Isaiah 52:13-52:12

             “He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him.”  As I was reflecting on this phrase this morning and contemplating the life and death of Jesus on this most holy of days, Good Friday, I began to think about Abraham Lincoln, of all people.  You see, in his ascendancy to the presidency and in his time in office Lincoln was routinely caricatured in political cartoons as an ape or baboon.  Memoirs of people who had seen the president often commented on how extremely normal and homely he appeared.  In fact, Lincoln was quite gangly; he was tall with very long arms and legs.  Indeed, he did look something like an oddity.  Yet, when Lincoln spoke, people listened and were amazed at his intelligence, ability to connect with people, and his grasp of political philosophy.
             Sometimes I wonder if our Lord was actually physically here on earth today if most people would even remotely recognize him.  Perhaps Jesus would be ridiculed and despised, just like he was all those centuries ago.  I think it is safe to say that he would not make it to the cover of GQ, or make commercials selling underwear.  Instead, Jesus came as a humble servant.  He suffered throughout his life, endured a horrible death by torture, and secured for us deliverance from the power of sin.  God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
             Most people have forgotten that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday in 1865.  Just as the press did not miss a beat to castigate Lincoln while he was alive, they quickly recognized the parallels between him and Christ in their respective deaths.  But while Lincoln was clearly identified with the American people in their baptism of blood with the Civil War, his was not a salvific death.  Only Jesus, in his singular suffering, died as a substitute for us.  Perhaps Jesus had no outward beauty, but his inward beauty has not only drawn me to him, but saved me from an empty life of sin.  Praise be to God!
             Lord Jesus, you were the suffering servant who has pioneered salvation for me.  Thank you for your sacrifice, and I give eternal praise and gratitude for your willingness to endure the cross.  My heart and life is yours; use it as you see fit.  Amen.

Isaiah 43:8-15

            I am an unabashed Calvinist – a Reformed theologian and pastor.  I believe in God’s unconditional election of persons to salvation and new life.  Maybe that means nothing to you, and to others it means everything.  For many, it is just some churchy mumbo-jumbo that is rather irrelevant to the real stuff of the Christian life.  But it is quite important.  The heart of Reformation faith is a focus on God – his sovereignty, majesty, power, and grace.  It is God who justifies, and not any human.  That means there are no “conditions” to which God is beholden to act.  In other words, God works in his world according to his own free will and is not dependent upon anyone or anything to accomplish his good purposes.
             Today’s Old Testament lesson is a soaring view of God in his grace and powerful control.  “Yes, from eternity I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I act and who can cancel it?”  God’s rhetorical question lets us know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  We might jump from finger to finger in our puny attempts at autonomy, but we are not getting out of God’s hand!  This really ought to be a comfort to every believer.  God’s decrees will be fulfilled, and there is not one thing that any wicked person can do to thwart his plans.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no way we can screw-up God’s purposes.  We simply do not have such power.  Our great task as believers is to rest secure in God’s will and place our trust in Him who knows exactly what he is doing in the world.
             So, take a few minutes, draw a few deep breaths, and think on this wonderful truth that God is sovereign.  To help you, here is the great opening to the Reformed confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, giving us a glimpse into the majesty of God:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.

Isaiah 43:1-7

            There are times when our souls can become parched and dry, times when it seems no one quite understands, and as if circumstances might overwhelm the spirit.  The best remedy to such times is to fill oneself full of God, his grace and love.  Today’s Old Testament lesson is the perfect prescription for those passing through difficulty and/or wondering what lies ahead, fearful of the future.  As I do often, here is my translation and interpretation of this encouraging passage of Holy Scripture; may it fortify your soul today and lead you through the sticking points of life:
Now listen up to what the LORD says, the One who created you and formed you:
“Don’t be afraid, because I’m the God who has bought you from the auction block with the ultimate price;
            I have called you by name, and you are now mine.
When you are in water over your head, I want you to know that I will be with you;
            and when it seems like you are drowning, please understand that I’ve got you;
when you walk through fiery trials, I want you to know that you will not be burned,
            and the circumstance will not consume you and burn you out.
This will all be true because I am the LORD your God,
            the Holy One, your Savior.
I put everyone around you in their place,
            and there is no one who is in a position to buy you back from me.
Because you are infinitely precious in my eyes,
            and honored, and I love you,
there is nothing I would not give for you,
            nothing I would not do to keep you with me.
Don’t be afraid, because I am with you always;
            I will gather all my children from the east and from the west,
            so that you will never be alone on this earth.
In fact, I will command all the ends of this planet of yours
            to not withhold, to bring together every son and daughter from the farthest reaches,
everyone who is called by my name,
            whom I created for my glory,
            whom I formed and made.
You are all in this life together,
            and I, the LORD, am watching over each and every one of you. 


