Second Reformed Church

Sunday, September 23, 2018

"A Time for Taunting" Sermon: Isaiah 14:1-27

“A Time for Taunting”
[Isaiah 14:1-27]
September 23, 2018, Second Reformed Church
            We began to look at the oracle against Babylon last week, and we saw that one act can be accomplished with both evil and good motives:  God did good in allowing the Babylonians to slaughter Judah in the hopes that this discipline would cause them to repent and turn back to God.  The Babylonians did evil in slaughtering Judah, because they wanted to kill and take the wealth and the land.  God and the Babylonians, good and evil motivations, resulting in the same act:  the slaughter of Judah.
            We saw that God will send the Medo-Persians against the Babylonians – to slaughter them – for their sin of slaughtering Judah.  Sin must be paid for.  The debt for every sin must be paid for. On the last day, justice will be accomplished for every human and all of Creation.
            Justice for sin is one reason that God allows the Medo-Persians to conquer the Babylonians.  This morning, we see another reason:
            First, God allows the Medo-Persians to conquer the Babylonians, because He loves His people.
“For the LORD will have compassion on Jacob and will again choose Israel, and will set them in their own land, and sojourners will join them and will attach themselves to the house of Jacob. And the peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves. They will take captive those who were their captors, and rule over those who oppressed them.”
God loves His people and promises to save them – a remnant of humanity – a remnant of Israel and Judah – a remnant of the people of the nations.
“And someone said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).
On another occasion:  “This was to fulfill the word that [Jesus] had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one’” (John 18:9, ESV).
God is saving a people for Himself, and they will be His forever and never lost.
Prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., God had a special relationship with the people and the land of Israel and Judah.  And here we see, God in mercy, bringing them back to the land and giving them slaves and all that they need to rebuild the nation.
Ezra records:  “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-4, ESV).
And so, we remember that God is disciplining Israel and Judah, not wiping them out.  God is doing what any loving father would do to a rebellious daughter or son, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, ESV).
We suffer for many reasons.  Sometimes it is the result of our sin, or the fact that this is a fallen world, but, sometimes, we are feeling the Hand of God against us for our good.  We need to consider if our suffering might be disciplined so we will stop following after sin, repent, and return to our loving Father.
God loves His people.
            In the next section – verses three through twenty-three – the song of the fallen king – God tells His people -- once they are back in the land and at peace they are to take up a taunt against the king of Babylon.  And we need to understand what God is having them do.
            God is not telling them to hurl insults at the king, “Look at the King of Babylon!  He’s so fat, his stomach blocks out the sun!  His nose is so crooked, you could use it to design a ziggurat!  He’s so bald, his crown slides off!”
            That’s not what God is telling them to do.  We know that for many reasons, including this example:
“[Elisha] went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys” (II Kings 2:23-24, ESV).
No, what God is telling them to do, second – in song – in praise to God – is to sing a song in such a way that it brings light to the inner truth of the situation.  It is a song that shows what seems to be is not the case.
Beginning in verse four, God tells them to sing with mock surprise that the great oppressor is no longer oppressing – his “insolent fury” has stopped.  “What happened to the great King of Babylon – the great oppressor with merciless fury?”
The answer is that he met the Great King of Creation, Who has unending fury for sin and mercy for those He loves.  That is the truth.
The Lord – the Great King – He has taken the wicked tyrant’s power away from him – and the whole Creation is at peace—singing the praise of God.
The cypresses of Lebanon that the King of Babylon use to cut down are rejoicing, as are the cedars of Lebanon, because he can’t cut them down anymore – his kingdom is destroyed and he is dead.
The King of Babylon goes to Sheol – the grave – and the leaders of the earth who are also in Sheol recognize him, and they greet him:  “Look at the great King of Babylon – he is as we are – he is in the same place as we are – we are all equal in death.”
Notice, when we die, we are with other people and they know us.  Some religions talk about “soul sleep” – where – when you are dead – you don’t know anything and don’t feel or experience anything – but that is not the case in biblical Judaism and Christianity – in the Word of God – when we die – we are conscious, we experience and feel, we are with other people, and we know each other..
“Oh, King of Babylon, in death, your bed is on the rocks, the maggots eat your flesh and the worms eat you from above – you are just like us.  God brings us all low through death.  We return to the earth from whence we are created.”
Beginning in verse twelve, we have a look at the thoughts of the King of Babylon – of his pride and arrogance.  The truth is stated:  the King of Babylon had conquered many nations – he lead powerful forces across the earth – but – in death – he is laid low – the same as everyone.
The King of Babylon is compared to the pagan Day Star, the son of the Dawn, whose arrogance caused him to fall from the home of the gods to the earth.
The human King of Babylon had become so arrogant, he thought that someday he would sit among the pantheon of the gods – he would be a god himself.  He wanted to be like God.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
