Why should pastors teach the word of God? Why should Christians daily read and study their Bibles? Because the Bible is sufficient. The written word of God takes us to the Living Word of God, that we might be men and women that God desires us to be.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

Why We Teach the Word

Posted: January 29, 2023 in 2 Timothy

2 Timothy 3:16-17, “Why We Teach the Word”

“What are you going to preach about, pastor?” It is the question that looms over pastors every week (often twice a week). The calendar never stops and as soon as you get past one Sunday, the next one hovers over the horizon. For many pastors, the question is often unanswerable, apart from either frantic searching every week, or games more akin to bingo than anything systematic. Too often, the question gets answered in “how to” sermons or motivational mini-messages, emotionally charged pep rallies with no real content.

This is the issue addressed by the Nathanael Project, the group with which I went to Kenya (and fully reported on Wednesday). The primary vision of the NP when initially conceived was to teach indigenous pastors to teach the Bible. We’ve found that pastors around the world (be they in Kenya, Cambodia, or India) do wonderfully well in evangelism (often better than American pastors). Where they need help is discipleship. Because so many pastors in third-world nations have little-to-no Bible training, their sermons consist of whatever they’ve heard from others. They take the teachings they hear on the radio or on TV (often from false teachers in the word-faith/prosperity movement) and repeat them. In other instances, perhaps they are comfortable with only a few key Bible stories from the gospel accounts and Acts, and they teach those few things again and again, neglecting the wider teaching of the full counsel of God.

What we do in the Nathanael Project is to help these pastors (1) see the need to teach the Bible, then (2) give them the tools to do it. This is done through pastor conferences that introduce some basic principles of interpretation, with the goal of providing the pastors with a video curriculum that teaches the how-to of Inductive Bible Study, along with providing examples of verse-by-verse studies through various books of the Bible ranging from Genesis to Revelation. We try to equip the pastors to teach the whole counsel of God, helping them see that all the Bible is necessary for all their people.

It isn’t just a problem in the third world. This is a problem throughout Jesus’ church, all over the globe. According to the State of the Bible 2022 (research compiled from the American Bible Society), “nearly 26 million Americans reduced or stopped their interaction with Scripture” in 2022.[1] Moreover, out of those surveyed, “nearly half of American adults (49%) agree with this statement: The Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.”[2] This goes straight to the heart of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, the basic teaching that the Bible contains everything that God intends for His people to know regarding Himself, our salvation, and our spiritual maturity. To put it another way: to believe that the Bible is sufficient is to believe that the Bible is enough. We don’t need the words of spiritual experts (be they scholars or gurus), nor do we need constant spiritual highs through revivals and other events; we need the word of God. Teachers that take us to God’s word are beneficial, but if all we possessed was the Bible, it would itself be enough.

Again, this is a doctrine that has been lost or neglected, not only in places like Kenya, India, and Cambodia, but right here in the United States. By and large, Americans do not hold to the sufficiency of Scripture. This is why so many people hang on the proclamations of TV preachers, desperately desiring the ‘blessing’ that is promised to them. This is why multitudes of people continually run to their priests week after week, for the hopeful proclamation that their sins might be absolved. Because they do not believe that the Scripture is enough to contain God’s promises of salvation, the extra work of a priest is required to add to it.

We see something similar even among the evangelical church. Instead of trusting the simple exposition of God’s word to help us mature, we flock to conferences following the most popular preachers – we purchase book after book looking for shortcuts in our sanctification – we do not hesitate to mix Biblical teaching with pop-psychology, declaring all truth to be God’s truth. There seems to be an insatiable desire to add to God’s word, as if God’s word isn’t enough. Like the Gnostics of old (who troubled the Colossians, and against whom Paul wrote), we look for ‘extra’ knowledge, hoping to add to our salvation through spiritual secrets. Maybe it gives us a bit of extra credit, and we get a spiritual ‘boost’ along the way.

No. God has given us all we need in the Bible. We need Scripture as our spiritual sustenance. Like the ancient Israelites ate their daily manna in the wilderness, so should we feed on the Bible as our daily bread. This is God’s word, and it is sufficient. It is enough.

Although we often think “a little is good, so more is better,” the addition of something doesn’t always lead to improvement. Sometimes addition is really subtraction. The perfect morning when camping is a cool, crisp day after a good night’s sleep with a steaming-hot cup of coffee in hand. To hear music blaring from a couple of sites down doesn’t add to the day; it detracts from it. Even if you normally like the song, the simple silence of the wilderness is perfect. – A similar principle applies to the Bible. We need the pure word of God, the simple (though infinitely deep) word of God. Sure, there are helpful resources like godly teachers and books of theology…but if we cannot enjoy and be enriched by the simple sufficiency of Scripture, we’ve missed out.

This is what all of God’s people need, whether they live in Kenya or in the US. This is what godly pastors ought to teach, that our flocks may learn not to depend on us as under-shepherds, but upon Jesus as the Chief Shepherd. The more we teach and learn the Bible, the better we hear His voice and the more we will be sustained by Him.

The apostle Paul exhorted Timothy to this end, in Paul’s final recorded letter. For all the many letters that were written by the apostle, eventually things had to come to an end, and so they did. Although the book of Acts concludes with Paul’s homebound imprisonment in Rome, the rest of his writings show that he was released and returned to ministry. Several years have passed since the time of the original prison epistles, and though unrecorded by Luke, the church has continued to grow. And with the growth of the church came renewed attention by the Roman emperor. On July 16, 64AD, fire began consuming the city of Rome, with the blame falling to Nero. Already an unpopular emperor, Nero read the writing on the wall and needed a scapegoat for the fire. He found it in the church. Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and the apostle Paul was among those who were rounded up and made to face the consequences. As he awaited his execution, he sent this final letter to his great friend and ministry partner, Timothy.

Although Paul had known Timothy for over 15 years by the time of this letter, he still considered Timothy his beloved son in the faith, one who needed encouragement to boldly exercise the gifts God had given him among the churches in which he served. Timothy was not to be ashamed of the gospel – he was to hold fast to the pattern which he had seen in Paul – he was to be strong in grace and entrust what had been committed to him unto others. Paul desired that Timothy be a diligent to show himself approved to God, rightly dividing (interpreting/teaching) the word of truth. He warned Timothy of the false teachers of the latter days, while exhorting Timothy to steadfastly continue in the things he had learned. All his life, Timothy had been taught the Scriptures, the doctrine of which was able to make him wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (v15).

It was with this in mind that Paul wrote the next two verses of Chapter 3, momentous words speaking of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture. For all that Timothy knew within the word of God, Paul wanted Timothy to know something specific about the word of God. He needed to know that God’s word is enough, it is sufficient. Nothing need be added to it, nor dare he take anything away from it. Whether for Timothy’s own walk with Christ or in Timothy’s ministry to the church, what was most needed was solid steadfast teaching of the Bible, for the Bible is sufficient.

This is the message that we take to pastors around the world – this is the message that we proclaim to Christians here at home. The Bible is enough. We need no gimmicks or showmanship; all we need is the steadfast teaching of the written word of God that takes us to the living Word of God, that we might be the fully equipped men and women of God that He desires us to be.

There is much to see in these two short verses. There is: the word’s origin – the word’s use – the word’s purpose. Let us trust in the sufficient word of God!

2 Timothy 3:16–17

  • The word’s origin (16a).

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,

  1. Before we get too far, please note the first word: “” What does “all” mean? All. Some scholars quibble a bit on whether it should be “all” (as in a unified whole) or “every” (as in the full compilation of each individual verse), but the bottom-line meaning is clear: Paul speaks of all Scripture. Every bit of it, from Genesis to Revelation (from ‘in’ to ‘amen’). All 66 books that comprise the canonical Bible are included and all 66 are integral to the whole. If it wasn’t necessary, God wouldn’t have put it there…but He did. ‘Even the minor prophets?’ Yes. ‘Even the genealogies?’ Yes. Obviously, not every line of Scripture is equally impacting on us as individuals. [Adrian Rodgers] But all of it is intended by God to be included in the whole, and all of it should be read and studied by God’s people.
    1. Consider the book of Revelation. So many Christians want to jump into home Bible studies of Revelation, understandably so. It is exciting to study prophecy concerning the end-times, particularly when so much of it seems to be so close. Yet I suggest that too many people want to study the book too soon. There is a reason that God put it at the very end of the book: it is built on so much that came before it. By some estimates, there are approximately 550 cross-references in the book of Revelation, drawing from most of the books in the Old Testament.[3] Without a proper foundation in the Old Testament, you cannot come to a proper understanding of Revelation.
    2. Something similar could be said about the rest of the Bible. Although there are 66 books written by approximately 40 people over 1500 years, there is a grand unity to the entire work. Some of you are familiar with the famous graphic portraying only 64,000 cross-references throughout the Bible [PIC]; other estimates range over 340,000 cross-references. This is a book that is supernaturally tied together! This is a book incredibly rich, the depths of which we can easily plumb for eternity and never reach the end! To speak of “all Scripture” is to speak of a true spiritual treasure!
  2. Of course, for Paul at the time, many of these books did not yet exist? What was it that Paul specifically had in mind when he referred to “all Scripture”? The Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible (OT). As a formally-trained rabbi, the former Pharisee Saul of Tarsus easily gravitated to the Hebrew Scriptures. For him, those were the Scriptures. Yet there was also a conscious awareness that the Holy Spirit was adding to those numbers. By the time of Paul’s authorship of 2 Timothy (~65-67AD), there were already phrases of Jesus and other bits of the New Testament beginning to circulate. The synoptic gospels and Acts had already been written, as well as (obviously) all of Paul’s previous letters. It would seem ludicrous for Paul not to be familiar with the book of Luke and Acts, at the very least. After all, he was a major source used by Luke in the writing of them! That Paul considered these books on the level of Scripture has evidence in his first letter to Timothy, when he references Luke’s quotation of Jesus, “The laborer is worthy of his wages,” (1 Tim 5:8, Lk 10:7). Thus, by the time of 2 Timothy, there was a nascent beginning of what became known as the New Testament, but the bulk of what was considered Scripture was what we know as the Old Testament.
    1. To be frank, it is sad how few modern Christians have much (if any) familiarity with the Old Testament. And this Biblical illiteracy is not limited to the pew. Pastors in many countries (including the USA) preach only the New Testament, partly because many of them only know the New Testament. In Kenya, it was told to me that it is common to preach only the four gospels and book of Acts. Pastors know only the Biblical stories of the miracles, so they preach the miracles…leaving off incredible amounts of necessary doctrine.
    2. Objection: “But what about people who only have part of the Bible, who don’t have access to all 66 books? Surely they can’t be blamed for only knowing the parts that they do have.” Of course not, but that isn’t the case for us. It isn’t even the case for a great swath of Christians overseas. For us, we do have all 66 books of the Bible…we’re just too lazy to read them all. For Christians in restricted areas, in persecuted lands, we can trust that God will care for them with what they have. If they only have one single copy of the gospel of Luke to share among their congregation, God will bless them in their faithfulness. But that isn’t our situation. We have been blessed with more and we are to be responsible with what has been entrusted to us. For us to read only the New Testament books (or worse yet, just a few selected verses from a handful of NT books) is for us to neglect the fullness of what God has graciously entrusted to us. From a nutrition perspective, if you were stuck on a deserted island with nothing but clean water and coconuts to eat, could you survive? Of course…but no one would call it ‘ideal.’ You would lack certain nutrients, things that come from a well-balanced diet. – Far too many Christians lack a well-balanced spiritual diet. We will get all we need from the full counsel of the word of God, but we need to dive into all of it if we are to receive it.
  3. Foundationally, what is “Scripture”? Literally, it is that which is written (inscribed). The Greek word is graphē (γραφή), which in other contexts could easily be translated “writings.” Again, this is the canon of the Bible, preserved through the ages by the people of Israel as well as (following the days of Paul and the apostles) the New Testament Church. The word “Bible” literally means “book,” and the “book” contains what is written, i.e., the Scriptures. And it is the Scripture that is given by inspiration of God. We will examine the doctrine of inspiration in a moment, but for now, don’t miss the foundational aspect: the imprimatur of inspiration is given to what is written. Not what is spoken; what is written. Obviously, much of what is written in the pages of the Bible was originally spoken, but once it was written, that was when it became part of the inspired canonical Scripture.
    1. This tells us something about prophecy. Prophecy, though a valued and necessary spiritual gift (1 Cor 14:1), can never be equal in authority to the Scripture. There were occasions in the past in which certain prophecies were committed to writing and became Scripture, but that time has passed. The canon is now closed. Prophecy today (when exercised properly) is to be judged in light of Scripture, held accountable to Scripture; not treated as There is a huge and necessary distinction in that. Someone speaking edification and exhortation and comfort through the gift of prophecy can be a true blessing…but all that the person says must be judged by the standard of the Scripture. If it doesn’t match up with what the Bible says, throw it out. And certainly anyone proclaiming “Thus saith the Lord,” while stating something that the Bible specifically denies/forbids, is to be judged a false prophet. Scripture is our standard, for this is what the Holy Spirit intended to be preserved through being written.
    2. And we can trust that those writings are preserved! There are literally tens of thousands of written copies of the New Testament, with additional quotations of the New Testament preserved within the writings of the Church Fathers. There is no question that we have what was originally written down. God saw to this in abundance!
  4. From whence does the Scripture come? It “is given by inspiration of God.” While accurate, modern English speakers might get the wrong idea. We talk about certain sunrises and sunsets as being “inspired,” or we speak about being inspired by certain motivational speakers, etc. If we get a boost of emotion, to us it is being ‘inspired.’ That isn’t the idea for Paul. When the apostle wrote that the Scripture is given by inspiration of God, it isn’t saying that the Scripture is (in our terms) inspiring; it’s saying that Scripture has a divine origin. The ESV has a more literal translation: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” … The word is theopneustos (θεόπνευστος) = theos/God + pneustos/breathed (pneuma = breath, spirit, air ~ pneumatic). The term was likely coined by Paul and was his way (or, rather the Holy Spirit-inspired way) of saying that God breathed out His word through the various Biblical writers for them to write exactly what God intended them to write. God did not move the authors’ physical hands, nor did He give dictation; rather, He breathed His word into them and they wrote down what God had given them. Peter writes of the process: 2 Peter 1:20–21, “(20) knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, (21) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” How exactly did it happen? We can’t say…there is still much mystery. But it seems at the least that the Holy Spirit moved on these various 40 writers in such a way that their words (in whatever style of speaking/writing that they had) were truly God’s word. God’s word had been breathed into them by the Spirit of God, so what came out was not the fallible words of various human men, but the infallible word of the perfect God.
    1. What does this mean for us? (1) It means that it is immensely useful, as we will see in the next verse. This is something we need, as it is something God has given. (2) It means that it is trustworthy. When God speaks, He is never wrong. What God says is true. We can build our lives on the word of God. We can bank our eternity on what He says. – Is this not what we do when we believe the gospel? The very word “gospel” means “good news.” When we believe the gospel, we believe what God says about His Son Jesus Christ. Thus, our entire salvation – our eternal futures, are based solely on what God has said about what God has done. His word can be trusted. Far more than any man or woman – far more than any philosophy or current science…God’s word is trustworthy in a way that defies comparison.
      1. On what do you bank your eternity? Have you allowed yourself to be persuaded by some slick talking personality on YouTube? Just because a person hosts a TV show doesn’t mean he is qualified to speak of eternal things. The only One who can be trusted about eternity is the One who Himself is eternal. And He has given us His word, graciously writing it down for us in a Book. Let us read it and believe it!
    2. Question/Objection: What about the difficult parts? Or the immoral parts? The Bible includes half-truths uttered by Job’s so-called friends. It records the incestuous entrapment of Lot by his two daughters as well as the rape of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. In fact, the Bible records some of the words of Satan. Were those parts breathed-out by God as well? Don’t misunderstand. It isn’t that God approves of sin or rebellion. He certainly does not approve of lies, for He never tells them. But His Bible records them accurately. Although Job’s friends surely did not speak originally in poetic verse, the record of their words is divinely accurate to the intents of their hearts. Although it surely grieved God to see David’s son rape David’s daughter, the honest record of it was divinely preserved in the pages of the Bible. Just because every word of Scripture is divinely inspired does not mean that it is morally upright. This is where proper Biblical interpretation comes into view. We need to interpret the word for what it is in its original context if we are to derive the correct application for today. The half-truths of Job’s friends are not models for us to follow; they are examples for us to avoid. That was the point of God including it in His Bible. When we can see sin for what it truly is, it helps us continually see our own sin and our need for a Savior. – Again, this Book can be trusted. As we read it, let us be mindful to read it carefully and precisely. As we do, we can trust that God will not allow us to be led astray.
      1. I never worry when someone tells me they are seeking God’s truth in the Scripture. Sure, we might disagree on a few items, coming down on different sides of various non-essential issues. But as long as that person is holding to the standard of Scripture and I am seeking to hold to the standard of Scripture, I can trust that God is going to sort us out. When I get concerned is when people tell me about all the various teachers they follow, when they start listing names of Christian celebrities and movements. Movements and men fail…inevitably. God’s word never fails.
  • The word’s use (16b).

