Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Oct 10 2019 - Isaiah 44:24-45:13 – Cyrus God's servant

Today's reading introduces us to another individual who is serving the Lord and fulfilling his purposes. Thought not explicitly called "the servant of the Lord", he is described in some surprising terms. He is called the Lord's "shepherd" (44: 28) and the Lord's "anointed" (45:1) – literally his messiah. And yet this is none other than Cyrus, the military leader of the mighty Persian Empire.

The Lord is declaring that he is sovereign over all of history and is raising up Cyrus and the Persian empire to defeat Babylon and to become his instrument in setting his people free from their captivity. Cyrus is quite unaware of this calling and is simply pursuing his own agenda to secure power for himself. But, in reality, he is accomplishing the purposes of God at this particular moment. The Lord has determined that Jerusalem will again be inhabited and the ruins of Judah will be rebuilt (44:26), and Cyrus is the man he has raised up to accomplish his purposes:

He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, ‘Let it be rebuilt,’
    and of the temple, ‘Let its foundations be laid. (44:28)

God called the kings of his people to be shepherds to those they governed, to lead them with tender care reflecting that of God himself. But they had failed to live up to their calling (remember particularly Ezekiel 34). Now the Lord is going to use a pagan emperor to shepherd his people. Having defeated the power of their captors, Cyrus will allow God's people to return to Jerusalem and Judea (see Ezra 1), and to begin the work of reconstruction. The victory of Cyrus is not all his own work; the Lord had chosen him to fulfil his purposes (this is what is meant by him being called the Lord's anointed). Unbeknown to Cyrus himself, the Lord has taken hold of his fighting right hand:

to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour,
to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut (45:1)

The Lord has gone before him to give him victory, levelling mountains, breaking down gates of bronze and cutting through bars of iron (45:2). He has done all of this for the sake of his people:

For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour,
    though you do not acknowledge me. (45:4)

By these acts, the Lord demonstrates that he is the great creator God who is sovereign over all of human history. Isaiah's words in 45:9-10 are later echoed by Paul in Romans 9:19-21 as part of his argument that God is at work through all the twists and turns of human history to accomplish his purpose of bringing salvation to all peoples on earth.

How do you respond to the assertion that God is in sovereign control of all of human history? This does not mean that we are nothing but puppets manipulated by God. In a mysterious way we, like Cyrus, remain free to pursue our own ends, even to rebel against God – as did those who so hated our Saviour that they handed him over to die upon a Roman cross. But God was at work even, and perhaps especially, through that wicked act (see Acts 2:23-24). And God is still at work for our good and our salvation through the daily events which impact our lives: "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Nothing can "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:39).

Almighty God, there are truths here that are beyond our understanding. But we thank you that you have not abandoned this world to the plans and power of evil people. We praise you that you are at work through all of human history to accomplish your purposes and to save for yourself a people from every nation on earth. Help us to serve your purposes with a willing and grateful heart.

Oct 10 2013 - 1 Thessalonians 2:13-3:13 – Our glory and joy

Paul had originally travelled to Thessalonica from Philippi where he had been illegally beaten, imprisoned and drummed out of town. In Thessalonica he had spent three weeks in the synagogue reasoning from the Scriptures that “"the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead" (Acts 17:3). As a result, many believed that Jesus is the Christ, particularly from among the God-fearing Gentiles who attended the synagogue. But this angered many of the Jews who stirred up a riot outside the home of Jason, a man with whom Paul and his companions had been staying. Not finding Paul, they dragged Jason and a number of other Christians before the city officials saying, "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus" (Acts 17:6,7).

Faced with such violent Jewish opposition, Paul had been forced to leave the city after only a few weeks of ministry. He had travelled on to Berea and Athens but remained deeply troubled and concerned about the new Christians in Thessalonica. Were they standing firm in the faith or were they finding the opposition too much for them and losing heart? Had Paul’s ministry been in vain?

Eventually, Paul sent Timothy back to Thessalonica to find out how they were doing. Meanwhile, having been mocked and ridiculed in Athens, Paul travelled on to Corinth where he arrived “in weakness and fear and with much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). He seems to have been discouraged and fearful that his ministry might be proving fruitless.

Then Timothy arrived with news of the Christians at Thessalonica. Paul writes, “Timothy has just now come to us from you and has brought good news about your faith and love. He has told us that you always have pleasant memories of us and that you long to see us, just as we also long to see you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8). Paul’s spirits are lifted and he is filled with joy as he sees that God has been at work through his ministry and is continuing to work in these lives. His labour has not been in vain.

Paul would like to be able to return to Thessalonica and minister again to these Christians whom he loves. But he knows that even if he is prevented from returning, he will see them again for he writes, "What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy" (2:19-20). The Christians in Thessalonica had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1:9-10). They looked for and longed for the day of Christ’s return, when they would see him face-to-face. Paul also longed for that day but adds that one of his chief joys will be that these Thessalonians will be there with him and that they will be able to celebrate together in that day. This prospect makes all his labours and discouragements worthwhile.

Are there those to whom you have spoken concerning the Lord Jesus Christ who will be your glory and joy on that day?

Lord, keep us from discouragement in the work of the kingdom. Enable us to be the means through which others are brought to know you, so that together we may long for and work towards the day of your coming, and that we may rejoice together in the day of your appearing.

Peter Misselbrook