Ronald Bryer was there when the bomb was dropped. He was a prisoner of war and was being held at Nagasaki when the United States dropped the Atomic warhead which would end up bringing World War II to a close. By the amazing providence of God Bryer survived the explosion because he was pressed into working in an air raid.
Of course, this was an amazing thing. The city of Nagasaki had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the explosion. Yet Bryer lived to tell about it. For 34 years Bryer carried the memory of the absolute carnage that was left.
But in 1979 Bryer was asked by the mayor of Nagasaki to return and see what had become of the devastation. Bryer accepted the invitation and took the trip. Upon arriving, Bryer was amazed to see that the city which once lay in complete ruins had now become a bustling city with highrise buildings and major commercial companies, such as Mitsubishi and Mazda.
Bryer said that the thing that amazed him the most was the children. He couldn’t believe that they were out in the streets laughing and playing with all their childlike curiosity. He said it didn’t used to be like that.
To Bryer, it was a completely new world. It was a transformation that seemed utterly impossible.
The experience this former prisoner of war had is somewhat of the same experience that we find in our passage today. The people of God in Isaiah’s time were living in a land which had been devastated. It was not due to an Atomic explosion though. It was due to something far more devastating. Sin had left the people stripped bare. The land had been reduced to a pile of rubble by the Almighty strength of God.
But in our passage this morning, we see that a whole new world arises out of the ashes. God, by his grace, constructs a new city—a new nation, where righteousness dwells.
This passage is a reminder to us that God does not disavow his people entirely. He shows that his love for his people will never run dry and he will never give up on his promise to establish them in his kingdom. And in this passage we see that God does establish his kingdom. And in reading this passage we see that it is a new world order. Out of the rubble of failed human works, God brings to fruition his long promised Kingdom of glory.
That is something of the irony of this passage. It is a new world order that we see here. However, it is not altogether new. It is an old world order in that this was what God had intended from the beginning. The promises given to Abraham was that he would make of him a mighty nation.
But here we look to see the ripening of the fruit. We see what that God perfects what Israel could not attain on their own.
What does God want us to learn about this new world order though? I think we should begin by noting that this new world order has a messianic flavor.
I. Its Messianic flavor 
In verse 2 it says, “In that day the branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious.”
Now, this is not the easiest passage in the world to understand. If you don’t quite understand it, don’t worry. You are not alone. I wrestled with it all week long. And in looking at the commentators through the week, it was evident that they were not altogether clear on what it meant.
But the Jews viewed this passage as a messianic passage. And you may too, especially when you compare it with other passages of Scripture. For instance, in Jer. 25:5 it talks about this branch and it says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
You could also look at Zech. 6:12 we read, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the LORD.”
We could look at other passages as well that develop this idea of the branch. All of those passages are elaborating further upon what is said here. And all of them indicate that was going to be a man who would be raised up by God to do marvelous feats of righteousness.
And so we find that this new world order would be spearheaded by and established through the work of that Messiah.
You know, we often say that you just can’t find good help now-a-days. And isn’t that true? When we need something done, we know that if we want it done right we better do it ourselves.
I was talking with a fellow just this week. He said that when he was out on a job, he would sometimes have to have other people handle certain tasks. So he would say, “Hey, can you get this over to so & so?” But rarely did it ever get done, or if it did get done, it was not done right or right away. This would always frustrate him to no end.
Well, when it comes to God’s kingdom, it is much the same way. God is here saying, my kingdom is going to be established. No one is going to be able to stop it. But if it is to be, it is up to me.
We’ve seen what happens when it is up to us, haven’t we? All of what we have studied so far and all of what is recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles are a testimony to what we can do to establish God’s kingdom. The whole point of the books of Kings and Chronicles is that we only we are a bunch of failures. When it is in our hands, things go south and it typically falls apart.
So if it is to be, it is up to God. God himself has to bring it to pass. That’s why we see Christ being born in a manger. That’s why we see him leaving his Father’s side and stepping out of heaven. Because it was up to him. When Christ came to earth, he came to be the messiah who would spearhead this new world order. That’s why he said, “The kingdom is at hand.” He was saying that he had come to establish this new world order wherein righteousness would rule.
And that kingdom is still being established through the ministry of the Word and Spirit. In the book of Acts we read how the church begins to spread out. In essence, it records for us the triumphant march of Christ across the globe. You might say that the gospels tell us how Christ began to establish his kingdom, and the book of Acts tells us how He continues to establish it.
