Sunday, June 26, 2022

Mourning: Christ's Highest Call

 Index to the Devotional Series based on Isaiah 61

WAITING FOR NORMAL BODY PARTS TO ARRIVE - Isaiah 61 Devotional #19

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... Instead of your shame you shall have double honor ..."
– Isaiah 61:1b-7a
 
"I can't be a princess! I'm still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!"
- Mia Thermopolis, from The Princess Diaries (2001) Walt Disney Pictures
* * *

Today's portion of the magnificent Isaiah 61 treasure--the bequest of our Lord's "Blessed Mourners"--is in fact just a single facet of the multi-faced gem that is verse seven, which could itself spawn a thousand sermons.  So it is essential that we first look at the gem from all sides, then rightly divide it for the purposes of this study.

"Instead of your shame you shall have double honor, and instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs."
- Isaiah 61:7 (NKJV)

Wow! To begin with, we have three prominent themes: HONOR instead of shame; POSSESSION instead of confusion; and finally, the outcome--boundless, everlasting JOY.  This devotional will focus on the first theme, HONOR.

But what's up with that pesky word "double"?  Double honor.  Double portion.  Is it, like, we're allowed second helpings but not thirds?  

Thankfully, our Lord does not afflict us with unsolvable puzzles.  In fact, Isaiah's 8th-century B.C. audience wouldn't even do a double take.  They were familiar with Old Testament law, wherein the "right of the firstborn" was a double portion of the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17), not to mention the double honor of continuing the family's patriarchal lineage (Genesis 49:3).  So, while the words "portion," "land," and "possess" all speak of inheritance, the word "double" specifically focuses on FIRSTBORN inheritance.

OK, so what's a verse about firstborn inheritance doing right smack in the middle of God's promises to His "Blessed Mourners" (verses 3-11)?

Because it is absolutely PIVOTAL!  Think of the ground we've covered since verse 3. He first gives them "beauty for ashes": His eternal destiny in exchange for the ashes of their broken dreams.  Right up through verse 6, where they "eat the riches of the Gentiles": His unlimited provision in exchange for the petty possessions and prestige they left behind.

Why?  Because, as Paul said, "You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)  Christ--Who is the image of the invisible God, the FIRSTBORN of all creation. (Colossians 1:15) He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the FIRSTBORN from the dead (v. 18), and the FIRSTBORN among many brethren. (Romans 8:29)

But it gets BETTER!...

Jesus Christ is indeed the firstborn among many bretheren, since we are all sons of God through adoption.  Thinking back to the Old Testament "right of the firstborn," that means Jesus gets a double portion of honor and inheritance, while we get ... the scraps, right?

No, no, NO, hallelujah!  And herein lies the mystery of it all: that, having died, and now alive again "hidden with Christ in God," WE ARE ALL FIRSTBORN ... IN HIM!  Hebrews 12:22 speaks of the saints gone to be with Him as "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."  And Romans 8:16b-17 speaks directly in terms of our inheritance: "...We are children of God. And if children, then heirs--heirs of God and JOINT HEIRS with Christ."

Did you see that?  It's not a matter of Jesus, the Firstborn, getting a "double portion" and the rest of us getting what's left over.  Rather, IN HIM, we are the church of the firstborn, joint-heirs with the one-and-only Firstborn, Jesus Christ.  IN HIM, we enjoy that "double portion"--instead of shame, the firstborn's honor; and instead of confusion, the firstborn's possession.  There are no leftovers.  It's just the firstborn's portion: ALL THINGS for life and godliness.

Charles Spurgeon proclaimed this same truth in his impassioned sermon "The Joint Heirs and Their Divine Portion," delivered July 28, 1861:

"And O my soul, thy portion cannot be slender nor thy dowry narrow, since it is the same inheritance which Christ has from His Father's hands. Weigh the riches of Christ in scales and his treasures in balances, and then think to count the treasures which belong to the saints. Reach the bottom of Christ's sea of joy, and then hope to understand the bliss which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Overleap the boundaries of Christ's possession if you can, and then dream of finding a limit to the possessions of the elect of God. 'All things are yours, for ye are Christ's and Christ is God's.' [Romans 8:17]"

Now, having surveyed the full breadth of verse 7, let's bite off, at last, today's theme: HONOR instead of shame.  As joint heirs with Christ, one thing we receive is "double honor," that is, the HONOR of the firstborn Son.  And yet, it's paradoxical because we enjoy that glorious honor only by giving it to Him, Who is the One and only being entitled to it.  As Paul stated, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." (Galatians 6:14)  Meaning, my boast--my honor--lies in the fact that He is everything; I am nothing, and yet at the same time, I am everything IN HIM.

And, if I inherit all the honor of the Firstborn of God, there remains no place for shame.  Why? Because, on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, He bore the utmost shame--MY shame--so I no longer have to!

In our opening teaser, we recall Mia's shock on learning that she was heir to a kingdom she'd never even heard of: "I can't be a princess! I'm still waiting for normal body parts to arrive!"

