søndag 28. februar 2016

Isaiah 43:18-44:5 Salvation is about God, not about us.

Isaiah 43:18-44:5

Have a look at this picture. It’s the famous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, showing the creation of man. God, in all his glory, giving man the divine spark of life.

But this is what we often reduce God to. This is from the Christian comic artist Adam4d. We reduce God to the genie out of Aladdin. We want him to jump out when we call, and say “Poof! What do you want, Master.”

That is what Israel had been doing with God. But life does not work our way. We are not the master. Life is not designed to glorify us. All creation exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to glorify God.

And that’s the only way it works. Everything is designed to glorify God. And when we go against that things go wrong. It’s like trying to run a freight train off the rails. Evertyhing goes wrong. A train is designed to travel on rails. On rails – good. Off rails – very, very bad!

And we, and everything around us, are like that. Living to God’s glory – good. Living against God, ignoring God, rebelling against God – very, very bad. For us! We must learn from the painful lessons Israel learned! They treated God like a genie. They put themselves over God. And things went very wrong. So now they’re in exile and Jerusalem lies in ruins.

It is actually in our own self-interest to live God’s way. The problem is, even if we see it, even if we know what is right, we still don’t do it. We are spiritually blind. Don’t believe me? Think about this: we all agree it is wrong to lie. Right, that’s what you teach your kids: “Don’t lie”. How many of us in this room tell lies. How many of you have told a lie? Everyone who’s told a lie stand up. Well, I know it’s not just me!!

So our first point this morning is from v18-25 We are spiritually blind, which leads to suffering and judgement.
And our second point is But God as chapter 43 begins. But God saves us because of God. It’s his decision. It’s his choice. For his glory.

1. We are spiritually blind which leads to suffering and judgement (42:18-25)

Is 42:18 “Listen, you who are deaf! Look and see, you blind! 19 Who is as blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as deaf as my messenger? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the LORD? 20 You see and recognize what is right but refuse to act on it. You hear with your ears, but you don’t really listen.”

Israel are spiritually, morally blind. They know what is right… but they don’t do it. Has anything changed in 3000 years?
All of us are guilty, blind, even by our own standards of right and wrong, never mind God’s standards! Ever had a new year’s resolution: this year I’m going to change this. This will be different. How many of those did you actually keep? We fall even by our own standards! How ridiculous to think we can be acceptable to God, even we’re not even acceptable to ourselves. How blind!

Now, we often give ourselves a free pass when we fail to live up to our own standards. Well, I was tired. She was horrible, so I had to be horrible back. Telling a lie was totally the right thing to do in this situation. We brush off our failures, our sins, with ah, it doesn’t matter. And that’s because we’re not holy.

But God is holy. He is perfect in his goodness. And he cannot just brush away our sins.
Imagine you’ve just been robbed – everything you own has been stolen. And the policeman who comes to investigate suddenly says “ah, you know what, it’s not important”. And leaves!
Or the judge in a murder trial says, “yawn, it doesn’t matter. Case dismissed.”
What!!! That’s unjust! That’s not right! That’s not fair!

That would be like God ignoring our sin. Our rebellion against him. Imagine all the horrors of World War 2. Ah doesn’t matter says God. Or the ongoing war in Sudan. Who cares says God, I love everyone. That would make us mad. Or that person who really hurt us in third grade, who said horrible things the whole year until we just exploded. Doesn’t matter? Or what about the lies that I’ve told. Or the people that I’ve hurt? We’ve all done it. Done things we reject. Said something really hurtful. Done something we’ve regretted ever since. Would it be right for us just to be let off the hook. For God to says “it doesn’t matter”. No.

21 Because he is righteous, the LORD has exalted his glorious law.

Because God is righteous. Because he is good. We mistake being good with being polite or being nice. You know, shine your shoes, don’t say anything offensive. But that’s not goodness. Being good – standing up for what is right – can make you a real pain. Think about people standing up to protest against injustice, often going to jail, even being killed because people get so angry with them. God is that kind of good – but a lot more. God is frighteningly good!
God is terrifying to us precisely because he is good! Because his perfect goodness shows up our imperfect goodness. It’s like getting dirt all over your clothes in the night – you know you brush past the car in winter and when you come inside, into the light – oh, look at how dirty I am!
Meeting God’s righteousness is seeing how dirty we are. It is a painful thing to become a Christian, because it involves admitting I am dirty. I am a sinner. Compared to God, I am not good. I need a saviour.

