“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ‘For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.’”
Isaiah 55:10-13 ESV
The language in these verses from Isaiah 55 are figurative. Will the mountains and hills really break forth into singing? Will the trees of the field clap their hands? (What hands do trees have?) But the language conveys a truth: the world was created in response to God and awaits the fulfillment of God’s purposes for which He created it.
Just as the rain and snow produce the intended results of watering the earth, sprouting the seeds that allow the sower to produce bread, God’s word goes out and accomplishes the purposes for which it was intended. This is true from the beginning to the end.
God spoke the world into being. He set the heavens and the earth (the universe) into motion by His word. (2 Peter 3:5) The world came into being in response to God speaking. And the ultimate ends God has purposed will sprout (and have sprouted) into the seed that produces the material from which the sower ultimately accomplishes the end purpose.
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) (ESV)
When I read this, I immediately ask myself, “How do I measure up to this standard?” Have I exhibited a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation? I think that’s the natural inclination.
I search myself, my past and present experiences, my behavior and my orientation toward God, and I measure myself on the scale that is presented, not just in this passage, but in any passage. Scripture is not just a prescription; it’s a barometer.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) (ESV)
I felt that active and sharp character of the Bible when I first read it in college, and it is not any less active or sharp in its affect on me today. If I am conscious of the “interaction” of the Scripture in relation to the thoughts and intents of my heart, it provides a third person view, in effect, into my self in relation to God.
Still, I am tempted to think, “How can I measure up?” Regarding the verse above, I am tempted to consider how I can generate a godly grief that produces repentance that leads to salvation. My mindset is, “How can I do that?” or “What does it take to accomplish that?”
As I dive deeper into the verse, though, I begin to see something else. That something else gets to the heart of my relationship with God. It is the heart of the Gospel.
Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus. He was one the twelve who became known as “the apostles”, one of the closest followers of Jesus. But Peter wasn’t just a follower, and he wasn’t just one of the apostles. Andrew, Peter’s brother, is known as the first follower of Jesus, but Peter became closer to Jesus then Andrew. Peter was one of the inner circle of the closest confidants to Jesus.
There were only three people in that inner circle: James and John, the brothers from Zebedee, and Peter, and Peter was the main spokesman of the three. Only Peter, James and John went up to the mount to witness the Transfiguration, and only Peter spoke with Jesus about it. Peter wasn’t just a spokesman; he was a leader among the followers of Jesus.
Peter was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry to the end. He argued, legitimately, about who was best of the followers of Jesus. He boldly declared his willingness to go to prison and to die for Jesus. Of all the disciples of Jesus, Peter stood out above the rest.
So when Jesus told Peter that the rooster would not crow that day before Peter would deny him three times, Peter must have thought, “How much more can I say or do to show you that I am committed?!”
And then, Peter’s world turned upside down. The apostles didn’t understand, really, what Jesus talking about until the drama Jesus tried to explain to them unfolded right in front of them. Without warning, a crowd came walking up to them lead by Judas. The disciples reacted, ready to fight for Jesus, but Jesus stopped them from resisting, Jesus was escorted away… without a fight,. Jesus let them take him like a lamb led to its slaughter.
Imagine Peter, following at a distance, his bold bravado swept away by pained confusion and fear. “This isn’t the way this is supposed to go”, he had to be thinking. “Is this the way it all ends?” In the cloud of his confusion, pain and disillusionment, as he was standing in a crowd around a fire, a servant girl identified Peter as one of the people with Jesus, and Peter denied it.
Two more times at different intervals, Peter denied being associated with Jesus. Immediately after the third time, the rooster crowed, “[a]nd the Lord turned and looked at Peter”. At that instance, the words Jesus spoke just a short while earlier played through Peter’s head, and he “wept bitterly”.[i]
Imagine Peter as the rooster crowed and the Lord’s eyes met his…. All of his words, three years of commitment to Jesus and all the boasting about who is the greatest unraveled completely in a moment in time. Peter was undone… exposed as a fraud.
I stumbled on the video a few years ago that was posted in March of 2015 by Maz, a woman who was raised in a radical, abusive home. She had just become a Christian, against her families’ wishes, and she feared for her life. Though she filmed the video alone, she spoke in hushed tones. The weight of her plight was evident in her demeanor, yet she was willing to face the consequences for her commitment to Christ. You can watch it for yourself below.
The video was hauntingly beautiful in its testament to the life changing reality of an encounter with God in Christ. Her own father sought to have her beheaded. The emotion of the moment was raw and real. She was leaving a testament to her love for God, knowing that her life might not end well.
I wondered about her and prayed for her years after she posted the video. She posted another video about a year later, and she was still doing well. She had matured some in her faith, but the darkness of her past and the threat that hung in the air seemed still present.
I searched a few times for a follow up video after that, wondering what became of her. Did she survive? Was she ok? Was her faith as vibrant after time had passed as the day she posted that first video?
Today, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I had subscribed to her channel. Today as I was going through my YouTube subscriptions her video that she did in March of 2019 was there on my computer. I watched it, and what a gloriously different demeanor she has now! She radiates the love of Christ.
See and listen for yourself her story in the first video. Her original story is amazing and compelling. She had trouble putting her encounter in words, but the love of Christ she experienced was overwhelming. She knew little about Christianity, but she knew the risen Lord.
“Telling people about Jesus is easier than living like him, but the latter will lead us to the cross. When we befriend those outside of the Church walls, we have to actually live out this whole Christian thing, not just talk about it.”
I have often thought that Christians seem to become abrasive in “sharing the Gospel” out of motivation not to be ashamed of the Gospel. We don’t want God to be ashamed of us by being ashamed to share the Gospel, but that motivation, alone, isn’t what sharing the Gospel is all about.
