Daily Reflections May 10, 2017
There is a wonderful contrast between the two chapters of Isaiah that are before us. Chapter 8 is characterized by darkness. In verse 22 we read,
“And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” (Isaiah 8:22 ESV)
The Israelites were facing the threat of a powerful Egyptian army. In their distress, they sought a treaty with the wicked Assyrians. In a time when the Israelites should have placed their trust in God they decided to place their confidence in Assyria who was, in their minds, the lesser of the two evils. In chapter 8 we find God's warning to Isaiah not to go along with the foolish plan of his people; the Assyrians will go on to become a threat that makes the army of Egypt pale in comparison. They will overtake the Israelites like a mighty flood.
Having considered the historical background, let’s consider the situation we encounter today. How many of God’s people face the “Egypt” of a failing marriage or a loss of employment and, rather than crying out to God, proceed to turn to the “Assyrias” of pornography, escapism or an affair? Israel’s demise came about because they were faced with opposition and they turned to a worldly solution rather than the Solution who made the world. We are roughly 2717 years removed from the Egyptian and Assyrian threats that Israel faced, but our challenge remains the same: Will we turn to God when opposition arises? Or will we trust in powerless idols?
Perhaps you are living in the shadow of darkness even now. You have been quick to turn to anything and everything apart from God to solve your problems, and the problems continue to multiply. Is there hope for the one who has strayed?
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.” (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)
Chapter 9 is a glorious reminder that God saves his wayward people. Despite our stubborn hearts, he comes to our rescue. The Israelites neglected his warning, turned to the Assyrians and suffered from the consequences of that decision. That should have been the end of them. But God pursued and rescued his people. And as He did then, so He does now.
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)
God has entered into our darkness to bring rebels and sinners into his glorious light. He has acted once and for all through his Son Jesus Christ. A child was born into the line of David – fully man like you and I. Yet he was simultaneously the Wonderful Counselor and the Mighty God. Jesus is mightier than the Assyrians and he is stronger than your sin. He has come to dispel the darkness. God has seen your desperate condition. Take heart, for unto us a child is born. A son is given.
Associate Pastor Levi denBok
This chapter teaches us to apply the “royal law”, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9). James wants believers to live out what they believe. Our actions express what we believe about God; how one treats others is an indication of the veracity of one’s relationship with God. Without love, nothing we profess or possess accounts for anything (1 Corinthians 13:2).
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. (James 2:8 ESV)
People of faith are to be impartial; partiality is not simply unkind, it is sin (verse 9). Partiality betrays evil thinking (verse 4). The King of Glory became the King of poverty so that in him we might become rich. As the spiritually poor, we have been welcomed; we too are to welcome the outcasts with the love of Christ. It is a (super) natural consequence that a transformed heart will live with kingdom values expressing faith in love.
However, don’t we struggle with this? Don’t we cater to the seemingly important? We honour the rich in hopes that somehow that honour will be reciprocal. It betrays our motive of giving to get, honouring to be honoured. James teaches that we must give care and attention to all, equally. Rather than arbitrarily placing value on people according to worldly standards, we are to treat all those God brings across our path with his gracious love and acceptance. God has chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom. When we dishonour the poor we dishonour the Lord.
A second illustration, closely related to the first, concerns the outworking of a life of faith. If a person is in need of the basics of life, and all we do is to offer empty lip service and not give them what they really need, what good is that?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:14-16 ESV)
The discussion then moves to the relationship of faith to works. The faith-works controversy between Paul (Romans 3:28) and James (James 2:26) has been the source of much discussion across the centuries. Are these two seemingly contradictory viewpoints irreconcilable?
Faith alone, with the noticeable absence of demonstrated works is not saving faith, for even the demons believe. Faith apart from works is useless (verse 20); in fact it is dead. God is looking for a dynamic faith that is expressed in good works. Therefore, faith is completed by works (verse 22).
To be clear, works do not contribute to earning our salvation. Indeed, God’s Grace is received by faith alone; James contends that simply giving verbal assent to some type of orthodoxy does not save a person. Belief is not merely an intellectual exercise, but a life lived out in obedience. Genuine faith is lived out in good works. We are to not be merely hearers of the Word, or talkers of the Word, but doers of the Word (1:22). By the power of the indwelling Spirit let us love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2).
Associate Pastor Jody Cross