You might say, “Well, he is still using man to do it, isn’t he?” Yes, he is. His people and his ministers are doing the work. But what do we find happening at the beginning of the book of Acts? There is the empowerment of the Spirit as it is poured out from heaven. Christ comes to dwell in each of us so that we can carry forth the work of the Messiah.
So don’t think for a moment that it is up to us. We would be fools to do so. Kingdom work is the work of the King. While he might be pleased to work through us, we must not forget that it is he who works the work. The New world Order, from beginning to end, has a messianic flavor.
But as you look at this passage you will also see that it has a redemptive quality about it.
II. Its redemptive quality [3-4]
Verses 3-4 make it clear that this new world order would be made up of a people who are completely transformed. The passage makes it clear that redemption comes to this people. It says that the people who take part in this new world order are going to be called holy.
But the question arises, “How do these people get to be holy?” This is radically different from what we’ve been looking at so far in the book of Isaiah. What we’ve seen is that the people are anything but holy. They are depraved. How do they get to become holy?
The passage talks about this redemption in two ways. First, we have to see that this has something to do with the gracious election of God.
Verse 3 reminds us that there are people who are left in Zion and remain in Jerusalem. In other words, after God came through to clean up the mess, he chose to leave a few behind. Now, it wasn’t because he forgot them or just overlooked them. You know when you are cleaning the table after dinner you might do that. There can be some scrapes that you missed when you wiped up the table.
God didn’t do that though. He doesn’t fudge things like that. People were left behind because he had chosen to leave them there. It was part of his plan to save some, and he knew exactly who he wished to save.
As a matter of fact the passage says that everyone who was left was a person who had had their names recorded in a book. It is saying that long before the Lord came and visited the people of Jerusalem, God had specified who would receive his gracious salvation.
So those who participate in this new world order are there because of God long before had determined who would be there. They were predestined according to His sovereign grace in election.
A friend of mine was once talking with a co-worker of his about spiritual things. His co-worker found out that he was a Calvinist and he would sometimes chide him about it. But one day they were talking about heaven and he asked my friend, “What will you say when you get there?” And my friend said, “Why me?” In other words, “Why am I here? I am nothing but a wretched sinner? Why did you choose me?”
That’s the beauty of grace. It leaves you questioning God, “Why me?” You don’t deserve it. But God gave it to you anyway, solely because he wanted to.
But we still have the problem of the unrighteousness. That God elects us by his sovereign grace shows us that we get to be redeemed, but it does not show us how we come to be redeemed. We still are yet to figure out how do these people come to be denominated as holy? The answer to that is found in verse 4, and how it directs us to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ
In verse 4 it says that all the evil ones are like filth and bloodstains that are purged. They are just wiped out in one purging sweep. As God’s judgment comes upon them the place is swept clean. Then at the end of verse for it says that there is also this cleansing by a spirit of burning (or it could be translated purging).
What we see are that the sins of the people are burnt up. It is a refining process where their sins are purged from them like alloys are purged from gold.
This is exactly what happens on the cross when Christ was sacrificed as the Lamb of God. On the cross, Christ stood in the place of his people. He took upon himself the sins of his people. Then, as the wrath of God came upon him, the sins of the people were purged in a fiery heat.
This is what allows the people to be called holy. It is not because they were able to clean themselves up. It was because of what Christ did for them when he gave up his life. It was because through Christ their sins are purged.
Now this new world order has a messianic focus and a redemptive quality. But let’s not forget that it has a personal application too.
III. Its personal application [5-6]
Verses 5-6 put forth a beautiful picture of how God touches each and every one of us in this new world order. It says that the Lord creates over the whole site of Mount Zion and over all his people canopy of sorts. Above Zion there is a cloud by day and fire by night.
Those of you who are familiar with the Bible know that in the Old Testament the people were lead through the wilderness by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It was a constant reminder that God was their guide through the wilderness. He was always there through the hardships of that adverse territory.
But even though God was obviously there, he was still distant. You couldn’t approach the cloud. It was always over there out of your reach. You didn’t dare go near it for fear of being consumed.
Here in Isaiah 4 though, you have a different portrayal of that cloud. It isn’t off in the distance. It is right over you. It is ever present with you. It is a message that God would constantly be with his people in this new world order. His presence would be personal.
