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God Acts Powerfully to Cure Spiritual Hypocrisy (Isaiah Sermon 31 of 80)

God Acts Powerfully to Cure Spiritual Hypocrisy (Isaiah Sermon 31 of 80)

November 11, 2012 | Andy Davis
Isaiah 29:1-24
Humility, Worship

Pastor Andy Davis preaches a verse-by-verse expository sermon on Isaiah 29:1-24. The main subject is the great power God uses to sanctify us and cure us of spiritual hypocrisy.


- Sermon Transcript - 

 God is here right now, by the power of his Holy Spirit, he is seeking out those who will give him true worship, those who will worship him in spirit and truth, he is seeking us so that we will seek him, and God is seeking our hearts. The Bible says in Psalm 139, "I praise you, O Lord, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made." There is no part of us more fearfully and wonderfully made, more complex than that part of us, the Scripture calls our heart, our heart. What is the heart? The Bible says that it's the part of us that thinks and reasons and analyzes and studies, the heart does that, part of us that understands. But it's also the part of us that loves and hates what it understands. Love should love righteousness and hate wickedness, but it's our heart that does that, it's the part of us that delights and makes plans and has emotions, and that makes choices, that's the heart. There is nothing in the human existence more complex than that, and according to the Scripture, that's what God desires. He wants our hearts. He is seeking the heart, God seeks the heart.

God searches the heart, God studies the heart. Naturally in Adam, our hearts are, as Jeremiah put it, desperately wicked beyond comprehension, we cannot understand our own hearts, we don't understand why we do what we do, as Paul said in Romans 7, our hearts are complicated. And apart from Christ, naturally, desperately wicked, but in Christ, supernaturally transformed. Praise God for that. There is no hope for us other than that, the transforming work of Christ, radically transformed and yet still a battlefield. Do you feel it? Do you feel the assaults of the evil one on your heart? Have you felt it this week? I have. And what are the weapons of the devil: the idolatry of this world, going after your heart trying to lure it away. As it says in Hebrews 3, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." The deceitfulness of sin hardens our hearts. That's the battle. So those are Satan's weapons, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the boastful pride of life, that's the assault every day, every hour on your heart.

But what are God's weapons? Oh, they are mighty. How about just the truth? The greatness of God. The greatness of God. He is a mighty God, he doesn't have to hide, he doesn't need any deceptions about himself, he doesn’t need any salesman to shade the truth a bit. He is great, he is magnificent. The truth is on God's side, not just about himself, but about Christ, his only begotten Son, who was sent into the world for sinners like you and me. The truth is very attractive if we can just see it, and so he has the truth on his side and he also has the power of the Spirit, he has free access to your heart, he can do whatever he wants to your heart, he can take out that heart of stone and he can give you that heart of flesh any time he pleases. And he doesn't have to ask your permission to do it. And he has sovereign power through the Spirit to transform us, those are God's weapons, and God will win in the end. But there's a battle going on for the hearts.

Now, this morning, it just so happens. You don't believe in luck, do you? I sure don't. It just so happened in the ordinary course of preaching, I get to preach this morning, on one of the two most important corrective texts there are in the Bible on worship. Marvelous. Now, this one comes at us negatively, it comes at us convictingly, searchingly, it's verse 13, right in the middle, "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." This text has been for me a mirror, or perhaps even a surgeon's scalpel probing my own heart this week. It's worked on me, it's done it's work on me. And I was saying to a number of people this morning, it's been a very, very pleasing pain for me this week, it's been painful, but pleasing. It's an odd combination, you might think, how do pleasure and pain go together? Well, this is how it works, it's pain because it's showing me the weaknesses and the deficiencies of my own heart. The text has been true of me often times this week and regularly in my Christian life, that I honor God with my lips, with my external, but my heart is far from him. And it's hard to hear that, isn't it? Painful. To have God say that to me and for me to recognize it's true, actually. That's painful.

Why is it pleasing? Well, thank God I feel the pain. You know what that means? I'm alive, and if I'm alive, I will never die. I've crossed over from death to life. What it means is, wherever I fall short, that's going to be changed, I'm going to be healed. Someday with a united heart, I will praise God perfectly, forever. So it's been a pleasing pain for me.

