describe Jesus, the Word of God, as dwelling among the people of God. The Greek word John used is σκηνόω (skēnoō ), and it literally means “to fix one’s tabernacle.”

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:1, 14 ESV

Jesus was God in human flesh, pitching His “tent” among His people once again. But rather than a tent made of animal skins, this tabernacle would be that of a human body in which God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, would take up permanent residence. Jesus became the God-man, and rather than the Shekinah glory that hovered over the mercy seat in the tabernacle in the wilderness, Jesus would become the glory of God living and walking among men. Jesus was “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV) and “he has made him known” (John 1:18 ESV).

The birth of Jesus was both ordinary and extraordinary. He would be born to an obscure Jewish couple who hailed from the nondescript town of Nazareth. But Joseph would not be the father of Jesus. No, Jesus would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, which meant that His birth would be anything but ordinary. Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, had not yet consummated her marriage to him. This is clear by Joseph’s response to the news that she was pregnant.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. – Matthew 1:19 ESV

Joseph was shocked by the news but, out of love for Mary, determined to keep the situation under wraps, doing all that he could to protect her name. But the angel of God let Joseph know that his worst fears were unfounded. Mary had not been unfaithful to him. She had been chosen by God to bear the Savior of the world.

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 ESV

“Jesus” is the Latin form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς  (Iēsous). It is the same as the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua), which means “Yahweh saves.”

This entire section is intended by Matthew to convey the miraculous nature of Jesus’ birth, but it’s also meant to support his premise that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one of God. Matthew declares that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

As we have seen, this prophecy was originally fulfilled during the days of King Ahaz. But Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is letting us know that there was another aspect of this prophecy that had long-term ramifications. God was looking far into the future and declaring that another birth would take place and another son would be born, whose arrival on the scene would signify that “God is with us.”

Matthew’s primary purpose has been to establish Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. And he has done so by presenting three powerful proofs: His fulfillment of the Old Testament covenant promises made to Abraham and David, as evidenced by the indisputable record of his genealogy, and the miraculous nature of His birth. Jesus was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, and the Son of God. He was Immanuel, God with us, the very image of the invisible God, who came to earth in order that He might redeem a lost and dying world cloaked in the darkness of sin. And, as the apostle Paul explains, God shattered that darkness by sending His own Son as the light of His glory.

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. – 2 Corinthians 4:6 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

The Christ

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Matthew, as one of the original disciples of Jesus, was out to present a first-hand account of His life and ministry. But Matthew’s Gospel was intended to be much more than a historical record of Jesus’ earthly ministry. At the heart of his Gospel is his belief that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah of the Jews. To establish that claim, Matthew opened up his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, and, unlike Luke’s version, Matthew began with Abraham, not Adam.

Establishing the Jewishness of Jesus was essential to Matthew’s account. So, he tied Jesus to the patriarchy and the monarchy of the Jewish people. Matthew describes Jesus as the son of Abraham and the son of David. And, as we saw in yesterday’s post, Matthew considered Jesus the fulfillment of the promises made by God to both of these men.

By highlighting these two great legends of the Hebrews, Matthew was tying Jesus to God’s promise to bless the nations of the world through the seed of Abraham, and His promise to establish a permanent kingdom ruled by a descendant of David. Jesus was the fulfillment of both promises. And Matthew provides this truncated genealogy as a way to prove that Jesus was a descendant of both men and, therefore, was the only person who could legally and credibly claim to be the Messiah.

For generations, the Jewish people had anticipated the coming of their long-awaited Messiah. They were familiar with the Old Testament promises concerning his coming and were eager for him to appear. But when Jesus had arrived on the scene, He was not what they were expecting. The Jewish perception of the Messiah was that of a warrior-king, someone like King David, who would reestablish Israel as a major force in the region and remove the yoke of Roman oppression under which the nation struggled.

But Jesus had been born in relative obscurity and under questionable circumstances in the backwater town of Bethlehem. He had grown up in Nazareth, the son of a common carpenter and with no apparent pedigree that would warrant His consideration as the Messiah. After all, Jesus had been little more than a peasant. And even when He began His earthly ministry and began calling His disciples, at least one of them expressed reservations about His less-than-impressive upbringing.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 ESV

But Matthew goes out of his way to trace Jesus’ roots all the way back to King David. And he divides the genealogy of Jesus into three concise sections, each comprised of 14 generations and culminating on the arrival of “the Christ.”

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:17 ESV

The term, “the Christ” is the Greek equivalent of Messiah. Matthew is insisting that Jesus was the one for whom the Jews had been waiting. He was the Messiah. And yet, John records in his Gospel that the Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

From all outward appearances, Jesus appeared to be anything but the fulfillment of God’s promises. He was not kingly in appearance. He had not shown up riding a white horse or leading a massive army. He lacked the trappings of royalty and the obvious signs of success. In fact, long before Jesus showed up, the prophet Isaiah had predicted the unexpected and unimpressive nature of His arrival.

…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. – Isaiah 53:2-3 ESV

The Jews were looking for a conquering king, not a suffering servant. They were expecting and demanding a contemporary version of David the king not David the shepherd boy. They were seeking liberation from Roman rule, not deliverance from the tyranny of sin and death. But little did they know that the one they rejected and scorned as an imposter, was actually their long-awaited Messiah.

Even the disciples whom Jesus chose would wrestle with their understanding of who He was and what He had come to do. Later on in his Gospel, Matthew records an encounter between Jesus and the mother of James and John. She approached Jesus and delivered the following demand: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21 ESV). She was thinking of an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly one. Reflecting the understanding of her own two sons, she saw Jesus as the Messiah, but was hoping and counting on Him setting up His kingdom on earth, by releasing the Jews from their Roman oppressors and reestablishing the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem.

But Jesus had a different agenda. He had come to do the will of His Father in heaven. And while a kingdom was part of God’s future plans for His Son, Jesus was going to suffer humiliation and execution long before He experienced glorification and exaltation. And Matthew records that immediately after the mother of James and John shared his maternally-driven request with Jesus, He had responded:

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

The genealogy found in the opening chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is intended to prove the claim of the early Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. And the rest of his Gospel will chronicle the somewhat surprising and unexpected record of Jesus’ life. What Matthew describes in his account will contradict every expectation the Jews had regarding the Messiah. His life will not seem to match His lineage. His actions will not track with their assumptions. But Matthew wanted his readers to know from the start, that the one He was about to describe was the one for whom they longed. Jesus was the son of David and the son of Abraham. He was the God-ordained fulfillment of the Davidic and Abrahamic covenants. And while the Jews had failed to recognize Jesus as such, it did not change the fact that the Messiah had come. Jesus was who He had claimed to be. And the details of His life, while not what the Jews expected, would provide proof that Jesus was and is the Christ.

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

Jesus Was Born

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. – Matthew 1:1-17 ESV

Today, we embark on a study of the Gospel of Matthew. This book is part of what is often referred to as the synoptic gospels, which also includes the accounts of Jesus' life and ministry compiled by Mark and Luke. The term “synoptic” is derived from two Greek words, syn and opsesthai, which, when combined, provide the meaning, “to see together.” These three Gospels share a great many similarities but also provide us with distinctively different perspectives on the life of Jesus, as seen from the vantage points of the three authors. Two of them, Matthew and Mark, were disciples of Jesus; while Luke was a friend of the apostle Paul, who compiled his Gospel account for the benefit of an individual named Theophilus. In the opening paragraphs of his Gospel, Luke provides the purpose behind his compilation.

“…it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” – Luke 1:3 ESV

Each of these men brought their own distinct personality and insights to bear when writing their account of the life of Jesus. But each was also inspired by the Holy Spirit, who utilized their individual identities and skill sets to compile three contrasting, yet complimentary portraits of the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew, as its name suggests, was written by the man who held the distinction of being one of the disciples of Jesus as well as one of the original 12 apostles. Some of the earliest Greek manuscripts of this book begin with the words, “kate Matthaion” which means “according to Matthew.”

The list of early church fathers who believed  Matthew to be the author of this book includes Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen. Because of Matthew’s close relationship with Jesus, this book carried significant weight among the members of the early church. Matthew’s former occupation as a tax collector would have ensured that he was able to read and write. And the book of Matthew contains more references to money and finances than any of the other Gospel accounts.

Matthew’s account of his own calling by Jesus is short and sweet, providing little in the way of details. Written in the third-person, Matthew described his initial meeting with Jesus in a rather pedestrian manner.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. – Matthew 9:9 ESV

After making the decision to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Matthew decided to return the favor by extending an invitation to Jesus and His other disciples to have dinner in his home.  And Matthew reveals some interesting insights into his life own life when he records the details surrounding this rather eclectic dinner party.

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” - Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

As a tax collector, Matthew would have been considered persona non grata by his fellow Jews. As evidenced by the response of the Pharisees in Matthew’s story, a tax collector was considered the lowest of the low, comparable to the most disreputable sinner. To the Jews, a tax collector was little more than a stooge for the Roman government, collecting exorbitant taxes from his own people and lining his own by adding fees that amounted to little more than extortion. Matthew was likely a well-to-do individual who, though viewed as a pariah by his own people, was well-liked by the less religious and socially unacceptable. Which makes Jesus’ selection of Matthew that much more significant. 

And when Jesus heard the judging comment from the lips of the Pharisees, He had responded by saying: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do” (Matthew 9:12 NLT). This somewhat cryptic-sounding statement from Jesus was not as veiled as it may first appear. He was accusing the self-righteous Pharisees of misunderstanding the true state of their own hearts. They viewed themselves as spiritually superior to such people as the sinners who had gathered to dine at the home of a common tax collector. And, the believed, Jesus and His disciples had defiled themselves by choosing to associate with such scum. But as Jesus pointed out, He had come to save the spiritually sick, not those who viewed themselves as perfect specimens of righteousness.

