The God Who Tests Motives (Isaiah Sermon 10 of 81)
July 06, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Wrath of God, Judgment, Justice of God
The Bible is a constant amazement to me. I'm constantly in awe of this book. To me it is like an ocean. I think about this often. I picture my little children sitting in their colorful bathing suits right at the edge of the ocean, and splashing in its rippling foamy water, and making little sandcastles, and just kind of splashing there at the edges, never imagining the depths that there really are in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Just happy to be there and sit at its edges. And so the Bible speaks of simple truths that they can understand, that there is a God, that God is love. God loves you. God will take care of you. God will protect you. God sent his Son. Jesus died on the cross for you. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. These simple things are right at the edge. And we can enjoy those things and we can learn them right away as soon as we become Christians, and they never change, and they are a source of eternal joy and security to us. But the Bible has a lot more to say than those kinds of things.
The Bible talks about milk doctrines that are really easy to understand. And then the Bible talks about meat, things that are more difficult to understand. And this passage, Isaiah 10, brings us into deep waters today. I think about the depths of God's counsel, as the Apostle Paul was seeking to explain the difficult problem in Romans 9-11 of why it was that the Jews were rejecting Christ, their own Messiah. And he gives a multifaceted answer that would take forever for us really to plumb the depths of. Very deep. And he talks about eternal predestination, and he talks about the word of God going out to the ends of the earth, and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. And he talks about a remnant, chosen by grace and saved by faith. And he talks about olive trees and branches being grafted in, and he gives us this mystery that all Israel will be saved. And then he makes this incredible statement, “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 9:32).
And after making all of these very deep statements, he says this - just stepping back it seems, looking at what he has written - he says, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God. How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).
So we come to a deep and difficult topic today. And it has to do with this: how does the sovereignty of God overrule events in human history in such a way that God uses the wicked actions of evil people who do not know him? He uses them to bring about gloriously good ends, and then he turns and judges those people for doing the very thing that he decreed that they would do. How is that fair? How is it just that God sovereignly overrules these kinds of actions? His decree is before the foundation of the world, that it will most certainly happen, and then he judges them for doing it.
I think about the complicated case of Judas Iscariot. You remember the night before Jesus was crucified, they were there at the Last Supper. Matthew 26:21-25 -
And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me...
Now listen to this:
… The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."
It is astonishingly deep. Jesus said he would be betrayed by one of his disciples, and that it would happen just as it had been written, pointing to the decree of God, even before the foundation of the world. But then he goes on to say, "Woe to the man who does it." Judgment is going to come down on the individual who does it. It would have been better for him if he had never been born. Well, how then was he born? Why was he born then? Who knit Judas together in his mother's womb? Who gave him breath? How do we understand these things? And then, how is it just for God to judge Judas for doing the very thing that he decreed he would do?
My answer to that is I don't fully know. I really don't. It is deeper than I can fathom. But I believe that Isaiah 10:7 gives us a glimpse into the truth of how God does it. Our passage today helps answer this difficult question. I think the key verse is verse 7. What does the evildoer intend in what he does? What are the purposes of his heart? What is he thinking when he does it? On that basis God judges him. Not what does God intend, not what glorious principles can come out of the evil things that we do. What are our intentions? What are the purposes of our heart? That is what God is studying on judgment day.
Look at Verse 7, “This is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind [he being the Assyrian]; his purpose is to destroy." Now in our passage, Isaiah calls Assyria “God's rod of punishment” for Israel. He sends Assyria to punish Israel. And then he turns and punishes Assyria for doing it. How is this fair? How is this just? This is the meat of the sermon. This is what is going to take the rest of the morning to try to understand.
I. God’s Surprising Messengers: The Assyrian Army
So God has these surprising messengers, the Assyrian army. Look at verses 5 and 6 at the beginning of the passage: "Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me.” Assyria on mission for God! Question mark?
Assyria: On Mission from God?
