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Tuesday
Aug022016

The Song of Salvation

Isaiah 26:1-15.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 31, 2016.

We have been looking at the joy that will erupt from the people who are alive after the Second Coming of Jesus.  In chapter 25 we saw that all people will be gathered to the Jerusalem area and will celebrate with a feast before the Lord.  Thus chapter 26 continues in this context.  A song breaks out in which the people praise God for His salvation.

Singing for the City of the Righteous

If this passage is not taken in context, it would be easy to think this is only speaking of Jewish people.  But notice verse one focuses on the place, “in the land of Judah.”  This is a song that will be sung by all the people of God and the survivors of the wrath of God.  What is the object of this song?  They recognize the strength of their city as opposed to the cities of man, especially the City of Confusion (chapter 24), which represent and rules over them all.  Throughout history the righteous have often been walked over by the dominions of this world.  Even now the Church does not have a nation or capitol on this earth.  Thus when Jesus comes back the celebration is over the fact that finally our King is here and His dominion is one that is stronger than all those of mankind.

We can think of this city as literal in that Jesus will rule from a literal Jerusalem during the Millennial Kingdom.  Yet the earthly Jerusalem is only a shadow or symbol pointing the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven at the end of the Millennium.  Even then, the wording of the song goes beyond a focus on a physical city.  Notice that walls and bulwarks of this city are salvation that God appoints.  Thus the righteous recognize that no matter what our walls and defenses look like in the natural and in comparison with the defenses of this world, our city is strong and our walls impervious because it is the Lord Himself who has appointed us to salvation.  Thus after the cities of this world are turned to rubble, the righteous rejoice in the City of God.  There is another thing to notice.  In light of the New Testament, this passage becomes even more amazing because the term for salvation is yeshua.  Literally it could be read, “God will appoint Yeshua (Jesus) for walls and bulwarks (i.e. as its defenses).  Is this not what we have now?  Jesus is our defense.  No matter what the mighty of this world do and how often they take advantage of us, their defenses will fall and ours will stand in the end.

Verse 2 refers to the gates of the city.  These gates are most likely fully realized in the gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:27.  “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.”  Gates protect access.  The wicked cannot live in this city, but the righteous are allowed access.  So who is this “righteous nation which keeps the Truth?”  It is not natural Israel.  Rather Isaiah is seeing a nation of people who have been called together out of all the nations of the earth.  Thus Peter exhorted the believers, “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.” (1 Peter 2:9).  It is a nation of God’s own making.  They are not righteous because of their biology or geography.  They are righteous because they have been made so by God Himself.  The Truth that they keep is the revelation of God: Jesus is our salvation and there is no other.  This call for the gates to open up and allow the righteous nation to come in is parallel with Psalm 24.  There the call for the gates to open up is to allow the King of Glory to enter.  “Who is this King of Glory?  The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle.”  It is Jesus.

Verse 3 points out the inner reality of those who are the righteous.  They have the perfect peace of God because of what goes on inside of them rather than what they are or do on the outside.  Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Perfect peace is that peace which has been given by God, rather than men.  When I was a kid we sang a song in which the lyrics said, “I’ve got something the world can’t give and the world can’t take it away.”  The righteous refuse to take the offers of this world and instead hang onto God in trust.  This inner trust or faith is rewarded by God with peace, both now and ultimately at His Second Coming.  Isaiah says that their “mind is stayed on You.”  The word “stayed” has the sense of leaning upon something or resting upon/within something.  Thus the righteous have refused to lean upon anything but Jesus.  They look nowhere else for their defenses, but Jesus.  Thus they will “trust in the Lord forever.”  In the face of that which tries to separate us from the Lord, we trust in the Lord.  Why?  We trust now in the light of that day of joy which lies ahead, rather than in the light of the nations and the powerful of this world.  Verse 4 ends with a phrase translated “everlasting strength.”  Literally, the Lord is an Everlasting Rock.  This picture of an unassailable place like Masada is in mind.  In this world, even the most unassailable rocks can be taken (as the Romans eventually did to the Jews there).  But the Lord is a rock everlasting.  None can climb these defenses.  The Rock is also the picture of a firm foundation that will hold up anything built upon it in the Day of Shaking.  God is an impregnable refuge for those who trust in Him.

In verses 5-6 we are reminded of the character of God.  The City of the Righteous will continue where the City of the Wicked is cast down.  It is part of God’s nature that He brings down the high and mighty who trust in themselves and lays them down in the dust.  This picture of total humiliation and defeat is exactly what Isaiah has described in chapter 24.  So why would anyone ever put their trust in the high and mighty of this world, whether spiritual or material?  Why trust in occult knowledge gained through rebellious spirits?  Why trust in politicians, artists, or even technology of man?  All these things are destined to be cast into the dust.  But the City of the Righteous will not be cast down, because it has been humble all along.  The rubble of the destruction is so complete that it becomes like the gravel that is used to make a road.  Thus the poor and the needy will tread over the rubble of the high and mighty kingdoms.  So which city does your heart dwell in?  The city doomed for destruction, or the City of the Righteous?

The Dependency of the Righteous

Whether the song continues in verses 7-15 or not, the theme does change.  Isaiah turns to the inner life of the Righteous.  They depend upon God and Him alone.  In verse 7 we see that they walk the straight path of the Lord.  In other words they walk a path that is measured against the Lord Himself- the Most Upright One.  The word translated “upright” is a word that draws its meaning from the context.  An upright road would be straight and level.  An upright building would be plumb or square.  Thus an upright person is a person who walks straight and stands upright.  In all of this the key is that the Lord is the “Straight One.”  It is He who judges our path and helps to make it even.  God will teach us His ways and straighten out our path if we will depend upon Him more than our own reasoning.  A person’s ways always seem right to them, unless they depend upon God’s direction more than their own.

In verse 8 we see that the righteous have waited for the Lord because He is the desire of their soul.  Notice that Isaiah sees the righteous waiting for the Lord on His path.  When we walk the way of the Lord it does not guarantee instant connection.  Many have “tried” the ways of the Lord and walked away.  However, those who wait for Him will find Him.  The ways of the Lord test us, melt us down, and temper us, until we are as we should be.  So what makes a righteous person wait?  They wait because they are not solely interested in getting something else out of God.  Too often we are trying to get something else from God because our soul desires something other than Him.  This is exactly what an idol is.  All things must be laid at His feet as we wait for Him to reveal Himself to us.  The righteous always wait for God. 

This is contrasted with the wicked at the end of verse 9.  They learn righteousness when God judges the earth.  Even more than that, when God gives grace and favor, the wicked do not learn anything.  They simply take advantage of it and the righteous, and attribute it all to their own greatness.  Given a wonderful society and good people, they will still choose wickedness (a crooked path).  This is not to say that people cannot change.  The wicked here are not just those who sin at any time.  But rather those who have rejected God’s ways and will never turn back.  Verse 11 goes further and describes that the wicked don’t even recognize God when His hand is raised for judgment.  They will not recognize until they are actually being crushed under the weight of His falling judgment.  We all have a decision to make in the now.  Either we let our hearts be broken and turn to the Lord, or we march stubbornly on, only to have our life broken in judgment.

Thus in verse 12 we see that the Lord brings peace to the righteous.  No matter what the present looks like, the Lord will establish peace for the righteous.  Their ending point is secure because of Him, not themselves.  Even our accomplishments of righteousness have been done by God who is working through us.  His Word and His Spirit, working and moving upon us enable faith and action.

In verses 13-14, we see that even after being chastised, the righteous are blessed.  Just as Israel had been chastised by the Lord many times, we also find ourselves under the Lord’s rebuke from time to time.  No matter how many nations had ruled over Israel, they still belonged to the Lord.  Thus our destiny is sure even when God is disciplining us.  Those whom He uses may fall into the dust to never be raised up again, be the righteous will be raised up by God Himself.  Proverbs 24:16, “A righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.”  Thus Israel, who would later find their nation broken and cast to the winds, will find that Jesus has increased the number of the people of God and has expanded the borders of the True Israel of God.  That is, Both Jew and Gentile will be drawn into one people that will be far greater than all the ancient land of Israel.  This is the destiny of those who put their trust on God and depend upon Him alone.

Song of Salvation audio

Tuesday
Aug202013

Complaining Vs. Encouraging

Today we will look at Malachi 3:13-18 and in this section we see two very different kinds of people.  We could call the first group complainers and the second group encouragers, but it goes deeper than that. 

Have you ever recognized how God doesn’t work on our time schedule?  It is easy for us to become discouraged by what we see or don’t see happening around us.  When you add to that a sense that God should be doing something on your behalf, well, it is exponentially worse.  So what do we do with these discouragements?  First we should recognize that these times are testing us to reveal what really is in our hearts and what we will do with it.  Will I allow God to reveal the junk in my heart and then will I ask Him to scrape off the scum that rises to the surface in these “melting pot” times?  That is the question.

