We all heard the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” As ridiculous as it sounds, people throughout history have pinned the blame for their sins on other people. “He or she made me do it” sounds about as silly as “the devil made me do it.” Ezekiel wrote at length about people bearing responsibility for their own sins. God said, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4 ESV).
Throughout the Bible, fathers had a responsibility to teach their children in the Lord. Parents were expected to instruct children, and teach them God’s law. But through Ezekiel, God makes it clear that the father is responsible for his own sins, and the children are responsible for theirs. Ezekiel gives an example of a son who sees the sins of his father and does not do likewise. The son walks in righteousness while the father continues to sin. Ezekiel says, “As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:18).
Guilt by association does not hold up with God. Neither does unjust accusation. God always prefers repentance. The person who sins is not doomed if he repents: “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, she shall surely live; he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:21). The reverse of that is true too: “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed for them he shall die” (vs. 24).
It’s important for us to teach our children to be responsible for their own actions. They cannot shift blame. At the same time, we need to demonstrate to them that we are responsible for our own sins too. And that God loves repentance! His grace and salvation are wonderful!
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Isaiah called out oppression and the mistreatment of the poor. There is a definite theme of repentance that runs throughout the entire book of Isaiah. God is calling out the unrighteous, the oppressors, and those who mistreat their neighbors. In chapter 66, God is saying what Jesus often repeated–that sacrifices are an abomination to God if the hearts are corrupt.
God says, “I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Isaiah 66:4 ESV).
God reminds the people that He is the one who made the heavens and earth, and that the earth is his footstool. Our destiny is in God’s hands. He also reminds us that being humble, ashamed of our sins, and faithful to his word will get his eye: “All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Jesus Christ had the same message. He preached repentance and called people to humble themselves. When people are humble and contrite, God looks upon them. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love!
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Jesus, in one sentence, summed up the Law and the Prophets: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 ESV). That’s it. This is known as the “golden rule” of the Bible. But what exactly does this mean?
Were it not for the Law and the Prophets, it would be very easy to misconstrue this rule, which is what many people do. “This is the Law and the Prophets.” It’s not like the Law and the Prophets. It’s not based on the Law and the Prophets. It’s not abstractly linked to the Law and the Prophets. It is the Law and the Prophets!
The Old Testament tells us how to care for our neighbors. It’s not some profound mystery. Truth is not something we need to go on a treasure hunt for. We don’t have to go searching for ways to be compassionate to others. The Law and the Prophets are the plumb line that keep our souls in check. If people are threatening the safety of our neighbors, put yourself in the shoes of that neighbor. If people are hungry and begging in the street, put yourself in the shoes of the hungry person. If someone is experiencing abuse, put yourselves into the shoes of the abused. Ask, what would I need from my neighbor in this time of desperation?
If we can answer that question truthfully, we are close to the heart of God. The world can use people who adhere to the Golden Rule, and we have the freedom to be those people!
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Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, was celebrated seven weeks after Passover. It was one of the three annual pilgrimage feasts where Jews from all over the world made the trek to Jerusalem to celebrate. They were celebrating the first fruits of their crops and would offer up some of the crops as a way to thank God our Father.
Jesus was crucified on the Passover, fifty days before Pentecost. During Pentecost, Jerusalem was packed with people. The disciples were gathered together in one place and the Spirit descended on them, entering like a mighty rushing wind and descending like dividing tongues as of fire, resting on each one. God’s Spirit was given as a sort of “first fruits” to the Christians that day.
As the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of plentiful harvest, so the ushering in of God’s Spirit commemorate a plentiful harvest of souls. Disciples began speaking in different languages, so that everyone could hear the message in their native tongue. Peter preached a sermon on the resurrection of Jesus, a fitting message for the celebration of the new crop. Peter said, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24 ESV).
Peter delivered the rest of his message, which cut the people to the heart and prompted their question, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38, 39).