I believe that this is God’s way of depicting the way the Holy Spirit dwells in and with his church today. His presence abides with each and every one of us each day and each moment.
This is the essence of what Christ communicated about the Holy Spirit in John 16. Jesus said that he was going away, but the disciples were not to fret because he would send them the Holy Spirit. And the word he used there was the word parakletos, which means Comforter of Helper. The Spirit would be the one who helps and comforts us in life’s troubles. He is our shade by day and the shelter from the storms of persecution and affliction.
And isn’t this what we see at Pentecost. The church becomes indwelt in a new and powerful way. God sent forth his comforter/his helper, so that we might have the personal presence of Christ no matter where we go. And by that Spirit we are ever reminded that we are a part of God’s eternal Kingdom. We are in the New World Order that God is establishing.
To be sure, this new world order has not come to its completion. But it is being established in our midst. And we have the great joy of participating in it through our Messianic King.
The overall topic is certainly easy to determine. It has to do with leadership. Isaiah is giving us a commentary of sorts on the state of affairs in Judah. In our own land we typically have a state of the union address. This might correspond to something like that. The difference being that a prophet, rather than the political leader, is speaking. We might also say that it is more of a “state of dysfunction” or “disunion” address rather than a state of the union. Isaiah’s words, yet again, give a rather dismal picture of things in Israel.
This is why I’m not too upset that my outline and presentation are not going to be altogether tidy. I think that it will reflect something of the chaotic state of things in this passage. It represents any realm for that matter that is characterized by faithlessness and moral decadence.
So, despite this message being less than organized (to say the least), I want us to concentrate on what God says here about leaders and leadership. The first lesson we learn from this passage is that a moral and religious decline creates a deficit of good leaders.
I. A moral & religious deficit creates a deficit of good leaders
In verses 1-3 God says, “I am going to remove support and supply. I am going to remove the mighty man, the judge, the elders, the captains of fifty, etc.” Isaiah is saying that all those who are in places of authority and prominence are going to be removed. And this is going to be done by God’s hand.
Of course, we all know the purpose of a prophet. They are called to preaching against the sins of society. They exist because morality doesn’t. Isaiah is no different. He lived in a day of apostasy and moral degeneration.
Yet this text makes it clear that because of this spiritual deficit in Israel there is going to be a parallel depreciation of leaders.
Then in verses 6 and 7 you have a scene of complete desperation. The people of Israel are so desperate that they will try and grab anyone who may even resemble qualified for leadership and try to place him in office—Hey, you have a coat. You obviously are qualified for the position!
That reminds me of many churches today. There is such ignorance of the Scriptures in these churches—most don’t have a clue what it means to follow Christ—so they say, “Well, here you have a businessman. He wears a suit every day. He obviously must know something of how a church can be run.” When it comes to real, Biblical qualifications for the office, no one gives a whoot. Even if they did, they would not be able to find anyone who met those qualifications.
You might notice though, that the passage does tell us that there are some who ascend to these positions of power. In verse 4 it says that the vacuum that was created by a loss of qualified leaders is filled with children. That could mean people who are simply inexperienced or physically immature. We know that there were times in Israel’s history where kids as young as 6-8 years old were the leaders.
The point is that the pool of good leaders has dried up. And, of course, that is going to happen where ever you have a group or society that does not fear God and keep his commandments. This is why we see people like Daniel and Joseph rise like shooting stars in those narratives. Certainly, it has to do with the blessing of God. But if we speak from a human perspective, these men rise to power because they feared God. They were men of wisdom and integrity. They stuck out head and shoulders above the rest of the fools because they feared God. So it is no wonder that they were chosen to hold those high offices.
The one trait that is (or at least should be) foremost in a leader is wisdom. And you all know where the beginning of wisdom is found: it is in the fear of God. But when a body doesn’t fear God, wisdom will be lacking. And as a result, there will be a shortage of Daniel’s and Joseph’s. Good leaders are going to evaporate because there isn’t that pool of godliness from which to draw.
A society—be it a family, church, or nation—is only as good as its leaders. And when the leadership breaks down, so does the institution that of that leadership. So, to keep it in tact or to rebuild what is broken down, what is needed is not just another leadership conference. There needs to be a time of repentance and turning to God. That is the only thing that can bring restoration to a land and its leaders.
Now, this next point may get me in trouble. To say that it is taboo in our day would be to put it mildly. But we need to say something about verse 12 and what it means that “women rule over them.”
