Silencing Christ

“Zedekiah king of Judah had shut him up …” Jeremiah 32:3

We use the phrase, “Shut up” to mean “be quiet” and that is the reason King Zedekiah had imprisoned Jeremiah. Zedekiah only wanted to hear good forecasts and no bad forecasts. The king’s own prophets only prophesied good things; they claimed they came from the Lord, but they were lying. Jeremiah did receive prophecies from the Lord – which was proven when his, and only his, prophecies came to pass.

The nature of sin has not changed since Adam, and remains the same now. People don’t want to hear that which is unpalatable to them. Fortunately God is pursuing people and some do relent and repent. I shudder when I think of what my destiny would have been had He not pursued me!

The Lord’s complaint against Judah was, “This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts … is profitable for nothing” (Jeremiah 13:10); they had forgotten the Lord and “trusted in falsehood” (Jeremiah 13:25). Unfortunately there are those who claim the name of Christ who refuse to take God at His word but distort, revise or spiritualise it with the result that they speak lies in His name. Jeremiah lived in this kind of society.

Because the king and other leaders of Judah did not want to hear the truth they moved to silence Jeremiah. If the general populace heard the truth they might believe it and that would undermine the authority and economics of the king. Their way to silence him was to imprison him. Many countries around the world are imprisoning God’s messengers and we are not immune. The upside is that the Gospel is being preached in prisons.

Jesus’ followers were tested when He was taken prisoner and even more so when He was crucified. Many stopped following Him. Those who later followed the risen Christ were often imprisoned, and faced or suffered death because of their faith in Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees wanted to silence Jesus permanently so they sought His death.

Jesus warned that we should expect similar persecution and tribulation. We don’t seek it – but because we faithfully speak His word some people will seek to silence us. We would be following a growing list of faithful men and women of which some are mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven.

Humble in Heart

“On this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2b

We all desire that other people see us in a favourable light. What other people think of us has power over us; but we may discover one day that few thought much about us anyway. There is only one person’s favour that is worthwhile and that is God’s.

The world holds in high esteem the bold, the brave, the talented and the prominent; but the news in recent times is that many who were once held in high esteem have a dark past which is now coming to light. People who held sway over the opinions of many are being revealed as unworthy of that esteem.

If we want God to look favourably on us we need to know who He does so regard. In the verse above He gives two of the qualities absolutely vital to receiving God’s favour: a poor spirit and a contrite spirit. There are others not mentioned here but mentioned in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).

One who is poor in spirit is one who knows they are absolutely bankrupt when it comes to God’s righteousness. The proud and arrogant person knows nothing of this and continues to show God and everyone how self-righteous he is. The measure of righteousness that qualifies for heaven is Jesus Christ Himself. Though some seem to think they do, no man measures up to God’s righteousness (Romans 3:23; Matthew 5:20).

One who is of a contrite spirit is one who has a repentant heart toward God because of his poverty of spirit in righteousness. Instead of trying in vain to measure up he accepts that he falls short of God’s righteous measure and seeks God’s mercy, forgiveness and righteousness as a gift by faith (Romans 3:19-31).

God says through Isaiah that He will not look favourably on the self-righteous but will look favourably on the person who acknowledges their sinfulness and bankruptcy in righteousness. Such a one is in a blessed place because he/she will seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Only a person humble in heart will tremble at God’s word and, with a repentant heart, seek and receive His forgiveness. The proud and arrogant do not do so because they don’t believe they need it.

No Disappointment

“Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand and I will do all My pleasure” Isaiah 46:10

There are many ways that people have sought to discover future events in their lives but all fail. Fallen mankind will look for knowledge of the future everywhere except to their Creator. Yet God is the only one who is outside time and therefore knows in detail all that is to come. This is why He said through Isaiah, “To whom will you liken Me and make Me equal and compare Me that we should be alike?” (Isaiah 46:5). We have tried to place our astrologers, crystal ball readers and the like on an equal footing with God. Think about this from God’s view point. In Psalm 2:4 we read, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.”

One of the key reasons that the Lord has made so much mention (much of it in considerable detail) of events, future to the time when given, is so that people will know the truth of Isaiah 46:9 when it comes to pass: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like Me.” People may like to arrogantly argue and may think that they can find excuse but the Lord says, “I will not arbitrate with a man” (Isaiah 47:3). The Lord says, “I have declared the former things from the beginning … Suddenly I did them and they came to pass … I have declared it to you; before it came to pass … lest you say, ‘My idol has done them’ … I will not give My glory to another” (Isaiah 48:3-5, 11).

The reason the Lord tells us things to come is so that, when they happen in the detail He has given, we will know that He alone is God.

For now the world mocks those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even some Christians cast doubt on God’s faithfulness to His word especially in regard to His covenant with Abraham and King David. In Isaiah 49:6 the Lord promises to redeem both Israel and Gentiles. When this is eventually fulfilled everyone “will know that I am the Lord, for they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me” (Isaiah 49:23). Those who deny God’s faithfulness to His word will be greatly ashamed when He fulfills it in all the detail He has revealed. Those who live in expectation and faith that the Lord will fulfil His word will not be disappointed even if there is what we consider a long wait.

Hiding Behind a Lie

“Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; for shall the thing made say of him who made it, ‘He did not make me’? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” Isaiah 29:16

It seems Isaiah had a vision of our present world, for this is the great lie of our time. With the coming of the theory of evolution we have done just as Isaiah has said. Mankind is endeavouring to esteem himself as equal to God and also claiming to have better knowledge than God.

Those who believe the evolutionary lie are in effect saying that man created himself and that is frequently the inference made in public presentations such as television documentaries. If the creature created itself, it is as a god. When people attempt to discredit the biblical account of creation they are saying they have a better understanding than God of how the creation came into being.

Because people know that they are sinners before a holy God they must build a wall of lies behind which they try to hide their consciences. Isaiah foresaw this when he wrote, “For we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves” (28:15). Hiding behind man-made lies has got to be one of the more foolish things people do. God is not mocked or deceived. He is well able to discern the hearts of people.

Just as Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed the Lord (albeit disguised as blaming Eve), so people who have swallowed the lie of evolution will think they can, on judgment day, blame someone else. They cannot. The truth is available for anyone who desires to know it and Jesus Himself guarantees to reveal truth to anyone who really wants to know (John 7:17). In Romans Paul writes, “For since the creation of the world His visible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). God’s creative and sustaining power are available for all to see but “professing to be wise they became fools” (Romans 1:22).

Let us all faithfully proclaim the truth of God so that He is able to deliver more people from the man-made lies and the overriding lies of Satan: “I will be like the Most High,” (Isaiah 14:14) and, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5).

Blessed of the Lord

“In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria – a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance’” Isaiah 19:24-25

Who would dare to prophecy such a thing? Israel, Egypt and Iraq as one and blessed of the Lord! In our current world circumstances we might consider anyone suggesting such a thing as having a vacancy between the ears. The God who has told us that this will come to pass is the same God who (also through Isaiah) foretold Christ’s substitutionary death for our sin (Isaiah 53). That was fulfilled literally, and in detail. Nothing is impossible to Him (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; 18:27). He is faithful to His word.

Isaiah records aspects of God’s judgment on these nations; yet when they call upon the name of Jesus at His return He will not utterly destroy them, but preserve those who receive Him. There will be a highway between Egypt and Iraq that passes through Israel (19:23) and He will bind these three nations in a form of unity.

There are those who reassign the promises and prophecies given to Israel as being to the church; by this, however, they are implying that God is not able keep His covenant promise to Abraham and David. If He can’t keep His promises to Israel why would anyone think He can keep His promises to the church?

Fortunately we have the many assertions by the Lord that He is quite able, and that He will fulfil His covenant promise to Israel. Consequently we are also confident that He is willing and able to keep His promises regarding His church.

“For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27).

Christ Jesus has redeemed this world for Himself and no one and nothing can stand against Him. Jesus said, “For assuredly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

Surely we would rather take the words of Jesus over those of fallen men! Isaiah records, “For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land.” (Isaiah 14:1).  It appears that we are rapidly closing in on “the Day of the Lord” when He will bring all things to fulfilment.

Come Clean

“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5

It was because Isaiah had just seen the holiness of God that he realised his own exceeding sinfulness.  That is how it always will be for people. We tend to think we are pretty good until the Lord allows us to see His holiness. That is when we become aware of our exceeding sinfulness. We are inclined to turn away from that which makes us aware of our sin but that is the very opposite of what we should do. It is the realisation of our sinfulness that is meant to drive us to the foot of the cross of Jesus and His shed blood for cleansing and forgiveness.

Isaiah was cleansed with a live coal from the altar. The live coal represented the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Isaiah still had knowledge of his sinfulness but now he also knew that he had been washed clean by the free grace of God. Now he was ready to serve the Lord.

Isaiah is given a mission; a message to speak to Israel. It isn’t one that they will like and he is told that they won’t receive it in the short term. Not surprisingly he asks how long before they will receive it. His message will be preached in Israel until they respond to the Lord’s chastisement (vv 11-12). It is being preached in Israel today although the key chapter 53 is neglected except among the believing remnant. That day is still future.

Within the professing church there are those who hear the Gospel of Christ over and over but because they believe they are good enough they refuse to accept that they are sinful and need Christ’s forgiveness and cleansing. Even in difficult times they will often remain stubborn and unteachable. When the holiness of God draws near through the preaching of God’s word or the presence of one already cleansed they feel unclean. Instead of welcoming Christ’s cleansing they build a barrier in an attempt to remove the sense of guilt. They miss the blessing that Isaiah received, “Your iniquity is taken away” (v 7).

Only Jesus can take away the guilt of sin and that is because He became sin for us. How foolish to turn away from the Lord’s holiness when He is both willing and able to make us as He is, holy (cf. 1 John 3:2). That is why He draws near to us.

