Know His Comfort

“To wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” 1 Thessalonians 1:10

In this letter Paul expresses considerable affection for the Christians in Thessalonica (2:7-8). Many of his intended readers had turned from either Judaism or idols to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as a result of his earlier visit (1:9).

There were others who were jealous of the affection of the Christians toward Paul and they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of proclaiming Christ for financial gain and for prominence and power over people. However, this was more likely the motivation of his accusers.

Paul reminded them of his first visit. At that time he provided for himself so he had not been preaching for financial gain. Also he proclaimed the plain truth of the Gospel that produced conviction of sin so he wasn’t seeking a following for himself by deceit (2:5). Further, he accepted the persecution that followed preaching of the Gospel (2:2). On reflection the Christians in Thessalonica could readily see that the accusations against Paul were unfounded and false.

Another concern of these Christians was the return of Jesus Christ to establish His earthly kingdom. Fortunately for us, in correcting their confusion, he also corrects the confusion that is about now.

To keep his readers rightly focussed he pointed them to Christ’s return and kept that expectation alive throughout his letters. It is this expectation that keeps our minds on Christ. Key to the church’s future is that it will not endure the Tribulation. Jesus will deliver the church from this time of trouble on the earth (1:10). Paul’s words in 5:13-18 regarding the process of deliverance were intended to bring comfort. There would be no comfort if this was not to be taken literally (v 18).

To affirm what he has already written, Paul writes, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ: (5:9). That Christians would not endure the Tribulation is intended to bring comfort and encouragement (5:11).

As Paul poured out his love and affection he asked them to remember how they first received the Gospel. He then asked them to look forward to when they will meet the Lord (2:19). In closing and to sum up his letter Paul writes, “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (5:24). Remember when we responded to the Gospel; keep our minds steadily fixed on the day we will see Jesus, and trust Him to do all that He has said (cf. Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21). Then we will know His comfort.

Awesome Majesty

“On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2

About twenty years ago I was in the co-pilot’s seat of a light plane flown by an MAF pilot. We were flying from Bokondini to Wamena in the central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. I knew nothing of how to fly the plane and it was my first light plane flight in the region. Fortunately there was no need of a co-pilot’s services and any uneasiness on the part of my friends on board was relieved!

For several days previously, we had been unable to fly due to smoke and fog. Now, we were soaring between huge steep mountains with cavernous gorges kilometres deep. We were awestruck at the scale. We might say that we trembled at the beauty and scale of what we were beholding.

Twice in Isaiah sixty six the Lord refers to trembling at His word (v 2 & 5). He does not mean the kind of trembling that demons experience (James 2:19). Theirs is a trembling of fear of God’s impending wrath and judgment that is hanging over their heads. The “tremble” in Isaiah is one that arises from being awestruck at the beauty, wisdom and holy magnificence of the Lord. In colloquial terms, we might say it is the “WOW factor”.

Who will stand in awe of the Lord and tremble, not from fear of wrath or judgment, but in seeing the greatness of His beauty, wisdom and majesty? The Lord tells us that it is the one who is poor in spirit and of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15 the Lord says that He dwells with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit. The Psalmist writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The “poor in spirit” in Isaiah equates with the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt with regard to righteousness.

Sometimes when we are out walking, riding, driving or flying, we see some amazing scenery and are moved in awe of great beauty. This, however, is only a subdued emotion compared with that of the tremble we may experience as the Lord allows us glimpses of Himself through His word and the experiences of life we have as we walk with Him. The next corner in our lives that we turn or the next page of the Bible that we read, may be the means by which He reveals Himself to us with more of His beauty, wisdom and awesome majesty and holiness.

We cannot demand that the Lord reveal Himself; but we can put ourselves in the right place so that, when He chooses, we will have the right spirit of heart that causes us to tremble in delight at His presence.

Trembling at His Presence

“In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria – a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” Isaiah 19:24-25

Considering the current Middle East environment it is quite a mental exercise to accept that these three nations will one day get along as one. The previous verse tells us that there will be a highway between Egypt and Assyria which, of geographic necessity, must pass through Israel. People who have not experienced the power of God in salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ might be inclined to say that such talk is but a dream. However, the Lord says He will perform it when He comes. Jesus is the solution to the problems in the Middle East. The question, “If there is a God, why doesn’t He do something?” will be answered forever.

This outcome will not come progressively over a long period of time. Verse two indicates a time of civil unrest or even civil war in Egypt from which a cruel and oppressive leader will arise (v 4). The river Nile will dry up most likely by drought inland. Without the Nile hunger and disease will afflict the nation. Out of this severe trial Egypt will turn to the Lord and He will deliver them (vv 20-21).

