“[The] word that goes out from my mouth…will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands….” – Isaiah 55:11-12
This world, it has been said, is not our home.
For this world, ultimately, is a world of death.
And with this world passing away – with the grass withering and the flower fading – how shall we then, in this time, in this place, live?
How should we help one another? Guide one another?
Love, God’s love, asks just this.
Wherever we are in life – no matter who we are! – we all have much to learn from one another….
And, going along with this, we can always understand God and His ways, His desires, better…
How eager are you, like Mary, to sit as Jesus’ feet?
To be His learner, His disciple? How appealing – how exhilarating – does that sound to you?
If not very, ask yourself “Why?!”[i]
If you have been a Lutheran for a while, these verses from Isaiah are probably quite familiar to you.
Let us, however, cut right to the chase….
What is the most important aspect of this passage?
Is it that God’s word has amazing power? Or is it more that God’s goal, God’s purpose, God’s target… will be reached?
Not to take anything away from the power of God’s word – or the lovely pictures He often paints, like here in Isaiah, trees “clapping their hands” and such – but what, really, could be more important than this knowledge and wisdom the text alludes to…. understanding God’s goals and purposes?
Will that not tell us a lot about our God?
Some might say of a movie: “I watch for tone, color, character, cinematography, themes. I couldn’t care less about the plot.”
Some treat the book God has given us in the same way….
But should not the words of Jeremiah 9 not both convict us – and raise our sights?:
“Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
What can we learn from the Bible about the purposes of this God of Israel who speaks to us this morning through the prophet Isaiah?
Why, we learn that this God not only made the world but entered into it in human flesh.
The Son of God, the third person of the Godhead, or Trinity, “took on” human flesh…
He “tabernacled” or “tented” among us, as the majestic book of John says.
And really, the Gospels in the New Testament in general are not shy about sharing with us what the Son of God says were His reasons for coming.
He came to preach, to fulfill the law, to do His Father’s will, in His Father’s name…
Sounds about right… Makes some sense…
And yet, sometimes other things he says shock even us, His followers…
He came to divide, bring the sword separating even families… He came to blind the world… to bring fire!
At the same time, He also came for sinners…
He came to bring to bring favor, healing, and release. Love, light, and life to the full…
He came to seek and save the lost….
He came to earth to go to Jerusalem, the cross! To serve… and give His life as a ransom for many.[ii]
And when we look elsewhere in the New Testament, what are some passages that stand out about God’s purposes specifically for us… His people?
Well, the Apostle Paul is really quite helpful. Many of you no doubt remember Ephesians 2:8-10 from your confirmation class. It certainly speaks to this issue:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
There is another passage, earlier in Ephesians, that is not as well known, but speaks also of these predestinating purposes of God. Right after saying “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” he says this:
With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Again, God’s purpose in Christ is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ “when the times reach their fulfillment”. I note many people seem to want this kind of thing apart from Christ.
He then goes on, also in Ephesians:
11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
Now, keeping this picture in mind, the Apostle Paul also tells us throughout his writings…
- that it is God’s will that we should be sanctified, or made holy, and that this has largely to do with avoiding sexual immorality ;
- that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind and learn to bear with one another in love… and to love one another ever more deeply, as Christ has loved us ;
- Also that we should not grumble or complain with the result that we will “shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life”…
Now, these kinds of things – and not the spirit of the age which chases after this or that version of justice or “social justice”– that is what God’s Holy Spirit is on about.
When you think about all of this… the scope of it all… it really is quite immense and exhilarating isn’t it?[iii]
I think here also of our Epistle passage for today. All of this kind of stuff is surely in the background of the Apostle Paul’s mind when he says:
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.”
We who share in His glory….
So why – why?! – do these things sometimes… perhaps often… fail to move us, fail to be compelling?
The simple and true and too easy answer is, yes, because we are sinners.
But let us dig deeper here:
We are redeemed sinners – which means we are also God’s saints by the blood of Christ Jesus!
Nevertheless, perhaps unlike Martin Luther, it is hard for us to assert, for example, that “misfortunes impels” the believer to “prayer and [greater] faith”…
For example, some might say “God could not have willed…even allowed…Covid-19! Only the devil could have done that!”
