Bible reading for June 23-- 24
Jun 23 -- Isaiah 55 and Matthew 3
Jun 22 -- Isaiah 56 and Matthew 4
"...so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)
HIS WORD GOES FORTH (ch 55). This is one of my favorite chapters in the OT. I know, I say that about a lot of chapters. But it's all here, the follow-up from the atonement accomplished by the suffering Servant (ch 53), which results in the covenant promises, "...my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed..." (ch 54). And now the invitation, "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (55:1). Doesn't this remind you of Jesus' words, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37), and the end of Revelation, "...let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price" (Rev 22:17). So gracious! And so freely offered! Coming to drink of the water of life also means we turn away from wickedness and from the things which do not bring eternal satisfaction (vv 2-7). God's ways may seem strange and beyond us, and indeed, they are infinitely beyond us (vv 8-9). We do well to heed Isaac Watts' advice to "acquaint yourself with your own ignorance." God's word is living and active (vv 10-11; Heb 4:12) and accomplishes what he sends it forth to do. And not only are God's people restored but also creation itself will be renewed (vv 12-13; Rom 8:21).
OBSERVING THE SABBATH (ch 56). The people in Isaiah's day (and later, before the new covenant) would show their obedience to the Lord by keeping the Sabbath day holy. The Sabbath was a special covenant sign between the Lord and Israel (Ex 31:12-18). And the temple especially was to be a house of prayer for all the peoples -- as Jesus demonstrated with his zeal -- and a place for sacrifices and offerings. The new covenant through Christ's death has altered the situation (Heb 7:12). The Apostle Paul teaches that this specific law of the Mosaic covenant does not carry over into the New covenant, being a shadow (Col 2:16; Rom 14:5). But the principle continues. According to Hebrews we have by faith found our rest in the Lord (ceasing evil works and works of self-righteousness), and one day will enter an eternal Sabbath (Heb 4:9-10). And we should still observe proper rest and regular worship together with God's people (Heb 10:24-25).
"From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'" (Matthew 4:17)
JOHN THE BAPTIST (ch 3). John exercised a powerful ministry of preparation. According to Jesus he was the last and greatest of the OT prophets (Matt 11:11). Whereas many of his generation looked forward to the coming of the Messiah in a political or national way, John called for personal and individual repentance. Each one of us ultimately will be baptized by the Holy Spirit or by the fire of Messiah's judgment (3:11-12). There are only two destinies. Repentance is the appropriate way to "prepare the way of the Lord" (Mt 3:2ff). Jesus also calls for repentance (4:17). This means a change of mind, heart, and behavior, in light of who the Lord is. It is first to turn from unbelief to faith, and then from a sinful life to one of obedience. The flip-side of faith is repentance (1 Thess 1:9). This is an ongoing practice for the Christian. Martin Luther wrote in the first of his 95 theses, "All of life is repentance", meaning that as believers we will constantly need to deal with our wrong attitudes and actions. Confessing sin is part of our daily walk with the Lord (1 John 1:9).
THE TEMPTATION (ch 4). Jesus was victorious over the devil. In a temptation rematch (from Gen 3), Jesus, the second Adam, resisted Satan's lies, this time in a wilderness of deprivation rather than a garden of plenty. Jesus chooses obedience, humility, and worship of the only true God. He believes and quotes God's word as authoritative. The decisive and final victory will come at the cross. Where all of humanity has failed, Jesus stands faithful (Heb 5:8-9). At our Lord's baptism (3:16-17) we witness the triune nature of God: the Son is baptized, the Father speaks, and the Holy Spirit descends. The three-fold name is also given in the Great Commission (28:19). Prophets were commissioned by God as authorized spokesmen from God, but the Father's statement in 3:17 reveals the unique and personal bond between him and our Savior, that he is "my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." We do not trust Jesus as one savior among many, or even the greatest prophet, but as the beloved Son of God, whose life and death have satisfied our every need before God.
REFLECT. What a Savior! Think about these words of J. Gresham Machen, from his book, The Gospel And The Modern World, where he says,
"Read the Gospels for yourselves, my friends. Do not study them this time. Just read them; just let the stupendous figure of Jesus stand before your eyes. Has not that figure the marks of truth? Could that figure ever have been produced in impersonal fashion to satisfy the needs of the primitive church? No, the figure of Jesus in the Gospels possesses an individuality that is irreducible, a shining, startling vividness against which criticism ultimately will fail. Yet criticism has had its beneficent results; it has shown with increasing plainness that the picture of Jesus in the New Testament is essentially one. Gone is the day when a few miracles could he removed in order to leave a supposed historical account of a founder of a new religious life or a preacher of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Recent criticism has carried us far beyond all such easy solutions of the problem as that. The Jesus of the New Testament is an organic whole; the New Testament writers are dominated one and all by the conviction that Jesus was the supernatural Redeemer come into this world for the salvation of men. Increasingly, the great alternative is becoming clear: give Jesus up, confess that his portrait is forever hidden in the mists of pragmatic legend; or else accept him essentially as he is presented to us by the Evangelists and by Paul."
Image credit. Painting above of John the Baptist by Titian, now in the Museo del Prado, Spain. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Subscribe for email at Buttondown.email/Sandy. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. A very helpful resource is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.