They are on mission for God. Isaiah plainly addresses the Assyrian in the singular, representing the Assyrian king, I think, and through him, symbolically, the whole nation. He is portrayed, amazingly, as on mission from God. He is called, "The rod of my anger," of God's anger. And he wields "the club of my [God’s] wrath." Now, he is clearly sent by God. Look at verse 6: "I send him… I dispatch him." He is the sent one, sent by God himself. He is dispatched. The Hebrew word means, "To command, to lay a charge or a commission upon, to send one out for a job.” So God has a work to do against his own people.
The Shocking Mission: Destroy Israel
Later in Verse 22, in the same text, it says, "Destruction has been decreed," a very strong word. There is a destruction that is decreed here. Verse 23, "The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land." So this is the decree of almighty God, this destruction. But it is the Assyrian who is going to do it. The Assyrian is going to carry out this decreed destruction. And look at verse 12. God has a work to do against his own people: "When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem." So this is the work of the Lord, this work of judgment against Mount Zion and Jerusalem. It is a shocking mission then, a mission to destroy Judah, to destroy Israel. Look at verse 6, "I send him against a godless nation. I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets." God has ordained the destruction of Israel and the devastation of the promised land. God dispatches these wicked, violent Assyrians to trample the Jews down like mud in the streets. Why? Well, because Israel has forsaken the covenant of God for centuries. God is slow to anger, but the time is up for Judah and for Jerusalem, and for the people of God, for Israel.
The Even More Shocking Assessment of Israel: “A godless nation”
Even more shocking is the assessment of Israel as a godless nation. They are an atheistic nation. He calls his own people a godless nation. Why? Because they had turned their backs on the true God to worship those who were no gods at all, who really didn't exist. Isaiah 45:5 says, “I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me, there is no God.” They just don't exist, these gods. And the Yahweh that they thought existed, he didn't exist either - the one who is happy to share Israel with other gods. He doesn't exist either. So they are a godless nation. They don't worship the true God; therefore they worship no God. Israel had exchanged the true God for idols of gods who are no gods at all, who don't even exist, and therefore the horror of it, Israel had become a godless nation.
II. God’s Even More Surprising Message: Woe to Assyria!
Woe: Judgment is Coming
An even more surprising message from God is, “Woe to Assyria.” Verse 5: “Woe to the Assyrian.” Judgment is coming on the Assyrian.
Why? For Doing Precisely What God Sent Them to Do!
And why? Well, for doing precisely what God told them to do. This is exactly what God had sent them to do, and now he is going to judge them for doing it.
Judgment Declared: vs. 12
Look at the judgment declared in verse 12: “When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, 'I will punish the King of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.'”
So God has sovereignly ordained, and commanded, and sent, and dispatched Assyria to do a certain thing, to destroy Israel for their godlessness, for their rejection of the Mosaic covenant. Then God turns on Assyria and punishes them for doing the precise thing he sent them to do. How can he do this and be just? How is this the God of love, and the God of justice, and righteousness that we worship in the Bible?
III. The Key Issue: “What He Intends” (vs. 7)
Well, look at verse 7. The key issue is what he, the Assyrian, intends. What is he thinking as he does it? Verse 7, “This not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.”
One of the Most Important Principles in the Bible
This one of the most important principles in the Bible concerning understanding judgment day. We need to internalize this principle. We need to understand what God is teaching us here. God is sovereign over the evil actions of godless people, like the Assyrians. He uses them to do his will, and thank God for that. The world is not spinning out of control. God knows exactly what he is doing. And nothing that any evil man or nation can do thwarts him in any way. God actually uses it. God orchestrates the flow of their evil actions and their evil intentions for his own sovereign purpose, but God weighs their hearts at every turn in the road. He is staring at the human heart. And here, the issue is the motive of the Assyrian that God brings to judge Israel.
Central Issue: Motive! Why You Do What You Do
And so here we come to it, the central issue of motive. Why do you do what you do? What motivated you to come to church today? Why did you do it? Why did you get in the car and come? That took a great deal of effort and energy, for some more than for others, I can assure you, to get a family in the car. It was the big achievement of the week, I think, in some families, taking a great deal of effort. Why did you do it? Why do you give someone a compliment? Is it genuinely to build them up or is there flattery involved where you are trying to get something back out of them? Why do you do it?