Our faith often does not seem so strong, and, we often feel quite stuck in our sinful habits, thought-patterns, and attitudes…
What can we do? How can my trust and love for God increase? How can I stop hurting those I love?
Well, I’ll address that question momentarily, but still, we should dig a bit more into our passages for this morning a bit more and see what they have to say about God’s purposes for His creation…
First, the book of Isaiah… Again, in chapter 55, we read:
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
When God is talking about His purpose here, what is He talking about?
Well here, drawing a parallel with how he cares for the earth, He is putting the focus on what He does for His people to sustain them in body and soul.
Has the sun come up another day? It is God.
Does the rain fall again on the good and wicked alike? That’s God.
Are you living, moving, and having your being in Him? Yes, you do, and will – even after you die. It’s God.
And specifically here, the wider context for this passage in Isaiah speaks of God’s everlasting kindness for His people, how though He abandoned them to their sin and enemies, He is going to redeem them again. [iv]
It also comes in the context of prophecies about John the Baptist and the Messiah, Jesus Christ.[v]
Through them God will accomplish His purposes of people from all nations inhabiting the new heavens and the earth in unity, worshipping Him!
And what of the parable of the sower, which we also read this morning?
Note that at its end, the goal is clear:
“the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Has the soil of your heart been tilled and made ready so that you are convicted by God’s law?
….given faith through the glorious message of Jesus Christ?
….and baptized into His Name, that you might shout forth His praises forevermore?!
Is this the faith that you intend to remain in until the day you die?
The cause of these things, in order of their occurrence is: God, God, God, God, and God.
In each case.
How can my trust and love for God increase?
We must know God more…the depths of His goodness.
We must know that for the Christian, first of all, before anything else, everything that comes to us is from God.
In this sense, we are totally passive… we’re receivers….
As the Apostle Paul says “What do we have that we have not received?”
We suffer the work of His glorious predestinating purposes!
Like Jesus said, if you want to enter the Kingdom of God you must become like a little child…
Yes, faith is something that you exercise personally – its an action that happens within us – but it is first and foremost a mysterious gift of God’s Holy Spirit to us, where the good things that God gives us in Christ are freely received….
In Ephesians 2:8-10, which we read earlier for example, which we talked about earlier, even a Christian’s response is presented in entirely passive terms, as “God both initiates and completes the entire process of salvation according to the Word of God” (Nordling, Philemon, 134)!
This is what God does! He has prepared it all and He means to do it all!
Really? Yes. Many of you know that our family recently had a baby. Therefore, I was really interested this past week to read this from a pastor I follow on the internet:
“…it’s still a bit of a shock to witness the utter helplessness and tiny frailty of a newborn. Even the largest of babies are completely unable to do anything for themselves. Someone has to do absolutely everything for an infant — feeding, clothing, cleaning, holding, rocking, soothing — every day, 24/7. Otherwise, the fact of the matter is brutally simple, the child will die.
And infants do have a sense of that. Call it “instinct,” or better yet, the gracious design of God, the Creator. But a newborn infant will automatically search for his or her mother’s milk. And a newborn infant will quickly respond with recognition to the voices and presence of Mom and Dad. A newborn infant rightly clings for dear life to the parents whom God the Lord has provided.
That is where you also stand in relation to the Lord your God, the Maker of the heavens and the earth. That is the case for every man, woman, and child, whether they acknowledge Him or not…”
When it comes to our being made right before Him, when it to being able to stand before Hi, God creates cooperation in us like children.
His will is done.
And, again, things like this don’t stop there!
As with a baby, everything continues, at bottom, to be about the passive reception of God’s gifts.
At the same time though, as we grow in faith, as we still talk about how we receive everything from God, we also certainly become more knowledgeable of just Who He is, of our identity as His child, and hence also more convicted of the truth in our conscience and more conscious and deliberate in our actions…
The Apostle Peter hints at this when he exhorts: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).
And here, a passage like Psalm 42:1 is especially helpful: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.”
One popular Bible teacher put it:
“The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.”[vi]
Exactly! How deep is our need!
Please note – none of this increasing activity on our part, this action on our part, even this effort on our part, takes anything away from the foundation of faith and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life and salvation!
Everything goes hand in hand!
What, after all, is prayer? You may have heard some Christians talk about “prayer warriors,” emphasizing a certain person’s qualities, but is that kind of a focus really helpful at all?