21 Because he is righteous, the LORD has exalted his glorious law.

God is righteous which means he upholds his good law. God has created this world with laws. In science we investigate his physical laws, like gravity. But God also created moral laws. And when you try to break the laws of gravity, like jumping from the roof and saying I can fly – the results are painful. The same is when we disobey God’s moral laws. When we ignore him, do not worship him. When we lie, when we hurt others. When we ignore his laws on sex and marriage. When we hate our enemies and give in to anger and bitterness and revenge – instead of being like him. Soon everything spirals down into chaos. Some of us know this well. We have lived without God, against God, and our lives are a mess. Like Israel.

22 But his own people have been robbed and plundered, enslaved, imprisoned, and trapped. They are fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them, no one to take them back home.

The point of all this, though is to teach us! For us to learn: 23 Who will hear these lessons from the past and see the ruin that awaits you in the future? 24 Who allowed Israel to be robbed and hurt? It was the LORD, against whom we sinned, for the people would not walk in his path, nor would they obey his law. 25 Therefore, he poured out his fury on them and destroyed them in battle. They were enveloped in flames, but they still refused to understand. They were consumed by fire, but they did not learn their lesson.

What should they understand? To listen to the Lord and obey him. To stop living their own way. To stop worshipping idols. Last week we saw how we are all idolators. An idol is not just something made of wood or stone or gold, not just a thing, but anything that takes God’s place in our life. Even good things like family or spouse (husband or wife), exercise, even church – can take the place of God. That is an idol.
You see, some of us have been lucky enough to grow up in Norway, a country where God’s laws have been known for a 1000 years and followed to a large extent, so our lives have pretty much worked out well. Norway is a fantastic country to live in. But we don’t know the Lord, don’t know why things have worked. We are like Israel described in 43: 22 “But, dear family of Jacob, you refuse to ask for my help. You have grown tired of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me sheep or goats for burnt offerings. You have not honoured me with sacrifices, though I have not burdened and wearied you with requests for grain offerings and frankincense.

We’ve just ignored God. Well, thanks for your gifts, but I don’t need you, I’m doing a good job with my life.

What do you think God’s response will be?

Learn from history. Learn from the mistakes of others. Because if you make this mistake, if you ignore God, thinking it will be ok, well, history tells us exactly how it will go.

25 Therefore, he poured out his fury on them and destroyed them in battle. They were enveloped in flames, but they still refused to understand. They were consumed by fire, but they did not learn their lesson.

The future for those who ignore God, who live against God, is dark. It is fire, it is bloodshed, it is suffering and pain.

We are spiritually blind. But there is hope.

2. But God – God’s salvation is because of God. His choice (v10) for his glory (v7)

Is 43 But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.

I hear a lot of rubbish these days about people seeking God, taking steps of faith, and that God doesn’t know who is going to respond to him. We are BLIND. We are in darkness. Look at v1. I have ransomed. I have called you. Salvation is his work from start to finish.

Praise God! It is his work. How does he do this? Well, remember last week the servant was going to open the eyes of the blind. (42:7) 7 You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

It is the servant, the servant of God who will do these things. And as we follow the Bible story through the centuries, the amazing, surprising, wonderful thing, is that this servant is God himself. Yes, the mighty King, the messiah, the rescuer, the Mighty Warrior, Lord of Heaven’s Armies: came as a baby, small, vulnerable, humble. Jesus shrunk himself down to nothing, to become like one of us. He lived among us, becoming one of us in order - not to judge, not to condemn – but to rescue by taking our place.

And he does this because he wants to. It is his action, his motivation. It’s not because we, or Israel before us, have sacrificed enough or been religious enough or given enough money to charity or got baptised and confirmed in den norske kirke!

No, he saves us when we’re busy ignoring him! Look at v22-2522 “But, dear family of Jacob, you refuse to ask for my help. You have grown tired of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me sheep or goats for burnt offerings. You have not honoured me with sacrifices, though I have not burdened and wearied you with requests for grain offerings and frankincense. 24 You have not brought me fragrant calamus or pleased me with the fat from sacrifices. Instead, you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your faults. Not looking good is it. And if salvation was based on our performance, it wouldn’t be good. But just look at v25. “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.

That’s why He says in v1 “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”

He’s ransomed us – paid the price to set us free. It’s like we’ve been kidnapped “give a million dollars or else” – and he’s paid the cost to set us free. Why? Because we are his, we belong to Him. He is our Father. We are His children. And under his protection. And so, no matter what life throws at us, we are safe.

