We’ve been studying Isaiah and fulfilled prophecy; today we reach the exclamation point of the entire Old Testament.
I once recently read that the entire bible points to Jesus. I had a hard time grasping that concept. I knew the New Testament told the story of Jesus, and I knew the Old Testament told the story of God’s relationship with Israel. But until the last few weeks, I never understood how much the Old Testament also points to Jesus. The passages we’re studying this week, Isaiah 49 through 53, are the heart of this prophecy. They are beautiful stanzas, beautiful poetry; they are descriptions of the Christ to come.
Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. We have an egocentric, a “man-centric” view of this plan. God sent His son to die for *me* so that *I* may have a relationship with God. And that’s true, God did that for you and for me. For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But God has a “God-centric” view. Everything in God’s creation gives glory to God. That includes His son. That includes us. God sent His son to die for us so that we may bring glory to Him. God glorifies Himself by flooding our lives with mercy found in Christ.
Jewish scholars understood that Isaiah 40-53 were the messianic prophecies, a Messiah to come that would deliver Jews and Gentiles to the Lord. As Christians, we understand that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Jews did not accept Jesus as the Christ, but continued to believe that a messiah was to come. Jewish scholars continued to hold this view well at least until the twelfth century. They altered their interpretation then; Jewish scholars now interpret these passages as a description of the suffering of Israel. That view has problems, for Isaiah 53:8 says that the Servant will die for the sins of Israel. How can Israel die as a sacrifice for Israel? And verse 9 says the Servant was innocent of sin and suffered unjustly, but who will claim that Israel is innocent of sin?
The original interpretation by Jewish scholars was correct; these passages point to an innocent individual who would take away the sins of the world. Today, Jews that study both Isaiah and Jesus come away convinced that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Servant.
Jay Sekulow grew up Jewish kid in New York. When he went to college, a friend named Glenn. This is from Jay Sekulow’s testimony –
Glenn suggested I read Isaiah 53. My mind was boggled by the description of the “suffering servant” who sounded so much like Jesus. I had to be misreading the text. I realized with relief that I was reading from a “King James” Bible, and after all, that’s a “Christian” translation. So the first thing I said to Glenn after I read it was “Okay, now give me a real Bible.” I grabbed the Jewish text, but the description seemed just as clear. Even though this caught my attention, I wasn’t too worried. It still sounded like Jesus in the “Jewish Bible,” but there had to be a logical explanation.
I began to research the passage and I started to look for rabbinic interpretations. That’s when I began to worry. If I read the passage once, I’m sure I read it 500 times. I looked for as many traditional Jewish interpretations as I could find. A number of them, especially the earlier ones, described the text as a messianic prophecy. Other interpretations claimed the suffering servant was Isaiah himself, or even the nation of Israel, but those explanations were an embarrassment to me. The details in the text obviously don’t add up to the prophet Isaiah or the nation of Israel.
Jay could not explain these scriptures as anything other than the sacrifice Christ as made and today is a member of “Jews for Jesus.” He is also a prominent lawyer and Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.
God’s plan has been evident from the beginning. Century by century, generation by generation, God gave men a promise of a blessing through the bloodlines of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse, and David. Through Abraham’s seed, all nations of the world would be blessed, and the ruler’s scepter would never leave the tribe of Judah. Through David, his throne would be established forever. These were the earliest messianic prophecies.
Through Isaiah 7, we learn that the Messiah would be born of a virgin mother. Isaiah 9 tells us that the Messiah would be God incarnate, in the flesh.
The Servant is introduced in Isaiah 49; the Servant is the prophetic name for the future Messiah, Jesus Christ. The scripture here says the Servant of the Lord will summon Judah to return to the Lord and be a light for all peoples on the earth. All of Israel will be restored. You and I will be restored.
How can this be? How can imperfect people have a restored relationship with the powerful, perfect, and Holy God? We should fear even to look upon Him because of our character and who we are. I confess my pride yet again; sometimes I look at the blessings in my life and thank God. I have a beautiful and servant-focused wife that loves me with a depth that I am in awe of. Because of my service and faith in the Lord, I am truly blessed with deep friendships. And I look at the lives of other people and think that I am not like them. In the news I see horrors I cannot fathom, and know that it’s because I’ve devoted my heart to the Lord that I do not experience the same things in my life.
It’s as though my life was laid out on a beautiful green rolling hills. I am a lamb, enjoying the pastures God has given me. Picture such a hillside, with the bright morning sun shining on the grass and the blue lakes. And as I imagine myself as a lamb, what color is the lamb?
But now imagine a crisp, clear day after a snowfall. The same lamb on the same hillside covered in snow? Now what color is the lamb?
Am I a righteous person? Is there no blame in me? Are you a righteous person? We understand intuitively that we are not righteous, that somehow we should be a better person. Yet, when there is disagreement among ourselves, we never find the fault in ourselves. We find fault in others. When we cling to our own righteousness, we don’t realize that we are in fact clinging to our own guilt. We just need a scapegoat, someone else to take the blame for why we aren’t righteous. We have no righteousness apart from God. When we cling to our own righteousness, we cling to the sin of pride. All of our guilt and pride and sin must be given to Christ, and we must realize that if we have any righteousness at all, it doesn’t come from us. It comes only from Christ.
My life is but filthy rags, and the best I can hope for is a dingy gray next to the perfect life and sacrifice of our Lord. Isaiah 50 makes this distinction very clear. There is a strong contrast between the Servant’s perfect obedience and Israel’s sin. The disobedient, the spiritually adulterous, are temporarily divorced from the Lord. Isaiah 50 makes it clear this is precisely our problem; it’s because of our sins that we cannot be in the presence of the Lord. The Lord asks rhetorically in verse 2, “was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to deliver you?” The Lord God will send His Servant to Israel and we will mistreat Him, but the Servant will be vindicated by the Lord.
