Faithlife Sermons

Hope for Our Troubled World

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 1 view
Notes
Transcript
Sermon Tone Analysis
A
D
F
J
S
Emotion
A
C
T
Language
O
C
E
A
E
Social
View more →

Isaiah 1:1 AV
The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
Isaiah 1:1
We can know, because God has spoken. Into our troubled world, God has spoken to us “from the borders of another world.”2 Our needs go deeper than the remedies on sale in the marketplace of ideas today. Whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, wouldn’t you agree that “the solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time”?3 No matter how many experts we consult or how much research we do, the ultimate questions of life remain unanswerable unless God speaks. And God has spoken to us, in plain language. Surprisingly, his message is good news for bad people like us. Will you listen to him thoughtfully, patiently?
Into our troubled world, God has spoken to us “from the borders of another world.” Raymond C. Ortlund Jr
God spoke eloquently through Isaiah. If you have any interest in the Bible at all, Isaiah will reward a close reading. It is “the most theologically significant book in the Old Testament.”4 “Of all the books in the Old Testament, Isaiah is perhaps the richest.”5 “From ancient times Isaiah has been considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.”6 The scholars who know what they are talking about prize Isaiah. What Bach’s first biographer said about his music applies to Isaiah’s prophecy:
Good news for modern Man nlt
[Bach’s music] is not merely agreeable, like other composers’, but transports us to the regions of the ideal. It does not arrest our attention momentarily but grips us the stronger the oftener we listen to it so that, after a thousand hearings, its treasures are still unexhausted and yield fresh beauties to excite our wonder.7
Our needs go deeper than the remedies on sale in the marketplace of ideas today. Whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, wouldn’t you agree that “the solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time”?3 No matter how many experts we consult or how much research we do, the ultimate questions of life remain unanswerable unless God speaks. And God has spoken to us, in plain language. Surprisingly, his message is good news for bad people like us. Will you listen to him thoughtfully, patiently?
Our needs go deeper than the remedies on sale in the marketplace of ideas today. Whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, wouldn’t you agree that “the solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time”?3 No matter how many experts we consult or how much research we do, the ultimate questions of life remain unanswerable unless God speaks. And God has spoken to us, in plain language. Surprisingly, his message is good news for bad people like us. Will you listen to him thoughtfully, patiently?
Isaiah deserves better than to be a “classic” — a famous book nobody reads anymore. His prophecy isn’t always easy to understand. But every day all around the world people take on challenges, from climbing the Matterhorn to learning Japanese to launching a new business. If God has spoken to us through Isaiah, let’s explore this literary Matterhorn. Let’s enjoy the view from the very top, and even the effort of getting there. Let’s reach out for new understandings.
God spoke eloquently through Isaiah. If you have any interest in the Bible at all, Isaiah will reward a close reading. It is “the most theologically significant book in the Old Testament.”4 “Of all the books in the Old Testament, Isaiah is perhaps the richest.”5 “From ancient times Isaiah has been considered the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.”6 The scholars who know what they are talking about prize Isaiah.
Let us begin: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1). This heading invites three questions: What? Who? When?
WHAT?
Isaiah deserves better than to be a “classic” — a famous book nobody reads anymore. His prophecy isn’t always easy to understand. But every day all around the world people take on challenges, from climbing the Matterhorn to learning Japanese to launching a new business. If God has spoken to us through Isaiah, let’s explore this literary Matterhorn. Let’s enjoy the view from the very top, and even the effort of getting there. Let’s reach out for new understandings.
“The vision of Isaiah . . . which he saw . . .” This book is a prophetic vision. Not that Isaiah went into a trance, for 2:1 says that Isaiah saw a “word” from God. But this book puts before us a way of seeing. And it isn’t our own brainstorm. God is the one offering us a new perspective on everything.
Let us begin: “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah” (1:1). This heading invites three questions: What? Who? When?
Left to ourselves, we live on the level of impressions and hunches and gut reactions. We are blind to the things we most need to know. But a prophet was enabled to see beyond the immediate. A prophet was not fooled or stampeded. He was a seer.
For example, Elisha was surrounded one night in Dothan by the army of the Syrians (2 Kings 6:15-17). A young man was with him there — a prophet-in-training. He got up one morning to find the area swarming with enemy troops. He was terrified. But when he alerted Elisha, the old man didn’t panic. Elisha said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” His young friend must have thought, This old guy is past his prime! He doesn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. But what did the prophet do? He prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” God did. And the young man saw that the surrounding mountains were filled with horses and chariots of fire. The prophet could see through appearances into reality, which is why the prophets were misunderstood.