II. Women rule over them.
Verse 12 corresponds to verse 4. The only difference is that verse 12 mentions the fact that women are rulers too. A lot of people say that women here is symbolic. So it is like saying, “The leaders have become a bunch of girly men.”
That may be true to some degree. There is no doubt that men are only men when they fear God and keep his commandments. When they don’t, they lose something of their masculinity and the concept of honor. When I led the men’s group at the Care Center, I emphasized the fact that being a man means more than having the physical makeup of “maleness.” It has to do with duty and honor.
However, we shouldn’t jump too quickly to the metaphor of “girly men.” I believe that we are to take this literally when it speaks of women holding places of authority. It is a sign of God’s curse when women rise to positions of power and headship.
The Bible makes it clear that the men were created to be the leaders of society. All you have to do is look at Genesis 2. It makes clear that the man was the foundation of society. Then the woman was created to be the man’s helper. So in the home, the man is to be the head of the household. He is to be the one who is responsible for all that goes on there. His wife is supposed to be the one who assists him and helps the house to run.
We could also look at 1 Cor. 11 and see that God makes this quite clear. It says, “The head of every woman is man. And the head of man is Christ.” God is making it quite clear that there is an order (or hierarchy) that is embedded in the family.
That principle is then to be carried over into the other spheres of life too. If man is the head of the home—the most fundamental building block of society, it is the logical next step that those other areas which are built on families (churches and nations) are to be led by men too. Paul certainly backs this up in 2 Timothy 2, when he limits the offices of the church to men.
You will remember too that part of the curse was that Eve would have this desire to usurp authority. That fits in with what we have here. When there is a deficit of credible leaders, it provides the perfect time for women to step up into those positions.
Now, a lot of people will object to this, I know. One of the things they will point to is Deborah. They will say that Deborah was raised up by God to do great things for Israel. But that’s just the point. The passage there in the book of Judges isn’t there to show how great Deborah is! It is to point out how wicked Israel had become. This was the time when everyone was “doing what was right in his own eyes.” And Barak is the prime example of the kind of leader such a culture produces. He wasn’t willing to lead Israel or step up to do the work that God had called him to do. So God raises up Deborah as a shame to him and the rest of the nation. While Deborah is a blessing of sorts (to relieve the Israelites’ oppression), she is also a curse. She is a signal that the Israelites are a bunch of apostates and God is highly displeased with them.
I know that this is enough to get me stoned in a Feminized society like ours. Everywhere you look today we have women in places of governance. If you look through the phonebook, you’ll see that numerous churches have women clergy. You all know how women populate the civil magistrate and how close we are to having a woman at the highest office of our land.
All this has come about because we have forsaken scripture and embraced thinking a human way of thinking. But this is the truth of Scripture: Scripture says that God has set a social structure and included in that social structure a different role for men and women. And when women come to power it is a signal that the whole structure of society has radically been turned on its head. Whether it be the church, family or civil magistrate, when women occupy the role of headship, you it is a sign that things are in decline and that God is much displeased with us.
The next thing that I want to emphasize in this text is something that we mentioned last week. And it follows logically on what we have just said up to this too. Last week I quoted Benjamin Franklin when he said, “If you will not be governed by God, by God, you will be governed!
III. If you are governed by God, by God, you will be governed
If you don’t have good leaders, you won’t have good government will you? Of course not! If you do not fear God and will not submit to his government, you shouldn’t be surprised to find yoruself being cruelly treated by some despotic dictator. Or, in such a situation, you shouldn’t be surprised that there is going to be such anarchy that your life is going to be miserable.
And that is exactly what we find in this passage. This passage presents us with a pendulum shift from complete anarchy to absolute tyranny. In verse 5 it talks about the anarchy. The masses of people go around oppressing one another. Youths will even be so bold as to despise and be insolent towards their own elders.
Some of you might remember the events the riots that occurred out in Los Angeles, California a number of years ago. It was complete anarchy. Mobs flooded the streets, looted stores, toppled cars, started fires. The civil government was virtually useless as the people took to the streets. That anarchy is what you might imagine here. And that is the kind of chaos that exists in godless societies. People are nothing more than a law to themselves.
Then in verses 13-15 you see the complete opposite. In these verses you have God condemning the leaders (the elders and princes) because of their tyranny. These leaders have oppressed the poor and outright crushed the people.