"Well, thank God I feel the pain. You know what that means? I'm alive, and if I'm alive, I will never die. I've crossed over from death to life. What it means is, wherever I fall short, that's going to be changed, I'm going to be healed." 

I wish it weren't true ever of me, verse 13, but it is sometimes true. You may ask, ‘What's the other text?’ It's the parallel text kind of mirror image text in John chapter 4, where Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman, remember how she tried to change the subject off of her sin, remember that? To worship and she went, just where Jesus wanted her to go anyway. Let's talk about worship, believe me, woman, “The time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Frankly, I think that Isaiah 29:13 and John 4:23-24 are teaching the same thing. One of them negatively, one of them positively. Negatively, God doesn't want our hearts to be distant from him while we worship. Positively, we should be passionately engaged with our spirits, passionately engaged in the truth. So it's teaching the same thing, two sides of the same coin. Now, Isaiah 29 as a whole, the whole chapter, Nathan read just part of it, the whole chapter is about how God is willing to do and really must do heart surgery on his people to transform them. He's willing to do heart surgery, in fact, he must do heart surgery on us, the surgery must come from the outside-in because we cannot operate on ourselves, God must do this work in us. And big picture, the message of Isaiah 29 as a whole in redemptive history, as we see, is that God is willing to hurt his people in order to heal them.

And as I was thinking about it and talked to doctors, dentists, about the medical procedures, therapies, there are in this world, it's amazing how many of them, maybe most of them, hurt the body in order to heal it. Think about it. Every surgery does. Isn’t that true? We are willing to have a wound made so that the tumor can be removed. Every surgery does it. I'm thinking every time a bone is set, it's a necessary pain in order to bring about healing. Every time there's a gash in the skin and some stitches are done, additional wounds made to the body so that the gap can be pulled together and there can be healing. Chemotherapy, radiation does acceptable damage to perfectly good tissue so that the cancer can be killed, and body healed. I was talking to Jim Eaker at the Turkey Bowl yesterday, he said, "Dental work, he's always going through perfectly good enamel to get to the rottenness." So it is here, God is willing to, and I say he must hurt us in order to heal us, he must.

I. God Humbles Both Complacent Jerusalem and Ruthless Enemies to the Dust

 Now, in this chapter, it's all about a siege that comes to a city, he's bringing a siege to Jerusalem, he's gonna do it, but the reasons for it are in the middle of the chapter, it's because of what's going on inside their hearts, and God is willing to hurt his people in order to transform them and heal them, and by the end of the chapter, there's just nothing but good news, nothing but the transformation that God has worked. So though it's a difficult chapter and a difficult journey, how marvelous is it to see God's truth speak to us even today?

So let's start at the beginning, verses 1-8, we see God humbling his own people down to the very dust, verses 1-4, and then in verses 5-8, crushing his enemies to the very dust, so God does some different kind of work there, it's different with his people than it is with his enemies. So look at verses 1-4, God humbles complacent Jerusalem down to the very dust by a siege, so you look at verse 1-4, "Woe to you Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled! Add year to year and let your cycle of festivals go on. Yet I will besiege Ariel; she will mourn and lament, she will be to me like an altar hearth. I will encamp against you all around; I will encircle you with towers I will set up my siege works against you. Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghost-like from the earth out of the dust; your speech will whisper."

Well, what's Ariel, you may ask. Well, it's the city where David settled, so it's pretty obvious we're talking about Jerusalem. Ariel means altar hearth, most scholars tell us so, it's a place of an altar where burning sacrifices go up in worship to God. So the issue of this chapter is the religiosity of the people, they're just in this religious machine and it's just turning like a machine, they're adding year to year, and the cycle of festivals is just going on endlessly. It’s just going on, and he says almost sarcastically, go ahead, keep going, just add year to year, and let the cycle of festival just keep on going, but I'm going to besiege you and I'm gonna crush you.

So they were into their religion, and Isaiah's already dealt with this at the beginning of the book, in Isaiah 1:11-14, God says to the people who are just, they're just cranking it out in terms of religion, they're just cranking it out week after week, year after year, they're just cranking it out, they're bringing animal sacrifices to God again and again and again. In Isaiah 1, he says, "The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?” What are they to me, “Says the Lord. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings of rams and of the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moon, Sabbath, convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feast, my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; and I'm weary of bearing them.” That's Isaiah 1.

