The Grand Sweep

As a church we are reading through the entire Bible in 2018 using "The Grand Sweep" by J. Ellsworth Kalas as our daily reading guide.  ("The Grand Sweep" can be purchased from online bookstores.)  In addition, CUMC staff will be posting thoughts regarding some of the day's readings.  See below for the last five posts.  Follow CUMC on Facebook to access older posts or see new ones immediately as they are posted.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43-45

Isaiah is filled with so many wonderful verses. Every time I read a chapter I find a verse I know from a song or a sermon or even as a kid in Sunday School or VBS!

Two things really stood out to me in these chapters. As these chapters address idolarty the one theme I kept seeing was, "I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no God" (45:5). At first we might think this is a simple statement, that there is only one God. But as Dr. Kalas points out our modern generation, "has a love affair with the wonders of its own creating." We may not carve images into wood or metal and bow down to them any more but there are so many things we put first before God, sometimes without even realizing it. Its humbling to be reminded there is only one God and he is LORD. There is nothing that can measure up to him so nothing in our life should be more important that Him.

The other thing that stood out to me was the theme of redepmtion. There is so much wrath and woes for things done wrong but never without being followed up by a promise of redemption. I particularly like the verse, "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redemmed you" (44:22). In Isaiah's time, this verse is not future tense, 'I will redeem you' its actually past tense, 'I have already redeemed you.' It can be hard for us to understand God's timeline because he is the same yesterday, today and forever and a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years to him. But I like this form of prophesy because it means sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins was always a part of God's plan. It was never an afterthough or a backup plan. God was so set in His plan for the redemption of His people that in Isaiah's day he considered it already done.

I like being reminded that God cares and loves his people so much that He will go to any length to redeem them. Redeeming means restoring a right relationship with Him. For God so loved the world that gave his only begotten know the rest (John 3:16).

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 36-37, Psalm 105-106

Isaiah has been prophesying about the end of days and the judgment upon the nations, as well as the coming of the King and the new order He will establish in the preceding chapters. But now we take a step from the prophetic to the historical and its a bit of a moment to breath in a story that we have heard before, but one that is stil amazing to hear. The short version is that the invading Assyrian army is threatening Jerusalem, and they are powerful enough to frighten even the most prosperous nations around them. King Hezekiah the people are desperate for God, and Hezekiah as a faithful man of God turns to his Lord and to his servant Isaiah for help. And, true to the Lord's power and grace, Isaiah gives the word of the Lord that there is no need to worry...the Lord will fight the battle...the Assyrians will not even enter the city, and will be destroyed by God's own hand. Even their commander will be destroyed in his own country and not lay a finger on God's people. All of this comes to pass, and God is glorified while His people are spared. Hallelujah!  

Have you ever been in a desperate situation where it seemed like failure was your only option? Where your enemy was too powerful for you, and your only chance of survival was if someone helped you? Hezekiah knew he was in a desperate place, and he cried out to God for help. Sometimes, the first decision we need to make is to acknowledge how badly we need God's help....something many of us struggle with because we are "fixers" who think we can reason our scheme our way out of most anything. But Hezekiah knows He needs God, and he also has a conviction that God can make the difference in his situation that NO ONE ELSE can. Like the Psalmist in Psalm 105, he remembers the works of God that He did the past, and He trusts that if God could deliver his people years ago, surely He can do the same now.  

Do you approach problems in your life like that? Do you know you need God? Do you know He is able and will help those who cry out to Him? Do you know that He is the same yesterday, today and forever, and that He can do in your life what He has done for others? Surely, as Psalm 106 tells us, as God's people we can be stubborn and unwilling to listen to God and this brings consequences and heartaches in our lives. But God loves to restore...and to renew us in His love and faithfulness? And when we are walking in obedience and faith with Him, with nothing between us and our Savior, how readily He waits to hear us call out to pray and ask Him to act....and to expect that He will come and do in our lives what only He can do? Lord Jesus, help us to remember how much we need You, how Your power is not diminished in these days, and that You will help those who cry out to You! You can do anything but fail, and we pray for the faith and courage to believe and receive Your promises for us. Amen!

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 20-23

Our reading today begins with one of the most humiliating requests God has ever given to one of His servants: to walk around naked for 3 years as as sign of judgment and impending exile on Egypt and Cush. For some time, Isaiah has been prophesying against the kingdoms that border Israel, but now the Lord asks him to take off his sackcloth and sandals and literally walk around prophesying and showing the world with his nakedness that Assyria is comiing...Egypt and Cush would suffer humiliation and exile, and Judah should not think that these nations will help them in the day they are being conquered by Babylon. Two things come to mind: the Lord is not afraid to ask us to do things that are utterly embarrassing and humiliating to us in order to get the attention of others for their own salvation and peace. Isaiah is not being punished; he is simply an object lesson who has to go to such extremes because no one is listening to the Lord, and Judgment is coming! We should not think that the Lord will never ask the same of us...even Jesus was guided by the Spirit to do things in His day that many thought were humiliating and beneath Him, like ministering to prostitutes, tax collectors, women and even children. But Jesu would go to any length to show a human being the love and truth of God.

