Isaiah was a prophet to the southern kingdom during the reign of Uzziah. Uzziah was a king who led Judah to several great military victories. He reigned during a time of prosperity for Judah. But with the prosperity came a demise in the spiritual nature of the people. Their wealth as a nation led to a decline in their faith. They kept the rituals, but began to deny their meaning. Because of their movement from trusting in God, He began to exert his discipline on them, attempting to bring them back in fellowship. They would not return. Ultimately, near the end of Isaiah’s ministry, Judah would be taken captive by Babylon, Jerusalem would be destroyed, the temple leveled.

But even before that tragic event, darkness was beginning to spread across the nation. The hopelessness of their cause was growing evident. They were blinded by the god of this world, living in the shadow of death the burden of their sin was growing heavy.

In the midst of this pervading darkness, God issued a promise.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
Isaiah 9:2

In verses 2-4 Isaiah uses verbs that assume the action to be completed and to have lasting consequences. He says the people “have seen” a great light and a light “has dawned.” He “has enlarged” and “has increased” the nation and the joy. He “has shattered” the yoke. Each of these verb phrases states as completed a state of being that does not exist.

That is the nature of the promises of God. He sees as complete what we have only just learned about. It is our privilege to begin to live in the world that God has already seen as complete around us.

You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
Isaiah 9:3

God promises great joy to those who are walking in darkness and in the shadow of death. We rejoice over the shattering of the yoke of the burden of slavery and oppression. Without Christ we are slaves to sin, but when we yield our lives to God and accept his promise in our lives the burden of sin is lifted and we are made free. As a believer, you are no longer held down by the oppressor, but you are made free to worship God and to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

We also rejoice because in Christ the final victory in the battle against Satan has been won. We are the spoils of that victory. It was a battle commenced in the halls of heaven before the creation of the world and a victory promised in the garden of Eden. When Jesus came to earth the angels sang a song of victory. They could sing of peace on earth and good will toward men because the mighty warrior Jesus was come to earth to win the final victory. Again, this promise made in Isaiah is seen as already fulfilled before Jesus ever comes to earth. God is sure of the victory then. And the angels sing at his birth because the victory is won in heaven, it only needed be played out here on earth.

Imagine this: if the victory song was so great at the birth of Jesus in anticipation of the victory, what will the cry from the angels and all creation be when Jesus comes again to finalize that victory. And yet, the rejoicing at the prophecy and at the birth are just as great for the victory is just as sure then as it will be one day.

So for this promise, there is joy, great joy and rejoicing. The work of God among his people is complete in God’s eyes. So even now we rejoice, for he has shattered the burden and win the battle. While we may still sense the burden and be aware of the battle, God has won victory. Be sure of it.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki about their motivation to do ministry. He said this in chapter 2, verse 3-6:

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness.We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.

Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his ministry among them. Having come out of a bad situation in Philippi where he was arrested, he remained bold in his proclamation of the gospel.

He proclaimed the gospel without error, impurity or deception.  Integrity was high on Paul’s list of desired character traits. He taught the truth, for their good, not his, with no need to trick them into the kingdom. When you trust the power of the gospel you neither need nor want to resort to tricks or shortcuts.

Paul was seeking only God’s approval, not men. His employer was God. He was beholden only to Him. He had only Him to please. This gave him the freedom to speak truth without worry about the response.

Paul spoke without flattery or greed. Because he was dependent only on God the Father, he did not attempt to manipulate his audience. He didn’t need to win their approval to gain big offerings. He trust the Lord to meet his needs.

He was intent on sharing the gospel without seeking personal glory. Paul had no need for fame. He had already been famous and that had left him empty and without hope.

So now we must ask the question: Why are you doing this? What is your motive? What, if anything, are you hoping to get from this? Watch out for the ministry traps found in bad motivations:

  • Seeking approval, compliments, “amen” from the crowd
  • Manipulating emotions to gain influence
  • Attempting to build your own kingdom in the church
  • Jealousy of others, trying to be just as popular as someone else or some other ministry
  • Shocking to be shocking
  • Rebelling to draw the rebellious

The gospel is sufficient. God’s Word is powerful enough. The Holy Spirit convicts the heart. The Father is trustworthy.

In the winter edition of Bible Studies for Life, produced by Lifeway, each week is an examination of a tough question, challenging you to defend your Christian faith. In session 3 the question is: Does Absolute Truth Exist? The study comes from John 18; 1; and 8. Here are my thoughts on the passage followed by the notes as I wrote them.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iimDrhVL37w&w=560&h=315]

The first Sunday in December means that those using Lifeway small group Bible study material are starting a new quarter. Since I’ve seen a pretty good response to my videos on the Bible Studies for Life series, I’ve decided to add a series on Explore the Bible. We’ll see how it goes, but here is the first week for each study.

Bible Studies for Life begins exploring some of the big questions of faith. This week Jude answers the question: Do we need to defend our faith? Here is my video on this passage followed by my notes as I wrote them.

Explore the Bible works through passages in Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Winter months of 2019-20. This week we look at Numbers 9. Here is my video along with the notes as I studied the passage.