A few years ago the B.B.C. ran a fascinating series on the restoration of old buildings. In each programme several were introduced to the viewers, and people got to vote on which one they most wanted to see renewed. This led to some remarkable transformations. I confess I never realised that restoration could be such a wonderfully riveting subject.
God is in the restoration business! ‘’The LORD will restore the splendour of Jacob, like the splendour of Israel, though destroyers have laid them waste and have ruined their vines.’’ (2).
In chapters 2 and 3 of ‘Nahum’, the judgment announced in the first chapter is described in graphic detail. For example, look at verse 6. Historians have confirmed that Nineveh’s wall was breached by the force of backed-up canal water. In these chapters we see the Babylonians overthrowing the city of Nineveh. We are left asking, ‘’So, what happened to the famous and fierce Assyrian lion And all those cute Assyrian cubs? To the lion and lioness Cozy with their cubs, fierce and fearless? To the lion who always returned from the hunt with fresh kills for lioness and cubs, The lion lair heaped with bloody meat, blood and bones for the royal lion feast? ‘’ The Message. The lion, and his den were overthrown. Nineveh was totally silenced; completely destroyed. In fact its ruins lay undiscovered for more than two thousand years. They lay buried in sand, but were finally discovered in 1845. God’s Word, through Nahum, came to pass. And God launched this attack on the Assyrians in order to restore the ‘’splendour’’ of Israel (both northern and southern kingdoms). The Assyrians had destroyed Israel’s glory. ‘’Israel’s lived through hard times. He’s been to hell and back.’’ The Message. God was now going to destroy Assyria.
It is good to know that the Lord is able to restore people:
• He is able to restore broken-down lives. The image of God in people is now defaced because sin, but God restores the glory of that image in those who turn to Christ (Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:9, 10). He can so change people that we no longer see the waste and ruination of sin, but simply the shining light of His own reflection;
• He is able to restore prodigals to the Father. It may be that there is someone reading these words, and you know that you are not where you once were spiritually. You are in the ‘far country’ and you are eating pig food. But such a welcome awaits you back ‘home’ at the Father’s table. He will throw a party for you if only you will turn back to Him. He longs to see you on the horizon, and He will run to welcome you;
• He is able to restore Christians and churches to their first love (Revelation 2:4, 5). It will entail repentance; a painful recognition of where we now are compared to where we once were; and a deliberate turning back. But don’t doubt that the Lord can restore you;
• He is able to restore good times to those who have been through bad times. In fact, they often find themselves in even better times than they ever knew. This is the sheer goodness of God. He regularly saves the best wine for later.
God’s purpose in restoration is that we should shine as lights in this dark world. He clothes us with His beauty for His glory (Isaiah 60:21).
Prayer: Thank you for going to work on this old wreck of a life. May everything you do in me bring all honour to you.
Nahum 1: 9-15 click here for passage
‘’Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end.’’ (9).
These words have relevance for us. We are seeing an explosion of wickedness in the world, with the blood almost daily splattering onto the TV screens of our lives. It’s certainly not true regarding all of it, but it is a fact about much of it, that it is anti-Christian in nature. So here is ‘’good news’’ for us, just as there was for Judah in Isaiah’s day, when the southern kingdom was on the verge of extinction (15); compare with Isaiah’s similar announcement about deliverance from Babylon (Isaiah 52:7). Here are some reasons to take heart:
• All evil is ‘on a metre’. The clock is ticking. It will eventually run out of ‘sand’. There will be ‘’an end’’ to it. Evil people also (for they are the ones causing it) are on borrowed time. Of course, we are all ‘’evil’’ in the sense that we have a sinful nature (L uke 11:13), but we are thinking especially here of the evil of plotting against God and His people; that violent (and futile) commitment to His and their destruction.
• Evil people will bring evil on themselves (10). As we sow, so shall we reap. Wickedness has a ‘boomerang’-like quality, and it often seems bigger on its return journey!
• God is not scared of any of the frightening people who terrify us. He is not afraid of their plots ‘’against’’ Him. They pose Him no threat at all. He knows that He will deal with them, how He will deal with them, and when. When the time is ripe for judgment, no human help will avail those the Lord moves against (12). Big numbers on the enemy’s side won’t bother God. He has bigger boots! ‘’In Nahum’s time, Assyria was the greatest power on earth; that It could be destroyed so quickly was beyond anyone’s belief. But Nahum, inspired by God, did believe it; and his little book shows us once again that godless and wicked nations cannot last…In 612 B.C., about twenty years after Nahum spoke these words, an invading army of Babylonians and their allies attacked Nineveh and destroyed it…Assyria had dominated the known world for four hundred years. The northern kingdom of Israel had been swallowed up; the southern kingdom (Judah) was on the verge of collapse…Nahum teaches us that the final word of history will come from God…’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, pp.1272-1274. ‘’And GOD has something to say about all this: ‘’Even though you’re on top of the world, With all the applause and all the votes, you’ll be mowed down flat.’’ ‘’The Message.
• There are plots that get past the watching eyes of the best security networks, but not so with the Lord. That’s one good reason to trust Him (7).
• The cross is the ultimate demonstration of this principle enunciated in (9). Terrible plots have been launched, (and are still getting off the launch pad) ‘’against the Lord’’. But Calvary was the worst to an immeasurable degree. Yet God brought it all to an end swiftly and turned it into a glorious resurrection and ascension. As someone said, when you move against the Lord, it’s like playing chess against a Grand Master. Even your moves against Him He will use to defeat you! No wonder ‘’The One enthroned in heaven laughs…’’ Psalm 2:4a.
Prayer: Thank you Lord. I take heart from this. Help me to view the news through this Biblical ‘lens’.
Nahum 1:1-8 (click on Nahum for passage)
‘’The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away.’’ (5a)
Here are firm, steadfast things; things that endure, that remain: ‘’…mountains…and…hills…’’. Later this year, God-willing, Jilly and I will be travelling to Saas Fee in the ‘Valais’ region of Switzerland, and then we hope to move on to Wilderswil in the ‘Bernese Oberland.’ It is some twenty six years since I was last there, but I don’t expect much to have changed; at least not in the physical features of the landscape. The towns and places nestling at the foot of these ‘mountains’ and ‘hills’ will have altered somewhat, but I expect the mighty peaks to look the same. So we can say that things that don’t change, or don’t change quickly or perceptibly, can change by God’s presence and power. He is ‘’great in power’’ (3a). God can deal radically with our longstanding problems and immoveable difficulties.
There are things in life that we can’t change. There are big things we can’t alter. They are much bigger than us and tower over us, leaving us in their dark shadows. ‘Mountains’ may represent the larger difficulties, but ‘hills’ can still be sizeable. It’s an awesome sight to be in Grindelwald and look up to see the snow-capped ‘Eiger’, ‘Monch’ and ‘Jungfrau’. They cause you to feel dwarfed. But I can also feel little when I’m driving down the road from Skipton to Kendal, and I see Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent to my right. But God can deal with these big realities that are too big for us. The words ‘’quake’’ and ‘’melt’’ speak of powerful action. (Look also at the language used in verses 4, 5b, 6b and 8). God can do what we can’t. He is able.
But although it is consistent with the teaching of Jesus that mountainous obstacles can be moved in response to faith (Mark 11:22-25), and I feel it right to emphasize this truth, we must not miss the main point that the passage is about God’s judgment on Nineveh. Great cities, empires, power structures in this world will not last forever. In due course all that opposes God will be defeated. The only way of escape is to take ‘’refuge’’ in Jesus (7).
GOD is serious business. He won’t be trifled with…He’s powerful, but it’s a patient power. Still, no one gets by with anything. Sooner or later, everyone pays.’’ The Message. God’s patience should not be confused with indulgence (3).
‘’The stage of history is large. Larger-than-life figures appear on this stage from time to time, swaggering about, brandishing weapons and money, terrorizing and bullying. These figures are not, as they suppose themselves to be, at the centre of the stage – not, in fact, anywhere near the centre…At any given moment a few superpower nations and their rulers dominate the daily news. Every century a few of these names are left carved on its park benches, marking rather futile, and in retrospect pitiable, attempts at immortality. The danger is that the noise of these pretenders to power will distract us from what is going on quietly at the centre of the stage in the person and action of God. God’s characteristic way of working is in quietness and through prayer.’’ Eugene Peterson: Introduction to ‘Nahum’ in ‘The Message’, p.1684. In Nahum’s day, Assyria, with its capital Nineveh, seemed invincible. A world free from Assyrian terror was unimaginable. But Nahum was sent to announce that such a thing would come about. It did!
Prayer: Lord God, I thank you that you do have the ‘whole world’ in your hands. There isn’t a mountain or hill that you can’t move.
Psalm 113 (click for todays passage)
It is thought that Jesus and His disciples used psalms 113-118 at the last supper. This psalm of praise, which opens and closes with the words, ‘’Praise the LORD’’, says a number of important things about praise (1-3):
- God is to be praised by His people;
- Praise should be given in time and through eternity. Everlasting praise is due to God;
- Praise is to be offered everywhere in the world.
