The Terms of Peace - Isaiah 57

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Copyright September 4, 2022 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
In any war, the warring parties must agree to the “terms of surrender.” One of the parties must reach that point of humble admission that they are defeated. It is never easy to surrender. There are some leaders, like Adolf Hitler who chose to take His own life rather than admit surrender. The longer a defeated army waits to surrender, the more misery their people will have to endure.
As we round the final turn in Isaiah, we come to Isaiah 57 and learn about the terms for peace. We will see what inhibits peace and what enables peace.
The Ultimate Peace (57:1-2)
1 Good people pass away;
the godly often die before their time.
But no one seems to care or wonder why.
No one seems to understand
that God is protecting them from the evil to come.
2 For those who follow godly paths
will rest in peace when they die.
The first two verses are great to quote at funerals of Christian people who die before their time.
What we call “tragedy,” Isaiah says is actually a gift from God. It is a blessing. From the side of the survivors (or maybe even the person who is near death), it seems wrong. It feels like you are being cheated. However, looking at this from the other side of the door . . . what a blessing! These people are spared some of the pain of life and get to experience the richness of Heaven sooner.
It's all a matter of perspective. We are looking at things through our eyes, not the eyes of the one who lives beyond the grave. If you have a loved one who is a follower of Christ who has died, we do not need to mourn for them. We mourn for our loss, not theirs. They have lost nothing but have gained everything. If they died “before their time” they were spared the pain of decay, the limited mobility, the endless Doctor visits, the anxiety of finances and world events, the feeling of being marginalized or “sent out to pasture,” and so much more.
But these words aren’t really meant to be a discourse on untimely deaths. There is an indictment in these words. Godly people are dying young and NO ONE SEEMS TO CARE OR WONDER WHY. The reason? Because the people of Israel had lost their heart for God!
The parallel today would be: it seems there are fewer people who are following Christ in a life-transforming way. “Religion” may be strong and popular, but true discipleship, evidenced by lives of godliness, seems to be on the decline. We can see a couple of reasons for this.
First, there is the pervasive secular culture around us. We are surrounded at every turn with the attitudes of worldliness (pursuit of ease, obsession with (and feeling a right to have) material prosperity, a victim mentality (in other words, “It is always someone else’s fault), and the constant need to be visually stimulated to the point where we are losing our ability to think and reason. This has begun to erode even our spiritual lives and spiritual disciplines. Things like fasting, meditating on the Word of God, and times of silence, are spiritual disciplines few put into practice today.
Second, many churches have changed their focus from a God-focused worship (with quiet and dignified reverence, reasoned exposition of God’s Word, heartfelt times of prayer (remember prayer meetings?)), to a consumer-focused worship that has loud music, a concert mentality, “exciting programs,” and sermons filled with personal anecdotes and shallow unoffensive theology. In the great cathedrals of the past, you walked into the sanctuary and instinctively knew you should adopt a posture of silence and reverence. You could feel the sense of awe. Today, churches are built as big boxes looking more like an entertainment venue.
I don’t think the emphasis on relationships in the church is bad. I don’t even think a little less formality is bad. But the sense of people coming to church to be entertained or “wooed” has turned the focus from giving our best TO God to finding the church that will best meet MY needs. [Jonny Diaz Quote]
We are told those who die in the Lord rest in peace. They have found rest. But is death the only way to find peace? Can we find peace even in the midst of this world in which we live? Jesus told us in John 14:27
27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.
The Roadblock to Peace (57:3-10)
Back in Isaiah 57, God, I believe, shows us the thing that blocks our access to His peace.
3 “But you—come here, you witches’ children,
you offspring of adulterers and prostitutes!
4 Whom do you mock,
making faces and sticking out your tongues?
You children of sinners and liars!
5 You worship your idols with great passion
beneath the oaks and under every green tree.
You sacrifice your children down in the valleys,
among the jagged rocks in the cliffs.
6 Your gods are the smooth stones in the valleys.
You worship them with liquid offerings and grain offerings.
They, not I, are your inheritance.
Do you think all this makes me happy?
