Tag Archives: Isaiah

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Pointing of the Finger

God asked the Prophet Isaiah to confront his people. It was a reality check for them. They thought they were being religious and could not understand why God seemed distant to them. They were, in fact, religious and that was the problem. God wanted more, much more. Reading from Isaiah:

Shout out, do not hold back!
    Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see?
    Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
    and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
    and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
    will not make your voice heard on high.   (Isaiah 58:1-4)

Let us examine our churches and our own lives to see if this word applies to us today. How are we keeping God’s commandments? That is the question. It has to do with more than our religious observances..

One of the characteristics of religious people is a tendency to grade themselves with regard to the level of righteousness they believe they have achieved. How would we measure such a property?  We instinctively know that none us have not actually achieved anything near perfection. The fall back position then often becomes: How do we compare to others?

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-10)

The pointing of the finger leads to bondage, even in the body of Christ. This is what the Pharisees did. This is what the religious leaders did during the time of Christ. This practice kept them from receiving the Gospel. Not only that, they were the gatekeepers that kept many other people from receiving Christ.

Jesus came to correct the religious thinking of the day. In his Sermon on the Mount, he made it clear that God does not grade us on a curve. Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”   (Matthew 5:17-20)

Our righteousness must exceed the level of the Pharisees, who were very judgmental. In fact, it must exceed any level that anyone may have achieved. What Jesus was saying that the law of God requires each one of us to be perfect, standing on our own before God, irrespective of anyone else.

The Gospel is the good news we need to hear and believe. Unfortunately, a judgmental heart is not an open heart. God needs a softened heart that has been broken and made contrite by the cross. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.   (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth has fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. He has stood in for us and taken the punishment for our sins. From Isaiah:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
    and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
    struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
    crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
    and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Let us not look at ourselves or at anyone else. Let us see Jesus, high and lifted up. Jesus said:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.   (John 3:13-15).

We do not have to keep score on anyone. Jesus is our judge. He is also the redeemer for those who put their trust in him.

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Second Sunday after Epiphany

Called As Light Bearers

Today we read of the calling of Andrew and Peter by Jesus from the Gospel of John:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”   (John 1:35-39)

The Season of Epiphany is a “come and see” time. Jesus is still calling disciples. He is calling each one of us. Will we stop to listen? More importantly will we follow him long enough to find out what he has planned for us?

The Prophet Isaiah writes about his calling from God in today’s Old Testament reading:

And now the Lord says,
    who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
    and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”   (Isaiah 49:5-6)

We may not have such a high calling. Or perhaps we might? How would we react to such a calling? Perhaps we may be experiencing a little letdown over the fading of Christmas. It may be hard to hear any calling with enthusiasm. But in truth, God is not swayed by our emotions. He is always ready to seek and to save those who are lost, and he is always ready to supply the needs of anyone who will join him in this venture. All we have to do is call upon him.

The psalmist wrote:

I waited patiently upon the Lord;
he stooped to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.

He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe,
and put their trust in the Lord.   (Psalm 40:1-3)

God wants to take away our sadness and discouragement give us a new song. He wants to place our feet on sound ground. He wants to pour out his Spirit upon us and fill us with joy. Why so?

As Christians we are to be the light of the world. It is not our light but God’s light shining through us. He tells us:

I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

This earth, as we know it, will soon pass away. There is only so much time left to reach the lost. Are we ready to join our Lord Jesus and truly become a disciple? Enough to see what he has planned for us? The psalmist wrote:

In the roll of the book it is written concerning me:
‘I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart.”‘

I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation;
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O Lord, you know.

Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance;
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.   (Psalm 40:9-11)

What will be written in the book about us?

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Christmas Day: Proper I

The Kingdom of Light

These readings are traditionally used during the Christmas Eve service in many liturgical churches. They may be used on Christmas Day as well.

In today’s Old Testament reading, the Prophet Isaiah foretells a great event:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulders: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  (Isaiah 9:6)

At the time this prophecy was being fulfilled the world had become immersed in darkness, much like it is today. Israel was under Roman rule. Rome had laid upon the people a heavy tax. In today’s Gospel we read:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.   Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David.  (Luke 2:1-4)

Who would come and save them from the burden of Rome? A prophet of God had not spoken to them in 400 years. Many had lost hope that God would ever deliver them from the tyranny of foreign rule. This was about to change:

Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:5-7)

A far greater tyranny existed than Rome. This tyranny was a spiritual one imposed by the ruler of darkness. As a result, many Israelites had lost the meaning of God’s great love for them. Perhaps this is still true for many of us today.

