To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. … “All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace.Isaiah 54:9-10, 13
Isaiah was commissioned to bring a sense of hope and certainty to the LORD’s Covenant People at a time when they felt all was lost and it seemed that their God had forgotten, or even abandoned them altogether. Powerful, cruel Babylon appeared to have taken charge of history. But the LORD told the faithful Prophet to tell them to look at the rainbow! He had NOT forgotten his promise to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:12-17).
As we reflect on what is happening in/to our world today it is easy to become as discouraged as Israel was back then. Nevertheless, we can also apply Isaiah’s words to our own situation especially in the light of what he will say in the next chapter: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (55:9-12)!
Today there might be well-organised forces at work to prevent us from proclaiming the Good News of God’s redeeming grace in Christ, and to make it difficult for our children to be ‘taught by the LORD’ through school SRE classes and through thoroughly Bible-centred Christian School curricula, but Isaiah reassures us that our God has all this in his loving, omnipotent, sovereign hands. As I see what is happening around us, and what the future ‘looks like’ from a purely human perspective, I find great comfort in the promise: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed … All your sons WILL be taught by the LORD, and GREAT will be your children’s PEACE.”
These promises encourage me to pray earnestly for a spiritual revival throughout our land, and to take every opportunity to encourage all those who are labouring faithfully and tirelessly at the ‘frontline’ of the battle. What about you?
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” … … “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”Matthew 3:1-2, 8
The task given to John the Baptist was to point people to Jesus. Mark begins his Gospel with “The beginning of the GOSPEL about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word ‘Gospel’ refers to the public proclamation of ‘Good News’, and certainly to say that the message that God’s Promised Saviour/Redeemer has now come into the world to ‘save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21) is as GOOD as news can get!
But there is a catch: Jesus can only ‘save people from their sins’ if they come to the realisation that they ARE sinners who NEED saving (cf Mark 2:16-17). And when that reality hits us in all its fulness, the next step MUST be to REPENT. The word ‘repent’ means, in Greek, to have a complete change of thinking, a change of mindset; and in OT Hebrew it means to ‘turn around and go in the opposite direction’. As John reminded the Jewish religious leaders of his day, for repentance to be GENUINE, and not just a pious sentiment, it must be accompanied by clear evidence that the ‘repenter’ has had a total change of heart, and desires to live in a way that puts obedience to God’s Word at the very centre of his thoughts and behaviour.
Perhaps the biggest problem we have with impacting our society with the Gospel today is that our culture has been conditioned to treat the word ‘repent’ as a joke, and the concept of ‘repentance’ as having no place at all in today’s thinking. In this context, the ‘Good News’ we proclaim only has traction in terms of all the benefits/blessings that come with it – like the promise of well-being, inner peace, and ETERNAL LIFE beyond the grave. But, according to John the Baptist, the designated Herald of the Gospel, the most fundamental prerequisite for receiving the blessings is to ‘Repent, and produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’
This call to true repentance is even more urgent for us today than when Jesus first appeared as the Messiah, and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ was indeed NEAR. World events around us surely indicate that we are in the last of the ‘Last Days’ when this same Jesus will return as God’s appointed and anointed Risen King, making the Kingdom of Heaven even more ‘near’. Let us ignore the mocking and trivialising of God’s truth, and let us sound with conviction the GOOD NEWS: “REPENT, for the Kingdom of Heaven is NEAR!
The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.Deuteronomy 29:29
Famous author Mark Twain is quoted to have said, ‘It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I CAN’T understand that bother me, it is the parts that I DO understand.’ The human spirit, created in the image of God, longs to understand the mysteries of Life and the Time-Space domain in which it finds itself, through scientific inquiry and philosophical reflection. But in our arrogance we forget that God is still in control of ALL he has made, and that he still calls the shots. We can speculate all we like about the origins and boundaries of the Universe, but we are incapable of ever progressing beyond what God reveals – and until we humble ourselves and respond appropriately to the things he has ALREADY revealed in his Creation, in his written Word, and in his Son, we will never find satisfying answers. For example, do we pursue our scientific enquiries in the light of the FACTS God has clearly given us in Genesis 1 about the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of Creation, and submit our ‘guesswork’ and archeological discoveries to these facts, or do we approach the enquiry the other way around and manipulate the Biblical text to force it to ‘fit’ our ‘theories’? Or do we recognise and uphold God’s clear statement about distinct binary sexuaiity, male and female, in Genesis 2? More importantly, the things [God HAS] revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law. In our learning, and in our teaching of the children entrusted to our care, are we mindful of our limitations, and diligent in our obedience to all that we already KNOW, because GOD has TOLD us?