Evangelical Misuse of “Grace” and “Truth”

Listen to the post (9 minutes, 45 seconds), recorded Sept. 30, 2023

Certain evangelicals contrast grace and truth because they think grace is only mercy and truth is an updated version of the law.
The apostles John and Paul, however, teach that Grace is Jesus living through us, and Truth is the revelation of Jesus living through us.

Life and death distinctions for the follower of Jesus:

  1. The fundamental definition for this post (and for life): the law makes us conscious of sin, while grace makes us conscious of the gift of Jesus’ redemption (forgiveness and deliverance… both being free gifts received by faith)
  2. The Gospel of John clearly and happily differentiates between “law” and “truth”
    • When John writes, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” John makes it explicit: the law shows us we need grace because we always eventually fail to keep the law, and truth reveals to us that Jesus is the giver of grace
  3. Christians, and perhaps especially evangelicals, being nervous about “cheap grace” (i.e. license to sin), redefine truth as the law (i.e. a moral standard)—and this redefinition essentially ends the truth about Jesus
  4. This dilution of truth as merely a moral standard undermines the gospel badly
  5. Truth reveals the complete redemption Jesus gives us through himself, forever freeing us from the law, which, by comparison, is just a shadow of the reality of trusting in Christ
  6. Truth shifts all the emphasis toward the success and sufficiency of Jesus and away from our futile efforts at self-improvement

I do not know how widespread the grace-truth misunderstanding is among evangelicals.[1] I do know two of the largest and, for many good reasons, most popular, evangelical churches in the Denver area have propagated a serious misreading of the Gospel of John’s “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1).

Little is more beautiful to me than that scripture. It replaces the bad news (the law) with the good news (grace and truth).

Before contrasting the bad news with the good, I present an example of the muddled version that some evangelicals circulate. If it doesn’t seem muddled at first, it might appear so when we look at the way the Gospel of John uses the word “truth.”

From the Aug 13, 2023 Red Rocks sermon, we hear the highly articulate Doug Wekenman:

And this is the question we are asking in this series: is it this or is it that?

For instance, when we hear two words like grace and truth, we cannot help but place them on a pendulum: is God more about grace or more about truth? But of course the answer to that question is “yes,” and as Christians we’re called to a double major. In other words, you don’t just get to swing the pendulum to the side of grace, because then you lower the standard of truth. And in the same way, you don’t get to swing the pendulum to the side of truth because then you crush people in the process by refusing to give them the same grace that you’re also going to need.

Similarly, we hear the following from Ben Foote (perhaps my favorite speaker at Flatirons Community Church) in an otherwise engaging sermon on May 1, 2022:

You’re trying to earn, earn, earn a passing grade from Principal Jesus. There are a ton of us, myself included, who we were sold the Principal Jesus in our churches growing up. He is all truth and he is no grace.
So yes, Jesus is grace. But when he is all grace and no truth, you get another cheap, superstore version of Jesus. This one is called “get-out-of-jail-free Jesus.[2]

Both quotations rely on a false dichotomy between grace and truth, a cardinal error. And then they inadvertently suggest believers need their version of truth, which has been reduced to a moral standard (another name for the law). And this conflation is the very thing that outraged the apostle Paul, who said of those who muddle grace and law: “I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!”

From other sermons, I know Doug and Ben understand grace better than their false dichotomy between grace and truth suggests…so let’s put the castration tools away. But language is important, so I must persist in the analysis.

From Doug we hear that grace is balanced by truth. This reduces grace to mercy (i.e. forgiveness) and reduces truth to the law (i.e. rigor). From Ben we hear that truth makes us perform harder, which is exactly what the law does, and if you don’t believe me, read Romans 7, the apostolic statement on the law. Far from making us work harder, the truth sets us free because the truth is the truth of redemption. Ben also refers to getting a Jesus who is all grace but no truth, which is impossible if we are referring to divine grace. As with Doug, the false dichotomy reduces grace to mercy (get out of jail free), and truth to law (don’t abuse mercy).

Beneath the false dichotomy of grace or truth lurks the pernicious and perpetual bad news that humans need to try to be better. This emphasis on human effort is something the apostle Paul never recommends. In addition to distorting the meaning of “truth,” this line of thinking ignores the power of grace to fulfill the moral law in us, and this ignorance has kept Christians both unhappy and powerless for millennia.

The bad news: the law (the moral demands that Paul calls “the strength of sin”) rightly shows humans how they should live, even demands it, but in no way assists. The result? Sin increases. The more the person tries, the more the person relies on his or her self—the very self that was never intended to operate in isolation and independence from the loving provision of God.

Religion, including much of Christianity, groans beneath the joyless weight of the law. To the moral (and sometimes immoral) demands of religion, the person seems to rise to the occasion only to be blindsided by pride, or the person sinks to failure only to be depressed by guilt. Pride in one’s success, of course, leads to judging others. Failure, of course, makes one resolve to try harder next time, putting the person on a treadmill of anxiety, fear, and disappointment.

The good news: grace and truth. They are a pair not a polarity. They are two sides of the same coin, not two coins one must flip, as if to say, “Today do I follow grace or do I follow truth?” They are an and, not a but, a true identity not a false dichotomy.

“Grace” refers to the divine aid to do and be what we in our own strength and moral makeup could never achieve. By grace, we are healed, delivered, adopted, and righteous. Grace is divine life assisting us and can never “lower the standard of truth” as was suggested in the Red Rocks sermon.

“Truth,” as in Jesus’ “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14), is a revelation of Jesus, of his descent into hell and his exaltation at God’s right hand. Truth leads to revelations about our being in Christ, seated in Christ, animated by Christ. It’s the truth that provides the grace.

This truth that is infinitely superior to the law occurs again when Jesus says we must “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4). He is juxtaposing “truth” with “the law”—one law says worship in Jerusalem, another law says worship on the mountain, but truth says worship in the spirit.

Truth, then, is the means to grace and the way to spirit. The more of Jesus’ truth we receive, the more grace we receive. The more of Jesus’ truth we receive, the more our worship is spiritual, not forced and fleshly. And it is faith, as always, that makes these things real to us.

So where do certain evangelicals go wrong? First they define grace as mercy (i.e. forgiveness). Then they worry that people will use forgiveness as a kind of fire insurance that gives them license to sin. To correct that, they redefine truth as… yes, you may have guessed it, the law. The license provided by grace-misunderstood-as-mercy is held in check by truth-redefined-as-law, browbeating us to behave correctly.

It’s amazing how historically the church in general and also in this case in particular resists full-fledged grace, which by definition includes freedom from the law. It’s amazing how the law keeps getting invited to enter through the back door. We simply cannot trust Jesus but instead want to replace him with our efforts and obedience.

Grace understood through the truth in Jesus establishes us in a new life. We are dead to sin (crucified with Christ), dead to the law (crucified with Christ), and alive to righteousness (risen, with Christ, and sitting in him in heavenly places). We are new people—new creations—and are motivated by the love of God working in our hearts, comforted by our Father in heaven. Sin, Paul says, will not be our master, because we are not under law but under grace. Note that Paul does not say the law will keep us from sin. On the contrary, whether we call it the law or truth, if it demands our compliance instead of promising our deliverance, it is the law and it will never give us the life that the grace and truth that comes through Jesus will give us.

How do we know we’ve moved away from the law and into grace and truth? We know it from the road signs that say we are on the right path: peace, love, and joy. I see the signs increasingly. When I used to confuse truth with law, I used to see only my struggling self.


____Footnotes for “Grace and Truth”____

[1] Apparently, one the sources of this evangelical confusion is this book: The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike Balance (2003). When one reads “balance” one is close to hearing that we have two elements that, if not kept in check, will tip the scale unfairly to one side or the other. Thus people think they must balance grace and the law (or truth, the new Evangelical name for the law), while in reality, they must die to the law altogether in order to walk in truth. The good news offers no balance, but instead promises a new identity that leaves behind the fallen, old, natural humanity and its insufficient remedies.

The description of the book, at it appears on amazon.com, reads: “Grace without truth deceives people, and ceases to be grace. Truth without grace crushes people, and ceases to be truth. Alcorn shows the reader how to show the world Jesus — offering grace instead of the world’s apathy and tolerance, offering truth instead of the world’s relativism and deception.” The “crush” of course echoes the sermon from Red Rocks that I cite. And the statement that truth counters “relativism” strongly insists that the author is using grace as a moral standard (i.e. as the law). If this second distinction isn’t clear to a reader, I strongly suggest reading the Book of Romans, particularly chapters 6 and 7.

[2] There’s a bit of irony in Ben’s sermon. He is earnestly railing against the abuse of mercy (which he calls grace) and legalism (which he calls truth), yet earlier in the sermon he makes a strong pitch against being against things (“Because it’s easy to be against something” [28:30]). If he followed his own good advice, he’d stop focusing on the downside of bad-faith Christianity and focus instead on the gospel of grace: we have been crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, and risen with Christ, seated in heavenly places. Perhaps this gospel is not practical enough to be appreciated by the majority of the members—but how will they ever appreciate it if they don’t see it elevated to its proper place?


Publishing Info
First published Sept. 30, 2023. Last revision: June. 10, 2024.

Vaccinated Against the Best News

About Vaccination and the Best News

Vaccination against disease involves getting a small dose of something infectious with the result that one’s immune system gains the upper hand against the infection, eradicating it (smallpox) or nearly so (polio).

Vaccination against the best news involves getting just enough news to underrate and ignore it—or getting such a mangled presentation of the news as to reject it.

The best news is the news about Jesus. In Greek it’s called εὐαγγέλιον (good messenger or gospel), but as a reminder of its significance, I occasionally refer to it as the best news.

In brief, the best news involves the following: Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate around A.D 33, was buried, but rose from the dead and returned to his Father in heaven, sending his Spirit to us on earth, so that by faith we can share his life forever.

Non-Christians can be vaccinated against this gospel—and often are. Surprisingly, Christians, too, can be vaccinated against the very faith they claim—and this is a seriously bad vaccination.

How to Vaccinate an Unbeliever

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. (from Matthew 13:18-19)

In Jesus’ parable, some people reject the gospel out of hand because they do not understand it. Too little understanding vaccinates them against believing—often for the rest of life. It happens this way: as they age, they later encounter the good news in various forms. However, first impressions being lasting ones, they (honestly) think to themselves: “Oh, that. I decided long ago that it wasn’t for me.”

When this happens, only something sensational or catastrophic—or both—will awaken them to the value of the best news. A divorce, an arrest, an addiction, an affliction, the death of a loved one, or the growing realization that one’s life is meaningless—such events may awaken a person’s faith.

A miracle can reverse the course of one’s vaccinated life, leading the person to earnestly look for Jesus. It may consist of experiences such as a physical healing, the exposure to a person of faith whose love and integrity cannot be ignored, or discovering that the words of the Bible suddenly make sense in a way they previously did not.

How to Vaccinate a Believer

The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil. . . . (from Matthew 13:20-23)

A believer becomes vaccinated against the gospel by a lack of perseverance.

Difficulties, persecutions, disappointments, listening uncritically to skeptics and higher criticism, finding oneself in the clutches of a vice—all or any of these can dissuade one from believing. When things don’t always line up—and when does everything line up in this world?—we all tend to capitulate. Either the promises in the gospel don’t come true, or shiny things in the visible world start seeming much more interesting than seeking God. Material goods, social status, handsome and beautiful people, intellectual superiority—these and others may swarm into one’s life, rendering the initial enthusiasm and its attendant beliefs insignificant.