…and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

  1. The Greek word for “profitable” means exactly what we might imagine: useful, beneficial, advantageous. For something to be ‘profitable’ doesn’t mean that it has to be sold to make a profit (those using the Bible in such a way will answer to God for their greed!); it means that it is helpful. It adds benefit to a person in various ways. In what ways might God’s inspired writings be profitable to Christians? Paul lists four categories:
    1. All that we are taught is to be found in the Scripture. All that we need for spiritual teaching comes from the Bible. IOW, Anything we need to know as Christians is found in the Bible, and only in the Bible. There is not one thing we need to know/to learn as born-again believers in Jesus that is not found in the pages of the Bible. The Holy Scripture is sufficient for all doctrine. In the days of Paul and the 1st century church, this serves as a direct rebuke to the Gnostics, those who sought for secret knowledge that would unlock spiritual treasures to the special few. Paul calls all of that baloney. It is the God-breathed Scripture (and all of the God-breathed Scripture) that is profitable for doctrine/teaching. We don’t need religious elites sharing secrets with a special few; we need only the Bible, which God makes fully and freely available to all. (Which is one reason we can be so thankful for the Protestant Reformation, for it was through it that we got our Bible back!)
      1. This serves not only as a rebuke to the ancient Gnostics, but also to the modern reiterations found in both Roman Catholicism and ultra-pentecostalism. For instance, where in the Bible is the doctrine of Purgatory found? Nowhere. Or the veneration of Mary? Or the infallibility of the pope? None of these things are found in the Scripture, yet Paul plainly says that it is Scripture that is profitable for doctrine. Thus, these other things can be cast out. Likewise, with the fanciful claims of the word-faith preachers that imagine special revelations being whispered to them by angels, or supposedly ‘new’ teachings given to them in dreams and visions. Again, it is baloney. The things we need to know as born-again Christians are found in the Bible. Any teaching we receive from others needs to line up with Scripture or be tossed aside as the rubbish that it is.
    2. The Scripture doesn’t only teach us; it sometimes reproves us. There are times we need rebuke, just like any child requires rebuke from his/her parents during the course of life. Sometimes the chastisement we receive is gentle; other times it is more direct. Either way, it is necessary for our spiritual growth which is why God gives it through the Scriptures. How many times have you been reading your Bible and felt a check in your conscience? The reading of the Scripture awakened you to the understanding of your sin, which led you to immediate confession and contrition unto God. That’s a good thing! It shows that God’s word is alive, for it comes from the Living God. Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” God’s word goes straight past our excuses – it breaks through our walls – it goes straight to our hearts…exactly as we need. Better than any surgeon’s scalpel is the God-breathed Scripture. He might pierce our hearts with it, but through that piercing comes healing – a well-deserved rebuke being just the thing to set us on the right way again.
      1. Keep in mind that there is a difference between God pricking our hearts through His Scripture and someone beating us over the head with the Bible. Anyone can use anything (even a holy thing, like the word of God) to beat someone into submission. That isn’t Godly rebuke; it is spiritual abuse. When God’s word truly speaks to a situation (meaning that we aren’t trying to force it to fit a situation, like squeezing a square peg into a round hole), then God’s word is going to bring the conviction. Think about it: if a Christian is truly seeking the Lord, desiring to please God, then when God speaks a word of rebuke through the Scripture it will be heard. But if we found ourselves shouting and screaming and trying to get our own way, then it means either: (1) we aren’t submitted to the word, (2) they aren’t submitted to the word, or, as is often the case (3) both. – When in doubt, let God’s word speak. You can trust that it will be enough.
    3. What is the difference between reproof and correction? Whereas reproof might be thought of from a more negative point-of-view (rebuke, strong disapproval), correction takes the more positive side. This speaks more of improvement, of restoration. To have the Scripture correct you is to have the Scripture set you again on the right path. The old GPS units we used to use in our cars (prior to our smartphones) used to be downright annoying anytime you would drive a bit off course. [“recalculating”] That “recalculating” was required, if the course was to be adjusted and our trajectory corrected…otherwise, we’d end up who-knows-where. The Scripture corrects us. It helps us ‘recalculate’ our spiritual direction. When we get off course, it brings us back into line. As the song says, we are “prone to wander.” How does God get us back? Sometimes through prayer – sometimes through a still small voice…most often, through His word. When I am tempted to withhold forgiveness, the Bible tells me I am to forgive as I have been forgiven. When I start to worry and feel anxious, the Bible reminds me to cast all my cares on Christ. And the list could go on. There is nothing we go through in this life, of which the Bible is silent. For all the ways we are prone to wander, God’s word is right there to bring us back.
      1. Just keep in mind: if God’s word is to correct you, you must first open it and read it. We need to think on it, meditate upon it, put it into our hearts and dwell on it. We can’t just mindlessly let our eyes scan over the words and expect it to have any effect on our lives (or worse yet, not even read it at all). Yet that is what many Christians do. Oh, they’ve trusted Jesus to save them from their sins and they believe upon Him for eternal life…but they don’t give Him any time from day to day, never reading His word or spending time in prayer. Is it any wonder why we wander away from Christ, stumbling into vast sin? When we never open ourselves to correction, how can we expect to be corrected? We cannot emphasize enough the importance of being in, and staying in the word of God!
    4. Instruction in righteousness. The wording used by Paul is interesting, for he writes of instruction, as of a child, into/unto righteousness. As parents, we have the responsibility of guiding our children in the way they should go. Obviously, we cannot make decisions for them as they age, but when they are young we build into them as much as possible. We hope to give them a solid foundation upon which they will later build. It is this same picture that Paul uses with Timothy for how the Scripture instructs us into righteousness. The Scripture is profitable for this, constantly building into us, constantly helping us grow. Do we become righteous overnight? Yes and no. Yes, we are declared righteous in Jesus because of His work at the cross, but our growth into righteousness is a lifelong process. We never stop growing, never stop maturing. One day, every child will leave his/her parents’ home and instruction (though parents never stop teaching, if even indirectly), but things are different between the Christian and God. In that relationship, we never ‘leave home.’ We are all children, constantly growing and learning. Our growth towards righteousness is not something once and fully achieved; it is something that continually improves and matures until the day that we see Jesus face-to-face.
      1. I don’t know about you, but this gives me a lot of hope. For as much as I can see growth over my last 36 years of being a Christian, I can also see a lot more room to grow. I’m nowhere close to where I want to be, though (by God’s grace) I’m not what I was. But the Bible tells me that I’m not yet finished. Yes, Jesus finished His work of salvation on my behalf and that is 100% assured – but my own personal righteousness is a work-in-progress. And as long as I keep steadfast in the Scripture, I know that God is going to do what He promises to do – what He desires to do. He is going to continue to lead me and instruct me in righteousness, being the perfectly patient Father with this vastly imperfect child.
    5. Put it together, how is this summarized? The Scripture is profitable for our sanctification, for our discipleship. How are we made into the men and women of God that He desires us to be? How are we conformed (shaped/molded) into the image of Christ? It is by the work of the word of God within us. Thus, the Bible is an essential part of our discipleship. It isn’t optional for the Christian; it is part and parcel of being a Christian. — Is this not what Jesus said as He gave the Great Commission? Matthew 28:19–20, “(19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Do we think that the observing of “all things” commanded by Jesus includes only His specific statements of His earthly ministry? Or, being that He is God, might it better refer to all His commands contained in all the Scripture? For us to observe His commands, we need to know His commands – and for us to know them, we need to read them. There is no substitute for the systematic study of the word of God.
  • The word’s purpose (17).

17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

  1. The small word that begins v17 is easily overlooked in English. In Greek, it signifies purpose (hina clause). All that is said in v16 (though being one verse, is packed with doctrine!) finds its culmination in v17. Why did God inspire His word the way that He did? Why does God use His word the way that He does? It is for this reason. God did not have His word written in vain, there is a purpose it must accomplish within people for whom it is intended.
  2. For whom is the word of God intended? “The man of God.” Might Paul have someone specific in mind as this “man of God”? The phrase is common throughout the Old Testament to refer to prophets. Moses was described as the man of God (Dt 33:1, Josh 14:6), and there are over 60 references to prophets as ‘men of God’ in the books of Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings alone. Moreover, Paul specifically referred to Timothy as a ‘man of God’ in the close of his first letter (1 Tim 6:11). It seems likely that by using the phrase in v17 that Paul intended this direction specifically for Timothy, grouping him with other servants of God throughout history. – That said, surely the title is not limited to Timothy. The very fact that Paul mentions no specific name opens the door to the idea that the title might be applied to any man or woman of God. As long as a person is a born-again believer through Jesus Christ, that person has been dedicated unto the Lord. We have been given the spirit of adoption making us the children of God, but we are also always servants of God. We are His men and His women, made such by the grace of Jesus Christ. — As such, God intends His Bible to be used in our lives. Don’t gloss over that too quickly: God intends for His Bible to be used in your life, as a Christian. God has a purpose for His Bible, regarding you and me. That’s powerful! Consider the various ways we treat the Bible: some use it as a talisman, a good luck charm – some treat it as a burden, a drudgery you have to endure to check off the list – some, as a incomprehensible mystery that is too intimidating to read – others, as a dust-catcher that sits in the corner. None of that is what God wants. The almighty everlasting God wants to use His Bible in our lives. That is a privilege beyond compare! How might your attitude regarding Bible reading change knowing that the living God desires to use His living word in your life? Every time we crack it open, we ought to almost burst with expectation! Whenever we open the app, we ought to look for God’s intent for our lives right then and there.
    1. At the same time, knowing that God intends to use His word among believers, we might ask the question: Does the Bible have an intended impact on unbelievers? God’s word never returns void (Isa 55:11). The law convicts people of sin (Rom 2:12), just like the Holy Spirit convicts the unbelieving world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). Because the law of God points men and women directly to God, they cannot help but be impacted by His holiness and righteousness. Even so, it is primarily intended for those who belong to God through redemption in Christ Jesus. It was specifically given to God’s children through faith, to born-again believers. (Which makes it so much more the tragedy when God’s children do not read it.)
      1. Can you be counted among these numbers? Have you been saved? Maybe you’ve been sitting here wondering what the Almighty God has to say to you through His word. It is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” (Acts 16:31). It is this: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved,” (Rom 10:9). It is this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (Jn 3:16). This is the word of God to you. Before you receive anything else from the Lord, you must first receive His forgiveness and salvation. This is foundational…don’t wait a minute!
    2. As for the purpose of the word of God among the people of God, it is intended to bring us to completion, to make us ready for service. Greek scholar AT Robertson says of this word, “specially adapted.” Like a machinist who fashions a custom tool for a specific job, so does God fashion His children by way of His word. He ‘fits’ us for the tasks ahead of us, be it the trials we face or the service we render. God’s word perfectly equips us for these things, God using it as much within us individually as He does among the church corporately. Have you ever wondered how one single Book is perfect for all the many members of the church? How many universities use one textbook for every class? It would seem ludicrous. An English literature class has no need for a textbook on advanced calculus. Yet with the church, those who are the called-out saints of Jesus Christ, there is but one Textbook – one resource necessary to equip us for anything we might face in this world. Such is the supernatural nature of it – such is the wonder of its ultimate Author: God. His book is sufficient for the scholar and for the schoolchild – it is right for the newborn believer and for the seasoned saint – it is exactly what is needed either in the trial or in the blessing. How are we equipped for any of it? Through God’s supernatural use of His supernatural book. It is sufficient to make us sufficient for whatever we encounter. It thoroughly equips us for every good work.

Conclusion:

Oh, the importance of the word of God among the people of God! How critical it is that we understand its sufficiency, and that we drink it like what it is: the pure water of divine revelation. This is why we go around the world to pastors in far-off places: to help them teach the Bible to their congregations. Churches in Kenya face different challenges than churches in America, but those challenges can only be met through the same way: Biblical exposition. We don’t need to plant western churches in East Africa (or in southern India or anywhere else); we need to help pastors do the one thing that God wants all pastors to do: teach His inspired word. The people of God need the word of God, which is proclaimed through men of God in the pulpit and read by individual Christians at home. That remains the same, irrespective of culture around the world.

And it is just as necessary here. This is why we put such a focus on the Bible here at home. Verse-by-verse teaching has always been foundational to Calvary Chapel Tyler, and by God’s grace, will continue to be until the day Jesus takes us home. Whatever is stated from this pulpit, be it from me or any other teacher, needs to be compared with the actual words written on the page in the Bible. If it matches with what God says, praise the Lord! If not, throw it out. We need not the words of men, but the word of God, for it is only God’s word that will change us making us fit for every good work.

Should we be thoroughly convinced of this, what do we do? (1) Pray. Pray for God’s men to teach God’s word to God’s people, both here and around the world. The church is practically drying up of thirst out of lack of Bible teaching. We need pastors willing to deliver the living water! (2) Read. The Bible is not just for ‘other’ Christians to read and to teach; it is for us. It is for you and me. Beloved, know that I will strive to teach you to the best of my ability from the word of God…but at the end of the day, there is no substitute for regular Bible reading on your own. Get into the Bible! Read whole books at a time – or dive deep into a few verses, meditating on the meaning. However you do it, do it! You and I need God’s word on a regular basis. It will be the only way we are equipped to be the men and women God wants us to be. (3) Believe. Trust the word of God. What it says, it means. God will not lead you astray in His word. Whatever He says, you can take to the bank. Yes, we need to rightly interpret it (not playing fast and loose with the promises of God), but when we do it can be trusted. So trust it and obey it.

[1]https://1s712.americanbible.org/state-of-the-bible/stateofthebible/State_of_the_bible-2022.pdf – pg 16.

[2] Ibid., 38.

[3]https://www.life-everlasting.net/pages/messages/Revelation/The%20Use%20of%20the%20Old%20Testament%20in%20Revelation%20-%20Fruchtenbaum.pdf

Praising the Savior-King

Posted: January 12, 2023 in Isaiah

Isaiah 11-12, “Praising the Savior-King”

“And they all lived happily ever after.” Although tragedies have their place in literature, most of us love happy endings. We want our stories to end well – be it the prince getting his princess, the mystery being solved, or generally good triumphing over evil. However, we tend to realize that happy endings are relegated to books, movies, and fairy tales. We don’t often expect them in real life.

We should. Perhaps not with most of life, with the things we currently see. But we need to realize that we see only a tiny sliver. When it comes to the story of this created universe, we are still in the midst of it. Towards the end of the world as we know it, perhaps, but the story is still unfolding. It will have an ending, and for the people of God it will be a happy one. As those who have read the Bible know: God wins! Though our Lord Jesus was despised and rejected at His first coming, He is coming again in power and glory, and He will reign over all the earth. Our King is on the way…and His kingdom will be awesome!

Isaiah gave a few hints at this in some of his early chapters (2 & 4 in particular), but the last several chapters have taken on a different tone with a specific context. Starting in Chapter 7, Isaiah has given several prophecies regarding the then-near conquest of Israel/Ephraim by the empire of Assyria. At the time, King Ahaz of Judah saw Assyria more as a savior than a threat, due to his own problems with an alliance between Syria and Israel, formed against him. God gave a word through Isaiah that Assyria would come against both Syria and Israel, removing them as threats from Judah, yet Assyria would itself bring havoc to Judah, stopping short only at Jerusalem. Historically, that was when God sent His angel against the army of Sennacherib, with 185,000 soldiers killed in a single night (2 Kg 19:35).

What was the sign that all of this would come to pass? A virgin would give birth to the Messiah, known as Immanuel (God with us). Although the prophecy would not be fulfilled for another 700+ years, it was a sure promise from God hat the Davidic kingdom would not be destroyed. God’s covenant with David endured, with the short-term proof being the Assyria invasion of Israel being only a few years away (i.e., the amount of time for babies to know the difference between sweet and sour). All in all, there should be no doubt: God would show Himself strong on behalf of His people, even when they were in sin. Why? Not because God’s people deserved it, but because God is faithful, and His promises are good.

Chapters 11-12 round off this series of prophecies leaping forward not only to the end of the Assyrian trials, but also the end of the book. Theologians sometimes talk about the “mountain peaks of prophecy,” illustrating the idea that as the prophets look forward in time certain ‘peaks’ are closer than others, even though they each appear on the far horizon. Such was the case with Isaiah in these chapters. As he foresees the end of the problems with Assyria (and other future enemies), he also gets a good look at the King and His kingdom. The King expected by Israel is awesome, His reign will be glorious, and He is to be praised.

Who is this King of glory? None other than the Lord Jesus, our Savior-King. Let us praise Him with all the exaltation He deserves!

Isaiah 11:1–16

  • The Spirit-filled Messiah (1-5).

1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.

  1. The oracle opens with a prophetic illustration, of a shoot from a tree stump – new growth from a tree that had been almost completely cut down. This is more than new growth in a shrub after trimming the hedge; this is a tree cut nearly to the level of the ground, yet brand-new (miraculous!) living growth comes up from what appears dead. It is a stark contrast with the end of Ch 10 in which the armies of Assyria (described figuratively as forests) were destroyed by the Lord, as He “cut down the thickets of the forest with iron,” (10:34). Here, God does not cut down more forests; He raises new life from a tree stump.
  2. What was the stump? The family line of David. Interestingly, the name of King David is not mentioned, but the name of his father Jesse: “Stem of Jesse.” Some have suggested that this might indicate a new David, something distinguishing this man from the other ‘typical’ sons of David. All kinds of kings in Jerusalem could be considered the sons of David, ranging from the good (Uzziah) to the bad (Ahaz). But a new branch arising out of Jesse? It is almost as if God goes back to the root and starts from scratch.
  3. Who is this Rod/Branch? It can be none other than the Messiah, Jesus. This is Immanuel (7:14), the promised Child and Son upon whose shoulders the government would rest (9:6). As New Testament Christians, it is immediately obvious to us. Would it have been as obvious to Isaiah? Some theologians (particularly Jewish scholars) have attempted to see a fulfillment of this prophecy in the immediate descendants of Ahaz, such as Hezekiah, or even Josiah (though a few generations removed). They interpret this passage from Isaiah as prophesying the ideal king, which need not necessarily be the eschatological Messiah. Yet, apart from a pre-conceived bias against Jesus as the Messiah, that interpretation falls flat. Even before we see the Spirit-filled character of this Rod/Branch, the language in v1 precludes the possibility of a near-term fulfillment from even a relatively-righteous king at the time. Notice how the house of David/Jesse is described: as a “stem,” a stump. Technically, the word might refer to a tree trunk, but the obvious context is that of a tree that has been cut down. The new growth has to come from the ground, as if rising from the very roots. That the house of David would be reduced to a stump shows that the Messianic figure could not be Hezekiah, Josiah, or any other Davidic king in the near future, for that version of the dynasty was still in bloom. The ‘tree’ was still alive (if not totally thriving). It would not be chopped down until the Babylonian conquest. Only after the Davidic kings were removed, could a Branch grow from the roots. – The conclusion? The Branch of David must be the Messiah and there is only one historical figure that fits the bill: Jesus. Would Isaiah have known this? Maybe, maybe not. But we shouldn’t expect Isaiah to have perfectly understood everything he prophesied; he was merely faithful to proclaim what God revealed to him.
    1. This is not the only time in the Bible that the Messiah is pictured as a Branch. Though he was a later prophet (post-exilic), Zechariah also referred to the Messiah by the same title: Zechariah 6:12–13, “(12) Then speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: “Behold, the Man whose name is the BRANCH! From His place He shall branch out, And He shall build the temple of the LORD; (13) Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD. He shall bear the glory, And shall sit and rule on His throne; So He shall be a priest on His throne, And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” ’” God’s plan for the Messiah was always for Him to be the Branch of David to sit on the throne. Likewise, it was for Him to be the Branch that rebuilds the temple. Put it together: the Messiah was to be King and Priest, something that is fulfilled only in Jesus!

2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

  1. The Rod/Branch is Spirit-filled. Although the Holy Spirit came upon kings and prophets of the past, the Messianic Branch would be empowered by the Spirit in a way never before seen on the earth. His would not be a temporary filling of the Spirit nor a conditional filling of the Spirit (such as with Saul, from whom the Spirit was removed). The Messiah would have the fullness of the Holy Spirit on Him, remaining on Him all His days. Here again, we see a stark contrast with the arrogance of the Assyrian king (10:8-11, 13-14). The king of Assyria relied on no one but himself (or, so he thought). The true Messiah is anything but arrogant; He soundly demonstrates His dependence on the Lord by having the Spirit of the Lord constantly rest upon Him.
  2. There are two basic ways of looking at this description. (1) This is a seven-fold ministry of the Spirit, counting off: how the Spirit rests on the Messiah, being a Spirit of wisdom, a Spirit of understanding, a Spirit of counsel, a Spirit of might, a Spirit of knowledge, and a Spirit of the fear of the Lord. This fits nicely with the description of the Spirit in the book of Revelation as being the “seven Spirits,” (Rev 1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6). There are obviously not seven different Holy Spirits, but it might be said there is a seven-fold ministry of the one Holy Spirit. (2) This is a three-fold ministry of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of YHWH, described in three couplets. This would coincide with the three Persons of the Trinity, one of several reflections of such in the Scripture.
  3. However you group the descriptions, what is without controversy is that is speaks of God the Holy Spirit, i.e., the Spirit of the Lord. Some have characterized the Holy Spirit as the ‘forgotten’ member of the Trinity. He certainly has not been forgotten by God in the pages of Scripture! Although people through the ages might not have paid too much attention to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians (and among Israel before that), His work among us is truly essential. Without the Holy Spirit, we have no conviction of sin (Jn 16:8). Without the Holy Spirit, we have no new birth (Jn 3:5). Without the Holy Spirit, we have no power for witnessing (Acts 1:8), no guarantee of eternal life (Eph 1:14), no manifestation of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:7), no comfort as a Helper from God (Jn 14:16). We need the work of the Spirit in our lives! We cannot live the Christian life without Him! (Which is one reason we need to constantly pray for His filling!) Should we doubt, look again at Jesus. Jesus was filled with the Spirit, having the fullness of the Spirit rest upon Him. If the Son of God needed the Spirit of the Lord for wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord…how much more do we!

3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, Nor decide by the hearing of His ears; 4 But with righteousness He shall judge the poor, And decide with equity for the meek of the earth; He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

  1. He delights “in the fear of the Lord.” That itself is striking, considering our culture does not often consider fear as a good thing. Even many churches hesitate to speak of the ‘fear of the Lord,’ preferring to speak freely of the love of God, while shying away from the idea of fearing God. Yet the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). The fear of the Lord is the first step to walking in fellowship with the Lord. – In this, don’t forget the context. Isaiah is writing of the Messianic Branch. The Messiah (i.e., the Son of God) will fear the Lord. In fact, the Messiah delights to fear the Lord! To Him, fearing God isn’t a bad thing; it is a blessed thing. Interestingly, the word “delight” is literally “smell.” The idea seems to be smelling something with delight, perhaps as a priest might smell incense rising to God and rejoicing in the act of worship. – This is how Jesus views the fear of the Lord, as right and reverent worship. He loves it! He delights in it! He loves it when we do it and as a faithful loving Son, He loves to engage in it Himself.
    1. Oh, that we would see the fear of the Lord as Jesus sees it! How might that change our perspective on obedience? How might that change the way we worship? No longer would our songs be flippant and thoughtless; they would be sung with heartfelt sincerity, true thought and reverence towards the God we both love and fear.
  2. In addition to how the Messiah will see God, Isaiah writes of how the Messiah will interact with the rest of the world. First, it is declared that He will be a just Judge. Jesus does not judge actions superficially, nor is He fooled by thoughtless motions of piety. He sees the heart and judges appropriately. Second, He is righteous and merciful. He does not blame the poor for their poverty, but cares for them (and yes, judges them when necessary). His is not a pitiless judgment; He is full of compassion which goes hand-in-hand with His righteousness. Third, The Messiah will be mighty in vengeance. Although this isn’t typically how we envision Jesus, this is who He is prophesied to be. In His first coming, He was meek and mild, not being willing to break a bruised reed (Isa 42:3). His second coming will be different. Though He still has mercy and compassion to His own, He comes with wrath against those who rebel. Don’t miss how His vengeance comes upon the earth (or “the land”): it is via “the rod of His mouth…the breath of His lips.” Where else do we see this image? In the book of Revelation. Revelation 19:15, “Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” The Lord Jesus requires no tanks, no missiles; all He needs is the sword of His mouth and His word is enough to level mountains!
    1. The key for us is to meet Jesus in His compassion and mercy today! Today, we have the opportunity to know Him in grace; we dare not waste it, lest we face Him in wrath.
  3. The Messiah’s righteous character is so much a part of Him that it is part of His clothing. “The belt of His loins” is made up of righteousness and faithfulness. Isaiah will return to this idea later, describing the same elements mentioned by the apostle Paul as the collective armor of God (Isa 59:17, Eph 6:14-16). As for Chapter 11, the idea is that righteousness and faithfulness are intrinsic to the Messiah. You could no more rid Him of it than strip Him of His clothing.

What will come on the world during His reign? It will be wonderful…

  • The worldwide peace of Messiah (6-10).

6 “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard shall lie down with the young goat, The calf and the young lion and the fatling together; And a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze; Their young ones shall lie down together; And the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.

  1. The picture is of total peace during the Messianic kingdom. All of the chaos that had resulted from the Fall will be reversed. Consider the original diet prescribed by God to the living creatures (both man and animals): “every herb…every tree…every green herb for food,” (Gen 1:29-30). It was a total vegetarian menu for all the earth. Though lions were created with massive fangs, there was not yet any need for them. Nor were there any steak dinners for Adam and Eve at the first. No death was necessary for there was not yet sin in the world. All of that changed with the fall. The first recorded death in the Scripture is implied in the animal skins that God brought to Adam and Eve following the curse (Gen 3:21). From that point, death reigned and we see the ongoing results every day. Yet in the Messianic kingdom, everything changes, especially as it leads into the eternal state. Death and danger are gone. How safe will it be? Safe enough for a toddler to lead a lion. All the normal carnivorous instincts will be gone. Why? Because Jesus is victorious over death and Jesus is our Messianic King! 1 Corinthians 15:55–56, “(55) “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.” Beloved, these are not merely verses to lift our hearts at funerals (though they are appropriate); this is absolute truth. In Jesus, death has no sting! Jesus is victorious over death…all death! So much so, that when He sits on His throne, that even the wolves, leopards, and lions go back to vegetarianism!
  2. Notice the extent to which the Messianic kingdom brings peace. Not even the serpent poses a danger! Children could play with them, as if playing with toys. Yet in the Messianic kingdom, that danger is gone! Could such a thing be imagined in light of the serpent in the Garden of Eden? No! It is one more reminder that our Messiah Jesus has crushed the head of the serpent forever. No matter how much Satan struggles and squirms today, his defeat is already written in stone!
  3. All of that is the picture. Of course, interpretations tend to vary. Some believe this is figurative language speaking of predatory nations becoming peaceful, with the childlike kingdom of Israel being safe. Yet as a rule of thumb, Scripture is to be interpreted literally unless there is obvious reason to look for symbolism. The “forests” of Isa 10:31 are directly linked with Lebanon (Syria, and later Assyria), demonstrating them to be symbolic of armies. When Jesus called Himself “the Door,” He was plainly using a metaphor. Yet in the description of vv6-8, there is no obvious symbolism. Better to take the prophecy for what it is: literal. This demonstrates a literal transformation of the world as we know it during the Millennial kingdom, going into the new heavens and the new earth.
    1. There is good news with the literal interpretation of this prophecy, as incredible as it may seem: when Jesus rules in His power and glory it will be wonderful! It is a day to which we look forward!

9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea. 10 “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious.”

  1. What the earth now lacks will then be abundant. Today, our world lacks in “the knowledge of the Lord.” It isn’t that He cannot be known. After all, the heavens declare the glory of the Lord (Ps 19:1). The only thing anyone needs to do to find proof of God’s existence is to open his/her eyes. Look around! Where there is a creation, there has obviously been a Creator. Where there are stars, God put them in place. Where there is a person, God has knit him/her together, giving life. Yet that knowledge is suppressed. Even when God’s law is written into our collective human conscience, men and women repress it. We don’t want it, wanting to know ourselves as God and worship ourselves. This is one more thing that will be reversed in the Messianic kingdom. Finally, God will be known everywhere by everyone in the fullness of truth.
  2. How will they know God? Because they will see and know the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus as the Messianic Branch will “stand as a banner to the people.” A few things on this point: (1) The Branch/offshoot from the root of Jesse will itself be the “Root of Jesse.” When Jesus returns in power and glory, people will no longer be looking for a renewed Davidic kingdom; the Messiah known as the Son of David will eclipse David, as much as the brightness of the sun eclipses the reflection of the moon. Christ Himself will be the focus and receive the glory. (2) He is the foundation and the rallying point, which is the idea behind the flag, the “” He will rally Israel, but not only Israel…He will rally all the nations. Even “Gentiles shall seek Him.” Just as the queen of Sheba (and other dignitaries) came from all over the known world to see the glories of Solomon’s kingdom, so will the nations of the world come to see the Messiah reigning in Jerusalem. When they come, they will be amazed as they see that “His resting place shall be glorious.
    1. There is an aspect of this that not only looks towards the future Millennial kingdom, but also to the present era of the church age. Consider the fact that right now, the church is primarily a Gentile church. Right now, “Gentiles…seek Him.” The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been given to the Gentiles, with ethnicities all over the world hearing of the grace and forgiveness of God available through the cross. That is enough to cause anyone (regardless of nationality) to seek Him!
  • The rebuilding of Israel by the Messiah (11-16).

11 It shall come to pass in that day That the LORD [NKJV is incorrect; should be ‘Lord,’ for Adonai.] shall set His hand again the second time To recover the remnant of His people who are left, From Assyria and Egypt, From Pathros and Cush, From Elam and Shinar, From Hamath and the islands of the sea. 12 He will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.

  1. A “second” exodus is prophesied, an additional return of all the Hebrews that have been dispersed around the world. When was the ‘first’ time? Some might assume that the exodus out of Egypt is obviously first, yet v11 describes something different than what was seen under Moses. At that time, the nation was fully assembled as one people (though enslaved). Yet the prophecy of vv11-12 speaks of a dispersion, something that wasn’t known among the Hebrews until after both the Assyrian conquest of the north and the Babylonian captivity of the south. It seems possible that perhaps Isaiah refers to a return of the people from both Assyria and Babylon (something that was partially fulfilled in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah). It is also possible that the return from Babylon was itself a foreshadowing of a later return from dispersion, something perhaps ongoing even in these present days. The book of Ezekiel speaks of a day in which the “dry bones” of Israel come to life, and surely much of that can be seen in the modern reiteration of the Israeli nation. Yet in that same prophecy, it speaks of how the God breathes life into those bones, how David will be king over them, His tabernacle will be among them forever (Eze 37). That aspect is yet to be fulfilled. Might Isaiah be looking forward to this same time?
    1. We need to be careful with prophecy, that we hold our interpretations loosely, being always submitted to Scripture as our final authority. God might just surprise us with how He chooses to fulfill things…He certainly surprised the Jews with Jesus’ earthly ministry!
  2. The mentioned nations are interesting. Assyria and Egypt are familiar to most readers, each of them being global powers in their day, although by and large the Hebrew people had long since left Egypt. (The Assyrian conquest of Israel/Ephraim was only a few years away at this point.) Pathros and Cush were neighboring nations in Africa, south of Egypt but in the area of modern-day Ethiopia and northern Sudan. Elam and Shinar were neighbors in the area of Babylon. Hamath was a city in ancient Syria, but its companion of “the islands of the sea” is a bit more mysterious. Some translate “islands” as “coastlands,” making it a curious pairing with Hamath, as the city is well inland, far north-northeast of Damascus. Whatever the reason for the pairings, the overall explanation seems to come in v12 with the figurative description of “the four corners of the earth.” From where will God bring back the dispersed Hebrews? From the north, south, east, and west. North (Hamath), south (Egypt, Pathros, and Cush), east (Assyria, Elam, and Shinar), and west (the islands/coastlands).
  3. For all the prophetic possibilities, the bottom line is clear: God brings back His people. The Messianic King is not given an empty kingdom. It is filled with the people of Israel, that all of God’s promises to the people of Israel will be fulfilled. God always keeps His word.

13 Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, And the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, And Judah shall not harass Ephraim.

  1. Along with the regathering of the nation is the renewal of a unified nation. All the animosity between north and south will cease as the Messiah brings peace to His people. To the people of Isaiah’s day, this would have seemed as fantastical and miraculous as anything else! The northern and southern kingdoms had almost bi-polar relationships with one another, sometimes as allies; sometimes as enemies. But to be resolved and reunited? That was impossible. Not so with God. With God, nothing is impossible! God could (and would!) not only bring the nation together, but He would cause them to live at peace not even having reason to dislike one another. 

14 But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west; Together they shall plunder the people of the East; They shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab; And the people of Ammon shall obey them.

  1. Kingdom Israel will be militarily powerful. Their traditional enemies will be easily subdued. All the land originally promised to Abraham will be given to Israel. Again, the promises of God are fulfilled to the letter!

15 The LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; With His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, And strike it in the seven streams, And make men cross over dryshod. 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of His people Who will be left from Assyria, As it was for Israel In the day that he came up from the land of Egypt.

  1. In line with the idea of a second exodus is the picture of a repeated crossing of the Red Sea. Yet this time, “the River” is included along with the “Sea of Egypt,” the two ideas being parallel. It seems to picture a day that just like God miraculously brought His people ought of Egypt, so would He miraculously restore His people to their homeland from a future captivity over the Euphrates River (such as with both Assyria and Babylon).
  2. Bottom line: Israel would survive the Assyrian conquest (as, though yet unmentioned directly, Judah would survive the Babylonian captivity). God would bring back His people. There would not only be a “remnant” of few survivors; there would be a restoration, a nation thriving by the power and sovereignty of God.

Isaiah 12

  • Verse 1: Praise the God of our salvation (1-3).

1 And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; Though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.

  1. Before we look at the lyrics of the song, notice the singer: “In that day, you will say.” Who? “” Contextually, it seems that Isaiah is teaching this song to the whole nation of Israel, yet the grammar shows this to be a singular “you,” rather than a plural (y’all). Arguably, Isaiah speaks to the nation as a unified whole, with the nation speaking in one voice in response. And indeed, the plural ‘you’ is used in v4 with the second verse. But if we take this to the literal meaning at this first verse, Isaiah speaks to a specific (though unnamed) individual. Each individual Hebrew could/would offer this song of praise to God. Each one would praise God for His gracious salvation, of turning His anger away. – If the individual Hebrews could praise God for this, how much more us as individual Christians? “In that day, you will say…You! You who are born-again, you will give your praise to the Lord for His goodness and salvation! For as much as the prophets speak of the Millennial kingdom and the renewed people of Israel offering praise to God, do you think that the church will praise Him less? Heaven forbid! We, who praise God for our salvation through Jesus Christ today will surely have even more reason to praise Him throughout the Millennium and eternity to come!
  2. The call is to “praise” YHWH (the Lord). How is this to be done? The idea of “praise” is that of throwing, of casting. We sometimes think about casting our cares on the Lord (re: 1 Pt 5:7), but we can do the same thing with our love and worship. Cast your praise upon the Lord! Give Him what He desires, what He deserves. Don’t hold back, don’t restrain your praise. When you praise Him, mean it!
  3. Why is this to be done? Because God is no longer “angry” with us! God was right to be angry with Israel, but He chose to turn from His anger to comfort. God was right to be angry with us, but He turned from His anger when Jesus satisfied His anger on our behalf. And God likewise comforted us by sending the Comforter of the Holy Spirit. — How wonderful it is to consider that God isn’t angry with us anymore. That itself is a comforting thought! He was angry, rightfully so…but not anymore. This is what happened through the cross.
    1. This is one of the reasons we can know that the gospel is such good news! Too many people sit in churches weighed down by bad news, thinking that no matter what they do God will always be angry with them. … But that isn’t the case for those who are in Christ! If you are in Jesus, God isn’t angry with you…He will never be truly angry with you. He might be grieved from time to time, saddened to see you stumble in sin. He might chastise you occasionally, disciplining you out of His love as a Father for His children. But angry? Not a chance. If you are a child of God through Jesus Christ, God isn’t angry with you. He has no more anger left for you because Jesus took it all.

2 Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ ”

  1. Our God is our salvation and deliverance. More than Him being our Savior (which He is), He is our very salvation. Is it a distinction without a difference? God certainly does the work of saving us, which is something we cannot forget and dare not overlook. But the issue here is that God is our salvation. He saves us from sin and saves us for Himself. He is our inheritance, our reward. He is our very personal deliverance as well as being our Deliverer.
  2. BTW: You might recognize the Hebrew word translated “salvation”: yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה) = Jesus! This is who He is; this is what He does. Our God saves! Jesus saves! This is His mission, His purpose, and even His name. – And because of Yeshua Jesus, we have no reason to fear. We can “trust and not be afraid.” Why fear when God is with us? Why fear the storms when Jesus is in the boat? [Mark 4:35-41] In the end, God is all we need. He is our strength, our sustenance, our praise, our everything. If God is with us, who can be against us?
  3. For all that we can apply to our own walks with Christ in v2, don’t miss the original application to Israel and Judah. What we sing today regarding Jesus, the Hebrew people will one day sing of Him. They will know Yeshua as Messiah, being secure in His work of salvation, being empowered by His strength, singing praises to Him for His worth. [This is the promise and hope to which Paul held regarding his beloved countrymen. ~ Rom 11:26]

3 Therefore with joy you will draw water From the wells of salvation.

  1. Joy” is almost too small a word. This is exultation, jubilation. This isn’t coming to the “wells of salvation” with a slight smile on our faces; this is dancing all the way to the well, being so exuberant to draw water that we can’t stop rejoicing. This is the joy of the woman, who having lost her coin and found it, couldn’t stop telling her friends the good news of the discovery.
  2. Is this the kind of joy you have in Jesus? Remember that this song is about Yah YHWH, Yeshua, our salvation. We who come to Jesus for salvation have every reason for great, exuberant joy! Does this negate our tears in times of sorrow? Of course not, but that isn’t the context of this verse. This isn’t a ‘weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice’ verse – this isn’t a ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ in times of trial verse; this is a “I can’t believe that Almighty God chose to save me’ verse! That isn’t the occasion for a pasted-on forced smile; this is the occasion for ear-to-ear smiles, happy tears running down our faces, overwhelming awe and praise of God because of Jesus.
    1. Again, is this how you know Him? Do you have this kind of joy in Jesus? If not, why?
  3. As to the picture painted by the verse, those who are familiar with the New Testament cannot help but think of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman did not arrive at the well that day anticipating anything different. For her, it was another day of hardship, another day of rejection. Even when she first encountered Jesus, she was skeptical. But that was when Jesus told her something that hearkened back to Isaiah 12: John 4:13–14, “(13) Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, (14) but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”” The Samaritan woman needed living water – Jesus offered it – all she needed to do was ask. The more she spoke with Jesus, the more she was convinced He was the Messiah. The result? She had all of the joy prophesied by Isaiah 12:3 and more! She couldn’t keep silent about Jesus, telling everyone she knew about Him.
  • Verse 2: Declare the praises of God (4-6).