For Such a Time as This

“If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish” Esther 4:14

None of us had any say as to when and where we were born, or who our parents or ancestors would be, or any other factors that have shaped our lives. They were solely the sovereign will of God. The Lord has placed us here and now with innate, gifted, earned and learned resources for His purpose.

The words of Mordecai to Esther have application to us in relation to our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes no difference our age, parentage, skills or talents. We have all been placed here for just such a time as this and, like Esther, we must decide to fill or refuse the role Jesus has given us.

We may not be happy with all our circumstances; but we are here, at this time and place at the will of God. The Bible is insistent that we are not here as spectators but as Christ’s ministers. There is no age where we begin or cease to be Christ’s ministers. If we are born of God, we are His ministers. Our role may change through our lives, but it only ends on relocation to Christ’s presence.

God will achieve His plan but, like Esther, we have a choice as to whether we take our part. There may be sad consequences to our families if we refuse to take our role. When a parent refuses to respond to the Lord’s call on their life they teach their child that it is okay to ignore the Lord’s will. We must seriously consider what we are teaching our children by our actions or lack thereof.

As Mordecai went on to say, “Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b). We are where we are, at the time we are, with the resources we have, at the will of God. It would be foolish to cling to that which we must leave behind and forsake Him.

Let us ask the Lord to heal the deafness that prevents us hearing His call, and the blindness that prevents us seeing the open door He has placed before us. Just as He chose where and when we were born He has a path of ministry for everyone who is born of God. “Every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8). Let us ask Him, seek His will and knock on His door for His response. Let us fulfil His will for our lives today – for this is the day He has given us.

Little Faith

“You of little faith”

Matthew records four occasions when Jesus made this statement to His disciples: 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, and 16:8. In the latter three references it is because they had not joined the dots concerning what Jesus had said and done with regard to their circumstances. His first recorded statement in 6:30 is part of the Sermon on the Mount.

It may be easy for us to join the mockers of the disciples for their little faith – but this would be a great error. We consistently reveal that we are little different. It has been said that we can either worry, or stand in faith in Christ. That is the main subject of Matthew 6:25-34. Any time we worry about our circumstances it is because we are not trusting Jesus Christ in that circumstance. In the storms of life we are likely to worry or panic just like the disciples, and we need Jesus’ rebuke.

It is easy to say we have faith in Jesus when all seems well; but when the storms of life come, what then? In Matthew 8:23-27 we have the record of the disciples and Jesus in a severe storm that threatened to drown them all. The disciples panicked in worry. Jesus slept. The disciples would learn that Jesus had power over all creation including the storm. In the storms of life Jesus is always at hand with more than adequate power to save.

Later they were in a storm again, but without Jesus in the boat (14:22-32). Jesus came to them walking on the water and Peter asked Him to command him to also walk on the water. He did so until his eyes were distracted by the storm; he panicked and started to sink. Even then, Jesus was there to save him. We may mock Peter; but remember, he was the only disciple to have faith to get out of the boat. He may have had only a little faith, but it was sufficient to walk on water because Jesus was the object of his faith.

Not long after Jesus had fed the five thousand men plus women and children with a boy’s lunch, the disciples were concerned about the absence of bread. They had misunderstood what Jesus had said (Matthew 16:5-12). In spite of what they had seen, they worried.

The matter for us is not the amount of faith. Even a little faith may command a mountain to move (Matthew 17:20) or permit one to walk on water. What matters is the object of the faith. Knowing Jesus personally and intimately will increase our faith in Him. Faith comes from knowing Jesus and God’s word (Romans 10:17).

Pleasing God

“The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.” Psalm 147:11

In the preceding verse the psalmist writes that the Lord takes no delight and finds no pleasure in physical might. What pleases Him are people who know Him and therefore stand in awe of Him. People who have not entered into a personal relationship with the Lord cannot stand in awe of Him because they do not know Him. We stand in awe of a sunset because we see it. We stand in awe of God because we know Him and see His handiwork in everything.

It is encouraging to know that we do bring pleasure to the Lord. Satan would have us believe otherwise. That is why he attempts to discourage us and rob us of the experience of the joy of the Lord. John states that the main purpose of his second letter is that our “joy may be full” (1 John 1:4).

The psalmist then adds that those who bring pleasure to the Lord are those who have received His mercy. Mercy is God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. We deserved judgment but in His loving kindness He receives those who humble themselves and seek Him. Notice that He does not say that the Lord finds pleasure in the righteous. None are righteous (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:23).

The prophet Micah records, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). In another Psalm we read, “The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:8-9). Who would not stand in awe of the Lord when they begin to know these qualities of Him? “Let not mercy and truth forsake you” (Proverbs 3:3).

In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) we observe that the one who appealed to his own righteousness did not please the Lord but the one who humbled himself, acknowledged his sinfulness and sought mercy, he pleased the Lord and received forgiveness. Such a person stands in awe of God because they have seen and experienced God’s forgiveness of a sinner. Not surprisingly, this and many other Psalms conclude with “Praise the Lord.”