The Incorruptible Seed

Having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth. For, “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever.”

And this is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

God has always found the imagery of plant life fruitful for comparison with spiritual things. Many of Jesus’ parables feature agricultural images. Since most people are at least somewhat familiar with plants, the value of this imagery is quite understandable.

When Isaiah wanted to encourage the Jewish exiles of the sixth century he turned to the frailty of grass and flowering plants (cf. Isaiah 40:6-8). They grow for a season and look beautiful and impressive for that season – but it does not take long for them to die when exposed to hot winds or freezing cold.

Isaiah compares people and their ideology to those plants. Sure, for the time being, the Babylonians who had conquered the Jews seemed impressive. Babylon was a large city with a great empire. The people boasted of their gods. The Jews were an oddity, believing firmly in their one God even though He had not saved them from Babylon’s hand. It would be very easy for the Jews to fall in line and believe just as the rest of the people believed.

But Isaiah knew that the day of the Babylonians would be short. The time of all flesh is short – humans live for a short period of time, in the grand scheme of things, and pass away. Another generation then arises, and it too shall soon pass. The ideologies of men tend to live a bit longer than an individual generation, but they also pass. The one constant, Isaiah notes, is the word of the LORD.

Peter writes to encourage his fellow Christians six hundred years after the height of Babylonian power. Rome is the new Babylon. Their empire was even more impressive than the Babylonian empire. Their military might was unequaled. The Emperor was hailed as a god, and even if the traditional gods of the Greeks and Romans were doubted, pretty much everyone else fell down before the Power of Rome. The Christians were very much the odd ones since they claimed that it was really Jesus who was Lord, not Caesar, even though Jesus was crucified in the days of Tiberius. As before, it would be very easy to fall in line and accede to Roman power.

Yet Peter wants to remind the Christians of the same lesson that Isaiah did: the word of the LORD, now enshrined in the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom, endures forever.

We now live almost two thousand years after Peter wrote those words. Even in the days of Peter, Babylon was a ruin. Its glories would only be re-discovered in the nineteenth century by archaeologists looking to better understand the word of the LORD found in the Old Testament of those very Jews whom the Babylonians mocked. Within three hundred years of Peter’s letter, Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire, and the Emperors who used to claim divinity for themselves now called Jesus of Nazareth Lord, at least in name. Today the Roman Empire is as distant of a memory as the Babylonian Empire, and their ideologies have been relegated to the interest of historians. And yet the word of the LORD, the Gospel of the Kingdom, is still preached throughout the world.

As assuredly as Babylon and the Babylonians rose and fell, and Rome and the Romans rose and fell, so too will America and Americans. The ideologies of modern society will have their day in the sun and then they too will pass away!

We would do well to heed the warning of Isaiah, Peter, and also John (cf. 1 John 2:15-17). It is very easy to trust in what contemporary society calls “common sense” and “the way things are,” just as it was easy to trust in those things 2600 and 2000 years ago. But, as John says, the world and its lusts are passing away. Only the word of the LORD will remain.

If we believe in Jesus Christ and seek to imitate Him and keep His commandments (1 John 2:3-6), we will demonstrate that we have been born again of that incorruptible or imperishable seed. Our minds, hearts, and actions will be conformed to how God would have us think, feel, and act, as was manifest in His Son (John 1:18, Romans 8:29). That way of living will not change with the winds of culture. If it is truly based in the imperishable seed, it will always endure.

But we must watch out for the corruptible or perishable seed of the world. It is easy for the “weeds” to take root and dominate in life (cf. Matthew 13:24-30). It is easy to allow worldly mindsets, attitudes, and actions to take over, either boldly in denying that which is divine, or more subtly by attempting to appear pious and holy. But its end will not be the fruit of the Spirit or anything conforming to Christ, but instead will at some point show its true worldliness (cf. 1 John 4:5-6). It will have to be cast away, either by this generation or a future one, for it cannot last!

Jesus says that we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:16-20). You do not get the imperishable plant from the perishable seed, nor do you get the perishable plant from the imperishable seed. If we think, feel, and act according to the ways of the world, we will pass away along with the world. But if we think, feel, and act according to the enduring, living, and abiding word of God, manifesting the Gospel of Christ in word and deed, we will obtain eternity (John 3:16). Let us cling to the incorruptible seed and reflect Christ to the perishing world!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

The Servant of Isaiah

Genesis 3:15 is the first instance of God revealing His remedy for solving the problem of sin, and that solution is His Son – the ultimate Servant who would die on our behalf. Isaiah records four Servant psalms, describing this One who would sacrifice Himself. In Acts 8, Philip intercepts a eunuch from Ethiopia who is reading Isaiah 53 – one of the Servant songs. Others include Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 49:3, Isaiah 50:4-11, and Isaiah 52:13-Isaiah 53. In these, we see Jesus and His crucifixion, but the eunuch is confused by these and entreats Philip for help.

The Servant of Isaiah 42 is clearly and individual, but chapter 49 calls Him by the name of a nation. Isaiah 50:4 records Isaiah speaking in first person as the Servant. The writers of the New Testament make reference to these Servant passages at least fourteen times in their writings, and they consistently apply these prophecies to Jesus. This I, this Israel, this elect Servant is identified as our Savior.

The Elect Servant

The latter parts of Isaiah 42:1 coupled with Psalm 2 are recognizable from the record of Jesus’ baptism by John. In Isaiah 41-42, God is admonishing His people for their idolatry and their reliance on self. He calls on them to defend their worship of idols, and He concludes that none can answer Him for their actions. The Servant is introduced as God’s answer, as the One He upholds. This Servant will bring justice to the nations. He will be gentle and peaceful. He will establish God’s word throughout the world.

Isaiah 49 further outlines the Servant’s mission. His mouth is described as a sword, and His strength is in God. He is named Israel, a reminder of what the nation of Israel was supposed to be. He is a continuation of God’s promises and a reminder of faithfulness to the descendants of Jacob. Where God’s goal was to bless the nations through Abraham’s line, the nation of Israel wanted to keep God to themselves at the time. Likewise, we cannot forget our roles in blessing the nations through faithfulness to Him. This Servant represents holiness and light. He is salvation and redemption. He loves though He is hated.

Isaiah 50:4 describes the Servant as a dutiful messenger who carries forth God’s word and will. The verses are reminiscent to Deuteronomy 18:18 describing a messenger in whose mouth would reside God’s word. This word comforts the weary, and this messenger submits Himself to the persecutions of standing up for what is right. His ears are open to God’s will, and He calls to those who would obey Jehovah and walk in light. People respond to Him by either trusting in Jehovah or trusting in themselves.

Isaiah 52:13 calls on us to behold His successful Servant, whom none expected to succeed. He will silence the wise and the powerful. He will be exulted in humility, and chapter 53 then describes the humiliation of this Servant. He is one who will live in sorrow, unrecognized by those who should honor Him. He would suffer atrocities and die. All of this is done in our place and for our sake. He intercedes for us and gives us righteousness. He provides spiritual freedom.

Conclusion

This is the Servant of whom the eunuch is learning in Acts 8. Beginning from that single passage, Philip preaches Jesus to him. Jesus was the answer then. He is the answer today. Our confidence cannot be in our selves, our abilities, our possessions, our nation, our leaders, our economy. Our confidence should be in that Servant who came for us, and our lives should be in His footsteps.

lesson by Tim Smelser

God’s Vineyard

The Vineyard Song

The first few verses of Isaiah 5 are referred to as the Vineyard Song. The song describes a vineyard planted on a fertile hill. It is tended to and cared for, but this vineyard produces thorns and wild grapes instead of the harvest that was expected. Jesus, in Mark 12, recalls this passage as a backdrop for a parable about workers who mistreat their masters messengers and murder the master’s son. Both Isaiah and Jesus deal with how God’s people respond to His care and protection.

Notice the care put into this vineyard. The planter picks a fruitful hill. He tends to it and tills it, picks the choicest of vines. He builds a tower, a hedge, and a wall to protect the vineyard. The landowner goes above and beyond to protect and nurture the vineyard, but this vineyard ends up producing worthless fruit. Through Isaiah, God asks the people what they would do with such a vineyard. He asks what more He could have done. He tells them that He will remove His protection from the vineyard, and He will allow it to go dry. Then He explains that His people are reflected in this vineyard.

Wild Grapes In Judah

God promises destruction upon His vineyard of Israel for the wild grapes of sin that fill their land.

  • In verses 8-10, Isaiah describes how landowners and homeowners continue to expand based on their greed. He says the harder they work, the less they will bring in. This same attitude is addressed in the minor prophets when they describe people who hoard money in a bag only to discover the bag has a hole in it.
  • Verses 9-12 describe individuals who live only for pleasure. They party from morning to night – reflecting carnal and sensuous minds.
  • Verses 18-19 speak of people who pile sin upon sin and have no shame. Verse 20 is similar to this in the promotion of evil, putting down those who are trying to do right.
  • Finally, verse 21 describes people who are proud of their own knowledge, thinking highly of themselves and disregarding the council of God.

Our Application

Hebrews 6:7 speaks of a land that drinks rain from God and tilled by God. The Hebrew author is speaking of us, drawing a direct parallel with the vineyard of Isaiah 5. God gives us His blessings, His promises. He watches over us. I Corinthians 10:13 describes God’s protection for us from temptation. He has placed a hedge around His people. We are that good ground in which He plants the seed of His word. He has cultivated us, but what grapes do we produce?

Do we produce wild grapes like His people in Isaiah 5? Do we make the things of this world main priorities in our lives? Are we motivated by greed and covetousness. II Timothy 2:22 warns us to flee worldly lusts that war with our souls. We can become so carnally minded, we don’t realize we are surrendering our souls. I John 2:16-17 makes a distinction between the corruptible things of this world and the incorruptible things of God.

We must be careful that we are not bearing worthless fruit. Hebrews 6:6 speaks of the danger of falling away, how easy it is to pile sin upon sin and how difficult it can be to turn back to God. We are surrounded by influences that calls good evil and evil good. Being over-tolerant can lead to embracing sin, trying to be like the world. Like the people in Isaiah 5, we can begin to think too highly of ourselves, and Romans 1:22 describes individuals who become foolish in their own perception of wisdom.

Isaiah’s vineyard song is not a happy song, and Jesus delivers some unhappy news in Matthew 7:15-23. He tells of people who claim to honor God but are rejected by Him. They claim to do His will, but their fruits reveal their hearts, their motivations, and their true priorities. We can call ourselves the vineyard of the Lord. We can recognize the Son He sends to us, but we must honor Him and produce for Him lest we wither in His sight.

lesson by Tim Smelser