Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Aug 9 2019 - Isaiah 25:6-26:9 – Praise the Lord

We have skipped over a number of chapters of Isaiah to land on this particular prophecy in chapters 25-26. You will remember that Isaiah has had much to say about Jerusalem and its central citadel, Mount Zion, on which the temple was built. Isaiah is scathing about the idolatry and hypocritical worship that has marked the people of God, even in Jerusalem. Their meaningless sacrifices have become a mere trampling of his courts (2:11-12). But Isaiah has also seen a vision of the glory of the Lord filling the temple and spilling out to fill the whole earth (6:1-4). He knows that God's purpose has been to bring blessing to all peoples on earth, starting with his chosen people. He has seen a vision of the day when all the world will stream up to Mount Zion to learn of the living God, worship him and walk in his ways (2:1-5). In that day, all war shall cease as enemies are reconciled with God and with each other. This forms the background to the passage we read today.

Think back to the finest banquet you have ever attended – perhaps it was a wedding celebration or a special birthday party. That was nothing compared to the feast which God is planning to spread out on Mount Zion; "A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines, a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts" (25:6, The Message). Nor will this be a feast reserved for his Jewish people; it will be for "all peoples". The celebration and rejoicing will be as widespread as had been the reign of death. Death's shroud has covered all nations, none has escaped its chilling and dusty embrace. But God will swallow up death for ever and wipe away the tears of mourning from every face. This will be a day of unalloyed celebration as the revellers declare:

Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the LORD, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation. (25:9)

There could hardly be a greater contrast than that between Jerusalem as presently viewed by Isaiah – full of unfaithfulness and idolatry and destined for destruction – and the glorious city he sees in his vision. In that day it will be a strong city surrounded by walls and ramparts of salvation, a secure refuge for all who seek the God of Israel. Yet its gates will be open to admit all who are righteous in God's sight, all who are faithful to him.

Isaiah has a deep longing for God himself, and for that day when he will appear to put all things right (26:9). That will be a day of great celebration. Meanwhile, he rests in God's assurance:

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD for ever,
    for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. (26:3-4)

We know that it is through the Lord Jesus that God has entered our world to put all things right. By his death and resurrection he has broken the power of death and ripped away "the shroud that enfolds all peoples." He has become the rock of our salvation and the fortress in whom we have found refuge. He is the one who is drawing to himself a people from all nations, made righteous through his atoning sacrifice. He is the one for whom the Father is preparing a marriage supper like no other in human history, the marriage supper of the lamb at which he will celebrate with his redeemed people and every tear will be wiped away. What a day that will be!

Living God, we long for that day when all things will be made new and when death and tears shall be no more. Fill us with your Spirit as a foretaste of the feast of good things that will be ours on that day. Help us never to tire of telling this dying world of the coming celebration and issuing invitations to the feast – that your banquet may be full.

Aug 9 2013 - 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 – Fermentation

Jesus spoke about the way in which a little yeast can work quietly and unseen to transform a large lump of dough. He was speaking about the hidden power of the kingdom and of the way those who follow him should have a transforming influence upon the wider society in which they live.

Paul uses the same picture but, in applying it to the chaos of the church at Corinth, he turns the image on its head. Here, instead of the Christians having a transforming influence on their society, their society is influencing them and shaping their conduct – even to the extent that gross immorality is found among them. Paul reminds them of the story that is to shape their lives: the Passover was celebrated with unleavened bread – bread without yeast. “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” Paul writes, “Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

Christ is our Passover lamb. His blood was shed for us so that we might be kept safe from the judgment of God and be freed from the dominion of an evil empire. We do not celebrate the Passover in the same way as did the Jews. We celebrate the death of Jesus as we eat bread and drink wine together. We are to celebrate his death as a people who have died with him to the patterns of life which characterise this present world and who have been raised with him to live the life of the age to come. We celebrate as those who have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. We celebrate looking forward to the day of his coming and anticipating that day not only in our praise and worship but also in the shape of our lives.

So we are to live intentionally as disciples of Christ, seeking always to live to please him. We are to keep watch over ourselves and over one another to ensure that this present world does not draw us back into its self-serving patterns of life. We are to live by the Spirit which animated the Lord Jesus and who now lives in us.

We might think that the best way of guarding ourselves against the influence of this present world might be to cut ourselves off from it – to develop Christian ghettos in which we surround ourselves only with others who share our faith. Paul makes it clear that this is not what he is saying. We are to be careful of those who claim to be Christian brothers and sisters yet are “sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler” (5:11). We are not to receive them as part of the Christian family. But we are not to cut ourselves off from a self-seeking, self-pleasing but deeply needy world. This is our mission field. This is where we are to be the powerful yeast of the kingdom, working for the transformation of society.

The contrasting ways in which Jesus and Paul use this picture of yeast present us with the challenging question of who is influencing whom?

Heavenly Father, help me to follow the Lord Jesus in showing love for, and spending time with, the “sinners” of this world without becoming like them. May your Spirit continue the work you have begun in us. May he work through us to touch and transform the lives of others, that they too might be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of your beloved Son.

Peter Misselbrook