Sunday, December 18, 2022

Mourning: Christ's Highest Call

 Index to the Devotional Series based on Isaiah 61

UNCOVER BEFORE NARNIA, YOU DOG! - Isaiah 61 Devotional #24

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... I will direct their work in truth ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-8c
 
At the castle gate Caspian [King of Narnia]'s trumpeter blew a blast and cried, "Open for the king of Narnia, come to visit his trusty and well-beloved servant the governor of the Lone Islands...."

Only the little postern opened and out came a tousled fellow with a dirty old hat on his head instead of a helmet, and a rusty old pike in his hand. He blinked at the flashing figures before him....

"Uncover before Narnia, you dog," thundered the Lord Bern, and dealt him a rap with his gauntleted hand which sent his hat flying from his head....

Caspian ... with Bern and Drinian and four others, went into the hall. Behind a table at the far end ... sat his Sufficiency [Gumpas], the governor of the Lone Islands.... He glanced up as the strangers entered and then looked down at his papers saying automatically, "No interviews without appointments except between nine and ten p.m. on second Saturdays."

Caspian nodded to Bern and then stood aside. Bern and Drinian took a step forward and each seized one end of the table. They lifted it, and flung it on one side of the hall where it rolled over, scattering a cascade of letters, dossiers, ink-pots, pens, sealing-wax and documents. Then, not roughly but as firmly as if their hands were pincers of steel, they plucked Gumpas out of his chair and deposited him, facing it, about four feet away. Caspian at once sat down in the chair and laid his naked sword across his knees.

"My Lord," said he, fixing his eyes on Gumpas, "you have not given us quite the welcome we expected. We are the King of Narnia."

"Nothing about it in the correspondence," said the governor. "Nothing in the minutes. We have not been notified of any such thing. All irregular. Happy to consider any applications—"

"And we are come to inquire into your Sufficiency's conduct of your office," continued Caspian.... "I want to know why you have permitted this abominable and unnatural traffic in slaves to grow up here, contrary to the ancient custom and usage of our dominions...."

"Your Majesty's tender years," said Gumpas, with what was meant to be a fatherly smile, "hardly make it possible that you should understand the economic problem involved....

"Very well, then," answered Caspian, "we relieve you of your office.  My Lord Bern, come here." And before Gumpas quite realised what was happening, Bern was kneeling with his hands between the King's hands and taking the oath to govern the Lone Islands in accordance with the old customs, rights, usages and laws of Narnia. And Caspian said, "I think we have had enough of governors," and made Bern a Duke, the Duke of the Lone Islands.

- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter IV [excerpts] (1952) C.S. Lewis
* * *

We have been visiting, over the past couple of episodes of our Isaiah 61 devotional series, what is indeed the hub of the entire wheel: verse 8.  

As stated in devotional #22, "[Verse 8] explains WHY the Messianic Age has come. It enables us at last to attain what we never could under the Old Covenant: justice toward man and a personal relationship with God.  It's the FULFILLMENT of the law and the prophets."

In short, the first half of verse 8, which we already studied, sums up the Old Covenant: "I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering."  There we have the two tenets -- of "love your neighbor" and "love the Lord your God" -- on which hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40).

But mankind, sold under Sin, was powerless to live up to those tenets.  Which is WHY the second half of the verse pivots to the New Covenant: "I will direct their work IN TRUTH, and will make with them an EVERLASTING COVENANT."  It's the eternal mystery: Christ in us, the Hope of glory (Colossians 1:27), through the blood of His everlasting New Covenant, now taking residence in us and personally carrying out His Isaiah 61 commission IN TRUTH.  No more make-believe.  No more Old Covenant trial and failure.

Today's devotional focuses on verse 8c: "I WILL DIRECT THEIR WORK IN TRUTH."

During his 64 years, the great Christian theologian C.S. Lewis wrote more than 30 books, which have sold millions of copies.  But none of these holds a candle to the popularity of his seven-volume fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.

In our lead-in excerpt, which is from the third installment in that series (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), the curtain opens on King Caspian of Narnia with a handful of his trusty subjects springing a surprise visit to Doorn, chief territory of the Lone Islands -- a remote outpost that has belonged to the crown of Narnia for a couple of millennia.

But much like Israel under the Old Covenant, the Lone Islands had been ruled by a succession of governors such as Gumpas who, while pretending fealty to Narnia, supported human trafficking and other unjust enterprises that served to line their own pockets rather than uphold the king's law and dominion.  In fact, Gumpas's allegiance was utter farce, as the story further reveals that he had never bothered to send the required tribute money to the king.

Indeed, this Narnia story mirrors the "surprise" (at least ... surprise to the chief priests, Scribes, and Pharisees) arrival of their King, recorded in Luke 4:18-21, where He declares Himself to be the long-awaited Messiah of Isaiah 61.  An arrival that included cleansing the temple of make-believe worship, upsetting the money-changers' tables, disrupting their "den of robbery" (Matthew 21:13), and declaring a new era of justice and TRUTH now that HE is here!

"For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering; I WILL DIRECT THEIR WORK IN TRUTH..." (Isaiah 61:8)

We know that these words from Isaiah are addressed specifically to His "Blessed Mourners"--those who stand appalled at the twin evils of injustice in world and make-believe religiosity in the church, and who are ready to lay it all down to become agents of change.

In our story, King Caspian himself burst on the scene, ousting the disloyal Gumpas and replacing him with a trustworthy statesman, Duke Bern.  Instead of a self-serving ruler, the duke would be an ambassador, a representative ... the veritable embodiment of the king.

And yet, as we've seen already, mankind, sold under Sin, was powerless to live up to those tenets.  Every well-meaning Bern had eventually morphed into a Gumpas.  UNTIL NOW!

See, the Messiah is come, and it is HE who will DIRECT OUR WORK IN TRUTH by installing Himself, the Holy Spirit, within us.  

It's "Christ in us, the Hope of glory!" (Colossians 1:27)  

It's "Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me!" (Galatians 2:20)   

It's what replaces "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)" with, "...The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:2-4, excerpts)."

THIS is why Messiah came!  So Isaiah 61 could then and thenceforth be lifted from a dusty, 700-year-old prophetic scroll and fulfilled, not in make-believe, but in TRUTH, "today ... in [their] hearing" (Luke 4:21)!

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
My prayer today, and every day, is a simple yet radical one: 'Please fill me afresh with your Holy Spirit. Burn away all empty, self-serving, make-believe piety and direct my works in TRUTH.'
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 12/18/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 20, 2022

ROBBERY FOR BURNT OFFERING - Isaiah 61 Devotional #23

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-8b
 
"I'm out of a job, sir, and thought maybe you might put me in the way of getting something."

"I don't know of anything. Jobs are scarce--" replied the minister, beginning to shut the door slowly.

"I didn't know but you might perhaps be able to give me a line to the city railway or the superintendent of the shops, or something," continued the young man, shifting his faded hat from one hand to the other nervously.

"It would be of no use. You will have to excuse me. I am very busy this morning. I hope you will find something. Sorry I can't give you something to do here. But I keep only a horse and a cow and do the work myself."

The Rev. Henry Maxwell closed the door and heard the man walk down the steps. As he went up into his study he saw from his hall window that the man was going slowly down the street, still holding his hat between his hands. There was something in the figure so dejected, homeless and forsaken that the minister hesitated a moment as he stood looking at it. Then he turned to his desk and with a sigh began the writing where he had left off. He had no more interruptions, and when his wife came in two hours later the sermon was finished, the loose leaves gathered up and neatly tied together, and laid on his Bible all ready for the Sunday morning service.

- Excerpt from In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon (1896, Public Domain)

Read the full story at: http://tinyurl.com/in-his-steps
* * *

The latest stop on our Isaiah 61 Messianic tour brought us to verse 8, where Christ reveals to His Blessed Mourners the eternal why-and-wherefore of their mission to turn the world upside down.  In His own words, it is because "I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering."  And, having already covered, last time, the premise of JUSTICE -- that is, to act in righteousness and love toward our fellow man -- let's ponder the meaning of ...

ROBBERY FOR BURNT OFFERING!

Seriously?  Like ... is our Lord's wrath revealed against those who would pilfer a goat from the neighbor's field to sacrifice at the temple?

Well, yes! ... metaphorically.  See, the root of all Pharisaism -- all sham piety -- is our appetite for appearing "holier than thou" while having a heart of cold mutton in our dealings and relationships.  As Jesus put it, "They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." (Luke 20:47, NIV)

We need only flip back a few pages to Isaiah chapters 58 and 59, which deal at great length about this very topic.  It is, in fact, the problem statement that sets the stage for the solution laid out in Isaiah 61.  It is the irredeemable faux religiosity that calls for Christ's redeeming work in the second half of verse 8 ... which we'll unpack in our next session.

So, what's a Blessed Mourner to do?

Our lead-in story above is an excerpt from the opening scene of In His Steps -- one of the top ten best-selling Christian books of all time, after the Bible (of course) and a few others like Pilgrim's Progress and Foxe's Book of Martyrs.  We're introduced to one of the main characters, Pastor Henry Maxwell, who is so intent on polishing his grandiloquent sermon that he cannot so much as spare a kind word for a homeless tramp at his door.

In His Steps.  A powerhouse of truth with over 50 million copies sold, translated into more than twenty languages, and the basis for two major motion pictures.  Due to a clerical error (or perhaps divine purpose), the book has been in the public domain since it was first published in 1896.

Without divulging details and spoilers -- since you absolutely MUST read the book if you haven't already -- suffice it to say that the drama that began with this brief conversation between a small-town pastor and a transient man ultimately snowballed into a great spiritual awakening, not only in their (fictitious) region of America, but in the heart of every man and woman over the past century who has fallen in love with this inspirational story -- which compels us to antecede every word and action with the thought, "What would Jesus do?"

In effect, the resounding moral of In His Steps is Isaiah 61:8: "I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery for burnt offering."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Forgive me for all the ways I honor You with my lips while my heart is cold and distant.  In every situation, in every interaction with the people you bring my way, let my prayer be, "What would the Christ of Isaiah 61 do?"  And, by Your grace and power, I commit to carrying on His eternal mission of justice and transforming love.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 11/20/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 2, 2022

SHE NEEDS SHOES! - Isaiah 61 Devotional #22

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... For I, the Lord, love justice ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-8a