A good friend recently asked me, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide it?” That is a good question. How would you answer that?
I paused for a long moment before answering. At first I responded by answering, “Yeah, he can hide, but not for long if he really is a Christian.” Then I followed up by sharing some of Christ’s words about shining the Light within a dark dark world,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Jesus said many interesting and hard things, especially to those who followed him (see Luke 14:25-33; 9:57-62). He knew if his followers really would follow him it won’t be easy. In fact, he said if you follow me you will still face temptation and inevitably you will face fierce suffering. For the light shines into hidden places that most people would rather fight to remain hidden.
The idea of a light shining in darkness is a theme in Scripture. Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations. God chose them from among all the nations of the world to show all people his purposes. He just asked Israel to trust him, to walk with him, and not mingle with the gods of other nations. It wasn’t easy for Israel. And their story isn’t secret. It’s recorded for you and I to read today.
When Isaiah was called to be prophet of Israel, they were already on a downward spiral away from God. They forgot everything God had done for them. They already adopted the gods of other nations and prided themselves on what they could do with their own hands and minds. Their light was dimming. And Isaiah’s task was to bring Israel back to God. That was no easy task.
Are you starting to catch a theme here? What God asks of us is not easy. In the final verses of Isaiah 6, God gives Isaiah both a command (what he is to say) and a consequence (what will happen if the hearers don’t listen). If you were in Isaiah’s shoes would you do what was asked of you?
The Command: “Go and Tell”
“And [God] said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive. ’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)
Within God’s command he gives three imperatives that will characterize the Israelites: they 1) do not perceive, 2) do not understand, and 3) render hearts insensitive. In other words, God says, “Tell my people that they will be just like the idols they love: blind, deaf and dumb.”
G.K. Beale in his book, A Biblical Theology of Idolatry says, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.” It’s true, you become like what you worship. As kids you learn to mimic parents, actors, singers, or whoever we idol. Children see. Children Do. From Simon says to being a Copy Cat. The question is what do you imitate and resemble?
In high school, I really wanted to have a Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students. So I took one out for a test drive. The sound system was thumping and the accelerator had some get up and go. I not only wanted one, but the car dealer convinced me that I needed to have one. I couldn’t afford one as a poor college student, but my desire to have a Jetta lingered. That was until a family member offered to sell me their 10-year Jetta. It was within my budget so I bought it. As I drove away I though I was hot stuff. But you know what? In a matter of months the luster wore off, I had maintenance bills, and newer models of the Jetta rolled off the line. My desire to drive a Jetta wasn’t sinful, but my identity tied to a Jetta was. I became the Jetta guy.
Isn’t that how idols work? They disguise themselves as needs, but when you have it they become yesterdays news, even nuisances. You love idols, but thy never love you back.
John Calvin was in tune with the problem of idols. He said,
“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Institutes, 1.11.8
The heart longs for what only God can completely fill (e.g. approval, control, success, pleasure, security, knowledge, relationship, comfort, entertainment, etc.). Idolatry is whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God. Often idols are really good things, but they take the place of the greatest thing. They seem tangible, when God is invisible. Yet they rob us of a heart reserved for God. In fact, they make us blind to God, deaf to God, and dumb to God.
Think about the command to go and tell. God tells Isaiah to go to his people–his family, friends, neighbors, tribe–and tell them about their hearts that are like factories pumping out idols. On top of that God let’s Isaiah know ahead of time that nobody will listen or respond. Sure, they will recognize Isaiah as prophet from God, but for 40+ years Isaiah would preach without a response. Talk about difficult and discouraging ministry. Yet it isn’t that much different than the world you and I live in? Isn’t the command God gave us to make disciples of all nations just as difficult and at times discouraging when people don’t see a need for God because they think that they are fine on their own?
Isaiah is no Debbie Downer. Yes, his message is grim; if the Israel won’t turn back to God their judgment will be to become just like the idols they worship.
Many get in a huff when God dishes out judgment, but one must consider God’s character. All his characteristics are balanced and he never ditches one to feed the other. In Hebrews 6:1-3, it teaches how God’s grace and justice are in balance. God is both gracious (slow to anger) and just (character demands consequences for sinfulness). God never makes snap judgements. He doesn’t go through middle school mood swings. Rather he is slow to anger and patient. However, Isaiah’s generation broke the last straw and His patience finally ran out.
- Isaiah 1:29-31 “Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden that has no water. The strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together And there will be none to quench them.”
- Isaiah 2:12, 17-18 “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased….The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols will completely vanish.”
