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Isaiah’s introduction to Isaiah

Dale Ralph Davis begins his commentary on Judges by explaining why he’s not going to give his own introduction:

“…an excellent piece of work has already been done by the author of the book, and I am not capable of writing a better one. Indeed, I have a growing conviction that we would find far more fun and profit in Bible study if we gave more heed to the introductions the biblical writers themselves prefaced to their works than to the welter of opinions (helpful as they may be) about a biblical book, drearily culled from the last two hundred years of biblical scholarship. We do better, I think, to jump straight into the biblical text and get dirty with its ink.”

Alec Motyer, in his masterful commentary on Isaiah similarly describes the first five chapters of Isaiah as the “author’s preface.” In a 544 page commentary Motyer gives only 21 pages to his own scholarly and thematic introduction but 33 pages to Isaiah’s “author’s preface.”

So how does Isaiah introduce his own prophecy? In the first chapter alone we are introduced to:

  1. The title declaring that the whole book – all 66 chapters – is one coherent vision received in the time of these particular kings, long before some of the events that are spoken of (Cyrus etc.). This is dismissed by liberal scholars who cannot conceive of genuine predictive prophecy but it is a key theme throughout Isaiah – that the LORD God, in contrast to the idols, knows and determines the future.
  2. The bitterness and complexity of sin: covenant breaking, ingratitude, rebellion, stupidity, evil doing, abandonment, a battered body, beginning to taste judgment, disgusting religiosity, stained crimson, spiritual prostitution, worthlessness. This is the mess into which Isaiah speaks and into which the Messiah will come to deal with exactly this great problem.
  3. Themes of hope that will be developed through the rest of the book of Isaiah:
    1. Surviving remnant – a brand plucked by grace from the burning
    2. Law court cleansing – deliverance and purification with justice
    3. Heart change – from rebels who love sin to those who are ashamed and willing
    4. Restored city – the prostitute city will become the faithful city once more

Thank God for the gospel of Isaiah. And that he very kindly gave us an introduction.

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Second year classes term 2 [1]

Second years

It’s been a good half term looking at gospel-driven sanctification, the letter of 1 Corinthians and thinking about other religions. Here are some of the notes and resources:

 

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Captured by a better vision

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Tim Chester, Captured by a better vision: Living porn-free, IVP, 2010, 169 pages. Reviewed by Kelvin Macharia:

When it comes to sexual purity, the struggle is real. All around us we find sexually suggestive material, from the TV adverts to magazines and billboards. And social media, though helpful in some ways, has only made things worse with its ever inviting sexually suggestive images. Perhaps the biggest threat of my generation has been mobile devices which are easily accessible today. And with fast affordable internet on these devices almost everywhere in the country, pornography is now only a click away.

No doubt pornography is damaging, and that is why Tim Chester has written this wonderful book – to help those that have been under the snares of pornography and its evil twin sister masturbation. Many have fallen victim to this monster, and sadly Christians have not been left out either. This book seeks to help the struggler understand the root of the matter. A friend I know puts it this way, “the heart of the matter is always a matter of the heart”, and surely pornography is a heart issue. To fix it, we need not simply start by installing anti-porn and accountability software, though of great importance no doubt. That is why Tim Chester has chosen to address the problem through this 5 step procedure;

  1. An abhorrence of porn – A hatred of porn not only because of the shame it brings but also for its ugliness. And this can be seen if you ‘look beyond the frame’ and see porn for what it truly is. It weakens our relationship with God, marriages are destroyed, children suffer as some are exposed to porn by unknowing parents, women are abused, reduced to lust objects and diminished, our view of sex is wrecked, our character is eroded, we become enslaved and we waste our time, energy and money. Look beyond the frame and you will hate porn.
  2. An adoration of God – God offers more than porn. Every reason that we can come up with to view porn is a twisted lie, and whatever satisfaction we hope to find in porn can only ultimately be found in God. Porn doesn’t satisfy, God does. Be freed by the beauty of God.
  3. Assurance of grace – We are justified in faith through grace. When God looks at us, he sees us clothed in Jesus’ righteousness. Focus on Christ who became sin so that we could become righteous. Self-righteousness is hopeless; be freed by the grace of God.
  4. Avoidance of temptation – Say ‘NO’ to temptation. Don’t feed it. Flee from temptation; be committed to do all in your power to avoid temptation. Read the word of God and replace the lies of porn with the Truths of God. Pray about it. Find an accountability partner. Fight the fight of faith!
  5. Choose to view sexuality, marriage, beauty, and singleness in biblical perspective – Everything is for the glory of God, be freed for the glory of God.

