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December Newsletter-Isaiah Christmas

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Isaiah 9:6: ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

Traditionally, that quote from Isaiah begins many Christmas seasons. I placed it in this letter for that and one other reason. There are some Old Testament scriptures, that when I’m confronted by any doubt or challenge, I use as kind of ‘cornerstones’ of Faith. So, to scripturally wish you a Merry Christmas is the first reason for using it, the second reason is that Isaiah, especially Chapters 53, 54, and 55, is one of those cornerstones. If I’m going to believe the story of God and His Messiah that I’m asked to believe (a virgin birth, murdering the leader of our Faith, His Resurrection) our Gospel story is not super logical. And, something else to believe in that story: God, Creator of the cosmos, knows each of us by name. Again, He sends His son by a virgin birth, Messiah is tortured, killed, raised from the grave to live forevermore and forgives you of your sins, all that in one package. On top of that, this God and Messiah are going to bury the Spirit of Christ in you and me. To have faith in that story, I’m going to need to do a bit of ‘research.’ Those particular Isaiah chapters caught my eye years ago while reading a Zola Levitt book. He, a Messianic Jew, did a lot of teachings paralleling the Jewish traditions and the New Testament teachings. Those chapters stuck in my brain because Isaiah, writing 750 years before Messiah, prophesied Jesus’ crucifixion (and the results from that killing). Interestingly, historically, crucifixion was a form of capital punishment invented by Romans, not Israel. (Other Old Testament references and specifics to ‘that day’ occur earlier in Psalm 22.) There are no crosses mentioned in the Old Testament text except this cross.

Isaiah’s name literally means ‘God is Salvation’ and the cross described by Isaiah literally created Salvation. Isaiah played a pretty significant role in the New Testament. He’s quoted more than any other Old Testament prophet. Isaiah’s 53rd Chapter is quoted 85 times alone. He’s referenced in each of the first 3 chapters of Luke’s Gospel. In 1Peter, chapter 53 is quoted 4 times and referenced 4 more times. Isaiah is quoted (or alluded to) in the Gospels (approximately) 21 times, 25 times in Paul’s letters, 6 times in 1 Peter, 5 times in Acts, 4 times in Revelation, and once in Hebrews. It’s estimated that Isaiah is quoted or referenced as many as 137 times in the New Testament. He’s a ‘pay attention to this guy’ prophet.

I also like those 3 chapters because of the contrast within them. Used in the Bible, contrast is an attempt by God to make it easy for us to see the differences in how He encourages us to live (and what He warns will not work for us). Contrast is one of the Creator’s attempts to express His love for us. The first thing God did in creation was create contrast: let there be light, contrasted the darkness. (Light defined is an illumination. He did the same thing in the New Testament by introducing The Light to separate it from darkness and illuminated real Life.) In Genesis, there was a good and evil tree and He contrasted that with Tree of Life; there, He expresses Life and death, Love and Hate. Isaiah 54 and 55 are full of those kinds of contrasts.

There’s plenty of admonishing Israel in those chapters, but the contrast to that is found in Isaiah’s teachings about Jehovah God: His Mercy and Grace. Example: “Oh, barren (Sarah) sing! (Literally, ‘shout in triumph’ for I have Good News.) Isaiah continues: ‘sing because of God’s fruitfulness.’ (54:3) Fear not, because of God’s faithfulness (54:5-10), be comforted because of God’s goodness. (54:11-17) In chapter 56, Isaiah writes, keep justice, and be encouraged. (56:1-3)

There’s more unique encouragement stated in Isaiah 55:5-10. Israel had been unfaithful, had succumbed to idolatry, generally just failed in their relationship with God. But in Isaiah’s words, Isaiah describes a Faithful God in spite of Israel’s failings. There, the covenant marriage had been broken; wrath occurred but the God of Abraham expressed everlasting kindness, restrained wrath, and a covenant of Peace.

Isa 54:5: ‘For thy Maker is your husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the LORD hath called you as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou was refused, says your God. For a small moment have I forsaken you; but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the LORD thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the LORD that has mercy on you.’ (Isa. 54: 5-10)

Chapter 55 begins: ‘…every one that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he that has no money; come, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ (There is a qualifier here, our thirst is necessary!) Jesus confirms many scriptures about living water and thirst, summarizing in Mathew 5:6, ‘blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. In this verse God addresses three significant things: water (Life), drink-(nourishment) and buy-(without money). In the next verse another contrast; Natural man spends money on and work for things that do not satisfy, but we’re to ‘hearken’ to the Wisdom of God and eat that which is good and let your heart delight in gladness. From this same Isaiah chapter we find many of our favorite biblical quotes: ‘My ways are higher than your ways, My thoughts greater than your thoughts.’ ‘My Words goes forth out of My mouth and will not return unto Me void, it will accomplish its purpose.’ ‘You shall go forth with Joy, and be prosperous, the mountains and the hills will break forth before you into singing and the trees will clap their hands.’

I’ve always liked the last quote in chapter 55: ‘Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to Jehovah for a name, for an everlasting sign that you shall not be cut off.’ The references written there is likely about Messiah, Messiah was cut off (crucified). Yet, in spite of Jesus’ murder, he was to increase the number of believers to the point of manifesting his promise to Abraham: ‘I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these lands; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (in spite of Jesus’ death).

Isaiah, for me, is cornerstone scripture by which we can be encouraged. He’s quoted 9 times in Matthew, 6 times in Mark, 6 times in Luke and 4 times in John. Jesus took Isaiah’s words to heart and we can assuredly do so with the same confidence the disciples had in that Isaiah’s words are true. His words encourage: ‘The Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7:14) I think my favorite is the following because it was quoted by Jesus in Luke 4:18. Jesus went to Nazareth, the place of his birth, entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and read this to those present. I think it’s a favorite because it really specifically summarizes Christ’s purpose and the Triune God’s heart attitude for us.

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovering of sight to the blind, To set at liberty them that are bruised, To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.’ (Luke 4:18, 19/Isaiah 61:1, 2)

We can declare the same message 3000 years later with confidence. We can share that same encouragement at this time of year and all year long, in our case through Contemporary Christian Music.

And Yes! Merry Christmas!

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