Isaiah 51 provides encouragement to the faithful, and the Lord promises joy and salvation that would be known throughout the ends of the earth. And then Isaiah 52-53 foretells the Servant of the Lord who would suffer, be rejected by His own people and die for their sins. He would be buried with the rich and then raised to life, then be exalted according to the will of God. The Servant Jesus would provide forgiveness of sins for all who put their faith in Him.
And then in Isaiah 53 we see God’s gracious plan to offer His son, the Servant, as a willing sacrifice as a means for us to restore the relationship with Him that we had lost through our sins. Isaiah 53:1 begins with, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?”
The question is clear. The message spoken through the prophets is clear. Yet the message reaches blind eyes and deaf ears. Most do not respond to God’s call, yet for those who do respond, unimaginable blessings await.
The Suffering Leads to Glory and Exaltation
Isaiah 53 is the pinnacle of the Old Testament; many scholars believe the beginning of the Chapter should start at Isaiah 52:13, so we’re going to start there. The New Testament quotes Isaiah 53 more than any other Old Testament chapter; there are at least 41 references. This is the fourth Servant Song, five stanzas of three verses each. I encourage you to go read the entire Servant Songs beginning in Isaiah 49, but we’ll focus today just on this last one beginning in Isaiah 52:13-15. First stanza –
See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him —
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Verse 52:13 says the Servant will be exalted, and verses 14 and 15 say the exaltation will contrast the humiliation.
When Jesus was arrested and brought before Annas, he was spat upon, slapped and beaten on the head with fists. Brought before Pilate, Jesus was scourged with a instrument of torture with metal hooks that literally ripped the skin off the body. Prisoners often died just from the scourging. The graphic details are not found in the New Testament, though Psalm 22 tells of the horror the Son of God endured.
Many have asked why Jesus had to die for our sins. Jesus did not deserve this kind of death. But you and I do. When we study the details of the life of Jesus, we can find ourselves in the lives of the people around Him. In the judgmental Caiaphas, whose self-righteousness says he is above those he judges. Or the Roman soldiers who mocked Him and tortured Him. I once found myself in Peter, a self-proclaimed follower of Jesus who denied Him in order to fit in better with those around me. Only when I was in church did I claim publically to be a Christian. I was a coward for Christ.
Jesus knew this about me, and He knew it before I was knit together in my mother’s womb. Yet He loved me anyway, and willingly had the flesh stripped from His body as the punishment for my sins that I deserved.
We may read about the death of a person that arouses fear or sympathy or abhorrence. I once saw a video that was seared into my head forever during the early days of the Iraq war, where terrorists tortured an American until he confessed to something, anything, and during his confession, the terrorists slit his throat. But Christ’s death is more than just his scourging, his flesh ripped off, the nails pounded through his hands and then strung up on a tree. The gospel message is not that Christ died. The gospel message is that Christ died for our sins. You and I are just as guilty as Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, and Pilate.
Jesus laid down His life for me. Jesus laid down His life for you. He paid the price for our sin. He deserved life, yet we gave Him death. The wages of sin are death which we so very much deserve, yet He gave us life.
Verse 15 says kings will shut their mouths because of Him. Now we see why people are astonished when they understand the message of the gospel. The man we condemned to die has declared us condemned unless we turn from sin and trust Him. We condemn Him who is innocent, but it is we who are already condemned. And the one we tortured to death is our willing savior. We cannot rejoice in the good news until we first understand that we are condemned. Jesus did not suffer and die because He was guilty, but because we are guilty. It shuts our mouths.
The Suffering is Humiliating and Offensive
The second stanza, Isaiah 53:1-3 –
Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by others,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Verse 53:1 says the people did not believe the message. Verses 2 and 3 day the Servant was humble and rejected.
This is the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, a humble life, a rejected servant. Two primary themes in Isaiah are that the “arm of the Lord” is mighty to judge and also mighty to save. He is a God of perfect judgment and we stand condemned, yet He is also a God of perfect mercy. People regard the Servant as a nobody, a loser, despised and unwanted. He had no grand beginnings; he was born in a manger. In his adult ministry, they said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” They put a cheap price of thirty pieces of silver on Him. Yet people still reject Christ because Christ does not represent things that people value, things like wealth, social prestige, reputation, power, personal comfort. We reject what God values. Yet God regards the Servant as a tender plant that He will care for.
The Suffering is Punishment and Redemption
Stanza three, Isaiah 53:4-6 –
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Verse 4 says the Servant’s suffering is punishment, and verses 5 and 6 say the punishment was redemptive.
This is the heart of the entire gospel. The innocent Servant dies as a sacrifice for sin. Expiation is the removal of guilt through the payment of the penalty. The heart of Israel’s religious system is the innocent animal that dies in place of the guilty sinner. While the wages of sin are death, God permits the blood of the innocent to be shed as a sacrifice for the guilty.
God’s amazing wisdom provides a method of redemption for all eternity. While the blood of one innocent creature can pay for the sins of one guilty person, who can wash away the sins of the entire world? A mere man cannot provide such redemption. The sacrifice must be omnipotent; only God is omnipotent. The sacrifice must be God.
But how can a perfect and holy God identify with our sins? Jesus not only bore our sins, but also identified with the consequences of Adam’s sins. The emphasis on these verses is on plural pronouns. Our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our sins. We have gone astray; we have turned to our own way. Jesus died, not for what He had done, but for what we had done. Jesus identified with us because He was also man.
