Sunday, August 19, 2018

Jerusalem: Redeemed and Crowned.


For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest …’ Isaiah 62:1

 Yahweh’s honour is linked with Jerusalem. He claimed the area for His own. His presence was known in the Temple. When He left it for the mount of its Eastern side He promised to return. Isaiah revealed the condemnation by God upon the city. He is also the one who unveils its redemption and future glory. Isaiah 62 is a beautiful chapter of God’s heart and intention for this city. Though He enacted judgement upon it Yahweh never cancelled His promise to reign from there.

Verse 1. There is a restlessness beating in the heart of God. He set a time known as ‘the times of the Gentiles’ which is still operating (Daniel 2). It will conclude when Christ returns to earth. God asked those who believe in Him and His word to keep making Him restless. Each time people pray for the peace of Israel His restlessness must increase. The daily prayer of Orthodox Jewry reminds Him, “May it be your will Lord God, God of our Fathers, that the temple be built speedily in our days.”  How can He rest when each year Israel’s feast days remind Him of His promise? How can He rest when His people and heritage are violated?

Verse 2. Jerusalem is raised from rubble to righteousness when Jesus reclaims it. What is meant by that term? How is righteousness ’seen?’ the Bible says no one or thing has this quality apart from God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah. Redemption provides forgiveness but it is only the presence within of the Redeemer which makes anyone righteousness. How then can Jerusalem be called righteous? ‘In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgement and righteousness in the land … and Jerusalem … and this is the name wherewith she shall be called, The Lord our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 33:15-16. 23:6).

Verse 3. When Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the prophet Jeremiah cried ‘the joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning. The crown is fallen from our head; woe unto us, that we have sinned’ (Lamentations 5:15-16). The crown returns when the Lord comes to dwell in the midst of His people. Jesus as their Redeemer/Kinsman is also their King. He is also their glory and their joy. We who are not of the Nation of Israel still can taste the wonder of Christ Jesus’ grace. For He is our Redeemer. He is the Head of the Church. He is our praise, joy and hope. We have been allowed to share in the promises of God also, Ephesians 2:12-13.

Verse 4. The Lord had turned His face away from the Nation. He had forsaken them for their faithlessness. It is for a season. This verse tells us that the time has come to an end. They are forsaken no longer. They have become His Hephzibah, His delight. Such is the power of their Messiah’s substitutionary death at Calvary. Such is the grace of their (and our) Lord in accepting their repentance. This has allowed the Almighty to rejoice.

Verse 12. What a transformation is written about in this verse. The nation described as disease and plague ridden by wilful disobedience in a land defiled (Isaiah 1) is now called holy. How this was accomplished is stated in Isaiah 53:5 when the Servant, as the Passover Lamb, also became the Nation’s healer.  Jerusalem then will be called ‘sought out,’ why? Because the Lord Jesus will take up residence on His holy mount. To Him will come individuals and Nations to worship and learn (Isaiah 2). No longer forsaken, now transformed and chosen!

 

 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jerusalem ‒ a poisoned chalice.

‘In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people’ Zechariah 12:3.

 In 1947 the United Nations agreed to adopt the Balfour declaration concerning Israel. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had come through the Nazi extermination program and had the sympathy of the Nations. From among the nations the remnant arose and returned to the land long denied to them. Ezekiel’s imagery of the scattered bones coming together is so graphic in its application to a Nation being regathered. The prophet was commanded to say: “Behold, O my people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:12).

Christians and the Jewish people saw this as a miracle foretold and now performed. Arab nations reacted with anger and threats of war. This they set in motion on the day, May 14 1948 when Israel was proclaimed a sovereign nation. Against overwhelming odds and certain countries embargoes, the fledgling nation fought and won. It could be credited to the bravery and tenacity of many, Jew and sympathetic Gentiles. To those who knew the Scriptures the following statement stood out: ‘No weapon formed against you shall prosper’ (Isaiah 54:17). God being the unchanging and unchangeable One stood stands by the promise. He still does.

Have the nations learnt from their constant defeat in trying to eliminate this Israel? Unfortunately no! Unreasoning animosity is a moral and spiritual indictment upon those who reject Israel’s right to exist. Behind the words and acts of force by the various Nations lurks Lucifer who covets the city of Zion and the right to rule from there. (Isaiah 14:12-15. Ezekiel 28:12-19). Jerusalem is now ‘a very heavy stone’ for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut to pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it’ (Zechariah 12:3).