Isaiah himself was enabled to see the divine King enthroned in the heavenly court (Isaiah 6). What he never could have stumbled onto, God revealed to him. This makes the prophetic vision of the Bible our clearest view into reality. Our natural outlook focuses on everything secondary. But in the Bible God is the central, unavoidable figure everywhere. All the basic questions of life are, in fact, God-questions. As John Calvin put it, “The Christian must surely be so disposed and minded that he feels within himself it is with God he has to deal throughout his life.”8 That is a prophetic way of seeing. But this awareness clashes with our intuitive sense of things. We dislike God’s word and defend ourselves against it. But Isaiah begs us, “Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD” (2:5). Let’s respect God enough to be open and think it through.
What
“The vision of Isaiah . . . which he saw . . .” This book is a prophetic vision. Not that Isaiah went into a trance, for 2:1 says that Isaiah saw a “word” from God. But this book puts before us a way of seeing. And it isn’t our own brainstorm. God is the one offering us a new perspective on everything.
The heading in Isaiah 1:1 alerts us that his book will interrupt our familiar ways of thinking. Isaiah walks up to us, taps us on the shoulder as we struggle with our problems, and says, “There’s another way to look at all this. Interested?” God is disruptive. Without his word, we are confined to our own pretenses and bluffs. With his word, new realities open up. But if we want to get anything out of Isaiah, we have to be ready to adjust.
Left to ourselves, we live on the level of impressions and hunches and gut reactions. We are blind to the things we most need to know. But a prophet was enabled to see beyond the immediate. A prophet was not fooled or stampeded. He was a seer.
The other thing we should see about the What is this: The verse says “the vision” (singular), not “the visions” (plural). That is surprising. Why? Because this book is an anthology of Isaiah’s lifetime of prophetic work. He preached many sermons and made declarations for God on many occasions. What we have in this book is an edited collection of his whole career. Toward the end of his life, Isaiah gathered his papers and notes and memories together and wove them into one coherent presentation. So the unfolding sections of this book come from who knows how many different occasions, and not always in chronological order. But they all unite as one compelling new way of seeing everything. “The vision . . . which he saw . . .”
Left to ourselves, we live on the level of impressions and hunches and gut reactions. We are blind to the things we most need to know. But a prophet was enabled to see beyond the immediate. A prophet was not fooled or stampeded. He was a seer.
WHO?
There are two answers to the Who question. The first is obvious: “Isaiah the son of Amoz.” The Bible does not tell us who his father Amoz was, but rabbinic tradition claims that Amoz was brother to Amaziah, King of Judah, putting Isaiah into the royal family.9 We know that Isaiah was a married man with children. We think he was a resident of Jerusalem. We can see he was a literary genius. But the most important thing about Isaiah is his name.
Isaiah 2:1 AV
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
His Hebrew name means “The Lord saves.” This man’s very identity announces grace from beyond ourselves. We don’t like that. We want to retain control, save face, set our own terms, pay our own way. Every day we treat God as incidental to what really matters to us, and we live by our own strategies of self-salvation. We don’t think of our choices that way, but Isaiah can see that our lives are infested with fraudulent idols. Any hope that isn’t from God is an idol of our own making.
1. Elisha in Dothan
Idolatry is Isaiah’s primary concern about us. This is offensive, because we thought we left idolatry behind centuries ago. But Isaiah, who understands the power of God, also understands the power of non-gods. It works on our minds. Every day we shift our deepest fears around behind amusements, professional achievements, and even lesser fears. As we drive slowly around a serious car accident, we think, It wasn’t me, to distance ourselves mentally. We think, They must have been driving recklessly, because blaming feels reassuring. We sense how vulnerable we are.10 But any evasion of plain dealing with God is idol-manufacture. And we do not let go of our idols easily.
2. Isaiah was able to see a King enthroned in the heavenly court
Isaiah 6 AV
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
In heaping our idolatries together, we assemble a culture — a brilliant, collaborative quest to prove ourselves. Our modern culture rarely represents itself with religious language. But Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, explained how we serve it every day with faithful devotion:
.
Isaiah 6 AV
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Our natural focuses on everything that is secondary, But God is the central, unavoidable figure everywhere
The heading in alerts us that his book will interrupt our familiar ways of thinking. Isaiah walks up to us, taps us on the shoulder as we struggle with our problems, and says, “There’s another way to look at all this. Interested?” God is disruptive. Without his word, we are confined to our own pretenses and bluffs. With his word, new realities open up. But if we want to get anything out of Isaiah, we have to be ready to adjust.
