What is God Doing?by Ed de la Cour on May 5, 2014
There is one fact about which I hope we can agree: God is at work in all of our lives. When life gets hard or when we experience setbacks and discouragements, we may possibly come away thinking we’ve been shunted aside and pushed away by God. We may decide that we’ve been forgotten, or that good things only happen to other people, but those are simply whining untruths. Were Isaiah among us today, if he were to speak to us this morning, surely he would roar at us for that kind of unfaithfulness and immaturity. We are unaware of all God does for us or, if we are aware, we are usually guilty of ignoring Him.
That is God’s complaint voiced by Isaiah here in this part of chapter 43. God said He would even bring down and end the Babylonian empire for the sake of His people, Israel. That would be a mighty work of God, for sure. The pride of that pagan nation would be their undoing, God said. Babylon was that nemesis nation that dogged Israel. When Israel needed discipline, Babylon was used by God to bring it. Because God used them to discipline His people, God was not going to destroy the rod He used. God would destroy Babylon because of its own sinful idolatry and overweening pride. Those national sins became their undoing. Babylon was incapable of hearing God call them to repent, even though He did call to them. Israel listened to God from time to time, but eventually the welcome mat for God was withdrawn from their national life.
We see that sin of Babylon all over our country and in our country’s churches today. Idolatrous pride rules in the hearts of the people of this land of ours. Not just in places of government, but pride lives and reigns in homes across the nation. Pride keeps us stubborn. Pride keeps us from asking God for help. Whenever you see pride ruling a person, you will always see spiritual defeat in that person’s life because God cannot and God will not bless a prideful heart. Think back over the course of your own life. When you were humble, you could hear God whisper your name, but when you were full of yourself and you walked in your own strength, you were not able to hear God even when He shouted.
God said He will bring Babylon down for the sake of His people, and He identifies Himself again in verse 15: “I am the Lord, your holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” God is saying in effect, Listen to Me. Don’t turn your back and do not ignore Me. Remember all I have done and the miracles I performed for your sake in the past. For example, remember the Exodus. There must be hundreds of references to the Exodus in the Old Testament. This was God’s signature move, His great and mighty deliverance of a whole nation. God called this people to come out of a nation that held them in the grip of oppressive slavery. God made a way for them to escape through the sea where there was no way of escape. He worked salvation for His people when there was no hope for them. He broke down the impossible. He crushed every barrier to rescue and deliver Israel. God saved Israel and He left the Egyptian army dead “never to rise again.” Not until the cross of Jesus was there to be another time when God worked so mightily, so powerfully, and to such effect.
Even though it is huge, the story of the Exodus had become stale with the telling. Over the years, it became a mantra, repeated religiously every year at Passover. With the retelling devoid of any real or personal commitment to God, the story lost its power because people forgot to seek the God who did the deed. The God who opened the sea lived a long time ago. The people who experienced His love and power were gone as well. So the Lord declared in verse 18: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” The past is a great teacher for those who are willing to be taught its lessons. Otherwise, the past is a great weight upon those who want only to rest in the glory of days gone by. The past is a deadening weight that weighs heavily on our backs. It’s an albatross that serves only to keep the focus on what used to be. It holds us back and it keeps us away from what could be. It keeps us away from what might be. It keeps us away from God wants to do today.
People get together all the time to share the stories of the struggles of their lives, to share their experience, strength and hope. You know that it is frustrating to hear the same people share those same stories over and over. You tell the same old story because you don’t have a new story. There are no new stories of God’s faithfulness and power because you do not perceive God doing anything new in your life. God isn’t doing anything new in your life because you are not seeking Him for a new work. You’re not seeking Him! God came to your rescue once before; won’t He come to save you again? Is God’s hand too short to help you? Is anything going on in your life that is too hard for God?
I’m convinced that’s the reason why there are people who go on commitments that travel around to AA meetings. If, at each meeting, you were expected to share your story each and every week, and you shared the same thing you shared last week, folks would be bored quickly because the old story would never change. You get tired of hearing the same story week after week. What’s needed in our lives is a fresh work of God, a new story of God’s faithfulness. We need to know that God is working today. We need God to do a new work in us, and for us not to rely on what God did long ago in the past. We need to have a new experience with God to give new strength and new hope for our lives each day.
So God says to us, don’t dwell on the victories of the past. Don’t set your hope only on what God did in years gone by. Instead, what is God doing today in your life? How is He challenging you to walk by faith today? In the language of the text, what is God’s new thing in your life?
