Thursday, April 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-19 [Insights from Isaiah] A beautiful hope and a great power

A beautiful hope and a great power

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.      (Isaiah11:6-9)
These verses are a lovely example of Hebrew Poetry:
  • Vivid imagery featuring polar opposites (wolf & lamb) (child & cobra)
  • Parallel structures: Two strophes with three lines about animals and one (or two) about a child
  • The two lines about children and snakes are a parallelism
  • It ends with strong inclusive imagery (mountain, earth and sea)

This vivid, imagination-igniting imagery was carefully and poetically crafted as a powerful expression of the hope that Isaiah has in the coming Messiah.

But you may ask:
"Isn't it all pie-in-the-sky?"
"What possible comfort can these verses offer when these images describe a reality that is just too good to be true?"
"Isn't Isaiah creating false hope? There is no point in Israel's history where any of this happened."

Three points need to be made about this:

Firstly, this poetic language that is being used to describe our ultimate destiny. It's talking about heaven and the peace and harmony that we will experience in the presence of the Lord. The poetry points to peace, harmony and healing. This is a strong hope.

Secondly, while this is poetry, it hints at the significant power of the Messiah to bring about restoration. He is more than able to heal and restore and renew. Can He heal my broken soul? Can He restore my broken relationships? Can He bring justice to a broken world? Well... He can bring the wolf and the lamb together, He can make the lion a vegetarian and He can make the world safe for a child. While we don't see it in its full reality yet, but we have experienced this incredible power when we were forgiven and when we forgive others...

Which brings us to the third point... While the full reality is yet to come, it is not just pie-in-the-sky. Every time we ask for God's forgiveness, every time a relationship is restored and every time a memory is healed, we are experiencing a taste of the hope and power we referred to in points one and two. Think about the peace that flooded your heart when you knew your sins were forgiven - was that not the leopard lying down with the goat? Think about the relief of a relationship restored - was that not the cow feeding with the bear?

When Jesus died on the cross, His sacrifice was powerful enough to heal the world. While the full healing is still coming, the magnitude of its goodness inspires us and gives us hope, and in the meantime we draw on the power of the Messiah to bring hope and healing to our corners of the world.

And so we regularly pray:
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven."

(Tomorrow we'll take a look at a BEAUTIFUL example of heaven on earth from the life of Hezekiah)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-18 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #4

A shoot from the stump #4

and He will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.      (Isaiah11:3-5)
As Isaiah lists the qualities of an ideal "shoot from the stump", we recognise that these are high standards for any king.

Here's Isaiah's list:
- delights in the fear of the Lord
(loving, loyal obedience)
- is impartial
(not being deceived by "hearsay" and "eyesay")
- judging with righteousness and justice,
- and being fair to the poor and the needy
(when the powerful and rich can exert such pressure)
- carries strong authority in word and deed
- leads so that righteousness and faithfulness are seen as part of his uniform.

This is the standard for a good king.

Hezekiah had many of these qualities.
And we desperately hope for these qualities in our presidents and leaders.

But when we look at Jesus we see all of them!

  • Think of His loving, loyal obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Think about how he shielded the woman caught in adultery from injustice at the hands of the religious tyrants, but also confronted her sin
  • Think of how He overturned the money-changer's tables and confronted hypocrisy.
  • Think about how Pilate and the Roman Centurion instinctively recognised his righteousness and innocence.

Indeed Jesus was the ideal "shoot from the stump".

But we also recognise that Hezekiah embodied many of these qualities, albeit imperfectly, and we pray the same for our leaders.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-17 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)

Isaiah worked during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah...
  • Uzziah was a good king, but he became ambitious and wanted to be priest as well as king. He was struck with leprosy and completed his reign from isolation, but left the legacy of a good son.
  • Jotham was a good king and brought blessing and prosperity to Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Unfortunately his son Ahaz was incredibly evil and his reign brought disaster and suffering on the land.
  • Hezekiah was a really good king who did a lot to bring the people back to the Lord. He restored the temple, re-established the celebration of the passover, and many other things.

This prophecy originated from the dark 16 years of Ahaz's reign.
It was temporarily fulfilled by Hezekiah who was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, acted with wisdom and understanding and walked in the fear of the Lord.