It’s interesting to note that Matthew opens up his Gospel account with the genealogy of Jesus, in which he describes Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham. These are distinctively Jewish titles that link Jesus to the nation of Israel. Matthew is claiming Jesus to be a descendant of David and, therefore, a legal heir to the throne of Israel. But he also describes Jesus as the Son of Abraham, who was the patriarch of the Hebrew people. 

In a sense, Matthew is presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of two promises made by God that are directly tied to the Jewish people. The first was made to Abraham. God had promised Abraham that He would bless him and that he would make him a blessing.

“…and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” – Genesis 22:18 ESV

Somehow God would bless all the nations through the offspring or seed of this one man, Abraham. And the apostle Paul provides us with Spirit-inspired insight into what this promise meant.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

According to Matthew, Jesus was the fulfillment of this Old Testament promise to Abraham. And, when Matthew declared Jesus to be the Son of David, he was letting his readers know that Jesus fulfilled the promise God had made to David.

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” – 2 Samuel 7:12 ESV

While this promise was partially fulfilled in Solomon, the son of David, it had a future aspect to it that would not be completed until the coming of Jesus. God went on to tell David, “your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). But the day came when there were no more kings in Israel. The nation would go without a king for hundreds of years. And yet, God had told Solomon, “I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel’” (1 Kings 9:5 ESV).

A major part behind Matthew’s purpose for writing his Gospel was to reveal Jesus as the rightful heir to the throne of Israel and the God-ordained fulfillment of God’s promise to bless all the nations of the earth. Both Gentiles and Jews would benefit by the arrival of Jesus on the scene.

Unlike Luke, Matthew begins his genealogy of Jesus with Abraham rather than Adam. He was interested in establishing Jesus’ Jewish heritage. The entire book of Matthew has a distinctively Jewish flavor to it. IT is not so much that Matthew was writing with a Jewish audience in mind, as much as he was trying to establish Jesus’ credentials to serve as the long-awaited Messiah of the Jewish people and as the Savior of the world.

It is interesting to note that Matthew closes out his genealogy by referring to Jesus as “the Christ,” the Greek word used to translate the Jewish word for Messiah, which means “anointed one.” This Greek appellation carries the full weight of the original Hebrew title of Messiah.

The Messiah is the same person as "the seed of the woman" ( Genesis 3:15 ), "the seed of Abraham" ( Genesis 22:18 ), the "Prophet like unto Moses" ( Deuteronomy 18:15 ), "the priest after the order of Melchizedek" ( Psalms 110:4 ), "the rod out of the stem of Jesse" ( Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:10 ), the "Immanuel," the virgin's son ( Isaiah 7:14 ), "the branch of Jehovah" ( Isaiah 4:2 ), and "the messenger of the covenant" ( Malachi 3:1 ). This is he "of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write." – M. G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson. 1897. Public Domain. copy freely

As we will see in tomorrow’s post, this genealogy was intended to illustrate and accentuate Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah of the Jewish people and their rightful king. But, even more importantly, He was the God-appointed Savior of the world. In sending His Son in human flesh, God was revealing His divine plan to redeem and restore that which was damaged by the fall. So, Matthew reminds his readers: “Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16 ESV).

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

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

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

A Prophet Like Me

15 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15-22 ESV

The preceding verses contain a God-ordained ban on “anyone who practices divination, an omen reader, a soothsayer, a sorcerer,  one who casts spells, one who conjures up spirits, a practitioner of the occult, or a necromancer” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 NLT). There is a special significance to these particular pagan practices because they were often used as a means of discerning the future or of obtaining divine guidance.

According to the NET Bible Study Notes, divination was “a means employed to determine the future or the outcome of events by observation of various omens and signs.” An omen reader was, in essence, a fortune teller who supposedly possessed the power to predict the future based on the reading of signs. A soothsayer was someone who had the power to divine the future. The pagans believed that anyone who possessed the ability to cast spells could control the future. They also placed high stock in those who claimed to be able to communicate with the spirit world because these people could gain insights that were inaccessible to others. The term, “practitioner of the occult” is actually one word in Hebrew and it refers to a wizard or what we might refer to as a false prophet. The word actually means “knower” and is a reference to their knowledge or insight into the unknown. Finally, a necromancer was someone who had the ability to communicate with the dead.

All of these practices were closely associated with the pursuit of supernatural guidance or assistance. Which is why Moses bans their practice among the Israelites. The people of God were to have one source of divine input, and that was to be God Almighty, and God had chosen to communicate His will through Moses. With Moses having been banned by God from entering the land of Canaan, there was a greater-than-normal risk that the people of Israel would be tempted to use pagan practices to gain divine insight. So, speaking through Moses, God assured His people that He would continue to speak to them through men whom He would appoint. 

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.” – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

God would not leave them without a means of receiving His guidance and direction. And Moses reminded them that this promise of a God-appointed prophet was in keeping with the request they had made at Mount Sinai.

All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” – Exodus 20:18-19 NLT

The powerful manifestations of God’s glory had left the Israelites paralyzed by fear. So, they had demanded that Moses act as God’s mouthpiece, communicating His divine will and protecting them from God’s holiness. And God had given His divine approval of this plan, assuring Moses, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command” (Deuteronomy 18:17-18 NLT).

The prophet of God was required to speak on behalf of God, and was not allowed to communicate anything other than the word of God. In a sense, a prophet was like a preacher, disseminating divine wisdom to the people of God. He was expected to be a truth-teller, speaking only what He had received directly from God Himself. And since the prophet was God’s primary means of communication, the people were obligated to listen to and obey all that the prophet said. And Moses warned that God would hold the people personally responsible for refusing to heed the words of His prophets.

This dire warning would become particularly pertinent centuries later, when God sent His prophets to warn of coming judgment if they did not repent. God would even warn His prophet, Jeremiah, that his words would fall on deaf ears.

“Tell them all this, but do not expect them to listen. Shout out your warnings, but do not expect them to respond.” – Jeremiah 7:27 NLT

God would promise to give Jeremiah the words to speak, but also the strength to withstand the anger of the people when they chose to reject what he had to say.

“But you, Jeremiah, get yourself ready! Go and tell these people everything I instruct you to say. Do not be terrified of them, or I will give you good reason to be terrified of them. I, the Lord, hereby promise to make you as strong as a fortified city, an iron pillar, and a bronze wall. You will be able to stand up against all who live in the land, including the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and all the people of the land. They will attack you but they will not be able to overcome you, for I will be with you to rescue you.” – Jeremiah 1:17-19 NLT

The role of the prophet was a divinely-appointed one, and while anyone could claim to be speaking on behalf of God, there were serious repercussions for those who did so and proved to be lying. They were to be put to death. And the litmus test for determining the veracity of someone’s claim to be a prophet was whether what they prophesied actually happened.

“…whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.” – Deuteronomy 18:22 NLT

So, Moses assured the people that they would have no reason to seek the pagan forms of divination as a means of knowing the future. God would continue to speak to them through prophets whom He would appoint. Their only obligation was to listen to what the prophets had to say.

And, there is a final aspect to this passage that must not be overlooked. Two separate times Moses states, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you” (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV). The tense is in the singular. And while the context of the verses clearly indicates that there would be many prophets who would follow Moses, there is a sense in which these verses predict the coming of a particular prophet, one who would show up in the same way that Moses had. This prophet would be a deliverer, just as Moses had been. He too, would be sent by God to rescue the people from captivity, but rather than deliverance from slavery in Egypt, this prophet would provide release from slavery to sin and death.

The author of Hebrews provides a comparison between Moses and this future deliverer/prophet who would be similar to, but greater than Moses.

For he has come to deserve greater glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house deserves greater honor than the house itself! For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. We are of his house, if in fact we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope we take pride in. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

God promises to send “a prophet” who will speak on His behalf.

“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV

The apostle John would later write of Jesus, the promised prophet of God:

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT

And John would later quote Jesus Himself as He provided clarification for what God had meant when He told the people of Israel that for all those who refused to believe His prophet, He would “require it of him.”

“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

God would not leave His people without direction. He would continue to guide them and provide for them. But they were obligated to obey the words of His prophets. And the day would come when He would send His final prophet, Jesus Christ, in order to deliver the most important message ever delivered by God through the lips of man.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 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

 

 

 

Something Worth Celebrating

9 “You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. 10 Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. 11 And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. 12 You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.

13 “You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. 14 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

16 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed. 17 Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 16:9-17 ESV

Moses has been reminding the people of their obligation to offer the appropriate sacrifices at the appropriate time and place. Now, he is going to elaborate on the particular feasts and festivals at which these various offerings were to be made.

“All the firstborn males that are born of your herd and flock you shall dedicate to the Lord your God. You shall do no work with the firstborn of your herd, nor shear the firstborn of your flock.You shall eat it, you and your household, before the Lord your God year by year at the place that the Lord will choose.” – Deuteronomy 15:19-20 NLT

There were seven annual feasts as prescribed by God. In the Spring of each year, the Israelites were to celebrate the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, and Weeks. An additional four feasts were to be held in the Fall. These included the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. These annual events were, in part, commemorations or memorial celebrations, intended to help the Israelites retain the memory of God’s miraculous intervention in their lives. But they were also to be annual occasions when the Israelites could offer thanks to God for all that He had done in providing for their needs over the preceding year.

