Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—God’s Word Will Not Return to Him Void
Almost 500 years ago, a pugnacious Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther tacked a document to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, Germany as a protest against the sale of indulgences by the papacy. It turned out to be the spark that ignited what history has called the Protestant Reformation.
After earning his doctorate in theology, Luther was assigned to teach at the new university at Wittenberg. As an academic professor, one of Luther's assignments was to teach the book of Romans. It had a profound affect upon him. Romans 1:16-17 stabbed at his heart and conscience:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and aso to the Greek. 17For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."/ (Romans 1:16-17, NASB95)
Luther wrestled with the passage because it was just the opposite of what he had been taught by the Roman Catholic Church. One day while in his room, Luther was agonizing over Paul's phrase, the righteousness of God. What did Paul mean? He looked at his bookshelf and saw all the important manuscripts of the Fathers of the Catholic Church—the great theologians of days past—but they were of no avail. He cried out to the departed saints, but they gave no answer. Luther again read through the Book of Romans. Suddenly, his spiritual vision cleared; he felt as if a veil had been taken away. He could see what Paul meant. The righteousness of which Paul spoke was not a righteousness God seeking retribution, but a righteousness which was imputed to the believer by a gracious God when they put their faith in Christ. It was at that moment that Luther was delivered. Luther would write of that event:-"It seemed to me as if I had been born again and as if I had entered paradise through newly opened doors." Luther discovered in a practical way what Isaiah here says: “ ... so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
From that moment on, Luther rejected the Creeds of the Ecumenical Councils, the Traditions of the Church, and the Authority of the Pope, and proclaimed that Scripture alone should define the faith and practice for the Body of Christ. He adopted the motto, Sola Scriptura—that is "Scriptures alone!" Luther would have made a good Baptist at this point.
One of the reasons we as Baptists have such a high view of Scriptures, is because the Scriptures have a high view of themselves. In this passage, the Prophet Isaiah tells us that the Word of God is similar to the rain and snow that water the earth making it bud and flourish. His Word produces exactly what God desires. It is fruitful and will achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
I. GOD’S PEOPLE CAN HAVE CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S WORD vv. 10-11
- “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10–11, NIV84)
- these verses teach us why we should seek the Lord and abandon our wickedness
- God will accomplish everything His Word has spoken
- when God pronounces judgment and wrath upon the lost, that word will not return to Him empty, but will be accomplished
- when God pronounces grace and blessings upon the saved, that word also will not return to Him empty, but will be accomplished
- the Prophet uses the example of nature to prove his point
- that the rain and snow are effective is shown by the verbs, has watered, and has caused it to bear, and has caused it to shoot forth, and has given
- the subject is the rain and snow
- instead of returning to heaven without having accomplished their intended purposes, they fulfill the purpose for which God sends them
- in the rain and snow, falling from heaven, we see the power of God bringing to completion His purposes in nature
- the showers that fall from heaven turn into flowers, into wheat fields, into beautiful meadows and pastures, and into orchards that are fruitful as only God can make them
- Isaiah used rain’s renewal to illustrate God’s refreshing Word
A. THE WORD OF GOD WATERS OUR SOULS AND BRINGS BLESSING AND FRUITFULNESS TO US
- the change that the Holy Scriptures bring to human life and human destiny is glorious beyond compare
- Scripture carries spiritual vitality—that’s why it doesn’t, return void
- God’s Word can change human life
- ILLUS. John MacArthur tells the story of an event that took place in the Fiji Islands. An islander was reading the Bible. A Frenchman, watching him, finally came over and said, "So you are reading the Bible!" The Frenchman then ridiculed the islander for doing so, contending that he had traded one superstitious religion for another. The islander turned to the Frenchman and said, "Do you see that pot of boiling water over there? Were it not for this Book, you would be in that pot!"
- wherever it encounters an open heart, it brings refreshment, nourishment, and new life
- verse 11 indicates that just as the rain accomplishes its intended purpose as it falls upon the earth, so will the Word of God accomplish His purpose
- but God’s Word doesn’t produce just any fruit
- His Word brings forth spiritual life
- it produces the fruit He plans, accomplishing His purpose
- there is tremendous life-giving power in the Word of God
- ILLUS Cockleburs are a painful nuisance. In late summer their seedpods are covered with sharp spines that stick to everything. Yet those pesky pods are amazing. Each one contains several seeds, and they often germinate in different years. If one seed fails to sprout one year because of a drought, another seed will be there waiting for the year after that, and still another seed the year after that. Each waits for the right conditions for germination to arrive.
