Living in the Now but not Yet

Todays readings are Isaiah 35 and Acts 23:23-35.

What a stark contrast as we turn from the page from Isaiah 34 over to chapter 35. Death and destruction gives way to life and salvation. We read words of hope that “[God] will come and save you”. And when he does,

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Perhaps like me this reminded you of Matthew 11:2-6

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

It’s not hard to see Jesus in Isaiah’s prophecies. They speak both of Judah’s geopolitical context at the time, reminding the people of God’s covenant with them, and also about God’s plan to save all nations through a coming messiah. The highway referred to in verse 8 as the Way of Holiness reminds me that Jesus said He was the Way to the father.

Yet while God’s messiah has come, and He has come to save us, it doesn’t seem that we are living in the full realisation of verse 10.

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Indeed our reading second reading, in Acts 23 describes Paul being transported to the Governor, Felix, under guard. Paul who has been shown how much he must suffer for the name of Jesus. Is this suffering part of the everlasting joy, mentioned above, where all sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

The theological term for this idea that Jesus ushered in the “end times” and God’s kingdom is here but not fully experienced, is Inaugurated Eschatology, but personally I like thinking of it as living in “the now but not yet”.

If we hear Jesus’ words and believe God who sent him, we have eternal life and have already passed from death to life (John 5:24). We are already experiencing resurrection life.   Yet Jesus was also clear that His kingdom is not of this world–to fully experience it and the everlasting joy declared by Isaiah, we will need to wait until we see it.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” – John 18:36

And it’s in the Now but not Yet that Paul begins years of imprisonment for the sake of the gospel. Years in which he hopes to be able to use his circumstances, before governors and even Caesar to declare that God’s kingdom has come in the form of Jesus – the messiah foretold by Isaiah, who was always part of God’s plan to save not only the people of Israel, but the entire world.

May God bless you today, as you live in the now but not yet, with a taste of his Kingdom that we will one day fully enjoy.


Chaos in Jerusalem……Paul the smarty pants

In the Acts22:30 – 23:11 reading it’s all getting pretty chaotic. On the TV news if you’ve ever seen middle eastern street demonstrations or even public funerals  they seem to be on the verge of getting out of control – to our Anglo eyes at least!  Middle Eastern people seem to be more passionately expressive in the opinions they hold!

The Roman commander isn’t quite sure what the crowd have against Paul and what he’s done wrong. He releases Paul (who he has held and now is alarmed he has done so). Paul has previously spoken to the crowd and told them of his conversion experience and the hope hes now has in Christ.

Paul faces the Jewish crowd exclaiming “My brothers I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day”. I’m sure I could not say this about myself……..well not honestly at least!

Paul receives a smack in the mouth for what the chief priest considers insolence. There is debate about what Paul says in saying that he didn’t recognise it was the high priest. Some commentators say Paul’s eyesight was poor and so didn’t recognise him…….others say Paul was being something of a smart mouth………in that no true high priest would have given such a command. The latter explanation appeals to me more 🙂

Then Paul seems to purposely stoke up the crowd to cause division between the Pharisees and Sadducees with the exclamations about his hope of resurrection. Now he’s got the Pharisees on his side who also hold this view strongly. They declare now him to be innocent of any wrong doing – how fickle they are. The argument gets so violent the commander rescues Paul and puts him in his own barracks. What a sight.

I love verse 11 in that the Lord stood near Paul telling him ” Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify in Rome”

How we yearn for the Lord to also stand near us in time of difficulty and trial. Lets ask Him and trust Him to do so.

The Bass Note

Who are the people of God? How does faith play out against the everyday realities of empires, power and politics? Where is God as the blood, sweat and tears of global politics and superpowers play out on the world stage? These are some questions which arise in the two readings today, one from Isaiah during the extremely remote ancient times of the Assyrian ascendancy, about 700 BCE; and the second, Acts, written by Luke in only slightly less ancient times recording the turbulent birth of the church during the period of the Roman Empire around 80 CE.

