Monday, March 27, 2023

NERVES AFLAME - Isaiah 61 Devotional #27

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a groom puts on a turban, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
– Isaiah 61:1b-10
"I have one thing that counts, and which is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves: that is my love for the people and [Juan] Perón."
- María Eva "Evita" Duarte de Perón (1919-1952), First Lady of Argentina

Juan Domingo Perón ... thrice-elected, beloved and abominated ... president of Argentina. Rejecting the philosophies of both communism and capitalism (which, from his point of view, "both 'insectify' the individual by means of different systems"), he established instead the "Justicialist Party," whose principles are human dignity, freedom--for example, from corporate greed and exploitative labor conditions--and opportunity to rise out of poverty.

Whatever our opinions of Perón—regarding his questionable postulates, politics, and practices—may be, there is no denying that he threw his heart and soul into all he did, and he was able to accomplish some amazing things.  
From a Time Magazine article (Nov. 27, 1972):
"To his credit, Perón gave a sense of dignity to the working man for the first time in Argentine history.... Perón was able to raise wages and build hospitals, clinics and schools. He passed laws granting severance pay to discharged workers and extending social security; he also instituted the eight-hour day for farm laborers. Perón nationalized the British-owned Argentine railroads, retired the entire foreign debt, and by 1947 boasted a fivefold increase in industrial production during his regime."
Perón met his future wife, "Evita" Duarte, at a performing-arts charity event to benefit the survivors of a devastating earthquake that had claimed 10,000 lives. Evita was no stranger to injustice and heartache. Born into poverty, she was an illegitimate child (as were all her siblings), shunned and shamed by the community. Determined to rise above circumstance, she had made a successful incursion into the performing arts, which led to her participation at the charity event where she met Juan. And the rest is history!
Juan and Evita's shared passion for justice and the plight of the poor was a magnetic bond. The ensuing year would see him imprisoned by his political opponents, and then released after mass demonstrations by his supporters. The two were married on the following day and, seven months later, Evita became first lady as her husband won his first presidential election.
From that moment until her tragic death from cancer eight years later, at age 33, Evita's flaming persona captured the heart of her Argentine people. Evita Perón led rallies and gave speeches to thousands. She is credited with the passage of a bill in 1947 granting women the right to vote. And through her Eva Perón Charitable Foundation, she channeled $100 million annually to healthcare and housing for the poor. Though she had never held elected office, Evita was given a no-holds-barred state funeral, as the nation mourned her passing ... and some even pressed to have her canonized as a saint.
So ... how does any of this relate to our Isaiah 61 devotionals?
Over the past 26 segments, we have attempted to scratch the surface of this rich prophetic chapter--though it would take many, many books to fully unpack its glorious message.
The two opening verses speak directly of Christ Jesus' arrival on the world stage. Then verse 2 quickly pivots the focus to what we have referred to as his body of "Blessed Mourners"those who are deeply appalled by the state of their world and have a passion for change. Over the next seven verses, our Lord describes every detail, every facet, of the plan He has for these Mourners to turn the world upside down through the power of His Spirit.
And we now reach the part where the prophecy wraps up. First, verse 10 summarizes the Mourners' joyful response to their Messiah's Covenant of Love and His Great Commission. And finally, verse 11 recapitulates His commitment to them until the end of the age.
For today’s segment, we will focus on one of the two points He is making in verse 10: the Covenant of Love. As the verse states, "... He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness ..."
Think about Evita Perón and her tragic backstory. And yet, rather than letting it define her, she harnessed the wounded, mournful state of her heart to compel action for the betterment of the poor and the outcast. As she stated in our opening quote, "I have one thing that counts, and which is my heart; it burns in my soul, it aches in my flesh, and it ignites my nerves: that is my love for the people and [Juan] Perón."
Why Juan Perón? Firstly, because he had the same love for his people. But also because he saw Evita when she was "invisible," when she was a lily trampled in the mud, and he cared enough to make her part of his world so they could change it together.
As Isaiah 61:10 reminds us, our Lord has clothed us with the garments of salvation (establishing His covenant with us) and wrapped us with a robe of righteousness (placing us in right standing with God, Who sees us as righteous in Christ).
Ponder these loving words to His people, Israel, in Ezekiel 16:
"I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine. I gave you a good bath, washing off all that old blood, and anointed you with aromatic oils. I dressed you in a colorful gown and put leather sandals on your feet. I gave you linen blouses and a fashionable wardrobe of expensive clothing. I adorned you with jewelry: I placed bracelets on your wrists, fitted you out with a necklace, emerald rings, sapphire earrings, and a diamond tiara. You were provided with everything precious and beautiful: with exquisite clothes and elegant food, garnished with honey and oil. You were absolutely stunning. You were a queen! You became world-famous, a legendary beauty brought to perfection by my adornments. Decree of God, the Master." (Ezekiel 16:8-14, MSG)
* * *