‘’Start right now and keep on going! It is always time to praise the Lord. Make every breath a hymn of worship…If you have a problem praising the Lord from sunup to sundown, what will you do for all eternity?’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, pp.382, 383.
Why does the Lord deserve such praise? Because of who He is (4-6), and because of what He does (7-9); because of His greatness and His closeness (His transcendence and immanence).
‘’The movement of thought is from the sovereignty which rules all, to the goodness which touches each.’’ J.A. Motyer: ‘New Bible Commentary’,p.562.
Who He is (4-6): He’s the King of the Universe. Although, as we will see, He is obviously present and active within it, He is so far above it. He’s in charge of all things and all peoples. There is no one like Him. ‘’God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with GOD, our God, so majestically enthroned, Surveying his magnificent heavens and earth?’’ The Message.
What He has done (7-9): He has shown His compassion and power.
- Look at (7 and 8) and compare them with Ephesians 2:1-10.Do you see a parallel?
- How often this story IS told in the Bible (9). Someone is biologically unable to have a child, and then God, the Creator, does a miracle. (Let’s not forget that the Son of God came into the world because of a miracle of conception. It wasn’t that Mary was ‘’barren’’ , but she was unable to have a baby in her circumstances. She was a single woman living a pure life. God did a miracle!) As we read these words let’s take heart that the Lord can overturn our spiritual ‘barrenness’ and give us ‘children’. How we long to see many miracles of new birth, and our mighty God can make this happen. ‘’He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children.’’ The Message. A line in a hymn comes to mind as I think about this: ‘’May barrenness rejoice to own your fertilizing power.’’ B. Meyer says that Hannah’s story (in 1 Samuel) ‘’…should be a great comfort to those who have never been used in soul-winning…God can make barren souls authors of life to thousands.’’ However, he adds: ‘’Souls are only born to those who cannot live without them.’’ Great verses through the Bible’ p.235.
‘’Mary’s joyful song of praise (Luke 1:46-55) echoes Psalm 113:7-9. God’s grace makes kings out of beggars and joyful mothers out of the barren. Praise the Lord!’’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.383.
Prayer: ‘’Fill thou my life, O Lord my God, in every part with praise.’’
To follow John Stott’s outline, ‘Ephesians’ is about ‘New life’, ‘new society’, ‘new standards’, and finally ‘new relationships’ God gives people new life, forms them into a new community, and in it they hold to new standards and have new relationships.
In conducting all our relationships the main issue is Jesus (21). How can we please Jesus? What behaviour on our part will honour Jesus? How would Jesus want me to be with this person? It’s about seeing Jesus in people and serving Jesus in people.
The first part of this section on relationships relates to marriage (22-33), and Paul has particular things to say to both husbands and wives.
First of all he says that the relationship of a wife to a husband should be like that of the church to Christ (22-24). It should be one of complete submission. I attended the wedding of a friend some years ago, and in the ceremony she made a commitment to her husband ‘to love, honour and follow your spiritual leadership.’ I think that gets pretty close to what the apostle is calling for here. (Don’t forget that verse 21 precedes these verses. I know that sounds like stating the obvious, but it is important. Paul has called for mutual submission across the church. Husbands need to listen to their wives humbly and courteously, and there will be times when they need to adjust their thinking and behaviour accordingly.)
Secondly he says that the relationship of a husband to his wife should be like that of Christ to the church (25-33). It is hard to conceive that any woman would not want to follow a man who loves her like Jesus. A Christian husband should love his wife:
- Sacrificially (25): He will lay down his own life for her sake;
- Beneficially (26, 27): She should be a better person; more holy and godly, more radiantly Christ-like, because she is united to this man in the mystery of marriage;
- Thoughtfully (28-33): He must treat her like he would treat himself; he is to love her as he loves himself. In a sense she is his body, for they are ‘’one flesh’’ (31), just as the church is Christ’s ‘body’ and one with Him (29, 30).
Mention of the creation order for marriage (31) forcibly presses home the point that God’s original intent was for a man and woman to come together and unite. The Bible knows no other starting point for marriage. There’s nothing else on the drawing board other than one man leaving one father and one mother to be married to one woman.
‘’It’s all about you Jesus.’’ Properly understood, marriage is all about Jesus. We are called to be like Jesus. We are called to behave like Jesus we are called to do all that we do as husbands and wives for the honour of Jesus. What a calling! Without the fullness of the Spirit (18) we can’t be the people we are intended to be. But with His freely available help we can rise to great heights of loving service.
Prayer: Let me see you in everyone I meet today Lord Jesus, and serve you in them.
