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Mar 26, 2017

Trusting God

Passage: Isaiah 28-30

Preacher: Senior Pastor Clay Smith

Series: The Shepherd – Part 2

Summary:

Sermon Looking at the Dashboard Isaiah 28-30 Clay Smith March 26, 2017

Detail:

Chapter 28 begins a new section of Isaiah. In 1-27 we read of promises made to save, to judge, to purge of sin and God’s call to trust him. King Ahaz had looked for a bigger bully to deal with the people of Israel and Syria; he allied himself with Assyria, the biggest army and biggest bully on the block to save them.

 

Now that decision had come home to roost. Assyria did protect them…for a while. Assyria indeed attacked Israel, Syria, and now they set their sights on Judah, their one time allies. The former friend was now enemy again. What would they do now? Trust God, or trust their own strategies? Guess which happened? They now chose Egypt…their former slave masters from whom God freed them became their masters once more.

 

What does God have to say to a people who steadfastly count him unworthy of trust? The bottom line is that God says he can be trusted. He can be trusted when no one or no thing can. That is our role: trusting God. Do we? It is so much easier to say than to do, to live by sight and not by faith.

 

28 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,

and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!

   Behold, the Lord has one who is mighty and strong;

like a storm of hail, a destroying tempest,

     like a storm of mighty, overflowing waters,

he casts down to the earth with his hand.

   The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim

will be trodden underfoot;

   and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

which is on the head of the rich valley,

     will be like a first-ripe fig before the summer:

when someone sees it, he swallows it

as soon as it is in his hand.

   In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory,

and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people,

   and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment,

and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

 

When I was a younger man, my dad taught be about cars. You keep it clean, check the oil regularly, check to make sure the tires are inflated properly. Now, car manufacturers put dad on the dashboard. When the oil is low, a light comes on. When the tires aren’t inflated to the proper pressure, a bright yellow light flashes, Warning, take care of this.

 

In our spiritual lives, there are things to watch for (warning lights on the dashboard), things that let us know if things are in working order: whether we are operating in the gear of self, or resting in the power of Christ.

 

The crisis among God’s people in Judah was that they had begun to look just like the rest of the world. There was no holiness; there was no distinct life; there was no life of faith; there was no concern for the poor; justice meant what’s good for the folks at the top. The warning lights of spiritual demise were flashing.

 

Now we, as the people of God today must ask the same questions of ourselves. Do we look just like the world around us? What lights are flashing to warn of our spiritual demise?

 

  1. What are the warning lights we are looking for?

 

  1. Preening in Pride

Preening is not a word we use all that often, but boy does it communicate what Isaiah is after here. There is a way to strut, preen, flaunt our appearances and accomplishments as if to say, “Look at all I’ve done.” That preening in pride, like a peacock, is a warning light on the dashboard of life of deep spiritual demise that trusts in self, not God.

 

Isaiah points Judah north to Ephraim, another name for Israel the northern Kingdom, and Samaria is its capital. He begins to lay out the pride in Israel as a warning to Judah, saying, see the signs among them and what God did to break them. And you are just like them. The Dashboard light was flashing, Warning: Don’t live like this.

 

28 Ah, the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim,

and the fading flower of its glorious beauty,

which is on the head of the rich valley of those overcome with wine!

 

The proud crown, in v. 1, is a word used for a garland of flowers worn at parties and celebrations, and we see the flowers are fading. As vs 1-4 unfold, the picture is of a party, and the attenders wear crowns of garland on their heads. When the party starts, the garland and flowers are fresh and beautiful. But what happens over the course of the party? As people drink too much, and begin to be bedraggled…those flowers begin to lose their beauty, right? Think outdoor wedding and the bridesmaids look beautiful at first, flowers in their hair. There is great pride in how they appear. But how do they look four hours into the reception, after drinking too much, then it starts to rain and hail, v. 2, then flood with overflowing waters, v. 2. How do they look then? How prideful will they be in their beauty after a hail storm dashes all the flowers to pieces? That’s the picture God paints here. Wet, bedraggled, flowers dashed, and formerly prideful people sick with drunkenness. And now we want to say how good we look?  With this scene do we really want to preen in pride?

 

The party that God smashed is the lives of these people built on self-centeredness. Their riches symbolized by lush gardens, v. 4, their ease of life, is their refuge such that the leaders are comfortable drinking away their existence. It is a place of decadence, and comfort and privilege with no concern for the Lord. What they produce is their crown. The party seeks to celebrate that there is nothing or at least very little I can’t handle. Yet the Lord casts it down in vs. 3-4.

 

When all we’ve constructed for ourselves falls apart in the storm, what then? What of our pride when the face we present to the world seems trampled in the mud? What of our glory and beauty then?

