Tagged: I AM

The convenience of blaming God

FingerWhen our kids were young and complained about being on the wrong side of circumstances, my wife and I urged them to repeat this line: “When things go badly for me, it’s usually my fault.”

In other words, we challenged our son and daughter to own their part of a bad experience.

If a teacher singled them out from a group of misbehaving students, they were to understand that their behavior was wrong, whether done individually or in a group.

If they got into an argument with a friend, they were to review the conversation and see how their words contributed to the dust-up.

If someone stole a pair of gym shoes from their locker, they learned the wisdom of using the combination lock we provided for them while they paid for new shoes out of their allowance.

Like us, many Christian parents swim against a strong cultural current of victimhood, which values freedom over responsibility and leads inevitably to an entitlement mentality.  The line between right and wrong is blurred. Good and evil are subjective realities, not objective standards. And when things go badly, there are always other people to blame.

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Isaiah 44: The First and the Last

Isaiah 44: The First and the Last (audio)

Isaiah 44: The First and the Last (study notes and worksheet / pdf)

Prologue

Where we are:

Part 1: Judgment Part 2: Historical Interlude Part 3: Salvation
Chapters 1-35 Chapters 36-39 Chapters 40-66

 

When this takes place:

Chapter 44 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance and the worldwide impact of the coming of Messiah.

Key verse:

Isa. 44:6 – This is what the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me.

Quick summary:

God assures Israel that He has chosen the nation and will continue to bless it. He makes plans for His servants while they are yet in their mothers’ wombs. Isaiah declares God’s majesty and uniqueness, then contrasts it with an almost comical description of the man-made gods who depend completely on the people who worship them. He calls on Israel to return to the one true and living God, who will remain faithful to His promises. The chapter ends with an amazing prophecy in which the pagan king who will free the Jews from Babylonian captivity two centuries later is called by name.

Take note:

The Lord often refers to Himself as “The first and … the last” or in similar ways in Scripture, reminding us of His eternal nature, creative and sustaining powers, and sovereignty. Isaiah and the apostle John, in the Book of Revelation, record these words, used interchangeably by God the Father and His Son:

  • “I, the Lord, am the first, and with the last – I am He”  (Isa. 41:4)
  • “… I am He. No god was formed before Me, and there will be none after Me” (Isa. 43:10).
  • “Listen to Me, Jacob, and Israel, the one called by Me: I am He; I am the first, I am also the last” (Isa. 48:12).
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
  • “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look – I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Rev. 1:17-18).
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13).

Spiritual Blessing (Isa. 44:1-5)

Because God has chosen Israel – a fact mentioned twice in verses 1-2 – the people are not to fear. The Lord will deliver the nation physically and spiritually. Twice He calls Jacob “My servant” and promises to pour out “My Spirit” and “My blessings” on coming generations. Continuing a theme from the previous chapter, He reminds the people that He has formed them. Like all of God’s creative acts, it is for a divine purpose. Although judgment is imminent, the nation’s restoration and spiritual revival are guaranteed. In verse 2 Israel is called “Jeshurun,” a poetic synonym meaning “the upright one” and used elsewhere only in Deuteronomy (see Deut. 32:15; 33:5, 26).

In the days to come, the Lord will “pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground,” making it fruitful (v. 3). Even more important, He will pour out the Holy Spirit, resulting in an unprecedented return to the Lord of Israel. But when will this occur? Nationally, the Jews return to their homeland after the Babylonian captivity, and again in 1948 after nearly 2,000 years without a state following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The spiritual revival, however, is yet to come. “This outpouring of the Spirit will occur when the people have returned in belief to the land (cf. Ezek. 36:24, 27; Joel 2:25-29) just after the Messiah’s second coming to establish the Millennium. Redeemed Israel will prosper numerically like grass and poplar trees, and they will want to be known as righteous individuals (Isa. 44:5), unashamed of Him and their nation” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1098).