2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. … 5 “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will gather you and your children from east and west. 6 I will say to the north and south, ‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel from the distant corners of the earth. 7 Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’

Now the background here remember is that the people of Israel are in Babylon. Jerusalem was defeated and all the people taken away, out of the Promised Land, into exile. And God is saying don’t worry about the journey back, I will make sure you get to your destination. I will bring you back to the promised land.

For us, our Promised Land is not Israel (thank goodness). Ours is heaven – the new creation, where we will see God face to face. That is where Jesus has promised to take us. No crying no mourning no death no sin. All will be at peace. That is where we are going. And if we are in Christ nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, can stop us from getting there. Not even our own sin! If we are his, we are His.

Now these verses don’t mean that if you are a Christian you can leap into a burning building and you’ll be fine. Or jump into a raging river and not drown. You will. But it does mean that no matter what happens, even if your life falls to pieces around you, you are safe.

A man by the name of Horatio Spafford went through fire and raging flood. It was 1871, he was a lawyer in Chicago, had invested well in property – and then the great Chicago Fire burned it all up and he lost nearly all his wealth. Gone. He started to build up again but two years later in 1873 the economy crashed. He had been planning to travel to Europe with his wife and four daughters, but had to stay behind to try to sort out his financial mess. The ship his wife and four daughters were travelling in sank while crossing the Atlantic, and Horatio received this telegram from his wife “Saved alone…”
His daughters were dead. His business was in ruins.

How do you respond at a time like that?

We know how he responded. On his way to meet his wife he passed the point where the ship sank and his daughters drowned. And it was there he wrote the hymn “It is well with my soul:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way, (when things are going well). When sorrows like sea billows roll; (when things are going badly). Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul. (Whatever happens, we are secure. God is in control). My favourite verse is verse 3: “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, (all my sin) Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Brothers: may that be our cry this week, this month, this year, and beyond. No matter what happens, let us rejoice, for we are secure. We are safe in his hands.

One last thing. These promises are for those who belong to Christ. He died for his own, his chosen people. So the question is: are you one of his people. Do you belong to him? Because if not, your own your own. And you will not get to the Promised Land. It is not well with your soul. I urge you to learn from history. Learn from the Israelites – what happened to them when they abandoned God. Learn from your own life, your own mistakes. Repent – that is turn from living your own way, and turn to God. Ask him for help.

Dear God, I have no right to ask you for help. I have ignored you. I have lived without you. But I have heard that you are full of mercy. So please save me. For the sake of your name and for your glory. I want to belong to you. And I want you to be my God. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

søndag 21. februar 2016

Isaiah 41-42:17 Who’s on trial?

MP3 Link

Isaiah 41:1-42:17

Is 41 “Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea. Bring your strongest arguments. Come now and speak. The court is ready for your case.

I’ve never been to court, but I’ve certainly seen enough court cases on TV. The prosecution makes their argument. Then the defence. Then the judge delivers a verdict: guilty or not guilty.

That’s what we’ve got going on here. The weird thing is, is it’s not God doing the judging. No, he’s asking US to be the judge, to answer the question: who is God? Is it the Lord, the God of heaven’s armies? Or is it the idols?

The court is ready, let us hear the arguments, and let us judge.
First, the case for the Lord; second the case for the idols; and third what is God going to do: call his servant.

1. The case for the Lord: sovereign, real, in control

2 “Who has stirred up this king from the east, rightly calling him to God’s service? Who gives this man victory over many nations and permits him to trample their kings underfoot? With his sword, he reduces armies to dust. With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind. 3 He chases them away and goes on safely, though he is walking over unfamiliar ground. 4 Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last. I alone am he.”

The first evidence God gives is that he is calling forth a “king from the east”, calling him to God’s service. A powerful king, a brutal warrior is coming.

Now remember the background for chapters 40 to 66. Even though God had warned his people to repent through Isaiah, even though he’d miraculously rescued them from the Assyrians, Israel did not repent, Jerusalem continued to sin. And so what God had warned would happen, happened. Judgement fell. The Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem and took everyone away to Babylon.
Now, Isaiah speaks to those in Babylon, grieving over the loss of their land, and the defeat of their God. Isaiah speaks to them to remind them that God is not dead – no, he was the one who caused this to happen. And he is still in control, he is still with them. And he warns them not to forget God, and run after idols! I mean, what happened to Jerusalem should be a warning!

And now he warns those in Babylon – I am raising up a great king from the east. A mighty warrior is coming. Does this sound familiar? It’s similar words used to describe Assyria. And they swept through the lands like a mighty flood. Unstoppable. Why? 4 Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last. I alone am he.”

When they hear these words, how do the people respond? 5 The lands beyond the sea watch in fear. Remote lands tremble and mobilize for war. In fear they run to their false gods! 6 The idol makers encourage one another, saying to each other, “Be strong!” 7 The carver encourages the goldsmith, and the moulder helps at the anvil. “Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.” Carefully they join the parts together, then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over.

We don’t even need to read further, do we? God does not fall over! He calls forth, he makes things happen. The case for the Lord is strong. Trusting in idols is stupid.

2. The case for idols: nothing

21 “Present the case for your idols,” says the LORD. “Let them show what they can do,” says the King of Israel. 22 “Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence. Or let them tell us what the future holds, so we can know what’s going to happen. 23 Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead. Then we will know you are gods.

Many people nowadays have a Buddha statue in their house. Or they have a Lucky Frog in the corner. Or crystals. Many worship false gods: Krishna, the Hindu pantheon, ancestors – some even worship saints, praying to them as if they were Jesus himself. And if you do this – stop it. You do not need someone between you and Jesus, whether it is an ancestor or a priest or a holy man or a saint, or even an angel. As we saw last week, Jesus Christ has opened the highway to heaven. We have access to the very throne room of God. In Christ we are sons of God. No more idols.

For idols, whatever form they take, cannot even tell you what’s already happened, never mind what’s coming in the future. New idols such as the state, NAV, or business – they don’t know what’s going ot happen tomorrow. Oil prices drop, wars happen, refugees arrive on our doorstep – all this has taken us by surprise. Why put your faith in the state, in politicians, in money, in business, when they don’t even know what will happen tomorrow!

In fact, v23 carries on, In fact, do anything—good or bad! Do something that will amaze and frighten us. 24 But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all. Those who choose you pollute themselves.

Idols are dead and bring death. God’s way brings life because he alone knows the future. He alone brings it about. No-one else even knows the future, let alone controls it! 26 “Who told you from the beginning that this would happen? Who predicted this, making you admit that he was right? No one said a word! 27 I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look! Help is on the way!’ I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news. 28 Not one of your idols told you this. Not one gave any answer when I asked. 29 See, they are all foolish, worthless things. All your idols are as empty as the wind.

It is said that those who do not know or do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is “remember”. Remember what has happened. Remember what God has done in the past. Remember what he has promised to do.

So remember how these idols had no idea what God was about to do. No-one in Babylon knew that a king from the east would come from the north and capture them. If they did, they would have been ready! But the idols of Babylon, the false gods, were as empty as the wind. We know what happened because history tells us. Just as Isaiah predicted, about 80 years before it happened, in 538 King Cyrus of the Medes and Persians, from the land east of Babylon, swept down out of the north and Babylon crumpled like a piece of paper.

Did any of their idols warn them? No, only God knew, only God said in advance what would happen.

What idols do I worship? What is it that we put our trust in instead of God? Where do I find my deepest identity: in him? Or something else? What could I not live without? Him? Or something or someone else?

Even good things can be idols. Wife, family. They can be idols if they come before God. No the church, but God. For even the church, religion, religious performance, can be an idol. Exercise, going to the gym can be an idol – if we get our significance, our security, from how big and strong we are! All good things – but never let the good be the enemy of the best. God is the best – He is above all things. We I must bring everything else I do under Christ’s rule, under his lordship. He is the Lord. I am his servant, his son, his creation. And in him I am secure. His way brings life.

Idolatry brings death, destruction. Many of us know this. We live with the pain of past sin. Jesus’ work on the cross can forgive our sins, but we often still have the consequences to work through. And that’s tough. But now He is with us as we deal with the consequences, the results of our sin. And he helps us to rebuild.

Idols are worthless because they know nothing. God is in control of the future, and he is going to do a great thing.

3. What will the Lord do? He will send his servant

Is 42 “Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. 2 He will not shout or raise his voice in public. 3 He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. 4 He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth. Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction.”

Ok. The first question is who is this servant that God will send? In 41:2 he calls the king from the east (Cyrus) his servant (“called to God’s service”). But it doesn’t seem to be him. Cyrus is called to be the rampaging warrior, trampling kings underfoot, crushing them like pottery. But this servant will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

Well, maybe it’s Israel? 41:8 “But as for you, Israel my servant, Jacob my chosen one, descended from Abraham my friend, 9 I have called you back from the ends of the earth, saying, ‘You are my servant.’ For I have chosen you and will not throw you away.

