027 | Nevertheless

photo credit: Pain by Rickydavid, on Flickr.com.

I am journaling through the book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story written by Whitney T. Kuniholm. In reflecting on this passage Kuniholm writes "In these verses Isaiah gives God's people a message of hope."

Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. (Isaiah 8:21-22)
Distressed, hungry, weary, hard-pressed, pain, roaming, famished, enraged, darkness, trouble, anguish, fear, and gloom... Have you been there? Can you relate? Do some or all of these words describe you and where you're at? Have you been worn out and distressed by this world? Are you upset about life? Is trouble all around? Do you feel beat-up? Do you feel like you are just roaming around with no purpose? Are you satisfied? Are you angry? Do you look around and only see pain and distress? Have you cursed God for your situation for the ugliness you see all around? Do you feel like this is where you are right now?

I have one word for you. Actually God has one word for you: nevertheless.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— (Isaiah 9:1)
In spite of where you are right now, how you feel about life, God can change everything - God has changed everything.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
No more gloom, the dawn is here, a great light come, gladness, happiness, joy, celebration, rejoicing, and glory ...
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as soldiers rejoice when dividing the plunder. (Isaiah 9:3)
Here in Isaiah "nevertheless" points to Christ. It is the truth about our situation. It is the reality of where we can be. It is God's grace. It is mercy. Even at the very moment we are overwhelmed by gloom and distress God has provided hope. There is hope in the "nevertheless".
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
Jesus is why there is a "nevertheless".

Sun's Rays and a Gate
photo credit: Sun's Rays and a Gate by -terry-, on Flickr.com

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The Problem is Me

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)
Psalm 51 is a favorite of many, me included. It is a poem written by King David sometime after this guy, Nathan (known as a prophet) came to King David and called him out on his adultery with Bathsheba. I have written 2 other posts this year on this situation. I pointed out that this psalm is simply a heart felt confession by David acknowledging that he has sinned Against God. In Not Religion I point out that God is not looking for perfect people. He is not looking for religious people. He is looking for honest people. Honest in our view of God and our view of ourselves.

I am reading a new little book on Psalm 51 titled Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy. This book, written by Paul Tripp, takes you on a journey through this Psalm. It is a small book of about 160 pages that is broken down into 52 short meditations that are clear and beautifully written.

I was really caught by his reflection on Psalm 51:1. I would encourage you to read the whole meditation. It is the first one in the book and only 2 pages (21 & 22). It is available in a free preview of the book here online.

Here is how he concludes his meditation on verse 1 in this book.

What’s actually true is that when I come to the Lord after I’ve blown it, I’ve only one argument to make. It’s not the argument of the difficulty of the environment that I am in. It’s not the argument of the difficult people that I’m near. It’s not the argument of good intentions that were thwarted in some way. No, I only have one argument. It’s right there in the first verse of Psalm 51, as David confesses his sin with Bathsheba. I come to the Lord with only one appeal; his mercy. I’ve no other defense. I’ve no other standing. I’ve no other hope. I can’t escape the reality of my biggest problem; me! So I appeal to the one thing in my life that’s sure and will never fail. I appeal to the one thing that guaranteed not only my acceptance with God, but the hope of new beginnings and fresh starts. I appeal on the basis of the greatest gift I ever have or ever will be given. I leave the courtroom of my own defense, I come out of hiding and I admit who I am. But I’m not afraid, because I’ve been personally and eternally blessed. Because of what Jesus has done, God looks on me with mercy. It’s my only appeal, it’s the source of my hope, it’s my life. Mercy, mercy me!

I admit it. I am my own biggest problem. But God is merciful and has blessed me in Christ. Jesus is my only appeal before God!

You might also be interested in this Whiter Than Snow Interview Video.

026 | More Convinced Less Afraid

And HE shall be Called

Isaiah says that a virgin will give birth to a son who will be called Immanuel, which literally means "God with us" (v. 14) The New Testament makes clear this prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18-25)."

This quote is from the book I am journaling through. The book is titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story and written by Whitney T. Kuniholm.

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." (Isaiah 7:10-11)
Ahaz was the king of Judah, the southern kingdom of God's people at this point in history. Remember Israel, God's people, had been divided into two rival kingdoms. One in the south called Judah and one in the north called Israel. Jerusalem was the capital of the southern kingdom. Here in Isaiah chapter 7 Israel, the northern kingdom, has teamed up to attack Judah at Jerusalem saying "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves" (Isaiah 7:4). This threat brought fear to King Ahaz and the people of Jerusalem. It shook them to the core. Through Isaiah God tells Ahaz to stay calm and don't be afraid, "It will not take place, it will not happen" (Isaiah 7:7). Not only does God reassure King Ahaz that this attack will not happen but God gives permission to Ahaz to request a miraculous sign or signal that Jerusalem will not be destroyed by these two kings. God tells him this sign can be anything, go for it, anything you can come up with. Ahaz refuses.

God provides a sign anyway and what a sign it was.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. (Isaiah 7:14-16)
It is important to point out as with many of the Old Testament prophecies that what was written here may play out on two different levels. The obvious level to us in hindsight and importance is the birth of Christ, hundreds of years after this prophecy was made known. But it is also likely that this sign was fulfilled shortly after it was made. During the time this was written the reference to a virgin women could also be understood to be a young women. So it is likely that a son was born to a young women (possibly even a virgin) in Jerusalem not long after King Ahaz was given this sign and she gave him the name Immanuel. By the time this son was of an age that he knew right from wrong the two kings and kingdoms that were a threat to Jerusalem would be gone.

In taking this one step further this sign God gave Ahaz suggests that this threat may have hung over them for quite a period of time. Perhaps something like 12 years, since that would be about the age of a young person before he would be considered an adult knowing the difference between right and wrong. King Ahaz and his people in Jerusalem lived with a mortal threat hanging over them for some years. They lived in fear.

King Ahaz refused to be convinced of the truth he is given by God through the prophet Isaiah. He refused to believe God and trust His word. He and his people lived in fear of being destroyed when they didn't have to. God was offering them the truth of His protection. He was offering them hope. He gave them a sign to confirm the hope, protection, and deliverance he was offering them.

How often do we refuse to be convinced of the truth God has provided us in the Word, in Jesus? Truly convinced? Way to often I must admit. My own human reasoning and intellect so often builds a wall between my heart, my soul, and the miraculous signs God has laid out in the books, poems, and letters of the Holy Bible. I let the views of this world and my culture get in the way of simply looking at and understanding these signals and signs pointing to God's Son, Jesus. The more I understand these signs, the more I look at Jesus, the more I am convinced of God's truth. The more I am convinced the less I fear.

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |
Photo credit:  The photo in this post is titled "And HE shall be Called". It was uploaded to flickr.com on January 15, 2006 by Kris Kros.

025 | Pierced & Impact


"Our passage also contains several of the "future clues" that make the prophetic books so relevant. One is Zechariah's reference to "the one they have pierced" (v. 10). In his Gospel account, John linked this verse to Jesus' death on the cross (John 19:36-37). It was the event that provided the cleansing from sin that Zechariah anticipated (Zechariah 13:1)."

I am journaling through the book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story written by Whitney T. Kuniholm. The above quote is from this book.

"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great ... "On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. (Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1)
This is an oracle and the Lord is speaking. Take notice of the flow and order of things here in this portion. Starting with grace being poured out by God on his people. Then the people will look at the Lord, who they have pierced, and mourn. Grief and weeping will overwhelm them. Then they will be cleansed from sin.

Notice the order and flow? Pouring out of grace ... seeing the Lord pierced ... mourning and weeping ... cleansing from sin.

Charles Spurgeon points out that there is a common perspective out there that any 'good' person has "a degree of tenderness of conscience, and of hatred of sin, which they ... obtain somehow" and then they are "permitted and authorized to look to Jesus Christ." This perspective claims that our own human conscience and the good in us will lead us to the truth of our sin and cause us to hate evil. Then, and only then, we can go before Christ. But this is not the pattern we see in scripture. In this passage in Zechariah we learn that people need to, according to Spurgeon, "first look upon him whom they have pierced, and then, but not till then, they mourn for their sin." The cleansing from sin (Zechariah 13:1) takes place after we look at the Son of God pierced for our rebellion, our sin, and understand the extent of the corruption in us to the point of grief.

It is a beautiful remark of an old divine, that eyes are made for two things at least; first, to look with, and next, to weep with. The eye which looks to the pierced One is the eye which weeps for him." (Spurgeon)

Jesus pierced changes us. It changes our understanding of sin. Jesus pierced as a result of human sin, our sin, changes how we look at sin. It shows us the absolute extend of sin. The injustice of the mock trial and the horrible, gruesome, tortuous execution of Jesus on a cross gives us a true and very ugly view of our sin. Knowing and understanding that he was pierced because of our sin will bring us to a point of grief that can be a life changing experience. Our own sin and rebellion will grieve us just as it grieves God.

But at the very same time the very same cross gives us a very beautiful view of the love of God. A love that forgives. A love that heals. A love that saves.

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

Photo credit:  The photo in this post is titled "Impact". It was uploaded to flickr.com on August 25, 2005 by darkmatter.

024 | Dress to Impress?

"Zechariah ... looks forward to the coming of a very special king." Whitney T. Kuniholm wrote this in his book titled The Essential Jesus: 100 Readings Through the Bible's Greatest Story. I am journaling through this book.

...See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
My Bible titled this section "The Coming of Zion's King" (9:9-13) and "The Lord Will Appear" (9:14-17). What do we learn here from Zechariah Chapter 9 about this King?

This King will be righteous and victorious, yet lowly & humble (9:9). In fact he will ride on a donkey instead of a horse (9:9). This King will bring peace (9:10) and restoration (9:12) into the world and his realm will be everywhere across the earth (9:10). Freedom from death and hell will be available through this King because of a covenant sealed with blood (9:11).

This preview or prophecy of the coming King in Zechariah was fulfilled 500 years later by Jesus. Kuniholm explains by writing the following.

Jesus was humble - he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11)l; he was the epitome of a servant leader (John 13:1-17). Jesus bought freedom - by dying on the cross, he freed people from the prison of sin and enabled them to have a relationship with God once again (Ephesians 1:7). Jesus will bring peace - someday in the future Jesus will come again to establish an everlasting peace for those who believe in him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)."

We rely on formalities and external 'things' to give ourselves beauty, stature, importance, and power before others. We use things like clothing, cars, houses, careers, trophies, and titles to raise ourselves up above others. We use these external things to help create or reinforce our importance. Many times these external things are used to create only a perception of importance and power without any reality.

How strong is our desire to impress people? My experience is that most of us can figure out relatively quickly how to impress others. I have also noticed as I get older that the ways I used when I was younger don't always work as I get older. One can go from the top to the bottom in a flash. Just look at the life of most celebrities. Very few spend their whole life held in high regard by the masses. Most fall out of popularity as things change. Let's face it with this world, with humans, things change. Perceptions change. Impressions change. People change. Change is inevitable here on earth.

Do we want to spend all of our time and effort trying to impress people and create a perception of importance before others that is only temporary? Or do we want to make an impression that will not change? Not necessarily before others but before our Creator. Before God.

Jesus IS important. He is in fact above all. Jesus is the very Son of God, the center of God's entire story of all of human history and eternity. Anything external used to give him importance before man would have just simply paled in comparison with the absolute reality and truth of the fact the Jesus is fully God.

The King of Kings entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey instead of a white horse as any earthly king would have chosen at this point in history. Jesus was not focused on making an impression on people to bring importance to himself, on his own glory before man, but bringing glory and honor to God the Father.
"Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
How often do I rely on external things to give myself importance before others when Jesus through his incredible humble act at the cross has already given me importance before God. He has bought me at a very high price and placed the Holy Spirit inside me. My value does not have to be determined by some external thing that is subject to change but something internal that will never change - God.

| More on the Essential Jesus journey. |

Photo credit:  Photo titled "The Donkey & The White Horse". Uploaded to flickr.com on July 5, 2008 by Thierry Hermann

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