What motivates one to sacrifice their life for another? Only one thing: Love. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) Perfect love, sacrificial love, can only come from God. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
The prophet Isaiah sets the stage for the entrance of Jesus onto the world stage as a servant. He begins to let us know that God is sending someone special to help Israel accomplish their task of bringing the nations to the Lord. "Here is my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on Him and I will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1)
Chapter 49 of Isaiah continues to build the description of the Servant. "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6) By the time we get to Isaiah 52:13 through Isaiah 53 we have a full-blown description of the Suffering Servant and ultimately His glory. Read these lines from the NLT to get the full impact of what Christ did for us:
"See my servant will prosper; he will be highly exalted. But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. And he will startle many nations. Kings will stand speechless in his presence. For they will see what they had not been told; they will understand what they had not heard about.
Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord's presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected--a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave. But it was the Lord's good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord's good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels."
Isaiah is so specific in his description of the Suffering Servant. The details of it are confirmed over and over again in the New Testament as Jesus is identified as the Messiah. This chapter alone, eliminated from the daily reading of the Jews, is responsible for bringing many of them into the fold of our Lord when they became aware of it. This chapter lets us know that our God is so personal that He made provision to remove the barrier that separates us from Him. Jesus came to die a sacrificial death to atone for our sins. Isaiah 61 goes on to explain what the full blessing of atonement will look like.
Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah 53: He was a righteous and humble man who suffered innocently, willing to suffer rejection. He suffered silently--not retaliating; He willingly suffered an agonizing death that should have been ours so that we can live with Him in eternity when we have faith in Him and what He has done. He knew the final outcome--He rose from the dead! One day He will reign as king of Israel in Jerusalem. There will be an end to wars and peace will fill the earth. God has the ultimate victory over all of His enemies. The One who came to suffer, serve and save is worthy of all praise!
The Sacrifice of a Forerunner
When God is planning to manifest His presence through signs from the Kingdom of Heaven He sends a forerunner to prepare the way. King David tells us about one of the requirements for preparing the way in Psalm 50:23. "He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him salvation."
Probably the most famous forerunner in the Bible is John the Baptist. The prophet Isaiah declared the call on his life, one of single purpose. "A voice of one calling: 'In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.'" (Isaiah 40:3) This prophecy is repeated in the gospels several times.
I would like to suggest that Queen Esther was also a forerunner who demonstrates how to prepare the way for God's people to have victory. In this case the victory was over the evil spirit of Haman. The sacrifices she made at a young age were effective and are astounding! Since Esther's day, the Jewish people have been celebrating Purim yearly. This year it falls on the eve of March 23 until the eve of March 25. Sadly, the spirit of Haman is still alive today. Let's look at how Esther's sacrifices gave her people victory over this spirit and led her people into freedom.
We learn from the book of Esther that there was a community of Jews in exile in Persia who were brought there by the Babylonians. At the end of the 70-year exile only a fragment of those Jews returned to their homeland. Shortly thereafter, the Persians overtook the Babylonians. Xerxes became king and was looking for a new queen after Vashti was removed from her position. All of the beautiful virgins in the kingdom were rounded up and became part of a harem at the citadel of Susa. Esther was living there with her Uncle Mordecai, a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin, and was taken to the king's palace because of her great beauty. She had to complete beauty treatments for one year before being taken into the king. Scripture says, "...Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her." (Esther 2:15) King Xerxes selected Esther over all the other virgins and made her queen.
We are told that Esther had to hide her identity as a Jew. One of the king's nobles, Haman was given a position of honor and authority in the kingdom. Because Mordecai would not bow down to him, Haman decided to take out his anger on the entire Jewish population by having all of them killed. Esther is asked to go before King Xerxes without an invitation even though this could mean that she would be put to death. She called all of the Jews to join her in a 3-day fast and placed her life in God's hands as she went before the king without being summoned.
Ultimately, Haman's treachery is exposed when Esther reveals her Jewish identity. Haman and his sons are hung on the gallows meant for Mordecai, and Mordecai becomes the prime minister of the empire. The Jews were given permission to destroy their enemies on the day that they were to be killed. On the 14th and 15th day of Adar the Jews rested, feasted and celebrated their victory with great joy. The custom of celebrating yearly was established.
Esther, the forerunner, had to sacrifice much in order for God to bring victory and freedom to His people. She gave up her own freedom, her virginity and her future for the sake of her people. Without her willing sacrifices, all of the Jews in Persia could have been destroyed. Her Uncle Mordecai suggested that Esther was selected by God "for such a time as this." (Esther 4:14) Because of her willingness to partner with the Lord, the celebration of Purim takes place today and brings families and generations together as they remember what God did for them. I believe God is still looking for forerunners to prepare the way for Him in unique situations. Could you be one who is being called for such a time as this?
