A CITY NO LONGER DESERTED

“They will be called … the City no longer deserted”.

Isa 62:12 NIV

 A deserted city is an uncomfortable and eerie place. Sometimes a pastor gets called to visit a person in hospital in the middle of the night. You drive through empty streets. Here and there you spy a person sleeping on a pavement. You wonder why. It doesn’t seem right. There are buildings with no one in them but with all lights on. Many buildings, bright with lights throughout the day, are in total darkness. You wonder who is lurking in the shadows. In the “red light district” an occasional person is standing at the street corner. You almost feel afraid – wondering what is going on in the darkness. But the hospital is full of light – and people working hard. The city is empty. It almost seems as if it is dead. But in another couple of hours it will throb with life!

Jerusalem had been deserted. Its inhabitants had been carted off to far-away Babylon. For the few scattered souls who remained the place they had once called home was as good as dead. And many people had been killed whilst the battle for Jerusalem raged. There was death in the city – ruins, destruction and hopelessness. But God intervened and the people came home from their far away exile. Some found parts of their old houses still in place and set about sorting out the mess. New people had been born and had grown up in exile. For other exiles, people they had known had died in the meantime. To them it was all strange. But in place of the hopelessness there was now a promise. Soon, day by day, life came back. Eventually there was hustle and bustle. God reigned again!

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, fill our cities with people who are alive with faith.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for those scientists working to develop an effective vaccine to combat the Covid-19 virus. Aid them to make early breakthroughs. Prompt those working on this project to co-operate with others throughout the world. Strengthen all health workers to serve their turn as long as the need persists. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Psalm 100

THE CITY THAT GOD LOVES

“Jerusalem will be called, ‘The City that God Loves’”.        

 Isa 62:12 GNB

Jerusalem is special. It was a special place when David chose it, a Jebusite fortress, to be his capital. It is argued about, fought over, and cherished to this day. When the Americans, a short while ago, decided to move their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem controversy erupted. Millions of Christian pilgrims visit Israel every year, Jerusalem being the high point of their visit. For most of them Jerusalem is “just different”. They have read about it in their Bibles for years. Now it becomes real.

Isaiah was beside himself with joy and excitement now that the exiles had returned, and he realized that God had brought this development about. He knew that God loved Israel and the focus of Israelite life, faith and culture was the great city. Israel loved it. And God loved it.

There is a sense that God loves the whole world and therefore every place where his children dwell. Jerusalem has a special history that Nairobi or Barcelona don’t have. But God does not love it any more than he loves anywhere else. Isaiah was on a high and he should be forgiven for assuming that God loved Jerusalem “just that extra bit”. Life was going to be resumed. The place was going to be rebuilt. The temple was going to gather the people together (so to speak) again and they would meet with and worship God there. “This crazy world” was finally coming right.

 Jesus showed us that God loves the world. His love is no longer a side-line reserved for his “chosen people”. Our task, as his church, is to share God’s love with all the world.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us to share your love with all the world.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for those people who have lost their jobs as a result of the restrictions on people moving. Help them to find the necessities of life and to search hopefully for new employment opportunities. Prompt authorities to implement relief measures that will speedily bring assistance to those in the most urgent need. I ask in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Deuteronomy 4:1–8

THE REDEEMED OF THE LORD

“They will be called … the Redeemed of the Lord”.

Isa 62:12 NIV

In Old Testament times there was an interesting family custom. With little in the way of medicine life was short and difficult. In fact, life expectancy was only 28 years, made very short because of the high incidence of child mortality. It often happened that a man would die long before his wife who was left destitute – no life insurance and all that. It then became the task of the dead man’s brother to take responsibility for his sister-in-law. He was called the “go’el” or redeemer. The passive voice, to “be redeemed” meant someone else had rescued you. Since God was, from time to time, rescuing the Israelites as a nation, they became “the Redeemed of the Lord”. As Isaiah wrote, the people had recently been rescued from slavery in Babylon and hence had been redeemed again.

