Peter Misselbrook's Blog
19/10/2019 - Isaiah 51:17-52:12 – Wake up!

The Lord calls upon his people to wake up from the lethargy of their despair (51:17). He had made them drink the cup of his wrath because of their disobedience. He is now taking that cup away from them. They will not have to drink from it again (51:22). That cup of God's judgment has now been passed on to those who have tormented them; Babylon will now feel the weight of God's judgment.

The city of Jerusalem, or Zion, had shared in the fate of the people of God. When God's people had been taken off into captivity the city had been abandoned and reduced to rubble. Now it is called to wake up from its dusty slumbers and put on garments of splendour. It is to be filled again with a people who know, love and worship the Lord (52:1).

In 52:7 we read of messengers being sent running to Jerusalem to proclaim the good news that God is about to save and restore his people:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

The city is pictured with watchman standing on its fallen walls, seeking to guard the ruins from further attack and destruction. They will be the first to see the Lord himself leading his people back into their inheritance; they will shout with joy as they see the Lord returning to Zion (52:8; see also the lovely picture in 52:12 of the way the Lord leads and cares for his people – as in the days of the Exodus). What God is about to do will transform the mockery of the world into worship:

The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. (52:10)

But how is this mighty act of salvation to be accomplished? The Lord will raise up a Saviour for his people, one who will not save by military power but by giving himself for the salvation of his people (more of that in our next reading from Isaiah). It is the Suffering Servant of the Lord who will amaze the nations with his saving power.

During the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote a book entitled The Babylonian Captivity of the Church. He was aware that the church of his day needed God to visit it again with his salvation, waken it up to its own dire state and lead it out of captivity. We are surely aware of the need for God to visit us again in our day. Many church buildings stand as empty, or all but empty, monuments to the glories of a past age. Others are crumbling to dust or have been converted for other use. The number of those who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus seem to be diminishing – at least in the UK. It is easy to lose heart.

But God has not changed. What he has done in the past he can do again in our day. We need to shake off the dust of discouragement and realise afresh that our God is able to do more than we ask or imagine. We need to clothe ourselves with strength – a strength that comes from him and not from ourselves – and to proclaim what God has done in Christ for the salvation of the world, that "all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."

Father God, many still mock your name, pointing to the ruins of your church and dismissing every suggestion of your power. Yet we rejoice that you are God and that "Our God reigns!" Awaken us with the joy of your salvation and open the eyes of the world to see your saving power in the Lord Jesus Christ: power made perfect in weakness; life given to the dead; light shining upon those who sit in darkness; hope given to those who languish in despair. Give us beautiful feet to run with the good news of your salvation. Equip us by your Spirit to call upon the world, "Awake, awake!"

18/10/2019 - Isaiah 51:1-16 – Salvation for Zion

Isaiah 51 begins with words of assurance from God for those who are seeking his salvation. They are to remember what God did for them in the past. Remember how he chose Abraham and promised to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens and give them a land flowing in milk and honey. God fulfilled his promises and he will do so again:

The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD.
Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing. (Isaiah 51:3)

But he will do more than restore his people to their land. He will fulfil all of his promises to Abraham. He will bring salvation and blessing to all the peoples of the earth (vv. 4-5). The Salvation of the Lord will extend across the world and will last to all eternity (vv. 6,8).

With verse 9 we get a change of voice. In answer to God's promise of salvation his people call out to him:

Awake, awake, arm of the LORD, clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by, as in generations of old.
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced that monster through?
Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea so that the redeemed might cross over? (vv 9-10)

The Lord has reminded them of how he acted in the past and now they call for him to do it again – to save them now as he did when he brought their ancestors out of Egypt (called here by the ancient name "Rahab"), and through the waters of the Red Sea. God's promise to save is turned into a heartfelt plea for him to do it quickly so that:

Those the LORD has rescued will return.
   They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (v 11)

They will again celebrate God's goodness as they come to worship him in Jerusalem. The light of his salvation will chase away the gloom of their present mourning.

Again the voice changes as the Lord answers the cry of his people in verses 13-16. As he promised at the beginning of this section of Isaiah, in 40:1, the Lord promises to comfort those whom had previously afflicted. The one who is their God is the creator of the universe. The one who has set the heavens in place and laid the foundations of the earth says, "You are my people" (verse 16). Nothing is too difficult for him.