Well, that is certainly their calling, isn’t it? This is what they were supposed to be: a light to the nations, bringing justice, showing people God in all his glory. But we know their track record, what they’ve done in the past, and it’s not good. I mean they’re in Babylon for a reason. And next week’s passage starts like this 19 Who is as blind as my own people, my servant? Who is as deaf as my messenger? Who is as blind as my chosen people, the servant of the LORD?

It seems to be someone who will call Israel back to the Lord. A faithful servant. Perhaps, as Isaiah spoke these words, he thought it could be him. But no, his message was going to fall on deaf ears – God had told him this in chapter 6 – but this servant will not lose heart until the whole world has heard!

So who is this servant? Well, we get a hint in v1: This servant will be anointed with God’s Spirit (v1). This only happened to kings, prophets, and priests. Now hang on, in the first part of Isaiah we met a King. A great, eternal King who would rescue God’s people. A child would be born to a virgin. A child who would be called wonderful counsellor, everlasting God. God himself would visit his people and would save them! Could this “servant” be God himself? But why is he called servant.

This is why for the Jews from Isaiah’s time to Jesus’ time, they thought of them as two different people. The Victorious King. The suffering servant. Because we read on, we find out more about this gentle servant who will bring justice to the nations. He will do it through great suffering, even, in chapter 53, giving his own life. Now that doesn’t sound like a victorious king, does it?

Only when Jesus came did we see ah, the King IS the Servant. He is the all powerful King – but he will use his power to save, not to condemn. He will lead people not by v2 shouting or raising his voice in public, or crushing the weak – no big political rallies, no manipulation, no use of force to make people obey. Nothing like normal politics. This Servant is a different type of leader, one who will bring justice – that sentence literally means proclaim or declare justice – God’s right judgement – to the world. And look how the verses continue: 6 “I, the LORD, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness. I will take you by the hand and guard you, and I will give you to my people, Israel, as a symbol of my covenant with them. And you will be a light to guide the nations. 7 You will open the eyes of the blind. You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.

Just as last week we saw the Lord in all his power and glory come like a shepherd carrying his sheep to safety, today we see Jesus, the promised King, God almighty himself, come as the Servant. And as we see Jesus on the cross, the King of the Jews said the sign above him, we see a proclamation of God’s right judgement on sin – as Jesus took it all – all our sin – in his body. Sin will be punished. And we see a proclamation of forgiveness – we are the battered reed, the flickering candle – and he does not put us out, but strengthens weak arms, and weak knees and gives us new strength. WE are made new, made to be like him to follow him, and we shall soar on wings like eagles. We are those with blind eyes who will now see. We who are prisoners of sin are now free, because of what Jesus has done. If we are in Christ – if we belong to him, put our trust in him,. Obey him - we are a new creation. A new man. And all the power of heaven is within us by the Spirit.

8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols. 9 Everything I prophesied has come true, and now I will prophesy again. I will tell you the future before it happens.” 10 Sing a new song to the LORD! Sing his praises from the ends of the earth! Sing, all you who sail the seas, all you who live in distant coastlands. 11 Join in the chorus, you desert towns; let the villages of Kedar rejoice! Let the people of Sela sing for joy; shout praises from the mountaintops! 12 Let the whole world glorify the LORD; let it sing his praise.

This is the great future which God promised his people. Cyrus was a great rescuer, yes, but there was a greater rescuer, a greater King to come. Isaiah was a great prophet, yes, but a greater prophet, the Word himself, would come. Israel was a great nation, and blessed the world in many ways – but Jesus, he was the perfect son of God, the righteous servant who did not sin. When Israel stumbled he did not. No idol worship in Jesus. He is the righteous one.

So what is our response?

1. We praise God! In the way we live we praise God. Have you thanked God for his great salvation? Do you sing his praise on the way to work? Do I fill my mind with his glory and wonder and say to him “wow, you are great!”?

2. Understand that we live in Babylon (or sinful Jerusalem). We live in a country that worships idols. Greed drives our society. We run after pleasure, the idol of the “good life”. A big house, a cabin in the mountains, a boat, maybe a motorbike. It is deep within us. The idol of pleasure affects our relationships. You don’t make me happy - I’ll drop you. No thought of service, of sacrificial love. We’ve got a few families in the pregnancy and young baby stage of life. That’s a hard stage. And certainly reveals how sinful we are. Lean on the Lord, pray, ask him to help you not be selfish angry, snapping at your wife (or husband). The Holy Spirit does not leave us when we are pregnant (or married to a pregnant lady).

3. We need to repent of our idols. How stupid we are to trust on our idols. Things that will fall over. All our wealth can be lost in a moment. Cabins need to be repaired, and boats eat up our time. A waste, sacrificing our lives to THINGS. Idol worship is dumb. Yet we do it. Sacrifice our family on the altar of career. Ignore our kids because we’re too busy packing fruit in a shop because society says to us that’s the woman’s role. Wife? Mother? No, not important. What your kids really need is to be looked after a stranger and YOU are needed to pack fruit in a shop. It’s rather stupid isn’t it? The idol is wobbling.

4. If we claim to follow God, our lives should look different. Like Israel, we are God’s servants. We are chosen by God. How should we then live?

Well it’s not by wearing different clothes or having a big cross around our necks or wearing funny hats. None of those things mean anything. But it is a heart change. How we treat other people. How we see strangers, foreigners. How we use our money, our time.
And it’s seen not in grand gestures or public displays of being good or religious. It is how we are at home, in private, when only God sees us. For example, how we treat our wife (or samboer, if you haven’t repented yet and married her!). Do we love her like Jesus? Are we committed to her? Are we concerned about her relationship with the Lord? With her godliness? Are we willing to say “no” to things that would get in the way of being godly? And “yes” to things that will help her be godly? Will we lead our family in reading the Bible, in family prayer? In getting everyone off to church. In making sure we go to Bible study, even if our wife says “oh, honeeyy, do you have to go out and bats her eyelashes at us....”

Do we run after idols like “I deserve to happy, it’s because I’m worth it”. Or do we follow the Lord “I will love, no matter what the cost, because He has loved me”.

Is that hard? Yes! But we are not alone. 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Many of us know the pain of running after idols. Of living the world’s way instead of God’s way. But those idols always come crashing down at the worst possible time.

Brothers, let us follow Christ, no matter the cost. Even though we, like Israel, may feel like a lowly worm, unworthy before God v14 Though you are a lowly worm, O Jacob, don’t be afraid, people of Israel, for I will help you. I am the LORD, your Redeemer. I am the Holy One of Israel.’

He is our saviour, and his salvation is secure. He knows our future and it is good because we are with Him.

søndag 14. februar 2016

Isaiah 40 God is with us, no matter where we are

Isaiah 40


Imagine someone’s attacked your home city. After a brutal battle, you’ve been carried off into captivity. That’s what lay in Israel’s future. Exile. Refugees.

Some of us don’t need to imagine – we remember. Many of us have had to flee from our countries because of war and other evils. Some of us have moved countries for other reasons – but we still don’t fully belong – we are foreigners in a foreign land.
And as Christians, we all can feel that exile, that not quite fitting in. We are all foreigners in a foreign land because Norway is only our temporary home, a shadow of our real home: heaven, the new creation. We belong with the Lord. Our heart longs to be with him, to see him face to face.

We are foreigners in a foreign land. All around us are temptations to forget the Lord, to forget our real home. Idols clamour for our attention, and it is so easy to give in, to settle, to be like everyone else. But who is like the Lord? There is no comparison! So why abandon Him, the Living God, to follow the idols of the world, which fall over if they’re not held up? What does God say to us? How should we live? How should we feel about Norway, the country we now live in?

These are the questions Israel faced as they were carried off into exile in Babylon. They were no longer in Israel, no longer in Jerusalem. They were no longer home. The temptation was strong to just go with the flow, forget Jerusalem, forget God, and be a Babylonian.

But God had not forgotten his people. He was with his people in exile, and he would bring them home. That’s our first point. And the second is this: Everything fades into shadow, but God endures forever.

1. God is with his people in exile – and will bring them home

40:1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.”

Something has obviously gone very wrong for Israel since Jerusalem was miraculously saved by the Lord from the HUGE Assyrian army. Remember last week: Jerusalem was surrounded. Assyria had moved through country after country, taking them by force – including the Northern Kingdom of Israel and their capital, Samaria. They had been taken captive, and carried off into Assyria. And now that same army surrounded Jerusalem. But King Hezekiah fell before the Lord, laid out the problem before Him, and asked for the Lord to have mercy. Hezekiah knew that the Lord was King, and that only He could save Jerusalem.