Have you ever seen those ‘before and after’ photos from slimming groups and the like? The Christian’s story is one of ‘’…once…but now…’’ (8; see also 11). Paul’s call for new standards in this section is based on the fact that Christians are new people. They are not what they once were; they are not who they were. They should now live in keeping with who they are; they have to be what they are. Paul tells the Ephesians to live out of who God has made them; who He is making them to be. Here are some things about the new life they are called to. They are to:
- Live fruitfully (9): In union with Jesus such a life is possible (John 15);
- Live thoughtfully (10): They are to be sensitive towards the Lord’s feelings and seek to please Him;
- Live brightly (11-14): This is a morally ‘dark’ world, and Christian people used to be dark themselves. But they have been brought out of darkness into ‘’wonderful light’’ (1 Peter 2:9). Christ, the ‘’light of the world’’ (John 8:11) has raised them (2:1-11) and shone upon them. They are now to reflect His light in the world (Matthew 5: 14-16) They cannot expect to be popular when they ‘’expose’’ the ‘’fruitless deeds of darkness’’ (11). There is no place for compromise (11a). Christians need to put distance between themselves and sin. So they must also
- Live carefully (15, 16): The world is not only dark, it is also dangerous (‘’evil’’ ). It will take great wisdom to seize the opportunities that come our way for witness/service in such a hostile environment. (I heard the results of a survey this morning, revealing that half the men in the U.K. say they are atheists or agnostic. If this is even only partially true, it speaks about the great challenge we face);
- Live insightfully (17): Ask God for the wisdom to know how you should live your life day by day (James 1: 5-8);
- Live powerfully (18): This is a command, not a suggestion. The idea is ‘always be filled’. D.L. Moody was asked, ‘Why do you pray so often to be filled with the Holy Spirit?’ He replied, ‘Because I leak!’ In an age where Christians generally feel more liberated about alcohol, it is important to remember that the Bible forbids drunkenness. Don’t let your liberty become license. (I got a picture of my life when I was praying just the other day. I saw a sea cave, and I felt that the Lord was saying to me that He wants to wash in; flood in with the waves of His Spirit. But He also wants to wash things out. I know this picture is not just for me);
- Live thankfully (19, 20): When should Spirit-filled people give thanks? Always, in all circumstances and for all things. Only the fullness of the Spirit can make this possible. Let’s be careful about what we say to each other. We should seek to lift one another up as much as possible with joyfully constructive words.
This morning, when I came into the office, it was still dark, so I needed to put the light on to be able to see. It is an unusually dark and snowy morning. A couple of times I tried turning the light off, but there still wasn’t sufficient natural light in the room. In a few minutes I will try again. It is impossible to see to do anything without light. Let us be that light in God’s World, giving people reason to be glad that we are there.
Prayer: Lord, you have changed me. You are changing me. Help me to live out my new and true identity in this dark world.
This wonderful prophecy of Isaiah concludes on a note of triumph. In the end God will triumph over all His enemies. However, what is a triumph for God and His people will be a tragedy for those who reject Him and worship other gods.
‘’Many may wonder why Isaiah ends his book with such a negative final verse. The reason is simple: it is the true ending for all those who rebel against God. If, after hearing all of Isaiah’s marvellous promises and terrible warnings, one still chooses to rebel against God, let that person know what his end will be. Isaiah’s book is written not so much to make believers happy as to bring unbelievers to repentance. Remember that Jesus Himself quoted Isaiah’s last verse in order to deter people from going to Hell (see Mark 9:47-48). The good news of salvation must always be combined with warnings of judgment; otherwise we will end up preaching only half the truth.’’ Tom Hale: ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.1074.
I read a story about a simple Christian man who took a labouring job. Each lunch time he took out a book of Moody’s sermons and read them. One day one of his fellow-workers asked him what he was reading. He told them, and they said, ‘Well read them to us.’ So that was what he did, every lunch time, until one day he forgot his book. ‘Then you’ll have to give us one of your own sermons,’ they laughingly told him. ‘’All right’’, he said. When a friend asked him what he said, he answered, ‘’I told them about ‘ell. They’d never heard about ‘ell.’’
It seems to me that many Evangelicals are going soft on the Bible’s clear and repeated teaching about Hell and Judgment. We have no right to re-write Scripture. A preacher’s job is to say what the Bible says. It is not to re-create the content. This last part of Isaiah is a reminder that there are two ways we can choose, and the way that leads away from God will have eternally disastrous consequences (14b). ‘’Many, oh so many, are under GOD’s sentence of death.’’ The Message. That is something people don’t like to hear and we may feel reluctant to say it. But we didn’t write the script; our job is to deliver the lines. God will bless our preaching if we honour Him and His Word.
