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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Farmer's Legacy

Pastor Mark Welch of The Pointe Church in Antelope, CA once shared a story about an aged pastor in Michigan who was being honored as the original founder of a church there. At a community meal, that old pastor wound up seated across from young Mark. The man asked Mark general questions as to where he was from and who he was. Mark told him about his father and grandfather who were pastors. Finally the old man began to tell a story. When he was a young man, he felt the call to be an evangelist. In those days, what you did was rent a huge circus tent and set it up wherever you could. People just showed up and the event ran as long as it needed. One time the evangelist came to a farm to ask permission to use the land. The farmer agreed, but warned, "Don't expect me to show up." The evangelist said that was fine. One night the farmer did show up with several friends. They were rowdy and drunk and rude. They heckled the minister as he preached.

Suddenly, God spoke to the evangelist and said, "Go tell that young farmer that today is the day of his salvation." The evangelist was horrified. What if they beat him up or disrupt the whole meeting? But he knew the voice of God and went down the aisle. Halfway down the rowdies yelled at him and intimidated him so that he turned back. When he got to the pulpit, the voice came again, saying the same thing. So down went the evangelist and pointed at the young farmer. "God told me to tell you that today is the day of your salvation." The farmer's demeanor changed immediately. He began to shake and sober up. He answered that he just couldn't. The word was repeated with great authority and confidence. When the evangelist turned back to the pulpit, the young man followed. He gave his life to Christ and was gloriously saved.

Back to the meal with Mark, the old pastor leaned forward and said, "Mark Welch, that was your grandfather." Mark's mother was a little girl at the time. Mark was stunned. He had never heard the story, but a fact check later proved it to be true. Mark inherited the most important thing a family can pass down. Not only do we receive gifts and talents from our ancestors, we inherit a family spirit. It can be a blessing or a curse. God's blessing is more effective than a large monetary gift. Think what some people do to come to America and become a citizen. Generations beyond that farmer there are new citizens in God's kingdom. Each baby comes into the world with a head start, a benefit. The enemy of our souls does not hesitate to mess with our very young children. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, each little child is a VIP, protected by their own personal body guard. Furthermore, a praying wife and mother is an ambassador of Christ to her family, covering them all with blessing and goodness.

Robert Monroe, who founded The Monroe Institute, taught people how to step out of their bodies. He describes a dangerous world full of a variety of entities, some of which are quite creepy. Eventually, it becomes clear that his adventures out of body are being managed by unseen forces. In his third book, the spirits assure Bob that there is no God, no Big Brother, and only false gods intervene in our human lives or history. That is certainly a contradiction, because Bob Monroe had plenty of intervention in his life from an early age. It wasn't a biblical intervention of course, but his 'guides' claim to have saved his life at least four times. Monroe's guides ignore the fact that a light and energy being from beyond space and time became a man named Jesus the Christ. He walked the earth with humans for 33 years in order to perfectly represent the true nature of God. He fulfilled a thousand years of Old Testament prophecy, raised the dead, healed the sick, died for all mankind, and was resurrected. Somehow, Monroe's guides didn't notice. Jesus was totally ignored in their universe. Not a word about Him, although so many others have seen Him. The persistent denial of all those spirits and of Bob himself, who kept asking about the existence of God, and who trusted their answers, tells me far more about Monroe's guides than about God. It tells me that they are lost, lost, lost, and Bob Monroe fell easily into their pit of deception.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Unto Us a Child Is Given, Part 2, The Child

All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984. Whenever LORD is all caps, the actual Hebrew is the name of God, usually pronounced and spelled Yahweh or Jehovah in English. When written Lord, the word is Adonai, meaning Lord, our Lord, or my Lord.

"Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?"   Lyrics by Clay Aiken  

I highly recommend reading Part 1 before proceeding to this post. In that post, we reviewed the groundwork leading up to the amazing Isaianic prophecy in Isaiah 9 of the Old Testament. We saw that in the late 8th century BC, King Pekah of northern Israel conspired with King Rezin of neighboring Syria to attack King Ahaz of Judah. In fact, the Syrian troops were gathering in central Israel, referred to as Ephraim. This intelligence put all of Judah into a panic. The prophet Isaiah met King Ahaz on the road and spoke of a young woman, a virgin?, who would give birth to a son. She would name the child Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”, to reflect Yahweh’s supernatural protection for Judah in very dangerous times. The father, Isaiah, who either sired or adopted the child, would name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz [Speed-the-Spoil, Hasten-the-Booty] to warn of northern Israel’s fate at the hands of the Assyrians. The LORD assured Isaiah that the conspiracy between Pekah and Rezin would collapse. Judah would be safe, but only for a while. The misery inflicted by Assyria upon all lands would also harm Judah. Life would be lean and fear would be a daily scourge.

We noted the ambiguity as to the identity of the mother. The name Immanuel appears three times in chapters 7 and 8, always signifying that God is still with Judah in spite of her wicked, unbelieving sovereign. Chapter 8 is a litany of the difficult times just ahead for the whole Levant. There is a diatribe against those leaders who turn to spiritism, mediums, and the occult rather than to Yahweh for help. For the advanced Bible student, the language is intriguingly rich in spiritual and earthly death images. There is also an emphasis on the spiritual night of those who turn to false deities. They will find only cursing, despair, and darkness.

To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn (8:20, New American Standard Version).

The theme of Israel’s destiny carries forward seamlessly in chapter 9, but with a major reversal of circumstances. Light shines onto the ravaged land! A glance at a map will help explain the text.

From the Holman Bible Atlas

The northern lands all around the Sea of Galilee lay in spiritual darkness for a good 700 years. The Assyrians killed many when they invaded. They took the rest into captivity into upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley. They then replaced them with their own citizens or other conquered people. Northern Israel was still populated by Gentiles when Jesus Christ was born. Isaiah saw in the Spirit that the regions where Gentiles would soon dwell would be renewed! Instead of enemy boots, humiliation, and oppression, there will be revival and light. Darkness will turn to dawn.  

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. (Isa. 9:2]

The nation will rejoice as at the time of a good harvest. It will be as if their armies have won a great battle as in days of old and are dividing the spoil amongst the weary soldiers. The rod of the oppressor will be lifted. “For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle, and garments rolled in blood, will be used for burning and fuel of fire” (9:5).

The next verses are the apex of the three chapters. They tie together the verses about the birth of the Child. The real child in question is now presented to Israel. This Child cannot be Immanuel, as we will see, but Immanuel is a precursor of this Child, a sign of his coming and a sign of a miraculous conception.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: And the government will be upon His shoulder (9:6a).

So the Child will be a man, born of woman, and a Sovereign ruler. His name and title is what is astonishing.

And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6b).

This man, born of woman, will be God! How can that be? God is one, God is invisible, God is spirit. How can God be held by an earthly mother? How can The Eternal One have a beginning? And yet so many of the wonderful attributes of God are accredited to this Child. He is the Father. He is a Son. He is Eternal. Wonderful was the name of the Angel in Gideon’s day (Judges 13:18). Counselor reminds us of the Spirit of Yahweh encountered throughout the Old Testament. There is a Trinity of Godhood suggested in this passage. It is clear that the eighth century child Immanuel cannot qualify to be this Child, yet the idea of a child ‘given,’ who promises peace and protection, connects the two irrevocably. The first child was a sign. The second Child is the fulfillment of the sign.

The first child could only hope for peace. The second Child is the Prince of Peace. Jihad in his Kingdom is forbidden. The religious wars between Catholics and Protestants and between the different Protestant sects were never ordained by God.

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform it (9:7).

God Himself, not man, formulated this plan. What is described is a man born of a virgin. He is a descendant of King David; The second Child would be King of all Israel; His reign would never end. He would walk this earth, but He would be God and King. Although He came to earth to dwell with mankind for a while, His Kingdom cannot be of earth because it is eternal and perfect in justice. This King will not fall like Solomon or fail like David.

Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. His mother was instructed to name him Yeshua, meaning Salvation. As a descendant of King David, He was the proper lineage to inherit Israel’s throne. He fulfilled prophecy in that He never raised an army to overthrow the Romans (Isa. 42:3). He fulfilled other predictions when he healed the sick, made the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, the blind to see (Isa. 35:5-7). Yet more Scripture when His message was received by the Gentiles (Isa. 60:1-3) He raised the dead, walked on water, and stilled the storm. He cast a legion of demons out of a crazy lunatic. He also made it clear that His Kingdom is not of this world. His servants must not fight for it, because earthly weapons cannot defend a spiritual reality.

When Jesus died, He fulfilled yet more prophecy in that He died as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (Psalm 22 and Isa. 53). He rose again as the lion of Judah and Redeemer of all mankind.

But before all that took place, he was the little Child held by a young virginal mother named Mary. Why would the coming of Messiah be heralded with earthly events such as the birth of little Emmanuel so long ago? The short answer is that heavenly truths are intimately entwined with Earth and God's people. Jesus came here and walked on our roads, touched our children. God is love. He loves us. I wish you all a blessed Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Unto Us a Child is Given, Part 1, The Sign

All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984. Whenever LORD is all caps, the actual Hebrew is the name of God, usually pronounced and spelled Yahweh or Jehovah in English. When written Lord, the word is Adonai, meaning Lord, our Lord, or my Lord. [...] signifies my editorial addition.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

The prophet Isaiah lived in Israel approximately seven centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. He had a long ministry, covering the reigns of four kings of the little nation of Judah. During the reign of the third king, Ahaz, he had a most remarkable vision of a special child that would be born in his lifetime. That child would be a sign to Judah that the Assyrians of northern Mesopotamia would not totally vanquish Ahaz’s kingdom. Assyria would not succeed in breaking into the city of Jerusalem, plundering its wealth, and marching tens of thousands of citizens off to captivity as they did to other nations. But before we look at the whole panorama of this vision leading to the great statement of Isaiah 9:6, 7, we need to review the back story in chapters 7 and 8.

This third king departed from the religion of his fathers, preferring instead to worship the gods of Syria and Assyria. However, he was still the king of the House of David, and God was not yet ready to punish all of Judah for their transgressions. Northern Israel’s time of judgment was close. One of Isaiah’s assignments from Yahweh was to warn them that if they didn't change their ways, Assyria would surely come down and take them captive in a most brutal manner. The time for mercy for Northern Israel was about to end forever.

The Assyrian threat wasn't on King Ahaz’s mind as he left the city one day (perhaps around 730-725 BC). Northern Israel and its neighbor Syria had decided to join forces and attack Judah. Everyone in the southern kingdom trembled at the thought. Ahaz’s “heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved in the wind.” (7:2)

Isaiah writes that he and his son, Shear-Jashub, met Ahaz one day as his entourage was leaving the city. The Bible doesn't actually say whether Ahaz was alone or with a group of people, but most kings of the day rode with a well-equipped guard of 50 brave soldiers. The king himself would have been dressed in fine garments and would be riding in a chariot covered in gold or perhaps on a horse fitted with the finest saddlery. The sound of hooves, the huffing of horses, the clatter of weapons, the cloud of dust, all would have come to an abrupt halt in the face of the old prophet standing in the middle of the road.

Isaiah assured Ahaz that the Syrian-Israeli threat would dissolve before they could do harm to Judah. By 721 BC, the Assyrians would drive south with a huge army and scrape the northern kingdoms of Israel and Syria off their lands like a razor. The two conspiring kings [Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria] would be captured, and the people of northern Israel would lose their identity as tribes of Israel. The territory in the center of the region, often referred to as Ephraim (an ancient tribal name), would never be called that again. Ahaz was challenged to ask God for a sign that this would be so. Ahaz undoubtedly hated Isaiah. I can imagine him thinking, “I am not going to play this old man’s game. He never has anything good to say about me.” So he answered, “I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD.” No doubt the honor guard smirked just a little at such a wily answer.

Isaiah shot back, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary God also?” Isaiah has suggested two things here. First, Ahaz is not very popular with his people in Judah. Second, he is not very popular with God. Isaiah then offers an astonishing sign.

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and [she] shall call his name Immanuel.

Can you imagine Ahaz's response to that prediction? A young woman? A child? O please, move aside old man!

There are two words in the above passage that we must examine. The first is alma, translated here as ‘virgin.’ Alma is an ambiguous word usually translated by today’s scholars as ‘young woman’ or ‘maiden.’ The unambiguous Hebrew word for virgin is bethulah. However, alma is never used in the Old Testament to refer to a married woman, so hundreds of years later, Jewish scholars who translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek used the specific Greek word for ‘virgin.’ Matthew quoted the Greek version (called The Septuagint) when he wrote his Gospel about the birth of Jesus. Since the birth of this child was supposed to be something of a miracle, the Christian translator of the NKJV felt he had good support to use the word ‘virgin’ for the mother of the special child.

The other word is Immanuel, meaning ‘God With Us.’ This child will be given two names. One name will reflect the danger of the days to come, the other will be a promise of God’s divine protection. Isaiah went on to describe to Ahaz what the near future will be like even after the Israeli-Syrian conspiracy collapses. The child Immanuel will grow up eating curds and honey because even in Judah, men will fear to go to the fields to sow and reap. Instead they will keep a cow and a couple of sheep nearby for milk and cheese (7:21). They will gather honey from bees that chanced to swarm in the fallow fields. Sheep and oxen will roam freely in overgrown pastures. But, before the child is very old, “the land you dread will be forsaken by both her kings [Pekah and Rezin, the king of Syria].

In Chapter 8, Isaiah describes how the LORD instructed him to take a priest and a recorder (Uriah and Zechariah) as witnesses when he approached “the prophetess,” the chosen mother. Scholars today insist that this woman was undoubtedly Isaiah’s wife. Furthermore, say they, there is no doubt that the child was conceived in a normal manner. Fine. Believe it however you will. What we need to look at in the verse is the deliberate ambiguity. Isaiah uses a word that means “approach, draw near to.” He does not say, “I knew my wife,” or “I went into to prophetess.” Nor is the woman named as his wife. She is not named at all. Why wouldn’t the name of this woman matter if Isaiah named the priest and the recorder? She is the mother of a holy child! We don’t know where she lived, what tribe she was from, or whether she was married.

You say, “Of course she was! Don’t even suggest this was a virgin birth.” Maybe it wasn't, but her status as a married woman is veiled here, and so is the specific detail of how the child was conceived. The ambiguity was is no oversight. She is supposed to be veiled in mystery, because this whole event will repeat itself in about 700 years in the future. This little mother is but a shadow, a precursor of a young virgin who will live way in the future.

Judah would not totally escape Assyria’s assault. Comparing the king of Assyria to the flooding Euphrates River, Isaiah wrote, “The king of Assyria and all his glory; he will go up over all his channels and go over all his banks. He will pass through Judah, he will overflow and pass over. He will reach up to the neck (Jerusalem, the capital of Judah); and the stretching out of his wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel” (8:7, 8).

In spite of the fact that Isaiah seems to have dedicated the land of Judah to Immanuel, we don’t hear of that specific child again until 8:18: “Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion” [Jerusalem]. The eighth century BC Immanuel did not become king, prophet, judge, or general. It was not the person of the child, but the miracle of his conception that was the sign of God’s miraculous deliverance for Judah.

Biblical and inter-testamental accounts, as well as Assyrian records, verify that the king of Assyria took Syria and northern Israel captive and took captive tens of thousands of citizens from Judah, but was not able to breach the walls of Jerusalem. To find out exactly why Immanuel’s conception and birth was so important that a wicked king’s retinue was stopped on the highway, watch for Part 2 of this post.