ONFS, Watercolor Pencil and Colored Pencil on Matboard, 42 cm x 54.5 cm (16.5″ x 21.5″), Prints and Cards Available
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion–to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)
Jesus fulfilled this beautiful prophecy during his earthly ministry (Luke 4:17-21), and he continues to fulfill it today.
Sin affects us horribly, just as it did the people 2000 years ago. When we sin, it brings us into bondage, darkness and death. When people sin against us, it hurts us and breaks our hearts. Thankfully, God sent his Son, Jesus, to redeem us from our sins, their penalty and to change our inner disposition from wickedness to righteousness. Jesus also heals us from the wounds we have received from others when they have sinned against us. This is the essence of this prophetic passage in Isaiah 61:1-3.
No one has ever lived a sinless life except Jesus Christ. Therefore, he is the only one qualified to mediate between a perfectly holy God and a sinful human race. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men…” (1 Timothy 2:5-6)
Our sin separates us from God, and the just punishment for our sins is death and hell. Although Jesus lived a sinless life, he took all of our sins upon himself and bore the punishment for them through his death on the cross. He died as our ransom and substitute and rose from the dead three days later, making reconciliation with God possible.
In order to be reconciled to God, forgiven of your sins and granted eternal life you must first repent (confess and turn away) from your sins, and secondly, place your faith in Jesus Christ to personally save you from your sins and their penalty. (See “Message“).
When you surrender your life to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit regenerates your spirit (takes you from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive) and changes your inner disposition from sin-inclined to holiness-inclined (Romans 5-6). The Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside of you and progressively transforms you more and more into the holy likeness of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14, Romans 8:29).
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [put into eternal right standing with God] freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood [his death which atones for sins].” (Romans 3:23-25)
Christianity is not a moral code or a set of teachings to be obeyed, for no one has the ability to obey or to be holy out of his or her own strength and willpower (Ephesians 2:1-10, John 8:31-36). The entire reason why God gave us his holy Law was to demonstrate to us that we are by nature sinners who do not and cannot keep God’s commands or live a holy life (Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:1-25).
The only ones who have the genuine power to overcome sin and to live a holy life are those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, but even then, this power is not of ourselves. Rather, it is the Holy Spirit powerfully working through us (Philippians 2:12-13; 3:20-21), which happens as we simply believe and abide in Jesus.
“Remain in me [Jesus], and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:4-5, 8)
As Jesus redeems us from our sins, heals us from its effects, supernaturally changes our inner dispositions and gives us power to live holy lives, God alone gets all the glory, for it is God’s sovereign work in us and not our own work.
God, according to his own sovereign good pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5) has saved us from sin’s curse and grip (Romans 5:1-11, Ephesians 2:1-11) and has planted us to become mighty oaks of righteousness (Matthew 15:13, cf. Mark 4:26-29). His sovereign mighty power continually grows us and matures us into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29, Philippians 1:6) that the whole world may know we are truly a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
“Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.” (Isaiah 60:21)
Though this is the meaning of Isaiah 61:1-3 in context, it is the general principle behind these verses moreso than its strict literal interpretation which inspired this drawing:
Man receives the glory for that which man achieves and produces. God alone gets the glory for that which he achieves and produces.
No Christian achieves salvation through his own works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Even a Christian’s saving faith is not of himself but is a gift sovereignly given to him by God (Acts 16:14, John 6:43, John 6:65, Acts 13:48). Therefore, in salvation, God alone gets all the glory.
Likewise, this same principle is true when it comes to ministry. Jesus says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). As Christians, we can strive in the power of our own strength, completely independent of God, and achieve all sorts of things through our own natural abilities, but the full power of God will not rest on our work because it was not birthed by him. Abraham did this exact thing when Ishmael was conceived (Genesis 16). Likewise, in regards to ministry, we Christians can strive and give birth to “Ishmael” ministries instead of waiting on God to miraculously birth an “Isaac” ministry through us.
Ishmael ministries only bring glory to ourselves while Isaac ministries can only bring glory to God. The ministries which God alone plants and grows always display his glorious splendor.
Much works-based teaching dominates the church today, and it is designed to drive us into immediate action rather than to wait on God in faith to work through us. It exhorts us to be impetuous rather than faithful. As an American I can say that is the American way–or the way of natural man–to work hard and achieve your dreams (or for us Christians, to achieve what we perceive to be God’s “dreams”). However, this is not God’s way; it is only the power of natural man applied to the religious sphere. The fruit of this works-based teaching yields many man-birthed ministries that do not have the mark of God upon them or the power of the Holy Spirit resting upon them. They bring glory to man instead of God.
While many of these Ishmael ministries fizzle out before they can take a real root, some of them, if they have enough manpower and resources behind them, can grow quite large, and from an outer vantage point, look quite successful and blessed of God. And while they may be blessed in part, they will never have the full blessing of God like an Isaac ministry.
