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Bake & Brew Cafe at Lucky Court, and Hope and Faith

July 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court
Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court

After a wedding at Holy Grace Presbyterian Church on Upper East Coast Road, we drove round the old neighbourhood gawking at the retro architecture of houses (with their mature gardens) and town planning from another era (with shady trees, adequate “open spaces” and playgrounds) and little Muslim cemetery* and came upon Bake & Brew Cafe (facebook. 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court). Old school premises, white IKEA furniture. Quiet enough for a book and a pot of tea, convenient enough for neighbourhood kids to hang out with waffles and ice-cream.

Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court
Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court

Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court

Menu – breakfast, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, salads. “Flat White”. “Brownie with ice-cream”.

Farewell for The LadsManaged to finish David Jackman’s “Teaching Christian Hope” before heading west just in time to farewell the lads. Jackman points out that the presenting symptoms in many congregations and individual Christians today is spiritual lethargy and depression. Committed older Christians, having served faithfully for years, feel they have been running on empty for years, and decide that they have had enough and that it is time someone else does the work. He identifies the underlying problem as the lack of hope that no amount of cajoling, beating-up, or alternatively, entertainment and indulging personal whims and fancies will get anywhere near dealing.

What does the Christian hope for?

And God made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10)

“…the previously hidden secret of God’s inscrutable will has now been revealed. The whole subsequent history of the coming of the Lord Jesus and the progress of the gospel leads up to this great climax. This is the focus which is dominant all the way through human history and to which climax God is irresistibly working everything together – that everything in all creation will be brought in unity under one head, even Christ.”

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him…he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ… In him we have redemption through his blood (Ephesians 1:3-5,7)

“…Christ through whom God chose and predestined us to be adopted as his children, the Christ in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin – who is defined by his work on the cross and by his glorious resurrection – that Christ is the ultimate purpose and focus of God’s plan for the whole universe…wherever there are hostile powers ranged against God, whether they are Satan and his hordes, or rebellious human beings under his influence, all of those powers will ultimately come under one head, even Christ. They will be forced to submit to Christ and his eternal rule…”

And with Christ’s rule comes the restoration of all things – our relationship with God completely restored and so all relationships restored to the perfection that no counselling strategies or organisations for the equality of mankind could ever attain, and with this, the restoration of the rest of creation – a world that will be made new, not subject to death or decay or any sort of environmental degradation.

How does the Christian know his hope is certain?
Obviously, it is pointless hoping for something that one has no expectation of getting, and worse, living one’s precious life in the light of such a baseless hope.

The Christian’s hope stems from his faith in God, which itself isn’t blind or baseless. Faith in God is firstly faith in his character – that he is trustworthy and has done (and therefore, will do) everything he says. This God has proved through his historical dealings with the people of Israel through the centuries (as recorded in the Old Testament). So faith in God also means faith in his promises for the future. Hope, then, is merely utterly expecting that his promises of these things that we cannot yet see will be fulfilled some time in the future because (and this is where hope and faith and inextricably intertwined) God has been trustworthy in the past.

And because of this hope, we therefore live in a certain way: telling people about this faith and this hope, realising that our failure to perfect in the here and now does not negate the truth of the Bible (since God only promises true perfection in the future), understanding that while we will work for the good of society and the world, that only by being part of God’s people will any one have any hope of participating in any true restoration etc.

*
Bake & Brew Cafe, 71 Lucky Heights, Lucky Court Muslim Cemetery, Lucky Heights

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Comfort of Psalm 77

March 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Oriole Coffee's Single Origin Sidama Beans Oriole Coffee's Single Origin Sidama in a Hario Slim Mill Grinder

We are comforted on cold afternoons in the office with Oriole Coffee Roasters‘ single origin beans from Sidama, Ethiopia, freshly ground in a Hario Slim Mill grinder and brewed in a Hario V60 pour-over, and

Remaining Wholewheat cranberry walnut brownies

wholewheat brownies crunchy on the outside and, inside, walnuts and cranberries enfolded by chocolatey gooeyness, passed round huddled cubicles.

Hot Cross BunsAt home, lightly toasted hot cross buns, fragrant with mixed fruits and spices, and pots of hot Earl Grey tea (from Gryphon Tea Company, or French Earl Grey from TWG) are one of the best things to snuggle up to in a thunderstorm.