Complaining Harshly Against God

Complaining and murmuring were common descriptions of Israel when they were in the desert.  Perhaps you may think that this is a good thing that helps make things better.  But, God said that it is destructive and its source is unbelief, or lack of trust.  Of course, most of the Israelites perished in the desert because of their unbelief.  It is interesting that the very thing they were complaining about happened because of their complaints and those who didn’t complain made it through the desert.  All of Israel went through the same difficult circumstances, but most let unbelief rule in their hearts and complained harshly or strongly against God.  In these moments it is made clear that no amount of evidence to the contrary would make these people trust.  They had a trust issue and instead of seeing that and letting themselves be taught to trust by a loving God, they chose to fight against Him and brought upon themselves the very thing they accused Moses and God of doing: killing them in the desert.

Malachi first points out that they had come to believe that serving God was useless.  It is not clear how public these complaints were voiced.  Perhaps they were mostly thought within the heart, and perhaps voiced in small rooms with few people.  However, this belief was infecting their service to God.  Now we can see how they would continue to obey the command to offer a sacrifice for sin, but then ignore the command that it be without blemish.  They felt it was useless anyways.  However, they continued the “religious sham” because of what it would gain them in the eyes of others.  In their minds, there was no hope in continued service to God.  They no longer looked to God and His Way as an answer, but rather to their own devices and schemes.  Then it gets more specific in the passage.  They believed there was no profit in serving God.  They were not as materially prosperous as they wanted to be.  Meanwhile they could see others who were not obeying God’s command seemingly prospering.  They also believed that it was useless to serve God despite their “mourning before the Lord.”  Apparently they were impressed with their own cries for God to prosper them.  They felt that their fasting and weeping before God to give them material prosperity should have been acceptable to God.  But this wasn’t fixing their “situation” either.  They had made the mistake of thinking that God would accept mere, external duty without inner faith.  They also had made the mistake of thinking God should always materially prosper those who serve Him.  This childish mentality fails to see how times of weakness physically or financially can actually help our character to become more like God and develop spiritual understanding.  It can only see that God is not giving them what they want or think they deserve.

When we let a complaining spirit become the dominant character of our inner life it will blind us to all the blessings we already have and it will spoil any blessings that God desires to give to us.  In verse 15 God reveals some wrong-headed conclusions that they were making.  They are wrong-headed because even though they appeared to be true in the short term, God had clearly stated in His word they were not true.  Unbelief always leads us to live by conclusions that are contradictions to what God has said.  But if we fear God we will not give into such conclusions that are made by our flesh in times of trial.  Instead we will recognize the trap of these “feelings” and cast ourselves on God.  They had come to believe that the proud are blessed.  From God’s Word it is clear that the proud are actually on God’s “Take Down” list.  Pride here is that sense of arrogance and inflated ego.  They saw that the arrogant, inflated people were “getting all the pie.”  They confused this with God’s blessing.  Listen, I see the Christian church in all of this.  Many teachers have risen in the land that promote a gospel that says when God blesses you, you will have money, wealth, and fame.  This is a terrible understanding of God’s blessing.  It is terrible because it messes with the minds and faith of those who are going through difficult times.  It helps them to embrace ideas that are contradictory of God’s Word.  The proud are not blessed.  God will put them down and He will raise the humble.  So where might you want to be?  Next, they believed that the wicked are raised up.  Raised up is the picture of promotion to positions of stature.  Those who sin were being promoted to positions of power politically, economically, and eventually religiously.  But those who try to serve God were being “passed over” and weren’t getting ahead.  Now, again it is all about time.  We want it yesterday and if it isn’t here we are on the phone, sending emails to the complaint department, trying to force our way.  Listen, God can handle your questions, but He won’t put up with unbelief and a heart that embraces contradictions to His Word.  If God has raised up the wicked it is so that they will stick out for judgment.  It is the tall grass that get cut in the day of mowing.  Now what do you want to be?  When a society is under the judgment of God it is practically a curse to be raised up.  Although in the example of Daniel we are shown that God is able, for His purposes, to raise up a righteous man and protect him through times of judgment.  In the end we become envious of the wicked over things that leverage our trust away from God.  Next, their conclusion was that those who tempt God, do so with no consequences.  This phrase “tempt God” refers to intentional blatant disregard for God’s Law.  It tempts God to do something about it.  But when it looks like nothing has happened others looking on quickly think, “why am I still obeying the law?  I’m falling farther behind and they are getting ahead without consequences.”  The next step is to join them in their wickedness, casting off restraint.  These people have come to believe that nothing bad will happen by breaking God’s Word, and quite the contrary, now believe that something good will come from breaking God’s Word.

In all of this we see our own country.  In America many will give lip service to God in politics, economics, and religion.  But, where the rubber meets the road, God is not an answer.  And the person who tries to point to God will be laughed out of the room and have no votes on Election Day.  Wake-up!  We are killing ourselves by giving into such wrong-headed conclusions.  Such conclusions are destroying our country and bringing the judgment of God upon us.