Tim Chester has a chapter on each of these five things in this order. A combination of these creates a strong enduring weapon against porn and masturbation. I found this book quite helpful. It combines Gospel truths with practical steps so that you not only fight porn but also embrace and delight in the truths of God.

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12 marks of humility

In a church staff meeting many years ago it was quite a common thing for the senior pastor to go around and ask us all to name a mark of humility. He felt (rightly) it was good practice for us to rehearse the hallmarks of gospel-wrought humility and have them at the front of our minds. It was always a convicting and spurring exercise. Here they are as best I remember (quotes mainly from Jonathan Fletcher and Michael Ramsey):

  1. Thankfulness replacing grumbling – ‘gratitude is a soil in which pride does not easily grow.’
  2. Confession replacing self-righteousness – keep short accounts with God and others; openness and honesty about personal weakness and sin.
  3. Accepting criticism, correction and humiliation – as an opportunity to grow and an opportunity to put to death the proud flesh; not touchy or defensive.
  4. Unconcerned over status, titles, privilege or access to the ‘inner circle.’
  5. More ready to listen to the other person’s point of view than air our own.
  6. Prayerful – God-dependent; ‘the proud person doesn’t feel the need to pray.’
  7. Never feeling that any task is beneath us.
  8. Sense of humour – ‘we must take the gospel seriously but not ourselves.’
  9. Not seeking credit or praise or being offended when it doesn’t come – willing to serve unseen.
  10. Not comparing self with others – ‘pride is essentially competitive’ (C.S. Lewis); the humble person does not need to pull down others to make himself feel better and when he does think of difficult people he thinks of them with generosity and love.
  11. Un-self-conscious – the truly humble man “will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all” (C.S. Lewis).
  12. Living in reality – pride lives in a dreamworld; humility sees the reality (True Truth) that I am tiny, sinful and pathetic while the LORD is infinite, great and wonderful; humility sees the gospel of Christ and gains strength by this gospel to face reality with joy.
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Prayer is asking

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at his disposition, and listening to his voice in the depth of our hearts.” (attributed to Mother Teresa)

There are at least two big problems with the Mother Teresa definition.

  1. This is not the biblical definition of prayer.
  2. This is not even the biblical definition of guidance.

On the second one see a recent session on guidance. On prayer, the definition flies completely in the face of the biblical evidence which points overwhelmingly towards prayer as an activity of asking God. Look at all of the apostle Paul’s prayers. Look at the illustrations of prayer that Jesus gives in Luke 11:5-13. Asking for bread… whoever asks receives… if your son asks for a fish… give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. For a fuller argument look at the first chapter of Jensen and Payne’s Prayer and the Voice of God.

It is true that prayer should be accompanied with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6) and it is natural if it starts in praise (e.g. Neh. 1:5; Isa. 37:16; Acts 4:24; the collects of the 1662 BCP) and it is appropriate if it is often shot through with confession (e.g. the prayers of Ezra and Nehemiah and Daniel) but the heart, the sine qua non of prayer is asking God. The posture is one of need and desperate dependence and the expression is in meaningful words, by the Spirit, through the Son to the Father.

It is also true that in the process of praying often God works on us and changes our perspective and desires so that we come out of prayer a different person than we went in – with a new perspective and joy and appreciation of this God we are praying to (e.g. some of the Psalms seem to show a development of thought). There is a special grace and peace beyond understanding promised to pray-ers (Phil. 4:7). But fundamentally prayer is not therapy or a means of listening to God’s voice. Prayer is asking.

