Our world: It seems as though it has drastically changed in the past 30 years. How does the church respond? In times of calamity and turmoil, the prophets arose. Where is that prophetic voice today, and what would it look like? The answer may surprise you.
Well, good morning to everybody, and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. We’re in a series called “Poetic Imagination.” Most of you all know at the beginning of a message, especially when we’re in a series, I like to sort of just do a summary of what we’ve been doing, especially for those that maybe this is your first time, or for those that maybe missed a couple of weeks, or maybe just for all of us just to know what we’ve been accomplishing.
We’ve been looking at a group of people that have written us a particular type of literature, and that is the prophets and the prophetic literature. I think most of us would agree that, as a general rule, many of us have been around people that all they do is talk about Revelation, everything’s end times and everything’s sort of crazy, and it’s sort of hard to know exactly what they’re saying or doing. And so, we see that extremity, and many of us have decided, “Well, I don’t really fit there, and I don’t really know what those books are saying. They’re sort of crazy to begin with, so just let me stick with the Gospels, the epistles, and just have my relationship with God that way.”
And I think that whereas I understand that, I understand that a lot of these things in the church and in our understanding of who God is get sort of distorted and taking to extremes, that doesn’t mean that we should give up. So that’s why the big idea, as we study the prophets and the prophetic literature, has been that when we settle for “less than,” we get “less than.” And I believe that with all of my heart. And let me just say here, as the pastor of the church where I stand, we have 66 books that are in Scripture, and I believe those books are the Word of God. Paul calls it theopneustos in the Greek. It’s a compound word which means God-breathed.
I believe Scripture is God-breathed. And I think that if we settle for bits and pieces that we like rather than looking at the whole council of God, I think we settle for less than. And you see it all the time. You see people, they sort of get in their little doctrinal categories and they’ve got their little things that they believe or their persuasions or their soap boxes. And then what happens is they sort of read Scripture through that lens, and that becomes sort of the totality of their Christian experience.
And let me just say that if God fits into every little category that you have, you’re probably not looking at Scripture in the right way. I’ve never been able to get God fully stuffed into my box. Maybe you all have, but there’s always parts of God that’s hanging out when I try to stuff Him into the box. They tried to put Him in a box one time, too, and He rose on the third day. So, He doesn’t work that way. Seriously. And what I would also say is this: If you feel like you have God figured out and you have Scripture figured out, then what you have is a manageable deity, and I would say in all kindness and all love that a manageable deity ceases to really be God, because God is above what we could comprehend or understand.
So, we really do need to sort of back up at times and not look at everything through the lens where we think we’ve got everything understood. Sometimes we’ve got to back up, and rather than trying to interpret Scripture, we need to let Scripture interpret us. So, we’ve been looking at the prophets, we’ve been looking at the prophetic literature. Week one of this series, we talked about who the prophets were and how God used them to remind the people of Israel of what He had called them out of, into that alternative community.
Last week, we talked about some skills and some ideas on how to better read the prophetic literature. And we probably could spend a lot more time on that, but we talked about that. This week, what I want to talk to you about is maybe one of the grandest themes that is found in the prophetic literature, and I find often missed, when people read the prophetic literature.
Most people read prophetic literature, as a general rule, thinking that it is telling the future. In fact, prophets do two things. They forthtell. Forthtell means they’re telling everybody what’s going on right now at the time they’re writing. They also foretell. They tell events that are going to happen. So, prophecy has both elements to it. But traditionally, when we read Scripture, we’re reading Scripture, the prophetic works, especially like the book of Revelation, we’re reading it as if it’s like a blueprint of what’s going to happen in the future, or we read some of the other stuff in the Old Testament and read it and try to think, “Is this a blueprint of the future?”
I would like to challenge that notion and tell you that the prophets, when they write, and they talk about, “Thus saith the Lord,” that they are telling you that they are speaking not for themselves, they are speaking for God. And when they tell people what is going to happen in the future, it’s not for them to understand a blueprint, because nobody understood what was going to happen when the prophets told them what was going to happen, because they write in poetry. What the Word of God is in that moment is when the prophet speaks and says what God is going to do, when you see that God does what God says He will do, we start to learn through that process that when God says He will do something, when God’s Word says He will perform something, He will do it. And the prophetic literature reminds us of that fact that if God says He’s for you, if God says He forgives you, if God says He can do these things in your life, we can take Him at His word because we have case study after case study after case study where God has said, “I’m going to do something,” and then it doesn’t look anything like what He said He was going to do, and then He eventually does what He says He will do.