And He did. 185000 Assyrian soldiers died in one night. When the King of Assyria, Sennacherib, awoke the next morning – he was surrounded by corpses – and he ran home. What a great rescue!

So why does chapter 40 begin with the words “Comfort” and talk about punishment having been served?

Well, look back at chapter 39: The Babylonians are coming. After Assyria, the Babylonians arrived on the scene as the big superpower. 3 Then Isaiah the prophet went to King Hezekiah and asked him, “What did those men want? Where were they from?” Hezekiah replied, “They came from the distant land of Babylon.” 4 “What did they see in your palace?” asked Isaiah. “They saw everything,” Hezekiah replied. “I showed them everything I own—all my royal treasuries.” 5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: 6 ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. 7 ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’ ”

And exactly that happened. Less than 80 years after Isaiah spoke those words, in 626 BC, Babylon rose in power under King Nabopolassar. They smashed Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, in 612BC, and became the world superpower. Babylon was the biggest city in the world at that stage with over 200 000 people.
In 605BC Nebuchadnezzar became king. And in 597BC Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, and its capital Jerusalem, became part of the Babylonian empire. A few years later King Zedekiah of Jerusalem decided to trust in Egypt – remember Isaiah’s warnings against that! – and he rebelled against Babylon’s rule.
That didn’t go well. Babylon’s armies surrounded Jerusalem in 588BC for a year and half, and Jerusalem fell in 587. The city was destroyed, the Temple torn down and all its treasures carried off, and all the people were carried off to Babylon. Israel was no more. Jerusalem was but a memory. There was no palace, no city walls, and no Temple. God had abandoned them. They were alone. Refugees, prisoners of war, in a foreign land.

That is what Isaiah sees, and so, about 80 years before it happens, the Lord has already given Isaiah this word: “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. 2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned. Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.”

You may be in exile now, but the time will come when the Lord will call you home. And don’t worry, I am with you, says the Lord. I have dealt with your sins. And I am coming to get you.

3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, “Clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! 4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. 5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”

There will come a time – soon, very soon – when the Lord will reveal his glory, and the people will come home on a highway through the wasteland. The impossible journey back to Jerusalem – will be a paved highway, easy. God has done this – filled the valleys, levelled the hills – no more obstacles are in the way. We’re coming home!

But this isn’t the first time we’ve read about this highway. And it won’t just be Israel coming home – the vision is wider, bigger, greater than this. Is 19:23–25 In that day Egypt and Assyria will be connected by a highway. The Egyptians and Assyrians will move freely between their lands, and they will both worship God. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth. 25 For the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will say, “Blessed be Egypt, my people. Blessed be Assyria, the land I have made. Blessed be Israel, my special possession!”

Egypt and Assyria, the great enemies of God’s people – will be blessed, will worship God? Blessed be Egypt, my people? Yes! This is the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham – that all the world will be blessed through him and his descendant. It’s a call to anyone, everyone, who wants to know the Lord to come. Come, for the way is open.

You know, when times are difficult, it’s much easier to keep going if you know there is an end in sight. If you can see the finish line, you can press on. This was the finish line for the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Press on. Keep the faith. Don’t lose heart. For a time is coming when the Lord will bring you back. The exile will soon be over.

For us, the message is the same. Our exile will soon be over. We will soon be home. For the words in v3 should be familiar to all of us who’ve ever had a Christmas service. These are the words describing John the Baptist. He was a voice calling in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.

And Jesus came. He is the Lord, coming to visit his people. He rescued his people from exile, from slavery to sin, through his death on the cross and his resurrection.

And so the Lord says to us this morning: Comfort, comfort my people. Your sins are pardoned. There is a highway to heaven. The way is clear, and we have seen the glory of God: our Lord upon the Cross, saying “it is finished”. Whatever we have done, the evil things we have done, the good things we haven’t done... Forgiven.
I mean Israel was a complete mess. They sinned so badly, even sacrificing their own children to false gods – and yet God forgives them, speaks tenderly to them. Not because their sin does not matter – no their sin has been punished, the price has been paid, by God himself.

And so too for us. If we believe in Jesus, trust him with our lives, obey Him as our Master – then our sins are dealt with, washed away, gone. And instead of anger at our sin, we hear the words “comfort”.

We too are in exile this morning, living in a sinful world, amongst sinful people, struggling with our own sin. It is a battle, a fight each day to follow the Lord. But the way is clear, the highway is open: Jesus has opened the way to heaven, to the New Creation, the City of our God. And one day, soon, we will be with him. The finish line is ahead of us. Let us not lose heart. Don’t give up. Keep going, press on.

Because this life is gone in an instant, we are like grass – here today, gone tomorrow. But the Lord! He endures, he is forever, his word is powerful.

2. Everything fades into shadow, but God endures forever

6 A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the LORD. And so it is with people. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Chapter 40 is a reality check for those in exile. They were probably in awe of the might of Babylon. Babylon was the biggest city in the world, the head of a mighty empire. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the wonders of the Ancient World, is said to have been built there by Nebuchadnezzar. You can imagine how weak and unimpressive Jerusalem seemed. It must have seemed pathetic, weak, small.

Isn’t that how we sometimes feel? I mean, look at us here. Are we really going to change the world? We’re pathetic, small, unimpressive. And the rest of the world seems so big, so powerful. Shouldn’t we just go with the flow? Live like everyone else. What’s the point of following God? Nebuchadnezzar beat him. What’s the point of following Jesus, a dead guy on a cross? A suffering servant. It seems so… weak.

But this is the reality. All that seems so strong and so powerful – is weak. Temporary. Gone in an instant. The Lord just needs to breathe on it, and it withers, fades. All that we see around us – the might and wealth of Norway. All our money from ouil. All the pride that we have in our welfare system, in how good we are, in our role in the world bringing peace and supporting good causes. Haaaa – God breathes, and it withers, fades, to nothing.

Every great Empire has fallen. Babylon, Babylon the great, the mighty, the magnificent – fell in 538. It lasted less than 100 years. How long will our oil last? We’ve seen the past few months how insecure it really is as the oil price has gone off a cliff. Seems so impressive, so secure – and is as shaky as a plate of jelly!

Putting our trust in the state. Being fooled by its seeming power and permance is dumb. It is idolatry – worshipping something other than God.

15 No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand. 16 All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God. 17 The nations of the world are worth nothing to him. In his eyes they count for less than nothing— mere emptiness and froth.

Emptiness and froth. All our suits with power ties, all our pomp and ceremony. All our successes we trumpet to the nations. All our great buildings. All our glory. Emptiness and froth.

But the Lord’s word stands forever. He is powerful to save. His arm is strong.

12 Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? 13 Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? 14 Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?

Who else has his power? Just because he comes in tenderness, in mercy. Just because he limited himself, became our suffering servant and took his place on the cross – that does not mean he has no power. He comes like a shepherd, gentle. 10 Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. But his gentleness is not because he has no power. No! He uses his power to save. But 22 God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him! He spreads out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them. 23 He judges the great people of the world and brings them all to nothing. 24 They hardly get started, barely taking root, when he blows on them and they wither. The wind carries them off like chaff.

The point is: who will we serve? Many of our brothers and sisters before us have understood this. They have faced the “powers” of the day unafraid, even to the point of death, because they could see with eyes of faith the Reality. The powers are like chaff, blown away on the wind, but the Lord sits enthroned above the earth.

I’m reading through Acts with my children and we’ve got to chapter 4, where Peter and John have been dragged before the high council and been told to shut up about Jesus – or else.
Their answer? Ac 4:19–20 But Peter and John replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? 20 We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”

They knew what was real and what was only temporary. They knew that God’s word will stand while the council and all its power was like grass, like chaff. Worthless, meaningless.

Across the world our Christian brothers and sisters are standing tall, risking their lives, refusing to obey man, refusing to bow down to idols, refusing to keep quiet about Jesus. May we be like them, a band of brothers who will not quit, will not fall, as we follow our Leader, our Captain, our King, Jesus.

Otherwise we are fools. Ignorant. 21 Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand? Are you deaf to the words of God— the words he gave before the world began? Are you so ignorant?

Let us follow Christ, no matter the cost. He is no idol, a created thing. We did not make him up. We did not cut down a piece of wood and shape it and decorate it and say here is Christ! No, he is the living God, who came down from heaven to show us God Almighty, and to seek and to save the lost. That is the God we serve.

So no matter the cost, we follow him. Bloodied and battered, we follow him. Standing tall, we follow him. And when we fall, he is there to pick us up. On your feet solider! Follow me!

27 O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights? 28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. 29 He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. 30 Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 31 But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

God is with us even in our exile, even when we feel so foreign, so other, so out of place – he is with us. And his strength, his power, his word is enough to bring us home. He is secure. He is worth following. Everything else will fade away, but God endures forever.

Exiles, foreigners – stand tall, follow God, for he is with us! Amen!