Last year Kevin Rudd was elected on promises of MAKING THINGS BETTER for working families. Of giving a helping hand. Of fixing up schools, and hospitials. Reducing taxes. Fixing the housing crisis. The promise of lots of strategies and plans, of innovation and leadership.
And the less cynical among us even began to dream that it might be POSSIBLE. That Australia might become A BETTER PLACE.
Yet, after barely six months in office, Kevin Rudd’s come out and said he’s done EVERYTHING HE CAN for working families. Can’t do anything more about petrol, or housing. Interest rates are out of his control.
Which all sounds like he’s given up, already. Thrown his hands up in frustration that it’s all too hard.
Which is not entirely unexpected, I suppose!
Then there’s America. Barak Obama campaigning for the presidential nomination under various slogans along the lines of “It’s time for a CHANGE.” “We need a fresh start.” “A new beginning.”
Same thing. The promise of a better world.
But it’s not just POLITICIANS promising it. Dictators through the ages rise to power with the same promise. Hitler promised a better world through racial purity. Communist dictators like Mao Tze Tung or Stalin convinced people that communism would make a better world than one ruled by emperors or kings.
Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe rose to power on a reaction against white colonial rule. Vowing to make the country equitable and fair. And now BLACK rule is more oppressive and inequitable than WHITE rule EVER was.
The promise of a better world.
Then there’s your everyday person. Trying to create a better world on their own. Perhaps it’s renovating the house, doing the garden. Perhaps it’s upgrading. The car, the house, or the spouse.
Or maybe it’s selling up and moving to the country. Or the coast. Downsizing, simplifying. Cutting back. Moving to a hippy commune. Getting back to nature. Or moving to a villa in Tuscany.
But does it WORK? Will it make you HAPPY? And, even if it does work FOR A WHILE, will it LAST?
And then there’s the question of whether you make any impact on the lives of OTHERS AROUND YOU.
And that’s the reality, isn’t it? That the PERFECT WORLD isn’t POSSIBLE. Because the world is full of IMPERFECT people. It’s a broken, messy, crazy, aching, hurting, pre-occupied world.
But nevertheless, here in Isaiah 11, we’ve got a picture of a PERFECT WORLD. Promised by GOD. The one who’s in charge of THIS world.
He MADE it perfect. But it’s not that way NOW. And he SEES the problems. And he’s WORKING to bring a SOLUTION.
God’s the one who sends someone authorised to rule his PERFECT WORLD. And then, ultimately, who’ll bring in that PERFECT world. We’ll get the that in a minute.
The setting is the Middle East in 8th century B.C. God’s people, Judah, are under threat from Samaria, and Aram. And Assyria is breathing down their necks. (show map)
And it’s all because Judah REFUSES to follow God. They’ll do whatever THEY want, instead of what GOD wants. The basic human response that got the world into the mess in the FIRST PLACE.
God’s given them the Promised Land. And told them things will be fine as long as they do things HIS way. But, over the generations, and over the centuries, they’ve shown they’re not interested.
Chapters 9 and 10 describe warning after warning God gives. Like Ch 9 v8.
8 The Lord has sent A MESSAGE against Jacob; it will fall on Israel. 9 All the people will know it– Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria– who say with pride and arrogance of heart, 10 “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.”
God sends his message through invading armies. But the people aren’t listening. Too proud to recognise the point. V13.
13 But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the LORD Almighty.
When people ignore God, the whole land goes to ruin. V16. The LEADERS are MIS-leaders. V21. Anarchy reigns, brother ripping into brother.
Into ch 10. Even the man-made laws promote IN-justice, rather than justice.
And the portrait finishes in v4 of ch 10 with the refrain repeated one last time, “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.”
The world’s in a mess, and God’s angry.
AS we read these verses, it begs the question. Is this DESCRIPTION of the situation, or is it a PROMISE OF God’s JUDGMENT? Is the mess the RESULT of God’s anger, or the CAUSE of it? I think it’s both. Let me explain what I mean.
All of the wickedness and injustice, in one sense, is caused by the PEOPLE. Just doing what seems good to them. But at the same time, it’s part of God’s punishment for their very rebellion. He’s punishing them by letting them bear the consequences of their revolution.
Rom 1 talks about how people neither glorify God, nor give thanks to him, even though they know about him from creation. And so God GIVES THEM OVER to the sinful desires of their hearts.