In (19-21) Isaiah foresees the day when Jews and Gentiles will be one before God (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11. They will be a ‘’holy priesthood’’ (1 Peter 2:5, 9). He also looks ahead to when all people will ‘’bow down’’ before the Lord (Phil.2:9-11). It is good to know that a day is coming when every knee will bend before Christ and acknowledge His Lordship over the entire universe. They will not all be saved; but they will all ‘’bow’’ and ‘’confess’’.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I thank you for this wonderful book of Isaiah and its timeless message. Help me to never be ashamed of any part of it. Please strengthen me to always say what you say, even though it might be unpopular.
This final chapter of Isaiah, it has been said, deals with trembling (1-6), travail (7-13) and triumph (14-24).
Normally, there is no birth without travail; without labour pains. But (7-13) point to a rather unusual kind of childbirth, i.e. one that is pain free, and incredibly quick. Commentators seem to agree that Isaiah is looking beyond the restoration of Jerusalem, following the exile, to the ultimate coming of Christ’s Kingdom. Under Jesus’ rule there will be a ‘population explosion’. There will be multiple miraculous, supernatural ‘new’ births. Our God is the ‘God of surprises’. He does surprising things in surprising ways (8). It is clear that God is responsible for these births (9). He brings people to ‘birth’ with great ease. He also is the ultimate source of all the nurture, care, comfort, abundance and deep satisfaction that these brand new ‘babies’ are going to find in ‘’Jerusalem’’ (11-13). In this day of Christ’s of Kingdom, people should be able to find all of these wonderful realities in the church, but ultimately they come from God.
Do we look to Him for our ‘’comfort’’? (13). Do we trust Him to be to us what only He can be? God offers more ‘’peace’’ than you know what to do with (12a). It’s so deep you could swim in it. Do we live like paupers when in fact we are in a place of lavish provision? (11, 12) Do we ‘’drink deeply’’ and ‘’delight in’’ all that God so generously provides in Christ? (11). There is no need for anyone in Jesus’ Kingdom to go hungry or thirsty, or to lack any good thing.
Prayer: Help me, Lord, to grasp all that is mine in Jesus. Enable me to revel in it, and draw on all these wonderful and limitless resources in Christ.
This is a tale of two types of people – those who respond appropriately to God and those who don’t; those who have true religion and those who have trivial ritual
‘’What sort of house could you build for me? What holiday spot reserve for me? I made all this! I own all this!’’ GOD’s Decree. ‘’But there is something I’m looking for: a person simple and plain, reverently responsive to what I say.’’ The Message.
There is a danger of putting too much emphasis on buildings. They can take on an iconic status and be (almost) worshipped. There is no preoccupation with church buildings in the New Testament. It is clear that the people form the church; they are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9). This is not to say that it is wrong for a church to have a building. If the church is going to meet it will be in some kind of building. But we must never think that God lives in a man-made building. God’s temple in Jerusalem was only ever a symbol of His dwelling place among men (Acts 7:48-50). People are His temple; people who humbly and receptively bow before Him and His Word (2; see also Isaiah 57:15).
However, people who respond positively to God won’t necessarily find life easy. They will be a counter-cultural group in society, and will swim against the tide. They will be opposed by others who want to go their own way. They will be on a collision course with secular society.
‘’ But listen to what GOD has to say to you who reverently respond to his Word: ‘’Your own families hate you and turn you out because of me. They taunt you, ‘Let us see GOD’s glory! If God’s so great, why aren’t you happy?’ But they’re the ones who are going to end up shamed.’’
The most fierce opposition to God-fearing people may well come from those who are merely religious. There was a lot of religion in Isaiah’s day, but the people wrapped up in it carried on living how they chose. The religious do not like humble, simple, godly people who love God and His Word and who live to obey it. They can be violently and murderously angry with them. The people described in (3 and 4) are always liable to persecute those described in (2 and 5). This is part of the cost of true discipleship. It is important to remember that in the end they will not win. God says through Isaiah that he hates merely ritualistic acts of worship (see Proverbs 15:8). In God’s eyes they are equivalent to brutality and idolatry. These things are ‘’abominations’’ to Him (3b).
‘’Your acts of worship are acts of sin: Your sacrificial slaughter of the ox is no different from murdering the neighbour…You choose self-serving worship, you delight in self-centred worship – disgusting!…You did the very things I exposed as evil, you chose what I hate.’’ The Message.
Prayer: Help me today, and every day, to humbly respond to your Word, Lord. If this means that I am despised and mis-understood, strengthen me to endure it. I want to cheerfuly carry the cross for you.