How God goes ahead of us

Readings this week, leading up to Easter Sunday, April 1

Isaiah 25:6-9 – The prophecy of death swallowed up in victory on Mount Zion

Mark 16:1-8 – The women’s shock at finding the tomb empty

Acts 10:34-43 – Jewish Peter enters Roman officer Cornelius’ house

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Paul reminds the Greek church in Corinth of their core beliefs

Isaiah 25:6-9

Isaiah’s prophecy: death swallowed up for ever

They will say, “We trusted in Him and He saved us”.

6  On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.

“On this mountain” – Mount Zion. This connects back to Isaiah 24:23: “The moon will be dismayed, the sun ashamed; for the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders — with great glory.”

The prophet has already foretold a time when Gentile nations will come to Mount Zion for worship, Isaiah 2:1-4.

7  On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;

The allusion is to death; it could also encompass the blindness of spiritual death among the Gentile nations – which is set to be reversed.

8  He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

Paul in setting out the doctrine of resurrection quotes the first part of verse 8 (but not literally) at 1 Cor. 15:54. “…the saying that has been written is true: death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Christ by His death destroyed the power of death; He took away the sting of the first death, and prevented the second (everlasting death) for those who would turn to Him.

This victory also spells – positionally – the end of the disgrace God’s people commonly experience in a world of conflicting values.

9  In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

“Saved” is yasha and the noun form is yeshua (as in Jesus’ name in Hebrew). The saving is God’s work; our part of the partnership is trusting and rejoicing.


Here Isaiah sees in the Spirit a time when disgrace and death will no longer rule and God will delight in honouring all kinds of people.

God’s intention for those created in His image has always been life and peace – shalom in all its rich meaning. The Garden of Eden is an enduring picture of such an environment, where everything that man needed for life and health and companionship – everything that was life-giving – was freely provided. Man was created with freewill but also with a close relationship with God to guide choices in that freewill. The one thing that wasn’t on offer was independence from God. As we know, appropriating the one thing God did not want us to have, allowed in every source of pain, fear and death. And these influences rule our lives more than we like to admit.

What Isaiah saw in the Spirit was a different order of things. Instead of the inevitable slide of all things to rot and corruption and death, he saw the shroud of death torn, the vision for good choices restored and the power of death submerged by an unstoppable tide of God’s generosity. This is God’s kingdom in the Lord Jesus Christ, which we can experience in Him as a foretaste of the full realisation of His kingdom rule on His return. We still have the freewill to choose – either to satisfy our desire for independence, or to break its hold by choosing dependence on God who is so good and so loving and so worthy of our trust in Him.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How much influence does fear, and the ultimate fear of death itself, have in our thought lives? How does Jesus, who said “I am the Way”, lead us to take authority over this influence?

The kingdom purpose of God has to be spiritually discerned

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

Our opinions can blind us to God’s intentions if we are not prepared to let them be changed – especially by the Gospel

18  For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

19  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

18-19  Paul is loosely quoting Isaiah 29:14 and allowing God to speak these words again to the Corinth church  which like its city, was characterised by people holding strong opinions, with some arrogance.
20  Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

20  The Athenian statesman Aristides said that on every street in Corinth one would meet a so-called wise man who had his own solutions to humanity’s problems.

20  “Philosopher of this age” refers to a kind of dispute using clever but devious logic, called sophistry, which the Greeks liked to engage in.

20  Paul uses his own brand of straightforward oratory – four rhetorical questions together with the anaphora of “where is… where is… where is…” to drive home his point to Greeks who expected this form of persuasion.

21  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 21  The preaching is not foolish, but the message of the Cross doesn’t at first make sense to people of the world – whether Jews or Greeks, in this context.
22  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom… 22  Different cultures have different starting points. The Jews’ history was miraculous deliverance (Red Sea, Jehoshaphat’s deliverance, Gideon), encounters (Abraham, Mount Sinai) and signs (e.g. through Elijah and Elisha). The Greek nation had a long background in philosophical debate and oratory. Jesus’ self-sacrifice in shameful, if sinless, death didn’t satisfy either Greek intellect or Jewish desire for God’s intervening hand.
23  …but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles…  23  “Stumbling block” originally meant a tree-stump. In Scripture it meant an attitude or action that obstructs others and causes them to sin. The Jews looked for a Messiah of political power. Jesus – in their unbelieving view – had not only failed to remove the Romans, but had been put to death by Romans, the Roman way.
24  …but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 24  Those with spiritual eyes to see, recognise the true power, the power of God in Christ crucified, and the true wisdom of how God saves in Christ.
25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 25  God’s order has the effect of turning the world’s order upside down. Paul is using irony here, a figure of speech that was much used by the Greeks.


When Paul had a dream in Troas that led to his mission crossing the sea to the Greek and Roman culture of Macedonia, he needed to connect with people in different ways. The Greeks were great debaters and they looked for logical, rather than historic, support for the message they were hearing.

The story of Jesus’ sinless life and then horrific death as an innocent victim who became a sacrifice for sin for all who would believe, is a story that defies logic. It can only be grasped by faith. And the more we seek to understand it and find grounds for it in the way that philosophy demands, the more we distance ourselves from the faith that brings revelation.

Paul is meeting his new Greek converts where they are in their understanding and speaking their kind of language – to tell them, “It doesn’t work that way!”

God’s purposes are higher than our purposes and of course the heavenly perspective is like the view from an aircaft window seat compared with a walk in the valley far below.

Only prayer and an openness to the bigger picture that the Holy Spirit gives us, if we ask Him, can show us how to relate Jesus resurrected, to a world cynical and demanding of proof. Paul knew those barriers too, and he consistently relied on demonstrating and proclaiming Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God, to overcome them.

For reflection and discussion

How difficult do we find it to stand up for what seems to others to be foolish, illogical, and just not ‘cool’? Who helps us to be credible and relevant?