And that’s why we have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight. In fact, Paul told the church at Rome — one of the grandest epistles in all of Scripture, the Epistle to the Roman Church. This is what he says to them in Romans 15:4. Listen to this. This is pretty incredible.
He says, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction.”
Think about that for a minute. Paul’s saying, “Hey, all of the stuff that was written before you guys happened to be in Rome was written for your instruction.”
So, everybody in here. All of these things here in the Old Testament, all of this stuff was written for our instruction. Listen to what He says here:
“So that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
That God’s Word is going to happen. That when God speaks, what He says will come to pass. And let me show you how this works in a certain prophet and in a certain book, and that book and that prophet is the book of Isaiah. Now, we’re not going to be able to go through all 66 chapters today, but we are going to take some highlights out of this book and show you how prophetic literature works. What I’m hoping is when you leave here today, and those who watch via the internet and the mobile app, that you are encouraged, that you walk out of here going, “You know what? I really can trust God.”
Isaiah is an interesting study. Isaiah starts off in the Bible, he is the first of the prophets because he’s the largest of the prophets. Sixty-six chapters. Some people have made note. I think it’s sort of interesting. The first thirty-nine books of Isaiah are dealing with Israel’s imminent captivity. They’re going to be taken captive into Babylon because of their sin. The next twenty-seven chapters, which is forty through sixty-six, deal with God’s deliverance of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. Sort of interesting. Thirty-nine and twenty-seven. We have thirty-nine Old Testament books. We have twenty-seven New Testament books. Maybe there’s something there. I don’t know. I don’t really think there’s something there, but maybe there is.
But what we have is this: Isaiah, in 722 B.C. — so, he’s an 8th century prophet — writes to the children of God and tells them, “You’re going to go into captivity. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re going into captivity. That’s the way it is. And then God’s going to deliver you from captivity.”
What’s interesting is between Isaiah 39-40, there is 150 years that takes place. Most people, when they read the book of Isaiah — and you’ll see it today — in scholarship, they say, “There’s got to be two Isaiahs.” They call it Deutero-Isaiah. They say there’s no way in the world that anybody could’ve understood what was going to happen before it happened, because that’s not the way it works. That’s not true. Isaiah wrote the entire oracle that he writes, and he’s dealing with some really big ideas that I think you and I will see.
First of all, when he writes, he deals with this idea of sin. The children of Israel have sinned. They’ve sinned so bad that they’re going to go into captivity. But they’re going to go into captivity, and when they go into captivity, it’s going to be years, 70 years, precisely, before they come out of their captivity. Which means some people are going to go to Babylon and they’re going to die in Babylon. Those people are probably going to conclude from their circumstances that their sin is so bad, that they’ve sinned against God so egregiously, that God could never love them again.
That’s stuff we deal with in the church. People will say, “I did this in this relationship. I treated this person this way. I turned my back on God at this point in my life. Is it possible that He could still love me?”
Okay. Isaiah is speaking to these grand themes. How do the people of God sin so bad? If God’s all good and powerful, how come He can’t keep His people from doing these things? What’s going on? Can you give us an answer? Can you tell us?
Isaiah writes about that. Not only that, he writes about Babylon. How in the world can God allow a Pagan nation that worships other gods to defeat the people of God and take them into captivity and destroy God’s house? How does that work? How come God can’t subdue the nations? If He’s all powerful, if He’s almighty, why in the world does He allow all these nations to do all these crazy things?
Well, today, that makes a whole lot of sense because there’s a lot of things going on in our world that are pretty crazy. There’s even stuff going on in our own country that’s crazy. We have craziness everywhere, and many people go, “Where’s God? Why is He allowing all this stuff to happen? Why doesn’t He intervene? Why does He allow Christians overseas for these things to happen to them? Why? Why? God, if You are all powerful, if you are so big, why in the world would You allow Babylon or nations in general to do the things that they do?”
