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Archive for August, 2017

Have you ever felt all by yourself?  I have.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I picked up my Bible first thing and read Isaiah 59.  Instead of giving me life, I allowed the Enemy to steal the encouragement of the Word and accuse me with it.  If I had just stopped at verse 1 and meditated, I think I would have had a different kind of day.

Behold, the Lord‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
    or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; ~Isaiah 59:1

It’s verse 2 that did me in.

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 59:2

The condemnation I felt as I read this was overwhelming.  Being in a place where justice is not evident and wrongs have not been righted personally, it was easy for the Enemy to use that against me and bring accusation and discouragement.

Despite the fact that we all sin, to feel as though God is not hearing or acting on our behalf because we are separating ourselves by our own sinfulness is quite a place of despair – especially when you’re not really sure what sin it could possibly be.  Still, this is the reality for us all until Christ saves us.  After we are made right with Him, however, he hears us.  He acts upon on behalf.  He forgives our sin and he guides us in all truth.

The people Isaiah is speaking to here are not right with God.  They may be His covenant people, but they are not acting in accordance with his order.  Verses 3-8 describe their sin in detail.  They are speaking lies, making trouble, harming one another and they are failing to call for justice and plead for truth.  They are doing wrong and they are refusing to do right.  These are the reasons God will not listen to them or bring justice to them.

Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. ~Isaiah 59:9

Therefore – because of these reasons and all your wrongdoing, lack of concern for righteousness and justice – because of this, justice for you is far away; righteousness is not with you.

Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice. ~Isaiah 59:15

Truth is lacking.  That is a powerful statement.  When truth is lacking, much evil follows.  Even those who sought truth and stopped sinning had a hard lot.  They became prey for those who did not repent.  The Lord saw this.  The Lord was greatly concerned for this particular society of people.  The most offensive thing to God was perhaps not even the sin itself – it was that there was no justice.  There was no judgement.  No repentance.  No reconciliation.  God longed to be made right with these people but there was not even a shred of repentance.  Their hearts were as hard as ever.

He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him. ~Isaiah 59:16

Here is most powerful verse in the entire chapter.  God saw that there was no one – no man fit, no one righteous, no one who cared.  God did not throw up his hands or shrug his shoulders.  God did it himself!!!  How glorious!  Sin abounded, yet grace abounded all the more!!!  Matthew Henry says it this way:

“Since magistrates and societies for reformation fail of doing their part, one will not do justice nor the other call for it, God will let them know that he can do it without them when his time shall come thus to prepare his people for mercy, and then the work of deliverance shall be wrought by the immediate operations of the divine Providence on men’s affections and affairs.”

To whom shall God perform this goodness?  This mercy?  To whom will he bring justice?

“And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. ~Isaiah 59:20

The Redeemer will come to those who turn from transgression.  Those who turn!  Those who repent!  Those who turn their eyes upon Jesus!  Amen!  God makes a way for sinners!  He does not cast us out!  He does not shun and avoid us!  He does not condemn and accuse us!  He saves us!  That is encouraging!

And the promises are laid upon Christ and his bride.  The church will continue always until the end of time and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!  Amen!

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In the very short book of Obadiah, this little known prophet speaks a word of both judgement and encouragement.  Obadiah’s book is only one chapter but R.C. Sproul notes that the authority of his message is seated in the authority of God rather than the prominence, or lack thereof, of this messenger.  Sproul’s observation is something we can put into our pocket and remember when a word of truth comes to us from an unknown or unlikely source.

Obadiah writes his prophesy primarily for two reasons or to two groups of people.  He begins:

The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
    and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”

Obadiah is writing about Edom.  Edom took part in a military assault on Jerusalem.  Judah was defeated and Edom prospered.  Both were covenant people of God.  Justice was not obvious during this time and it could easily have seemed to the people of Judah that they were living in opposite world.  We often feel the same way, too, when evil triumphs over good and wrongdoers win while the innocent suffer.  This is where Judah was.  Obadiah writes this message to make clear to both the people of Judah and the people of Edom that justice was coming.  God used Obadiah to convey also that he had great concern and compassion for the people of Judah.  He is writing to his people for both warning and encouragement, respectively.  Both groups needed this message.

