Summary: God provides a Messiah excelling in our every lack.
Trouble stalks Judah, the last remaining nation-state of God’s people. The king, Ahaz, allied with notoriously evil Assyria, a people who fiendishly delight in death and destruction. They have already deported Israel (the other tribes of God’s people). 2Kings 17 describes and interprets these events.
2Kings 17.6: In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria, and he carried the Israelites away to Assyria and placed them in Halah, and on the Habor, the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. 7 And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God…, and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD drove out…. [The next verses further describe the rebellion of Israel.) 16 And they abandoned all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. 17 And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and removed them out of his sight. None was left but the tribe of Judah only.
These punishments were the exact implementation of the curses which Israel had asked for when they entered the promised land. In Deuteronomy 28 and following, God tells his people what is required of those who follow him—holiness—and they say, “Yes, Lord, we will obey.” But they would not, and their punishment is just.
Now, however, Judah travels the same path. They rebel against God, and, rather than repent, reach out to Assyria for help. Isaiah confronts their sin, calls for a return to the Lord, and then confirms judgment because they refuse to hear. Assyria, in whom they trust, will turn and terrorize. And because Assyria is known by the cedars which they exported (like the USA is known by the symbol of the Eagle), God describes the judgment as a clear-cutting, a deforestation—exile, beatings, rape, torture, desecration, abuse—all the result of rebellion leave Judah as nothing but stumps.
At this point we expect that God is done with these people. His patience must be exhausted! No matter how kind he is, they turn away. Their hearts are evil; no good is found in them; therefore, there can be no hope.
But Isaiah has a surprise message. Out of the ruin, God will raise a Redeemer. Now that the full effect of self-made religion is evident, God will supply his own salvation. What we cannot do for ourselves, God himself provides. Let’s read about this Messiah in Isaiah 11 and 12. [Read Isaiah 11-12. Pray.]
There are between 20 and 40 denominations in the United States with at least an outward similarity to ours. The PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) is, by far, the largest evangelical, Bible-believing Presbyterian denomination in the country, with about 340,000 members. But many other Presbyterians exist, as well as groups that profess a theology almost identical to ours, but who do not call themselves by the name. Why so many? Can’t we just get along?
Dr. John Frame has posed an answer to that question. Dr. Frame is a PCA pastor who taught for 31 years at Westminster Theological Seminary, and is currently Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary. His article, “Machen’s Warrior Children,” is a penetrating critique of some problems we have with bickering and arguing and promoting discord.
Dr. Frame concludes: “Since Jesus presents love as that which distinguishes his disciples from the world (John 13.34–35), this bitter fighting is anomalous in a Christian fellowship. Reformed believers need to ask what has driven these battles. To what extent has this controversy been the fruit of the Spirit, and to what extent has it been a work of the flesh?… One slogan of the Machen movement was ‘truth before friendship.’ We should laud their intention to act according to principle without compromise. But the biblical balance is ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4.15). We must not speak the truth without thinking of the effect of our formulations on our fellow Christians, even our opponents. That balance was not characteristic of the Machen movement.”
Dr. Frame’s article is excellent and I commend it to all who want to think carefully about the issues which prompt argument and division in our churches. Today I bring it to your attention to remind us that peace and unity should characterize followers of Jesus, not fighting. Dr. Frame distinguishes twenty-two different areas of debate in our churches. He writes: “Machen’s children were theological battlers, and, when the battle against liberalism in the PCUSA appeared to be over, they found other theological battles to fight. Up to the present time, these and other battles have continued within the movement, and, in my judgment, that is the story of conservative evangelical Reformed theology in twentieth-century America.”