God has done all that is necessary for our salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. But his saving activity is not yet complete. Much of the world remains in ignorance of the God's saving work in Christ. His Spirit is still at work in the world, working through the testimony of his people and through his word to bring "justice to the nations" and make "sorrow and sighing … flee away." And we can join in the plea of God's people looking for rescue from Babylon, crying out, "Awake, O Lord, as in the time of old! Come, Holy Spirit, in thy power and might…" But we need also to give legs to our prayers. We also need to wake up to our responsibility and to seek to make Christ and his salvation known.

Lord our God, we thank you for your great and precious promises which we read in every page of Scripture. We thank you that these promises have been sealed to us through the shed blood and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We long for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth as in heaven. Help us to turn your promises into our prayers and then into our activity in seeking to be agents of your kingdom in this world. Give us wisdom to see where your Spirit is at work and to join gladly in that work, under his direction and by his power.

17/10/2019 - Isaiah 50 – Israel's sin and the Servant's obedience

In yesterday's reading we noted that many to whom Isaiah ministered seemed not to have believed the message of salvation that he was bringing them: they argued that God had forgotten them. In the opening verses of this chapter God rebukes this failure to look to him and trust in him. He challenges them asking, "Where is your mother’s certificate of divorce with which I sent her away?" (v. 1). What evidence do they have that God has got rid of his people and wants nothing more to do with them? They may have played the adulteress by turning to idol-gods but God has not wiped his hands of them. He may have sent them away into captivity because of their sin, but he is equally able now to save them. He is the God who dried up the sea before them to rescue them from Egypt, he does not lack the strength to save them now (v. 2).

Verses 4-9 are the third of the Servant Songs. Unlike rebellious Israel, the Servant declares that he has an ear that is open to the instruction of the Lord and has been obedient to God's calling on his life (v. 5). Not only has he always listened to God, he has also spoken the words that the Lord has given him to say – words that sustain the weary (v. 4).

But this gentle healer (42:3), patient worker (49:4) and wise comforter (50:4) has faced brutal opposition:

I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. (v. 6).

The Servant is not turned aside from his task by such opposition, but sets his face like flint towards the completion of his work, confident that the Sovereign Lord will help him and that he will not be disgraced (v. 7). The Lord has not abandoned him and will at last vindicate him in the face of all his accusers (v. 8). He is confident that because the Sovereign Lord is his help, he will not be condemned (v. 9).

The closing verses of this chapter contrast two groups of people (vv. 10-11). On the one hand there are those who, though they may now be sitting in darkness, place their hope in the Lord and listen to the words of his Servant. They will experience his salvation. On the other hand there are those who try to come up with their own solution to the darkness, creating lights for themselves. They will face judgment rather than salvation.

This chapter tells us more about the Suffering Servant of the Lord and again points us to the Lord Jesus. He was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father, doing only what the Father had given him to do and saying only what the Father had sent him to say. Despite the gathering opposition to his ministry and the violence that lay before him, he "set his face like flint" towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). He suffered the cruel torments of false accusation, scourging and the cross without turning back but confident that the Lord his God would vindicate him. And he was raised from the dead not only as Suffering Servant but as Saviour of all who put their trust in him. And we who trust in him share in his victory over all the powers of darkness: "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"; "We are more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:1, 37).

Jesus is the one who has brought light to those who sit in darkness, hope to those who have been in despair. We want others to stop trying to dispel the darkness by making lights for themselves and to turn to and trust in him who is the light of the world.

Lord Jesus, we are filled with thankful wonder when we think of all that you were prepared to suffer for our salvation. Thank you that you did not turn back from the cross. Help us to tell others of the great salvation that is to be found in you alone that they too may be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the light and blessings of your kingdom.

16/10/2019 - Isaiah 49 – God's Servant

As we noticed just over a week ago, there are four Servant songs in these chapters of Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12). So, in verses 1-6 of this chapter the Servant of the Lord is speaking and is summoning all the world to listen to him. He was chosen and prepared for God's service even before he was born (v. 1). He is one in whom God had determined to display his glory (v. 3). But who is this servant?

