The Ruler

“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
Isaiah‬ ‭7:14, 9‬:‭2‬, ‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We read the Son’s assignment in Isaiah 9:6-7, and it quickly becomes clear that this did not happen while He walked the highways and byways of Palestine, as we read in the Gospels. Jesus wasn’t present on this earth as a Ruler, but as a Prince of Peace. There were three prophecies in these verses penned by Isaiah. They all referred to the coming of God’s Son, Jesus. Isaiah prophesied about how He would come, the impact of His coming, and His eternal reign. All in a few short verses. We have considered the first two and, with the benefit of hindsight, we see how remarkably accurate Isaiah’s prophecies were. But we have yet to see Jesus ruling “from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity”. 

In a few words, Isaiah gave us a hint that the Son’s first coming was going to transition to His second through the Holy Spirit’s presence on the earth. He was going to act as the Son’s representative, maintaining the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, inviting all who desired a relationship with Him to become citizens. But then we see a new Jesus. Not the Man of peace, riding a donkey, but a Man of authority, riding a white horse and ruling for all eternity. We don’t have the benefit of hindsight for this part of Isaiah’s prophecy so we, in faith, must accept it and watch out for it. It has still to happen.

Nowhere in these verses in Isaiah does it say when these prophecies would come to pass. We know that Jesus will return to this planet, because the angels at His ascension told the disciples so. We read in Acts 1:10-11, “As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!””. There are several Scriptures that give us some clues as to how Jesus will return to this earth. The Apostle John, in his vision, wrote in Revelation 19:11, “Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war“. I Thessalonians 4:16-17 reads, “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever”. When Jesus returns to this earth, He will fulfil the last part of Isaiah’s prophecy. No returning as a helpless and insignificant baby – He will return as the Ruler, the Lord of lords and King of kings. 

In this season of Christmas, we pilgrims celebrate the birth of Jesus. We trace His steps through the dark paths of a people needing a Saviour. We see how His light has illuminated the world for the past two thousand years, and we have been given a preview of His impending return as the triumphant Mighty God. All from a few verses written by a Jewish prophet nearly three thousand years ago. The penultimate verse in the Bible records the last words of Jesus. We read in Revelation 22:20, “He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” Sentiments I am sure we echo and share.

Dear Lord. We are so grateful for Your willingness to come to earth, showing us a way to eternal life with You. We worship You today. Amen.

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Immanuel

“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
Isaiah‬ ‭7:14, 9‬:‭2‬, ‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Immanuel. The Hebrew word meaning “God is with us”. Way back in the early chapters of Genesis God was so close to mankind that He walked and talked with the first man, Adam. At that time, Heaven and Earth were in contact, with God passing freely between them. God was with us. In those days, Planet Earth had not been corrupted by sin. But after the Fall, that desperately sad moment when sin entered the world, Heaven recoiled from Earth, in horror that sin had made such a liaison impossible and no longer viable. There is no place for sin and wickedness in Heaven. The only time that sin did in fact erupt in Heaven was when Lucifer decided to rebel against God, and he ended up being cast down to Earth, along with a third of the angels who rebelled with him. God still yearned for the opportunity to be with His creation, human beings, but had to be content with the occasional contact through His Spirit and via angels. But God had a plan.

Isaiah prophesied that there will come a time when God will be with us once again here on Earth. Look at the sequence of events. It starts with a virgin conceiving. How can that happen? It was obviously not a natural event – even in today’s medically-enlightened times it can only happen with a manual intervention. In Isaiah’s prophecy such an event was nothing short of miraculous, and could only have taken place with God’s involvement. The sign continued with the birth of a Son. A Son who was both human and divine. The theologians call this the Incarnation. John wrote about this event – we read it in John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”. The miraculous sign continues with the declaration that the Son will be called Immanuel, “God is with us“. Once again God was walking on Planet Earth.

Thankfully, God’s liaison with Planet Earth didn’t end with the Ascension. Jesus left the Earth, knowing it was in good hands. We read in John 14:16 (AMP), “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counsellor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever—”. The Holy Spirit has been with us ever since, acting as Jesus would have done, had He still been with us.

We pilgrims are deeply grateful for God’s plan, that is still being outworked with us today. God is still with us.

Immanuel, we praise and worship You today. Amen.