But Hezekiah also made mistakes and so Israel (and all of humankind) waited for the the prophecy to be ultimately and finally fulfilled.

The One who would fulfil this was conceived by the Spirit to be born into our world. He was filled with the Spirit as He was baptised and commenced His mission to be our sin-bearer. Then He was forsaken by the Spirit on the cross as He bore our sins and God's wrath. Ultimately He was raised from the dead by the Spirit and sends the Spirit into our hearts.

While David, Uzziah and Hezekiah and many others feared and respected the Lord, all of them came to a point where they placed their own desires ahead of God's glory. For David it was lust, for Uzziah it was power, for Hezekiah it was material comfort. Jesus steadfastly put God's will ahead of His own. His "fear" of the Lord was displayed in passionate love and costly obedience when He said "Not my will but Yours be done..."

What an amazing Messiah!!!

Friday, April 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-13 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
Today we're going to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in the Jesus, the Messiah, but also in us.

We've already seen that this is a double-prophecy, partially fulfilled by Hezekiah, but ultimately fulfilled by Christ. It is important that this prophecy applied also to Hezekiah, otherwise we will have to assume that these aspects of the Spirit's work are only available to Christ.

Isaiah believed that the gift of wisdom could be bestowed on people. He gives a full explanation of what it means to have the wisdom of the Spirit.

  • Understanding: The ability to have insight into circumstances, to penetrate the story behind the story. To understand the forces behind the surface issues.
  • Counsel: The ability to give good advice - to be strategic. Particularly to be able to listen, discern and direct.
  • Power: In this context, I would suggest that power has to do with self-mastery and self-control. People who are exceptionally wise are usually people who don't let their tempers or tongues get the better of them.
  • Knowledge: This may refer to supernatural knowledge (knowing things that we would not know by normal means) or an exceptional ability to assimilate knowledge. Elisha demonstrated supernatural knowledge when he knew in advance where one the enemy kings was going to launch surprise attacks. Solomon was renowned for his botanical knowledge (demonstrating the ability to assimilate knowledge)
  • The Fear of the Lord: This has to do with doing things God's way and interpreting life with the clear understanding that God is the Sovereign and Supreme ruler over all and that we are answerable to Him.

This Spirit-given Wisdom resided in Jesus, but He is the same Spirit who would work in us if we would allow Him to...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-12 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
This is a beautiful prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.
We'll have to spend a few days on it...

In the preceding chapters (9-10) Isaiah has talked about how Assyria has arrogantly trampled over Israel and Judah, and they destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. They came close to destroying the Southern Kingdom of Judah, even camping their army outside Jerusalem but God promised deliverance. We know that God did indeed rescue Jerusalem (You can read about it in 2 Kings 18-20)

Hezekiah was the king at this time. We must remember that the Hezekiah was a descendent of David, who was from the tribe of Judah. David's father, Jesse, was a descendant of Judah - one of Jacob's 12 sons. Jesse was the "stump" back when Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin) was king and was shipwrecking the nation. When Jesse's young son David became king, he was a "shoot" that grew into a nation at its best.

So the Israelites hoped that just like David (from the stump of Jesse) restored Israel after Saul had reduced them to chaos, Hezekiah would restore the nation from the ashes of Assyrian domination.

Indeed, the early part rule of Hezekiah was a time of blessing for the Israelites, but eventually Hezekiah was consumed by materialism and ended up having a son who became one of the most evil kings ever to reign.

Israel would eventually be attacked and defeated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the nation would go into exile, but out of that stump, Israel continued and the lineage of Judah, Jesse and David would lead through the domination of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans to a certain Joseph and Mary, a young couple engaged to be married who would have a son and call Him Jesus.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-10 [Insights from Isaiah] A Saviour with four titles

A Saviour with four titles

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      (Isaiah9:2-6)
This is one of the most loved prophecies of Jesus' coming. We often hear it at Christmas time (though often with vs.3,4,5 left out). Lets look at each of the verses and how they relate to Jesus...

v.2. When He opened the eyes of the blind, Jesus identified Himself as the light of the world. John identified Jesus as the light that shines into the darkness and cannot be overcome.

v.3-5.The Midianites were defeated by Gideon's small army of 300 soldiers armed with lanterns, clay pots and trumpets. In the same unexpected way, the birth of a child would bring about the end of violence and war.

v.6. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, (Jn.18) Pilate asked Him if He was a king. Jesus answered by saying that His Kingdom was not of this world. It is not a socio-political kingdom, but one of the heart. It is a kingdom where people's hearts are transformed and set free. It is a kingdom that has seen lives and communities impacted for nearly 2000 years as people have lived lives of love and grace in the name of Christ and have died with the name of Christ on their lips.