7 You have committed adultery on every high mountain.
There you have worshiped idols
and have been unfaithful to me.
8 You have put pagan symbols
on your doorposts and behind your doors.
You have left me
and climbed into bed with these detestable gods.
You have committed yourselves to them.
You love to look at their naked bodies.
9 You have gone to Molech
with olive oil and many perfumes,
sending your agents far and wide,
even to the world of the dead,
10 You grew weary in your search,
but you never gave up.
Desire gave you renewed strength,
and you did not grow weary.
In this section of Isaiah 57 the Lord draws attention to the idolatry of the children of Israel. He has returned to this topic continually in Isaiah. It is the barrier to the peace He wants us to know. He mentions several of the things the people were doing. They bowed down before statues, they established new religious sites, and practiced sexual rituals and other perversity. They sacrificed children, displayed pagan symbols, and did all the things God told them NOT to do. In verses 11-13 God ridicules them by asking if these gods can save them since even a light breeze will blow them over. Gods that are no gods can deliver nothing but misery.
These people who were once called God’s people had drifted. It was not a sudden departure from the truth. It was gradual. The technical word is syncretism. It is when you take things from various religions and put them together to develop your “new truth.” In this case, it was the bringing of worldly values and viewpoints into the way they followed the Lord. It likely started with something simple and was followed by something else that seemed minor and before long God’s people were embracing paganism. Not only were they embracing paganism, they were doing it on high mountains on display for anyone to see! All sense of guilt or shame was gone. I’m sure these people might have justified their actions with, “I have a real peace about it.” They could say this because their conscience had become hardened and calloused.
The real question is, “What does this have to do with me? How is idolatry keeping me from peace?” We are facing some of the same issues that Israel was dealing with. Pagan religion and preoccupations are creeping in and distracting us and leading us away from our true worship and allegiance. Let me give you a partial list,
· Fascination with Astrology (and occult practice)
· Seances and attempts to talk to the dead.
· Forms of meditation that embrace eastern religions. (Meditation in the sense of meditating on the Word of God is applauded in Scripture.)
· Turning to crystals, magnets and other things for healing or guidance.
· Sports Fanaticism (where sports become our place of fervent devotion)
· Political Obsessions where politics become the thing we think about all the time and treat as a life and death matter. Our trust in in our political party.
· Worship of Money or the Material (we live for and are obsessed with making money . . . it becomes the driving force for our lives.
· Indulging in sexual relations outside of the bonds of marriage. It is to embrace the new justification of sexual indulgence, “Everyone is doing it.”
· Embracing the current fads of the day (transgenderism, Critical Race Theory, and the Cancel Culture)
· Living with the need to be amused. We need to have the newest, the coolest, the most entertaining and time absorbing . . .. (you fill in the blank . . . car, electronic device, hobby, vacation home, man cave, etc.)
Commentator John Oswalt wrote,
In so many ways the satisfaction of supposed needs is all-important to us: We drink to excess, we eat to excess, we cannot get enough sex of all sorts, we lie and cheat to get more money to buy more things to put into more storage facilities, and we sacrifice our children, both the unborn and the living, to the satisfaction of these needs.
We aren’t as different from the Israelites as we think. You could even say we are indeed sacrificing on the altars of our idols! And in that sense we are also sacrificing our children on the altars of our idols.
The Alternative: God’s Peace
14 God says, “Rebuild the road!
Clear away the rocks and stones
so my people can return from captivity.”
15 The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.
16 For I will not fight against you forever;
I will not always be angry.
If I were, all people would pass away—
all the souls I have made.
17 I was angry,
so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
but they kept going on their own stubborn way.
18 I have seen what they do,
but I will heal them anyway!
This is a hopeful and powerful passage. Despite the rebelliousness of His people, God was still pursuing and reaching out to them. We are told that even though there is no reason (in our behavior) to argue for forgiveness, God promises to do three things for those who follow and embrace the One God has provided (Jesus).
First, He will heal us. This is not a promise that we will never be sick. It is a promise that He will heal our spiritual waywardness. He will forgive our sins when we turn to Him to repent. He will consider them “paid in full” by the blood of Christ. We cannot ever save ourselves! He must take the initiative, and that’s what He did in sending Christ to die for us. Our job is to repent and express sorrow. The Bible calls us to be contrite (or sorry enough to want to change). We have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our own decisions.
In the early days of black and white television, the comedian Groucho Marx had a game show called “You Bet Your Life.” I vaguely remember my parents watching the show when I was very young. Every day people would come on the show for the chance to win $2000.00. (Which was a lot more money than it is today). Groucho would ask trivia questions to two people, and they could make up to the $2000. Every show they had a secret word and Groucho would say, “If you say the secret word, the Duck will come down and give you $100.”
In the Christian community, we sometimes act like all we have to do is “say the secret word” and answer some questions correctly and we will get into Heaven (meaning if we push the right buttons we can be saved). Our evangelism is often guilty of pushing people to say magic words so their ticket to Heaven will be punched. Jesus does not call us to “magic words” or magic deeds! He calls us to Himself. He wants us to trust and follow Him. He summons us to put our life in His hands.
Not only will he heal us, He says He will also lead us. He will guide us out of the overgrown worldliness and compromise that seems to swallow us up in life. He will set us free. He will lead us to where we have always wanted to be. He will lead us to life as it was meant to be lived. Christ does not only bring benefits after we die. There is great benefit now.
1. A relationship with Christ sweetens all the pleasures of life. In other words, good things are even better as we see them as gifts from God. Marriage, friendships, and family are all cherished as we see them through the eyes of Christ.
2. Sin brings more unpleasantness than pleasantness. This is opposite to the belief of most people. Sin does not make life more enjoyable; it enslaves us. People who live their life to indulge their earthly desires are on a treadmill that never gets them anywhere. This is why so many very wealthy people who indulge freely in all things end up committing suicide. They discover that these things do not and cannot satisfy.
3. The joy of walking with Christ brings us pleasures that we cannot experience apart from Christ. He helps us find peace, contentment, hope, and joy.
The point to all this is there are great advantages to serving and following the Lord (in addition to the forgiveness and eternal life blessings). If you are “looking for something in your life but you can’t seem to find it”, I suggest you are looking for a genuine and intimate relationship with God. He alone gives life real meaning and purpose. We were designed for a relationship with Him. We will never feel whole without that.
There is a third promise, He says He will comfort us. It is not easy to swim against the current of the world. There will be times when friends ridicule us, Satan will tempt us, and the circumstances of life will wound us. There will be times we stumble and fall back into our old ways and the preoccupations of the world. But . . . God’s promise is that He will comfort us. He will help us get back up and keep going even though there is a part of us that just wants to give in. This is a battleground! But we do not fight alone. He is fighting with us and for us.
Two Choices, Two Different Experiences
I will comfort those who mourn,
19 bringing words of praise to their lips.
May they have abundant peace, both near and far,”
says the Lord, who heals them.
In verse 19 the Lord says He will comfort those who mourn. This is not just those who mourn a loss. They also mourn over sin; their sin and the sin in the world around them. Because of this, the Lord will give them peace. First, we have peace with God (Romans 5:1), and then we move on to peace with each other because we have a new perspective on life. Finally, there is peace in the middle of trials (1 Cor 4). This all comes to us because of our repentance and turning to the Lord. Isaiah contrasts the positive with the negative in the last two verses,
20 “But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
which is never still
but continually churns up mud and dirt.
21 There is no peace for the wicked,”
says my God.
A wicked person according to this text is a person who persists in rejecting the Lord. We tend to shrug these words off because we conclude WE are not wicked. We aren’t perfect, but we still think of ourselves as good people. But if we are not willing to follow Christ . . . we ARE wicked. We have turned away from God’s provision, and because of that, we forfeit any chance to know peace in this life or the life that is to come. I know it sounds harsh, but sometimes we need to see the harsh truth to make good and wise decisions. Two choices stand before each of us. What we decide will determine the quality of this life and whether our death is a blessing or a true and eternal tragedy.
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