These feasts or festivals were closely tied to the annual spring and fall harvests and were timed to remind the Israelites of God’s faithful protection and provision. But, there is something even more significant about these annual celebrations that is often overlooked. They were intended to serve as prefigurement or foreshadowing of something or someone to come. The Messiah. Each of these annual feasts present a glimpse into the redemptive work of Jesus. And while the Israelites would not have recognized these signs, those of us on this side of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection are able to look back and see how the saving work of Jesus was foretold in this seven festivals.

One of the first things we should notice is the inclusive nature of these events. They were non-discriminatory and intended for everyone in the camp.

“Celebrate with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites from your towns, and the foreigners, orphans, and widows who live among you.…” – Deuteronomy 16:11 NLT

“This festival will be a happy time of celebrating with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows from your towns.” – Deuteronomy 16:14 NLT

No one was to be left out. The invitation to participate in the joy of the celebration was extended to all. It reminds me of the invitation offered by Jesus:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Notice how Jesus incorporated agricultural terms in his invitation. Just as the feasts were tied to the annual harvest and provided the people a much-needed respite from their work of providing for their basic needs, Jesus offered mankind rest from the back-braking work of trying to earn righteousness through self-effort. And this invitation was offered to every individual with no strings attached or restrictions based on ethnicity, gender, or social status.

And for all who accepted the gracious invitation of Jesus Christ, they became part of an all-inclusive family comprised of people from all walks of life. The apostle Paul describes them this way:

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. – Galatians 3:28-29 NLT

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. – Romans 10:12 ESV

The imagery associated with these annual events is closely tied to Jesus. From the unblemished Passover lamb to unleavened bread, these Old Testament types foreshadow the Messiah, the sinless Son of God. Leaven was a symbol of sin and the Israelites were to spend seven days purging any leaven from their homes. But Jesus came as the sinless Lamb of God who made possible forgiveness for sin – once and for all. 

At the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths, the Israelites were instructed to build temporary shelters in which they were to live during the days of the festival. These structures were intended to remind them of their nomadic existence during the days of the exodus. But they are also a foreshadowing of something greater to come. With His arrival on earth, Jesus became Immanuel, literally “God with us.” He came to tabernacle among His people and to provide a means by which they could enjoy a permanent and eternal existence with God the Father. No more temporary shelters. No more wandering in the wilderness of sin. God has a permanent place of shelter and refuge planned for all those who place their faith in His Son.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. – Revelations 21:3 NLT

“I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Ezekiel 37:27 NLT

These feasts were temporary occasions and the Israelites were required to observe them on an annual basis. But the sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all, providing a permanent means of salvation for all who who accept His gracious invitation. No more feasts and festivals were necessary. No more sacrifices were required. There was no more need to remove the leaven of sin or to find the spotless lamb to offer as atonement for that sin. Jesus became the sole source of redemption. And the celebration of these annual feasts was one day replaced by a much more simple, yet highly significant event that would commemorate His death on man’s behalf. 

At the Feast of Passover, Jesus would gather with His disciples in the upper room and share the Passover meal with them. But during their celebration of that annual event, Jesus would institute another, much more important, celebration which would take its place: The Lord’s Supper.

…the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NLT

Moses said of the Feast of Tabernacles, “This festival will be a time of great joy for all” (Deuteronomy 16:15 NLT). But it is the sinless sacrifice of Jesus that provides true cause for joy and celebration. His death made man’s restoration with God possible. His sacrifice provides all who accept it with complete forgiveness from sin and the replacement of their guilty verdict with the announcement of their justification before God. And that is truly cause for celebration.

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

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

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

 

 

 

A History of Rebellion, Not Righteousness

 13 “Furthermore, the Lord said to me, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people. 14 Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’ 15 So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire. And the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. 16 And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had made yourselves a golden calf. You had turned aside quickly from the way that the Lord had commanded you. 17 So I took hold of the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. 18 Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger. 19 For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. 20 And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. 21 Then I took the sinful thing, the calf that you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed it, grinding it very small, until it was as fine as dust. And I threw the dust of it into the brook that ran down from the mountain.

22 “At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. 23 And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. 24 You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.

25 “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. 26 And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 27 Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, 28 lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” 29 For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’” – Deuteronomy 9:13-29 ESV

If the Israelites still harbored any remaining thoughts that they somehow deserved God’s good favor, Moses was about to deliver the crushing blow. He had made it clear that God was not giving them the land of Canaan because they deserved it, but because He was keeping the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God was going to remove the Canaanites from the land because they were an evil and idolatrous people who desecrated the land with their unbridled immorality. 

But Moses let the Israelites know that they were no better than the Canaanites. It was not as if they were a spiritually superior people who lived morally upright lives and had somehow earned the right to take possession of the land because of their faithfulness to God. No, it was quite the opposite, and Moses had already delivered the painfully truthful news that God’s provision of the land had nothing to do with their worthiness or righteousness.

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:6 ESV

They were stiff-necked and obstinate, stubbornly refusing to bow the knee to God and live according to His commands. And they had been that way from the beginning. Which is why Moses goes all the way back to Mount Sinai and the occasion when God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. He remembered that fateful well and looked back on it, not with nostalgia, but with a certain amount of anger and resentment at the way the people had treated God. Their actions that day had placed Moses in a very difficult position. He had found himself in the awkward place of having to mediate between a holy, angry God, and the very people he had helped to deliver from slavery in Egypt.

While Moses had been on the mountaintop receiving the Ten Commandments from God, his fellow Israelites, with the help of his brother, Aaron, had been busy worshiping a false god they had crafted out of gold. During the 40 days that Moses had been on top of the mountain, they had begun to question everything about their circumstances. And they had somehow forgotten the incredible demonstration of God’s power they had witnessed as His glory had descended upon Mount Sinai.

Moses led them out from the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. All of Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a brick kiln, and the whole mountain shook violently.  As the blast of the ram’s horn grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply. – Exodus 19:17-19 NLT

There was no doubt that God was there. His presence was unmistakable. His power was on display. And even when Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, the fire never died down, and the smoke remained. The mountain never ceased to shake. And yet, the people became unimpressed and unwilling to wait to see what God was going to say to His servant, Moses. Tired of waiting, they took matters into their own hands.

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:1 NLT

And it was that fateful decision that Moses recalled.

“So while the mountain was blazing with fire I turned and came down, holding in my hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. There below me I could see that you had sinned against the Lord your God. You had melted gold and made a calf idol for yourselves.” – Deuteronomy 9:15-16 NLT

Notice what Moses says: “So while the mountain was blazing with fire….” The presence of God was still visible. God had not gone anywhere. And Moses was descending the mountain holding the very commandments of God, “inscribed with the terms of the covenant.”

“Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.” – Exodus 19:5-6 NLT

And the people had eagerly and enthusiastically agreed to the conditions of the covenant, giving their word that they would obey

“We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” – Exodus 19:8 NLT

But that commitment had not lasted long. Before Moses could make it back down the mountain, the people had turned their backs on God. They had come up with the bright idea to make their own gods. And when Moses had seen what had taken place in his absence, he was filled with surprise and anger.

“How quickly you had turned away from the path the Lord had commanded you to follow!” – Deuteronomy 9:16 NLT

They had been in the early days of their journey from Egypt to the promised land and had already chosen to forsake God. And Moses, sensing the anger of God against His people, had chosen to intercede with God on their behalf. He began a 40-day fast, during which time he sought to persuade God to refrain from wiping out the people of Israel for their wickedness.

“I feared that the furious anger of the Lord, which turned him against you, would drive him to destroy you. But again he listened to me.” – Deuteronomy 9:19 NLT

God spared the people and even allowed Aaron to live, in spite of the role he had played in the peoples’ rebellion. God showed mercy. He showered the people with His undeserved favor. And it all goes back to the covenant He had made with Abraham. God had made two promises to Abraham. One was that He would make of Abraham a great nation. The second was that He would bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And so, God was going to keep His covenant commitment, not because of the Israelites, but in spite of them.

And Moses reminded the people that Mount Sinai had not been an aberration. It was just one of many occasions in which the people of Israel displayed their stubbornness and rebellion. Moses recalled Taberah, Massah, and Kibroth-hattaavah – three other less-than-flattering moments from Israel’s not-so-distant past that illustrated their propensity to rebel against God. And he brought up that infamous day at Kadesh-barnea, when the first generation of Israelites had refused to enter the promised land, causing God to send them into the wilderness where they would die as punishment for the rebellion.

Moses had pleaded with God to spare them. He had appealed to God’s covenant faithfulness.

“Please overlook the stubbornness and the awful sin of these people, and remember instead your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” – Deuteronomy 9:27 NLT

But notice that Moses did not offer up a single example of Israel’s worthiness or righteousness. What they deserved was God’s wrath. Moses knew that. So he appealed to God’s unwavering faithfulness to keep His commitments. He had promised to make of Abraham a great nation, and He had fulfilled that promise. But God had also promised to bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham. And that promise had not yet been fulfilled. But, in time, it would be. And God would continue to bless the people of Israel, not because they deserved it, but because He was going to use them as the means by which He brought the solution to man’s sin problem into the world. And the apostle Paul wrote of this coming fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham.

God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to his child”—and that, of course, means Christ. – Galatians 3:16 NLT

God was going to bring to earth the source of true righteousness, and He would do it through a people marked by unrighteousness. God would eventually offer the sole means of salvation through a people who deserved His wrath. He would bring about redemption through a nation that would eventually murder its own redeemer.

The people of Israel had a long history of rebellion, not righteousness; but God would eventually make righteousness available through them in the form of His Son, the sinless Savior of the world.

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

 

 

 

The Valley of Decision

9 Proclaim this among the nations:
Consecrate for war;
    stir up the mighty men.
Let all the men of war draw near;
    let them come up.
10 Beat your plowshares into swords,
    and your pruning hooks into spears;
    let the weak say, “I am a warrior.”

