Sunday, October 24, 2010

Isaiah 48-49 - The Time of My Favor

A truck stuck in a mud hole on the Lofa Road, Liberia
Opening thought:  We were riding down an unpaved road near Gbarnga, a city in central Liberia, West Africa, with Pastor O’Malley Segbee, while I drove. When we came to a large mudhole deep enough that I could not determine how firm the bottom was. The previous car tracks went straight through the water, but I was not so trusting of those previous tracks.

I determined to make my own way along the fingers of dirt above the water. Bad move.

Those high places through the mudhole were the hardened top of the mud that had been pushed out of the hole by passing cars. The mud sank under our tires and we were all out of the truck, standing above our ankles in mud and water pushing the truck out.

As we approached the next mudhole, Pastor Segbee quietly said, “See, you should follow in the track of your friend, and you will find your way through.” With trepidation I followed the track of the taxis into the deep water, finding that the mudhole had a solid bottom which we drove easily through.

After that, I always looked for the tracks and followed them into and out of the many mudholes without any trouble. That is the focus of the day’s passage – overcoming our stubbornness to follow the Lord in the path he has laid out for us of salvation and restoration.

Contextual Notes:
We have moved into the second half of Isaiah’s prophecy with a message of comfort (chap. 40). Despite the coming punishment of Exile, Isaiah prophesies comfort. Yes, Babylon will be God’s rod of punishment for his servant Judah, but take comfort. God will send a servant Cyrus the Persian to destroy Babylon (chapters 46-47). But there is a greater Comfort.

The Lord, who alone can predict the future (41:25-29), has a Greater Servant than any eastern warrior (41:2), a Chosen One on whom the Spirit rests, who will be Justice and Light for the nations (42:1, 3-4, 6-7), who is the Creator-YHWH’s personal Representative (42:5-6, 8-9).

This Great Servant, in his own faithful character, will lead the failed servant Israel, despite their willful blindness, into a new light and comfort (42:9-25). That new light and comfort is a hope to overcome the horrible burden and punishment of sin (43:24-25, 27; 44:22). That hope is found in only one Savior (chaps. 43-44), a sovereign Savior (chaps. 45-47).

Key Truth: Isaiah wrote Isaiah 48-49 to teach Israel that their Servant-Messiah comforts us despite our stubbornness, comforts with his Person alone, and comforts us in restoring what was lost.

Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the comfort of the Servant-Messiah Jesus.

Sermon Points:
  1. The Servant comforts us despite our stubbornness (Isaiah 48)
  2. The Servant comforts us in his person alone (Isaiah 49:1-13)
  3. The Servant comforts us in restoring what was lost (Isaiah 49:14-26)
Pray and Read:  Isaiah 48-49

Exposition:   Note well,

a.   48:1-2 – The Lord refuses hypocritical worship: Religious activity without truth or righteousness is useless (1:11-17; 1 Samuel 15:22). It is not enough for the people to claim their traditional religious culture, calling themselves citizens of the holy city and invoking the God of Israel. They really need to pay attention to God.
b.   APPLICATION: In what used to be called the Bible Belt of the South, we still have places in rural areas where we are just enough Christian to make ourselves feel OK about whatever activity or event we want to do. We inoculate ourselves with just enough religion to soothe our consciences, just enough to make Mama happy, but are we making our Lord happy? The Lord is not like the credit card companies. He isn’t satisfied with minimum payments. He requires full payment of your allegiance, full obedience, not some partial commitment.
c.   48:3-4 Stiff-necked – Nothing has changed. Since the Exodus they had been a stubborn people (Exodus 32:9; Deuteronomy 9:6), and they are still set in their ways. This is why God reminds them that he has told them long ago that the Exile would happen if they were disobedient.
d.   48:5-6 – Credit – It was not enough for Israel to refuse so stubbornly to respond to God, they tended to credit his work to other sources (17:7-8; 31:7; 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 46:5-7; Jeremiah 44:15-19). They had never been exclusively faithful to the Lord. They chose to bow to the Lord and to some other altar at the same time, treating Him no different than they did other idols.
e.   APPLICATION: We Westerners are trained to think in terms of categories. We have our work life, our social life, our family life, and our spiritual life. What goes on in one area has little or no bearing over another area. Sheer hypocrisy. Lordship salvation has nothing to do with that. If Christ is Lord of your life, then he is Lord of all of it or none of it. Christ is Lord of your work ethic and your work language. Christ is Lord of the way you treat your family and talk to them. Christ is Lord of your social life, what you do for fun, where you go, what you drink, what people you run with. Christ is Lord of all of it or none of it. So, for you, which is it? Is He Lord or not?
f.    Spiritual blindness and stubbornness is still around, and today we may credit gracious acts of God in our own lives to luck or our own genius or hard work or the work of economic forces. How important to sense God’s hand in our lives, to be responsive to Him, and to acknowledge his works for us.
g.   48:8-14: Israel has been punished (v. 10), but they are still obstinate and treacherous (v. 8). Nevertheless, for his own purposes God will act for their salvation (v. 9). He brings the startling news of the fall of Babylon and the victories of Cyrus (v. 14).
                i.    48:9-11 – For my own name’s sake – For his name’s sake God both holds back wrath and tests us in affliction. He will not yield his glory to another. He holds back His wrath on unbelievers and tests believers in the furnace of affliction to cleanse us, refine us, make us more like Christ, to burn out the stubbornness and rebellion in us.
              ii.    48:14 – The Lord’s chosen ally – Isaiah’s naming of Cyrus as the one to overthrow Babylon and free the Jews 150 years before it happened made it clear that God alone could take credit for the return of the captives. Cyrus is a prophetic type of the Returning Servant who will come and overthrow the Babylon of Revelation, free the Jews, and set up his kingdom as a light to the nations.
h.   48:16-17 – What is best – (closely mirrors Proverbs 8:22-36). Wisdom is the only way and from God alone (James 1:5; 3:13-18). God reminds them that if they had been faithful to him, they would have enjoyed all the blessings of the covenant with Abraham (48:18-19; Genesis 22:17), but now in God’s grace they can look forward to a new exodus, where God will provide their needs (48:20-22; Exodus 17:6).
i.    Illustration: Just like riding through mudholes in Liberia and following where you are led, it is easier than stubbornly determining your own way.
j.    APPLICATION: When we stubbornly want to determine our own way despite the path laid out for us, we will often find ourselves mired in sin. But there is a Friend of Sinners, and if we will follow in the path that He has laid out for us, we will find solid ground.
k.   God’s joy is not in frustrating us and telling us “Thou shalt not.” His word directs us into what is best for us and the way we should go. If we will follow his lead, we will have peace like a river.
l.    48:20-22 – Leave Babylon: This call to leave Babylon is a second exodus, and the climax of chapters 40-48. Those who obey and leave Babylon will have nothing to fear (v. 21), but those who wickedly refuse will not have peace and prosperity (v. 22).

