Here we enter into the preparations of a great Monarch to forge a path through hostile desert places, perilous/treacherous mountain passes and murky low places, serpentine pathways and impassable routes. Why? So that the Monarch may be with the people of his/her kingdom.
“The Voice?“ A crier, lowly and hidden by the royalty and glory of the Monarch. The crier leads a great procession, legions of crews and engineers, to remove every obstacle hindering access of said Monarch to the people. Jehovah God, the Monarch, will move to deliver his people from the baneful hand of Babylon.
Just so, John the Baptist was a “voice” in the wilderness crying out, “Make way [clear the way] for the Messiah [our Monarch].” He is the deliverer of all men from sin (Jhn 1:23). The Lord Jesus has come to deliver us in these modern times and epochs from the curse of sin. Open the highway to your heart. Lord, may I tear down every obstacle that hinders the work of the most high God in my life (1Co 10:5).
Could there be any more consoling words than those spoken here by God to Isaiah. The prophet is told to speak tenderly to his people who will face punishment for their sin. Isaiah is to speak words of comfort and pardon for sin.
Oh sinner, rebellious child of God, the sovereign God‘s heart breaks for you. No God like the God of heaven bears his heart to sinners and rebels like our God. Lord, this sentry is in debt for your pardon of my sin and your heart towards me and all who have sinned against you.
Am I broken to tears that many, by their misconduct, show themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ?
Am I broken to tears that many are headed for an eternal destruction because of faulty beliefs?
Am I broken to tears that for many whose god is their own human efforts (circumcision), that they boast in shameful behaviors (believing grace to allow for immoral behavior in the physical) and think only about their own glory in life here and now?
Paul was broken to “tears“ for such people.
When was the last time you wept, dear sentry, over the misguided souls of men? Am I bothered and broken to tears? Father, give me a compassionate and broken heart for those around me in need of revival and awakening.
Paul is here warning the believers in Philippi to put no confidence in the works of the flesh for salvation. Whereas, devout Jews considered Gentiles as “dogs,“ he flipped the table on these so-called Judaizers. He calls them, “dogs.” They taught that for a gentle to become a true believer one must be circumcised. NOT SO! It could not be said any stronger.
These Judaizers were nothing short of evil to perpetrate such a lie. The only effect of circumcision on salvation is a “mutilation of the flesh.“ True believers put no faith in such works of the flesh. True believers rely only on what Christ did at the cross for salvation. Lord, keep this old sentry alert to anything that would lead him away from the truth of salvation by grace alone.
Paul greets his Philippian readers with the words, “grace and peace.” The New Living Translation Bible study notes say, “Inside the tiny package marked ‘grace and peace,’ we find an inexhaustible treasure of God’s daily presence in our lives.” Grace and peace are at the source of all joy.
Everything I read as an introduction to the epistle of Philippians leads me to reflect on the subject of “joy.“ Yet, it is not joy that I seek as an end in itself. No. But it is the Giver of joy unspeakable whom I seek. Joy is the by-product. First Peter 1:8 underscores this appellation as descriptive of the experience of knowing Christ. I do not strive for joy. It it is a surprise gift that comes naturally as I strive to know Christ in all of his fullness. Father, may I know first hand the depths of grace and peace in relationship with you.
*Title of a book by CS Lewis; the story of his conversion to Christianity
Aside from the general need to be devoted in prayer, alert to any specific circumstances requiring prayer – pray with a humble and grateful heart. Paul also makes a request for prayer for his own efforts, even as he is in prison.
Paul requests prayer for open doors to share the gospel; that he might speak clearly for Christ and the Gospel message. How mindful am I of many ministries, mission efforts and church planting teams? It should be my goal to spend time praying for these organizations, the men and women who lead these efforts. Lord, give this sentry open doors to share the Gospel and be clear in the message.
Our union with Christ (v10) is exemplified in the signs of circumcision and baptism. Circumcision signifies that the old sinful nature is dead (v11). In baptism, having died to sin, this union is pictured as a spiritual burial and resurrection unto new life.
Baptism pictures one being buried (down into the water) with Christ into a “water grave.” Then, by God’s transforming power, that believer is raised (up out of the water) with Christ in his resurrection onto new life. Neither circumcision nor baptism saves us.* They merely picture our spiritual transformation from death to new life. Lord, I shall trust fully in the transforming power of Christ and my union with him.