David Jackman, in his talks at Orchard Road Presbyterian Church last week, reminded us of a much more fulfilling and lasting source of comfort. Rather rough notes on Psalm 77:

We can relate to this psalm because it’s not always easy to keep going as a Christian. Life throws us loads of difficulties which sometimes might baffle our understanding and sometimes seem to mock our faith – we wonder where God was or where God is, or what happened to the vision of a glorious future we once enjoyed. Many people and congregations go through periods of discouragement – loads of work, little fruit.

1-3 Psalmist needs help because he is in great distress and he needs comfort or strengthening. We tend to think of “comfort” very much in terms of self-indulgence – a nice cup of cocoa on gloomy days, or lots of friends around to help and encourage us. Of course “comfort” doesn’t just mean feeling cozy; “comfort” means “comes with strength”. The whole idea of comfort in the Bible is strengthening us. His soul in weakness doesn’t seem to be able to be strengthened. His life is characterised by what he calls groaning and weakness, faintness or spiritual exhaustion. There will be times of life like that for us all, and how do we get to God?

Office Coffee Set-up

People will tell us that what you need to do in a situation like this is to pray. Of course it is always right to pray in response to the difficulties we are in. But that is precisely the problem. It’s not that he is not praying, nor is it that God cannot or will not hear his prayer. The problem is the lack of God’s answer, there is no response from God, there is no Bible verse that suddenly leaps out of the page, there is no miraculous change in his circumstances, there is just nothing. There are few things more difficult to take than that. On a human level, it is as if you’re chatting to someone, and then you notice their eyes start to wander and they start looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anyone more interesting to talk to. He knows that it is not as though God doesn’t care nor is God a call centre; he is intimately concerned with his people, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like that. Prayer leads to groaning because the very thing that is supposed to help, the privilege of taking everything to the LORD in prayer sometimes seems to mock us. The psalmist exhibits signs of nervous fatigue, insomnia, stress. This problem is not uncommon.

4-9 He is sleepless and largely speechless. Here is the contrast between the present and the past. He is too troubled to sleep, he has been praying, and he will pray again. But the past is going round and round in his mind – he recalls the glory days of Israel and the glory days of his own experience when his sleeplessness was not due to despair but joy – praising God late into the night.

7-9 This is the essence of the matter. This is the enquiry his heart makes. There are 6 probing questions:
– will the LORD reject forever?
– will he never show his favour again?
– has his unfailing love vanished forever?
– has his promise failed for all time?
– has God forgotten to be merciful?
– has he withheld his compassion?

The great things of the past focus the present problem. Now he’s read all the great revival books of the past, but if this is God’s character (to love, to be faithful, to be merciful and compassionate), has it changed? Because the psalmist isn’t experiencing this but rejection. He is becoming unsure about his own relationship with God.

Like Psalm 46. The mind and the heart differ – the mind knows in its doctrinal purity that God cannot change or he couldn’t be God, but the heart says that while God hasn’t changed in himself, perhaps he has changed towards me. And if he has really changed in his relationship to me, then that’s really desperate – there’s no way out of that (“forever”, “never”). If this was really true, then God’s promises can’t be trusted, he doesn’t keep his word, his mercy has failed and is actually vindictive. It is easy to read our situation like that, but it is against everything in Scripture. The psalmist comes to this position because he needs to really look at his fears properly.

10 is the turning point – “then i thought”. We move from the fear that God has rejected him. Having faced that, he begins the essential correction. The tense has changed from the past to the future – “i will”. There is a sense of resolution – he does not wallow in nostalgia, not “i believe in yesterday”. He says “i am going to give my mind to the studying of God’s mighty deeds in the past, and on the basis of this i am going to appeal to the years of the right hand of the most high”. The most high is the ultimate authority and his right hand is the expression of the power of God, his unlimited strength at work in the circumstances of life. “I am not going to be me-centred or problem-centred; i am going to go back and meditate on his Word and works and consider all his mighty deeds.”

And the psalmist makes a great discovery. God’s mighty deeds were in response to situations that were just as impossible as those he was currently facing. We tend to romanticise the past – oh those people had such an intimate relationship with God. But actually, those people were facing the same difficulties or even worse than what the psalmist was facing. Human ability could not solve the problem; only the right hand of God changed the situation (eg. God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt by his own right hand). In the New Testament, Paul was suffering from the thorn in his flesh – God did not take it away from him but said that his grace was sufficient for him. Suffering knocks away the human props that we tend to rely on, and that it is an essential correction in our lives.

