The Lord has a loving plan for each one of us, but this plan or project is not what we usually think of. One might think of a big construction site rather than a sofa with nice pillows. God shapes His people through His Word and circumstances so to create a place for His glory. He indeed does forgive us of our sins, but He is insistent on cleaning our hearts of those sins, whether it be a big mountain or a deep steep valley. God is clearing a way through repentance. God has something much greater to place in our hearts!
"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. "Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins." A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Isaiah 40:1-5, NASB).
To help us understand the way God disciples His people so that we might work along with Him by making more loyal effective disciples.
The LORD in Isaiah 40:1-5 highlights the overall means by which He redeems and uses His people. These three stages perfectly correspond with the three New Testament teachings of Christian living. The Lord justifies, sanctifies and glorifies His people.
These three points, then, form an overall view of the journey of discipleship that our LORD takes His people on. We will first look at the summary chart and then a fuller description below.
True forgiveness can be found only in true the true salvation of a person.
True comfort comes from the Lord when His people know that God's judgment has been effectively turned from them. Once His judgment is removed, we then need to learn and remember the great teachings of assurance of salvation, perseverance of the saints, God's everlasting love, election, holiness and adoption into His family.
God declares us righteous through Christ's work on the cross. God has prepared the work necessary for reconciliation. Our faith in Christ and His work effectively applies it. This is what justification by faith means. When we have become God's children, we see that the judgment has been fully placed on Christ thus setting us free to thrive within a wonderful relationship with the Lord.
Isaiah 40:1-2 refers to God's judgment upon His people for their wrong doing. This is a form of His discipline in which He uses difficult circumstances to bring His people back to Himself. This is true with God's covenant in the New Testament too. Without being part of His covenant, there is no discipline. There is no comfort. People listlessly drift along in the world until a final judgment.
Application: A clear understanding of salvation is important or we will waver back and forth under the subjectivity of our feelings our whole lives. When we can interpret our lives from the perspective of God's Word, we then can rightly understand the work of sanctification and glorification in our lives.
Every major construction effort requires a lot of planning. Fortunately, God has completed this planning behind the scenes of each of our lives, as local churches, families and individuals. We should realize that the plans are done very carefully in love with the express purpose that we can share in His inheritance. These sanctification plans, though, require a lot of work in our lives and therefore a lot of inconveniences.
The goal is always the same: "Clear the way for the LORD." Jehovah Himself desires to live out His glorious self in our lives. The goal is not to just fill in the valleys and tear down the hills. The long term construction equipment and mess from this work might make us feel this, but it is not. Our lives are being transformed for the purpose of making room for the Lord. In essence then, this step can be summarized by a reshaping of our lives.
God works on two major projects as noted below. After this, there is always a long series of minor work characterized by the first two but on a much smaller scale. This work is never comfortable but always necessary. The goal for all projects will be to let God live out His glory in our lives.
Before this work is discussed in more detail, we need to understand that we are not spiritualizing these words. Instead we are applying these words to clear New Testament instructions. This theme is more pronounced than most of us realize.
John the Baptist clearly was the voice crying out in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3). Jesus Christ was the glory of God that was proclaimed. Jesus "manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him." (John 2:11). The importance and priority of this work is seen in how Isaiah 40:3 is quoted in each Gospel.
This prophecy was fulfilled by Christ's coming. God's glory was fully revealed in Christ (cf. John 1:14-18). It was fulfilled in the sense that John the Baptist preached repentance and forgiveness and the people found their ways to the waters of the Jordan seeking baptism. He knew he was not the Way. He only made a way for the Lord.
This goal has not changed. We are to make a way for Christ by preaching the gospel of the kingdom. We are first to be affected by repentance and then call others to be follow Christ. This is exactly what we see in the synoptic gospels. The preparation comes by personally responding to God in our lives and then encouraging others to do so. Let's read the way the synoptic gospels summarize the Great Commission.
Like John we are to humble ourselves to God's standards, be baptized and preach the Gospel of repentance. The message of repentance must first affect our own lives. We have to be ready to admit where we have failed and turn to Christ for forgiveness and imitate His life. Remember that this humbling of heart is to be permanent. Many Christians wrongly think humility describes the means one gains salvation rather than also the path upon which all Christians must emulate. Maturity in Christ comes as we regularly and continually recognize our emptiness and make room for Christ to fill our all and all.
John the Baptist preached repentance. This repentance speaks of sins that we need to turn away from. They all hold back God's glorious work in our lives. Forgiveness is available through Christ for all of these sins. There are two specific areas that God targets in a person's life that we must repent from. We might think of them as one time areas of construction, but it seems that God more regularly does bits at a time. Perhaps this has to do more with our ignorance or stubbornness than the preferable way of doing most of it at one time.