- Isaiah 3:8-9 “Jerusalem is about to fall. And so is Judah. They say and do things against the Lord. They dare to disobey Him to His very face. The look on their faces is a witness against them. They show off their sin, just as the people of Sodom did. They don’t even try to hide it. How terrible it will be for them! They have brought trouble on themselves.”
- Isaiah 5:13 “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge.”
- Isaiah 43:8, 10 “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears… “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
- Isaiah 42:18-20 “Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.“
- Psalm 135:14-18 (cf. 115:3-8) “For the Lord will judge His people And will have compassion on His servants. The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.”
When it comes to the the first and second commandments, God is serious: Don’t worship other gods or make imitations or substitutions of him. If so, you will become just like them: deaf, dumb, and blind. This is the message God commands Isaiah to go and tell Israel and if they don’t turn back to God there will be a consequence.
You might be thinking, “Wow, Isaiah doesn’t have an easy task.” Yeah! You’re right! It would be as if you are a manager and you are given the task of turning around a failing company, but the company is bound for bankruptcy anyway. Or you are a teenager and you given the task to stand against the flow of peer pressures even though you will be outcast. Or you are a carpenter and you are given the task of fix a fixer upper, but the house is doomed for foreclosure. Who wants a job like that? What reward is there in that? What is in it for Isaiah? The benefit is that he is doing exactly what God asks of him and he does it willingly because he has seen who God is and he has come to know how sweet his forgiveness tastes. Faithfulness to the command is what God asks of you, even when it is hard and no one around responds and everyone things you’re nuts.
The Consequence: Become “Stumps”
Isaiah thinks for a moment about what God is asking him to say to the people and he asks an honest question, “How Long?” (v.11a) Could he be wondering if this is a short-term job assignment or a career? How will he know when the job is done? God’s response is grave, “until there is complete devastation.” (v.11b) He goes onto say that Israel—His chosen people—will be like stumps.
What comes to your mind when you think of a stump? Can you think of a so-called follower of God who is now stumps? Why would God call them stumps? Isn’t that a little harsh? A stump is a memory of a tree. It shows you where a tree once stood, but now it’s gone.. In essence what God is saying it that Israel will be an illustration to all nations of a ruined life because idolatry is wasted worship and God is jealous for his children to worship him.
Did you catch the glimmer of hope in the midst of the smoke from the chainsaw. With God there is always hope. There is hope of a remnant (v.13). Although God judges, burns, purges, prunes, chops; the stump will sprout again. God promises restoration. In the chaos there is always Cosmos. God is a Restorer. He is a Redeemer. See the glimmers of hope God gives Isaiah,
- Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [God with us].”
- Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
- Isaiah 11:1-2 “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
- Isaiah 53:5 “But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us.”
- Isaiah 53:8 “He was arrested and sentenced to death. Then He was taken away. He was cut off from this life. He was punished for the sins of my people.”
Remember, as G.K. Beale said, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.” Idols ruin, but God restores. Idols blind, deafen, and dumb, but God heals. Idols enslave, God forgives. Idols stump, but God sprouts growth.
The stump would sprout. That young sprout would be none other than Jesus Christ. He displays for the world what it looks like to be loyal to God. He models what it looks like to love God and have no other God’s but God Himself. He even came to heal the blind, deaf, and dumb and free you from the idols of our hearts.
Isaiah is a warning to us all: don’t become a stump, run to the sprout.
Today the same truth rings true. While God may not send a prophet to warn you, you do have a community called the church. Just as Israel was asked to be a light to the nations, God also asks you to shine the light and encourage one another to shine through the church,
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest. ’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:7-13)
God is seeking followers to send into a dark world on a difficult task. He doesn’t promise it will be easy. But he does promise to go with you. Will you go? Will go and tell the nations to turn back to God?
Going back to my friends question, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide?” Yes, but not for long if you you follow the Light of the world.” Stand in the light. Shine the light. Go and tell about the Light. Warn others the darkness. Encourage one another to be in the Light. This is what God asks of you.
What did God ask Isaiah to say or do? How did God say the people will respond? Would you be up for this task if you were Isaiah? How does Jesus ask Christians to do a similar task?
What is an idol? How is the heart an idol factory? How do people become like what they worship? What examples of this have you seen?
As you read verses 8-13, how does it describe the spiritual climate of the people? How is this same spiritual climate often seen in your community or church? What hope is there to overcome this spiritual state? How can you encourage or help your fellow brothers and sisters?
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