Immanuel

“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
Isaiah‬ ‭7:14, 9‬:‭2‬, ‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Immanuel. The Hebrew word meaning “God is with us”. Way back in the early chapters of Genesis God was so close to mankind that He walked and talked with the first man, Adam. At that time, Heaven and Earth were in contact, with God passing freely between them. God was with us. In those days, Planet Earth had not been corrupted by sin. But after the Fall, that desperately sad moment when sin entered the world, Heaven recoiled from Earth, in horror that sin had made such a liaison impossible and no longer viable. There is no place for sin and wickedness in Heaven. The only time that sin did in fact erupt in Heaven was when Lucifer decided to rebel against God, and he ended up being cast down to Earth, along with a third of the angels who rebelled with him. God still yearned for the opportunity to be with His creation, human beings, but had to be content with the occasional contact through His Spirit and via angels. But God had a plan.

Isaiah prophesied that there will come a time when God will be with us once again here on Earth. Look at the sequence of events. It starts with a virgin conceiving. How can that happen? It was obviously not a natural event – even in today’s medically-enlightened times it can only happen with a manual intervention. In Isaiah’s prophecy such an event was nothing short of miraculous, and could only have taken place with God’s involvement. The sign continued with the birth of a Son. A Son who was both human and divine. The theologians call this the Incarnation. John wrote about this event – we read it in John 1:14, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son”. The miraculous sign continues with the declaration that the Son will be called Immanuel, “God is with us“. Once again God was walking on Planet Earth.

Thankfully, God’s liaison with Planet Earth didn’t end with the Ascension. Jesus left the Earth, knowing it was in good hands. We read in John 14:16 (AMP), “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor—Counsellor, Strengthener, Standby), to be with you forever—”. The Holy Spirit has been with us ever since, acting as Jesus’ representative, and doing those things that Jesus would have done, had He been with us.

We pilgrims are deeply grateful for God’s plan, that is still being outworked with us today. God is still with us.

Immanuel, we praise and worship You today.

The Sign

“All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.”
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!”
Isaiah‬ ‭7:14, 9‬:‭2‬, ‭6‬-‭7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If we were going to write about a sign of something coming, we would relate it to the world around us. As a small boy I learned to look for the mechanical railway signal changing, because then I knew a train was coming. And it did, soon enough, a great fiery snorting beast puffing clouds of smoke and steam on its way at speed through the station near where I lived. We receive an indication, a sign, of the next day’s weather by the sunset the previous evening. A doctor checks a patient’s blood pressure, looking for signs of heart-related and other types of illness. Signals and trains, sunsets and weather, blood pressure and illness. All related indicators and signs helping to foresee an event that may or may not be coming. 

But here we have a crisis in Judah’s history. The king of Israel had joined forces with the king of Syria to capture Judah, and in Isaiah 7:23 we read that “…the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm“. Through Isaiah, God told Judah’s king, Ahaz, that the expected invasion would never happen. To reassure Ahaz further, we read in Isaiah 7:10-11, “Later, the Lord sent this message to King Ahaz: “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead””. But because Ahaz refused to do as God suggested, God Himself gave him a sign. And what a sign it was! Perhaps the people would have expected some mighty warrior to come and rally their demoralised troops, as a sign of victory ahead. Or perhaps they expected some astrological sign in the heavens giving them a hint. And I’m sure signs were looked for everywhere. Who would ever expected, though, the sign to be sent through a virgin. A young woman not yet betrothed. I’m sure no-one saw that coming!

In hindsight, we pilgrims can only be amazed and astounded by this prophetic word delivered through Isaiah hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Its accuracy can only mean that God was at work. That God had a plan for the salvation of mankind, an infinitely bigger issue than a comparatively-minor fracas between local nations in Palestine. The accuracy of Biblical prophecy is beyond question, and we worship and praise our wonderful God, who has given us access to His thoughts. His precepts. His loving care. May we pilgrims celebrate afresh, worshipping the Saviour of the World.

Dear Lord Jesus. We thank You that You came to Planet Earth so willingly, to come and get us, a rescue mission like no others. We worship You today. Amen.

The New Jerusalem

“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.””‭‭
Revelation‬ ‭21:2-4‬ ‭NLT

As John, in his vision, was marvelling about the New Jerusalem appearing before him, he heard a loud shout. It grabbed his attention and he recorded what was said. The angel’s words were profound. God was going to make His home amongst His people, the people who had been rebirthed into His eternal Kingdom. Are we pilgrims ready to welcome God? Really ready?

