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F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Lent III - 3/7/10 Is. 45:14-25; Ps. 119:105-120; Eph. 5:1-14; Lk. 11:14-28
I want to begin this morning with a look the two primary worldviews between which we must choose, the Biblical worldview and the pagan/secular worldview, and then a look at the message which Isaiah gives us in chapter 45.
Two worldviews drawn in the air (see drawings after service...): Open and closed circles..... Hand and Voice.
The chapters from 40 to the end of Isaiah are among the richest in all of Scripture. They have no parallel in all of pagan religion. They might have been written at the end of the Exile, about 520 BC, as the Hebrews were hearing the message from God that they were going back home to Jerusalem and Judea.
These chapters have some of the most vivid and pointed lines ever written about the nature and stupidity of idolatry, and of the living God, creator of heaven and earth, beside whom there is no other. And they foresee the Suffering Servant in four passages. Again, no parallel anywhere in all of pagan literature.
Beginning at chapter 45, verse 14, we read:
Thus says the Lord: "The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours, they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
It is a picture of Judea winning a war against Egypt and Ethiopia, and leading back the captives to Jerusalem for a triumphal march into the city.
They will make supplication to you, saying: 'God is with you, and there is no other, no god besides him.'"
The captive pagans will say that the Hebrews are right, that they worship the true God.
Today that would be attacked as arrogant and a slander on all the other peoples of the world. How dare anyone say that other peoples will bow down to the God of Israel?!? Who can be so arrogant to believe that their god is the only true god, and that others will accept their military defeat as a sign that they should convert to the God of Israel?
In verse 15:
Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior.
This verse has been taken out of context by some mystical theologians and philosophers to mean that God is ultimately unknowable, Deus Absconditus, as they say. The Hidden God. Hidden from any definable knowing by the human race.
But that is not the God of the Bible. The very next verse tells us why God is hidden:
All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together.
God is hidden from the idol worshippers, not from His own people. God is known through nature -- in Psalm 19 -- "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork...." God reveals His nature, His will, and purposes for us through revelation. And we can know by our own careful reasoning that if the world is a rational place, it can be so only if it is created by God.
The Biblical God is not unknowable. There will no doubt be things about God which we will never know, but we can know enough about Him to make a reasonable and binding decision to be in covenant with Him and each other. We can choose God because it makes sense to do so. We are not left with only a blind leap in the dark, hoping for the best. The Bible over and over testifies to the closeness of God to those who seek His face.
But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded, to all eternity.
In a world full of rise and fall of empires, rise and fall of personal and family fortune, that is a starkly brazen claim -- which makes sense only in the Biblical worldview with a Creator God -- not in a pagan world where truth itself is a moving target. Because we stand on the Hand of God, we have personal, ontological stability. Because we hear and obey His voice, we have moral stability. We know who we are, children of God, and we know where we are going, to become mature and adult members of His family -- the Kingdom of Heaven, the best of all possible worlds.
We can know all that about God and our relationship with Him.
0Verse :18-19 --:
For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is God), who formed the earth and made it, (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): [and therefore rational and reasonable...]
"I am the Lord, and there is no other. I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, 'Seek me in chaos' I, the Lord, speak the truth, I declare what is right."
God is not a mystery god, or a mystical god, He seeks to be in a covenant communion with us, His people. He seeks to be known. That is what revelation is about. God continually calls us to account precisely because we have no excuse for not knowing Him.
Chaos is the foundation (so to speak - how can chaos be a foundation of anything...?) of all of pagan religion. There is no Hand of God, only an infinite Void underneath, a nothingness, an absolute mystery, out of which can emerge nothing of substance or meaning. We emerge as an accident, we live as an accident, and we die as an accident. There is no meaning to life other than what we can impose on a very recalcitrant world around us. Our own creations continually fall apart back into chaos. In the end, entropy wins, everything redissolves back into the original chaos. Including ourselves. We all die. The end.
Then God turns to the pagans - verse 20:
"Assemble yourselves and come, draw near together, you survivors of the nations!"
God calls them to a conference, to give their testimony about themselves and their gods and goddesses. "You survivors of the nations..." You who have survived with your sanity intact, who have survived the power struggle and demise which controls every society which does not know God.
"They have no knowledge who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save."
How can they not be frustrated, confused, and desperate? So God calls - vs. 21:
"Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord?" And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me."
Just as in chapter 43, God is again calling the pagans to speak for themselves, as He says in 1:18, "Come, let us reason together..." God invites all the world into the discussion -- about who is God. God Himself? or a carved idol?
Only God can foretell the future, because only God is in charge of history. God created the cosmos with a purpose, a direction, a moral order, and there is nothing that we created inhabitants of the cosmos can do to change the ultimate outcome. God has foretold that many of the pagans, those who have survived the chaos of the fallen world, will turn to Him, will see that His people, the Hebrews, know the way of truth and reality. They know the living God. And they will come to the Hebrews (and later the Christians) to learn of the true and living God, Yahweh, He who is -- Yeshua, Yahweh Saves. He Who Is Saves.
"Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.’
God has raised up the Hebrews, not for their own glory and prestige, but to reach out to the lost, to the unsaved, to those still living in the darkness of the closed circle without the Living God, without Him Who Is, Yahweh.
"Only in the Lord, it shall be said of Me (by the pagans!), are righteousness and strength; to Him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against Him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory."
They will be ashamed and frightened, and rightly so, but the mercy of God, the perfect love of God will cast out the shame and fright, drawing them into the Family of God, the true Church.
And what is it that brings the lost pagan world back to God? Is it not the willingness of God to put His whole case to an open and honest debate -- based on fact and logic? Based on honest observation of the facts of history and of personal relationship, and reasoning from them to a logical conclusion?
In doing so, God connects His people with reality. He puts truth ahead of Himself, thereby making truth the royal road to Himself. What more could we ask for?
The people of the world begin to discover that God, and only God, can supply them with the two necessary stabilities -- those which define the nature of salvation, wholeness, and holiness: (1) Our dependent nature’s need for ontological, personal stability; and, (2) our drive for hope, our need for purpose, direction, value, meaning to life, given only by moral stability, the law of God, our reason for existence.
Only the way of God can set us free from the compulsive and disastrous power struggle built-in to the fallen world. We all need to be saved from the tragic disaster of our fallenness. We all need our being renewed and healed by God, and our moral failure and rebellion forgiven to restore our original goodness, and so set us on the path to building a love relationship with God and one another.
Most of us here are gentiles (from the Latin ‘gentes’, meaning ‘nations’). The word ‘nations’ in English translations refers, usually, to the Gentiles ("all those nations out there..."), those outside the Hebrew covenant. We can be enormously grateful for God’s purpose in reaching out to us through the Hebrew people, and enormously grateful for those Hebrews who were faithful to their calling.
All Christians now, Hebrew and Gentile, together look forward to the 2nd Coming of Christ.
I can’t wait...! The best of all possible worlds!
What do the other Scripture lessons tell us?
Psalm 119:105-120 describes a person who has accepted the invitation of God:
Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my paths.
In other words: Thy word is not an intrusion into my freedom to do as I like. Doing as I like without first liking You has ruined my life. I like who You are, and what you are doing. I want to be a part of that. And then the psalmist...
I have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed, to keep thy righteous judgements.
Here is a man who likes God, who agrees with His nature and purposes, and who also loves God, has dedicated himself to obey the purposes of God. We need both to like God, enjoy being near Him, and to love Him, to obey His commands. Two different things. If we do not like God, we probably will have a hard time obeying Him.
How can one not like being near the One who supplies the best of all possible worlds?
-288And how can one not dislike the ruler of the dark world of the closed circle? One is life-fulfilling, the other is suicidal. Why would we want to obey such a ruler?
And the Gospel lesson:
Here we get into serious spiritual warfare. Not only are the pagans getting converted, and the Hebrews taught and corrected, but Jesus is going after the dark ruler of the closed circle.
Jesus had cast out a devil who had made a man dumb, unable to speak. He was accused of casting out devils by the power of the devil himself. He responds that their accusation is contradictory. Beelzebub, or Satan, would not cast out his own demons, he would reinforce them.
But (says Jesus) if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the Kingdom of God is come upon you.
Logical conclusion. As Jesus so often does, He states His case indirectly. He did not say, "I am casting out by the finger of God....," but rather, "IF I am casting out by the finger of God..., THEN the Kingdom of God has come upon you." He wants to make them think for themselves, and to look at the results. If..., then.... What do you see happening right in front of your eyes? The evidence will speak for itself.
Again, God puts His case to an open and honest test of fact and logic. And then you make your choice, depending on whether or not you are interested in the truth.
If your deeds are evil, John 3:19 says, then you will head for the bushes and the darkness so that your deeds are not exposed and reproved. Doers of evil deeds fear reproof by honest people, they fear the light of day, just as they will stand in the light of Christ on judgement day. Every reproof by an honest and Godly person strikes fear into the hearts of the denizens of the dark side. They cannot live in the Light, and will strive to kill it.
The Gentile pagans of the world who responded to the Hebrew and then to the Christian witness were looking, often unknown to themselves, for the Light of God. They were willing to confess their sins rather than hide them from reproof in darkness. They reproved their own sins, so that God did not have to.
There are many among us, in our neighborhoods and places of work who would like to know of a God who reaches out to people in the way of our God.
Lord, make is the kind of people who both like You and love You, who know how to express our devotion to You in a way that is winsome to the world around us. Make us the kind of people who point people on to You, our Creator, Sovereign, and Savior...
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