They worship created things rather than the Creator. So God GIVES THEM OVER to shameful lusts.
They don’t think it’s worth knowing God, so he GIVES THEM OVER to doing what ought not be done.
Here’s the point. The chaos of Judah in Isaiah’s day. Or the mess of Australian society TODAY. On the one hand is just the result of people living out their desires. Whether it be divorce, or crime, or addictions. Over-spending, over-committing, and self-centredness.
But on the other hand, it’s also a sign of God’s JUDGMENT. Of him consciously and actively HANDING THEM OVER to the consequences of their actions.
Sometimes the best lesson a parent can DO/ is to teach a child the CONSEQUENCES for their actions.
And it’s the same with God. His handing over is a sign of his anger and judgment. But it’s also a sign of HIS GOODNESS and his MERCY. Because there’s a PURPOSE behind it all. Just like a parent. He wants to SEND A MESSAGE. He wants people to RETURN to him. (Ch 9 v8 The Lord has SENT A MESSAGE against Jacob. And v13. But the people have not returned to him who struck them.)
Better NOW, than when it’s TOO LATE. This life is the only chance people will get. Handing people over to the consequences of their sin sends them a message that they need to live GOD’S way. Before it’s too late.
And there’s something to be said for pointing people to God’s ways in the midst of the mess of their lives. You need to be careful of course to do it SENSITIVELY. Without coming across as JUDGMENTAL. But I think that’s one of the reasons God hands people over – so that they’ll sit up and take notice of him. And I know it’s worked that way with some of YOU.
Let’s move on. In v5 of Ch 10, God’s attention turns to Assyria, the INSTRUMENT he’s going to use to punish his people. And his message is that THEY TOO are headed for disaster. Because they’re wicked and proud. Thinking their success is all about THEM. Look down to v12.
12 When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. 13 For he says: “‘By the strength of MY hand I have done this, and by MY wisdom, because I have understanding. I removed the boundaries of nations, I plundered their treasures; like a mighty one I subdued their kings.
But the reality is/ it’s GOD who’s in control. It’s HIS purposes being worked out in human lives and kingdoms. Assyria’s nothing more than AN INSTRUMENT. V15.
15 Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it?
Then, v16, he’s what God will do.
16 Therefore, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors; under his pomp a fire will be kindled like a blazing flame.
And the remaining trees of his forests (that’s Assyria) will be so few that a child could write them down.
In evil and good. Power and weakness. Poverty and riches. Whatever the circumstance. This is GOD’S world. Not ours. He controls everything. Not US. He has a PURPOSE in everything. He is perfectly good and wise and powerful. And he wants evil, foolish and fragile people to TURN to him. And that’s the reason he does EVERYTHING in THIS world.
And while many people DON’T listen to God, there are always some who DO. And in Isaiah, they’re called THE REMNANT.
And God’s attention turns to THEM in v20.
20 In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. 21 A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God.
A little band where God IS king. A little part of God’s world where it’s OBVIOUS that God’s in control. Where people follow his rules. Order themselves according to his priorities.
Of course he’s king of the WHOLE WORLD, but there’s plenty who don’t acknowledge that rule. But at least here, among his remnant, God is King.
Even in the midst of a world that’s going to ruin.
And so God says to them. Live out the consequences of that citizenship in the messed up world. V24.
“O my people who live in Zion, DO NOT BE AFRAID of the Assyrians, who beat you with a rod and lift up a club against you, as Egypt did. 25 Very soon my anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.”
If you’re a citizen of God’s kingdom, don’t be afraid of any of chaos out THERE. Because that’s God’s world, TOO. And he’s got it in hand. His purpose is behind it. Treat each hurdle with FAITH. Trusting that God’s put it their, as your loving heavenly Father, for A REASON. It’s there to bring him glory, or to make you more like Jesus, or to send a message to people who aren’t listening to him. Or perhaps even all THREE.
God finishes ch 10 with a vivid picture of Assyria’s destruction. V33.
33 See, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. 34 He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax; Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.
The promise that the godless will FALL. And that God’s people will STAND.
Think about what we’ve seen so far. Israel, Assyria, the faithful remnant. Judgment and salvation. It’s basically a portrait, in miniature, of the way God’s dealt with humanity throughout history. Over and over. The same pattern.
People chose THEIR way rather than God’s. He HANDS THEM OVER to the consequences of their sin. Most IGNORE his messages. Some, a remnant, choose to live under his rule. And reflect, in a small and dim and vague way, what his perfect world should be like. Stuck between the reality of living in a broken world, and the promise of God’s perfect rule and his perfect world.
But are God’s purposes only as big as A REMNANT? A PORTION of his creation living the way he wants. And IMPERFECTLY at THAT?
His plans are MUCH more glorious than that. And so he lets Isaiah in on the strategy. To send a king capable of bringing in a perfect new world. Someone who doesn’t just PROMISE it. But who can DELIVER.
He’s finished ch 10 with the picture of the forest of Assyria completely cut down, nothing but STUMPS.
Back at the end of ch 6 he talked about ISRAEL the same way. The faithful remnant would be a STUMP IN THE GROUND. The tree was gone, but the roots are still alive, and the stump remains.
And now God takes up the picture again at the start of ch 11.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
He’s talking about Jesus
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD– 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
And so Jesus came. Born as a man. Filled with the Spirit of God so he could teach and judge with perfect wisdom. So he could show God’s power in healing, and in forgiving sins.
And he was put to death. And then raised to life by God himself. And crowned as Lord of life and death, of heaven and hell, of sin and judgment. God’s declaration that Jesus is the WORTHY one. The one CAPABLE of bringing in, and of RULING God’s PERFECT world.
Which is great news for those who are part of his remnant. But BAD NEWS for those OUTSIDE. Because, by definition, a PERFECT world can’t contain anything IM-perfect, or sinful, or wicked. Check out the 2nd half of v4.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
That’s looking even FURTHER forward to when Jesus will RETURN. On judgment day. After God has given even MORE time for people to turn to him. MORE years of handing people over to the consequences of their own wickedness. In the expectation that they’ll turn back to him.
But one day, Jesus WILL bring it all to a close. And bring in HIS PERFECT WORLD. V6.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
All relationships in complete harmony. No jealousy, no greed, no hatred, no predators, no prey.
And Jesus will be the centre of it all. The focus. V10.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
God’s Perfect World TODAY
Which is a wonderful reality to look forward to. But what does it mean for us TODAY? How does THAT IDEA of God’s perfect world THEN, impact the way we live today?
The answer, I think, lies in the idea of God’s REMNANT. Today, that’s US – the church. The group of people who follow Jesus as our King.
Jesus HAS come. He HAS died and been raised. He HAS defeated sin and death, and been crowned king of the Universe. The victory is WON, but there’s still some TIDYING UP to do.
We’re living IN-BETWEEN. Jesus’ rule has BEGUN, but it’s not COMPLETE. (Here’s a big pair of theological words). It’s been INAUGURATED, but it’s waiting to be CONSUMMATED.
Jesus rules. But sin still drags us down.
Jesus has beaten death, but Christians still die.
Jesus has wiped away every tear, but Christians still suffer.
We’re waiting for God’s PERFECT WORLD.
As we saw in 2 Peter 3 a few weeks ago, God is PATIENT with his world, holding off judgment as long as he can, until as many as possible turn to him. That’s why we’re living IN–BETWEEN.
But, as we do, the expectation is on us to be living out God’s perfect world TODAY. The church is God’s window into the future. A time machine. A foretaste. An entrée.
We need to be sending the OTHER SIDE of God’s judgment message. As God hands people over to the consequences of their sin – shows them what reality is like without him. WE can show the world what reality is like when we HAND OURSELVES OVER to him.
Jesus is the King who rules amongst US. His Spirit of wisdom and understanding and power and justice lives among us. And so, we need to live with THOSE CHARACTERISTICS. To be reflecting justice and understanding. To be striving for peace.
To be showing the world what a perfect world can be like. Giving them a taste of ETERNITY / TODAY.
And, if eternity is focussed on Jesus, then we need to make sure we do THAT AS WELL. That we raise the banner of Jesus wherever we are, so that the nations might SEE him. See his beauty, and his power and his love. And RALLY to him. Honouring him, and bowing before him.
We’re to be a community who sings the song of eternity we find in Isa 12. A song we can be practicing NOW, that we might sing even LOUDER THEN.
12:1 In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”