4 And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His name; Declare His deeds among the peoples, Make mention that His name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, For He has done excellent things; This is known in all the earth. 6 Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”

  1. In that day, the entire nation will praise the Lord! All Israel would declare praises to God. Once again, there is a general call for everyone to cast our praises upon the Lord. We praise Him corporately in gathered worship. We praise Him individually in our homes. Wherever you are, praise Him! Call upon God. Speak about God. Remind others of His greatness. The more we speak of God, the more we rejoice in God. I challenge anyone to make a habit of speaking of Jesus and see if you don’t praise Him more regularly. Truly, the more you declare Him to others (or speak of His general greatness), the more reason you will have to engage in even more praise.
  2. More than speaking to God and of God, sing to God. We sing so often in the church that we tend to take it for granted as just something we ‘do’ when we come to worship. It is actually a Biblical command that God’s people sing praises to Him. Lift your voice in praise, singing out regardless how well you keep tune. 
  3. Why do we sing? We praise Him for His excellent work, for all the things He has done – for the things He continues to do – for the things He is prophesied to do. There is no end to the work of God for which we can praise Him! — We praise Him for His merciful presence – for the fact that He has revealed Himself to us and desires us to be with Him. Israel praised God that He was in their midst. We have something even better: the Spirit of God dwells in us! — We sing to Him because of His exalted Person. He is the “Holy One of Israel,” the righteous God, the merciful God, the just God, the loving God. We have all kinds of reasons to sing!
  4. Why do we sing? Because if we don’t, the rocks will! (Lk 19:40). Even Isaiah notes that God’s excellent works are “known in all the earth.” This may not be widely recognized today, something to be fulfilled in the Millennial kingdom. Even so, people do understand the works of God, although they attempt to suppress the knowledge of God in their hearts. Yet this gives us one more reason to sing. If even the world knows the excellency of God, then surely the people of God ought to proclaim it from the rooftops!

Praise the Lord!

Conclusion:

Talk about a happy ending! When Jesus returns in His power and might, the kingdom He installs on the earth will be glorious. He is the awesome King, the Spirit-filled King, the Savior-King. His reign will be amazing as He not only renews the kingdom of Israel but reverses the curse on the earth.

From Isaiah’s perspective, this is the King who was to be known and loved by the nation as they exulted in Him for the salvation He provided. Of course, for most of Israel’s history, this aspect has remained unfulfilled. Their salvation will come, of course, for all the promises of God to the nation must be fulfilled. In the meantime? We are those who rejoice. We, as the church, are the people of God recognizing Yeshua Jesus as our Savior-King and we will rejoice in our Messiah!

Do you? Do you see this Jesus for who He is – do you exuberantly rejoice in His person and work of salvation for you? If so, let us be those who cast our praises upon Him! Let us be those who cry out and shout, not allowing stones to take our place in worship. We are those who have been freed from the anger of God – we are those who have received the comfort of God. As such, let us erupt in the worship of God! Let us declare His name to the nations, making Him known among the peoples!

We need not wait till the Millennial Kingdom to give Him praise…we dare not wait that long! This is our duty, our privilege today! Already we are kingdom citizens, though the kingdom is not in its fullness. Let us live according to our citizenship today, that all who see us might see and know our King.

The gospel was a grand mystery hidden in plain sight, but it came to full revelation and fruition in Jesus. Paul had a ministry regarding this mystery, one that included suffering but in which he could rejoice. He proclaimed the message of the mystery, declaring how Christ in us is the hope of glory.

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The Best Mystery

Posted: January 8, 2023 in Colossians

Colossians 1:24-29, “The Best Mystery”

With some movies, you know the ending before you ever walk into the theater. I remember walking out of the movie theater after watching Titanic back in 1997, and my bride and I joked as we left, “Wow, I can’t believe the boat sunk!” To which some people in line got offended, saying, “Thanks for ruining the movie!” Considering that the actual Titanic is the most famous sinking in history, we didn’t think it needed a spoiler alert.

There are other mysteries, of which spoiler alerts are not needed…one of which is the gospel. As Paul continues in his letter to the Colossians, he writes of the gospel as a mystery that had been hidden in the past ages, but is now revealed to the church and through the church. It is a mystery that need not be hidden, but proclaimed from the rooftops.

After Paul opened his letter to the Colossians by greeting them, thanking God for them, and praying for them, he started to give thanks to the Father for the wonderful Person and work of Jesus. Truly, Jesus is amazing! It is through Christ that we have forgiveness of sins. It is Christ who is the image of God, first in creation because He is the Creator, and first in the church because He is already risen from the dead. Jesus is supreme – superior to all because as the Son of God, He is God. The fullness of God dwells in Him – there is nothing that makes God the Father God that does not exist in God the Son.

In addition to His identity within the Godhead, Paul also wrote of Jesus’ work of reconciliation, something that extends to all the universe. Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, this world (the things in heaven and on earth) have been at enmity against its Creator. All of this finds reconciliation through the cross. Likewise, with us as the church. Though we once (like every other human) were enemies against our God, Jesus has reconciled us to God – so much so that God now sees us as holy, blameless, and above reproach.

This is the gospel preached by Paul! And this is the gospel in which the Colossians (and all of us) needed to remain grounded. Do not move one inch away from Jesus because Jesus is our only hope.

It is on this idea of the hope that we have in the gospel of Christ that Paul concludes Chapter 1 (although he surely did not write with chapter breaks in mind). We do have this grand hope, but our hope has been a mystery through much of history. It was God’s plan from the beginning, but it was not readily understood. Thus, the mystery needed to be revealed. Paul unfolds it for us, writing of the mystery’s ministry, its message, and its mission.

Paul was a preacher of this mystery – he was a herald of the hope of glory. He wasn’t the only one. His mission is ours as well. As we have received this mystery and hope, let us share it with others. Let us proclaim Christ, the hope of glory!

Colossians 1:24–29

  • The ministry of the mystery (24-25).

24 I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,

  1. The first thing Paul writes about this ministry is that it wasn’t easy. There was suffering involved. Right “now,” (i.e., right then at the time), Paul was suffering for the church. Why “now” as opposed to any other time? Perhaps Paul refers to his current suffering in Roman prison. Perhaps the “now” is there simply to contrast v23 with v24. In v23, Paul wrote of his entry into the gospel ministry; in v24 he writes from the perspective of current suffering, after engaging in much ministry. In any case, he ‘now’ rejoices in his sufferings. This is something in which he can be glad. — Question: Is this just Christianese? When Paul writes of rejoicing in his sufferings, is he saying to just put on a happy face? To grin and bear it and be done with it? Not at all. What Paul wrote (or had written), he wrote with sincerity. By no means did he ever pretend that his sufferings were less than suffering. Pain is pain, imprisonment is imprisonment, etc. None of those things are desired, and like all of us, Paul was glad to be out of those situations when they were done. Remember what took place in Philippi (Acts 16). After casting a demon out of a slave girl, Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten, and thrown into the innards of the local jail. There, the two men prayed and sang hymns till midnight when God sent an earthquake and opened the doors. That gave them the opportunity to lead the Philippian jailer to Christ, who gave them his home for the night. What happened the next day? Did Paul run back to jail, wanting to be imprisoned again? No – he demanded accountability for the local authorities who unjustly jailed a natural-born Roman citizen, and then left town when asked. The lesson from Philippi was that jail wasn’t fun for the apostle, but God used the jailtime for His glory and the furtherance of the gospel. Paul could rejoice in his Philippian suffering because of the way God used it, but Paul wasn’t slapping a happy-face sticker on his jailcell. He didn’t label injustice as anything other than injustice. The reason he could rejoice was because he knew that God would use it. His joy wasn’t because his back was in pain and bloody from getting beaten with rods or because he was sitting in a jail; his joy was in the Lord God who would redeem all of those things for His glory.
    1. This is where so many Christians get it wrong when it comes to the “joy of the Lord.” Rejoicing in our sufferings does not mean that we pretend our sufferings don’t exist. We rejoice in our sufferings, i.e., in the midst of our sufferings. While we grieve, we rejoice. While we hurt, we find our joy and strength in Jesus. It doesn’t make the grief and pain go away, but we do rejoice in the middle of those things. Why? Because our joy is in the Lord. We know that our God has not abandoned us in those things. Our God never abandons us, nor does He step off His throne. What we endure, He has sovereignly allowed us to endure, which means He makes His strength available to us to It means He will be glorified in it, and can cause it to work for good for us who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). If we have that settled in our minds and hearts, joy is merely the logical result.
  2. In Paul’s case, he knew exactly why he could rejoice. His sufferings were for the sake of the church. How might God use things like Paul’s imprisonment? By giving the apostle time to write inspired Scripture, for one. By giving the apostle opportunities to testify of Jesus to Caesar and others around him, for another. These were things that built up the church either directly or indirectly. Either it brought people into the church, or it encouraged people already in the church. It edified believers, discipling men and women in far off lands over two thousand years. The church is still being edified today because of the then-current sufferings of the apostle Paul. Might God have given him a glimpse of that? Perhaps; perhaps not. Either way, he had much reason to rejoice!
    1. Have you ever considered how God might use the suffering in your life for the sake of someone else? When we are in the middle of grief, we can’t often see much beyond our own circumstances (understandably so!). But if we could take a step back and get a look at the bigger picture, our perspective might change. Maybe we would see how God will use us to comfort others with the same comfort with which we have been comforted (2 Cor 1:4). Maybe it is our experience in suffering that equips us to better minster to someone else going through the same situation. It doesn’t make our current circumstances good; it does give us reason to hope, reason to find comfort and joy in the Lord Jesus.
  3. Question: What might be “lacking” in Jesus’ afflictions? This phrase has been the center of no small discussion among theologians. No orthodox Protestant scholar believes that Paul suggests that Jesus’ work at the cross, the afflictions He suffered, was somehow deficient. As we’ve seen often, Jesus declared, “It is finished,” (Jn 19:30), and He meant it. The sufferings He endured throughout His crucifixion (and His overall Passion) were sufficient. It was all that was required for the forgiveness of sin and our reconciliation with God. The price was paid in full, the proof being His later resurrection from the grave. (And it is in this that we have our eternal hope!) So, if Paul does not doubt the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, what then might he mean by an existence of lack “in the afflictions of Christ”?
    1. Many scholars point to a tradition among the Jews that a certain amount of ongoing suffering is required prior to the onset of the Day of the Lord with Jesus’ return. A hint of this is perhaps seen in Rev 6:10-11 when the martyrs ask God how long they will need to wait until God judges and avenges them for their suffering, to which the reply was given that they needed to wait until their number was complete. Thus, perhaps Paul refers to something similar: that there is a total amount of affliction to be endured by the church, of which Paul was taking his appointed share and filling up what was “lacking.”
    2. Others see the phrase in a more basic way, interpreting Paul’s words as merely his statement that it was his turn to endure afflictions. Jesus suffered once for all the saints, completing the work of our salvation…but afflictions are not limited only to the cross (be it the act of justification, sanctification, or glorification). For all that Jesus did at the cross, He did not cause all pain, grief, and sufferings to cease. Those things endure for as long as this world endures. There is an aspect of Christianity in which we are supposed to share in the fellowship of Jesus’ sufferings (Phil 3:10), and perhaps Paul refers merely to that.
    3. Which is it? We cannot say, definitively. Yet as Alistair Begg is fond of saying, it is neither a main thing nor a plain thing. (If it were a main thing, the meaning would be plain.) The bottom line issue is that Paul suffered, partaking in his own afflictions for the sake of Jesus’ body (the church), just like our Lord Jesus did. Christians can expect sufferings in various forms. If our Lord endured them – if the initial apostles endured them – surely we will, as well. Affliction is not evidence of wrongdoing on our part, as if God is punishing us for our inadequacies as believers. Afflictions are to be expected for believers in the Lord Jesus. It is part of living in this world, and it is through them that God molds and shapes us into the image of His Son.
  4. Don’t gloss over the last phrase in v24: Jesus body is the church. This is a basic principle, a repeated analogy throughout the New Testament, but not one to take for granted. We, as born-again believers in Jesus Christ, are Jesus’ physical body on earth. We are His hands and feet to this world. Of course, we are not His literal body, for Jesus remains fully incarnate today (having risen from the dead in once-crucified incarnate body). We are His body metaphorically, used by God to do the works of Christ on earth. Jesus is our head, having rule and preeminence over us (1:18). He directs us, leads us, disciplines us, exercises us. We follow through on His direction. Paul wrote of this in detail to the Corinthians, when describing our various functions through various spiritual gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:12–13, “(12) For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” To the context of the Corinthians, Paul wrote that there are many ministries but one Lord. Each of us has our own function with each function being valuable, much like the need to have hands, feet, ears, and eyes, rather than all one body part. But the general analogy is clear: we, as the church of the Lord Jesus (born-again believers in Jesus Christ) are Jesus’ body. The church is not a formalized (or fossilized) religious institution; it is the living, breathing body of Christ. Do you want to see Jesus’ body? Look around the room. Anyone who is born-again is part of the body of Christ.
    1. It is a striking thing to realize that we (as sinful creatures) are the body of our Sinless King. Such is the scope of our redemption and reconciliation – such is the power of the cross that men and women like us would be the hands and feet of Jesus! More than that, it is a sobering thing when we consider how often we flirt with and stumble in sin. When we sin, we are sinning with bodies that do not belong to us; they belong to Jesus. When we get drunk, we are using Jesus’ body to do so. When we lust with our eyes, those are eyes that belong to Jesus. Likewise, with every sin we commit. How we need to let the reality of that sink into our hearts! The next time you are tempted to engage in some lust or work of the flesh, remember that as a Christian you are a part of Jesus’ body on earth. Would you want Jesus standing next to you when you go into that place? Do you want Jesus looking with you into your phone or computer? Would you be as willing to fly off the handle in a rage with a mouth that belongs to Jesus? Beloved, we are His body…let us act like it!

25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God,

  1. When Paul writes that he was a “minister” in the church, he isn’t using an ecclesiastical title (although it has become one over time). The term ‘minister’ or diakonos (~ deacon) fundamentally speaks of a servant, an assistant to someone else. A diakonos might serve as a courier or messenger, but the diakonos was not the focus; his master was. Likewise, for Paul. Even as an apostle, at the end of the day he was just a servant, a diakonos representing his Lord and Master, Jesus. Did Paul have authority as an apostle? Sure, but even that was couched in his service to Christ. After all, even the word ‘apostle,’ (apostolos) basically means “messenger, emissary.” The authority of an apostolos was not in the apostle himself; it was in the Master he represented.
    1. There is a warning in this to watch out for men and women who heap up religious titles for themselves. Those who want to be addressed as “Rev Dr” or “Apostle-Evangelist” or ___, inevitably put attention on themselves. In the language of the day, Paul referred to himself as a servant and slave. So ought all who serve the Lord Jesus. The focus should be on Him; not us.
  2. As for Paul’s apostolic service, it is described as a “stewardship.” It was a solemn responsibility entrusted to him, one that he did not take lightly. The term used for “stewardship” might elsewhere refer to an economy or dispensation, administered by a special household servant. In larger estates, there might be a house manager, a steward entrusted by his master with all his goods (such as Joseph with the captain of the guard). Again, it emphasizes that Paul did not draw attention to himself. He was just a steward serving his Master and King. (As are we all!)
  3. Why did Paul have this ministry? His service and stewardship were given “to fulfill the word of God.” The word of God needed to be proclaimed, which required someone to proclaim it. By God’s grace, this responsibility was given to the apostle Paul…but he isn’t the only one. All of the church has been entrusted with the word of God in the gospel. We are each stewards of what God has revealed to us in Jesus. It isn’t our own; it is the message of our Master. And like Paul, we are to distribute it as He sees fit, serving Him all the way. Thus, the word of God will be fulfilled, as the good news of Jesus goes out to the nations. This is our ministry…the same ministry shared by all Christians around the world.
  • The message of the mystery (26-27).

26 the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints.

  1. Mysteries were important to the Gnostics, whose philosophies were seemingly at the heart of the heresies expressed in Colossae. There were spiritual secrets into which people were to be initiated, things that could not be known without the help of someone who already possessed the needed knowledge (‘gnosis’). Paul responds to all of this, basically by saying, “You want a mystery? I’ll give you the best one. There has been no mystery like the one that has been revealed to the church.”
  2. As for this mystery, this stewardship entrusted to Paul as he delivered the word of God around the known world, it was hidden in past but now revealed to the saints of God. It was “hidden from ages and from generations,” meaning that it was concealed from the people who came before. From whom? From everyone! Gentiles around the world knew next to nothing about the Messiah before Christian apostles and missionaries began preaching Him. Even Hebrews in past generations had this hidden from them, although we might say that it was hidden in plain sight. The truth of the gospel had always been the plan of God, even the part of the gospel most relevant to Paul’s communication with the Colossians: that God planned to reconcile Gentiles as well as Jews through Christ. The Jews longed to see their Messiah, that they might receive freedom and forgiveness for themselves; they didn’t necessarily long to see their Messiah save Gentiles. Remember that it was at the mention of Paul taking the gospel to the Gentiles that the people at the temple in Jerusalem erupted into a near-riot (Acts 22:22-23). This seemed inconceivable to them…just as it had been to the original apostles when they heard Peter’s account of how God gave the gospel to Cornelius the centurion, opening the door to Gentile evangelism (Acts 10-11).
  3. Question: Was it really hidden? Was this really a “mystery” to the Hebrews? After all, God’s plan to save Gentiles is consistently seen throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. It was hinted at as far back as the Garden of Eden, with the promise given by God that the Seed coming from the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). The hints got bigger with God’s initial covenant with Abram, through the promise that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” through his descendants (Gen 12:8). Surely that was enough to demonstrate to the Hebrews that the Messianic promise was bigger than Israel itself. But just in case it wasn’t clear enough, God speaks of it again through the prophets: Isaiah 49:6, “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ It is difficult to get plainer than that! Of the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord, God specifically says that He would be given as “a light to the Gentiles.” For those in Israel paying attention, God’s plan was always to send the Messiah for all the world. God’s eternal plan was to reconcile all humanity to Himself through the work of His Son. Anyone and everyone who would turn to Christ in true faith could be saved. It wouldn’t seem to have been much of a mystery if it was proclaimed this clearly.
  4. Even so, yes. It was hidden because the Hebrews could not (would not?) see it. Remember what God spoke to Isaiah during the prophet’s vision of God’s throne room: the people would hear, but not understand; they would see, but not perceive (Isa 6:9). Jesus referred to this same principle regarding why He spoke in parables, “because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand,” (Mt 13:13). Because of the hardness of their hearts, the truth of God was hidden from them. They could not perceive the plain truth of God because they were not personally submitted to the plans of God. Thus, the things of God remained mysteries to them, even when put clearly before their eyes. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the prophet Jonah. Jonah is best known for the first submarine ride in history, but he should be better known for his stubbornness against the compassion of God. Though God commanded him to preach judgment to the people of Nineveh, Jonah ran the other way, preferring disobedience to potentially seeing repentance on the part of his mortal enemies. Even after Jonah reluctantly obeyed (following his underwater sea voyage and near-death experience), he sulked on the mountain overlooking the city when God’s destruction never came. Why? Because his heart was hardened against the idea of God’s compassion to the Gentiles, particularly to the Gentiles of Nineveh. Though Jonah worshipped the God of Israel, he didn’t want the people of Nineveh to turn to God in repentance. Hardly anyone alive at the time had experienced God’s mercy as much as Jonah, yet he was unwilling to share it with others who needed it. Bottom line: the eyes of his heart were blind to the mystery. Even though he personally had an experience foreshadowing the resurrection of Jesus, he shut his mind to the possibility that Gentiles might get saved. So, yes, this was a mystery…hidden in plain sight. 
  5. Yet what was hidden from past generations is now “revealed.” To whom? “To His saints,” i.e., to born-again believers in the church, be they Jew or Gentile. Anyone who knows Jesus as Lord has had the mystery of the gospel revealed to us. Paul expands on this idea in v27…

27 To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

  1. First, note that God desired to reveal the mystery. This was what He “willed” to do, the idea of “will” being that of a ‘want, desire, purpose, wish.’ God wanted the church to know these things. He wanted us to know the mystery of gospel, and for good reason: without having the gospel revealed to us, we could not be saved! No one is saved because he/she intellectually reasoned through the Scriptures, coming to the obvious conclusion that Jesus is Lord. No one is saved because of any self-convincing of the truth. We are saved because of the revelation of God to us. We are saved because God willed to make Jesus known to us, to open our eyes to Christ and break our hard-heartedness against Him. We are saved because God reached out to us in grace and made known to us “the riches of the glory of this mystery.” God showed us the gospel of Jesus and saved us…that’s it.
    1. Does this mean we have no freewill in the matter, or that only certain people can be saved? Be careful not to jump to conclusions that Paul doesn’t make at this point. That God desired to make known to us the mystery of the gospel does not preclude those other points. The Bible is abundant with calls to individuals to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. The Bible tells us that it is God’s desire for “all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1 Tim 2:4). The word “mystery” applies well here, as well. It is a mystery to us how God’s sovereign will works together with our freewill, but so it does. Let us rejoice in the mystery that we might rejoice in our salvation, giving all thanks and praise to God!
  2. What exactly is the revelation? What is described in “the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles”? It is simply this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Want to describe the central message of the gospel? It is difficult to get more succinct yet more precise than the words of Paul. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Break it down:
    1. “” First and foremost, the message is about Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God sent by God to be King over Israel. To be “Christ” is to be God’s anointed, the Person promised from the Garden of Eden, promised to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to David, and more. To be Christ is to be King…Jesus is King!
    2. Christ in you.” Those three words alone are enough to ponder the rest of our lives. Consider that the Lord God of this Universe, the Superior Jesus as described through the first part of Colossians 1, is in We are in Him, He in us. Remember, He is the reconciler, the redeemer, the image of the invisible God, the Creator, the sustainer, the preeminent One. He is all of those things and more, and He is in us. US: sinful, wretched, flawed US. Is there a better description of grace? The perfect God not only desired to save us, but He desired to dwell in us. Remember, we are now His body with Him as our head. Language could not describe a closer relationship between Jesus and His church than what it does. This is amazing grace! 
    3. The hope of glory.” What happens when Christ is in us? We have hope for glorious eternity. Keep in mind that the Bible does not use the word ‘hope’ like we do. We use ‘hope’ for “I hope I get pizza today for lunch.” People hope for raises, for close parking spaces, etc. We use the word ‘hope’ as a synonym for ‘wish,’ for the stuff that we desire but for which we are unsure of receiving. That is exactly the opposite of how the Bible uses the word. When the Bible speaks of ‘hope,’ it speaks of certainty. It speaks of that which we have not yet acquired, but of which we are guaranteed. When it speaks of our hope of heaven, it is not a wish, a ‘maybe, perhaps, possibly’ we will see heaven. No, the Biblical hope of heaven is a certain assurance of it. It is a guarantee based on the sure word of God. Thus, the glorious news of this mystery revealed in the gospel. When Christ is in us, we have the certain hope of glory. Christ being in us is our hope of glory. He is our certain assurance of heaven, His dwelling within us being our guaranteed promise.
    4. Implied with the promise that Jesus being in us is the hope of glory, is that Christ in us is our only hope of glory. Paul does not give multiple choices for the mystery, no more than any mystery has one answer, one solution. The message hidden from times past and now revealed is that Christ in us is our hope of glory, period. The hope of glory does not come from being in the lineage of Israel. It does not come through religious rituals and initiations. It does not come from super-human efforts or any other such thing. It comes from Christ. If He is in us, we have hope of glory. If He isn’t, we don’t. It’s just that simple.
      1. That begs an obvious question: Is Christ in you? Is your faith and trust in Him? Have you surrendered your life to Him, receiving Him as Lord? So important is this question that Paul asked it of a church he personally founded. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.” Born-again Christians know that Christ is in them. Do you? Do you have that clear assurance? If you aren’t sure, get sure today!
  • The mission of the mystery (28-29).

28 Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.

  1. Subject of preaching: Christ. When Paul taught the mystery of the gospel, he didn’t make it mysterious. In the full revelation of Jesus (His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection), Paul taught it plainly. He proclaimed Christ and Christ alone. “Him we preach.” Remember when he defended himself to the Corinthians, Paul said that he didn’t come excellence of speech or any other sort of wisdom or rhetorical flourish. Instead, he determined not to know anything among them except Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:1-2). When Paul went to a city to preach the gospel, he went in (as we’ve already seen) as a servant. He didn’t preach himself; he preached Christ. Paul may have performed miracles, but every miracle was done with the purpose of presenting Jesus. It was always about Jesus, never about Paul. This was true whether Paul was preaching about the need to be saved and forgiven of sin, or whether he discipled the new converts about their need to grow in sanctification. It was Christ and always Christ. Not intellectual philosophies, not religious practices, not special-spiritual revelations; only Christ.
    1. Oh, that our eyes would be firmly fixed on Jesus Christ and Christ alone! Too much of Evangelicalism today is about the works of men and women. “10 ways to your best life now… How to have a happy marriage… How to be Nehemiah leaders…” While we can affirm that the Bible has much to say about all these things, we cannot move from our foundation. The subject of our preaching needs to be Christ. “Him we preach,” and none other. When a Christian church no longer preaches Christ, we have a major problem.
  2. Activity of preaching: warning and teaching. (1) “Warning.” What the NKJV translates “warning” might also be translated “admonishing, counseling.” (νουθετέω ~ “nouthetic” counseling, where people use Scripture alone as the basis for counsel/advice.) That said, the idea of “warning” fits well into proper Biblical counseling and discipleship. Men and women require warnings against false teachings and false practices. We sometimes require warnings against ourselves. For instance, if you see a car driving towards a bridge that is out, you will (hopefully!) do everything you can to warn the driver about the danger. A bit of warning given to us at the right time might be lifesaving! Likewise, in spiritual matters. Sometimes we need warning and admonishment. It may be a bit of chastisement, it may be a bit of sober counseling. Either way, it is well-needed – and when administered lovingly, it is usually well-received. In fact, it is the wise person who does receive it: “He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding,” (Prov 15:32). (2) “Teaching.” People sometimes like to separate preaching and teaching as two separate activities. The Bible often shows them hand-in-hand, as it does here. When Paul preached Jesus, he taught people of Jesus. He taught them of Jesus’ person as the Son of God. He taught them of Jesus’ work of redemption and reconciliation. He taught them of Jesus’ role as the preeminent one in the church and the firstborn from the dead. There is hardly any way to preach Jesus without teaching of Him at the same time. Jesus’ own ministry was full of teaching. For as many miracles as He performed, the multitude regularly came to Him and He taught them (Mk 2:13, 4:2, 10:1). It emphasizes the importance of doctrine in the lives of believers. We don’t come to Jesus just to get stuff from Him and leave; we come to Jesus to learn of Him and to learn from Him.
  3. How does this warning and teaching come? “In all wisdom.” The very thing that the Colossians sought and the Gnostics promised, that was what was given through Jesus. And the wisdom of God was not offered to only a few, being the select or elite. It was given to “every man,” to every person who responded to the mystery of the gospel and received Jesus as Lord.
  4. Purpose of preaching: presenting people as “perfect in Christ Jesus.” The term “perfect” might scare some of us. After all, we know ourselves and we know we are far from perfect. Moreover, we know we aren’t going to become morally perfect on this side of heaven, no matter how much we try. But that isn’t Paul’s point. In this case, think of “perfect” as “complete, mature.” It comes from the same root word as what Jesus cried out from the cross when He said, “It is finished!” This same sort of ‘finishing’ is what Paul and his team desired within all the men and women he discipled. His goal in preaching was to bring men and women to spiritual maturity, to help them grow into ‘complete’ believers in Christ. As an apostle (and pastor), Paul understood that he would be held accountable for the people in whom he invested, and his desire was to be able to present these people to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment with a clean conscience, knowing that he did all he could to help them grow in their faith.
    1. Knowing that we are not in Paul’s position as apostles, we still need to consider that one day we will be presented before our Lord Jesus, judged by Him for all the things that we have done in the body (i.e., after we became Christians). This judgment won’t be a judgment for salvation (that judgment went on Jesus at the cross); rather, it is for our reward in eternity (1 Cor 3:12-15). How often do you give thought to that Day? We will be judged. Will we be judged as complete, as those who finished our walk of faith? God help us be faithful!

29 To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.

  1. Before we look at the power in which Paul labored in his gospel work, don’t miss the fact that he didlabor,” while “” Because of the Greek root word behind “striving,” we might even say that Paul “agonized” in this work (ἀγωνίζομαι, used often of athletes straining or struggling in their contests). He had power to do his work (as we see from the rest of the verse), but his work was still work. Things didn’t always come easy for Paul. In fact, a cursory look at the book of Acts showed that things rarely came easily for him! He had long treks from town to town, often by foot sleeping in the open air. He often encountered persecution – sometimes in the form of verbal opposition, other times physical almost to the point of death. Paul’s apostolic career was not an easy one. By no means was it luxurious, as implied by the Roman Catholic Pope or by the false teachers of the prosperity gospel today. Even if they had existed, Paul wouldn’t have had access to private jets, 5-star hotels, and VIP treatments. He labored, he worked, he agonized in his calling. – And his labor was not limited to hardship in his circumstances. Consider how often people rejected him and the gospel he preached. By no means did Paul ‘bat 1000’ when sharing Jesus with others. He was rejected nearly as often as he was received. I don’t know about you, but that fact alone gives me hope. If the apostle Paul had to labor and struggle in terms of evangelism, surely we shouldn’t feel inadequate when it is a labor and/or struggle for us. It does not excuse us from doing it, but it is helpful to remember that it is a spiritual battle for everyone when we participate in it.
  2. Moreover, Paul’s labor wasn’t only in preaching; it was in his own walk towards maturity. Just like he desired to present men perfect in Christ Jesus, so too did he also labor towards his own completion. And it was truly a labor for him. — Again, this ought to give us a lot of hope and encouragement. When Saul of Tarsus met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he was soundly saved at that moment, with Jesus justifying him 100% in the sight of God. The minute that Saul/Paul put his faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, he was reconciled to God, seen by God as holy, blameless, and above reproach (1:21-22). But he wasn’t complete in his sanctification. That process had just gotten started. He needed to grow in his maturity just like every Christian. And he wasn’t done in his growing, even as an apostle. Until the moment he died, the apostle Paul was still maturing, still growing in his walk with Jesus. He had his own struggles, his own ups and downs, things in which he had to labor and strive to get past. And get past them, he did. At the end of his life he could write that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). But again, it didn’t come easy. He didn’t receive this kind of spiritual maturity through osmosis. He had to work at it, just like everyone else.
    1. How much have you been laboring in your spiritual maturity? Could “labor” even be a word used to describe it? Many people consider themselves Christian because they aren’t outright opposed to Christianity and it’s easy to check the box for identification purposes. Others prayed to surrender their lives to Jesus in the past, but they kept on living as though nothing changed. Aside from showing up in church occasionally, they don’t give their faith too much thought. Where is the labor? Where is the striving? Where is the agonizing that takes place when you realize you’ve sinned against your God and the thought of it cuts you to the heart? That was the testimony of the apostle Paul. It ought to be ours, as well.
    2. But in this, there is hope! We aren’t supposed to expect an easy ride to the finish, just because we believe in the Lord Jesus. We have our ups and downs. We have our struggles and failings. If at times, it feels as if you are laboring in your Christian walk, good! All that means is that you are active in your Christian walk. Hiking the trails at the State Park takes work. Sure, you could drive to the trailhead and sit in your car, but you won’t experience the growth and increase in strength until you get out and start walking (or running). The only way we grow in our maturity is when we work at it. Is it a work of grace? Are we dependent on Christ and the Holy Spirit? Yes, as is clear from this same text. But we are to work…let us work!
  3. That said, Paul’s primary “labor” was in preaching, his work in presenting every man perfect in Christ. How could it be done? By him working in Christ’s power. The apostle was to work, but he did not work from his own strength; he worked from the strength of Jesus. Paul agonized to this end, but he agonized in (as it might be transliterated) the dynamic energy of Christ. It was all done by Jesus’ power, not Paul’s. – This is crucial for us to understand, be it regarding our own ministries, or even our basic spiritual maturity. We cannot ‘do’ the Christian life by ourselves, in ourselves, through our own strength. We cannot buckle down and ‘just do it.’ It doesn’t work that way. Spiritual goals must be accomplished through spiritual strength. And how much spiritual strength do you and I have on our own? None. All that we have to offer to God in ourselves are filthy rags. But in Christ? In Christ we have all the strength we need! He empowers us to work – He indues us with endurance and ability to do what we could not. Paul described it as Jesus’ “working which works in me mightily.” Jesus’ power is available to the believer, and not just available, but active – and not just active, but powerfully active. When Christ who is in you works according to His divine power, how much power do you think He gives you? All you need and more!
    1. What do we require to live the Christian life? What do we need to grow in our spiritual maturity, to move towards our completion, our finishing? The power of God. What is freely available to us? The power of God. Here, Paul writes about it as Jesus’ work within us. Elsewhere, the Bible uses the description of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Whatever you call it, get it! Rely on it! God makes His power available to us…let us walk in it!

Conclusion:

The gospel was a grand mystery hidden in plain sight, but it came to full revelation and fruition in Jesus. Paul had a ministry regarding this mystery, one that included suffering but in which he could rejoice. He proclaimed the message of the mystery, declaring how Christ in us is the hope of glory. He continued in the mission of the mystery, preaching Jesus and pressing on to spiritual maturity. To the Colossians, Paul wrote in terms of ‘mystery,’ but it was not something hidden from them; it was something (Someone) that had already been revealed to them: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian: Consider the privilege it is that the mystery of Jesus’ gospel has been revealed to you. Keep in mind that before God gave you this revelation, you had no access to the hope of glory. You and I were estranged from God, being traitorous enemies against Him. But out of God’s love for us, He moved in marvelous ways to let us see Jesus. And because He did, we now have sure hope, certain hope, downright assurance of eternal life in glory.

I pray that you know the hope of glory! Would that every person listening today have the assurance that Christ is in him/her, confidently knowing that just as surely as Christ dwells in us today, we will physically dwell with Him for all eternity.

If that is your assurance, ask yourself these two questions. (1) Are you growing in Christ? (2) Are you preaching Christ?

  • There will be a time that each of us is brought to completion, and we will stand before the Lord. But until that time, there is always room for growth. None of us are so mature that we’ve reached the mark. Let us beware of spiritual laziness! Let us beware of going backwards when we are not going forwards. Let us be intentional to cast ourselves on Jesus for our growth.
  • Though we do not have apostolic giftings and few of us consider ourselves active preachers, each of us can preach/proclaim Christ in our own ways with the people around us. Maybe there is a co-worker with whom you can have coffee, starting an open conversation about Christ. Maybe there are missionaries you can support in their works of preaching Christ, even while you engage where you are. All of us can participate in the work of preaching in some way; let us be those who make Jesus known.

God’s promises always prove true. We need to trust Him until the end. For as tough as things were for Israel, they could know that God had them. He made a promise to them and He would keep it. Likewise, with us. For as tough as things get, God has us. God’s got us in the palm of His hand and He isn’t letting go.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

God’s Got This

Posted: January 5, 2023 in Isaiah

Isaiah 10:5-34, “God’s Got This”

The first time I ever got my car stuck in the mud was in a church parking lot. I was parked off the pavement following a rainstorm, and quickly found I wasn’t going anywhere. The more I pressed the gas, the more my wheels spun and my car sunk deeper into the muck. It wasn’t until an older and wiser man came along that we got some wood under my tire for traction and things were no problem.

A similar story could be said about many other things in our lives. Faced with trouble, we panic and spin our wheels. It isn’t until we trust the counsel of our heavenly Father that we understand He has things under control. He’s got us and He isn’t letting go.

It is relatively easy to talk about such things in retrospect; far harder to do it in the moment. But that is exactly when we need that kind of encouragement: in the moment. That was the case with ancient Israel and Judah. Massive trouble from the Assyrian empire lay on the horizon and it would have been easy (and natural) for the Hebrews to panic and spin their wheels. Thankfully, God gave a word through Isaiah: He had this. Everything was under control. Yes, things would be hard in the moment, but they could trust Him to see them through.

For the past several chapters, Isaiah has been recording prophecies that were given during the reign of Ahaz. Though one of his first visions took place during the year that King Uzziah died (a glorious vision of the throne room of God, with Isaiah given the charge to take a hard message to a hard-hearted people), the next several took place during the reign of Uzziah’s son, evil King Ahaz the idolater. This was a man who undid the reforms of his father, going back to worshipping at the high places and even offering his son in the fire (a reference to human sacrifice). 

Evil as this man was, he was still the legitimate king descended from David, and God honored His covenant promises for David’s sake. When Judah faced the threat of an alliance between Syria and Ephraim (Israel) against them, God promised that the southern kingdom of Judah would not fall. Within just a few years, the empire of Assyria would arise, forcing both the Syrians and Israelites to turn their attention away from Judah. The sign of God’s deliverance? The promised Son named Immanuel. God would send a Child who would be known as “God with us,” the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.

With that in mind, the relief brought about by Assyria would not prove easy. The armies of this empire would not only come against northern Israel, but would stretch its fingers into southern Judah. God’s people had sinned, with this being the righteous response of God against them. It wouldn’t last forever, as the promised Son of Immanuel would Himself arise bringing the light of God with Him, but until He did, things would be difficult. God would continually pour out His anger upon His rebellious people, for they refused to turn in repentance, and would find no relief in their own acts if they had. What they needed was to hide themselves in the promised Messiah, the Son of God who perfectly satisfies the anger of God. (If only they would have turned!)

With this in the background, a question might be asked regarding Assyria. What about them? Sure, they would be used by the Lord, but by no means were they sinless. Would God address their sin? And likewise, with Israel – was the only thing they had to expect from God was judgment? As Chapter 10 unfolds, we find the answers to be yes and no, respectively. Yes, God would address the sins of the Assyrians; no, God had more for Israel than judgment alone. Although Assyria was used by God, God would judge them. And although Israel would currently face God’s judgment, His promise for them was to preserve them. God proved true on both counts.

God’s promises always prove true. We need to trust Him until the end. For as tough as things were for Israel, they could know that God had them. He made a promise to them and He would keep it. Likewise, with us. For as tough as things get, God has us. God’s got us in the palm of His hand and He isn’t letting go. Do we deserve this kind of preserving grace? No…but that is how good God’s grace is.

Hold on…God’s got us.

Isaiah 10:5–34

  • Assyria is arrogant and used, yet judged (5-19).

5 “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger And the staff in whose hand is My indignation. 6 I will send him against an ungodly nation, And against the people of My wrath I will give him charge, To seize the spoil, to take the prey, And to tread them down like the mire of the streets.

  1. Verse 5 begins with a proclamation of woe, and a necessary one. Granted, it follows the previous “woe” proclaimed upon Israel for their sins (which was part of the same song lasting from 9:8-10:5), but this time the attention was turned upon Assyria. Don’t miss this. For as much as Assyria was used by the Lord (and God has much to say about that in these verses and elsewhere), woe was still proclaimed unto them. God did not ignore this nation. He knew exactly what they did, who they were, and the judgment they deserved.
  2. Of course, God did have a use for this kingdom. Assyria was the tool of God. A more detailed description of this is given in v15, but there is no doubt that Assyria was a tool that God intended to use. It was a “rod” and a “staff” in His hand, an instrument used to administer His “anger” and “indignation.” 
  3. Tools are used for specific tasks, and God spells out what it was: to “send him against an ungodly nation.” The irony is thick! God intended to send Assyria (itself an ungodly nation) against His own people of Israel (who had become an ungodly nation). No doubt, Israel and Judah thought themselves better, believing themselves to be the holy people of God. Not so! God doesn’t even identify them by name, but refers only to them in terms of paganism. They were an “ungodly nation…the people of My wrath,” i.e., the people who deserved God’s wrath. And it gets worse from there. God commanded Assyria to do violence against His people, “to seize the spoil, to take the prey,” to basically stomp them like mud in the streets. Israel had brought upon itself the wrath of God and they would feel the brunt of it through the brute force of the wicked Assyrians.
    1. That might raise an uncomfortable question: Can God command violence? Yes. Many Scriptures could be named as examples (not the least, throughout the book of Revelation as part of the Great Tribulation), but it need be listed only once in the Bible to be received as true. That is exactly what we see right here. God used the Assyrians as His tool of violence to tread down His people in judgment. Is it a hard truth? Yes…but it doesn’t make it less true. Is violence recommended for us in the Bible? No. The violence we are to take as New Testament Christians is to wage war on our flesh, to reckon our old ‘man’ as dead and crucified. We are to stand fast in spiritual warfare, holding up the shield of faith against the flaming arrows of the wicked one. But physical violence upon our enemies? That is a Biblical ministry for the government, but not one commanded upon individual Christians in our personal lives. But that is us. As for God? God uses violence, having every right to use it. God used violence in the Old Testament when He wiped out the Egyptians, when He gave the Promised Land to the Hebrews, and when He punished His own people for their sin. God used violence in the New Testament when punishing Ananias and Sapphira, when striking Herod with death, and others. He’ll use it again when Jesus returns in power and glory. Let us remember that God is always righteous and just…but God is also God. He can do what we cannot, and that’s okay.
    2. Underlying it all, why does God use violence? It is the expression of His wrath upon sin. We need look no further than the cross! How else can Jesus’ death be described, than as utterly violent? Yet without that violence, we would have no forgiveness. It was only because Jesus bore the wrath of God in our place, that we need not experience God’s wrath for ourselves. How terrible it is to bear the wrath of God! Yet such is the love of Christ that He did it for us.

7 Yet he does not mean so, Nor does his heart think so; But it is in his heart to destroy, And cut off not a few nations. 8 For he says, ‘Are not my princes altogether kings? 9 Is not Calno like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad? Is not Samaria like Damascus? 10 As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols, Whose carved images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria, 11 As I have done to Samaria and her idols, Shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols?’ ”

  1. God (through the mouth of Isaiah) knew exactly what was in Assyria’s heart. He knew their desire to destroy. They had no desire to be used by the Lord God. They weren’t trying to avenge God’s righteousness; they were themselves unrighteous! They were idolaters, not caring about the God of Israel or God’s desire to do justice upon His people. All Assyria cared about was violent domination.
  2. Their desire to dominate is seen in Assyria’s arrogant boasts against the other nations. They believed themselves better, more capable than every other kingdom surrounding them. They thought themselves unbeatable, with every nation being easily conquerable. And so these kingdoms seemingly were, as Assyria got closer and closer to Israel.
  3. The boasts continue against Israel and Judah. Interestingly, Assyria describes Samaria and Jerusalem (Israel and Judah) as idolatrous nations. Did Assyria think of YHWH as ‘just another’ idol? Perhaps. They were themselves idolaters, and likely did not think of the God of Israel as being anything other than a supposed local god like many other national deities. That said, perhaps there was something different in mind. It is possible that the Assyrians saw the numerous high places and Asherah poles in the land of Israel and rightly recognized those things as idolatrous. Assyria found idols among the Hebrews, concluding that they had become idolaters. They weren’t wrong. This was Isaiah’s own conclusion when assessing the sin of his people. Isaiah 2:8, “Their land is also full of idols; They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.” The very reason that God allowed Assyria to be a tool of His judgment was because of the idolatrous sin of His people. They had crossed a line that God couldn’t ignore, to the point that even their enemies saw Israel’s sin for what it was.
    1. A similar charge might be said against the American Evangelical church today. When our enemies look at us, how do they assess us: as the redeemed people of God, or as idolaters? When visiting Christians in other countries (particularly those in danger of persecution), their love for Christ and their desire to tell others about Jesus is palpable. It is a striking contrast with the church in America in which we are (sadly) addicted to comfort. Might we have allowed the idols of ease and pleasure into the church? What do non-Christians often say of Christians – do they see us as sinners saved by grace, or just as sinners? God help us to walk faithfully with Jesus!

12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the LORD has performed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, that He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks.”

  1. The “therefore” introduces a declaration of punishing Assyria’s arrogance. This was nothing less a promise to punish them. He wasn’t ignoring their sin. God was only waiting until the right time to deal with it.
  2. What work did God desire to do on Mount Zion? Contextually, it seems as if God would wait to punish Assyria until He had finished working within the hearts of His people. Once God had used Assyria for His intended purpose among the Hebrews, only then would He deal with Assyria’s own sins.
    1. It might make us wonder. If we are dealing with a seemingly insurmountable difficulty, might there be something that God desires to do within us? IOW, before God gives us relief, He might desire reform. David’s prayer in Psalm 139 might also be easily (and often) prayed among us: Psalm 139:23–24, “(23) Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; (24) And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.” We might have blinded ourselves to our own need for repentance and change. We need God’s help to open our eyes, that we might know what to ask Him for help to change.

13 For he [i.e., the king of Assyria, the recent antecedent from v12] says: “By the strength of my hand I have done it, And by my wisdom, for I am prudent; Also I have removed the boundaries of the people, And have robbed their treasuries; So I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man. 14 My hand has found like a nest the riches of the people, And as one gathers eggs that are left, I have gathered all the earth; And there was no one who moved his wing, Nor opened his mouth with even a peep.”

  1. This was Assyria’s boast in his own strength. The king claimed to have done these things by his own strength and wisdom, as if these had not first been given him by the Lord. There was no recognition of his dependence on God. God seemingly never entered the mind of the king of Assyria. Notice the “I”s: “I have done it… I am prudent… I have removed… I have put down… My hand,” etc. Was it really Assyria? Assyria’s crimes aside, the king and his nation could do nothing that the Lord God did not allow.
    1. What can we do without the Lord? Nothing! Especially when it comes to anything good for God, anything for Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus Himself made it plain: “Without Me, you can do nothing,” (Jn 15:5). He is the vine; we are the branches – we get all our life and power from Him. This goes down to the very basics. We cannot even get out of bed in the morning, if not for the mercies of God. We are dependent on Him for everything! (The sooner we learn this, the better!)
  2. Re: “the boundaries,” this is a reference to the property markers being torn down. Remember that the land was the Lord’s, perpetually given to His own people via their tribes, clans, and families. When Assyria tore down the property markers, Assyria went beyond its designated mission. Instead of only punishing Israel, it disrupted God’s perpetual inheritance to them. Thus, the arrogance of Assyria led them to further sins and crimes. No longer were they only a tool in the hand of God, dealing out His judgment; now they themselves were deserving of judgment.
  3. It raises an interesting theological question: If Assyria was dependent on the Lord God for strength to do what it did, achieving the victories it achieved, then was Assyria still responsible for the crimes it committed (such as removing the landmarks)? e., if God allowed the crime, was God ultimately responsible for the crime? This is where we enter the mysterious balance of God’s sovereignty with the freewill of mankind. And it is the word “mystery” that perhaps describes it best. Must God allow the crime for it to take place? Yes. Is God therefore responsible for the crime? No. The Bible teaches that God is totally sovereign; it does not teach that God is fatalistic. IOW, we are not puppets on invisible strings; we have a real will allowed us by God. We make choices with real consequences. And even so, God reigns over it all. – Can it be solved by human logic? No, as proven by 2000 years of failed attempts. It is an article we must take by faith, believing the Bible for what it says without imposing human systems upon it.

15 Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!

  1. God’s response to Assyria’s arrogance: tools should not boast against their users. The idea that a table-saw would start mouthing off to the carpenter using it is absurd, likewise with the king mouthing off to Almighty God. (Or any of us mouthing off to God!) The king was just a tool; God was the Carpenter, the Sovereign Craftsman. This kind of terminology was a slap in the face to the king of Assyria. There he was, boasting in his own strength. Yet, what did God think of him? As nothing more than an ax or a saw. The king of Assyria saw himself as a mighty conqueror; God saw him as a tool. God was the conqueror; Assyria was nothing more than a staff, having all the inherent strength and wisdom of a common hammer.
    1. We say it often, but it’s true: God is God; we’re not. What are we, other than creations from mud and clay? We are but dust, apart from the breath of God. Let God be God and trust Him as such!
  2. Some of this language is very similar to Paul’s later writings to the Romans regarding God’s sovereign use and election of people for His own purposes. One wonders if Isaiah wasn’t on the mind of the apostle as he wrote his own letter. Romans 9:20–21, “(20) But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” (21) Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” Paul wrote this in the context of election, how God chose to save Gentiles for a time while allowing Israel to remind temporarily blinded to Jesus as Messiah. (Another mystery to our minds, but glorious in that it allows for our salvation!) But the general idea is parallel to that of Isaiah. The Craftsman (be it the carpenter or the potter) is the Lord; we are mere tools in His hands.
    1. Yet our response ought to be different than that of the king of Assyria. This is not an insult to us; it is a privilege. Think about it: we are in the hands of God – God desires to use us for His purposes. That’s amazing! What should God do with us, other than throw us into the garbage? But He doesn’t. Instead, He has plans for us, plans that bring Him glory. First, He desired to save us through Jesus Christ; then, He has plans to conform us to Jesus’ image, filling us and empowering us with the Spirit, all that we might be used to further His kingdom. What a privilege! Even if our only function was to be used as a doorstop in the house of God, it would still be an honor. Praise God for His plans for us!

16 Therefore the Lord, the Lord [correction to NKJV: should be Lord/God (YHWH)] of hosts, Will send leanness among his fat ones; And under his glory He will kindle a burning Like the burning of a fire. 17 So the Light of Israel will be for a fire, And his Holy One for a flame; It will burn and devour His thorns and his briers in one day. 18 And it will consume the glory of his forest and of his fruitful field, Both soul and body; And they will be as when a sick man wastes away. 19 Then the rest of the trees of his forest Will be so few in number That a child may write them.

  1. Again, there is a declaration of God’s judgment on Assyria. God says that He would bring trials (“leanness”) to those He previously blessed (i.e., Assyria). Although God allowed Assyria to grow into a mighty kingdom and empire, God would bring hardship to them. The empire of Assyria would not endure forever; it would fall to a coalition of Medes and Babylonians. This would be the “burning” of God’s judgment among them. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29), demonstrated in “the Light of Israel.
    1. Jesus is the Light of God, but His light can also include the fire of judgment.
  2. When He consumed in judgment, it would be total. Be it the “thorns” and “briers,” or the “forest” and “field,” all of it would be taken in destruction. Not likely a reference to literal forest fires, etc., in Assyria (although much destruction would indeed come to their own homeland when conquered by later armies). More likely, this is a symbolic reference to their soldiers, each warrior likened to a tree, totaling up to a mighty forest. Yet by the time the judgment of the Lord is poured upon them, they would be so few in number that even a child could count them.
  3. For as much as the Bible says about God’s judgment of His own people (rightly so, for judgment begins at the house of God!), the Bible also has much to say about God’s judgment of the unrighteous nations, of those who oppose God’s people. This is good news! Consider how much suffering the people of God endure today, especially the persecution in foreign lands (increasingly getting closer to home!). Should we not want God’s judgment to come upon their oppressors? While we pray for their repentance and salvation (which would be wonderful!), we also desire to see God’s judgment done. This will be the cry of the martyrs of the Great Tribulation, heard during the opening of the 5th seal as they ask how long it will be before God avenges them on the earth (Rev 6:10). This was not a wicked desire on their part, any more than the imprecatory prayers of David were in the book of Psalms. Rather, it is part of a holy desire for God’s righteousness. The promise of God in the Bible is that it will come! All sin will be judged. The wrath of God is answered by men and women individually, or it is answered by Jesus at the cross. Those are the only two options…and God is glorified in either one.
  • Israel is judged, yet preserved (20-34).

20 And it shall come to pass in that day That the remnant of Israel, And such as have escaped of the house of Jacob, Will never again depend on him who defeated them, But will depend on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.

  1. Just like there was a promise of judgment for Assyria, so was there a promise of a remnant for Israel. Don’t miss this! Though Israel would indeed by defeated by Assyria, God’s people would survive. There is no ignoring the violent suffering that would come to them. Israel had its own judgment to face, directed by Almighty God. But God’s judgment would not completely wipe out Israel; they would survive by an act of God’s grace.
  2. Moreover, God’s people would revive, coming to a point of dependance on the Lord. Instead of trusting Assyria with unwise alliances, instead of turning towards useless dead idols, Israel would “depend on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” They would see God as their God, depending on Him for their sustenance and survival. They would worship Him in truth, rather than mere ritual.
    1. Christians often talk about revival; this is what it looks like! It looks like a people named after the Lord actually turning to the Lord in spirit and truth. It looks like a people, though perhaps chastised, understanding their dependence on God and refusing to turn away from Him. – This is the sort of revival we need! Not the fake revival, where people get emotionally charged but leave just as spiritually empty as when they arrived. We need real revival which involves real repentance. We need men and women casting themselves on Christ, acknowledging their dependence on Him in truth. 

21 The remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, To the Mighty God. 22 For though your people, O Israel, be as the sand of the sea, A remnant of them will return; The destruction decreed shall overflow with righteousness. 23 For the Lord GOD of hosts Will make a determined end In the midst of all the land.

  1. There is an interesting personal tie to Isaiah in this prophecy, as “the remnant will return” is the name of one of his sons (Shear-Jashub, 7:3). It shows that this was what God was leading the people to, all along. This was all part of His plan. And of course, it is a confirmation that a remnant will remain of the people of God.
  2. Would it be humbling? The nation would go from numbers “as the sand of a sea,” down to that of a mere remnant. Would they grow again? Of course. God promised exactly that to Abraham and Jacob. Their descendants would be as stars in the sky, as sand of the sea (Gen 22:17, 32:12). But that isn’t to say that their numbers wouldn’t shrink and swell over time. When they did well, God would bless them. When they turned from Him, they would experience the consequences. Yet they would never be totally destroyed. God would keep them. Why? Because He promised He would. It is upon this very promise that Paul maintained hope for a national repentance regarding Jesus and a future salvation for his people. Romans 9:27–28, “(27) Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, The remnant will be saved. (28) For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth.”” Even today, there is a believing remnant among the nation of Israel, Jews who wholeheartedly worship Jesus as Messiah. And we praise God they believe! But there is coming a day when far more will have their blind eyes opened, when as a cohesive whole of a nation they will finally know Jesus as Lord, and “all Israel will be saved,” (Rom 11:26). Again, why? Because this is God’s promise. And what God promises to do, He fulfills. Those He promises to save, He keeps and preserves.
    1. Don’t miss what that means to us, even as Gentile Christians. If God keeps His people, it means that God keeps us. It means our eternal salvation, our assurance of heaven is in His hands. Might He discipline us when we sin? Yes, just like He did with Israel. But will He cast us away? Perish the thought! Our salvation was not wrought by our own hands; it comes through the work of the Lord Jesus at the cross. And when we are in His hands, none can snatch us out. Our hope, as we abide in Jesus, is firm in Jesus. He saves us, He keeps us…not because we are worthy, but because He is. He keeps all of His promises.
  3. Better than the existence of a remnant is the believing faith of that remnant. To whom will they return? “To the Mighty God.” This is another familiar name in the prophecies of Isaiah, harkening back to the four-fold name of Immanuel: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6). To whom will the remnant of Israel return? To Jesus! It is a prophecy of them turning to the true God in true faith. — Again, this is what revival looks like. It looks like God’s people putting their faith and trust in God’s Son, following Jesus in spirit and truth.
  4. A logical question in light of all of this prophecy of remnants and revivals is that of chronology. When will all these things take place? From the text, we know that it will take place after “the destruction decreed,” but the text does not directly tell us which destruction is in mind. Might it refer to the Assyrian conquest? Perhaps, but it is difficult to see the prophetic fulfillment of a remnant revival following the Assyrians. Historically, the northern Hebrews were interbred with the peoples of other nations, becoming the Samaritans that were despised by the southern Jews of Judea. Theoretically, it might be possible to claim that the return of the Jews out of their Babylonian captivity might fulfill the promise, as they eventually populated the northern lands (with the exception of specific land surrounding Samaria). Of course, history tells us that their faith was lacking, seen in their rejection of Jesus. Fast forward 1900 years and we see something similar with the rebirth of the nation of Israel. The people have been restored throughout the land, but by and large their faith is lacking. The modern Israelis still do not recognize Jesus as Messiah (although we pray unto that end). — Yet there is another possibility: the returning remnant hinted at in these earlier periods will be truly fulfilled during Jesus’ Millennial kingdom. During that time, the people of Israel will dramatically grow in numbers, though massive destruction will have come to them during the Great Tribulation. Moreover, they will have true faith in Jesus, knowing Him to be the Messiah that He has always been. They will follow Him as King, just as God’s word prophesies that they will.

24 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD of hosts: “O My people, who dwell in Zion, do not be afraid of the Assyrian. He shall strike you with a rod and lift up his staff against you, in the manner of Egypt. 25 For yet a very little while and the indignation will cease, as will My anger in their destruction.” 26 And the LORD of hosts will stir up a scourge for him like the slaughter of Midian at the rock of Oreb; as His rod was on the sea, so will He lift it up in the manner of Egypt.

  1. The first thing God tells His people in light of these things? Do not fear! How often this is commanded in the Scripture. God’s people have no reason to fear when we walk by faith. Though troubles come, our God is bigger than our troubles. When our eyes are fixed on Him, we have no reason for fear (other than the fear of God). Thus, the command to Israel: Don’t be afraid, despite Assyria’s might and victory. Though destruction would come for a moment, it would be over soon. God’s “indignation” and “anger” would eventually “” This is good news.
    1. David understood this. He knew what it was to be disciplined by the Lord, yet still loved by Him. Psalm 30:4–5, “(4) Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name. (5) For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.” For the child of God, the anger of God is temporary. There is joy that follows afterwards. As David concludes the psalm: Psalm 30:11–12, “(11) You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, (12) To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” God’s discipline hurts in the moment, but it leads the child of God to the point of praise.
    2. The good news for a Christian (a child of God) is that the discipline of God is temporary. It lasts for a moment (sometimes a long moment!) but ultimately has an end. (Even if only in death.) For the unbeliever, the judgment of God is endless. When God pours out His wrath to the full, it lasts for eternity. That is not what we expect, for we are God’s children in Jesus Christ. Because we are in Christ, God loves us enough to discipline us and help us change, but He has no wrath for us. His wrath was fulfilled at the cross. Thus, we have glorious hope for eternity with no fear of wrath. The wrath is gone!
  2. That was the hope for Israel; Assyria had no such hope. Israel’s hope was that they belonged to God as His people. Assyria was merely a tool of destruction that itself would soon be destroyed. God had “a scourge” in mind for that nation, just as God had similar scourges raised up for past national enemies like Midian and Egypt. The “rock of Oreb” was the place where the kings of Midian were executed by Gideon (Jdg 7:25). (This was following the miraculous defeat of the innumberable Midianite army by Gideon and his band of 300.) The “rod” of God was used by Moses at the Red “Sea,” which parted the waters and drowned the armies of Pharoah (Exo 14). The promise from God was that a similar fate awaited the Assyrians. They would face the power of God against them in a way they could not imagine. 

27 It shall come to pass in that day That his burden will be taken away from your shoulder, And his yoke from your neck, And the yoke will be destroyed because of the anointing oil.

  1. Promise of freedom for Israel. The latter part of v27 is difficult to translate. What the NKJV translates as “anointing oil,” could also be translated as “fat.” That has led some scholars to consider the term not so much as liquid fat (oil), but as solid bodyfat. (ESVSB) “Rather than being subdued under the yoke of Assyria, Israel will break the yoke by the fatness of its neck, just like a healthy ox.”
  2. Though a yoke would be broken off the neck of Israel, a better yoke is offered…and not just to Israel, but to all of us: that of Jesus! Matthew 11:28–30, “(28) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (29) Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (30) For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Sin enslaves us – the devil enslaves us – Jesus frees But He frees us through service. When we surrender our lives to Him, we find the freedom for which we long. Contradictory? Not at all. We each serve someone/something. Let us serve who is best. Let us serve Jesus!

28 He has come to Aiath, He has passed Migron; At Michmash he has attended to his equipment. 29 They have gone along the ridge, They have taken up lodging at Geba. Ramah is afraid, Gibeah of Saul has fled. 30 Lift up your voice, O daughter of Gallim! Cause it to be heard as far as Laish— O poor Anathoth! 31 Madmenah has fled, The inhabitants of Gebim seek refuge. 32 As yet he will remain at Nob that day; He will shake his fist at the mount of the daughter of Zion, The hill of Jerusalem.

  1. Isaiah gives a prophetic description of Assyria’s strong military campaign through the land. The nation moved steadily through Israel, all the way to the land of Benjamin (i.e., the homeland of Saul). Was this the exact route of Assyria? Scholars disagree. But the primary point is not to draw up a chronologically-based map; it is to show the Assyrian’s progression through the land and describe the fear of the people. As the people witnessed this, they would tremble and run for cover (understandably so).
  2. The invaders would seem unstoppable, but the prophecy states that Assyria would be stopped at Jerusalem. Though the Assyrian generals shook their fist at Jerusalem, they remained outside the wall. Why? Because God forbade them from proceeding further. God Himself would go to battle against them…

33 Behold, the Lord, The LORD of hosts, Will lop off the bough with terror; Those of high stature will be hewn down, And the haughty will be humbled. 34 He will cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, And Lebanon will fall by the Mighty One.

  1. The allusion is to God’s victory over Assyria. [2 Kings 19:32-36] It is a description of the miraculous defeat of Sennacherib and the destruction of his army. 185,000 soldiers were killed in a single night by the Lord’s angel.
  2. Notice the specific mention of God’s judgment on Assyria’s pride, their haughtiness. What God promised in v12 is shown as fulfilled in v33, to be seen in the days of Hezekiah (Ahaz’s son). Likewise, the “forest” is cut down (fulfilling v19), all done by the hand of the “Mighty One,” the “Mighty God” of v21. Every promise God made in this passage, He would fulfill. Not a one would be left undone.

Conclusion:

Did Israel have reason to be concerned about Assyria? Yes, there would be trouble coming from them. Yes, they would even by used by God Himself as His instrument of judgment against them. But even in the darkest days that followed, they need not fear. God had them…and He wasn’t letting go. They were still His people; He was still their God. He saw all the evil of Assyria, and despite His righteous use of them, He did not ignore their sin. He would judge them in all their arrogance, just as surely as He would preserve the remnant of His people according to His covenant promises. God had them.

God has us. There is no question that God allows us to go through difficult things. Our culture is in a moral tailspin. Our nation is in political turmoil. But those things ought to be expected. God does not have a covenant with the United States of America. God does have a covenant with us, as born-again believers in Jesus Christ, the Church. And with the difficulties that we endure personally, God has us. He knows every sickness, every spiritual attack, every stumbling into sin that we experience. He knows the times we experience the consequences for our own actions, as well as the times that we get caught in the cross-fire of the actions of others. In it all, He has us. He knows us, He loves us, and He won’t let us go.

We may not always be able to tell the difference between God’s discipline in our lives, versus the sufferings we experience from the actions of others. But we don’t have to know the difference…we know that God does. Not only does God know these things, but He has planned for these things. God is sovereign over everything we experience, be it our own personal ‘Assyrians’ or anything else. Trust Him! Know that He has you and He isn’t letting go. God paid too high a price for you when He gave His only begotten Son for your sins. Dare you think He would abandon you now? Heaven forbid! The work He has begun, He will complete, for He does it according to His own faithfulness and glory.

Where are you having trouble, in trusting the Lord as God? Surrender it to Him! Remember His great love for you and His promises to you through Jesus. Give yourself anew into His hand, knowing that His hands are more than able to do what He promises.

God has a wonderful plan for Jesus, one that has been in place since the beginning of the world and finds its completion through eternity. What is it? Reconciliation. This universe, along with us as individuals, are estranged from God; Jesus is our reconciliation back to Him.

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ

Reconciled in Christ

Posted: January 2, 2023 in Colossians

Colossians 1:19-23, “Reconciled in Christ”

If you’ve ever been estranged from someone you love, you understand how difficult it can be. Conversations (if they happen at all) are stilted. Perhaps you desire to talk, but things are strained and you constantly walk on eggshells around each other. What do you need? Reconciliation. You need things to be set right, to be put at peace, that you might start again from fresh ground.

The greatest need of mankind is reconciliation. Not reconciliation with one another (though we long for the end of wars and for peace on earth…something that won’t be known until Jesus comes back in the Millennial Kingdom); what we need most is reconciliation with God. The most impactful war fought today is not between nations; it is between mankind and our Creator, and it has been ongoing since the Garden of Eden.

This is a war that cannot be solved by two-sided negotiations. First, the perfect God has no need to negotiate. Second, we are incapable of bridging the gap…even the best we do is tainted with sin. It would leave us at an impasse, if not for Jesus. Jesus solves the war through His work of reconciliation. Jesus makes peace.

We see it in the letter of Colossians, of which Paul had just begun getting into deep doctrine. The initial opening was relatively standard featuring Paul’s normal greetings and thanks for the church. Of course, on thing about this church that was decidedly not normal was that the apostle hadn’t planted it. Everything Paul knew about the church at Colossae came from the reports of a faithful Christian named Epaphras. And although some of the news Epaphras brought was troubling (as seen later in the letter), other news was good. This congregation was a true church of the Lord Jesus, having believed the gospel and demonstrating fruit of the same.

This led Paul to a round of prayer for the Colossians, desiring these Christians to be filled with the experiential hands-on knowledge of God’s will, having their minds and actions transformed by God’s grace, that they might be faithful. It was by God’s grace that any of them would be strengthened, just like it was by the same grace that God made them heirs, His own children through Jesus.

At that point, Paul wrote of the person and work of Jesus, the one through whom we have redemption of sins. Jesus has a role in the Trinity, being the image of God and having the position (responsibility/privilege) of the Firstborn. Jesus has a role in the universe as its Creator and Sustainer. Jesus was a role in the church as our Head, our beginning/foundation, and the firstborn from the dead. In all things, Jesus has the preeminence: He is exalted and first.

As Chapter 1 proceeds, Paul continues his look at Jesus. Here, the focus isn’t so much on His person (although there is a bit of that), but of God’s plan for Him. God has a wonderful plan for Jesus, one that has been in place since the beginning of the world and finds its completion through eternity. What is it? Reconciliation. This universe, along with us as individuals, are estranged from God; Jesus is our reconciliation back to Him.

Do you want to know the peace of God? Be reconciled to Him through Jesus!

Colossians 1:19–23

  • The plan of God for universal peace (19-20).

19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,

  1. Paul begins with the deity of Jesus being pleasing to God the Father. Technically, the words “the Father that” are not in the Greek text (as indicated by the NKJV italics), but there is little doubt from the context that the Father is in mind for Paul. Who else would be “pleased” with this plan for the Son, the image of the invisible God and preeminent One in the church? Considering that both Son and Spirit are submitted to the Father, the Father is the only logical option. Moreover, it is language that the Bible has used before, regarding the Father’s well-pleasing thoughts toward the Son. When looking at the term “pleased,” it is the same word recorded by Matthew regarding the Father’s statement of Jesus at His baptism. Mt 3:17, “well-pleased.” (Likewise, at His Transfiguration.) In Matthew (and the other synoptic gospels), the pleasure of God was in the person and work of Jesus during His earthly ministry. In Colossians, God’s pleasure is more fundamental. It is in the person of the Son of God in His glorious existence – it is in Jesus’ deity. The deity of the Son pleases the Father. It pleases God the Father that God the Son is God, having the fullness of God. This takes us back to Paul’s discussion of Jesus’ deity only a few verses earlier, particularly as it relates to His role in the Trinity: Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Jesus is the ‘icon,’ the visual representation of God the Father, so much so that when we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father (Jn 14:9). To the point of v19, this pleases That Jesus is the 2nd Person of the Godhead is not a point of jealousy to the Father – the Father sees no competition from the Son nor the Spirit; this is something of great pleasure to Him. He is glorified in the Triune nature of the Godhead.
    1. This can be difficult for us to understand, potentially on several levels. First, there is the sheer academic/theological nature of it, our finite minds trying to somehow grasp that which is infinite. But additionally, there is the aspect of our own fallen natures. Not only do we have difficulty relating to a total absence of jealousy from among equals (as Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in nature and substance, fully unified in mind and purpose), but we might also have difficulty understanding how God can be glorified in Himself. Isn’t that egotistical? Isn’t it more than a bit me-centered? Not for God. If it was us, then yes. Our glorying in ourselves is sinful, and is at the heart of more than just a few of our sins and failings. For us, this is the heart of pride and pride causes us to set ourselves up as our own little gods, believing that we have the right to determine what we want to do for ourselves, rather than submitting and surrendering ourselves to God (as we ought to do). But that’s us. For God, it’s different. It is right for God to glory in Himself, to be pleased in the nature of the Godhead. Why shouldn’t He? Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfect! All the universe is created to give Him glory, to bring pleasure to the Father. Why shouldn’t the existence of the Son bring Him pleasure as well? This isn’t ego on the part of God; it is a celebration of that which is perfect (the only perfect thing currently left in this universe!).
  2. In what way do we see the deity of Jesus in v19? Because that which pleases the Father is the fact that the “fullness” dwells in Jesus. The language is reminiscent to earlier in Chapter 1 (which, if we were reading the letter as did the original Colossians, would have stood out to us as something we just heard. Back in vv9-10, Paul wrote how he prayed for the Colossians to “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will,” that they might “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him.” In a similar way to how Christians can be filled with the knowledge of God and be pleasing to God, so too (though to an infinite degree) is Jesus filled with the fullness of God and is well-pleasing to Him. Though scholars through the centuries have disagreed with the exact reference for “fullness,” the most natural reading of the text is that it is the fullness of deity. As has been often pointed out, this ought to be one of the clearest statements of Jesus’ divinity in all the Scripture. There is no lack between God the Father and God the Son – there is no shadow of substance between them. All of the fullness that defines the Father as God also defines the Son (and also the Spirit). The “fullness” of deity is in Him. As Paul writes later in Ch 2: Colossians 2:9, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Jesus has all of God because Jesus is God.
    1. This was why, when finally seeing the resurrected Jesus for himself, Thomas could cry out without reproach, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). If Jesus had been less than fully God, then He should have immediately chastised Thomas, reproving him for blasphemy. But He didn’t. Jesus received the recognition as it was, and it was right for Him to do so, for He is God.
    2. The problem comes when we do not recognize Him as God. Oh, many people claim that they do. Ask them who Jesus is and they will say, “He is the Son of God who died on the cross and cross from the grave.” Even if they cannot recount that much, they can at least think of Christmas, Jesus being the Son of God born unto men. But that kind of intellectual recognition is different than true surrendered faith. Those that recognize Jesus as God recognize Him as our Keep in mind that a true God is worthy of worship, of reverence, of obedience. Labeling Jesus as “God” while ignoring His word belies your confession. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is He who loves Me,” (Jn 14:21). Obviously, none of us keeps Jesus’ commandments perfectly, but there is a difference between desiring to keep Jesus’ commandments and stumbling in the process, versus ignoring them altogether. Ask yourself what you really think of Jesus. Is He your Lord and God? Have you yet surrendered your life to Him? 
  3. In what way is the fullness of God within Jesus? It “dwell[s]” in Him. The translation is fitting, as the term used by Paul comes from the root word meaning “house.” We might say that the fullness of God lives in Jesus, residing in Him. And this isn’t a temporary residency (such as a rental). Vincent notes that there is a permanency implied in the word. Unlike the ancient heresy known as Cerinthianism which believed that the Deity of the Son came upon Jesus at His baptism and left Him prior to His crucifixion, the Bible teaches that God the Son is permanently God the Son. Be it in eternity past prior to the incarnation, or during His earthly ministry, or throughout the eternal future eons, Jesus is always fully God. The fullness of God forever dwells in God the Son. He has never been less than fully God, nor will He ever be. He was and is and is to come, always and forever God.
    1. What this means is that Jesus is always worthy of our worship. Yes, He is our Friend and our heavenly Bridegroom, but He is first and foremost God. As we’ve said before, Jesus is neither Buddy Jesus, nor Butler Jesus; He is our Lord, our God, our King, and our Savior. He is deserving of our worship, owed our obedience, and the recipient of our love. And He always will be. Consider other religions of the world in which their heroes pass away. Mohammed died like every man before him, being just as sinful and weak as other men. The Jesus of Mormonism was a created being like other created beings, and that faithful Mormons will eventually become their own versions of god. Buddhists believe in a never-ending cycle of birth and rebirth, with all of their heroes dying like other men, always starting over from scratch. But Jesus? Jesus is perfect. Jesus is, has been, and will always be God. He has no need for improvement, no sins of His own which require atonement. This is our God! This is who we honor and praise! 

20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

  1. God’s plan for Jesus? It is nothing less than the reconciliation of the universe. [Just a small thing! :-)] “” The term is used only in Eph 2:16 and here in Col 1:20-21. Some scholars believe it was coined by Paul, being a strengthened form of the normal word for “reconcile.” Almost like an ‘fuller’ reconciliation…we couldn’t be more reconciled to the Father than what happens through the work of Jesus. In Ephesians, the word was used to the reconciliation of believing Jews and Gentiles into one church, Jesus becoming our peace that breaks down the wall of separation between us. Here, if there is any ‘wall,’ it is between the universe and God. Far worse than being separated from fellow humans is creation being separated from its Creator. Yet that is exactly what took place through the fall of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden. The sin of Adam did not affect only Adam. It affected all the physical universe. Consider the judgment of God unto Adam. Genesis 3:17c–19, “(17c) Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. (18) Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. (19) In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” Recall that prior to this point, Adam’s primary job was to tend and keep the garden. But from this point, what once was easy was now hard. Earlier, the earth yielded to Adam; now it resisted him. The point? Adam’s sin affected far more than Adam…it affected everything. The creation that was once labeled as “good,” is now imperfect. It is itself at enmity against its Creator. Paul seems to allude to this same idea with the Romans: Romans 8:20–22, “(20) For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; (21) because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (22) For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” Something is wrong within creation, something that can only be expressed through groanings like droughts and earthquakes and storms. There is a block of some sort between it and God, a marring that requires reconciliation. But what is the promise? What is the teaching of the gospel? That God reconciles all things to Himself through Jesus! Creation, once estranged, is brought near to its Creator.
    1. Is this not what we see at the end of the book of Revelation? There is a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). There is a new city in which will dwell the people of God (Rev 21:2-3). There is a new river of life, with a new tree of life (Rev 22:1-2). The curse is gone, with all people everywhere serving God in the light of His glory (Rev 22:3-4). Everything that went wrong in the garden of Eden is made right again. All of it, is the plan of God achieved through Jesus Christ!
    2. If we had only one book of the Bible, surely it would itself be a marvelous gift…one to be treasured by all of God’s people everywhere. But how wonderful it is to have all the books of the Bible, including the book of Revelation! In it (and many others) we see the end result of the world as we know it, and what do we learn? God wins! For all the ways that our current culture is disintegrating into chaos around us, the Christian has hope for Christians know that things will not always be this way. Things might look bad now, but they won’t look bad always. Our God has a plan, His plan will succeed (as it always has), and He wins! And amazingly in His grace, He brings us right beside Him in His victory. He could have set us on the sidelines – He would have been just in sending us to hell; He didn’t. In Jesus, He brings us to Himself and we are blessed to experience His victory with Him. Glory be to God!
  2. In all of this, what exactly is reconciled to God? It cannot be pinned down, for it includes “sll things.” You name it, God has reconciled it. “Whether things on earth or things in heaven.” That about sums it up! All things in all the universe are reconciled to God through the cross. With that in mind, don’t make the mistake of thinking “all things” = universalism (the teaching that all people, regardless of their faith in Jesus, are automatically saved). That is not at all the point of the apostle Paul. In these verses, we see that Jesus clearly reconciles creation to the Father. Through the rest of Scripture, we know that Jesus makes provision for every human to be reconciled. For example: “And He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world,” (1 Jn 2:2). Or, “as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation [i.e., Adam], even so through one Man’s righteous act [i.e., Jesus] the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life,” (Rom 5:18). The provision of Jesus is available for everyone, freely offered to everyone. But the Scripture is just as clear that not everyone is saved. Every time hell is described, it is described as populated (“there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”). Thus, reconciliation for people is freely and fully available, but it doesn’t happen automatically. Men and women must respond through faith. It is only to as many as receive Him, that God gives the right to become children of God (Jn 1:12). It is only whoever believes in Jesus that will not perish but have everlasting life (Jn 3:16). It is only those who exercise faith in God’s Son that are saved, for it is by grace through faith that we are saved (Eph 2:8-9). It is easy to understand why people want the idea of universalism to be true. After all, who wants anyone to suffer eternally in the lake of fire next to Satan and his demons (who will be suffering as well)? That is something we shouldn’t even desire on our worst enemies, so awful is the fate. Yet that is the Biblical truth. People will suffer eternal hell. No one need do so, but untold multitudes will. Every person who rejects Jesus Christ as Lord will suffer the consequences of that decision for eternity.
    1. Don’t let this be you! If you have put off being reconciled to God through Jesus, don’t wait any longer. 2022 is already passed, time that is forever wasted for those who don’t belong to Christ. Let this new year be the year you begin your eternal life, walking in faithful fellowship with the Lord!
  3. How does this reconciliation happen? Paul writes of it as a completed action, saying that God “made peace through the blood of the cross.” Interestingly, the term used for “having made peace” is a single word, a verb in Greek that might be translated “peace-doing, peace-making.” It wasn’t that God threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and peace was the result; He sent Jesus for the specific purpose of making peace. This was His mission as Immanuel, as we are reminded through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It is a reminder that Jesus’ deity is clearly taught in both New Testament and Old Testament. The Messiah for which the Hebrews have longed is none other than the Son of God, shown through the fourfold names of the Immanuel-Child: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Much could be said on each name (!), but notice the last: Prince of Peace. His royal reign is marked by the shalom peace of God. The Messiah is meant to make things right, to make things whole. And not just for individuals (though that, too), but for the whole universe. This was His preplanned purpose from before the foundation of the world. (And what God plans, God makes good!)
  4. Notice it didn’t come easily. Peace was made one way: “through the blood of the cross.” If we think about it literally (which we should!), it isn’t a very pretty picture. Most of us are far removed from bloody things on a regular basis. Unless you work at a hospital, for the police force, or for the military, you don’t likely encounter bloody things too often. Even farm-life is somewhat sanitized today as compared to past generations. Certainly, we don’t have anything like this in modern worship; a bloody sacrifice would seem downright barbaric and pagan to us today. But that is the benefit of being nearly 2000 years removed from the cross. Jesus’ cross was not sanitized cross; it was bloody. Our Savior became our sacrifice and was brutally nailed to it, where He suffered for six hours and died. Blood streamed down that cross: from the crown of thorns on His head, from His back which was shredded by the scourging, from His hands and His feet, and finally from His side where He was pierced. It was a blood-caked cross…and not a drop of it was wasted. This was the required ransom price. This was what was necessary for peace to be made: the bloody death of the Son of God at the cross.
    1. It is a stark reminder of the cost of our salvation. We talk about salvation as a free gift, and so it is. It costs us nothing to receive it. All we need do is repent, believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. But it cost Jesus everything to make it available. It was certainly not free to God. But that is how much He loves us! This is how much He desires to reconcile the universe to Himself, and how much He desires us to be reconciled to Him. The plan of God was to give Jesus for our peace, and so He did…and He did so successfully!
  • The plan of God for personal peace (21-23).

21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled 22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—

  1. From the whole universe, Paul now brings it to “” In v20, that which was reconciled was “all things,” but considering how many “things” there are in this world, you and I can start to feel pretty small and lost. Consider there are now an estimated 8 billion+ people on planet Earth. Who are you and I compared to all of that? But it gets worse. Compared with the estimated number of stars in the universe, we pale in comparison. By some estimates, there are 10 trillion galaxies, each with 100 billion stars, resulting in 1×1024 stars. Talk about getting lost or feeling insignificant! Yet know this, beloved: God knows your name. God knows you personally, having knit you in the womb of your mother. God has known you from the foundation of the earth, having had a plan for you since the same. And that was why God sent Jesus for you. To the Colossians, Paul wrote, “and you,” and his words are not limited to them. If the apostle were writing to the church of east Texas, he would still write, “and you.” God has a plan for us! What is it? To reconcile us to God through Jesus Christ. There are several parts to it, so let’s break it down…
  2. We were enemies. Outside of Christ, we were outside of God Himself, having no access to Him. We “once were alienated and enemies” to Him, not only in our actions but also in our “minds.” Our whole beings were separated and estranged from Him. More than being lost in ignorance, we were actively opposed to Him. Such is the implication of the word “enemies.” Sometimes we get the idea that sin is just minor stuff that everyone does. Like the excuse of ‘boys being boys,’ we think “people aren’t perfect; everyone sins.” This is true, of course, but we dare not minimize it. Our works were downright “wicked.” Our sin made us God’s “enemies.” And what do you do with enemies? Defeat them – destroy them – punish them. Enemies of the state are put to death. Enemies on the battlefield shoot at each other. Enemies of God are judged, rightly so. Why shouldn’t God judge His enemies? Remember, He is fully righteous. There is none holier, none better. If He judges His enemies unto death (eternal death, at that), it is righteous by definition. That is what should have happened to us. But it didn’t. Why? …
  3. We are reconciled. This is the same word used in v20. Whereas before we could not have been more estranged from God if we tried (and we tried!), now we could not be more fully reconciled. God so brought us to Himself, making peace, that not only are we no longer His enemies; we are now His friends and His children. Consider the scope of that kind of grace! Can you imagine it? Who was your greatest enemy in high school, or perhaps today? Maybe someone even committed a crime against you or your family. What would it take for that person to be so reconciled to you, that you would consider that person a part of your family? That is what God did through Jesus! What we can hardly imagine, God does for every single person who puts his/her faith in Christ. This is amazing grace!
  4. How does it take place? We are reconciled through Jesus’ body. V22 says it was “in the body of His flesh through death” that we are reconciled to God. This goes to the heart of the incarnation, the miracle celebrated at Christmas. The image of the invisible God took human flesh to Himself that He might give that same flesh as the ransom for our sins. Jesus gave His physical body to reconcile our hearts and minds to God. Again, it took a bloody cross to save us; salvation came by no other means.
    1. This rules out the false idea of Gnosticism, something that seems to have been at the heart of the Colossian problems. Recall that Gnosticism believed that everything physical was inherently sinful, thus to them, it was impossible that God would take physical flesh and use it for holy purposes. Yet that is exactly what God did. It is what He continues to do. Consider that each of us will have physical bodies for all eternity. Resurrected, glorified physical bodies to be sure, but physical Our God created a physical universe and declared it good and He will remake a physical universe in the new heavens and new earth. Beware the modern Gnostic ideas that everything physical is bad, that the only ‘proper’ religion is spiritual. By no means is anyone saved by any physical work, but God does command physical works. We are to be physically baptized, partake of physical communion, do physical acts of obedience and service, sing with our physical voices and lift our physical hands. We are to love God with all our hearts, souls, and strengths. Everything we are and everything we have (be it emotional, spiritual, or physical) is to be given unto the Lord.
  5. What happens when we are reconciled? We are presented as holy in the sight of God. Notice that we do not make ourselves holy; we are presented as holy unto God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. If the previous idea ruled out Gnosticism, this idea rules out legalism. There is not a thing we can do to make ourselves ‘more’ holy in the sight of God. Nor make ourselves ‘more’ reconciled, ‘more’ blameless, ‘more’ above reproach, etc. These are all things that God does for us through Jesus. When Jesus gave the body of His flesh through death – when He made peace through the blood of His cross – that was when/how Jesus accomplished all these things for us. Are we commanded to obey our Lord? Without a doubt, yes. But these things do not make us holy, nor do they somehow prove our holiness; they are simply an outgrowth of what Jesus has already done in us. We do not get credit for our obedience; it is Jesus who presents us as holy for it is by His work we are made/declared holy. – Paul gives three main descriptions…
    1. Holy.” Technically, this could be seen as the primary idea with the other two terms providing fullness to the description. Even so, there is a distinct meaning to this word. To be holy is not only to be pure; it is to be set apart – to be dedicated. Items that were consecrated for priestly use in the service at the tabernacle were considered “holy,” not because these inanimate objects could act in some form of ‘holiness,’ but because they were set apart for this special purpose. Shovels used to remove ashes from the altar would not be used for common ditch-digging; these items were holy. – Jesus presents us as holy. We who once we alienated and enemies of God have now been consecrated to God through Jesus’ reconciliation. Once we were profane; now we are holy. God has set us aside for His own purposes. It is a glorious privilege!
      1. It is also a grand responsibility. Once we have been set aside by God unto Himself, how can we now use our bodies and minds in profane ways (in whatever form it might take)? To use our bodies in carnal sin is no different than taking the shovel for the altar and using it to scoop out latrines. We have been saved for better uses than that! Let us walk in the holiness for which we have been saved!
    2. Blameless.” A similar term is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for sacrifices without blemish. A Hebrew was not permitted to bring the lame, leftover runt of the litter to offer to God in sacrifice; it had to be a healthy animal, one without defect or blemish. Such is what Jesus makes us by His sacrifice. This seems impossible…and truly, it would be were it not for the amazing grace of God! How could any of us be seen as blameless, innocent, or without defect? I know me! I know how much I am to be blamed. And surely God knows me far better. He knows the sins of which I have long forgotten. Yet He doesn’t see me in my sins. Nor does He see you in yours. He sees us as blameless, for that is how Jesus has presented us to Him. Because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, God sees us as righteous. Again…this is amazing grace!
    3. Above reproach.” KJV, “unreproveable.” Not only are we without blame (without fault or blemish), but even the opportunity to charge us with blame is gone. There is nothing for which an accusation of blame can stick. Once again, this seems impossible. Even if charges are never brought against us, we know the skeletons in our closets. We know how we could be blamed, if truth were ever known. And it isn’t as if accusations are never made, as if our sins and failings are ignored. The Bible describes Satan as “the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night,” (Rev 12:10). The very word “Satan” means “adversary,” with his accusations being one of the main ways he opposes God, slandering God’s people. He knows of what to accuse us and he does not hesitate to do it. But for the child of God, it doesn’t stick. Why? Because of Jesus! When Jesus reconciles us to God, He reconciles us fully. He so transforms us by His grace and clothes us in His righteousness that not even the otherwise-legitimate accusations of the devil against us stick. In the sight of God, we are “above reproach.
  6. All of this is what takes place in the “sight” of God. This is what Jesus does for us. We wouldn’t see ourselves this way, but God does. This is what happens through grace! — Is this the grace that you know? Is this the grace in which you stand? For many, their attempts at holiness and blamelessness, etc., are the things they do. The proofs of their standing in God varies from day to day, ever changing with the level of their obedience. If they just read more, pray more, act more, etc., those are the measures of their spiritual growth and maturity. Beloved: that isn’t the gospel! The gospel isn’t about the things we do for God; it is about the things God has already done through Christ. And what has Jesus done for us? He has reconciled us to God, presented us as holy, blameless, and above reproach in the sight of God. Do you honestly believe you can improve on what He has done? (Good luck!) Without question, we are to obey our Lord and King, walking in humble submission to His will. But that isn’t what makes us holy. Jesus does that, Jesus alone.

23 if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

  1. Notice the “if.” There are four different kinds of “if” statements (conditional statements) in Greek, each affecting the interpretation of how certain a condition might be. This is a first-class conditional statement, the strongest certainty…so much so, that the condition is presumed true. Paul did not doubt that the Colossians would continue in the faith, nor wonder if it was possible that they might continue in the faith; he was certain that they would indeed continue in the faith.
  2. The term “continue” might also be translated “remain, persist.” Combined with the descriptors of “grounded and steadfast,” we get the idea of a house firmly planted on a rock-solid foundation. To “continue in the faith” is to be solidly rooted in the faith, like a slab-foundation house with pillars reaching deep to underlying bedrock. Such a building won’t be moved in even the worst of circumstances. Likewise, we must be immovable from the faith, defined specifically as “the hope of the gospel.” Although the term (with the definite article) “the faith” might refer to a specific body of doctrine, Paul’s context here is more basic. At this point, Paul did not refer to non-essential issues (though still important issues) such as end-times theology, spiritual gifts, or church government; he was sticking to the rudiments, the essential issues of Biblical Christianity. He stuck to the gospel. There are some doctrines over which born-again Christians can differ, yet still be considered as continuing in the faith. The gospel is not one of them. The gospel is our only hope of salvation – it is the good news of Jesus – it is the fundamental truth of Christ and His work. Without holding to the elemental truth of salvation coming by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone, we cannot be saved. It is in this that we are to remain, to persist being “grounded and steadfast.” True Christians are immoveable from the gospel, thus, we remain/abide in Christ. What Paul writes to the Colossians is so similar this is to the statement of Jesus to His disciples abiding in Him as branches abide in the vine. John 15:4–5, “(4) Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (5) “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Our hope (our only hope) is to abide/remain in the Vine; to remain steadfast in Jesus!
    1. Question: What happens to someone who does not continue in the faith? Some might raise the question based on the “if” from Paul. Of course, that is not the question he himself was raising, as his “if” was an “if” of certainty; not uncertainty. Even so, we have all known of some who don’t continue in the faith. There are many people who once made a profession of faith in Jesus yet abandoned that profession later in life. What happens to those people? The answer is simple, though sobering. No Jesus, no assurance. In Jesus, as we abide in Him and trust Him, we have total assurance of our salvation. Without Jesus, we have no such assurance. Our full hope of salvation is in Christ alone – not our works, not our abilities; only in Christ. If we hold not to Christ, what hope is left? 
    2. Objection: “What about the doctrine of eternal security? What about once-saved-always-saved?” Of eternal security, nothing changes whatsoever. Those who are truly saved by Christ are eternally saved by Him. Of those who are in the hands of Jesus, no one can snatch us out (Jn 10:28-29). Of once-saved-always-saved, it depends on one’s definition of it. If by once-saved-always-saved, you mean that a person who has been born of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God through Jesus Christ and sealed by the Spirit as a guarantee of eternity, evidenced by continual abiding in Christ…then yes, once you are saved by Jesus you are always saved by Jesus, for you always abide in Jesus. If, however, you mean that because you prayed a sinner’s prayer that ‘saved’ you, so now you will always remain ‘saved,’ then no. Prayers do not save us, no matter how many times we pray them. If your hope for salvation is in a prayer that you prayed, then you don’t have a certain hope. The only true hope we have of salvation is the hope that comes from our Lord Jesus. 
    3. Does this mean that a person who has walked away from an earlier profession of Jesus cannot be saved? No, though it will doubtless be far more difficult for him/her to come to true saving faith in Christ. Though it would be impossible for someone truly born-again to somehow get “reborn-again,” (per Heb 6:4-6), that isn’t the case for someone who is a false convert, who made a false profession of faith. For the person who has left the church, who has seemingly walked away from Jesus, what do we do? Pray for them. Love on them. Show them the true compassion of the true Son of God. Share with them the words of Scripture. Let God’s word speak to those who seem impossibly lost, for with God nothing is impossible. With God, anyone can be saved!
  3. How did that gospel come to the Colossians? Simple: the same way it came to us. They “heard” it. It was preached to them. In the case of the Colossians, we don’t exactly know who first proclaimed it to them. It seems likely that it came via the personal evangelism of Epaphras, but whoever the original source was, it came from somebody. Someone stepped out in faith and told other people about Jesus. That is always the way it goes, which is exactly according to God’s design. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). The one ‘catch’ is that someone has to be the person to make the gospel heard. But again, that has always been God’s plan. Consider what Jesus told His disciples just prior to His ascension: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” That wasn’t only for the men and women standing in front of Him that day. That wasn’t only for the apostle Paul who would come along later, becoming a minister (deacon) for this purpose. That was for all of the church, for all time. We are each witnesses for Jesus, each needing the power of the Holy Spirit to preach the good news of salvation to all the world!
    1. How are you participating? Paul was so dedicated to this task that it seemed to him that he and his co-workers had preached the gospel to “every creature under heaven,” (a bit of sanctified exaggeration, perhaps…certainly his desire regarding the spread of the gospel in the Roman empire). We ought to share that dedication. Not that we are to expect ourselves to be new Paul’s and Pauline’s, but we can be used for the gospel in some way. Remember: faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. There is surely someone in your life that will only hear of Jesus when you say something. So say something! Don’t let 2023 be a year of silence for the gospel! Let this year be a year you speak of Jesus that people might be saved.

Conclusion:

God had a marvelous plan for Jesus! Not only was the Father already well-pleased with the Son, glorified in the Son’s expression of the fullness of the Godhead, but the Son did everything that the Father gave Him to do. The Son is the grand reconciler. He made peace between creation and its Creator – He made peace available between people and our God. Jesus truly is the Prince of Peace, offering it to all who would partake!

It didn’t come easy for Him. It took the blood of the cross, the body of His flesh through death. But He was willing to do it, that we might be saved. And now, through the reconciliation that He offers, we can be transformed in the sight of God – changed from truly horrible to blessedly holy. It is amazing grace.

There is a fundamental question each of us must ask ourselves: Am I in Christ? Have I, have you, received of the reconciliation that Jesus offers? Is He our God – is He our only hope of eternal life? Far too many people sit in churches week after week without that assurance. Their assurance is in their church attendance, or the prayer they prayed back in Sunday school, or in their baptism. It is in everything except Jesus alone. If that is you, run to Jesus! Let this be the day that you give up trusting yourself and your stuff, finding your hope and true reconciliation in Jesus alone.

For the rest of us, let us beware of drift. Remember the statement of v23: “if you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast.” True Christians remain grounded in Christ, but true Christians might still allow certain ideas to cause us to doubt and drift from time to time. Come back to the basics! Come back to the solid foundation of the gospel. Let us resolve to stand firm on Jesus: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else!

There was good news and bad news for the people of God. The bad news of judgment was difficult to hear, but it was necessary. Good news cannot be appreciated without the contrast of the bad news. But the good news was truly good: the future kingdom of Immanuel would be wonderful, for He is the great God and King!

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/preach-the-word/id1449859151?mt=2
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2aSveQvIs7SPHWB4UcmSUQ