Isaiah 65. Blessings Abound for the Chosen — Us!

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 65.

Bad news for the sinner — that’s us.

Good news for the chosen ones — that’s us too!

“I, the LORD, will make them pay for their sins and for those of their ancestors… they have disgraced me by burning incense (to idols) on mountains.” (v7, CEV). God calls out those who do religious things just to be religious. For those sins they will have to pay. And, we’re in that category, too, right? Because as Paul notes: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). And that’s precisely why Jesus had to come and had to pay the price for everyone’s sin. Even those whom God is addressing here in Isaiah 65.

But, good news! “I won’t destroy everyone.” (v8, CEV).

“I am God! I can be trusted. Your past troubles are gone; I no longer think of them. I am creating new heavens and a new earth. Everything of the past will be forgotten.” (v16-17, CEV).

God CAN be trusted. I love that He, infinite God that He is, forgets our past when we confess our sin and trust in Jesus. And, even though He forgets our past, He doesn’t forget the pain we may have suffered or the heart-ache we might have endured. His love and grace wrap around us like a comfortable blanket.

Look how Paul says the same thing: “Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past is forgotten, and everything is new.” (1 Cor. 5:17, CEV). We are chosen because Jesus went to the Cross, and rose again, on our behalf.

Isaiah concludes this chapter with blessings that abound for the chosen ones:

“My people will live long lives and in their own homes.”

“My people will harvest and enjoy their own crops.”

“Your work won’t be wasted.”

“Your children and grandchildren will be blessed.”

“I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.” (parts of v21-24, CEV).

Don’t you just love that? He will answer our prayers even before we finish offering them! What great promises are in store for us, because we are chosen! We are chosen only because of the grace and love of Jesus:

But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven.  God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind He is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own.” (Ephesians 2:4-8, CEV).

Can we thank Him for His good gifts to us… the blessings we are promised in Isaiah and receive through Jesus, the Messiah?

If you’re new to this journey through Isaiah, you can start here.
(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

Isaiah 52. How Lovely on the Mountains…

Because of the importance of Israel and its people, and my personal love for The Land, I’m inviting you to join me through the key Old Testament book of Isaiah.  Each day I’m posting some simple thoughts about this complex prophet.

Isaiah 52.

It has all come down to this! Today is the day!

“Now it’s time that my people will know who I am, what I’m made of. Yes, that I have something to say. Here I am!” (v6, MSG).

Here it is. Now is the time. How exciting! Can you imagine waiting for years and years for something to happen? Have you ever planned a big event then had to wait until the great reveal, the graduation, the wedding, the new job, the finished home? We all have, right? To the people of Israel God says, “Now is the time!”

What is it?

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger bringing good news. Breaking news that all is well, proclaiming good times. Announcing SALVATION, telling Zion “YOUR GOD REIGNS!” (v7, MSG).

The Lord had redeemed His people. He is redeeming His people still! Including you and me!

He leads us at the front of the line and protects us from the back as well… our leader and our rear guard! (v12).

And then the culmination of this good news? The servant, His servant will suffer… suffer so badly that “he no longer looked human.” (v14, CEV).

But then… then… here it is… here’s the good news: “The nations will be amazed at Him… King’s will bow in wonder! They will see and they will finally understand! (v15).

Yes, we who are fortunate to live during the post-resurrection time period understand! Jesus is the One who suffered. He is the One who redeems! He is the One who rose from the dead!

He brings the Good News. He is the Good News. He is our Good News!

 

If you’re new to this journey through Isaiah, you can start here.

(c) 2020. Rich Ronald.

While shepherds watched their flocks at night.

shepherd
The shepherds’ encounter with Jesus began just like every other day. They were nearby, working as they do — all day and all night. They were going about their ordinary life. And into one average night angels appeared with Good News of great joy! “Today, in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:11

 

It was just another night, really. Nothing too special about it. The sheep were grazing or sleeping on the rolling meadow, just north of Bethlehem. The air was cool, but not cold yet, so we let the animals continue to stay out in the fields rather than finding a cave for shelter.

My name? It’s not really important, for I am a lowly shepherd. There are none in all of the Land of Judah that think of our people as anyone special. We do not command much attention and merely go about our work in a quiet, nondescript manner. We feed the sheep and goats. We water the sheep and goats. We guard the sheep and goats. We move them about so they will find plenty of grass to eat and just the right amount to drink. And this we do day in and day out.