Christian believers know that Christ, by his death and resurrection, has redeemed them from a life of sin, guilt, meaninglessness and emptiness. By redeeming them, Jesus has brought salvation, hope, joy, freedom and love to them. They now have someone in whom to believe, someone who becomes a constant companion, a guide and Lord. Once redeemed by accepting Christ, life for Christian believers, becomes meaningful, joyful, disciplined, and purposeful.

David Winter, a minister in London, told how a young couple suddenly appeared in his church. He wondered why. They said that they had been bored by the suburban life they had been living – it had consisted of working, eating and watching television. One of them remarked, “There must be more to life than this”. They “tried church”, found God, gave their lives to Christ and started really living. They had been redeemed. Have you?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, thank you for including me amongst the redeemed.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for the church throughout the world today. I think especially of those members who have become cut off from their local fellowship as a result of lockdown regulations. Help them to know that they are part of the great company of angels and archangels and the host of heaven still worship and adore you. I ask it in the name of Jesus. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Psalm 46

THE HOLY PEOPLE

“They will be called the Holy People”

Isa 62:12 NIV

The Israelites began as a people when God called Abraham to go out to a new land to which he would direct him. On the way back from their captivity in Egypt – which went on for some four hundred years, God called to Moses at Mt Sinai and said, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6 NIV). They were his special choice and they would be holy. Holy means to be separate and to be touched by, or associated with, God. In modern parlance we would say that holy means “religious”. Other nations would be soldiers, farmers, wanderers, or craftsmen. The Israelites were to be holy to God, dedicated to whatever purpose he assigned them. Basically, this meant they were to uphold his name and obey his commandments.

But also, they were to preserve his commandments and the record of his dealings with them and the things he had said to and done with them.

The Christian church, by the teaching of the apostles, took over this calling. This was set out in I Peter 2:5 “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NIV). Always the people of God must know who they are and whose they are. They must continually revisit their calling under God and ask his way forward. If they don’t, they wander all over the place spiritually. They are not called to be secular specialists or analysts – those are others’ vocations. They must revise and question and evaluate their vocation. And constantly bring it back to God and ask his way for them.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, whatever else, let us be your holy people.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for those people who have lost loved ones during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Give them comfort in their sense of loss and desolation. Help them to start looking forward and hoping again. Let them know that you love them just as much as ever you have done before. Wipe their tears with kindness. I ask it in the name of Jesus. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Hebrews 12:1–13

PASS THROUGH THE GATES

“Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway! Remove the stones. Raise a banner for the nations”.

Isa 62:10 NIV

Three world religions regard Jerusalem as a holy city for their faith, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. This has tended to make it a “world city” more than most other cities of a similar size. But in Old Testament times, five centuries before Christ, it was jealously treasured as the city for God’s people, the Israelites. The prophets of the Old Testament were mostly fiercely nationalistic and encouraged attitudes suggesting that God favored the Israelites above all other people.

“Finally, in words from earlier in his prophecy, Isaiah calls upon his people to enter the holy city. Earlier the call was to return from exile. Now it is to enter the New Jerusalem. ‘The Highway’ is the great ramp running along the city wall up to each gate, like Bethlehem Road leading up to Jaffa Gate on the west side of the Old City of Jerusalem today. A ‘banner’ or ensign is to be raised as a rallying point for Israel and the nations. The whole earth will hear about the ‘salvation’ (or ‘victory’) of Zion, and the Lord’s marvelous ‘reward’ or ‘recompense’” (J.F.A. Sawyer, Daily Study Bible, Isaiah, p193).

Today Israelis gather at the Wailing Wall, part of the old temple to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and many other things on their hearts. People of other faiths join them and so maintain the custom. It means that Jerusalem is soaked in prayer! Christians should ask God to let his peace pervade the city. They should treasure the Christian sites and ask that war will never again mar or desecrate this special city.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, may your name be worshipped in Jerusalem and all other cities.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for those people who have lost all faith and have given up hope in you. Cause circumstances to change in such a way that they will rethink their position. Help them to meet people who will understand them and the dilemma they face. Grant that a spark of grace will rekindle faith within them. I ask it in the name of Jesus. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

2 Timothy 4:1–8

NEVER AGAIN

“The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: ‘Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies’”.

