This section of the book of Isaiah was written after their return from exile. God’s people had returned to find Jerusalem a pile of rubble, in many cases. It was not all peaches and cream. There was a lot of rebuilding and restructuring of society. It was hard, often discouraging work. God offered these words of encouragement and promise to his beloved people.
- Isaiah states that he was so excited about Zion-Jerusalem’s future, that he had no choice but to spread the news. Have you ever had some secret news? Did it ever make you want to burst, because you could not tell anyone? This is how excited Isaiah was about the future of God’s people. He couldn’t keep it in any longer.
- The word “until” indicates that they are not totally where they need to be. We’re talking the “righteousness” of God’s beloved. Remember that “righteousness” is a fancy word for acting or behaving in the “right” way; in a God-pleasing way. This indicates that God’s beloved need to work on their actions and their attitudes. (Things haven’t changed much, have they?)
- When they (and we) finally get it right, other people will stand up and take notice.
- When they (and we) finally get it right, God will give us a new name. What does this mean? Think about when you get a new pet or a new baby enters your household. You give it a special name. Maybe it is a nickname that you give a favorite grandchild. This tells everyone that there is a special connection between you. This is what it means when God renames His people. “Now that you’ve got it right, I’m giving you a special new name.”
- What follows is a list of former and future nicknames, ending with Beulah, or “Married”. This is a link to the next and final point.
- Isaiah likens God’s delight in us to the delight between newlyweds. This is not a new concept, but Isaiah works this imagery beautifully. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience the feeling of an intensely loving experience with another, then you know the feeling. God tells us that this is how thrilled he’ll be, when we start living our lives “righteously”.
God created us. He knows us inside and out. He knows what we are capable of becoming. God has high expectations for us. Yet, we continually fall short of His expectations. Let us strive to measure up to what God wants us to be. When we do, others will take notice. When we do, God will be delighted.
1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11
Two points will help us to understand this passage better.
The first is regarding one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that of speaking in tongues. In Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit make her dramatic entrance in that closed room, the disciples all speak in tongues; they fluently speak in foreign languages in which they were never formally instructed. In the early church, this gift of the Holy Spirit continued to be given to new Christians at their baptism. Last week’s reading (Acts 8:14-17) was about such a baptismal event. It was proof that you had received the Holy Spirit.
The second point has to do with Paul’s letter as a whole. Much of it was written about specific issues that needed addressing in this church in the city of Corinth. Four chapters begin with “Now concerning ____ …” (See the first verses of chapters 7, 8, 12, and 16.) Apparently somebody from that church sent word to Paul of these problems, asking him for a little help and guidance. In chapter 12, Paul addresses the problem they had regarding the gift of speaking in tongues. Some were claiming spiritual authority over their Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s see what Paul says about the matter.
- Verse one essentially says “Now let’s talk about spiritual gifts.”
- He then talks about their former days, when they were pagans; they worshipped mute idols. Now that they are Christians, they praise Jesus by proclaiming him “Lord”. At that time, the term “Lord” was reserved for those in political office; the people who controlled your daily life. The #1 Lord of the Land was Caesar, followed by his regional governors, and so forth. It would have been treason to call a Jewish carpenter’s son (whom the Romans crucified) “The Lord”. You definitely need the courage and commitment supplied by the Holy Spirit to make that statement! Courage and boldness of faith are just two of the gifts received from the Holy Spirit. (vv. 2-3)
- Next, he jumps into the heart of the issue. There are all sorts of gifts. All are given by the same Spirit, … same Lord, … same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (vv. 4-6)
- This is the key verse. Everybody gets some sort of “slice”* of the Holy Spirit, for the common good. (v. 7)
- The following verses list some of the more notable gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is not a complete list, but a good assortment. At the very end, as an almost “by the way” addition, Paul includes “tongues”. His point was that the gift of tongues wasn’t as important as these. (vv. 8-10)
- This passage concludes with the point that the one and only Spirit grants all these gifts as the Spirit choses. (v. 12)
- Chapter 12 continues on, but it is not part of Sunday’s reading. Paul likens a community of believers as a physical body. All the body parts are needed to make the whole body work. The body needs fingers, hands, eyes, ears, and even a tongue to do God’s work. But in order to be a body, it also needs feet, armpits, and other smelly parts. All are necessary for the body to function. It’s a powerful analogy, with which you may already familiar. I encourage you to read it. Then, in chapter 13, Paul tells us about the best gift of all.
As I said last week, most churches believe that the gift of tongues was given out by the Holy Spirit less and less over the centuries. Some churches, called charismatic or Pentecostal, believe this gift is still given. But in this passage, Paul makes it clear that it is only one of many precious gifts given to Christians through their baptism.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Which spiritual gifts has the Holy Spirit given to you? Are you using these gift “for the common good”, or are you “hiding them under a bushel basket”?
In John’s gospel story, this familiar story appears right after the story of his baptism.
- This event takes place three days after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus, his mom, and his disciples are invited to a wedding. You know the story. (vv. 1-2)
- I love this dialogue so much, I have to paraphrase verses 3-5:
MARY: They have no wine, Jesus, do something about it.
JESUS: Aw come on, Mom! I just got baptized. Can’t you cut me a little slack?
MARY (to the staff): Listen to Jesus. He’s got this.
- You know the rest of the story. Water into wine, and it’s really, really good wine. (vv. 6-10)
- Verse 11 is packed with several “goodies”:
- This was the first of Jesus “signs”.
- This sign revealed his glory.
- His disciples believed in him. (Can you imagine the sorts of things they said to each other after this happened?)
We like to call them Jesus miracles, but John calls them signs. Road signs keep you pointed in the right direction. You may let your mind wander, not read the signs, and get lost. But the disciples read the sign, and responded appropriately. The purpose of this story is to provide its readers with the first of many “road signs” to guide them to realizing the true identity of Jesus.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Are you on the right road?