Dear ancient people, appointed by the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from the LORD, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts.
Everything seems unstable and has for quite some time now. Just when we think we have a handle on things, the rules change or some new crisis emerges and our plan has to be filed in the gray bin. At church we had our general COVID-19 procedures all drawn up and working well for a few weeks. We had secured a rotation of communion assistants. Now Vishal has to go away and become Pastor Paul. I received a date for a minor surgery this week, the City of St. Catharines issued a new By-Law, and all of this means changing what was just about becoming routine. Of course, this might also mean changes for a planned upcoming congregational meeting, which was to address the topic of a change of location for our church, which will bring about a whole bunch of other changes and alterations and shake things some more.
You know how it is, because these kinds of things happen in your life and family as well. Someone might have a medical emergency or a slow decline in ability that requires a change, and what you used to do automatically with very little thought now requires a whole new way of doing things and addressing problems, all the while negotiating viral precautions of your own personal choice and those of everyone you interact with, as well as those set in place by outside authorities.
There can be no doubt that the devil is using these unstable times to shake you up, to rattle your cage, to give you a jolt while your life is on the edge. There are some conspiracy theories that certain powers are using these unstable times to completely destroy all social order in order to rebuild a society of their own design. There are certainly some misguided individuals and groups pushing in that direction. Perhaps you can see that happening on some scale in your more close circles at home, at work, perhaps even in the church.
It all seems new and challenging and can be very frightful for us, but unstable times are really nothing new at all. Ever since Adam and Eve fell to the temptations of the old evil foe, life for humankind on this earth has been unstable. Creation itself was subjected to futility because of the Fall and now waits with eager longing for things to be set right (Romans 8:19-22). Life in this world is unstable with weeds growing among the wheat, earthquakes and floods, viruses and the slow decay that accompanies age. Life in this world is unstable with people who give in to the devil’s temptations toward self-centred sin, shaking up my world as they try to create some stability for themselves. Life in this world is unstable with my own sin messing things up for myself and jolting others who are trying to keep a foothold on the edge of their own sanity. Where can we find some stability, some solid ground, a firm place to stand, an unmovable Rock?
The people of Israel, in Isaiah’s day, knew that life in this world is unstable. They had to deal with political upheaval, famine and plague, the sins of their neighbours as well as their own, and their sins as a corporate nation against the LORD God. Grasping for some source of stability, the people turned to idols because that is what it seemed everyone else was doing.
It seems ridiculous to us, as the LORD had Isaiah point out to them:
The carpenter… takes a part of [a cedar tree] and warms himself; it kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 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!'’ 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 44:15-17).
He tries to make some stability out of something that is consumed by fire. While he uses some of the cedar wood for its intended purpose as fuel for a fire to warm himself and bake his bread, he then falls down and worships that same wood, as if it could deliver him from fire and every other instability of his life.
What are the idols that you have turned to in order to bring stability to your life? It takes a little bit of reflection, because the cedar wood is not evil. It has its intended purpose, but when you look to it for your deliverance from the instability of life, then you have an idol.
There are all kinds of things that we set up in our lives to try to give us stability, and it is okay to use them for their intended purpose, like using wood or oil or gas to fuel a fire in order to have heat and bake bread, remembering where those natural resources came from. And I’m thinking beyond the forest and the earth, to the Creator and Preserver of all things. The wood becomes an idol when you no longer use it for the purpose for which God gave it, but instead worship the wood and refuse to use it for the purposes God intended. There are some in our society today who would forbid any trees to be cut down, thinking that if the wood is revered, then there will be some stability for life on this earth, and then your needs will be met, then all will become right with the world, and you will have stability for your life.
Your idols are not likely simple carvings of wood, but they may contain wood, like a house or a piece of property. Your idols may be a certain form of society or government, in which you place your hope not just for order and justice, but for deliverance from the corporate sins of your nation or society. Your idol might even be some personal project for charity or the church which you hope will not only provide for the poor or the preaching of the Gospel, but atone for some sin of your past that keeps you unstable and shaky before God.
Life in this world is unstable and it can be frightening. Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before Me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are My witnesses! Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any” (Isaiah 44:6-8).
Stability can only come with the LORD. His name, 'Yahweh', means “I AM.” That is what He told the children of Israel when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 3:14). He told the people in Isaiah’s day, “I am the first and I am the last.” Always I AM. Besides Him there is no god, not of wood or stone, or social idealism, or medical expertise. These things are all gifts from Him to be used for their intended purpose, but not to take His place. Only He knows what is coming, whether it be political revolution, or a second wave of viral infection. All others are bound to best guess and projections, and they can be quite useful if kept in their sphere, if we admit that with them there will always be doubt and uncertainty, but with the LORD everything is known.
There is no one like Him. From the very beginning He knew what would happen and He appointed a people to have that knowledge. I am not talking about a secret society of Illuminati, or a political think tank, but a people, His people from the beginning of creation, an ancient people who hold the secret to stability, knowing what was to happen and what will happen. When Adam and Eve first fell to sin, the LORD revealed in their hearing that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). The Son of God, born of a Virgin, would destroy Satan, and bring an end to all of the upheaval he has caused by leading mankind into sin. Throughout all of the instability of life in this world, God’s people have had that truth as their Rock.
The LORD, the King of Israel, sent His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts, to be born of a virgin, to pay the price of our redemption by giving His holy and divine life for the sins of the world, by dying on a cross, to rise again to lead His people out of death and the grave to eternal life in the new creation. That is why the creation, subjected to futility at the Fall, waits with eager expectation for what the LORD has revealed will yet happen.
From the beginning He told His ancient people what was to come: His Redeemer, their Saviour. They should never have turned to idols of wood or stone. We should never turn to idols of decaying matter or hollow philosophies, for the knowledge of salvation has been given to us. We have been appointed by the everlasting LORD not only to know it, but to be His witnesses to it. There is no other God. There is none like Him. There is no other Rock, no other source of stability through whatever life in this world may bring.
Our life in this world is like living as wheat among the weeds. But the LORD has told us what will happen. On the Last Day His holy angels will gather all the weeds to be burned, all causes of sin will be removed, and we will be safely gathered into His storehouse, preserved to live forever in a stable new creation with nothing to shake or upset it again (Matthew 13:38-43). That’s the kind of stability we long for now. That is what we are grasping for. But it won’t be found in idols. It will only be found in the LORD, the King of Israel, and His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts; or as we sing in the Sanctus, “LORD God of Sabaoth.” He is the one who comes to us now. He has revealed to us what is coming. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” It is Him, coming now in body and blood to give us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.