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BIBLE READ-THROUGH: DAY 23 REFLECTION (ISAIAH 17 – 54:17)

“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”

DAY 23: AUGUST 14

ISAIAH 17 – 54:17

I mentioned a few days ago, when we were doing the Solomon readings, that I had to skim through most of the proverbs because the material was so dense. Each line really required a study in itself, which isn’t suited to our current “quick ‘n’ dirty” read-through mode.

Today’s reading is likewise dense, but O Mama! There was no way I wasn’t going to slow down and savour every morsel of what God is feeding us through Isaiah. So instead of the anticipated few hours I’d scheduled for this reading, I took the whole day. Sometimes you just gotta.

  • Jesus, as I said before, is all over Isaiah. We can see from today’s reading why Jesus favoured this prophet and also why he chose to read a passage from Isaiah at the synagogue in Nazareth when he outed himself as the Messiah. God revealed to Isaiah more about Jesus and the Kingdom than he did to anyone else, and Isaiah also wrote more eloquently about Jesus and the Kingdom than did anyone else. Even in a translation of a translation of a translation, the power of God’s Word is so forceful, it’s at times overwhelming. I always come away from a reading of Isaiah completely exhilarated and with a deeper insight into Jesus and spiritual Zion.
  • Along with descriptions of Jesus and the role he would play as Messiah, Isaiah also gives us a run-down of what will happen to those who either fight against Israel or defy God. It isn’t pretty. Reading the passages about what will ultimately happen to Israel’s enemies (even though in the interim they seem to prosper in their evil and get away with it), I couldn’t help but think of those who say they believe in God and yet give only part of themselves to him, holding the rest back. I couldn’t help thinking that these people, by holding part of themselves back, are essentially defying God and are enemies of spiritual Israel. Do you think that people who hold part of themselves back from God, giving it to the world instead, will secure a place in Heaven? That is not a rhetorical question; that is actually a “yes” or “no” question, and the answer is a resounding “NO!”. We’ll read later in Acts what happens to people who claim to love God and follow Jesus but hold part of themselves back. They end up no different than God’s enemies.
  • God told Isaiah to get naked and barefoot and walk that way FOR THREE YEARS as a sign against Israel’s enemies, and he did it. We need to be as willing as Isaiah to do whatever God tells us and for whatever length of time. The alternative is losing our place in Heaven. If it means getting naked and walking barefoot for three years, we get naked and walk barefoot for three years, but only if GOD tells us to do it. Personally, I don’t think God will ask any of us to do that. Just before I was reborn, God gave me the choice to forgive or not to forgive, making it very clear that choosing to forgive was the right choice and would lead to the better outcome. What I’m saying is that God didn’t ask me to walk naked and barefoot for three years. That was just for Isaiah. But God might give you the “to forgive or not to forgive” choice, because God doesn’t answer the prayers of people whose hearts are hardened by resentment.
  • I’m looking forward to the Isaiah grand finale tomorrow and the start of the book of Jeremiah. Jesus also quoted extensively from “Jeremy”, as you’ll see as we make our way through the book over the next few days.

So what are your thoughts on Isaiah? Do you find the scripture exhilarating, or are you stuck thinking what’s up with God that he made Isaiah walk naked and barefoot for three years? God made his prophets do a few bizarre things (wait until we get to Ezekiel!), but everything was for a purpose and a sign, and was meant either to get his people back on track or to warn their enemies, or both. God knew the more outrageous the sign, the more impactful it would be.

Has God made you do anything crazy yet? If not, watch out for it. The more you say you want to give everything to God, the more he’ll test you to see if you really mean it. As Mary, at the wedding in Cana, said of Jesus: “Whatever he says to you, do it”. Just make sure it’s God you’re hearing from, not some other spirit.

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Click on the links below for a full schedule of the BIBLE READ-THROUGH on PDF.

“WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?”