 It says the same thing basically in this chapter, they're just cranking it out, the religion, you know what I'm saying? The religion, the outward forms week after week after week. Doing what they think God told them to do, and God did tell them to do it, but that's not the point. Point is they're just, it's the outward show. And along with this machinery came a religious complacency, a false confidence, trusting in their pure, heaven-sent religion, they thought God would never destroy them. They're safe, they're safe, it didn't matter how they lived, it didn't matter what's going on in their hearts, they're safe. And they assumed that God would never let anyone else come and stop it. Years later, Jeremiah would find the same thing, that people were saying the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, three times stated. It's like, well, it's a talisman, it's a religious good luck charm. Because we have a temple, God's never gonna let the city get destroyed. Watch what I do to my temple. That's what Jeremiah got to say a century later. But the same thing's going on here. This religious complacency. So therefore, God predicts judgments. Look at verse 2-3, "I will besiege, Ariel;” Jerusalem, “I'll besiege it, she'll mourn in lament, she will be to me like an altar hearth." So there'll be fire, but not the kind of fire you're used to. A different kind of fire. I will encamp against you all around. I will encircle you with towers and set up my siege works against you.

And the people of God, Jerusalem, is gonna be humbled down to the very dust, they're going to be brought low, right down to the dust, and they'll barely be able to speak, their spirit will be so weak, so crushed by this action of God. Notice he says, "I will besiege you," I'm the issue, I'm the one doing it. I will besiege you and I'm gonna bring you down. I'm gonna bring you to the dust, and you'll barely be able to whisper out any kind of prayer or anything at all, you'll be that weak. Verse 1-4, but then interestingly, verses 5-8, God turns and says, I'm gonna bring actually your besieger down to the dust too. I'm gonna crush him and it's gonna happen suddenly, I'm gonna turn just like that, and it's gonna happen suddenly. Look at verses 5-8, "But your many enemies will become like fine dust," so there's that word dust again, they're gonna be humbled to the dust too. "The ruthless hordes will be like blown chaff. Suddenly in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come, will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire. Then the hordes of all the nations fight against Ariel, that attack her and her fortresses and besiege her, all of those besieging forces will be like it is with a dream, with a vision in the night—as when a hungry man dreams that he's eating, but he awakens, and his hunger remains; or as when a thirsty man dreams that he's drinking, but he awakens faint, with his thirst unquenched, so it will be with the hordes of all the nations that fight against Mount Zion.”

So the hoards here are unnamed, but we have to think in context, he's talking about Assyria, that's coming soon. They're going to attack and besiege Jerusalem, they're gonna come against it, and they're going to make incredible progress, Isaiah's already been playing about this, they're going to conquer every city in Judah, but one. A lot of people will die, a lot of people will die, many will flee to the city of the walled fortress of Jerusalem, they'll flee there, but they're gonna die there too, from famine and all that. It's gonna be a time of great suffering. So it looks really bad. Assyria undefeated, powerful, dreaming of conquest, dreaming of plunder, dreaming of crushing the people of YHWH, that's what they're dreaming about, and they're gonna come, but then suddenly everything turns like in an instant. Do you see that right in the text? Suddenly in an instant, everything changes, so it's an instantaneous appearance of Almighty God with power like a storm.

Well, if you know the history, you know exactly what this is talking about. Assyria was there, they're in place. They're gonna win. No doubt about it. And God sends out that angel 185,000 Assyrian troops died in one night. And it's amazing how the text reads there in Isaiah 37:36, "When the people awoke the next morning," it's gotta do with waking up and looking around, it's exactly what we have here in this chapter. He awakens and his dream is unfulfilled, he cannot have what he thought he was gonna get, because his soldiers are all dead.

Now, it's amazing throughout history how many times the enemies of the people of God have licked their chops at the imminent demise of the people of God. Assuming that they would all be destroyed, that they would be gone, excited for the death of this eminent leader, let's say of the Christian church or of Christianity itself. I think about in Acts 23, when Paul's enemies were so committed to his destruction that they took an oath not to eat or drink ever again until they had assassinated Paul. Remember that one? I think they got real thin or they gave up the oath. Because a little nephew somewhere gets wind of it, tells the Roman commander and he gets hundreds of soldiers and they move Paul quickly that night from Jerusalem to Caesarea. So much for that. So they had a dream, they thought it was gonna happen, and they wake and faint, and they didn't get what they wanted.

