September 27 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” ~Isaiah 11:1

OLD TESTAMENT

During the ministry of Isaiah, Israel was a divided nation. The northern kingdom used the name Israel and was the more corrupt. Israel often looked for ways to gain an upper hand against Judah, the southern kingdom. (Sometimes, the southern nation is referred to by major landmarks, specifically Jerusalem or Mount Zion.) Both kingdoms had sinned against God, which is Isaiah’s message throughout his book. The people’s worship had become meaningless, and their love for gain had become measureless. They cared little for the plight of widows and orphans, and many of their laws favored the rich and powerful (Is. 10:1-2). Therefore, God would judge them. In the near future, he would judge the northern kingdom more severely while preserving Judah, at least for a while. Eventually, God would use Assyria, the feared and fierce archenemies to the north, to bring down Judah too.

On the topic of the Assyrians, there is an interesting theological observation to be made. God is sovereign over evil men, even over entire nations. In today’s reading, He uses Assyria to do His bidding. He refers to the nation as “the rod of my anger,” and He “sends” it against His people (Is. 10:5-6). God wants to discipline His people and then restore them. As Assyria has an altogether different agenda—to wipe Judah from the map (Is. 10:7)—God will then turn his wrath on the evil nation when He has finished using them.

God intends to cut down His people, leaving only a stump, but He will not uproot them. Not only will He restore them in the near future (after he is done with Assyria), but he also will restore them in the distant future. A shoot will grow out of the stump of Jesse, the father of King David, to rule the people (Is. 11:1). This is a reference to the future kingdom of Christ that will be present on this earth. A great highway will be built, rendering the seas passable (as though they had dried up), so that the people of God will travel by highway to the New Jerusalem. There, a grand celebration will feature singing like you’ve never heard (Is. 11:15-12:6)!

Sometimes God disciplines His people, a fact that is clear not only in Isaiah but also throughout the biblical story (see Hebrews 12:4-12). However, He is always concerned for our welfare. His plan for discipline is always to bring about restoration both now and forever. For now, let us pray for mercy and for help, let us grow and change for our good and His glory, and let us look forward to the New Jerusalem with great hope.

NEW TESTAMENT

Paul is ticked over a message given to new believers that, in order to be spiritual, they need to follow certain rules. Specifically, Gentile believers were told to refrain from certain foods, observe special days for feasting and fasting, and be circumcised like the “real” Christians. In other words, the Gentiles were to become Jews. After all, Jesus was a Jew. However, Jesus did not come to make Jews; He came to transform people into God worshippers. That’s the message of the gospel, the message legalistic Christians are missing. Paul is so mad at the circumcision crowd that he says, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves” (Gal. 5:12). Ouch! That’s probably not something I could get away with saying during a Sunday morning sermon!

The transformation Jesus offers, which comes through the Holy Spirit, is not a matter of following rules but of following Him. The old life must go, that life of immorality and hatred and envy and anger and drunkenness must be replaced by the new life that is available through the Lord. Yes, we’ll struggle sometimes. The sinful desires in our hearts means there is inner conflict (Gal. 5:17). But with the help of God’s spirit, and the faith community (see Gal. 6:1-5), we can learn to walk [live] differently. We can put the old life in the grave (Gal. 5:24)! The process of becoming truly spiritual, of being sanctified, has nothing to do with circumcision or steering clear of meat and drink. It is through the work of God’s spirit that we become people of love, joy, peace (with ourselves and each other), patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).


Lectio Divina is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.