I’m almost 60 years old and shepherding is the only job I have ever had. I know my sheep, and they know me. As of today, I have 109 sheep in my flock: 32 rams, 41 ewes, and 36 lambs. There are another 88 goats. Everything I own is in a pack on my donkey. It’s not much. Another tunic. Some candles and pottery. A few ropes and animal skins. A small bag of nuts and raisins.  Oh, and my flute.  I so enjoy the gift God has given me to play music. It is a joy to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all while simply blowing across hole in a hollowed out piece of wood. I think the sheep like it as well.

My brother has his flock just over there. My brother-in-law is along that ridge.

So, about “that” night… The air was crisp. The moon was full. The sky bursting with bright stars. We had just thrown another log on a small fire. We kept watch for coyotes, for this is the time of the year when they prey on the members of our flock. We were talking about heading back to our village and meeting up with our families as it was the season to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. Of course, we do not ever get to go to the Temple, for we must be out here. But some in our family are blessed to be able to make the short journey to Mt. Zion.

We were making our plans when suddenly the night sky became very bright, as if it was the middle of the day. The sheep were startled and began to cry and low and move about anxiously. The three of us, did our best to keep them calm, all the while our hearts raced frantically. We had never seen this happen before. We had heard of earthquakes but had not experienced one. Was this that? Or some other natural phenomenon?  Was this some sort of army moving across the plains? The dogs were barking, the sheep bleating, the donkey braying. We were terribly frightened.

Through the bright light a man appeared… a man like we had not ever seen previously. His first words? “Do not be afraid!” And yet we were terrified!  It was truly a challenge to slow our heart rate and calm our breathing.

He said he was a messenger bringing good news, joyful news. Our Savior was born this very night and we were to go quickly down to the village of Bethlehem and see this new baby. A baby? Our Messiah? What was he saying? Who was this man? While he didn’t tell us he was an angel, we quickly figured that out when a multitude of others joined him and they started singing. Singing! Right out there in the open fields! And proclaiming the birth of our Savior.

“Glory to God!” they sang. “Peace on earth!” echoed across the valley, amplified by the night air.

We asked each other: Who were we to hear this message? We are not priests or rabbis or Pharisees or King Herod. Maybe they should go and proclaim this news to people of stature?

And just as quickly as they appeared, they returned again into the heavens.

So, of course, we did what they told us to do. We gathered our things; rounded up the flocks. And we ventured across the meadow in the middle of the night, down the rocky path to the village of Bethlehem. We looked and searched all over town. Can you see us? With our sheep? And our goats? And our donkeys? And the shepherding dogs? Oh, what noise we made as we meandered through the village in the middle of the night.

A man named Jacob came to greet us. He asked what we were doing wandering around? We told him of the angels and the singing and the bright lights in the sky.  We shared the message of good news they had shared with us. He was stunned and had this look on his face I’ll never forget. It was a look of disbelief and belief all at the same time… like something very real and very special just dawned on him.  With an eager jump in his step he led us to a small, dark, dank cave. He apologized as he motioned for us to enter.  Inside were a few animals and a woman, who he said was his wife, lying in some straw. Her face was illuminated by a single candle. And she nursed a new born baby.

“Miriam!” he whispered with enthusiasm.  “These men… they saw angels who told them to come find us… to find him… our son.”

We looked at each other with doubt in our eyes. Is this our Messiah? Our king? The savior of the world? But wouldn’t he be born in a royal palace attended to by a multitude of nurses and midwives and servants? Wouldn’t he be wrapped in silk or fine linens, not these swaddling rags?

Jacob could read our thoughts as our faces betrayed our skepticism. “He was born in this simple cave,” he said with humble honesty, “because he was born for you.”

“But we are lowly shepherds,” we explained. “And he is a king?”

“Yes,” Jacob replied. “Yes, indeed. He has been born for you and for them. You, however, you are the first to see Him. His name is ‘Immanuel. God with us.’ Go! Go tell everyone you see what a great thing God has done for all of us.”

And so, we did. Our suspicions turned to great joy. We returned to the fields and we praised the God of our Fathers … for the angels, for Jacob, for Miriam, but mostly for this baby, our Savior, born this very night!

 

Some of the actions, words and thoughts, perhaps, of the shepherds and others as found in Luke, Chapter 2.

 (c) 2016. Rich Ronald.

First Person: Gabriel Visits Miriam

Mary (Miriam): "May it be as you have said!"
“I am the Lord’s servant,” she said. “And I am willing to do whatever He wants. May everything you said come true.” (Image from Zondervan.)