* Some believe that one must be water baptized in order to be saved. It follows then that they ought also to be circumcised in order to fulfill Paul’s complete analogy. Don’t see anyone standing in line for that. Just sayin’.
Our Union with Christ (v10) is seen in two significant signs – circumcision and baptism. In circumcision our union with Christ is likened to the cutting off of the flesh. Christ, in his death on the cross, effected a “spiritual circumcision,“ the cutting away of the sinful nature (flesh).
We were once dead in our sins, controlled by the sinful nature. Death is separation from all that is living. We were once separated from God by our sin. In “spiritual circumcision” God made us alive in Christ. Believing on Christ we are freed from the control of the sinful nature. God forgave us and canceled the penalty for our sin when Christ was nailed to the cross. Thank you Father for my union with Christ and freedom from control of the sinful nature.
In these verses, and those that follow, Paul addresses the primary heresy threatening the church in Colosse: Gnosticism that denied the deity of Christ. Paul makes it clear and uncomplicated. All the fullness of God dwells in Christ. He was/is the Son of God in human form. His humanity did not/does not diminish in any way his headship and authority over all creation.
Furthermore, the union of every believer with Christ is absolutely complete. In Christ my reconciliation with God is fully complete, my sins are forgiven and my future is eternally secure. God of Heaven’s Armies, the duty sentry has no greater assurance than that in which he/she has put their trust, that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My peace with God comes as a result of the blood Jesus shed on the cross for my sins. In the Levitical law it is shown that the bloodline of man was infected with sin through Adam’s rebellion (Lev 17:11). So now, the shedding of innocent blood provides renewal of the life of God in me. (In the Old Testament the blood of an innocent lamb was shed for the forgiveness of sin; in the New Testament Jesus Christ was that innocent lamb removing man’s sin [Jhn 1:29]).
Forgiveness and eternal life comes through Christ to all men and women who put their faith (trusting the truthfulness of God) in him to redeem them. Christ was/is the only means of redemption. Christ came in the flesh to shed blood for the remission of sin. Though I was alienated from God, I am now reconciled because I have received by faith new life through the blood of Christ.
When Paul declares that Jesus was/is the supreme, preeminent one in life and in the universe (v15) he meant clearly that Jesus was the head, the first. He existed ahead of the beginning (v15). So everything begins with Jesus (v18), and it ends with Jesus – he is the author and finisher of our faith.
God himself became the God-man. “He was pleased in all his glory to live as a human in Christ Jesus” (v19). By this glorious manifestation he was able to reconcile men, make them right with him. What God chooses to do that? None. Only Jehovah God. My God. Lord, I exalt you as my Supreme and preeminent Leader in life. I owe all to my redeemer God.
Who exactly is this agent of light Paul speaks of? Who effects man’s rescue from the empire of darkness and transfers us to the Empire of Light. It is here, beginning with Christ, that Paul begins his rebuttal of two philosophies that threaten the early Church, Syncretism and Gnosticism.* It is here that Christianity gets its most complete explanation of Christ’s singular deity above all others (Sōlus Christus).
Modern movements today that would reflect syncretistic or gnostic attributes might be The Jesus Seminar (est 1985). It does not accept the physical manifestations of the miracles, virgin birth or resurrection of Jesus. Another would be the New Age movement (est 1970s). It is an amalgamation of many humanistic self-actualization beliefs and spiritual views.
But Jesus is the only and undisputed Champion of redemption. He is the exact image, manifestation, of the living God. He is the preeminent and sovereign Lord of all and over all. His life, teachings, miracles and resurrection are rooted in historical fact. May Jesus be elevated in all things concerning my life today and always.
* Syncretism in religious terms merges multiple religious belief systems, traditions and practices into one new system.
*Gnosticism is a religious movement claiming that, 1) salvation is acquired on some mystical higher plane of secret knowledge, not from Scripture; known only by a few; 2) all matter is evil and the spirit is good. Anything done in the body, even the grossest sin, has no meaning because real life exists in the spirit realm only. Vis-à-vis, Christ in human form could not be God. Gnosticism was perhaps the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first three centuries.
The last part of Paul’s prayer for the Colossian church is that they might have an attitude of gratitude to the Father for his mercy. The Father authored the great plan of redemption. The Father sent his Son to redeem men from sin. He paid the death penalty for our sin (“The wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” – Rom 6:23). Christ’s death on the cross redeemed man out of sin, set us free, pardoned, forgave and made us fit for God’s kingdom.