When you think about other enemies of the people of God, think about Voltaire during the Enlightenment, making predictions that the Bible is gonna go on the ash heap of forgotten literature. Well, I haven't forgotten the Bible. I think it's fantastic. What do you guys think? I bet you more people today know the Bible than Voltaire. What do you think? I'm thinking so.

Or just think about the Communist leaders of the 20th century who predicted the destruction of Christianity, thought that Christianity would grow weaker and weaker. It's the opiate of the people and all that kind of thing, remember? Or how about this? How about a rock star, 1966, John Lennon of the Beatles made a famous statement, he said this, "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I need not argue with that; I am right and I will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now." Now, some of you, I may need to tell who the Beatles are. So much for that, John Lennon. Christianity is not gonna go, Christianity is gonna go on and on and on forever. The enemies who lick their chops thinking that it's going to sometime disappear, it is not going to disappear, it's just gonna keep getting stronger. How many people do you think have been brought into the kingdom of Christ since John Lennon made that statement in 1966? Tens of millions. So the dream of God's people vanishing into nothingness itself will vanish into nothingness.

II. God Exposes the Root Issues: Spiritual Blindness, Cold-Hearted Worship, Worldly Wisdom

Now, in verses 9-16, Isaiah gets into the reason why God is bringing this judgment on his people. There's a reason, there are reasons why God has to work, why he has to do heart surgery. What is the nature of this disease? We're gonna find three aspects to it.

First, cause number one for this judgment that's coming, is willful spiritual blindness, verses 9-12. It says, "They'll be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer." That's talking about the reaction to the coming invasion, they're going to be like drunk people, they don't know what to do, they don't know where to go with their bodies, they're gonna stagger back with the news. Verse 10, "The Lord has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); He has covered your heads, (the seers). For you, this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll, and if you give the scroll to someone who can read and say to him, read this, please, he will answer, ‘I can't; It's sealed. Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read and say, 'Read this, please,' he will answer, 'I don't know how to read.'" The scroll represents the Word of God, it represents the word of the true prophets of God. The people who could understand it, the prophets, the seers, and all that, that could understand that, can't make anything out of it. It's like it's sealed. They can't get to it. They should know better, they should know what God is doing. They should be able to read God's Word and understand it, but it's a sealed scroll to them. And then there are others who just don't have the ability to comprehend it, it's like they can't read. It represents willful spiritual blindness, in reference to the Word of God, in reference to the Scripture. That's cause number one.

Cause number two, in verses 13 and 14, especially verse 13, "The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore, once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder, the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." So the Lord is judging his people because of their distant hearts. The externals are in place, they're doing the religion that they received from Moses, the laws of Moses. They're adding the cycle of festivals year after year, they're doing the animal sacrifices, but their hearts are far from God. They're hypocrites, religious hypocrites. In Isaiah 58:2, he says this, "For day after day, they seek me out, they seem eager to know my ways as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and they seem eager for God to come near them." But they're not. And so they have the outside show, and they say the right things, but they're living corruptly from inside their hearts. Jeremiah will say to his generation dealing with the exact same issue in Jeremiah 3:4-5, he says, "Have you not just called to me, 'My father, my friend from my youth? Will you always be angry? Oh Father, will your wrath continue forever?' This is how you talk, but you do all the evil you can.”

So they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him. What does that mean? What does that mean their hearts were far from God? Well, the Lord weighs the inner person, he weighs your heart, he knows what you think about, he knows what you love and what you hate, what you're attracted to, what you're repulsed from, God is not at all interested in religious formalism, in a machinery of religion. In Jesus's day, the Pharisees and scribes, the teachers of the law, were the quintessential examples of this hypocrisy. They were experts in religion, experts in matters of the law, experts in tithing; mint, and dill, and cumin, experts in religiosity, but their hearts were dead toward God. They looked beautiful on the outside, but inside, they were full of dead men's bones and everything unclean, Jesus said. They were actually idolaters who were living for the trappings of power and the praise of people who loved to be greeted in the marketplaces and have people call them Rabbi, who for a pretense made extended prayer so that people would honor how religious they were, but secretly plotting to devour widows homes, and so they're living for earthly things despite all their religious trappings, so they love the stuff of this world, just like always. Power and pleasure and money and all that stuff, that's what they're living for.

