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.

God’s Faithfulness

‘God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.’ So He called his name Israel” Genesis 35:10

More than twenty years had passed since Jacob left his father and mother in fear for his life from his twin brother, Esau. In that time his experiences with his uncle, Laban, and his meeting with the Lord on the return journey prior to meeting Esau had made him a much changed man.

Before he left the promised land the Lord appeared to him at Bethel and affirmed that the covenant He had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob in all three aspects; land, descendants and a blessing to the nations (Genesis 28:13-14).

At a time when Jacob was unsettled in his relationship with Laban and began to fear him, the Lord called him back to his father, Isaac. Interestingly it was again fear that disposed Jacob to have a listening ear toward God. That remains a provocation for people to have an ear toward God still. At this time the Lord reminded Jacob of their previous meeting and Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-22; 31:13).

The incident at Shechem (Genesis 34) again stirred up fear in Jacob which apparently disposed him again to have an ear toward the Lord. By commanding Jacob to return to Bethel, the Lord was again reminding him of his vow (Genesis 35:1).

Jacob obeyed all that the Lord said and again the Lord affirmed that the covenant that he had made with Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob and his descendants. The message to Jacob and to us is that God is faithful to His word no matter how circumstances may appear.

The seal of this affirmation came from the Lord in the new name given to Jacob. First mention of the change of name was given by the Lord after the night long encounter Jacob had with Him (Genesis 32:28) but it was not applied until Jacob had fully returned, built an altar to the Lord and removed all association with false gods. At this time the Lord now called him Israel (Genesis 35:10) and affirmed the three key aspects of the covenant made with Abraham. This name became the name for all Israel’s descendants and remains so to this day and forevermore.

The name means, “Prince with God” and that is what Israel is and shall always be (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-37). The very name, Israel, shouts the faithfulness of God to His word.

Stresses in Relationships

“Vows made to You are binding upon me, O God.” Psalm 56:12

Some non-Christians are honest enough these days not to have their wedding in a church. They do not believe, as David did, that God exists and that they are accountable to Him for the vows they make. However, this will not remove their accountability before God. Some non-Christian couples choose a church wedding in which vows are made to a God in whom they do not believe.

The sad thing is that all too often Christians do not accept responsibility for the vows they have made. We may make many vows and promises throughout our lives but how we manage them will reveal our character. Beginning with our relationship to God in Jesus Christ, relationships are the most important things in life.

When (not ‘if’) stress comes into a relationship the character of each person in that relationship will be tested and revealed. Like a rolling giant ice-berg that which is beneath the surface will be exposed. This is something we work hard to avoid but that God works to achieve.

The ungodly may renege on their vows in order to seek respite from that stress. When a Christian does the same it is still an ungodly act, perhaps more so, because they have, in Christ, the resources to not only work through the problem but come out with an even stronger relationship.

When strife in a relationship appears it is not God’s intention that we break the relationship. Instead it is so that we can mend the underlying but previously hidden problem. This is true in all relationships be it marital, parental, family, business and in the church. We cannot mend a relationship when we don’t see the problem or we don’t want to see the problem.

It is one of the gracious actions of God that He intervenes to expose our relational difficulties because then He can begin to correct our thinking and ways. He will go to great lengths to achieve this, if necessary, but we will need to work with Him if He is to have any measure of success.

In this way crises reveal our character – what we are made of. Character is developed by making moral choices. In the case of relationships it is never morally right to run away from a relationship because of a problem. The problem will always go with us to other relationships.

The Bible shows us the way to put things right and God is always willing and able to cleanse us and renew us in our minds. Wrong thinking produces wrong behaviour which in turn produces problems in relationships. God is working in us to correct our relational problems but we must work with Him. He will not change us against our will.

The most vital and important relationship is our relationship to Jesus Christ. All other relationships have their origin and foundation in that one.

The Closing Horizon

“As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness” Psalm 17:15

There are quite a few men in the Old Testament who indicate, like David in this Psalm, that they believed in resurrection. Since they had no precedent, how did they come to believe what the world considers unbelievable? It can only have come from God Himself.

The author of Hebrews writes of faithful Old Testament people, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For these who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland” (Hebrews 11:13-14). People of faith could see the fulfilled promises of God on the horizon of time. For them it was “afar off” but for us it is ever so much nearer. The prophetic Scriptures build our expectation that the horizon we look to is not so far off.

Our expectation is put in New Testament words by the Apostle John, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Jesus gave His disciples a look into the immediate future as well as to the horizon when, on the night He was betrayed, as He shared the Passover with His disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper He said, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus pointed His disciples’ eyes to the horizon of reunion in resurrection in His kingdom.

The Apostle Paul writes that he received instruction direct from the Lord in regard to the Lord’s Supper. It is a time when we refresh our personal intimate relationship with Jesus. Only those who have experienced Christ in their lives can “remember” Him. We cannot remember what we have never experienced. Paul ends by saying that when we share in this Supper we “proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Every time we take the bread and the cup we are testifying that we are looking to the horizon where we see the fulfilment of all the Lord’s covenants and promises. Like Abraham, Job, David, Jonah, Isaiah and Moses we see the ever closing horizon when we shall see Jesus face to face.

Paul affirms, “If we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” “If we died with Christ, we believe we that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:5, 8).

You’re Doing it Wrong

“Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men”
Matthew 4:19

Many years ago when I read this verse the Lord seemed to impress me that this was His promise to me personally. Consequently, since that time, I have made decisions and choices with that promise in the back of my mind. In the Lord’s grace I have been able to witness a number of people receive Christ as Lord and Saviour and be a part of that process.

The other end of the “bookend” in Matthew is making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. That too has been one of life’s highlights. There is no greater joy than this but it still falls short of the joy that ensues from a personal and intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

These many years later my heart longs even more for that promise to be fulfilled and to obey Him in making disciples. The fact is that these statements of Jesus are just that; statements of fact and not promises.

As with much of the Bible’s teaching there are conditions to meet before the Lord fulfils His word. In this case it is our responsibility to follow Him as a disciple, learning from the Master, going with the Master and obeying the Master just as the twelve did so long ago. As we follow Him He will fulfil His part and bring in the “catch.”

How is it that most people who claim to be Christians rarely if ever experience the “catch?” Since Jesus is faithful to His word the answer must lie in our following.

After Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead He reminded His disciples that He had told them He would meet them in Galilee. When they eventually arrived in Galilee at least seven of the disciples decided to go fishing (John 21:2, 3). At least four of them were seasoned fishermen who knew how and when to catch fish. The fact that they caught nothing had nothing to do with their knowledge or skill. They caught nothing because they were not following Jesus.

Many of us who have fished all day or night and caught nothing have some idea how they felt. They didn’t need anyone to rub it in so Jesus’ question, “Children, have you any food” must have hurt as they responded with a quiet, “No.”

Though they were past the time and not in the right place to catch fish Jesus told them to cast their net over the right hand side of the boat and He affirmed that if they did, they would have a catch. Perhaps somewhat dispirited they grudgingly agreed and cast the net. In total amazement they found their net full to breaking. What was the difference? The difference was that they were following Jesus’ word and command.

We are inclined to think that we will please the Lord with a catch of our own. However, just like the disciples, we cannot make a catch unless we are acting in and under the authority of Jesus. We may think that with our training and experience we can win souls to Christ but we cannot. When we listen to Jesus and obey His word He will ensure a catch.

One who “follows” Jesus is one who listens carefully to His word and does as He says. If we do not experience the wonder and joy of making disciples and witnessing people receive Jesus Christ, it may be because we are following the disciples’ example and not following Jesus Himself.