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
THANK YOU, THANK YOU for clothing me with salvation when I was naked in my sin, and for wrapping me in Your own righteousness, precious and beautiful. Hallelujah! Infuse me with vision, impel me to action
NERVES AFLAMEfor the accomplishment of Your Great Commission, the proclamation of Your message of life in abundance, light in the darkness, and the ushering in of Your eternal kingdom.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 2/19/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 26, 2023

SEEDS THAT BLESS, SEEDS THAT CRUSH - Isaiah 61 Devotional #26

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed."
– Isaiah 61:1b-9
* * *
"From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
― From The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), by J.R.R. Tolkien
* * *

When did you first hear the name "Tolkien"?  

At the risk of dating myself, I'll confess that I discovered and devoured The Hobbit, followed immediately by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, toward the tail-end of the mid-1960s Tolkien "cult  following" era.  (Remember the days of "Gandalf for President!" and "Frodo Lives!" graffiti?)  In fact, the set of books I read as a teen was passed to me by a former burnt-out-on-speed hippie, thankfully saved and rehabilitated during these early Jesus People years.
But, it wasn't until a quarter-century later that the author came to be widely recognizedgradually and posthumouslyas the "father of high fantasy literature."  Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and it would be hard to find anyone who hasn't heard of J.R.R. Tolkien, thanks in part to the magnificent Peter Jackson live-action Lord of the Rings film series released 2001-2003.
There were a good number of main characters in Tolkien's masterpiece saga, such as Gandalf the wizard, Frodo the hobbit, and Gollum the stoor.  But the principal human character, in fact the one person this epic series revolves around in fulfilling its hidden agenda of being a Bible allegory, is Aragorn, who is the secret descendant and heirmore than 30 generations removedof Elendil, high king of the twin realms of Gondor and Arnor.
In the next few paragraphs, we're going to see a connection between Aragorn, Adam, Abraham, Jesus Christ our Lord, and His corps of Blessed Mourners.  It all comes down to the concept of seed.
As we began to study verse 8 of our Isaiah 61 devotional series, we came to realize that we suddenly had a backstage pass to God's eternal perspective on the Fall of Man, Redemption, and world evangelism!  And He concludes this glorious tour in verse 9 with the statement: "And their seed shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which Jehovah hath blessed."
So, let's begin at the beginningthe Fall of Man in Genesis 3. After Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden tree, God showed them His eternal plan to undo the curse they had just brought upon themselves and all of mankind, and to bring back His blessing instead.  He said to the serpent, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed. He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel." (Genesis 3:15)
Beginning at that statement, we can trace the golden thread of redemption throughout the 66 volumes of the Bible, to where it ends with Jesus Christ's return wearing a golden crown (Revelation 14:14), as Lord of Lords and King of Kings for all eternity.  And how do we recognize that thread?  Again—it's all about seed.
When Jesus began His ministry by taking the podium in a small synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:18) and quoting the opening thoughts of Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me ..." He was throwing down the gauntlet in a dual challenge.  Sure, he was flashing His credentials as the Messiahthe Anointed Oneto the great annoyance of the Jewish leaders present on that day.  But, more importantly, He was announcing Himself to that foul serpent, Satan, as the Seed of the woman, come to crush his head and redeem the human race for Himself.
Back to Aragorn for a moment.  His credential as true heir to the joint throne of Gondor and Arnor consisted of King Elendil's broken sword, which had been passed down through thirty-plus generations of Elendil's descendants living in relative obscurity in the northern wilderness, patiently waiting for the day of restoration.  That day had come, Aragorn knew, and it was time to re-forge Elendil' sword and wield it in battle to overthrow their great enemy, Sauron of Mordor, at last.
In Tolkien's words:
"The Sword of Elendil was forged anew by Elvish smiths, and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent Moon and rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes; for Aragorn son of Arathorn was going to war upon the marches of Mordor. Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again...."
All Aragorn had to do was reveal that shining sword to Sauron, and the war was on.  And reveal it he did!  (What happened next?  Watch the movies or ... better yet ... read the books.)  After centuries ... millennia of lying low, the rightful heir to the kingdom was coming to reclaim his own.
"But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman ..." (Galatians 4:4)
So, what brings up all this talk of seed and offspring, of nations and peoples and blessing in verse 9 of Isaiah 61?  Let's trace that golden thread ... because where it ends is a surprise indeed!
