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Disciplined but not Destroyed

Isaiah 27:10-13.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 21, 2016.  This sermon is out of order on this page because of when it was uploaded.

 We are starting mid-stream in this passage and will finish this section known as Isaiah’s Little Apocalypse.  Here Isaiah has been making the point that it will look like God has judged Israel so as to cut it off completely.  However, God will be actually pruning Israel so that it can once again bear fruit in the millennium.  Now, when we talk about the millennium we have to be careful about making too strong of a distinction between Israel and the Church.  In some ways God will be fulfilling His promises to national Israel.  And, yet in other ways God will be fulfilling His promise to make His people One nation out of all the nations of the earth.  Yes, this has happened already in the Church, but it is not finished.  In fact Paul speaks of the grafting back in of the natural branches in Romans 11.  People will differ regarding whether this will be completed at the end of the tribulation or at the end of the millennium.  Ultimately, Israel would be discouraged at its discipline in the future.  In fact they would be tempted to think that God has cast them off or is even a fairy tale.

We must remember in our lives that no matter how difficult things may be, if we will put our trust in the Lord instead of the things of this world, He will restore us both physically and spiritually.  We must do this in the face of how things appear.  Sure we may feel like God has abandoned us or cast us off, but the reality is that He is still working things towards our good, even when we are under His discipline.

God’s judgment will cleanse His people

Starting at verse 7, Isaiah looks at the judgments that will fall upon national Israel.  When they happen they will seem to be God destroying His vineyard.  But in the end, it will serve to cleanse and prune it.

In fact, Isaiah states that God would not strike Israel to the degree he struck their enemies and that His scattering of Israel to the nations would be a measured discipline to contend with them. He also states that when God covers their iniquity their altars and wooden images will be completely removed.  This brings us to verse 10.  Isaiah is giving them good news and yet keeps it tempered with the harsh reality of what is ahead.

The fortified city will be desolated.  Now most logically this is the same City of Confusion referenced in Isaiah 24.  Yet, there also seems to be a tie to the corrupt leadership of Israel.  Jerusalem is following the Harlot cities of the world that seek to be the seat of power.  If you couple this with the fact that the context of this passage is the judgment of God upon the nation of Israel, you are left with the conclusion that this references at least Jerusalem.  Yes, God will be pruning them for their good, but Jerusalem will be desolated.  In fact, there seems to be a parallel between God’s judgment of Israel and the later judgment at the end of the Age upon the nations of the earth.  The same spirit is at work in both situations to exalt itself through them.  They have trusted in their own ability and strength, rather than in the God of heaven.

Part of the desolate scene is the picture of women walking through the ruined city picking up branches to use for fuel.  This is a very reference to the natural devastation.  However, there is a spiritual picture as well.  Jesus picks up on this tie when he talks about being the vine and his people being the branches (John 15).  Dead branches are broken off and used for fuel.  The reality of the judgment of God is that a certain number of people who were spiritually dead, would be cut off and be lost in it.  God’s work would be discipline to those branches that still had a living, spiritual connection to Him.  But it would be judgment to those had no spiritual connection to Him at all. They have been irretrievably seduced by the spirit of the Age, the spirit of Mystery Babylon.  So we have simultaneously the severity of the Lord and the mercy of the Lord in the same situation.  Ultimately the second coming of Christ will be such a day.  It will be a horrible day for those who have cast their lot in with Antichrist and Mystery Babylon.  But it will be a joyous day for those who have a living connection with Him.

God will gather the remnant of Israel

The last two verses of this chapter look ahead to that time when God will once again stand up for Israel.  For close to 2,000 years, the people of Israel have undergone the discipline of the Lord to the point that it would seem God has abandoned them.  Even some in the Church state that we have taken the place of Israel.  In light of Paul’s teaching in Romans 11, I find this a view that fails to explain all that God has spoken in a coherent manner.    However, these verses clearly refer to a time when God will gather back Israel.  “In that Day” (verse 12) is a phrase that is used 44 times in the Book of Isaiah.  It refers to the ultimate Day of Judgment upon all the nations of the earth.   This has not happened yet.