Not only does he deal with that, but he deals with this idea of evil. “God, how in the world can You allow evil? I mean, God, there’s evil. This is evil. The people have taken people into captivity. They’re killing them. They’re Your people. This is evil. It’s right there in front of us. I just saw my wife die. I just saw my brother die as they went into captivity. This is absolute evil. This is terrible. It’s false gods. It’s false idolatry. How can You allow this to happen?”
What happens is you and me, what we want is we want answers. Isaiah doesn’t give us answers, and the prophetic books don’t give us answers. They don’t give us the answers that we want. What we want is we want empirical data. We’re children of the enlightenment. We want everything to make sense. We want everything to be able to — and that’s why we have apologists that stand up and go, “Let me tell you why there’s evil in the world.”
Even though it may sound good and even though you may go, “Hey, that’s a better answer than what I had,” the reality is that answers not going to answer someone who doesn’t believe in God because our faith is not a faith that’s based on knowledge, it is a faith. At some level, we have to trust God. So, Isaiah’s answer to these problems — and it’s the answer that all the prophets give to these problems, and it’s the answer that all of Scripture gives to these problems — doesn’t address, “Here’s all the issues and the way that they work. What we’re given is we’re simply given God’s Word. We’re given these great, grand gestures that, “Hey, before any of this happens, you’re going into captivity. And, by the way, He’s also going to deliver you.”
Because what God says He’ll do, He’ll do. Now, you’re not going to be able to understand why all this stuff happened. You’re not going to be able to understand why nations are the way that they are. You’re not going to understand the evil of the world because you’re not God. You don’t have the ability to understand it even if He shared it with you. What you can do, what I can do is trust God’s Word that somewhere in the midst of all of this, God is working out a plan, He’s doing the things that He needs to do, and He’s ultimately going to accomplish good in the lives of His children, and that, my friends, requires faith. We have to trust Him at some level. We have to say, “God, I believe.”
And His Word shows us that when He says He’ll do something, He’ll do it. Like, He actually does it. We have story after story after story where God said, “Okay. Here’s what I’m going to do.”
Then they started walking that way to what God was going to do, and every bit of the facts that were presented to them was exactly the opposite of what God said He would do. And most of them, at that point, give up, or they lie, or they cheat, or they steal, or they do whatever, and then God shows up and does what He says He would do, because He always is going to do what He says He’s going to do. The question is do we believe Him? Do we believe when He says in His Word? And isn’t that the very first thing that the old enemy does in the garden? He questions God’s Word.
“Did God really say? Did He really say that? No. Come on. You don’t want to get too fanatical. You don’t want to put too much — I mean, hedge your bets a little bit. Make sure you’re okay here, and then trust God a little bit. But, whatever you do, don’t go all-in. Whatever you do, don’t trust Him with everything.”
Man, let me tell you something. The only thing that pleases God — and the writer of the Hebrews tells you this. The only thing that pleases God is faith. And God’s going to continue to give you and me facts that do not support what He said He’s going to do. Why? Because that’s the only place that faith can be generated. So, we ought to assume, as Christians, as we follow God, that we’re going to get facts that don’t look like what God said He’s going to do for you and me, because that, then, gives us the opportunity to have faith. And Isaiah writes, as all the prophets do, to tell us, “Hey, when God says something, He’s going to do it. It doesn’t make a difference.”
So, the first part of Isaiah, in Isaiah 1-39, we’re dealing with this idea that judgment is going to happen to the children of Israel. And we see the call of Isaiah in Isaiah 6 where he’s to go out and preach to the children of Israel. Remember? He’s there. The voice says, “Who’s going to go?”
He’s like, “Me! Me!”
He’s like Horshack. You know? “Hey!”
You know? He’s like, “I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to do it. I’m ready to go.”
And God says, “Great. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to go preach this to the people, and nobody’s going to listen.”
