The curtain falls, but Act II is about to begin
Malachi 4: Remember and keep the revelation I gave through my servant Moses.
Did Malachi understand that these words were to become, for Christians across the ages, the closing words of the Old Testament? It’s highly unlikely. However, I believe God, the Holy Spirit knew it. The last two paragraphs of Malachi are an excellent ending for the Old Testament. For those of that day, still living under the Law, one of the last words is “remember.” They’re to keep the “rules and procedures for right living” given them by Moses. If they do that they’ll have done what the Lord requires of them. However, there’s another last word. It’s, “also look ahead.” The Lord isn’t finished working out redemption for them and all that has happened thus far has prepared the way for the really big deal that’s yet to come. As the curtain’s falling on this, the first act we’re told that the next act is going to be both interesting and surprising. They’ll know it’s starting when Elijah shows up to usher it in. For the people of Israel, that’s a long 400 years distant in the future. As for me, all I have to do is turn the page to see what has, up to now, been the black and white picture of God’s salvation plan displayed in living color.
Take Away: Even to this day we are wise to obediently remember what the Lord has told us while at the same time look forward to what he has promised us.
After Judgment Day comes Homecoming Day
Zephaniah 3: On Judgment Day I’ll bring you back home.
The prophet’s description of Judgment Day has some scary stuff in it. The Lord’s calling Israel into court and, he says they’ll “they’ll lose everything they have.” Still, the result will be a purging of the land. There won’t be many people left, but those who are left will be clean in God’s sight. However, even those who are dispersed among the nations won’t be tossed aside and forgotten. There’s redemption even in their situation. In the end, the redeemed people of Israel will be reunited and their long exile will come to an end. With that in mind, I see that, ultimately, Judgment Day yields to Homecoming Day. The Day of Judgment isn’t all about punishment. Rather, it’s part of the Lord’s plan to reconcile the lost to him. The little book of Zephaniah ends, not with wailing and gnashing of teeth, but instead with reunions and celebration. I can learn from this passage. The end-of-the-world Judgment Day is surely something for which to prepare. However, in the big picture, it’s the event necessary to usher in something wonderful for all of God’s people.
Take Away: The plan of the Lord is to unite all who will come with one another and with himself.
Sitting on the front row
Micah 7: I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
Micah says things are going downhill fast. He’s learned that he can’t trust his neighbor and that “neighborhoods and families are falling to pieces.” Clearly his day is a treacherous, difficult one. In the face of such perilous times Micah might be tempted to run for the hills or at least withdraw from society. As anyone knows, Micah isn’t the only one who has faced difficult days. Through the centuries godly men and women have gone through unbelievable hardship. Often that hardship has been on a national or even worldwide scale. At other times the hardship is close to home: a family or even personal struggle that fills our days with exhausting darkness. In this passage, Micah is no “Pollyanna” who insists everything’s always “just fine.” However, he is a man of faith. As tempting as it might be to run and get away from all the wrong and uncertainty he sees, Micah declares he’s staying put. Why? It’s because he wants a front row seat to God’s redemption! Today, we believers aren’t blind to the problems of life. When things take a downturn we become anxious like everyone else. However, in it all there’s a thread of optimism. We believe God is still God and that he’s working in and through it all. The end result is salvation. We want a front row seat when that happens!
Take Away: The people of the Lord are an optimistic people – and, for good reason!
Daniel 4: He knows how to turn a proud person into a humble man or woman.
In his mercy the Lord deals with Nebuchadnezzar in a direct and attention getting way. Here’s a man driven by arrogance and drunk with power. The Lord strips all that away from him and sends him out into the wilderness for seven years. That sounds like a long time, but its short compared to the 40 years it takes the Israelites to learn a similar lesson. We don’t know what’s happening inside of Nebuchadnezzar during those long years of insanity, but somehow God is dealing with him and the end result is filled with redemption. In fact, one of the strongest examples of this is the fact that Nebuchadnezzar is allowed to write his own testimony, found here. His words are filled with humble praise and thanksgiving to God. This is a case of strong discipline yielding desirable results. Nebuchadnezzar is made into a new man by the grace of God. Know what? That’s just the kind of stuff God does. The focus here shouldn’t be on seven years of mental illness. The central issue here is that God takes messed up lives and makes them new. The “grass diet” was just the method. The made-new life is the result. Nebuchadnezzar isn’t complaining about the diet, but he certainly thanks the Lord for what he did for him.
Take Away: The Lord takes messed up lives and makes them new.
Surprise, surprise, surprise!
Isaiah 64: Since before time began no one has ever imagined…a God like you.
I know there’s much (and that’s too mild a word) about God that’s beyond my imagination. However, it isn’t the vastness of God that’s on Isaiah’s mind here. Isaiah’s talking about what he does know. The Almighty has revealed his intentions concerning his broken people and their enemies. Isaiah isn’t saying “no one knows what God’s going to do.” Instead, he’s saying “here’s what God’s about to do and it’s something no one has ever before imagined.” The Lord is about to move in their lives bringing restoration to them. Everything’s going to change as the Lord works in a never-seen-before way on their behalf. His plans aren’t a secret; they’re being announced ahead of time. This verse reminds me of the passage from the New Testament that’s based on Isaiah’s words here. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul says: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” A lot of folks stop right there, thinking Paul’s talking about the future and unknowable plans of God. However, they need to go right on reading. Paul continues with: “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” Paul’s saying the very same thing as Isaiah. No one could ever guess ahead of time how God is going to redeem his people, and now that we know it we stand amazed. From our point of view, who could ever imagine that a baby born in a barn can save the world? But God, through his angelic messenger right up front announces that that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
Take Away: The Lord’s wonderful plan of salvation is both known by us and amazing to us.
