Monday, May 29, 2023

JESUS' VIEWS ON BUD-LIGHT - Isaiah 61 Devotional #29

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."
– Isaiah 61:1b-11
* * *

Then, without warning, [the witch] did a thing that was dreadful to see. Lightly, easily, as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, she stretched up her right arm and wrenched off one of the cross-bars of the lamp-post.
. . .
She raised her arm and flung the iron bar straight at its head....  The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass.
. . .
"Hullo! What's that?" said Digory.... "Do come and look...."

It was a perfect little model of a lamp-post, about three feet high but lengthening, and thickening in proportion, as they watched it; in fact growing just as the trees had grown.

"It's alive tooI mean, it's lit," said Digory.

"Remarkable, most remarkable," muttered Uncle Andrew.... "We're in a world where everything, even a lamp-post, comes to life and grows...."

"Don't you see?" said Digory. "This is where the bar fellthe bar she tore off the lamp-post at home...."

- The Magician's Nephew, Chapters VIII and IX [excerpts] (1955) C.S. Lewis
* * *

As our tour of the Isaiah 61 Messianic prophecy comes in for a landing, He closes it with one final thought.  This thought addresses the question that the ten preceding verses have ignited in the minds of His Blessed Mourners: "How could I dream of fulfilling even a molecule of this weighty mandate? Surely I'll fall flat."

Have no fear.  Is this not the same dear Savior Who said, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light"? (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV)  Even as He calls us to submit our neck to His toilsome yoke, He assures us that the labor will be restful, easy, and light!  But how can this be?  

Let's unpack our Lord's concluding message in verse 11, which settles this very mystery: "For as the earth brings forth its bud, as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

First, think of a bud, on a branch, connected to a vine in the earth of the Lord's garden. "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." (John 15:5, ESV)  See, as branches we often flaunt lots of buds, which are our good intentionsall the things we're going to accomplish "for Jesus."  But those buds will never develop into a single piece of fruit without the power of the vine coursing through us.

This is a sobering thought, and yet ... what freedom, what exuberance, what "joy unspeakable" it unleashes in us when we finally "get it"!  It's our Lord Who is at work in us, both to will (the bud, the good intention) and to fulfill (the cluster bursting forth in sweet fruit) His good pleasure.  We need only be planted in His good earth, where the "the garden" itselfthe very earth, charged with His infinite love and power"causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth."

Theologian and author C.S. Lewis, best known for his classic fiction series The Chronicles of Narnia, gave us a unique illustration of this truth.  If you've read the first installment of the Narnia books (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) or seen one of the video adaptations, you will recall Lucy's discovery, when she first enters Narnia, of a lamp-post strangely located and shining bright in the middle of a forest.

Though that book was the first of the Narnia series to be published, it was followed five years later by a prequel (the sixth book of the series, The Magician's Nephew), where we discover at last the origin of this odd lamp-post.  

In true allegorical style, the story brings us to the land of Narnia at the dawn of its creation, in a state of utter darkness and void.  And there we find Aslan the Lion (a type of Jesus) speakingor singing, as it wereall things into being.  His words permeate the earth itself, which responds in explosive fashion with every sort of grass, trees, flowers, and herbs.

Enter the witch Jadis (the story's counterpart for Satan) appearing on the scene from another dimension.  In a burst of hatred and wrath at finding Aslan and hearing His song, she flings at Him the only thing that comes to handa short iron bar that had earlier been wrenched from a lamp-post.  It ricochets off the Lion's head, Who is both unharmed and unruffled by the blow. But almost immediately, as the iron sticks into the earth pregnant with Aslan's creation power, it begins growing into a fully-formed lamp-post that sheds a magnificent, sweet light in the manner of its kind.

Isaiah 61 is all about Messiah Jesus, Who said, "I am the Light of the World" (John 8:12), coming to dispel darkness and despair.  But He also said, "As the Father sent Me, so I send you" (John 20:21), and "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).  We not only carry His torch ... we are the torch as His Spirit shines bright in us.  We not only purvey His fruit of hope and salvation ... we are the branches, that bear the buds, that spring forth into the most delicious fruits of "righteousness and praise ... before all the nations."  How? Solely by virtue of abiding in Himin His earth, in His gardenwhere His Isaiah 61 creation power courses through our veins.

In the words of the old hymn, "Channels only, blessed Master / But with all Thy wondrous power / Flowing through us, Thou canst use us / Every day and every hour."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
What a fitting conclusion You sealed the Isaiah 61 message with, hallelujah!  Help me to "get it."  I need to "get it"!  Open the eyes of my heart to see that I, tooflawed and failure-prone as I amcan be a branch budding forth to glorious fruit, a light springing up in the darkness, as I yield to Your loving hand, to be rooted in the fertile earth of Your garden.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 5/29/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 4, 2023

QUEEN OF DIAMONDS, KING OF HEARTS - Isaiah 61 Devotional #28

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God ... as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."
– Isaiah 61:1b-10c
"Oh, then, some pledge of your indulgence, some object which came from you and may remind me that I have not been dreaming; something you have worn, and that I may wear in my turna ring, a necklace, a chain."

"Will you depart if I give you that you demand ... you will leave France ... return to England?"

"I will, I swear to you."

"Wait, then, wait."

Anne of Austria re-entered her apartment, and came out again almost immediately, holding a rosewood casket in her hand, with her cipher encrusted with gold.

"Here, my Lord, here," said she, "keep this in memory of me."

Buckingham took the casket ... and faithful to the promise he had made, he rushed out of the apartment.

- From The Three Musketeers (1844), by Alexandre Dumas, Père
* * *

Counted among the greatest novels ever written, The Three Musketeers is a fast-paced thriller brimming with romance, betrayal, palace intrigue, and derring-do.

In this pivotal scene, which occurs in the belly of the Louvre fortress, residence of Louis XIII and Queen Anne of Austria, she entertains, reluctantly at first, the advances of the Duke of Buckingham.  But at last, casting caution to the winds, she slips him a tiny box that contains a fabulous ribbon brooch with twelve diamond studsa token of love from her husband, Louis.

It was this small act of unfaithfulness that catalyzed events ultimately costing reputations and lives ... even precipitating the Anglo-French war, with the siege of La Rochelle.

Today's segment of the Isaiah 61 prophecy focuses on the jubilant response of Messiah's followersthe Blessed Mourners we've been studyingto the central truth of verse 10 that we covered last time: being clothed in His salvation and wrapped in His righteousness.  

And, although we've seen these faithful ones, earlier in the chapter, being endowed with joy: first, in exchange for their mourning, and again as part of their "firstborn inheritance" ... this time it's different.  This is the Habakkuk-3 type of love-joythe kind that wells up from within and bursts forth in response to who we are in the Beloved, regardless of our station or circumstance:
Though the fig tree does not bud
   and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails
   and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen
   and no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
   I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.
   - Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV

In fact, the prophet Habakkuk's words (7th century B.C.) match those of Isaiah 61 (8th century B.C.): "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God ... as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels."

So, the metaphor is that we flaunt this boundless love-joywhich is to be found in Christjust as a bride adorns herself with the glittering jewelry she has received from the bridegroom on her wedding day.  She's head-over-heels in love, and the world must know and rejoice with her!

But then comes the sad and fateful scene ... where we find the exquisite royal bride, Anne of Austria, trysting in a dark passageway with the enemy of her homelandthe enemy of her husband and lover, King Louisand handing over the priceless diamond jewelry he'd gifted to her.  The same jewelry she had worn with delight just twelve years ago.

Anne of Austria's romantic feelings for her husband didn't evaporate in a day, or even a year.  But when she failed to guard her heart, it was simply a matter of timea "slow fade."

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away.
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
And thoughts invade, choices made,
A price will be paid when you give yourself away.
People never crumble in a day.
- From Slow Fade, by Casting Crowns (2007)

Let us ponder the heartbroken words of our Lord in Revelation 2: "And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works...."

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
Thinking back to my first love, when my heart brimmed with joy like a bride in shining jewelry ... I can only echo the words of the songwriter:
'Help me, Jesus; I know what I am. / Now that I know that I've needed You so / Help me, Jesus, my soul's in Your hand.'
I repent of my unfaithful neglect. In Your tender mercy, take me by the hand and lead me back.  May I know that first love, do those first works, and rejoice once again in God my Savior, King of Hearts!
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 5/4/2023.

Copyright © Brad Fenichel 2023 All Rights Reserved