 

It is a mercy, really, for God to dash our parties thrown to our own honor and glory. It is a mercy to see the crowns of our own fashioning come crashing to the ground. It may not feel like it, but it is a profound mercy from God to have our idols dashed to pieces, those idols of self and competence, and strength. Why? Because in those moments we are less likely to believe the lie of pride in our own glory and strength. When we experience the collapse of our own kingdoms we’ve built, then we more readily take refuge in the strength of God for us. When we run out of cleverly devised answers to all our needs—having a problem we can’t solve—then we feel we MUST turn to Christ for answers.

 

I realize it has become popular, some people even mistakenly believing that it is in the Bible, to say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Now I appreciate the sentiment behind that thought, but hear me plainly: that is a lie. God frequently gives us more than we can handle. And that’s the point. If we only face things we can handle, what do we need God for? The biblical truth is that God will never give us things that HE can’t handle.

 

Facing things we can’t handle is a GIFT of God to us. It forces us to trade our false crowns for a, True crown of glory, a diadem of beauty, v.5. THAT crown is his character, his life, worked in us, and often done so BY the struggle and suffering. We become beautiful like Christ so often by God’s work in us through trials.

 

When God becomes our crown, his character worked in us through struggle and suffering and the Holy Spirit rearranging the loves of our lives, his person and presence our hope, then we might actually find our hearts drawn to him when we see the principles of his kingdom worked out in our lives: the last being first—which challenges our sense of privilege…in flesh we want to be first. OR strength found in weakness—which challenges our sense of being able to do it all…in our flesh we think we can handle it or if we can’t we certainly won’t let anyone else know. But friends, all these are signs of spiritual demise, of glorying in self. Do you see that in your life?

 

  1. Second Warning Light: God’s Answers are too simple.

A second warning light on the dashboard is when we consider God’s answers too simple for us. He just doesn’t understand what I’m going through. How could I possibly trust his way for me, his Gospel of grace. It’s more complicated than that. That was the way the people responded here in 28:9–10.

   “To whom will he teach knowledge,

and to whom will he explain the message?

     Those who are weaned from the milk,

those taken from the breast?

10    For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,

line upon line, line upon line,

here a little, there a little.”

 

These prophets and priests Isaiah quotes are prideful over their knowledge. Verse 9 suggests Isaiah’s message—trust God who saves-- is too simple for them. Who will he teach? Does he think we are babies, those just weaned, v. 9. They mock his simple gospel and think he’s not sophisticated enough for them. They “aren’t being fed” by his preaching.

Then, in v. 10 they say, “precept upon precept…”. mocking God’s Word through Isaiah as infantile. The words aren’t full words, but more like sounds Hebrews taught their kids to teach them how to communicate.  They are mocking the Word of God as if it sounded like infant, simplistic  babbling. Or we might say, “blah, blah, blah. yada, yada.” Essence is this: all this about God’s way for his people is to us like infantile babble. We don’t need to be reminded of these simple truths. They just don’t work for us.

 

Central is a church with a healthy respect for God’s Word; it always has been and Lord willing always will be. Could we fall prey to these same tendencies of spiritual demise? Of course we can! I know those tendencies in my own heart, to hear the simple message of: Christ knows what’s best for me, so we must trust him, and respond with “Yes, but…” it all seems too simple.

 

If you were here at Central about 10 years ago, perhaps you may recall that in between adopting Emma and Isaiah, Missy and I sought to adopt another little girl. The birth mother chose us to parent her little girl at 6 weeks pregnant. Missy and I felt pregnant. We paid for the counseling, some of the ultrasounds. We had our baby’s ultrasound on the frig, just like you would expect. We felt God brought us to this place. Only when she was born, as we packed up to bring her home, the birth mother changed her mind and decided to parent her baby. Missy and I were devastated; it felt to us like our child had died. We were devastated and were struggling to trust the Lord in such immense pain.

 

Emma—2 or 3 at the time--had been staying with grandparents while we went for the delivery. She knew Mom and Dad were going to bring home a little sister for her. She was excited and prayed for her little sister. We arrived home and told Emma that the Lord had said “no” about this little girl being in our family. We said it through tears and broken hearts. Then our little girl replied with such faith, “Well, when God says ‘yes,’ then we’ll just go get one.” Of course, she was exactly right. Such incredible and yet simple trust in Christ’s rule in our lives.

 

Missy and I both thought to ourselves, “OK, but it’s not so simple. Trusting at this time is hard.” Which was right, but Emma was right, too. He loved us. He knew what was best. Our call was to trust in his love. But oh, it was so easy to play the “yes, but” game. It was so much easier to say that it is more complicated and rest in our cynicism and nurse broken hearts. Why? Because trust is so hard. And doubt or cynicism is so much easier and more comfortable. Perhaps we rested in our doubt because we wanted to protect ourselves against hope.   