13 We are forced to trust him in a new way. What does the psalmist do? It is as if he takes his Old Testament bible and he starts to read it – sees what God has done in history. If we ever wonder if God is disinterested, whether he is involved or not, we are brought back to this bedrock that God is holy – the Godness of God is holiness. Not just that he is a God of moral purity but that he is set apart from us; he dwells in unapproachable places; his greatness transcends every other tinpot idol that is in the hearts of men. 14 He is a God who performs miracles. 15 All of this for the redemption of his people. This points forward to the redemption of Jesus in the New Testament – he is the saviour, the great deliverer, the Passover lamb that was sacrificed for us, the lamb of God who bears away the sins of the world. His mighty redemption achieved on the cross means that the problem is not with God, but with our perception of God. God is holy and we are not; God’s ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts. He is always beyond reproach, therefore we can have confidence in God that he will bring us through: he is too loving to be unkind to us, too wise to make mistakes, too good to wrong us, too great us not to be bothered with the little details of our lives, also too holy to let us get away with our sins and self-centredness, and that holiness is combined with a power that cannot be thwarted; this God is the God who calls, and he knows precisely what he is doing with the psalmist and with our lives today. And the cross of Jesus demonstrates that he could not love us more than he does, that he would let his Son die for us.

So this is how the psalmist counteracts this circular thinking that is going round and round in his mind. God doesn’t change, but our perception of him must change. 16-18 Exodus – great mighty expression of power of God, great redemptive act. So 19 says that when i think about God’s power, it is the unseen footprints of God going before his people, bringing fresh lives and deliverance. Very easy to say that i don’t see God at work so he isn’t at work. This is the reality – he does rule, he does redeem, he is in control, notice his path leads through the waters. We are all on an adventure of faith – he goes before us. Human leaders are there but God is the shepherd of the flock. Encourages us to trust him – don’t judge by what you see, don’t force God to do what you want. The cross is the greatest demonstration of his love for us. So we look back with thanksgiving, and look forward with faith and confidence because God has not changed.

Very Full Roasted Vegetable Tart and Isaiah 1-5

January 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Very Full Vegetable Tart
I made Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Very Full Roasted Vegetable Tart (except it wasn’t, really). We helped finish all the beer in the house (and a dusty crate of ginger beer which had been “laid down” for 2 years past its stated expiry), argued about the possibility of Neil Gaiman and Slavoj Žižek being Wandering Jews, discussed The Real and civility in civil society, lay around and sang along while others played rock hits from the 1990s badly on ukeleles (while other others drummed tabletops), until someone hit up The Bedroom Philosopher whom we promptly loved.

Then i got home and leaned on David Jackman (who better? from his enlightening Teaching Isaiah) for Bible study questions on Isaiah:
Isaiah 1:1-31
1. Isaiah 1:2-4. What are the charges God brings against his people, to which he summons the whole creation to listen? Why are they so important?

2. Isaiah 1:5-9. What is Judah’s national predicament? Why has all this happened? Why is that a shock?

3. Isaiah 1:10-17. What is it about Judah’s religion which disgusts and angers God? What does this reveal of their true state before him?

4. Isaiah 1:18-20. These verses match the problem outlined in verses 16-17. What is the solution? What is Judah’s choice?

5. Isaiah 1:21-26. What do these verses reveal of God’s big picture agenda both in the present and the future? What is his ultimate goal?

6. Isaiah 1:27-31. What is the future for those who persist in their rebellion and what is the alternative?

Isaiah 2 – 4
1. Isaiah 2:1-5. Unpack the ingredients of this glorious future vision for Jerusalem. Why is the actual situation such a contrast?

2. Isaiah 2:6-9. Why has God abandoned his people?

3. Isaiah 2:10-22. Why must God’s judgement fall on the whole human race? Why is Judah no different and what should she do about it?

4. Isaiah 3:1-15. How does God seek to bring his people to their senses? What evidence does he produce to undergird his righteous actions?

5. Isaiah 3:16-4:1. What is the heart of God’s controversy with the women of Zion? Why is there so much detail in these verses?

6. Isaiah 4:2-6. As we return to the ideal city (cf 2:1-5), what are the blessings which the Branch of the LORD will bestow? How does this relate to Christ and ourselves?

