Summary: Prosperity and Disaster: The Lord Is Behind Them Both 1) Be humble 2) Be confident
At the end of September the stock markets tanked leaving the world in financial crisis. How bad is it? Since June, the TSX has dropped 40%. If I understand it correctly, it means the $1,000 investment you made there in June is now only worth $600! What’s behind the latest financial meltdown? Most say loans made to people who could not repay them. Others say greed on the part of high-paid CEOs of financial institutions. Our sermon text offers another explanation. It says that the Lord is behind both prosperity and disaster. This gives us reason to be both humble and confident as we celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend.
If you think your prospects don’t look very good due to the latest financial crisis, it’s still not as bad as what the Israelites of Isaiah’s day were facing. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. and it looked like Jerusalem was next. Although the Assyrians did no harm to that city, Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C. to the Babylonians, and its inhabitants were marched 800 km away into exile.
The Israelites would not remain in Babylon forever, however, because God had made a promise through the prophet Micah that the Savior would be born in the little town of Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem. So God planned on bringing his people back to the Promise Land and he would use the Persian king Cyrus to do it. Our text explains: “This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:1-4).
Do you get the impression that God was speaking directly to Cyrus in the verses I just read? God is certainly speaking directly to that king but these words were written over a hundred years before Cyrus’s birth! Cyrus’s people, the Persians, weren’t even a world power yet and so predicting that a Persian king would conquer most of the then known world would be like saying that, in a hundred years, Canada will dominate the world financially and militarily. It seems a bit unbelievable doesn’t it?
But God could make such a bold prediction concerning Cyrus and the Persians because he controls history. The Lord would give Cyrus his power and cunning so that no gate or walled-city would withstand his forces.
If you are giving thanks this weekend for a good job, a nice home, or good grades, remember that it is the Lord who made all these things possible for you. He took you by his hand and guided you. He opened the doors to give you the opportunities you are now enjoying. Don’t think that you have a comfortable life because you somehow earned it. Look at Cyrus. He hadn’t done anything to earn God’s favor. Why, he wasn’t even born yet when God made those pronouncements about him. And even after he was born he didn’t prove that he was deserving of God’s attention. Twice in our text God said he would bless Cyrus even though Cyrus did not acknowledge him (Isaiah 45:4, 5)!
As a Christian you have acknowledged the Lord by confessing your faith in him. But this doesn’t make you deserving of God’s love. Sure, you may have worked hard for those grades or to find that job but have you really used your gifts to the best of your abilities? Haven’t you often just done enough to get by? Haven’t there been days of procrastination and laziness? What prompts that? Selfishness. The reason we don’t go looking for more work to do at the office or take the time to complete all of our school assignments well, especially the ones for the classes we don’t enjoy, is because we don’t see what’s in it for us. This was illustrated for me last weekend in Montana where I met a WELS member doing some work on his congregation’s parsonage. I thanked him for his work and commented that pastors and their families were blessed to have people like him. He smiled a bit sheepishly and said: “Oh this? I should have finished this a long time ago. It’s hard to get motivated though when it’s not your own house.” I don’t relay this conversation to imply that WELS members need to do a better job of taking care of their church’s property. The point I want to make is that this man was honest. He illustrates how by nature we don’t apply ourselves to projects that don’t benefit us directly. So why does God bless us with so much when we continually put our wants before the needs of others? He blesses us because he is a God of undeserved love. So be humble this Thanksgiving. Don’t take credit for all the blessings you have. Acknowledge that they are undeserved gifts from a loving God.