Leaders of the nations of the world carry on in futility trying to resolve the Middle East unrest, terrorism and wars but they reject the One who would show them the way. They refuse His counsel and wonder why things are getting worse. Paul describes them and their actions in Romans 1:18-32 summing up their words and actions in verse 22, “Professing to be wise they became fools.”

In the Proverbs we read, “The Lord gives wisdom” (2:6) and “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). As long as people reject God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding they will fail at every turn. When the Lord returns He will resolve all the divisions but tragically people will suffer because they refuse the wisdom of God.

Isaiah would cry out for the Lord to tear apart the heavens and come down “to make Your name known to Your adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Your presence” (Isaiah 64:1-5) and the Lord will do so but there was still the need of the cross first. In mercy God gives time for people to repent and in this He shows His patient love. “God demonstrates His own [kind of] love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8; cf. 1 John 3:1).

The “rich man” in Luke 16:19-31 begged the Lord to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers of their great error but Jesus responded, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [the Bible], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (v 31). In great power Jesus rose from the dead and there are hundreds of recorded witnesses but the exhibit of God’s power by itself is ineffective to save. Salvation only comes when a person chooses to believe God’s Word and trust Jesus Christ.

Thank the Giver

“Thus says the Lord, “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money” Isaiah 52:3

When the Lord spoke these words through Isaiah to Jerusalem the people had turned to idolatry and away from knowledge of the Lord. This sounds much like our world today. As we consider how the Lord dealt with Israel we will gain an understanding of how He will deal with people now.

The book of Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord’s intent is to redeem Israel. By the time we get to chapter 51 the Lord is pleading with Israel to “Listen to me,” stated three times. God wants to be heard but the people were not listening. Our world is not listening to God’s word either. There are few who really want to hear what God has said.

For those who do listen there is another step. The Lord then says to Israel, also stated three times, “Awake, awake.” It is not enough to just hear what God is saying but to respond to it. As our world is today so was Israel then. People who expect utopia on earth without Christ are dreaming. Israel had tried everything to keep safe. They attempted to build their own military, they had paid tribute to other nations and they had bought mercenary armies and yet they still suffered. For all their attempts to buy freedom they had failed. The Lord says they sold themselves for nothing. Their treasuries were emptied for no gain. All attempts that people make to buy deliverance the Lord says are futile.

Many people seek forgiveness and salvation but they want to be able to boast that they achieved it by their own effort, merit and wisdom. Such is the nature of pride. Paul responds to this by writing, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the Gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It goes against pride but forgiveness of sin and salvation are a gift from God. The Lord says through Isaiah, “You shall be redeemed without money” (52:3). Israel will be redeemed as a gift from the Lord. In this we observe the Divine Nature of God. In chapter 53 the Lord describes how He will do it. That chapter is a description of Jesus Christ at His crucifixion and resurrection. In a nutshell we have it in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus Christ is the Gift. Those who receive Him are the children of God (John 1:12). Later Paul would write, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The Lord’s plea with Israel and with all people today is to cease futile efforts to buy forgiveness and salvation with money, by acts of righteousness, by personal achievement, or religious ceremony and ritual, and simply receive forgiveness and salvation as the Gift it is in Jesus Christ. There is only one thing left for us to do. When we have received a gift, we thank the giver.

Nipping At Our Heels

“Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live” Isaiah 38:1

In my teenage years I frequently and often worked in my neighbour’s dairy in school holidays and weekends. He had a black and white border collie dog named Rastus that had a particularly useful skill for rounding up the cows. At considerable risk he would nip the heels of a cow and then drop flat on the ground to avoid the inevitable hoof flashing over his head. For extra fun he would also have a swing on a cow’s tail. He lived to a ripe old age without ever being hit by a hoof. King Hezekiah had a dog nipping at his heels as well, a dog called pride.

The apostle Paul would later write, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain … I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21-23). Paul’s desire was to be with the One he loved but he was willing to postpone that joy for the sake of the mission Jesus had given him. Let us compare that with King Hezekiah.

When Hezekiah was told of his impending death he went to the Lord asking for more time. We can discern his motive by his prayer. It was quite different to Paul’s desire. His request was based on his earthly position. He wanted to enjoy and boast of the earthly blessings God had given him in preference to the joy of actually being with the Lord. There is no suggestion that he wanted to remain for the sake of God’s will or God’s people.