And so Jesus reaches for this exact verse in Isaiah 29, to describe them, he said when they came to him to criticize him about not doing the ceremonial washings that the elders had said they were supposed to do. He said, you hypocrites, you hypocrites, you actors, you external ones. Who look so good on the outside, but I know the heart, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you. These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are just rules taught by men.”

Now, during the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards was facing some people just like that; religious experts who are against what God was doing through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, just incredible. An incredible work of God, a work of revival. People's hearts were being transformed, they were being moved out of churchianity, dead religion, they were being brought to a living, vital relationship with God, and God was using many different servants to do it. George Whitefield, probably the greatest, but he used Edwards and others too. And they were preaching the new birth and a transformation from within. But the old lights, they were called, there wasn't any light there, but anyway, the old lights were trying to shut it down, trying to shut down the revival, and there were some pretty bad excesses going on, that happens during revival, some things that shouldn't have happened. Went too far. And so Jonathan Edwards, who is the ultimate scientist of spirituality, the guy was amazingly accurate in his careful assessment, looking at what was the real deal in the work of God, and he wrote this masterpiece, A Treatise on Religious Affections, to say, fundamentally, the issue of true religion is from the heart. It's heart affections. What did he mean? Well, he said, the heart has the ability to analyze and assess everything, that's the intellectual side, plus have affections toward it and be attracted to it or repulsed from it, to a great or less degree, depending on what it is. That's what the heart does. And this is what Edwards wrote in that masterpiece, "If we are not in good earnest in religion, if our wills and our inclinations are not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, the responses of our hearts cannot be proportional unless those responses be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigor in the actings of our inclinations, so appropriate as in religion, conversely, in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is ever more a powerful thing; and its power appears primarily in its inward exercises in the heart it's principle and original seat." Edwards is saying, bring it. Bring your passions. And don't be lukewarm when it comes to worship. “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and in truth.” That means mentally understand right doctrine, get it right, get it accurately, and then just praise God for it. Let your heart be elevated out of its stupor and its deadness.

Alright, well, that's what it means, these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me? They knew the right stuff, but their hearts were cold and dead toward it, they had no concern for it, therefore, verse 14, "Therefore, I will once more astound these people with wonder upon wonder." Let's just keep it literalistic: I'll do two wonders. [chuckle] Wonder upon wonder. The wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish. Alright, well, I don't know for sure that he was having in mind two wonders precisely, but how about the wonder of bringing the Assyrians and then the wonder of killing them and sending the rest away? I'm going to astound them therefore, therefore, because of the deadness of the heart, my remedy is radical heart surgery, I'm gonna bring the Assyrians, and the pressure that they will bring to bear will change the hearts of my people. I'm gonna bring this horror to them, and then I'm gonna take it away and they will be healed.

And so he talks about their worldly wisdom, the wisdom of the wise, I'm gonna frustrate the intelligence of the intelligent. And then in verse 15 and 16, he talks about this, the secret plans that people make and how what a joke, what a joke about that, “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord.” Don't bother, make no effort to hide anything from God, there's no point. Who do their work in darkness and think who sees us? Who will know? “You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay. Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me?’ Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing?"” Well, I think there're two issues going on here with this hidden dark secret thing, simply in context, it may be talking about just the plans that they're making to form an alliance with Egypt to stave off the invasion of the Assyrians. He talks about it in the next two chapters. Again and again, chapter 30, ““Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans.”" There's that word plan, "Carries out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; to those who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh's protection and to Egypt shade for refuge.” But they don't look to me. So I think in context, that's one answer.