While on earth Jesus was the WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR who made truth, hope, love and forgiveness come alive as He taught and forgave. When He ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue being our Counsellor.

He showed that He was more than just a good guru when He healed the sick and rose from the dead. He is the MIGHTY GOD who conquered brokeness, sin, death and Satan.

He revealed the EVERLASTING FATHER. In John 14 and 17 He made it clear that He and the Father are One and that He has revealed the Father perfectly. To a confused Philip He says: "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father."

He is the PRINCE OF PEACE. Paul puts it best: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Not world peace (which never lasts long) but peace with God - and when we all find peace with God we will find peace with one another and peace in the world.

This beautiful prophecy is not only fulfilled, but FILLED out by Jesus. Let's worship His majesty!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-29 [Lent2018] One... Single... Day....

One... Single... Day....

Listen O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you who are symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,and I will remove the sin of this land in one single day.      (Zechariah3:8-9)
In the first part of this symbol rich chapter, Zechariah has had a vision of the high priest Joshua (Joshua is a variant of the name Jesus) who appeared before the throne in scruffy dirty clothes. Satan was there to accuse him for his sin, but God re-clothes him in clean clothes, taking care of sin and the accuser.

The vision continues with the promise that the Branch is coming. This is the same word as the word translated shoot in Isaiah 11 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse...") Then the imagery changes to another Messianic image: The stone. We have seen this before in Psalm 118, and we remember that Peter declares that Christ is both cornerstone (the stone that is the orientation and foundation of the building) and he is the capstone (the purpose and glory of the building.)

The seven eyes on the stone are in all likelihood symbolic of God's omniscience - that He sees all our sin and brokenness. It means that God sees us as we are and doesn't give up on us.

We don't know what the inscription on the stone is, but the result is forgiveness in one single day! It is a breathtakingly accurate and to-the-point Messianic Star: It comes right down to why He came and what it means for us. The image of the stone takes us straight to the rocky outcrop of Golgotha. I have often thought that the inscription on the stone will be 'It is finished!'

Tomorrow we will remember the "one single day" on which our sins were forgiven.

May our hearts be filled with wonder, worship and love and may you be blessed and renewed as you contemplate, remember and celebrate the Cross and the Empty Tomb!

(The picture below says it very well...)

(I'll be taking a break from eDevs until the gov schools start again...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-28 [Lent2018] Beautiful


While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. 9 "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor."
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, "Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.       (Matthew26:6-10)
John's gospel tells us that the woman was Mary (the sister of Lazarus) and that the perfume was worth more than a year's wages. The disciples were taken aback - this was an expansive gesture - it was 'over the top'. We're also told that Jesus' approval of her actions triggered Judas' decision to betray Him.

If i knew that i were facing death by Roman Crucifixion in a few days time, an act of tender and generous love like this one would help me and comfort me a great deal. It is as if the woman, moved by the Spirit, gives Jesus a hug from God the Father Himself.

Some commentators have suggested that as Jesus sweated as He prayed in the garden, as He was whipped and as He carried the cross, His sweat would have pushed the perfume to the surface and Jesus would have been comforted by the scent and the reminder of this act of love.

The soldiers who were manhandling Him may have smelt it too. Perfume, in the culture of the day, was a symbol of blessing and privilege. It may just have given them a hint that they weren't just dealing with a common criminal. Ultimately it may have been just one of the cues that caused the centurion to say: "Surely this was the Son of God!"

The woman's actions challenge us to perform "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" and it is a challenge we must accept.