The lynchpin to getting a full vaccination is finally to stop reading or listening to the gospel altogether. Instead, listen to interpretations of it, particularly skeptical ones. Better, listen exclusively to alternate explanations of the meaning of life, including the one that dismisses as unimportant the meaning of life.

Allow me to grant the possibility that one’s previous commitment to the gospel may have been a genuine mistake. Assume that what I call “perseverance” increasingly becomes a gross denial of reality as one matures. This could be the case, and I’ve considered it a possibility in my own life. One element that keeps me believing in spite of this possibility is found within the gospels themselves. Repeatedly, Jesus warns against being bamboozled out of one’s faith. The parable of the sower quoted above is one example. Another comes from Luke 21:34-36:

Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.

The Gospel of Matthew, similarly, has several reminders for believers to be vigilant, to “watch” both that one is not deceived by a false prophet or that one is not spiritually asleep at the return of Jesus.

I urge all of us: don’t miss the the true gospel. This is the one that Paul said comes not only in word but also in power. If Jesus told his disciples they were of little faith, so much more are we prone to mistaking a knowledge of Jesus for faith in him. It behooves us to humble ourselves and ask God to teach us how to live in power as well as in word.

It might take time and the discomfort of the unknown, but once the eyes of our heart are enlightened, then we will be free from being referred to as a people whose lips are near to God but whose hearts are far away.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: May 29, 2024. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

The Past Tense and the Good News from Jesus

Listen to the post (17 minutes)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)

What’s So Important about Tense and Language?

I am neither a Greek scholar nor a grammarian, but I am aware, as my readers are or will soon be, that “tense” matters when it comes to faith in Jesus. By “tense” I mean the way verbs may point to past, present, and future events (I ran yesterday, I run or am running today, and I will run tomorrow).

The intent of this post is to urge us to live in terms of the past—not our checkered and unreliable past, but in terms of the divine past. This past consists of needs God addressed before the beginning of time, and it is fulfilled in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The divine past is one way of accessing faith, which we know looks at things unseen, not at things that are seen.

Before entering into the wonderful realm of the divine past, let’s suspend our modern distinction between physical healing and spiritual salvation. In the Gospel (the revelation of Jesus), the two often overlap.

Three words in Greek are used to refer to both healing and salvation: sozo/σώζω, therapeuo/θεραπεύω, and iaomai/ἰάομαι (Three New Testament Words for Healing). Each of these words is used in the New Testament, and each refers to both physical healing and spiritual salvation. The Gospel (incarnated in Jesus) reveals that the whole person is under the purview of God’s love, with the result that God “will make peace your governor and well-being your ruler” (Isaiah 60:17, NIV). On more than one occasion, Jesus healed and forgave the person, making the person whole physically and admonishing the person to sin no more. Let us learn, then, to think of the divine touch as complete, sufficient for all our needs.

The present and the past are not separate for the eternal God. We live in time, but God does not. Are we addressing another person in time or are we addressing the real God? Similarly the two kinds of healing—physical and spiritual—are never strictly separated in the New Testament. Why do we draw a line where God does not? A genuine experience with either type of healing can encourage an experience with the other. May our minds be open to the God for whom nothing is impossible, the God who resists the proud but who reveals himself to children. Then we will be able to hear what Jesus said to the blind men: “According to your faith let it be done to you…” (Matthew 9:29).

Today’s Prayers Have Been Answered Already by God

Speaking in strictly human terms we can, I think, agree that the past seems stable (if not always desirable), while the future remains uncertain. If the present is difficult (such as with ill health, bad circumstances, or demoralization), we will find more consolation in learning that something for our benefit has been done in the past than we will in finding something may be done for our benefit in the future. It is my wish that the readers of this post will walk away with more confidence that our Father has already foreseen and addressed the majority of their needs in the past. This revelation will result in peace for the believer who will be free to respond with thanksgiving, and not with worry.

Usually, hope looks to the future, while faith accepts in the present something that has already been done or promised in the past. Similarly, promises refer to future events (I will marry you), while facts refer to past accomplishments (I married you). As we will see for past and future, as well as facts and promises, each has its role and each works in its own way to communicate to us the provision of God who lives outside of time. What I overlooked for years and what appears to be overlooked by much of Christianity is that our Father and our Lord Jesus have already accomplished much of what we hope will be done.

Most of us feel comfortable with promises, while we are forgetful of facts. Promises and the future come to us naturally. We grow up with parents or caregivers who make promises, and if this person is both capable of fulfilling the promise and trustworthy, we can hope for its fulfillment. Similarly when the scriptures provide a promise such as “no good thing will he [God] withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11, KJV), we are right at home. We put our hope in the promise for future fulfillment and, assuming the promise applies to us, we will receive its fulfillment so long as we walk uprightly.

But we are less used to hearing a divine fact about a past accomplishment and accepting it as being done because we cannot see or touch the result. For this difficulty there are at least two reasons.

First, the facts to which I’m referring are not obvious to natural observation. These must be revealed in the scriptures and by the Holy Spirit. Who, in fact, would have guessed that the key to faith in the opening quotation (Mark 11:24) instructed us to believe that we have already received whatever we ask for? Many of us have read this verse all our lives and have not caught its meaning.

Its meaning, however, points directly to the one to whom we are praying: the eternal creator who knows everything and stands outside of time. If you are not praying to this being, you are probably praying to someone created in your own image, most likely a “god” who is occasionally forgetful and sometimes indifferent. Listen to Jesus’ words on tense: “Do not be like them [those who keep repeating prayers], for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8, NIV). As we trust that God already knows and cares, we are living in faith.

The second reason we think in terms of God responding in the future instead of the past is that we simply have not been instructed well. We hear “the promises of God” applied too loosely. In Christian sermons the phrase often is not only applied to promises, but also to facts that have been long ago been performed. We are often treading water, lacking confidence in both the divine past and the future, both in God’s will and in our inheritance—all with the result that we flounder in the present.

It’s fine to hope for fulfillment in the future—and some things, such as one’s wedding date or our new bodies, are reserved for the future and are proper objects of hope. Other things—indeed many of our greatest needs—have already been known by God, addressed by God, and accomplished by Jesus. To use a crude analogy, the check is not in the mail, it has been deposited before we knew we needed the money and awaits only for us to draw upon the account.

I want to emphasize that petitions (requests) for present needs are best considered as already provided by God. The past tense is undeniable in the Greek for Mark 11:24.

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (NIV)

Greek: πιστεύετε ὅτι ἐλάβετε καὶ ἔσται
New American Standard: believe that you have received them, and they will be [granted] you.
King James: believe that ye receive [them], and ye

If you are indifferent to what I’m pointing out, please know that the difference is immense. Trusting what God already knows, what God already intends, and what Jesus already accomplished delivers us from a life of fretful worry to a life of peace and joy. We may not instantly experience much, but the knowledge that the matter is in hands greater than ours promotes trust. I’ve found peace and resolution by assuming a gift from God is mine, even when it isn’t visible or sensible.

Once we open our minds to God’s awareness and provision for our present, we see it expressed often in the gospels, as well as in stunning passages such as the entirety of Romans 8. We see it before Jesus heals the man born blind. In the past—before his birth and blindness—he was ordained to be healed, and he was later healed (in his present) (John 9:2-7).

After word got out that Jesus could heal people and deliver them from demons, Jesus was flooded with requests:

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.”

(Matthew 8:16-17)

Before the infirmities and diseases affected people in the present-day Palestine, Jesus had offered himself as a servant to remove the suffering. Jesus was, we learn, “the lamb slain before the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Of course, I don’t know how the prophetic past tense and present time relate—only that what was intended and accomplished is later manifested.

We discover that time is and is not important in Christ: it’s extremely important because everything has to be worked out, experienced, achieved. Jesus had to suffer on a specific day under the authority of Pontius Pilate. Yet the intentions, the obedience, the supernatural power were expressed “since the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3).

Assurance without tangible evidence may be considered the foundation of faith, which, as we learn in Hebrews 11:1 is “the substance [in the present] of things hoped for [in the future], the evidence [in the present] of things not [yet] seen” (KJV]). The litmus test of prayer is whether, when we are done expressing it, we are walking away with assurance that it’s being taken care of or whether we feel it all remains up to us to accomplish.

This assurance comes by being convinced that we know God’s will, that it is good, perfect, and acceptable, that it is for our welfare and not our destruction, that it is full of grace and mercy. We must rid ourselves of institutional disbelief—teachings and practices that reduce God to some kind of sadistic being that prefers to teach through sickness rather than healing, through punishment rather than forgiveness. If the good news is anything, it is good and, yes, at this late date, it is still news.

New People as a Result of the Past Obedience of Jesus

Up to this point, we’ve focused on petitionary prayer. This kind of prayer includes asking for daily needs and physical healing—both incredibly vital for each of us. As secure as our lives may seem and as wonderful as medical science may be, many of us still have unmet needs—hence the need for petitions. We are all living closer to the brink of disaster than we often realize. We are taught to ask for our daily bread. Each of us, like Shakespeare’s Richard II, has these needs (“I live with bread like you, feel want, / Taste grief, need friends”). It’s perfectly good for children to turn to their Heavenly Father for aid.

However, more important than our health or our physical well-being is our identity—who and what we really are. If I’m the wrong person, all the health or provision in the world cannot make me happy. But if I’m a new person, a person adopted by God and endowed with the righteousness of Jesus—well, then, I’m forever fine!

One quotation from Peter (who was quoting Isaiah) provides us with a transition from physical to spiritual healing. It uses a word for healing but with a strong emphasis on sin (moral bankruptcy). And it stresses the past tense: :

“He [Jesus] himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” (I Peter 2:24 NIV)

This scripture quotes Isaiah 53:5 but Peter changes “are healed” to “have been healed.” Some Christians interpret Peter as meaning our physical healing is tied into the physical sufferings of Jesus—far be it for me to discount this. More Christians interpret the statement in Peter as referring to the beginning of Jesus’ redemptive crucifixion. What everyone agrees on is that the healing occurred in the past, which is plain and simple in the Greek:
Greek: τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε
New American Standard: for by His wounds you were healed.
King James: whose stripes ye were healed.

Remembering that the Greek words for healing and salvation are the same, we can celebrate God’s provision for this life and the life to come. What remains unambiguous throughout the New Testament is

  1. Jesus frequently healed all who came to him who were ill,
  2. he often chided his followers for their disbelief,
  3. he valued our eternal welfare over our physical existence (Matthew 18:8-10).

With those points in mind, we proceed to how the Gospel assures us our spiritual welfare has already been addressed by God.

The great scripture that is so often quoted as to become a mere jingle to our ears is “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV). Note that the deed has been done in the past; we need not pray it happens nor can we make it happen: “he gave his one and only son….” Note, also, that we who live in the present can believe in this son: “whoever believes in him….” And, finally, observe that the effect of this past deed will result in future effects for those who believe who “shall…have eternal life.”

Here is a wonderful scripture that highlights the role of tense:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
(Romans 5:6-9)

The “right time” is the historical past, about 33 AD. This is followed by literary (or eternal) present, “God demonstrates his own love.” And, again, “While we were still sinners,” refers to the past in one or two respects. First, the author, Paul the Apostle, was alive and sinning (by his own confession) when Christ died for him. Second, those who were born after the crucifixion (that’s us) discover that, in the present (now) while we may be still sinning, in the past, Christ already died for us. As a result, whether in the first or twenty-first century, “we have now been justified” (past perfect tense—to indicate that one event happened before another in the past).

