Life’s Questions – Week 8 Notes

By February 24, 2019Sermon Notes
  1. There is a saying…”Whoever frames the argument wins the argument.”

It’s not universally true…but the idea is that if you get to define the terms and set the boundaries…you are likely to win the point.

So let’s frame a couple of arguments from two different vantage points.

“Since men are fallible how can you possibly believe that a book written by men is infallible.”

And

“Miracles are violations of natural law, since natural law is fixed, miracles cannot happen.”

But the Bible frames reality starting in a different place…not with men and nature’s laws.

“In the beginning God…” very first verse.

It frames all that follows from that initial fact…God is ultimate reality.

He is the one who has always been…so all our understanding of reality, in order to be accurate must begin with him.

Let’s reframe those arguments I gave…with a different starting point.

“Since God exists and he is personal and persons communicate… clearly he would speak to us. And it is reasonable to assume that he would speak like any good parent does…in direct commands, in stories, in example, and in increasing complexity as the child grows up…like we see in the Bible.

It is also clearly not a big deal that the God who created everything from nothing could oversee a small group of people (40 or so) in such a way that what they write down would be accurate…just like we see in the Bible.

Then how hard would it be for such a being to ensure the process of copying the information and protecting its accuracy would occur over the years such that we have a book that is accurate…truth with no mixture of error…just like we see in the Bible?

Start with men…you end with book full of error

Start with God…not a big deal to end with a book without error.

“Miracles are violations of natural law, but since natural law is designed by God…he can, when it suits his purposes easily supersede his own laws and do things a different way. So he can cause a sea to divide and let Israel pass through (how hard would that be, he invented water and all the natural laws that water obeys…those same laws obey him). He can cause a man to raise from the dead (he brought life from non-life in the first place)…and he can inspire a book to communicate with us.”

*Some have tried to “help God out” by telling stories of how the “miracles” have natural explanations…which defeats the purpose of them being miracles.

Older commentaries for instance have stories of a supposed 19th century fishermen who was swallowed by a whale to explain how the Jonah story “really could have happened.”

But there is no real evidence this has ever happened other than Jonah…and to try and show it does not contradict the laws of nature is to miss the point entirely…it is called a miracle.

A miracle is a “sign” that points to God and his purposes…and it is a sign precisely because it does supersede the laws of nature…because God is not answerable to the laws of nature like we are.

If you start with mankind…miracles are impossible

If you start with God…what we call a miracle…is not a big deal at all.

The goal of this first quarter of the year is Confidence: God is there and he has spoken and therefore we have reason to have confidence in the Bible.

It is a miraculously inspired and produced and protected book…communication matters to God…so he ensured its accuracy.

It is a single narrative with multiple sub-plots…when correctly understood and applied it supplies answers to life’s most important questions.

Sure it is hard and complex in many ways…but it is simple in others…but the complexity is to be expected since it is a book designed to describe reality and apply universally to everyone.

Though it is complex and takes a lifetime of study it is important that we understand two things about it:

  1. The basics can be understood and applied by a child.

-The brilliant theologian Carl Barth was asked what he believed to be the greatest theological thought…he replied “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

  1. The fact that we have a God-breathed book means we have a fixed point of reference.

-Sure we may come to deeper understandings of it…but not because it changes.

*Don’t trip over the fact that our understanding sometimes shifts…this is not important, what is very important is that the Bible doesn’t shift.

For instance the fact that some in history have used the Bible to justify slavery or the mistreatment of women doesn’t change the fact that the Bible never condoned this…in fact it condemned these things.

It was revolutionary in being consistently counter-cultural in these and many other issues.

We have a fixed point of reference…the Bible.

Having a fixed point of reference is super important for having confidence in navigating through life.

We have been walking through the Bible in overview this year:

Creation, Fall, plan of redemption initiated through Abraham.

Abraham’s family into Egypt, Exiles from Egypt, loose federation of tribes in Canaan, the rise of the Kingdom.

Through the entire narrative we see the covenant promises of God with Abraham, Moses, and King David.

We see all it pointing forward to the final deliverer, judge, and King…Jesus.

Today we are going to look at the strange and often misunderstood world of the prophets.

A couple of things come to mind when you hear prophets:

  1. A weird of touch with reality man with a long beard and a sign saying “The end is near”
  2. The idea that their primary message was “the end times”…meaning a time mostly in front of us now.

Reality:

  1. Some were the top echelon of society: like Daniel

But they were a very diverse group of people…most had direct access to kings and top officials in society.

  1. Most of what they wrote concerns events that are behind us, not in front of us.

Two biblical scholars I have a lot of respect for: (Fee and Stewart) wrote that “Less than 1% of Old Testament prophecy concerns events yet to come in our time.”