Isaiah 5:1-30
1. Isaiah 5:1-7. Why is God’s vineyard the subject of this lament? What has gone wrong? What is going to happen?

2. Isaiah 5:8-25. Look through each of the “woes”, beginning at verses 8, 11, 18, 20, 21, 22. Each one is a pronouncement of judgement, but what is the essence of each offence and what is the nature of God’s response?

3. Isaiah 5:26-30. What response is the detailed description of the Assyrian invasion intended to evoke from the hearers? (Consider the New Testament greater parallels, eg. Mark 9:43-48; Luke 12:4-5; Revelation 20:10-15)

Food For Thought and Isaiah

January 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A bit of frisbee on the damp grass in the Singapore Botanic Gardens,

Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Potted Plants on Table, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Give Clean Water, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
then brunch/lunch at Food For Thought‘s new outlet (where the food court near Tanglin Gate used to be). This is quite a scale up from their cosy little North Bridge outlet, so they’re tweaking as they go. Love the space, the empty Milo tins as lamp shades, and the potted plants in concrete tables (though sometimes they get in the way of gesturing hands and plates).

Orange juice and Iced Lime Tea, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Mee Rebus, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Ribs, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Chicken burger, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Pork cutlet, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Cranberry, pistachio chocolate cake. Passionfruit chocolate macarons
So far, they’ve rather nailed the mee rebus, the beef burgers (hearsay), and the cranberry pistachio chocolate cake and passionfruit chocolate macarons.

The breakfast and lunch menu:
Breakfast and Lunch Menu, Food for Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Breakfast and Lunch Menu, Food for Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens

The week (year?) before, during a quick dinner before heading back to work, they were playing Agapella‘s The Christmas Story. Lovely.
Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Mushrom soup, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Barramundi, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens
Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens Dessert Counter, Food For Thought, Singapore Botanic Gardens

Strange things learned today:
– When caught by surprise, i understand Malay perfectly. (And obviously, some Malay people think i’m Malay.)

– One friend was surprised to discover i was a lefty. Another was surprised, simultaneously, to find i was a righty.

– Reading David Jackman’s Teaching Isaiah:

In preaching Isaiah, then, we shall not use his diagnosis of sin and warnings of God’s wrath to berate ourselves and our congregation into being better Christians. That is not the purpose of the law and so it has never achieved that goal (see Galatians 4-5). The conviction of sin, which Isaiah sought to generate, was designed to move his hearers to cast themselves upon the grace and mercy of God, which for us is so clearly displayed in the person and work of Christ. If ever Isaiah’s readers are to embrace the glories of the suffering servant’s work, to accept God’s redemption and restorative grace and to proclaim his gospel to the nations, there needs to be total realism about our human depravity and need. As chapters 1-12 shine the spotlight of God’s righteousness into our own covenant relationship with him, we find that, in spite of all the blessings of the gospel, we have to declare ourselves guilty of covenant violation over and over again, in ways that are exactly parallel in heart and motivation to those of Judah.

Judah’s rebellion (and ours) is not just a matter of breaking God’s rules, but of breaking our relationship with him. The more we understand the true nature of the God of the Bible, the more horrific and serious that possibility becomes to us.

It will also preserve us from the popular contemporary fallacy of seeing our preaching as predominantly life-coaching, where the sermon provides top tips and principles to follow rather than bringing us face to face with a living Lord. Isaiah has a different agenda. He will not allow us to turn the pulpit into a platform for advocating models of ministry, purpose statements or church goals we have articulated and around which congregational life is structured.

Preaching Isaiah faithfully will mean humbling ourselves in the dust before the exalted Holy One of Israel. More than that, it will demand the disappearance of our own idols (2:17-18).

Coffee Joints for Mugger-toadery + Sunny Holidays for Pie and Good Old Isaiah

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Brothers & Sisters Toilet Sign, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Menu, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate 40 Hands Blend, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
Cake display, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Chocolate Toffee Cake, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
Carrot Cake, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Orange Chocolate Swirl Cake, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
Latte Etching,40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Latte Etching, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate
40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate Coffee Taster's Flavour Wheel, 40 Hands Coffee, Yong Siak Street, Tiong Bahru Estate

We were at different coffee places over the last few days, mugging hard. The seasonal blend (Columbia, Papua New Guinea, Guatemala, Costa Rica) at 40 Hands Coffee (facebook) was not half bad though the foam was slightly strange. Pity the cakes were obviously rather tired at the end of a Saturday.

Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, The Quayside, Robertson Quay Flat White, Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, The Quayside, Robertson Quay
Macarons, Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, The Quayside, Robertson Quay Yuzu macaron,Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar, The Quayside, Robertson Quay

The Thumper blend in a flat white at Smitten Coffee & Tea Bar (facebook) was much better than previously experienced. The barista this time was Darren Chang – roast was still dark but well-extracted in the milk. And the ET Artisan macarons were delicious as usual.

L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Bookshelf, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Mural, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Sewing machine as table, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Children's play area, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Fishbowl, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Old typewriter, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Flat White, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Self-service water dispensing area, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Scone, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Roast duck sandwich,L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India
Flower on table, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India Chicken and mushroom pie, L'etoile Cafe, Owen Road, Little India

L’etoile Cafe (facebook) in a corner shophouse along Owen Road was the bomb: natural light during the day, space galore, power sockets in the wall, wifi, pleasant music, nice people who actually offered repeatedly to top up the hot water in the teapot, well-made coffee from Highlander Coffee blends.

Lallang Field on a Sunny DayWhen the sun came out and the skies were blue and the wind beckoning, it was too nice outside to be studying and i was extremely glad for a bit of croquet, frisbee and excellent Windowsill Pies (facebook. pecan and toffee, Christmas, morello cherry from the Farmers’ Market at Loewen Gardens, Dempsey), and also to have David Jackman give an Introduction to Isaiah.

Croquet at Botanic GardensIsaiah prophesised during reigns of 4 kings of Judah – Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1, about 732-686BC). During this time, the northern kingdom of Samaria (Israel) was besieged by Assyria and eventually overthrown at its people, God’s people, scattered. Isaiah was called on the year Azariah (father of Jotham) died (Azariah had fancied himself to be priest as well as king and tried to offer incense in the temple. He was struck with leprosy and co-reigned with Jotham his son before expiring (2 Kings 15)). At that time, Assyria was the top nation (2 Kings 15-17). But Babylon would get rid of them eventually. It was a time of  great political upheaval.

The prophesies of Isaiah were unsettling. They were warnings of judgment on the people of God in the north (Israel) and south (Judah, though also called Israel in Isaiah, metonymically, because “Israel” also refers to “God’s people” since they all came from Jacob who was renamed “Israel”)(Isaiah 1:2). What did God have against them?

The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation,
a people laden with iniquity,
offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly!
They have forsaken the LORD,
they have despised the Holy One of Israel,
they are utterly estranged. (Isaiah 1:3-4)

It’s the same issue that has been plaguing mankind since The Fall – creatures who don’t acknowledge their Creator, though God has already made himself known in many times and many ways to Israel. The faithful city has become the whore (Isaiah 1:21), the people who had entered into a covenant relationship with God had very quickly abandoned him. How will this sinful people become the holy righteous nation of Isaiah 66?

Windowsill Pies - Pecan, Morello Cherry, Pumpkin, Christmas AppleIsaiah tells us how. And again, it is the great promise of God willing to reach out to his own rebellious people instead of just destroying them as he could have as their Creator. Surely this is not what an almighty God does – humbly (or rather humiliatingly) sending prophet after prophet to call his people back to him? Isn’t that rather…needy? But this God isn’t a god thought up by humans and so is quite outside our expectations – he is all powerful and yet needlessly compassionate; he is all about both divine judgment and divine love, simultaneously:

Isaiah 1-12
Here, there are great promises of God reaching out to his people, but the severe threat from God of consequences for not turning back to him. Isaiah introduces the choices that people of God will have to make – accept that God is really God and obey him, or reject him and face judgment for rejecting him (Isaiah 1-5). But this is a reiteration of what so many of God’s servants and prophets from all the generations since Adam have been telling the people and nothing much has changed – the people just can’t snap out of their sinfulness. So Isaiah 6-12 contains that great hope that God is going to come himself to do something to change the situation. The focus is on a figure called the Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) who will come to do something for his people – God isn’t a distant deity but one who cares enough to be intimately involved in his creation. The Immanuel would be a shoot from stump of Jesse (that is, a human from the line of David. Jesse was the son of Boaz and Ruth and father of David), a great king who would be God’s witness, yet also God (Isaiah 9:6 – “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace). (The people later called “Christians” didn’t make up the divinity of Jesus.)