- we plant God’s Word in the lives of others, but people don’t always respond to God’s Word immediately
- but the seed is planted, and when the time is ripe, it will bring a harvest
II. WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS TRUTH WITHOUT ANY MIXTURE OF ERROR
- since Baptists first set foot on the shores of America, they have been know as the People of the Book—from laborer to learned scholar, we have always given special attention to the Bible
- we consider it a book not just for the theologian or the pastor, but for the layperson as well
- it is a document that we encourage all church members to have, to read, to study and to bring with them when they come to church
- choose any other denomination in the community, and you will see more Bibles carried into the Baptist church than any other
A. THE BIBLE IS AUTHORED BY GOD AND REVEALS GOD TO MEN
- "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4, ESV)
- Baptists have historically believed that the Bible has God for its author, salvation for its end and that it is truth without any mixture of error for its matter
- we believe this because the Scriptures themselves maintain that they are inspired by God alone
- "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV)
- the word inspiration in this verse literally means God-breathed
- through the guidance of God's Holy Spirit, the writers of the Bible wrote exactly what God wanted us to know
- it is completely true from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21
- the Apostle Paul made it clear that the Scripture alone teach us what is profitable
- that is what is useful, beneficial, and advantageous for Christian living
- among those things that are profitable to us from the pages of Scripture are ...
- teaching—specifically Christian doctrine and especially the doctrine of salvation
- reproof—specifically conviction of sin and false teachings about Christ
- correction—specifically setting us aright on how to b saved and make Christ Lord
- instruction in righteousness—specifically that we learn how to love God and become wholly conformed to the image of His Son
- the result of all this, Paul concludes, is that the believer will become a mature disciple, fully equipped for worship, holy living, and Christian service
- "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11, ESV)
- "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
- but it is powerful only if we believe it, claim it, and use it
- ILLUS. There is an old story that tells how Satan once summoned his top demonic aides to plan strategy against our Lord's Church. Satan stood at the blackboard lecturing and illustrating the latest procedures in demonic warfare. At the end of this session Satan told his troops, "Now get out there and give your best possible effort to keep believers from winning the lost." As the demons headed for the door, Satan admonished them, "Be careful. If those Christians ever begin to really believe and act on what they have in the Word of God, then hell help us, all heaven's going to break loose!"
B. THE BIBLE IS INFALLIBLE AND WILL NOT LEAD MEN ASTRAY
- "and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15, ESV)
- if the Bible is God's true revelation, then that means it is an infallible document
- what do I mean by the word infallible?
- it means that the Scriptures will do what they are designed to do—lead men and women, boys and girls—into a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ
- ILLUS. When we say that the Bible is infallible, we are maintaining that it is without error since it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Charles H. Spurgeon, a great English pastor, wrote of the Bible: "The Bible is a vein of pure gold, unalloyed by quartz or any earthly substance. It is a star without a speck; a sun without a blot; a light without darkness; a moon without paleness; a glory without dimness. It cannot be said of any other book that it is perfect and pure; but of the Bible we can declare all wisdom is gathered up in it, without particle of folly."
- in its passages and through its pages, you will meet the living Lord
- "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me," (John 5:39, ESV)
C. THE BIBLE IS AUTHORITATIVE FOR OUR LIVES
- ILLUS. A captain was on the bridge of his ship during a dark and stormy night when he noticed a light dead-ahead on a collision course. He had his signal officer dispatch a message to the light in question, "Alter your course ten degrees south."The reply from the light came back, "Alter your course ten degrees notj."The captain had a second signal sent, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am a captain."But the light sent a signal back, "Alter your course ten degrees south. I am a seaman third class." By this time the captain is becoming annoyed. He had a third message dispatched, "Alter you course ten degrees south. I am a battleship."The reply came, "Alter your course ten degrees north. I am a lighthouse."
- the Bible is authoritative for our lives
- it warns us of dangerous behaviors and guides us safely through life
III. WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE IS THE ONLY SOURCE FOR FAITH AND PRACTICE
- Baptists are a people of the Book
- that's a way of saying that we have no other source of authority for what we believe, or what we do, or how we run the church other than the Bible
- according to Catholic tradition, when the Pope speaks ex cathedra meaning from the chair, his declarations are not only equal to Scripture, but are superior to Scripture
- this was true in Luther's day and it remains true in our day
- Luther and the Reformers rejected this claim as we still do today
- prior to the Reformation, the laity was forbidden even to read the Scripture
- all interpretation was in the hands of the Pope and other officers of the Church
- sadly, this led to a host of practices that are simply not found within the Scriptures
- prayers to the saints
- the immaculate conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus and her sinlessness
- infant baptism
- prayers for the dead
- veneration of relics
- papal authority
- ILLUS. Because of his belief that Scriptures Alone where the sole source of authority for the church, the Catholic Church threatened Martin Luther with excommunication, and even death as a heretic, if he did not recant. Luther's reply was, "Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, unless I am persuaded by means of the [Bible] passages I have quoted, ...my conscience is bound by the Word of God, I cannot and will not retract, for it is unsafe for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other; may God help me!"
A. OUR ALLEGIANCE IS TO SCRIPTURE, NOT CREEDS OR TRADITIONS OR ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY
- Baptists have stubbornly insisted that nothing outside of the Bible can serve as a rule for our faith or for our practice
- some churches depend on creeds, but Baptists respond with, "What does the Book say?"
