Thursday, 31 March 2011

weighed down with guilt

Isaiah's description of Israel, and us, continues...
A people laden with iniquity, Is 1:4 NKJV

I wonder if they 'looked' as though they were weighed down with sin? Many don't who are! From time to time I come across folk that I describe to myself as 'happy pagans'. Their lives are devoted to the pursuit of self-gratification. They live life 'to the full' in their own estimate; there is not much sign of the heavy load, they take life pretty much as it comes.

No one really knows themselves unless God grants them revelation. We are such experts at self deception. John the gospel writer put his finger on such in his first letter;
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 NKJV

That probably means that the vast majority of mankind, at any single time, are living in self-deception. We don't feel it, so we don't worry about it.

The words 'guilt' and 'iniquity' come together frequently in the Scriptures. (Ex 34:7; Lev 5:17; Num 5:31; 14:18) Guilt is the consequence of iniquity. Biblically it has nothing to do with the way we feel; although Christians and modern society at large often refer to 'feeling guilty'. Iniquity is the sin, guilty is God's verdict upon the sinner.

People who are not conscious of the sin are seldom conscious of God's judgment upon their condition. But the fact is that...
there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Rom 3:22–23 NKJV
and because we have 'sinned' the verdict is inevitably 'guilty' or 'under God's sentence. (Rom 3:19) and yet we may be completely unaware of the way God views us.

The consciousness of sin brings 'conviction' or the sense of burden, but we carry our load whether we are conscious of it or not. It is a work of God's grace when conviction of sin begins, although the experience is anything but comfortable. Many opt for palliative care; they fill their lives with business and things which block out the pain of conviction. What a way to treat the kindness of God. There is a wise saying in the book of Proverbs;
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Prov 27:6 NKJV

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

ohhh... sinful nation

Isaiah’s description of the people of God now continues into the next verses…
Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward. Is 1:4 NKJV

They certainly ‘told it like it is’, these Old Testament prophets. From the description of its spiritual promiscuity Isaiah now turns to some of the consequences of the nation’s rebellious ways. Do remember that we are not pointing the finger here but simply seeing, in the description, a portrait of all men and women from God’s perspective. The man under whom I spent the earliest years of my pilgrimage would always say “you have to tell the bad news before you can tell the good news.” He was right, of course. The good news is good news because it brings the news of the remedy to what we have become. We are sometimes so eager to get to the good news that we merely scan verses like these and want to hurry on the ‘for God so loved the world’ verses, but it is often a blessing in disguise to let some of the bad news sink in before we move on.

The contrast could hardly be greater. This nation’s beginnings began with a conditional promise in which God promised them that…
…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Ex 19:5–6 NKJV
But to those destined to be a ‘holy nation’ God now brings the accusation that, in his sight, they are a ‘sinful nation’. They have gone in the opposite direction to their God declared destiny. What a tragedy. But it is not only ancient Israel that bears this tragedy. Here is God’s description and declared destiny for the whole race…
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; Gen 1:26 NKJV

Can we recognise the human race today from this ancient description? Neither does God… and yet God never gave up. Recently it was reported that Prince William had quoted his grandmother when he visited the site of the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ. “Grief is the price we pay for love”. They are profound words. When we love someone we put a terrible weapon into their hands; the more we love them, the more they have the power to hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally. At one level that is what Calvary is all about. There is a deep grief in God’s description of the nation of Israel and of us. The word translated 'alas' here is not really a word at all; it is a single letter groan. 'Alas' is the kind of word you might use if you spill your coffee down your shirt; the Hebrew is a groan from a broken-hearted God. God’s hurt at our rebellion has gone off the scale.

How greatly did he love us and grieve over our sin? Calvary is the measure of that love.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

my people do not know

A shallow stream runs through the broad unpaved street and makes it typical of many smaller Romanian villages. So ‘across the street’ is across the stream too. It is not very wide and most folks can leap it easily. Each morning a young cow-herd gathers up the cows and goats from different places in the village and takes them out to pasture. In the late afternoon they return and as the cow-herd walks the length of the unpaved street cows peel off, one by one, from the little herd and stand with their heads by the gates to the little courtyards awaiting admission to their home stalls. No one has taught them to do this. They know their home and return to it gladly.

As an inveterate ‘town-y’ I am fascinated by this sight. Cows are not famous for their intelligence or navigation skills but apparently they can all recognise home. Although the nearest tree to my old home was almost a mile away in a local park I am not unfamiliar with this phenomena either; I read of it in the opening chapter of Isaiah…

The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; [i]The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know[/i], My people do not consider.” Is 1:1–3 NKJV

You can sense that Isaiah and God himself are somewhat incredulous. Even a cow knows where it belongs… but not Israel. Slow moving and full witted people are sometimes described as ‘bovine’, but Isaiah says the cows have more sense than God’s own people. It is a scathing denunciation.It isn’t as though they are strangers to the place. They were ‘nourished and brought’ up here; they have a long history of knowing that their home stall means safety and provision.

It is describing the nation of Israel but it is not recorded here for Israel’s sake alone; we all find our portrait in Isaiah. How faithfully God has ‘nourished and brought us up’ and yet, almost unbelievably, we ‘don’t know what side our bread is buttered on’; to use an old English expression.
The Bible frequently uses the word ‘know’ to mean ‘recognise’; ‘a tree is known by its fruit’. Israel’s behaviour is not the result of ignorance; they are refusing to ‘recognise’ where they belong. Another prophet, Jeremiah, put his finger right on the spot…

Why has this people slidden back, Jerusalem, in a perpetual backsliding? They hold fast to deceit, They refuse to return. Jer 8:5 NKJV

Ah, that’s the point, not that they are unaware but that they have consciously chosen to stay out in the cold. That’s why I say that this was not just written for the benefit of Israel;

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Cor 10:11 NKJV