The Lord will have a great harvest to accomplish (threshing and gathering).  It is important to note that the process of harvesting is a two sided metaphor.  If you are grain, good grapes, good figs, etc., harvest is a process that is good thing.  The harvester’s purpose is to protect and gather you into His barn.  But, if you are chaff, bad grapes, rotten figs, etc., harvest is a process that is a bad thing.  The chaff is either burned up or blown away by the wind.  The bad grapes and figs are left to decay and rot on the ground.  The stubble and stuff left behind is then destroyed as the field is burned in preparation for the planting time.  This two sided imagery is important.  Yes, God will gather Israel, but at the same time He is removing the wicked from their place in this age.  God will use the events of the last days to bring Israel to a place of repentance.  Those who refuse to repent will be lost along with all the chaff of the nations.  But the Lord will gather in those who humble themselves in repentance.

Those who had been lost to the nations of the earth will be found.  Isaiah mentions a great trumpet that will be blown at this time.  Some have connected this with Paul’s “Last Trumpet” in 1 Corinthians 15:52.  Whether this is a sound that will be heard on earth, it will definitely be heard in the spiritual realm.  Those who had perished in faith will come forth like Lazarus from the grave.  In fact the word used in verse 13 of those who are about to “perish” has the sense of being lost in it.  On the verge of being lost to any hope of help from God, is the salvation of the Lord.

This is the great thing about the Lord.  He is continually searching throughout the earth for those who are perishing.  He continually seeks that which the enemy seeks to devour in order to save them.  No situation is too far gone and too hopeless.  So, friend, put your trust in the Lord Jesus and His ways, not in the ways of this world.  Regardless of what it may look like today and in the days ahead, this world is destroying itself and is under the judgment of God.  Only that which has a living connection with Jesus will come through the end of the age to the other side.  Repent of your desire to connect to the allurements of the world and place your faith in Jesus.

At this point it would be easy to focus upon the physical restoration of Israel.  However, Isaiah ends with a statement that makes it clear that it will be a spiritual restoration as well.  The gathering will "worship the Lord" in Jerusalem.  This statement of fact is reminiscent of Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:12, “So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  Of course Jesus does not need a sign, but one is given anyway.  What a day it will be when God's people from every nation worship Him upon Mt. Zion!

Disciplined audio


Repentance Or A Curse?

Today we are going to finish our study of the book of Malachi.  We pick up in chapter 4 at verse 4.  This book ends with an instruction, a prophecy and an ominous warning.  If you look at the last words of the Old Testament you will see that they are about the earth being struck with a curse.  However the last words of the New Testament are, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.”  This is very fitting in that the Old Testament lays the groundwork for understanding and receiving the work of Christ that would bring grace.  Without Christ we would only know the curse that comes upon those who sin.  But with Him we can know the grace that He has obtained for us.  Thus Malachi is warning Israel of a curse that will be upon them if they do not obey the Lord.

Remember God’s Instructions

It is clear from the previous chapters that Israel was not doing what they should be doing and that they were doing what they shouldn’t.  They are called sins of commission (commit) and sins of omission (omit).  They needed to go back and remind themselves of God’s instructions through Moses and the prophets that followed after him.  We could say that the Law of Moses was the commands and the prophets that followed were corrective instructions about the Law of Moses.  These corrective reminders are not correcting God’s Word, but rather correcting the actions and mindsets of the people who were supposed to be obeying it.

The command to remember the law is not so much about actual memory and more about the resistance in our heart that has caused us to move away from obedience to God’s command.  Sin pulls us away from God’s instructions through doubt, fear, and temptation.  We accept or create rationalizations for why it is okay for us to not obey God’s word, until we don’t even think about it anymore.  God in His mercy if faithful to send prophets who will shake us out of our lethargy and call us to remembrance of what God’s Word says.  Thus we are called to remember in order to obey.

