Weekend Readings

Here are our weekend readings along with my selected focus verses that highlight God’s providence and the peace He gives to His own.

Saturday, July 30 Isaiah 18-22

Seeing God’s Wise Providence

“In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest, and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool. But you did not look to him who did it, or see him who planned it long ago.”     Isaiah 22:8b-11 (ESV)

Sunday, July 31 Isaiah 23-27

Perfect Peace

“Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.”    Isaiah 26:2-4 (ESV)

Have a great weekend.  Enjoy worship with God’s people.  On Monday, I will post our readings for August as Mary and I take the month for vacation and family time.

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).

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].

The Meaning and Purpose of Life

In God, we find that our lives are not a result of random molecules coming together, but we are the result of His eternal decrees. We have meaning and purpose that transcends this world and results in glory.

Today’s reading: Jeremiah 1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Jeremiah 1:4-7

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

Jeremiah heard God speak to him, but the message took some time to sink in. God told Jeremiah that he formed him in the womb, but even before that, God knew him and consecrated him (ie. set him apart for a designated purpose). What purpose? To be a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah offered two excuses: his age and his lack of speaking ability. God answered his excuses promising to send him. Jeremiah had no authority from a human point of view. He lacked maturity and experience. But he needed neither because God was sending him. Secondly, God would tell him what to say. Jeremiah did not need to write powerful communiques to the people. He only needed to report the messages God gave him.

Paul had a similar view of the work of God in the lives of the Thessalonians. Like Jeremiah, they were chosen by God and set apart by the Spirit. When they heard the gospel, they believed it and were saved. God had called them through the gospel and they responded. The ultimate result of this would be that they would obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Many today hold a worldview that sees our lives as essentially a result of a random evolutionary process. There is no accountability and no limitation, but then there is no purpose and no meaning. If you know you have been called by God, set apart by Him as a recipient of His mercy, grace, and love, forgiven, and adopted as His child to serve Him, rejoice. Give yourself fully to Him. Glory awaits us.

What God Wants

God needs nothing from us, but there is something He wants from us. Do you have it?

Today’s reading: Isaiah 65-66; 2 Thessalonians 1

1Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
2 All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.          Isaiah 66:1-2

9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.                                                                                                                                                                               2 Thessalonians 1:9-10

In the closing chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the coming new heavens and new earth. Every pain, every disappointment, every sorrow of this world will be eliminated and forgotten (65:17). Who will enjoy this new creation? Who will have God’s favor? Surprisingly for those who don’t know God well, it is not those who have pompously tried to impress God. God doesn’t need our works. He doesn’t need a “house.” He inhabits the universe. There is nothing we can build for Him that would adequately reflect His glory.

But there is something in humans that gets God’s attention: a humble and contrite spirit that shows itself in trembling at His word. God is glorified properly by all who bow before Him and who take His word seriously. They may also be used by Him to do great things, but the key element of their lives is a heart that bows in worship before Him.

Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, puts his call to holiness in the context of the return of Jesus Christ in judgment. Believers suffer at the hands of those who neither know God nor obey the gospel of Christ. Paul wants his readers to focus on living in a way that is worthy of the kingdom of God, worthy of His calling. He prays to God to work in them to this end, and he charges them to make every effort in this direction, too.

God looks for the contrite, humble heart, one that fears no one but God. Does He find that in you?

Don’t Put Out the Fire

Beware, Christians, we can act in ways that seriously jeopardize our relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 62-64; 1 Thessalonians 5

10 But they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
and himself fought against them. Isaiah 63:10

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 5:19

Need we be concerned about our responses to the Holy Spirit? Is there a danger we will in some way offend, resist, grieve, or quench the Spirit of God? Are we not secure in our relationship to God through faith in Christ? Could we, Christians, act in ways that seriously jeopardize that relationship? Both Isaiah and Paul tell us the answer is “yes”!

Isaiah described the attitudes of Israel as those of rebellious children, laden with iniquity, despisers of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 1:2-4). God’s people will go into captivity because they have turned the Lord against them through their rebellion and grieving of His Holy Spirit.

Paul commended the Thessalonians as those who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” Certainly, they had been born again and delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Nevertheless, Paul was concerned about their spiritual well-being and, now, in his concluding words, he charges them not to quench the Spirit. He would not be saying this unless there were a danger that they could actually do it. He gives them several instructions as to their relationships with their leaders, their brothers who may be struggling, and their enemies. He tells them to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks. Then he adds, “Do not quench the Spirit.” He warns them about two wrong responses to prophecies: despising them and believing them without testing them. He urges them to hold fast what is good and reject all evil.

