Babylon

Tonight we come to the last in our present series on Isaiah 40-46 and we're looking at chapter 45 v.20 through to the end of chapter 46. And our title is "Babylon". Introduction Who or what do we worship and trust? Who or what do others throughout the world worship and trust? Where do we turn for support when present circumstances or decisions about the future frighten us? Do we worship and trust the one and only God who saves? Or 'wooden' idols who cannot? (Ch 45:20-25) Do we turn to the one and only God who promises to carry us? or to burdensome Babylonian idols who have to be carried and weigh and bring their followers down? (vv. 1-7 of ch.46) Do we trust the one and only God who is sovereign and greater than our enemies and who works his perfect purposes out and who promises salvation and splendour to those who turn to Him? Or do we rebel and go our own way partly because we can't understand what the God who sometimes hides himself is doing and what His purposes for us are, like the Israelites in Babylon who struggled with the idea of God using Cyrus to deliver them? Are we then tempted to put our hope in religious superstition, false gods and in idols with feet of clay which can grant nothing and only lead to despair as with the natives of Babylon when Cyrus overthrew their city? (8-13 of 46) It is amazing what we and others sometimes do turn to, trust in or make as our gods or idols. In Isaiah's prophecy it was blocks of wood, carved into images of their false gods. Today in the North East it can be a lump of metal sculptured into the Angel of the North, or more likely Newcastle United in spite of two of their directors this week being exposed as allegedly immoral and untrustworthy , money, the lottery, greed, cars, shopping, music, pop stars, movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on board the Titanic. There are those who have put their trust in other faiths. But those idols or gods cannot save or answer prayer and they are gods who we carry or support, whether by buying the overpriced replica shirts or by paying the gate money towards Alan Shearer's or DiCaprio's salary. There is only one true God who offers salvation to the whole world (vv 20-25), there is only one true God who carries His people (vv1-7) and there is only one true God who is sovereign and trustworthy, disciplining and gracious (vv8-13). And we are to worship,trust and turn to Him alone. As you can see from the sermon outline those are my three points so let's now look at this tremendous passage from Isaiah in more detail under those three headings.

Firstly, THE ONE AND ONLY GOD WHO OFFERS SALVATION TO THE WHOLE OF THE WORLD vv. 20-25 (of ch. 45) Cyrus, who we were studying last week, has now dropped into the background and Isaiah's concern is that Israel should be enabled to see the Cyrus event in the context of the Lord's worldwide and eternal purposes: the salvation of Israel and of the Gentiles and to bring all the peoples of the world into subjection and obedience to Himself (vv. 14-17 and 18-25 of ch.45) The exiled Israelites struggle to do so but it is clear from v. 22 that Israel's salvation would not only be seen by the world but the whole world itself would be invited to be saved. Also as Cyrus fades from the scene the stage is dominated not just by the Lord's purposes but by the uniqueness and glory of the Lord Himself, the one and only God who has chosen to use Cyrus to deliver His people. The LORD alone is God. Salvation is to be found in no-one else. The mission of Cyrus will show that to be true and one day everybody everywhere will acknowledge it to be true, whether they've accepted the one and only God's salvation or not. Look at verses 21 to 24:

" There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Saviour, there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other. Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me , 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength."

There is no other Saviour. Indeed there is no other true and living God. This truth is not something we hear very often today is it? Young people don't hear it at most schools where RE and assemblies still teach that all faiths and gods are equal and the same. Somebody was telling me the other day that one of the local RE advisers had spent two hours with the staff of a primary school talking purely about spirituality and didn't mention God once never mind Jesus. But then that can be true sometimes of Church of England theological colleges! In a report out this week by the Association of Lecturers and Teachers it is agreed that teachers should promote values in schools, but the author dismisses the specific role of Christianity in forming those values because, she argues, Britain is now a culturally plural society. On Radio 5 live the other evening there was a debate on religion where certainly the idea of there being only one true God and only one way to Him through Jesus Christ was dismissed as a joke in today's society. God sending his only Son to save us from our sins was considered fairy tale nonsense while reincarnation was talked about in all seriousness. But of course these matters are no joke. These are matters of eternal life and death. There is only one God who offers salvation to the whole of the world and there is only one way to know Him and only one Name by which we can be saved and put right with God and He is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to pay for our sins of idolatry and rose from the dead. And Isaiah looks forward, v. 23, to the last day when Christ returns when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord! (Philippians 2:8-9 and Romans 14:11) We will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ. If we are in the Lord Jesus Christ then we will not be condemned, although we will still have to give an account of ourselves. But if we are not in the Lord, if we are looking to other gods to save us, if we've rejected the Lord's offer of salvation then we'll face eternal punishment. As vv. 23 to 25 state:

"Before me every knee will bow ; by me every tongue will swear. They will say 'In the Lord alone are righteousness and strength' in the Lord all the descendants of Israel (i.e. all people everywhere) will be found righteous and will exultbut all who have raged against him will come to Him and be put to shame".

So why not turn to Him and be saved all of you from this country and from all different parts of the world? For He is God and there is no other. Then like the nations in the immediate historical context of Isaiah's prophecy about Babylon you will be saved from the fate that the enemies of God will one day face. But some people might say where is this one and only God? What are His purposes? How are we to be saved? God sometimes can seem to be hiding Himself even though He is at work and achieving His purposes. Perhaps we are tempted from time to time to become discouraged at the hidden -ness of God. But the hiddenness of God does not mean that, "He has deliberately made Himself and His purposes obscure, so that people are driven to seek Him by superstitious, occult means." ( Webb p.186) No! No form of religious superstition and idolatry is necessary or helpful. God has spoken to His people and through them to the world. And He has now spoken to us by His Son. He has acted on His words as with Cyrus. The salvation He offers to the whole world and how to receive it has been announced: Turn to Him, receive eternal life and escape from the eternal shame that awaits the idolaters. Therefore everyone everywhere has been "put on notice". And what an offer! An offer which we must publish abroad. People's eternal destinies depend on it! As I've said one day we'll have to bow the knee and confess the truth. Will you do so now - before it's too late? Perhaps some of you here tonight have been following other gods and bowing to wooden idols. Maybe some friends with us from overseas have been likewise used to worshipping other gods and idols but you want to know the true God. So as verse 20 says,

"Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations." I.e. those of you who wish to escape the idolaters of your own land. "Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save."

False religion leads to mental and spiritual blindness and divine hostility - blocks of wood cannot save or answer prayer. Turn instead to the one true, righteous and Saviour God and you will be saved. Why not do that tonight - it may be costly to commit your life to Jesus and to reject other gods and idols - but worth it eternally. Join with Spurgeon the famous preacher in responding to verse 22 of Isaiah 45.

"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other."

He is the one and only God who offers salvation to the whole of the world Secondly and far more briefly, he is also THE ONE AND ONLY GOD WHO CARRIES HIS PEOPLE vv. 1-7 (of ch.46) Do we worship and trust the gods who have to be carried and weigh and bring us down or the one true God who promises to carry His people? i.e. do we carry gods or does God carry us? The gods we have to carry are helpless and hopeless and lead us astray. I'll always remember the former Bishop of Pontefract, who had been transformed by Christ while he was a bishop, telling us in a church in Yorkshire to get rid of all the lucky charms we carried around - any St Christopher's, any rabbits feet! etc. etc. They couldn't save us or answer our prayers just as the wooden idols of v. 20 of ch.45 couldn't. They couldn't carry us or protect us. They were and are powerless unlike the one and only God who loved you and me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to die in our place on the Cross so that we might not perish but have eternal life if we put our trust in Him. Any other god or idol who we have to carry, which is all of them, is powerless to save and carry us. Certainly that was true of the chief idol of Babylon - Bel-Marduk and his son Nebo. At every New Year festival in Babylon their carved images were carried through the streets to celebrate the power of Babylon and its gods. But here Isaiah sees Bel bowing down and Nebo stooping low, powerless to help Babylon in the face of Cyrus' invasion and the true God's sovereign power. They are merely a burden for their carriers, for the weary and they cannot rescue the burden. So they join their worshippers in exile as they go off into captivity (vv.1-2). In fact in the short term Cyrus actually enhanced their position out of political expediency. But Isaiah was looking ahead. Today nobody knows Bel and Nebo while the Lord is known and worshipped by millions all over the earth. God's people are asked to look ahead and see the end that awaits all man made religion and those who trust in it. Idolatry is sinful, burdensome and futile and in total contrast to the genuine relationship we can have with the one and only God and Saviour who carries us and takes our burdens. vv. 3-7

"Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. {4} Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. {5} "To whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? {6} Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. {7} They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles."

As Motyer writes, "There is an inherent absurdity in even thinking to pray to a thing that needs to be picked up, carried and sat down". Yet many do. False worship of false gods who have to be carried is utterly futile and absurd. They cannot save us from our troubles or take away our guilt or guide us about the future. In fact they only increase our guilt. But the one true God can and does. He made us and He carries us. He takes our burdens and our guilt when we trust Him. He carries us in His arms - indeed underneath are His everlasting arms says Deuteronomy. The Lord says I have carried you since you were born and I'll never stop carrying you until your days are done. Idolaters carry their gods but I carry you. As Webb comments, "There it is in a nutshell: false religion is based on works, true religion on grace. The one and only God is faithful, trustworthy and gracious. Which leads us on to my final heading. So thirdly and again briefly, THE ONE AND ONLY GOD WHO IS SOVEREIGN AND TRUSTWORTHY, DISCIPLINING AND GRACIOUS vv. 8-13 (of ch.46) Do we worship and trust the one true God who is in control, utterly trustworthy, who is bringing His purposes about and who cares about us so deeply that he lovingly disciplines us as well as being gracious to us? Or do we still rebel, tempted to turn to other gods and idols who on the surface appear attractive and easy whether wooden or fleshy - cf. Col 3:5? The people of God in Babylon, even at this late stage, were rebellious (v.8) stubborn hearted and far from righteousness (v.12). They needed reminding about the one true God, His far reaching purposes, their covenant relationship and the dangers of idolatry. Why? Look at v.11. God's use of Cyrus was still hard for Israel to accept. They were confused over God's plan to use such a worshipper of idols and such a ruthless conqueror. Yes the Israelites would return to their land but without freedom or sovereignty. How then could God still have their best interests at heart? Maybe we are sometimes bemused by God's plans for us and need reminding of His sovereignty and power. But the response of the Israelites was rebellion against God for they were calling into question both His sovereign freedom and His goodness. "He'd carried them - how dare they doubt His goodness?" writes Webb. So here we have the language of loving discipline from God, reminding them of His uniqueness, sovereignty and trustworthiness to jolt them out of a sinful state of mind. Look at vv. 9-11:

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. {10} I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. {11} From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.

The Lord alone is the potter and the moulder of history. Also He alone is righteous while His people are far from righteousness (v.12), far from conformity to the will, character and purposes of the Lord as are we without Christ. But He's gracious too - He reminds them in vv.12-13 that He is a saving God, that He is bringing His righteousness near and that He will be victorious. As one commentator puts it: "It is the Lord's grace rather than His people's sinfulness that will triumph in the end. He will grant salvation and splendour to His people (v.13). Before that there were two problems to overcome: their present circumstances and more importantly their heart condition. To begin to overcome the former He sent Cyrus, to overcome the latter He sent His Son: "While we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5). He won the victory and gives it to those who turn to Him. The one and only God who came down in human form to die and rise again to save us deserves our exclusive worship and service. Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. {2} Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

His purposes are perfect. We are to trust in Him alone. Ex.20: 2-4.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. {3} "You shall have no other gods before me. {4} "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

Back to top