God’s people of Judah needed to hear and understand that they were not forgotten and that God did indeed see their suffering.  They needed to know that God was deeply concerned for them and that it doubtless would be made right in time.

God’s people of Edom needed to hear that God was not pleased and their their victory and prosperity was soon coming to an end.  They needed to remember that God punishes injury – especially injury done to his own people.

Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
    you shall be utterly despised.
The pride of your heart has deceived you,
    you who live in the clefts of the rock,
    in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
    “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
    though your nest is set among the stars,
    from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord. ~Obadiah 1:2-4

Here, in verses 2-4, God is saying, “Hey Edomites – hey group of people who hurt my people, who by the way are your people too – I am going to make you small among the nations.  Maybe your brothers could not overcome you but I can.  I can and I will.  And God does do just that and fulfill this prophesy.

Why?

Your pride, Edom.  The reason you are being brought low by God himself is because of your pride.  Your pride has deceived your heart.  You may think you’re safe and high and mighty but I – the God of the universe – remember me? – I will bring you down and make you small.  Maybe your brother could not succeed against you and your pride but I can.

Furthermore, in verses 5-9 God goes on to share some more bad news with the people of Edom.  Obadiah assures them that the very people they trusted in – the worldly friends they made at the expense of their brothers – those guys were not their friends at all.  The prophet tells them that the worldly people they trusted in and used to hurt their brothers would be used by God to bring them down.  The ones they trust will be the ones who will conspire against them.  This is justice.  Edom betrayed his brothers so he would be betrayed by those he trusts.

“Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.
12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother
    in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
    in the day of their ruin;
do not boast[e]
    in the day of distress.
13 Do not enter the gate of my people
    in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
    in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
    in the day of his calamity.
14 Do not stand at the crossroads
    to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
    in the day of distress.

15 For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.

As you have done, it shall be done to you;
    your deeds shall return on your own head. ~Obadiah 1:10-15

The prophet goes on saying that Edom will be ashamed and cut off forever.  That is a pretty harsh word and the reason given for it is the violence done to their brothers.  God is saying that this injustice they have done has not gone unnoticed.  It is not a small matter.  God is not about to overlook their treachery.  They joined the enemy in order to get ahead and they injured their own people on purpose all for their own benefit and false security.  God is saying, “I saw what you did and judgement is coming.”

Consider verse 11.

 On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.

Remember when you acted like you didn’t see foreigners taking everything from your own brother’s house?  Remember when you sided with the enemy against him and participated in their assault against your own people?  Well don’t gloat about your victory.  Don’t rejoice.  Don’t boast.  Don’t loot.  Because guess what?  The day of the Lord is near.  God’s justice is coming, boys.  As you have done, it shall be done to you.

The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
    and the house of Joseph a flame,
    and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
    and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
for the Lord has spoken. ~Obadiah 1:18

Esau.  Esau, this is what happens when you sell your brother out for a bowl of soup; for worldly gain; for selfish ambition; for self-centered self-worship.  You lose.  God sees.  God’s wrath repays.  R.C. Sproul puts it this way: “Edom is doomed because they broke the law of brotherly compassion by joining, in malicious merriment, with God’s enemies as they destroyed Judah…The exploitation of a brother’s adversity showed that Edom’s true loyalty was toward getting ahead in the world, in disregard of moral and spiritual absolutes. The seeds of Edom’s moral character were sown by their ancestor Esau, who shows that he cares more for earthly enjoyment than for God’s kingdom by despising his birthright of covenant blessings and marrying Hittite wives.”

Wow.  Think how encouraging it would be for the people of Judah to hear this in their place of felt betrayal, defeat, and humiliation.  Friends, God sees the injustices done to us.  He sees when your own friends and family betray, injure, and side with the enemy for their own advancement and benefit.  God is concerned about that kind of thing.  Even in the dark places of loss, loneliness, and rejection dealt by those who should have loved and protected us, God is working.  He will bring justice and appropriate discipline to those who wrong his own people.