Initially it seems that the servant is the whole nation of Israel (v. 3). God had chosen this people to be the means through which he would bring his blessing and his salvation to all the peoples of the earth (see Genesis 12:3). He had called them to be a priestly people, acting as mediators between the living God and the nations (Exodus 19:5-6). But Israel would only be able carry out this task if they were obedient to the living God, and this is where they had failed. They had been disobedient to the Lord and instead of bringing the salvation of God to the nations of the world, they had been defeated by the nations.

So the Lord is now raising up an individual who will act as his Servant. His mission is to turn the people of Israel back to their God, but it is far wider than that:

It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. (v. 6)

Where Israel has failed, the Lord's Servant will succeed. He will be the means by which the salvation of God will come "to the Jew first and also to the nations." The Servant will be despised by the powers of this world, but in the end, kings and princes will bow down to him (v. 7), recognising him as King of kings.

The Lord will use his Servant to bring his people out of the nations where they have been scattered into the inheritance he promised to them. He will lead them home and care for them like a shepherd tending his flock (vv. 9-10). The whole of creation is called to join in with songs of praise as God now acts to comfort his people and have compassion on his afflicted ones (v. 13, cf. 40:1).

But so many of those to whom Isaiah was called to minister remained unconvinced concerning God's promise of salvation. Their experience of exile had led them to believe that the Lord had forgotten them (v. 13). This leads to some wonderfully tender words of reassurance:

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (vv. 15-16)

God's saving acts will bring the whole world to know that, "I, the Lord, am your Saviour, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob" (v. 26).

This is what God has done through his Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ (of whom we shall read more in chapter 53). Jesus took upon himself the task of Israel. Where they, like Adam, failed through disobedience, he has succeeded. He has brought salvation not only to Israel but to all the nations of the earth. He is the evidence of God's tender care for all that he has made. He is the one who, like a shepherd with his flock, leads us safely into the inheritance which God has promised his people. All creation shall rejoice in his salvation.

Father God, we thank you for Jesus, the Servant King and rejoice in his salvation. Equip us by your Spirit to be his disciples, joining him in the task of bringing your salvation to all peoples on earth.

15/10/2019 - Isaiah 48 – The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob

God declared he was about to overthrow the power of Babylon so that his people may be released from captivity and return home. But his people must not forget that their captivity was God's act of judgment for their unfaithfulness. They had often spoken the name of the Lord and used his name in making their oaths and promises, but they had failed to honour God's name (v. 1) – they were using it as if it were a magic charm. How often is that true of people around us today? They were boasting that they were citizens of the holy city and that they were protected by the God of Israel who had made his home among them. But they had forgotten the almighty power of the Lord their God (v. 2) – it is not always safe to live in the presence of such a God.

Their stubbornness and unfaithfulness had led to their captivity. The Lord had told them what would happen. He had warned them long ago through Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy that if they turned away from the Lord who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and began to worship other gods and ignore God's laws they would lose their land and be sent away into captivity. Again and again the Lord warned them by his prophets that they were heading for judgment but they had been stiff-necked and had taken no notice. Their captivity should have come as no surprise (vv. 3-5).

Now the Lord is going to reveal something new to them (vv. 6b-8). He had been slow to execute his wrath against his people for he did not want to destroy them but only to discipline them (v. 9). His purpose in their exile and captivity was to refine them through the trouble they had brought on themselves – teaching them the cost of disobedience (v. 10).

The Lord has not punished his people as they deserved but displays his glory in showing compassion. So now the Lord demonstrates that he, the maker of heaven and earth, is in sovereign control of human history and will steer its course to ensure the blessing of his people; he will strike down the power of Babylon and set his people free (vv. 12-15).

An enigmatic new figure is introduced in verse 16, sent by the Lord and endowed with his Spirit. We shall hear more of this character in chapter 49 tomorrow. But this is the message he brings:

This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you,
    who directs you in the way you should go. (v. 17)

The Lord is going to save his undeserving people from Babylon as he redeemed them from Egypt. He calls them to take advantage of the victory of Cyrus and to "Leave Babylon" (v.  20). Nor are they to leave quietly or secretly but with shouts of joy they are to proclaim what God has done for them "to the ends of the earth".

We also have been the recipients of God's undeserved mercy and salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter reminds Gentile Christians that we, like Israel of old have been chosen and redeemed by God. He writes:

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)

We whom God has saved from captivity to sin and death should proclaim to the ends of the earth what God has done for us with shouts of joy. We want others to hear about it and to recognise that the God who has revealed himself in the Lord Jesus is the sovereign Creator and Redeemer. We want them also to discover the freedom and joy that can be found through trusting in him.