But let's go deeper, please, because if you don't find delight in God, you're going to find it in some idols, just the way it is. You're not gonna say ‘I'll just be pleasureless in life, I'll just abstain from pleasure the rest of my life. I don't care about pleasure, I don't want to be happy.’ No, no, you have a relentless drive to be happy, and if you're not going to find it in God, you'll find it in some created thing or things, you just will. And some of them are gonna be shameful, frankly, and in competition against God, all of them are shameful, even if they're themselves good things. He says to those who do this, who have these secrets in darkness, he says, you're perverse. You're turning things upside down. Don't you know who I am? He who formed the eye, does he not see? He who formed the ear, does he not hear? You think I don't know what you're doing? I am the issue. Not the audience that you're trying to hide it from, I'm the issue. Clear out the idolatry and you will be able to worship me passionately from the heart. You're the clay, I'm the potter. Don't turn things upside down, let me shape you, let me change you, let me heal you. And you'll be able to worship me.

III. God Transforms His People from All Effects of Sin

And so, good news. Verses 17-24 end really happy. Aren't you glad the chapter ends happy? I like happy, I'm big on happy. And it ends happy, so beautiful, verse after verse of God transforming his people from all effects of sin, amazing promises. Verse 17, the strip forests of Lebanon are going to be returned to being a fertile field. Verse 18, the spiritually deaf and blind will be able at last to read God's scroll and understand it. Verse 19, the poor or downtrodden and remnant will rise up in joy-filled worship. Verses 20 and 21, the ruthless oppressors, both inside the community and outside are gonna be crushed and gone. Verses 22 and 23, the children of Abraham will be redeemed. They will glory in God's work. It says there, "No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the Holy One, holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and they will stand in awe of the God of Jacob." You know what I call that? That's worship friends. Stand in awe of the God of Jacob. And then the final verse, verse 24, "Those who are wayward in spirit." What's it mean? “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” Do you feel that, your heart “prone to wander. Prone to leave the God you love,” “Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; and those who complain will accept instruction” and will be transformed.

IV. Applications: Seeing Jesus and the Gospel in Isaiah 29

So application. How does this chapter preach Christ? Well, it does, friends. [chuckle] The only hope for the wayward human heart is the blood of Jesus. It is through Christ, the son of God, who gave himself on the cross to take our wrath, the judgement we deserve, for all this wickedness, this coldness, this wretchedness. He has taken that on himself and he has extinguished the wrath of God in our place. By his blood shed on the cross, God is at peace with all who repent and trust in Jesus. So repent and trust in Jesus. Turn away from idolatry. Turn away from wickedness, turn away from these things that do not satisfy, but actually corrupt your hearts, turn away from them and find in Jesus the only pure delight there really is in this world. Turn to Jesus, trust in him. Perhaps you were invited here by a friend, you don't know Christ as your Lord and Savior, please trust in him now. Please talk to somebody who is a believer and tell them, ‘I wanna know more about Christ, I wanna follow Jesus. I don't wanna be on the outside anymore, I wanna be a true Christian. How can I do that?’ But all you need to do is repent and believe in Christ.

And then for all of those of us that are Christians, just look at this chapter and say, is this applicable to me? Am I like this? Do I have a hard time hearing God's word? Is it like a closed book to me, am I cold and dead toward it? Is my heart distant from God? Is it true that I'm going through the motions coming to church week after week, and I don't have that genuine heart of affection? Have I forsaken my first love? Did I used to have a fiery heart after Christ, but now it's not so much that way. Maybe you need that pleasing pain in your life, maybe you need to be convicted. Stare at verse 13. And if you feel the pain, praise God, it means you're alive, but don't let it stay there. Say, ‘God change me. Transform my heart, make me different.’ Work of Christ alone can do that.

I just wanna conclude with a couple of comments that I think might be helpful for our church, just where we're at right now. The New Testament gives us various metaphors for the church: Bride of Christ, light shining in a dark place, city on a hill, sometimes we're likened to a building made up of living stones, and a priesthood within that building offering spiritual sacrifices to God. Sometimes we're called a holy nation. I’d like to zero in on the image of family. How's that? Family of God. We are a family. This church is a family. We have the same heavenly Father who adopted us, we are his sons and daughters through faith in Jesus, we have the same elder brother who is not ashamed to call us family members. That's amazing. Who shed his blood for us. We have the same indwelling spirit that cries out from within us, the spirit of adoption by which we cry Abba, Father, we're a family.

Now, as a family, we are committed to each other. We're in covenant commitment. Guess where the covenant is, we promise to be things for each other. And that means we carry each other's burdens, and when we don't agree, we strive to understand one another, listening without anger to each other. Loving each other, like that expression ‘as iron sharpens iron,’ both pieces of iron need to recognize that they need to change too. Not just the other piece of iron, and as the two interact in a godly way, I could go really into engineering right now, but when you're doing some machining, you need a cooling lubricant there to keep the heat down. Do you know what I'm saying? To keep the heat down or else they're gonna be damaged, there's gonna be damage, and so love, love is that cooling lubricant. But we need to sharpen one another. We haven't arrived there.

Now, last week, a number of you noticed that our corporate worship time was a little different than it usually is, music a little louder, a little faster than you're used to, maybe a new song you hadn't heard before, some of you were delighted by it. Some of you just noticed it was different and it was a matter of indifference to you. Some of you didn't like it at all. Well, I can tell you this, every brother and sister that stood up here and has sought to lead this church in worship since Eric Campbell left in this interim time that we're in, that's what we're in now, interim time, until the Lord brings us an elder that will be gifted and will work on music, every single one of them, I know them, has done what they have done out of a love for God and for his glory and for this church. They've sacrificed their time, they've sacrificed their energy, they've brought their gifts, and they've sought to use them for the glory of God. And they have full-time jobs, they have other things that take their time, and they have given to us, and they should be thanked and encouraged for it, even if you didn't like that song so much.

But on the other side, it's also important for us as elders, and I'm speaking as an elder now, as a shepherd with the other shepherds of this flock, it's important for us to lead this flock through the changes I think God has for us to make. To lead this flock sensitively and in a good pace, gently, patiently, we have a journey to travel. We have not arrived yet, and ultimately, we are responsible for the things that happen here at the human level, and we failed you to some degree, we didn't stay together the way we needed to in terms of pacing and other things. Now, as a family, we act in grace toward one another, unless you're in that one perfect family in this church, and which you'd never need that, but there isn't such. And you know, we've got to cover each other. Pray for each other. Carry each other's burdens. Now, in the 14 years that I've been here as pastor of FBC, there have been many changes, it's a very different church than the one that I inherited in October of 1998, those changes have been deep and profound and essential. And I think biblical. Everything the Lord has led FBC to do in those 14 years have been geared toward making us more biblically faithful to be healthy for the long haul, for the long term, so that after, if the Lord tarries and he doesn't come back in our generation, this church will still be here testifying to the greatness and the glory of God in this community, so it will be healthy and bear good fruit. That's what we're trying to do.

And one of the significant changes that's happened here has been the move from the single pastor model, the senior pastor who's kind of the boss, and then deacons that kind of, I don't wanna go into all that. Anyway, ask me about it if you weren't here in those days, I'll tell you all about it. But to go away from that to a plurality of elders in which there’s shared leadership of godly men who have made it through the filter of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and who seek to serve together and to lead the church together. And I think that's been absolutely right, and it's been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and these men have given me so much good counsel over the last week, and over the last years we've been together, it's just a privilege to minister with them.

And that's why we have made changes in our Sunday school ministry, to go to a BFL five year where you're getting basically like a Bible education, Bible college education or seminary education, if you just do those tracks, over five years. It's really a blessing. It's to prepare you for works of service for the future. And we've added elders with term limits, and there's a whole thought to that, and building leadership development pipeline for the future generation of elders, so that young men are trained up, those that have an ambition 1 Timothy 3:1, have set their heart to be an overseer, they're trained and prepared so that the church is ready to receive them when they're ready to serve, discipling our directors so that they can do excellent ministry now and then serve in amazing ways, either this church or another church setting in the future. Developing an intern program, many of you don't know that we have that, but training seminary students in a kind of an on-site church-based internship. It's not the most awesome internship program in the country, but it's pretty good, and we've had every semester some great young men that are learning and growing, developing our deacons.

 All of this has been, and Ashok really just gave me some insight on this, but a prepare and send motion here, not a build and settle and enjoy motion. Does that make sense, the difference between the two? It's all toward prepare and send, not just settle in and enjoy. That static thing can be very dangerous, and I think it leads right to the problems of Isaiah 29, that settled, dead formalism. And in that vein, we've made significant changes in our worship style. And it may keep evolving within the bounds of our values in a way that we seek always to honor the Lord.