And so he was pierced for our transgressions. The Jewish form of execution was stoning, but Jesus was pierced. His hands and feet were pierced with nails, His side pierced by a spear. And he was crushed for our iniquities; the word “crushed” means to be broken, bruised, shattered by a burden. Psalm 38:4 says that sin is burden that grows heavier the longer we resist. The burden of sin crushed our Lord and Savior.
Sin is serious. Isaiah calls it “transgression,” which means rebellion against God. We dare to cross the line that God draws. Isaiah also calls it “iniquity,” which refers to our crooked nature. In other words, we are sinners by nature, but also sinners by choice. By nature, we are born children of wrath, and by choice, we are children of disobedience. And Christ, though He kept the Law perfectly, took our punishment so that we may have peace with God. We are no longer condemned. How great is the grace of God to give us forgiveness instead of the condemnation we deserve!
The Suffering is Accepted
Stanza Four, Isaiah 53:7-9 –
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Verse 7 says the suffering Servant is silent. Verse 8 and 9 say the suffering Servant was innocent.
A servant is not permitted to talk back. A servant submits to the will of the master. When Christ was accused by Caiaphas, He was silent. He was silent before the chief priests and elders, before Pilate, before Herod Antipas. And when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him, He did not speak. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading this passage when the apostle Philip walked up to his chariot. The silence of the suffering Servant impressed the eunuch to want to know more about this Servant, and he was led to Christ by Philip.
Christ was silent in His suffering; Christ was silent in His trial and condemnation. But Christ was innocent of the charges. Everything about His trial was illegal. Yet Christ was silent, for to speak would proclaim His innocence. Christ did not come to be freed, but to free us.
And so Christ was killed for us. As a criminal, His body would have been left unburied, but God had other plans. His body was placed in the grave of the wealthy man Joseph so that all may witness the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Suffering Satisfies and is Effective
Stanza Five, Isaiah 53:10-12
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.
Verse 10 says the suffering was God’s will. Verse 10b and 11 says the suffering was for our justification. Verse 11 and 12 say the suffering will lead to His exaltation.
In this stanza, the prophet Isaiah explains the Cross from God’s point of view. Even though wicked men crucified Jesus, the death of Jesus for foreseen and determined by God. The death of Jesus was not an accident, nor did the death of Jesus make Him a martyr. Jesus was a willing sacrifice for the sins of the world.
And in triumph over evil, He did not remain dead. There is nothing that the wicked can accomplish that God cannot overcome. Jesus triumphed in His resurrection, He triumphed over every enemy, and He claims the spoils of victory. He was obedient unto death, and God highly exalted Him.
This obedience of the Servant satisfied the heart of the Father. God did not enjoyment in death, let alone the death of His son. But the obedience of the Son provided the redemption that God wanted for His people, redemption that God had planned from the beginning. The death of the Servant also satisfied the Law. God hates sin. It offends Him. It violates His Holy Law. In His holiness, God will judge sin, and the punishment is death. He cannot ignore sin, He cannot diminish it, He cannot compromise with it. His holiness is perfect. Yet His love, too, is perfect, and he desires to forgive us for our sins.
So how did God solve the problem of perfect judgment and perfect love? God is the judge and God is the prosecutor. In His amazing love, God also takes the place of the criminal. The Law is satisfied, and God can graciously forgive all who receive His Servant.
What did I do to deserve this love? What did you do? The answer is nothing. There is nothing we can do; we deserve the wages of our sin. Grace poured out for the sinners who will accept it. God will no longer keep a record of our sins. We are justified; we are sinners declared righteous before God. Romans 4:5 says that God has justified the ungodly.
He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was now upon Him. By His wounds we are healed. In five days, Good Friday is upon us. Reflect this week that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of our savior, it should be us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. Christ died for you and for me, though we do not deserve this mercy.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
May we all truly appreciate what God has done for us this Easter.
Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?
I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.
Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.
We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.
It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?
Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –
On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”
One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.
What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?
Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”
In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.
Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.
Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.
Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.
Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.
Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.
I. Misplaced Focus
Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.
When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.
Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.
Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.
What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?
II. Misplaced Confidence
Isaiah 7:3-9 –
Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. 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. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,
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.
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.'”
The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.
Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.
Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?
If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.
I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.
III. Missing Integrity
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”
In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.
Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –
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. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.
The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.
Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.
IV. Misplaced Faith
Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.
God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.
We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.
Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.
God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.
When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.
Welcome to the CCLXV edition of the Christian Carnival, this week’s collection of the best Christian writing on the planet. Prolific writing this week, too! There are a huuuge number of submissions. Grab a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy.
Frank McEleny presents What fire, has the younger generation acquired? « Scottish Warriors For Christ posted at Scottish Warriors For Christ, saying, “Is there a whole generation, or generations, that know nothing of the genunine “presence of God?””
Bible SEO presents The Seven Conditions of Christian Discipleship posted at Bible Study Exposition Online, saying, “Bible Study on the Seven conditions of true Christian Discipleship: – What does it mean to be a Disciple? How can one become disciple of Jesus Christ? What is the discipleship NOT? This bible study presents the seven conditions of true Christian discipleship demonstrated by Jesus Christ himself.”
FMF presents Free Money Finance: Should Christians Have Life Insurance? posted at Free Money Finance, saying, “A controversial topic for Christians. I like this article best, if for no other reason he liked the name “Chasing the Wind.” 🙂 – Michael
Eric Canaday presents The Truth About Tithing – Christianity Unplugged posted at Eric Canaday’s Posts – Christianity Unplugged, saying, “There is a lot of fear and condemnation in Christian circles around the subject of tithing. This post was written to unveil the biblical truth about tithing.”