Second, you have to be impressed at least a little bit that the Lord asks Isaiah to do this primarily for the benefit of other nations, and not just for His own people in Israel and Judah. So often we forget that GOD LOVES ALL people, even those who don't know Him or worship Him at all. He will go to any length, and will ask us to join Him in that effort, to help others see their sin and see Him as their Savior and Lord. Unfortunately, even with all this effort and grace being shown to the world, the people of Judah are not going to listen(Ch. 22) and they will seek the help of other nations that cannot come to their aid. Rather than repent and turn to the Lord, the people of Jerusalem itself will one day feast and drink themselves into a stupor, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (22:13). There is such a lack of trust, and a vacuum of hope, in the people of Israel and Judah, and this angers and disappoints the Lord who has all the hope and power they need to defeat their enemies and triumph over them all. But, like we all do, God's people take their eyes off that which is unseen and only focus on that which is seen. What we can see is temporary and offers no real help; God's power is unseen and offers all the help and power we need. Put your trust today not in people or the resources of this world, but in the Lord who is able to deliver us in the days of hardship and loss, and loves us with an everlasting love.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 13-16

How often do we see in our world injustice...pain and suffering...terrible and awful crimes around us, and we wonder: does God care? Is He ever going to do anything about it? Isaiah, in these chapters, speaks to several nations who He has not forgotten about in their cruelty and inhumanity to others. He reminds His own people, of Judah and Israel, that the Lord does not forget His own, and that justice may be delayed, but it is never forgotten. The evildoer will always be punished, and many times, it will be in this life, but surely it will happen in the life to come. Assyria, Babylon, the Philistines, and the Moabites are all mentioned here. All will come to know the judgment of God, and the terms that Isaiah uses here are apocalyptic in nature. He even shares a passage of scripture long debated over through centuries of Christian thought as to who it refers to...a man, or Lucifer, or both(14: 12-15)? Truly, as so many scriptures do, this passage can have both a human context and a supernatural explanation, although many scholars would agree that his passage cannot be speaking of a human being since the individual described is one who tried to ascend to heaven, who is called "Lucifer" or Light bearer (Son of the Dawn), who tried to put his throne above the heights of the clouds, who tried to make himself like the most high God. Ezekiel 28:11-19 is another passage similar to this one that, at first glance, is about the King of Tyre but further reading proves the passage is speaking of someone (Satan) who was there at the beginning of time with God and decided to be like God, to try and take God's throne and authority for himself. For such rebellion, Satan was cast down. When, how, where all this happened is up for much theological debate, but Isaiah's purpose here is simply to let us know: Evil has a source, and that source is always trying to usurp the authority of the Lord and destroy His works. But God is on the throne, and He will not forget even one unjust thing that is done on the face of the earth, and He will punish all the horrors done to the innocent in this world. What strikes me as the most wonderful part of these chapters which are so full of judgment is the Word of Grace that we see in chapter 16:4-5..."The oppressor will come to an end, and destruction will cease; the aggressor will vanish from the land. In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it— one from the house[a] of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness." This prophecy is messianic in nature, meaning it speaks of Jesus the Christ and His glory ending all evil and justice and righteousness coming to the people of God once again. In Jesus we put all our hopes for justice, and in Jesus we see God again promising for the kingdom one day that will never end.

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 1-3

Isaiah is one of the most quoted and well known books of the Old Testament. It contains great gems like Isaiah 1:10 from today's reading, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." As Christians we see this verse as an obvious reference to Christ's death and ressurection to atone for our sins. But I'd like to take a minute to think about what these words meant to Isaiah and the people he was originally writing them to in a time before Christ came. 

As we have been reading through Scripture in the Grand Sweep its been mostly chronological until this point. We read through the history in Kings and Chronicles and through the exile of Ezra and Nehemiah but now in Isaiah the prophets revert back and tell the stories of the kings from a very different perspective. 

When God set the family of Abraham, Israel, apart to be His people He set up three very distinct leadership roles, prophets, priests and kings. We saw the priesthood set up with Moses and Aaron and their administration of the law and making sacrifices when the law was broken. We saw kinghood established with David and Solomon and their descendants after them, some good, some bad and some downright wicked. Now we begin a glimpse into the prophets and how they were leaders to God's people by proclaiming His word whether they wanted to hear it or not. 
Each of these leadership roles has 3 (at least) functions. First it recognizes there is a gap in the relationship between God and His people. Second, having leaders in these roles helps us to bridge that gap. Example, in the time of Moses if you broke the law you couldn't just go sacrifice your animal on your own wherever you wanted to. You had to bring your sacrifice to the priest and he would sacrifice it on your behalf so you were restored to a right relationship with God. Third and most importantly, it shows this is not a sustainable model. Humans can only do so much to lead God's people. Failure after human failure points to the desperate need of that promised Messiah to come. 

So, back to Isaiah 1:10. Its so obvious to us that our sins were like scarlet but now we are white as snow because we have been cleansed by Jesus. But to Isaiah and a people struggeling to maintain a relationship with God with sub-par leaders its a promise of hope that the Messiah is coming. It was always God's plan. He never turned from it. Jesus is the only leader that is a prophet, priest and king all in one. We can cling to that hope as well. Even though He has come once we know He is coming again. That was always God's plan. He never turned from it. Isaiah is full of Messianic prophecies like this one. The goal is always to give people hope and guide them to Jesus.