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The Saving of Civilization

F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Audio Version

Sexagesima - 2/7/10    Is. 30:8-21;    Ps. 33;    2 Cor. 11:19-31;    Lk. 8:4-15

[This is a bit edited from the original which is on the audio version.  I have added clarification about Christian focus on the public arena.]

Many, perhaps most, Christians would not think, perhaps not even approve of, a Christian venture to save a civilization.  We are told to keep to saving souls.  Well, indeed, we are to keep on saving souls.  But it is precisely those saved souls which ought to be transforming society -- just as William Wilberforce and a few friends almost single-handedly transformed England, and then the world, by ending slavery in England. They did it specifically as Christians, based on the uniquely Biblical principle that every person is made in the Image of God, and therefore invited to the fullness of the Kingdom of God, beginning right here on earth.

Christians have betrayed God and one another by failing to put the Gospel to work in the public arena. God owns the whole cosmos, including the political, economic, military, and other social and governmental parts of it. We dare not retreat from our public responsibilities. God does not, the prophets did not, and we should not.

We can make, and have made, many bad mistakes in venturing into the public arena. But we have also made horrendous mistakes in our pursuit of personal faith and obedience to God. Our task is to be obedient to God in all aspects of our lives -- public and private.

I want to do a study of Isaiah chapter 30, our OT lesson this morning, because it helps to make the above point. God is interested in the interaction of nations as well as the interaction of persons. It is a chapter rich in imagery and action which shifts back and forth between punishment and peace. If you have your Bibles, you might want to turn to chapter 30 of Isaiah.

The chapter begins before our lesson with two stern warnings from God to Judah, not to individuals in Judah, which is being threatened with attack from Assyria from the north. The rebellious Hebrews seek protection from Egypt, Assyria's primary rival for power to the south.

The first warning reads:

"Woe to the rebellious children," says the Lord, "who carry out a plan, but not mine; and who make a league, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my counsel, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh, and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt! Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame, and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation."

God is clearly concerned about the political and economic future of Judah, just do it His way.

And then the second prophecy:

An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb [the wilderness between Judah and Egypt]
Through a land of trouble and anguish, from where come the lioness and the lion, the viper and the flying serpent, they [the Hebrews]
carry riches on the backs of asses, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that cannot profit them. For Egypt's help is worthless and empty, therefore I have called her "Rahab who sits still."

The Hebrews load their riches on beasts of burden to carry them across the desert wilderness (the Negeb) to Egypt to buy protection from the Egyptians. But Isaiah tells them that Egypt will not be able to save them from the might of Assyria. Isaiah mocks them, saying that Egypt is like Rahab, which was the name of the primeval sea monster who sometimes represented the original chaos in pagan mythology out of which the world was formed.

We read, for example, in Isaiah 51:9 -- "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not thou that didst cut Rahab in pieces, that didst pierce the dragon?"

God is pictured as having conquered that ancient dragon of chaos to bring order into the world. Or, in Psalm 89:10 -- "Thou didst crush Rahab like a carcass, thou didst scatter thy enemies with thy mighty arm."

Egypt is like a Rahab "who sits still", a monster who is impotent, and like a pagan statue of a god, that cannot move. The help from Egypt will not save Judah, and indeed, Assyria did defeat Egypt, leaving Judah wide open to siege by Assyria.

Then God tells Isaiah, "And now, go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness for ever."

In other words, put these two warning prophecies on a stone tablet so that there will be a witness inscribed in stone against these rebellious people. Make my warning public and permanent, God says, "For they are a rebellious people, lying sons, son who will not hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, "See not"; and to the prophets, "Prophesy not to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more of the Holy One of Israel."

"Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, "Because you despise this word, and trust in oppression and perverseness, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant...."   It comes before you can get out of the way.

Why do we read this with interest today? Because, as someone has said, "If you do not understand history, you are bound to repeat it." There is one and only one way to stop repeating the endless rise and fall of empires, rise and fall of would-be civilizations.

St. Augustine wrote his monumental, The City of God, shortly after the sacking of Rome by barbarians from the north. The Roman Empire had fallen into such a state of decay, apathy, and moral collapse that they were no longer able to defend themselves against an enemy which their earlier armies could probably have defeated with ease. They had lost the will to win. They had devolved from a unified and well organized empire into a divided and corrupt empire.

Some of the Romans blamed the Christians for having produced this state of the empire by undermining the old pagan ways. Well, yes, they did undermine the old pagan ways. But Augustine replied that, no, Christians did not produce a corrupted state of the empire. Any nation, he said, which refused to submit itself to the law and grace of God would sooner or later die. The inevitable forces of erosion and corruption would sooner or later destroy the moral and political fabric of the people, leaving them open to invasions from without and revolt from within.

St. Augustine was implying, if he did not state it somewhere, that there is only one real civilization, that being built by God, His Kingdom. All other attempts are some form of barbarianism.

That is not the sort of thought acceptable in today's pseudo-tolerant way of thinking. But then that "tolerant" way of thinking has no room for the Biblical worldview or way of life either. The Biblical way holds the intellectual, moral, and spiritual high ground, and that is where I will cast my lot.

The moral law of God operates with the same firmness and clarity as the natural law. If you jump off a cliff, you fall. If you become politically and morally corrupt, you create the very forces of inner decay which will lead to your demise. That is what happened to Israel and Judah.

And it is what is happening to Western Civilization -- to all the westernized countries around the world, to the whole of the former British Empire on which the sun never set, and to the former colonies of other European countries. We Westerners gave them a legacy of Christianity, but sadly also, a legacy of secularism which has successfully eroded our Christian base.

The sun may have never set upon the British Empire, but from within, secularism and a resurgent paganism is collapsing its capacity to remain a civilization. Most of western culture is not even reproducing itself, and most of Western culture is routinely slaughtering its most innocent, the children in the womb. And Western culture is increasingly mounting a war against the elderly, declaring them, like the unborn, to be only partially persons.

The war against abortion, the killing of the innocent, is the new anti-slavery movement. We are making slaves of the unborn, making them less than persons to dispose of as we wish -- as though we owned them like property. That is slavery.

When we disobey God, when we think that we know better than He, when we become arrogant enough to tell God to butt out of our decision-making, then we push God away, God, who is the Source of our being. Pushing away the Source of your being can lead only to disaster.

We lose our ontological stability, our stability of personhood, and we lose our moral stability. Those are the two primary gifts of creation. We are given those as our birthright at creation. But we soon, in this fallen world, like Esau, swap our birth right for a mess of pottage, something to fill our bellies, to make us feel comfortable -- at the cost of our relationship to God and to one another. We come to prefer feeling good at the cost of good relationships. That is the road of the fallen world, and it is the road to hell.

So what are we to do about it?

In the next verse of chapter 30, in a dramatic shift of emphasis, we read:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength." Not in bribes for protection by the militarily strong, not in thinking that our own strong right arm has gotten us our wealth, not in building up supplies and resources to fend off want, but by our trust and obedience to God who is our Creator, and who is the supplier of all those needs.

But what about those Assyrians banging at our city gate? Don't we need strong armies to protect us? We might. But strong armies without the law and grace of God are, in the end, no protection at all. Abandoning the law and grace of God puts us already into the fallen world where there is no adequate protection from the return of chaos, Rahab, into our midst. No army, no military, can protect us from that inner chaos which erodes our very being and moral direction.

Every wise and responsible military or political leader knows that, and looks for citizens and troops who have the strength of God within themselves, the ability to be themselves anywhere, any time, with anyone, and who know where they are going because they know where God is going.

And then the shift back to condemnation:

And you would not, but you said, "No! We will speed upon our horses," therefore you shall speed away; and, "We will ride upon swift steeds," therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the threat of one...., till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.

You will be like a barren, flagless flagpole, like a lonely signal, a sign on a mountain top with no one to send it, and no one to receive it.

And then again, an unexpected shift....

Therefore the lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.

The Lord waits, He holds back punishment, he exalts Himself to show mercy. Justice and mercy are tied together.

For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.

God waits for us, to show mercy to us, and therefore blessed are we when we wait for Him... God wants to show mercy to us, He exalts Himself in showing mercy. Where else in all religious history does such a God speak to us? Where?

And more...

Yea, O people in Zion who dwell at Jerusalem -- you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."

God will show us the straight and narrow path, we will not get lost. We will find our way through the mine fields and the poppy fields. He will write His laws on our hearts, implant them in our minds, emblazon them in our imaginations. We will not again get lost. We will come to that state where we no longer fall back, no longer find ourselves out in left field, no longer find sin interesting, exciting, or enticing -- because we will have seen the real thing. Sin will look like what it is, cheap and tawdry. Who needs it???

What then must we do? What must the Church do? What must we do here at St. Luke's to be on that road with God?

We already have suggestions in our text: in returning and resting in the Lord, in quietness and trust shall be our strength.

But how do we put those to work in our particular personal lives and in our corporate worship and work together for the Lord?

Here is a beginning list of things we might consider:

A. In Personal and Family Life:

1. Learn what it means to be seekers after truth as the only way to God, the way of the cross.

2. Find ways to deepen our personal spiritual lives, our closeness both to God and to one another. We need to be sold out to God - and to each other. The two always go together.  We are to love God and neighbor. 

3. Work at restoring healthy family life, with husbands and wives learning the specific roles which God has given us when He created us male and female in His image. In what aspect of God should women major, and in what aspect of God should men major? And how do we put these two together in a healthy and powerful way in our families?

4. Take back from government our family control of the education of our children.

B. In the Church:

5. Put at our altars and in our pulpits men who have learned the way of the cross, and who support the above personal and family principles, and understand and uphold Biblical principles.

C. In the Public Arena:

6. Learn what Godly Biblical government is, and promote it at every opportunity in public as well as at home.

There are other items for this list, but this gets us and the list started.  

America and the West are collapsing right before our eyes. Family life is eroding and leaving a wake of broken human beings. Western Civilization is specifically Judeo-Christian civilization. The specific gifts of Western Civilization came right out of the Bible. God worked through other cultures as well, but the foundation, that which pulled it all together, is from Judeo-Christian civilization.

The demise of our Biblical foundations in America and the West thus means the demise of the essentials of Western Civilization and of America. Major forces at work in America and the West are anti-Christ forces, forces that openly reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that reject the Biblical worldview and Biblical morality.

They have the freedom to present their case. They do not have the freedom to shut us down.

It may be that God will have to send again the Assyrians to force us to recognize how deeply we have departed from the law and grace of God. But God always sends hope, and God always stands ready to forgive. Hopelessness is not a Biblical virtue. We are called to be always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful

As Paul says in I Corinthians 13:13, those are the enduring marks of the Kingdom of God among us. Always faithful, always loving, always hopeful. It began with a decision by Abraham to follow God. It began again with the prophets calling the people back to God, and it was sealed in the coming of the Son of God. It begins in our personal and family lives, and in our churches. It begins in little communities like ours, in our decisions to follow Jesus, and at the altar where we are fed with the Body and Blood of our Savior, and in our fellowship as we meet and live and work together.

It always begins now or it does not begin at all. If not here, where? If not now, when? If not me, who?

So let's get on with it.

Audio Version

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Date Posted -  2/7/2010   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012