- I want to tell a story that is not intended to make you mad about culture, but rather to make you sad about it.
I tell you this up front because I have been in situations where I have felt like the speaker “set me up.”
Told a story that seemed to take my mind/emotions in one direction…then “wham!”…”See, how messed up you are to go that direction…this is where you should have gone.”
I don’t want to do that…so I’m telling you up front that I hope we can listen to this news with sadness…not anger…I think this is the most appropriate response…and I will tell you why shortly
Here is the story:
What is being called a Snaketivity exhibit from the Satanic Temple has been set in the Illinois Capital rotunda…it is a snake wrapped around and apple and it bears the inscription “knowledge is the greatest gift.”
Satanic Temple’s stated Mission: “Is to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”
Also on display along with a Christmas tree and a Menorah is a statement from the “Freedom from religion foundation” celebrating Winter Solstice that states: “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”
Why is sadness the appropriate response?
Should we not get mad at this kind of thing in our culture?
Yes, anger can be okay…but who or what are you mad at and why?
And if we do mostly get mad(which has been one common approach of Christians to culture)… and not mostly sad over these things in our culture…are we in danger of missing the idolary that might be there in our own lives?
These things are signs that people’s hearts are far from God…and that they are wrapped around some other “god”…also known as idolatry…and we become like the god’s we worship.
These groups normally are not worshipping Satan directly (indirectly of course), many Satanic groups are agnostic or atheistic about spiritual reality…including a real Satan.
They worship the human mind…knowledge…human pleasure…they worship self.
We must take these and many opportunities like them to be sad (for the idolatry of others and for our own)…so that we can repent…and then become glad again for the salvation that is in Christ alone.
And so we ought to be sad for others…and try to help them embrace the gladness of the gospel.
Which alone can soften hard hearts and free minds that are in slavery to sin.
You might say…”Well, the prophets in the Bible were frequently mad.”
No…they were mostly sad and they spoke of how God does get angry and brings judgment.
But judgment was always connected to promise…God would say…”I will, no matter what you do, bring blessing to the world…however, you are free to miss out on it if you want…but you don’t have to.”
Of course God is angry about idolatry…because it keeps people from knowing and loving him.
Interesting fact about the prophets in the Bible: Less than 5% of their combined message is concerned with the future and less than 1-2% of that is still future for us.
Their focus was on their contemporary situation…they were mostly forthtellers, not foretellers
They spoke forth what God had to say to his people right then…and to a far less degree what God would do in the future…but even that was so they would respond to him today.
Prophets never spoke merely to satisfy people’s curiosity about the future but to impact their lives in the present…namely…that people would live faithfully to the covenant God…and repent when they failed to do that.
People tend spend large amounts of time on the future: watching polls (who will be elected), weather forecasts (will it rain next July 22 on my birthday), listening to experts predicting who will be in and win which bowl games.
It okay to a point…but add to all this, the continual anxiety people live with regarding the future…and you have an ongoing loss of full engagement with the present.
We can substitute active waiting (defined) as “seeing where God is moving today and joining him there”…with a sort of “mental time travel”…living in an imaginary future in our minds.
Which besides being potentially anxiety producing, it robs us of today…the day where God wants to engage us.
The primary message of the prophets was:
- You have broken faith with the covenant
- This is going to bring judgment
- Repent…God really wants you to come back to him
- God will remain faithful to his covenant even if we don’t
Future predictions were about two things
- The coming consequences of not trusting God and failing to repent (judgment)
- The future hope on the other side of those consequences. (God’s promises/covenant)…his purposes in history will stand.
Last week we did a sprint through the Exodus…today we will continue that sprint…then stop at Isaiah.
This advent season is helping set up 2019 where we will spend the first three months looking at the overall message of the Bible and why it is the trustworthy expert voice on all the things that concern us.
Then nine months…looking at what the Bible says about some important issues that surround our lives…sexuality, family, criminal justice, work and others.
So…let’s do a quick review of last week to get us started:
Our Advent theme is “Active waiting”
We are waiters…but waiting is not napping it is more like standing guard…standing by to join the Lord when he moves.
But we must realize that we as we wait on him…we wait with him.
In the Exodus: There was much more waiting than walking.
It would have been a two-week walk to the promised land but between the Lord’s design to teach them to trust and their own rebellion it took 40 years.
The first generation out of Egypt lost their chance through continued rebellion…it would be the second generation, the desert born, not the Egypt born who would get in.
The first generation died off at the end of the book of Numbers and the second generation was poised to enter the land of promise.
