Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Call To Live By Faith in a time of darkness

(Very much helped by Alec Motyer's commentary on Isaiah. Have incorparated a lot of his insights into my sermon)


Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance! This longing was expressed by Isaiah in chapter 9 below:

Is 9.2 The people walking in darkness (living out their lives in darkness)
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

What was this darkness that Isaiah was talking about?

Politically it was a time of uncertainty and peril for Judah. King Ahaz, an evil king was on the throne. We read in 2 Ki 16.2-4 this description of the king:

2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God. 3 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in [a] the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

On top of that, the cruel, heartless and ruthless nation of Assyria was asserting its power and its threat of invasion in the north. In the not too distant future they could expect fierce, merciless hordes of evil men storming into their villages and cities. Killing men, women, children, raping, pillaging, destroying all in their paths.

(Read 2 Kings 15.37, 16)

Syria and Israel decided to be pro-active and joined together to form an anti-Assyrian alliance – They expected Judah under King Ahaz to join them. But when King Ahaz refused to join them, they both threatened to attack Judah.

We read in Is 7 .2 Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with [a] Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Significant : house of David – set up by the Lord himself with many assurances and promises of protection –

2 Sam 7.11 " 'The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me [b] ; your throne will be established forever.' "

So in keeping with his promises, God send the prophet Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz:

7.3-9 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, [b] to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood—because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
" 'It will not take place,
it will not happen,

8 for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.' "

But there is one caveat, one condition : King Ahaz and his people must be courageous enough to live by faith (v9)

To strengthen King Ahaz, he was asked to seek a sign from the Lord your God.

To which King Ahaz replied "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."

Gideon asked for a sign not because he doubted or disbelieved but because he wanted to be doubly certain that he was walking in the will of the Lord ( Jdg 6.36ff) Isaiah was here giving Ahaz an opportunity to affirm trust and faith in God and to act as a believer. God was ready to stop at nothing, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights for the sake of the Davidic king and the chosen city.

Ahaz chose instead to reject the offer of a sign. Thus showing himself to be a willfully unbelieving man. Instead of looking to the Lord, King Ahaz decided to turn to the Assyrians for help ( 2 Ki 16.7)

Just as the Lord loves to be trusted,(Mt 8.10 – faith of Roman Centurion) so unbelief is the unforgivable sin ( Jn 16.9 – world’s refusal to believe in Jesus)

King Ahaz’s refusal to obey Isaiah's call to faith in a very real sense marks the beginning of the end of the house of David. The remaining kings in David’s line inherited a puppet throne by courtesy, first of Assyria, then Babylon, until the royal line disappeared into the sands of the exile, never to reign again.

In v 13 with the change from the your God of v10 to my God, in v13, Isaiah signals the new, disastrous turn of events. It s no longer a matter of invitation but of prediction, no longer persuading to faith but confirming of divine displeasure. The birth of Immanuel would confirm all that the Lord said through Isaiah – with the consequences of divine retribution on unbelief.

The Assyrians will destroy Judah – a grim prophecy in Is 8!

In Is 9, Is rests his vision on the devastation of the northern lands about 733 – homelands alienated and fellow Israelites carried captive. The beginning of the end for Israel and Judah - the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali – these lands were the first to fall to Assyria.

The darkness prophesied by Isaiah had become a reality.

Today you and I have not yet experienced this darkness – of war, killings, pillage, rapes – which brings in its train, hopelessness and shattered dreams. This is darkness as it rushes to meet us with all its threats and snares and there is very little we can do about it.

But there is another darkness.

A darkness that we have helped shape by our wrong choices, faithlessness and sin.

Remember the three young boys killed by their parents because they were unable to settle their debts to loan sharks?

What about the current racial and religious tensions in our country? The waving of kris, seditious and murderous threats?

Razak Baginda – well known political analyst with a fine future and an important and influential role to play in our country – arrested for abetting the murder of a Mongolian girl.

Our own, bible believing, evangelical world is not exempt. Recently, Ted Haggard, resigned, as president of the National Evangelical Association and from his church, the New Life Church, a church with a membership in the thousands, of which he was the founder pastor. In a statement Haggard said, "The fact is I am guilty of sexual immorality...There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life.

In his analysis of the Ted Haggard fall, Gordon MacDonald talks about the inner assassin that dwells in all of us:

"I've spent more than a little time trying to understand how
and why some men and women in all kinds of leadership get
themselves into trouble, whether the issues be moral,
financial, or the abuse of power and ego. I am no stranger
to failure and public humiliation.

From those terrible moments of twenty years ago in my own
life I have come to believe that there is a deeper person in
many of us who is not unlike an assassin. This deeper person
(like a contentious board member) can be the source of
attitudes and behaviours we normally stand against in our
conscious being. But it seeks to destroy us and masses
energies that—unrestrained—tempt us to do the very things we
‘believe against.'

If you have been burned as deeply as I (and my loved ones)
have, you never live a day without remembering that there is
something within that, left unguarded, will go on the

Bob Dylan was the cultural pop icon of the sixties. The sixties was a time of turbulence, social and civil unrest and war in Vietnam. He wrote the song below:

Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

Yes indeed. When will we ever learn? What is the darkness in your heart and mine? In the push and pull and strains of everyday life in the market place, how do we treat our troublesome clients, these customers from hell, as it were? What courtesy do we accord to the unreasonable sales girl? The rude waiter? The driver who has the audacity to cut into our lane?

What do we do in the privacy of our homes? Our bedrooms? How good a husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, are we?

Who have we gossiped about and complained and slandered in church?

When will we ever learn? Will sin, evil and our failures have the final word?

The people who walked in darkness…..

For the Israelites there is a longing for a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is the hope that the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world. The House of David had failed, the Davidic house is sinking, but they look forward to the promised King who will come and restore the monarchy

For us there is the desperate wish that sin will not have the last say. That our failures will not permanently shape and direct our destiny. That there will be forgiveness, cleansing, restoration and reconciliation. A new beginning, a new future. And wonder of wonders, a new creation, if only we can be born again!

To the Israel of old and to us, the prophecy and message of Isaiah is this:

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death [a]
a light has dawned!

Is 9: 2-7 is couched in past tenses; the future is written as something which has already happened.

Light and joy related to Liberation 9.4, entering into fruits of a victory past, 9.5 and ultimate explanation, 9.6 birth of the child.

Emphasis falls not on what the child will do when grown up but on the mere fact of his birth! In his coming all that results from his coming is at once secured! Child relates to his ancestry, son expresses his maleness and dignity in the royal line. He is born as if from human parentage and given as from God. His shoulders are a symbol of ‘bearing rule’. And he will be called – given name indicative of what the new king and his rule will be.

The word ‘Wonderful’ in Hebrew connotes something supernatural – that which for whatever reason, require God as its explanation.

Hence Wonderful Counsellor is more than the humanly gifted Ahithopel ( 2Sam 16.23) and Solomon in all his fabled wisdom. His wisdom and counsel is divine. Hence the next title, Mighty God a clear affirmation to deity. The Jehowah’s Witnesses argues that since the word mighty instead of almighty is used, the title refers to a deity instead of the deity. However Motyer notes in his commentary that “ (Isaiah) puts the matter beyond equivocation by using the identical title of the Lord himself in Is 10.21

Everlasting Father – points to his concern for the helpless (Ps 68.5) care of discipline of his people (Ps 103.130 and their loyal, reverential response to him (Mal 1.6)

Prince of peace is himself the whole man, the perfectly integrated rounded personality, at one with God and humankind

Kingdom will increase and occupy progressively all space until he rules over all. The focal point is David’s throne. The very promises hw Ahaz refused to trust will be wonderfully fulfilled. Further the Moral foundations of his kingdom is justice and righteousness. All this we are assured will happen, for the Lord’s zeal will see to it.


Finally we raise the question again: what does it mean to live by faith?

For the Israelites of old : the Lord will stand by his covenantal promise made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and to King David.

For us the Lord Jesus, our lord and saviour will stand by his promises to us: that he will be with us to the end of the age. That he will never forsake us nor abandon us. He works for good to those who loved him and are called by him.

The Lord is lord of history –he can recover his people from the hand of the enemy.

The Lord is the God of salvation (whereby sin will not have the last word)

The pastoral challenge:

Are we to look at the darkness, the hopelessness, the dreams shattered and conclude that God has forgotten us? Or are we to recall the Lord’s past mercies, to remember his present promises and to make greater affirmations of faith? That he is for us and not against us?

1 comment:

Alex Tang said...

Thank you for reminding us during this period of Advent that God has already sent His Son to drive back the darkness and that this Son, our Lord Jesus will come back again. Maranatha