Stand firm in the one true God
Series: Isaiah: Hope in the Holy One
What the Lord has to say to us this week (through Pastor Matt) in Isaiah 46-47:15, is the big idea of our passage: Stand firm in the one true God. Who of us doesn’t want to have the story of standing firm?!
Ok, how, by the grace of God, do we “stand firm”? Isaiah 46-47 provides three ways:
1. Compare the one true God to his competition (46:1-7).
2. Remember that there is no other God (46:8-13).
3. See the coming judgment (47:1-15).
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I want to talk to you this morning about standing firm. About standing firm in trusting and obeying Christ. Standing firm. On the most fundamental level, standing firm means remaining a Christian, persevering as a follower of Christ. That may sound easy and inevitable, but it’s not. I know a young man who once seemed like he could never waver from following Jesus. He knew the Bible well, led others to faith in Jesus, and defended the faith to skeptics, until sickness and suffering entered his life. In response to his affliction he began to question the goodness of God, then deconstruct his faith and today I believe he’s an atheist. He seemed like a pillar of faith, but he didn’t stand firm, he didn’t persevere in the faith. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not always so dramatic. I’ve watched countless individuals and families get busy with school, residency, career, and kids, and they slowly but surely drift away from Christ and his church. No grand deconstruction of their faith, life just got busy and before long they were gone. They seemed like pillars of the faith, but they didn’t stand firm. It’s a tragedy. Andrea and I poured our lives into another young, single woman whose faith really seemed to be taking off, but she simply had to be married. She began dating a man who doesn’t love Jesus. She ended up choosing him over Christ. I can’t tell you what has happened to her faith, but I know it isn’t firm. None of us wants those stories to be our story, but the truth is that we are all going to experience the kind of things and the little temptations that eventually toppled their faith. Standing firm is more about little daily decisions than grand moments. Today’s little afflictions and temptations can become tomorrow’s faith deconstructions. I want to talk to you about standing firm.
But standing firm goes beyond persevering as Christians and includes a whole host of things. Standing firm includes resisting the lure of temptation. Standing firm means rejoicing in the Lord when you would rather wallow in your suffering or simply give up. Standing firm means abiding in Christ and his word when you’d rather be mindlessly entertained. Standing firm means committing ourselves to one another and forgiving and bearing with one another in Christ despite the risk. Standing firm means being the same person at work or school that you are at church. And the list could go on and on. I want to talk to you about standing firm because standing firm is daily Christianity, it isn’t easy, it’s joyful, and because standing firm is at the heart of what God has to say to us through Isaiah 46-47. He says it in Isaiah 46:8-9 – “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…” What the Lord has to say is the big idea of our passage this morning: Stand firm in the one true God. Stand firm in the one true God. Who of us doesn’t want to have the story of standing firm?! Ok, how, by the grace of God, do we stand firm? Isaiah 46-47 provides three ways: 1. Compare the one true God to his competition (46:1-7). 2. Remember that there is no other God (46:8-13). 3. See the coming judgment (47:1-15).
COMPARE THE ONE TRUE GOD TO HIS COMPETITION (46:1-7)
One of the best ways to stand firm in the true God is to regularly compare Him to his competition. I know that Teddy Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy and I think that’s generally true, except when it comes to comparing the one true God to idols. That leads to joy and standing firm in the one true God. Every one of us is always standing firm, always anchoring our life in, always worshiping something. The opposite of worshiping the one true God is not atheism, it’s idolatry. We will either stand firm in the one true God, the creator, or some aspect of creation. One of the best ways to stand firm in the one true God is to regularly compare Him to his competition. That’s what the one true God invites us to do in Isaiah 46:1-7: to compare Him to his competition.
Notice that at the heart of the comparison is the concept. of “carrying.” Carrying. Let me explain. In Isaiah 46:1-2, we are introduced to two Babylonian gods. Remember, Isaiah is writing in the 700’s BC, but by divine inspiration, he’s writing 200 years into the future, to Israel while they’re exiles and slaves in Babylon. The Babylonians were polytheists. The two Babylonian gods we are introduced to are Bel and Nebo; the head god and his son. Every year during the Babylonian New Year Festival, the images of Bel and Nebo were strapped to the backs of livestock and paraded through the streets as a token of good fortune for the year ahead. Isaiah looks at this procession and sees the obvious: your gods are being carried! Isaiah 46:1 – Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne on beasts as weary burdens. Isaiah 46:7 – They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. Isaiah sees the obvious. As Ray Ortlund says, “If a god has to be carried, how can it carry you? If a god can’t help itself, how can it help you? If a god needs your strength, how can it strengthen you?” Have you noticed that you have to carry every competing idol that tempts you? Career, money, comfort, marriage, sex, family, fulfillment, and significance, they all need your help, they all need you to make it happen, they all need you to carry them? They all need your strength, so how can they strengthen you? They all need you to carry them, so how can they carry you? They can’t!