Father God, help us to declare your praises to the ends of the earth. May many more come to hear of and experience your saving goodness and join us in our song of praise.

14/10/2019 - Isaiah 47 – The fall of Babylon

God used Babylon as an instrument of judgment upon his faithless kingdom of Judah. They were unaware that the living God was directing their hand; they had been driven only by the desire for their own wealth and power, and had violently crushed those who stood in their way. God says:

I was angry with my people and desecrated my inheritance;
I gave them into your hand, and you showed them no mercy.
Even on the aged you laid a very heavy yoke. (v.6)

They had boasted that their power would last for ever – like the boast of the Nazi regime that theirs was a Reich that would last a thousand years. But they had failed to consider that the power by which they had subdued other nations might as easily be used to subdue them (v. 7).

In this chapter God declares that just as he gave Judah into the hand of Babylon, so now he will bring others to destroy their kingdom. Their glory will be reduced to dust (v. 1). Their pride will be turned to shame (v.3). Their proud boast in days past, "I am, and there is none besides me" (v. 8, repeated in v. 10), is blasphemous, for it can only rightly be made by the living God. Babylon boasts, "I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children", but both of these disasters will overtake her in one day. The great city of Babylon and its people will both be destroyed. No amount of their magic spells or appeals to their idol-gods will be able to protect them from disaster.

Babylon is later used in the Book of Revelation as a picture for human empire which seeks to depose God and declare itself to be the power that determines the destiny of humankind. Such power typically seeks to suppress and even destroy those who worship the living God – they are seen as threats to its own claim to power. In the days of the New Testament, the Roman Empire was such a power and Rome is referred to as "Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13; Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:1,5, and especially chapter 18).

The words of judgment upon Babylon both in this chapter and in the Book of Revelation do not apply only to ancient and long gone empires, they are warnings also to contemporary regimes, of whatever political flavour, which seek to impose their power over others by oppression, intimidation and injustice. They are warnings particularly for those regimes that oppress God's people and seek to stamp out the Christian faith. God is in control of all human history and will not allow such regimes to exalt themselves for long. In the end, as God has declared, the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of the Lamb.

God's ultimate purpose is for a world marked by justice and peace; a world in which people will be the source of blessing to one another rather than exploiting one another. In Isaiah 47, God proclaims his judgment on Babylon in order to bring his people out of captivity and return them to the land he had promised to give them. In the cross of the Lord Jesus, the living God permits his Son to suffer the injustice and violence of the powers of this world, particularly the power of Rome, and through his resurrection he breaks those powers. The closing chapters of Revelation picture a day when all human oppression and injustice will be swept away and when the whole of creation will be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Father God, we thank you that, through the death and resurrection of your Son, you have set us free from the oppressive regime of sin and death. Lord Jesus, we long for the day of your return when oppression will cease and the deep hurts of our world shall at last be healed. Give us the wisdom to live now as those who belong to a better kingdom. By your Spirit, teach us how to withstand the subtle pressure to conform to the patterns of this world and how to bear gracious witness to the transforming and healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to bring healing to our world rather than to increase its hurts.

13/10/2019 - Psalm 122 – Rejoicing in pilgrimage

A week ago we noted that Psalms 120-134 are "Songs of Ascents", psalms sung by pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem for one of the major annual festivals. Psalm 121 reflected on the dangers of the journey and the help and protection that God would provide for his people on the way. Psalm 122 is a song of praise for safe arrival; the anxiety of the journey is over for the psalmist's feet are now standing in Jerusalem.

The psalmist looks back to the day when he was first invited to join others on their journey up to the holy city. He was filled with joy at the prospect (v. 1). Nor has his joy been disappointed for he is now filled with wonder as he looks around the city. Ancient Jerusalem may not have been a very large city but it was the place where the Lord's people gathered together to praise the name of the Lord their God. They assembled in obedience to his word ("according to the statute given to Israel", v. 4), but it was no mere duty; it was a joy. There in the city was the throne of their king, the successor to David (v. 5), and there was the temple, the house of God where sacrifice enabled them to approach God and know that he dwelt with them to bless them (v. 9). In the psalmist's estimation there was no better place to be.