Why did you choose the car you chose to drive? Now, some of you may say, "I didn't choose that car. That car chose me. And I'm stuck with it." Well, that may be, but still, you have choices in the matter. Why did you choose it? Why do you spend your time the way you do? Every hour, every minute of the day - why do you do what you do? Why did you put an offering in the plate today, or why did you not put one in? What's going on in your heart? God studies this extremely carefully. And it matters to him immensely. It says in 2 Peter 3:8, "With the Lord a [single] day is like a thousand years." Studying every tick of the clock, every inclination of the heart, every glance of the eye, he studies carefully. He is aware of everything you are doing. So God looks at motive.
God’s Motive: His Glory in Human Salvation
Now, what are God's motives? What is God's motive in history? What is he about? Well, his motive is his own glory in the salvation of a multitude of sinners from all over the world. That is what God is doing. He is glorifying himself by saving sinners. And so he is going to orchestrate history for his own purposes, according to his wise purposes for his own pleasure, that he might be glorified in saving sinners. That is what he is doing.
So God can bring an earthquake on a community and seek to accomplish many different things at once, but they all tend toward the same end, of his glory and the salvation of sinners. In the death in that earthquake of a stubborn rejector of the gospel, he may be bringing final judgment and wrath, and his death may also be a warning to those that still live. In the death of a Christian in that exact same earthquake, he may be bringing a godly person to his eternal reward, so he doesn't have to suffer any more pain in this wicked world. And he escorts them right through the earthquake and into his presence. In that same earthquake in the life of a surviving non-Christian, when he sees the devastation around, he may come to his senses and flee to the cross and to Christ at last and find forgiveness, as he sees everything he cared about fall apart. In the life of a surviving Christian in that earthquake, he may be learning some lessons about idols that have been in his heart, or about the brevity of life, or the need to be more passionate about evangelism.
God may be doing all of that through one earthquake, but God is at work always to glorify himself in everything he is doing through the salvation of sinners. Isaiah 43:6-7 says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Sons and daughters of glory from the ends of the earth, created for his glory, redeemed for his glory, preserved for his glory, will be resurrected for his glory. And we will live for his glory in all eternity. That's what he is doing. That is his motive.
IV. Assyria’s Motives Displayed (vs. 7-14)
Vicious Cruelty (vs. 7)
But what about the Assyrian? What is going on in his heart? What are his motives? Well, they are put on display here in the text. We can find out what he is thinking about, and it is not that. That is not what he intends. That is not what he has in mind. He is not thinking about the glory of God and the salvation of people from all over the world. That's not it. He is not concerned about the glory of God at all. He is concerned about his own glory. He is building an empire. And those motives are put on display. Verse 7, “His purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.” The Assyrians simply enjoyed viciously crushing other people. They just enjoyed it. They were implacably cruel.
It says in Nahum 3:1-3, “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims! The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels, galloping horses and jolting chariots! Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over the corpses.” That was Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire. Implacable cruelty - that's what is in their hearts.
Arrogant Empire-Building (vs. 8-14)
Arrogant empire building too. Verse 8, “‘Are not my commanders all kings?’ he says.” “My commanders are kings compared to you. I am a king of kings. They're all kings,” he says. In verses 9 and 10, he talks about the countries he has conquered. “Places I've been, people I've seen, people I've killed and murdered and trampled down like mud in the streets.” Let's recount them, verses 9 and 10: “Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? Is not Hamath like Arpad, and Samaria like Damascus? As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images, [by the way], excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria. [You have your idols too, they're just not very good. They are low class idols. The better idols were in the countries I've already conquered.]”
In verse 13 he says, “I removed the boundaries of nations… like a mighty one I subdued their kings.” He is talking like a god. Do you see that? The lust of power, the delight of domination, being in charge, extending the empire as far as it will go, as greedy as the grave. It was like taking candy from a baby, just taking eggs from a nest. No problem. Could do it again in a heartbeat. Could do it any time.
