Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Overview of Isaiah (Part II)

The Historical Background

Like most of the prophets, Isaiah's ministry took place during troublous times. Ever since the division of the Israelite Kingdom under the reign of Rehoboam, Israel had seen nothing but a succession of evil kings whose apostate ways had all but destroyed the nation. As Uzziah reigned in Judah, Jeroboam II reigned in Israel. Under his rule, Israelite territory was expanded considerably. Under Uzziah's capable hand, Judah's territory had been expanded also with victories over the Ammonites to the east and the Philistines to the west. Even to the very border of Egypt, Uzziah's power was made known (II Chronicles 26:6-8). Undoubtedly, these times of apparent strength and prosperity only encouraged many of the nation's inhabitants to forget God. The opening rebukes of Isaiah's prophecy bear witness to this tragic reality.

To the north, Jeroboam's victories were extremely temporal to say the least. God's grace in giving Israel room for repentance continued to go unheeded. After the death of Jeroboam II, the fourth and last of Jehu's sons (Zechariah) sat upon the throne. His reign would last only six months before he would be murdered by Shallum who then took the throne. After Shallum, only four more kings would reign before Israel would be conquered and deported to foreign lands.

To the east, in the land of Mesopotamia, Assyria had arisen to become the next world ruler under the hand of Adad-Nirari II. Although the Assyrians had not yet made a serious push into Israelite territory, it would not be long before Tiglath-pileser III would embark upon his famous western campaign of 743 BC; and in 722 BC, the Israelite capital of Samaria would fall to the Assyrian king Sargon II thus marking the end of the northern kingdom. After this, the Assyrians would advance toward the capital of Jerusalem while swallowing up the Judean countryside. The knowledge of such events brings to life the Lord's words when He warned Judah of Assyria's coming invasion saying, "And he shall pass through Judah; he shall overflow and go over, he shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel (Isaiah 8:8)."

Although Assyria would wreak havoc on the small kingdom of Judah, the Lord would deliver His people through a miraculous victory by supernaturally destroying 185,000 Assyrian troops in one night (Isaiah 37:36). After this event, Assyria would never be what it once was. God would remove her presence from Judah thus giving the southern kingdom approximately 115 additional years to repent of its sins before Jerusalem would finally fall under the rule of the Babylonian Empire.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Overview of Isaiah

The Penman and the Dates

Isaiah's name means Jehovah has saved. His name is quite fitting since redemption seems to be the predominant theme of his prophecies. According to the opening chapter, the book of Isaiah was written during the reigns of Uzziah (Azariah), Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah who were all kings of the southern empire of Judah. This means that Isaiah's prophecies took place approximately between 792 and 687 BC. While God did have prophets such as Hosea and Amos ministering to the needs of northern Israel, Isaiah's ministry was to the inhabitants of Judah and its capital of Jerusalem. Micah was contemporary with Isaiah, and his prophecies were also directed toward Judah.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Where to next?

   By God's grace, we will begin an expository journey through the book of Isaiah.  The first few postings will be an overview of the entire book.  In this overview we will examine three main areas:

-  The Penman and the Date
-  The Historical Background
-  The Layout and Theme of the Book

   I am very eager to begin this study.  Please pray that the Lord will give me grace and wisdom to properly expound the text.  As always, careful attention will be given to the Hebrew text behind our King James translation so that we might be completely honest in our interpretations and applications. Before embarking upon this journey, I challenge us all to ask God that He might show us all the value of His holy fear.

"And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure."  (Isaiah 33:6)

Many people have departed from the fear of God, and many teachers who should know better are seeking to undermine its importance in Scripture.  However, we know that any man in any dispensation may find grace in the eyes of a holy God by coming to His Son through the avenue of God-fearing faith.

"Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word (Isaiah 66:1-2)."

An outline of the entire book is available on the Supplemental Materials page.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Paul's Closing Remarks to the Church: The Grace of Jesus Christ

"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." (Philippians 4:23)

As is the case with nearly all of Paul's letters, he ends with the grace of Jesus Christ. Grace means unmerited favor. No man has done anything worthy of God's favor. Every righteousness of man is compared to a filthy rag (Isaiah 64:6). God's favor has been given apart from merit. It cannot be earned. It is something for which a man cannot barter. It is too holy, too precious, too unattainable. God's favor comes only through the righteous Person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus' life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and second coming, God has showed man His unmerited favor; and the individual who is willing to humble himself and to place his faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior will find this blessed favor which cannot be bought.

Apart from God's grace, the believer cannot serve God. There can be no righteous consistency, no peace, no lasting success, no victory in the dark places. The grace by which salvation is attained is the same grace by which salvation is lived. God's unmerited favor, and not man's effort, is the agent by which Christian service takes on meaning.