No God but Me (Isa. 44:6-23)

The Lord reminds the Jews of several of His titles, thus punctuating His unique claim of sovereignty. He is “the Lord, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts … the first and … the last … Rock” (vv. 6, 8).  He makes a simple and profound declaration: “There is no God but Me” (v. 6), and He argues for His uniqueness by challenging anyone to predict the future (v. 7). Since His knowledge of things to come may be traced to His existence in eternity past, His chosen people have no reason to fear. In fact, they are witnesses of His mighty deeds (v. 8).

The God of Israel then exposes the futility of idol makers, whom he describes as “nothing” (v. 9) and whom He says have brought spiritual blindness upon themselves. Idolatry dominates the world in Isaiah’s day. Some idol makers are superstitious, viewing their creations of wood, metal and stone as deities, while others fashion these magnificent statues as physical representations of unseen gods. In any case, their efforts are futile and their proud professions will only result in shame. Idolatry in any form is a denial of the Creator and invites His wrath. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1, arguing that idolatry is the natural consequence of rejecting the one true and living God, who has revealed Himself to all people (Rom. 1:18ff). As a result, Paul writes, they are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

In Isaiah, however, “the Lord’s scathing contempt for idolatry is expressed in mockery of the ‘wisdom’ of human beings who cut down a tree, burn some of it as fuel, make a few utensils for the home, fashion an idol from the leftovers, and then pray to that idol to deliver them. Only a God who lives, who is capable of action, and who cares, could possibly help anyone – then, or now” (Lawrence O. Richards, The Bible Readers Companion, electronic ed., S. 433). The people who craft these images for profit are mere humans, whom God will cause to “assemble and stand … be startled and put to shame” (v. 11). They labor feverishly over their iron and wood, denying themselves food and water for the sake of their craft until they grow weak. But their work is in vain and their muscled arms cannot overcome their dulled minds. They take cedar, cypress or oak, cut it down and use some of it to warm themselves, some of it to bake their bread and some of it to fashion idols. While they are in complete control of the wood in every stage of its use, they blindly choose to worship what their own hands have made. “Save me, for you are my god,” they cry (v. 17).  

Their failure to see the futility of their deeds is due first of all to their rejection of God and second to God’s response, which is to grant them what they desire – spiritual blindness. The word “detestable” in verse 19 is a strong Hebrew word (siqqus) that links idolatry to immoral practices. Isaiah makes the point that religious sins, which involve direct rebellion against God, are especially grievous and invite the wrath of the Almighty. In the end, the idolater “feeds on ashes” (v. 20), or delights in what is vain. This verse also might refer to the wood being used. The idol maker has reduced much of it to ashes to warm himself and prepare his food; it would have been better if the rest of the tree had been reduced to ashes as well.

Finally in this section, the Lord calls Judah to “remember these things” (v. 21). Jacob is God’s “servant,” whom he has formed, and He will not forget His people. He has swept away their sins, called them to return, and redeemed them. Now at last, He calls upon heaven and earth – even the elements that idol makers have reduced to graven images – to rejoice because the Lord “glorifies Himself through Israel” (v. 23).

Cyrus, the Lord’s Shepherd (Isa. 44:24-28)

The Lord’s repeated claim to control the course of human history, with special regard to Israel, is renewed in the closing verses of this chapter as He makes specific promises about the people, the temple and Jerusalem. After the Babylonian captivity, Jerusalem will be repopulated. The cities of Judah will be rebuilt. The temple will be restored. And, in dramatic fashion, the Lord names the Persian king whose edict makes it all possible – Cyrus, “My shepherd,” who would not even be born for another 150 years (see Ezra 1:1-4). If the Jews have any doubts about God’s command of time and events, He clears them up in this passage. Lawrence Richards notes: “Some commentators, who deny the possibility of such detailed predictive prophecy, have insisted the mention of Cyrus is evidence of postexilic authorship of the second part of Isa. But in the context the naming of Cyrus is evidence of something far different. It is proof of the power of Israel’s living God and a guarantee that history itself moves toward His intended end” (The Bible Readers Companion, S. 433).