In regeneration (salvation) the Father made possible the great transfer of those in the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light; “from the empire of sin, ignorance, and misery, to one of holiness, knowledge, and [joy]. No change, therefore, in a person’s life is so important as this; and no words can suitably express the gratitude which they should feel who are thus transferred from the empire of darkness to that of the light“ *
Lord, may this old sentry’s life always reveal abundant gratitude to the Father for his redemption and forgiveness.
The “Yellow Brick Road“ leading to the Emerald City in the land of Oz, is fraught with hapless characters and dangers on every side. But the “Highway Of Holiness“ leading to the City of God in the land of Zion* is a protected road, reserved only for the joyful and redeemed traveler.
The “Yellow Brick Road“ ends in disappointment at phony excellencies. But the “Highway Of Holiness“ ends in a place of singing and everlasting joy. There will be no disappointment, only gladness and singing. My sentinel duty is to point men and women to the “Highway of Holiness” and to pray for their perseverance as fellow travelers.
* Zion is a symbol of God‘s ultimate place of redemption and hope; the prophetic new Jerusalem.
Every faithful follower of Christ would be familiar with this promise of redemption, when God‘s glory is revealed (vv1,2). The good news of Christ will strengthen weary hands, encourage weak knees and bolster fearful heart. For the Lord has come. He will save and deliver his faithful ones from the enemy.
This promise has been fulfilled in Christ – the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk and the mute will speak (Luke 7:22). The once arid land of Israel is in full bloom and water satisfies a thirsty land. May my lips of the faithful sentry be full with praises to the Lord God. He has fulfilled his promise of the coming deliverer/redeemer in Christ.
I love the New Living Translation footnote on these verses. “God is just as thorough in his mercy as he is severe in his judgment. God‘s moral perfection leads to judgment and at the same time revealed in his love for all he has created.“ Like spring follows winter so his mercy follows judgment. A land laid waste by God will be turned to a land of refreshing.
All creation groans under sin (Rom 8:22). But God will return his creation to its once glorious beauty. The desert will rejoice, flowers will bloom and lavish meadows will sing with joyful praise (Luke 19:40). God will display his splendor and glory in all creation (Col 4:16). Father, this old sentry looks forward to seeing your splendor and glory.
The “Book of the Lord“ is God’s book of promises and prophecies written down. Why? Because it is no hidden writing. It is open for all to see. What is written, is open for all to search and to find truth. What God has written shall be revealed as truth to all who have eyes to see (2Ti 3:16; 2Pe 1:19-21).
The prophecies given of God reveal and foretell the complete destruction of God’s enemies [Edom]. No one need guess, no one need wonder. For the plan of God is written for the ages. All may see it and all may be informed by it. Father, your word, your promises and your prophecies inform me of truth. I have seen truth come to life with my own eyes. Your Book is my book. I receive it and I pray it so for others who come after me.
God is not a compliant enabling father. He knows just when and how to discipline. He knows the limits of our ability to withstand testing and trials (1Co 10:13). Discipline is always an option (Heb 12:10,11). It is clear that God is always prepared to discipline his people to purge them from sin (though not every trial is for sin-Jas 1:12; 2Co 12:17; Rom 5:3–6).
In the end, like a loving father, God will come to his own and comfort them. You can count on that. The end result of God‘s discipline is to return to him, to love and worship him. Lord I have known your loving discipline and your comforting embrace. I look to you for the correction and reproof that I need.
Is there such a thing as an unforgivable sin? Yes, there is. This is it, pure and simple. When God calls a people to weep and mourn, to be ashamed and sorry for, remorseful of, sin (to repent) and instead that people just “PARTY ON!” ignoring, even scorning, God’s plea; that is the sin for which there is no forgiveness. How can there be?
The ultimate and unforgivable sin is the sin of rejecting God‘s love and mercy. Oh that I may never run aground of sin and unrepentance.
Oh the beautiful valley in which the city of Jerusalem sits; it is now filled with enemy chariots of war (vv6,7). Why? Because the people of God rejected him. Judah trusted in her own self-made plans. She built her war chests against the Assyrian enemy. She ran to her armories. She sought to shore up her breached walls. She stored up her reservoirs for war. She did everything but ask God for his help.