I’ve started to be involved in the Tea Party book study. I wanted to get out and expand my sphere of normal contacts. But the book we are studying says that tyranny and anarchy are always two opposite extremes. There is some truth to that. But on the other hand, they go hand in hand too. When you have tyranny, you will have anarchy too (and vice versa). They are symptoms of a godless culture.
The point of this passage though is the anarchy and the tyranny show us that there’s no way except God’s way. As Franklin said, Either be governed by god, or by God, you will be governed!
My wife and I started watching a historical fiction series on John Adams, the great patriarch of our nation. One of the things that we saw in the opening showing were some of the flags that were raised during that time when King George was dictating his oppression of the colonists. One of those banners had a olive branch on it and was surrounded by the words, “Appeal to Heaven!”
Those people recognized the truth of Scripture. It is only when we appeal to heaven (i.e. look to Christ and heed his heaven inspired word) that we will find true freedom. Christ said, If you hold to the truth, the truth will set you free. He was beckoning us to appeal to heaven so that we could find true liberty. Be governed by God, or by God, you will be governed.
Now, this next point is something that we’ve spoken about before, perhaps many times. And it gets at why all this happens. Why is it that we come to have a deficit of leaders? Why is it that oppression comes to dominate a land or group. The answer is, because we want it. We have opened the doors for it. That is exactly what it says in verse 9.
IV. We brought it on ourselves!
If you look at the last sentence in verse 9 you see that it says that very thing. It says all this misery that the Israelites were experiencing was brought on by their own doing. They brought it on themselves!
In this passage it is interesting to see the balance of Divine sovereignty and human responsibility. In verses 1-3 we noted that it was God who was removing the leaders. But here we see that the leaders were removed by their own doing.
One of the puritans once said that sin is its own executioner. That is exactly right. Sometimes God’s judgment is not so much his bringing down fire from heaven as it is his letting us walk through the door we have opened.
I’ve always found the story of King Saul quite interesting. The people of Israel were not satisfied with the judges of Israel. They wanted a king like the other nations. They wanted some strong central power that would rule them like the other nations. The one who was raised up was Saul. Interestingly, the name Saul means “demanded” or “asked.” In other words, they got what they asked for! What kind of leader was Saul? He ended up being a leader just like the nations! He was a raving tyrant!
We can bring this into modern day society quite easily. We complain about our elected officials (ecclesiastical or political) and all the misery that they cause. But let’s not forget, they are elected officials! We were the ones that chose to put them there. And the way we have shaped the culture has given them the mindset that they have. They wouldn’t be like they are without our having shaped them! God is only giving us what we voted for.
We have the saying, “You made your bed. Now you have to sleep in it.” Well, that saying might not be found in the book of Proverbs, but it is certainly a biblical truism. God’s word is here to guide us. God promises that if we obey him, it will be well with us. But if we choose a different way of making our bed, we’ll find that we’ll have to sleep in it.
So far, I’ve been painting a pretty bad picture of things. I’ve been sort of implicitly suggesting that there is going to be a collapse just like Judah experienced. And if that hasn’t become clear to you, let’s make sure that you hear it now. I’ve sometimes said that I have two jobs as a pastor: to get people ready to die and to get people ready for the collapse of America. But is there any hope in all this message? Or is it all doom and gloom. Well, there is one comfort in the midst of all this. And we would be remiss if we didn’t take note of it.
V. Comfort for the righteous
In verse 10 God comforts the righteous by saying that “it shall be well with them, for they will eat the fruit of their deeds.”
Now this doesn’t mean that righteous people will not suffer or die during this time of oppression and despotism. Don’t think that. This is not a health and wealth gospel. The idea here is that God will be with you during these times. He will care for you during these times. Ultimately, the sufferings that you will experience will be for your good. Unlike the wicked, you will not experience the wrath of God. Though others face it and taste their condemnation, you will not.
Most importantly, the suffering will only be for a short time. It will be temporary because it will be limited to this life. Eventually it will come to be overshadowed by the sweetness of our new life in glory.
In Psalm 23 we read, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no ill. Goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life.” These are the words of comfort that Isaiah gives us. Though all the world be collapsing around us, we do not need to fear. It shall be well with us.
Those who trust in Christ and give heed to his word need not fear in that day. His arms will continue to enshroud us to keep us through it all. Even then he will be our God who gently leads us beside still waters.