 “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4-5, ESV).
“God’s not telling you the truth.  God just wants to hog heaven for Himself.  If you eat of the fruit – you will be like God.”
And – ultimately – that is the promise we follow after every time we sin – “you will be like God.”
God says in His Word that we should do this and be like this, “But I say!”
God says in His Word that this is sin and we are not to do it, “But I say!”
Every time we sin, we say, “Yes, God says this, but I am a god too, and I say!”
The King of Babylon had plans to become as great as God – to be like Him.
But James reminds us, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:13-17, ESV).
And, as Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, “[God] changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:21-22, ESV).
So, we are encouraged that no leader assumes leadership outside of God’s Will – for our good or discipline – and no leader is Sovereign – only God is Sovereign – every other leader is temporary and limited.  Especially because our leaders die.
Verse fifteen – the King of Babylon dies like every other person (until the Lord returns) – and then – “this is the man we were afraid of?  This is the conqueror of nations?  He looks so small – so human.  He is in a grave – just like everyone we know.”  The only difference is that the King of Babylon is not buried with his family.  The King of Babylon is thrown away to rot and be eaten by the animals – like a loathed branch – good for nothing but the fire.  His grave is unmarked and people have walked over his body unknowing – like those who die in war and are left to be lost on the battlefield.
And because the family of the King of Babylon was so evil, God saw to it that every member of his family died in the conquest of Babylon.  There are no descendants of the King of Babylon.  His name and his lineage is wiped off the face of world for his sins.  So God swore, and so it came to pass.
And God also promised, since there were no descendants to claim what was his, God gave the Kingdom of Babylon to the hedgehogs – they are the legitimate owners of the Kingdom of Babylon to this day.
            And so it is right for us to sing and write and proclaim – to the glory and praise of God – the inner truth of the situation.
            The Creation rejoices at the end of a tyrannical kingdom and its leaders.
            Kings, dictators, and tyrannical leaders die just like we do.
            We are all tempted to turn from God in sin wanting to become like Him.
            God is Sovereign over every moment and every person, even tyrannical kings.
            If we trust God and follow Him, we have no reason to fear our leaders.
            It is right for us to expose the inner truth of our situation – but be careful that that is what you are doing.  Don’t assume that “God is on our side.”  Back up what you are seeing and saying with the Word of God.
            Let us praise God in such a way that the truth is revealed.
            We may remember that the Babylonians conquered Judah at least one hundred years after Isaiah dies.  Isaiah does see the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians and their attacks on Judah, though, and we turn back to the present danger, and receive a repetition of the promises God has made about the discipline coming by the hands of the Assyrians.
            And we see, finally, everything God wills comes to pass.
“The LORD of hosts has sworn: ‘As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and on my mountains trample him underfoot; and his yoke shall depart from them, and his burden from their shoulder.’
After the discipline by the hands of the Assyrians, God will break the nation and trample the nation and destroy the Assyrians – Israel will be restored.  A remnant will return – because God loves His people.
“This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that’s stretched out over all the nations. For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”
Here we have a statement of the absolute sovereignty of God.  Whatever God purposes comes to pass.  Whatever God plans comes to pass.  Whatever God wills comes to pass.  Whatever the Lord has proposed comes to pass.  Who has the ability – in all of Creation – to stop God?
If we have been saved by the God by Whom everything comes to pass, what do we have to fear?  Everything that happens happens because it is God’s plan.
Don’t misunderstand – the Word of God does not teach a stoicism that says, “Oh, well, bad or good, it is what it is, I accept it – there is nothing I can do.”
No, God is Sovereign and everything comes to pass as He has ordained, but we are to do what God has said and repent of our sin and come back to Him and ask for forgiveness.  We are to trust Him and follow Him and do what we know is right according to the Word of God no matter how difficult it may seem or how unpopular it may be.
We could look at some lines of reporting in our world and say, “No!  We’re doomed!  Things have never been worse!  All hope is lost!”
But God tells us that He is in charge – that He is doing what He wants – bringing glory to Himself, bringing the remnant back to Himself, so our response ought to know the promises of the Word of God and pray them back to Him – to open our mouths and ask God to lead us by the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – to continually repent of our sin – to trust God that the worst they can do is kill us – and for the Christian – death ushers us into Paradise.
God loves His people – everyone throughout time and space who believes savingly in Jesus.
God desires that we praise Him in such a way that the truth is revealed.
God wills everything that comes to pass.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, help us to trust You as the Sovereign God and our loving Father.  Help us to know Your Word and tell others the truth behind what we see and hear.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reformed Wisdom

