Sunday, February 21, 2010

Looking to Jesus


Today’s chapter neatly divides into two sections. The first section speaks to Judah as a whole. The second section is about two men, Shebna and Eliakim. We’ll be concentrating on the first section. Before I read the chapter to you I’d like to deal with a question to set the stage. Why is this oracle to Jerusalem here? Isn’t this the section of Isaiah where he writes about Jesus’ dealings with the nations? One possible answer is that we’ve moved on to the next section. Isaiah is no longer talking about the nations. But if you look at the next chapter you’ll see that it’s an oracle about Tyre. No, we’re still in the section about the nations. A better answer is that the people of God in Judah are acting like the nations. They are acting as if Jesus were not Savior and Lord. And so, through Isaiah, Jesus deals with them as one of the nations. And that explains why Isaiah writes what he does.

Listen as I read Isaiah 22.

I’d like to present the heart of the first section of this chapter in three stages. The first stage begins with Isaiah’s response to what is going to happen. ‘Look away from me; let me weep bitter tears; do not labor to comfort me concerning the destruction of the daughter of my people.’ The destruction of Jerusalem is coming. Isaiah sees how terrible that will be. And he weeps. In this, he reflects Jesus’ heart. Remember that when Jesus was here, He wept over rebellious Jerusalem. He wept but then condemned the city. Isaiah weeps but then declares Jesus’ message. ‘For the Lord GOD of hosts has a day of tumult and trampling and confusion in the valley of vision, a battering down of walls and a shouting to the mountains.’ Jerusalem is doomed. Jesus ‘has taken away the covering of Judah.’ He had promised to care for and defend His people. But because of their persistent rebellion He will no longer keep that promise. He has removed His protection. When the armies come, they will succeed in conquering Jerusalem. Isaiah sees this and grieves. Destruction is coming.

Now the second stage of the sermon. This disaster isn’t something that came out of the blue. There had been warning. There had been a call for repentance. ‘In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth…’ Jesus’ expectations were made clear. But the people had sinned. Punishment was appropriate. But forgiveness was possible. All that was needed was sincere repentance. If there were an honest expression of sorrow over sin and a desire to follow Jesus better, their sin would have been covered and forgotten. But what was their response to Jesus’ call for repentance? ‘In that day the Lord GOD of hosts called for weeping and mourning, for baldness and wearing sackcloth and behold, joy and gladness, killing oxen and slaughtering sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”’ Instead of the signs of mourning over sin there were parties. There was laughing and joking instead of weeping and mourning. This only made matters worse.

It will be helpful to consider how Jesus calls for repentance. How was Jerusalem supposed to know that Jesus expected repentance? There are two categories here: Jesus’ actions and Jesus’ words. So, there’s this from Amos.

I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD. I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD. I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD. I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD. I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me, declares the LORD. Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!

Here is Jesus sending these various calamities. Why? What did He expect the people to do? He expected them to reflect on what was going on around them and to see that something was up. He expected them to ask the question, ‘What is Jesus doing?’ He wanted them to see that, because of their sin, He was disciplining them. And out of that was to come repentance, acknowledging their sin and returning to their God.

This is not just some Old Testament thing. The same sort of thing happened in the New Testament. When the Corinthians sinned in taking of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus acted. Paul provided for the Corinthians the answer to the question, ‘What is Jesus doing?’ ‘That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.’ Jesus communicates with His people by his actions.

Of course, along with Jesus’ actions are Jesus’ words. Jesus also speaks to His people. Isn’t that what Isaiah was all about, speaking to the people on Jesus’ behalf? Sometimes it will be words that warn and call for repentance. But it doesn’t have to be about repentance. The prophets had lots to say about Jesus’ blessings for the people. And we’ll see that more when we get to the second part of Isaiah’s prophecy, starting in chapter 40. But in terms of our text, the message was about repentance. By His actions and His words, Jesus made Himself clear. The people had been warned. So, His expectations of repentance were appropriate.

The point here is simple. Jesus still acts in this world. The news you read or hear is simply a report on what Jesus has been doing in the world. The list of things that happened to you yesterday is a list of what Jesus was doing in your life. Jesus still acts. And Jesus still speaks to His people. What do you suppose a sermon is? He uses other ways, too. And so, we need to be watching what is happening in and around our lives and interpreting what we see by what Jesus says. We need to be asking, ‘So, what is Jesus doing?’ And the answer can be almost anything. It’s only sometimes that it’s about repentance.

So, the first stage of the sermon was about the destruction that was coming on Jerusalem. The second stage was about Jesus’ call for repentance and the refusal of the people to do that. This leads to the third stage which is about the sin itself. What was it that the people of Jerusalem did, and refused to repent of, that merited this punishment? It has to do with the approach of war. The people of Judah knew that foreign armies were coming. Attack was imminent. Since Jerusalem was a city with walls, the enemy battle plan would go something like this. The armies would come, encircle the city so that nothing gets in or out, and then wait for the people to starve. The attack would come when some of the people in the city had died and the rest were weakened. That’s when they would destroy a part of the wall and charge in. So, the proper defense of a fortified city is obvious. It would included things like making sure you had plenty of food and water, and making very sure that your walls were strong. You also made sure that the number and quality of your weapons was up to snuff. And that’s what Jerusalem did. ‘In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest [that was the name of their armory], and you saw that the breaches of the city of David were many. You collected the waters of the lower pool, and you counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall. You made a reservoir between the two walls for the water of the old pool.’ Jerusalem was following the military wisdom of the day.