Far from giving us reason to give in and give up, this passage gives us every reason to persevere in faith. Despite the state of society and its impending doom, our God still reigns. Princes may come and princes may go. But the government of God will not pass away. And while the leadership of men may shrivel up and fade away, we can trust that the good government of our God will never fail or falter.
It has been said that you cannot scare someone into heaven. People have said this because there have been people throughout time who have preached hell fire and brimstone sermons. They say that these preachers have only one motive: that is simply to spook their listeners and, after terrifying them, get them to come to Christ.
I would like you to think about that statement for a moment though: You cannot scare someone into heaven. I want you to ask yourself whether or not that is true. Can you scare someone into a state of salvation?
I have to admit, if that were a question I had to answer on a test or a presbytery exam, I think that I might struggle to answer it.
On the one hand, I think that there is a lot of truth to the statement. If you are going to go to heaven, you need to come on the right terms. You can’t simply say, “Hell sounds like a bad place. I don’t think I want to go there. I rather go to heaven.” Obviously, you can’t do that. There has to be a sincere love for God and a genuine appreciation for the saving work of Christ. Moreover, to get to heaven you need to be drawn by God’s grace. There has to be an apprehension the mercy the Lord affords through Christ and his sacrifice.
However, to say that you cannot scare someone into heaven is not altogether true. There may be some truth to it, but it isn’t all true. If you are going to go to heaven, you have to give due consideration to the alternative. Coming to a state of salvation means knowing something of what you’ve been saved from. That means you need at least some recognition of the horrors of hell. You have to recognize to some degree the danger you are in if you continue in a state of unrepentance.
So I would submit to you that yes, you can indeed be scared into heaven. I may even go so far as to say that everyone who is in heaven (or is going to heaven) has been scared into it. That’s the very essence of fleeing to Christ. Fleeing to Christ means fleeing from the wrath and curse of God. The only way you can turn to Christ and find him as your eternal refuge is by knowing that only he can appease that which is due to you for sin.
Think about it this way: no one uses the fire escape when they are not cognizant of any imminent danger. Only when you sense that your life is at risk do you fly to that means of escape.
I mention this because I believe today’s passage is designed to do that very thing. Its purpose is to agitate you. It should be somewhat alarming to you, if you are not in Christ. For the passage before us paints a frightful picture of God. I would go so far as to say that it is a nightmarish depiction of what God does (and will do) to the unbelieving.
Certainly this passage does not embellish in any way or use ornate terminology. Yet the message that it communicates is quite clear: The Lord terrorizes those who do not fear him.
Now, having said that, I know that some people are going to object. To even begin to paint the Lord in such a lurid way will offend some people. They would say that it is absurd to think that God would terrorize someone. But when you look at this passage, you can’t help but recognize the truth of that. The Lord is the one who terrorizes.
As a matter of fact, three times it is stressed that God is the origin of terror.
I. The origin of terror
Look at verses 10, 19, 21. All three verses it says that the people are running “from before the terror of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty.” The idea is that the majesty and the splendor of God is what is terrifying to them. God is too much for them. His presence is what causes these people to experience untold grief.
Think for a moment about this. I want you to understand that their terror is derived from the majestic presence of God, his glorious splendor. Because a lot of people can’t even fathom such a notion.
So that you understand this better, I want you to imagine a mischievous little child. One day this little scoundrel pulls a lot of pranks. Among those he offends is his mother. With the pain of being hurt herself, not to mention having to bear the pain of the others who have been wronged by her child, she sends the boy to his room. As she does so she says, “You just wait until your father gets home!”
Now some of you might have been in that position before. Do you remember what it was like? Did your mind just run rampant thinking about what daddy was going to do to you? Though you knew the time would come when he would get home from work, you wished it wouldn’t come. And when did come home, do you remember how your stomach tightened? It felt like it was in knots. Then, when you saw the door open and he walked into your room, there was a sense of terror wasn’t there. It was as if the judge and executioner himself was walking into your room.
Now that was just the presence of your father—someone who, more than likely, loved you because you were his child. But if that is the way it is with our own relatives, what will it be like on the day when Christ comes again? His majesty far exceeds that of our fathers. And He is going to be doing this, not to his children, but to his enemies.
I think this is part of the reason why CS Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia books, depicted Christ as Aslan the Lion. A lion has a certain splendor and majesty about it, doesn’t it? It is a stately looking beast. But yet, it is a ferocious beast too. You would shiver to be in the presence of a lion.
