Sin – Not Mere Error

In today’s reading (Isaiah 13-17), the prophet proclaims God’s wrath and judgment against sin found in several nations.  He exposes sin for what it really is – rebellion against God.  It is not just a mistake, a misstep, or (shudder) an inappropriate choice.  It is evil to the core because sin acts  lawlessly and rejects God as God.

The new normal is sinful

Our society in recent decades has become increasingly comfortable with moral relativism.  There are no absolutes, except that one.  We do not expect our leaders to be morally upstanding in their personal lives as long as they manage their responsibilities well.  We allow our politicians to speak and act in ways that would result in swift punishment if done by our children or students.

The new normal is subnormal and, frankly, sinful, because God’s standards are absolute.  He holds all people responsible for their thoughts, words,  and actions.  Mankind stands under just judgment.

The way out

Only through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, can we be reconciled to the Judge of all the earth (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). Be reconciled to God, if you are not.  If you are, walk rejoicing as a new creation in Christ.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Thy Kingdom Come

Today Isaiah gives his original readers a glimpse past the difficult times of Judah during the prophet’s long ministry (Isaiah 9-12).  God revealed that a day was approaching when His kingdom would come fully upon the earth.

The end of all things

They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.  Isaiah 11:9 (ESV)

Don’t you long for that day to come?  I do.

And for now

Meanwhile, Jesus told His disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. [See Matthew 6:9-13].   Many centuries have passed since Jesus spoke those words and even more since Isaiah wrote his book.  But God’s elect people cannot be discouraged or distracted.  We will not give up until He comes and His will is done everywhere. God declared it.  His prophets and apostles wrote it.  We read it and trust it. It will be done.

The Apostle John wrote : “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”  Revelation 22:20 (ESV).

Keep trusting.  Keep praying.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

What Isaiah Saw

The Truth

In our reading, (Isaiah 5-8), we are able to look through the prophet’s eyes and see the Lord (Isaiah 6:1).  Isaiah was first overwhelmed with God’s holiness but very soon shifted to his shameful sin.  He confessed his sinfulness, his unclean lips.  The seraph brought a burning coal and touched his mouth.  Isaiah heard the assuring words, “…your guilt is taken away, your sin is atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7 ESV).

The Response

This is the gospel message in visual form.  God is holy.  I am sinful.  He atones for my sin by the work of His Son Jesus Christ. He takes away my guilt.  I am His.  He can use me.

This is the gospel in all its fullness.  Awareness of sin should lead us to repentance, not to doubt or further rebellion.  Our need is great and it takes Jesus’ intervention on our behalf to atone for us and to remove our guilt.  But that is exactly what He has done for His people.  Believe Him.  Trust His work and His truth.  Be ready for His service.

A Famous Sermon

If you have never heard or seen it,  please take time to watch Dr. RC Sproul’s sermon “Holy, Holy, Holy” on this passage.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Message of Prophets

Today we begin our reading of the seventeen books of the prophets (Isaiah 1:1-4:6).   It is not a pretty picture they paint of the conditions of Israel and Judah.  Some of them, like Isaiah, will preach to and about the southern kingdom of Judah.  Others address Israel and even the neighboring nations.

Bad News

Their message was urgent.  God is holy.  His people, even those He chose in the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are in rebellion against Him. They have grown complacent.  They have become accustomed to the new normal of sin.  They do not see how far they have fallen from God and His glory.

Good News

The prophets are a gift of God to His people.  He sends Isaiah and the others because of His love for Israel and Judah.  God continues to show His mercy toward them.  Through all of this God is shown to be completely pure and even His discipline is filled with grace because some learn from it and turn to Him.

When they do He makes the scarlet stains of sin as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18-20).

Isaiah and all the prophets proclaim hope to us as well as to His ancient people.  God would indict sin justly but lay the sins of His people on His Messiah.  There is cleansing and forgiveness through the Lamb who would take our deserved punishment.  Keep reading.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Enduring Love

In our reading today (Ecclesiastes 11-Song of Solomon 8), we conclude the poetic books of the Old Testament.  Tomorrow we begin the Prophets, seventeen books in all.

In our English Bibles, the poetic books are arranged so that they end on the note of romance with the Song.  In my book I focused on a verse in the final chapter:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.

Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
    all the wealth of his house,
    he would be utterly despised.  Song of Solomon 8:6,7 (ESV)

How strong is human love?  Some find it powerful enough to last till the grave.  But not all do.  Jesus said there would be no human marriage in heaven, but the Church, called His body and His bride, will be married to Him (Luke 20:34-36; Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:6-10).  Human love at its best is a faint picture of the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride.

It is of little consequence that you have not found lifelong love here on earth, as long as you have by grace through faith become part of Christ’s Church.  You will be part of His bride in a love stronger than death.  If you have this hope, rejoice in the coming marriage of the Lamb.

Weekend Readings July 23-24, 2016

Here are our weekend readings along with my selected focus verses:

Saturday, July 23 Ecclesiastes 3-6

Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness.  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work.  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.                                  Ecclesiastes 3:16-18

Sunday, July 24 Ecclesiastes 7-10

 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.  Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others. Ecclesiastes 7:21-22

Have a great weekend.  Enjoy the Lord with His people.  See you again on Monday.

For more on these passages see Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 Days available on Amazon in either Kindle ($4.99) or print format ($12.99).

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted,  are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

A Dose of Reality

Moving from one book to another, as we do in today’s reading (Proverbs 31-Ecclesiastes 1-2) brings a jolt, a strong shot of reality.  While Proverbs ends on a high note exalting the blessings of a virtuous wife and mother, Ecclesiastes sounds a somber note that “all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Which view is correct?

Both are correct in their own way. Marriage can be delightful.  Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.  But even when it is as good as it can be, it is never the ultimate experience.  Its pleasures however glorious are not permanent.  The accomplishments of the wife and husband are, at best, limited to a lifetime and no more.

Is this all there is?

Somehow it’s not enough. This is what we learn from the Preacher.  He had it all. He tried it all. It didn’t satisfy.  What is his solution?  Spoiler alert: there is a glimmer of hope ahead. Keep reading.

 A better inheritance

Meanwhile, keep in mind that God’s word equips us for everything for His service including a dose of reality in the midst of the pains and pleasures of our earthly lives.  Ultimately, we have a better inheritance than all this world can offer (1 Peter 1:3-9).

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

A Warning against Stereotyping

Why is it so tempting to engage in stereotyping?  With a little reflection on today’s reading (Proverbs 28-30) we can see that there are exceptions to the profiles we tend to develop.   For example,

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
    than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6 (ESV)

Rich people may be honest or deceptive.  Poor people may be lazy or diligent.  Although society tends to honor material success, God holds up the honest, hard-working poor as better than a wealthy swindler.

We stereotype because we resist thinking deeply about truth and reality.  In the present atmosphere of my country, deep divisions and animosity rock us.  These are often based on this dangerous practice of painting with a broad brush various categories of people based on ethnicity, political views, gender, religion,  or socioeconomic status.

What can we do?

Christians are commanded to pray. Paul wrote:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 (ESV)

Pray for our national and local leaders. Pray that we will not fall prey to a simplistic way of seeing everything.  Pray that God’s people will model wisdom and speak the truth in love.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

Hunger for Growth

The path to spiritual growth leads straight through hard things.  Look at this passage in today’s reading (Proverbs 25-27):

Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
One who is full loathes honey,
but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.  Proverbs 25:5-7 ESV

What hard thing do you need to do today?  Maybe it is to rebuke a friend.  Or do you need to be more receptive and grateful for a friend who seems to be wounding you.  A hungry person will eat the bitter thing and be nourished by it.

Hard things bring growth if you are hungry to grow.  Stay hungry, my friend.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].

The Lost Virtue of Humility

Whatever happened to humility?  Can you imagine a candidate for some high office being introduced with the description “above all, he is a humble man” or “she excels in humility”?  I don’t think so.

But in today’s reading (Proverbs 22-24) we find this:

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
    is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Once again God’s Word turns conventional wisdom on its head.  God calls us to believe Him and to seek Christlikeness, the characteristics of the Son of Man who exemplified what is truly praiseworthy.  He died for our sin to make us His own, new creations in Him.  Be humble. Fear Him.  Your reward awaits. Riches and honor and life.

[For more reflections on this passage, see the corresponding reading in my book Cover to Cover: Through the Bible in 365 days].