Covetousness (vs. 13)
There is also covetousness here. Look at Verse 13, “I plundered their treasures.” Ah yes, the gold and the silver, and the costly stones and the brocades of silk and the works of art and all the stuff in each of these kingdoms. “I got it. It's in my treasure house now."
Pride of Heart, Self-Worship (vs. 12-14)
And of course, above all pride of heart and self-worship. "I can be a god!" At least for a little while. On verse 12, he speaks of “the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.” Verse 13, “By the strength of my hand, I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding. [I've got strength, I've got wisdom, I've got understanding, I can do anything!]” Such arrogance here! The Assyrian is in love with his own wisdom, his own power, his own understanding. He marvels at his self-achievement.
Missing Motive: God’s Glory
He never realized, it never enters his mind that God enabled him to do it all. It never occurs to him to fall on his face and give God the glory for everything he has achieved. “For in Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” Daniel 5:23, “You did not [realize or] honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.” That thought never entered their minds, though there was ample evidence for the existence of God all around them every day in the physical glory of creation. So that's the motive of Assyria's heart, and God is going to judge him for it. He is going to judge him for his motive, for why he did it.
V. Assyria’s Judgment Described: (vs. 15-19, 24-34)
Human Arrogance Over God is Insanity
And look at the judgment described in verses 15 through 19 and also 24 through 34. We see first this parody of human arrogance over deity. It's insanity. It's insane to boast against God. Look at verse 15, “Does the axe raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood!” Which is greater, the club or the one who wields it? “You're nothing. You're a club, you're a chunk of wood. I raised you up for a purpose,” he is saying. “And you're boasting against me!” God absolutely despises this kind of pride. Assyria is merely a tool in his hand. But at the very gates of Jerusalem, the Assyrians boasted directly against God himself.
Listen to one of the underlings of the king of Assyria. Remember the one who said, “Are not my commanders all kings?” (verse 8). Well they sure act like it. One of these underlings comes and arrogantly boasts in the hearing of Hezekiah and that tiny little remnant of Judeans that are left inside the walls of Jerusalem. This is what he says, “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” (Isaiah 36:18-20). Ooh.
That was Hezekiah's one little glimmer of hope when heard those words. He said, “Did you hear what he said? Of course God, you heard what he said. It may be,” said Hezekiah, “that God will hear the words of the underling of the king of Assyria that he sent to despise the Almighty God and will judge him for it.” Well, that is precisely what God does. The Lord gave a response through Isaiah the prophet. Speaking to the Assyrian, “Who is it you have insulted and blasphemed? Against whom have you raised your voice and lifted your eyes in pride? Against the Holy One of Israel! By your messengers you have heaped insults on the Lord [and now you will die for it]” (Isaiah 37:23-24).
It's actually insane. We are created beings. Our very atoms are held together by the power of Almighty God. This is the God who holds our lives and all our ways in his hands. Death stands over all of our achievements to sweep them into dust. But God is enthroned above the heavens, ruling over all the nations. Isaiah 40:12-15 says this, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed him as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.” That is the one that the Assyrian boasted against.
Specific Judgment: Wasting Disease, Dead Soldiers, Single Day
And so God is going to send a specific judgment on the Assyrians. And he tells them ahead of time what it is going to be, right here in Isaiah 10. This is where you find out what happened that night. This chapter tells you how they died. It is going to be a wasting disease. It is going to be dead soldiers, and it's going to happen in a single day. He is very plain about it. That is what God does. He tells you ahead of time what he is going to do, and then he does it to his own glory. Wasting disease, sturdy warriors, a single day. Keep that in mind. That is what he says he is going to do.