As a matter of fact, there is a scene in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe that depicts this well. CS Lewis shows how the presence of the lion (i.e. the presence of Christ) can be terrifying. The two girls, Lucy and Susan, are getting ready to meet Aslan. Two talking animals, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, are preparing the children for the encounter.
Upon hearing that he is a lion, Susan says, “Ooh, I thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie,” said Mrs. Beaver. “And make no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” Lucy responds by saying, “Then isn’t he safe?” Mr. Beaver broke into hysterics, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. He’s a lion! But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you!”
So many today think that Christ is safe. So they don’t really give much thought about it. I don’t blame them really. Who could? I mean, we have so many portrayals of Christ floating around. When you see these depictions of Christ, what do they tell you? He’s quite a mild mannered guy. He doesn’t look like he could hurt a flee.
If you were to go back in history, it would be a different story. In the early church they depicted Christ as the Pantocrator. Pantocrator is the Greek word for Almighty, and the artists would frequently portray Christ as the Almighty judge who crushes Satan and condemns the wicked. So frequently in old Byzantine churches you can see a depiction of Christ with legions fleeing his presence. They are terrified of him and they can’t get away from him fast enough.
That is a good commentary on what this passage tells us about Christ. And it is a good illustration of what the return of Christ will be like. When his majesty is revealed, he will not be a meek and mild mannered man. He will come on the clouds, full of the wrath and fury of God. The majestic Judge will be revealed. Just the sight of his splendor and majesty will be enough to horrify the ungodly.
To be sure: It will be the Lord who will terrorize. And those who do not fear God, will end up having something to fear.
Now, perhaps we should pause here. In mentioning this, you may note something of the irony of this terror.
II. The irony of the terror
Those who do not fear God, will end up fearing God—they are going to have something to be afraid of. This passage is interesting because it has a little twist to it—a little play on what it means to fear God.
You see, when we talk about the fear of God, we talk about two different kinds. There is what we call a servile fear of God and a reverential fear of God. A servile fear of God is the negative kind. It is the fear of terror or dread. It is being so scared of God that you are overcome by the feeling of horror. And that is the kind of fear that is predominant in this passage.
But there is another kind of fear that the Bible talks about. It is healthy fear of God. It is a deep awe and reverence for God that manifests itself in humble obedience to his commands. That’s the good kind of fear. That’s the kind of fear God wants you to have.
But that is exactly what these people were missing. In verses 6-8 Isaiah mentions several of the vices that existed among the people of his day. It says that they were seeking fortune tellers, they made idols, they made financial gain one of their chief goals, they multiplied horses and chariots (which is to say that they were trusting in their own military might rather than in the power and protection of God). All these things showed that they did not fear God in the good sense of the term.
And that is why the Lord was terrorizing them. That’s why were experiencing the dread that they were!
It is kind of like what Benjamin Franklin once said. He once said, in talking about politics, “Either you will be governed by God, well, by God, you’ll be governed!” In other words, if you don’t take God’s word and let it shape the way you shape your government, then you are going to be tyrannized. If you don’t let God be your ultimate governor, then you are going to have a man do it. You will end up suffering incredible misery at the hands of some crazed dictator.
This passage says something of the same thing. It says, “If you don’t live in the fear of God, you will end up fearing God!” That is to say, “If you do not fear God in the good sense of the word (of that love and reverence for Him), then you are going to have something to be afraid of.” God is going to become a terror to you. He is going to be your judge and executioner rather than your friend and your benefactor.
Now, let’s bring that over to us. What are we to learn from this? We should learn how important it is for us to fear God (in the good sense of the term). And if we have this reverential fear, we won’t have to worry about the servile fear. When you fear God rightly, you won’t have any fears of him!
On the other hand, if you do not fear God, then you have something to fear!
I want you to understand this too. It is very important. God wants you to realize that it is not him that is the cause of this terror. It is a godless life that is the problem. Failing to fear him is what sets Him off.
In reading this passage and listening to what I’ve said so far today, you might think that God some sort of fiendish monster who delights in terrorizing people. But that’s not the case at all. He is a merciful God. He delights to show mercy. That this passage is even here is an example of his mercy. That God caused it to be written implies that he is a merciful God.
Ask yourself, “Why is it that this passage is even here?” Why does God even mention these things? It is so that we will come to him in repentance and obtain mercy. God is showing you the consequences of not fearing him so that you will begin to fear him as you ought.