Another reason remembering is important is because we may not receive another word for a long time.  Israel would go 400 years without hearing from the Lord again.  So it would be important for them to heed the command to actively remember God’s Word.  It is in these times of God’s “silence” that we can begin to doubt the importance of God’s instructions.  Or, we can fear those who have cast off all restraint and arrogantly flaunt their power.  Or, we can be tempted to join them.  However, Peter in 2 Peter 3 tells us that the world willfully forgets that the earth existed in the water by God’s Word and then perished in the flood at His command.  This willful forgetting may sound like an oxymoron, but it is what we do when we ignore what we know.  Peter also warns us that the present heavens and earth are reserved for a fiery destruction by God’s command.  We cannot afford to ignore God’s Word to the point of forgetting.  Many today believe that they can ignore God’s Word and still claim to believe in Jesus.  God forbid that we think such a rebellious attitude will be called faith.  In this age of changing definitions we forget that God will not be swayed by such flimsy techniques.  We will not get off on a technicality with God.

God Helps Us Remember

Now, God knows our weakness as humans.  He is faithful to remind us even though we may have fallen into unfaithfulness.  He sent Noah to the ancient world.  He sent Moses to Israel.  He sent Jesus to Israel and His apostles to the nations.  Thus he always sends His prophets and prophecy.  The Old Testament is filled with far more books of reminders and correction than it is with commands or instructions.  God also gave His prophets predictive prophecy that would verify the prophets were really from God.  The final Word from God until judgment is what He has given through Jesus and His Apostles.  It is an instructive Word and it is accompanied by predictive prophecy.  So as we see these prophecies fulfilled and lining up to be fulfilled, we can be encouraged in our faith to trust God’s Word, rather than jettisoning it.

Now Malachi gives a prophecy.  He says that Elijah would come before the Day of the Lord and remind them of the Law of Moses.  Particularly by turning their hearts back to one another.  Notice how remembering the Law is connected to relationships.  If you take the rules God gave you can put them in one of two categories: rules about our relationship with God and rules about our relationship with others.  In fact all relationships flow out of our relationship with God and His Word.  When we turn from God and His instruction it will lead to us sinning against one another, which then leads to a death of the relationship.  We are seeing this same breakdown in our own nation.  As we walk further and further away from God’s Word, our nation is seeing a breakdown in relationships at every level.  However, the bedrock relationships are those within the family.  A hallmark of American society in the 1900’s has to be the rising turbulence with the family.  Movements and ideas pitted husbands and wives against each other.  Children and parents are plied against each other.  Of course siblings have always struggled to love each other, but this is even further destroyed as a spirit of selfishness takes over the land.

Now John the Baptist was a fulfillment of this Malachi prophecy.  They had gone 400 years without a true prophet and then John comes out of the wilderness crying, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  We know this for two reasons.  First, the angel Gabriel told John’s father Zechariah about John before his birth.  In Luke 1:17 the angel says, “He will also go before Him [messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”  The “Him” here is of course Jesus the Messiah.  But also notice that the angel clearly quotes from the Malachi passage.  Thus, John was not actually Elijah at the DNA level, but he prophesied in the spirit and in the power of Elijah.  Second, we know John is the fulfillment of this prophecy because Jesus said so.  Matthew 11:13,14, “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And, if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  Jesus couldn’t be any clearer.  Notice that He says the Law itself was prophesying.  Each time it was obeyed a person was acting out a prophecy about Jesus.  When Jesus says, “if you are willing to receive it,” He is not just talking about  their faith or lack thereof.  It is also a warning about what would happen if they didn’t receive it.