The important point is that whether God so loved the world that he gave his son or that while we were still sinning Christ died for us—the important point is that the miracle happened in the past and that we benefit from it by believing in the present. Put differently, the only remaining event is our acceptance…all the divine work has been finished.

We often pray as though God is a hopefully caring individual who will assist us if we can just get his attention, and this, frankly, indicates we are already living in disbelief. It’s essential to believe in the present that God both understands and has provided for this moment’s needs. He knows before we ask what we have need of (Matthew 6:7-8, KJV). We do not “remind” God of anything. We remind ourselves that God has already numbered the hairs on our head and knows what we need (Luke 12:6-7, KJV).

Most of what we need now has already been provided in the past. And this is what we find in the New Testament: Our old man was crucified with Christ so the body of sin can, in the present, be made powerless (Romans 6:6, NIV). We count (in the present) ourselves dead to sin (a done deal), with the result that we are alive with God (in the present) (Romans 6:11, NIV). We have already received the spirit of adoption, which causes us to cry out in the present, “Dad, Father” (Romans 8:15, NIV). Finally, we realize that we have been crucified with Christ (in the past), and that it is no longer we who live (spiritually speaking) but Christ who now lives in us (Galatians 2:20, NIV).

More can be said for living by faith in what God has already achieved and accomplished. Not only does it put us in tune with God. It also makes our part in the process perfectly clear. We are recipients. We cannot brag about things God has done for us. We can only be grateful. When we realize that the vast majority of our needs have already been met by Christ—through his sufferings and his resurrection—we have nothing to boast about, to anxiously work for, to fear concerning, or to earn. We are already home:

It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (I Corinthians 1:30-31, NIV)

We are not waiting to gain entrance to God’s presence or to be near Jesus—God has already placed us in Christ. We are not waiting for Jesus to give us wisdom, righteousness, holiness/sanctification, or redemption. We now have them by virtue of already being in Christ. All we need are the eyes to continually see this and the heart to insist on it when the drizzle of this life tells us we are on the outside.


One of my readers said this post reminded him of the following song—something to rejoice over, so I’m embedding it as a bonus track:



Publishing Info
This post was first published on: April 22, 2024 at 15:1001. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

Jesus Redefines Sin, Righteousness and Judgment

Listen to the post (3 minutes)

Let me start by characterizing how people often define sin, righteousness, and judgment:

  • Sin: Anything that is imperfect—and that’s a truckload of activities and attitudes,
  • Righteousness: The opposite of the above, (i.e. everything that’s perfect)—another truckload of things to do and be concerned about, and,
  • Judgment: The consequence of yielding to sin or slacking off on righteousness.

Don’t misunderstand me: those are justifiable definitions, both from Biblical usage and from our daily experiences. Note two things. First, the definitions make us and our failures the centerpiece—we are the agents of sin and righteousness, just as we are the recipients of justice. Second, they are not how Jesus defined the terms. As always, his definitions deserve the final say.

His definitions, though, should confuse us the first time we think about them. If we are not taken aback, we are not awake:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate [i.e. Holy Spirit] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. (John 16:7-11)

Notice the departure from our habitual self-oriented thinking—no moral bookkeeping, finger pointing, and punishment for us. Instead, we see Jesus giving complete attention his identity as the true savior and to the “ruler of the world” as the ultimate foe. Here’s the definitions Jesus provides:

  • Sin: Disbelief in Jesus—the one sin that rules them all,
  • Righteousness: To see Jesus is to see true righteousness, and now that he is no longer visible, only the Spirit can reveal that righteousness to us, and,
  • Judgment: Not against us, but against the “ruler of this world” (i.e. Satan)—who stands condemned.

How should we respond to this? Many ways, no doubt, but the obvious is to admit any disbelief, admire his righteousness (which he offers to give us by faith), and rejoice that the truly sinister force behind our wayward actions stands condemned.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: Feb 12, 2024 at 12:01. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

Jesus: the Gold Standard of God’s Character

Listen to the post (7 minutes, 42 seconds)

If you pay attention to Christian descriptions of God, they are quite varied and, frankly, at times disheartening. You may think, “If that’s what God is like, I’ll pass, please.” Whenever I’m confronted with a description of a violent/cruel/merciless God, I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?” or “Would Jesus do that?” In other words, Jesus is my touchstone for the true nature of his Father, the gold standard for divinity.

This post assumes that Jesus is the clearest representation of God’s character that we will ever have. Jesus himself says in the gospel of John: “I do only those things that I see my Father do” (John 5:19) and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Finally, Hebrews 1:1-3 states that, unlike the prophets, Jesus was the exact representation of God. And it states this in contrast to the prophets: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

Can things be made any more clear? Hardly! No one will argue with that until they get to the corollary.

Here’s the corollary: the portrayal of Jesus in the New Testament often overrides and corrects representations of God, usually in the Old Testament but perhaps occasionally in the New Testament. If you are a fundamentalist, you were likely taught (or commanded) to take every scripture as being equally inspired by God. No progressive revelations of God allowed. So, when I demonstrate that Jesus sets the record straight, you must do acrobatics mentally, textually, and historically to explain how it’s all equally accurate stuff.

One evidence that Jesus came to set the record straight occurs in a string of statements in Matthew 5 (the Sermon on the Mount). We hear him say repeatedly, “You have heard that it was said,” followed by a quote from the Old Testament, and finally followed by “But I say to you….” And there he is, modifying the ancient scripture. This is how he came to “fulfill” “the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17). Yes, the old statements stand, but they stand as pillars to hold up the clearer truth that Jesus brings. There are more ways to murder than by shedding blood, more ways to commit adultery than by sleeping with someone, fewer reasons to get a divorce than Moses allowed. Jesus makes it clear that what he has to say eclipses and surpasses many statements in the Old Testament.

At this, some of you will say that Jesus didn’t override the Old Testament, but only reinterpreted it. That’s not unreasonable.

A more abstract, yet more compelling argument contrasts the way Jesus behaves with the ways God is often reputed to have behaved in the Old Testament (as well as in the present, according to many Christians).

What do we find when we compare how Jesus treats people to the way traditional theology assumes God treats people? Here we find once again that Jesus presents a less violent, more merciful image. Jesus was fine with—and at times apparently enjoyed—spending time with sinners (tax collectors, sex workers, a thief on the nearby cross). True, he had a tough time with preachers and Bible scholars (pharisees and scribes). But none of his treatment of anyone approaches the violence and retribution often attributed to God. Many people allow ancient images of God to override the example Jesus relentlessly gives.

When we read the Old Testament with Jesus as our standard, we no longer need to juggle competing images of God. If the alleged behavior of God is the very thing Jesus came to save us from…then admit the representation is inaccurate. Here are some representations of God that, judged by the morality undergirding both the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ life, are bad business:

People of Babylon, you are sentenced to be destroyed.
    Happy is the person who pays you back
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the person who grabs your babies
    and smashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137:8-9)
This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ (I Samuel 15:2-3)

Many, if not most, Christians will come up with justifications for both these passages. They were necessary for one reason or another. For example, the existing cultures were so rotten that they were going to infect the entire human race. Hypothetically, perhaps. But I cannot imagine Jesus doing any of those things (at all). Either the Father and the Son have a division of labor (I, the Father, destroy life, while you, the Son, repair it), or the ancient scriptures were colored by a projection of human violence onto God. Jesus never mentioned a division of labor, but instead said, “I do only those things that I see my Father do” (John 5:19).

If I’m doing violence to your interpretation of scripture, it may be because many interpretations are unjust by doing violence to the character of God. Such interpretations relegate Jesus and his Father to a long lineage of pagan gods who are vindictive and violent. The violence is on the human side. The cross shows that. I plead with you, brothers and sisters, let Jesus be your guide to how you view God. Do not let your theory of scripture mar the purity of God. Never forget that Jesus is the exact representation of God. He’s the final word and must have the final word. Everything will be better because we’ll have a better image of God!


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: Jan 12, 2024 at 18:36. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change, just as it might change in order to bring current posts to the top (or bottom) of the directory.

A Spiritual Checklist

I was thinking about all the things Jesus told his followers to do. Me? I don’t do many of those things. Am I ok? Are you? Go through this checklist to the key at the bottom and see for yourself.

I’ll start the checkpoints with the less stressful and move up to the harder sayings (at least for me). In the end, it will feel like a trick checklist. But that’s because it is. By design it echos the paradoxical nature of grace: in our weakness God’s strength is made perfect (2 Cor. 12:9).

The Checklist

this is anonymous & none of your choices is saved anywhere. Refresh the page to start over (don’t you wish life were that easy?)

  1. “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:5-6)
  2. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind . . . .” (Luke 10:27)
  3. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
  4. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)
  5. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
  6. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
  7. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42)
  8. “Now if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29)

How Do You Check Out?

Careful, here! If what follows were always accepted by all Christians, we may never have had the Reformation, including the bloody history that led up to and away from it. So you might find yourself disagreeing with what I offer. That’s ok. This checklist is to make us think, not to define us.

Click here for the evaluation key

The key for #1-8 is that most of us will have had to put down “Often, even Almost Often” or “Never or Almost Never” for several if not all of them.

If you have “Always” on most or all of them, I want to interview you!

Rarely do I give away what I am wearing and rarely do I lend to strangers (#7)—we know from the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus meant strangers. Frankly, I’ve never plucked out an eye literally and rarely figuratively (#8).

All of these pronouncements from Jesus are quite important, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are on his checklist (nor that he has one). Nor nor does it mean that they were spoken with the expectation that his listeners would painfully eek them out with all the self-righteousness they could muster. We saw what happened when Peter tried that.

Watchman Nee—among others—assures us that the reason Jesus could raise such a high bar was because he believed so fully in his ability to live his life through us by our faith.

Here are the final two checkpoints:

  1. “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29)
  2. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life . . . .” (John 3:36)

When we get to #9 and #10, faith kicks in. Believe that Jesus already offered his life to you so he could live through you, and you are on the road. You can admit to him that you need help with everything. It’s his ability and not yours that makes the good news good. My wish is that we would all be able to put “Often, even Oftener than Not” for #9 and #10.

If the checklist has any value, it is to remind us to rely on Jesus, to learn to be quiet and trusting, to give thanks in all things, to make our requests known to our Father, to cast all our cares on him, knowing that he cares for us.



Publishing Info
This post was first published on: June 3, 2024. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change, just as it might change in order to bring current posts to the top (or bottom) of the directory.

An Account in the Name of Yourself or of Jesus?

Listen to the post (5 minutes)

Jesus frequently used money as a metaphor—in 13 out of 39 parables according to one source. Among its uses, decisions concerning money represent resentment toward God, forgiveness from moral debt, and divine generosity.

The Money Metaphor Once More

Assume you can have only one account at the Bank of Morality. You can have the account in your name or in the name of Jesus, as a co-signer. You choose how you will be identified.

The account in your name would go something like this: sometimes you’d have a positive balance of moral assets, sometimes negative. When positive, you’d feel pretty good about yourself. You might even look down on others who were in the negative. You would undergo stress at times, fearing you’d somehow compromise. When you did begin to lose your ground, your stress and anxiety would increase considerably. If you lost too much ground, you’d suffer insufferable guilt—and that’s too much guilt to be sure.