The next book…Deuteronomy is Moses retelling the law to the second generation before they go in…”don’t do what your parents just did…God is offering you a good life…take him up on it.”
God’s law is not an arbitrary set of rules designed to make people miserable and set them up to fail.
God gave his people the truth about who he is, how to worship him…and how to treat one another…it is all revealed for our blessing.
God made covenants (like contracts) with his people and those covenants had two main parts:
- Requirements: do this
- Promises: you will experience my blessings if you do
It can get tricky because the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses and with David had temporal conditions but they were ultimately unconditional on God’s part.
What that means is that individual people and groups of people would thrive or fail to thrive depending on whether they kept their part of the covenant.
But the ultimate covenant promises would endure regardless of what people did because God was keeping them.
So in spite of Abraham’s…and his children’s failures…God still brought about a people and made them a nation.
In spite of David’s and the rest of the king’s failures…God still brought the King…Jesus from the line of David.
Now we get to Joshua: After Moses tells generation 2…to obey God and experience him…he dies with a mountain view of the promised land.
Joshua leads them in…the book of Joshua is mostly about how they thrive as they trust God (they do fail and suffer for it at one key point…but they repent and thrive again).
Then Joshua gives them his own deathbed speech…”If serving the Lord seems like a bad idea…then feel free to serve the gods of the people in this land…but if you do…you will experience the same things those people experience…look around…and you will see how that is working out for them.”
By the way…the same thing is true today.
If we chase the gods of the people around us…we will live the lives of those who follow those gods…we all become like what we worship.
*It’s why Christians can experience the same brokenness of non-believers…if a person truly has been born again…God will keep his promise in eternity…but how life goes for that person now is tied to whether they live in line with the will and ways of God.
Joshua…”Look around, If you want what they have…feel free to serve their gods…but as for me and my family”…”We like serving God…its been really, really good.”
Judges: Joshua is gone…and they are a basically a group of tribes in a country surrounded by enemies…and as they fail to trust and obey…things go badly…when they repent…things turn around…the book just gets worse and worse as it goes…ending with the very carnal, selfish, non-hero named Samson.
Then jump to Samuel: Who is the last Judge and a prophet.
-He selects the first King, Saul…who loses his throne then his life…not primarily because he failed but because he persistently refused to repent of his failures.
-Then Samuel selects King David…Israel’s best king, who still failed and whose grandson split the kingdom in half.
This takes us to the books of the Kings.
Kings: Here the Bible narrative goes back and forth between the twenty or so kings of the Northern and the twenty of the Southern kingdom.
All of the kings to the North failed to trust and obey God…so they were defeated by the Assyrians about 135 years before the South would fall to Babylon (what’s called the exile)
Only about 8 of the kings of the South (called Judah) trusted God to any real degree…and eventually they went too far down the path of rebellion and it was just too late for them to escape judgment in the end.
This brings us to Isaiah…he is our destination for this morning…but we needed context to make sense of his message to us…because it has to do with his past, his present, his future and our future.
He is like a man standing in the middle of a mountain range…we stand in the same mountain range (he travels, if you will up and down the range).
Isaiah lived in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom (Judah)
His ministry spanned the time from before the North fell to Assyria to about 20 years after it fell. (8th century BC)
It was around 900 years BC that David’s kingdom was split: north and south…by his grandson’s folly.
-A couple hundred years later the north fell
-About a hundred years after that the south went down
All was foretold by Isaiah…all because of refusal to remain faithful to God.
After all that waiting in Egypt, wondering in the desert, fighting to become a nation…they took themselves out through their own rebellion.
Prov. 19:3 “Man’s only folly ruins his life, but his heart rages against the Lord.”
Isaiah’s message was a combination of judgment and hope…or judgment with the purpose of ultimate hope.
In chapter 6 he gives some person testimony (he tells about his calling
He said it was the year the King Uzziah died…that God called him to his ministry.
Uzziah reigned 50 years…most kings didn’t last near that long and he was generally very well liked…so this would have been “oh, that year” for his readers.
He said “I had this spectacular vision of the holiness of the Lord…with powerful angels circling his throne calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
These were not fat little cherubs…these were fearsome spiritual beings whose voices shook the foundations of the temple…and filled it with fire and smoke.
He said… “Oh no, I am utterly ruined…I am a dead man…I am sinful and my people are sinful…and I have seen the King, the Lord almighty.”
By the way…this is one reason why as Christians we should get sad not merely mad when we see the depravity our culture.
We should live with an ongoing vision of the holiness of the Lord before us…and it should make our sins and the sins of our neighbors both evident and abhorrent to us
Then one of the angels flew over and touched a burning coal on his lips from the altar and said; “Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.”