Isn’t that awesome? That’s like a great call. That’s why I keep telling everybody here that what’s going on here at Grace is the anomaly. This is not the way it normally goes down. Like Noah, he preached for 90 years. Do you know how many people listened to him? Zero, until they started swimming. But the reality is that God has said, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen,” and it happens. And then, 150 years later, God’s already spoken His deliverance before it happens. And here’s the way Isaiah pens it for us in Isaiah 40:1:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.”
Now, I’m always a little reluctant to say these things because what I don’t want to do is create this feeling that, hey, I would’ve never read this in my Bible if you wouldn’t have told me this. Because what I don’t want you to do is think that somehow, when you’re reading Scripture, you’re not getting what you need to get because that’s absolutely not the case. I believe in the English translation, whatever translation you read, you’re getting 99.9% of everything you need to get if you just read Scripture. God can speak to you.
But what I will tell you is, yes, if you’ve studied original language, and you’ve studied some of those things, you might get a little bit of things that are different than the average person would, but here’s what I would say to you: If, sometimes, I say things to you and you go, “Man,” — like my dad does it all the time. My dad comes over to our house after Sunday when he comes down from Tampa, and he always goes, “Chip, I’ve been in church my whole life and I’ve read the Bible a lot. I don’t know where you get this stuff.”
National Enquirer, Dad. But here’s the thing. Honestly, what I would say to you as your pastor is this: You want to go to a church that’s stretching you, pushing you and making you see things more. I don’t know about you all, but if I had a disease, I wouldn’t go to the gas station attendant to get cured. I’d want to go to the doctor that knew more than anybody else to make sure that I was taken care of. So, what I’m saying is when we go to a church, we should learn. We should try to get some things that we don’t see.
So, when I tell you this, you’re going to go, “I would’ve never seen this.” I get that you would’ve never seen this. I don’t expect for you to ever see this. But I’m telling you this because it’s important. What’s going on here — and you can’t really get it in the English language — is what we call an imperative plural in the Hebrew. This is being spoken not just to a prophet. This is being spoken, in the way it’s written, in the divine counsel of the heavenlies. In other words, there’s a decision being made that we’re going to comfort my people, says your God. That’s the way this is written.
So, in other words, even though Babylon’s controlling right now, and God stands above that, in the heavenlies, they have decreed that the comfort’s coming, deliverance is coming, for the children of Israel. Okay? So, he says:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
And you can imagine reading this and hearing this when everything’s going well. I mean, Hezekiah, in Isaiah 39, finally gets told, “Dude, everything’s going to captivity.”
Remember? He was the guy that took everybody in and said, “Look at all the money we’ve got. Look at all the gold that we’ve got. Look at everything.”
And the bean counters from Babylon were going, “Yep. That’s going to be ours really soon. Yep. That’s going to be ours. Thank you for showing us that. We’ll take that, too. Alright. We’ll take that.”
And Isaiah’s like, “Dude, what were you thinking? You’re going into captivity.”
Okay, but imagine when everything was good. They were prospering. Imagine Isaiah saying, “You’re going to go into captivity.” Everybody’s like, “Psh. We ain’t going into captivity. You’re crazy, dude.”
And then they’re going to read this. Like, “What do you mean? God’s going to comfort us in our affliction?”
Because, see, none of that makes sense until it happens. Then the prophetic literature really makes sense. It’s not written for us to have a blueprint. It’s written for us to have a word in-season when we’re going through difficulty.
So, he says, “Speak tenderly. Everything’s been done. Everything’s good.”
“A voice cries:” — this is in the heavenly realms. There’s this voice that cries. What does it cry?
“‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”
What this is, in the ancient near east, when a king would beat another king or whatever, they would have a victory processional. So, this victory processional is not about the children of Israel coming out of Babylon. This is a victory processional showing them that God is God, because, see, God told everybody before this happened that it was going to happen, and they were supposed to trust Him. Which, obviously, most people don’t. Sometimes we don’t trust God. But that’s what God’s Word is there for, to tell us, “You can trust me. I will do what I told you I will do. It may not come when you want it. It may not come in the way you expect it. But if I told you I’ll take care of you, if I told you I will deliver you, if I told you that I will forgive your sins, it’s as good as gold. My word is my bond. If I say it, I’ll do it.”