ChristianPF presents The top 20 Christian Financial websites posted at Money in the Bible | Christian Personal Finance Blog, saying, “These are 20 of my favorite financial resources for Christians on the web.”
JLS presents The Devil Is In Everything? posted at Pastoral Musings, saying, “Is the devil truly in everything? Discernment ministries have a place, but there is a need for balance. Many seem to have gone over board and see the devil in almost everything.”
Diane R presents Synthesis and More Synthesis posted at Crossroads: Where Faith and Inquiry Meet, saying, “Synthesis is the big postmodern philosophical thing to do today. But what is it doing to Christianity?”
James John Hollandsworth, M.D. presents How Is Your Faith Tested? posted at Light Along the Journey, saying, “Do you think of “the testing of your faith” as a monumentous event, or as a daily choice?”
Ken Brown presents Replacement Theology and the Return of the King posted at C. Orthodoxy, saying, “Tolkien’s epic provides a brilliant analogy for the relationship between Jesus and his Jewish forebears.”
Wickle presents I love my wife « A True Believer’s Blog posted at A True Believer’s Weblog, saying, “Wickle has heard some comments lately about marriage and wives, and decided to spell out his feelings about his wife.”
Weekend Fisher presents The practical realities of love posted at Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength, saying, “Weekend Fisher picks up the conversation from C.S. Lewis’ comments The Four Loves and looks for how God’s love reflects itself in the different kinds of human relationships. Each ‘practical reality’ of love is based on the love of God for us. ”
michelle presents Matthew 5:4 posted at Thoughts and Confessions of a Girl Who Loves Jesus….
Jeremy presents http://parablemania.ektopos.com/archives/2009/02/psalm-headings.html posted at http://parablemania.ektopos.com, saying, “It’s a look at a popular view among scholars about the order in which psalm headings came to be added to psalms that seems at odds with a common view about the textual composition of I Samuel.”
That concludes this edition of the Christian Carnival. Submit your blog article to the next edition of Christian Carnival II using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.
We’re wrapping up the letters of from Paul to the church of Thessalonica today. Paul’s 1st letter consisted mostly of encouragement as the church faced prosecution and urged Christians to live by high moral standards in an immoral society. Anybody think this might be applicable today? Paul also talked about Christ’s Second Coming, urged the faithful Christians to warn believers who refused to work, and gave guidance on how to live as Christians.
Paul must have received news that in spite of his first letter, the Thessalonian Christians still struggled with three major problems, so he wrote the 2nd letter to Thessalonica. In Chapter 1, Paul encouraged the believers that God is fair even if the world is not. God will punish those who punish the faithful, so we should leave judgment to Him. In Chapter 2, Paul provides additional information about the Second Coming of Christ and encouraging them to persevere despite the hardships and to seek correct doctrine and obey the Word.
Now, in Chapter 3, Paul asks his brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for him, and then addresses the growing problem of believers who not only won’t work, but also interfere with the work of others.
II. Faithful Outside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:1-5)
Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.
Responsible Christians pray and obey to spread the Gospel. When Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to live morally in the immoral society they lived in, he’s recognizing one of the greatest truths of the bible: we cannot do God’s will in this world under our own power. The powerful Christian life always involves two forces; the power of God and the obedience of the believer. There is no doubt Paul was one of the most effective missionaries in the history of the world. Paul was knowledgeable about scripture, Paul was obedient, and here we also see Paul relying on the power of prayer. In verse 1 he asks for prayer that God’s will may be done through him. Paul constantly asked for prayers when he wrote his letters – Romans 15:30-31, Ephesians 6:18-19; Colossians 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Philemon 22; the list goes on and on. It pleases God when we pray for His will to be done, and the prayers of a righteous man are powerful. Prayer has many facets to it –
a. Continual Prayer.
In verse 1, Paul says “Pray for us.” The tense indicates a continual prayer, not just a one time event. Paul recognized the need for constant prayer; in 1 Thessalonians 1:2, Paul says he prays for the Thessalonians constantly, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul tells them to pray without ceasing. The world is as lost today as it was in the time of the Thessalonians and is in need of a savior they don’t even know. Pray they hear the word; pray we tell them the word. Pray and obey.
b. Offensive Prayer
These continuous prayers should be both offense and defense in our earthly battle. The words Paul chose for “spread rapidly” implies an imagery from the Old Testament where God’s Words runs swiftly, as though a runner in a race. Psalm 147:15 says, “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” And “honor” – or “glory,” in some translations, indicates a winner. The runner receives glory through winning, and God’s Word receives glory when somebody comes to Christ. Evangelistic prayer encourages us to go on the offense and spread God’s message so He may receive glory.
Offensive prayer has a purpose. Our world, you may have noticed, is sick. Our world is dying. The Word of God is life-saving medicine. Paul prays that the medicine is spread rapidly because lives are at stake. Jesus had the same urgency in John 9:4: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.”
c. Defensive Prayer
Prayer is also defensive; we must never forget we are soldiers of Christ engaged in spiritual warfare. The breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit are all parts of the armor of God to protect us. We are at battle with spiritual darkness and the plans carried out by evil men. Evil men that have not only corrupted themselves but intent on corrupting others. Evangelists are on the front line on this battle, and need both offensive prayer to spread the gospel effectively, but also defensive, protective prayer against the evil that would stop them.