Refusal To Repent Brings A Curse

Just as the nation of Israel rejected John the Baptist, so they went on to reject the Lord to whom the Law of Moses pointed.  Clearly the majority did not keep themselves in remembrance of God’s Word.  Thus a curse came upon the land.  Now the first part of the curse is a spiritual thing.  It is what we do to ourselves when we refuse to believe over the top of God’s grace to help us remember.  If we turn the lights off when God tries to turn them on, we make it harder to obey the next time.  This hardening of our heart builds spiritual calluses upon our mind and heart.  Over time we can endanger our eternity.  Even today, God’s grace has raised up a nation of believers who are reminding the world to turn back to the Creator.  When such overtures of love are rejected it affects what we become.  It hardens us and takes us down a path of pride.

The curse is also seen in the natural.  Pride always leads to destruction, both spiritual and natural.  God will not let pride exalt itself forever.  Thus Israel’s leadership trusted in its own wisdom and righteousness and went on to be destroyed by the Roman legions.  However we see this same warning to the world in our days.  We are becoming increasingly hardened against God’s Word and persisting in our own wisdom and pride.  This means the future of this world and its present system is under a curse.  Spiritually it refuses to see and in the natural destruction will come upon it.

However a remnant did believe.  They obeyed the Word of the Lord and were spared through the curse.  In the period leading up to Israel’s destruction in 70AD the believers knew that Israel was under a curse for rejecting Messiah.  The fled the city and escaped its destruction.  They knew that God had a heavenly Jerusalem for them and could let go.  But those who had refused to follow God clung to the earthly Jerusalem and paid a dear price.  We are in this same position today.  Clearly only a remnant of the world will truly believe.  How big is that?  It is bigger than the pessimists think and less than the optimists believe.  The main point is that if you dare to believe God in these trying times, He will bring you through and you will not be under a curse, but rather, a blessing from God Himself.  Does that mean you won’t have a difficult time?  Early believers were dragged out of their houses and taken to jail, sentenced to death, etc…  Jesus promised us tribulation in this dark world.  But our blessing is that no matter what the world does to us, it can’t take away our inheritance and place in God’s family.

Thus, a greater parallel to Malachi 4:4-6 lies ahead.  The ultimate Day of the Lord has not happened yet.  Though Israel was judged, the nations of the world were not.  The book of Revelation is about the coming Day.  Notice that God will be faithful to send a witness of the Truth and though a remnant believes and is saved, the majority will reject the message and perish under the autocratic rule of The Antichrist, the Man of Sin.  Difficult days lie ahead.  But God has given you the Truth at how to be saved out of them and led into a glorious future.  Get back into the words of Christ and His apostles.  Study how they make sense of the Old Testament and put your faith in Jesus today, because you will never need Him more than you will in the days ahead.

Repentence or Curse Audio


Holier Than Thou

Today we are going to be in Isaiah 65:1-5.  This passage is the source of a phrase that many will recognize, but perhaps not know exactly where it came from.  This is the phrase, “Holier than Thou.”  We would be inclined to think that it was coined by an irreligious person who was sick of a certain kind of attitude put off by religious people.  But the truth of the matter is that it is religious people who coined the term and it was God who was the first to refer to it as a bad thing. 

As much as God is merciful, he does have a boiling point that requires him to hold mankind accountable.  God opened Isaiah’s eyes to the actions and words of Israel in the midst of God’s long and patient mercy.  Let’s look at the passage.

God’s Mercy is Given to Those Who Never Had a Part in Israel

In verse 1 you might not catch what God is saying.  It is clear from the passage that he is not happy with Israel.  In Romans 10:20, Paul makes it clearer that this passage is God talking about the coming Church.  Don’t confuse this with any institution.  But rather that group of people among all earthly institutions who truly have put their faith in Jesus as God’s Son.  God had given Israel mercy over and over for centuries, but now he contrasts them with another “nation.” 