They were primarily “forth tellers” telling the truth about the present and near future rather than “foretellers” predicting the distant future.

In regards to their message there was often a “near/far” kind of dance that went on.

Near/Far view of prophecy: Mountain range

*Some of their writing had fulfillment in their time and then later as well.

For instance, in their depiction of future restoration, they could be referring to:

  1. The return of Jewish exiles from Babylon: near future for them, past for us
  2. The first coming of Christ: distant future for them, past for us
  3. The second coming of Christ: future for them and for us.

The writing prophets are divided into two general groups:

Major prophets (4): (not more important but longer books)

The Minor (shorter) prophets…12 of them.

There were many more prophets at this time in history than these 16…most notably Elijah and Elisha.

*There were tons of local prophets…who remain unnamed.

In fact a guy named Obadiah, who worked for a murderous queen who was trying to wipe out the prophets, one time hid 100 prophets in cave to protect them.

God had his spokespeople everywhere…he was very interested in communicating with his people.

The books of the prophets are mostly what we would call anthologies: collections of different genres of materials…almost like a scrapbook…sermons, poems, narratives, visions, dreams, prayers.

Much of the content was poetic.

They are trying to reach people at the “gut” level…to influence change in the heart.

What impacts people most deeply?

A lecture? (Maybe)

But to move people deeply normally involves creative communication through things like…poems, songs (poetry with melody) and plays and movies (stories acted out).

The prophets didn’t have digital music or movies…but they really liked poetry.

And in their poetry they really like repetition and parallelism.A1: If you need me call me no matter where you are
B1: No matter how far don’t worry baby
A2: Just call my name I’ll be there in a hurry
B2: You don’t have to worry

(By Marvin Gaye, 1966…he was not a prophet)…this is common way to do creative communication…always has been.

And tons of variations on this theme….they were not trying to be cute…but impactful…making people concentrate to understand…so if you read them…look for these.

They also loved figurative, emotional language…so Amos doesn’t say “Okay, now you made God mad”. He says “The lion has roared.”

*This was before there were guns…and if you were out walking and heard a lion roar…you were probably toast!

Figurative language does not mean untrue language…we use it all the time.

“I’m starving”

“You can’t be starving…you have consumed enough calories to stay alive at your body weight.”

(No one likes the idiom police, by the way)

It’s a colorful, powerful way of describing a reality…I’m really hungry.

The prophets used poetry as social and spiritual critique.

Closest thing in our culture might be artists like Bob Dylan (called the prophet of the sixties)…of course he lacks the authority and power of the biblical prophets but his style is similar.

He used figurative language to deliver political critique

In his song (times are “a ‘changing”) he critiques those who exercise authority and influence in society for being corrupt or passive: in different lines he addresses…senators, writers, parents.

In 1964 it became an anthem for the civil rights and anti-war movements.

The prophets wrote like this…they were creative with their communication and often they would act out their message…they were going for maximum impact…not just head but heart as well.

Cultural/Historical Setting: Lived during the times of the Kings

*Quick refresher:

-Israel was led out of Egypt by Moses

-Into Canaan by Joshua

-Became a powerful nation under Saul, David, then Solomon

Solomon violated everything God wanted from a king…lots of wives, including lots of foreign wives with the intent of political alliances, forced lots of slaves to build him lots of stuff, he even authorized worship of Molech…that included child sacrifice.

*When you read his story you realize…Israel’s king was now no different than Egypt’s Pharaoh was.

Solomon’s fool of a son split the Kingdom in halt…north and south.

In the north all twenty kings were a disaster…the kingdom eventually fell.

In the south all but 8 were a disaster…it too eventually fell.

The prophets were the covenant watchdogs during these dark years…doing what the kings were supposed to be doing…knowing and paying attention to God…his will and ways.

OKAY SO WHAT WERE THEY TRYING TO SAY…what was their point?

Their message was amazingly consistent:

They reminded the people of the Covenant that God had made with them:

  1. I will be your God
  2. You will be my people
  3. I will dwell in your midst

Then the prophets pointed out the Covenant indictment.

  1. But you have broken the covenant so you better repent!
  2. No repentance? Okay…Then Judgment!
  3. Yet there is hope beyond the judgment for a great future restoration both for Israel and for the nations.

*You see these three things over and over…to king after king, year after year

Why was breaking the covenant such a big deal?

*Don’t think of the covenant God made with his people like a speed limit sign…and breaking it deserved a speeding ticket.

*Think of the covenant like a marriage and breaking it was like adultery.