Isa 62:8 NIV

Sometimes events happen that sicken, terrify, and disgust us. We think that things can’t get worse. Then they do. World War I was a horrendously bloody war that convulsed Europe. Hundreds of thousands were killed. It was so bad that it was dubbed, “The war to end all wars”. Twenty-one years later World War II broke out, claiming the lives of some sixty million people. Then the nations of the world got together to form the United Nations Organization. It is one thing to be horrified by bad events, but it is another thing to prevent such events recurring. Isaiah looked to God’s intervention to protect the Israelites from ever suffering a repeat of the exile. And he understood God as promising a new and better future. But in 70 A.D. the Romans quashed an uprising by the Jewish people and laid the country waste again.

Christians are, or should be, people of peace and should bend every effort to promote peace and well-being. They should pray and work for better lives for people the world over. They should promote international understanding and goodwill, trying to eradicate poverty, ignorance, nationalism, international aggression, and pollution. The big question we all want to be answered is, “Will we ever be able to say meaningfully, ‘Never Again’ or is that too much to expect given that human nature is sinful and violent?’”

In the meantime, submitting our lives to God is something we can all do, and the world will be a better place the more people in all nations acknowledge the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, guide us as we seek greater peace in your world.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I live in a world where faith is hard to keep and doubt seems much more normal and natural. Keep my mind focused on the faith of the Bible and help me to remember the call of the Psalmist when he said, “Magnify the Lord with me”. Lord stir up confidence within my soul and keep me faithful to you. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Mark 1:9–15

NO REST

“You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth”.

Isa 62:6, 7 NIV

Jerusalem had a much greater significance for the Israelites than a modern capital city does for the people today. It was regarded as God’s dwelling place. It had been chosen by David as his military and administrative capital. The temple, upon which great sums of money and treasures had been expended, was there, symbolizing great strength and holiness. It was more than a city. It was a shrine where the people’s sacrifices had been rendered, thus where they had known their sins had been forgiven. It was the center of their life as a people. And it gave them a sense of security.

It was important for Isaiah to call on the people of prayer to call on God to make Jerusalem great again. Whilst they had to do their part by not resting in their intercessions to God, God was being called on to assert himself, express his dignity, and take control. They were all together to make the city “the praise of the earth,” hailed, respected, and loved by all.

There is no similar geographic spot for Christians. God is to be found everywhere, as Pentecost had demonstrated. But he wants every last Christian shrine, whether mighty cathedral or lowly rural chapel to be the place of his dwelling – and the place where men and women can draw near to God and he to them. But Jesus is to be hallowed wherever the Word of God goes forth. People are to seek him and witness to his presence, radiate his glory, and sing his praise.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, let your name be glorified in all the earth.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for those parents whose children, as they have grown into adulthood, have squandered opportunities for employment and advancement. Help the parents to keep in touch with those children, even when they are clearly getting nowhere. Help the children to see where they can get their act together. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Psalm 119:25–32

WATCHMEN

“I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night”.

Isa 62:6 NIV

In today’s crime-infested world the existence of security companies has become essential. It is a growth industry. Governments cannot place police where they are always needed, and the security companies put guards to maintain security in specified areas. It is an important role. The guard (called “watchman” in the Bible) has just to be there. He has no other role – except to raise the alarm if he sees anything untoward. It is a cold, lonely, and boring task. You just stand there, but in fact, your presence can be a deterrent to those who “mean business”. It is not anything you do that matters. It is just “being there”.

In the ancient world, however, there was more. The watchman went around the city walls and, if he saw anything that looked like possible danger, he blew a trumpet to warn the people. He was their first line of defense. In this verse, it is God speaking. In order to defend Jerusalem from any further attacks, he will station watchmen for the defence to sound the alarm well in advance of any attack. His holy city has to be protected at all costs.