In Disney's 2001 classic The Princess Diaries, Amelia "Mia" Thermopolis is ashamed of her looks, bullied by classmates, terrified to speak in front of class ... yeah, a typical fifteen-year-old.  But when her world is turned upside down by the sudden revelation that she is a princess, soon to be queen, well ... watch the movie.  But the point is that her surprise inheritance lifts her from shame to honor, from being a nobody to the place of preeminence among her people--a vantage point from which she can truly make a difference.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank You that I am part of that "chosen generation," that ALL THINGS are mine in Jesus Christ the Firstborn.  From this place of strength, may I live--no longer I, but Christ in me--to reflect all honor and praise back to Him, that the world may come to His magnificent light!
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/26/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 12, 2022

'SOUPE AU CAILLOU' - MIRACLE RECIPE FROM THE BIBLE - Isaiah 61 Devotional #18

 
"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall boast."
– Isaiah 61:1b-6c
 
"Two travelers, dying of thirst and hunger, entered a farm and asked for something to fortify their feeble stomachs.

"'Gentlemen,' said the farmer, '...leave! For we have neither meat nor bread.'"

So begins the earliest known account (c.1716) of "La Soupe au Caillou (Stone Soup)," by Anne-Marguerite Petit du Noyer (1663-1719), a.k.a. Madame Desnoyers.
* * *

Today's Isaiah 61 episode -- following the story of Christ's dyed-in-the-wool, turn-the-world-upside-down brigade -- brings us to a veritable meat-and-potatoes question: "How do these 'Blessed Mourners' eat!?"  Indeed, those of us who would answer this passage's high calling cannot but ask ourselves whether it includes "holy" hunger and ruination.

It's a fair question, and one that Peter himself raised in Mark 10.  To which, our gracious Lord responded, "... There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life."

Or, for the flat-out meat-and-potatoes perspective, we have Matthew 6: "Don't worry what you'll eat, drink, or wear.  While the world is obsessing over those things, your Father's got you covered.  Be a faithful Kingdom servant, and you'll see that His provision is automatic! [paraphrase mine]"

While this sounds good on paper ... let's face it ... Jesus was just being "poetic," right?  And if we go to the original Greek, we'll discover that it works out to be, like, some abstruse spooky-spiritual meaning?

Actually, the original Greek is clear and simple--no bait-and-switch: "Don't worry, saying, 'What shall we eat/drink/wear?' ... Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things.  Seek first His Kingdom ..."

If you're starting to see a theme emerging here ... you're right!
- Mark 10: Seek to follow Christ over family and possessions: receive a hundredfold.
- Matthew 6: Seek His Kingdom over food/drink/clothing: receive all those things.

And our Isaiah 61 passage further connects the dots by saying, "You shall eat the riches of the Gentiles."  Which, in today's New Testament context, equates to: "The Christian's provision will come at the hand of non-believers."

How so?

Think about it.  Whatever your perceived source of income--whether a job, business, investments, Social Security (which is just another type of investment)--it all involves a transfer of "riches" from non-believers to you.

But here's where we get tripped up, especially when you add to the mix wars, health crises, economic downturns, investments "underwater" and what not.  How am I to keep afloat when the buying power from my salary/business/investment/Social Security source is down, and the cost of living is through the clouds?  What am I to eat, drink, and wear?

A Christian businessman friend called me just the other day.  "What's your opinion on the coming recession?" he said.  "It's not affected my business yet, but I have other friends that say theirs are slowing down significantly, and I'm getting worried."

It was an opportunity for me to share how the Lord had been changing my own perspective on this very topic.  The bottom line is that the Christian's perceived sources of income are not SOURCES at all; they're just CHANNELS.  Our Heavenly Father--the One Who already knows what we need (Matthew 6)--is the Source!  As long as I consider my job or business (and I have both) as my source, they will let me down.  But when I trust the Lord as my source, and I focus first on serving Him, then He takes care of dredging the channel when it's slow ... or changing channels if necessary.  Economic drought cannot touch me so long as my trust is in Him.

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit." (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NKJV)

How does this jibe with the promise that we'll "eat the riches of the Gentiles"?

Our "Stone Soup" fable begins with two itinerant men desperately in need of a meal.  The farmer and his neighbors have a rich supply of edibles to which these travelers at first seem to feel they are entitled simply by virtue of their hunger.  But the farmer rebuffs them, saying deceitfully, "Leave! For we have neither meat nor bread."

However, when the protagonists change their approach to one of service, offering to fill a cauldron with lovely "stone soup" for the enjoyment of all ... suddenly, the "Gentiles" are happy to contribute of their riches--a cabbage here, some turnips, seasonings, a cut of meat, and so on.  In the end, the travelers partook of a feast, though they'd added nothing but stones from the dusty road they traveled ... and a willingness to bless.

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank You for Your compassionate foreknowledge of all I require for life and godliness--even the mundane necessities such as food and clothing.  This world is not my home; but, as I'm passing through, develop in me the heart of a Kingdom servant.  And may I come to understand, deep down, that You are the infinite Source of provision--not my job, business, or investments, but You alone.  May I trust wholeheartedly in You and eat the riches of the "Gentiles" that You channel my way.  
In Jesus' name. Amen."

---
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 6/12/2022.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2022 All Rights Reserved