We live in an age of widespread and constant fear that is continuously being stoked by politicians, “experts”, and various forms of media. In formerly Christian (that is, free) countries, physical safety has replaced freedom as the highest value. To achieve this safety, most people are willingly giving up their hard-won individual freedoms without a fight, putting their faith in lock-downs and injections while parroting the communist slogan “for the greater good”. Not surprisingly, the more freedom they give up to gain this promised safety, the more elusive it becomes, and the less safe they feel.

The Age of Fear has arrived.

Jesus lived his life fearlessly. Yes, he had a healthy fear of God, but that didn’t mean he was afraid of God; it meant he respected the power that God had over him. As a sign of his respect, Jesus did everything to please God so as not to fall on the wrong side of the power.

As followers of Jesus, we also have the same capacity to live as fearlessly as Jesus did while on Earth. But what made Jesus so fearless? What enabled him to live his life without fear of anyone or anything?

The answer is rooted in Jesus’ complete faith and trust in God, and in his understanding of God’s Kingdom on Earth. As soon as Jesus came out as the Messiah – the king of the Jews – the Kingdom was established. Jesus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was under the protection of God’s Holy Spirit and holy angels while he was in the Kingdom. This was the safe place promised by God to his people: No physical or spiritual harm can come to those who live in the spiritual Promised Land. The physical protection lasts until it’s time to go home (when it’s removed to enable physical death), but the spiritual protection remains as long as the person being protected is in right-standing with God.

Imagine a private security firm made up of billions of expertly trained and well-armed guards surrounding you at all times, and then you have a bit of an idea of the protection afforded you by God’s Kingdom on Earth. When you’re in the Kingdom, your spiritual enemies can’t get anywhere near you. And even if they do, they have no power over you, not until it’s your time.

Jesus knew the protection afforded by the Kingdom and deeply understood it. In fact, it formed the cornerstone of his faith, which is why his response to his disciples’ fears and failures was typically “WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?” Faith is the opposite of fear. If you have faith in God, then you know God’s Kingdom has been established on Earth, with Jesus as King. If you know the Kingdom has been established and that Jesus is your king, then you know you are protected both physically and spiritually. This should give you the same level of fearlessness that Jesus had while on Earth.

So, if you find yourself being afraid of anyone or anything in this Age of Fear, ask yourself “WHERE IS YOUR FAITH?” Then do everything you can to deepen your faith and trust in God and get a better understanding of his Kingdom.

WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

Jesus spent the entirety of his ministry years teaching about God’s Kingdom. His focus was showing his followers how to live and thrive within the spiritual realm of the Kingdom while they were still in an earthly body. He taught that it was not practical to apply the laws of God’s Kingdom to the earthly realm, any more than it was advisable to apply the laws of the earthly realm to God’s Kingdom. These are two separate but interwoven jurisdictions, both of which must be dealt with appropriately.

Jesus emphasized that the Kingdom of God cannot be seen with the eyes, as it was “within” us. It’s a spiritual realm, not an earthly one. He also likened it to a speck of yeast hidden in dough that makes it rise, or the tiniest of seeds that grows to become a massive spreading tree. These are things that either cannot be seen or are difficult to see, as they are hidden in dough or in the ground. At no time did Jesus describe God’s Kingdom in worldly political terms or as something that was far off in the distant future. In fact, he stated the opposite, declaring: “My kingdom is not of this world”, and that: “If I, by the finger of God, cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God has come upon you”.

If the Kingdom had not already come, Jesus wouldn’t have spent all his ministry years teaching about it. His lessons were meant to be applied soon after he taught them (that is, within the lifetime of his followers), not in some hazy distant future 2,000 or 3,000 years down the road. Jesus taught about the Kingdom not only because it had already come, but because it required a whole new way of living that in many respects was opposite to the world’s ways and to what had been taught in the Law.

Let’s take, for instance, how to deal with enemies. The Old Testament was clear that you are to exact revenge on an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” basis, but the Kingdom requires that you let your enemies keep their eyes and teeth, and that you love them instead. You do this by praying for them and blessing them, even while they’re cursing and killing you. This was a hard teaching for many of Jesus’ followers then, and it remains a hard teaching for many today. Nonetheless, like the Commandments, it is a core tenet of the Kingdom, and as such is non-negotiable.