But Jesus would come only 800 years in the future. Meanwhile, the message to God’s people was the same then as it is now – they had to choose whom they would trust – God, or themselves or other people. So God tells Ahaz is not to be afraid (Isaiah 7) that Syria and Israel (their own brother!) had devised evil against Judah:

if you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all. (Isaiah 7:9b)

Are you going to believe in God’s promise that if you keep trusting him he will save you or will you rely on human promises to protect yourself? (Obviously, in all situations, it would be illogical to claim to “trust God” to provide things he never promised in the first place – like prosperity or health or a good marriage or a satisfying career.)

Pecan Pie, Windowsill PiesIsaiah 13-27
10 oracles are preached about various nations in 2 sets of 5. The nation of Babylon heads each set (Isaiah 13, 21). God will restore the Davidic monarchy who will rule Zion and also the world. Though in the short-term, Assyria threatens to destroy God’s people, it is but only a rod in God’s hands. People need to know that God isn’t just the national deity of Israel, and that all the nations are in the hands of God. No nation has any additional or independent power other than the power that God gives them. In the context of that era, if God can bring his promises to fruition by controlling even the great Babylon then nothing would be able stand in his way; God can do it in the face of human determination to resist him, fight against him and ignore that he is God. God has whole world in his hand; he is the lord of history of all nations, governs whole earth, and causes the rise and fall of nations. Why do the people of God rely on alliances or coalitions or human politics? They are useless because it is not other humans who are in control but God. And God had already given Judah pretty specific promises that he would not punish them with Babylon if only they trusted that same promise!

Isaiah 24-27 extends this idea to whole world in every period of history. God promises that he will eventually judge all human rebellion – everybody everywhere will come under judgment of God, not just creatures but all spiritual things in heaven as well (Isaiah 24:21). But there is never just the threat, but this is followed with the promise in Isaiah 25 that through judgment something better will come and eventually death itself (which came about only because of The Fall – Genesis 3) will be destroyed. The right reaction should then be great faith in what God will do (Isaiah 26-27).

Pecan Pie, Windowsill PiesIsaiah 28-39
In Hezekiah’s days, the threat is still from Assyria. Hezekiah faces same issues – does he stand firm in faith and believe God’s promises, or will he like Ahaz build alliances instead of relying on God? Would Hezekiah think that Egypt would work with him against Assyria? They would be a good ally since they were powerful and had the latest in military technology (horses and chariots – Isaiah 31). But why go to Egypt if you have God’s promises of protection if only you trust in his promises? Hezzy does the sensible thing when he receives a threatening letter from the Assyrians – he spreads it out before God, trusting in him to deliver (like he had promised) and there is indeed an amazing deliverance (because that’s what God had said he would do in this situation).

Unfortunately, this doesn’t end too well because Hezekiah, though generally faithful, isn’t perfect. And the next threat comes from Babylon and God tells Hezekiah that Babyloan will prevail and Judah will be destroyed (Isaiah 39)

Apple pie, Windowsill PiesIsaiah 40-55
But this isn’t the end of God’s people. Isaiah 40-55 centers around the second major character: the suffering servant, an individual who is again clearly divine as well as human. He will bring about a whole new community of redeemed people who will become citizens of a new Jerusalem. There are the great servant songs of suffering that we later realise (in the Gospels) is Jesus’ work of redemption on the cross. Because of his work, there will be a new international community – God’s people will come not just from the scattered children of Israel but from the whole world.

Isaiah 56-66
This we see in part in the church today, but complete fulfilment is only when Jesus (the Immanuel, the Suffering Servant and here also the Divine Conqueror) comes again. While we are waiting for this what should we be doing? Remember our human frailty and divine ability. We will never find the resources to live a godly life in ourselves; while we wait for him to return, we should know that we will always be sinful and weak and failing. But there is the promise of the divine conqueror/warrior who will eradicate all evil at the end of days. This extermination of evil includes the terrible destruction of those who do not ask for his mercy, with bloodstains on the garments of the anointed conqueror like the stains of those who tread the winepress. Only with this judgement will there be real justice and righteousness that we so crave.

In Isaiah 65-66, we are reminded again that God will do what he has promised as he has always done. We need only trust that he will save, to be saved from promised destruction and brought into the new heavens and new earth that God has said he will make.

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