A Word From Our Sponsor: One Who Encounters God

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1)

Encounters with God differ for everyone.  Some engage Him in prayer, some through the Scriptures, while others do so through praises and singing.  Revelations and visions were rare occurrences.  God appeared unexpectedly to certain people to give them a special message for those whom He sought out.  Most of the time, these revelations and vision were about God’s redemption, that is, saving people from their troubles or delivering them from their enemies or destructive circumstances.

God engaged Isaiah in such an occasion.  One day, he entered God’s temple to worship the LORD.  Suddenly, the LORD appeared to him.  Isaiah saw the LORD sitting on His throne above him in a robe that filled the entire temple.  He also saw certain heavenly creatures called seraphim, crying out to another,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (6:3)

Just as God’s glory filled the temple, these creatures proclaimed that this same glory filled the entire earth.  The power of this vision and the voice crying out caused the temple to shake.  Stunned as he was, Isaiah could do nothing but cry out,

Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts” (6:5).

One of he seraphim comes to Isaiah and touched his lips with a piece of coal, and pronounced him clean.

Immediately after the seraphim did this, the LORD Himself asked,

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (6:8)

Isaiah replied,

“Here am I! Send me” (6:8).

The LORD then gave Isaiah a commission and with it a message to give to the Jewish people,

“Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; Lest they see with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And return and be healed” (6:9-10)

Isaiah and the LORD continued in their conversation.

Many strange things exist in this incident between Isaiah and the LORD.  Additionally, the message the LORD gave to Isaiah is highly enigmatic.  Without delving deep into the passage, we can make a number of observations about Isaiah’s encounter with God.  First, God is the LORD (Yahweh), the God of all and everyone.  He is the sovereign and only God in all existence.  He recognizes those who do not accept His position and pronouncements of Himself and His declarations.  Second, He does not leave rebellious people without witness and revelation of Himself.  During Isaiah’s time as well as during the eras of the other prophets, He revealed Himself to Israel and others through His declared word.  Third, God’s word has immense power.  When He speaks, His word can shake the entire earth and the hearts of individuals.  We learn of such power elsewhere in the New Testament letter of Hebrews where the author declares,

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. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

This power engaged Isaiah’s heart to the point that he recognized his own sinful state before a holy God.  Here he was in the temple of God preparing to worship God.  Yet he recognized that his standing in the presence of the holy God who speaks holy words yielded a confession of his own destitute position.  He declared himself “unclean” and one who lived among a rebellious people.  He saw himself not in the position to be before this God.

Fourth, God’s word changes hearts.  After Isaiah heard the words of the seraphim, he immediately confessed his sinful predicament and the predicament of his fellow countrymen.

Fifth, God’s word not only changes hearts, but it also motivates one to do God’s will.  After the seraph touched Isaiah’s lips with a piece of burning coal, the LORD spoke to him in the form of a question.  The LORD basically asked Isaiah who will accomplish His mission.  Isaiah did not allow a moment to pass without a swift reply, “Me!  I will!”  God’s word so changed Isaiah that it redirected his focus to others.

The message the LORD gave to Isaiah seems rather strange, because it was a negative one.  Close their ears and understanding so they will not turn to Him.  Why did the LORD want Isaiah to give Israel a negative message so they reject Him?  God had His purpose,

But yet a tenth will be in it, And will return and be for consuming, As a terebinth tree or as an oak, Whose stump remains when it is cut down. So the holy seed shall be its stump” (Isaiah 6:13).

The LORD speaks about a “holy seed.”  The word the LORD gave to Israel would come to a people who resists His will until the time of the “holy seed.”  This “holy seed” is the promised Messiah who will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).  Much like the message Isaiah received from the LORD, the message of Messiah will also turn people away.  However, like God’s word to Isaiah, its power will turn the hearts of people everywhere to Him, causing them to confess their sins and to seek His redemption.  Isaiah is an example of the power of God’s word.  It not only saves but it motivates toward a mission.  This passage gives great encouragement for every Christian in every nation that God’s word will accomplish His purpose in and through those He saves so that the whole earth will eventually realize the glory of God and become His temple in which all will do His will.

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Surprised by Grace: Simeon

The prophets of Israel longed to know about which they spoke. Peter wrote of them,

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Suffering played a key role in the early church, and Peter wrote to these suffering Christians to encourage them so they would not lose heart. He used the role of suffering to illustrate that just as Christ suffered, so also must they in a world which sin turned upside down. We gather from what Peter wrote a deep sense of longing arising from both the prophets and angels of God for the coming of Messiah and the redemption He brings. However, God gave the prophets a limited message beyond which they could not speak or even know. God also informed the angels that even they could comprehend only so much.