- ILLUS. Early in the Church's history, a standard for orthodox faith was established. It was called The Apostle's Creed. It was written as a defense against heresy. To be a Christian meant that you believed certain things and The Apostle's Creed listed the tenants of the Christian's faith. It reads: "I believe in God the Father Almighty; and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried; the third day He rose from the dead, ascended into the heavens, being seated at the right hand of the Father, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead; I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy church, forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the flesh."
- now, as a Baptist, there is not one thing in that creed I disagree with
- I can say "Amen" to every word
- then why don't Baptists like creeds?
- because men have the propensity to "add to" the fundamentals of the faith and make salvation restrictive
- there is also the tendency that men may put their faith in the creed itself, rather than in the living Lord
- ILLUS. I have people frequently ask me, "Pastor, how come the Catholic Church does such-an-such when there seems to be no Scripture in support of it?" My answer is always the same—tradition! The Catholic Church believes that long-time traditions hold as much authoritative weight as the Scriptures do.
- now, traditions are not necessarily bad
- "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)
- the way we worship
- the way we celebrate the Lord's Supper
- the way we organize for & support missions
- even the basic design of our churches
- if there is not a Scriptural basis for something, Baptists usually won't do it
- the Apostle Peter warned against putting too much faith in tradition
- "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;" (1 Peter 1:18, KJV)
- Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Episcopalians, Methodists, and even Lutherans all have a top-down organizational structure where someone just a little higher up tells ya what to believe, how much you're supposed to give, who your pastor is going to be, and how you're supposed to live
- this is anathema to those of us who believe in Sola Scriptura
- but let me give a word of warning to Southern Baptists ...
- for over a thousand years the authority of the Scriptures was lost to the authority of Creeds, Tradition, and Ecclesiastical authority
- in many denominations, popular culture, popular programs, and popular performances have become the new authority for the church
- this is my commitment to you
IV. WE BELIEVE THAT THE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE IS THE ONLY HOPE FOR LOST MEN
- "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4, ESV)
- some of you may think, "Aw Pastor, isn't that being a little closed minded? After all, all men are trying to get to the same place."
- well, maybe it is being a little closed minded
- but when you're right, you can afford to be
- ILLUS. I have a bachelor's degree religion. I have a master's degree in communication. I have read the works of many of the most prominent theologians of the last two centuries. But I'm still foolish enough to believe that it is only through the foolishness of preaching the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that men are saved.
- "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17, ESV)
A. THE BIBLE TELLS US THAT MAN HAS A PROBLEM
- that problem is called sin
B. THE BIBLE TELLS US THAT MAN'S SIN CONDEMNS HIM TO AN ETERNITY IN HELL WITHOUT GOD
C. THE BIBLE TELLS US THAT GOD HAS A REMEDY FOR OUR PROBLEM
- that remedy is the same remedy that Martin Luther discovered in his room as he meditated upon the Scriptures
- that remedy is the righteousness of God administered though grace when we openly and unashamedly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior
- "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved." (Romans 10:9-10, ESV)
- ILLUS. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.
- even Jesus Christ was presented as a relentless avenger
- Martin Luther and the other Reformers rediscovered the great truth of the Gospel
- We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, for the glory of God alone
- ILLUS. Martin Luther had a dream in which he stood on the day of judgment before God Himself—and Satan was there to accuse him. When Satan opened his books full of accusations, he pointed to transgression after transgression of which Luther was guilty. As the proceedings went on, Luther's heart sunk in despair. Then he remembered the cross of Christ—and turning upon Satan, he said, "There is one entry which you have not made, Satan." The Devil retorted, "What is that?" And Luther answered, "It is this—the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sins." And with that answer, the Devil closed his book and fled.
We believe that the message of the bible is the only hope for lost men. We believe the bible is the only source for faith and practice. We believe that the bible is truth without any mixture of error.
Luther's motto is has become our motto: So/a Scriptura—Scriptures alone. God's Word will always guide us correctly and it will never return to Him empty!
ILLUS. Some years ago, Linda and I went skiing out at Winter Park, Colorado. Besides being a beautiful place to ski, Winter Park is a center for handicapped skiers. One the slopes you'll see skiers with only one leg. Some have no arms. Others are paraplegics and ski in a sled-like device. The most amazing people are the blind skiers, impossible as that sounds. Paired with sighted skiers, the blind skiers are taught on the flats how to make right and left turns. When they master that, they are taken to the slalom slope, where their sighted partners ski beside them shouting 'Left.'" and "Right!"
As they obey the commands, they are able to negotiate the course and descend the mountain. They depend solely on the sighted skier's word. It's either complete trust or catastrophe.
What a vivid picture of the Christian life. In this world, we are often blind as to what course in life to take. We must rely solely on the Word of our Lord in the Scriptures about what course to take. His Word gives us the direction we need to finish the course.