Yes, we are secure in our relationship to God through faith in Jesus Christ, but the Holy Spirit is God, the third member of the Trinity.  Our relationship to God is no different from our relationship to the Son and the Spirit.  Salvation is worked out in obedience (Philippians 2:12,13).  Where salvation through faith exists, there will be obedience and, as needed, prompt confession and  repentance for disobedience.

The Holy Spirit has been identified with fire (Luke 3:16; Acts 2:1-4). Paul is warning his readers about the danger of pouring water on the fire of the Holy Spirit in their lives through ungodly attitudes toward others, selfish living, prayerlessness, and other evils. The Spirit of God is Holy and never leads us into such behaviors. Today, be led by the Spirit. Beware of quenching or grieving Him.

 

Why We Can’t See God

Sin is what blocks us from seeing and hearing God. He calls us to holiness, but we disobey, especially, although not exclusively, in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.                                                        Isaiah 59:1-2

7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.                                                                            1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

The problem is sin. It has been the problem since our first parents listened to the serpent and ate of the forbidden fruit. What did they get? They got the knowledge of good and evil. And we got it, too, along with death! We all find evil attractive, even irresistible. It may be as subtle as a snarky put-down or as grotesque as murderous rage, as imperceptible as a flirtatious glance or as devastating as serial adultery. Sin comes in many colors and shapes, all of them tempting and soul-killing but none of them truly satisfying. Worst of all, it results in our not seeing or hearing God. We tend to conclude He is not there.

Isaiah wrote to ancient Israel telling them that their sin was what was blocking their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing God. It was not God who was hiding from them. He is there in plain sight, seen and heard in His acts of Creation and Providence. Seen and heard in His revealed Word.

Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica with the words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (vs. 3a). He then specifically mentions abstinence from sexual immorality for the next 5 verses, topped off with a paragraph about brotherly love.

In case they don’t see the urgency of this, he turns to the subject of the return of Christ, His descent from heaven, the cry of command, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead.When Christ returns, all eyes will see Him. There will be no vacillating. We will be exposed at last. The shouts of rejoicing will mix with the cries of remorse.

Is there hope for sinners? Yes, indeed! For God has done what no human being could do. “His own arm brought him salvation…” writes the prophet (Isaiah 59:16). In the end, “…nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive and “so we will always be with the Lord.” But the time is now. Do not assume there is no God. Assume that it is your sin that blinds your eyes. But He may be found because “all who call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13). Call on Him, today.

Distress and Comfort

While the Christian rests in his relationship to God through Christ, he is not unaffected by the circumstances of everyday life, including the spiritual state of those he loves.

Today’s reading: Isaiah 56-58; 1 Thessalonians 3

15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.                                               Isaiah 57:15

6 But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you— 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.                                                                                        1 Thessalonians 3:6-8

Paul was not a little anxious about the Thessalonians. Twice he uses the phrase “[we or I] could bear it no longer” (3:1,5). He wanted to know how those new believers were doing. He finally sent Timothy to them and learned that they were not only standing firm in the gospel but were impacting the whole region.

Isaiah reports how God who is high and lifted up also dwells with the one who is “of a contrite and lowly spirit.” If God is with us, assuming we qualify as having “a contrite and lowly spirit,” do we need anything more? No, not really. God is enough. The psalmist said,  “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

Yet Paul could not bear the anxiety of not knowing if the young disciples in Thessalonica were doing well, not reverting to idol worship. Did Paul lack faith? Was he too dependent on being successful in his work? No. We can see that Paul had a tender heart toward those he taught. It was natural, not sinful. He made the sacrifice of sending Timothy to inquire about them. There was nothing wrong with doing that. We would not expect a sincere minister or missionary to be cold and uncaring about those he has served in the gospel.

So we are right to be concerned about those whose spiritual lives could be in jeopardy. We are right to do what we can to care for them and to keep up with their circumstances and progress. In the final analysis, however, our greatest comfort and joy will be that “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” dwells with us and revives our hearts. Don’t be unfeeling toward others, but let God’s presence be the bedrock of your spirit to comfort you in distress.