11 Hasten and come,
    all you surrounding nations,
    and gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
12 Let the nations stir themselves up
    and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
    all the surrounding nations.

13 Put in the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Go in, tread,
    for the winepress is full.
The vats overflow,
    for their evil is great.

14 Multitudes, multitudes,
    in the valley of decision!
For the day of the Lord is near
    in the valley of decision.
15 The sun and the moon are darkened,
    and the stars withdraw their shining.

16 The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake.
But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. – Joel 3:9-16 ESV

This entire section contains a call to the nations of the earth to prepare for war. The day of the Lord is coming and it will include an epic battle of unparalleled size and scope – like nothing the world has ever seen before. It will involve all the nations of the world, but rather than fighting against one another, they will join forces against God and His people.

The scene Joel depicts is set far into the future, but it grows closer with each passing day. This is not a description of some battle from history-past, but a prophecy concerning the coming day of the Lord and, more specifically, the conflict that will take place in the valley of Jehoshaphat. Since there is no valley by that name in the region around Judah, this appellation is likely a reference to the battle God fought on behalf of King Jehoshaphat and the nation of Judah. In that conflict, God miraculously defeated the enemies of Judah, without them having to shoot a single arrow or throw a solitary spear. The victory was completely His doing. He judged the nations who had risen up against Judah and blessed His people in doing so.

In these verses, the Valley of Jehoshaphat becomes the valley of decision. This will be a place where God will pass judgment on the unregenerate nations of the earth by sending His Son to defeat them in battle. And God states that He “will sit to judge all the surrounding nations” (Joel 3:12 ESV). God the Father will watch as His Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords returns to earth in order to complete the redemptive plan of God.

But what Joel is depicting is the moments leading up to this decisive battle. In fact, he calls out to God, “Bring down your warriors, O Lord” (Joel 3:11 ESV). And he issues a call to the nations, challenging them to “stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:12 ESV). It is there that God will mete out His judgment on the nations. He will harvest the grapes and tread them in the winepress of His wrath. This is an image of God gathering up the overripe grapes (sinful men) and crushing them (judging them). We see this same imagery used in the book of Revelation, when John is given a vision of God’s pending judgment of the world.

Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. – Revelation 14:14-16 ESV

And later on in the same book, John records yet another vision, revealing the second coming of Christ to judge the nations.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. – Revelation 19:15 ESV

And the prophet Isaiah gives us a description of Jesus after the battle in the valley of decision is complete.

Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:2-4 ESV

This future battle is also known as the Battle of Armageddon, which will take place at the end of the seven years of the Tribulation. Jesus Christ will return to earth and do battle with the nations of the earth which will have joined forces against Him, under the leadership of Antichrist. Once again, the apostle John was given a vision of this battle, and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

Joel describes the winepresses as full and the vats as overflowing, because the sin of the people is great. In Revelation, John puts it this way: “the harvest of the earth is fully ripe” (Revelation 14:15 ESV) and “its grapes are ripe” (Revelation 14:18 ESV). John uses two different words that are both translated as “ripe” in English, but they carry different meanings in Greek. The first is xērainō, and it means “dried up” or “withered.” It describes grain that has been left in the field too long. It is of no value. The second word, used in reference to grapes, is akmazō and it means, “fully ripe.” It actually describes grapes that are overripe or about to burst. Both words are used to illustrate the unredeemable nature of mankind because they are literally bursting with sin.

Joel describes some amazing meteorological events accompanying this battle. He states that the sun and moon will become darkened and the stars will cease to shine. Himself Jesus echoed these words when He told His disciples:

“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” – Matthew 24:29 ESV

The Tribulation will be marked by incredible atmospheric disturbances and never-before-seen cosmic signs as God brings His final judgments upon the earth. The book of Revelation describes seas turning to blood, mountains, and islands disappearing, 100-pound hailstones falling from the sky, and long periods of darkness. And while many find these signs and wonders difficult to believe and write them off as nothing more than literary metaphors and spiritual symbolism, there is no reason for us to reject their authenticity. For God, nothing is impossible. And since we are talking about the final days of the earth, it would only make sense that God is going to reveal His power in unprecedented ways during those days.

Yes, the picture Joel paints is unbelievable.

The Lord roars from Zion,
    and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
    and the heavens and the earth quake. – Joel 3:16 ESV

But faith requires belief in the improbable and impossible. And Joel calls on the people of Judah to trust in the Lord. He challenges them to believe in the One who can do the unbelievable and perform the impossible.

But the Lord is a refuge to his people,
    a stronghold to the people of Israel. – Joel 3:16 ESV

God was on their side. And while their immediate future did not look particularly good, they could trust that God had a plan in place that would include His eventual redemption and restoration of them. As the prophet had told the people of Judah hundreds of years earlier when they were facing a similarly bleak future, the people living in Joel’s day could rest in the faithfulness of the Lord.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. – 2 Chronicles 20:17 ESV

God has a way of seeing His people through the valleys. He shows up in our darkest moments and rescues us when we are helpless and hopeless. And our enemies stand no chance against the God of the universe. They can turn their plowshares into swords, and their pruning hooks into spears. They can declare, “I am a warrior.” But they will prove to be nothing more than withered grain and overripe grapes in the hand of the Lord.

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

 

Here I Am!

1 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
    I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that was not called by my name.
2 I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;
3 a people who provoke me
    to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
    and making offerings on bricks;
4 who sit in tombs,
    and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
    and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
5 who say, “Keep to yourself,
    do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
    a fire that burns all the day.
6 Behold, it is written before me:
    “I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
7     both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they made offerings on the mountains
    and insulted me on the hills,
I will measure into their lap
    payment for their former deeds.” –
Isaiah 65:1-7 ESV

Isaiah has prayed. Now, God responds. And the first thing God does is leave the people of Judah without excuse. Ever since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to all mankind, not just the people of Israel.  The apostle Paul drives home this point in his letter to the Romans.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

And Paul goes on to conclude, “So they are without excuse.” God revealed His invisible attributes to mankind, but they chose to worship the creation rather than its Creator. So, God would later reveal Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and directing him to the land of Canaan. Abraham was given a greater revelation of God, beyond that which the rest of the world had enjoyed. And God even made a covenant with Abraham, promising to create from him a great nation, the people of whom would occupy the land of Canaan for generations. And God fulfilled that promise, and by the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name, the descendants of Abraham had been living in the land for centuries. But as we have seen, although God had continued to give His chosen people further revelations of Himself through His law and the sacrificial system, their behavior made it appear that they didn’t know Him at all.

And in the opening verse of this chapter, God indicates that He had a purpose behind His decision to make the nation of Israel His precious possession. When He had given them the law, God had told them that if they obeyed it, “you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Notice that they were to have been his own special treasure from among all the peoples of the earth.  They were to have been His priests, representing Him before all the peoples of the earth. They were to have been His holy, set-apart nation among all the people of the earth. In other words, they were to have been witnesses to the nations of what it looks like to have a right relationship with the Creator-God of the universe. 

But they had proven to be lousy priests and poor witnesses. Rather than bringing God glory by living holy lives, they had profaned His name among the nations, leaving God the job of reclaiming the glory His name deserves.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And in verse one, God indicates that He has been calling out to the nations, “Here I am, here I am.” He has been extending an invitation to all the nations “not called by my name,” and the people of Israel had been His chosen means of communicating that message. The apostle Paul used this very passage to let the Gentile believers in Rome understand that God had always intended to use the people of Israel as His means of sharing His grace and mercy with the world. Paul will repeatedly quote from the book of Isaiah to build his case that God’s plan in choosing Israel had far greater implications than just their personal enjoyment of His blessings. God had something much grander in mind.

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:

“The message has gone throughout the earth,
    and the words to all the world.”

But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,

“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
    I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
    I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

But regarding Israel, God said,

“All day long I opened my arms to them,
    but they were disobedient and rebellious.” – Romans 10:16-21 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying here. The very people whom God had chosen to be His means of reaching a lost world had to be constantly invited by God to come back to Him. Rather than doing what He had called them to do, they had proven to be disobedient and rebellious. And God describes their rebellion as anything but subtle. They flaunted it in His face, worshiping false gods right in front of Him. They had disregarded His laws concerning sacrifice, offering inappropriate and unclean gifts in unacceptable ways. They practiced necromancy, a form of divination through attempted communication with the dead. They were guilty of involvement in the occult and witchcraft. Their unholy actions had left them an unholy people, no longer set apart for God and no longer able to be His witnesses to a lost world.

All their religious activity will leave them feeling puffed and prideful. And while they will brag about their holiness, God describes them in less-than-flattering terms.

These people are a stench in my nostrils,
    an acrid smell that never goes away. – Isaiah 65:5 NLT

God finds all their religiosity repulsive. While He had been calling out to them with open arms, they had been embracing false gods and pursuing other loves. And the apostle Paul tells us what happens to all those who replace a personal relationship with God with religion.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

They were religious but lacked the one thing God was looking for: godliness. Their actions failed to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, God was obligated to punish them for their rebellion. He could not and would not allow them to continue to drag His name through the mud. Their disobedience demanded His divine discipline. And when God says, “Behold, it is written before me,” He is referring to the covenant He had made with them. There was a legally binding agreement between God and His people that spelled out their obligations and His. It clearly articulated what God expected of them and what He would do if they kept or broke their part of the covenant. And while they had failed to do what they said they would do, God would prove faithful to His covenant promise. He vows to bring upon them all the curses He had warned them about.