God’s plan all along
Isaiah 53: Still, it’s what God had in mind all along.
The accuracy of Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant must have amazed the writers of the gospels. They wrote of something they had seen with their own eyes, yet their words mirror that which Isaiah saw only by faith hundreds of years earlier. However, Isaiah doesn’t only tell us of the sufferings of the Messiah. He tells us why it happened. God planned it. What happens at Calvary isn’t something that’s “done to Jesus.” Instead, it’s something that Jesus “does for us.” The Lord knew that we’d never just “get over” sin. He knew that the broken relationship between us and him was broken beyond that which could be repaired by some minor patch up job. There was only one hope of redemption and that hope was that the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, would carry our sins even to the grave. It’s what God had in mind all along.
Take Away: There was only one way to salvation and Jesus, through the cross, provided that way for all.
God’s plan: my hope
Isaiah 53: We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
No one has to convince Isaiah that his people are sinners. There’s ample evidence of that. Also, no one has to convince him that sin brings death; it’s everywhere. What he needs help with is a way back out of this mess. They’re lost to the point of having no hope of returning. The way back has to be provided by God, Himself. So how can a righteous God redeem an unrighteous people? The answer is in this powerful chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy. The horrible sins of his nation will be gathered up and put on the shoulders of the holy Suffering Servant. Their sins will become his sins and as the meek lamb being sacrificed in their rituals symbolically dies for their sins, he’ll literally give his all to restore them to God. God’s plan: my hope. The message of salvation was desperately needed by those of Isaiah’s day and it’s just as necessary today. The wonderful thing is that it’s all true. In spite of my sin, my rebellion, and my “wandering off” God is providing a way back through Jesus Christ.
Take Away: God’s plan: my hope.
Buried in the deepest sea, yes, that’s good enough for me
Isaiah 44: I’ve wiped the slate of all your wrongdoings. There’s nothing left of your sins.
As I read these words an old Sunday School chorus comes to mind: “Gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone.” As a Sunday School kid to me that was mainly just a catchy tune, although I know that it’s important to “train up a child in the way he should go….” The message here is mainly for grownups, especially for those who are troubled by the mess they’ve made of their lives. They look at their lives and see a disaster that can, in their view, never be cleaned up. You may have things in your past that are so ugly that you seldom allow yourself to remember them, and when you do, you’re filled with shame. Or there may be things that everyone knows about: broken promises, failures, and destroyed relationships. The words of Isaiah are so filled with hope that our hearts cannot hold it all. The only One who can deal with the mess that is our lives has already acted to do just that. He cries out, “Come back to me, come back. I’ve redeemed you.” As I respond to that invitation, the words of the old chorus become mine…”gone, gone, gone, gone, yes my sins are gone.”
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances
Isaiah 19: God will openly show himself to the Egyptians and they’ll get to know him on that Day.
The words of condemnation to Egypt compare what’s coming to a powerful storm, sweeping away everything in its path. Even the mighty Nile, the symbol of life in Egypt, will be dried up and the nation will be in a hopeless state. Surprisingly, Isaiah’s tone suddenly changes. It’s almost as though the storm ends and the sun breaks through. God will make an appearance to Egypt and, with all else swept away, the people of that land will turn to him with all their hearts. Isaiah says, “Egypt will come back to God.” Additionally, we’re told, Assyria will join Egypt in the worship of God and the result will be that they’ll “share the blessing.” In one of his most famous statements Jesus announces that God “so loved the world.” However, here we are back in the Old Testament where a Hebrew prophet has been, just as would be expected, telling how God’s going to destroy all the enemies of the people of Israel. Then, the tone of his prophecy suddenly changes. The enemies of God’s people aren’t going to be wiped off the face of the earth. Instead, they’re going to be converted! Here, then is the heart of every missionary effort. If God wants to do away with those who reject him, he can do it with just a word. Instead, he engineers circumstances designed to draw us to him. Granted, some of those circumstances are stout medicine, but, then again, it isn’t annihilation, which is what we deserve. In this somewhat confusing turnabout passage we get a glimpse of what will only become clear through the ministry of Jesus.
Take Away: The Lord wants to save all people – that’s good news for you and me.
Rescue the perishing
Proverbs 24: Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help.
Fanny Crosby wrote the missionary song that’s based on this proverb. Many a missionary service of years gone by has featured her song “Rescue the Perishing.” Would that the lives of God’s people feature it’s message in this day! The immediate assumption of the proverb is that there are those who are, indeed, perishing. In some cases it’s quite clear that people are in trouble. Their lives are unraveling and it’s plain that things can’t continue as they are. In other cases it takes insight to see what’s happening. People are living ordinary lives and pretty much keeping things together. However, spiritually speaking, they too are perishing. When Jesus stated his mission he gave it in terms of “rescue” saying he came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” As I consider this proverb, I’m challenged to join Jesus in that mission. “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.”
Take Away: As followers of Jesus we need to join him in his mission to rescue the perishing.