Right back in Genesis, it was God’s intention to spend time with His created friends, Adam and Eve. He walked in the Garden where they were, and it must have broken His heart when He discovered their sin. The end of a face to face relationship. But God had no option – He couldn’t stay in an environment that contained sin. But here we are in the penultimate chapter of Revelation, discovering that at last, with the cleansing of sin from His presence complete, He could once again achieve His goal of spending time amongst His people. 

The angel’s shouted message also gave John some reassurance. Don’t forget he had been exiled to a prison on an island in the Aegean sea and he would be no stranger to “death or sorrow or crying or pain”. So the angel telling him about God’s plan reassured him that these human conditions would be eliminated. “Gone forever”

But in a sense, limited by our humanity, God lives within us. He never really left us. We read in Matthew 28:20, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” So Jesus has promised to be with us for ever. And there are many other Bible references about God being with us. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 we read, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” But as we read in these verses today from Revelation, “God himself will be with them”, His people. 

A Scripture much quoted in the upcoming season of Advent is Matthew 1:23, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”‭‭ The First Coming of Jesus was announced as “God is with us“. It came to fruition then, and here, in these New Beginning Times (they’re not End Times any more) God is with us in person, amongst His people.

But one thing we must consider is the reference to the new Jerusalem being like “a bride beautifully dressed for her husband”. In Ephesians 5:25-27, we read, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.” It was always Christ’s intention to make His Church “holy and without fault” one day. And by so doing, the Church will become His Bride. This finally comes to fruition with the new Jerusalem. 

These are exciting times for us pilgrims. One day we’ll get to explore the new Jerusalem, in all its splendour. And enjoy a new life for all eternity free of “death or sorrow or crying or pain”. How amazing is that?

Dear Lord. We look forward in awe at the coming of the new Jerusalem, where we will find You living with Your people. We worship You today, in grateful anticipation. Amen.

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John’s Amazement

““Why are you so amazed?” the angel asked. “I will tell you the mystery of this woman and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns on which she sits. This calls for a mind with understanding: The seven heads of the beast represent the seven hills where the woman rules. They also represent seven kings. Five kings have already fallen, the sixth now reigns, and the seventh is yet to come, but his reign will be brief. The scarlet beast that was, but is no longer, is the eighth king. He is like the other seven, and he, too, is headed for destruction.””
Revelation‬ ‭17:7, 9-11‬ ‭NLT

The angel confesses to John that there is a mystery involved in the vision of heads and horns, the woman, beasts and kings. The angel, as he tried to explain what was going to happen, said “a mind with understanding” would be required. But his explanation was quite detailed. Many theologians and others have claimed to have the understanding the angel said would be required and have worked out the meaning of when these events will take place, at least to them. But in all of that, how much fruit has been produced for the Kingdom?

Although I say there is only limited value in trying to work out what it all means, from the perspective of 21st Century Planet Earth, the reality is that there is still a mystery here. Why wasn’t John given a clearer vision? Why wasn’t he told specifically who the main players were, and when the events described would happen? However, Jesus said that only God knows the exact time. So all those claiming to “understand” when it will happen are encroaching on God’s domain.

About the clarity of prophecy, what about some of the Old Testament prophesies about the first coming of Jesus? We see, with the benefit of hindsight, how spectacularly accurate they were. For example, Isaiah prophesied, as recorded in Isaiah 7:14, “All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” Imagine how the people of Isaiah’s day would respond to the reality of a child being borne to a virgin? Laughable to them? But with the benefit of hindsight we marvel at its accuracy. Or consider Jesus’ death. We read the graphic description of the crucifixion experience in Psalm 22:14-15, “My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.” So one day I’m sure that we will look back at John’s prophetic vision and finally understand how accurate it was.

Perhaps another reason for prophecies not being as accurate as we would like is the limitations of trying to articulate events that are to take place in the future with a limited vocabulary. For example, imagine a “prophecy” given in the nineteenth century about the coming of mobile phones. How would our Victorian forbears describe it, in the language, and with the vocabulary, of the times? Silly example I know, but hopefully it illustrates the point I am trying to make. 

But I’m sure the real reason for prophecies not being as clear as they could be is that God wants us to be dependent on Him. Through faith we trust Him with our future. Through faith we are assured that, even though He has given a glimpse, or hint, of what is to come, He wants us to embrace His love and provision for the situation and times in which we live. That’s good enough for me! And we pilgrims respond with our praise, worship and gratitude.

Dear Father God. You are our loving Heavenly Father. You are always available for us to come and worship at Your throne, accepted and loved. How grateful we are. Amen.