The account in Jesus’ name would go something like this: everything you need would have been paid for (note the past tense). His account offers no pride for being righteous, nor guilt for past sins. It is his account, not yours or mine. We are purely beneficiaries. Receiving the gift of a completely new identity is a humbling thing. It is also a peaceful, joyful, loving thing.

Need forgiveness? Done, first from before time in the heart of God and later in history made unforgettable while Jesus was on the cross. Need redemption? Already done. Need better behavior (also called sanctification)? It’s yours! Really? Yes, the Account Holder has already lived a perfect life and will live it again, in you, step by step as you trust him. The entire account is yours by faith. Faith or trust is the only thing you are asked to contribute and even that’s a gift! No room for boasting, plenty of room for gratitude.

One can piece all these things together easily by reading the letters of Paul and others in the New Testament. But one statement from Paul says it all: “But it is due to God that you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). In Jesus’ account there can never be a negative balance. It’s all too good to be true in this world, but it is standard fare for the kingdom of God.

What, then, are the downsides of signing on to the account of Jesus? First downside: it’s invisible. Being invisible, it takes faith, something many of us discount in favor of our feelings. One will never have faith without listening to the revealed words of God and allowing the Spirit of God to reveal their meaning. This happens to me over time, not over night. Second downside: there’s no boasting, no pride. Any sense of one’s importance must be replaced by one’s sense of being loved. No more judging others, no more taking credit for one’s successes—everything shifts to relying on Jesus’ accomplishment. When, on the cross, he said, “It is finished”—he meant it in the broadest sense. The redemption of humanity was finished.

The upside of the second downside is that when pride and boasting are ruled out, guilt and fear also disappear. One is defined no longer by one’s track record but by the success Jesus possesses as a redeemer.

Which will it be, this day and every day? Are we so significant that we somehow are too bad or too weak for Jesus to save? Must we open an independent account just in case he fails or in case he needs assistance?

God forbid.

God bids us to be redeemed not redeemers. Let’s trade in our worry and anxiety for gratitude and thanksgiving. Close that independent account, you, fellow beneficiary of the life of Jesus!


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: Dec 6, 2023 at 16:48. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change, just as it might change in order to bring current posts to the top (or bottom) of the directory.

Prayer is Not Begging and is More than Hoping

Listen to the old version of this post (10 minutes, 16 seconds)

Sitting on my couch, I looked at the name of a woman written on a piece of paper. We will call her Beautiful. It was a reminder to pray for her healing because her cancer had returned. I thought of all the people who were praying for Beautiful. Probably a hundred or so.

Beautiful died about a year later. And so I revise this post, soberly.

When I re-read the gospels, I never see Jesus begging, nor, when it comes to healing, hoping. When he announces the death of Lazarus to his disciples, he says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up” (John 11:11). He does not, for example, say to the disciples, “and I hope to wake him up.” Nor when he is at the grave site does he say, “Father, I’d really like it if you raise Lazarus from the dead.” No, what does he say? “Lazarus, come forth.” And it happens.

Now I know this is a sensitive subject because when we pray for a healing (or a resurrection, which I have done with no success), the disappointment of someone or ourselves remaining sick is compounded by the disappointment of prayer or our faith being inauthentic. When that happens, we might doubt God’s existence, his character, or the accuracy of the New Testament. In the end of this scenario, we are left with a sickness (or death) and an imaginary God.

At that point, we often backpedal, and there are plenty of Christians and agnostics to help us do so. Because of my low opinion of this kind of help, I’ll deliver some of their consolation in a rambling sentence.

Healing miracles are rare because medical science has rendered them unnecessary, and you can’t expect to pray like Jesus, especially since all those miracles were to introduce the world to the gospel, not to be part of it, I mean, they symbolized our spiritual healing and nothing more, so we should be satisfied with inner healing and leave the rest up to God who, after all, would heal if he wanted to … look at the apostle Paul whose prayer for healing wasn’t answered and who concluded that in his weakness God’s strength was made perfect … who do we think we are to expect any more than Paul?

If you’ve been exposed to intelligent people of faith—or have read the New Testament with an eye on how faith and prayer are expressed—you’ll know the entire ramble is not in the scriptures.

Here are the counterpoints.

  • Medical science is in its adolescence; many diseases including cancer are often fatal, the blind to not have their sight restored, those with withered limbs do not, in a moment, regain a fully functional limb, and deafness is only partially addressed medically
  • Jesus never suggested that he was the only one with God’s ear; in fact he said, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12)
  • The miracles did introduce Jesus and his disciples to their world with a bang, yes, but nothing in the New Testament suggests the miracles were destined to stop at any point in time; the Book of Acts was apparently written 50 or so years after Jesus left the earth, and nothing in it suggests that the divine show of healing had ended or would end
  • It’s always suspicious when any miracle of God—any show of the supernatural in Christianity—is watered down to something humans can do, something that no longer requires a miracle; thus, saying “spiritual healing is all that Jesus was trying to point us to,” or saying “inner healing is more important than physical healing” is, what shall I say, suspicious? so suspicious that the people who say such things would do better to publish self help books
  • My ire is raised by the idea that God would heal if he wanted to: who in this world would say the vast amount of sickness, let alone violence, is what God wants?
  • Finally, for the low hanging fruit, Paul’s unanswered prayer: if you read the passage in II Corinthians 12, where Paul asks three times for God to remove the thorn from his flesh, you see that in the previous paragraphs, he listed the persecutions he endured (much more frequently than his fellow apostles), that it makes sense that persecution was the messenger from Satan that humbled him since he had received so great a revelation of Christ…besides, in light of those revelations, even if Paul were talking about his alleged bad eyesight, how many sick people have ever needed humbling because of the greatness of the revelation they had received?

Back to my couch and to Beautiful. She had many (many) people praying for her. She did live a year longer, but left the world too soon. If the number of people praying worked like addition, the healing power would be great, but faith is not like arithmetic. One plus God is a majority. One person with faith can be in a crowd and God will look over the crowd to find that person (2 Chronicles 16:9a). When Jesus went to raise the little girl from the dead, he allowed only three disciples the the girl’s parents into the room…and he healed her.

I have no idea what kind of prayers were spoken on behalf of Beautiful. I do know the kind of prayer I received when I was about to be diagnosed for cancer. Going up to “the prayer team” after a lively service at a large Evangelical church, I explained my concerns to the mature couple who were appointed to pray for me. As soon as I expressed my desire for healing, the man said, “Well, we all have to die sometime.” And that was followed by his wife telling me about a motorcycle accident that injured her in a way she has never recovered from.

As soon as I could get away from their aura of disbelief, I headed to the parking lot and called my sister in another state in order to shake off the bad vibes from the prayer team. My sister speaks words of faith—and did that night. My healing came through successful surgery (not what I had hoped for, but a heap better than having to die sometime soon).

This post focuses on what prayer is not. When I write a sequel, by God’s grace, it will express, at least in part, what Jesus-inspired prayer is. I surmise it will involve the classic verse from Mark: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Until then, be well, speak well, pray from the heart and believe God knows what you need before you mention it.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: July 30, 2022 at 22:46. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change, just as it might change in order to bring current posts to the top (or bottom) of the directory.

Jesus is Neither Yours nor Mine

Listen to the post (5 minutes, 22 seconds)

Anyone who has given Jesus more than a moment’s thought has a personal version of Jesus in his or her mind.

To some, he’s a literal king, to some an ideology (socialist, Marxist, fascist, you name it), to some an avenger who came as a lamb the first time but will return as an angry lion the next. He may be a friend, and some tame him to “my buddy,” the offspring of “the man upstairs.” At the other extreme, he is in his glorified state beyond description, beyond language—one before whom a person can only be filled with awe and silence (a safer extreme). In my early faith, he was a supernatural counter-culture rebel who would both give meaning to my life and remove meaning from the establishment, including the versions of him that churches had fixed beneath their stained glass and steeples.

The sneakiest version is the one assumed by the fundamentalist to be perfectly accurate and adequate. By fundamentalist, I refer to a person who equates literalism with truth and thinks he or she has an unmediated, direct knowledge of the real Jesus, a version infallible and unquestionable. Once one is sure one is right, there’s no need to look further. It’s hard to discuss matters with this person. For years I had a hard time discussing matters with myself.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with constructing a version of Jesus in our minds. It is unavoidable, being the way the human mind works. We are always and only constructing a knowledge of others from a mixture of facts, fallacies, reasoning, feelings, experiences, and imagery. Because the process is both universal and fallible, most good novels depict a main character as being disabused of assumptions about one’s world and its population. If it is hard to admit we are wrong about others, it’s often harder to admit we are wrong about ourselves. As a friend of mine quotes Lord Jim: “it is my belief no man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape from the grim shadow of self-knowledge.”

Misconstructions of others and ourselves can be comical, irritating, inconvenient, or fatal (think of Othello). Misconstruction of Jesus, or, rather, stubborn adherence to our misconstruction, may be disastrous.

How disastrous? The Sermon on the Mount provides an extreme example. It is extreme because the image of Jesus is held by someone who seems to know better, someone whose experience comes replete with signs and wonders:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

We are not told how the evildoers perceived Jesus. They certainly had whatever it takes to prophesy, drive out demons, and perform miracles. On on hand, these are the will of Jesus’ Father, clearly. So something else went awry.

Perhaps the evildoers were living double lives, doing the right thing by day and then indulging in pride or carnality by night. In that case, they saw Jesus as someone impressed by the supernatural without consideration of character. Perhaps they simply followed supernatural fireworks and were devoid of love (as in St. Paul’s, if I have not love, I am nothing). In that case, they saw Jesus as a divine stuntman, not understanding in the least his Father’s motivation—and his cooperation—behind his coming to earth.

If my life has meant anything down these lines, it has meant year after year of having assumptions and presumptions pressed out of me, reducing me to the person I’ve always been: partial, clumsy, pretentious, and needy. In turn, more than ever, I see Jesus has more capable, wise, enigmatic, and deserving of my attention than ever. Let me add trustworthy, quite in contrast to myself.

He is the head of body (the real church), the first-born from the dead, the visible image of the invisible God, the source of all mercy, truth, and grace, the one who is no person’s fool and yet seems always willing to lower himself to those who find themselves lowly.


Publishing Info
This post was first published on: Apr 30, 2023 at 15:56. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.

The Book of Isaiah: a Fifth Gospel!

Click here for a detailed table of contents

Introducing this Meditation on Isaiah

Click here for thoughts on how to read this long post

How to Read this (lengthy) Meditation

When I began this as a personal journal, I started with Isaiah 30. After that, I skipped backward and forward in the book of Isaiah. This meditation on Isaiah is not written with a beginning, middle, and end. It instead says something like, “Oh, not only back there in chapter 30, but here in chapter 60 is similar good news, worded a bit differently, another facet on the diamond.”

Each facet stands on its own and can be read in any sequence. If you end up liking your first dip, you may want to skip around. I did.

Click here for what drew me to Isaiah 30

The Bottom Line on Healing and Deliverance

If you want the healing and deliverance that all the gospels offer, you must relax, let go of your efforts, and trust:

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength" 
                                        (Isaiah 30)

No human effort is mentioned in these lines:

  • repentance simply means to think differently; we do that all the time, only in this case we’ve been thinking a wrong way and are told to think a right way
  • rest is easier the farther you’ve fallen, the more worn out you are
  • quietness, again, comes easiest to those who have run out of energy or answers
  • trust requires something of someone else, not of ourselves…having a hard time trusting? we all do, but most often because were are trying to trust an unreliable person or have not exhausted our self confidence

Trust is the way we lean on someone else’s activity. As Paul the apostle said, “Sin [i.e. missing a target] will no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6). You work for the law, you trust for grace. The law exacts more than you can afford, grace gives more than you deserve.