Bursting into Bloom
One of the first signs of new life erupting in nature is that the buds on the trees and shrubs begin to swell. The entire silhouette of the trees has been changing for the past two weeks. This is a sign that they will burst out in new growth within a short time. This sign is an assurance that the plant community will bloom again.
As I contemplate this sign in nature I see a similar swelling, so to speak, in the Christian community. As all of nature prepares to burst forth in bloom, the community of faith in Jesus Christ is swelling through their prayers and fasting for our nation that is in desperate need of a great awakening.
Sadly, the Church became ineffective when complacency set in, and the enemy of our souls filled the void. Our nation has become like a parched desert, in desperate need of living water. God addresses this issue in the letter to the Church in Laodicea. "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent...He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Revelation 3:15-22)
There are powerful leaders in the Christian community who have heard from the Lord and have been willing to sacrifice their lives to rally the troops to turn America back to God by uniting us in prayer and fasting for our nation. Such leaders as Dutch Sheets (Appeal to Heaven), Lewis Hogan (United Cry DC16) and Lou Engle (The Call Azusa Now) have been sent by God, like Elijah, to prophesy over our dry bones and to call forth breath into our very being that we may live the way God intended for us to live.
The remnant of God's people is pregnant with anointing to break the yoke of oppression, to set the captives free and to restore righteousness to our land. We are like the people of Israel when God told them through the prophet Isaiah that the burden of the Assyrians would depart from them. "In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, their yoke from your neck; the yoke will be broken because you have grown so fat." ("because of the anointing." - KJV) (Isaiah 10:27)
I hear the Lord calling us to abundant life. I sense His desire for deep intimacy with us. I remember that Jesus came to earth as the Redeemer. I wonder if this might be the Kairos time for the Kingdom of Heaven to break into earth in its fullness. We are in the midst of the year of Jubilee, a year meant for freedom, redemption and restoration. Could it be that we are on the earth for such a time as this? I believe that the remnant of God's church is being called to join the movement to restore our nation to its godly foundations. We are pregnant with the purposes of God, like the swelling tree buds that are preparing to break forth and are a sign that the time is drawing near.
We want to be part of this remnant to restore our nation to its godly inheritance. The labor is not easy, but we do not want to miss this opportunity to birth the purposes of the Lord here on earth. The word of the Lord goes out from His mouth. It will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which it was sent. (Isaiah 55:11) I hear Him saying, "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom, it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy...'Be strong, do not fear, your God will come...' Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert." (Isaiah 35:1-6)
For the past few days I have had the privilege of being in the company of two giants in the faith. Bill Johnson and Randy Clark came to share with us on the subject of revival. One of the landmarks of their teachings is sharing the testimonies of God's supernatural activity in their meetings. As they do this the atmosphere becomes conducive for more of the supernatural. The Holy Spirit began to show me that these testimonies are like the talents the man gave to his servants when he went on a long trip.
The parable of the talents is told in Matthew 25:14-30. Verses 14 and 15 say, "He called his servants and entrusted his property to them...according to their ability." From this statement we can infer that the man knew his servants from observing the way that they conducted themselves. It was in the man's heart for his servants to succeed. Therefore, he only gave them what he knew they could handle. His expectation was that each servant would have success investing the talents that were given to them so that he would see increase and could reward them.
The servant with five talents and the one with two doubled the money entrusted to them. The servant who received one talent buried the money in the ground so that it did not increase. Because the first two servants stewarded their money well and brought their master increase they were promised more. The servant who had only one talent was condemned.
Let's apply this story to testimonies of God's supernatural activity on earth. Every encounter we have that brings heaven to earth is a gift from God. He entrusts His glory to us when we experience His signs, wonders and miracles. These, in turn, should quicken in us the desire to share about His goodness, faithfulness and love. Every testimony that glorifies God is meant to be shared multiple times. When this happens it is like making an investment for the future because the Lord rewards those who steward His glory well.
By telling the stories of revival--heaven coming to earth--we honor God, transform the atmosphere around us and make a way for more. From all that I read and hear, this is a season of increasing signs, wonders and miracles all over the world. Those who are experiencing His glory and sharing the testimonies of His Presence can expect to have more. I hope this excites you as much as it does me. More Lord!!
Joan E. Mathias