Into this darkness a great message of hope was spoken, to shepherds no less:

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”   (Luke 2:8-14)

The light of Christ had come

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.  (Isaiah (9:2-4)

Satan had blinded the understanding of God’s people. Though Rome was oppressive, the way the Law of Moses was interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees was even more so. Heavy burdens had been placed on the people through numerous religious rules and regulations.

Only the light of Christ could dispel this great darkness. His teachings and his examples clearly demonstrated God’s love for his people. Not only that, but he took on all our burdens by his death on the cross.

Are we still living in darkness today? What about the song: “He is making a list and checking it twice. He is going to find out who is naughty or nice?” Do we measure up? Can God still love us? Have we done enough?

Jesus has done enough! He is still lifting our burdens if we will allow him. Again, from Isaiah:

His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.  (Isaiah 9:7)

We no longer need to live under the tyranny of darkness which tells us that God does not truly love us unless we measure up. God loves us because he measures up. He will establish justice and righteousness for this time onward and forevermore. Human beings cannot do this, though some falsely say that they can. Only God has the means, the authority, and the zeal to accomplish this.

Under this world’s governmental system there will always be some form of oppression. However, this world is passing away. The Kingdom of Light is growing and expanding. Do we not see it? Jesus is still calling people into his everlasting kingdom. Everyone is invited. Have we opened our invitation to join him? This is the true gift of Christmas.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let every hearts prepare him room. Amen.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Obedience of the Faith

The Apostle Paul was never able to visit the Church of Rome, though that was his strong desire. Nevertheless, he wrote an epistle to this Church which is perhaps the greatest example of systematic theology ever written. In today’s epistle reading we find Paul introducing himself to the Church of Rome:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ …   (Romans 1:1-6)

Paul states his purpose very clearly. Paul wants to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” This may be an unusual way to express faith for many people. Obedience – how important is obedience to our faith?

Let us look at the example of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. From today’s Gospel reading:

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

which means, “God is with us.”   (Matthew 1:18-23)

A child had never been conceived by the Holy Spirit without any involvement of a husband. Joseph could not have fully understood what this meant. It was certainly not in his plans for marriage. Yet, Joseph took Mary to be his wife because he was obedient to the commands of God.

We have another example of obedience in today’s Old Testament reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.   (Isaiah 7:10-14)

King Ahaz was requested to do a very simple thing. All he had to do was to ask for a sign from God. Ahaz was disobedient. He refused to do so. Why was he so unwilling? Perhaps he was too busy with his own plans to take the time to listen to the plan of God. Of course, He hid whatever reason he had to refuse to do what God asked in a lame attempt to sound pious.

God had a plan for Israel. Ahaz could have been a part of that plan. God asked Ahaz to participate in a plan that would restore all of humankind to a lasting relationship with God. What a great honor that would have been for Ahaz, or anyone.

Ahaz refused God, but that did not stop God’s plan. His vision is far greater than anyone else’s vision. No human being can stop God from carrying out his plan. He will move on and work with those who are obedient to his word. The blessings that God bestows on those who are obedient will be lost by those who refuse God.

The Apostle Paul warned against disobedience:

Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.   (Romans 2:5-10)

Ahaz, the disobedient one,  had a disastrous reign and died at an early age. His son, Hezekiah, whom Ahaz attempted to sacrifice to the demon god Moloch, succeeded him. Fortunately Hezekiah was spared. He commissioned the priests and Levites to open and repair the doors of the Temple and to remove the defilements of the sanctuary, a task which took 16 days.

Joseph, on the other hand, was obedient. He was given the honor of being the earthly father of Jesus. What greater honor could he have been given.

God has a plan for each of us. That plan is part of a greater plan that God has. If we obey him we will not only be blessed, but we will have the honor a blessing many others.

We read in the Book of Hebrews:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.   (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Jesus obeyed the Father, endured the cross, and bestowed upon us the greatest blessing of all. How can we refuse the one who made such a great sacrifice on our behalf? Are we to nullify the power of the Gospel through our disobedience? No, our primary act of obedience is the believe in the resurrection and proclaim this message to others. In this way we bless so many others, but we also bless ourselves.

From Revelation:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven. It said,

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God have come.
    The authority of his Messiah has come.
Satan, who brings charges against our brothers and sisters,
    has been thrown down.
    He brings charges against them in front of our God day and night.
They had victory over him
    by the blood the Lamb spilled for them.
They had victory over him
    by speaking the truth about Jesus to others.   (Revelation 12:10-12)

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