Sermon – 27/11/2011 pm
Word, Wisdom and Worship
Study Text: Isaiah 29:11-14
Josiah was eight years old when he became king and he reigned
31 years in Jerusalem. He reigned after the time of Isaiah. What
was interesting about Josiah was that while repairing the temple
they ‘found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord'
(II Kings 22:8). When it was read to the king he said ‘great
is the wrath of the Lord … because our fathers have not
obeyed the words of this book’ (II Kings 22:13).
Josiah went on to restore true worship in Jerusalem, worship
according to what was written in this book. He ordered the Passover
to be kept as commanded in this book. He put away the mediums
and spiritists, all the idols and every abomination in Judah and
Jerusalem. So ended a period of great darkness in the land.
The history of the church tells the same story, namely that when
the word of God is closed darkness comes upon the land. Prior
to the Reformation of the sixteenth century people other than
priests were discouraged from reading the Bible – in fact
the Church of Rome punished any person found to be reading the
Bible without permission. The people were kept in the dark.
Wycliffe believed the Bible should be read by all people. When
he translated the Bible from Latin into English in 1382 he faced
intense opposition from the church. He was declared to be a heretic
and his books to be burned. The Pope later ordered his bones to
be dug up and burned in the fire. It is appropriate that this
period of history is called the Dark Ages.
1. Words of a Book
Isaiah like Jeremiah was a writing prophet. He wrote down the
words the Lord gave to him in visions (2:1). Isaiah speaks of
the ‘whole vision’, of all the prophecies given to
him being in a book or scroll (29:11, 12). In the providence of
God they were written down so that people could later see how
the words were fulfilled.
In the first instance the prophecies were to be read or listened
to by his contemporaries. If the people listened they would learn
what God was doing and what God was about to do. If they listened
and obeyed they would have repented and returned to the Lord.
They would have avoided the suffering that was coming upon them
The words of the Lord, however, had become like a sealed book
or scroll. Writing in those days was on a scroll that was rolled
up and sealed with a lump of clay. Isaiah pictures the book being
given to a literate person to read. But this person says ‘I
cannot for it is sealed’ (29:11).
It is not the piece of clay that is the problem of course –
it is the blindness that covers his heart. He has no desire to
listen to the word of God. Men will open and read all manner of
books and magazines that stimulate his corrupt and perverse heart,
but not the book of divine truth.
We mentioned Wycliffe translating the Bible into the language
of the people. While he was doing this others were teaching the
people how to read. Schools were started for the purpose of teaching
people to read the Bible. We have fallen a long way to the present
day when some want to ban reading the Bible in schools.
Millions of people are still illiterate. They have not had the
opportunity to go to school. Missionaries are engaged in literacy
programs with the aim of enabling people to read the Bible. A
poor lady who heard the gospel and believed in Jesus was illiterate.
We would read to her and teach her verses from the Bible. We were
told later that she prayed to the Lord and can now read.
If you can read why are you not reading this precious book? All
your education is a waste if you fail to use it to read this book.
Moreover, if you have opportunity to help someone read please
do so. Help them to read the most important book in the world,
the Holy Bible.
2. Worship in Spirit
Therefore the Lord said (29:13). The Lord had a final
word for the blind, rebellious people of Jerusalem. He clearly
describes the nature of their sin. ‘They honour me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (29:13).
They were bringing their sacrifices and offerings to the temple.
They were going through the motions of worship but their hearts
were unmoved. It was just a ritual, a formal display for all to
see and make them feel good. The Book was not the standard for
worship. No one could or would read it, remember!
Jesus confronted the formalism in worship in his day. He confronted
people whose worship was based on tradition and not on the Scriptures.
He confronted people very concerned about outward aspects of worship
but not in the least concerned about matters of the heart, matters
like love, repentance and forgiveness. Their mouths were open
to sing and to pray. They loved to stand and pray long prayers
with lots of repetition, but it was vanity not sincerity.
Jesus confronted people for whom worship was all about law keeping.
Order in worship is important but with these people the laws they
were following were the laws of men. They were following the traditions
of the elders (Matthew 15:2). They were concerned about washing
of hands and bowls, about food and about dress and about keeping
the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them that what goes into the body
does not defile, but what comes out. It is from the heart that
evil thoughts proceed, and wicked behaviour follows (Matthew 15:19).
Jesus made it clear to the woman at the well that true worshipers
must worship in spirit and truth. We must be sincere and not hypocritical
as we come to worship. We must come with humility, examining our
hearts, not our dress. We must draw near in faith, opening our
heart to the word and the Spirit of God. ‘Draw near
to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands you sinners
and purify your hearts you double minded’ (James 4:8).
We spoke of the Dark Ages in the history of the church when the
Bible was kept from the common people. Church tradition was given
greater authority than the Bible at that time. Whenever this happens
in any church, worship will be corrupted. It was like this in
Isaiah’s day and in Josiah’s day. It was like this
in Jesus’ day. It was like this prior to the Reformation.
It is like this today. Ultimate authority must always be given
to the Scriptures. ‘The word of God contained in the Scriptures
of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how
we may glorify and enjoy him (God)’ (Shorter Catechism,
3. Wonderful Work
The Lord said through the prophet ‘I will again do a
marvellous work … and a wonder’ (29:14). What
was this marvellous work? Why the ‘again’? The Lord
had delivered them before when they were slaves in Egypt. That
was a mighty work of God but it was a physical deliverance from
a physical bondage.
What these people needed was spiritual deliverance, deliverance
from sin. These people – not my people, notice – were
blind and their hearts were hard. They were a people burdened
by sin. They needed One who would deliver them from sin and death.
This marvellous work spoken of by Isaiah must surely be the work
of Jesus in the cross and resurrection. Isaiah was pointing to
a new exodus, a greater exodus, which he goes on to describe in
chapter 53. By his knowledge my righteous Servant will justify
many, for he shall bear their iniquities (Isaiah 53:11).
This marvellous work will not be in accord with the wisdom of
this world. In fact it will be hidden from those who consider
themselves wise (29:14). Jesus may have had Isaiah's words in
mind when he rejoiced with the seventy after they returned from
their mission. He prayed, thanking the Lord that he had hidden
these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes
(Luke 10:21). The life-saving truth of the gospel is revealed
to those of child-like faith.
The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah’s words in his letter to
the church at Corinth (I Corinthians 1:19). The heart of human
beings had not changed after 800 years. There were still those
who seek after wisdom, namely the Greeks or Gentiles. Paul found
such people in Athens talking about the latest theories and philosophies.
Worldly wisdom is highly prized by worldly people – but
not heavenly wisdom.
Paul spoke to the men at Athens about the marvellous work of
Jesus of Nazareth whom God raised from the dead. Some people mocked
(Acts 17:32). There were mockers at Corinth also, men who were
wise by worldly standards but fools in the eyes of God. Paul preached
Christ crucified a message of foolishness to the Gentiles but
the message of salvation to those who believe.
The astronomer who shared in the Nobel Prize for physics was
asked in an interview about the origin of the universe. He replied
that he was not religious and would not speculate on such matters.
We might applaud his honesty as a scientist. But we regret the
media, and many such people, who run off to academics with questions
about life and truth when they have no more knowledge about such
matters than the man in the street – or child in the church.
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to
nothing the understanding of the prudent’ said the
prophet (29:14). The Son of God said that God had revealed the
truth to babes.
Rev. Dr. Dennis K. Muldoon