Much can be said for the difference between following rules and trusting for grace. In Isaiah both modes are presented in bulk. Only those that urge us to receive grace are included in this meditation. Many of us—myself included—have a conscience that readily supplies us with laws and rules to follow, as well as with ensuing guilt. The good news is good because it frees us from that, and it is news because, on top of Jesus’ birth being news, any reminder of grace comes to our old minds as news.

Click here for a note on the violence of God, if that bothers you

A Note on the Violence of God in Isaiah

If one assumes scriptures (the “Bible”) are inspired by God, the question arises: does every statement in the scriptures provide an equally accurate description of the nature and character of God? While religious fundamentalists are taught to say “yes,” that approach is fraught with problems (both moral and intellectual).

My gold standard for inspiration is that the closer a description of God corresponds to the life and character of Jesus as described in the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the more clearly inspired it is. If you would like a scripture to support this view, consider the first four (glorious) verses of the Book of Hebrews.

God reveals himself as accurately as his mouthpieces allow. It was a big achievement to get humans to move from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, let alone to imagine a son of God who would would not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Consequently, there are passages that I skip over when quoting Isaiah, either because they don’t meet the gold standard or because they are off the theme of healing and deliverance.

Click here to understand how this post is formatted

Briefly on the Formatting of this Post

This post is formatted carefully to differentiate between Isaiah’s poetry and prose, as well as between my comments and my summaries of passages I’ve skipped over.

Parts of Isaiah are prose and parts are verse. Prose quotes are black typeface on white background in monospace typeface, left margin justified (as is with this sentence).

Verse is also black on white, 
in monospace typeface,
    but with indentations (as is this sentence)
    —which on a small mobile device will 
    look better in a landscape orientation.
My comments are in golden boxes (inspired by golden passages in Isaiah).
Additional comments on off-topic passages occur in this note box.

When I omit passages in Isaiah, I represent the skipped part with “<snip>” (omitted passages are redundant or are irrelevant to the focus on healing and deliverance).
Although I do use chapter numbers to prevent this post from becoming one giant blob of inspired text, I do not use verse numbers (which, like chapter numbers, artificially break up the text).

Why the Book of Isaiah Means so Much to Me

The Egyptians, Assyrians, or Babylonians are not my enemy. And I am not an Israelite. But, like the Israelites, I drift away from God, allowing foreign desires and modern idols to replace God’s role in my life, with the consequent bondage, a slavery to behavior that I detest. Isaiah is filled with promises of and instructions for deliverance that I insist apply to me as they did to the original audience (~800 BC). If I sound old-fashioned or stuck in the past, so be it. I believe in the same God as Abraham (who showed up long before Isaiah) believed: “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not” (Romans 4).

Not only promises of deliverance, but promises of healing abound in Isaiah. The two cannot be fully separated in life, so that is fitting. (In Greek, the word for “save” is also used for “healing”: sozo.) Sickness easily demoralizes a person, and addiction easily leads to bad health. In John 5, Jesus tells the paralyzed man, whom he healed, to “sin no more, lest a greater ill befall you.”

Isaiah speaks to me allegorically. It promises deliverance and healing for me and my peers. When I began this meditation, I was drinking beer to offset depression (didn’t work). Part of the depression arose from recently diagnosed blood clots, and part from a friend slowly dying. Not just myself, but anyone with any number of hangups, nightmares, or sicknesses could benefit from the good news of Isaiah. For this reason, some have called Isaiah the fifth gospel.[1]

Isaiah Speaks

What follows are representative passages in Isaiah that speak most clearly to me, and by “speak,” I mean they fill me with hope, engaging my better self. While the proclamations of God’s power are important (otherwise God would be impotent), the revelations of God’s kindness and care count most in the following.

Isaiah 1

<snip>Themes that are repeated often in Isaiah: God’s people have forgotten their maker, they are suffering physically, socially, and financially as a result; they are, in short, hurting themselves terribly. The chapter doesn’t bear fully on the theme of deliverance and healing, but its anti-sacrificial tenor is worth relegating to a footnote.</snip>[Sacrifice]

Isaiah 2

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
    so that we may walk in his paths.”
He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.
So far, this hasn’t happened internationally—what country has done it? But it can happen in myself today and every day, that I can ask God to adjudicate between my conflicting desires. Peace comes not by fighting but by quietness and trust, plowing and pruning, cultivating and nurturing life-giving desires.

Isaiah 3

<snip>Judgment against the people followed by a divine stand for the poor that is worth including in the notes.</snip>[The Poor]

Isaiah 4 ∅

<snip>This short chapter continues the judgment from the previous chapter.</snip>

Isaiah 5

<snip>This chapter receives attention because it is so interesting, linking greed to the Gospel of Matthew and self-destruction to our own behavior. It begins with a parable of a vineyard that bears little fruit. The theme of a vineyard reoccurs in Jesus’ vineyard parables in Matthew 21. In the first of Jesus’ parable, one of two sons fails to work in the father’s vineyard; in the second parable, the tenants of the vineyard attempt to steal the vineyard from its owner. It would be the second parable that bears a likeness to this one in Isaiah: the owner of the vineyard looks for justice and cannot find it, losing his own son in the process.</snip>
The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.
Woe to you who add house to house
    and join field to field
till no space is left
    and you live alone in the land.
God “looked for justice” but found the opposite. If we are not aiding the poor or the weak, we are oppressing them either through neglect or some kind of violence. In the parable, the vineyard was well built but, apparently, the rich kept building larger domiciles for themselves “till no space is left”—causing a poor yield of grapes, implying that both the grapes and the poor were driven out of the land.

After God has destroyed the vineyard and the stifling urban development, “Then sheep will graze as in their own pasture; lambs will feed among the ruins of the rich.” Here, as with every passage that attributes destruction to the Lord, the destruction is self-destruction. Sin is inaccuracy (“missing the target” in Greek) and heaps upon itself its own misery.


Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
    and clever in their own sight.
Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine
    and champions at mixing drinks,
who acquit the guilty for a bribe,
    but deny justice to the innocent.
The list of woes is toward those who get it wrong (miss the target)…who reverse values, who trust in themselves, who drink at the expense of the oppressed. Whenever we go down such a path, we will experience the wrath of God, which I generally take as the absence of God—not that God can ever be absent but that we can lose all sight and sound of him as a result of our self-delusions.


Interpreting “wrath” as the absence of God prevents us from seeing God as alternately healing and destructive. It also prevents us from seeing Jesus as the kinder person of the Trinity. What it means is that our species not only is violent at times but is capable of vanquishing God from human affairs—and that, my friends, is the wrath of God.

Isaiah 6

<snip>Classic passage: the calling of Isaiah.</snip>
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
    be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
    make their ears dull
    and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
This sounds as if God refuses to offer grace (“If I allowed them to understand, they would be fine…”). Some people interpret it as implying God’s frustration that his good news is rejected no matter how clearly it is delivered.The passage is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 13 and Paul in Acts 28, both times suggesting a deep frustration with the hardness of the listeners’ hearts. I like to tie this in with Isaiah 29 (“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”). Jesus quotes it in Matthew 15. Together the scriptures (Isaiah 6 & 29) suggest that it takes more than hearing and speaking to know God. It takes heart: desperation, humility, love, and trust.


Isaiah 7

<snip>Opening sets the stage for a battle between Judah and Israel.</snip>

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah is urging King Ahaz to trust the Lord to protect Judah from Israel, and then, like a meteor, the reference to a child whose name is Immanuel (which does mean “God with us”) flashes into the text, soon to be absorbed back into the discussion of ancient military history.The word translated “virgin” is hotly debated and need not mean virgin&em;although in the birth of Jesus it certainly applied to a virgin as Matthew and Luke make clear.


Isaiah 8


This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:
“Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.
While not all conspiracy theories are false, all false conspiracies are only theories. Currently, many false conspiracies are being circulated, especially among evangelicals and consevative Christians for a number of reasons. Taking this passage to heart, we can turn our attention away from the conspiracy theories to the good news, here and now.
<snip>Including an interesting caution against consulting mediums and spiritists who first curse God and then despair when they look to the earth.</snip>

Isaiah 9

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.
The messianic prophesy glances back in time (Zebulun, Naphtali, Midian’s defeat), to look forward hundreds of years to what I accept as the fulfillment of the prophesy: “Leaving Nazareth, [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah…” (Matthew 4).


Isaiah 10 ∅

<snip>The good news here is of this type: I will destroy those whom I allowed to destroy you. </snip>

Isaiah 11

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
Whatever else this passage might describe, it clearly fits Jesus, descendent of Jesse and the advocate of the needy and poor of whom he said that they shall inherit the earth. Jesus saw with his spirit and heard what his father told him.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.
After (and only after) striking the earth with the rod of his mouth—something that has not happened yet—nature herself shall be corrected. Everything will be informed and enlightened by the knowledge of the Lord. Behold, a new heaven and a new earth will appear.
<snip>Lots of local references follow, including Assyria, Egypt, Cush, Elam, Babylonia, Hamath, and Ephraim.</snip>

Isaiah 12


The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.”
With joy you will draw water
    from the wells of salvation.
Joy will remain a guidepost that we are on the right path, whether or not our circumstances are happy. The greater circumstance (i.e. “thing encircling us”) is the God of love. The water and the wells anticipate Jesus’ promise of rivers of living water welling up within believers.

Isaiah 13 ∅


Isaiah 14


They will make captives of their captors
    and rule over their oppressors.
<snip>Deliverance may not mean eliminating the enemy, whether an a addiction or a deep sorrow; it means no longer taking orders from the enemy and perhaps getting some good out of the enemy. As illustrated in The Great Divorce, the lizard of lust that was destroying the man’s life was conquered and became a stallion of strength and virility upon which he could ride.</snip>


What follows in the chapter is a phantasmagoric description of the newly dead oppressors meeting kings and other fallen leaders in the underworld, being greeted with hostility and mockery (“You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us”). More importantly, the next the passage refers to the morning star falling from heaven, a locus classicus for the Christian doctrine that satan was an angel who was proud (“I will make myself like the Most High”) and so was cast out of heaven (“But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit”). Later this defeated being is referred to as a man (“Is this the man who shook the earth”). Whether an earthly ruler, a fallen angel, a disease, or a moral weakness, the end of the thing is utter defeat: “you are cast out of your tomb”—the last shred of dignity gone.

Isaiah 15-24 ∅

Isaiah 25

You have been a refuge for the poor,
    a refuge for the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the storm
    and a shade from the heat.


On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
    the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.
In that day they will say,
“Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

Isaiah 26


You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.


Lord, you establish peace for us;
    all that we have accomplished you have done for us.
Lord our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us,
    but your name alone do we honor.
They are now dead, they live no more;
    their spirits do not rise.
The mind is at peace (one sort of oppression removed) and “other lords” are dead (political oppression removed). The mind can be at peace today. The lords might take centuries.
<snip>Giving birth to wind signifies real human failure.</snip>
But your dead will live, Lord;
    their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
    wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
    the earth will give birth to her dead.
We end with the resurrection of the dead… long after the mind is at peace and the lords are deposed, a new world begins.