The God of both Israel and the early church is close at hand, an eternal God who nevertheless intervenes in history, who is intimate and intimately concerned about people, about life. Empires flex their muscles…and fade. The God of Israel promises that despite the violence and machinations of the nations, and even the lack of faith within the leadership of his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust will be your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

Paul, seemingly fearless witness to the reality of God in Christ, claims (Acts 22: 14-15) that it is the God of Israel who has chosen him to testify to the love and life of God without concern for human boundaries, without concern for nationality or ethnicity. Paul, a Jew, a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, fluent in Greek and Hebrew, familiar with Jerusalem, at home in Tarsus, converted on his way to Damascus, is called to courageously bring news of the unbounded love of God, and life brought through Jesus, God with us.

In 2018 the empires of this world unnervingly clash and strain against each other. Smaller nations like Australia rush to consolidate alliances and curry favour, in an effort to achieve security. Vested interests, including religious and secular entities, claim ownership of right and truth.

All the while the God of Isaiah, the God who Paul so dramatically encountered, continues to intervene with resurrection life every moment of every day. God’s mercy pours without boundaries, across the globe, and through our cities. “Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Isaiah 30: 18)

This is the great news that we share this week with all in our community. The love of God is here, now. The love and faithfulness of God is the heartbeat which resonates in the world without ceasing, the bass note below the shallow, fleeting clamour of competing human pretensions for power.


Mash up

Psalm 108 is not a new Psalm but rather a new arrangement – in today’s musical terms what would be referred to as a “mash-up”. Verses 1-5 are derived almost verbatim from Psalm 57:7-11 and verses 6-13 from Psalm 60:5-12. One alteration being the use of the great name of Jehovah in Psalm 108:3 instead of Adonai in Psalm 57:9.

In doing so, the writer (be that David himself or a later compiler) discards the laments that begin the original Psalms and therefore their historical contexts – David hunted in Psalm 57 and defeated in Psalm 60. Thus we are left with those portions which express confidence in the Lord.

The new Psalm positively positions David firstly as the composer / musician drawing his inspiration from his relationship with God – he will sing to the Lord his songs of praise – be that at the break of dawn, amongst the nations or up to the highest heavens v1-5.

One commentator states that the two joined fragments “offer a striking instance of true biblical faith. Human steadfastness (v1) rests upon divine steadfastness (v4). Divine steadfastness is expressed in the great promises (v7-9) which give confidence in coming victories (v10-13).”

His Beloved

The character of God can be best understood when looking at his love, affection and faithfulness to His Church. The OT traces a story-line of how God sets apart a people or a church for himself, of how he shows his faithfulness by constantly guiding them along in mercy and love.

Isaiah 27 is an assurance from God that he will keep His promise to Israel. That he will re-establish His Church. I will watch over the fruitful vineyard, He says in verse 3 and declares that Jacob will take root in verse 6. He even prompts the people to look in retrospect to prove his faithfulness to his church in in verse 7.

Chapter 28 in Isaiah shows that even with God loving his Church or Israel the way he did, they constantly gave in to their sinful desires. We, his beloved are sinners and have been born into iniquity. However there is a truth mentioned in verse 5 of chapter 28 that in the face of the sin of the leaders of Ephraim and Judah the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown and a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people. He will be their source of strength and he will be their righteousness.

Our churches today are not perfect, we are broken and sinful and are inclined to the ways of the leaders of Ephraim and Judah. But it is here, in our brokenness that he will be our glorious crown, it is here that the cross of Christ will be our source of strength and righteousness. We see this clearly in Acts 21 where the church, although sinful works as a unit to carry the love of Christ. This is seen in the way they welcome Paul on this journey.

Let us also, knowing our brokenness, be ever so filled with the knowledge of his love that it overflows from us to the people and the world around us.