He says, “So what we’re going to do is we’re going to have this highway built through the desert to show how great God’s glory is. And every valley. God don’t want to be traveling like this. He don’t want to go 4x4. He wants to go straight. I mean, this is going to be a straight path.”
“‘Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.’”
“‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,’” — listen — “‘for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”
As good as gold. Even though this is way before this happens, it’s going to happen. Because when God says it will happen, it will happen. And we have to decide in our lives, do we believe when God speaks that God is saying to you and me, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if we don’t feel it, do we believe that when God speaks to you and me that God will do what God says He will do?
He says, “The mouth of the Lord has spoken this. This is going to happen.”
Then it says, “A voice says, ‘Cry!’”
We’re still up in the heavenlies here. You know? You hear this voice, “Cry!” Well, obviously the response would be like, “What?” Which is exactly what the person says.
“‘What shall I cry?’”
“What do you want me to yell out to everybody? What is the voice that I need to cry?”
Here’s what you’re going to say: “‘All flesh is grass,’” — you all know that because you were conquered by the Babylonians and you thought that you were really powerful and had everything, but it’s just gone and now you’re captive to the Babylonians. Well, guess what? The Babylonians are like that, too, because I’m God.
“‘All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.’”
Cry this out! Let everybody know that people, nations, kings, none of that really matters.
“‘Because the grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.’”
What God says He will do, He will do. And He goes on to say, in Isaiah 40, “All these nations that you’re worried about? They’re a drop in the bucket. Leaders? I just blow on them and they’re out of there. Islands? Islands in the ocean? I just lift them up. What’s underneath there? Okay. No big deal. Because I’m God. The stars? I put them all in the sky. What are you worried about? Guys? I’m going to deliver you, and I’m going to deliver you because I said I would deliver you. And if I told you in my word I’ll do this, I’ll do it.”
And now you can look back and you can go, “Whoa, what You said you’d do, you did exactly what you said.”
“Yes. Because if I tell you that I will do it...”
See, we try to figure out predestination, free will and all of this stuff. None of that’s really dealing with this. This is dealing with the simple fact. The prophetic literature is dealing with the simple fact that if God says He will do something for you and me, He will absolutely do it. Every time, every way. And we get hope from that. And then He says, “Dude, just chill out, man. I know that you can grow weary, and I know that life can be tough when everything’s not going your way. Wait on me. Trust. Believe in me. Watch what I do. You’re going to mount up with wings like eagles, and you’re going to run and not grow weary, and you’re going to walk and not be faint. You’re going to do all those things because I, the Lord, have declared it and it’s going to happen. If I told you in my word I’ll do it, I will do it. Don’t look at what you see. Trust me. I will come through every single time.”
Now, okay. Very important here. There’s a couple of really big take-aways that we need to get. The first one is this. This is really big. There’s a divine and a majestic order to God’s actions that are revealed to us in God’s Word, and they are good. What we see when we start to look at God’s Word and we see how God has done certain things, what we’re able to do is look back and go, “Wow. You know what? I’ve been like that before, wondering where God’s at, how come this is going on and why is God allowing all this stuff. Those are just really not the right questions to be asking. I’ve just got to trust Him. I’ve just got to have faith.”
See, what we’re looking for is knowledge. What we don’t want to have is faith. We want to hedge our bets. We want to make sure, “Yeah, I’ll sort of trust God. God, I can trust You a lot more when everything’s going the way I like it to go.” That’s the way it works here, God. If You could just do everything the way I want it to go, and if I could have all the abundance that I need, and if I could be in perfect health and have all the cars and business going well, and all my kids turned out just perfectly, then, you know what? I might be able to raise my hand in worship and say, ‘Hey, everything’s awesome.’ But, God, unless You can get on my program, I don’t know that I can trust You when the program isn’t working the way the program’s supposed to be working.”
See, that’s not called faith. Faith says, “God, I’m trusting You. Even though all hell has come my way, even though it doesn’t look like what You told me it was going to look like, even though it don’t feel like what You told me it was going to feel like, I trust You because what I see in this Word is that there is a divine and a majestic order that I’ll never understand, that I’ll never fully be able to explicate, but what I can do is I can trust You, I can trust Your Word because I know what You’re doing is good.”