“Why is God so uptight about going ‘ten over’…come on lighten up!”

Versus:

“Why are you so uptight that I am sleeping with others…come on lighten up.”

In fact, adultery, was the most common analogy the prophets used to describe the breaking of the covenant.

The prophet Hosea had the misfortune of living out his message in his own marriage.

-He married a former prostitute, likely a temple prostitute…who returned to her prostitution after they were married.

-And he was told by God to take her back.

Prophet’s indictment was…

You have broken the covenant (your promise) you better repent!

*Then the three ways the prophets consistently communicated this break of the covenant was seen in the people’s:

  1. Idolatry
  2. Social injustice
  3. Religious ritualism over relationship

These big three became the core of the indictment against them:

Idolatry: Adultery. Running after other gods and leaving the God who loved you.

Social injustice: The interpersonal result of turning away from God.

Starting in Genesis when people turned away from God…human relationships became oppressive and destructive.

*The law of God was/is equal part relationship with God and relationship with each other.

Idolatry…a break in the covenant relationship with God…showed up in the mistreatment of the most vulnerable people in society…the powerful were selfish.

Then the third key sign of their breaking of the covenant was a focus on…

Ritual over Relationship:

“Hey, let’s do the sacrifices and keep the special days and feasts…all the ritual stuff from Moses…it’s not that hard really…then we can appease God…distract him, make him happy…while we do all the stuff we really want to do.”

They failed to see that all the ritual was designed not to appease God but to remember him and what he done and to remain in relationship with him.

Amos 5: 21 “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Micah 6:6 With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Let’s use a marriage analogy again to illustrate how crazy this “ritual keeping over relationship” was.

Imagine a groom or a bride who says…”Here’s your wedding ring, and I will celebrate our anniversary with a big party every year, we will always go on a trip on your birthday, and we will have all the family over for the holidays…maybe a meal on Sundays…now…can I do what I really want to do? Chase after other lovers, live life separate from you the rest of the time?”

*This is crazy…but it describes ritual over relationship.

“Yeah, but who does that, really?”

The person who: goes to church, reads the Bible, prays…then treats people at work, or home like they are worthless.

Who gives away some time and money…then lives with bitterness and unforgiveness in their heart.

Who has great pride in their correct theology…but is arrogant and hard headed

Ritual over Relationship is actually pretty common.

With that summary in mind…let’s spend a few minutes with the Prophet Isaiah…he will represent his 15 “brother” writing prophets for us.

Setting:

Isaiah lived in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah(South).

When Israel(North) was expanding and experiencing success.

The South was smaller and weaker and the North had designs to take her over.

North joined with Syria to attack South…this was the beginning of Isaiah’s ministry.

Meanwhile a new king rose to power in Assyria(not Syria)…South, not trusting God…asked them for help.

The Assyrian King pushed back on Syria and North…so South was relieved of the immediate threat but now they were under the thumb of the Assyrians…they trusted them not God.

The Assyrians then conquered the North and that kingdom was gone.

Then they decided they wanted to completely control the South so they attacked Jerusalem but Isaiah predicted God would deliver the city and he did…an angel struck down 185000 soldiers…this bought the South a few more years.

Is 36-39, 2 Kings 18-19

Assyria was eventually plagued by a civil war and in their diminished state they were beaten by the Babylonians.

(Key powers: Assyria…then Babylon…then Persians)

First 39 chapters of Isaiah are in this geopolitical setting

Very turbulent times.

The second half of his book are directed to those in exile…long after Isaiah was dead.

Interesting book:

  1. First half: during Isaiah’s own time (39)
  2. Second half: (40-66) He sort of mentally teleports 150 years into the future.
  3. First half ends in chapter 39: The King of the South, had almost died but he asked God for more years and God granted it to him.

-Now feeling healthy and cocky…he invites some Babylonian envoys to Jerusalem and showed off all his royal stuff.

-Isaiah said “Hey who were those guys and what did they want and what did you show them?”

-The King said, “Oh they were from Babylon…I showed them everything…why?”

-Isaiah “The day will come when they will take everything they saw, and everyone in this country to Babylon.”

End of chapter 39…first half of the book.

Boom: Next Chapter…Chapter 40…God is speaking comfort to the people, 150 years in the future who are now in Babylonian exile…time jump.

Let’s look at some key scripture from the book of Isaiah:

Is. 1:1   The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

Even animals know their master…but Israel doesn’t know its own father.

Turned their backs on God: this was a sign of great disrespect in that culture.

5 Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion?

They are totally unresponsive to God’s correction and discipline….he is trying to get their attention…through parental discipline…but it is not working.