Today, I hear much rhetoric from politicians, educators, corporate, media and activist leaders, yea, even the citizenry. There is much talk of war against their perceived enemies. Like Jerusalem against her Assyrian enemy, America runs for her political arsenals, she seeks to shore up her walls of political advantage. She works furiously to fill her political reservoirs. But defeat on all sides will be as swift and sure as was Jerusalem‘s. Why? History teaches us. Because, like Jerusalem, in all of America’s self made plans, her leaders have abandoned the people (v3). She arrogantly pursues her own interests. She never stops to ask for God’s help. He is the one who sets her back on her heels; and though rejected by her, loves her and would save her. If she would only ask.
All of this presses this old sentry to his knees in prayer and mourning for my beloved country. Oh that she might seek for God’s help.
Jerusalem (people of God), is located between two mountain ranges. These mountains symbolize the presence and protection of God. It is in this valley that God speaks to the prophet and reveals his vision of things to come.
The vision given Isaiah is not a pleasant one. Jerusalem has rejected the God who has enabled her strength. While they revel, their foundation crumbles. Jesus himself will later lament the rejection of Jerusalem for her Redeemer (Mat 25:36, 37).
Isaiah is left to mourn over the vision of the fall of his people. It is heartbreaking to see a people reject the one who has so blessed there existence. It causes me to weep for America, as she thumbs her nose at God, rejects his love. Oh Lord, stir the heart of this nation (my heart), that she (I myself) would listen and turn again to you.
Even in punishment and judgment the God of Heaven’s Armies will not pulverize the weakest among us. No, Isaiah introduces the metaphor of a husbandman who ploughs his field, loosens the soil and meticulously plants various seed. Then he thoughtfully and wisely goes about the harvest, carefully threshing according to the heftiness of the fruit; heavy threshing for some, light threshing for others.
This is a picture of the gracious wisdom of God in his judgments. Ploughing is followed by benevolent planting. Then after the threshing, the harvest, there is rest. His punishments do not last interminably. He punishes that he might bless by grace. Lord, there may be weeping as the consequence of my sin, but there will be joy in the comfort of your mercy and grace.
The land taken captive by Assyria was God’s land, the land of Israel, the land of promise to God’s people, his “covenant” people. Genesis Chapters 12-15 tells the story of Abraham‘s covenant encounter with God. God chose Abraham through whom to deliver his messianic redemption. God chose Abraham, not because Abraham was so special. God chose him because he needed an instrument through which to reveal his grace.
The covenant spoken of here is a reminder of God‘s unilateral, unconditional love and grace. This covenant bound God alone to his plan of redemption. Men could never nullify God‘s plan of redemption by their lack of commitment. God seeks for men and women to come to him of their own free will and worship him. Lord, I come freely to offer you my love and devotion, imperfect as it is. I give you thanks for the blood you spilled at Calvary for my sin.
The Book of Acts does NOT conclude with the words, “Paul welcomed all and boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught them about the Lord Jesus Christ.“ It moves forward on these words from the first century to the 21st-century and beyond. The Book of Acts does not end as abruptly as it seems. It is just the beginning of the faith story still being written today.
My life as a witness for Christ is “Chapter 29” in the spread of the Gospel. There are new chapters to the Book of Acts being written every day. There are chapters yet to be written. It is as the Apostle John said of Jesus: Jesus did many more unwritten works. [He continues his mighty works among men today and] “the whole world could not contain the books [the chapters] that would be written.” (Jhn 21:25).
Thank you Lord for including my story in your Gospel story. It is my story to share, that others may also be included. “Believe on the lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved [included]” (Acts 16:31).
When Paul’s Jewish countrymen refused to accept the Gospel he was compelled by God to move on to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15;Rom 1:16; 11:13,14; Gal 1:15, 16). The Jewish leaders left Paul’s company greatly disturbed by his words. The Gentiles were far more receptive to the Gospel. They were far less infected by religious formalism.
For the two years Paul stayed in Rome under house arrest (presumably awaiting trial). He welcomed all who came to him. He boldly proclaimed to them the Kingdom of God. He taught and explained to them about Jesus, the Messiah, who came to offer forgiveness and salvation to the world. “No one tried to stop him.” Lord, lead me daily to those who are open to the Gospel. Give me boldness to proclaim the “Good News.”