Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - When your heart is shaken, let faith be your pacemaker (Isaiah 7)

(Here are some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

"If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all." (Isaiah 7v9)

Today, our attention will be on Isaiah chapter 7.  As we approach this Old Testament passage, let's remember an important principle - the whole of the Bible is about Jesus Christ!  Jesus establishes this principle after his resurrection (e.g. Luke 24v25-27).  The book of Isaiah, therefore, should point us to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

What is happening in the book of Isaiah?  Recently, we've looked at the book of Haggai, which deals with the return of God's people to their land after their exile.  Isaiah covers the period of time before the exile (first half of Isaiah) and during the exile (second half of Isaiah).

Israel had originally consisted of 12 tribes, which then formed one kingdom.  However, the kingdom split - 10 tribes formed a northern kingdom(called Israel or Ephraim), and 2 tribes formed a southern kingdom (Judah).  It's in Judah that we find the prophet Isaiah.

Judah is a little kingdom surrounded by big players - nations like Syria, Israel and Assyria.  These bigger nations either want to squash Judah or absorb it.  So what are the people of Judah to do?  What is the king of Judah to do?

Isaiah is commissioned by the Lord to take His message to the king and the people.  The message of the book of Isaiah is simple: "Trust in the Lord."  How is that message presented to King Ahaz and the people of Judah in Isaiah 7?

1) Fear can shake your heart (v1-6).  What was King Ahaz like?  We read about him in 2 Chronicles:

"He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord, like his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel.  He even made metal images for the Baals (false gods), and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his sons as an offering..." (2 Chron. 28v1-3)

Ahaz illustrates a recurring problem for Judah - sometimes they would have a good king (like David), but he would eventually die, and often be replaced by a bad king (like Ahaz) who did not follow the Lord.  King Ahaz is now under pressure from Syria and Israel (v1).  They want to replace Ahaz with a puppet king (v6) who would join them to fight against Assyria.  When the king and the people hear this message, their hearts are shaken!

Isaiah's first comment is simply, "Don't do anything silly!" (v4)  The troubles are temporary - the smoke from these nations is the smoke of a fire that is dying (v5).  As an illustration, think of a barbeque in the summer.  There always comes a point when the barbeque is still hot, but the heat is dying, and you can't cook on it anymore.  So it was with Syria and Israel - they were like dying barbeques!

These fears were temporary - but temporary fears can still shake your heart, and make you doubt the Lord's will for your life.  

For example, your manager may ask you to do something unethical at work, and you fear taking a stand, knowing the potential implications for your career.  

Or you're struggling with money, and you fear losing the lifestyle you're accustomed to; but you know of a loophole to avoid paying taxes.  It's not right, but it's not illegal either.

Or you're single, and as a believer, you have always felt you shouldn't enter into an intimate relationship with an unbeliever.  But you're starting to think, if you ignored that standard, it would be so much easier to be with someone, even if it's not really what the Lord wants for you.

Your heart shakes, and you start to think: "Maybe if I went my way rather than the Lord's way..."  It looks better in the short term but, as we'll soon see in this passage, short term rewards can end up being very costly in the long term.

So what do you do when your heart is shaking?

2)  Let faith be your pacemaker (v7-16).  Isaiah tells Ahaz he can trust the Lord to protect His people.  Human leaders cannot overthrow God's plans (v7).  Soon, Israel would be defeated and divided up (v8).  We read in 2 Kings 16 + 17 of both Syria and Israel being defeated by Assyria.

But Isaiah finishes with a warning (v9) - "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all."

In other words, trust in the Lord when your heart is shaken, and you will stand firm.  Sometimes, when a person has an irregular heart rhythm, they'll be given a pacemaker, a piece of technology to keep their heartbeat steady.  The lesson of Isaiah 7 is to let faith in God be your pacemaker.  When your heart is shaken, exercise your faith in Him - this will keep your heart steady.

But Ahaz doesn't do this.  Instead, he turns to Assyria for help (see 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles for more about Ahaz).  He trusts in a pagan nation and instigates more pagan worship in Judah. When Isaiah returns again (v10), Ahaz isn't really interested in what the Lord has to say, and feigns humility to avoid hearing more (v12).  Isaiah responds with a message of judgment.

Firstly, there is the image of a virgin and son.  In the immediate context, this simply provides a timescale for the defeat of Syria and Israel.  In the time it takes for a baby to mature into a young adult, both nations will be destroyed.

But we also see a greater significance to this image.  Matthew quotes this passage in his gospel (Matt.1v22-23).  He recognises the virgin birth of Jesus the Immanuel ("God with us") as a prophesied sign of the defeat of the enemy of God's people.

So today, Jesus is the one we build our lives upon.  Old Testament kings were unreliable - bad kings would fail, and good kings would die.  They would either let you down or leave you.  But in Jesus Christ, God provides a king who never lets you down and never leaves you.  Jesus is the king that never fails and always lives.  When our hearts are shaken, we can have confidence in the Lord who perseveres for us in heaven.

So let faith be your pacemaker.  You can trust Christ when your heart is shaken.  You can trust his plan for your life.  You can trust him with your obedience.  You can trust him when you refuse to do something unethical at work; when you say "no" to that unhelpful relationship; when you ignore the loophole that would provide temporary riches.  You can trust Jesus Christ as your Saviour and as your Lord.

3)  There is judgment for those who do not trust the Lord (v17-25).  Short term rewards can be very costly in the long term.  What did that mean for Judah?

a) Humiliation.  God says he will use Assyria as a "hired razor" to shave Judah from head to toe (v20).  This image of a "full body wax" is meant to cause embarrassment.  It implies nakedness and humiliation.

b) Thorns.  As the Lord whistles for Assyria to bring about His judgment (v18), the land becomes unusable - instead of grapes, there'll be thorns (v23-25).  "Milk and honey" were once images of a bountiful land.  But soon, it will be all the people have, because nothing will grow (v21-22).

If you don't trust the Lord, all that is left for you is judgment for your sins.  For Judah, that meant humiliation and thorns.  But God has provided a saviour to rescue you from judgment by taking your place.

Before his arrest, Jesus agonises in prayer because his heart is shaken by your greatest fear - the judgment of a holy God.  As he suffers and dies on the cross, he faces the judgment you deserve.  He endures the humiliation and he wears the thorns that were meant for you!  

Why does he do that?  Because he loves you so much!  And if he loves you that much, you can be absolutely certain that his plan for your life is always for your good, and will ultimately lead you to give him praise and thanks.  You can trust him as your Saviour and as your Lord.  You can trust him in your obscurity; you can trust him in your poverty; you can trust him in your loneliness.

He has demonstrated his love and faithfulness.  He will never leave you and he will never let you down.  You can trust his plans are for your good and for his glory.

In conclusion, fears can shake your heart, so let faith be your pacemaker.  Trust the rescuer God provides to keep your heart steady!  Put your hope in the never-failing, always-living King, Jesus Christ!  Trust him as your Saviour and as your Lord!

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