He is looking to the future…Judgment has come…because you won’t listen.

7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

This is what is coming.

Then in the next verses he critiques them for relying on religious ritual and neglecting justice and mercy.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

The people believed that they could reject the actual ethical requirements of the law if they kept the ceremonial rituals intact.

As we have seen…this of course, is nonsense.

God issues a last-minute plea for his people to be reasonable…there is hope still.

18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Their sin could be forgiven if they would only repent…change their mind and their ways.

But they would not…and they would have to be disciplined, in order to be saved…discipline was their exile.

But the other side of the judgment there is hope for the nation of Israel and for the Nations of the world at large.

Is. 2:1-4  This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”…They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Swords into plowshares: Iron was rare and valuable. Most peasant farmers were forced to plow with a wooden plowshare (plow points). If you have a piece of iron you could install it on the end of the plow and plow much more land, especially in rocky areas.

At the same time only the elite professional soldiers had iron swords…peasants, who made up most of the armies had sticks and clubs.

When a military campaign was over the soldier who was lucky enough to find a sword on the battlefield could return home and convert it into an iron plow.

The major emblem of death and destruction…was being converted into a tool for peace and food production.

Here in these chapters of Isaiah you see the key points the prophets made…these themes are repeated in different ways through the books of the prophets.

Let’s jump to chapter 40…the chapter where God is speaking to the people now in exile because they failed to repent.

Keep in mind this is 150 years later…think of this…do you think the Lord showed patience to his people?

*Some parents count to “Ten” God counted to 150 years…and more actually.

**Amazing that some people read the OT and say “I can’t believe in a God like that?”

“What, a God with amazing patience…and the love to judge his people in order save them?”

So now the message shifts from warning of judgment…to a future hope.

From Isaiah’s time…where the King was showing off to Babylon…to the future when all he showed them was taken to Babylon.

JUST AS 39-40 IS A MAJOR SHIFT IN THE BOOK…LET’S SHIFT FROM LARGELY LISTENING TO PARTICIPATION….BAND COME UP

**Let’s finish out time in Isaiah interactively.

Chapter 40…God’s future hope for the people in exile.

Is. 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God…5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

This passage is in all four gospels…pointing to John who pointed to Jesus.

This is those two mountain peaks…the return of the exiles…and then beyond…the coming of Christ

6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Here is confidence in the Word of God…what he has said…years before…has come to pass.

What he says, will yet come to pass…restoration…peace.

We have reason to have confidence in his word…we have reason to not trust absolutely in the ideas of humans…they are like grass that comes and goes.

Human arrogance is crazy…Confidence in God’s word is wise.

–SONG–PRAYER
Title: THE WORD REMAINS (4 min)

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 1 1 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

God is a powerful warrior…transcendent above all things.

God is a gentle shepherd…right here with us at all times.

1 2 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? 1 3 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 1 4 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?

We cannot understand God…he is beyond our comprehension…if he had not revealed himself, we would not know him.

We cannot not be sane and think we can question God’s ways.

He is the starting point for all good conclusions about what matters most.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust…Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing.

*The kings of the North and the South put confidence in other kings and in their armies…but why…this is crazy.

All the nations are nothing compared to him.

We must not trust in lesser things…our confidence is in him.

–SONG–PRAYER Title – Great Are You Lord (4 Minutes)

To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to…Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 2 6 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

The Babylonians worshipped the stars…God made them, names them and oversees them like so many sheep.

Then…this mighty, Sovereign God…becomes very personal…to the exiles in Babylon…suffering for their own sin.

To worship anything that has been made…stars, idols, people, intelligence…is crazy.

–SONG–PRAYER (Pass Communion during this Song) (4 min)

Title: What a Beautiful Name

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? 2 8 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 2 9 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 3 0 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 3 1 but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

To the exiles living in desperate situation…comes this great word of hope.

God sees you…he is not tired…his purposes are hard to understand

But understand this…put your hope in God and you will find strength you did not have before…you will find the ability to endure.

You have reason to hope in the future…and you have access to strength for today.

King Hezekiah when told of coming judgment by Isaiah was unconcerned because he was told that he would live out his life in peace.

The Kings for the most part lived for their time and themselves…the prophets lived for more than self and their own time…they lived for the glory of God and generations yet to come.

1Pet. 1:10   Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Let’s Repent of thinking mostly of our own life span.

Repent of making choices with no regard for generations to come.

Ask God to make us into men and women of such faith that our day to day choices would take into account the generations that might come after us…for the glory of God.

If we are able to gain and maintain this kind of perspective it will transform how we live day to day.

Now we will do a ritual…that is full of relationship…or at least it can be.

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