III. Faithful Inside the Church (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
Discipline inside a church is necessary. And just like we’d like God’s justice to reign down on somebody else while only God’s mercy reigns on us, we only want church discipline to be imposed on other people. Some people and even some churches use discipline to kick people out of a church. But church discipline as used by Paul is a loving act. Church discipline is demanded by scripture to bring our wayward brothers and sisters back to the church, back to the fold, to heal wounds, to restore them in love.
Listen to what Jesus says in Mathew 18:15-17
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The relationships we have with one another are those of brother and sister, and they reflect our understanding of the love God has shown for us. If we can’t show love to our brother or sister, do we truly understand love at all?
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that our relationships with each other are so important that until we are reconciled with our brother, our offerings to the Lord are of little value. Our service to the Lord, our tithes, our worship, worthless. Jesus says to put your offering down and go reconcile with one another. Then come back and give your offering.
How do we do that? The first step is simple communication with each other. Just talk. If that doesn’t work, enlist a friend or two to help. If that doesn’t work, take it to somebody in the church leadership. Do that as many times as necessary, it’s not a one-time thing.
Human nature being what it is, you’re thinking of somebody that you’d like to drag up before the church leadership. But what if somebody drags you to the church leadership? What sort of attitude should you have?
Removing somebody from the church body is serious. Remember the goal is to restore sinners and bring them back into repentence. We should give them every opportunity to respond. The most important thing to remember is that we never have the right to treat them in an non-Christ-like manner just because they are acting in a non-Christ-like manner. Regardless of how the other person acts, we are to love them.
Here in the case of the Thessalonian church, Paul was dealing with a specific issues. In 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul explained to the church how to act while under persecution. Chapter 2, Paul warned against false teachings. And now, Paul is addressing idle people. See, most of the Thessalonians were Greek and part of the Greek culture was a disdain for work. Work was beneath them, and so they owned slaves to do all their work. Did you know the Roman calendar at this time observed 156 holidays a year? Festival of feasting, Festival in honor of Mercury, Festival of Mars, Festival of Flowers, Festival of Childbirth, Festival of the Dead, Festival of Success. They even had a festival, Agonalia, honoring Janus, the god of gates and doorways.
The Greek Thessalonians used the return of Christ as an excuse not to do work. These idle Greeks became burdens to the church; rather than contributing to the benefit of all, the Greeks lived off the works of other church members, working hard to make a living and contribute to the church.
Paul begins his discussion on church discipline first by studying scripture, in verse 6 he says we must live according to the teaching we received. What does the Lord say about work?
Turns out God has a lot to say about work. Starting in Genesis 2:15, Adam’s job before the fall was to cultivate and keep the garden. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, Solomon says, “whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” There are a dozen proverbs (Proverbs 6:6-11; 10:4-5; 12:11, 12:14, 12:24, 12:27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 19:24; 20:4; 21:25-26; 22:13, 22:29) that deal with work. Here’s Proverbs 6:6-11 –
You lazy fool, look at an ant.
Watch it closely; let it teach you a thing or two.
Nobody has to tell it what to do.
All summer it stores up food;
at harvest it stockpiles provisions.
So how long are you going to laze around doing nothing?
How long before you get out of bed?
A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there,
sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next?
Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life,
poverty your permanent houseguest!
Ok, so scripture is consistent about work. After making sure your exhortation is consistent with scripture, the next thing Paul commands is that you yourself aren’t guilty of the same thing. Jesus once said that before you judged another for the speck in his eye, you had to make sure you didn’t have a plank in your own eye. Paul had a vocation; he was a tentmaker and earned his living as he traveled. He reminds the Thessalonians of his example in verses 7-10. In order to be an effective witness for Christ, you must examine your own life first to ensure you are a worthy imitator of Christ. Paul didn’t have to work so hard; I’m sure he was fatigued after teaching all day, writing letters to churches, and then making tents at night. As an apostle, Paul was entitled to accept help from the church, but instead Paul went the extra mile to make sure he was an example worth imitating and relieving the church of the burden of supporting him.
First, examine the scriptures, then examine ourselves. The next step is to examine the situation. Why are the Thessalonians not working? Is it because they are unable, or because they are unwilling? Some people are unable to work. Perhaps they are disabled. Perhaps they haven’t found an opportunity or there are no job openings available. Our country is in a recession, and it appears it’s getting worse, not better. We should be diligent in applying ourselves to work as soon as possible.
Don’t take this to mean that the job must be a well-paying job, or that it pays at all. Some of the most demanding work is housework or taking care of children or ministry work. The point is that, as far as you are able, to contribute to work instead taking, to be busy at the things that pleases God instead of using idle time to simply please ourselves or meddle in the lives of others.
Look at verse 12 again. What commonsense advice does Paul give? As Christians, how can we apply this in our approach to society in general? What type of character is created by honest work?
Once the examination of scripture and examination of ourselves is complete, we may find that it’s time to confront another in the church out of love and to heal the body of Christ. Verse 13 is key to our heart at this point; Paul says we are never to tire of doing what is right. Doing what is right may be uncomfortable, but it can also be a time of significant personal growth. Here are some reasons for Christian confrontation –
i. Personal differences. This is probably the most common. We are so quick to judge others, yet are so blind to ourselves. The Thessalonians may have grumbled among themselves, “If they don’t have to work, why should I?” Sin is often unintentional, but sin nonetheless hampers God’s plan for us and for His church. When there is sin in the life of a believer, the health of the church is affected. Paul’s word for these believers were “disorderly” believers, people that marched out of step with others, disobeying Christ’s commands or the instructions of church elders. Instead of being busy, they were busybodies, and 1 Timothy 5:13 says that busybodies are more than just idle gossipers, they may be opposing God’s will by talking nonsense about others and doing Satan’s will. How tragic to find that we think we are good Christians but find instead that our idle talk is encouraging Satan instead of the church.
