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I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lord's Day Message: Proclamation: Prophecy


Lord’s Day Message: “Proclamation: Prophecy”
Poquonock Community Church, Congregational
July 17, 2011


Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last (Rev. 1:8-9); besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”
(Isaiah 44:6-8 ESV)

Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Introduction
There is probably no better set of verses in all of Scripture that we could have set before us as we begin our ministry together than the passage that was just read from Isaiah 44.   These verses are like trumpets heralding what we as a congregation and as individual believers need to be about.  The verses set the bar for everything we will do together as long as we walk as a church together.  If there is a summary statement for the entirety of Scripture, it would have to be something like this. 

The only other passage I can think of that comes close to expressing what Isaiah 44 does would be Jesus’ own statement in John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”  But even that statement comes with the warning attached to it, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” 

There is a question we need to ask one another at the beginning of any ministry.  And we’ll need to ask this question over and over again as we experience life and death, joy and sorrow together.  We’ll need to ask this question every time we eat with one another, every time we study the Word together, every time we sit down to meet together, every time we worship together, every time we give, every time we work, every time we do anything as a church.  The question we always need to ask one another is, “Why are you here?”  In the case of a gathering that has been going on as long as Poquonock Community Church, we have to ask the question “Why are you still here?”   Knowing the answer to that question will be a driving force in making us a growing, active, effective community of believers together.  These verses from Isaiah 44 provide the initial answer to that question. 

One of the first things we need to know as we begin to approach Scripture together is exactly what Isaiah 44 establishes.  Good theology begins with God.  All good theology begins with God and who he is.  If you don’t start there you’ll always end up mired in the law because you’ll be forever asking yourself “what must I do to make myself acceptable to God?”  Or else you’ll make the really horrible mistake of building your entire thinking about God on how you can appease him or keep him from being angry with you.  Both of those are wrong conclusions. 

That is why Jesus had to say to the religious people of his day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”  Jesus didn’t come so you could placate an angry God.  Jesus said it himself, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  What else could he possibly have meant than what John begins his gospel with, “In him was life and the life was the light of men.”  And Paul follows it up in 1 Corinthians 1:30 by saying, “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, "Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord."  And that’s exactly what Isaiah does here in chapter 44.


Proclamation is God declaring his name.
First and foremost, Proclamation is God speaking.   You will always know when it is God speaking and not your own inner voice or a voice from some other place because God has no agenda other than himself.  When God speaks the first thing on his mind is to tell about himself.  Everything else God speaks hangs on that. 

It is God’s greatest pleasure for people to know who he is and what he is like.  We don’t have the time this morning to develop this fully, but in Genesis 1 the very first thing God does in creation is to turn the lights on so the dawning universe can see what he is like.  And when he creates humankind, he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Even before man had language to understand God, God was communicating with him, for the name of God, the being of God was reflected in the being of man and woman.  The moment man became conscious of his own existence, when he said, “I am,” without even knowing it he was speaking the name of God.

Isaiah 44:6 begins this way, Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last (Rev. 1:8-9); besides me there is no god.”  But something of the impact of what God is saying is lost in our modern translation.  The editors who put this together formed it into a proper sentence so it wouldn’t sound so strange to us.  But in the original Hebrew, it reads more like free verse than a sentence.  In fact, ancient Hebrew has no punctuation, and in a sentence like this one, many of the connecting words are implied. 

Literally this reads, “Speaks the Lord, King of Israel, Redeemer, Lord of Hosts, First and Last, Only God.”  When you hear it that way, doesn’t it sound like God is calling himself names?

And what names!  Most modern English bibles have the first one printed as “Lord”, using a large L and small caps for the o…r…d… because what they are translating here as “Lord” is actually four Hebrew consonants with the vowels removed.  Early English Christian translators didn’t know what to make of the tradition the Jews had of not speaking the self-disclosing name of God and so they made up a word that filled in the vowels: “Jehovah.”  Whatever the word actually sounded like, it was what God said to Moses from the burning bush when Moses asked him, “Who shall I say sent me?”  And God said, “Tell them I AM that I AM sent you.” 

So here in Isaiah 44 what it really says is “Speaks I AM.”  The self-existent one.  The one who is because he is.  The one whose very name is being.  Your being.  My being.  The being of the person you meet at the grocery store.  The being of kings and presidents.  The being of the ignorant and the wise.  The being of the most lucid thinker and the most frail Altzheimer’s patient.  The being of this building.  The being of Windsor, Connecticut.  The being of Planet Earth.  The being of every star and every moon every where.  The being of the space in between all of the stars and all of the planets, and the being of the space between the atoms that make up you and me.  All of it is bound up in the self-existence of God. 

Psalm 19 begins, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”
(Psalm 19:1-3 ESV)  The collective voice of all creation cries continually, “The LORD!”  Do not believe for one second that God is not trying to say something to you.  God is always trying to say something to you.   Speaks Jehovah: I AM.