Look at Verse 16, “Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors; under his pomp a fire will be kindled like a blazing flame.” When I read that I think of the fire of fever, like they are burning up. “The light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers” (verse 17). It is a burning image there. Verse 18, “The splendor of his forests and his fertile fields it will completely destroy…” Listen, "… as when a sick man wastes away." He is telling them what he is going to do. They are going to die from a wasting disease. Verse 19, “And the remaining trees of his forests will be so few that a child could write them down.” He is speaking of his army. It is one of the most dramatic moments in the whole Bible - a striking moment. Arrogant Assyria, right at the walls of Jerusalem, ready to conquer that city. And the Lord sends out - now don't make a mistake here; it's not a single angel - he sends out the Angel of the Lord, the Angel of the Lord.
In many places in the Old Testament, it is pretty evident that the Angel of the Lord is equal to God himself. The pre-incarnate Christ does the work, as he will in Revelation 19 with the sword coming out of his mouth. And so he comes. Listen to the account in Isaiah 37:36 - "Then the Angel of the Lord went out a put to death 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning - there were all the dead bodies!” “In a single day” (Isaiah 10:17). A single night - dead, 185,000 of them. And the remaining soldiers are “so few that a child could write them down” (verse 19). I don't know how many that is but it's not many. Just enough to be witnesses of what happened that night. That's what happened. Isaiah 10 explains how it happened. He struck them with a wasting disease and they died quickly.
More Descriptions of Judgment (vs. 24-34)
More descriptions of the judgment are in verses 24 through 34. It's very dramatic. He says in verse 25, “Very soon my anger against you will end and my wrath will be directed to their destruction.” You will see what will happen, like the day he struck down Midian. Remember Gideon? In a single night they were dead. Like the Red Sea crossing, when the water crashed down on Pharaoh's army and they were destroyed in a single night. Like that, the army will be wiped out.
So Verse 28 describes their progress. They are coming in now. They are going to invade. The Assyrians are coming. This is like a travel log. This is a campaign, a military campaign. “They enter Aiath; they pass through Migron; they store supplies at Michmash. They go over the pass and say, ‘We will camp overnight at Geba.’” Ramah, then Gibeah, then Gallim, and Laishah, and Anathoth, and Madmenah, and Gebim. It is city after city falling, falling, falling, falling. One after the other. And it is ordained that all the cities in Judah will fall except Jerusalem. And so the water of the Assyrian river is going to come right up to the neck. City after city after city. But then they are going to halt at Nob. That is within sight of Jerusalem. They are going to get close, and they are going to shake their fists at the mount of Jerusalem, at Mount Zion. And why? Because they couldn't get in there because the Lord stopped them short and cut them off.
And so in verses 33 and 34, “See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty will lop off the bows with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an axe.” Interesting. At the beginning of the chapter, Assyria was the axe in God's hand. At the end they are the tree. God has another axe and he is going to chop them down. “Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One” (verse 34).
Effects: Assyria Loses an Empire
And what are the effects? Assyria loses an empire. That's what happened. They lost an empire. Very soon Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar's father, would rise up, come up the Fertile Crescent, and topple Nineveh in fulfillment of Nahum's prophesy. And Assyria is gone from the pages of history. They lost their empire because God willed it so. Because they refused to glorify God they fell from that height of glory.
VI. Israel’s Future Foretold: “A Remnant Will Return” (vs. 20-23)
Remnant Chosen by Grace
What about Israel's future? Well, it is summed up in this one phrase, “A remnant will return” (verse 21). And thanks be to God for the remnant, because the Jews should not imagine they were any better than the Assyrians, because they weren't. And neither are we. Remember, I've said the danger again and again in the book of Isaiah is thinking that I am different from that sinner that is being described by Isaiah. That's not me. I'm not like him. I'm not like the Assyrian shaking my fist at God. I'm nothing like that. I would never do anything like that. I'm one of the good ones. I'm King Hezekiah kneeling down and humbling myself. That's who I am. I am saying it is dangerous to read it that way. Instead, God speaks of a remnant chosen by grace. That's who is going to return. Look at verses 20 through 23. “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God. Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return. Destruction has been decreed, overwhelming and righteous. The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will carry out the destruction decreed upon the whole land.” So God is going to bring an overwhelming destruction on Judah. And most of the people will die by the sword, famine, or plague. Most of them will die.
