Do Not Fear What They Fear

We live in a world of political intrigue and conspiracy theories. Some would tell us that the planet is doomed in just a few years because of climate change. Some would suggest that a faceless conglomerate of uber-rich and powerful people is running the nation from behind the scenes. The news media seems corrupt beyond repair. The nation is divided politically like we never imagined it would be. Families are foundering. And all sorts of isms, racism, classism, sexism, are tearing our world apart.

In truth, any number of the things listed above may be real problems. For sure, some are quite real and quite dangerous. But what is a Christian’s heart response to the messed-up world we live in?

In Isaiah 8, God is continuing a conversation with Judah through Isaiah. The northern kingdom has just about reached the end of its rope. God is about to allow the king of Assyria to sweep into the land and conquer. And that powerful ruler will threaten Judah as well, coming near to the city of Jerusalem itself. But God promises that he will deliver the people of Judah from this threat. They are to know, as God promised with the birth of a child who would be called Emmanuel, that God would be with them.

Isaiah 8:11-15 – 11 For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”

This was the paragraph that started me down the road of considering the fears and conspiracy theories that are so prominent in our world today. Some of our fears and concerns are very real and right. Some are kooky. But all of our fears, if not checked, can lead us to look like the lost world and not like followers of the living God.

Our God would tell us not to fear what the rest of the world fears. God would say that there is not necessarily a conspiracy everywhere the world around us sees one. And even when there is a conspiracy, God would also remind us to fear him, obey him, shelter in him, and find life in him.

If we shelter in the Lord, will the world leave us alone? No, God did not say that. He said that he would be a shelter for us—that’s something we like. But he also said that he will be a stumbling block and offense to the world around us—that’s something we are not so fond of. Christians, grasp that both of these things are true. Trusting in and fearing the Lord means that your soul is finding real shelter under his wings. But to shelter in the Lord and love him and his word is to offend the world around us. There is no other way to be faithful to the Lord.

No, I’m not saying we go out and try to be annoying. Nor am I suggesting that we should not care about doing right by the environment, the oppressed, or the government. We should do all that we can do to live justly and righteously and mercifully in our world. But all that we can do is circumscribed by the commands of our God. And that same God is the One we actually fear. We do not tremble at the things the world around us says are big deals. We do not identify ourselves with worldly causes so much so that our identity as followers of Jesus takes a back seat.

God was offering comfort and counsel to Isaiah by reminding him that God was with him and would not ultimately let Jerusalem fall to
Assyria. God has given us his word to remind us of his eternal plan. We are to set our minds and hearts on eternity, on things above. We are to store up our treasure in heaven where moths and thieves are no problem. We are to find our hope in Jesus who lived, died, and lives again. We are to find our value, not in the opinions of the people around us, but in the approval of our Savior and our joy in his glory.

God Outlasts Creation

The world can be awfully depressing. Political discussions are discouraging. The character of the nation seems to be diving off a cliff. Rotten people try to do others harm. Even those who should be gracious to one another are nasty on social media. So much seems wrong.

What are things we should consider when all seems out-of-place? In Psalm 102, the psalmist was feeling the sorrow of a world gone wrong. He had suffered. He was mourning over his losses. He knew that his city had been hurt by enemies. And he desperately wanted the Lord to act.

After several verses expressing his concern and sorrow, the psalmist closes with the following words of confidence in the Lord.

Psalm 102:25-28

25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.

God created. This is where the psalmist begins to find his hope. In a broken world that looks uglier and uglier, the psalmist takes his mind and heart back to the fact that God made the universe. God made the heavens. God made the earth. God is. While the universe came into being, God always is.

The psalmist also understood that God will be beyond the universe we can see. God may change the universe like we change clothing, but his eternal perfection will not change. Nothing changes the Lord. He might roll up the heavens like a scroll, but this will in no way impact him. Stars can die. Planets can crumble. Or galaxies can, at God’s will, wink out of existence. None of these things have the power to change the Lord.

Even when the Lord changes the entire universe around us, we can know that God is unchanging. And this fact leads the psalmist to confidence. The changelessness of God leads the psalmist to say, “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.” Because God does not change, those who are under the grace of God may know that the Lord will keep us. If we are his children, if we have been adopted by him, we can know that he will establish us and not let us go. Even if the earth were to shatter around us, God would not lose us.

OF course this does not mean that we know that our lives will be painless. God is sovereign over all things, and sometimes he leads his children through the valley of the shadow of death. But God wants his children to remember that he is eternal, he is unchanging, and he will never let his people go.