The analogy can be applied a bit more clearly even yet. Most large construction jobs require sizeable preparations that will be in place for the whole restoration period. This includes detours, fencing, places to deliver materials, etc. The Christian himself often faces long term adjustments to life such as children, sickness, loss of job or income and other stresses of life. God wants to use this difficulty to help accomplish many of His goals. For instance, a bridge is being rebuilt in our city. They must stage by stage demolish and rebuild the parts of the bridge. The whole work is not seen until it all is completely rebuilt. God might work on our patience, faith and love. He has a greater design. We do not understand His real purposes.
These two areas are related to our faith or belief. This is the same word in the original Greek. Christ in us brings humbling or healing: Two ways to keep us for effective service. Faith and belief are key issues of discipleship that affect us life long.
1) Lifting up the valleys
God's goals for our lives are life long, but they have immediate implications.
Many other verses share with us the way the glory of God wishes to operate in our lives. He chooses to exert His glory in our humble and broken vessels.
We must then come down from our neatly planned thrones. Allow God to build one that is great for Him. From what I understand, this means our original dreams and visions will need to die in the dirt of time before His more glorious plans can be built. His plans will come into being as we live in humble obedience before Him. In this way, He gets the glory. The more you humble yourselves, the more room you make for Him. If you want to keep pushing your way, your knowledge, your experience, your wealth, your abilities, then you will have yourself. Not much glory there. Man's glory is nothing (Isaiah 40:6-8). We are like a withering piece of grass there for a day. But if we can gain an eternal glory in these frail vessels, then we will be forever awed.
|"Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:7, NASB).|
I have chosen to deny myself. I choose to work myself hard in denying myself and seeking God's presence in my life. I have no greater good to work for than to have God live in me. There are costs but by His abundant graciousness, I will bear them.
But think a moment. If we can trade in that which has little or no value for that which is eternal and glorious, will you do it? When we fix these goals clear in our heart, God will work with us in yet a more special way. He is looking for that man to stand in the gap. He is looking for that man who will live uprightly. Will you be that man?
For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. You have acted foolishly in this. Indeed, from now on you will surely have wars. (2 Chronicles 16:9).
|Increase your participation in His sanctification of your life.|
|By consciously examining our 'mountains' and 'valleys,' we in fact enable us to get rid of many past sins that we would otherwise be unaware of.|
Memorize and reflect on these three stages that are identified here in 1 John 2:12-14. See the study on this passage for further study and reflection on this passage. Describe the way the verses are organized. Why is this so? Then analyze the content and write out a summary of the three stages John introduces. How might this be associated with what we observe in Isaiah 40:1-5?
Draw a simply diagram of the sentences of John 1:12-13. Meditate on these verses.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12,13, NASB).
What do these verses say? What do they not say? Reflect on these verses as you think about how they relate to your own life. Write out your personal testimony of how God worked in your life and brought you into His family. Use about 2-3 pages. God's sanctification process starts when we become His children. Discipleship describes the process where we put off wrong thinking and behavior because we adopt Christ-like thinking and ways.
Study the important concepts of discipline found in Hebrews 12. Write down the principles.
The more we can humble our hearts, the easier to go through God's discipleship program. How do you respond to God's discipline? Do you think thoughts of rejection when you face hard times? "God doesn't really love me. If He loved me, then He wouldn't do this." Think back on how your parents treated you. Did they discipline you? Did they threaten to abandon you? Our understanding of God is often shaped by the way we thought about our parents' actions toward us when young.
Did you parents consistently discipline in love? Give examples of when they did or did not. Why is it hard to discipline a child? What truth of God do you need to use to help you go beyond your feelings that will keep you from providing loving discipline to your children?
There are two kinds of pride that have ruled over the milleniums. The apostle mentioned them in 1 Corinthians. They are linked up with cultural thought. Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 summarizes the two perspectives.
For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, (1 Corinthians 1:22,23).
In the East, people have a greater reliance on show or miracles. In this case the Jews represent this group. But there were many Hellenists who were Jews but with a Greek education. They had pride of knowledge or wisdom. Names have and methodology and lots of cross cultural breeding has changed but still the problems are the same. These thoughts highlight the way these things get in the way of God doing His greatest work through our lives. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says,
"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong." (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Determine in your own heart that you want a ministry of revealing Christ in His wonder to others rather than knowledge and wisdom which only add to our pride. Ask the Lord to reveal more of His glory to you that you will never need to seek other things.
Learn how King Asa at first trusted God and then later trusted his own resources. What was the result?