ii. Doctrinal error. We may find another Christian teaching the wrong doctrine. If they are doing it out of ignorance or lack of knowledge about scripture, we are to teach them the truth. 2 Timothy 2:25 says we are to do this so that God will grant them repentance and lead them to the truth. If they continue, Titus 1:10-14 says we are to rebuke them sharply. If the error continues, Romans 16:17 says avoid them, and 2 Timothy 2 says eventually we are to separate from them because their teaching will spread like gangrene.
iii. Another reason for righteous confrontation is if a believer has been overtaken by sin. This happens to believers, far more often than we think. Even the Apostle Peter denied the Lord, David yielded to lust, Moses to pride, and so on. Galatians 6:1-3 says that for these believers, we the church are to restore them gently. Remember Jesus and the adulterous woman? Jesus wasn’t harsh with her, He was gentle, admonishing to her to go and sin no more. The word “restore” literally means “to set a broken bone”. It takes gentleness and kindness and patience, not sudden judgment and condemnation.
iv. Then we get to the repeating troublemaker. Titus 3:10 tells us to warn them twice and then have nothing to do with them. These people are divisive, they often have good scriptural knowledge but because of their pride, they love to take side and encourage argument. They have a strong opinion because they love to get their way – they may argue about how the Lord’s Supper ought to be served or how the worship songs should be sung or even what kind of service to the Lord is more important. Pride is at the root of division, and Satan uses such heretics to divide a church.
v. And then, there is the church member living in open immorality. 1 Corinthians 5 deals with a case of incest within the church. The church was proud of their tolerance, how despite this open, flagrant sin, the church passed no judgment on him. There are many churches like this today that openly accept members and elders in open sin. Paul tells us that instead of being prideful of our tolerance, we should be in mourning. A believer in open sin should be expelled from the church. Paul warns us not to treat these people as enemies, because they are not. They are our brothers and sisters. Just like Lot fell out of fellowship with Abraham and the Lord because he moved to Sodom, Genesis 14:14 says, “When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” Our goal is to rescue our brother, not condemn him.
2 Thessalonians 3:14 says we should have such a purpose in our separation. When it comes to the idle, the busybodies, the heretics, the unrepentant sinners, after trying to restore them, rebuke them, disassociating with them, the purpose of our actions is to bring them back into the Lords will. Examine scripture first; make sure you are correct in your theology. Examine yourself, make sure you do not have a plank in your own eye and that you are a good example. Confront them individually, with another believer, with a church elder in order to restore them. And then, if all else fails, leave them alone and mourn that they are not in fellowship with the Lord.
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul wraps up 2 Thessalonians 3 with note that as Christians, the Lord of Peace himself will give us peace at all times and in every way. This peace is for all Christians; notice Paul says, “The Lord be with all of you,” and this includes those he just finished rebuking. This peace is for us. Let us examine ourselves and our church family and work for what is right for the benefit of all, to make a strong, healthy body of believers for our Lord and Savior.
In the two letters to the Thessalonians, Paul taught them how to live in fellowship as believers. The lesson Paul taught is just as true today. We don’t know when Jesus will return, but we do know that His return is eminent. Until then, we have tasks to do as His body. Work eagerly and joyfully at the tasks God has given us on this earth, all the while keeping an eye toward heaven. In this Chapter, Paul tells us about two of those tasks; we are to pray, and we are to earn a living. In all circumstances, we can take comfort in the peace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s talk football. Today’s the big day, Superbowl 43, Pittsburgh Steelers versus Arizona Cardinals. Pittsburgh is going for their 6th Championship ring, and they are a football dynasty. Arizona Cardinals last won an NFL title in 1947 and hold the record for the longest drought without a title.
There are great reasons to root for both teams. For instance, Diane is rooting for Pittsburgh because it’s her home town. My mother is going to root for the Cardinals because their uniforms match her fingernail polish. Both excellent reasons.
But there is something bigger going on behind the scenes this year. Kurt Warner, the quarterback of the Cardinals, is a Christian evangelical who gives thanks to God in nearly every interview. Before his NFL career, he was bagging groceries, and now he holds weekly bible study sessions with as many as 20 of his teammates. Kurt says, “You just have to embrace it, whatever God does in your life and wherever He puts you.”
Troy Polamalu, safety for Pittsburgh, is an Eastern Orthodox Christian, savage on the field but gentle in person. This week, Troy said, “I feel like faith is the foundation of everything I do on and off the field,” he said this week in Tampa. “It determines how you live your life when you love God.”
And the faith of the Steeler’s coach, Mike Tomlin, is the cohesion that holds the team together. Here’s a snippet from an article from BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
The cohesion of a football team is the direct reflection of its head coach. The 2008 Steelers are the ultimate model of individuals coming together as one. It is said that truly great people take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit. Through Tomlin’s leadership, you can hear that mantra ringing from each and every player. Not only do Steelers’ players not snipe at each other and look to blame, they genuinely love each other and defend each other. The camaraderie on the 2008 team was as good as it gets. Stan Savran, popular Pittsburgh media personality, has been around the team for more than 30 years. Heading into the AFC Championship Game, Savran could feel the unity. “There’s something very special going on in that locker room,” said Savran. “You can feel it.”
Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can attest first-hand about Savran’s intuition. “We have a special group. We call ourselves ‘The Band of Brothers.’ The offense picks the defense up. The defense picks the offense up. Special teams picks us all up. We say that nothing can come between us. We’re a real close group. We really feel that way. We want to go out and play for each other.”
