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7.21.19

Excerpt from Isaiah: The Modern Relevance of an Ancient Voice

We live in an age that, because of the general abandonment of the biblical worldview, has made status, position, power and identity politics the absolute good. A major function of education has become not the acquisition of knowledge but the enhancement and influence of unrealistic self-centric thinking. I call it passive aggressive narcissism. The irony in all of this, as we processed earlier, is that in the non-biblical worldview, humanity has no significance whatsoever. We are an electrochemical accident. If that were true, then the more we cut ourselves off from the transcendent Creator, the less significant we become. The result, can be clearly seen in the most prominent secular voices of the last one hundred and fifty years. Albert Camus (French philosopher of Absurdism), JeanPaul Sartre (French writer of Existentialism - Nothingness), and Franz Kafka (Jewish-Bohemian writer of Realism), and finally German born Frederick Nietzsche (the father of Nihilism). Theirs is a downward spiral of the ultimate hopelessness of humanity and despair. At the end of the day the more we try to elevate ourselves by separating ourselves away from God, the less of us there is to elevate. Apart from God - we don't get better, we get worse.


More than ever we need to hear the words of Isaiah, who tells us that the way to significance is not through arrogance and self-elevating but through humility, not to demand that others serve us but to serve others. How much we need to recover from Isaiah the prototype for what the apostle Paul called “the mind of Christ.” This “mind” or attitude is almost completely foreign to us fearful and phobic descendants of Adam and Eve. We are so afraid of loss we can’t talk about it, so afraid of discomfort we can’t live with any of it, and so afraid of pain that we will sacrifice almost anything, or anyone, to avoid any of it. Yet, as Isaiah shows us, the way to real power is through powerlessness.


If you share in any way my belief of that, then you and I need to be on the same page with Isaiah’s teaching. We need to be reminded again of the foolishness of depending on human glory for anything lasting. We need to hear again that God can be trusted—trusted enough to lay down our own arrogance and pride. We need to be motivated in deep ways by the realization that the sole Creator of the universe, the just Judge, the

betrayed Father, has not cast us away or forgotten us but rather has chosen us to be the living evidence to the world that HE alone is God. We need to learn or relearn that keeping His honor before the world is so precious, and that it is worth any price to him to find a way to renew his character in us.


All of us modern Christians who have allowed our ways of thinking to be reshaped according to this terribly wrong and toxic model, need to allow Isaiah’s view of servanthood to reshape our outlook. Like the apostle Paul said nineteen hundred and fifty years ago “the cross is foolishness to the Greeks.”


Guess what? It still is - all of it. To win is to lose? To lose is to win? To die is to live? To live is to die? To rise is to fall? To fall is to rise? To take the lowest place is to sit with the King? To take the highest place is to sit in the dust? C’mon man - right?


Yet, as we who have found God in Christ know, all of that is absolutely true. But how are we going to believe that unless we consciously allow our minds to become saturated with that point of view? If we do not, the other understanding of reality will take us by default.


Isaiah 44:1-20

"But now hear, O Jacob my servant,

Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,

who formed you from the womb and will help you:

Fear not, O Jacob my servant,

Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,

and my blessing on your descendants.

They shall spring up among the grass

like willows by flowing streams.

This one will say, 'I am the Lord's,'

another will call on the name of Jacob,

and another will write on his hand, 'The Lord's,'

and name himself by the name of Israel."

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel

and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:

"I am the first and I am the last;

besides me there is no god.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.

Let him declare and set it before me,

since I appointed an ancient people.

Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.

Fear not, nor be afraid;

have I not told you from of old and declared it?

And you are my witnesses!

Is there a God besides me?

There is no Rock; I know not any."


All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.


The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!"


They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, "Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"


Why something from 2,700 years ago? Isaiah was writing to a people that have no real connection to us, right? I mean, how could they? They didn’t face the same world that we face. They didn’t encounter the same issues that we face. Isaiah’s prophetic ministry to Judah lasted for 50 years, but that was from roughly 740 to 686 B.C. So why this passage?


I’ll tell you… God does not change… Truth does not change… Prophecy does not change… God’s promises do not change… Revelation does not change… Love does not change… They effect change – in us, through us, in spite of us.