Some of them will be exiled. And 70 years later a tiny remnant, 40,000 plus, will be allowed to come back and resettle. It's the remnant chosen by grace. Isaiah has already mentioned this. Isaiah 1:9, “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” In other words, Isaiah is saying, "We're no different than Sodom and Gomorrah. We're the same. We are sinners. We deserve the same wrath.” Isaiah is going to mention this remnant again in Isaiah 37:31,32 – “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above. For out of Jerusalem will come a remnant, and out of Mount Zion a band of survivors. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
And Paul mentions it concerning the Jews. Right in that section in Romans 9 through 11, where he is describing why the Jews have almost universally rejected Christ as their messiah. Paul says, "It is not universal, I am a Jew and there are Jewish Christians, there are Jewish believers in Christ." And “so too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace" (Romans 11:5). That is what he is dealing with here, a remnant.
Key Characteristic: Trust in the Lord
And a key characteristic of that remnant is trust in the Lord. Look at verse 20: “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely [or trust] on him who struck them down.” That's the Assyrian. Remember how Ahaz turned to Assyria for help? He is looking to Assyria for help. Bad idea. He says they are not going to rely on Assyria anymore for help. They are not going to rely on Babylon or any Gentile. They are going to rely on the Lord. They are going to rely truly on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. This is the heart of the matter, the faith of God's people. They had many false trusts, many false hopes. They had been trusting in idols and the idols couldn't save them. They trusted in Assyria and Assyria came to destroy them. But now at last, finally, they will have learned their lesson. They will trust in the Lord alone, for he alone can save.
So also we have many false trusts and hopes. There are many things we turn to and think are going to deliver us and save us. We are constantly drifting back toward our own good works and achievements and the basic essential good nature of our hearts. We are essentially good people, we think, until the scripture lays us bare and life lays us bare and we start to see who we really are. And so the Lord works in us the same thing he was working in his people here: humility, trust in him and in him alone. Well, we can trust in our righteousness, we can trust in our technology, in our medical community and all of their achievements and research. We can trust in our wealth, we can trust in our military prowess. We can trust in all kinds of things, as a nation and as individuals. No, this remnant trusts in the Lord alone, for he alone can save.
God’s Judgment: Overwhelming, Righteous, Restrained
And so the judgment is coming - overwhelming, righteous, but restrained. 1 Peter 4:17 says, “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” It is a basic principal concerning judgment. The more you know of God's will and his word and disobey anyway, the more deserving of punishment you are. But where does that put us as 21st century American Christians? We have the Old Covenant, we have the New Covenant. We have Christ's death on the cross as a matter of history. It has already happened. We have his resurrection. We have the outpouring of the spirit, and we have 20 centuries of church history, the fulfillment of all of Christ's promises concerning the advance of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. We have more knowledge of God's word and redemptive history than any generation that has ever lived. Therefore, our sins are all the more severe. And it says, “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God…” And if it starts with us, what will the outcome be for those on the outside who don't even know Christ?
This passage calls me to repent. It calls on me to say, "What are the motives of my own heart?" God is bringing this judgment and it comes with a surgical strike precision. It is overwhelming. It sweeps across, but it stops right where it needs to. You've heard of the expressions of collateral damage. In World War II, there were bombing raids day and night over the Axis Powers. Day and night. The bomb sights really weren't that accurate. And the bombs weren't that accurate, and wind could blow them off. And basically they just laid cities low on both sides. London, Dresden, and Tokyo, and city after city just laid low, completely wiped out. What they call collateral damage. Nowadays, we pride ourselves on our advanced laser guided smart bombs and all that. So you can watch in the first Gulf War a bomb go down an air intake in a modern skyscraper and say, “We can minimize collateral damage.” But still there are images of hospitals that are in rubble and all that kind of thing. We can't get rid of it.