Now, when it comes to corporate worship, the elders are united, that the primary sound of corporate worship, if an outsider should come in and listen, the primary sound they should hear are your voices united in passionate song. That's what they should hear. And Isaiah 29:13 goes right to that issue, if you let that text work on you, then come next Sunday and sing with all your heart. Whether it's your favorite song or not. Brothers and sisters, God wants your hearts, not just on Sunday morning, he wants seven days a week, he wants it all the time, but let's not minimize the importance of our corporate worship. These are like dress rehearsals for heaven. And you get to look around and see other people that God's working on, it's just so powerful. He wants you, he wants your hearts. He wants you to put away your idols and the things done in secret when you think God doesn't know what you're doing, put the sin to death so that you can worship.

God's grace is there, it's sufficient for all your sin, his mercies are new every morning. Let's come next week clean and ready to worship. Don't let it be said of any of you, “These people honor me with the lips, but their hearts are far from me,” hand your hearts to the Lord, say ‘God I have allowed the busyness of this life, I've allowed the desires for worldly things, I've allowed some sins to creep in and crowd out my love for you. Please draw me back. Please heal me. Please. And he will. He will. And worship in spirit and in truth. In truth. Study the Scripture, study the doctrines, get your mind focused on the doctrines that we have, the greatness of God, the sinfulness of the human race, our great need, and Christ the Redeemer, study the incarnation, the doctrine of the Trinity, study the miracles and the words of Jesus and greatly study the cross and the theology of the cross, get your mind around these truths and then let your heart be passionate about them.

Now, in future weeks, months, years, the united desire of the elders in corporate worship is to steer, I think a safe middle course between two deadly extremes. On the one side is the danger of cold traditionalism leading to religious formalism and hypocrisy, which this text covers. So if there's a static feel and over a generation, two, three, nothing can change, we have inherited this worship style and nothing can change, that's just a recipe for disaster. And we have decided, we have desired to loose the moorings from that and to be free from that so that we are not just traditionalists and formalist, that's not to say that we don't learn from the past. We've got to sing the hymns and know church history. I love church history, I'm all for it. But that we embrace what's right and then just keep moving. But on the other side, worldliness that thinks that anything that's trendy out there in popular culture and anything that is effective and moves people's hearts can be dropped wholesale right in the middle of worship and used without being assessed or filtered in any way. That's deadly on the other side. Now we'll do a good or not good job on that as the Lord... and we're gonna keep trying to follow... and it's like this, we are not perfect people. But that's what we're trying to do. Does that make sense? So we're trying to navigate between those.

We want our true worship sound to be your hearts singing, praising God telling him, ‘thank you for saving me. Thank you Jesus for shedding your blood for me, what you did on the cross and at the empty tomb is enough for me to be happy right now.’ So let's put away all anger, let's put away all factions, and let's put away all divisions and all self-righteousness that assumes that you have the whole picture and the whole truth on this issue. Let's put that away, let's put away all selfishness, let's put away all efforts to twitle the knobs and flip the switches of the church to get the lighting just right for your taste, and the cushion under your seat just right for your taste, and the temperature just right for your taste, and the sounds coming into your ears just right for your taste. I can tell you with great confidence, the next time that all of us will be perfectly satisfied with every sight that comes in our eyes and every sound that comes in our ears will be in heaven, not now.

"I can tell you with great confidence, the next time that all of us will be perfectly satisfied with every sight that comes in our eyes and every sound that comes in our ears will be in heaven, not now."

 So we're all gonna have to put up with something, so let's put up with it together, what do you say? Pray for the elders to have wisdom and to make wise choices and to lead well, in the meantime, hand God your heart and say, ‘let it not be said of me, this person honors me with his lips, but his heart is far from me.’

Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time we've had to study your word. We pray that you would please drive its truth home. I pray that we'd stare into the mirror of Isaiah 29:13 and let it do its painful, pleasureful work in us to bring us to a far healthier worship of Jesus than we have ever experienced before. In Jesus name, Amen.

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