But why is a pagan king called the Lord’s “shepherd,” a name normally reserved for the Messiah or the nation of Israel? It appears this title is given to show the citizens of Judah that God uses even unbelievers like Cyrus to accomplish His purposes and that no one, no matter how powerful, operates independently of the One who created all things. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps…. Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail” (Prov. 16:9, 19:21).

Closing Thought

John Walvoord and Roy Zuck describe the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “In 586 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar and his forces broke through Jerusalem’s walls, burned the houses and the temple, and carried many captives into exile. Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, first came to the throne of Anshan in Eastern Elam in 559. In 549 he conquered the Medes and became the ruler of the combined Persian and Median Empire. In 539 he conquered Babylon (Dan. 5:30) and the very next year issued a decree that the Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). In doing this Cyrus was serving God’s purposes as if he were God’s shepherd. Those returnees built the temple, completing it in 515 b.c., and years later (in 444 b.c.) Nehemiah went to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures), S. 1:1099).

Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips

Was Jesus Both God and Man?

Apologetics 101: Part 7 — How can I identify the real Jesus?
JesusThis is session seven in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 2)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 1)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (pdf)

 

Keys to Identifying the Real Jesus

Apologetics 101: Parts 6-7 — How can I identify the real Jesus?

This is sessions six and seven in a 10-part series designed to help Christians defend their faith.

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (audio part 1)

Keys to identifying the real Jesus (pdf)

1. His origin

What Jesus says about Himself: He is eternal and uncreated.

  • John 8:58 – “I assure you: Before Abraham was, I am” (I AM is the name God gave Himself at the burning bush [Ex. 3:13-14]).
  • John 17:5 – “Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with that glory I had with You before the world existed.”
  • Rev. 1:17-18 – “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He has always existed and is the uncreated Creator.

  • John 1:1-3 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created.
  • Col. 1:15-17 – He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation; because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.

What do you say about Jesus’ origin?

2. His deity

What Jesus says about Himself: He is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit

  • Mark 14:61b-62 – Again the high priest questioned Him, “Are You the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus, “and all of you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
  • John 8:24 – “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.” (I AM is the name God gave Himself at the burning bush [Ex. 3:13-14]).
  • John 10:30 – “The Father and I are one.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is God, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit; the fullness of deity in the flesh

  • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  • John 5:18 – This is why the Jews began trying all the more to kill Him: not only was He breaking the Sabbath, but He was even calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.
  • Col. 2:9 – For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily …
  • Heb. 1:3 – He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

What do you say about Jesus’ deity?

3. His humanity

What Jesus says about Himself: He is fully human, sharing the full range of mankind’s experiences from thirst to temptation.

  • Matt. 4:1-11 – Jesus is hungry and tempted by Satan but responds to both with God’s Word.
  • Luke 19:41; John 11:35 – Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and at the tomb of Lazarus.
  • John 11:33, 38 – Jesus is “angry in His spirit.”
  • John 19:28, 30 – “I’m thirsty,” he says, and then He dies.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is virgin born, adding sinless humanity to His deity; His humanity enables Him to serve as our great high priest.

  • Matt. 1:18-25 – The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit…. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
  • John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Phil. 2:5-8 – Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
  • Heb. 2:17-18 – Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.

What do you say about Jesus’ humanity?

4. His purpose

What Jesus says about Himself: He came to bring God’s kingdom; to seek and save the lost; to pay mankind’s sin debt; to defeat Satan and his works; and to offer us eternal life.

  • Matt. 12:28 – “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
  • Luke 19:10 – “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
  • John 10:10-11 – “A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
  • John 12:32-33 – “As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all [people] to Myself.” He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He came to die and rise from the dead in fulfillment of Scripture; to save sinners and reconcile them to God.