And this is what Isaiah shows us. He says, “The nation’s sin, evil and idols, in a way that you and I don’t understand, they’re nothing to God. They’re nothing to God because God not only put them in captivity, He delivered them from captivity. Babylon didn’t keep them in there. Their sin didn’t keep them in there. Their idols didn’t keep them in there.”
When God decreed deliverance, deliverance came because He stands above it all. And we either get to trust that, or what we do is we bog down and start going, “But I don’t understand. Why, God?”
That’s not faith. Faith says, “God, I trust You. I’ve got enough evidence in this book that You’ve over and over and over and over and over done exactly what You said You would do. At some point, I’ve got to trust God.”
Because what happens is, see, God uses the evidence of our lives to display His sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace and ultimate goodness. What happens is our response is faith. Here’s the way it works: So many of us, we get going in life and where we go is, “I’m going to serve God. I’m going to do God. Look at what I’m doing. I’m serving people. I’m giving. I’m praying.”
And it sort of becomes about us. God’s like, “No, no, no. Time out. You trust me and what I’m going to do in your life is I’m going to display to you my power, my sovereignty, my deliverance, my grace, and my ultimate goodness.”
How would you know God’s power if you never had something that had to show you His power? How would you understand grace if you didn’t understand the flip side of it? How would you understand deliverance if you’d never been in a place where you needed to be delivered from? God says, “Listen, here’s the way it works: You trust me and what I’m going to do in your life is I’m going to display in you my sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace, and ultimate goodness.”
And this is the way it works. We start off and we say, “God, I’m following You.”
Anybody in here wants to debate this, that’s fine. You can debate it with God. We don’t usually walk in a straight line with our faith. It’s usually a zigzag.
“Yeah. I don’t know. Then sometimes it goes backward this way, then, oh, I better go back this way. Oh, I got distracted. Oh, I did here. Oh, my goodness. I think I’m going to turn my back on God for a little bit, because I don’t know why He did that to me. Well, I sort of love You, God, but I’ll sort of walk ahead and I’ll do whatever.”
Anybody in here doesn’t act like that’s the walk of the Christian, you’re just fooling yourself. Everybody does it. The pastor does it. The apostles do it. Everybody does. I mean, Peter can be like, “You are the Christ, the Son, the Living God.”
“Great. I’m going to die.”
“No, you’re not!”
And Jesus turns around and goes, “I rebuke you, Satan.”
He went from aces high to murderer’s row in like 10 seconds. Okay? Like all of us. And what happens is as we follow God with that little bit of faith that we’ve got trying, and we’re zigzagging, what happens is one day we turn around and we go, “Wow. Look at God’s sovereignty, power, deliverance, grace and goodness in my life that He did when I wasn’t even paying attention. He was working in my life.”
See, the story of the patriarchs is not about Abraham. The story of Abraham is about God. The story of David is not about David, it’s about God. The Bible’s about God. It’s not about heroes. There are no heroes. They all make mistakes like all of us do. The story’s about God. God says, “Abraham, follow me.”
He says, “I will.”
He says, “Don’t take anybody with you.”
He takes Lot. And, like I always say, when God calls us to follow Him, we usually take a lot with us, right? So, He takes Lot. He gets to the promised land, and what does he get? A famine. Abraham trusts God, right? No. He goes to Egypt. What does God do? Blesses him. Why? Because when you look back at Abraham, it’s not the story of Abraham. It’s the story of God’s faithfulness, which is exactly what it is for you and me. At some point, we have to trust God and realize that all the crazy things that are going on in our lives are His way of showing you and me His sovereignty, His power, His deliverance, His grace and His ultimate goodness.
The second big thing that we need to take away — and this is all through the prophetic literature — is that God is both really, really, really, really big, and He’s also very, very, very, very near. That’s called transcendence and imminence. If you have a transcendent God only, you will not be able to understand Him, you will not be able to have a relationship with Him, and you will ultimately fear Him. If your God is only imminent, He will be your friend and He will not be your God. You need both. And we need a healthy both of the transcendence and imminence of God.
I want to go through something real quickly with you. In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of Jesus at the very beginning. It says, “He turns to see the voice.”