Then the Lord commissioned him to go and tell the people of the holiness of the Lord and of their need to repent just like he had…and if they did repent…like he had…their sin would have been atoned for…like his was.
Then the reason why Isaiah had such a sad job…all the prophets did.
The Lord told him you will tell the people of their need and of their opportunity to repent but because their hearts are so far gone…the warning and the good news will only serve to make them harder.
So tell them they can repent…but I’m telling you that they won’t.
Isaiah saw the future…it was going to good, but not for a long, long time…going to be bad first.
But I imagine though his job was sad, he was also full of joy.
Why? He saw the Lord on his throne…in his own day…on that day.
He knew the King was in charge of it all…God had the future, so of course…he had today.
And…he saw the final future…the Messiah…the King who would come.
In the meantime…Isaiah said that the Northern Kingdom would fall to Assyria…which it did.
And he said that the Southern Kingdom would one day fall to Babylon…which it did over a hundred years later.
This proved his was indeed a prophet.
So when he said there is a future final hope…a Messiah…whose kingdom is eternal…he had already shown himself to be trustworthy to speak for God.
Then later in the book, chapters 40-48…Isaiah is speaking from the perspective of a time traveler (which he actually can do because his intel on the future is coming from God not ESPN or FOX news).
There in the future…sure enough the people of the south have gone into 70 years of Babylonian exile…just as he said…and the Persians under King Cyrus have whipped the Babylonians…just as he said.
King allowed them to go home.
Now the people are back in their homeland and through God’s severe mercy…he has restored them to himself.
They should be full of gladness and get on with their mission of telling the whole world who the true God is…but they don’t.
In this then future scene (and of course past to us now)…there is a sort of trial.
The people want to put God on trial…here’s why…they had waited and they had suffered…this confused them.
The Babylonian exile…the pain and the long waiting had caused them to lose faith in God.
Never mind that God said all this would happen and why (they broke faith with the covenant)…they blamed God.
This is not to say that all waiting is the result of sin…but all waiting is the result of the purposes of God.
So in chapters 41-47 God is responding to his people’s doubts:
- Exile was not divine neglect it was my judgment for sin…I am a father not a slacker
- I raised up Persia to conquer Babylon to bring you home…I control the nations…they are not acting on their own.
In fact he had said that after they serve his purposes…they would be judged for their own sins…and they were…their god’s could not protect them.
- The right conclusion is that I am the true God…and the whole world, all of it…must know of me…you need to live the truth and tell others who I am.
But at the end of the trial in chapter 48…they are as hard headed and hearted as ever.
So God says, as per his own commitments to his own promises…”I will raise up my servant to do what Israel has failed to do.”
Then he describes this servant…he is to be a suffering servant.
Is. 53:2-6 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
God’s plan was for the King to come to die.
God was keeping his part of the covenant…even when his people did not.
Of course Jesus is not plan B…this was the plan all along…God knows the end from the beginning.
But then…look…this servant who bears the sins of others and dies to redeem them is suddenly alive again.
Is. 53:10-11 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Then Isaiah ends with two paths…as always…there are two responses people can take.
- Humility: repent, believe and serve God faithfully
- Pride: reject the suffering servant Messiah
The one path leads to God’s thriving life
The other to destruction…life outside of God’s life.
Okay…let’s stop there.
Why did we go through all that information.
Inspire is a word that means “to fill” …fill the heart and mind with perspective and drive.
*It means to “prompt to action.”
God is in charge of human history…God is in charge of your personal history.
That may be confusing to you…like Israel back from Babylon…or Abraham waiting, or Joseph waiting…”where is God in all this waiting?”
You are not alone if you struggle to wait well…we are all part of a long line if waiters.
We need to continually get perspective…God’s help for struggling waiters was: repent and remember.
*Repent of blaming God, and thinking you are smarter than God, of living life on your own terms
*Remember what I have done, and what I will do.
I went for a long walk, decided to try to be thankful going back as far as I could imagine and work my way up to today…so walk with me for a moment, I’ll tell you how it went. (about 1.5 hrs)
I thought of Abraham leaving Ur
Joseph, Moses, Joshua…days of sleeping, eating…waiting.
Jesus…growing up to become a man…30 years before the final 3.
The church spreading across the globe…in Acts and beyond…countless days and miles.
Pilgrims…braving the ocean in wooden boats…how seasick I would have been.
Revolutionary war, WWII.
My parents coming together then coming to Wichita in 1969.
Then Christy’s parents(days in dry cleaner) and Christy coming to Wichita in 1979.