In the Christian community, those who teach are the watchmen appointed by God to warn the people of going astray or of tendencies to spiritual slackness. All manner of dangers waits to waylay the Christian community – the love of money, conflict, power struggles, sexual immorality, and false teaching being the most commonly experienced problems. Those who are spiritual guides and leaders have to be constantly on the lookout for these problems. And they need to call the community promptly.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, help us all to be watchmen over your church family.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray for all those dedicated Bible scholars who are engaged in the arduous work of translating the Bible into indigenous languages. When the work seems hard and slow, give them the perseverance to continue, keeping ever in view the goal of enabling people to read the scriptures in their own languages. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Ezekiel 36:22–32

JOY IN MARRIAGE

“As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you”.

Isa 62:5 NIV

The Bible reflects many human thoughts, ideas, emotions, fears, triumphs, and experiences. In many of the human episodes of life, the writers see a pointer to God and how he behaves and thinks. Calling him “Father” is one such human likeness. “Judge” is another.

Isaiah, almost ecstatic in his joy at the return of the exiles, the reinstatement of Jerusalem, the prospect of rebuilding the city and the people holding their heads up high, uses another image now, that of marriage. It speaks of a love relationship between the Lord and the people of Israel. Here “the verb ‘marry’ moves nearer its sense of ‘possess’ or ‘rule over’ … as a young man takes a virgin in hand, so shall Zion’s strong sons take their mother in hand to guide her and protect her. Jerusalem is moreover, like God’s bride, … loved, cherished, and enjoyed by him” (J.F.A. Sawyer, Daily Study Bible, Isaiah, p193). There is more, much more, to the Old Testament concept of Israel than just their being “the chosen race”.

Paul picked up the metaphor of marriage in the New Testament by describing the church as “the bride of Christ” a perfect pointer to the deep love and ongoing relationship between Jesus and this strange human institution we call the church. Christian believers need always to be thinking about the church and comparing the images of the church in the New Testament and the “on the earth reality” as it appears and witnesses today. Is it a reality Jesus would rejoice over? Is it something he can be proud of? Who dares answer?

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, make your church a people of joy and holiness.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, I pray today for all those parents who are trying to give their children lessons at home whilst schools are closed. Help the children to work properly and show the parents how to go about observing discipline and order. Make the children look forward to school again and speed the return to normality. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Deuteronomy 30:11–20

HEPHZIBAH – BEULAH

“You will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the Lord will take delight in you and your land will be married”.

Isa 62:4 NIV

Isaiah’s joy at the return of the exiles from Babylon knew no bounds. Faith in God and total immersion in the matters of the day are not mutually exclusive. And some people assert that having real faith means that you will be alert to what is going on in the world, which is God’s. And the world needs people who have faith in God!.

One of the main themes of the Old Testament is that God is the king and ruler of the universe. This belief is known as the doctrine of providence. Isaiah’s closeness to God informed him that God was preparing a new life for his people. It was loaded with joy and prosperity. Hephzibah is Hebrew for “my delight is in her”. Isaiah overlooks what God thought of Israel at the time of the conquest by Babylon. But he was sure God was delighted at the restoration of Israel. It was more than an ordinary event in secular history. It was an act of God’s sovereignty. Above all else, it proclaimed God as the Sovereign Lord of all the earth. Isaiah was delighted. And so was God. The word “Beulah” means “married” and plenty of women have been given that biblical name. Isaiah was saying that Israel was as happy as a newly married woman now that her “family” were all together again.

Let your faith guide you into an interest in and a concern for the affairs of the world and do what you can to discern God’s sovereignty in his world.

PRAYER THOUGHT

Lord, rule in all the affairs of your world.

PRAYER OF INTERCESSION

Lord, help us to make this day a day of prayer. Help us to glorify your name in all we do and say. Breathe your spirit into the worship in which we shall engage and enable us all to come to worship hopefully and prayerfully. Let the name of Jesus be lifted up and let all glory accrue to him. Bring sinners to repentance. I ask it in Jesus’ name. AMEN

I.B.R.A. Readings

Exodus 19:1–9