God alone laid out His plan in perfect order down the corridor of time, and He alone would fulfill the promise of grace made in ages past concerning the ultimate grace He would bestow on humanity through Messiah. God used suffering to prepare the world for this Messiah event. He did so that people would not look to themselves or their resources for deliverance but to Him, the Mighty God, Deliverer, and Holy One of Israel.

The time finally arrived. Anticipation rose to its highest peak. God now commanded His angels to shout gladness and joy from the heavens, their desire fulfilled. A star announced the Consolation of Israel and the Gentiles. Magi arrived at the house in which the baby slept and bestowed gifts at the feet of this newborn (Matthew 2:11). They looked upon the grace of God with awe.

There is more. Grace awaited an old man who longed for Messiah. He knew he would not die or face Nunc demittis[1] or “Now you dismiss,”

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

Like the prophets of old and the angels, Simeon simply longed for Messiah. He knew God would fulfill His promise. But when? Signs pointed to a future time, but no one knew exactly not even the prophets. He lived to serve God. The Scriptures describe him as “just and devout,” or righteous and God-fearing. Luke emphasizes that he communed with the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit was his constant guide and companion. While Simeon walked with and in the Spirit, the coming of Messiah remained undisclosed.

One day, the Holy Spirit sent him to the Temple. To Simeon, this prompting must have been simply a normal one. His communion with the Spirit was a common occurrence from what the Scriptures suggest. Off he went down the dusty street, perhaps praying as he walked with the tentative gait his age conveyed on him. He goes about his worship, a custom he relished. He hears footsteps echoing down the Temple corridor. These were not the normal footsteps of routine visitors making their way in to offer worship.

His half-closed eyes widened. Is it…? Can it be? He straightens himself up as much as an old man could and makes his way to his feet from his knees. His anticipation heightens as he begins to tremble. He squints and sees two shadows coming closer and closer. A couple enters the light of the Menorah candles on the altar. The woman carries a baby in her arms. Yes! Yes! Surprised by grace. Messiah! He stretches out his arms with a soft smile and tears streaming from his eyes. The woman comes closer and hands him the baby as Simeon sighs with joy. He speaks,

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, New Revised Standard Version).

He pauses, turns to the woman, and continues,

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35, NKJV).

He performs his final service for his God. He declares Messiah and His mission. He prophesies the agony and pain His mother will experience. He tells of the promise fulfilled for redeeming the lost. He calls for God to give his Nunc demittis (“Now you are dismissing”) so he can rejoice with the angels in heaven. He passes the mantle to John to declare,

Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight” (Mark 1:3).

[1] Latin for Simeon’s words after he saw Jesus and translates into English as Now you are dismissing or Allow me to depart. It is often sung as an evening canticle at Christmas.

NEW RELEASE: Nothing But the Gospel

Nothing But the GospelJust released!  Can we be saved through the knowledge arising from the light of creation, through other religions, or through human philosophy?  Purchase at this link.

This book addresses what is known as inclusivism, which adheres to the position that a person can indeed come to salvation through the knowledge of the light of creation.  Additionally many inclusivists say that other religions have merit as means of coming to God.

A tug of war continues to exist over two positions within Christian circles:

1. Exclusivism – One who does not know God must encounter the proclaimed gospel to come to a saving knowledge of him.
2. Inclusivism – Those who have never heard the gospel can come to a saving knowledge of God without hearing the gospel. Rather, they can go to heaven by responding to the light from creation, other religions, human reason, or philosophy.

One of the major consequences of these two positions concerns the person and nature of God. This book engages in a lengthy discussion about how each position treats God and the difference such treatments of Him make. It addresses such questions as “Is God fair? Can we trust Him? Is God in control of the future, specifically our destiny, or does He share control and power with His creation, specifically humanity?”

The environment of inclusivism has an increasingly negative influence on evangelical churches and whole denominations, leading many astray. It is of utmost importance for Christians to understand influences speculative philosophy and false teachings have on faith.

This book also affirms that only the gospel “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Salvation requires the right power. The Scriptures declare that the source of that power is in the gospel, and it begins with the righteousness of the triune God. Getting the God of our faith right insures that we come to an accurate understanding of salvation. This book discusses these two essential attributes of God, His power and righteousness, for salvation.

Copyright (c) 2014, Action Faith Books Press.  All rights reserved.  Not to be used without expressed written permission.