Another controversial teaching is Jesus’ advice to sell everything you have to buy a sword. Many have taken this teaching to mean that you should not only arm yourself, but that you have God’s blessing to harm others in self-defence, in violation of the Commandment. But Jesus didn’t say that we should use weapons to hurt others. In fact, he demonstrated the opposite when he told his followers to put up their swords and then healed the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest him. He also stated at that time (a very teachable moment): “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”. We are to live by God’s Word and Commandments, not by revenge or self-defence. Jesus’ advice to arm ourselves meant that we should carry weapons as a deterrent only – not to kill or maim, but as a visible deterrent.

Despite Jesus openly stating during his ministry that God’s Kingdom had already come, many Christians today still believe that God’s Kingdom will only be established at Jesus’ second coming, and that in fact the whole purpose of the second coming is for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. This belief is a-scriptural: In other words, it ain’t in the Bible. Along with Jesus explicitly stating in the gospels that the Kingdom had already come, Paul mentioned several times that we followers of Jesus are priests and prophets in that Kingdom. He never once said that we should pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom because he, as as born-again believer, was only too aware that it had already come: He was living in it, as are we, if we are born-again.

What Jesus actually advised us to wait for was his coming in glory. This event will occur with great fanfare, the kind that those who rejected Jesus 2,000 years ago had expected the first time around when he revealed himself as the Messiah and established his kingdom. This glorious revelation of Jesus’ messiahship THAT EVERYONE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE will be the open manifestation of the spiritual realm in the earthly realm for all to see. The Kingdom will no longer be invisible or “hidden”, but will blaze from horizon to horizon and be heralded by a blast of trumpets.

And what will Jesus do when he comes in glory? Will he give it all up to establish an earthly kingdom, even though he said time and time again that his kingdom is not of this world? I highly doubt that sitting on an earthly throne in Jerusalem will be at the top of his to-do list at that point. Jesus tells us that he will send his angels to gather together the last of his followers and take them all home. Or as Paul says, they will be caught up in the air, like Jesus was at his ascension, or as Elijah at his. Jesus’ second coming will not mark the establishment of a worldly geo-political kingdom, but rather the end of the world.

As we know from scripture, the long-awaited second coming will only occur after a time of great tribulation of natural and man-made disasters. So while we look forward to Jesus’ return in glory, we should not look forward to the horrors that will precede it. God’s people will be protected spiritually during the tribulation, though not necessarily physically. Christianity will be outlawed and persecution of Christians will become the norm again. And by “persecution”, I don’t just mean that people will be rude to you or force you to bake a cake for them. It will be full-on persecution that includes imprisonment, torture, and execution, as it was in the early years of the Church and throughout the Middle Ages, or as it was during the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or as it is today in the Middle East, some Asian countries, and parts of Africa. The persecution of Christians hasn’t stopped for 2,000 years, which should not surprise us, as Jesus warned it would be like that for his followers. As he was treated, so will his followers be treated.

Finally, we should keep in mind that while we, as born-agains, live and move spiritually within God’s Kingdom, we are not yet citizens of it but rather immigrants and refugees. And like earthly immigrants and refugees in earthly countries, we have certain protections in God’s spiritual realm, though not yet full-status protection. Immigrants and refugees can still be denied citizenship, if they break the laws of their adoptive country or don’t comply with immigration policies. As long as they’re not citizens, they can be kicked out.

The same goes for us in God’s Kingdom while we’re yet in earthly bodies. We’re given great privileges as born-agains, and much is expected of us in return. Paul talks about all the things we once did, pre-rebirth, that we should no longer do. In fact, if God’s Spirit is strong enough within us, we’ll have no desire to do those things any more. That is what we should strive for – to have such a large measure of God’s Spirit that doing those things we used to do doesn’t occur to us anymore. Whatever hold they had over us is now gone. We don’t want to be like the person who was “swept clean” but then backslid until his end was worse than his beginning. We don’t want God to tell us at our judgement that it would have been better for us not to have been born at all.