“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
   both your iniquities and your fathers' iniquities together.” – Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV

It is important to remember that God had warned them what would happen if they failed to be His priests and His holy nation. He had let them know well in advance what the ramifications would be if they failed to be His witness to the nations. They would end up scattered among the nations, worshiping gods they never knew before.

For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations, you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. – Deuteronomy 28:64-64 NLT

They would lose their witness. Their role as a light to the nations would fade because they had failed to remain faithful to the call of God. But as we have seen all along in the book of Isaiah, God would remain faithful to them because He had plans to bring salvation to the world through them. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, would be born as a Jew and would become the Priest who lived a perfectly holy life and offered a perfectly holy sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all mankind.

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

My Year of Redemption

1 Who is this who comes from Edom,
    in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he who is splendid in his apparel,
    marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, speaking in righteousness,
    mighty to save.”

2 Why is your apparel red,
    and your garments like his who treads in the winepress?

3 “I have trodden the winepress alone,
    and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my apparel.
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.
5 I looked, but there was no one to help;
    I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me salvation,
    and my wrath upheld me.
6 I trampled down the peoples in my anger;
    I made them drunk in my wrath,
    and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.” – Isaiah 63:1-6 ESV

In this passage, Isaiah is provided with a vision of a divine warrior who will come and act as God’s agent of deliverance on behalf of the people of Israel. He is shown coming from the east, from the land of the Edomites, the perennial enemies of Israel who were the descendants of Esau, the brother of Jacob. These close relatives of the Jews had been a thorn in their side for generations. And their combative relationship had been predicted by God long before the two patriarchs from they descended were even born. God had told Rebekah:

“Two nations are in your womb,
    and two peoples from within you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
    the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23 ESV

And her two twin sons, born just moments apart, would end up in a lifelong struggle for power and control. God had ordained that Jacob, the younger of the two, would rule over his older sibling, breaking with the normal protocol that required the blessing and birthright go to the oldest male child. The ensuing struggle between Jacob and Esau would foreshadow the ongoing conflict that would exist between their future descendants. 

But there is far more at play here than the internecine struggle between two brothers and their offspring. It would appear that Edom is meant to represent all the enemies of Israel. As Babylon came to represent any nation that uses its power and prominence to take advantage of the people of God, Edom became the symbol of all the other nations of the world who take delight in the fall of God’s people, the Israelites. Edom was not a world power. They were not a dominant military force in that region, but they took great pleasure in seeing God’s people suffer at the hands of more powerful nations like Babylon. 

It was an Edomite, who become known as Herod the Great, who was later named King of the Jews by the Romans. And it was he who attempted to eliminate Jesus as the rightful King of Israel by ordering the execution of all male babies under the age of two in the region around Bethlehem.

It must be noted that Jesus was a descendant of Jacob, not Esau. It would be through the line of Jacob that the Savior of the world would come. The gospel of Matthew makes this point clear.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers – Matthew 1:1-2 ESV

Jacob was given a vision from God, confirming that he would be the son through which the covenant promise made to Abraham would come.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.” – Genesis 28:13-14 ESV

It would be through a particular descendant of Jacob that all the earth would be blessed: Jesus, the Messiah. In His incarnation, Jesus would be born a man, through the lineage of David, tracing all the way back to Jacob. And He would enter the world as the rightful King of the Jews, but they would refuse to acknowledge Him as such. In fact, the sign that was hung above His head as He died on the cross stated the crime for which He was being executed: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37 ESV).

Jesus was crucified because He had claimed to be the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. But the Jews refused Him as their King, choosing instead to see Him crucified for blasphemy. And while they put Him to death for what they believed to be a crime, He actually died so that men might be made right with God. With the sacrifice of His sinless life, He was able to satisfy the just demands of God. He became the atonement for the sins of mankind. And all those who placed their faith in His death in their place would receive forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.

Now, in the 63rd chapter of the book of Isaiah, we get a glimpse of Jesus’ second coming. As He promised His disciples, there would be a day when He returned. And Isaiah sees Him coming from the east, from Bozrah, the capital city of Edom, where He has defeated the enemies of Israel and God. His garments are described as splendid, like royal robes. And He arrives on the scene with great strength. What a dramatic contrast this scene provides from the physical state of Jesus as He hung, weak and virtually naked, on the cross. On that fateful day, Jesus was bruised, beaten and covered in His own blood. But what Isaiah sees is something altogether different.

Jesus arrives on the scene like the King He is, and He is victorious, having defeated His enemies. In fact, His robes are stained red, as if He has been treading grapes and Isaiah asks for an explanation. Jesus replies, “I have been treading the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger, I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. Their blood has stained my clothes” (Isaiah 63:3 NLT). Jesus reveals that He has been doing what no one would or could do. He has personally defeated His enemies, all those who have stood against Him and who have chosen to align themselves against His chosen people, the Israelites. Remember, God had told Abraham that He would bless all those who blessed him and curse all those who cursed him. And now, Jesus is seen as having fulfilled that promise.

This imagery of grape harvesting is found throughout the Scriptures and is used as a symbol of God’s coming judgment against the nations. The prophet Joel records:

“Swing the sickle,
    for the harvest is ripe.
Come, tread the grapes,
    for the winepress is full.
The storage vats are overflowing
    with the wickedness of these people.” – Joel 3:13 NLT

And thousands of years later, the apostle John would pick up this theme in his book of Revelation. He would be given a vision of God’s coming judgment, executed by Jesus Christ, the King of kings.

“Swing your sickle now to gather the clusters of grapes from the vines of the earth, for they are ripe for judgment.” So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and loaded the grapes into the great winepress of God’s wrath. The grapes were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress in a stream about 180 miles long and as high as a horse’s bridle. – Revelation 14:18-20 NLT

And John would later describe the victorious Jesus, dressed in a robe dipped in blood.

He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:13-16 NLT

Like John, Isaiah is being given a glimpse into the future, where He sees the Messiah back on earth, but this time He is the conquering King, not the suffering servant. And Isaiah hears Jesus declare the sad state of affairs at His second coming.

“I was amazed to see that no one intervened
    to help the oppressed.
So I myself stepped in to save them with my strong arm,
    and my wrath sustained me.” – Isaiah 63:5 NLT

At the end of the seven years of Tribulation, the condition of things on the earth will have reached an all-time low. Satan will have set up his false messiah, the Antichrist, having given him his power, authority, and throne (Revelation 13:2). And this man will have not only made himself the supreme political and military ruler over the world, but he will also have made himself god, demanding that all the world worship him in place of the one true God. But the day is coming when Jesus will return to earth and deal with all those who oppose the rule of God, including Satan and his false messiah. And according to Jesus, the end for the enemies of God will not be a pretty or pleasant one.

“I crushed the nations in my anger
    and made them stagger and fall to the ground,
    spilling their blood upon the earth.” – Isaiah 63:6 NLT

This passage reveals that Jesus Christ is longing for this day. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, and He waits patiently for the pre-ordained moment when He can consummate the divine plan of redemption and restoration of all things.

“For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and my year of redemption had come.” – Isaiah 63:4 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

The Rest of the Story

1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. –
Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV

How was God going to fulfill the many blessings He promised to bring upon the people of Israel? What would be the mechanism by which He restored them to favor and returned the city of Jerusalem to its former glorious state? Chapter 61 opens up with the voice of God’s servant proclaiming His role in God’s future redemptive plan concerning the nation of Israel. And there should be a  familiar ring to His words. Jesus Himself would one day read from this very same passage of Isaiah and apply its words to His own life and ministry. 

Not long after His temptation by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus returned to His hometown of Nazareth, where He attended the synagogue on the Sabbath.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” – Luke 4:16-19 ESV

And to ensure that the people in the synagogue that day understood the significance of what Jesus had just read, He stated, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21 ESV).

Jesus was boldly and unapologetically claiming to be the servant of God prophesied about by Isaiah. Hundreds of years after the prophet penned the words found in Isaiah 61, Jesus appeared on the scene, declaring Himself to be the one who would accomplish all the things Isaiah describes in these opening verses of this chapter.

When Jesus told the audience in the synagogue that day that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, they “all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:21 ESV). But in just a matter of minutes, their marvel would turn to rage. Luke records that “they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built so that they could throw him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29 ESV). What happened? How did their apparent delight in Jesus turn to uncontrolled rage in such a short period of time?

The answer is found in the exchange that took place between Jesus and His fellow Jews that day in the synagogue. To the people of Nazareth, Jesus was nothing more than Joseph, the carpenter’s son. They had no reason to suspect Jesus of being anyone significant. And His claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy must have caught them off guard. They would have found this assertion hard to believe. And Jesus knew what was going through their minds. He was fully aware that they wanted proof of who He claimed to be. If He truly was the servant of God who was going to bring salvation to the people of God, they needed evidence.

Jesus was fully aware of their doubts. He even told them what they were thinking.

“You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.” – Luke 4:23-24 NLT

The wanted evidence. But what kind of evidence? If Jesus truly were the long-awaited Messiah, they would have been wanting to see miracles that exhibited His power. Why? Because they were looking for a conquering king, who would lead them out of bondage to the Romans. They had a particular kind of salvation in mind, and it had nothing to do with their spiritual deliverance from captivity to sin. And, using two well-known stories related to the prophets, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus predicted that the salvation of God would first go to the Gentiles because the Jews would reject it. This infuriated His Jewish audience and caused them to turn on Him in anger.

But what they failed to understand was the dual nature of Jesus’ advent. In their minds, the Messiah would come only once, and when He did, He would bring them victory over their physical enemies. He would establish His kingdom on earth and return the Jews to the former glory they had enjoyed under King David’s reign. But even the Old Testament prophets failed to recognize that Jesus, the Messiah, would come to earth twice. First, at His incarnation and then, thousands of years later, at His second coming. And, in between, the message of the gospel would be taken to the Gentiles because the Jews would reject Jesus’ call to repentance and their need to place their faith in Him as their sole means of achieving a right standing before God.

