Category Archives: The Key to the Bible – IS 57:15

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

Why This Friday is Good

“Move that bus!”  The impoverished family gapes to see a newly remodeled home, filled with improvements to make their lives better.  If you’ve seen “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition,” you remember the tears of amazement and joy.  But as the family tours the home, as excited as they may have been, for the breadwinner, in the back of their minds is the gathering fear, “What if I can’t keep this job and we miss a few payments?  I could easily lose this place…”  But occasionally, just before the show signed off, Ty Pennington would say, “Oh, there’s just one more thing…” and some charitable organization would present the family with a check, paying off their mortgage in full.

In a scenario like that, a family that had experienced life as a daily struggle, would then be able to move into their new home and find rest, secure in the realization their greatest obligation of debt had been paid off by someone else.  That is, if they trusted the check was real, accepted it and cashed it.

Today we remember that, on the Cross, Jesus Christ paid our full obligation of debt, with His own blood, forever.  As Isaiah foretold,

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.  (Isaiah 53:5-6)

If we trust Him, and accept His payment on our behalf, we will be received into God’s family (John 1:12-13), enter into His rest (Hebrews 4:3), secure in the realization that our obligation has been fully paid.  Forever.

 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.* 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  (Ephesians 1:5–7). New Living Translation

Life and Death

Everybody dies.  So, if death makes life seem pointless (see Vantage Advantage), how does adopting God’s way of seeing reality change the inevitable?  Putting it in blunt terms, how can we “receive life as a gift from a generous God,” if we know He will one day yank it back?  Isn’t that view of life just a crutch for those who can’t face the hard truth about dying?

It would be, except for this.  God made a promise about death in Scripture.

In that day he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth.  He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. He will remove forever all insults and mockery against his land and people. The LORD has spoken!  (Isaiah 25:7-8)

Death seems certain when life is viewed “under the sun.” But for those who adopt God’s perspective, death will certainly be eliminated.  Oh yeah?  When will that happen, you ask?  It already has!  When Jesus was comforting His friend after the death of her brother,

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25 -26)

It sounds too good to be true, a get out of death free card.  But, if you are struggling to accept what He said, consider this:

  • Jesus is universally regarded as at least the best man to have ever lived.
  • Would such a man lie to His good friend in her time of grief?  No way.

Another time, as He explained eternal life to His disciples, Jesus said He wasn’t lying:

“… If it were not so, I would have told you.”  (John 14:2b)

Here’s the deal:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.   (John 3:16-17)

Tow or Jump?

When your car battery has died, which do you prefer, a tow or a jump-start?  A tow doesn’t fix anything; it just moves you to a new place.  A jump-start, on the other hand, brings your car back to life.  Most people treat God like a tow truck operator, calling on HIm when they are stuck, hoping He will get them to where they want to go.  But what He has in mind is a jump.  Not a temporary jump-start but a permanent new, living flow of energy to keep you powered up and moving forever.

Back in Bible times, jump-starts were not common, but most folks had experienced what happens to a desert after a good soaking rain.  Miraculously, the glaring, hot sand is transformed into a lush bed of flowers.  That’s why God told Isaiah to say it like this:

3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams. (Isaiah 44:3-4)

We humans were designed to have the Spirit of God living within our souls.  Without that Spirit we are as dead as cell phones with no signal.  God’s jump-start connects us to His Spirit, a gift that comes to all who put their trust in Jesus.  It’s not a temporary tow.  It’s eternal life.

Forever

Geoffrey Wilkinson, George Henderson and Mark Frankel.  Do you know thesse names or what they have in common?  Geoffrey was a world renowned chemist.  George, a priest and politician.  Mark was an actor who played “Leon the Pig Farmer.”  They all died 20 years ago today, September 26, 1996.  How did you do?  Me neither.  Twenty years after you die, maybe your family will remember who you were but the chances of much more of a lingering impact are slim.

Isaiah wrote:

6 A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass. (Isaiah 40:6-7)

But he wrote those words 2700 years ago in a country about the size of Rhode Island that was on the verge of being conquered and exiled!  And you know his name and can almost certainly quote or paraphrase some of what he wrote.  Try it; fill in the blank:  “The people walking in darkness have _____________.”   Or, “For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given and the government will be on __________.”    See what I mean?  What are the odds?