Living life day-to-day in God’s Kingdom on Earth doesn’t need to involve a long and growing list of do’s and don’ts that we’re either constantly forgetting or failing to abide by. All we need is the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit and the very short list of God’s Commandments. That is the core of what Jesus taught during his ministry years, and therefore the core that we, as his followers, should learn, practice, model, and teach others. In fact, all of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in one brief sentence: Keep all the Commandments, and let the Holy Spirit guide you in everything you do.  If you genuinely do this (and by “genuinely” I mean sincerely and from the heart, not just for show), chances are good that one day, when your time here is up, you’ll be awarded full citizenship in God’s Kingdom in Heaven.

HEAVEN TWELVE

work hard

As in every other type of job, working in God’s kingdom on Earth requires preparation. Very few people are ready to preach the Word immediately after rebirth. Most need intensive trial-and-error training, followed by a lengthy apprenticeship period. If the apprenticeship works out, God will hire you to work on a probationary basis. If you make it through the probationary period, then you’ll be hired full-time.

In contrast to the world’s system, the higher up the employment ladder you go in God’s kingdom, the fewer financial rewards you’ll reap. In fact, with each promotion, the less money you’ll earn. Nabbing a coveted full-time position means you’ll be earning a whopping nothing in terms of worldly wealth because you won’t need to earn anything. One way or another, God will provide for all your needs.

Look at Jesus during his ministry years, or Paul during his final travels. These are our examples of what full-time work in God’s kingdom on Earth looks like. Neither man had any income to speak of, yet their housing, food, transportation, clothing and miscellaneous needs were completely taken care of. They were also ferociously, even supernaturally, energetic. They didn’t just grudgingly put in their 40 hours a week and then kick back for a weekend of R&R with their buddies – no, they were always working. There’s no such thing as “overtime” when you accept a position in God’s kingdom on Earth.  You work every day, from the time you get up in the morning until the time you close your eyes at night, and you keep on working until you either fall down dead or are killed. There is no retirement in God’s kingdom on Earth. The phrase “retired minister” is an abomination to God.

At any point, of course, your training or employment can be terminated, if you show yourself unworthy to the task. Being born-again isn’t a guaranteed ticket to Heaven, but it is a prerequisite to getting into Heaven. And being born-again necessarily means that you’re either working in God’s earthly kingdom or preparing to work in it.

All of you reading this blog should either be training, or apprenticing, or in your probationary period, or working full-time. If you don’t identify with one of those phases, you’re not born-again.

Jesus said that you cannot serve God and mammon. During your training, apprenticeship and probationary years, God will allow most of you to continue working in the world, but only enough to keep body and soul together. Your focus, during those years, should not be on increasing your income or on upgrading your skills to get a “better job” with “better benefits”; your focus should be on doing God’s work in preparation for full-time employment in the kingdom. Your goal is not to earn more money but to earn less, until you’re finally released from the need to earn money altogether.

What a blessed day that is, when God calls you to work full-time!

His spirit is with you powerfully from that point onwards, and you have the same focus and drive that Jesus and Paul had. Every incremental increase in God’s spirit (which comes with every incremental increase in your faith) brings you greater insight into God’s ways as well as enhanced pleasure in everyday life. The higher up the employment scale you advance, the closer you grow to God and Jesus, the more they entrust in you, and the more likely you are to get to Heaven.

The job does get tougher, however, and the physical comfort level decreases with each advancement. If you’re looking just to slide by as a lowly bench warmer in God’s earthly kingdom – forget it. There’s no such position available.

No genuine born-again wants to be bench warmer. That’s one way you can tell the real born-agains from the fake ones – the genuine ones can’t wait to get out there and start spreading the Word, whereas the fake ones either don’t want to do it or will only do it after attending theology school. These latter types see preaching as a career opportunity, and they’re in it mainly for the income security.

No genuine born-again preaches for a paycheck. No genuine born-again expects payment for sharing God’s Word.

Jesus filed professional preachers and Word-sellers under “hypocrites”.

Don’t get on that file.

Working for God can be exhausting and demanding and take everything you have to give, but even your worst day working for the kingdom will be infinitely better than your best day working for the world..