There is nothing God wants more than for sinners to quit their godless ways and begin to live in the light of his love. God does not want to become a terror to you. He rather bless you and give you every reason to be at ease. But if you will not obey him—if you will not give your life over to his service—then he has to execute his justice. He has to come upon you and afflict you.
Yet the wonderful thing about God is that he is the God of second chances. If you have been effected by what you’ve heard today, you can turn to God and find favor with him. You do not have to go through this. You have nothing to fear (in the bad sense of the term).
But if you don’t, then you have everything to fear. The Lord will become a terror to you. And O what terror there will be! Let’s not try to fool ourselves. This isn’t a little spook. It is fright that expresses itself in fanatical panic.
Our passage recounts for us something of the terror the unbelieving will experience. In verses 19 and 21, we see how the people manifest their horror.
III. The manifestation of terror
Both verses say that these people are so terrified that they run to the hills. They attempt to find any rock to hide behind or any crevice into which they can so that they will not be found.
You get the feeling that they are acting like cockroaches scattering after the light has been turned on in the kitchen. Their seeking out some sort of refuge (any sort of refuge!) so that they will not have to face Christ.
Now this kind of fright is not only what these people in Jerusalem manifested when the Lord came against them. It is exactly what every unbeliever will manifest on the day when Christ returns. Christ uses much of the same terminology in Luke 23:30 and Revelation 6 as he speaks of his return. You might even say that he uses a bit more intense imagery there. For he says that the unbelieving in that day will long for the earth to swallow them up. They will long for the caves to crush them and the rocks to dash them to pieces. They will seek death in order to get away from Christ.
Those who are Christ’s enemies will find themselves quaking in their boots, and longing for something-anything- that will hide them from his face.
In our evening study we have been studying John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. At one point Christian, the main character is introduced to a man who had a dream of the Judgment Day, but was not ready for it. Upon meeting the man, Bunyan said that as he rose from his bed he shook and trembled. You could tell that something more than just a cold draught was making him shiver.
He then explained his dream. He said that he dreamed that the heavens grew exceedingly black; also it thundered and lightened in a most fearful way—such that it put him in mental agony. After a sounding of trumpets, he heard a voice call for the dead to rise and come to judgment. Other terrors agitated him, such as how the angels went to gather the tares and toss them into the burning lake. He saw the earth open. In it were smoke and fire and out of it came hideous noises. If this were not enough, all the man’s sins came to his mind and his conscience did accuse him on every side.
Christian asked him what made him so afraid? The man replied, “I thought the day of judgment was come and I was not ready for it.” Moreover, what he said made him most afraid was that the Judge had always his eye upon him, showing indignation in his countenance.
In that scene, Bunyan recounts well the events of the last day. But he also pictures well how the thought of that day should agitate now. If you do not fear him, what is said in this passage should make you feel uncomfortable.
It is my hope, that if you do not know Christ right now, that you—like that man who had that dream—rise from this place with some of the symptoms of that fear right now. If you have not given your life to Christ, I hope that these words are somewhat chilling to your soul at this very moment. Because, if you do not turn to Christ, this will be your experience. When Christ comes again you are going to have to face the Judge whose eye is filled with igdignation. You will have to face up to the life that you have lived.
As soon as the clouds are rolled back and the Mighty King begins his descent, you are going to find that your conscience is going to be stricken. You will heave and wail because you are guilty of offending the Most High God. And you are going to know that He has come to pass sentence on you.
Yes, if you are taking this seriously, you should feel quite uncomfortable now. These words should make you restless. After this message it should feel like you have just awoken from a bad dream.
The only comfort you should have is that there is mercy in Christ. And that is why we end where we began. At the beginning of this message I said that the only reason God scares is so that you might wake and rise to action. If you are sobered by this message, you must know that there is a way to find peace with the Lord. It is by coming to Christ. The Lord doesn’t want you to go through this. He wants you to fly to the only means of escape. He has pulled the alarm so that in hearing of the danger you might get your life right with him.
And that is the wonderful thing. Christ is just as zealous in his love and forgiveness as he is in his severity and justice. Were you to this day to say, “I’m convinced. I need to fear God. I need to follow his word.” And you go to him and pledge to live a new life in Christ, then you can rest assured that Christ will not be a terror to you. He will comfort you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. If you come to fear him with a godly fear, you will not have to fear any sort of condemnation. He will save and he will give to you everlasting life.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.