The Church is not a nation like any nation in the world.  It does not have an earthly headquarters in Rome, or Springfield, or any other city that men have set up.  Its headquarters is the very throne of God where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.  It is a nation without boundaries, without a particular race, and without particular social customs.  God tells Israel that he is going to pour out his mercy in three ways to this new nation.  He will reveal himself, He will be found, and He will offer himself.  God in his mercy steps forward and manifests his glory at the same time he draws them near.  The interesting thing is that God says this nation of people weren’t looking for him.  They were lost without any idea of where to turn.  This is in contrast to Israel who had the truth of God.  No matter how much mercy he gave, though, Israel continued to rebel.  Thus the heart of God is seen as he turns and pours out his grace on those who weren’t even looking for it, those who never had a part in God’s special people Israel. 

Peter points this out in 1 Peter 2:9.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that  you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (NKJV).

Although Isaiah does not refer to it here, I should mention that elsewhere he notes that God is faithful to save a remnant of Israel.  He takes that believing part of Israel that had not spurned his mercy and makes them to be the foundation of this new nation that he is making, the Church.  Thus the Church is built upon the foundation of Jesus and his apostles, all of whom are Israelites.

Now notice that God does not save the “cream of the crop,” as Israel would have judged it.  Not many great priests and rulers of Israel were saved.  But many “unconnected to power” and “rejected of society” were saved.  God is not impressed with our pomp and greatness.  He is looking for those who have a great trust in Him.  So if you feel like you have no place with the religious and thus with God, think again.  He is not looking for those who have it all together.  We all receive God’s grace and mercy when we are undeserving of it.  In fact this is a hallmark of God’s Grace.

God’s Mercy is Given Long After it is Undeserved

In Verse 2 God points out that he had offered himself and his mercy to Israel in the face of rejection and rebellion.  The picture of open arms is an offer of intimacy.  Instead they followed a way that wasn’t good, that is, a way of their own devising.  In fact not only did their “thoughts” lead them away from God’s offer of intimacy, but it led them to do things that they knew were a provocation to him.  This insolence or arrogance makes the matter worse.  Thus verses 3-5 list some examples of their sins.  They openly embraced idols and false religions when God had clearly commanded them to not do so.  They followed occult rituals in order to obtain power and wealth, rather than turn to God.  The last thing on the list, and perhaps the worst, is their attitude.  These rebels who were openly and flagrantly rebelling against God were abusing God’s stuff to pretend like they were better or “holier” than others.  God says that this attitude was like the smoke of a fire in his nose.  Now God does not have a nose, but uses a metaphor for us to understand.  It doesn’t take long for the smoke of a fire to bring your eyes to tears and your lungs to coughing.  But God says that they were a fire that burned all day long.  This puts God’s mercy in a clearer light.  In fact when we truthfully understand the situation we will not question the righteousness of God’s judgment.  Rather we will question whether or not it is right and wise to offer grace and mercy in the face of such obstinacy.

The problem with a holier-than-thou attitude is that only God is holy by definition.  That is God is the only thing that is holy by nature.  We are holy only because God makes us holy.  We cannot make ourselves holy by certain actions other than fully trusting in God himself.  If they were truly holy they would not be pushing people out of their way in self protection.  Rather they would be laying down their life in order to save the unholy.  God rebukes those who take great pride in their “position” with him over those who do not have such.  This pride itself is unholy.  True holiness is willing to be hurt, cursed, provoked, and spit upon in order to try and awaken faith in the unholy.

In many ways the Church of Jesus Christ has come full circle.  We in many ways are like Israel of old.  We do things that are in direct disobedience to God’s Word.  We mix in beliefs and practices from false religions.  We arrogantly make others aware of our special status in God’s eyes.  Paul warns Christians in Romans chapter 9-11 that we need to be careful of our attitude.  God in his mercy will once again save the people of natural Israel, not because it deserves it, but because it is his nature to give mercy to the outcasts and the rejects of this earth.  At the same time he will cleanse his church of all that is not of faith in him and humble before him.  Let us be careful of our attitude in this day.  Let us reject the attitude of entitlement and embrace the attitude of humble gratefulness.

Holier Than Thou Audio