Then my kids, and their husbands…all the years of waiting, walking…to get them where they are.
I thought of all the many hours, days, months, years these ancestors waited…lots of ticks on the clock.
Then I got to Thanksgiving day 2018…and I thanked God for the friends from Persia and American who be in our home that day.
At lunch…I told them I was thankful for all that God had done to bring us together for that meal.
My heart was full of wonder at the thought of it all…the movement of God in history…including my own history
I want you to join me in that wonder.
To close the gap on leaving meaningless moments, and days behind…throw away days that you don’t like.
Leave meaningless moments not by chasing adventure out there somewhere.
But leave meaningless moments behind by seeing where God is moving each day and joining him there and then.
By the way it fine if you do chase adventure, and fine if you don’t chase adventure…either way you will have to make this choice…to see God moving today and join him.
Let’s go back to Isaiah
Is. 9:1-7 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan —
The land of Zebulun and Naphtali is also called Galilee…it was the Northern Kingdom, that the Assyrians conquered.
So the place that would soon be under distress, over run by a brutal army.
Someday would be the place of honor…because Jesus would minister there.
Where the soldier’s boots were trampling lives…the Savior would one day walk.
(Then Isaiah speaks of this future as if he were there)
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (The darkness was literally and figurative) You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian’s defeat (Gideon), you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
So after a long wait…the promises of God were fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
the Assyrians were beaten by the Babylonians who fell to the Persians who fell to the Greeks who fell to Romans…(as was foretold)
Mighty nations come and go…God’s purposes march on.
Jesus the Savior said…quoting Isaiah as referring to him.
Matt. 4:15-17 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light;on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
There he was…about 750 years later…telling them in the land where the Assyrians had trampled…he is the one who was foretold.
Then he said “Repent” he said, “The kingdom of heaven is near.”
The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God in the hearts and lives of men and women…it was near because he was there.
It was right there among them…but to enter…they must “repent.”
Repent is a word that means “to change your mind…a change in mind that results in a change of life direction” (metanoia)
The theme of the OT history, the prophets…of Jesus…is to “repent”
We tend to think of it as a kind of “religious” sorrow…feeling bad for making God mad about something…feeling like a sinner, a loser.
But to repent…as its core is more than feeling…it is first about understanding reality.
It is about aligning our thinking with reality…it is to change our thinking so we agree with God.
He is God, he is smarter than me…if I disagree with him…it is my mind that needs to change, not his.
“Have no god’s before me” …”Of course not…God, it would be crazy to worship things you made”
“Repent of putting self first”…”of course…it has never worked for me anyway.”
“Repent of demanding I do things your way”…”yes, you are right…that doesn’t make any sense does it?”
“Repent of not living as a waiter, I am the king”…”I know you are right, I’m sorry…I am not the king am I?”
“Repent of chasing pleasure as if it would bring you life, you know it won’t.” “I do know that, at least in this moment I do…so I repent…my mind changed…I’m sorry”
Let’s go on…now Isaiah stands in his prophetic future and our historic past and sees the Messiah born.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Then he stands right here with us and looks into our prophetic future.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
Our physical bodies are tied to time and place.
We cannot take them backwards or forwards in time and we cannot be in two places at a time.
But with our thoughts we can move around in both time and space…we do this all the time.
We can go to where God moved in the past and “see” him being faithful and powerful there.
In a similar way we can travel in our thoughts to the God’s faithfulness in the future.
We can rest on his promises ahead of us as surely as we can remember his promises fulfilled behind us.
The prophets looked back, looked forward…then looked around. We must do the same.
This is what active waiting looks like…when the waiting seems too hard…we remember the past and we remember the future.
Look back and see God, look forward and see God…look around now and see God.
We have no choice but to wait…but we do have the choice as to whether we will wait “well” or not.
Will we be miserable waiters or learn to increasingly become joyful, hopeful waiters…close the gap.
Part of this will be to embrace repentance as an opportunity…a gift.
The first generation died in the wilderness…they were too hard in heart and head to change.
The Northern and Southern kingdoms…also went past the point of no return.
In his kindness God is continually calling us to repentance…to change our minds so that we agree with his mind…to see as he sees is to see what is really there.
It is God kindness that leads us to repentance. (Romans 2:4)
If things are not going as you planned…if you are in the pain of waiting…and if you are blaming God, treating him as if he is your servant rather than you being his…
Will you repent…change your mind?
“God, I’m sorry…that is both wrong and stupid.”
Waiting well…requires repenting and remembering.
We should pray with the Psalmist
God will you…”Turn my eyes away from worthless things and preserve my life according to your word. (119:37)