Bank on it.”

Isaiah 61:1-7

             All of Scripture is God-breathed and his self-revelation.  Yet, there are some passages of the Bible that, although not any more significant, control other parts of Holy Scripture.  I call these “boss” verses; they are sections that bring light and authority to the entirety of the Bible.  Today’s Old Testament lesson is a “boss” section of Scripture.  It both encapsulates the message of the Bible as well as projecting an intentional focus of life and ministry for us.
            “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; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor… to comfort all who mourn.”  The Lord Jesus picked up these verses and read them in the inauguration of his ministry to his fellow Jews in the synagogue.  He did so because God’s message would be fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  This, then, is an overarching message which is like a big tent idea that controls all of Holy Scripture.
            There ought really to be no doubt, of even the casual reader of the Bible, that God is deeply concerned with the poor, the needy, the grieving, and the spiritually destitute whose souls require hope and rescue.  Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor; he preached the good news of God’s kingdom.  He blessed the poor in spirit and those who mourn.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Christians have a message of good news to proclaim.  Just as Jesus came in the flesh to rescue the needy, so we who have been delivered from sin’s prison, are to embody the message of redemption to others in desperate need of rescue.
            Who is in need of God’s good news in your relational sphere of influence?  How might you bring Christ to them both in speech and in the flesh?  What needs are in their lives which Jesus might fulfill?  Will you intentionally and fervently pray for them every day for the next two weeks?


            Merciful God, your grace has saved me from myself and an empty way of life.  May I never lose sight of what you have done for me.  Anoint me to proclaim the good news of Jesus so that many others might be rescued from their desperate plight.  Amen.

Isaiah 6:1-5

            Isaiah saw a vision of God in his throne room.  It was a grand, majestic, and transcendent vision of a God who dominates the entire setting.  The train of God’s robe filled the temple.  This is Isaiah’s way of saying that the vision he saw was a really big one.  God is immense and huge.  It is vital that we see the bigness of our God.  Gaining a vision of the hugeness of God is what causes our human problems to be seen as small.
            We are to take our cues from the seraphs that were worshiping God.  They were in the presence of God’s immensity and the seraphs gave unceasing praise.  A seraph is an angel with the job description to glorify God with continual adoration.  The seraphs physical description symbolizes their function:  covering their face symbolizes humility in God’s presence; covering their feet identifies that they are on holy ground; and, flying symbolizes their work to do God’s bidding. 
            So, then, the seraphs have two-thirds wing power for worship, and one-third wing power for work.  If this is any kind of indication how God’s creatures are to conduct their lives, we as humans have a great deal of life-adjustment to make in order to accommodate the worship of God into our lives. 
            Perhaps we see our problems as so large because we have a small view of God.  This must be inverted so that we see a big God who can take care of our puny situations.  The only way this is going to happen is if we have a vision of God, and the only way having a vision of God is going to occur is if we put ourselves in a position to see God. 


            Holy God, you are very large and very in charge over all your creation.  When I contemplate your bigness, I realize how small I am and how much I really need you.  My life is yours.  Here I am.  I belong to you. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-9

            No more appropriate Scripture could be highlighted during the season of Advent:  “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”  As Christians, we believe this is a prophecy of Jesus in whom all of these virtues exist in wonderful perfection and practice.
            Jesus has so clearly identified with us that we are in a vital union with him.  He still exists here on earth in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus was sent by the Father.  With the Father and the Son, the Spirit was sent to press the redemptive events of Jesus into the believer’s heart.  This is basic robust Trinitarian theology.  But these are not abstract ideas.  Prayer, discernment, and listening are the pathways forward to discovering the wisdom, counsel, and knowledge we need in order to live and serve well as Christians.
            In many quarters of Christianity the church exists as a mere stump of its former existence.  In many Christians’ daily experience the Spirit has been supplanted by individual ingenuity, hard work, and getting ahead through accumulation of more and more.  Basic Christian spirituality is a mere shadow of its former influence.  If we again desire the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon us, we will seek Christ as of foremost importance.  Let this Advent season be a time of renewal as we take the prophecy of Isaiah to heart.


            Righteous God, you have not forgotten your people.  Thank you for fulfilling all your good promises to us in Christ.  I seek you for everything so that I might do your work and implement your will instead of trusting in my own abilities.  May Jesus be glorified and praised through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.