LaMarr Woodley, a young player in just his second year, is experiencing something that he’s never experienced before. “I never imagined feeling this way about teammates,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not playing for ourselves. We’re playing for the team. There are no individuals in that locker room. It’s really hard to explain, but it is very real and very special.”
And how does Mike Tomlin hold the Steelers together? He puts into practice what he’s learned as a Christian. This week in Tampa, Tomlinson explained his faith in Jesus Christ this way: “First and foremost, I want people to know who I am and what the most important thing is in my life, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I want to lead with a servant’s heart. Football is what we do; faith is who we are all the time.”
For further reading on Mike Tomlin’s faith, follow the link.
• What role do you believe unity has played in the success of the Steelers?
• How important do you think it is for us as Christians to be unified?
• How does unity affect our effectiveness as Christians to non-believers? To believers?
Does God want us to work as a team? Of course He does. The bible says that we are made in His image, and He is a relational God we can know. The love God shows to us, we are to model by loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is the message behind Paul’s conclusion to the church at Thessalonica at the end of 1 Thessalonians, so let’s turn there now. Here’s a scripture for today, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 –
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.
Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
When I first read this conclusion, it reminded me of all those final instructions Grandma gave after a visit to her house. “Goodbye! Be safe! Eat well! Study hard! Wear clean clothes! Look both ways before crossing the street!” And she’d still be calling out all these instructions, even after the car window was rolled up and we were headed down the street and couldn’t hear her. There is much more to these last instructions, though; Paul is telling the Thessalonians how they are to live together as a church of believers.
There are no indications the church at Thessalonica was divided at this time; Paul’s just encouraging and teaching them to be in harmony with each other. In the first sentence, Paul calls them “brothers.” Paul uses this word 27 times in the letters to the Thessalonians; as Christians, we are all adopted children of God, and Paul saw the local church as his family.
I. Family Leadership
No family is perfect; each and every one of us know the dysfunction in our own families. We’re all imperfect and a little dysfunctional, but it is our love for our family that helps us overcome our dysfunctions. And so it is with our local church.
In each local family, we have a leader; without leadership, the family falls apart. God’s structure for the family is for the husband to be the head of the family and sacrifice himself for the good of the family. The wife is to stand next to him and make sure he sacrifices himself. I mean, she encourages him and supports him in love and cooperation. And the children are to obey their parents. This is God’s structure, and the family becomes dysfunctional when we don’t respect that structure.
And so it is with the church. Even though Galatians 3:28 says, “we are all one in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given each member of the church unique spiritual gifts –
was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
So some people are given gifts to pastor and teach the church so that the church as a whole may be raised up in maturity and prepare God’s people for service. That is God’s purpose for the church, and God’s purpose for the spiritual leaders of the church.
Paul’s letter, though, is not addressed to the leaders; it’s addressed to the brothers and sisters of Christ. What responsibilities do we have as brothers and sisters in Christ toward those in leadership?
a. Accept them.
People in church leadership are doing their best to utilize the gifts God gave them. Church leaders are not dictators, they are example to follow and have been given spiritual authority from the Lord. As they follow the Lord, so we, too, must follow them.
b. Appreciate them.
Verse 12 says, “respect those who work hard among you.” Spiritual leadership is both a great responsibility and a difficult task, whether one is serving as a pastor, deacon, director, or other spiritual leader like teacher, mission leader, social director, or His Honor, Royal Guardian of the Lunch Ministry. Encouragements are few, battles are many, and leadership is always under attack by Satan. As brothers and sisters, we should pray for our leaders, encourage our leaders, and appreciate our leaders, and serve joyfully with them. There is nothing wrong with honoring faithful servants as long as it is God who gets the glory.
c. Love them.
Paul chooses his words carefully, verse 12 says that our spiritual leaders are our brothers and are “among us,” but they are also leaders “over us in the Lord.” This can easily strain relationships as leaders are called to speak the truth in love. For a pastor to be “among us” and be “over us” at the same time requires the power of the Holy Spirit to be effective. If our ministry leaders are just our good friends, their authority to be over us and lead God’s will is weakened. On the other hand, if our ministry leaders are too authoritative, we view them as a dictator. Our leaders have to practice fellowship and authority at the same time and it requires careful balance.
d. Obey them.
Hebrews 13:17 says,
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Spiritual leaders are not always right in everything they do. They’re human and often fail. David, a king and a man after God’s own heart made serious errors in pride, adultery, and murder. Peter denied Christ 3 times and is almost a study unto himself on how to say and do goofy things while in the ministry of Christ. But wise leaders know this; they are jars of clay, prone to cracking, and they seek Christian counsel in their decisions. As leaders, they are God’s servant, and when they call us to obey God’s word, then we must give them willingly our cheerful obedience unless it is obvious they are strayed from God’s message.
If we do these four things for our leadership – accept, appreciate, love, and obey them, then we win the Church super bowl. Paul tells us that the fruit of this cheerful following is that we will be at peace among ourselves. If there’s no peace and harmony, it’s almost always because of selfishness and sin on the part of the leaders or the followers or both. This leads to dissension and division. James 4:1-3 says
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Which do we want as a church? Peace and harmony, or strife and quarrels? It’s clear that only through submission to those appointed as our leaders will we enjoy peace in the family. But we cannot put the burden of peace and harmony squarely on our leaders, so Paul also talks about how we should get along with each other.
II. Family Relationships
In many churches, people expect the church to provide for them. The laymen give their tithes, the church provides the services. But church leaders can’t do everything, and then the people grumble, the leadership weakens, and the church becomes ineffective.