  • Rom. 5:6-11 – For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. For rarely will someone die for a just person—though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, [then how] much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life! And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
  • 1 Cor. 15:3-4 – For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures …
  • 2 Cor. 5:21 – He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • 1 Tim. 1:15 – This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.
  • Heb. 2:9 – But we do see Jesus—made lower than the angels for a short time so that by God’s grace He might taste death for everyone—crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.
  • 1 John 3:8b — The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works.

What do you say about Jesus’ purpose?

5. His proof

What Jesus says about Himself: He fulfills Messianic prophecies, most notably by rising physically from the dead.

  • Matt. 12:39-40; 26:31-32 – “An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights…. Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written: I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
  • Luke 18:31-33; 24:38-39 – “Listen! We are going up to Jerusalem. Everything that is written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be accomplished…. they will kill Him, and He will rise on the third day…. Why are you troubled …And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself! Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
  • John 2:18-22 – So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign [of authority] will You show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.” Therefore the Jews said, “This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the sanctuary of His body. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this. And they believed the Scripture and the statement Jesus had made.

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He fulfills Messianic prophecies, most notably by dying on the cross for mankind’s sins and rising physically from the dead.

  • Mark 15:25-28 – Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge written against Him was THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [So the Scripture was fulfilled that says: And He was counted among outlaws.]
  • John 19:33-37 – When they came to Jesus, they did not break His legs since they saw that He was already dead. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out…. For these things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: Not one of His bones will be broken. Also, another Scripture says: They will look at the One they pierced.
  • Acts 2:22-27 – “Men of Israel, listen to these words: This Jesus the  Nazarene was a man pointed out to you by God with miracles, wonders, and signs that God did among you through Him, just as you yourselves know. Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says of Him: I saw the Lord ever before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. Moreover my flesh will rest in hope, because You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One to see decay.”
  • 1 Cor. 15:3-4 – For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

What do you say about Jesus’ proof?

6. His uniqueness

What Jesus says about Himself: He is the Messiah/Christ; the Son of God; the Alpha and the Omega; the only means of salvation.

  • Matt. 26:63-64; 27:11 – Then the high priest said to Him, “By the living God I place You under oath: tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God!” “You have said it,” Jesus told him. “But I tell you, in the future you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” … Now Jesus stood before the governor. “Are You the King of the Jews?” the governor asked Him. Jesus answered, “You have said it.”
  • John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
  • Rev. 1:17-18 – “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
  • Rev. 22:13 – “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He is the unique Son of God; divine; the Creator; the only means of salvation.

  • John 1:1, 14, 18 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son – the One who is at the Father’s side – He has revealed Him.
  • Acts 4:11-12 – This [Jesus] is The stone despised by you builders, who has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.
  • Col. 1:16; 2:9 – because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created through Him and for Him. … For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.
  • Heb. 1:3 – He is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature, and He sustains all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

What do you say about Jesus’ uniqueness?

7. His call to us

What Jesus says about Himself: He calls sinners to trust in Him for eternal life; He invites the weary to rest in Him; He beckons the spiritually thirsty to be satisfied in Him; He warns of the danger of rejecting Him.

  • Matt. 11:28 – “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
  • John 3:16-18 – “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the One and Only Son of God.”
  • John 5:24 – “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life.”
  • John 7:37b-38 – “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.”
  • John 8:24 – “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am [He], you will die in your sins.”

What the eyewitnesses say about Jesus: He calls sinners to receive forgiveness of sins and everlasting life by believing in Him; He grants salvation by grace through faith, apart from works; He calls us to salvation and to service.

  • Acts 2:39 – For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
  • Rom. 4:4-5 – Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares righteous the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness.
  • Eph. 1:18 – [I pray] that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints …
  • Eph. 2:8-9 – For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift …
  • Eph. 4:1 – I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received …
  • 1 Thess. 2:12 – [W]e encouraged, comforted, and implored each one of you to walk worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  • 2 Tim. 1:9 – [God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.
  • Titus 3:5 – He saved us— not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

What do you say about Jesus’ call to you?

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips