AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH - August 31, 2008
OF THE ORIGINAL THRUST AND BASE OF
THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA, ON CHANGELESS BIBLICAL
GOD IS IN
HEAVEN, BUT MAN ON EARTH
MUST SEE HIS WORKS WITH OPEN EYES
THE REGAL CHANGE: FROM TRIUMPH TO TEST TWO
Hezekiah, the King of Judah, we read in Isaiah 38, was sick. He believed in the power of God and had seen it in the glorious overthrow of the arrogant Assyrian host, in answer to prayer, by the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah. But sickness leaves a person so threatened that military hazards can seem small by comparison. The weakness now lies within!
Hezekiah did not follow his earthly father, the equivocal Ahaz, and nothing farther from such ways could in all the earlier stages of his rule, be imagined. When his own test came, later, he stood and believing, was established all the more because of the test, with more splendidly spectacular evidence of the power of God than ever! (Isaiah 37) Divine power had made human battle seem futile! Then with triumph from battle clear, his next test was sickness. Would triumph make him facile, or heady ? A second test came on the heels of the first, like very athletic runners. How often we are tried in such seemingly drastic fashion!
But why, you may pursue, did God perform for him such a spectacular and astronomically staggering act as is recorded in Isaiah 38, when he was sick. I mean, you might say, it is one thing to give to the King a military victory such as he had, when 180,000 enemy soldiers at his front, were destroyed by divine prediction and insurance (like a pay-out), just as the seemingly invincible armies of Hitler did NOT swallow up the 300,000 British troops (each ONE a singular and significant human being with heart and soul and mind and spirit, and drama and destiny) left at first on the overrun mainland of Europe. But if that King becomes sick, what is the point of having a sundial go BACKWARDS in its shadow to reassure him of the Lordís healing! That after all, in the midst of his lamentations at what seemed approaching death, he asked for - and RECEIVED!
Do you have to spend a billion dollars in a gift, when some beggar asks for a pittance ?
THE NATURE OF THE CASE OF THE SIGN TO HEZEKIAH IN SICKNESS
No, actually you do not. But was Hezekiah simply a beggar ? and did he ask for a pittance ?
No: that is the answer in both cases. Firstly, as just noted, he was not a king of some nation, but of the NATION SELECTED by DIVINE CHOICE for a work which would culminate in the arrival of God via a virgin in actual birth onto the soil of the country, where He would grow up. Yes let us be clear, He would grow up ON that soil, even IN that culture (but not through it, being purity itself, as God - a message for the godly who have access to Him and want to be like Him in heart and character, though in a corrupt country) .
He would die for sin, as a sacrifice for its folly, an exhibit of its effects on man and a substitute for those who trusting in His mercy,. To this selected nation, Israel, there would come the divine gift which was even greater than that given to Hezekiah. What divine gift ? Pardon for sin, power for living, peace for the heart, mission for the soul, commission for the mind and life bent to the purposes of God, as a CHILD of God. Yes there comes even this: adoption into HIS family and the friendship sublime with Him by His Spirit!
It is THAT divine gift.
What, however, you might ask, was the need for Hezekiah to have such a display of plenary divine power, as SIGN that he would recover from an impending death, as this! Did he actually need such a re-assurance ? Granted, then, that he was a king of vast significance BECAUSE of the amazing work given to that nation, which even included the sequence of spiritual prophets, whom God elected to use in order to give the Program for the Divine Opera in three Acts: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, each part stunningly 'played'! The incarnation brought his with its unlimited and uninhibited power available to man (Ephesians 1:19), who as in a good opera, might nevertheless with amazing folly and impending tragedy REJECT it. Yet still, did Hezekiahís personal illness have to have such a portent as that of a shadow on a sundial going BACKWARDS AT HIS OWN REQUEST!
No, of course it did not NEED it. God is exuberant in grace, however, as He is in beauty, even giving to butterfly wings and sea-gull aeronautics alike a grace and a beauty, which dazzles and delights; and if He desires to impress something, well what would you ? Is He to use His power to that end, or would you rather have an asthenic god of no power and small wit ? Again, VAST as was the CONTRARY TO NATURE sign on the sun-dial for Hezekiah, yet it was but introduction to that summit of all signs, the arrival not of a symbol of the very Son of God, Lord of all nature, into it!
Some might say: Granted the King might have needed a miraculous healing in order that the country should continue at this point, and so proceed strongly to the rest of Isaiah's prophecy and that of Jeremiah and Ezekiel FOR EXAMPLE, laying down the Program foundations for the incarnation in their predictions, and the principles of morality with their special divulgements from the Lord. Granted, even that Hezekiahís righteous life might have been made even a SPECTACULAR vehicle for such a divine miracle to be wrought in an impressive manner, yet why SO staggering astronomically as this!
It is, in one word, because the ultimate, mentioned in Jeremiah 31, the incarnation, is a turning back from creation to the Creator, and is a fitting shock to make the mind ready for something in this line, but infinitely above it! It is after all this same Isaiah who predicted the incarnation (Isaiah 7, 9, 11, 26:19, 40) AND the crucifixion (49-55), indeed the Gospel as well (50-55, 60). Here in this smashing fist of Assyria, came the prodigy of the divine answer. God underlined the whole matter dramatically.
THE LANGUAGE PARALLEL TO THE SIGN, SIGNIFYING SALVATION
To see this, we move to Jeremiah 30-33. Here we see that God is making it most plain that the work of divinity in selecting Israel, with all its portent and place in the Program Divine, was guaranteed with divine power. HE would not suffer His covenant to be falsified: though the stars might fail, this would not. Indeed, it was even more than this: HIS NEW COVENANT to be made with His people (even though Israel for a time would abhor it - Jeremiah 31:31ff., Isaiah 42:6, 49:6), and available to Israel, THIS would come, endure. It would focus on this same incarnate Missiah (Jeremiah 23). Indeed, anyone hoping to annul it would have to try knowing the measurements of the heavens and be able to roll back the work of the stars, the sun, the moon and the tides.
Israel was a funnel. It was a site. It was a people. It had a place in triumph and in failure, in exposition of the meaning of both, and in a vast canvas, its tale was fashioned by divinely inspired word before ever it hit the tarmac of history on the wheels of events. The picture was a portrait, and the facts were events.
THAT this would all happen (as shown for example in no small regard in SMR Ch. 9), was surer than the starry universe. Let us hear then Jeremiah 30:30-33.
" 'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord,
'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah -
not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers
in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt,
My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord.
'But this is the covenant that I will make with the
house of Israel after those days,'
says the Lord:
'I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts;
and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
'No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother,
saying, ĎKnow the Lord,í for they all shall know Me,
from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.'
"Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for a light by day,
The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night,
Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name):
'If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the Lord,
Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.'
says the Lord:
'If heaven above can be measured,
And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath,
I will also cast off all the seed of Israel
For all that they have done,' says the Lord."
In this dramatic announcement of the New Covenant, the New Covenant in My blood, as Jesus Christ called it, as recorded in Matthew 26, it is made apparent that as the architect of astronomy and geology, and of the divine methods of terrestrial illumination in sun and in moon, He was giving His word. The dimensions of His design, known to Him, the functions of it in its natural state, these are HIS business and such order is in His hand. His word of salvation passes ALL!
However, when we move from the stage, astronomy, the oceans, to the players in the drama, and in particular to those of the Deliberate Divine Drama which has grace and kindness, faithfulness of magnificence in its purvey, indeed the point of the whole matter, the making of sentient, conscious beings with spirit and power that CAN say NO even to God (but not to His power, even if they seek to isolate their own souls from Him, like dust that refuses to settle from a storm, and is in the air, not on the ground): then you have an option. You would have either to be able to disrupt and dispel the whole thing, or understand it and make it your own bauble of mind, to break His will for Israel. MANY HAVE TRIED. Godís dramatic statement of the MEANS figures! Such opponents will not, because they CANNOT, succeed.
In other words, the statutory establishment of the entire astral universe and its marvels, and the wisdom back of the earth, THIS is the work of One whose provision for having His way with man, and hence with Israel as a messenger (cf. Isaiah 43:21, 61, Micah 5-7), will prevail. Corrupt, disrupt, be the vastest of astral sophisticates, make the universe your playpen, if you can: it is the Lord of creation itself with whom you deal, and hence you must have HIS power in order to resist HIS will, determinate upon Israel. ALL THE POWER OF GOD BACKS HIS NEW COVENANT of Jeremiah 31:31ff., as it move son to the way to it, through Israel (31:35ff.).
HENCE it is rather easy to comprehend that when He healed a righteous king who had RE-ESTABLISHED the whole symbolic apparatus of the Temple, the singing and the offices of equity in the land, a royal monarch who had been delivered in his kingdom from devastation by a startling MILITARY victory which none can rationally deny, and this King, before his work was done, was sick: then divinely wrought results may well accrue.
The power and the determination to act, the scope of His mercy and the beauty of His concern, these moved. Indeed, the power of the Maker of the universe being BACK of that King, the powers of the universe were shaken a little, thus underlining the power of Him who so ordered events. He healed, and showed will by His astronomical control, contrary to the normal and habitual workings of 'nature', that stage management is relatively simple, compared with the salvation of man.
Armies and sickness alike could not contain, or control the power and plan of God, no, not if either of them seemed about to be fatal. You may, the Lord says, consider whether His covenant with day and night can be broken. But just as it CANNOT be broken, neither can His word of salvation as described in this book of Jeremiah, be broken. I WILL cause the captives to return, He says, and WILL HAVE mercy on them (precisely as stated in Hosea, where Israel is given the role of a harlot purchased and then unfaithful, and bought back, as in the redemption of the New Covenant, in the new nation; for the return is both spiritual and physical. Suggest otherwise ? Then try to break the divine appointment of day and night first, just as an exercise for your ... wit! That is the message.
And to what is this return for Israel then ? First to the land, it is then to the Lord (as in Ezekiel 36), and the very name of Jerusalem with be this: "The LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jeremiah 23:5-6). That is as in the New Covenant in Isaiah 44:3-5, 45:24, in train with Isaiah 40:1-10, 42:1-6, 49:1-6, 52:13-53:12, 55, 60:17-18, 61:1-4,8-10). God came, and that is why in Isaiah 40, you have them saying, at the advent of Christ into the field of His labour, that they must declare to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God."
But to what do they return, who are assured of this, after their desolatory exile, as predicted to come later in the day of Babylonís invasion, and in their final restoration, at the end of the Age (Ezekiel 36:33ff., 37:23ff.) ? Then, the Lord assures them, He will not cast away this family, this Israel. False indeed would it be to imagine that He "will not take any of his descendants to be rulers of over the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." He will cause the captives to return, and He will have mercy on them, and the Davidic line leading to the Messiah will FIND HIM SHOWN. Look now at Jeremiah 33:17,21. The word to David concerning his seed is assured. There is the assurance, after return, of perpetual leadership and rulers for Israel.
How could this be ? It is because the very essence of the covenant with David was this, that it would be his seed, one of his descendants who would be the Messiah, Davidís own Lord (Psalm 110), who as God would have the throne, and rule (Psalm 45 exhibits this), in whom mankind would have to trust (cf. Jeremiah 17, where such an approach is reserved for deity). Thus it is the Messiah who would fulfil this fortified promise. It is indeed this same Messiah who is to redeem His people (as in Psalm 72, Isaiah 53), and HENCE it is small wonder that the Lord uses such extravagant seeming language concerning sun and moon and stars, in Jeremiah 31, 33.
As with Hezekiah and the sun-dial, when the shadow went backwards, as that king requested, to give assurance of health (so that all the things to be secured, would be, since he was in line for the Messiah on the Davidic line, and was preparing the nation most zealously), so with this assurance through Jeremiah to Israel concerning the continuity in terms of the Davidic covenant. It was nothing less than the salvation set before the human race BY THE MEANS APPOINTED LONG BEFORE BY GOD, the Messiah, that was implicitly involved.
God DOES use means. ONE of these was the Cross. Christianity without the Cross is like lungs without air. Thus does Paul abhor any thought of glorying except in the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ by whom this world is crucified to him and he to the world (Galatians 6:14). Christianity is NOT an abstraction, but a concretisation. It is not a dream but based on deeds, in turn based on the nature and power of God. It figures with Cross and tomb, blood and resurrection.
Hence we find such collections of marvels both in deed and accompanying words, such assurances, such actions as the sun-dial. If one wants facts, they are there to eat. Symbolism has its place; facts do the job. Christ crucified yes risen, is not words only: having Him means deeds: His for us and ours for Him.