Luke says that those who received his word were baptized, and about three thousand were added to the church that day. This is the Good News for those of us who were once dead in our sins. There is a first fruit of the Spirit that waits for us, which will renew us and give us power over death. There was revival on the day of Pentecost!
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While God’s foundation is righteousness and justice, he longs for people to repent. In God’s compassion he offers a way for our sins to be removed. God doesn’t wish harm on people who sin, but neither will he tolerate continual unrepentant sin. Isaiah preached during a time of great unrest. The people were wicked. They were oppressive. Poverty was rampant and disease was common.
As we noted last week, Isaiah preached hope into the hearts of the few righteous people. God longs for people to come back to him. God calls us to love and bless our neighbors. In Isaiah 55, Isaiah speaks of God’s compassion for those who turn back to him. “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7 ESV).
This is great news for people who are still alive. It’s not too late to turn back to God. In his compassion, he extends pardon because of his mercy. It’s perfectly fine to warn people who do not repent. And it’s also good to share God’s compassion with those who turn back to God. This is not about people turning to God for their own sake, but for the blessing of others. Our wold can and should be a kinder place. It should be a place of peace where people feel safe to walk the streets.
As Isaiah says, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
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Isaiah wrote in the 8th century B.C. to a troubled Israel. Isaiah was bold and didn’t back down from preaching hard messages that the people didn’t like. Prophets’ callings were not easy. Unlike preachers of today, they were not hired as motivational speakers. The role of a prophet was to warn–certainly anything but a glamorous role.
During the 8th century when Isaiah preached, Israel was a pagan group of wild people. Morale was low and oppression was high. Streets were no longer safe for children to play. Worship to foreign gods was commonplace. High places built to foreign gods littered towns and cities throughout Israel. It certainly was a strange time to be alive. Yet Isaiah preached in the midst of many trials. He witnessed the fall of the northern ten tribes to Assyria. Twice the Assyrians came and attacked Jerusalem while Hezekiah was king. Isaiah, as a mouthpiece of God, told Hezekiah to stand strong.
It worked, and near the end of Isaiah’s life he finally witnessed a win. Isaiah’s message from God is clear and concise to the remnant who were still faithful: “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. The moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool, but my righteousness will be forever, and my salvation to all generations” (Isaiah 51:7, 8 ESV).
This is a powerful message to the few people who were discouraged and who certainly worried for their children who were growing up in an extremely pagan and violent environment. Isaiah’s message was timely and powerful. Righteousness and salvation are forever. Righteousness cannot be stripped away from others, so Isaiah encourages them to remain steadfast. This is definitely an important message during times of discouragement.
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Nobody knows the pain of watching a child suffer better than a mother. With Mother’s Day around the corner, it is a time to honor mothers. We never want to forget the mothers who struggle on this day. In fact, for me it’s always a special day both to honor mothers and to lament with others who find this day to be a struggle. Some mothers have lost children. Others longed for children and could not get pregnant. Still others are watching their children battle horrific diseases. Whatever the case, we lament with those who suffer.
There’s a poignant story in the Bible where Hagar is thrown out like yesterday’s trash with her son Ishmael. She was a slave of Abraham and Sarah. Sarah, in her jealousy and to the disagreement of Abraham, did not want her son Isaac to grow up with his brother Ishmael. “Get rid of that slave woman and her son!,” Sarah barked. God told Abraham to let them go. They were sent into the brutal desert, where the drinking water would soon run out.
After the water ran out, Hagar put her only son under a shade tree and left him to die. Genesis 21:16 NLT paints the grim story well: “Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.” It’s painful to even read. She knew in her heart that her son would die that day. It was too painful for her to watch. Every failure began to creep into Hagar’s mind. She was just the slave woman. She was broke. She was homeless. And now she couldn’t even provide enough water for her son to live.
God showed up that day and spared Hagar and Ishmael. But this story captures the immense pain a mother feels when she is abandoned and when her child is suffering. We need to look on others with the same compassion that God has for people who suffer. We need to extend a helping hand to those in need and lament with those who weep.
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