When God announced to Abraham that he would miraculously have a son, Isaac, and establish his covenant with him, Abraham immediately pleaded with God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:18). God heard Abraham and said he would bless Ishamael and make him the father of twelve rulers and turn him into a great nation. God fulfilled his promise, and Ishmael was made “great”…but only in the eyes of this world. Ishmael displayed the glory and splendor of man as he begat twelve worldly rulers and became a great nation (Genesis 25:12-18). Ishmael’s blessing, although it still came from God, was only a shadow of the far greater, spiritual blessing God bestowed upon Isaac, the son conceived and birthed by the miraculous power of God alone.
When Isaac was finally born to a 100 year old father and a 90 year old mother, only one Person could receive the glory for it, and that was God. The power of man was completely brought to naught, and in the impotence of man God’s power and splendor were clearly displayed (Genesis 18, 21). Throughout history, God has continued to glorify himself through Isaac’s line, from King David to Jesus, right down to us Christians, for we are his spiritual offspring (Romans 9:6-9).
Sometimes, however, like Abraham, we get impatient with God’s timing, and so we try to help him glorify himself by presumptuously producing an Ishamel while we are waiting for our Isaac. Because we don’t want all our own efforts to be in vain, like Abraham we ask God to bless Ishmael, the work of our own hands. God may bless it in part, but what God is really looking for is surrendered hands through which he can work his perfect will and glory.
We may we reason with ourselves that God is bound to “sanctify” and bless our Ishmaels because they came out of a “good heart” which acted upon the desire to glorify God. While the desire to glorify God is good, God does not delight in our own unsurrendered works (see 1 Samuel 15 for an example of this). What God delights in is a man after his own heart who is ready to do his will.
The Lord does not take pleasure in our own efforts “for him”; rather, he takes pleasure in the perfect work he does through us, for the whole Christian life is not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9), for we are his workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, it is through surrender–not striving–that God is glorified in us.
If we truly want God to be glorified to the utmost in our lives and in our ministries, then we must be willing to be rendered impotent by God. We must be willing to yield to the working of the cross upon our lives (Mark 8:34-37, John 12:24-26). One of the most difficult things for us to do is to sit still and wait on God to move. We love to be active, but we hate being humiliated and crucified. However, this is the only way God’s glory and power will flow forth abundantly from our lives and ministries.
It took Abraham twenty-five years to be rendered impotent. Likewise, it took Joseph thirteen years of humiliation and time in a dungeon before he entered his God given ministry (Genesis 37-45) while Moses spent forty years being humbled in Midian before he was fitted for his ministry (Exodus 2-3).
Even Jesus, before he entered his public ministry, went through forty days of fasting where he was tested and tried for service (Luke 4:1-13). At the end of that season in the desert he was proven to be a man who would not act from out of himself, independent of the will and power of the Father (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49, 14:10, 14:30)…and look at how the power of the Holy Spirit rested upon his ministry! Look at how much the Father glorified himself through Jesus and his work!
God’s work must be done in his way. It is truly a dark night and a painful death for those who are willing to be rendered impotent through yielding to the cross, but after the cross comes a glorious resurrection morning in our lives and ministries that makes all the suffering far worth it (Romans 8:18)! Like Christ, we must entrust all our godly desires for ministry to God and go through death: Who can speak of our descendants (our Isaac) when we enter into the death of absolute surrender? And yet when we come through into resurrection we will see our offspring (our Isaac) (See Isaiah 53:8, 10-11).
After the suffering of our souls (that is, the denial of seeing our greatest godly desires for ministry and God’s glorification achieved through our own work) we will see the light of life in our Isaac ministry and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11). Only as we forgo achieving God’s plan in our own strength and allow God to carry us through death where we no longer move out presumptuously from ourselves, then we will see God birth our Isaac ministry.
All that said, we do not have the power to crucify ourselves. God is the only one who can bring us through death to self into resurrection. However, he is willing that we go through it because he desires to glorify himself through us and our ministries even more than we do. Are you willing? Are you willing to ask him to do it in you? Are you willing to yield to the cross when it comes? Do you desire God’s glory more than your own life?
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
God alone gets the glory through what he plants and grows, sustains and causes to flourish. May God give each of us grace to yield to the cross so that our ministries may be a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. In that is God glorified to the utmost; in that we also have the greatest measure of joy.
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)
“He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.'” (Isaiah 49:3)
“As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11 NKJV)
*For those who earnestly want God to be glorified to the utmost through their lives and ministries, I highly recommend reading Watchman Nee’s “The Normal Christian Life”. No other book aside from the Bible has helped me more tremendously in my walk with God and in my ministry than this one. Below is a link to a chapter in this book as it specifically deals with ministry in the power of the Spirit rather than out of the power of our natural man. It is beneficial to read the surrounding chapters, particularly the preceding chapter (ideally the whole book) step by step, as it builds on itself.