But that’s not God’s plan for the church. The people of the church are supposed to do the work of the ministry. The purpose of the leadership is to equip the people to do the ministry according to Ephesians 4:12 which we just read a moment ago. Instead of blaming the church for the weakness we see, we are to step up and serve. Titus 2 tells us that the older members of the church are to instruct the younger members. As brothers and sisters, we help our brothers and sisters. We don’t have to wait for the leadership to tell us to help.
Some of our brothers and sisters are… special. Paul tells us specifically in verse 14 about three family members that need our help –
a. The unruly. The NIV calls these the idle, but the word means “careless” or “out of line.” The word was usually applied to a soldier who couldn’t march in line. Anybody in here want to admit to marching to the beat of a different drummer? We’re all unique individuals with special gifts, but there are some rules we have to follow if we are to be a cohesive church. We conduct this class according to certain rules, church starts at a certain time, we volunteer to fill specific roles. Otherwise there is chaos. As parents, we love to see our children grow and express individuality, but if that individuality leads to rebellion against our standards, it causes us grief. Individuality is good, rebellion is chaos.
b. The feebleminded, which the NIV calls the timid. The literal translation means “little-souled.” These are the quitters, the criticizers, the pessimists. Paul calls us to encourage them and comfort them and help them grow into bigger souls.
c. The weak. Paul isn’t talking about the physically weak, he’s talking about the spiritual health of the church. Paul means those that are weak in the faith of the Lord. As Christians, we tend to think of the spiritually weak as new believers or those in danger of falling away, but Paul’s actually referring to those people that do not understand their freedom in Christ. New believers in Paul’s time were still also trying to fulfill Jewish law, and they were full of condemnation for those that ate meat on holy days, did work on the Sabbath, and so on. The spiritually weak among us may think they’re strong, but if we criticize or condemn another brother or sister, *we* are the spiritually weak. To be strong is to learn how to be encouraging instead of judgmental.
Ministering to the unruly, the timid, the criticizers and spiritually weak isn’t easy, especially if we don’t realize when *we* are the unruly and spiritually weak. Paul tells us to keep three things in mind when we are ministering to our brother or sister –
1. Be patient. Be patient with whom? Everyone. Patience is a difficult thing to learn, especially when dealing with others. Everybody grows in faith at a different speed, and God speaks to us all individually in His perfect timing. Romans 15:5-6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2. Watch our motives. Paul elaborates on this in Romans 12:17-17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
3. Be kind. Paul tells us to be kind to each other and to everyone else. While the bible is useful for teaching, rebuking and training in righteousness, too often we wish we had a really heavy bible so we could beat our unruly brothers over the head with it. Criticism and complaining never yields the fruit Jesus expects from us; instead, use kindness and encouragement. Kindness and encouragement is very effective at motivating others to grow.
III. Family Worship
Worshiping the Lord in church gives glory to God, and it’s what we are called to do as brothers and sisters. We must start with worship, otherwise ministry becomes stressful, teaching becomes dry, and relationships aren’t fruitful. All of our activities as a church must begin with worship and praise. I bet Paul had instruction for us in worship, too. Let’s run through verses 16-28; Paul gives us a bunch of instruction in rapid-fire –
a. Be joyful always. God wants a joyful family, not one of dissension or criticizing or irritation. Each family member should contribute to the joy of all. Worship in joy. Then, when we give, give cheerfully. When we serve, serve with joy. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
b. Pray continually. Being a mature member of Christ means being in constant conversation with God. I don’t mean we are to be constantly mumbling prayers, but that in our thoughts and actions we stay in touch with God to see if what we say and do pleases him. We are called to “pray without ceasing.”
c. Give thanks in all circumstances. Thanks and praise must be an integral part of the family of God. Ephesians 5:19-20 says “speak… to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Study alone is insufficient; application of God’s word begins with praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God.
d. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. Many things can extinguish the Spirit’s fire. Complacency, legalism, criticism, discouragement. But God is at work, halleluiah.
e. Don’t despise prophecies. In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul says the purpose of prophecy is to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church. One way to quench the Holy Spirit’s fire is to look down on the work others are doing. I know occasionally I criticize the “name it and claim it” preaching I hear from other pastors, but the Holy Spirit is at work, even when the message is incomplete. It’s one thing to correct and rebuke, but despising the message is going too far.
f. Test everything, hold on to the good. The “nam
e it and claim it” messages may be incomplete, but they still contain some truth. How do we know what is truth? We test it, compare it to the rest of scripture, and keep that part of the message that is true. The Christian life involves hearing a lot of spiritual messages, and we must learn to keep the message that is authentic and discard errors and falsehood. The only way to learn how to do that is to read God’s word and learn it.
g. Avoid every kind of evil. We’ve heard the instruction to be in the world, but not of the world. Temptation abounds. When we recognize it, we should avoid even the appearance of evil.
h. Rely on God. Whew. Grandma’s almost finished. We’ve just read a whole lot of instruction to our family of believers about how to treat our leadership and how to treat each other. Fortunately, we don’t have to do it alone. Paul reminds us that God Himself, the God of Peace, is at work in us. If we are in prayer without ceasing, Jesus is faithful and the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to be the brother and sister of Christ that encourages and builds up one another.
Sixteen short verses; a lifetime of instruction to practice if we are to be a model family of believers. There is a purpose to all these instructions; Jesus will return, and we are to be ready. “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Word of God is at work in our lives; let us continue to build the fire of the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us until the coming of our Lord and Savior.