So, Christian, think about the universe. Think about how stable it seems. You cannot imagine it going anywhere. You cannot imagine the earth not being. You cannot imagine the sun ceasing to rise or shine. You cannot imagine galaxies beyond your vision fading away. All seems too big, too steady, too unchanging. But God wants you to know that he is before these things, he is beyond these things, and he will keep you in his eternal life even when he changes the stars like a man changes his clothes. Let this lead you to worship the Lord. Let it remind you to be confident that, regardless of how easy or hard your life on this earth goes, there is something infinite beyond it. And let this all give you hope when the world seems too hard to handle.

Solomon Found Despair So We Don’t Have To

One of the things that makes the book of Ecclesiastes so difficult for some to understand is the way that Solomon allows himself to think. Solomon was looking at life to see meaning and purpose. He wanted to be able to show what is right and wrong, good and evil, worthwhile and worthless.

What you might miss is that Solomon accomplishes his task in this book by, at points, examining life from a this-worldly point of view. He looks at life, all our pleasures and pains, and he thinks about what would matter if indeed there was no future for mankind after death. What Solomon concludes, what we see in his examples, is that without an afterlife, it is hard to see why anything in this life matters.

Here is a simple example of how this reasoning goes.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 – 1 But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. 2 It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

If you were to read this without context, without knowing what is happening in Ecclesiastes, you might think this to be unbiblical thinking. Solomon is not an atheist. Even in his greatest despair, he never would pretend like there is no God. Instead, what Solomon did here was to look at human circumstances with the assumption that this life is all there is. And this led him in place after place to declare that all we do is in vain, it is meaningless.

In verse 2, as an example, Solomon says that being good or being bad is irrelevant. After all, good people and bad people all die. Sometimes bad people live longer and happier lives. Sometimes good people live longer and happier lives. But either way, the same thing happens, all end up in the grave.

In verse 5, Solomon points out that, if this life is all there is, the only thing we know is that it is better to be alive than to be dead. After all, if this life is all there is, the dead know and think nothing. There is no justice. There is no reward for righteousness. There is no punishment for evil. Without a life to come, Solomon sees that the only good is to live; and even there, living is a vanity, because life leads to death.

Now, to stop us from really not liking this little book, let’s remember that Solomon will draw the perfect conclusion. Solomon, in chapter 12, will remind us that God does bring deeds into judgment. There is a life beyond this one. Solomon knows all this. He is just taking us through a teaching exercise that shows us how empty life is when one has no hope beyond their 80 years or so.

But we should be learning that there is a genuine emptiness to naturalistic worldviews. Solomon, even three millennia ago, understood that a person who views this life as all there is has no basis for either morality or hope. Even if we know our actions are evil, if we see this life as all there is, so what? Why would we care if we have been good or evil? Solomon shows that, in the end, all we do is live and die and return to dust. There is no hope and no meaning in such a worldview. And thus, such a worldview is unsatisfying and untenable. A this-life-only view offers no basis for morality, no reason for morality, no rational explanation for limiting aggression, no reason to value human beings over animals, no incentive for right behavior, and no deterrent for great evil.

Ecclesiastes is valuable for us because we need somebody to be honest with us about what happens when we see ourselves from a this-world-only view. Solomon was intellectually brighter than all his peers. He did the study. He showed us that naturalism leads to despair. But he did not lose his faith. In the end, he expresses confidence that God is, that God is good, and that God will judge. God will reward those under his favor. God will judge those who have opposed him and his ways. And we can be grateful that Solomon worked through this exercise and wrote it down for us under the inspiration of God. That should keep us from having to walk the same ugly path.

Moses and Eternal Mindset

Mindset matters. When life is hard, when circumstances are frightening, mindset matters. And God’s word regularly reminds us of where to place our thoughts so as to be able to survive in a broken world.

Psalm 90:12

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 90 is the only Psalm I know of that is attributed to Moses. In it, that great man of God talks about the brevity of human life and its hardships. Of course, who in the Old Testament would know of this more. Moses saw so very much death in his days. An entire generation, millions of people, died in the wilderness over the 40 years of wandering. And it had to get to Moses as it would get to any caring person trying to survive this world.

In his prayer, Moses recognizes that there is wisdom in asking the Lord to help us to number our days rightly. That is, Moses is asking that he and those around him would understand the shortness of human life in comparison to the eternity that stretches before us all. Whether a person lives a hundred days or a hundred years, his or her life is but a blip on the radar when we consider a million years and beyond.

In Colossians 3, Paul reminded Christians to set our minds on things above. It is the same principle. We live in a hard world. We do all that we can to see God glorified in this life. We try to care for our family, our church, our friends. We do what we can to make ends meet, to provide for our loved ones, to give to the needy. We try to fix broken political systems, institute just laws, and battle for the lives of the defenseless. But we are living in a fallen world where our best efforts can seem to be insufficient.