That scene of the Jews attempting to throw Jesus off of the cliff foreshadows their eventual rage against Him that resulted in His crucifixion. They would demand His death and rejoice to see His life snuffed out by the Romans. All because they missed the two-part nature of His coming. But the apostle Paul states that their rejection of Him at His first advent was not a deal-breaker with God. He had foreseen it. He had even orchestrated it. Because He has a future plan in store for the people of Israel that will be fulfilled at the Messiah’s second coming.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

And Paul is emphatic in his belief that God is not done with the people of Israel.

For since their rejection meant that God offered salvation to the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more wonderful. – Romans 11:15 NLT

The Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah because He didn’t meet their expectations. He came offering salvation from sin, but they refused to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. After all, they had the sacrificial system to provide them with atonement. And, because they were the descendants of Abraham, they saw their standing with God as more than adequate. But Paul, as a Jew, knew that they were in need of the same salvation that God was offering to the Gentiles. TheirJewishness was not going to be enough to save them from the wrath of God. Their standing as God’s chosen people would not prevent God from bringing His judgment against their sin and rebellion against Him. But Paul states that there is a day coming when God will save Israel in spite of Israel.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:25-27 NLT

Which brings us back to Isaiah 61. The Messiah, God’s servant, will come a second time, and when He does, He will restore God’s people. And the servant explains that the once rebellious descendants of Abraham will become truly righteous.

In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory. – Isaiah 61:3 NLT

This will be the work of God, accomplished by the servant of God. Jesus will return a second time, and on this occasion, it will be as the conquering King, not the suffering servant. God is not done with Israel. His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled. And God will accomplish all that He has promised through His servant, the Messiah. And the apostle Paul reminds his readers of God’s unwavering faithfulness and His commitment to do all that He has promised to do – through His Son.

Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. – Romans 11:28-29 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

But the Lord…

17 Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
    and instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
    instead of stones, iron.
I will make your overseers peace
    and your taskmasters righteousness.
18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
    devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
    and your gates Praise.

19 The sun shall be no more
    your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
    give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
20 Your sun shall no more go down,
    nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of mourning shall be ended.
21 Your people shall all be righteous;
    they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
    that I might be glorified.
22 The least one shall become a clan,
    and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will hasten it. – Isaiah 60:17-22 ESV

Peace. Righteousness. Salvation. Praise. Light. Glory.

In the midst of Judah’s darkest days, as they faced the God-ordained and inescapable reality of their judgment at the hands of the Babylonians, God gave them hope. He spoke a future day in which their darkness would be replaced with light. He promised a deliverance like nothing they had ever experienced before. And that deliverance would be in spite of them, not because of them. In the first 16 verses of this chapter. Isaiah has unveiled a prophetic promise that paints a starkly different picture than the one in which they were currently living. In place of the chaos and confusion brought on by the threat of judgment, God would bring peace and tranquility.

While God’s wrath was going to be unleashed against them due to their unrighteous and ungodly behavior, there was a future day coming when righteousness would reign – in their lives and in the world. God was promising to bring salvation to a people who had repeatedly rerjected His calls to repent and His gracious offers of redemption if they would only do so. The saving hand of God will result in the removal of all violence and destruction from their midst.

In Isaiah’s day, the lips of the people of Judah were full of lies and the mouths spewed corruption (Isaiah 59:3). And when God punished them for their wicked behavior, rather than confess, they called out to Him, asking that He show them justice.

They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me. – Isaiah 58:2 NLT 

But again, Isaiah tells them of a day when their praise of God will spill out into the streets and gates of the city of Jerusalem. In place of corrupt and wicked speech, they will offer songs of praise to the greatness and glory of God.

All of these images are meant to convey the radically different atmosphere that will pervade the city of Jerusalem during the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth. This Millennial Kingdom will be like nothing the world has ever seen before. Jesus will rule over the earth in righteousness, dispensing justice and administering the divine will of God without opposition or interruption.

And Isaiah describes a never-before-seen feature of this future Kingdom, in which the source of all light will be the glory of God. The apostle John was given the privilege of seeing this future scene and the responsibility of conveying its reality to the church.

“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” – Revelation 21:3-4 ESV

And John confirms that the city of Jerusalem and the world will receive their light from a source other than the sun or moon.

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. – Revelation 21:23-25 NLT

And this fits right in with comments John made in an earlier letter.

God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. – 1 John 1:5 NLT

The light of God’s glory will permeate everything. His Son, the light of the world, will shed His influence over everyone and everything. And the dark influence of sin will be eliminated by the very presence of God and His Son. Satan will be bound throughout the duration of the one thousand years of Christ’s earthly reign. The apostle John was given a glimpse of Satan’s fate and he recorded it in the book of Revelation.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while.  – Revelation 20:1-3 NLT

There is little doubt that all of this sounds fantastic and difficult to believe. But God is describing end times events that will be truly remarkable in nature. Their reality, while beyond the human capacity to understand, is guaranteed by Almighty God, and nothing is impossible for Him. And He tells us why He is going to accomplish these things.

…in order to bring myself glory. – Isaiah 60:21 NLT

And as if to assure His doubt-prone people, God tells them:

At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen. – Isaiah 60:22 NLT

It will not be a matter of if, but when. God has promised it, so there is to be no doubt about it. And God is delivering this message of future hope in the midst of Judah’s current context of coming judgment. From their perspective, things looked bleak and foreboding. God had already promised to bring the Babylonians against them and the end result would be the conquering of their city and the captivity of its people. They had 70 years of God-ordained exile looming on the horizon. But they also had the unfailing promise of God that restoration and redemption were their eventual lot. And the fulfillment of the promises found in these verses was not going to be limited to the return of the remnant to the land of Judah under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. God had something far more permanent in mind. 

What makes these promises truly incomprehensible is that God eventually sent His Son as the Messiah He had promised to send, but His chosen people had rejected Him. Jesus had not come as they had expected. He was not the conquering King, riding into Jerusalem at the head of a mighty army. They had been looking for a political and military savior, but God had sent His Son to provide salvation from the oppression of sin, not that of the Romans. Jesus came the first time in order to offer His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He came to conquer sin and death, not a foreign military power. He came to sacrifice His life and offer Himself as the payment for man’s sin debt. And with that sacrifice He satisfied the wrath of God against all those who accept His death on their behalf. The apostle Paul reminds us:

For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. – 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 NLT

…you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. – 1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT

The people of Judah were rebellious. They had stiff-armed God for generations, rejecting His gracious offer of restoration and redemption if they would only repent. But one day, God is going to redeem them. He will no longer pour out His anger, but instead He will shower them with His grace and mercy. And the change in them will be be powerful and permanent.

For the Lord will be your everlasting light.
    Your days of mourning will come to an end.
All your people will be righteous.
    They will possess their land forever. – Isaiah 60:20-21 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

The Suffering Servant

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
9 And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. – Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

This is, arguably, one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible. It actually extends from verse 13 of the previous chapter and provides an amazing portrait of the suffering servant: Jesus Christ. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is quoted by the New Testament authors more than any other section of Scripture. And you can see why they aligned themselves with this remarkable section of God’s Word, because in it is contained the quintissential description of Jesus as the suffering servant of God.

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Jesus’s life, it would be difficult to read this chapter in Isaiah and not see a clear and compelling portrait of the Jesus and His crucifixion. He is described as being marred in appearance, despised, rejected, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and burdened with the sins of mankind. The amount of detail provided in these verses is difficult to fathom, when you consider that Isaiah penned these words more than seven centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

The descriptions of Jesus in this passage are far from flattering. He is portrayed as a yowneq, which is the Hebrew word for a small shoot or suckling. It refers to a small sprout that appears after a tree has been cut down. It is an unexpected shoot that appears out of nowhere in dry ground because of the presence on an unseen root. Isaiah referred to this aspect of Jesus earlier in his book.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

In that chapter, Isaiah describes Jesus, the shoot, as having power and authority. He will come as a conquering King, not a suffering servant.

…and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:4-5 ESV

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. – Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV

But the Jesus of Isaiah 53 is quite different. The Jesus who came to earth as a man, in His incarnate form, was anything but beautiful and physcially impressive. In fact, Isaiah says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2 NLT). He didn’t have a charismatic personality, come from an influential family or wield  a lot of influence.  Born in relative obscurity in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus spent His childhood in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the adopted son of a lowly tradesman, and spent the early years of His adulthood living at home and working alongside His father.

And even when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would do so without a lot of fanfre or noteriety. And while He received the glowing endorsement of His Heavenly Father at the commencement of His ministry, things did not end well for Him. Isaiah describes Him as “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). During the 3-1/2 years of His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered far more rejection than He did acceptance. The Jewish religious leaders hated Him with a passion. The majority of the Jewish nation, while enamored with His miracles and amazed by His teaching, would end up rejecting His claims to be their long-awaited Messish.

And Isaiah fast-forwards into the closing days of Jesus’ earthly existence, describing events associated with His eventual trials and crucifixion. Speaking in the past-tense, Isaiah says the suffering servant, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The Jewish people believed that Jesus died for His own sins. He was accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy because He had claimed to be God. And the Jews “thought his troubles were a punishment from God” (Isaiah 53:4 NLT). But Isaiah clears up the confusion, declaring that Jesus “was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Don’t miss the significance of this verse. It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born and yet, it perfectly describes the details associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

And, just in case we miss his point, Isaiah stresses that Jesus died because of our sins, not His own.

Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Men were the ones guilty of straying from God, walking away from His love and faithfulness. And yet, Jesus was the one who died in their place. And like an innocent sheep being led to the slaughter, Jesus didn’t utter a word in His own defense. Mark describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in his gospel account.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus would end up unjustly condemned, sentenced to death, and stripped of life, without a single descendant. His life was cut short, having done nothing to deserve the death He suffered. And He would suffer the ignominy of having to be buried in a borrowed tomb. The gospel writers provide us with the fulfillment of this prophecy when they describe Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the right to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.

And Isaiah delivers the amazing part of this entire story. The death of the suffering servant was all the plan of God Almighty. It had been the will of God from the very beginning.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him… – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

None of what happened to Jesus took place outside the divine will of God. It had all been a part of His sovereign plan. God had a method to His seeming madness. What Isaiah is describing had to have sounded farfetched and difficult to understand from the perspectives of the Jews in his audience. Why in the world would God do something so heinous to His own servant? What could be remotely redeeming about any of this? And the answer would be, “Everything.” The suffering servant would eventually recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about this passage is its undeniable accuracy. So much of what we read in these verses was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived out these verses to the smallest detail. And because of His obedience to the will of God, Jesus was exalted.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. – Isaiah 53:12 NLT

Jesus hung on the cross, bracketed by the two “rebels” who were crucified on either side of Him. And Jesus went to that cross willingly, not begrudgingly. The apostle Paul describes what happened because of Jesus’ willing submission to His Father’s redemptive plan for mankind.

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The people of Judah were facing the prospect of some intense suffering, all as a part of God’s will concerning them. And God wants them to realize that this plan was to be embraced, not rejected. Like the suffering servant, they were to trust God for their future and submit to His will. If they would only listen, they would be exalted at just the right time. God’s will for Jesus included suffering and, eventually, death. But it also included exaltation and glory. God always has a purpose behind His actions. And while the people of Judah were having a difficult time understanding why God was bringing His judgment on them, He wanted them to rest in His sovereign will for them.

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

Your God Reigns!

1 Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
2 Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

3 For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

7 How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
8 The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
    touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
    you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand. – Isaiah 52:1-15 ESV

There are times in life when it is difficult to imagine God sitting on His throne and ruling in unparalleled power and sovereignty. We look at the circumstances surrounding us and see no signs of His presence or power. The world appears to be in a state of chaos. The enemies of God seem to hold the upper hand. Righteousness looks as if it is on the wane, while wickedness spreads like a cancer through the land. Immorality runs rampant and injustice prevails. People call good evil and evil good. And, it appears as if God is going nothing about. Either because He can’t or because He doesn’t care.

But Isaiah 52 extends to the people of God, in every generation, a much-needed wake up call. This particular message is directed at Zion, the holy mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem sat. It is a call to the people of Judah, but it is timeless in nature. The situation in which they found themselves was unique to them but, at the same time, universal. They were facing difficult days and wrestling with strong feelings of doubt regarding God’s involvement in their circumstances. Which is why, in chapter 51, they had extended their own wake up call to God.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

From their vantage point, it appeared that God was the one who had fallen asleep on the job. The evidence was all around them that God had either abandoned them or simply forgotten all about them. But their perspective was skewed and their conclusion was wrong. Not only was God there, He cared, and He was going to act on their behalf. But, as we have seen, His intervention into their difficulties was going to be on His schedule and according to His divine plan, not theirs. He knew what was best and He was going to do what needed to be done at just the right time – no sooner or later. And, they were going to have to trust Him.

Salvation comes easy to God. It requires no effort on His part. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Which is why He told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NLT). Which is the same thing God said to Abraham when Sarah had laughed at His announcement that she would bear a son, in spite of her barrenness

“Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” – Genesis 18:14 NLT

It is the same message Jesus conveyed to His disciples when they had asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He responded, ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The problems facing the people of Judah were not a problem for God. In fact, He is the one who had sovereignly ordained each and every circumstance in which they found themselves. The Assyrians and Babylonians had been instruments in His hands. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians had been His doing. Their 70 years of captivity were part of His divine plan for them. And, just as God had found it quite easy to bring His judgment upon the people of Judah, He would find it just as easy to bring about their salvation. The 800-pound gorilla in the room was not God’s lack of power, but the peoples’ lack of faith. They didn’t trust God.

Now, God addresses the people of Judah in their captive state – in the midst of one of darkest days of their corporate history.

Remove the chains of slavery from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“When I sold you into exile,
    I received no payment.
Now I can redeem you
    without having to pay for you.” – Isaiah 52:2-3 NLT

Just as no one had forced God to sell the people of Judah into slavery, no one would coerce or bribe Him to redeem them. He would act according to His own divine will.

The truth was, that the people of God had a track record of finding themselves in difficult situations. Generations earlier, Jacob and his family had willingly sought shelter in Egypt, in an attempt to escape the famine in Canaan. But they ended up enslaved to the Egyptians and had to be rescued by God. Centuries later, when they had occupied the land, they found themselves harassed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and deported as slaves.

And hundreds of years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would find itself living in captivity in Babylon, enslaved once again and crying out in despair. Their captors would mock the name of God, declaring their false gods to be superior in strength. And even the Jews would end up blaspheming the name of God by failing to trust in His word and rely on His covenant faithfulness. Their wailing and moaning would be a visible sign of their lack of faith. And yet, God tells them:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” – Isaiah 52:6 NLT

And the following verses contain a powerful song of praise from the lips of Isaiah as he considers the incredible nature of God’s promise of redemption.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” – Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Don’t miss what Isaiah is saying here. The key to the salvation of God’s people was the fact that God reigns. He is in complete control of all things. He is the ruler over all the earth. He is final determiner of all that happens. God is not only powerful, He is ALL powerful. And, as far as Isaiah is concerned, the salvation of the Lord is as good as done because He reigns over all.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:10 ESV

God would one day return a remnant of the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. But there is an even greater deliverance foreshadowed here. This passage predicts an even more remarkable day when the people of God experience release from their captivity to sin. Look back on verse 7 and consider the significance of what is conveyed in its words.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!

Now fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Romans. He picks up on this very same passage when addressing the Roman believers about their need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost in their community.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

The release of the people of Judah from their physical captivity in Babylon did nothing to restore their broken relationship with God. They remained stubbornly unfaithful and persistently inconsistent in their obedience to and worship of Him. Sin still plagued their lives. Immorality and injustice remained a constant part of their individual and corporate existence.

But one day, God would send His Son to remedy their true problem: Their slavery to sin. And, He would do it by sending His Son. In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah is given a vision of the coming Messiah, God’s servant who “shall be high and lifted up,  and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 ESV). In these three verses we have a prophecy concerning Jesus and His incarnation, crucifixion and ultimate glorification, as described so eloquently by the apostle Paul.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It required His death. It also demanded His resurrection and ascension. And it will include His eventual return to earth to consummate God’s redemptive plan for the earth and for His people, Israel. And all of this will take place because our God reigns, whether we see it, believe it, or place our trust in it.

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

Walk By the Light of Your Fire

4 The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
    he awakens my ear
    to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious;
    I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
    and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
    from disgrace and spitting.

7 But the Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8     He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
    Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord God helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.

10 Who among you fears the Lord
    and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
    and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on his God.
11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
    who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
    and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
    you shall lie down in torment. – Isaiah 50:4-11 ESV

Judah’s sin against God will be answered by His well-justified judgment. He will punish them for their rebellion against Him and for their stubborn refusal to heed His calls to repent. One day, they will find themselves in captivity and blame God for their circumstances, accusing Him of abandonment. But God makes it clear that their captivity in Babylon will be because they left Him, not the other way around. In verse 1,  He tells them, “you were sold because of your sins.” He could have saved them from their fate, but when He called, “there no one to answer” (Isaiah 50:2 ESV). They had ignored His warnings and refused His pleas that they repent. 

Yet, God assures them that He has the power to deliver. He is the Creator-God, who spoke the universe into existence. There is nothing too difficult for Him. And, as if in response to God’s declaration of omnipotence and saving strength, verse 4 opens up with the voice of the servant of God, the Messiah.

Four times in eight verses, the servant refers to God as “the Sovereign Lord.” The Hebrew is ‘Adonay Yĕhovih and can be translated “Lord God.” In the Old Testament, the name, ‘Adonay is used only of God. It is a term of honor and respect, acknowledging Him as Lord or Sovereign over all. And the servant links it with the proper name for God, Jehovah. He is the Lord God, the Sovereign God who reigns and rules over all. And, as such, He deserves the obedience and worship of all.

The servant introduces himself as one who has the right to speak on behalf of God.

“The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught.” – Isaiah 50:4 ESV

He describes himself as a disciple who has listened to the words of the Sovereign Lord and learned well.

“Morning by morning he wakens me
    and opens my understanding to his will.
The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
    and I have listened.” – Isaiah 50:4-5 NLT

Unlike the rebellious people of Judah, the Messiah has paid attention to the words of God, listening carefully to what He has to say and faithfully obeying His commands. And he boldly, but not boastfully claims, “I have not rebelled or turned away” (Isaiah 50:5 NLT). As proof of his willing obedience, the Messiah prophetically relates His treatment at the hands of men at his crucifixion.

“I offered my back to those who beat me
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
    from mockery and spitting.” – Isaiah 50:6 NLT

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trials reveal the truth behind these words.

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him… – Matthew 26:67 NLT

Then some of them began to spit at him, and they blindfolded him and beat him with their fists. “Prophesy to us,” they jeered. And the guards slapped him as they took him away. – Mark 14:65 NLT

The guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. – Luke 22:63 NLT

But, in spite of these harsh treatments at the hands of men, the Messiah will remain resolute in his determination to do the will of the Sovereign Lord.