The direction of prayer

The dynamics of biblical religion are: first God speaks to us and reveals himself and we are to listen; then we speak back to God and he (wonderfully) listens to us. First God blesses his creatures; then his creatures respond in dependent asking. First God makes gracious promises to his people; then his people respond in faith by asking him to do what he has promised.

Prayer direction

There are loads of biblical examples of this – it is really the whole structure of creation and salvation – but one nice example I saw the other day is the incident recorded in 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17. Nathan the prophet brings God’s Word to David – a word of  spectacular blessing and promise. Then David “went in and sat before the Lord” – a beautiful picture of intimacy with the Lord God. And what does he do there? Just sit and listen? No. He has already heard God’s voice through Nathan and now he prays, in humble words, back to God. It is a prayer full of praise and astonishment and gratitude but at it’s heart – the climax it builds up to – is a request that God would “do what you have promised and bless the house of your servant.”

The problem with the Mother Teresa definition of prayer is that it reverses the direction. Prayer is now the down arrow where God speaks to us. This means that we simultaneously lose two precious things:

  1. We lose the joy of truly hearing the voice of God. We turn away from the Law and the Prophets. We shut the Bible and we expect God to speak to us in a way that he has not promised to do. We turn to intuitions and imaginations rather than turning to the clear voice of the Bridegroom speaking from the Spirit-breathed Word (John 3:29; 6:63; 10:16; 20:30-31).
  2. We lose the joy of asking our Father for what we need. Instead of entering that great privilege of sitting before our Heavenly Father who loves us and pouring out our needs and fears and interceding for our brothers and sisters; instead of asking him, as little children, for him to do what is best – instead of that we refuse to talk – almost like an angry and rebellious child who won’t answer his parent and thinks ‘I don’t need anything from you’ or ‘You already know what I need anyway so why should I bother to ask’ or ‘I’m not happy with what you’ve already told me (in the Bible) so I’m waiting for you to tell me what I want to hear.’

Let’s grasp hold of the great joy of listening to the Bible and then speaking to the Father.

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Standing in Christ: Imara 2017

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Last week was our April Ministry Training Week. It was Easter week and the approaching celebration of the sufferings and victorious resurrection of our Lord and Saviour brought a sharpness and shone a bright light on our time together. Fidel opened up the neglected book of Lamentations for us, we walked through the last chapters of Romans and the letter to the Ephesians, chewing on all sorts of meaty issues along the way.

One of the highlights for many of us was the lecture by Dr Caleb Kim on the last day – Good Friday – where he helped us explore the theme of spiritual warfare in Ephesians. He helped us see that spiritual power is really all about knowing the gospel of deliverance and our identity in Christ and then standing firm in Him. He discussed truth encounter and allegiance encounter as neglected but crucial elements of power encounter, and he testified to how he had personally spent hundreds of hours witnessing and interviewing witch doctors and yet was unharmed: “Look at me. I’m still here. I’m ok. I’m not scared. I’m in Christ.” In this way he not only taught us some great rock-solid gospel truths but he also represented in his very presence a living proof of our security in the Christ who has been exalted far above all authorities and powers and every name that is invoked.

He is risen indeed!

Resources:

2nd year programme:

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When it seemed like your defeat

When you prayed beneath the trees,
it was for me, O Lord;
when you cried upon your knees,
how could it be, O Lord?
When in blood and sweat and tears
you dismissed your final fears,
when you faced the soldiers’ spears,
you stood for me, O Lord.

When their triumph looked complete,
it was for me, O Lord,
when it seemed like your defeat,
they could not see, O Lord!
When you faced the mob alone
you were silent as a stone,
and a tree became your throne;
you came for me, O Lord.

When you stumbled up the road,
you walked for me, O Lord,
when you took your deadly load,
that heavy tree, O Lord;
When they lifted you on high,
and they nailed you up to die,
and when darkness filled the sky,
it was for me, O Lord.

When you spoke with kingly power,
it was for me, O Lord,
in that dread and destined hour,
you made me free, O Lord;
earth and heaven heard you shout,
death and hell were put to rout,
for the grave could not hold out;
you are for me, O Lord.

Christopher Idle
© Christopher Idle/Jubilate Hymns