Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Isaiah 56-57 Covenant-A Conditional Promise

Isa 56:4-8 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 not be cut off.  And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, 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." The Sovereign Lord declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered." 

Isa 57:14-19 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 lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry, for then the spirit of man would grow faint before me—the breath of man that I have created.  I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid my face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways.  I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the Lord. "And I will heal them." 

It's often says that God's grace is unmerited--which is true, but it's not unconditional. There are some preachers who think that if we preach repentance we are emphasizing works not grace. But this is a failure of understanding of what God's grace really mean. We confuse grace with leniency and God is never lenient. In fact, if there is anything we get from reading Scripture, God is severe. The Cross is a reminder of us of the kindness and severity of God--that we are now shielded from God's severity  because He has poured it upon His Son at Cross. God's nature has not changed as Paul has reminded his readers in Rome: "Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness" (Rom 11:22, ESV). The Cross turns away God's face of severity so that He can turn His face of kindness towards us who "continue in his kindness." Thank God for the Cross which forever hides God's severe face from us who believe, so we now can only see His face of kindness.  

So in Isaiah 56-57, we read of the conditional promise of grace. This conditional promise is stated in Isaiah 56:4-5, "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 not be cut off." The conditions of the old covenant are: keep the Sabbaths, do what pleases God and hold fast to the covenant (God's gracious offer of salvation). The promise follows: a memorial and a name within God's temple (heaven). Our names will be found in the Book of Life in Heaven. To accept a covenant, we have to meet the conditions. In the OT, the conditions for the names to be found in the Book of Life is the Law of Moses. In the NT, the conditions for our names to be written in the Book of Life is faith in Christ. 

But faith is impossible without repentance. Acts 2:38 shows the same conditional promise, though the conditions defer from the OT: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38-39). However, the word "repent" (Greek: metanoia) refers more to a change of mindset (belief system) rather than just a change of behavior. When we change our beliefs (mindsets) about ourselves, about Satan and about Christ, our behavior follows accordingly. So the condition in the NT for the promise is faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves or our own righteousness. This faith in Christ is expressed visibly to everyone by water baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when this condition of faith in place of self-works is met, the promise follows--we will receive the gift of Spirit. 

We cannot be filled with the Spirit and still walk in the sinful flesh--these two ways of life are opposed to each other. We have to choose to walk by faith and by the Spirit daily in order that we might have life and have it abundantly. If we refuse to repent (hold fast to our old mindsets and belief systems), we will not receive the Holy Spirit who alone can transform our behaviour. 

In Isaiah 57:14-15 the condition is expressed as an inward penitential attitude of humility and contrition: "Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people. For this is what the high and lofty One says — he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." And the promise is restoration and healing: "I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near," says the Lord. "And I will heal them."

Like repentance, the broken and contrite heart is a means, not the end. The end is healing and revival. The error in some churches is to preach repentance and brokenness as the promise of spirituality instead of the condition of spirituality. Brokenness is a condition that leads to a promise--healing.  Jesus came to heal the broken-hearted, not to leave them broken-hearted. The Gospel is that Jesus has come to change the status quo, not to accept it.

Father, we thank You that Your goal is always healing and restoration, not repentance nor brokenness. You want us to be like sons and daughters of the Most High, not victims of sin and Satan. Deliver us from our sins and defeats in Jesus' name. Amen.

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