Saturday 11 August 2012

Diary of a sermon prep: Day Two (Friday evening)

It is just after midnight on Friday evening and Day Two of my sermon preparation for this Sunday’s message on Isaiah Chapter 2. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that by the end of Day One, I had a rough outline and had also made a recording of myself reading the passage out loud. Before leaving for work this morning, I loaded up the recording on my iPod, but also managed to take a snapshot of my outline.

On the bus journey to the office, I kept listening to the passage again and again on my iPod, while scribbling thoughts and questions on the outline. I did the same on the journey back home after work. Here is a photo of the same piece of paper at about 6pm when I got home.

Before dinner, I got a chance to get started on the introduction. Some people leave their introductions for last, but I try to write the full message from start to finish, to maintain the flow of thought. Spent an hour trying to think up an illustration but ended up just reviewing where we left off in last week’s message in a couple of sentences (You can see what I wrote below).

It’s Friday night, so I take it easy: dinner followed by rented movie (“We bought a zoo,” starring Matt Damon and that actress from Avengers). Then another hour, picking up where I left off from the introduction, moving on to expand on the first point. It’s not polished. It will definitely be changed (if not scrapped completely), but for now, it’s time to call it a night. I then write this blog post and get ready to read my devotions (Don Carson’s “For the Love of God”) and pray for the evening (maybe sneak in a few pages from “The Horse and His Boy”).

Anyways, here is what I have written so far:


The city on a hill

This month we are thinking about what it means for us to be a church in the city. What impact does God want us to have on our community? What distinguishes us as Christians within our Chinese culture? Last week, we saw that God wanted his people to so reflect his righteousness that their city would be called the City of Righteousness; to so reflect his faithfulness that their city would be called the Faithful City (Isaiah 1:26). The opening verses of Chapter 2 remind us that God is addressing a specific city at a particular time in history - the city of Jerusalem during the reign of the kings of Judah.

This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Isaiah 2:1-2

Jerusalem was a city built on a hill, which meant that it was strategically strong and easily defensible from any attack from its enemies. (Think Minas Tirith if you are a Tolkien fan; or if you are into Star Wars, think Obi-wan Kenobi defeating Anakin simply because he is standing in an elevated position!) King David established his kingdom in Jerusalem as his headquarters and the capital city very early on in his career (2 Samuel 5), and Solomon, his son, went on to build God’s temple in Jerusalem. Hence, when Isaiah describes his vision of the “mountain of the LORD’s temple,” it was obvious to everyone around him that he was talking about Jerusalem, the city built on Mount Zion (verse 3).

Having said that, Isaiah’s vision is not of the present but the future, and the focus of his vision is not the city, but the mountain on which the city was built. This mountain, says Isaiah, will be established as chief among all other mountains; it will be raised above all other hills. What Isaiah was doing - in describing God’s mountain as the highest of all mountains - was speaking evangelistically to non-Christians. You see, in Isaiah’s day, the surrounding nations worshipped their gods by going up mountains and hiking up the hills because these were seen as the closest points of contact between heaven and earth. Isaiah was saying to the pagan worshippers, “One day, God’s mountain will be the highest of mountains.” There is only one God and there is only one way to God; one day, all nations will come and worship God on this holy mountain.

1. God’s mountain filled with all nations

Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isaiah 2:3

“Hey!” they were saying to one another, “That’s God’s mountain. That’s where we need to be!” Amazingly, they even dragged their friends along with them, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD.” Do you hear their eagerness? Their excitement? For the past couple of weeks, everyone I know has been trying to get tickets to the Olympics. Even those of us who did get a chance to attend a football match or a badminton final, were trying to find more opportunities to be part of the action. Why? It was a chance to be a part of history. This was the experience of a lifetime! That’s what the guys in this passage were doing. They weren’t complaining about having to miss yet another tennis final in order to be in church on a Sunday afternoon. These guys were eager and excited about going up the mountain of the LORD. More than that, they wanted all their friends to come along, “Come on, let’s go together!”

Now notice who these guys were - these people in Isaiah’s vision who were saying to one another, “You gotta check this out!” They were the outsiders. They didn’t live in Jerusalem. They weren’t part of Israel, that is, they weren’t a part of God’s people. Isaiah calls them the nations, outsiders, who were so eager to meet with God, so excited to have heard about this God. But more than anything else, they were looking forward to hearing God’s word. That’s the reason why they made the trip in the first place. “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

I want you to notice how the words that Isaiah uses have motion.There is movement. The nations stream up a mountain - they are like a river that’s flowing backwards. “Come on, let’s go, go, go!” And even when they hear God’s word, it is in order that they might “walk in his paths,” meaning, they want to know how to live the way God wants them to live. All the nations are coming to God. All the nations are living for God. That’s motion. That’s a movement. And friends, I dare say that that’s the bible’s definition of a Christian - someone who is actively turning to God, listening to God, constantly living for God. Christianity is a movement! I wonder: Does that describe your life and my life as believers in Christ. Are we actively seeking after God? Are we calling our friends and family to turn to him?

Some of us are hesitant to do this. I know that it can be a scary thing to tell someone to trust in Jesus; to entrust their lives to Jesus. We ought to do this patiently, lovingly, clearly. But perhaps what might help is the confidence in knowing that when we do speak the gospel, God is using us to speak his word to the nations. At the end of verse 4, it is God’s law which goes out from Zion; his word, which goes out from Jerusalem. When the nations respond, when you or I respond, it is to God himself as our God and our King. That is the picture in verse 5 onwards, of God ruling the nations as king and judge.

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

God’s kingdom is marked by peace. No more wars. No more weapons, even. God judges (or rules) the nations and he settles all disputes between the nations. I had to look up what ploughshares and pruning hooks were - these are farming tools, the first is used to dig into the ground, the other is a tool used for trimming small trees. What Isaiah is saying is all the guns will be melted down for iPods. All the tanks will be retrofitted as school buses (which would be awesome!) The entire nation’s defence budget, some billions and billions of pounds, reinvested into producing jobs, planting crops and winning more gold medals at the next Olympics. Why? Because it will be end of all wars. God will be in charge.

This sounds... well, unreal. It’s OK to talk about world peace as a concept. It’s OK for a Miss Universe contestant to talk about world peace as her ultimate desire for all mankind. It is even admirable for the United Nations to have Isaiah Chapter 2, verse 4, inscribed on display in a courtyard in its headquarters. But today, in our world, in real life? Come on! Get real!

Well, it is worth reminding ourselves that Isaiah is describing a vision of the future - “In the latter days,” he says in verse 2. Jesus did tell his disciples, “Nation will rise up against nation. and kingdom against kingdom.” “Don’t be alarmed,” Jesus said, “Such things must happen,” he told his friends. Jesus didn’t want them to be surprised. He wanted them to be prepared.

What Isaiah was describing in his vision for the future was a radically new kingdom filled with radically new people. The nations would submit themselves to God as their ruler and judge. This reminds us that the description of world peace under God’s rule in verse 4 is not independent of the nations’ submission to God’s word in verse 3, but rather is a result of that same submission. Submission to God’s word is the turning point of the vision in verse 5, because here, Isaiah turns from speaking about the outsiders to directly addressing the insiders; from speaking about the nations to addressing his own nation, the descendants of Jacob. He says to them, “Therefore, how much more should we walk in submission to God’s word.”

Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Isaiah 2:5

Sadly, when we look at the people of God in Isaiah’s day, they had rejected God’s word in their lives. And as a result, God had rejected them in judgement. That is the second part of Isaiah’s vision on the house of Jacob, on the day of the LORD.

2. God’s people filled with idolatry

You have abandoned your people,
the house of Jacob.
They are full of superstitions from the East;
they practice divination like the Philistines
and clasp hands with the pagans.
Their land is full of silver and gold;
there is no end to their treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is full of idols;
they bow down to the work of their hands,
to what their fingers have made.
So man will be brought low
and mankind humbled -
do not forgive them.
Isaiah 2:6-9

3. God’s judgement filled with his splendour

No comments: