TODAY’S READING FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT- – ISAIAH 45:11- 48:11
Once again Isaiah proclaims what God has to say about the future. There are times when, in God’s wisdom, He chooses to hide Himself (Isaiah 45:15). But this does not mean that He is not active. He works undercover. He operates in surprising ways. Sometimes we look in the wrong direction and we miss out on seeing Him work.
The Lord delivers His people from their bondage in Babylon by using a pagan king. Cyrus is the head of the Achaemenid Persian dynasty and a Zoroastrian. He worshiped the ahuras, including the Babylonian god, Marduk. But it is God who says that He will “raise up Cyrus and Cyrus will rebuild my city and set my exiles free”.
Isaiah gives this prophesy one hundred years before Cyrus is born and calls him by name (Isaiah 45:1). Perhaps he was aware of this and it moved him to be sympathetic to the Jews. After conquering Babylon, he granted freedom to a number of people groups and permitted them to worship their deities as long as they paid tribute and remained subject to the Persian Empire.
However, Isaiah makes it clear that it is God alone who is the Savior of Israel. He can use whatever means He chooses to provide deliverance. In delivering the Jewish remnant from the Babylonians, He chose to use Cyrus. However God Himself would be the means of providing salvation to a world lost in sin. The call to repentance and faith is global.
Isaiah 45:22 22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.
Manmade religion and idolatries cannot save.
Isaiah 45:20b They have no knowledge, who carry about their wooden idol and pray to a god who cannot save.
In contrast, the God of Israel has an eternal salvation in mind.
Isaiah 45:17 17 Israel has been saved by the LORD With an everlasting salvation; You will not be put to shame or humiliated to all eternity.
In Isaiah 46 the true God of Israel is compared to the idols of Babylon, Bel and Nebo (46:1-2, 6-7). Bel was the Babylonian sun god and Nebo was his son, the god of science and learning. When the Babylonians fled the Persians, they had to carry their gods on beasts of burden (Isaiah 46:1) Isaiah’s prophecy proclaims that the Babylonians have to carry their gods. But the one true God carries the people of Israel. He will even carry them when they are old folks!
Isaiah 46:4 4 Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.
Who is like God who can predict the future and is assured of all outcomes?
Isaiah 46:10 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’.
Babylon will be destroyed as Cyrus and the Persians swoop down from the east like birds of prey (46:11). Chapter 47 describes the Empire’s downfall. Babylon was considered the eternal queen, but her reign was cut short (47:7).
The city had heavy occult influences.
Isaiah 47:13 13 “You are wearied with your many counsels; Let now the astrologers, Those who prophesy by the stars, Those who predict by the new moons, Stand up and save you from what will come upon you.”
They are proved useless. The destruction of Babylon described in Isaiah 47 is also representative by the fall of the Satanic world system, Babylon the Great, in the Book of Revelation Chapter 18.
God exposes the hypocrisy of those Jews who have acclimatized to the Babylonian and Persian cultures. When Cyrus gives them permission to return to Jerusalem, many decide to stay and live among the Persians. “They swear by the Name of the Lord, and invoke the God of Israel, but not in truth and righteousness” (Isaiah 48:1). He foretold the good news of their liberation, yet they will not proclaim it, or obey it.
Instead of giving witness to the salvation of their God, their Persian neighbors would likely credit their blessings to the graven and molten idols of the Babylonians and Persians.
This Scripture reminds us that we are accountable to live in submission to the revealed will of God, even when it has to do with the future. We are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, even before it comes on earth in full. We have dual citizenship. Although we live in various countries around the world, we who are Christians, serve another King, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord jealously guards His promise not to cut Israel off. He delays His wrath and will execute it wisely when the time comes. His glory is in view.
Isaiah 48:10-11 10 “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. 11 “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another.”
TODAY’S READING FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT – EPHESIANS 4:1-16
Chapters 1 through 3 had to do with the Christian’s identity and position in Christ Jesus, as well as the place of the church in the plan of God. These are gospel facts. We are to SIT on them, implying that we confidently put the full weight of our trust upon them, resting on this reality with full assurance.
Chapters 4 and 5 are concerned with the believer’s WALK, how we are to live out the gospel day by day, step by step. Chapters 1 -3 dealt with doctrine. Chapters 4-6 deal with duty. Chapter 6 will call believers to STAND in the victory of Christ against all the forces of evil. The indicative precedes the imperative. We must learn the facts of who Christ is and who we are in Him, if we are to act accordingly. Identity precedes function. We learn first what Christ has done, before we learn what we are to do. And that will be according to His power that works in us both to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
Believers are called to walk worthy of their calling (Ephesians 4:1) in a way that distinguishes them from the unbelieving world (4:17), to walk in love (5:2) as children of light (5:8) and in wisdom (5:15). They are to walk in unity (4:1-16), purity (4:17-5:17) and harmony (5:18-6:9).
Our union with Christ is a fact. The unity of the church as the body of Christ is a fact in the mind of God. It has been established by His perfect work on the cross which has made it possible for all its members to be partakers of one life.
Therefore we are called to make every effort to preserve what already is there of unity (Ephesians 4:3)
Ephesians 4:4-6 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
God is over all. This describes His transcendence; He stands outside and above His creation. He rules it with infinite care. He also works through all and in all. This describes His immanence. He is actively present and at work in the world and works in and through believers. Beliefs that deny these facts do not present a true view of the Bible (i.e. pantheism and deism).
Paul then explains the diversity within the unity. He introduces how God’s grace works in the lives of each member so that they express the life of Christ with their unique gifts, talents, personalities, and opportunities. Every Christian has a unique portion in the corporate expression of Christ in their particular locality. With their unique gifts come special responsibilities to serve others. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for self-consumption, self-glory, or self-satisfaction but for the edification of the body of Christ and the common good (1 Cor 12:7, 14:12).
The gifts of the Spirit are a manifestation of God’s grace (4:7). The Holy Spirit sovereignly distributes them and oversees their use according to His will and His revealed truth in the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 12:11).
Paul references Psalm 68:18. This was a victory hymn composed to celebrate King David’s conquest of Jebus, the Jebusite city of Jerusalem, and his ascension up Mt. Zion. The picture is that of a conqueror who is marching with the spoil of his victory. He is in a position to be crowned as victor and to give gifts of men who were once prisoners of war to serve others. When Christ arrives in heaven after the crucifixion and resurrection, having defeated Satan, He is crowned as federal head of the new creation and gives gifts of men to the church to serve as equippers of the church.
Paul starts with what we might call Word gifts. We have received the inspired New Testament Scriptures through the apostles and prophets. These are the first order of apostles and prophets that belong to the apostolic age, who gave us the good news of God’s great salvation in written form (Hebrews 2:3-4). The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent one’ and ‘prophet’ refers to one who prophesies, speaking forth God’s Word. Missionaries, church planters and preachers would be of the second order of apostles and prophets in a more limited sense than the first. Together with evangelists and pastors/teachers, they are given by God to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. (The Granville-Sharp rule of Greek grammar combines both pastor and teacher because the definite article is placed each office, except that of the teacher.)
Ephesians 4:11-12 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
God gives us the gift of equippers in the local church to reproduce ministry and build up the body of Christ. In order to function in harmony, we must be growing upon the foundation of the apostles’ doctrine so we can grow to attain the unity of the faith and become a mature and full expression of Christ as members of His body.
Each member of the body needs to be equipped to speak the truth in love and function according to their gift, expressing their portion of the body of Christ, so we can be a healthy mature body. How do we know when we reach maturity? When we are solid in our expression of Christ’s truth and love, no longer tossed about by every wind of doctrine or giving in to the deceitful scheming, trickery, and craftiness of false teachers (Ephesians 4:13-16).
TODAY’S READING FROM THE BOOK OF PSALMS – PSALMS 68:19-35
We continue reading the Psalm that the apostle Paul references in Ephesians 4. The battle psalm is also a psalm extolling Christ as our Victor. It is a Messianic Psalm.
Psalm 68:19 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah.
The victory of Christ won at the cross comes to mind as we read this Psalm. He has defeated all enemies, from the east (Bashan) and the west (the sea) and has crushed the head of Satan (68:23).
What a grand victorious procession is in view! (Psalm 68:24-27). His people bring forth the fragrance of Christ! A united kingdom is in view! Benjamin and Judah (the southern kingdom) is here with Zebulun and Naphtali (the northern kingdom).
2 Corinthians 2:14-15 14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.
God’s glory and strength is on display and called for through these redeemed people. The Psalmist predicts that the kings of this world will one day recognize this.
TODAY’S READING FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS – PROVERBS 24:3-4
Proverbs 24:3-4 3 By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; 4 And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
PRAY FOR THE NATIONS – PAKISTAN
Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Area: 796,095 sq km
796,095 sq km, which includes 83,700 sq km of UN-divided Kashmir controlled by Pakistan. Arid mountains in the north and west. Desert in the east and southeast. Vast irrigation schemes in the fertile Indus River valley.
Population: 184,753,300 Annual Growth: 2.19%
Official language: English is the official government language, Urdu is the national language and becoming widely understood by most Pakistanis Languages: 77 All languages
Largest Religion: Muslim
Challenges for Prayer
Fundamentalist Islam, driven by the Taliban, is upheld by a minority, but impacts the whole nation. It has escalated violence against religious minorities (including Shi’a Muslims), shattered social cohesion and divided the country. It also disables economic development and keeps millions in poverty through the disruption it causes and the values it endorses. Of particular note for prayer:
- a) The violence and war conducted by insurgents, especially in the scenic northwestern Swat Valley, emptied hundreds of villages, towns and schools, cost thousands of lives and disrupted the lives of millions. The militants’ success gave them temporary control over the region and forced concessions by the government, which has largely wrested control back.
- b) The imposition of shari’a in the northwest– a result of government compromise with the militants – spells woe for many, especially non-Muslims. It also invites further aggression from the militants, since such tactics previously yielded significant gains and concessions.
- c) The proliferation of madrasas (estimated at 20,000 in number) – religious schools that in shari’a-controlled areas usually offer little education beyond memorizing the Quran and pushing the brand of Islam favored by the militants. These schools, located throughout Pakistan, exist in part due to the lack of quality state-run schools and the expense of private ones, and they produce a new generation of recruits for the militant cause.
- d) The status of women under such militant values is miserable. They endure almost no freedoms or rights, minimal education and widespread domestic abuse; social structures and cultural morés make it extremely hard to evangelize them.
Pray that the true nature of such an expression of Islam might be exposed for all to see, and thereby rendered powerless. Pray for safety for those most at risk under the rule of shari’a. Pray for the government to have insight in how to deal with this force that appears impossible to root out.
Discrimination and persecution against religious minorities take many forms and are directed not only against Christians but also against Hindus, Ahmaddiyas and Shi’a Muslims. The list of wrongs perpetrated makes for very sobering reading.
- a) Institutionalized discrimination against minorities has increased since the government started pursuing a policy of Islamization in the 1980s. This affects government posts, employment and education opportunities, and much of public life. It also entrenches the lower status of minorities and prevents their social and economic advancement. Financial and social inducements to convert to Islam also present a problem to non-Muslims, who are generally poorer and have fewer career and education opportunities.
- b)The notorious blasphemy law imposes the death penalty on anyone who defames Mohammed, and life in prison for anyone who defiles a Quran. Extremists routinely use the law – as a pretext for underlying personal motives of revenge or envy – to falsely accuse innocents and stir up enough religious frenzy to generate mob justice. Half of those charged under the blasphemy law have been Muslim.
- c) Persecution and violence are reality for many Christians and for others. Frequently, churches are vandalized or destroyed, and people are beaten, murdered, abducted, raped or forced to convert. Police are usually either cowed by or complicit with the fanatics and mobs, and reparation or justice is often not attained.
- d) An atmosphere of intimidation and fear pervades the lives of Christians and other minorities. Although sharing the gospel is legal, few Christians try to do so with Muslims due to fear of violent repercussions. Christians’ prevailing negative attitudes towards Muslims must also be overcome.
Pray that religious freedom might be maintained, both in law and in practice. Pray that those seeking to abuse Pakistan’s laws to foment terror and hate might themselves be subject to justice. Pray that Christians might always be prepared to share about Jesus, and to repay prejudice with forgiveness and violence with love.
PRAYER: O Lord, You have revealed Yourself in history and in the Scriptures as a covenant-keeping God. Your promises never fail. There is no one like You. You have provided for us such a great salvation that nothing can separate us from Your love, and no one can pluck us out of Your hand. We are saved by looking to You, transferring the full weight of our trust to Your holy Son Jesus and His perfect work on our behalf. Who have we in heaven, but You? Help us to anchor our faith on the truth You have revealed so that even on those days when Your presence is hidden to us, we will not be tossed about or shaken. In Jesus’ Name. Amen