Now, of course, the question is, ‘What was so wrong about that? Wasn’t that the right way to prepare for war?’ Isaiah has the answer. ‘In that day you looked to the weapons of the House of the Forest … But you did not look to him who did it.’ It’s that little phrase ‘looked to’ that makes the difference. Let me translate that using a phrase from a recent sermon. ‘In that day you hoped in the weapons of the House of the Forest … But you did not hope in him who did it.’ The people of Jerusalem put their hope in themselves, in their ability to prepare well enough so that they might outlast their enemies. This sin revealed their pride and their refusal to trust Jesus. Something Isaiah preached earlier fits here. ‘For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge…’

Let me anticipate a question. ‘So, instead of preparing for the coming armies, the people of Jerusalem should have done nothing?’ Well, it depends. Sometimes the answer to that is, ‘Yes’. Much earlier in Israel’s history another army was coming to destroy them. And this is what Moses told Israel to do. ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’ And as you will remember, the Egyptian army was completely destroyed in the Red Sea while Israel did nothing but watch. Sometimes the right thing to do is nothing. But there are other times. ‘Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”’ Sometimes there is something very definite to do. Joseph, take Mary and Jesus and run for your lives.

Now, how do you know which is when? When do you do nothing and when do you act? Consider David. This is from the days when Saul was chasing him. ‘David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then said David, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.”’ David knew trouble was coming. What should he do? Stand and fight or run away? So, he asked His God. And his God told him what to do. Sometimes the right thing to do is strengthen the walls and prepare for the worst. But sometimes the right thing to do is nothing. And the way that you find out which is when is by asking Jesus. Remember, He still acts and He still speaks.

Now, if someone is going to live this way, two things are necessary. The first is humility. Remember what humility is. It’s not thinking that you are nothing. It’s just being honest about yourself. It’s recognizing your gifts and your limitations. So, the humble person knows that when it comes to dealing with life in this fallen world, he is out of his league. The enemy isn’t just some other person. It’s Satan. So, the first thing is acknowledging the truth that left to yourself you will fail. And even when Satan is no more, we will still be humble because we’ll recognize that there is just so much that we don’t understand. So, whether we are talking about life here or life there, humility is necessary. It’s telling ourselves, ‘I’m not strong enough to face Satan nor am I smart enough to understand it all. But I know that Jesus is both of those.’ Humility. The other necessity is confidence in Jesus. And that just means that we are sure, first, that He cares about us. His love is real. And then, secondly, that because He cares, He will act. The evil one will try to get you to doubt that Jesus cares or that He will act or, better still, both of those. But when you hear him whispering such lies in your ear, all you need to do is think about the Cross. The Cross is the best proof that Jesus cares about you, and that He will act for you. When you doubt, think about the Cross. Picture Jesus, suffering there for you.

So, being humbled by a clearer understanding of reality and being confident that our Savior still acts to save His own, the thing we do when faced with the evils of this life is simply to ask, ‘Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do?’ Sometimes He will tell you to prepare your weapons and strengthen the walls. There will be times when you will need to act and be very busy in some specific ways. But then again, there may well be those times when Jesus will tell you, ‘There is nothing that you need to do. This time I will do everything necessary.’ At those times all you need do is, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.’

So you see, the key is not the activity itself. It’s all about what someone hopes in. The people of Jerusalem put their hope in themselves and they strengthened their wall. They should have put their hope in Jesus, who just might have told them to get busy strengthening their wall – or not. The big question isn’t about whether this action is right or that action is wrong. The big question is about what’s going on in the soul. It’s all about humility and confidence leading to asking the question, ‘Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do?’

Let me close with two final thoughts. First, the sermon has been another installment in my ongoing course, ‘Introduction to Psychology’. Psychology is the study of the soul. That’s what the word literally means. We need to be asking ourselves some questions. What’s going on in my soul? As I prepare for war – and that’s what life is – what’s going on in my soul? Am I looking to Jesus or to myself? Quiet reflection on these kinds of questions is not something that we have been taught. It is not a priority in this culture. But it is an important skill for us to learn. It’s an important skill for us to teach our children. Quiet reflection about the soul.

Second, the sermon is also about what Jesus is saving you from. Looking to yourself is deadly. Taken to its logical conclusion, it is a burden that will crush a person. But Jesus is saving you from that. He has removed that burden from you. You don’t need to try to depend on yourself. To enjoy this blessing all you need is humility and confidence, things that the Spirit amply provides. Look to Jesus to guide you through life. Just ask Him, ‘Lord Jesus, what do you want me to do?’ He will let you know.

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