May the light of God's glory, the valuable greetings of the saints and the precious grace of Jesus Christ encourage every saint, in every age, to follow the main theme of this epistle to the Philippians - With one mind, be steadfast in the Lord.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Paul's Closing Remarks to the Church: The Greetings of the Saints

"Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you. All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." (Philippians 4:21-22)

The words salute and greet are the exact same Greek word; therefore, they may be interchanged without altering the meaning of the text.

The Scripture calls saved individuals saints or holy ones. This is not an inappropriate or blasphemous title, because in Christ Jesus, every believer is completely holy. The imparted righteousness of Christ which is given at the moment of belief completely clothes the wretched sinner with the holy merit of God's sinless Son (II Corinthians 5:21). Under the protective wing of the Messiah, every Christian is a holy individual. Outside of Christ, a man is rejected and damned; but inside of Christ, he is received and separated unto God. Contrary to Catholic teaching, the position of saint is not held by a few "extra-holy" individuals; but rather, it is a position which every child of God occupies.

Paul valued the holy position which every believer holds in God's eyes, and he was careful to send his affectionate greetings to each saint. Paul called those who were with him brethren. Not many verses back, Paul had said, "...I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state." With the possible exception of a few others, Timothy is the only one identified as having had the same selfless goals as Paul. Yet, in spite of this, Paul acknowledges that there were with him true brethren who had been bought by the blood of Christ. Even though Paul could not entrust to them many aspects of his ministry, he still acknowledged the legitimacy of their position in Christ. He still loved them, and he still saw them worthy of ministry and affection.

The Christian who has chosen to live in obedience and the fear of God may find that he is alone in most endeavors, or that few men are willing to join him in his righteous pursuits. When this happens, he should not become caustic and bitter. He should not bathe himself in self-pity. He is not to adopt an attitude of self-righteousness. Although God wants every saint to be wholly given over to Christian service, He does not cast aside those who are unsurrendered or weak. Because of this, the man who is zealous for God yet finds himself alone, or almost alone, should not shun those who are not with him. Every one of God's people is to be valued. The Holy Spirit is working in the hearts of His people. His able to encourage, chasten, teach, convict and grow each one. Like Paul, it is the believer's responsibility to wholly follow after God while properly valuing the members of His Church.

With special emphasis, the Holy Spirit reveals the penetrating power of God's simple, yet profound, gospel. Even the house of Caesar was not too much of a foe for God's Spirit. Surely, in many ways, Caesar's house was a seat of Satan; yet, the light of Christ was able to overcome the darkness of Caesar's palace. Undoubtedly, the praetorian guard with whom Paul was kept was consistently subject to his preaching, and this would have spread beyond into the palace and the surrounding area. If God is in it, nothing is impossible.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Paul's Closing Remarks to the Church: The Glory of God

"Now unto God and our Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Philippians 4:20)

In his closing remarks to the Philippian believers, Paul first emphasizes the Lord's singular nature. He is The God. In the Greek text, the definite article is included with the name God, thus emphasizing God's singular identity. While there may be many man-made deities, there is only one true God. After seeing His fire fall from heaven and devour Elijah's altar and the surrounding area, the contestants on Mount Carmel fell on their faces and confessed, "The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God (I Kings 18:39)." The Greek definite article is also included in Revelation 20:12. A literal rendering would read, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before the God." Though rejected by most as the supreme Creator, the day is fast approaching when all the Lord's enemies will be forced to admit that He alone is The God. When one considers the vast number of false gods which claim the loyalties of mankind, he may become discouraged by the satanic nature of such things; however, the Christian should always keep in mind the singular and superior nature of his God and the ultimate victory that such superiority promises.

Next, the Lord's fatherhood is brought into focus. Not only is God intrinsically holy, He is also unimaginably loving. He desires to be the Father of every man; and He has made a way for the repentant sinner to enjoy a familial relationship with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the sense of being the one and only Creator, God's fatherhood toward all creation is referenced in Acts 17:29 where Paul says, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." As a caring father provides for his entire household, even so the Lord gives nourishment to all His creation as Matthew 5:45 testifies, "...He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."

Even though the Lord is Father over all creation, the true joys of His fatherhood are made known only through faith in the blood of His Son. The text calls Him our Father. In context, He is the spiritual father of the believer. No man outside of Christ may claim God as his genuine Father, because the man who is outside of Christ is not a true son but an illegitimate one (Hebrews 12:8). However, the Father's mercy has made it possible for the repentant sinner to find a true father-son relationship through faith in the substitutionary death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Earthly fathers fail, and many have been guilty of desertion, abuse and many other monstrous crimes; however, God is a Father who never fails. He never abuses; He never oppresses. He comforts, corrects, guides, chastens, protects and meets every need. The believer may draw near to his heavenly Father and find unfailing security and provision. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust (Psalm 91:1-2)."