The other thing we should see about the What is this: The verse says “the vision” (singular), not “the visions” (plural). That is surprising. Why? Because this book is an anthology of Isaiah’s lifetime of prophetic work. He preached many sermons and made declarations for God on many occasions. What we have in this book is an edited collection of his whole career. Toward the end of his life, Isaiah gathered his papers and notes and memories together and wove them into one coherent presentation. So the unfolding sections of this book come from who knows how many different occasions, and not always in chronological order. But they all unite as one compelling new way of seeing everything. “The vision . . . which he saw . . .”
We disguise our struggle by piling up figures in a bank book to reflect privately our sense of heroic worth. Or by having only a little better home in the neighborhood, a bigger car, brighter children. But underneath throbs the ache of cosmic specialness, no matter how we mask it in concerns of smaller scope.11
We crave reassurance that our lives are not zeroes. But unless we are resting in God, our uncertainty generates “a blind drivenness that burns people up; in passionate people, a screaming for glory as uncritical and reflexive as the howling of a dog.”12 No idol can truthfully say, “My yoke is easy” (Matthew 11:30).
Who
In today’s increasingly dangerous world, our cheery but demanding idols, with their empty promises, are failing us. The fact is, death watches us, stalks us, takes aim, and shoots straight. There is no safe place, not even in America, the land of optimism. We have terrorist hijackers, drive-by shootings, tainted blood transfusions, gun-toting kids at school, and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of maniacs. William James, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, put it vividly:
His Hebrew name means “The Lord saves.” This man’s very identity announces grace from beyond ourselves. We don’t like that. We want to retain control, save face, set our own terms, pay our own way. Every day we treat God as incidental to what really matters to us, and we live by our own strategies of self-salvation. We don’t think of our choices that way, but Isaiah can see that our lives are infested with fraudulent idols. Any hope that isn’t from God is an idol of our own making.
Let sanguine healthy-mindedness do its best with its strange power of living in the moment and ignoring and forgetting, still the evil background is really there to be thought of, and the skull will grin in at the banquet.13
Idolatry is Isaiah’s primary concern about us. This is offensive, because we thought we left idolatry behind centuries ago.
Ignoring and forgetting is why we hold this banquet called the American Dream. Isn’t it time, with all other hopes proving false, to reach out for the strong hand of God?
A salvation we don’t even know how to define, Isaiah is an expert at explaining to us. He wants to lead us into a life that outlasts our earthly expiration date. J. I. Packer puts into words the greatness of the Isaianic message:
Figures in our bank account, a better home, a bigger car, brighter children
God saves sinners. God — the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of the Father and Son by renewing. Saves — does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners — men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, blind, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners. . . . Sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever, amen!14
God saves sinners.
This book is also about, secondly, “Judah and Jerusalem.” Isaiah will address other nations too. His message is for everyone. But God is most present among the people of his choosing, and the revival of his people is the hope of the nations. That is Isaiah’s primary concern. So we should apply Isaiah’s vision today not to America or any other political entity but, first and foremost, to the Christian church. Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (, ). Nothing is more important to the state of the world than the state of the church. God speaks first to believers, so that his overflowing salvation can spread to all. The world cannot impede the expansion of salvation; the mediocrity of the church can and does. If the world is not experiencing the grace of God, the church is being untrue to its destiny. What the world most needs is the church so obviously saved that the church is an alternative to convert to. If Isaiah were alive today, he would say to Christian believers, “The Lord saves, beginning with us.”
God is announcing to us through Isaiah: The Lord, for all that he is, saves, for all that’s worth, sinners, for all that we need. That truth is better than we give it credit for.
When
The people of Isaiah’s day had an unrealistic appraisal of themselves, with little awareness of their own fatal salvations. They went through the motions of Biblical faith. But when it came to the hardball of everyday life, they saw no relevance in God’s help. But their brilliant stupidity only played into the hands of their enemies, as we will see. The Lutheran Church, in their service of Affirmation of Baptism, asks new members, “Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?” 15 That may sound quaint. But the question on which our lives turn, moment by moment, is whether we are banking on God’s promises of salvation or on the empty promises of the false salvations pressing in upon us all around. If we are not letting God save us, we are exposing ourselves to forces of evil, more than we know. But as the truth of “The Lord saves” breaks upon us with prophetic clarity, it becomes a powerful resource for living.
