Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 3 2019 - Isaiah 2:1-18; 4:2-6 – God's purpose beyond judgment

The section we have read from Isaiah 2 is a chapter of contrasts. The picture of the nations streaming up to Jerusalem to learn God's ways and walk in his paths is very similar to that painted by Micah (see Micah 4:1-4). The people of Judah believed that in the last days God would visit his people and pour out his blessings upon them – blessings that would flow out into all the earth.

God had called the descendants of Abraham to be a light to the nations – a people through whom all the world would come to see the glory of the God of Jacob and come in faith to him. At the moment Israel is surrounded by hostile nations, but in those last days, they argued, the nations would abandon their warfare and come in peace to worship the Lord and listen to his word.

Isaiah takes this prophetic picture, which was treasured by the people of Judah, and turns it into a message of judgment. He begins by declaring, "Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord" (2:5). They can hardly hope to be a light to the Gentiles and encourage them to walk in God's ways if they are failing to do so themselves. As someone has wisely remarked, "You can't sell what you haven't got!"

Isaiah then goes on to show that far from being a light to the Gentiles – teaching others of the living God – God's people are adopting all kinds of pagan practices from their neighbours: "They are full of superstitions from the East; they practise divination like the Philistines and embrace pagan customs" (2:6).

In place of the glorious last days they have longed for, the Lord is planning a day of judgment for his people (2:12). It is a day when all that is exalted will be humbled: "The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear" (2:17-18). Judgment will begin with the people of God (note how 2:10 later finds an echo in Revelation 6:16). Their idols will be stripped away so that these people may become the source of blessing to the world, just as God intended.

Isaiah 4 returns to the theme of the day that is coming. "In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel", writes Isaiah (4:2). What or who is this "Branch of the Lord"? This term is used to point to the Messiah in his kingly and priestly offices (see Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12). The picture is a bit like a branch in a family tree. Here is one who is going to come from David's line and will wash away the filth of his people and "cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire" (4:4). He will come in judgment, but it is judgment that will purify and cleanse. "Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night" (4:5). The Lord will be visibly present among his people as when he led them through the wilderness by the pillar of fire and smoke.

We know that these prophetic scriptures find their fulfilment and realisation in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord come to visit his people and he is David's greater Son. He has come to cleanse his people from their sin, providing cleansing through the shedding of his own blood. Now he comes to us in the power of his Spirit like a blazing fire which burns away all the filth of our uncleanness so that he might "present [us] to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27). And his Spirit remains within us to assure us that Christ our risen Saviour is always with us, leading us in the path he would have us walk.

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus and for the forgiveness and cleansing that is to be found in him. Help us by your Spirit to walk in the ways you have prepared for us, following in the footsteps of the Saviour himself. And may the glorious fire and light of your presence so fill us that others may come to learn of the living God whom we know and love. So may your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Aug 3 2013 - Romans 16:3-24 – The obedience of faith

It is easy to create a caricature of Pauline theology which sets faith and obedience as polar opposites, as if the one is about grace and the other all about works. Yet Paul begins and ends his letter to the Romans with a striking phrase; he speaks of the obedience of faith. The ministry given him by God was to promote the obedience of faith among the Gentiles (Romans 1:5; 16:26).

The very peculiarity of this phrase has led to a variety of translations. What should, however, be clear is that for Paul faith and obedience were inseparable; both are aspects of submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. The disobedient Christian, as we know all too well, is not an impossibility, but it is a moral incongruity. The gospel is the power of God for salvation; the grace that saves is grace that transforms. To believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord requires our glad submission to his government of our lives. To acknowledge that he died for our sins requires that we too die to sin. To place our faith and hope in his triumphant resurrection from the dead means that we must seek now to live the resurrection life. If by faith we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, who assures us that we are children of God, we must live and walk by the Spirit. The Spirit who brings us life is the Spirit who makes us like Christ.

Christian faith is far more than assent to a set of doctrines; it’s about a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Faith and faithfulness are inseparable. To pIay off faith against obedience is a distortion of Paul’s teaching – and that of the whole of Scripture. Paul follows Jesus in asserting that you tell the nature of a tree by its fruit (see, for instance, Galatians 6:7-8).

But the life of discipleship is not one which we are called to live on our own. We follow Christ together, teaching, encouraging and even rebuking one another in order that we might please God in all we say and do. Paul’s long list of greetings surely mentioned only a few from the fellowship of the Christians at Rome. They remind us of how much he valued each of those to whom he wrote and how much they were to value one another. That’s why Paul also tells the Christians in Rome to, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (16:17). They are to be careful to avoid those who would lead them away from obedience to Christ.

It’s good to apply these things to ourselves and to think about the influence we have upon others. By our conversations, do we encourage others in following Christ or are there times when we put obstacles in their path? Are there times when, intentionally or inadvertently, we turn people aside from the teaching of Christ and the things they have learned from Scripture?

But our greatest encouragement comes from the knowledge that the health of the church is not simply in human hands. Paul concludes his letter with the words, “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ … to the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (16:25,27). The triune God is at work building his church, creating a people characterised by the obedience of faith.

Lord, may my life be marked by the obedience of faith. Help me, by your Spirit, and in union with Christ, to die to everything that displeases you and to live the resurrection life more fully day by day. Help me to encourage others in obedience to Christ and may nothing I say or do turn others away from following him.

Peter Misselbrook