We don’t earn our way to heaven by sharing the Gospel. Salvation is a gift. We can’t earn salvation by sharing the Gospel.
Rather, sharing the Gospel should be the natural extension of who we are, born again as children of God, flowing out of the new life that is budding and growing within us. Sharing the Gospel should be an extension of our lives as we walk with God – not simply something we say.
God is love. Therefore, as children of God, having the lifeblood of God coursing through us, sharing the Gospel should be an expression of that love that He has for us and others.
Too often, it seems, that the stands we take for God evidence something other than love. It comes across as fighting to maintain political and cultural power and position. Or it seems like notching our belts in the category of “I am not ashamed”. Or, like the Pharisees that Jesus always confronted, it resembles self-righteousness.
To be sure, none of us, myself included, are immune from these vestiges of the flesh that live on and die hard within us. So, we need to be uncompromising and unrelenting – like Israelites were instructed as they entered the promised land to drive out the inhabitants – to expose and root out the sin that still lives within us.
Our example, of course, is Jesus, who demonstrated in his life the very nature of God in human form. Jesus got the greatest push back from religious people, but he was a “friend of sinners”, as the great hymn acknowledges. That phrase, friend of sinners, comes from an accusation leveled at Jesus by the religious leaders.
I wonder what influence Christians might have if we were more often called friends of sinners, rather than not ashamed of the Gospel?
The news is not that persecution of Christians around the world is on the rise. The news is that mainstream news reported it. Not that it could be ignored. The numbers were too big. They were too big to ignore, unlike the ongoing killings in Nigeria, and India, and Pakistan and arrests in China and burning and demolition of churches that occur increments that are easier to let slip by.
But, let’s be real here. Christian pleas for recognition and sympathy, as was shown for the killing of Muslims at Christchurch or institutionally marginalized people in our own culture who are rising on the shoulders of the Christian notion of the exaltation of the weak and oppressed is largely falling on deaf ears. And Christians aren’t happy about it.
Let’s be even more real here. Christians are not persecuted in the United States and never have been. That the tide of popular opinion about Christians and Christianity is turning, has turned, is not the same as persecution. That Christians are seen as the oppressors, the privileged and the keepers of the gates to be stormed by the cultural elite who have secured themselves in the cultural command center does not equate to persecution… yet.
But, we need to be careful here. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. We need to follow His lead, and not react out of our flesh. We need to maintain the right perspective. The perspective of people for whom Jesus has made a place with Him.
The 1600’s was also a time of great corruption in the church itself. The church was the largest employer in the land. It had great power, and it was corrupt. The vast majority of people, including clergy, were ignorant of Scripture. According to the experts on the Unbelievable podcast, many clergymen didn’t even know the 10 commandments. This was a very dark period in church history, the culmination of centuries of church/state alliance that twisted the Gospel to serve the power of kings and popes who lived like kings.
Tyndale was influenced by Martin Luther who also a rebel that opposed the church consensus and power structure of the day. Tyndale was influenced by John Wycliffe who a century before had translated the Bible into middle English, but the church opposed the “unauthorized” translation and rejected it. The church even declared Wycliffe a heretic after his death, and many of the Wycliffe Bibles were burned and not widely distributed.
Tyndale made it his life’s mission to translate the Bible into English for the common man. Though Wycliffe had already done that, the Bible was still virtually inaccessible to the vast majority of people, and even clergy were ignorant of it. He suffered exile for his efforts and was eventually arrested, jailed, convicted of heresy, executed by strangulation, and his body was burned at the stake.
We celebrate Tyndale now as a martyr for the faith who took up his cross and followed Christ even unto death, a leader of the reformation that led believers out of the corruption of the organized religion of his day.
He and other “rebels” paved the way for the Bible to be made available worldwide in every language spoken on earth. Tyndale now is the name of a major Christian publishing company. Luther is the namesake of a major church denomination. Wycliffe is the name of the organization that translates the Bible into the rarest languages of the farthest flung tribes of the world.
Just as Jesus opposed the Pharisees and Sadducees in the 1st Century, Tyndale opposed the popes and bishops in the 16th Century. Just as the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop Jesus and had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for spreading the Gospel, the popes and bishops tried to stop Tyndale, had him arrested, tried, convicted and executed for translating the Bible including the words Jesus preached into English.
The main opposition to Jesus, and Tyndale, came from the religious leaders. Those religious leaders employed the power of the state to oppose the spread of the Gospel (in Jesus’s case) and the spread of the translation of the Bible into English (in Tyndale’s case).
When Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify [Jesus]?”, the chief priests said, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15) I think about these things in light of the current religious and cultural climate.
Tyndale was viewed as a rebel and, a renegade, a heretic. He opposed the status quo, including the status quo within the church. He was despised. He was opposed by the church. He could not even return to his homeland, England, for fear of his life, and he eventually lost his life to the church and state authorities of his day
Today, the church and state are no longer joined in power as in Tyndale’s day. Many modern Christians in the United States rue the loss of power and advantage, while modern secularists would like to negate completely all influence of religion on society. If Hilary Clinton had been elected, instead of Trump, most Christians feared an incremental loss of power and influence in the affairs of our nation. Christians have embraced Trump as the man to fight the tide of growing secularism and maintain Christianity in that position of power and influence.
But is that a good thing? We all know of the challenges, difficulties and even persecution of the church that result from state government that is opposed to the church, but history suggests that the confluence of state power with church governance leads to corruption of the church. Would we rather accept corruption in the church to avoid challenge, difficulty and persecution?
Listening to Tyndale’s story, makes me wonder, “What about the church today is like the church in Tyndale’s time?” What influence lingers or has crept in to modern Christianity that will cause future believers to look back and wonder at the corruption of the 21st Century church?
Who are the heretics of our time who will be hailed as heroes in future generations?