Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Friday, June 09, 2017

One God: A Study of Isaiah 44:6-20

READ: Isaiah 44:6-20

Introduction to the book of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah is an account of great judgment and great hope. Isaiah acts as God' prosecutor bringing charges against His chosen nation because of their unfaithfulness to Him, but Isaiah also acts as God's evangelist, bringing the good news that God will make all things right, establishing a new heavens and a new earth: expanding His kingdom beyond ethnic Israel to all the nations.

Isaiah's status as prophet confirmed

Isaiah's call as a prophet is confirmed in several ways:

First, his call is confirmed by his vision of the LORD sitting on an exalted throne in His temple.

Later, Isaiah acted as God's messenger to King Hezekiah (who was on his death-bed) to tell the King that he had fifteen more years to live: a message confirmed by the sun briefly changing its course in the sky.

Perhaps the most remarkable way that God confirmed Isaiah as a prophet is at the end of our chapter [Isaiah 44], where Isaiah prophesies about King Cyrus by name over 100 years in advance.

Introduction to this text

Throughout the book of Isaiah, the prophet has been delivering a message of judgment against Israel for their hypocrisy in pretending to be concerned with God's law (through keeping His feasts, sacrificing, fasting) while rejecting justice and love for the poor. In this regard, Isaiah's ministry was much like that of the Lord Jesus, who came over 600 years later.

Like Jesus, Isaiah confronted a people who used religion as an excuse to continue a self-centered lifestyle at the expense of others. As Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem, Isaiah foretold Judah's captivity in Babylon just a few chapters before our text. Leading up to (then especially during) their time in Babylon, the remnant of Israel would have been severely tempted to worship the idols of the Babylonians and the other nations around them. And that is why the text under consideration would have been so relevant to the people of Israel when it was first given.

This text begins with a proclamation from God concerning His (for lack of a better term) utter uniqueness.

Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last;” (Isaiah 44:6a ESV)

Think of the arrogance of this statement if made by anyone other than the true God. Even today, outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who fail to see the difference between God and Man, point to such statements and say that if God does exist, then He is certainly a megalomaniac. But we know from this and other Scripture that God is before all things and that all things end in His glory.

besides me there is no god.” (Isaiah 44:6b ESV)

This would have been an incredible statement in the ears of Israel’s neighbors, who would have worshiped many gods. This statement is incredible in the ears of our neighbors as well, because though most people in our culture would not claim to worship multiple gods, many people will try to say that all beliefs are equally valid: and that we are wrong to say otherwise. For instance, when my wife (Abby) and I were expecting our first child, we went to a natural childbirth seminar, and the speaker at the seminar was counseling mothers on how to cope with the pain of childbirth. One suggestion that the speaker had was prayer. She said something to the effect of, ‘When laboring, I’ve found that many women take comfort in calling out to a higher power, so you may consider prayer–whether it be to Mother God, Jesus, Krishna, or whoever you may believe in–gives you comfort.’ Now, the forum did not permit this, but what if I had raised my hand and said, ‘Excuse me, but the God of the Bible declares, “Besides me there is no god”?’ What do you think the reaction to that statement would have been? Other participants would have called me narrow-minded at best. So in our culture it is easy for us to shrink away from such absolute statements made by God, but we must resist this temptation if we are to present His message of life to the dying.

Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people.” (Isaiah 44:7a ESV)

Think of how different our God is from the supposed gods of other religions. In pagan systems no one particular god cares for all the people. People may choose to follow a certain god, but then they must perform the right ceremonies to keep that god’s favor. If a stronger nation conquers a pagan nation, then the weaker nation would begin to follow the pagan nation’s gods. But the LORD creates one people to show His love. He calls to them again and again. Even when they reject Him, He sends prophets to urge them to faithfulness. Even when their rejection becomes so great that He allows them to be exiled, He still preserves a faithful remnant and uses that remnant to bless all nations.

Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.” (Isaiah 44:7b ESV)

In Isaiah, God declares that King Hezekiah will live fifteen more years, and he does. He declares Cyrus will subdue nations about one hundred years before Cyrus is even born. Later, Jesus declares that Jerusalem will fall about forty years before the Romans raze it to the ground. You can search the texts of other religions– the Koran of the Muslims, the Ramayana of the Hindus– and you will find no book with such verifiable, fulfilled prophecy.

"Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from the beginning and declared it? And you are my witnesses!" (Isaiah 44:8a ESV)

We can all say "amen" in regards to fulfilled prophecy, but there should be another response as well: that of fearless trust in God. We can all say "amen" when we hear that God added fifteen years to Hezekiah's life, but do we have peace and confidence that God has our lives and deaths in His hands? We say "amen" when we read that God spoke of Cyrus a hundred years before he was born, but do we trust that God knows and controls the events of tomorrow? We who are God's witnesses, saying we believe God's prophecies to be true: do we live with assurance in God's continued faithfulness, or do we live racked with anxiety, as if God does not know or is not in control of the future?

"Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock, I know not any." (Isaiah 44:8b ESV)

This is a passage I have mentioned when teaching on Mormon evangelism. Remember, when a Mormon missionary tries to convince you that there is more than one God, you can take him to this verse and point out, "That's interesting- if there are other Gods, then apparently God Himself doesn't know about them!" This gets back to the beginning of the passage, where God says, "besides me there is no god." We must be unashamed to proclaim the message of the one true God. Whether our neighbors believe in the Mormon god (who they think of as an exalted man) or whether they are like a co-worker I once had who said, "Work is my church," meaning, "Money is my god," we must, as followers of Christ, be willing to lovingly confront the false gods of others, realizing that Christ is the one true Rock and without Him everyone is headed for destruction.

The sheer foolishness of idolatry illustrated:

9 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.

12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire! 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, Deliver me, for you are my god!
(Isaiah 44:9-17 ESV)

Here we see a picture of a society of idolaters. They begin by shaping iron into cutting tools (v. 12). Next, someone cuts down a tree (v. 14). Half of this tree is used for a fire: for necessary warmth, for food. But look what is done with the other half (v. 15-17)!

Instead of trusting in the Creator, the idolater trusts in the lifeless thing that he worked so hard to create. Verse 13 further illustrates the effort the idolater puts into making the idol. This is no accidental sin. It is not as if the idol-maker threw a bunch of gold into a fire and out came an idol. No, the idolater works hard at his idolatry. He makes it into a thing of physical beauty. He has a sense of accomplishment when the idol is finally made, so that he can worship it.

Now, it is easy for us to laugh at this poor, deceived idolater. But, dear reader, this may very well be a picture of your life. Because no one reading this post has likely set out to carve an idol in order to worship it, but everyone reading this has taken gifts that God has given and has begun trusting in those gifts rather than in God Himself. If we are not constantly checking our hearts, this is what we all do. We pray for a job so that we can support ourselves and our families, we search high and low for just the right job, exercising wisdom God has given us. Then, once we have a job, we begin trusting in that job for provision rather than in Jehovah Jireh (the LORD who provides). We trust in money so much that we are slow to give to the Church; we are so concerned about keeping our position that we neglect to bear witness to the gospel in our workplace.

Perhaps it's not a job that tempts you to idolatry, but your family, your health, your ability in some other area. Any good gift God gives you that you are tempted to trust more that your Creator can become an idol. What might be an idol in your life? Isaiah 44:17 tells us that the idolater prays to his idol, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" When you are in trouble, anxious, or depressed, what is the first thing that your mind turns to? If it is something other than God, then that something is certainly an idol to you.

God's judgment against idolatry:

18 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19 No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood? 20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:18-20 ESV)

Indulging idolatry dulls discernment, it hardens the heart, and leads to greater errors. But how do we overcome idolatry? Do we simply resolve to do better?

We see this throughout the Old Testament: Israel falls into idolatry despite warnings by the prophets, they are punished, and then they repent, making vows to keep all of God's laws. But just a few chapters later, they are right back into some form of idolatry.

This shows that will-power will not save you from idolatry. Resolutions will not save you from idolatry. The way to salvation is shown in the first verses we read from this passage, as we are called to remember who God is, what He has done, and to trust in Him. This way to salvation is made perfectly clear in the New Testament as we see God in Christ. We must remember who Christ is: God who became Man to save us from our sins, including the sin of idolatry. We must remember what He has done: dying on the Cross, becoming as an idolater for all the idol-worshipers who would ever believe in Him; He was raised from the dead victorious over idolatry, over all sin, and over death itself- and we must trust in Him, crying out to Jesus in our distress, "Deliver me, for You are my God!" Christ deserves this plea and has promised to hear and answer this plea from all who place their trust in Him. So I urge you, dear reader, cry out to Christ today and receive salvation.

[The above blogpost is lightly edited from posts that originally appeared on this blog from October through December, 2007.]



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