We too are a pilgrim people on our way to the Heavenly Jerusalem. A chorus from an old hymn once popular among Christians went as follows:

We're marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We're marching upward to Zion; the beautiful city of God.

Moreover, the goal of our pilgrimage is not just a future prospect but is also part of our present experience. As Alec Motyer has expressed it:

The goal of the Jerusalem to come, the New Heaven and the new Earth, the City of the Lord God and of the Lamb, casts its radiance before it for those who live in its light… and importantly, to its present location in the local church to which we belong.

We are to delight now in the fellowship of God's people as we meet together to praise him. We are to delight in the perfect and final atoning sacrifice of Christ which enables us to come into the presence of the living God. We are to rejoice that Jesus, David's greater Son, is our Lord and King. We are a people who are on pilgrimage together and who have tasted already something of the power and joy of the age to come.

In the latter part of this psalm, the psalmist turns to prayer. He prays for the peace of Jerusalem and for the security of its people. We need to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters both here and throughout the world that they will be kept secure in faith and safe from those who threaten them.

The psalmist prays concerning Jerusalem that there may be "peace within your walls". We need to pray that those who profess to follow the Lord Jesus may be kept at peace with one another – enjoying the peace of God that breaks down all barriers. Pray that there may not be discord and division in the church or in relationships between churches. In-fighting discredits the gospel.

He prays for "family and friends", no doubt those who have travelled with him on the journey. We need to pray for family and friends that they might join us on the journey to the Heavenly City and, having joined us, that they might not drift away.

He seeks the prosperity of the city. We need constantly to pray that the kingdom of our God may come and the reign of our precious Saviour may be extended to embrace the whole world.

Father, help us to rejoice at the prospect of reaching our journey's goal and so devote ourselves to earnest prayer that the joy set before us may be part of our present experience, strengthening us on the journey. May we always encourage one another along the way and be earnest in our prayer that your kingdom may come.

12/10/2019 - Isaiah 46 – Gods of Babylon

In the previous chapters of Isaiah we have seen that the God of Israel is the living God. He is sovereign over history and is working the events of history for the salvation and blessing of his people. This chapter begins with a very different description of the idol-gods of the Babylonians.

At the end of the previous chapter the Lord had declared that every knee would bow before him. But in the opening verses of this chapter we have a very different picture; two of the chief Babylonian gods, Bel and Nebo, are pictured as bowing down. They are merely idols and are being carried along by beasts of burden, perhaps as part of the New Year festival procession in Babylon. As the animals move forward under their heavy burdens, the idols lean first one way and then another, appearing to bow down towards the crowds of their worshipers. These are gods who are the creatures of those who worship them. They cannot offer any help to their people. This festival procession will soon become a procession of Babylonians being led off into captivity (vv. 1-2).

God's relationship with his people could not be more different. He is the one who has carried his people since the day of their birth and has shared and carried their burdens (v. 3). That was how he dealt with them at the beginning of their history as a nation when he rescued them from Egypt, and that is how he will continue to be their help and salvation:

Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (v. 4)

Those who know and worship the living God can depend upon him.

After the declaration that there is no other God like him, Isaiah once again paints a graphic picture of the folly of useless, man-made idols. Created gods are dependent upon their creators (vv. 6-7).

The chapter concludes by calling God's people to remember all that he has done for them in the past. His character has not changed and he remains faithful to his promises; he is the same God today and will soon come to their rescue as he did when they were slaves in Egypt:

I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away;
    and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendour to Israel. (v. 13)

We also need to remember all that God has done for us in the past. He loved us so much that he sent his Son into the world to be our Saviour. Ours is no helpless god but the mighty God who came to our rescue. He has shown his power by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead, breaking for ever the power of sin and death. And Jesus who came to our rescue long ago is the ascended Lord of glory. He is the same yesterday and today and forever; he is ready to come to our rescue today and to carry our burdens:

Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

We can cast all our cares on him, knowing that he cares for us and has promised to bring us safe to glory. Jesus still invites us to come to him, weary and burdened, with the promise that he will give us rest. Unlike the Babylonians, our gods are not a burden to us; our God is our salvation, hope and joy. He leads us not into captivity but into freedom.

Father God, we rejoice in the freedom you have given us in your Son. Help us so to follow him in joyful obedience that others might want to leave their burdensome gods and join us in freedom's joyful procession to glory.

Peter Misselbrook