Therefore, we must take Obadiah;s words to heart lest we begin to doubt God’s goodness in those times.  May our brothers who betray us repent before they are judged and may we know God’s love for us as we wait for either his justice or their repentance.  Amen.

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 After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. ~ Acts 18:1

Let’s begin with Paul.  Here’s a guy who used to be the poster child for religious hypocrisy.  He had been passionate about rules, manmade regulations, and punishing, disgracing, and even approving of the murder of anyone who did not submit to and obey those practices.  He was the epitome of self-righteousness.  That is what he was.  This is exactly who he was before his conversion.

Miraculously, Paul was changed by none other than the power of God.  Here, now, in our eighteenth chapter of Acts, we find him Paul the missionary rather than Saul the murderer.  Now, he is traveling from place to place sharing the gospel with whomever he can whenever possible.   Now, he was a great evangelist missionary.  He went to people who were just like he had been previously to try and show them the truth of the gospel.

That’s what we find him doing in Acts chapter 18.  Verse one says he left Athens and went to Corinth.  In Athens he had preached in the synagogue and the marketplace every day.  (Acts 17:17) Every.  Single.  Day.  He points everyone in the vicinity to Christ.  He understands exactly how to answer them.  He knows all their objections and arguments before they even make them because, remember, he was what they were not too very long ago – lost.

He lands in Corinth and what does he do?

And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks. ~Acts 18:2-4

First Paul makes some Jewish friends.  He gets to know some people who are in his line of work and he stays with them.  Then, he goes to the synagogue.  He goes into the most religious place of his time and the text says he “reasoned.”  He reasoned with everyone there every…single…week.  This would be like one of us going to a church who was operating in error every week and trying to explain to the leaders what the Bible actually teaches.

How did these very religious men react to his weekly gospel preaching and repetitive apologetics lessons?

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. ~Acts 18:5-7

Paul is testifying about Christ and the religious people “opposed and reviled him.”  In other words, they called him a liar.  They publicly slandered and abused him any way they could.  They did all they possibly could to hate him and rid their religious club of his true words and his teaching.

So, Paul leaves – but not without shaking the dust from his clothing and publicly denouncing their abuse and unbelief while professing his innocence as well.  Then what?

Instead of hopping right into another synagogue, Paul goes next door to the house of a man named Titius Justus.  So, next door to the synagogue he just got hated out of, he plants a church of pagans – well, Gentiles – who generally did not know God at least in any formal way.  But Justus did.  This house church becomes the seed of none other than the Corinthian Church.

This is truly amazing.  It is encouraging to know that justice took place in the house of a man who just happened to be named “Justus.”  It is in Justus’ house that God begins a great work in a city in desperate need of the gospel.  Awesome.

Next, the ruler of the synagogue gets saved along with his whole family.  The Holy Spirit comes to Paul and tells him to keep speaking and teaching.  The Holy Spirit encourages Paul and he continues in Corinth for a year and a half.

Later, the Jews gang up on him again and bring him before the civil authorities.  Verse 12 says they “made a united attack.”  All the unbelieving Jews band together to falsely accuse and discredit Paul.  It doesn’t work out well for them because the authorities end up beating the new synagogue ruler, Sosthenes, and dismissing the case.  (Acts 18:17)

What goes around comes around, folks.  These guys hated Paul and abused him for loving them enough to tell them the truth and the gospel faithfully – week after week – and they reaped exactly what they sowed.  Paul, on the other hand, planted a successful church by the hand of God.  The reason he succeeded is because he obeyed the Holy Spirit and because he absolutely, positively refused to compromise with religious regimes and falseness that centered on man’s work and self-sufficiency.

The gospel is all about God’s work.  Religion is all about man’s work.  I don’t know about you, but I am not the slight bit interested in the latter.

Be encouraged.  If religious people hate you, and they will if you tell them the truth – especially when they are operating in gross error, you are in good company.  They hated Paul, too, and he was the greatest missionary who ever lived.  And, of course, we can’t forget how much they hated Jesus.  With that, I leave you with Jesus’s words to the religious pretenders of his day:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” ~John 8:39-47

 

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