Prayer, after all, isn’t really something that glorifies or draws attention to the person praying (or at least it shouldn’t be) Instead it, magnifying God, is about thankfulness and praise.
And it is surely about dependence, even a sign of our ongoing helplessness…
And prayer is that which both exercises and increases trust.
And then loyalty. Love…
…a love growing stronger all the time.
Love which is fueled by an increasing faith… an increasing knowledge of God and His ways, through the Word of God, the Scriptures….[vii]
Hence, the Apostle Paul, at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians, can’t help but excitedly state:
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing [like breath!]
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
And, just a few verses later, Paul reminds us that God is indeed the One working in us:
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.”
And so we cry “Abba,[b] Father.”
So again, this is what things should look like for us, here, in this place, when it comes to the parable of the sower.
The promise of good fruit!:
“…the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
All that said, when hearing this parable of the sower perhaps some are tempted to wonder:
“Well… the other seeds don’t fare so well. Does this mean that those in the parable of the sower who don’t believe… maybe me… are forever doomed to eternal damnation?
And if they end up in unbelief and condemnation – just as so many seeds failed in the parable of the sower! – if God’s word always accomplishes its purpose, shouldn’t we assume that God means for this to happen? That such destruction is His purpose?
-Proverbs 16:4 says: The Lord works out everything to its proper end—even the wicked for a day of disaster.
-Jeremiah 10:23 says: Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;it is not for them to direct their steps.
-I Kings 12:15 says: “So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from the Lord, to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.”
May it never be!
We shouldn’t read the text, these texts, in such a way…
These texts are meant to assure the Christian that God is in control even as they also will terrify the unbeliever that God is not under his control….
Udo Middelmann can help us here as we think more carefully about God’s will:
“God rejoices over good choices made on earth. He gives conditional promises to people and grieves or rejoices over the outcome (2 Samuel 7:1ff. and 2 Chronicles 7:17ff.). He makes the promise of the land, yet the journey took an extra forty years because of the unbelief by the exodus generation (Numbers 14:20-33). God knows what will happen to David if he remains in the city of Keilah and can tell him that. But God also knows that David will choose to flee when he hears what God tells him will happen (I Samuel 23:7ff.). God can announce to Jonah that Nineveh will be destroyed because of its sin. When the inhabitants of that great city repent, which Jonah in a sense had feared they might do when they would hear of the impending judgment, the destruction never falls. One might also wonder what would have happened to Sodom if Abraham had pled for the five righteous people in the city and not stopped after interceding for ten.[viii]
Pray that God’s seed would fall on good ground!
Pray that the Lord would not let Satan to snatch seed away!
Pray that His watchmen would watch and warn as they should!
No one should even think to say: “I guess God hasn’t predestined me….”
Or especially accuse Him of the same!
Just because men – sometimes even His most devoted servants! – turn aside from God’s desires… does not mean He doesn’t earnestly desire to save all men by Christ’s blood!
Again, God desires all persons to be saved, and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Even if hearts rebel against such love…
In like fashion, there is another massive temptation Christians face as well…
Sometimes we think of God’s will in too wooden a fashion.
For example, regarding God’s desire to be gracious a pastor I know on Facebook recently said:
“You can never out-sin God’s grace.”
But that sure doesn’t stop a lot of people from trying.”
Yes, it is God’s will to be gracious!
Yes, it is God’s will for pastors to always preach grace, and to always absolve those who make a good confession!
Still, such a blanket statement — with no context at all! — isn’t helpful….
Tell that to Judas, after all…. Who was left without absolution and God’s peace in this world…
And we can also be too wooden regarding God’s will when it comes to thinking about His law.
I recently read a post from a popular blogger, a recent Christian convert, who was writing about marriage. He said of a future potential spouse:
“If God wills it, and she is someone who I believe will deepen my faith instead of obstruct it, I would marry her, in spite of the countless material obstacles and detriments of doing so, because even if that marriage doesn’t work, and I lose my children and all of my money in a divorce, I know that that too is part of God’s will.”
What is he saying?
He thinks that if the marriage “doesn’t work” this will all just somehow be God’s will, in a very uncomplicated fashion.
This, however, is completely confused.
God certainly can use evil for good – and something like the crucifixion was of course in the cards from before the beginning of creation — but does God ever desire Christians to divorce?