Isaiah 27 ∅

Isaiah 28

<snip>Cutting out a diatribe against priests and prophets who “stagger from beer / and are befuddled with wine,” and who teach as if teaching little children. The Hebrew imitates the cadence and repetition of such lessons:
So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
  Do this, do that,
  a rule for this, a rule for that;
  a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
  they will be injured and snared and captured.</snip>
“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone,
    a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it
    will never be stricken with panic.
I will make justice the measuring line
    and righteousness the plumb line;
Am I stricken with panic? Then I am not relying on Jesus, who refers to himself as the cornerstone (Matthew 21:42).


Isaiah 29

<snip>Strange and interesting: ‘For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.”'</snip>
“These people come near to me with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
    is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
I’m always in danger of this. Jesus quotes it in Matthew 15. See my golden note in Isaiah 6 for how it takes more than hearing and speaking to know God.
<snip>Echoed by Paul in 1 Corinthians is “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”</snip>
In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
    and out of gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind will see.
Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord;
    the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 30


For these are rebellious people, deceitful children,
    children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction.
They say to the seers,
    “See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
    “Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
    prophesy illusions.
Leave this way,
    get off this path,
and stop confronting us
    with the Holy One of Israel!”
The way of the flesh. False prophets, delusions, and addictions alike “Tell us pleasant things” and “prophesy illusions”: Just one more of this or that/him or her and you will be that much happier…

Therefore this is what the Holy One of Israel says:

“Because you have rejected this message,
    relied on oppression
    and depended on deceit,
this sin will become for you
    like a high wall, cracked and bulging,
    that collapses suddenly, in an instant.
It will break in pieces like pottery,
    shattered so mercilessly
that among its pieces not a fragment will be found
    for taking coals from a hearth
    or scooping water out of a cistern.”
When we rely on shortcuts, they cut us short; when we trust in pleasure, it pains us; when we turn to lust, it burns us. The very thing one chooses for an easy escape becomes the means of hard punishment. Period.

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
These are the golden verses!
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
    Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
    Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
    at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
    you will all flee away,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
    like a banner on a hill.”
Again, whatever the fleshly solution, whether fleeing on a horse or acting to escape by sheer willpower…the solution creates a new problem, so that one ends up with two problems instead of one. The first problem is the enemy. The second problem is engaging with the enemy instead of engaging with our deliverer. If we fight independently, we fight alone.
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
    therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
    Blessed are all who wait for him!
Grace, compassion, fighting for the victim—it’s all here if one will be quiet and trusting.

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

These verses smack of redemption and the presence of our teacher, the Holy Spirit, who really will guide us, who speaks in the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd, whose voice we know and follow. This is, as Watchman Nee said, the normal Christian life, the Christ-in-us life (and not the “average” Christian life).

Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

We can serve only one master and when we see what our idols do for us, we will cast them down and away. Anything less than Christ that I’ve given authority to, whether a rule, a beverage, or a person—anything less is just a modern idol, more-less. More, because it gains my trust and devotion. Less, because we live in an atheistic age, with the result that while we may doubt God’s presence, we likewise doubt the existence of little gods inhabiting various objects. What were idols to the Israelites are diversions to us. They anesthetize our quiet desperation (to use Thoreau’s handy phrase).

In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill. The moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven full days, when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted [allowed].

The enemy/idol/addiction is slaughtered and the siege-towers or strongholds of the enemy fall. Things lighten up. As the moon shines brightly and the sun even brighter, healing comes.


And you will sing
    as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;
your hearts will rejoice
    as when people playing pipes go up
to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the Rock of Israel.
The key word is “as”—a person set free does not need a holy festival, pipes, or even a mountain, for these are all symbols of the reality keeping the person free.


Isaiah 31

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.


But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God;
    their horses are flesh and not spirit.
Another opposition of our fleshly efforts versus the spirit of the Holy One of Israel.


“Assyria will fall by no human sword;
    a sword, not of mortals, will devour them.


Their stronghold will fall because of terror;
    at the sight of the battle standard their commanders will panic,”
declares the Lord—
When we allow God to fight the battle (which Jesus won), the odds are reversed, and the enemy, whatever it is, can only tremble in response, for we are more than conquerors…all this if we adhere to repentance (changing our thinking) and resting, being quiet and trusting.
Watchman Nee shared this analogy:

The object of temptation is always to get us to do something. During the first three months of the Japanese war in China we lost a great many tanks and so were unable to deal with the Japanese tanks, until the following scheme was devised. A single shot would be fired at a Japanese tank by one of our snipers in ambush. After a considerable lapse of time the first shot would be followed by a second; then, after a further silence, by another shot; until the tank driver, eager to locate the source of the disturbance, would pop his head out to look around. The next shot, carefully aimed, would put an end to him.

As long as he remained under cover he was perfectly safe. The whole scheme was devised to bring him out into the open. In the same way, Satan’s temptations are not primarily to make us do something particularly sinful, but merely to cause us to act in our own energy; and as soon as we step out of our hiding-place to do something on that basis, he has gained the victory over us. If we do not move, if we do not come out of the cover of Christ into the realm of the flesh, then he cannot get us. (from The Normal Christian Life)

Isaiah 32


Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
    and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The fearful heart will know and understand,
    and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
Healing miracles—physical and emotional—follow quietness and trust.


But the noble make noble plans,
    and by noble deeds they stand.
I like the accidental internal rhyme in English (“plans”-“stand”) that reinforces the Hebrew parallelism. The liberated can act and plan, with generosity.


The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
    its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
People can be “complacent” and “secure” in their feelings (referred to in omitted verses), but feelings alone cannot be trusted. When the Lord is trusted with noble plans and noble deeds, then real “peace,” “quietness,” and “confidence” come. What always surprises me in Isaiah is the emphasis on quietness and trust, quite the contrast to my reactive stressful efforts.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
    in secure homes,
    in undisturbed places of rest.
Rest, rest, rest. Come to me all you who labor, and I will give you ….


Isaiah 33


Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
    and even the lame will carry off plunder.
No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill”;
    and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.
Even the wounded and weakest of us will “carry off plunder” (healing, deliverance, and happiness). No one will say “I am ill”! All this was declared 800 years before the Jesus came, worked miracles, and sent the Holy Spirit to continue his work. So much more shall we carry off plunder from the enemy and declare our health!

Isaiah 34


Things don’t look good for Edom—wildlife takes over and thrives.

Isaiah 35


Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.


And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
I see no reason to think the blind, deaf, lame and mute are figurative, just as I see no reason to discourage those who are emotionally crippled from holding to this promise. The Way of Holiness is also the Way of Wholeness. Popular opinion nonwithstanding, there’s no account of a person who seeks healing from Jesus being refused. Chastised for unbelief, yes. Refused, no. Jesus “drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick” (Matthew 8:16).


They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Currently, this meditation on Isaiah quotes 20 passages that reference joy. In my life, joy is in scarce supply. It’s absence is telling. It tells me I’ve not entered into the full salvation my God has willed me.

Isaiah 36-39

The story of Hezekiah is interesting, glorious, and perplexing. To keep my focus, I’m passing on these worthy chapters. But I cannot ignore Hezekiah’s healing, which among other things reminds us that when we are given a terminal diagnosis, that may be a test and may be postponed by over a decade:

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”

Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.


Isaiah 40


He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.
Close to his heart! Know it. Just as parents need to know He will gently lead them as they raise children. This in turn will make them more gentle with their children.


Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who [wait on] the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
The Hebrew phrase means to wait with expectation. Expect to run in the body. Expect to run into the presence of Jesus as you wait in faith.

Isaiah 41


All who rage against you
    will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
    will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
    you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
    will be as nothing at all.
Sin and sickness rage against us. We will no longer be disgraced; rather they will be disgraced. In Romans 8, Paul starts out saying there’s no condemnation for those in Christ. Not only that, but he then says “Christ condemned sin in the flesh.” Who’s the prisoner now?
I love that we will look for our enemies and not be able to find them, because some days that’s all I see: depression, sickness, emptiness. I’ve been there in the past, looking for enemies and not finding them (“how could I have ever yielded to addiction?” I have puzzled to myself).
For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.
Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob,
    little Israel, do not fear,
for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
He is here to help, figured as a parent holding his child’s hand. The seemingly disparaging “worm” was, then, an expression of helplessness. We feel helpless so often. Our first instinct is denial. May our better instinct be to respond to helplessness with a cry for help. Instead of simply seeking to be stronger, seek to be stronger faith. We are, after all, created to be reliant. There is no wholeness otherwise. There is only the illusion of wholeness, an illusion Jesus never embraced. “I do nothing of my own accord.”
See, I will make you into a threshing sledge,
    new and sharp, with many teeth.
You will thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and reduce the hills to chaff.
You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up,
    and a gale will blow them away.
But you will rejoice in the Lord
    and glory in the Holy One of Israel.
Instead of being threshed or thrashed by sin and sickness, we become threshing machines. Christ in us annihilates addictions, compulsions, laziness, doubt, and isolation.
The poor and needy search for water,
    but there is none;
    their tongues are parched with thirst.
But I the Lord will answer them;
    I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.
I will make rivers flow on barren heights,
    and springs within the valleys.
I will turn the desert into pools of water,
    and the parched ground into springs.
I will put in the desert
    the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.
I will set junipers in the wasteland,
    the fir and the cypress together,
so that people may see and know,
    may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    that the Holy One of Israel has created it.
Anticipating Jesus’ declaration, this passage announces abundant life. We are thirsty and cannot find water; then come “rivers,” “springs,” “pools of water”—plus more: trees for shade and also for food, so much that we know with certainty that the Lord “has done this.”


Isaiah 42

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
    or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
    In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
Jesus is prophesied here, or at least that’s how Matthew and I take it. Matthew quotes the passage: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”[2]
So comforting: not only will he bring forth justice, but he will do it gently to the weak and weary. Those who struggle (bruised or bent reeds, smoldering candles) will be protected by him and will not be crushed by the wheels of justice.
This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
    who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
    who gives breath to its people,
    and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
    I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people
    and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
    to free captives from prison
    and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not yield my glory to another
    or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
    and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
    I announce them to you.”
The prophet continues to reveal what God (“the Lord”) says about his servant (Jesus). The relationship is intimate and comforting (hold your hand), the mission is global (light for the Gentiles), the ministry is liberating (healing the blind, freeing the prisoners), and is unprecedented (new things I declare; before they spring into being, I announce them to you).
It is dizzying to know this from both Isaiah and the gospels and yet to feel as if I’ve only gotten a glimpse.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
The role of the people being delivered is mostly singing and praise—not trying, striving, straining, and groaning. Deliverance is grace, it’s a gift. Sing. Praise. (Praise is not saying the words “I praise you…” although that’s not a bad thing… praise is speaking about the attributes of the Lord… his love, mercy, wisdom, and kindness.)


I will lead the blind by ways they have not known,
    along unfamiliar paths I will guide them;
I will turn the darkness into light before them
    and make the rough places smooth.
Who is not on an unfamiliar path? Who doesn’t need more light and a smoother route?


