God rules - Isaiah 45:1-25

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 22nd March 2009.

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I want to begin by asking you a question. If you believe there is one God then how do you explain the many different and contradictory religions that exist in our world?

Let me tell you one of the most popular ways of answering this question by using what is often called the Elephant Illustration. Let me stress this is not what Christians believe but it is a common way of trying to make sense of the different world religions.

It goes something like this. Suppose you have three blindfolded people who are led into a room where an elephant is standing. They are then asked to guess what is in the room with them. First one, holds the tail and says ‘this is a rope’. The second holds the front leg and says ‘this is a tree trunk’. The third holds the trunk and says ‘this is a snake.’ There is one elephant and the people are trying their best to guess what it is.

This is how many people like to view the different world religions. There is one God and different religions are sincerely trying to guess what this God is like. Many like to imagine that all the religions are sincerely worshipping the same God but in their own different ways.

In the days when this chapter of the Bible was written and when it would have been heard the religious views of humanity were very different. Not one God and different ways of understanding him. Each nation believed it had its own god or gods who looked after the people. There was one exception to this ancient way of thinking. The people of Israel. They were convinced that only one God existed and he had pledged himself to be the God of Israel. They also believed that although the other nations were very religious they were not worshipping the God of Israel in a different way. Rather, they had invented their own repulsive gods to meet their need to worship something bigger than themselves.

This belief left them with a number of questions. How powerful was the God of Israel? Did he have geographical boundaries that limited his intervention in world affairs? Did he get involved in world affairs? Did he have any plans for the other nations? They were confident that the only God had pledged himself to them but what about everybody else? Did he have any plans for the other nations?

Well, in Isaiah chapter 45 the God of Israel told his people two great truths that he wanted them – and that he still wants us - to believe.

1.    The God of Israel is completely in control of everything

2.    The God of Israel is the only Saviour available

Let me show you these heart warming truths from the Bible.

First of all, that the God of Israel is completely in control of everything. Look at what we’re told in verses 1 to 7. As I read listen out for his uniqueness and the extensiveness of his control.

“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:  2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.  3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.  5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me,  6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.  7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.

This was originally disclosed to a prophet called Isaiah who started his ministry about 740BC. It was written down and preserved until about 540BC, when the Jewish people found themselves in exile in Babylon and when began to hear about a Persian King called Cyrus, who was quickly taking control of the Babylonian empire.

Do you see what we’ve just read in these opening few verses of Isaiah? Over 150 years before he was even born the God of Israel predicted by name the person he would use to return his exiled people from their country of captivity.

We know from historical records that Cyrus gave praise to the god Marduk for his quick victory over the Babylonians. But here is a section of the Bible that should have convinced him that the reason for his success belonged to the God of Israel.  The reason he should have come to that conclusion was because all these years before he was even conceived in his mother’s womb, the God of Israel had mentioned him by name and had spoken about his future empire.

I find this truth so encouraging. The God of Israel can foresee the future. He knows exactly what is going on. He doesn’t make plans when all the facts are not available.

Watch the West Wing. In the situation room. Sometimes decisions are delayed when there is not enough information or sometimes wrong decisions are made when not every possibility has been thought of. But not this God. He knows exactly what will happen and makes his plans accordingly.

This stops us in our tracks and makes us pay attention – and it should – but let me tell you what would have really shocked the original hearers of this prophecy. It wasn’t so much that their God could predict the future. He had done this many times before. The shocking thing was who he had decided to use to accomplish his purposes.

Look at verse 1 again. This is what the LORD [the name of the God of Israel] says to his anointed [literally his Messiah, his chosen one] – and that is Cyrus. Not a Jewish King but a Persian King who according to the end of verse 4 doesn’t even acknowledge the God of Israel. But nevertheless the God of Israel is so powerful and so in control of everything that he can even use pagan kings to achieve his purposes.

There is no doubt when you read these verses who is responsible for Cyrus’ victories. “I will go before you and will level the mountains. I will break down gates of bronze…I will give you the treasures of darkness…I will strengthen you.” Again and again the same point being made.

The God of Israel is completely in control of everything and he can use anyone to achieve his greater purposes.

This raises a few problematic questions about God’s control and God’s sovereignty over history. If God is in complete control of everything then what about evil actions that are committed? Is God responsible for them? Even if not then why does God not stop them?

Let me allow God to speak for himself. Look at what he says in verse 7. “I form the light and create darkness [I think here he is talking about the natural world – darkness is the withdrawal of light -  but look at what he says next], I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD [that is, the God of Israel], do all these things.”

Elsewhere the Bible says God is not responsible for creating evil. How can we hold these truths together? Evil comes from the sinful natures of human beings but God can and does use the evil intentions of human beings for his greater purposes and his greater glory. Like the darkness where God withdraws light here he withdraws his restraint on evil.

This is a truth that many people find difficult to take on board and when they hear it they often want to question whether God’s methods are legitimate. If that is you then listen to what we read in verses 9-13.

“Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?  10 Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’  11 “This is what the LORD says — the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?  12 It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.  13 I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty.”

We need to be humble before this God and trust his methods.

Two examples of when he has used evil intentions for the greater good of his people and the greater glory of his name. Joseph and the death of Jesus.

Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Acts 2:23, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”

Let us trust that God’s ways will ultimately be shown to be righteous and good. When he permits evil to flourish it is not because he has lost control but because he has reasons.

Zimbabwe – wicked man, still pray. God has permitted this to happen. It is not outside his control.

The God of Israel is completely in control of everything.

The second truth we discover from Isaiah 45 is that the God of Israel is the only Saviour available. This is what we’re told in verses 14 to 25.

We won’t look at the whole section in detail but let me highlight a few verses that have impacted me this week.

Verse 14, “This is what the LORD says: “The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush, and those tall Sabeans — they will come over to you and will be yours; they will trudge behind you, coming over to you in chains. They will bow down before you and plead with you, saying, ‘Surely God is with you, and there is no other; there is no other god.’”

Here is a promise that at some point in the future people from non-Jewish nations will join the Jewish people and acknowledge that the God of Israel is the only God.

Verse 20 and 21, “Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.  21 Declare what is to be, present it — let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me.”

There is no Saviour but the God of Israel

Look at the invitation in verse 22. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

Why is there a need to turn to the God of Israel? The need is explained in verses 23 to 25.

“By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.  24 They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.  25 But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.”

Those in the LORD [The God of Israel] will be found righteous.

To understand how all this was fulfilled all we need to do is turn to the New Testament and read what we are told about Jesus.

The God of Israel revealed himself to be a Trinity. The Father sent his only Son to be the powerful Spirit filled Jewish Messiah. He was called Jesus.

After he had arrived as the promised Messiah the people of God were formed around him. They were gathered round Jesus. This is the same today. The people of God are all linked to Jesus but are composed many nationalities.

•    This is how the nations come to the people of Israel.

•    The offer is made to all nations to come and be saved. There is no Saviour but Jesus. Other religions are not different ways of making contact with the only true God. The way we show we are worshiping the true God is by becoming committed followers of Jesus,

•    Every knee will bow before this Jesus.

It shows us the deity of Jesus and also his position.

Philippians 2:10-11, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Will you have trusting submission now or acknowledgement when it’s too late in the future? That’s the choice.

•    In Jesus we are found righteous.

Is there anyone here tonight who need to turn to the only Saviour? Let me invite you to do that tonight as we finish in prayer.

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