No – that is never something that He wants. “Plan B” shouldn’t exist. Even if, yes, He allows for it in some circumstances on the one hand, and can use evil for good on the other…[ix]
So what this blogger is doing in effect is completely denying the personal responsibility and agency of Christians.
Whatever happens is meant to happen…
Or like a man named Alexander Pope said: “whatever is, is right.”
There is a real lack of maturity here….
He’s an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and so perhaps what I once heard another E. Orthodox preacher say might speak to him: “God, do not let my neighbor perish because of me, a sinner…”
Or, maybe Paul gets more helpfully to the brutal point by what he says to God’s chosen people in the book of Romans: “[T]he Word of God is blasphemed among the nations because of you….”
“Don’t be a stumbling block…”
We can even do good and right things for the worst of reasons.
We can speak the truth, but not in love…
All of this is sad but true, and points to our need to better know our God…
Now, please don’t misunderstand me this morning.
If we believe in Jesus Christ, there is a sense in which God’s will has been fully done.
We call sin “sin” and call grace “grace” and are justified before God in Jesus Christ!
In Him we already have everything we need! And we have peace with God even though the world and perhaps our own brothers and sisters might rage against us… this peace can’t be taken away!
Get behind us Satan!
We are baptized.
We are His.
At the same time, insofar as we are sinners, our faith will always be challenged by our old man, and hence, there will always be a sense in which God’s will is *not* done.
Oh, God can use even our not doing His will in His will….but we have nevertheless missed the target, or at the very least have not hit it as well as we might have….
It is true that God has good works set up for us to do, as Ephesians 2:10 assures us.
All that said, we should not think for a moment that God has also not allowed there to be room for us, by the grace given to us in His Holy Spirit, to exercise personal responsibility, agency, effort….
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to need – to put it mildly, to ask for a lot of God’s help so as not to grumble and complain…
Still, should we think that we don’t have any choice? Maybe that’s just been ordained and there is no choice at all….
Well, I’ll say this too. In I Cor. Chapter 7, the Apostle Paul says this:
It is good to marry, but for those who have the gift of celibacy – very few – that it is good for them to exercise that gift: “he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better….”
So, let’s tie things up…
In whatever we do… in our individual callings where we “do everything for the glory of God” or simply in our efforts to imitate Christ, who walked in the Law of God by the Spirit…
Our life is “organized around the forgiveness of sins” as one man said….
Whenever we go to God whom we will continue to know better — even if not directly for forgiveness — this is what we come to experience again and again and again…
What we are reminded of, this side of heaven, is forgiveness of sins is the heartbeat of it all…
God longs to forgive us and all of our neighbors.
Luther talked about us being “little Christs”…
Like little children, they imitate their Lord!
And because Jesus Christ is the Christian’s Savior from sin, death, and the devil, he or she also desires Him as their example….
It is a simple matter, really. The young child imitates the parents who have given her identity, security, belonging.
We love because He first loved us.
Think about chicks and imprinting…. And also this hymn:
“On my heart imprint your image
Blessed Jesus King of Grace
That life’s riches, cares and pleasure
Never may your work erase.
Let the clear inscription be
Jesus crucified for me
Is my Life, my hope’s Foundation
And my Glory and Salvation….
And so we depend on Him in prayer…
And we forgive as Christ forgives…
And the hills will sing!
…And the trees will clap their hands in joy![x]
So rejoice: God has chosen to use you as His “little Christ” to your neighbor.
You are His adopted child, His representative, You are His ambassador!
Don’t every say “what is, is right” but rather… “As God gives me strength, I will make things right…”
Choose good over evil, and increasingly – as God gives you the will and the strength – choose the better over the good…
After all it is not that Martha – remember Mary and Martha? – was sinning in what she had done, but Mary chose the better thing….
And let me just make sure this is clear too:
This is not about getting closer to God – there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more than He does, really…
Rather, it is about knowing Him and His purposes even better… to the utter core of our being!
Now I’ve found in my life Lutherans sometimes don’t talk this way, so I just want to say a few more things… (I know this has been long)
But if you are feeling gung-ho right now about all the things you want to do, just know this: we are not going to make Jesus come back sooner….
There is no way that we are going to make the wedding feast and consummation we long for is going to come by our getting busy…
Nevertheless again, it is a good thing to know Him and His ways better!