Isaiah 43

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah repeats this redemption theme so often that, because we can tune things out, we must never allow ourselves to become anesthetized. It is by constant faith that our redemption occurs, and that faith depends on constant reminders and revelations, whether through the scriptures or otherwise (meditating, singing, fellowshipping).
The redemption has been done (“have redeemed”)—will we accept it or insist on waiting for it to come? Put differently, will we live by faith or longing?
Summoned by name? Initially, that’s Jacob or Israel (individual names applied to a people) but other passages in the scriptures suggest we are called by our individual names and even given new names. All the evangelical talk about a “personal relationship with God”—whatever it may leave out—is on firm ground here. To think God doesn’t know us and call us by name is to think with disbelief.
When you pass through the waters,
   I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
While the redemption has been accomplished (the life of God has been offered in exchange for the life of humans), it has not been worked out in time and space, with the result that floods and fires “will” come.
Jim Caldwell, who led our 1970s prayer meetings, was about as much like Jesus (or maybe Peter or John) as anyone I’ve known. Before that time, he had some kind of nervous breakdown, and it was this passage that put him into a good place for the rest of his life (I know, I visited him when he was getting in his 80s.)
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush[a] and Seba in your stead.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
Reading this allegorically (and, really, who wants God to literally sacrifice someone else for our sake?)…just as Israel trusted in Egypt, the very things we falsely trusted in—the crutches, vices, and distractions—will be demolished so we can be saved.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
    and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring my sons from afar
    and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
everyone who is called by my name,
    whom I created for my glory,
    whom I formed and made.”
I don’t understand the historical meaning of this theme, which occurs a few times, about missing sons and daughters. Certainly today the promise would comfort parents of children who had disappeared by choice or by the will of another (and this world has plenty of them).
For people like myself who are fortunate to be close to their children, as well as for those who have no children, one’s life works, such as writing books or composing songs, starting helpful organizations or having some role in the kingdom of God…these too are our children, these plans, efforts, and ambitions. They are often put aside for lesser things. And they will be restored as we stand by our redemption.
Taking “children” as metaphors links this scripture to one of the happiest promises from Joel (2:25): “And I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.”


I, even I, am the Lord,
    and apart from me there is no savior.
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
    I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
    Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
    When I act, who can reverse it?”
Another reminder that the idols and gods did not rescue the people…no doubt the reminders would not be stated so often if it were not easy to forget the invisible being who lives outside of time and space… and even after the incarnation, we need the reminder that it is the Spirit, not things, circumstances, or people who hold the answers.


“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
Who isn’t tempted to live in the past? Many with guilt. Some with pride or self-satisfaction. Either way, that’s not the way. Forget the past and see the new thing.
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.
The new thing is a surplus of provision—water, grace, health, deliverance…whatever makes us into whole people. The phrase “collateral damage” is turned on its head here. The collateral benefit is that even the animals prosper as the people do.


“I, even I, am he who blots out
    your transgressions, for my own sake,
    and remembers your sins no more.
In the middle of chiding his people for going astray (again) comes this interesting statement that the forgiveness is for God’s sake, which I’m going to take to mean that it goes against God’s nature to harbor unforgiveness, just as it goes against God’s temperament to focus on people’s sins. God is all about forgiving and forgetting!


Isaiah 44

But now listen, Jacob, my servant,
    Israel, whom I have chosen.
This is what the Lord says—
    he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
    and who will help you:
Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant,
    Jeshurun [upright one], whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
    and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
    and my blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
    like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’;
    others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
    and will take the name Israel.
And so in this age of identity politics and intersectionality, however important they may be, the better, higher identification is the declaration that “I belong to the Lord.” We see that this declaration transcends the historical mire of class and race differences. It is illustrated by abolitionists and guardians of minority rights who share the identity (I belong to the Lord). This list includes people as culturally disparate as Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the current Pope Francis.


I have made you, you are my servant;
    Israel, I will not forget you.
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud,
    your sins like the morning mist.
Return to me,
    for I have redeemed you.
Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this;
    shout aloud, you earth beneath.
Burst into song, you mountains,
    you forests and all your trees,
for the Lord has redeemed Jacob,
    he displays his glory in Israel.
This passage is preceded by declarations from the Lord that “apart from me there is no God” followed by a tirade against idols and those who make idols, those who, from the same tree, build a fire for cooking a meal and an idol to worship, not realizing that they are imagining, not experiencing a divine thing. By contrast, the real God makes us, purifying us as the sun evaporates a morning fog.
Humans feel compelled to do something. Some make ancient or modern idols out of nature, while others learn to celebrate in harmony with nature the fact that they are made by God, not makers of gods:


Isaiah 45


Before me every knee will bow;
    by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, ‘In the Lord alone
    are deliverance and strength.’”
All who have raged against him
    will come to him and be put to shame.
This chapter, emphasizing as it does the Lord’s military power, doesn’t ignite my imagination with promises of deliverance, even though deliverance for his people is the outcome of that military power. But the chapter is probably important in that it establishes the sovereignty of God, a prerequisite to trusting him. More than that, it provides language that, in the New Testament, declares the supremacy of the Deliverer:
In Romans 14, Paul quotes the lines about every knee and every tongue in order to emphasize the grace of God in the following way. Some Christians regard religious holidays and rites, whereas others do not; some have (overly) sensitive consciences, whereas others do not. Both parties, apparently, were judging and condemning the other. Whenever we judge someone, we are taking on the role of divine judge, a role we simply do not possess and cannot carry out, knowing so little either about another person’s history or heart. When we remember we will all bow before God, that “each of us will give an account of ourselves to God,” then we will “stop passing judgment on one another.”
In Philippians 2, Paul echoes the passage in Isaiah again, with pizzazz. Jesus, after dying and rising, has been exalted and been given a name that is above every name, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Rarely in my life do I think of names as being hierarchic. But here we have a name above all names: Jesus (Deliverer) is above cancer, addiction, depression, and any other condition whose name strikes us with fear. This exaltation of Jesus, who shares his name with us (his believers are, after all, part of his body), brings glory to God the Father. Such glory—a state of radiance and celebration—is beyond my imagination, even if that is what I’ve looked for all my life.


Isaiah 46


Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
A promise I couldn’t appreciate earlier in life. And “carry”…as in carry an elderly person reaching a second childhood?


Isaiah 47 ∅


Isaiah 48 ∅


Isaiah 49

What a golden chapter, in its entirety: pure redemption.
Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”
The islands suggest the global influence of the servant of God (yes, the Jewish nation, but significantly greater, Jesus).[3]
And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
In the end, every knee will bow to Jesus.
This is what the Lord says:
“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
    and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
    to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
    and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
    and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads
    and find pasture on every barren hill.
They will neither hunger nor thirst,
    nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
    and lead them beside springs of water.
I will turn all my mountains into roads,
    and my highways will be raised up.
See, they will come from afar—
    some from the north, some from the west,
    some from the region of Aswan.”
Following the declarations of redemption—both physical and spiritual—comes this nice poetic spot: north, west, we expect “south” but instead get a city from Egypt that provides a soothing sound as well as the specificity of an Egyptian memory.
Shout for joy, you heavens;
    rejoice, you earth;
    burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
    and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
    the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.
It would be hard, even if it were bad hermeneutics, to avoid associating the palm of the hands with the wounds from the crucifiction, sealing the commitment of God to humanity.
Your children hasten back,
    and those who laid you waste depart from you.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
    all your children gather and come to you.
As surely as I live,” declares the Lord,
    “you will wear them all as ornaments;
    you will put them on, like a bride.
“Though you were ruined and made desolate
    and your land laid waste,
now you will be too small for your people,
    and those who devoured you will be far away.
The children born during your bereavement
    will yet say in your hearing,
‘This place is too small for us;
    give us more space to live in.’
Then you will say in your heart,
    ‘Who bore me these?
I was bereaved and barren;
    I was exiled and rejected.
    Who brought these up?
I was left all alone,
    but these—where have they come from?’”
We may be unaware of our offspring who will be restored to us, whether literal children or lifetime efforts and goals that seem to have disappeared and gotten lost along the way.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“See, I will beckon to the nations,
    I will lift up my banner to the peoples;
they will bring your sons in their arms
    and carry your daughters on their hips.
Kings will be your foster fathers,
    and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
    they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Can plunder be taken from warriors,
    or captives be rescued from the fierce[c]?
But this is what the Lord says:
“Yes, captives will be taken from warriors,
    and plunder retrieved from the fierce;
I will contend with those who contend with you,
    and your children I will save.
I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh;
    they will be drunk on their own blood, as with wine.
Then all mankind will know
    that I, the Lord, am your Savior,
    your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”
Even the lame shall carry away plunder. Kings and queens will serve us, not because of who we are but because of who lives in us. And, finally, evil will destroy itself (“on their own blood”), as a result of what it is.

Isaiah 50


The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
We recall the scourging of Jesus here, as well as an anticipation of Luke 9, where Jesus “steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem” (KJV)[4]


Let the one who walks in the dark,
    who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
    and rely on their God.
Moving from the suffering servant to the ones in darkness, the promise is that trust in the character of the Lord will guide them. This anticipates Jesus statement in John 9, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”


Isaiah 51

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
    and who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were cut
    and to the quarry from which you were hewn;
look to Abraham, your father,
    and to Sarah, who gave you birth.
When I called him he was only one man,
    and I blessed him and made him many.
Since neither myself nor many of my readers are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, this opening is included mostly for the poetry, especially the rock…cut and quarry…hewn.
The Lord will surely comfort Zion
    and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
he will make her deserts like Eden,
    her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
    thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
Standard good news, and who doesn’t live in a desert emotionally too much of the time? I hope to learn genuine thanksgiving and pleasing singing.
“Listen to me, my people;
    hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
    my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
    my salvation is on the way,
    and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my arm.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment
    and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
    my righteousness will never fail.
In the parlance of 1950s burger shops, we have “the works” here: no longer limited to Abraham’s biological offspring, justice will go to the nations while islands—a symbol of unknown cultures—will see the Lord and wait for his arm…and then then promised end of the universe, yet his salvation will last forever.
“Hear me, you who know what is right,
    you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
    or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.”
We hear these lines echoed by Jesus, don’t we, when he admonished us to seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, which are permanent, unlike corruptible textiles, no matter how fine?


Those the Lord has rescued will return.
    They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
And so begins another promise of deliverance.
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
    who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
    The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeon,
    nor will they lack bread.
Promised is deliverance from human oppressors, which much of the world needs, while some of us need deliverance from the intangible emotions that both guide these oppressors and also oppress us mentally and emotionally. There’s more than one way to be a captive, but no matter the kind, the Lord promises to deliver us. What, then, when deliverance doesn’t appear? Read on…


    Rise up, Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
    the cup of his wrath,
you who have drained to its dregs
    the goblet that makes people stagger.


Therefore hear this, you afflicted one,
    made drunk, but not with wine.
This is what your Sovereign Lord says,
    your God, who defends his people:
“See, I have taken out of your hand
    the cup that made you stagger;
from that cup, the goblet of my wrath,
    you will never drink again.
I will put it into the hands of your tormentors,
    who said to you,
    ‘Fall prostrate that we may walk on you.’
And you made your back like the ground,
    like a street to be walked on.”
While God is powerful, the people do not experience his help. Even their children do not help them (an omitted passage). They are drunk and staggering, not on wine but on the wrath of God, that is, on the the absence of God. Whether God is truly absent (might be an impossibility) or apparently absent, the promise is that we will drink from that cup no longer.

