Book Review: Praying with Paul (D. A. Carson)

Praying with Paul

(The bigger, the better, right?)

D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and is the author and editor of more books than you can shake a stick at (or “more than fifty books” as the back cover says). Simply, if you haven’t heard of Carson, you haven’t read a book (or my blog, at least). If you haven’t read Carson, this would be a good place to start. After seeing all that Carson has written about, one might think he lives in a high, impregnable ivory tower. But when one looks at all he’s done, all he’s preached on, and all he’s written, one should get a different idea about him.

In Praying with Paul, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (2nd Ed.), Carson invites the reader to look with him at some of the Apostle Paul’s prayers to the Father. What is Paul’s perspective when he prays? Does he pray for good health? A good life? Or does he pray for wisdom? Life? And not only for himself, but for others too? Carson looks at prayer through Paul’s eyes (along with Moses and Daniel), the proper perspective of God, and why we should pray when God is sovereign and already has the plan laid out.

Outline

In Chapter One, after expressing his own inadequacies in the school of prayer, Carson lists 8 practical prayer helps that he has received from more mature prayer warriors. In Chapters Two and Three, Carson works through 2 Thessalonians 1.1-12 (and 1.3-12), giving us the structure of prayer and what kind of petitions we should bring before the living God. Chapter Four is focused on praying for others and looks at a long list of Paul’s commands to pray for others. Chapter Five (1 Thessalonians 3.9-13) covers Paul’s passion for people, sinners just like you and me, praying they make it to the end. We look at Colossians 1.9-14 in Chapter Six, and we see “what to pray for, how to approach God,” and that we would live a life that is pleasing to Him. Chapter Seven looks at excuses we make not to pray. In Chapter Eight (Philippians 1.9-11) Paul prays that his readers would abound in the knowledge of God, which will lead them (and us) to be eager to pray.

Chapter Nine works to answer the long-asked question, “How does prayer change things if God is sovereign?” [See my posts here]. Chapter Ten (Ephesians 1.15-23); For what “reason” (Eph 1.15) does Paul set himself to pray? For all that God has done for the believer. Chapter Eleven (Ephesians 3.14-21) Paul prays for ‘power,’ power through the Holy Spirit, and “power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.” And this power is likely not what we think it is. Chapter Twelve (Romans 15.14-33); We look at a final, fresh prayer of Paul, one that was only partially answered. We should be praying for ministry, further ministry, both for ours and for another’s, and that God would give life to the people we and others are serving.

The Chocolate Milk

I enjoyed the book as a whole, I especially enjoyed Chapters Nine through Eleven (probably due to the placement of Chapter Nine). After considering how God works with, in, and through prayer, Chapter Ten Paul prays because God is sovereign. “Just as Daniel prayed for the end of the exile because God had promised that the exile would end, so Paul prays that christians may grow in their knowledge of God because God had declared his intention to expose his people to the glories of his grace, both now and for eternity (Chapter Nine, 149).” Because God has promised to work, God does work. In Chapter Eleven the power God strengthens us with, rather being some king of grand might where we easily overcome our fears, sins, dry spells, and worries, is one that keeps us weak so that we will rely on him. As we focus on the cross of Christ, we see how we are to live: sacrificing ourself and humbling ourselves for the benefit of all others.

But before I begin preaching (these were first sermons by Carson), the entire book is a gem. Carson knows the hardships in prayer. “The idea… is that Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil. Insofar as the Roman Christians pray this way for Paul, they are joining him in his apostolic struggle” (188). In praying we are warring against the enemy. No wonder it’s so difficult. And it’s not enough to know theology. It’s not enough to know about God. We need to know Him. He is a personal God, and we are to pray for his promises in our lives and in the lives of others.

Recommended?