Now, compare the idolatrous competition with the one true God. Isaiah 46:3-5 – “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; 4 even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. 5 To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?” These verses are precious to me. If you’re in Christ, the one true God carried you before you were you! Before birth. He’s been carrying you from the womb and he will carry you to your old age and gray hairs. He carried you into the Christian life when he saved you by grace. In every trial, temptation, and disillusionment you’re facing, he’s carrying now. And he will not let you go. He will carry you until the day you die. As Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). As the Lord Jesus says about his followers, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). He’s carrying you! Commenting on these verses, Dr. Tony Evans asks us all a pointed question: “But, while the Babylonians had to carry their gods, the true God of Israel carried his people from womb to grave. Whom would you prefer to worship and serve?”. Stand firm in the one true God by comparing him to his competition. Secondly, stand firm in the one true God by…
REMEMBER THAT THERE IS NO OTHER GOD (46:8-13)
I’ve told you all about my dad who is rapidly losing his memory to dementia/Alzheimers. If you’ve ever loved someone who is losing their memory, you know that often along with their memory goes their overall steadiness and stability. Citylight Church – we forget too. One of the best ways to stand firm in the one true God is to remember. Remember that there is no other God. Isaiah 46:8-9 – “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me…” To stand firm in the one true God, remember that there is no other God!
Now, who are we remembering? What is it about God that makes him God? What is it about God that makes him say, “there is none like me”? It’s his sovereignty; his absolute control over everything. Sovereignty is what makes God God and there is no other. That’s what the Lord tells us to remember. Isaiah 46:9b-11 – “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.” To stand firm in the one true God, remember that there is no other God – He alone controls and directs everything. I love Paul Tripp’s paraphrases the way that the Westminster Confession of Faith (1648) describes God’s absolute sovereignty – what makes God God and there is no other: “From all eternity God, by the wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordained all that comes to pass. Yet God is neither the author of sin, nor does he violate the will of his creatures, nor is the liberty of second causes removed, but rather established. Although God knows whatever may or can come to pass, he has not decreed anything because he foresaw it as that which would come to pass. God, the Creator of all things, upholds, directs, and governs all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge and the free and unchangeable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. In his ordinary providence, God makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them at his pleasure.” Remember that only God is God because only God is sovereign – and you’ll stand firm.
Now, here is the really good news: One true God uses his sovereignty to bring his righteousness near to save stubborn sinners like us! Isaiah 46:12-13 – “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: 13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” We were far from righteousness and contributed nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary. But God sovereignly brought righteousness near to save us by sending His Son. “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God sovereignly brought righteousness near to stubborn sinners like us by putting our rap sheet of sin on His Son at the cross and in exchange He gives us His Son’s resume of righteousness. And since God put his salvation on us, it’s forever. Stand firm in the one true God: compare him to his competition and remember that there is no other who controls all things, even our salvation! Now, we need to talk about something somewhat unpopular and even counterintuitive: God’s judgment. The third and final way to stand firm in the one true God is…
SEE THE COMING JUDGMENT (47:1-15)
Isaiah 47 is a chapter about God’s coming judgment on Babylon. Now, remember what Ray Ortlund told us about Babylon when we started studying Isaiah, “In the Bible, Babylon is more than an ancient culture; it represents everything in this world that is humanly impressive but opposed to God.” The central characteristic of Babylon, the central characteristic of this world, the central reason why judgment is coming is pride. Pride is the mindset “my will be done,” instead of “thy will be done.” Listen to Babylon’s expressions of pride. Isaiah 47:8 – Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children…” Isaiah 47:10 – You felt secure in your wickedness; you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.” Babylon says the same thing about herself that God said about himself in the previous chapter. That is the height of pride. It’s the mindset, “My will be done,” instead of “thy will be done.”
And it’s because of this pride that judgment is coming for Babylon. Isaiah 47:1-3 – Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called tender and delicate. 2 Take the millstones and grind flour, put off your veil, strip off your robe, uncover your legs, pass through the rivers. 3 Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one. Destruction is coming to Babylon and it’s God’s judgment. But judgment doesn’t end with Babylon. The destruction of Babylon and the fall of every culture that is humanly impressive but pridefully opposed to God is a mere preview of the coming final judgment. Final and eternal judgment is coming on everyone who has not embraced Jesus Christ as their only hope in life and death, which is the ultimate sin of pride.
Judgment is coming and God wants his people to see it. We know he wants his people to see it because Isaiah is writing to Israel about Babylon’s judgment. And this leads to an important question for us. Why is it so important for us to see that final judgment is coming?
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm in the real Jesus. Jesus taught about final judgment more than all other biblical authors put together. We should see the coming judgment because it helps us stand firm in the one true God, Jesus Christ, rather than a faux-Jesus of our own invention.
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm against the dangers of pride. Seeing the final judgment helps us see where pride is headed so that we can turn to the one true God and say, “thy will be done in all things,” rather than, “my will be done.”
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm against taking vengeance. At the final judgment, God will vindicate us and take vengeance on his enemies, therefore, we can leave all vengeance against this world to him and take none for ourselves.
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm in our blessed hope. The trials of this life are temporary, then comes judgment and eternal joy for all in Christ. We can remain steadfast in the light momentary afflictions of this life.
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm as his witnesses. When we see the coming judgment, then, like Jude says, we will seek to snatch others from the flames.
Seeing the final judgment helps us stand firm in the grace and love of Jesus Christ, the one true God. It’s only when we allow our hearts to be gripped by the horrible images that Jesus uses to describe coming judgment that we begin to feel the wonder of what He has saved us from by grace. Seeing the horror of final judgment helps us stand firm in the wonder of divine grace on display at the cross, where Jesus Christ took our judgment upon himself so that we can be forgiven of our sins, inherit eternal life, and be held firm by God’s grace forever.
Stand firm in the one true God. Compare the one true God to his rivals – they need to be carried but he carries you. Remember that there is no other God – He alone is sovereign and saves by bringing righteousness near to us rebels. See the coming judgment. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. He who promised is faithful. Stand firm.