- 1 Peter 2:4-8
- Isaiah 8:11 – 9:7
Our Moderator-General published a letter this week. He states:
There’s never been a better time than now to be a Christian, and to offer to our world the way of hope. God encourages us to shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life (Philippians 2). And it’s never more timely than now.
It’s official: the trifecta is in.The unborn child has no protection – it’s legal to take his or her life up to 24 weeks gestation and beyond that if two doctors agree (in Victoria). Though fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God (Psalm 139), the unborn child is not safe even in the womb.
The national same-sex marriage poll will soon deliver a fundamentally different view of what a marriage can be. In rebellion against God’s creational design and purpose for man and woman, sinful desires and unnatural relationships between persons of the same sex (Romans 1) are now given dignity through the redefinition of marriage.
With Victoria leading the way, it will become legal to allow and assist people facing the prospect of a painful end, to take their own life. No longer content to rest in providence that God gives life and God takes away (Job 1), the state has become God.
Whether we’ve expected it, or been caught by surprise, we Christians belong to a distinctly minority group and our beliefs are increasingly marginal.”
It was not much different in the time when Isaiah wrote chapters 8-9 of his prophecy.
The billboard with your son’s name on it
Prophets had to some extraordinary things. The Lord ordered Isaiah to write on a large tablet, “Maher-Shala-Hash Baz”. It means “The plundering is coming soon, and those who look for the leftovers will be quick.” This is not good news. Once again the church can be tagged being spoilsports (pardon the punt!)
Later, Isaiah’s wife gave birth to a son, and he got the name which was on public display. Imagine this poor little boy and the bullying he had to endure!
But let’s put the record straight: the message on the billboard was primarily aimed at Judah’s northern neighbours. Can you remember the two shouldering stumps of last week—Rezin and Pekah—the kings of Israel and Damascus? This message was meant for them, but Judah would also be dragged into the messy war, because their king, Ahaz, rejected the offer of the Lord to ask for a sign. Isaiah then gave him a sign: a son would be born and his name would be Immanuel.
Ahaz sold his soul to the king of Assyria (Nineveh) and rejected to grace of God. For this he and his people would be punished.
The Bible uses two rivers to describe the situation. Shiloah was the gentle stream which flowed into the pool south-east of Jerusalem. It was not grand, but is was steady and life-giving to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Euphrates was the big river which flooded after good rains and provided water for irrigation to thousands of people along its banks.
Now, which one of these rivers will you choose: the one near the city of God, or the one under control of heathens? Ahaz, in selling his soul, despised God’s provision and thought the big one will be better for protection. But his problem was that this river could not be trusted: it can overflow all its channels and bring destruction, wiping out crops and dashing all hopes. Our farmers know that all too well.
Symbolically then, the king of Assyria would sweep over the kingdom of Pekah and Damascus, but he will invade Judah too, be cause they rejected their God!
But what this bloodthirsty king did not keep in mind was the power of God Almighty. Just when he thought he had everything in his pocket, God stood up and stretched out his wings of protection over the land of—Immanuel! God did promise that the destruction of Assyria will not reach Jerusalem, and his sign was the boy Immanuel. The Church is Immanuel’s people whom He will protect against any enemy.
Do you feel overcome by all that is happening in our country and the world? Have we indeed come to love death more than life? Marriages without a father or a mother? So-called “Safe Schools”demanding that school kids not be addressed as boys and girls, because it might remind them of what they were before they decided they are now something else. Schools that will have the right to assign to underaged students a temporary legal right to bypass their parents if they want to undergo gender reassignment procedures. Late term abortions? Assisted suicides paid for by our tax money? Where is all of this going to end up? And then we have not contemplated the flow-on effect of new laws: will the promises of today to exercise one’s choice of religion (think of Christian schools and the right to exclude from our church buildings what is against one’s Christian conscience) be honoured in a generation or two?
Don’t throw your hands in the air and walk away. Listen to verse 9-10:
- Those who start the war will be shattered
- Those who prepare for battle will be shattered
- Those who devise strategies will find their plans to be dashed
- Those who put their plans forward will not stand
Why? God is with us, or to translate the last line of verse 10 very literally, “Immanuel”!
A very strong warning
One might fall in the trap of universalism: this is the idea that all mankind will one day go to heaven.
Isaiah felt the heavy hand of God on him to warn the people to fully rely on Him and on nothing or no-one else.
The people try to understand what was going on around them from a purely political prospective: they looked at what they heard about Rezin and Pekah, and also Assyria and their plan to invade Jerusalem and called it conspiracy. The result was that they trembled like reads in the water.
What do Christians do when they see the dark clouds form on the horizon? What do they do when they listen one news cast after the other, telling them that the days of the church are over?
The conspiracy of the evil one is not the real decisive danger for the fate of God’s people. The Lord of hosts is the real and the all-decisive factor in the situation. David, who for the best part of his life had to live like a refugee, knew this.
The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in his dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:1, 5, NIV)
In another Psalm David sings:
When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. (Psalm 65:3–4, NIV)
In another he sings:
My salvation and my honour depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:7–8, NIV)
Isaiah himself declares:
Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defence; he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2, NIV)
God is the place of refuge for those who trust Him and Him alone.
But this is not the case for those who do not trust, love and serve Him. To them He will be a stone which causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. We learned about this in 1 Samuel 2:30
But now the Lord declares: Those who honour Me I will honour, but those who despise Me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30, NIV)
A Indonesian commentator writes:
Such is the basic message the prophet has to proclaim; it is intended not just to please his hearers, but to make them realize the reality they face. In many parts of the world today the full gospel message and the whole word of God are facing the danger of mutilation. In the church to which I belong in Indonesia, people like to hear pleasant and humorous sermons when they can feel happy and enjoy themselves, laughing at the many anecdotes and illustrative stories (many of them artificially out of context) proclaimed from the pulpit. I wonder whether there is still a place for a real message of the Lord’s holiness at all. (Widyapranawa, S. H. (1990). The Lord is Savior: faith in national crisis: a commentary on the Book of Isaiah 1–39 (p. 49). Grand Rapids; Edinburgh: Eerdmans; Handsel Press.)
Oh, the trap of watered-down Gospel! It brings false hope, it preaches peace when there is no peace, and hope when there is only hopelessness. As long as you are baptised, you’re okay, Mate. You’ve got you name on the role, so why worry? After al, God is a God of love, He will not send you to hell? Really!
The Son who brings light
What is the Hope for those in distress? God’s answer his his Messiah. We are now in Chapter 9 which refers to Zebulon and Naphtali. These two tribes were the most northern of the tribes between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean Sea. They suffered greatly from the invasion of the Assyrian armies and had become an Assyrian province. Some had been taken into exile and new peoples from other areas of the Assyrian Empire had been brought in to replace them; that then was why it was known as “Galilee of the nations.”
They walked in darkness; they were in distress! Yes, they lived in the land of shadow and death. But something wonderful was going to happen, which would not only be to their benefit, but the benefit of all whom God will call to Him.
See how the roles are reversed: first their land was taken from them and the enemy took what was left over as loot. But now their land is enlarged and they would divide the plunder. It like the joy of bringing in a harvest.
Why this reverse in situation? One word: God. It’s like in the day of Midian: Gideon and his men were just onlookers as the enemy started to attack and destroy one another. But this time the commander was not Gideon, it was—and will be—a Child born from the Father, sent by the Father, powerful as the Father, a Counsellor as the Father, everlasting like the Father, a real King like the Father!
He is the fulfilment of the promise made to David; He is the true Son of David.
His name is “wonderful”—and it means “beyond human capabilities”, let’s say it: He is out of this world! There is none as wise as Him, because He is wonderful counsellor!
He is mighty God: The divine nature of the Son shines in this name. He is the victorious hero, defeating all enemies.
He is everlasting Father: his reign will be based on fatherly love and care. His is that faithfulness which is everlasting.
He is Prince of Peace: He rules by making things whole, taking it to completion, and bringing harmony. The people He will rescue and to whom He give light, will be living in harmony with God, with each other, and with nature. This is the “kingdom of peace”. And when He returns one day, and everything will be made new, everything we know now about Him, will stand in complete glory and we will worship Him as the One who took away the darkness, and then will be
“… no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5, NIV)
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 3 December 2017