I have yet to read Keller’s book on Prayer, but I would imagine this would be an excellent companion volume. Any book by Carson is good, and this book is no different. Prayer is difficult to follow through with in my own life. As a natural-born introvert, one-way conversations don’t get my blood pumping (not do two-, three- four-. etc). But following along Paul’s fresh prayers, along with other biblical characters and the psalms, we can begin to view prayer in the proper way. Rather than making it all about ourselves, our day, our jobs, and so on, we can pray for true spiritual maturity in our lives, our spouses, our children, and others, and we can see why we can and should do it. Carson speaks with gentleness and clarity. This isn’t a book on boring exegesis. It’s on exposition. What does Paul say? What does it mean? And how can we make this ours? Mature prayer warriors (if I may use the term in a non-cliche way) are few and far between. It doesn’t take being a spiritual giant to pray. It simply takes seeing who God reveals himself to be in his word and wanting to know more of him that you can sit down and pray. This book is easy for any high schooler to read, but it has the depth and clarity from a scholar of over 40 years.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (January 20, 2015)
  • PDF Sample Here

Posts

  1. God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1
  2. GS & HR, Part 2
  3. GS & HR, Part 3
  4. GS & HR, Part 4
  5. GS & HR, Part 5
  6. Two Poems on Prayer

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 5

This is the final post of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We’ll look at two prayers from two spiritual giants: (1) Daniel and (2) Moses.

Other Case Studies

“Those who pray in the Scriptures regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do” (139).

Daniel

Daniel knew about God’s promised word to Jeremiah (Dan 9.2) that at the end of the seventy year exile the Jews would travel back to their homeland. God is not a machine, but is personal. Daniel “appeals to God to preserve the integrity of his own name, the sanctity of his own covenant, his reputation for mercy and forgiveness.

And the exile ends” (140).

Moses

Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel are committing heinous idolatry. The people have declared their loyalty to Yahweh, the One who rescued them from abject slavery, but in a moment’s notice they turn their backs and worship a golden calf. God is furious and threatens to destroy them (Exod. 32:9–10).

But Moses intercedes for Israel, “appealing to God both as the Sovereign and as the supreme personal Deity” (140). While they have sinned and God could destroy them, the Egyptians would mock God, saying he couldn’t even save his own people. Or, perhaps worse, he led them out in order to destroy them.

Moses reminds God of his promises to the forefathers, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (32.12).

Moses isn’t thinking fatalism here (“simply trust the promises of God and everything will work out”). Moses turns to intercession: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:12).

“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).

Many say, “See? God does change his mind. His purposes are not sovereign and steadfast. Prayer does change things because it changes the mind of God” (141).

But perhaps we should look at a few more prayers.

Amos and the False Prophets in Ezekiel

In the book of Amos, God threatens judgment against Israel. Amos, hearing about it, passionately intercedes on their behalf: “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ ” (Amos 7:2). “Amos’s prayer proves effective. Twice we are told, ‘So the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6)” (141).

On the other end, “God berates the false prophets of Israel precisely because they do not intercede for the people” (Ezek. 13:5, p. 141).

What Doth This Meaneth?

“God expects to be pleaded with; he expects godly believers to intercede with him. Their intercession is his own appointed means for bringing about his relenting, and if they fail in this respect, then he does not relent and his wrath is poured out” (142).

What happened with Moses? “Moses is effective in prayer not in the sense that God would have broken his covenant promises to the patriarchs, nor in the sense that God temporarily lost his self-control until Moses managed to bring God back to his senses. Rather, in God’s mercy Moses proved to be God’s own appointed means, through intercessory prayer, for bringing about the relenting that was nothing other than a gracious confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (142).

Is this kind of praying left only to Moses, Daniel, Amos, and Paul? No. James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit“ (James 5.17-18).

It’s not that these men (and women) were so special and so gifted and so “holy” that God gave extra ear to them. It’s that they sought out the purposes of God, who God is, what his character is, and they trusted in Him. They prayed believing that God was listening. This does not mean God is a genie and all of our prayers will be answered (not all of Paul’s were). But we do serve a personal God who listens to us, who condescends to us in the form of a human being. Jesus taught us how to pray that we might sit around and parse the details of Greek? No. Though that is a good thing to do in your studies (if you know Greek, Jesus taught us to pray so that we could pray!

God’s character is profoundly mysterious to us. He has revealed himself to us, yet he is infinite and we are not. The more we study his word, the more we will learn how to pray, what to pray for, why we should pray, and how we should ask. We will learn more about our Father and hopefully will be drawn to speak with him as he has spoken to us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4.19).

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.9-10, 13, 18).

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 4

This is part 4 of our quest on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We have questions; the Bible has answers. We expect all of our questions to be answered. The Bible is a puzzle just waiting to be solved. We simply need to figure out all the pieces.

Not quite. We need to remember Deuteronomy 29.29 which says, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There is mystery in God’s nature. Pieces of the puzzle we can’t always put together. One action that should we never try to do is to jam the pieces of the puzzle together to make them fit. Have you ever tried to piece together a real puzzle? These aren’t blueberries. Jamming never works.

We need to remember that mystery is not nonsense. God is infinite and we do not and will not understand everything there is to know about him.

What is ‘Freedom’?

Does “freedom” mean that we have the ability “to choose, to believe, to disobey,” and to not believe? Is it having the power to work outside of God’s sovereignty? For if God is sovereign, perhaps it does not matter what we do. All is inevitable. We know the end of the story and it will happen. And if our decisions are not ultimately ours, “how can we be held morally accountable” (135)?

Yet, as Carson points out, many theologians don’t define freedom as having power to act outside of God’s sovereignty. Pontius Pilate, Herod, and the rest conspired to kill Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what they did. Yet Revelation 13 tells us Christ was crucified before the foundations of the world… before Pilate, Herod, and the rest were even born.

What gives? They did what they wanted to do. Many theologians tie “freedom” to “desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose…. Joseph’s brothers did what they wanted to do; Herod and Pilate… did what they wanted to do; the Assyrians did what they wanted to do.” (135). God was working behind the scenes in each of these cases, but that does not erase the responsibility of the participants. They did what they wanted to do.

Standing Behind Good and Evil

Carson gives us two positions to avoid:

  1. Supposing that God does not stand (in any sense) behind evil.
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  2. Supposing that God stands behind good and evil in the exact same way.

The former would mean that when evil happens it is outside of God’s control. If he’s not behind the evil, then something else must be. There must be another power that is outside of God’s rule which challenges him. In philosophy this is called “Dualism,” and dualism is wrong. Which side will win? Good…or evil?

Let’s get ready to rumble.

But fortunately that is not the case.

View 2 holds that what God ordains takes place. He ordains good, then good takes place. He ordains evil, then evil takes place. If he doesn’t ordain it, then it doesn’t take place. But what happens if he stands behind both good and evil equally, or symmetrically? Then he is entirely amore. Powerful, but not good.

“The Bible’s witness will not let us accept either of these positions. The Bible insists God is sovereign, so sovereign that nothing that takes place in the universe can escape the outermost boundary of his control; yet the Bible insists God is good, unreservedly good, the very standard of goodness” (136).

We are driven to conclude that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself (136).

Another Way

God could be sovereign, but nothing more. In control, but a machine.

God could be personal, but nothing more. A kind friend, speaking and responding, but not very “transcendent.”

Rather, he is both transcendent and personal.

God is Transcendent

He exists above/beyond time and space, for he existed before the universe was created.

From his exalted position he sovereignly rules all creation, al nations, and all peoples.

God is Personal

He is a Father. He speaks. He spoke through his Son who came to earth to be with the likes of us. He suffered and was tempted in all points as we are, though without sin, and can sympathize with us (Heb 4.15). If I obey God’s command, I am obeying God, my Father in heaven. By believing in his Son, I too become his son.

Bearings On Prayer?

If God is sovereign, and we are morally responsible for our actions, if God is both transcendent and personal, if all of this involves some degree of mystery, how can we be so sure we’ll understand this correctly? How do we know we won’t fling off to one extreme side thinking it all makes so much sense?

To see how these truths function in our lives, we must read the Scriptures and see how these truths functioned in the lives of the believers there (138).

How Does x Function in Scripture?

1. Election

  • It’s not placed there to stop evangelism.
  • It emphasizes the wonder of grace (Jn 6.68-70; Rom 9).
  • It ensures “spiritual fruitfulness among God’s people” (Jn 15.16; p. 138).
  • It encourages perseverance in evangelism (Acts 18.9-10).

2. Exhortations to Believe and Obey

  • They don’t reduce God to being dependent on our actions.
  • They increase our responsibility (Gal 5.7; Col 1.23).
  • They emphasize the urgency of the steps we must take (2 Cor 13.5; ).
  • They show us what the proper response is to this kind of God (2 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 2.11-13; Heb 2.1-4).

3. The Repeated Truth of God’s Sovereign Providence

It’s never positioned in such a way to produce fatalism (An Eyore sort of “This is jus’ the way it’s goin’ t’be. Can’t do nuthin’ ’bout it.”)

  • It never allows us “to be morally indifferent on the ground that [we] can’t really help it anyway” (139).
  • It gives me reason for believing that everything is in God’s gracious control (Phil 1.6), with all things work out for the good of those who trust in him (Rom 8.28).

4. God’s Sovereignty in Passages of Prayer

  • The passages on prayer are never a disincentive to pray!
  • It forbids the wrong way of praying:
    • “Jesus forbids his followers from babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6.8; p. 139).
    • Though this verse does not run against persevering in praying (Luke 11, 18).
  • In John 17.1 Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Throughout John “the hour“ was the appointed time when the Father would glorify the Son (by way of the cross). When the “hour has come,” Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Alright, Dad. Youwill be done. I’m ready for this.” And God’s sovereignty certainly doesn’t breed a silent fatalism, one of sitting and waiting for the guards to bust the doors down and take Jesus away.
    • No, Jesus’ logic runs in this direction” “May Father’s appointed hour for the ‘glorification’ of his Son has arrived; so then, Father, glorify your Son” (139).

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Next Time

In my final post I will have a final case study on two characters who prayed at two special times: Daniel’s prayer for God to fulfill his promise in Daniel 9 and Moses who interceded for Israel after they committed idolatry with the golden calf.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 3

Here’s Part 3 of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Last time I covered four passages (Gen 50:19-20; 2 Sam 24; Isa 10.5-19; Jn 6.37-40), and today I’ll cover the last three (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).

5. Philippians 2.12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul isn’t telling his readers that God has pulled his weight, and now they must pull theirs. Nor does he tell them to “Let go and let God,” since it is ultimately all up to him. Paul tells the Philippians to work out their own salvation “precisely because it is God working in them, both at the level of their will and at the level of their actions…. Not only is the truth of our two propositions assumed, but God’s sovereignty, extending so far that it includes our will and our action, functions as an incentive to our own industry in the spiritual arena” (131).

We see that we work as God is working in us, and as God is working in us we will live to be pleasing to him, and we will want to do it.

6. Acts 18.9-10

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Here, “God’s elections becomes an incentive to evangelism” (132). Paul’s opponents made it impossible to stay in Thessalonica, Berea, and everywhere else. Paul had it all: beatings, rods, whips, stones, storms, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, long travels, and constant worry for the churches and the people in them. Paul didn’t need a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, or a man from Macedonia speaking 2 him. He needed Jesus.

It’s encouraging to know that nobody will attack him, but the Lord didn’t stop there. No one will attack Paul to harm him for (or ‘because’) the Lord had “many in this city who are [the Lord’s] people.” Paul has the promise of many conversions, promised under God’s election, and of protection. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half during his first trip there.

Carson says, “God’s sovereignty in election, far from discouraging evangelism, becomes an incentive to get on with the task. Once again, both of our propositions are assumed to be true” (133).

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And finally, the kicker, “the most revealing of the seven” (133).

7. Acts 4.23-30

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​‘Why did the Gentiles rage, ​​​​​​​and the peoples plot in vain? ​​​​​​​​​​The kings of the earth set themselves, ​​​​​​​and the rulers were gathered together, ​​​​​​​against the Lord and against his Anointed’- ​​​for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After being arrested, Peter and John tells the Christians in Jerusalem about their experience which leads them all to prayer. They confess God’s sovereignty, over the universe and over the nations, even those which rebel against him (Ps 2.2). In that psalm, though “the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One,” the “One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps 2.4).

After having quoted Psalm 2.2 and mentioned the rulers standing against God and his Anointed One, they think of the most shocking instance of this blatant rebellion: the crucifixion. They go on. The blame is “laid at the feet of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and various Gentile and Jewish authorities, and then they add ‘They did what you power and will had decided beforehand should happen’” (Acts 4.28; p. 134).

Carson brings up two alternative thoughts that, if truly believed, would destroy “the fabric of the Christian faith” (134).

  1. The cross was an afterthought in God’s mind. God had Plan A, but once these screwballs messed things up, he had to set Plan B into action. The result was the atonement of Christ on the cross.
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  2. If God is so sovereign that the conspirators merely did what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen, then surely they are not guilty?

But Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty incurred by all sinners. If they are not held guilty for this act, “why should they be held responsible for any act? And if they are not held responsible, then why should God have sent his Anointed One to die in their place” (134)?

Finally, Carson concludes by saying, “God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God. At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements, or they give up their claim to be Christians” (134).

Conclusion

Hopefully you can get a glimpse of what is both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in these seven passages. I would encourage comments or questions dealing with these and other passages.

But our next questions is this, “Does God stand behind good and evil equally? Would that make him amoral? What does this have to do with prayer? What is my incentive?”

Mario

So… until next time…

IV. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Grapes of Wrath

YHWH plants grapes. He dug up the ground himself. He cleared the stones. He planted his vineyard with choice vines. He built a watchtower in the midst of it. He made a wine vat for the fruits of his labor. Isa 5.2 says, “He looked for it to yield grapes.” So Yahweh waits, “and gets stinkers” (Watts, Lecture 3). In fact his vineyard “yielded wild grapes” (5.2). Watts says, “This woman is a gold-digger. She’s been taking extraordinary gifts, yet her response is appalling” (Lecture 3).

Yahweh owns this vineyard. Is he to blame? No, he’s done everything correctly. He’s no ordinary farmer. In 5.6, he controls the rain. And since this vineyard has failed to produce good fruit (Matt 12.33), he won’t let it rain. He “looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!“ (5.7).

Six Woes (5.8-23)

There are Six Woes on Judah which I will very briefly describe.

First Woe: Judgment on Greed (vv8-10)

The people join houses and fields to kick others off the land. The year of Jubilee came around every 50 years to make sure the people had a stake in the land. If these idolatrous people have there way, everyone will be alone. They will lose their land, and it will remain unfruitful.

Second Woe: Judgment on Decadence (vv11-17)

For these people, their life is filled with pleasure. They have no understanding of God. They have no spiritual perception. They do not regard his deeds or his works (5.12). They will go into exile. They will hunger and thirst. They will be the first course on Sheol’s menu. In being like the nations, they get a similar judgment (this is why the judgment on Jerusalem in Is 22 falls in the midst of the judgments on other nations. If Jerusalem becomes like these nations, they will receive the same judgments).

Third Woe: Judgment on Cynicism (vv18-19)

“They mock God’s work, but they drag their cartload of sin” (Lecture 3).

Fourth Woe: Judgment on Moral Anarchy (v20)

They call evil good and good evil. They think siding with Assyria is a good thing!

Fifth Woe: Judgment on Self-Reliant Wisdom (v21)

Yahweh isn’t against learning nor a good education, but he had better be at the center. They have no fear of the Lord, so they have no wisdom

Sixth Woe: Judah’s Might and Strength (vv22-23)

These supposed heroes are “only great warriors at the bar” (Lecture 3). They don’t care for people. “It’s a great mark of a man who can get plastered at the bar” (Lecture 3).

“Therefore” (5.24-30)

As fire devours dry grass (v24), these people have rejected God’s Word and God is able to destroy mountains and people (v25). And He will do it by nations far away.

The Vineyard in the NT

In Mark 12 Jesus is telling the Parable of the Vineyard (or of the Wicked Tenants) to the Jewish leaders. After his condemnation of the tenants who killed the prophets, those tenants are so greedy that they kill the Son too so that they can receive the inheritance. They kill him and threw him out of the vineyard. Unburied. A shameful death. In v9 Jesus says, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

Matthew 21 is even more telling. Here in v41 it is the Jewish leaders themselves who answer Jesus. “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

The tenants will not receive their inheritance for they have rejected Jesus. They perceived that he was speaking about them. They wanted to kill him. Did they know Jesus was the Son in this parable? It’s highly likely. My points is that the tenants were not producing fruit, so the kingdom of God would be taken away and given to a people who would produce fruit. In Matthew 24 Jesus foretells of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3.10). These leaders have rejected God’s word and God will destroy them by a nation not too far away (Rome in 70 AD).

Who are these people who will produce good fruit?

In John 15 Jesus describes himself as the “True Vine” (just as he is the true firstborn). “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (15.2, 4b, 5b-6). The disciples are commanded to love one another. They are told that Jesus chose them (like Yahweh chose Israel to be a pleasing vineyard) so that they “should go and bear fruit” (15.16).

Those who bear fruit are the disciples of Jesus, you, me, and everyone who professes Jesus as their Saviour and King. We can trust him to care for us and to produce fruit in our lives. “Any God who will die on a cross for me while I am yet his enemy will not play fast and loose with my life now that I am his friend” (Rikk Watts, Isaiah).


Thanks for sticking around. Tomorrow is my final post on Watts Isaiah class. It will be the review of his class.

III. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here is part three with a few more nuggets of information.

Parables of Hardness

If you’ve seen my posts on Virginity in Isaiah, Isaiah is told to preach so that people don’t see, hear, do (Isa 6.9-10). Afterward he gives King Ahaz a parable, and KA rejects God’s word (7.12-13). Then, upon rejecting God, God’s judgment will come upon Ahaz and Judah (see my previous posts for more info).

We have a pattern: Parables -> Don’t Listen? -> Judgment

In Mark 4.3, upon telling his first parable here, Jesus commands the people to “Listen!” Jesus then speaks about “hearing” 8 times, and Mark gives an extra ninth at the end of the chapter. Those who don’t listen will be judged. After this Jesus cleanses the “ritually unclean”: a demon possessed tomb raider, a hemorrhaging woman, and raises a dead girl. In Mark 7 Jesus is confronted by some too-much-hand-sanitizer Pharisees who have a bone to pick with his disciples’ washing habits.

Jesus responds by saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (7.6, quoting Is 29.13).

Paul, in 2 Cor 3.14 speaks about the minds of the Israelites being hardened against God.  The only other use of pōroō (‘hardened’) by Paul is in Rom 11.7-8, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (“pōroō”), as it is written, [and quoting Is 29.10-12 and Deut 29.2-4] “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Israel denied God in the days of Moses, in the days of the prophets, and in the days of Jesus. God poured out a spirit of stupor on them so that they would be hardened.

The sealed book in Isa 29 is the Law of Moses, and it is veiled (Ex 34; 2 Cor 3). The people don’t understand the real meaning of the Law, or of God’s Commands, or of his Promises, because they don’t have Faith (2 Cor 3.14-15). When the Law is read in the synagogue, the true meaning remains hidden.

All throughout Mark Jesus has been teaching “not Sabbath keeping, but people keeping” (Watts). In Isa 1.11, the people are “kissing butt.” They’re brown-nosers (as a kid I always wondered where this phrase came from. It really shouldn’t take too long to figure out). They’ve intensified their religious activity. They’re praying more and giving more sacrifices. But the Lord is tired of it. Perhaps they should be caring for people more.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem in Mark 11. His authority is challenged in the end of Mark 11 and throughout Mark 12. When we arrive at the story of the widow, “If anything condemns the Temple, it’s that” (Watts). Here we have a magnificently wealthy center of worship, fantastic offerings, and yet the people don’t notice the widow. They aren’t loving their neighbour. They don’t “see” (in the sense of understanding and acting in love) that she is poor and in need of their help. They’d rather defer to the rich. And yet she gives more than the rest of them, for she trusts God. Unlike the rest, she isn’t showing off (Matt 6.1-4).

Isa 1.3 reads, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Dumb beasts can’t read or write, but they know food. Israel does not know who provides life, nor does the rest of unbelieving humanity (1 Cor 1.19, quoting Isa 29.14; 1 Cor 2.9, quoting Isa 64.4).

A Double Portion

Isaiah 40:2 says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

That sounds pretty harsh. Yet to gain some insight into this we need to look at other biblical passages. Amos 3.2 speaks of Israel’s special status, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Israel is called God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4.22.

Of the firstborn Deuteronomy 21.17 says, “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” As Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn son, they are receiving the double portion of all of their sins.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Isaiah 61:7 says about those who mourn in Zion (61.3), “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”

Jesus quotes Isa 61.1-2a in Luke 4.18-19. Jesus is the true firstborn Son who does what the other firstborn’s (Adam, Israel).could not do. He brings the good news to the poor by dying for the,. He proclaims liberty to the captives. He gives to those who mourn in Zion a double portion of everlasting joy. He is the one who lived perfectly. It is in him that believers will receive a double portion of everlasting joy (Isa 35.10; 51.11).


Come back tomorrow for one more nugget on Isaiah 5, the song of the vineyard, and the vineyard in the New Testament.

II. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here are a few more “nuggets” of information.

John 9 and the Works of God

How are the works of God displayed in this blind man? Why didn’t Jesus say “So that my works might be displayed in this man”?

In Isa 42 the Servant of the Lord has been called in righteousness (v6). He will be given as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations (9.2; 2 Cor 4.6). He will open the eyes of the blind (Isa 42.6). In Isa 42.16 Yahweh says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.“

So who heals the blind? Yahweh? Or the Servant? God the Father does it through God the Son, Jesus Christ, showing his deity as the servant who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. More so, Isa 42.9 says, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.” This paralleled with the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65.17), believers as new creations (2 Cor 5.17), and the consummation of the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21.4b-5).

Jesus is doing something new here in John 9. Not only is he healing the blind, this man sees the light! When every one fumbles their words before the Pharisees, this man stands boldly against them. This doesn’t know much about Christ, but he knows what Christ has done for him. He was blind, but now he can see. We might wonder why Jesus doesn’t come to this man’s rescue during the confrontation with the Pharisees, but once this man is cast out, Jesus appears to him. Perhaps those who deny Jesus’ works before man (i.g., the Pharisees) won’t be able to “see” or be with Jesus. John 9.39, “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

Swallow Your Pride

In Isa 3.16-4.1, the very things the people relied on, God takes it away. The people are so prideful in their luxuries that God lays bare their secret parts (3.16-17). “In that day” the Lord takes away their jewelries and earthly joys (vv18-23). Instead of perfume, a belt, well-set hair, a rich robe, and beauty, he gives them rottenness, a rope, baldness, a skirt of sackcloth, and branding (v24). The men shall die in battle, and the city will mourn and lament. Seven women will grab hold of a man and beg to have his name instead of theirs. Their names are full of reproach, and they need someone to take it away.

And while their guides mislead them and swallow them up, leading them to death (the blind leading the blind [Matt 15.14]), one day the Lord will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

When does this finally happen? When are the enemies finally erased? Revelation 21.4,8, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. Just as Egypt was “swallowed up” by the Red Sea in the great exodus event, so will death be “swallowed up” by the Lord at the end of our exodus event when we are finally in the fulfilled new heavens and new earth.


Come back tomorrow for a parable of hardness and a double portion of sin.

I guess that really doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?