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
    determined to do his will.
    And I know that I will not be put to shame.” – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

Don’t miss what is going on here. The Messiah is describing his harsh and unjustified treatment at the hands of sinful men. But he does not blame God or accuse Him of abandonment. He trusts in the sovereign will of his Father, resting in the knowledge that God has a plan in place for his life. And the less-than-satisfactory circumstances surrounding his life were part of that plan. What a dramatically different perspective than that of the people of Judah. They were blind to God’s plans for their future. All they could see was the suffering and humiliation of the moment.

Yet, the Messiah knew that, in spite of all that would happen to him, the Sovereign Lord would vindicate and rescue him. He boldly and confidently declares, “ the Lord God helps me” (Isaiah 50:9 ESV). His accusers and abusers will all pass away like a moth-eaten garment, but he will stand secure and blameless.

In a sense, the servant is expressing the words that should have flowed from the mouths of the people of Judah.

“All my enemies will be destroyed
    like old clothes that have been eaten by moths!” – Isiah 50:9 NLT

God was going to vindicate and avenge them on day as well. And He would do it through His servant, the Messiah. But the people of Judah refused to take the Sovereign Lord at His word. So, the Messiah calls out to them, begging them to listen to what he has to say. He wants them to follow his example and place their trust in God

“If you are walking in darkness,
    without a ray of light,
trust in the Lord
    and rely on your God.” – Isaiah 50:10 NLT

As Isaiah has made clear already, the day was coming when the spiritual darkness surrounding the people of Judah would be illuminated by a great light.

The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
    a light will shine. – Isaiah 9:2 NLT

And, in his gospel, Matthew makes it clear that Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy, when he quoted from it at the moment Jesus entered into the regions of Zebulun and Napthali in Galilee.

…so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
    the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people dwelling in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
    on them a light has dawned.” – Matthew 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus, the servant of God, would claim to be that light  – “the light of the world (John 8:12). And the apostle John described Jesus as not only the light, but the source of life.

“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 1:4-5 ESV

And John would go on to declare that the light would shine in the darkness, but the people would reject the light, preferring instead to remain in spiritual darkness.

“…the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 ESV

The light came into the world, and he did so that he might expose the deadly nature of man’s sin and offer himself as the true source of life. But, for the most part,  the world would reject his offer. Instead, they would rely on their own dim lights, attempting to remove the darkness that surrounded them through self-effort and acts of self-righteousness. And the Messiah warns them of the futility of it all.

“But watch out, you who live in your own light
    and warm yourselves by your own fires.
This is the reward you will receive from me:
    You will soon fall down in great torment.” – Isaiah 50:11 NLT

Their lights would prove insufficient. Their acts of righteousness would fail to meet God’s exacting standards. Failure to accept God’s light would leave them in perpetual, everlasting darkness. But for all those who see God’s light and embrace it, the future would be markedly different, just as Jesus, the servant had promised.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 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

My Lord Has Forgotten Me

8 Thus says the Lord:
“In a time of favor I have answered you;
    in a day of salvation I have helped you;
I will keep you and give you
    as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
    to apportion the desolate heritages,
9 saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’
    to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’
They shall feed along the ways;
    on all bare heights shall be their pasture;
10 they shall not hunger or thirst,
    neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
    and by springs of water will guide them.
11 And I will make all my mountains a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
12 Behold, these shall come from afar,
    and behold, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.”

13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
    break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
17 Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
18 Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.

19 “Surely your waste and your desolate places
    and your devastated land—
surely now you will be too narrow for your inhabitants,
    and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children of your bereavement
    will yet say in your ears:
‘The place is too narrow for me;
    make room for me to dwell in.’
21 Then you will say in your heart:
    ‘Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away,
    but who has brought up these?
Behold, I was left alone;
    from where have these come?’”

22 Thus says the Lord God:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
    and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
23 Kings shall be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
    and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”

24 Can the prey be taken from the mighty,
    or the captives of a tyrant be rescued?
25 For thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
    and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and I will save your children.
26 I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
    that I am the Lord your Savior,
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” – Isaiah 49:8-26 ESV

In these verses, God acknowledges the feelings of His chosen people. His judgments against them will leave them feeling forsaken and alone. When the prophecies Isaiah has been sharing have taken place, the people will assume that God’s anger with them has caused Him to abandon them completely. Displaying His omniscience, God reveals the future thoughts of the people of Judah as they languish in captivity in Babylon. He does so by portraying Zion, the city of Jerusalem, speaking on their behalf.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.” – Isaiah 49:14 ESV

Yet, God responds to this false assumption in strong terms.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.” – Isaiah 49:15 ESV

God cannot and will not forget His own. They are His chosen people with whom He has made a binding covenant. The people of Judah are the direct result of God’s blessings upon Abraham and Sarah. They are the byproduct of God’s miraculous intervention into the affairs of this elderly couples, allowing the barren Sarah to conceive and bare a son, Isaac. But even before Isaac drew his first breath, God had told Abraham, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly” (Genesis 17:1-2 ESV). God was calling Abraham to a life of holiness or set-apartness. He was to be God’s possession and all his future offspring would belong to God, just as Isaac would. Then God went on to expand on the nature of the covenant He was making with Abraham and, by extension, with Abraham’s offspring.

“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” – Genesis 17:4-8 ESV

Now, centuries later, God was dealing with the descendants of Abraham who had failed to walk before Him and remain blameless. For generations, the people of Judah had refused to live their lives set apart to God. They were guilty of spiritual adultery, having given their adoration to a litany of false gods. And yet, in spite of all they had done to offend a holy God, He was reassuring them that He would not forsake them.

In fact, He describes for them a day when they will find the land of Judah too small to accommodate all the children they will bear. One day they will again experience God’s promise of fruitfulness.

“Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land
    will soon be crowded with your people.
Your enemies who enslaved you
    will be far away.
The generations born in exile will return and say,
    ‘We need more room! It’s crowded here!’” – Isaiah 49:19-20 NLT

And this inexplicable outcome will leave the people of Judah wondering what is going on. They will question how their lot in life changed so dramatically.

“Who has given me all these descendants?
For most of my children were killed,
    and the rest were carried away into exile.
I was left here all alone.
    Where did all these people come from?
Who bore these children?
    Who raised them for me?” – Isaiah 49:21 NLT

The elderly among them will find themselves back in the land of promise experiencing the joy of watching their lineage spread through the lives of their children and grandchildren.  Their enemies will be long gone.  But not before those very same enemies are finished transporting the people of Judah back to the land, even carrying their children in their arms.

What God is revealing here is a miraculous, future events that only He could bring about. While this prophecy would be fulfilled in part when King Cyrus decreed the return of the people to the land of Judah, there are aspects of this prophecy that remain as yet unfulfilled. God describes the kings and queens of the earth serving and caring for the people of God. He portrays them as bowing down before the people of Judah, licking the dust from their feet in a display of abject submission. He even promises, “I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood” (Isaiah 49:26 NLT). One has to ask whether any of this taken place. Has this promise been fulfilled? And the answer would be, “No.” But it will be. And God reveals just how He will bring it about. 

He will do it through His servant, the Messiah. He will raise up His chosen one to redeem the people of Israel and restore them to a right relationship with Him. And God speaks to His servant, assuring Him that the seeming delay in His redemptive plan for Israel is coming to an end.

“At just the right time, I will respond to you.
    On the day of salvation I will help you.
I will protect you and give you to the people
    as my covenant with them.
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
    and assign it to its own people again.” – Isaiah 49:8 NLT

This statement seems to be in direct response to the words of the servant as expressed in verse 4:

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

The servant is portrayed as wrestling with feelings of frustration over what appears to be His incomplete and seemingly unsuccessful work. This imagery is not meant to display Jesus as somehow struggling with feelings of futility or anger over His earthly ministry. It is intended to reveal to the people of Judah that when the Messiah comes, He will not complete all His work at His first appearance. When Jesus stated on the cross, “It is finished,” He was referring to the commission God had given to Him at His first advent. He had been sent to die on behalf of sinful manking, as payment for the sin debt they had accrued with God. And He successful completed that mission. But He rose again and, just before He returned to His Father’s side in heaven, He assures His disciples He would be coming back. He had unfinished business.

And, in Isaiah 49, God is describing events associated with Christ’s second advent, His second coming. He will return to earth and He will enact the final judgment of God against the nations of the world. He will defeat all the enemies of God, including Antichrist, the false prophet, and Satan himself.

In the book of Revelation, John is given a vision of this coming day, when the kings of the earth, in league with Antichrist and Satan, will attempt to do battle with Jesus, the Lamb of God. And it will not go well for them.

“The ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but will receive ruling authority as kings with the beast for one hour. These kings have a single intent, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful.” – Revelation 17:12-14 NLT

They will be defeated. In fact, John is given further insight into the lopsided nature of this battle later on in his book.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to do battle with the one who rode the horse and with his army. Now the beast was seized, and along with him the false prophet who had performed the signs on his behalf—signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire burning with sulfur. The others were killed by the sword that extended from the mouth of the one who rode the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves with their flesh. – Revelation 19:19-21 NLT

As a result of this resounding victory over the enemies of God by the Lamb of God, a remnant of the nation of Israel will experience God’s unmerited favor and the fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham. They will be restored to a right relationship with Him and will reign alongside Jesus in His heavenly Kingdom in Jerusalem. God has not and will not forsake them. He has a plan in place for them and when that plan finally comes to fruition, God says, “All the world will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isaiah 49:26 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