Our lives are perfected in biblical faith, that is, a faith in the Lord's care and watch over us. Faith includes a sense of trust in Him as in contrast to our self-asserting pride which proves itself.
- Our understanding of our salvation greatly shapes how we respond to God's discipline.
- True repentance is not the wish to change but the actual changing from our past.
- The process of discipleship is ongoing because we need to regularly humble ourselves.
- Healing comes for sins of doubt by first repenting and being accountable for our lack of faith.
- Humbling comes for the sins of self-confidence by first repenting and being accountable for our misdirected faith.
- The purpose of all the hard shaping of our lives is for the ultimate fulfillment of our lives through the presence of God's glory.
- God's greatest purposes will be fulfilled in our lives only as we consistently and continually live humbly before Him.
A Christian will not go far into his or her Christian life without meeting up with God's discipline. A mistaken notion that many Christians have is to think that if God loves him, then God will not judge or discipline them. We have ample evidence of the contrary (cf. Revelation 2-3) and clear teaching from Hebrews 12 that says that if God loves us, He will certainly discipline us. The covenant love of God promises discipline. The discipline is given in a secure relationship established by God's promise. Parental love similarly is based on a secure unchanging relationship. Once in the family, always in the family. Discipline shows that parents care about the child's genuine welfare. Correction protects the child and helps the child. God goes on to say that if this discipline is absence, then there is no real love for the child.
Many think a person is a Christian just because he attends a church or associates himself with CHristian people. This would be like a neighborhood child thinking he is part of my family just because he hangs around with my children! Salvation is by faith in Christ where God does a deep work of change. This change shows repentance. Some might debate that children are not bad enough to know of their sins. This is not true. The true problem is that all people, children included, are not aware of their sins if they are not instructed that what they do is sinful.
Salvation comes by a repentance process: the Spirit convicts our hearts of our wrong, we want to stop doing what is wrong, we fear His judgment, we look for help (i.e. salvation), and we find forgiveness by Christ's work on the cross by believing. Discipleship will help show us the right way of living.
Those people who think salvation comes by works, ritual, association or by birth, will never understand that faith is an active step rather than a passive one. It is not simply a statement of faith but a real belief that changes the way we come to God. If a person is a false believer, God will not chastize them. They have no special sensitivity to sin or God's work in their lives. They might be religious but not be in God's covenant of love.
Have you been born again into God's family? On what basis do you call yourself a Christian? Write down your testimony and detail any work of the process of repentance that you remember. What in your life gives evidence that you now hate sin? What do you think about this statement, "If a person does not understand the need for discipline, then he has a poor understanding of salvation?"
Repentance is rarely mentioned, and where it is, it still is not practiced! It is so difficult for us to repent! Our error consists in equivocating the desire to repent with repentance. I can remember several people I was counseling to say in prayer that they want to repent. I had to interrupt what seemed a big step and tell them it was not right. God didn't say to tell Him you wanted to repent but actually repent! Don't say to Him, "I want to repent," but "I have repented from ...."
The church has a love affair with itself and its accomplishments rather than with the Lord. She seeks her own glory through her own wealth and means rather than seeking the Lord's glory. Building programs, discipleship programs, great organizations all tend to build up themselves rather than humbling living for the Lord's glory.
"Comfort, O comfort My people,? says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem; and call out to her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins."
What words are Isaiah told to tell to His people? In what frame of heart is he to speak them? Three times the word 'that' or 'because' is used in Isaiah 40:2. These are the three reasons he is told to say what he is suppose to say. What are the three reasons for this promised comfort?
Explain each of these three reasons. Remember that Isaiah is in true prophetic style stating that the words from Isaiah 39 will come true but as it happens, His people will realize it has a purpose and a time limit. In other words God is watching over them. Apply this to the discipline God conducts with His people in the New Testament. Give verses to support your view. Again apply this to the discipline given by a parent. Give verses to support your views.
The word 'salvation' refers to both the time when we are rescued from the world into God's covenant people, but also as His people when we are rescued from difficult times we were facing. What is true in these verses? How does this relate to the way God deals with you?
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley.
Who do you suppose it is calling out? What does the voice cry out? What is the purpose for all this major construction? In what ways does he make the way clear for the Lord? Where else is this mentioned in scripture? How does the above description describe these three major works? Can you think of any other way to describe them? If so, write them down and support them with scripture.
What is true repentance?
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 40:5).
What happens as a result of clearing the way for the LORD? What will be revealed? What does this mean? Does God desire that His glory be shone? Do you think that the Lord will make sure this spiritual principle always works out? Can you trust Him during your broken times for a closer experience with Him? What is your purpose in life? How much do you want His glory in your life? What might He do through your life if His glory shines?