But this passage is more than just a call to do good and beautiful things for people... I invite you to picture this woman who is moved by Jesus' love and life to do this beautiful thing. She recognises His majesty and His Divinity and treats Him accordingly with great reverence and devotion. She instinctively realises that He is going to die and does a good and beautiful thing for Him.

When you consider what Jesus has done for you, what does it move you to?
This Easter may we be moved to acts of worship and service.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-27 [Lent2018] Triumphal... Tears???

Triumphal... Tears???

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes.      (Luke19:41-42)

The Triumphal Entry is recorded in all four Gospels.

Matthew sees it as a fulfilment of prophecy and notes how Jesus healed many blind and lame in the temple courts. (Healing the blind was a sign of the Messiah). Matthew also notes that there were children singing praises in the temple - and when the Pharisees complain, Jesus comments: "have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?" (A quote from Psalm 8)

Mark makes it clear that although Jesus visited the temple on Palm Sunday, it was only on Monday morning that he overturned the tables of the money changers and sacrifice sellers. This negates the argument that Jesus lost His temper in the temple. His actions were deliberate and focussed. The space that the traders and money-changers were in was the Court of the Gentiles. It was the only place in the temple where a non-Jew could go to pray. His desire and passion was that all could come to the Father.

John's account of the triumphal entry emphasises His Mission. Jesus makes it clear he is going to die for doing the Father's will: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:23-24). As He asks God to be glorified in Him, the Father answers: "I have glorified it and will glorify it again." - A clear sign pointing to the resurrection.

But Luke, who gives the most detailed account brings us an unusual insight. In the midst of the crowd crying Hosanna and the in the midst of the joyful and hopeful celebrations, Jesus weeps over the city. He weeps over their fickleness and unfaithfulness, over their shallow commitment and their bondage to darkness. He weeps because they will call for His crucifixion and take Him to the cross. He weeps over their brokenness and warns that even the faithful can harden their hearts...

This is why He goes to the cross...

What do you see at the start of this Holy Week?

  • A Healer - More than a Man - heading to fulfil all the promises and bring us healing?
  • A Passionate Saviour - Overturning tables so that we can be with God?
  • The Son of God doing what the Father wants?
  • A Son of God who loves us and weeps for us?

May we see Jesus in all His compassion, love and glory this Holy Week.

Friday, March 16, 2018

EmmDev 2018-03-16 [Lent2018] Life's biggest question

Life's biggest question

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."      (Matthew16:13-16)
I'd be fascinated to put out a survey to get people's opinion on what "Life's most important question" is.

I think we'd get some of these...

  • What is my purpose?
  • How do I find happiness/fulfilment/peace/hope/success/etc ?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Who should I marry?
  • etc...
Jesus asks a life-changing question of the disciples:
"Who do you say I am?"

And there are many answers: A prophet, a guru, a wise man, a preacher, a teacher, an example, a guide, a significant influence, and a good man.

There could be negative answers too, like deranged, deluded, manipulative, dishonest, etc but strangely enough none of these negatives stick under a close scrutiny of the narratives about Jesus - critics criticise Christianity, but very few who have looked at the evidence criticise Jesus - most speak with grudging admiration of his ethics and example.

But Peter articulates the core truth:
"You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."
Here are thoughts that could keep us busy until Easter:

  • Christ - the long awaited Messiah who will rescue us
  • The Son - part of the God family, obedient to the Father, all of His Divine Majesty squeezed into a human existence, frail, fragile and killable.
  • of the Living God - the Father sends and gives Him to us.

Lent culminates in Easter - the death and resurrection of the One who asks "Who do you say I am?"

Our Lent journey needs to include your own wrestling with this:

  • Is He a historical religious figure at the centre of stories you have heard since childhood?
  • Is He part of a religious outlook you have on life, the custodian of some life-rules that you have?
  • Or... is He the One who shows you what God and love are about
    The One who is powerful enough to save you completely
    The One who conquers death by His own death
    The One who calls you "my daughter" / "my son"
    The One who deserves all your love and allegiance

This is Lent's big question!
I imagine Peter answered this while looking into Jesus' eyes.
So should we...

I'll be taking some time-out next week.
The eDevs will continue in Holy Week...