Don’t allow yourself to think for a moment that this doesn’t apply to us. If you are living a life that does not include God’s personal and life changing involvement on a day-to-day basis, you simply don’t have a saving relationship with God. Going to church and going through the motions of faith do not a saving relationship make.
What God is talking about in verse 19 is exactly what God could be doing in your life. God is all about making a way in the desert. The desert is a place of barrenness and emptiness. Sometimes life can feel like that. God makes a way to find new life and hope in those dry places. When you call on Him, God cuts a path straight through the impossible and directly through the impassible. God is all about providing nurture to feed and to sustain His children in the difficult times in our lives. When we obey God, when we remember to worship and praise Him, when we honor God by the way live our lives, God shows us the way through the wilderness. God will give us the strength we need to endure the pain, to walk through the storm, and to walk with our heads lifted up, giving glory to Him in the midst of whatever wasteland we may be living in at this moment.
But through Isaiah in verse 22, God gave the diagnosis that Israel surely didn’t want to hear. America doesn’t like to hear this either. God says – and He out to know – God says we don’t call on Him. Prayer is not our style. We hire specialists to take care of all our needs. We have our mechanics and our accountants, our geeks and our doctors. We hire preachers to have our daily experience of faith for us and to talk about it from the pulpit. On the other hand, we will weary ourselves, literally knock ourselves out, for the sake of almost any and every distraction, but we will not seek God. How is it we can call ourselves followers of Jesus when we will not pray and seek His face?
Certainly, life happens and life gets really busy, so we feel constrained to put God on the back burner. If we needed proof of our idolatry, we have it right there. Whatever it is that we love, that we will find time to serve. On whatever it is we lavish attention and affection, that thing is our god. It might be our home, the car, or the all the sports teams on which our kids play. It might be your complexion. We will lavish and weary ourselves on every kind of thing, but we find it excessive even to consider lavishing attention or love on God.
The one thing we will do is reported in verse 24: “But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.” We will happily dump our load of guilt and regret on God, thinking that’s what God’s there for! “You’ll forgive me, right, God? You’ll make it all go away, right?”
It is so good for you and for me that we are not God, for neither you nor I could ever be as merciful or as gracious as God is toward people. Our “rap sheet” of sins and offenses against God is long and tedious. Our sins prejudice us against other sinners. And our sins also would cause any judge to be prejudiced against us. But God gives incredible mercy. Without even being asked, it seems God is willing to pardon sin. That is the message and the promise of verse 25. God wipes away both the sin and the offense. The power of the cross is seen here only from a great distance away, but even from here the power of God to redeem, forgive, and atone is beyond imagining. The blood of Jesus is not just not just composed plasma, red and white cells, and platelets. The blood of Jesus is the very power of God to wash away the guilt of our iniquity. The blood of Jesus is what separates us from the sure and certain judgment of God on sin and upon those who revel in it.
We are brought into yet another picture of the courtroom of heaven in verse 26. Here God issues another invitation, another subpoena, as it were, to bring us before the throne of His justice. He told Israel to argue the case for their innocence. If Israel is not due for judgment, now is the time to declare it convincingly. If you and I really believe that we are in a good place, then now is the time to state your case and convince God of the rightness of your cause.
You and I are always arguing with God. We hardly ever humble ourselves before Him, hardly ever are we happily accepting of His rule in our lives. Here’s your chance. Here’s a golden opportunity to make your case. The idea is, argue if you want and argue if you must, but there is a fair warning. You are going to lose your case before the court of heaven and before the bar of God’s justice.
Why should we be convicted by any of this? We’re thinking to ourselves that long ago we made our peace with God. But Isaiah is speaking on behalf of God. God points out that through the “spokesmen” of the people, verse 27, every single one of His people sinned and rebelled against God. Adam sinned. Every son and daughter of Adam has followed in his steps. That’s why this applies to us. That’s why we dare not ignore this word from God in which He is pleading with us to come to our senses. God calls out to us to repent for real and for serious, and to receive our hope in Jesus, that God will lead us into a life that will honor God, and through the power of a relationship with God, be free from pride and idolatry.
The chapter closes with a final warning of impending judgment. We all want our sermons to contain happy thoughts from God, and it is difficult to preach any word from God that deals with impending judgment. Our incessant desire for happy news is nothing but magical thinking and such thoughts do not spring from reality. We continue to see the swaying rhythms in this book of Isaiah of judgment from God and mercy from God. Isaiah is not a book of bad news; but it is a book of real news, honest news that is “fair, balanced, and unafraid.” Isaiah’s purpose is to draw us back to a close and intimate relationship with God. He cries out from his desert perch to people who are running way from God and he urges them, he pleads with them to stop their running and come back home to God.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
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