Well, you can’t see a voice. You can see a person, you just can’t see a voice. Again, that should be telling you that we’re not reading something that needs to be taken literally. In fact, John tells us not to read literally. Remember John 3? He said, “You’ve got to be born again.”
Nicodemus goes, “How do you climb back up in the womb?”
Jesus was like, “Dude, I’m not talking to you about that. I’m talking about something else.”
John 4. He says, “The water I give you, you’ll never thirst again.”
She looks down in the well and goes, “You don’t even have anything to draw from.”
He’s like, “Wrong. I’m not talking about that type of water.”
John 6. He says, “If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part.”
They go, “He’s a cannibal. Let’s run.”
He goes, “No. You’ve misunderstood me.”
John tells you you don’t read Scripture the way we read it. There’s more going on there. John is having these visions of Jesus, and what he’s doing is he’s using what much of the prophetic literature does. He’s using a form of literature, or a style of writing, that is called a “merism.” Merism is stated opposites in order to comprehend a totality.
I grew up in Kentucky. A farmer that had cows would say, “I’ve searched high and low for that cow, but I can’t find her.”
Okay. Well, Kentucky doesn’t really have mountains, and we don’t really have deep ravines. What he was saying by saying I’ve searched high and low, “I’ve searched everywhere.”
That’s a merism. A merism is taking opposites to show a totality. Look at what John does with Jesus when he sees this vision. He says, “His head is like wool, and His feet are like burnished bronze.”
See, He’s the full stature of man from head to foot, from top to bottom. He says, “His hair’s white like snow. His eyes are like a flame of fire.” He comprehends both the frozen cold and the blazing heat. “His voice is like the sound of many waters, and His feet are like bronze in a furnace.” He expresses the extremes of both wet and dry.
Not only that, “His breast is girded in gold, and His feet are like glowing bronze.” He reconciles both the precious and the base. “His right hand holds the seven stars up in the heavens, and His voice is like the many waters on the earth.” His dominion spans heaven and earth. “He has the keys of death and hell, and His mouth is a double-edged sword.” He has authority over life and death because of His word. “He holds the seven stars representing the seven churches in His right hand, but He also reaches down to touch John with His right hand.” So, He can hold all the churches in sovereignty, He can hold everything together, but yet, He can also reach down and touch one individual person that is in need.
“His love reconciles the one [you and me] and the many [the body], and His strong right hand that was pierced combine strength and suffering, power and weakness, might as well as vulnerability. Because, in His person, He combines both the transcendence and imminence of God. In Him, all the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily,” Paul tells us Colossians 2:9. Jesus is what we need. Jesus comprehends all of it. There’s nothing that Jesus — He is a full resource for everything that we have need of. And ultimately, all the prophetic literature is pointing us to Him.
So, what are the take-homes? What can we take home? Real quickly here. The first one is we can trust that God is good. So many people go, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t understand why He let this happen. I don’t understand.”
What about Mary? You don’t think Mary wondered why her son died? You want to hear how good God is? I didn’t plan on preaching this here. I’m going to just drop something here. Just listen to this. This is important. In Luke, the very beginning, Luke 2, we’re told that Jesus and all the caravan has gone to Jerusalem. And they leave. Mary and Joseph leave with this big caravan. They traveled in caravans back then.
Well, they go one day. On the second day, they go, “Where’s Jesus?”
Now, see, you and I don’t understand that, because we’d be going — we lose our kid for one second and we’re on it. Okay? Back then, though, they traveled in caravans, so everybody just sort of pitched in. It was all family. It was familiar. Very different than what we do. We wall things up, put gates up and separate everybody out, and shop on Amazon rather than going to the mall because we like to do our own, individual thing. They had family back then. They all did it together.
Well, on the second day, Mary looks up and goes, “Where’s Jesus?”
They go, “Wow.”
So, what did they do? Well, they went back to Jerusalem. When they got there on the third day, where was Jesus? Well, He was in the house of God, teaching and listening to the professors. What was important here to realize, you want to talk about how good God is, you know when Mary lost Jesus, you know what she thought? She said, “Oh my goodness. Maybe He’s lost. Maybe He’s dead. Maybe that’s what’s happened.”