 There is another image presented by the prophet of Jerusalem’s effect upon the World. Zechariah 12:2 ‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.’ With any addiction there are consequences. The above verse outlines one. Wanting to destroy the people and place God claims as His own is futile. Reason is unfortunately drowned in the mind inebriated by hate. Lusting after Zion causes her enemies to act foolishly and to suffer the consequences.

 
What is often forgotten, by friend and foe of Israel, the special affection the Lord God has for Jerusalem. He has put His name over and upon it. His presence has made itself known there. His desire is to dwell there and be in the midst of His people. Zechariah’s words both explain God’s heart and issues a warning: ‘He who touches you touches the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). He is that sensitive! In the affliction of Israel the Lord feels their pain. Even at those times when His judgement has fallen upon them to turn their hearts back to Himself. Certain Gentile nations, used as His whip had taken the opportunity to dispossess and extinguish the nation. They went beyond Yahweh’s boundaries and ‘stuck their finger in His eye.’ God will only take so much ‘poking’ before His wrath rises and judgement falls.

 
The word of God is unequivocal in its plain language that in a day known only to Him He will make Jerusalem the praise of the whole earth. Those who try and thwart this will drink a bitter cup. Those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem will know the pleasure of the Lord who loves that city.

Next week. Jerusalem, redeemed and crowned. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Jerusalem - The City which Fascinates.

Over the next three weeks I will feature some thoughts about Jerusalem. The Islamic world  seeks to deny history and dismiss Israel from ever possessing the land. Only the historically illitterate can speak such nonsense. I want to consider the Jerusalem theme today and next week, Jerusalem the                    poisoned chalice and finally Jerusalem - redeemed and crowned.

Jerusalem – the city which fascinates

 A city built upon a hill cannot be hid. If that city is Jerusalem, neither can it be ignored. This ancient city arouses passion such as no other. Every stone has a story locked within its grains. Secular and sacred history have left their imprint on the landscape of the human heart and mind. However, unseen though signed off in the Bible is the conviction that Jerusalem is where Yahweh’s heart is set. “I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there … 2 Chronicles 6:6.                                                                                                      

It was the Lord of Hosts desire that Jerusalem would be the throne of His King of the lineage of David. When the tabernacle and then the Temple sat on Zion’s hill the glory of God could be seen. His presence was expressed from the Holy of holies through the visible Shekinah cloud. Whilst He dwelt there the city was indestructible. Unfortunately, the leaders and the people took God for granted. They imagined He would not fulfil his threat to express wrath over their sin. Never, no never, not ever imagine God doesn’t call to account. His holiness and justice demand He exercise what His word says.

Though judgement seemed a long time in coming its delay only increased its ferocity. It came in the guise of the Babylonian nation under Nebuchadnezzar. Twice His armies raided and cowered the people but Jerusalem remained. Why? God’s presence was evident in the temple. Then Ezekiel recorded the reluctant God vacating His dwelling. In chapters 8-11 you can read the slow, almost agonising retreat to the Mount of Olives. Now the nation was vulnerable. Now Nebuchadnezzar at his third attempt overran it. The significance of the Lord’s choice moving to the Mount of Olives will become evident in a later chapter.
Psalm 137 depicts the grief experienced by the people of Israel. Asked, probably with a mocking tone, to sing a song of Zion, the song would not come. ‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?’(Psalm 137:4). All that could be sung was a lament. Rejection of the Law and the breaking of the Covenant brought upon the Nation defeat and dejection. Since that time the presence of the Lord has never resided in a temple on Mount Zion. The closest time the Temple mount felt the tread of His presence was when Jesus worship and taught there.

Although the presence of God departed from the temple, His mission continued. He had promised that a descendent of David was to come and claim the throne. To this all the prophets attest. But woven within the mission was a more majestic, marvellous and mystifying purpose. Before the promised king can reign, the Suffering servant of Isaiah 53 must take centre stage. Would this person be able to fulfil both functions? This was the dilemma the leaders faced when evaluating the person of Jesus. Their verdict dismissed Jesus from both categories. To them He was the carpenter from Nazareth, a roving Rabbi who disturbed the people with His message of “Repent for the Kingdom of God” is near. With the help of the Roman dictatorship the Jewish leadership succeeded in having Jesus crucified. Unwittingly they had assisted in fulfilling Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22.

Israel still cannot sing the songs of Zion although resident in part of their promised land. Jerusalem must wait for a promised day when songs of joy will resound from Zion again. ‘Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has taken away your judgements’ (Zephaniah 3:14). When that happens the Lord, as their King, will dwell in their midst once again.

Until then, Jerusalem will fascinate and capture our attention. As next week's blog  points out, Israel's capital is a cause of concern, a battle ground and will be a poisoned chalice to the Nations.