 

It was easier to treat God’s promises and God’s love for us as a “yes, but” because we thought we knew better than him. It is so easy to hear God’s promises and reply, “But that’s too simple…His grace can’t be that good. This wound is far too deep to heal. He could never forgive someone like me…” But let us not rest in cynicism and doubt. Rather, let us turn to the Lord of the heart, and ask him to soften our hard hearts so that we melt at his promises. And even when hard, we can hear the love in his Word, governing our circumstances. We hear the “Yes,” and need to remember the yes of the blood of Jesus.

 

Where does strength come from? V. 16

16    therefore thus says the Lord God,

     “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,

a stone, a tested stone,

     a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:

‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’

 

This foundation is the promise that He will be our God and we his people. He will never leave us, nor forsake us. His presence with us gives us the strength to believe and hang on. In the face of what felt like a shaky foundation, one at risk of crumbling with stresses and struggles too big for us, the Lord has laid a foundation that will never crumble. HE is trustworthy. God himself is our foundation; when the world shakes, he does not.

 

But also, the foundation is the promise of God in the person of Jesus! This verse is quoted in Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6! The cornerstone that is the foundation of our faith is the Lord Jesus, who not only has proclaimed that he loves us to the end, but also as Immanuel, God with us, who came to live and die in our place to PROVE his love to the end.

 

We respond with “Yes” because HE is the foundation of our lives. Not because we can figure it all our or manage our way through trying times. We say “yes, Lord” because of what HE has done for us on the cross and in his resurrection and IS doing in our lives. There is no problem or circumstance too complicated for our Lord to handle. He is our sure foundation; he has claimed us. He is the rock upon which we can build our lives. It is the simple promises of Christ that will withstand the storms of life. And we never outgrow them.

 

  1. The third warning light: External Religion

29:1 Ah, Ariel, Ariel,

the city where David encamped!

     Add year to year;

let the feasts run their round.

 

Ariel means “altar hearth,” the flat surface on top of an altar where the fire is set to consume the sacrifice. Isaiah sees Jerusalem itself like that hearth. Yet, he adds a sarcastic note about year-round feasts, which run one into another. Their worship drones on and on and is empty! It’s like he’s saying, “You guys just keep on with the worship stuff and it gets you nowhere!” Why is there a problem?

13    And the Lord said:

     “Because this people draw near with their mouth

and honor me with their lips,

while their hearts are far from me,

     and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,

    

They worship not with engaged hearts but out of obligation, because someone told them to. Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 15 about how the Pharisees worshipped. In a twisted fashion, they—and we at times—simply go through the motions. We use worship as a means of trying to control God, check the box of faithfulness as a mechanism for being good before God and expecting him to do stuff for us. Have you ever thought that coming to church and even studying your Bible can be a means of trying to avoid God? How? By playing at “believe the right thing” but check your heart at the door. “I’ll do the worship thing, but leave me alone to live how I want to,” we think. “I’ll fulfill my obligations” but tell God he can’t make any demands on your life that you don’t pre-approve; he can’t call you to love somebody else you don’t sign off on; he can’t demand you forgive someone who hurt you so deeply. Sometimes we treat God as if we put him on a leash so we can control what he expects of us.

 

This external religion, making a predictable Jesus, a not-too-demanding Jesus, really is about pleasing self, not Jesus. It is a sign of spiritual demise, of a malaise descended upon us. Let’s heed the warning light and turn once more to the Living God that he might have his way with us!

 

  1. What is the way back? Strength through the weakness of repentance and faith!

Isaiah 30:15

15    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.”

      

What is the way back from our spiritual demise? A heart given to trust in that simple gospel: God saves sinners.  His ways were returning by repentance, turning from self-reliance, turning to him and his strength to fight our sin, and rest, reprieve from self-determination and self-confidence, in quietness, laying aside busyness and frenetic attempt to provide forself and trust, cling to God in absence of self-determination.

 

In contrast to the attitude that it all depends on me, we REST in the work of Christ, trusting in his work for us and in us. Rather, we REST, truly rest in what Christ does for us! We will never get to a place of rest, a place of being satisfied, by being good enough at something: job, parenting, whatever. You will never be able to work hard enough to find true rest for your weary soul. Only Jesus can give you that, when He is enough, has done enough, has been holy enough for you.

 

To rest we must repent, that is, to turn away from that love for sin, to turn to Christ and his loving forgiveness! We say to ourselves, that if God does not protect me from my guilt and my sin through his work on the cross, and his resurrection power alive in me now, then I have no defense at all. If Jesus’ work on the cross can’t pay for my guilt, then I’m damned for all eternity. The Lord, our Immanuel, has proven himself worthy of our trust, so we rest in him. Rest not in pride over your works, but instead in what Jesus has done. Rest in that simple Gospel promise that he has proven his trustworthiness as the cost of the life of God’s Son. Rest not in a check-the-box religion but in giving your life, your all, to him.

 

Look once more at that dashboard of your life. If you see the warning lights flashing, turn once more to Jesus and you will find rest for your weary soul.

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