Biblical counsel calls us to, in dimes of fear or discouragement especially, number our days rightly. We need to remember that the 80 years that we may live are but a drop in the bucket of our existence. We are barely on the first step of the front porch of our real lives. The door beyond that will open when this life is at an end is where we will truly live. Yes, our lives here matter as we have the opportunity to glorify God in the here and now. But what will matter even more is the forever that is to follow.

Christian, as you think about your life, do not forget forever. When things are hard or scary, think eternally. When you feel disappointed that you may never afford that sweet European vacation, remember that you will have eternity with Christ after his return to see sights that would make the grandest vistas of this age seem as nothing. Whenever you feel that your health has let you down, remember that all who are in Christ have life promised us, life and brand new, never-wearing-out, resurrection bodies. Whenever you think that the things you do today are irrelevant to a big world that will not listen, remember that we live for the God who made us and who sees us inside and out. Remember forever in Christ, and you will walk stronger through the ugly of the here and now.

Then I Looked

There is a recurring theme in the book of Revelation that you do not want to miss. The author will tell you about one thing that he sees or hears about. He will paint a picture, but then he will turn, and he will see something else. For example, in chapter 5, John hears that the lion of the tribe of Judah will take the scroll from the hand of God. But when John turns, he sees a lamb that appeared slain taking the scroll.

We see something like this at the beginning of chapter 14. Revelation 13 is a frightening chapter. There we see the dragon and the beast. We see the beast rise with the power of empire. And we see the mark of the beast, the 666 that has fascinated the world for so very long.

That mark indicates a name, though you will certainly hear much debate as to how that all works. The mark also apes the marking of the Lord. Back in chapter 7, God sealed people who belong to him, identifying them as his and under his protection.

Thus, another point behind that number of the beast is simply an identification that the people who hold that mark are identifiable as owned by the devil and by the rebellious, anti-God world system. Chapter 13 talks of people not being allowed to buy or sell without the mark. That, of course, reminds me of parts of our modern culture where people who do not mark themselves as standing with the world against the ways of the Lord are ostracized, ridiculed, or even fired for their refusal to applaud what God calls evil.

Chapter 13 ends ugly. It is scary. It looks like, with that beast and his mark, the devil is winning in the world. And then comes chapter 14.

Revelation 14:1 – Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Then John looked. As the scene got ugly, John turned, and God showed him something else, something deeper, something better. Yes the devil looked like he was winning. Yes, the devil looked like he had the world in the palm of his hand. But when John looked, he saw that the ugliness of sin was not the only thing to be seen.

Here in the beginning of chapter 14, John reminds us that God has sealed his own. The people of God bear the mark of the Lord. And even in the face of a corrupted, tainted, violent world system, the people of God are still able to stand with the Lamb. No matter how dark and how wicked the world gets, the Lord will not lose his own. And no matter how powerful it appears the beast gets, the Lord will not allow the world to finally fall to the enemy.

The world we live in right now can look ugly. Perhaps it will get worse. But the truth beneath it all is something we need to see from Revelation. You may look and see the messed-up system around you, but that is not the final truth. The final truth is that God knows his own. God marks his own. God keeps his own. And the Lord God will preserve his own. This world may hate us. It may even kill us. But God will keep us. The Lord Jesus will return. We will have, in Christ, victory and resurrection life. The evil will not win. The Savior will be victorious. And Jesus will reign with those who are marked as his own forever.

Do not let the darkness of this world make you lose hope. Even now, we still carry the gospel to the nations and watch our sovereign God make disciples. Even now, we stand in opposition to the world that marks itself as following anything but the word of God. Even now we call people to repent. Even now we push back the darkness. WE see victory. We see setbacks. And we live in true hope, true knowledge that, at the end of it all, Jesus will reign. So, yes, we see ugliness. But then we look, just like John did, and we see the Lord still standing and still holding firm to his own.

A Single Day of Change

How long does it take for the Lord to make a major change? We need to stop and consider that question from time to time. After all, we look at our world, and we are not always hopeful. We see the oncoming persecution and rejection we face, and we think there is just no way that things are going to get better.

While it is true that the Lord does not promise us anything like an easy life in the here and now, we also should not forget the fact that the Lord can accomplish world-changing moves in a single moment. The Lord can bring about great salvation and sudden destruction in a single day.

I thought of this concept when reading through Zechariah 3. Most Christians know this chapter of Zechariah because of its depiction of Joshua the high priest who stands accused by the devil. Joshua is given clean clothes and a clean turban by the Lord. And this reminds us of the work of Jesus to cleanse us before the Lord and to come to our defense against the devil who accuses us.

After Joshua gets his clean clothes and is clearly under the protection of the Lord, we read something else that is lovely to see.

Zechariah 3:8-10 – 8 Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. 9 For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. 10 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

I see three things that I love to see this morning. There is a servant, the branch, who will come. He will remove iniquity in a single day. And the result of his coming will be life and joy.

The servant or the branch is a reference to the Messiah. While Zechariah presents something here that is pretty complicated with images, one thing is for sure: Jesus is coming. God’s servant, the branch of God, is going to arrive. As we find ourselves at the beginning of the advent season, we should remember how great was the longing and the hope of godly people that the Messiah would come. And we look forward to the second coming of Messiah as well.

Without trying to touch the imagery of the stone, we can still see the declaration of the Lord. In a single day, he will remove the iniquity of the land. In one day, the Lord will fix what generations of humanity could not get right. In a single hour, the Lord will set right what kings and priests could not do on their own. Yes, we saw in the Old Testament that the high priest would make atonement for the sin of the land on one special day of the year. But here, It looks like a greater, a more forever, atonement is being made. IN a moment, the world is changed. In a single act of grace, God is doing what man cannot do.

And the result in verse 10 is that those who are atoned for will have life and joy. These men sitting under their own vine and inviting others to come are people who have been blessed by God so that they can share that blessing with others.

This is our great hope. Jesus came. Jesus is the Messiah and the branch. Jesus, on a single day, made one and only one offering for sin. Jesus laid down his life to substitute for us in the judgment we should receive. Jesus took our place, bearing the wrath of God on our behalf, so that we could be forgiven. IN his perfect blood and imputed righteousness, Jesus cleanses us as we see symbolized in Joshua and his clean clothes.

In a single moment, Jesus changed the world. In a single hour, the one God had promised would come crushed the head of the serpent. In a single moment, Jesus took the wrath of God for us and bought for us eternal life. In a day, he took our iniquity.

And in that act, Jesus grants us the blessing of God. We are promised life. We are promised the rewards that God has for his children. We are promised adoption into God’s family. We are promised heaven. We are promised fellowship with God. We have greater than a vine to sit under with our neighbors; we are promised membership in the family of God and his holy church.

The Christian should see this passage represents God’s past faithfulness, as the Lord really did take away our iniquity in a single day in Christ. It represents God’s future faithfulness, as we look forward to the return of Christ when he will reign with his people forever. And it reminds us that God can change the world. It reminds us that God can do the impossible. In a single day, the Lord takes away sin, sets up reward, and shows us his glory. Let us find life and hope in this glorious word.

Hope in What is to Come

When people think of discussions of end times theology, we so often get bogged down in symbolism and timelines. What is the beast? What does that number mean? Are those years literal or figurative? Does this happen before that?

In my read through Isaiah, I found myself captivated by a passage that I think points us toward the reign of Messiah as King on earth. For sure, the things we see here are things that we should be pressing toward today as the church obeys the Lord’s command to have dominion on earth. And I think that these things are going to be perfectly seen at the return of the Lord.

Now, before we try to figure out if my eschatology or my present focus is right or wrong, how about we simply look at some promises that the Lord has made that we can find great joy in? IN fact, why not look at this and see what you find most joyful and hopeful for those who know the Lord?

Isaiah 32:1-5

1 Behold, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule in justice.
2 Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,
a shelter from the storm,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.
3 Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will give attention.
4 The heart of the hasty will understand and know,
and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak distinctly.
5 The fool will no more be called noble,
nor the scoundrel said to be honorable.

Think about what we see in these 5 verses. A truly righteous king will reign with righteous princes under him. Any world in which politics is not the cesspool that we see today is a better world. And I think that the prince here is Messiah, an even better picture.

But also we see wonderful things . Blind eyes see. Deaf ears hear. Cluttered minds think clearly. Tongues that just can’t make words come out of dear little mouths are now free to speak and sing. This is a glorious world to come.

And we also see that fools and scoundrels are no longer seen as heroes. Instead, righteousness is honored and treasured. Folly is no longer worshipped. All this sounds like bad business for Hollywood and corrupt politicians, but it is great for a world in which we actually want to live.

The beauty is, we see these things when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, clarity of mind to the oppressed, and speech to those who could not speak. Jesus showed us that he brings this glorious world. The church is to press toward that world. And the Lord promises us a day when Christ returns, and then the full joys of such a kingdom will be realized.

God often reminds us in his word to hope in heaven, to hope in the return of the Lord. Let’s not forget to do that on our day to day living. Let’s remember that Christ sets right the wrong of the world. Let’s remember that he is our glorious King. Let’s long for his return. Let’s rejoice in his promises. Let’s find that joy motivating to be a part of pushing back the darkness in our present world as we live for the one to come.