It is good to want to be used by Him at all times!
It is good to realize that whatever your experiences – good or evil – suffering or elation – that “all things work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose”!
It is good to want a deep “love for the lost”, as the Evangelicals say – all of whom Christ desires to save!
It is good to believe that there is nothing too small to pray for, and that God is intimately involved in every detail of your life.
It is good to want to run the way of His commandments, “stand in the gap”, see Him working in all things, and desiring to “be His man” – or His woman!
It is good to want to be “all there” with Him at all places and all times! (again, fixated on showing love towards the neighbor!)
It is good to dream about being a soldier of God like Moses, Elijah, Mary, Peter, or Martin Luther – and to be open to God’s using you in this or that way if He so desires (and, also importantly, to be able to be content if He does not)!
It is good to say, as a Christian rock group when I was young, sung years ago: “I am available”!
There is nothing wrong with any of that![xi]
At any age!
It is the pagan gods, not the Christian God, who refuse to be lovingly involved in our lives, much less every step of the way.
So never, ever – in the interest of promoting “sanctified common sense” (which we should) – think that it is pious to assert that “God has no plan for your life!” (“Just follow the 10 commandments”)
Don’t take statements like that seriously. Rather….
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
And, even as we can say all of this about the importance of knowing His purposes and goals – to be sure!…
We simultaneously take nothing away from the power of God’s word here either: that it is living and active and “penetrat[ing] even to divid[e] soul and spirit, joints and marrow… judg[ing] the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” as Hebrews says.
And one more word on that from the Apostle Paul, from the book of I Thessalonians, chapter 2:
“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
Sit at Jesus’ feet. Again and again.
He loves you… He loves you that much (point to the crucifix).
[i] As the book of Isaiah reminds us, after all, it is we, not God, who need this help:
“Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?” (Isaiah 40:14)
||Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come…
|Bring favor, healing, release!
||The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
||Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.
||For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life…
|For sick sinners!
||It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
|In Father’s name!
||I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him.
||For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
|Blind the world!
||For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.
||As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem
|Bring [full] life!
||The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
||I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
||Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
||Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–…
|Seek and save lost!
||The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
|Serve! Be ransom for many!
||the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many…
|To the cross!
||Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour….
||I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world…
||“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
[iii] As God has loved us in Jesus Christ, may this memory always be solidified… may this story never grow old… may this narrative never be displaced or replaced in our hearts and minds!
[iv] See, e.g. Isaiah 40:3, 57:14, Isaiah 54:
“For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.
[v] See, e.g., Isaiah 40:3, 57:4 (John the Baptist) ; also 53 and 61.
[vi] More context from Jon MacArthur:
How strong should that affection be? Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Spiritual growth comes when we know the Word, when it shapes our convictions, and when we learn to long for the sustenance it alone can provide.
Psalm 42:1 says, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God.” The psalmist is not referring to the way some people read the Bible as a curiosity or as ancient literature. He’s not talking about perusing the Bible for intellectual stimulation or gathering ammunition to win an argument. This is studying Scripture eagerly and earnestly, hungry to extract all of the nourishment we so desperately need out of the Word.
The Word of God is our spiritual sustenance. May we have the same solitary longing for it that a baby has for milk—because by it, we are conformed to the image of Christ, who sanctified Himself for us. The Word reveals Christ to us, and the Word transforms us into His likeness. We are reminded of what our Savior repeated three times in the upper room—that He would send us the Holy Spirit. We know that sanctification is a divine work through the Word by the Spirit of truth. So, we must plead with the Spirit that He would mold and shape us into the image of Christ, through the truth, from one level of glory to the next. As the Apostle Paul explains, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
[viii] Udo W. Middelmann, The Innocence of God (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007), 115-116.
[ix] It is very interesting how Isaiah 53 talks about some who consider the prophesied Messiah as being one who is punished by God, which the passage goes on to confirm in a way, but not in the way perceived by the unbelieving:
“….yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
[x] For who are we again? This is also from the Psalm for the day:
“3 When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave[c] our transgressions.
4 Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.”
They give the forgiveness that He has won…
And they bring hope and life and peace to the world!
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
8 The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.
[xi] And God’s plan does include key persons – including some very key persons – who are prominent in working out His will (where he indeed had some kind of a “blueprint” for them from the beginning)