But, see, she found Him on the third day. God was preparing Mary’s heart for when she would lose her Son for real, and on the third day find Him again. That’s the goodness of your Lord. He is a good God. If we understand how good He is, we can be blown away.
Second: We can count on God’s Word. If God says He’ll do it, He’ll do it. And some of you in here today, you’re probably going, “I’ve got this going on in my life. I don’t know.”
At some level, what you have to do is you have to decide, am I really going to take God at His Word? And if I take God at His Word, I’m probably going to have all kinds of things hit me that don’t look anything like what I just trusted God to do, but can I trust God? And I want to say to you, as your pastor, you can trust God. You can count on God’s Word. He will do what He says He will do.
Lastly, all the deliverance that the Bible talks about, ultimately, is speaking of Jesus and His ministry. The Gospel writers, when they talk about John the Baptist being the messenger, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, the one preparing the way for the Lord, He’s quoting Isaiah 40. Isaiah 40 literally meant that the Jews were going to be delivered from Babylon, but it had so much more meaning, because ultimately it all talks about Jesus.
And here’s the beauty: In Isaiah 40:8, it says, “The word of the Lord will stand forever.”
The Hebrew word is “rise.” The Word of God will rise forever. Listen to this: The word of God in material form can be destroyed. Moses gets the Word of God on the two tablets, right? The Word of God is written in a material form. He comes down and sees that they’ve gone into idolatry. What does He do? He takes that, and He crushes it. The Word of God can be destroyed in material form. But He goes back up to the mountain, and guess what God does? He writes it again on the tablets because the Word of God may be destroyed in material form, but it will rise forever.
Jeremiah writes on a scroll, an animal scroll. On animal skin, he writes the Word of God and Baruch, his amanuensis, writes it down. It’s taken in front of the king. The king doesn’t like what he’s hearing. So, as it’s being read, he takes a knife and he pierces that animal skin. He cuts that skin. He takes that skin and he throws it into the fire and says, “Read me some more.”
He cuts it, he takes it, and he throws it into the fire. He cuts it and he throws. See, the Word of God in material form can be destroyed, but what happens is Baruch goes back to Jeremiah and says, “Hey, the king destroyed it.”
He says, “Dude, get a pen and get some more animal skin. Let’s write again.”
And the same words come again. Because, see, the Word of God in material form can be destroyed, but the Word of God will rise forever. That’s why, when Jesus came in the flesh, they could destroy the material Word of God, but on the third day, the Word of God rose again. Because the Word of God rises forever. Which means we can trust God. You can trust Him.
Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to shut your eyes and I want you to bow your head. I want to read God’s Word over you, and then we’re going to pray. Listen to this. Just shut your eyes and just listen to the Word of God read over you.
“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who’s against us? He who didn’t spare his own Son but delivered him over for us all, how is he not also going to give us freely all things? Who’s going to bring a charge against God’s elect? God’s the one who justifies. Who is the one that condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died — yay, rather that was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who is going to separate us from the love of God? Will tribulation or distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword? Just as it’s written,
“‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
“But, in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That is the Word of God spoken over you, and even though it may look, daily, that you’re being delivered as a lamb to the slaughter, even though it may be facts that don’t show what God is doing, Paul says, “Oh, no, no. In all these things, we overwhelmingly conquer, because nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”
Lord, I pray right now in Jesus’ name for every person here and for those watching via the internet and the mobile app. I pray, God, that You would raise faith in them to be able to trust You in what You’ve said to us. Let us be people that step out and believe that when the Word of God says that there can be healing, when the Word of God says that eyes can see again, when the Word of God says marriage can be restored, when the Word of God says that finances can be restored, when the Word of God says that families can be restored and families can be reconciled, and brothers and sisters that have fought can be reconciled, Lord, let us believe, in faith, that the Word of God is true and what You say, You will do.
Give us the faith to trust that today for Your glory and for Your honor, Lord Jesus. So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today, You’d watch over us and protect us, that You would lead and guide us. I pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again, and Lord, help us to remain faithful to what You’ve called us to do. And Lord, that is to be a church that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ.
We love You. We thank You for it. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. Have a great day.