In Isaiah’s day, his message was unpopular. A prophet with his name (“the Lord saves”) — well, the people could see a mile away what he stood for, and not many listened. Their hearts were too dead to resonate with the greatest thing in the universe. And so it is today. If the gospel that you can not be your own savior, but God can save you totally, does not thrill you, it’s probably an irritant to your self-importance, lust for control, and moral superiority. Even in the church, the more clearly the good news is preached and the more directly it is applied, the more inevitably it sparks controversy. So be it. “The Lord saves” is the improbable truth we’ve been looking for but resisting all our lives.
“. . . in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah preached in the southern kingdom of Judah during the closing decades of the eighth-century B.C. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. When Isaiah began his work about 740 B.C., Judah was still basking in long-sustained prosperity. But the good times were nearly over, and the people sensed it. They lived in a pivotal moment and in a threatening world. The crisis of their generation was the rising Assyrian empire to the east, and these four kings of Judah proved how mixed the nation’s response was — trust in God complicated by deeper trust in themselves.
This book is also about, secondly, “Judah and Jerusalem.” Isaiah will address other nations too. His message is for everyone. But God is most present among the people of his choosing, and the revival of his people is the hope of the nations. That is Isaiah’s primary concern. So we should apply Isaiah’s vision today not to America or any other political entity but, first and foremost, to the Christian church. Jesus said to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14). Nothing is more important to the state of the world than the state of the church. God speaks first to believers, so that his overflowing salvation can spread to all. The world cannot impede the expansion of salvation; the mediocrity of the church can and does. If the world is not experiencing the grace of God, the church is being untrue to its destiny. What the world most needs is the church so obviously saved that the church is an alternative to convert to. If Isaiah were alive today, he would say to Christian believers, “The Lord saves, beginning with us.”
WHEN?
“. . . in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah preached in the southern kingdom of Judah during the closing decades of the eighth-century B.C. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. When Isaiah began his work about 740 B.C., Judah was still basking in long-sustained prosperity. But the good times were nearly over, and the people sensed it. They lived in a pivotal moment and in a threatening world. The crisis of their generation was the rising Assyrian empire to the east, and these four kings of Judah proved how mixed the nation’s response was — trust in God complicated by deeper trust in themselves. You can read more about it in 2 Kings 15 — 20. But the Assyrian threat was the point at which these leaders and their people would decide whether God would save them or whether they had to develop their own strategies of self-salvation. Every generation is tested at some point of felt urgency, and to us today God freely offers himself as our most powerful ally. Whether or not we choose him is the story of our generation, and nothing else ultimately matters.
Why did Isaiah keep speaking out? Few people took him seriously. As thanks for his ministry, according to an ancient tradition, he was sawn in two.16 How did he carry on? There is only one answer. What he saw is real. We need to see it too. We need to embrace it rather than push it away. We can discover in our crises today what it means to be saved by grace from God. Others in the past have trusted him, and he more than kept his word. Now it’s our turn. But we don’t have forever to make up our minds.
Let’s rethink everything from this prophetic viewpoint: God saves sinners. It’s the most underrated truth in all the world.
1. William Henry Green, The Pentateuch (New York: John Wiley, 1863), pp. 194, 195.
2. Arturo G. Azurdia, III, Spirit Empowered Preaching (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus, 1998), p. 16.
3. D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness, trans., Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: The German Text of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Logisch-philosophische Abhandlung (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961), p. 149.
4. Barry G. Webb, The Message of Isaiah: On Eagles’ Wings (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 13.
5. Oswalt, I:3. On p. 175 of his second volume, Oswalt identifies Isaiah as “everywhere agreed to be the finest theological mind in Israel.”
6. N. H. Ridderbos, in J. D. Douglas, et al., eds., The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973 reprint), p. 574.
7. Quoted in John Eliot Gardiner, liner notes to Bach: Cantatas—Christmas, Archiv Produktion 463 589-2, p. 1.
8.Institutes, 3.7.2. Cf. Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (Nashville: Broadman, 1988), p. 59.
9. Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Radak; Babylonian Talmud, Megilla 10b, Sota 10b.
10. Cf. Gregory Zilboorg, “Fear of Death,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 12 (1943): 465-475.
11. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: The Free Press, 1973), p. 4. I thank Dr. Tim Keller for drawing my attention to Becker.
12.Ibid., p. 6.
13. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Collier Books, 1961 reprint), p. 124.
14. J. I. Packer, “Saved by His Precious Blood: An Introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” in A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 130.
15.Lutheran Book of Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978), p. 199.
16. James H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Doubleday, 1985), II:163, 164.
Related Media
Related Sermons