a.   Chapters 49-55 are a new section of Isaiah, but addressed to the Jewish exiles in Babylon just like the words of comfort in chapters 40-48. Now Isaiah sets before God’s people hope and confident expectation in a time when their vision was limited. The emphasis now turns from Babylon to Jerusalem, to a Servant who will provide a future reunited Israel and the blessing of the nations, from comfort to the Servant who provides Comfort.
b.   49:1-7 – God’s Servant – Here we find the second Servant Song, the Servant first presented in 42:1-4. Even if only the law of double reference applies here, it applies to Cyrus as a type of Christ to come in glory and of the Messiah himself, so the focus is the Messiah-Servant.
                i.    This Servant is called to his mission and named long before his birth (49:1, 7; 41:8-9; 43:1), to display God’s splendor (49:3) but will be at present hidden from them (49:2).
              ii.    This Servant, as in 42:1-4, is a prophet (cf. Jeremiah 1:5; 20:7-11) with a powerful tongue, a sharpened sword of the Word (49:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; Revelation 1:15; 19:15).
            iii.    This Servant’s first efforts would be unrewarded, but that spent strength will be renewed (49:4).
             iv.    This Servant, as in 42:1-4, is also a royal political leader, bringing Israel back to God (49:5).
               v.    This Servant is a King of kings (“kings will see you and rise up”) and a divine Lord of lords (“princes will see and bow down”) (49:7)
             vi.    This Servant will provide salvation to all the ethnic nations (49:6; John 1:9, 29). A Light for the Gentiles – Paul and Barnabas applied this verse to themselves (Acts 13:47), for their mission was in the spirit of the Servant. Israel had light, rejected it, and needed restoration. The Gentiles needed the light to see their salvation.
           vii.    This Servant, though despised at first by his own, will at the end by honored by all (49:7; Exodus 12:31, 35-36).
c.   49:8-9 – New Covenant – This servant brings a new covenant between the Lord and his people (49:8; Exodus 24:3-8; Nehemiah 9:38-10:39). A new exodus of salvation. There is adequate provision in this new covenant (49:9-10; Exodus 16:4; 17:6). There will be a highway of salvation, and the nations will come from the ends of the earth to this Servant of Comfort (49:11-13; 40:3-4; 43:6-7).
d.   APPLICATION: Is the Lord alone enough for you?
                i.    If you lost everything you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
              ii.    If you lost every loved one you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
            iii.    If you lost every freedom you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
             iv.    If you lost every opportunity you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
               v.    If you lost every asset you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
             vi.    If you lost every bit of health you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
           vii.    If you lost every bit of the mind you have, would the Lord be enough for you?
         viii.    The Lord has provided salvation for all. You and I need to hold up the light of God’s word so others can see what he has done for them.
a.   49:14 – Forsaken – Anyone suffering feels forsaken. It is a natural reaction to pain. We have a hard time seeing any painful experience as a love gift, even though a parent who spanks a young child for running blindly into a street hopes the momentary pain will protect the child from future danger. Here, when Israel complains, God does not explain again why he disciplined them. He simply says he has never forsaken them and he will not forsake them.
b.   APPLICATION: When suffering comes, we may hurt, but we are not alone. God’s love is like that of a mother for her infant child. He has compassion for us. He cares deeply.
c.   49:16-26 – Restoration – Many of the promises here are concerns in Ezra and Nehemiah: the ruined state of Jerusalem (49:17, 19; Ezra 3:12; Nehemiah 1:3-4); separation from the foreign oppressor (49:17; Ezra 10:2-3; Nehemiah 13:23-31; concern for repopulation (49:18-21; Ezra 2:1-70; Nehemiah 11:1-12:26), and participation of kings in the reestablishment of the city (49:22-23; Ezra 1:1-11; 7:12-26; Nehemiah 2:4-8).
d.   49:24-26 – Power of God will accomplish this. The people are awed by this grace and these promises (49:24) so that “all mankind will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior” (49:25-26). The name, Mighty One of Jacob goes back to Genesis 49:24; and “Savior and Redeemer” to Genesis 49:26.