Ruthlessness and the Lord’s renown

Today’s readings are From Isaiah 25-26 and Acts 20:13-38

It doesn’t take much to observe evil in our world today. Evil has been around since Adam was a boy (or a young man at least…). Each generation not only has to deal with this significant life issue, but also with the manifestation of evil in our world.

Living where we do, at the time we do, we have the blessing of living free of many types of evil. However, as much as our culture wants to tell us that we can live in some evil free utopia, we know that it is not true. Evil finds a way to manifest itself. Lately, I have been noticing evil rear it’s head in ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness is seen by some as a good thing. Business decisions get made, profits can soar and concerns for anything outside of myself and (perhaps) my relational sphere become unnecessary. Yet the lack of compassion that stems from ruthlessness is as evil as the dropping of bombs. The ruthless have no need to care for the weak, to provide for the poor or defend the marginalised. Whether it be in politics, business or even in morality, a new ruthless edge has been rising in our culture. The new moral majority (with a very different morality to the moral majority of 30 years ago) are ruthless in crucifying anyone who does not fit in to their idea of how the world should run.

Both our readings today remind us of how to approach ruthlessness. Paul gives the summary of our response in Acts 20:24:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Paul’s aim isn’t to attack evil – whether it be ruthlessness or the hardships and injustices that will face him in Jerusalem (v23). His aim is to testify to the good news of God’s grace. In testifying to God’s grace though, evil is attacked. Paul says later (v35):

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Testifying to God’s grace will result in compassion, and the overturning of evil. It will have this effect because that is what God is doing in the world through his people. Isaiah (25:1-5) picks up the same ideas. In his faithfulness, God has overcome the ruthless. God has overcome evil.

Toward the end of our Isaiah reading (26:4-6) we read:

Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
He humbles those who dwell on high,
    he lays the lofty city low;
he levels it to the ground
    and casts it down to the dust.
Feet trample it down—
    the feet of the oppressed,
    the footsteps of the poor.

The imagery in Isaiah 25-26 if of God making things that are evil and bad, good again. There is much worthy of quoting, but in the context of Ruthlessness, I think verse 6 speaks loudly. While the ruthless trample on others in this day, another day is coming where justice will come for the ruthless. God is not putting up with evil, he is overcoming evil.

We know, as Paul did, that he has overcome evil through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And so, in the midst of evil, whether it be ruthlessness or some other kind, we get on with the task of testifying to God’s grace and trusting that he is making all things good again.

In his letter to the Romans (12:21), Paul reminded them:

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The people of Israel trusted what God was doing:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws,[b]
    we wait for you;
your name and renown
    are the desire of our hearts.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    in the morning my spirit longs for you.

May our desire also be for the name and renown of the Lord God.

God Reigns

God Reigns

Isaiah 23-24

Chapter 23

Tyre had a longer reach than even Babylon; her traders were known from the Indian Ocean to the English Channel. Revelation 17 and 18 combine the OT oracles on Tyre and Babylon for the composite picture of the world as seducer and oppressor, over against the city of God” (D. Kidner)

Earth’s proud empires all pass away. Only God and His purposes endure. Never be intimidated by secular power.

Chapter 24

This chapter begins a section that runs through to 27:13 and is sometimes called the ‘Isaiah Apocalypse’.

Verses 1-13 carry words of judgement with verse 6 giving the reason. Verses 14-16 speak of praise that is to come; while verses 17-23 speak of cosmic judgement, “for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before its elders – with great glory.”

We await that final day as it is described in Revelation 21 and 22.

Enroute to Jerusalem

Acts 20:1-12

This passage deals with the closing phase of Paul’s ministry at this time around the Aegean Sea. He leaves Ephesus and goes to Macedonia spending some time in Corinth and probably writing his letter to the Romans.

He returns to Troas where the remarkable story of the restoration of Eutychus takes place.

A facetious remark might be, “keep sermons short unless you have a Paul around”. But seriously, we see the evidence of God’s power with Paul both in the restoration of that young man, and in the hunger for God’s word in those who were present in that upstairs room. May we too be hungry for His truth.