This becomes even more obvious when the messengers from Babylon came to visit. He showed them “the silver and gold, the spices and precious ointment, and all his armoury – all that was found among his treasures. There was nothing in his house or in all his dominion that Hezekiah did not show them” (Isaiah 39:2). The dog named pride was nipping at his heels guiding him to a gate called “Stumbling” and he did not resist it. He boasted as if he had obtained all he enjoyed by his own effort. Pride will dog us all of our earthly lives so we need to learn how to recognise it and make our resistance effective.

We need to regularly check our motives as to whether we love Jesus Christ or just the blessings He gives. Hezekiah loved the worldly blessings in preference to the Giver of the blessings. Consequently he desired a longer life on earth absent from the Lord. In the end he lost it all and all the good he had previously done for Israel unravelled after he died.

What if the Lord should say these words to you today? As we consider our response we will discover whether it really is Jesus we love or whether it is just the blessings He gives. Will you respond like Paul or like Hezekiah? When it is Jesus we love we will readily receive His command to come home and ask for no delay. His timing will be perfect.

The Greatest Miracle

“For we have made lies our refuge and under falsehood we have hidden ourselves” Isaiah 28:15

Isaiah had been observing his own nation, Israel, and was writing concerning their situation in his day. As we consider this verse we can’t help but believe that he is observing and writing concerning our own nation as it is today. He is not describing every individual in Israel because we know that God always maintains a believing remnant. We would not apply these words to every individual in our nation either because there are those who are faithful to the Lord and His word. But nationally they suit all too well.

Jesus called Satan a liar (John 8:44) and Peter discerned that Satan had moved Ananias to lie (Acts 5:3). Paul recognised that people had “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (Romans 1:25). He also wrote that because people choose to turn away from God, God will allow them to be deceived (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

Isaiah is saying what we know to be true. People believe the lie about Jesus Christ because it comforts them in their sin. Hence, lies become our refuge, our place of safety and comfort – but only in the short-term. It is easier for a sinner to believe the lie that God does not exist and that they will not have to give account for their lives than to deal with the truth. So they take “refuge” in the lie.

Secondly we hide from the truth by peddling things that are obviously lies. This is why people believe in evolution. It gives them, in their minds, a place to resist the truth and hide from it. Anyone who does some research desiring to know the truth will discover the great falsehood of the Theory of Evolution but it is a convenient hiding place for people who do not want to face the truth.

Psalm ten reveals the three presumptuous thoughts of the person who wants to conceal in their minds the truth by embracing a lie.

  1. I am okay, I am invincible (v 6)
  2. God is not interested or is dead (v 11)
  3. I will not be held accountable to anyone for my life (v 13)

These are all lies of Satan that people all too readily embrace because they love sin and do not want to face reality. Considering the long-term consequences it is staggering that anyone would choose to take refuge in lies and present falsehoods to their own mind and soul to escape thinking about the truth but such is that nature of sin.

Those who do want to face reality will face the Lord Jesus Christ and discover that He has borne their sin on the cross and is able, therefore, to forgive all their sin and, much more, cleanse them from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The greatest miracle of all is that God is able to bring any sinner to repentance, most of all me, but He does and still is. Hallelujah!

A Glimpse into the Future

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb … The lion shall eat straw like the ox … The weaned child shall put his hand in the vipers den” Isaiah 11:6-9

Isaiah is giving us a glimpse of how the world will be when Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom. The world Isaiah is describing is not the same as the one we observe and experience today. There has been an account of a vegetarian lion that refused to eat meat but that is considered an extraordinary circumstance. When Jesus reigns there will only be vegetarian lions. The passage tells us that leopards, bears and wolves will also be vegetarian. Cobras and vipers will not bite young children even if a child is unintentionally rough when playing.

In many respects this will be a return to the world as it was before the curse. There will be harmony among all the animals in Christ’s kingdom and people will be able to interact with them without fear of harm. This also means that animals can interact with people without fear of harm. Neither of these scenarios is possible at present.

Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin is the only reason that the curse can be removed. “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)! Because we have only lived in a world where the curse exists it is impossible for us to imagine exactly how a world where the effect of the curse has been significantly reduced will be. In this chapter Isaiah gives us a glimpse. Revelation twenty tells us that Satan will be bound and that resurrected Christians will reign with Jesus during that time. There are other passages in the Bible that add to the glimpse that Isaiah gives.

The most notable aspect of this period is not the restored earthly order among animals and people or even Satan being bound and unable to deceive people. The most notable aspect is that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” and “The Gentiles shall seek Him” (Isaiah 11:9, 10). We can only begin to imagine living in an environment where the most common topic of discussion is not the weather but Jesus Christ! All the inhibitions and distractions that plague us now will be wiped away.