Of course, the reason Isaiah’s work has been preserved and is widely known is because it is in the Bible.  That’s because, over the centuries, it has stood the test.  He accurately prophesied the rise and fall of kingdoms in the Middle East (try that today!) and the exile and eventual release of the Jewish people, well over 100 years before it happened.  Most significantly, he foretold the coming of Jesus with amazing accuracy and clarity.  The only explanation is that Isaiah was writing God’s words.

Including these next lines from the quote above:

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”   (Isaiah 40:8)

Yes, it does.

Ice Cream

Despite how your GPS led you down a dead ended dirt road, the day is coming when cars will know how to take you from Albuquerque to Alberta.  Or to the store to pick up milk.  But automated controls on cars will be no substitute for what happens when you go for a drive in the country.  Computers won’t be able to spontaneously pull over at an ice cream stand, or slow down to enjoy a view.  That kind of driving takes a real person behind the wheel, one who can think and feel and decide.

That’s what makes God’s decision to change how He directs our paths so exciting.  He began by telling us His laws, His rules..  But rules are clumsy guides.  Think of the toy car that heads in some random directon until it runs into an obstacle, turns and heads out in another direction.  A life lived by rules resembles that.  You crash into some “thou shalt not,” dust yourself off and change course.  But God’s new arrangement is to come live within us and interactively steer us.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone [i.e. a dead, unresponsive heart]  from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh [one that is alive and responsive]. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezkiel 36:26-27  with my explanations added)

When God’s Spirit is behind the wheel, instead of robotically going from point A to point B in life, we can stop for ice cream, so to speak.  We can spontaneously enjoy the ride while safely remaining in the center of His will. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:18,  “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under  [you don’t need to be controlled by] the law.”

How did God accomplish this new system of control?  Through Jesus.  He came and did everything necessary to install God’s Spirit in us.  Trust Him and enjoy the ride!

Recognizing the Holy Spirit in You

Late one night, at the Apple warehouse, a box of new iPhones were engaged in a casual competition to see which one of them was the best.  Unexpectedly, one of the phones was connected to a cell phone signal and then to the WiFi.  The other phones sensed something was amiss and asked him, “What’s that goofy look on your face; what’s going on?”  “I don’t know how to explain what I’m experiencing, but it is almost as though I came to life for the first time.”  The other phones considered him weird and ostracized him.

Okay, maybe that didn’t really happen, but it illustrates the problem of answering the question we posed last time (See: Who is in Control?): “How do I know when I have received the Holy Spirit?”  If you have received Him, you probably agree it’s pretty hard to find words to describe the experience.  But a pretty good start is to say it feels a bit like coming to life in a new way and for the first time.

Some will tell you that receiving the Holy Spirit is always accompanied by speaking in unknown languages, or by falling down and twitching, by hysterical laughter or even barking like a dog.  Perhaps all of these things have occurred to some as they received this mysterious and powerful new life, but it is nonsense to insist that everyone will respond in the same way.  Paul made that point in an extended argument you can read in 1 Corinthians 12 through 14.

Let me suggest a couple of telltale signs  of new life in God’s Spirit.  The first one is that you will begin to notice basic changes in how you think, what you see, what kinds of things are most important, etc.  You may think to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t like me…”  One of the changes I noticed pretty quickly was a desire to read the Bible, when I formerly had found it incredibly dull.  That wasn’t like me.  The changes might be very subtle, and even more noticeable to others.  The night I crossed the line of faith and received the Spirit, when I walked in the front door, my wife looked up and said, “Something is different about you; what’s going on?”   I don’t know what she saw or sensed.

Secondly, these changes will not fade over time but, instead, will grow.  They are not simply temporary emotional responses, such as what you might experience if you get a promotion, but living and growing changes, as you gradually become more attuned to the life of God’s Spirit within you.

Eventually, the life of the Holy Spirit will produce fruit.  Jesus spoke of the difference between a superficial religious experience and one that was genuine.  He said, those who genuinely come to new life in Him don’t wither away when trouble comes but continue to grow and produce fruit (see: Matthew 13:1-23).  What does this fruit look like?  Paul says it looks like this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”  –  Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV84)

And you think, “Whoa…  that’s not like me!” Notice that these “fruit” changes are external, they impact others around us.  The changes and then the fruit grow as the Spirit changes our character and attitudes to more closely resemble God’s.

Eventually, the Spirit gives us new aptitudes and abilities –  gifts of the Spirit.  And we’ll take that up next time.

P.S.  –  If you are concerned about your situation and need to run some questions past someone, I strongly encourage you to seek out a local pastor, one who is comfortable with the concept of what it means to be born again.