Those Who Fear The Lord

Now verse 16-18 transitions to a different type of person.  The descriptor of this group is “the fear of the Lord.”  They feel the same tensions and difficulties.  They too wonder why the wicked get ahead and the righteous are ran over.  But they have a bedrock belief in God that won’t budge.  With Job they say, “though God slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  Even if God let’s me die, I will still trust Him.  They are afraid of the idea of following anything but God.  Like the disciples of Jesus they feel the tug to walk away, but then where else would they go and who would they turn to?  “No one else has the words of life.”  This fear of the Lord enables a person to remain restrained when all the world around them plunges into the insanity of conclusions that are contradictions to the Maker of our Reality.  Like Israel in the desert, these know that God is bringing them to good, and that even the desert is a place of intimacy.  It is the place where God supplies in ways we could not see nor imagined.  They are the times that deepen our soul and strengthen godly character within us.  It is the refiner’s fire that gives opportunity to say to the Lord, “please scrape off this scum that keeps rising to the surface of my heart.”

Notice that those who fear the Lord talked with each other.  Though it isn’t explicitly stated it is hard to imagine they are doing much other than encouraging each other to keep the faith; encouraging each other to keep walking the Way of the Lord.  We have to find times to encourage each other in God’s Ways and in His Promises.  Our times of Church gatherings should be exactly this.  However, they can be taken over by the unbelieving and spoiled by arrogant and inflated egos.  From such a place run.  Those who fear the Lord will encourage each other.

However, God see this and listens in on these conversations.  It impresses Him to have a Book of Remembrance written to record and give evidence to such conversations of encouragement.  Now, nobody ever feels like God is paying such close attention to their difficulties that He is writing a book about them.  This happens silently in heaven, unnoticed by us on earth.  He is listening and He is intimately concerned with our “working it out.”  Our actions of faith are not always Red-Sea-Parting moments.  Sometimes they are the simple, normal, talking with a friend hashing out why we feel things in our heart and yet why we can’t walk away from the Lord.  Strengthen the hands that hang down!

God says that these people are jewels to Him, and that they are like a son who serves his father.  When the Day of Judgment comes, He will not only just spare these.  But He will take them up as His possession, while the rest are taken away in destruction.  He will spare them the judgment that the wicked are plunging towards.  Now, at the cross and resurrection, Jesus took up those jewels out of the land of Israel.  He called that believing remnant to follow Him into the wilderness as God poured out His judgments on the Egypt that the nation had become.  Later in 70 AD when the nation of Israel was being destroyed, God’s remnant had been pulled to himself and entered into His blessing.  Lest we become arrogant and inflated ourselves, let us recognize that we are in a similar situation today.  Beware lest your life “rhyme” with the life of the wicked 2,000 years ago.  There is a Day of Judgment coming for America and a day of judgment coming for this whole world.  They question is, will God see me as a jewel in that day or is His wrath coming for me?  Do not surrender to unbelief.  Rather, flee into the Word of God and trust His Ways completely, because God will eventually make it clear who are the righteous and who are the wicked.

Scoffers have increased outside the Church and within.  Those who do not fear God within are manipulating the Scriptures to their own desires.  But we must fear God, encourage each other, and warn the perishing.  However, let me warn you.  Warning the perishing will only become more dangerous in this country.  It will take a higher and higher personal cost to warn those who have cast off restraint.  It will seem like it is useless to do so and that those who do are ran over.  However, it is what God has told us to do.  I know this post is long and hopefully you have made it to this point.  If you have then let me plead with you to guard your heart against the unbelief that this society causes to come to the surface.  You don’t know how precious you really are to God.  I don’t say that to inflate your ego.  But to build up your faith in Jesus.  Let’s go forward for Jesus and lay our lives down that other might live.

Complaining vs encouraging audio

Tuesday
Aug212012

No Peace For The Wicked

Though Jesus has given his peace to his followers, this does not mean that the earth itself will experience peace.  We have to bear in mind that this is a world in rebellion against God.  Yes, Jesus provides peace.  But it is peace with those who embrace him.  Just as Israel rejected Jesus, so the nations today reject Jesus.  There is no place for Jesus in their plans and the only reason their politics make room for him is to get his the votes of his people.  This is precisely why this world cannot create a lasting peace.  When you reject the Prince of Peace then you forfeit its presence.

The believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica were concerned about the timing of the Day of the Lord.  This was a technical phrase that the prophets used to refer to a day when God comes down to judge all the nations of the world and set up his own kingdom.  Paul had taught the Thessalonians that Jesus would return a second time and when he did he would judge the nations.  However in 1 Thessalonians chapter 5, Paul basically pushes past the question of when the second coming will happen and moves onto more important matters.  So here is the first main point.

The World Will Not Be Expecting It When God’s Judgment Comes

In verse one Paul quickly dismisses the timing issue.  In short we really don’t need to know what date Jesus is coming back.  However, in verse two he turns to how it will come upon the world, “like a thief in the night.”  Then in verse three he lays out more specifics of how it will come upon the world.  This world will be caught by surprise even though prophets, the church and Jesus have warned that judgment is coming.  In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus warned over and over again that his coming would be unexpected.  In fact, it won’t just be unexpected by the world but it will also come at a time that even Christians wouldn’t think (Mt. 24:36,44).  Thus he tells his followers to watch and always be ready so that the day doesn’t take them by surprise.  It will be a surprise in the sense of the timing.  But it shouldn’t be a surprise for believers in the sense that they won’t be ready.  Are you ready?

The reason the timing is not important is because it is better for us not to know.  If we knew a time then the generations before would be lazier and the witness of the gospel would be impacted.  God’s wisdom desires that each generation live ready for the coming judgment.

Paul gives a word picture of a thief in the night.  Jesus will come like a thief in the night.  Now Jesus is not a bad thief.  However in both situations if you are not ready then you stand to lose all that you have.  This world hasn’t given a second thought about the coming of Jesus.  It has plowed on amassing wealth, power, projects and knowledge.  However, when Jesus comes back all of this will be lost and for nothing.  Thus it will be like a thief.  His coming will ruin all their hopes.

We are receiving further warnings today.  First the gospel has practically gone to all the nations.  Also, we see a growing apostasy from the truth within the church.  Also, we see a continual increase of wickedness in all nations of the world.

The World Will Claim That Peace And Safety Have Come.

Everyone claims that they have the answer for peace.  The Muslims say that they will bring peace when the West is deposed and everyone agrees with them.  The West says that it will bring peace through its philosophical reasonings.  Whether religions or nations, there are many vying philosophies that claim to be an answer for mankind.  Will such a peace ever be created?  In verse 3 Paul points to the fact that the world will say, “Peace and Safety!”  Notice it is not clear whether they are saying it has been obtained or that it is within their grasp.  Perhaps like Neville Chamberlain in WWII they have achieved peace on paper.  Regardless, this declaration of peace and safety will trigger destruction.  Think of the sadness of this predicament.  The world rejects God in order to create its own safety and peace.  However,  just when they think they have achieved it, boom!  The rug is pulled out from under them, which leads us to the last point.

The World Will Instead Experience Ruin And Destruction

The collapse of the imagined peace will be the destruction of the nations and all their great plans.  This destruction will be a mixture of man-caused things and God-caused things.

Here Paul inserts another word picture.  A pregnant woman who begins to have labor pains has been lived and watched ever since the beginning.  Paul says that the destruction will come like labor pains upon a woman.  Thus the suddenness is more about the beginning rather than the duration.  It begins suddenly but lasts longer than a second.  Second of all, the pains increase with intensity as they decrease in the amount of time in between them.  So the pains come quicker and quicker and become harder and harder.  However, the world is not giving birth to something good.  It is giving birth to its own destruction and judgment.  Does it not seem, in this day and age, that major disasters and pains on the earth are coming quicker and quicker?  Does it not see, today, that they are also becoming worse and worse?  Isn’t it time to rebel against the rebellion before it is too late?

Isaiah 57:19-21 says, “’I create the fruit of the lips: Peace, peace to him who is far off and to him who is near,’ says the Lord, ‘And I will heal him.’  But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.  ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”

The message of Christ is peace, just as the angels proclaimed at his birth: “peace on earth goodwill towards men.”  However, this peace has been rejected by the world and cast aside.  Thus God offers peace to him who is near and him who is far off.  Basically that means anybody.  But to the wicked, those who reject this offer and persist in their own way, there can be no peace.

If you desire peace today then you are going to have to save yourself from this wicked generation.  You are going to have to leave the rebellion behind, walk away from the revolution, and turn back in repentance towards God.  The last words Paul gives are serious: “They shall not escape.”  Think about the futility of that statement.  No matter what this world tries it is all impotent to change the future we are headed towards.  Peace will only come when Jesus is ruling on this earth.  The fact that he isn’t here yet means that grace is still available for us and for the lost.  Do we even care?  Just know this.  Jesus cared and if we love him we will care too.

 

No Peace Wicked audio