On Isaiah 14:9-15:

"In this way it expresses some of the central Old Testament truths about the dead.  First, the dead are alive -- in Sheol.  In the Bible 'death' is never 'termination' but a change of place and of state with continuity of personal identity.  Sheol is the 'place' where all the dead live (see Jb. 3:11-19; Ps. 49:9).  Secondly, in Sheol there is personal continuity and mutual recognition; the king is recognized as he arrives (10). ... Thirdly, Sheol is a place of weakness with loss, not enhancement, of earthly powers. ... The Old Testament awaits Jesus and the illumination of immortality (2 Tim. 1:10) to fulfill its hints of the resurrection of the body.  Yet in this as in all else, the Old Testament establishes truth, not error; the dead live on, personality continues with mutual recognition.  The dead, as incomplete personalities awaiting fulness, can neither help nor hurt the living -- a perfect answer to spiritism." -- J. Alec Moyter, The Prophecy of Isaiah:  An Introduction and Commentary, 143-144.

Rosemarie Lemos Funeral

Rosemarie Lemos Funeral
[Psalm 23]
September 20, 2018
Hear the Word of God:
            The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
            He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
            He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
            Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
            Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
            Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
            I’m sure most of us have heard this Psalm of David before – some of us may even have it memorized – and it is often read at funerals.
            But do we understand what David was talking about?
            David was a shepherd before he was king of Israel.  Shepherds took care of sheep.  They had sheepfolds in which to house the sheep which kept them safe from predators and thieves – there was only one way into the safety of the sheepfold.  And the shepherd was responsible for the lives of the sheep – to lead them and feed them and save them even to the point of giving his own life in battling predators and thieves.
            David begins this Psalm – this song – addressing the LORD – that is, the One Holy God of Israel – the God Who is just and loving – the God Who rejoices in glorifying Himself – the God Who cannot allow any sin or imperfection to remain in His sight.
            And David tells us that this God is his God, that is, David, who was a murderer and an adulterer had somehow been made right with God, and so God always fulfilled His daily needs – he would not want for what God knew he needed for the day.
            This God gave him protection and peace, salvation and righteousness, because it showed how great God is, and despite continuing to have enemies and be in a position to be harmed or killed, David did not fear, because the rod of discipline and the staff of guidance comforted him – growing in the knowledge of and obedience to this God satisfied him in this life no matter what else happened.
            And David knew that, in the end, the goodness and mercy of God would be what would bring him into the eternal Kingdom of God.
            I don’t remember when I first met Rosemarie, but it was through her sister Jan.  It was some time after her husband died.  I do know that my first contact with Rosemarie was during one of her medical issues that plagued her for the last number of years.
            I vividly remember Jan calling me after Rosemarie’s stroke and asking me to come to the house – to go in and look for her – and then, we went to the hospital and got her help and prayed for her – and she made an amazing recovery.
            I remember talking with Rosemarie in the hospital and in the rehab – we talked about medicine and the church and cats.  Rosemarie was a very intelligent person – she even had a Master’s degree from Kean.
            Her coworkers remember her as a unique person – extremely compassionate and willing to make time for everyone.
            I enjoyed talking with her about alternative medicine and treatments – she read and listened to radio programs and had great retention of all the different studies and possibilities for healing and health.
            She was very encouraging to me as we talked about the church and my ministry there.  She understood the difficulties of ministering in our community and in the world we live in today when people don’t want to have anything to do with the church – with organized religion – and for good reasons.  But, as they say, you don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.
            And then – I think she loved all animals – but cats held a special place in her heart.  I have always had cats, and we talked about their beauty and intelligence, and the love and care that they give us – as many of you know.  I had the opportunity to feed her cats for a few days during one of her hospitalizations.  We need more people like her who care for the creation.
            Just the other day I was telling my mother that my nieces and nephew don’t write notes --  much less letters – and my mom was saying what a lost art writing is.  Jan reminded me that Rosemarie was a great writer – keeping in touch with well-written, thought out, caring letters.
            Rosemarie talked about her family and friends, and she spoke with great love of them.  There were times when Jan and Rosemarie knocked heads – but it was in love.  Rosemarie especially spoke of Bryan with a joy in her soul.
            I will miss the opportunity to see her and talk with her – to hear her wisdom and knowledge, and be in the warmth of her care.  I will miss a lovely person who had no problem with having cat hair on her clothes.
            Turning back to our text for a moment – How do we become right with God, David’s Shepherd?  How can we say that He is our Shepherd?  How can we recite Psalm 23 and know and believe that it is true for each of us?
            Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:14-18, ESV).
            In the Gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly affirms that He is God in the flesh.  And here, He uses the imagery of being the Shepherd that David knew and was made right with – Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
            Jesus explained that He was sent by God the Father to incarnate as a human to be the Shepherd of the sheep that the Father gave Him.  Jesus is the Shepherd of all those who repent and believe savingly in Him.
            Jesus came with the mission to lay down His life to secure the salvation of all those who would ever believe.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is God the Savior and repents of his sin will be saved by Him.  He will make him right with God and bring him into His sheepfold – into the Kingdom of God now and eternally.
            Anyone who wants to be right with God and receive all that is spoken of in the 23rd Psalm must believe in Jesus – God in the flesh – Who lived and died and rose to make all those who repent and believe right with God.
            That’s what I believe.  And that is what I tell you:  Jesus is the Only Way to be right with God; He is the Only Way to God and to eternal life now and forever.  Please don’t wait.  As we see the reality of life and death today, call out to Jesus, repent of your sins, and be made right with God.  It is through this hope in Jesus that we can look forward to seeing Rosemarie again – alive and full of health.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that Good Shepard of the sheep, our One Hope and Only Savior, we thank You for the life of Rosemarie Lemos. We thank You for her love of family and friends.  We thank You for all that was good and commendable in her.  And we ask that You would comfort all those who are mourning, and send the Holy Spirit to open hearts and minds to the Hope You have provided.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.