Isaiah 52-53

Awake, awake, Zion,
    clothe yourself with strength!
Put on your garments of splendor,
    Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
    will not enter you again.
Shake off your dust;
    rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
    Daughter Zion, now a captive.
Renewal requires knowing one’s identity and one’s condition. To ignore identity results in isolation and despair. To ignore one’s condition results in apathy and inertia. The identity is strength, splendor, and holiness. That’s what we are, who we are. To actually think of ourselves that way will change our behavior. But if we are “now a captive,” we must acknowledge that condition, lest we sink into denial, living a split life (in theory, I’m doing great, in practice, terribly). Let the condition anger you so much that you shake off your dust, rise up, and sit enthroned.
For this is what the Lord says:
“You were sold for nothing,
    and without money you will be redeemed.”
Being sold for nothing is the same as “stolen.” Just as sin, sickness, and addiction have stolen us, so without negotiating with them, God will bring us back. There are no deals to be made. The oppressors have stolen from—and therefore mock—the rightful owner of humanity (“you were bought at a price” the New Testament states). The agents that steal us are blaspheming God—all defeat is blasphemy. All sickness and all death are an insult to the redeemer’s existence. The addicted, sick, or dying person isn’t the one blaspheming. It’s the enemy that does that. The person is the victim that God longs to redeem. Death is the final enemy that Christ conquered but the will not be vanquished until the end of the present world.
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“At first my people went down to Egypt to live;
    lately, Assyria has oppressed them.
“And now what do I have here?” declares the Lord.
“For my people have been taken away for nothing,
    and those who rule them mock,”
declares the Lord.
“And all day long
    my name is constantly blasphemed.
Therefore my people will know my name;
    therefore in that day they will know
that it is I who foretold it.
    Yes, it is I.”
The message of redemption breaks through, changing everything:
How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.


The vision of redemption inspires one more servant song, prophesying the redemptive sufferings of Christ. It’s not that God needed to expunge his anger on Christ, but that humanity needed to expunge its anger on God. There is nothing to add to (or take away from) the words of the song:[5]
See, my servant will act wisely[b];
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

[Isaiah chapter 53:]

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 54


The snipped verses do provide good news by describing God’s people as a wife who was both widowed and rejected but now “with everlasting kindness [the Lord] will have compassion on” his people.
“Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.


“. . . no weapon forged against you will prevail,
    and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.”
These are the passages to remember and to declare!


Isaiah 55


The entire chapter strikes me as a gentle call to a much better life. It’s one I memorized as a teenager.
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 56

This is what the Lord says:
“Maintain justice
    and do what is right,
for my salvation is close at hand
    and my righteousness will soon be revealed.
Blessed is the one who does this—
    the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it,
    and keeps their hands from doing any evil.”
There’s no getting around justice in Isaiah, including the reference to the Sabbath, which, like fasting, was always intended to extend justice. It was made for man, not the reverse. When we honor the Sabbath, we take time to treat everyone especially well. Yes, our typically stressful selves, but also others, as Jesus did, going out of his way to heal on the Sabbath.
Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain,
    “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the Lord says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose what pleases me
    and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
    a memorial and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that will endure forever.
Nearly any man would regret being a eunuch, but grace is here, not only for the literal eunuch but for all of us who have failed to produce the things we intended, the things that the locusts have devoured.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord
    to minister to him,
to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
    and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
    and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
One scandal of the gospel during acts of the apostles was the inclusion of gentiles to the kingdom. Here, as in Isaiah 49 and elsewhere, “all nations” are welcomed.


The chapter ends with harsh rebukes against “Israel’s watchmen.” The final lines, however, echo a dismal state of the modern mind so well that I let them have the last word:
“Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine!
    Let us drink our fill of beer!
And tomorrow will be like today,
    or even far better.”

Isaiah 57

The righteous perish,
    and no one takes it to heart;
the devout are taken away,
    and no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
    to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly
    enter into peace;
    they find rest as they lie in death.
Not the kind of good news I look for, normally, this is something to knock one out of one’s socio-economic bubble of security: life can get so bad that death is a blessing. This is echoed in the Book of Revelation, when people will beg the mountains to fall on them in order to escape the terrors.
<snip>A gruesome description of what the dying righteous are escaping: indiscriminate sex, child sacrifice, and idolatry—followed by token works of righteousness that fail to make ammends.</snip>
But whoever takes refuge in me
    will inherit the land
    and possess my holy mountain.”
And it will be said:
“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
    but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
The Lord commands some agent to remove obstacles—is this the people removing their own obstacles, or some other agent/angel/ally? Either way, the spirit of the Messiah who will not break a bruised reed or smother a smoldering wick reveals itself again. Though high and holy, he is close to the broken hearted and lowly.


Isaiah 58


Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Contrary to what we usually think of when we think of fasting (time for me to be miserable and maybe get divine attention that way…), this chosen fast is to focus on others in need…it’s not our deprivation that brings the kingdom but our care for others. Extend grace to others and you are able to receive for yourself more grace….
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteous one will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
The passage moves quietly to the Sabbath without elaborating much, but one can guess that the same way fasting is misunderstood, so is the Sabbath. If we are not going our own way, we are going the way of the first commandment, loving God with all we have, and if we are not speaking idle words, we are going the way of the second commandment, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 59


The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
    so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
    and retribution to his foes;
    he will repay the islands their due.
This passage inspired Paul in Ephesians 6, adapting the metaphor of God’s battle gear to the gear we are to wear, no longer for flesh and blood battles (“repay the islands their due”) but for spiritual ones: we now wear the breastplate and the helmet to defeat principalities and powers—whatever those are, and they are anything that robs us and others of life.


“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 60

<snip>Many promises of God’s restoration of Israel, but I’m starting with…</snip>
“Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
    and their kings will serve you.
Your gates will always stand open,
    they will never be shut, day or night,
so that people may bring you the wealth of the nations—
    their kings led in triumphal procession.
For the nation or kingdom that will not serve you will perish;
    it will be utterly ruined.
The things that oppressed us will serve us or disappear! The tables are turned, and we are no longer victims, but victors!
Instead of bronze I will bring you gold,
    and silver in place of iron.
Instead of wood I will bring you bronze,
    and iron in place of stones.
This substitution of a better material for a lesser material suggests that everything will be improved.
I will make peace your governor
    and well-being your ruler.
Like Colossians 3, peace will be our umpire.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
    nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
    and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
    nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
    and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
    and your days of sorrow will end.
Then all your people will be righteous
    and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
    the work of my hands,
    for the display of my splendor.
The least of you will become a thousand,
    the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the Lord;
    in its time I will do this swiftly.”
God moves us from the physical to the spiritual, from a building of stone to walls of salvation and gates of praise, from the light of fire—or even the sun—to the light of his presence. Yay! Think on these things.

Isaiah 61

What follows is the passage Jesus read aloud in his hometown synagogue (Luke 4), announcing himself as the messiah.[6] He stopped reading immediately before the phrase about proclaiming “the day of vengeance for our God.” I am confident he omitted the phrase because he knew his audience already misunderstood and obsessed on the vengeance of God. He insisted on emphasizing the grace and mercy of our Father. The omission may have infuriated some of his audience who had a penchant for vengeance. What we know is that immediately after, Jesus said no prophet is accepted in his home town, and that moments later, the people who had adored Jesus attempted to throw him off the side of a nearby cliff. If he wasn’t going to preach vengeance, at least they could perform it!
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.
There was nothing to snip from this chapter!

Isaiah 62


you will be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
We have old names stored in our mind, perhaps more old names the older we get as a result of the accumulation of failures and unmet aspirations. So much the more, we need new names, a new identity, a better way of seeing ourselves, no longer defined by problems but by redemption and divine love.


They will be called the Holy People,
    the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After
These are new names for us as members of the body of Christ and as individuals…. Far from being ignored (which is how life can feel), we are the Redeemed of the Lord; I am Sought After!


Isaiah 63

<snip>Passages represent God as “our Father,” which is promising, but also as a conquerer spattered with his enemies’ blood.</snip>
He said, “Surely they are my people,
    children who will be true to me”;
    and so he became their Savior.
This salvation remains conditional, in that God’s people would “be true . . . and so he became their Savior.” Soon they weren’t and He wasn’t. A better picture is presented in Romans 5: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus reversed the conditions: because we were not true he became our Savior!


Isaiah 64


Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
As it stands, this is beautiful. One more reminder that, unlike wooden idols, the living God actually does things, “acts on behalf of those….” For whom does he act? Those who “wait for him” (echoing “in quietness and trust is your strength”).

Paul modifies the passage, which is elegant in the King James: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (I Cor. 2:8). Now, not only is God uniquely active, but humans cannot begin to understand the blessings God has prepared for them. However, by spiritual revelation we can hear and see: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” Do I understand the Spirit? No. Does the Spirit understand me? Yes. And that’s a good start.


Isaiah 65

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
This passage refers to God sending salvation to Gentiles (like me)—shocking news for the the Jews who have officially been his people. What follows are descriptions of Jews who have forsaken the Lord, and these descriptions are followed by threats. But read as a prophecy of Jesus, the opening lines are purely good news… that God will seek us out even when we are not seeking God, and if we do not reject him, he will give himself to us.


“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.
Read the above passage aloud and hear all the good news. Of course it refers to heaven, to the new earth, which literally would be in the future. But by the time the passage refers to people dying at the age of one hundred, we are back on this earth, living under an extraordinary roof of God’s protection. The divine heart is here now, and the spirit who inspired it is with you now.

Isaiah 66

<snip>Skipping over the important “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.”</snip>
“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.
One final reminder that although the Lord is distantly high (using earth as a footstool), the Lord is also close to the humble and broken hearted—that is, to the poor in spirit.
<snip>Skipping over wonderful poetry that describes how a ritual performed in the wrong spirit is worse than no ritual at all (“whoever sacrifics a bull is like one who kills a person”).</snip>
“Before she goes into labor,
    she gives birth;
before the pains come upon her,
    she delivers a son.
Who has ever heard of such things?
    Who has ever seen things like this?
Can a country be born in a day
    or a nation be brought forth in a moment?
Yet no sooner is Zion in labor
    than she gives birth to her children.
Do I bring to the moment of birth
    and not give delivery?” says the Lord.
“Do I close up the womb
    when I bring to delivery?” says your God.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice greatly with her,
    all you who mourn over her.
For you will nurse and be satisfied
    at her comforting breasts;
you will drink deeply
    and delight in her overflowing abundance.”
And so we end the fifth gospel with divine abundance. The Lord changes things miraculously, a birth before labor, a country formed in a moment. As Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”




Israel tries to atone for their disobedience through the sacrificial system (other rites are also mentioned, including new moon feasts, which, the Lord says, “I hate with all my being”). The “I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” is the clearest statement of God’s desire for mercy and not sacrifice (as Hosea put it at approximately the same time). The “I hate with all my being” shows just how opposed God is to the sacrificial system (rituals and feasts being a part of such systems). Whatever the purpose of that system was (to move humans away from human sacrifice), it does not necessarily align with God’s heart and instead often opposes it.
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

[The Poor] 

Then and now we all agree that oppressing the poor is a terrible thing to do although in ways, then and now, we do so.
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
    the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people
    and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty.

[1][2][3][4][5][6] The servant songs are passages in Isaiah that describe (what Christians recognize as) Jesus. They prophesy some of his most significant moments in great detail. These alone would earn Isaiah the label of the “fifth gospel”:

Not only the servant songs but the multitudinous passages concerning God’s healing and deliverance warrant the label of the fifth book of good news.


Publishing Info

This post was first published on: Jan 31, 2021. If this article is significantly updated, the publication date beneath the title may change in order to bring current posts to the top of the directory.