Jehovah. 

The next words in Hebrew are Melech Yisrael, the King of Israel.  The Hebrews of 780 BC had no understanding of a personal relationship with God apart from their relationship with God as a people.  That he was King over Israel meant that he was king over Isaiah.  That he is King of the Universe means that he is King over Poquonock Community Church and that means that he is King over me. 

God IS and he is the sovereign, the ruler, the king.  Psalm 110: “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.” 

Jehovah, Melech Yisrael. 

The next word in the chain is a hard one for us to grasp because all of us have been trained to understand when we hear “redeemer” to think of Jesus death on a Cross redeeming us in an eternal way so that we would not pay the penalty for our sin.  But when a Jew of the 8th century BC heard of the redeemer he immediately thought of the concept of the kinsman-redeemer. 

When a married man died in those days, it was considered the duty of his nearest unmarried male relative to marry his widow and have children who would be credited to the dead man.  In this way, the dead man’s line would be preserved through his wife and his own blood.  The redeemer raises the dead man’s offspring for him.  The redeemer, quite literally raises the dead and brings the dead man back to life through his children.  When we think of a redeemer today, we think of substitutionary atonement – Christ paying some price to get us into heaven.  The way we most often word it, it sounds like God is really, really mad at you and me from the get-go, he’s already judged us, and Christ is sort of patching things up so we don’t have to suffer the punishment that is rightfully due to us.

But the idea of a kinsman-redeemer is an offering of joy in the midst of death.  The kinsman-redeemer did something wonderful to make it possible for their dead relative to have a heritage.  The kinsman-redeemer restores what was lost through death, God’s original, joyful, passionate offering to the man, “Be fruitful and multiply!”  That is what we lose because of sin.  That is the curse that has reigned over us from the time of Adam and Eve until now.  We have lost our ability to reproduce the image of God in another.  The redeemer restores that ability in us.

Jehovah, Melech Yisrael, ga’al. 
I AM, King of Israel, Redeemer.

Now God reiterates his name and connects the dots for us.  If God is self-existent, if he is King of the Universe and King of Israel, if he is kinsman-redeemer for each and every one of us, then he is Jehovah Saba – The Lord of Hosts.  “Hosts” here is a military word.  He is Lord of rank upon rank.  He is the Lord of divisions and of armies.  But don’t take the military allusion too far.  This simply means, to Israel, that the whole force of God’s sovereignty is for Israel.  And it means for you and me that there is rank upon rank of the unseen that is here waiting and ready to stand for each of us and for this church.  The multitude of the heavenly host that the shepherds saw on a hillside one night near Bethlehem is here… now… for the church.  And he is Jehovah Saba.  He is the Lord over that host.   He is Lord everywhere, over all things.

Jehovah, Melech Yisrael, ga’al, Jehovah saba. 
I AM, King of Israel, Redeemer, Lord of Hosts.


The next one doesn’t sound like a name at all.  It sounds like God is counting.  First…Last.   But if he is Lord every where, over all things, we need to know that he is also Lord at all times.   He is Lord before and after.  He is Lord First and Last.  He is Lord at the beginning and at the end.  He is Lord of this moment and the next.  He is Lord above and below.  He is Lord from pole to pole.  The Greeks chose the first and last letters of their alphabet to express it: Alpha and Omega.  His being Lord extends across all time and space and to every corner of all creation.

Jehovah, Melech Yisrael, ga’al, Jehovah saba, ri-shown, acharown
I AM, King of Israel, Redeemer, Lord of Hosts, First, Last

Finally God sums it all up and says the radical thing that no other God on earth had ever said until that time: bil-aday elohim.   The ONLY God.  Really, after everything else he had said, did God really need to add that?  Israel knew it, and yet they kept turning to the regional gods around them.  Throughout their kingdom history they had known that he was the one and only God, and that, as the psalms say, the gods of the nations are nothing.  And yet they simply couldn’t resist.  They would get in among the other people groups around their area, groups that had gods they had to appease with idols or with certain rites and actions, and they just simply found themselves drawn to them.   So God constantly reminded them, “I am the only, the one and only God. 

Now we can hear Isaiah 44:6 the way Israel heard it. 

Speaks Jehovah, Melech Yisrael, ga’al, Jehovah saba, ri-shown, acharown, bil-aday elohim. 
Speaks I AM, King of Israel, Redeemer, Lord of Hosts, First, Last, Only God

It trumpets like the announcement it is.

THIS is proclamation. 
THIS is the self-existent God proclaiming his own magnificence. 
THIS is the model for all we need to be thinking about as a congregation
and as individual believers. 
THIS Prophecy. 
THIS Prophetic Word from the mouth of God. 

God, speaking his own name over and over, until we finally understand it in all its depth and power. 

Jon

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