Because God does not change, we see that the Truth that he reveals to humanity is timeless (as is God). Who were these people who lived in Isaiah’s time? Who was the kingdom of Judah? They were a people blessed and called out. They were a people who had established a, or entered into, covenant (Yada Karat Beriyt) with God. They were a people who were violating the terms of that covenant; they had become a parched landscape and they were about to be torn away from (cut out, cut apart) because of this. This is the generation that would face the exile to Babylon.


The people of Judah had fallen prey to the great deception of man – that somehow we are self-sufficient. And here’s the tricky part – that in our self-sufficiency, we seek out a god to worship that pales in comparison to the God that desires to bless us. We might not fashion our gods out of wood – we make them from work, or hobbies, or interests, etc. – but we worship them none-the-less.


Paul would look to the idol worship of his day – the socio-political and religious and philosophical discussion groups (their on-line or social engagement apparatus) the Areopagus in Athens. Athens was advanced by today’s standards, but they were past their time of political prowess. They were, however, a hotbed of education and debate.


Acts 17:16-34

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, "What does this babbler wish to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities"—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean." Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.


So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for


"'In him we live and move and have our being';

as even some of your own poets have said,

"'For we are indeed his offspring.'


Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."


Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, "We will hear you again about this." So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.


So why Paul and the Athens. What does the story of a man being called out as a lone voice in a sea on political, religious, and moral ambiguity have to do with us today? This is our story.


We worship at the altars of the gods that we have fashioned. Universities no longer seek to solely pursue truth - instead they push agenda. Actors, performers, singers, athletes, celebrities in general, have become the prophetic voices that we hang our most important choices upon. Our news, instead of informing us of an objective reality, plays captive to the motives of special interest groups and political parties - both sides do. Our elected officials are boisterous, rude, lying, conniving, vile creatures - and the ones that do seem to want to be something real or change that are devoured by the pantheon of gods that we offer our worship to. And the false god of convenient Christianity seems to reign supreme. The no cost, no action, self seeking religion of passive-aggressive narcissism.


Uplifting stuff right? On that note, let’s go home. No, not that home, I’ve got a little more time I think. Let’s go to our home. Let’s go to your home. Let’s go to my home. Who is your god? Is your life a testament to the fact that you Love Jesus? Is it evident through your actions and your words that you do not worship at the altar of convenience and celebrity and narcissism? Well the good news for you today is that it can be. You are called out by God. Everyone in this room was called out by God. Everyone in this room has a story to tell and has a truth buried within their hearts, within their souls, within their minds.


I’ve learned more about this than is fair to most others. I’ve encountered a narrative and a call with God that you should envy. It’s because I have a vow, a covenant (Yada Karat Beriyt) with the maker of all things - the God who lives and breathes His Spirit upon this creation. When you encounter this, it will change you. When you ask for this, He will give it. But you must ask of it from Him - in accordance with the expectations that He has placed upon you - He desires to fill the parched with His Spirit.


Hospital story:


Isaiah 44:3-4

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,

and streams on the dry ground;

I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,

and my blessing on your descendants.


When peace like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain

It is well, (it is well),

With my soul, (with my soul)

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life,

Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But Lord, 'tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,

The sky, not the grave, is our goal;

Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!

Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

A song in the night, oh my soul!


This hymn was written after traumatic events in Spafford's life. The first was the death of his son at the age of two and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre. In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford's daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone …". Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died. Bliss called his tune Ville du Havre, from the name of the stricken vessel. - Wikipedia


I’ll tell you… God does not change… Truth does not change… Prophecy does not change… God’s promises do not change… Revelation does not change… Love does not change… They effect change – in us, through us, in spite of us.


Isaiah 44:21-28

Remember these things, O Jacob,

and Israel, for you are my servant;

I formed you; you are my servant;

O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.

I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud

and your sins like mist;

return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it;

shout, O depths of the earth;

break forth into singing, O mountains,

O forest, and every tree in it!

For the Lord has redeemed Jacob,

and will be glorified in Israel.

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,

who formed you from the womb:

"I am the Lord, who made all things,

who alone stretched out the heavens,

who spread out the earth by myself,

who frustrates the signs of liars

and makes fools of diviners,

who turns wise men back

and makes their knowledge foolish,

who confirms the word of his servant

and fulfills the counsel of his messengers,

who says of Jerusalem, 'She shall be inhabited,'

and of the cities of Judah, 'They shall be built,

and I will raise up their ruins';

who says to the deep, 'Be dry;

I will dry up your rivers';

who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd,

and he shall fulfill all my purpose';

saying of Jerusalem, 'She shall be built,'

and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'"


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