a hard message to deliver
Isaiah 12:2-10; Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 6:17-26
Slowly he rose, and the crowd fell silent. Those in the back leaned forward, straining to hear. The atmosphere was electric. He spoke, with carefully chosen words that flew like a swift arrow that found his mark. The great man, a spokesman for God, was warning, and condemning the sins of their shameful and ungodly ways.
The crowd became restless, shifting positions in their seats, clinching fists, and mummering. Some agreed with his message, nodding their heads, and weeping softly. However, most were getting angry and began to shout insults and threats under their breaths, then vocally with vengence.
Such was the life of a prophet. The “office” of prophet was instituted during the days of Samuel (between 1200 – 930 B. C.). Prophets stood with Priests as God’s special representatives. The prophet’s role was to speak for God, confronting people and their leaders with God’s commands and promises. Because of this confrontational stance and continuing tendency of people to disobey God, true prophets usually were not very popular.
The typical blueprint of the Prophet’s Message had two main points: (1) Words of judgment; and (2) Words of Comfort. The outline would go something like this: The prophet (a) pointed out the sins of the people; (b) judgment of God against their sinful ways; (c) God’s purpose in judgment; (d) the people’s false hopes; and (e) the true hope in God. There is a long line of prophets that walked that same path as Samuel. Elijah, Elisha, the reluctant prophet, Jonah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Hosea, Micah, Nahum. Habakkuk, Zephaniah (930 – 586 B.C.) and several others.
This morning we want to look at two familiar Old Testament prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah, and their message as our pattern for the prophet’s message.
Isaiah’s prophetic writings were written in about 700 B. C. Isaiah is generally considered to be one of the greatest prophets of God. He served to call the nation of Judah back to God. Jeremiah also served to call them back to God in around 627 – 586 B. C. Isaiah and Jeremiah served at a time when society was in a great upheaval; people had reverted to idolatry, corruption – every conceivable form of immorality, and even child sacrifice; much like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (cities that God completely destroyed for their great wickedness – the homosexual capital of the world at that time). Idolatry was rampant during this time.
Isaiah focuses on two extremely repugnant examples of idol worship during his ministry; moles and bats were made from precious metals – gold and silver – to represent deities, which was strictly forbidden by the law of Moses which prohibited making of an image in the likeness of anything on earth (Exodus 20:4).
Jeremiah makes a contrast between the true God and the false gods of Canaan. He describes Israel’s God as fresh, sweet water from a living spring that could give life, instead of stale water from a cistern which ignores the life-giving life of God. He dealt with idolatry and immoral living of people who had been called the people of God.
Jeremiah ministered under Judah’s last five kings; the nation was sliding quickly down the slopes of destruction, which finally came in 586 B. C.
In the beginning of their ministries, Isaiah and Jeremiah were very well liked, but like most prophets, they soon became unpopular because their message was so hard to hear.
What made Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s messages so hard to hear? Because they hit their target dead on; they called the people to turn from their lives of sin and warned them of God’s judgment and punishment. The people had lived in their sins so long they had become proud of their sins, parading them out in the open; like Sodom and Gomorrah, they had lived so long and were so content with ungodliness that they had become hardened to the Word of God, had contempt for it and disregarded it.
Even the elders and leaders who were responsible to help people, had become content and sinful; the society had become materialistic to the core; people were self-centered, high-minded, religious leaders had settled into the shameful sins of society, much like the syncretism of our own day.
For example, the dominant worldview in America (and really the West) today is syncretism; a little of this and a little of that, blended into a worldview that’s custom-made by each person. I call it “McDonald religion” – Old McDonald has a religion, a little here and a little there, all stirred up together into a man’s worldview.
Syncretism in the dictionary is an attempt to bring reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles; practices as in philosophy or religion; the merging, as by historical change. In other words, bringing about of something that has no meaning or essence of its former principle.
With such a syncretism worldview there’s no ultimate authority -“truth” is determined by whatever seems right in each person’s eyes.
And sadly, this isn’t unique to just those outside the church. In fact, Christians (like many church leaders and Christian academics) hold to a form of syncretism when they blend millions of years and other evolutionary ideas into the book of Genesis. It’s really taking man’s pagan religion of our age that attempts to explain the universe without God (by natural processes) with meshing and merging pagan religion with Scripture.
Paul affirmed his view of Scripture – “All Scripture is God breathed,”(2 Timothy 3:16) inspired; that God had involvement in the writing of Scripture, an involvement so powerful and pervasive that what is written by God’s inspiration – has final authority.
Syncretism makes that kind of authority of no avail. It only follows man’s own ideas about Scripture, and lives accordingly.
The prophets warned the leaders of the people not to act as Lot was acting – Lot had lived so long with and become so content among the ungodly that he was no longer a believable witness for God. He allowed his environment to shape him, rather than shaping his environment. The Prophets warned of the peril of false teachings. The prophets mourned for the people. The prophets warned Jerusalem to prepare for deep mourning. The city would be shattered, and the death toll would bring great grief. No prophet since Elijah had more trouble with false prophets and empty oracles than did Jeremiah.
Someone has said the church in the world is like a ship in the water (it is meant to be in the world), but when the water gets in the ship, the ship will sink (the water is not to be in the ship). The church is to be influenced by the world, not the other way around. Now days it seems that the world is influencing the church, not the church influencing the world.
In the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, it seemed that people of God had become so worldly, that there was no hope. However, God always saves a remnant. The fall of Jerusalem was a tremendous fate. Not only in human life, but with the visible human labor and energy. Jerusalem symbolized salvation. The destruction of Jerusalem seemed to be the end. As all the prophets declared, in 586 B.C. the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, not one stone left upon another, yet in Ezekiel’s prophecy he gave hope following destruction. God always saves a remnant.
Do those who know us see us as a witness for God? Or, do we just blend into the syncretism crowd unnoticed? Is the church today a witness for Christ in the community? What do our affiliation say about us? Lot had compromised to the point that he was almost useless to God. Lot was tolerant, accepting, living by the “live and let live” philosophy until he looked just like the rest of the world around him.
I agree with George Barna who says, “Most Americans create a “customized worldview.” Seven out of 10 Americans say we are “Christian,” yet only 6 out of a hundred (6%) actually have a biblical worldview. What kind of witness do we have? Zero! Zilch! Nothing!
Have we become syncretized Christians – an absolute worthless witness?
Isaiah and Jeremiah warned against such compromise; they pointed out the sins of the people; the judgment of God against their sinful ways; God’s purpose in judgment; the people’s false hopes; and the true hope in God.
In the New Testament, Paul warns Christians to “hate what is evil” (Romans 12:9) and to “abstain from the very appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) and “do not treat prophecies with contempt” and disregard (vs 20). Paul further warns Christians not to be yoked together with unbelievers, not to form binding relationships with such because it would weaken their Christian commitment, integrity, standards, make their witness to no avail.
When true faith had degenerated into national pride and empty religious rituals that gave lip service to God; ignored or discredited His Word; God always sent a prophet to proclaim that God’s judgment would fall; that he will punish us for our unfaithfulness, our immorality, our corruptness, and rebellion. Is God trying to send pastors today to fulfill the office of prophet? I think so!
The prophet’s message also includes: “And because God’s judgment is coming, we need a Savior.” No man, no nation can be saved without God’s help. Old Testament prophets gave a message of hope; God will send the Messiah to save his people. God promises comfort, deliverance, and restoration in his future Kingdom through Jesus Christ.
The prophet’s message is the same today, with one exception: Where the Old Testament prophets were pointing forward to a coming Messiah; present day prophet’s point to Jesus Christ who has already come and died for our sins. We who repent can have refreshing because God is compassionate toward those who repent; He sent His Son to pay the penalty of judgement.
The prophetic message today is: All have sinned; are corrupt to the core; loaded with iniquity, immoral and gross behavior; have forsaken the Lord; have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned our backs on Him. To be truly religious is almost unforgivable in our nation today. “Born-again, fundamental believer, one who loves God” are ugly words in our time and age. It seems the majority looks upon a believer as a laughing stock.
There is one thing for sure, you can count on, you can take to the bank, God’s judgment will come! It will fall upon those do not repent! Just as sure as the sun comes up in the morning and sets in the evening, God’s judgment will fall upon us in our sins, no matter how much they laugh and make jokes of believers, without a repentant heart and turn to Jesus, they will face the swift and horrible judgement of God.
Isaiah announces just what the exiles needed – hope, comfort, tender words, a future. “Comfort yes, comfort, My people!” says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).
Just as God offered Judah a way out from their destruction, God offers us a pardon; a way out of the destructive forces that we have set in motion for ourselves; God’s plan of salvation is simple: Whosoever will receive it: (1) Repent (truly be sorry) for your sin and ask God to forgive you; (2) Turn away from sin (stop doing the things you did before – sexual immorality; lust; evil desires; anger; rage; malice; slander; filthy language; greed; disregard for God’s word; and ignore God completely); (3) Turn to God (develop characteristics of Christ – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3).
The prophet always gives an invitation for his hearers to respond to his message. In fact, the essence of worship is when God reveals Himself to man, and man responds to His revelation, we have truly worshipped.
Let me invite you to respond to God. How does your life stack up in the light of God’s Word? Are you in danger of God’s judgment? What will happen when His judgment falls? Are you ready?
Let us pray: Holy and Righteous God, highly exalted above all your creatures; whose moral perfection stands in contrast to our own evil natures, we stand before You as men and women who are undone, we have sinned against you and ourselves; our lives are filled with selfishness which is the root of all other sin; and sins that we are ashamed of to even admit to You; we have hardened our heart against your Holy Word and held it in contempt; we have been rebellious children against your loving care.
Father, we know we cannot make amends for our sin; that your just and swift judgment is what we are due; and while we often cry for justice in the world, O God, we ask not for justice, but for mercy. We know, Dear Father, that Christ died to save us; that we cannot save ourselves; that He is willing to save all those who turn from their sins and come to Him, please forgive me of my sin.
O God, please help me to consciously turn away from my sin, and turn my life over to you, lock, stock and barrel, everything; I turn to you in faith in Your dear Son for my salvation. And, I believe, according to Your Word, that you cleanse me from all unrighteousness and take me home to heaven with you and the Son and Holy Spirit for eternity.
If you prayed and meant it right now, give me a call or email me, or call your pastor or a Christian friend and share that decision. When you share your decision, you have others to pray for you and help you in your new walk with Christ. Jesus is the way maker. He is your way out of sin. He is your way to become a child of God. He is your life eternal. Trust Him!