Throughout Advent, let’s look at the people of the story of Christ’s birth. This week: Gabriel. Here is my take on a possible first person narrative from Luke 1.

I love my work. I truly do. I am a messenger who brings Good News to people. I am God’s mouthpiece. Yes, I stand in the presence of God Himself. He speaks to me. He gives me messages to deliver. Many years ago I spoke to Daniel and explained a dream to the prophet. Interesting that the vision he had then ties directly to our time now.

Just a few months ago the Almighty sent me to Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias. That was an interesting exchange. Here’s this man, a priest, holy in actions and respected by both God and man… He is ministering in the inner part of the sanctuary… I appear from the altar of incense. He was a bit frightened but I brought a message of incredible news, good news:

“Don’t be afraid, Zacharias!” I told him. “For I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! And you are to name him John.”

God told me to let Zacharias know that both he and Elizabeth would be filled great joy and gladness at this son’s birth, and many will rejoice with them. Both Zacharias and his wife were old, but this son would be one of the Lord’s great men. I told him that this baby would be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from before his birth!

Can you see him? He stood there next to the Ark of the Covenant and just stared at me. I continued to speak of the encouraging future God had for this son. “He will persuade many a Jew to turn to the Lord his God,” I told him. “And he will be a man of rugged spirit and power like Elijah, the prophet of old; and he will precede the coming of the Messiah, preparing the people for his arrival. He will soften adult hearts to become like little children’s, and will change disobedient minds to the wisdom of faith.”

Such news, eh? Who wouldn’t welcome this great plan from God Almighty? And yet this man, Zacharias, didn’t believe it! He didn’t believe me. Clearly just my presence with him in the Holy of Holies was miraculous. But he stammered on about how old he was… and his wife…

Didn’t he recall the stories of Abraham and Sarah? Or Elkanah and Hannah. Or Isaac and Rebekah? No, I guess not. But hadn’t he been praying for a son? Yet he doubted.  I just couldn’t believe that he didn’t believe. You could say the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

So, do you know what I said next? i raise my voice.  “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He who sent me to you with this good news!  And now, because you haven’t believed me, you are to be stricken silent, unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly come true at the proper time.”

You know, sometimes you have to take some pretty radical steps to get some people’s attention.

Ah, but not Mary. Not Mary.

Every time the Almighty has sent me to speak directly to His children I have to say “Don’t be afraid!” right at the start. Every time . Except one. Miriam. You know her as Mary. She wasn’t like Zacharias. She wasn’t like Daniel. Such a sweet girl. Such love for God she has. Yes, she was a little confused at my message, and I had to explain a few things to the young woman, but she believed it… because she believed God.

You haven’t heard the message? Oh my, well, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind my repeating it for you. Here’s what I said:

“God has decided to wonderfully bless you, Miriam!  Very soon now, you will become pregnant and have a baby boy, and you are to name him ‘Jesus.’ He shall be very great and shall be called the Son of God. And the Lord God shall give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he shall reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom shall never end!”

Here’s the confusing part. She asked how this was going to be, because she and her fiance’ Jacob, you know him as Joseph, had rightfully never been together. “How can I have a baby?” She asked me. “I am a virgin.”

This is the part I had to explain… and even I didn’t understand the message the Almighty had given me to give to her. I told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of God shall overshadow you.”

Listen to this… this is what is so amazing about Jehovah.  God’s plan was this way so the baby born to sweet Miriam, Mary, would be completely holy, the Son of God.

I then mentioned that her Cousin Elizabeth was with child and I assured her that “every promise from God shall surely come true.”

And here’s the best part of the whole mission: her response.  I had just told her some pretty remarkable news… in fact, impossible news. More impossible than the news I had delivered to Zacharias, really.  And what was her reply? Oh, this delightful child is wise beyond her years.  “I am the Lord’s servant,” she said. “And I am willing to do whatever He wants. May everything you said come true.”

May everything be as I had said! Her world was about to be totally flipped upside down. And she was ready and willing! Can you believe that? How old was this girl? 14-15? What trust! What obedience!

She was willing to say “Be born in me!”  Despite the mystery of how God was going to be a baby… or how the One who birthed the stars in the sky was allowing himself to now be birthed by this young girl.

She trusts that God knows what He’s doing. His invitation is for everyone. He will soon be here! His invitation isn’t just for Miriam. It’s for all of you. It’s His great love, reaching down to save the world.

(c) 2103. Rich Ronald.