- As we already saw, it began in Genesis 3:15, speaking of the woman's Seed, Who would crush the serpent's headmeaning that Seed would bless all of mankind by freeing them from the bondage of Sin.
- Fast-forward to Abraham, who was the recipient of God's epic promise: "In your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." (Genesis 22:18)
- Continuing through Isaac: "... And in your Seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 26:4)
- And Jacob: "... And in you and in your Seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 28:14)
We're certainly seeing a pattern here.  But there's more to the promise!  This Seed is to be a King Whose kingdom is neverending.
- As God first hinted to Abraham: "... And I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you." (Genesis 17:6)
- And to his direct descendant David: "And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever." (2 Sam. 7:16)
- And to David's direct descendant Mary: "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:31-33)
- Interestingly enough, the connection was not lost on Mary: "He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his Seed forever." (From Mary's Song, Luke 1:54-55)
And here is where the golden thread runs right through our front door and into the hearth.  Again, it has to do with the seed.  
First, the Apostle Paul, through the Holy Spirit penned these words in Galatians 3:16: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed'Who is Christ."  
OK, so it's clear that the Seed through Whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed is none other than the Messiah Jesus Christ.  Right?  Well ... partially right!  For, just thirteen verses later, within the same chapter, Paul appears to contradict himself: "And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)
So, why does the apostle first emphasize that the promise was to Abraham's Seedone Seed, Jesus Christand then turn around and say the opposite: that we, the many, are in fact Abraham's seed?
Here is where the Amplified Bible is very helpful, as it renders that same verse, Galatians 3:29: "And if you belong to Christ [if you are in Him], then you are Abraham’s descendants, and [spiritual] heirs according to [God’s] promise."
See, this is one of those cases where the English language, rich as it may be, fails us.  We have a single, ambiguous grammatical constructbelonging, indicated by the apostrophe-s as the example above: "Christ's"—which could mean that something is an integral part of you, or it could also mean that you simply possess it.  For example, imagine for a moment that a friend confides in you, saying, "I have a skeleton."  Your first response might be one of alarm: "Why ... where did you dig it up!?"  When, quite obviously, every one of us has a skeleton, right?  No cause for alarm there!  It's part of us.  Without my skeleton, I could not live.  And conversely, without me, my skeleton could not live.  I am in my skeleton, and my skeleton is in me; we are parts of the same entity.
So, Paul was saying that there is only one Seed of the womanSeed of AbrahamWho would crush the serpent and thereby bless all peoples of the earth ... and that is Jesus the Messiah.  On the other hand, if we belong to Himmeaning we are now parts of the same entity, members of the body of Christthen we are also the Seed.  And all nations of the earth shall be blessed in us.
In fact, Scripture goes to great lengths to hammer home this point.  A few examples:
- "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." (I Corinthians 12:12)
- "Abide [live, have your very existence] in Me, and I [live, have My very existence] in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
This is the same principle we encountered a few episodes back in our Isaiah 61 series, where our Lord clearly shows us that, though we are sons and daughters of God, added to His family down through the centuries, yet we do not miss out on the supreme inheritance promised to Jesus, the Firstbornbecause we are in Him, so we are all firstborn!
And what about blessing all nations and peoples of the earth by crushing the head of that great serpent, Satan?  Well, of course, Jesus crushed his head through His twin victories of the cross and the resurrection.  But He goes on crushingwe go on crushingSatan daily.  We are in Him, and therefore His crushing continues through us:
- "Through God we will do valiantly, and it is He who will trample down our enemies." (Psalms 108:13)
- "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet...." (Romans 16:20)
Hallelujah!  This great triumph of our Isaiah-61 Messiah over Sin and death continuesand we, His corps of Blessed Mourners, get to be part of the campaignuntil it ends on that Day when "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15)

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thank you that my body is the temple of Christ and of Your Holy Spirit, Who dwells in me, and I in Him
so we can live and breathe, act and minister as one.  Please forgive me for the frequency with which my own sin so easily besets me and hinders Your flow of blessing to all nations and peoplesspecifically, the ones you have placed in my path to touch and bless.  Please cleanse me of my selfishness and make me a fruitful seed, a moving part in Your eternal plan, part of that City on the Hill, a light in the darkness spreading the hope of redemption announced in Isaiah 61.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 3/26/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved