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Isaiah 41:21-29 - A Sermon for Election Day

Election 2020  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:54
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Because God alone reigns over the future, His people live free from fear

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Introduction

In just about 44 hours from now, the polling sites will open on what has been widely declared to be “the most important presidential election in all of American history”. (This is in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 18 months and didn’t hear about this until now!) For weeks we have been subjected to every kind of poll, prediction, analysis, news article and expert opinion that demonstrates conclusively that one side or the other will win. Now, there’s nothing all too unusual about that—every election year you have both sides boosting their candidate, promoting favorable polls and dismissing unfavorable ones, and so on.
But this isn’t just any ordinary year, is it? This is 2020—the year when the bottom seems to have been falling out of just about everything. The COVID-19 crisis and the economic disasters that have followed, the explosion of race riots that have destroyed whole city blocks, the unprecedented wildfires on the West Coast that have consumed entire cities. Back in January everyone thought that 2020 would be a better year than 2019—and it turned out to be the year that the phrase “murder hornets” entered the English language!
And so you have the turmoil and upheaval of the year we’ve been going through coupled with a presidential election that, by ANY measure, represents two utterly different visions for what America is and should be, and that just causes our anxiety levels (which were already pushed into the red by the murder hornets) to right to the breaking point. And when people are that dismayed and anxious, they will look for any kind of reassurance that things are going to be OK—that it will all turn out right somehow.
And into that mix you have forces on both sides of the political aisle who are motivated by one thing and one thing only: The acquisition and preservation of power. Both sides believe that they are the only ones to be entrusted with that power, and both sides are currently working overtime to convince you that they know what will happen if the other side gets hold of that power. The Democrats will pack the court and take away your religious freedoms, the Republicans will cancel your healthcare and let people die in the streets. And so the only solution (they say) is to follow them and submit to their demands and give them the power. Because only they can guarantee you that the future will turn out right, that only their plans will “save our country”.
Now, think about that for a moment—you are hearing pollsters and pundits and politicians saying to you, "Follow me, follow my party, obey me, because only I can guarantee you the kind of future that you want!” What does that sound like to you? It sounds an awful lot like they are trying to take the place of God in your life, aren’t they? The people that are trying to compel your fearful obedience to their demands through threats about your future are trying to set themselves up as supreme authorities in your life—they are false gods. They are idolatrous voices. And what I aim to show you from this passage this morning is that false gods will always try to rule through instilling fear of the future, but our God reigns over the future! And
Because God alone REIGNS over the FUTURE, His people live FREE from FEAR
To be sure, there are many people who are looking at this election from the standpoint of the consequences that may very well result from one side or the other winning, and there’s nothing wrong with voting because of what you believe is more likely to be a better result. But when you hear those voices threatening you to “vote this way or else”, the ones who insist that they know what the future will look like are idolatrous voices of false gods—they are hell-bent on usurping the place of God in your life. But what we see in this passage this morning is that only God reigns over the future—and because of that, we can live free of the fear that the false gods of politics are trying to instill in us.
The passage that we are going to study today in the Book of Isaiah comes during a time in the life of the people of Judah and Jerusalem when there was an enormous amount of turmoil, uncertainty and upheaval. Just a few chapters earlier the people were being threatened by an invasion of the Assyrian Empire (which had invaded and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel many years before). Chapter 41 opens with God speaking to the “coastlands” (the nations all around Jerusalem):
Isaiah 41:5–6 ESV
5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid; the ends of the earth tremble; they have drawn near and come. 6 Everyone helps his neighbor and says to his brother, “Be strong!”
And how do they strengthen themselves? Where do these nations go to find the assurance and protection and comfort that “everything will be okay”? They build themselves more idols!
Isaiah 41:7 ESV
7 The craftsman strengthens the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer him who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they strengthen it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
“The way to get through all of this upheaval and turmoil and uncertainty about the future of our people is to create more false gods to worship! Nail it down real good so it doesn’t fall over when we ask it to tell us what will happen in our uncertain future!”
And as the chapter goes on, God challenges the false gods to demonstrate their power
Isaiah 41:21 ESV
21 Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
And so let us take some time this morning, as the false gods of political promises are screaming at us to vote for them “or else!”, and consider together what God says about their threats. The false gods of our age want to compel your fearful obedience through threats about the future, but God alone reigns over the future, and that means His people can live free from fear.
First, we see that God alone reigns over the future because

I. God alone KNOWS the future (Isa. 41:21-24)

Look at verses 21-22:
Isaiah 41:21–22 ESV
21 Set forth your case, says the Lord; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. 22 Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.
God challenges the false gods to show their power by declaring what is going to happen in the future. But He first reminds us that
False gods have NEVER PREDICTED the future (vv. 21-22)
This is what is in view when He says “Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider the, that we may know their outcome...” In other words, God says, “Tell us about all the times in the past when you accurately predicted what was going to happen—let’s see your track record of accurate predictions!” A very good example is found a few chapters earlier in Isaiah we read about the invasion force led by the Assyrian general Sennacherib that came to the very gates of the city. The king’s lieutenant comes to the gates with a boastful promise about what Jerusalem’s future would hold:
Isaiah 36:16–17 ESV
16 Do not listen to Hezekiah. For thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, 17 until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards.
The Assyrian general goes on to say that his king is more powerful than any god:
Isaiah 36:20 ESV
20 Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?’ ”
The Assyrians were supremely confident that they were going to conquer Jerusalem—that they were going to conquer YHWH. And how did that prediction work out for them? How accurately did they glimpse the future?
Isaiah 37:36–38 ESV
36 And the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 37 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home and lived at Nineveh. 38 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword. And after they escaped into the land of Ararat, Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
The false gods of the nations have no track record of accurately predicting what would come to pass in the future—they boast that they will conquer God’s people (and God Himself), but wind up dead in a ditch when the Angel of the LORD strikes down the entire army—Sennacherib’s god Nisroch couldn’t even protect him while he was in his own house! Some god—couldn’t even warn his worshipper that his sons were sneaking up behind him with swords! False idols have never been able to predict the future, and
False gods cannot be TRUSTED to SEE the future (v. 24)
Isaiah 41:24 ESV
24 Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you.
God accurately describes the false gods’ ability to see into the future—they are nothing. There is no reason to trust their empty threats or promises: “Do Good! Do harm! Dismay and terrify us!” (v. 23b). The only thing worse than their useless threats and promises is to choose to believe their threats and promises rather than God! It is an “abomination”—the same word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe people who burn their children alive in sacrifice to the pagan gods. If you actually choose to believe the threats and promises of the power-hungry false gods of this world, and believe that they hold your future in their hands rather than God, you are an abomination before Him! God alone knows the future, and because He alone reigns over the future, His people live free from fear!
God alone knows the future, and in verse 25 we see that

II. God alone ARRANGES the future (Isa. 41:25)

Verse 25 is a reference to the King of the Persian Empire, Cyrus, who would someday come and rescue Israel from their Babylonian captivity:
Isaiah 41:25 ESV
25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay.
God makes it clear that He is the One who arranges the geopolitical dynamics of this world—He is the one who (as Daniel wrote), “removes kings and sets up kings” (Dan. 2:21), He is the one who set Cyrus on his throne and “stirred him up” to come sweeping down out of the north in 539 B.C. to overthrow King Belshazzar in Babylon. Mark it well: The kings of the earth serve at His pleasure, and only for so long as He has use for them! God alone arranges the future, and we see in this verse that He arranges the future the way He does because
God loves His GLORY
What does God say Cyrus will do when he comes? “He shall call upon MY NAME!” Even though Cyrus was a pagan Gentile king who, in his role as emperor received worship as a god from his people—still, Cyrus would give glory to God! God alone arranges the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms, emperors and dynasties, presidents and congresses so that He will receive maximum glory out of them!
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “If God is arranging the rise and fall of politicians and presidents in this country to maximize His glory, it sure doesn’t seem like He’s doing a very good job of it!” We don’t see our political class “calling on God’s name” or seeking to give Him any glory, do we? In fact, there has never been a more godless and atheistic political system anytime in living memory! So how can we say that God is arranging all of the rulership of our nation to maximize His glory?
This brings us to one of the central themes about God’s glory that we see over and over and over and over again in the Scriptures—the way God loves to glorify Himself:
God loves a CLIFFHANGER (cp. 2 Cor. 1:8-10)
We’ve all seen stories that end on a “cliffhanger”, right? The hero trapped in an inescapable bind with no hope of rescue, and you have to wait until the next book or the next season to see what happens? Think about it, and you will see it is true that God loves to rescue His people right at the brink of disaster, doesn’t He? He loves the desperate charge, the last-second rescue, the deliverance when all hope is completely lost. He waits until Sarah is decades past the age of giving birth, He stands by until Abraham is just about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s heart, He lets the Hebrew children be caught between Pharaoh’s chariots and the sea, He waits until the disciples’ boat is swamped and going under, He stays away from Bethany until Lazarus’ body was stone-cold dead and rotting in the grave four days—God loves a cliffhanger!
We see this in the fact that this prophecy about Cyrus was made a century and a half before he actually arrived! God was going to let Jerusalem fall to the Babylonians, let His people be exiled for seventy years, and then bring His deliverance in the form of the Persians who conquered the Babylonians! God loves a cliffhanger, and what could be more dramatic than an unlooked-for rescue from your captivity by the conqueror of your captors?!
The Apostle Paul talks about being written into God’s cliffhanger story in 2 Corinthians 1:
2 Corinthians 1:8–10 ESV
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
Why does God love a cliffhanger? Because He loves His glory! He loves a cliffhanger in our lives because it makes us rely not on ourselves but on Him! We would rather read about cliffhangers than experience them—we would rather have God come to the rescue when the peril is still theoretical, when it is still so remote that it doesn’t really affect us. But God wants us to live it out so that we may glorify Him when He rescues us beyond all hope. God alone arranges the future because He loves His glory, and cliffhangers are the way He loves to show Himself glorious!
Christian, you can live free from fear because God alone reigns over the future—God alone knows the future, God alone arranges the future, and

III. God alone REVEALS the future (Isa. 41:26-29)

All of the voices around you insisting that they can tell you what the future holds cannot reveal what the future actually holds—only God can do that, and He will do it in His time. That’s what we read in verse 26 of Isaiah 41:
Isaiah 41:26 ESV
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words.
In other words, God says, nobody knows what I am going to do until I reveal it! The truth is that nobody can really know what the future will actually be because
God does not TELEGRAPH His PUNCHES (vv. 26, 28)
If a fighter in a boxing match rotates his shoulder in a certain way or shifts is balance or pulls his hips in a particular direction, his opponent can tell that a punch is coming. A good fighter learns how to deliver a blow without his opponent seeing it coming—and God is saying here in Isaiah 41 that nobody sees His movements coming until He reveals them:
Isaiah 41:26 ESV
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words.
Isaiah 41:28 ESV
28 But when I look, there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer.
After God’s plans come to pass, they always look like the most obvious thing in the world, and everyone wonders why they couldn’t have seen it coming—but before He brings them about nobody could have seen them coming! Historians look back on Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and can see (in hindsight) all of the global forces that came together to make his conquest not just possible but inevitable. But at the moment that it happened, no one saw it coming—Belshazzar was having a party, for crying out loud!
God does not telegraph His punches—nobody can see His deeds coming before He reveals them. And His greatest “punch” of all, His greatest work in all of redemptive history, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—was itself a “mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that… the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). We read in 1 Corinthians 2 that God did not “telegraph” the coming of Christ because if the “rulers of this age had understood” what He was coming to do, “they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor. 2:8).
But when “the fulness of time had come”—when God’s plan reached just the right moment,
Galatians 4:4–5 ESV
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
God alone reveals the future—He doesn’t telegraph His punches, and
God does not BREAK His PROMISES (Isa. 41:27)
Verse 27 of Isaiah 41:
Isaiah 41:27 ESV
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
In Jesus Christ God has revealed His Good News, He has made plain the greatest of all of His hidden plans and providential acts. When history reached exactly the right moment (and not one moment before!), God revealed the arrival of Jesus Christ and the completion of His plan that had been unfolding for thousands of years—the plan that He had been promising to reveal for centuries. And God never breaks His promises!
Christian, the world around you is screaming at you right now to be terrified of disobeying their demands—if you don’t vote this way your future will be a living hell. We have seen the future, and only we can rescue you from it! But the false gods who are trying to rule you through fear of the future have never been able to predict the future! The same voices gleefully insisting that the only question on Tuesday is how big is Biden’s victory going to be are the exact same voices who said the exact same thing about Hillary Clinton four years ago! Only God knows the future, Christian—and only He has the power to remove presidents or put presidents in place! And only He has the heart of the president in His hand that He turns like a watercourse in whatever direction He wants!
Don’t commit the abomination of putting your trust in the “empty winds” of pollsters, pundits and presidents!
Isaiah 41:29 ESV
29 Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind.
They do not hold your future in their hands—back in January how many of them accurately predicted what 2020 was going to be like? How many of them knew what was coming? How many of them told you to stock up on Raid spray to battle the murder hornets?? None of them. DON’T GIVE THEM THE AUTHORITY TO TELL YOU WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS. That authority belongs to God alone. Remember the Apostle James’ words:
James 4:14–15 ESV
14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Place your future in His hands, because only He knows what is coming—not the false gods of politics lusting for power.
Do you see the turmoil and upheaval of an increasingly godless government and increasingly atheistic society? Every time you turn on the television or browse the web or read a news article do you feel more and more like an alien and stranger in this country? Does it seem like the very survival of the church and religious liberty is crumbling away before your eyes?
Christian—that is not the world falling apart, it is the world falling into place with God’s cliffhanger! In the book of Esther Haman had everything in place to massacre the Jews in Persia, but then, at the last possible second it was the Persians who suffered 75 thousand casualties! Christian, the darker it gets the more God’s glory will be revealed when (not “if”) His rescue comes! So instead of cowering in fear of what the politicians tell you is going to happen to you if you don’t comply, let your response be the same as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego when Nebuchadnezzar threatened to punish their faith:
Daniel 3:17–18 ESV
17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
As one author put it,
I believe we need to pray and work for deliverance. I believe we need to expect deliverance, trusting God for it. But whether or not He grants us that victory, we can at least arrange for a flamboyant defeat. (Doug Wilson, “Bard Still Has An Arrow Left”, retrieved from https://dougwils.com/books-and-culture/s7-engaging-the-culture/bard-still-has-an-arrow-left.html on 10/23/2020)
And if you can’t see what form that deliverance will take, if you look to the future with utter bewilderment over what God could possibly do, then you’re not alone. Because no one can see what He plans before He reveals it! In fact, even if you were to sit down and concoct a thousand different ways that the future weeks and months and years might play out—take into account all of the factors and variables and possibilities and numbers and dynamics you possibly can, and run them through the most prestigious “think tank” filled with the the shrewdest political strategists and economists and sociologists and historians to come up with the most iron-clad, most brilliant, most undeniable evaluation of what the future will hold, when God reveals His plan it will make yours look like it was scribbled in crayon on a kids’ menu placemat by a bored toddler!
Because God alone reigns over the future, Christian, you can live free from fear! Whatever the anxiety in your life—maybe it’s not the election that’s keeping you up at night. Maybe its a medical issue, or a financial strain, or a family breakdown—whatever it is that is keeping those voices whispering in your ear that you are doomed, that there’s no way out, that there’s no rescue or help or hope for you—if you belong by faith to Jesus Christ, the One who is the Ultimate demonstration of the Work of God, then you have His promise that He is working all of these things together for your good and His glory! Just a few verses up from our text, in Isaiah 41:10, God promises His people:
Isaiah 41:10 ESV
10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Whatever happens Tuesday night and the days that follow, if you have turned away from your sin and placed your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation, you have no cause for fear, no cause for dismay, because the God who alone reigns over the future is your God! He has promised His strength, He has promised His help, He has promised to uphold you with His righteous right hand! He alone knows the future, He alone arranges the future, and He alone reveals the future. So do not listen to the false gods that want to rule you through fear of the future, look to the One Who reigns over the future, the One who is today seated in the Throne Room of Heaven and can never be moved and Whose hand can never be thwarted, the One who “works all things according to the counsel of His will”, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
BENEDICTION
Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:

Why are so many people so willing to believe what various authority figures tell them about the future? What does Isaiah 41:24 mean when it says “An abomination is he who chooses you”? In what ways are you tempted to believe threats about your future over God’s control of the future?
What does it mean that “God loves a cliffhanger”? In what ways do we see God acting “at the last minute” to rescue His people in the Bible? What does Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 about why God chooses to allow circumstances to become so extreme before He acts? How does this help you understand the current situation our nation is in?
Throughout the Gospels we see Jesus’ disciples struggling to understand what He was telling them about God’s plan that He would suffer and die and rise again. After reading this passage from Isaiah 41, why do you think it was so hard for the disciples to believe what was going to happen? How does this encourage you as you look at the uncertainties of the days we live in?
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