There is no collateral damage with God's judgment. There is none. The wages of sin is death. The sinner deserves to die, all of us. And so this judgment that comes is overwhelming and righteous, but it is also restrained. God saves a remnant. Do you find yourself there, in the remnant that was saved by grace?
VII. Christ’s true Deliverance
True Oppression: Sin’s Crushing Yoke
That is the only deliverance there really is, Christ's true deliverance. Verse 27 says, “In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders, and their yoke from your neck.” We have broken the yoke. The real crushing burden, the real yoke is sin and hell and judgment day. That is the real burden on our shoulders and we can't throw it off apart from Christ. But thanks be to God that Christ has come, that Jesus died on the cross to take our guilt on himself, the yoke of wickedness and evil and sin and the wrath that it deserves. He came to take that judgment on himself.
True Deliverance: A New Yoke
And he offers us a lighter yoke, his kingly rule. And he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yolk is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).” That is what he offers to you.
Salvation: Come to Christ for true deliverance
It may be that you have never trusted in Christ, that God brought you sovereignly here today to hear the gospel, the gospel that God sent his son. He lived a sinless and perfect life. He died a bloody death on the cross as a substitute, not for his own sin, because he never committed any, but for our sins. And all we need to do, as in the text, is trust in the Lord alone to save us from our sins. That is the gospel.
Understand: God uses the godless to accomplish his purposes, then judges them for doing precisely what he ordained them to do
Now, if you've already come to Christ, then understand a few things from this passage. First of all, God uses the godless to accomplish his purposes, and everything is right under control. He knows what he is doing. And it may seem unfair, it may seem like the tyrant has ascended for a while, but God is always watching and assessing their motives. Always. And even the tyrant, by the way, like Nebuchadnezzar, can repent and turn and believe in Christ. And so, 1 Timothy 2, Paul wants prayers to be offered for all kinds of men, including kings and those in authority, because God desires all men to be saved. And so we can pray for kings and we can believe that God can actually turn their hearts. But he is watching the motive of the heart at every moment. And it is not unjust for God to use Satan and then judge him for it, for God to use Judas and judge him for it, for God to use the Assyrian and judge them for it. It is not unjust because he is testing the motive of the heart.
Search Your Hearts: God tests every action based on motive
So now, what about your heart? If you have already come to faith in Christ, that's fine. Is there any value to today, Sunday? Is there any value to tomorrow? Does God have any good works for you to do? Does he want you to live a certain way? Well guess what, he is going to be searching your heart and your motive as well. And on judgment day, you are going to have to give an account based on your own motive, your heart motive. It says in Mathew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” That should be your motive. “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That should be your motive. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “Judge nothing before the appointed time, wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness [that's motives] and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” Romans 14:23, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” What is your motive? What is going on inside your heart for everything you do?
So if you give to the needy so that you can be noticed and praised, Jesus says, "You've already received your reward in full." If you pray so that everyone will say, "Boy your prayers are just awesome, I love it when you pray," if that's why you pray like you do, Jesus said, "You already have received your reward in full." If you volunteer for Urban Ministry or come to HOPE for Durham so that you'll be noticed by other people, so that you'll be praised by them, or because you're single and you'd like to meet someone (I don't know about that motive, that's a different matter)… But there could be all kinds of motives of why you do what you do. Just be aware that God is aware of why you do what you do. And you say, "Test my heart oh God, and show me why I do what I do. I want to study myself. I want to know what my motives are." Because that is going to be the topic on judgment day.
By the way, if you do some specific thing, and then you are disappointed by people's reaction to the thing you did, what was your motive then? Pride is at the heart of it. Now, I recognize there is little selfishness and self-centeredness in everything we do. All of our gold and silver and costly stones will have to be refined by fire. Thanks be to God, he will do it. But he sees the motive of the heart. It says in Revelation 2:23 (this is Jesus speaking), “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Do not boast when God chooses to use you
My final word of advice to you is this: be humble when God chooses to use you. Live for the glory of God and have this attitude, “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe--as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).
Close with me in prayer.