God alone is sole possessor of true glory. Again, the definite article is included with the Greek noun glory thus rendering the verse, "Now unto the God and our Father (be) the glory forever and ever. Amen." Creation merely reflects in a very small way the unimaginable glory of God's Person. Although most men have refused to give God the glory of which He is so worthy, every man will someday bow before God while confessing The Glory which belongs only to Him. God has already promised that He will not give this glory to another; therefore, all majesty will someday be ascribed to Him whose holy Person shines with unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:16). "I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images (Isaiah 42:8)."

In his earthly pilgrimage, the Christian must keep in mind that God is to receive all glory from the lives of his people. Christian service should never exalt people. It should never glorify the flesh. A believer's life and service should always point others to the holiness of God, thus bringing the Master, and not the servant, glory. Christian service will be much more genuine, profitable and consistent if the believer will obey this principle.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Paul's Praise of the Church: A Praise for Past Provision (Part IV)

"But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

The verb shall supply is the same verb translated am full in the previous verse. Paul is saying, "You have filled my need, now God will fill your need." This verse has often been removed from its context and used to assure others that God will step in and fill their needs and desires; however, the context under which this promise is given should be examined. The Philippians were walking in obedience to the commands of Scripture. They were exercising Christian charity toward Paul and others, and they were giving in a sacrificial manner. Within this framework, the believer may rest assured that he will have his legitimate needs met by the almighty hand of God. In contrast to this, the man who walks down his own road and then cries to God for help when the consequences of his actions catch up with him may not claim the heart of this promise. This man needs to repent of his attitude and change his direction. Also, simply giving non-sacrificially while expecting God to pour back into one's own pockets is not in keeping with the heart of this verse. The obedient Christian who sacrificially gives what he can will be the most benefited recipient of the principles contained in this verse.

The believers at Philippi are not known for their wealth (II Corinthians 8:1-5); yet, they chose to give themselves to God's service. As a result, the Lord used them to be an encouragement throughout Paul's ministry; and they are forever recorded as being some of the most charitable people in Christ's Church. Whatever their sacrifice, the Philippians are undoubtedly enjoying the fruit of their Christ-like choices.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Paul's Praise of the Church: A Praise for Past Provision (Part III)

"But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God." (Philippians 4:18)

Paul was very appreciative of the consideration shown by others. He did not have an entitlement attitude. He was grateful for what he received. The man who cannot appreciate what others do for him should not be surprised when people stop giving to his supposed needs.

Epaphroditus was the one who carried the financial relief from the Philippian church to Paul. It is commonly believed that he is also the messenger by which Paul sent his epistle back to the Philippian church. In any case, Epaphroditus was a faithful messenger who could be trusted to deliver. Many professing believers cannot be trusted with either verbal messages or financial offerings. Such ought not to be the case. The man who names the name of Christ should be embarrassed if he cannot be trusted.

The Holy Spirit likens the Philippians' financial offering to incense and a sacrifice. Their heart of charity fully expressed the intent behind the Old Testament offerings of God. It was in perfect keeping with the intended results of finding a relationship with God through faith in Christ. When a Christian practices good works, ultimately, he is offering a sacrifice to God in worship; therefore, whether or not his gift is received appropriately is not the end of the matter. If he has truly offered God an acceptable sacrifice with pure motives behind his actions, then he may rest assured that the Lord has detected "an odor of a sweet smell."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Paul's Praise of the Church: A Praise for Past Provision (Part II)

"Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account." 
(Philippians 4:17)

The church's gifts to Paul were not the main motivating force behind his joy. The gifts were temporary. Soon they would be used up, and more aid would be needed. As long as this earth exists, the need for aid will continue. What truly delighted Paul's heart was the fact that such charity earned the Philippian believers rewards in heaven. Their spotless position in Christ was complimented by their actions rather than being slandered by their actions.

Had Paul, in pride, refused the help of this church, he would have deprived them of the joys and benefits of giving. Some people believe that they are self-made and need no assistance. Often times, pride will keep a man from accepting help when it is genuinely needed. No one appreciates a mendicant, but the time comes when every man needs a little help. Allowing God's people to meet such needs affords them the benefits of exercising their spiritual gifts, and it presents them with an opportunity to see God provide. There is a time to give, and there is a time to gratefully receive. Paul knew how to do both.