“Do Not Fear What They Fear”
November 29, 2015
We leave fear and darkness behind when we move from what the world says to what the word says.
I. Do not fear what they fear - Isaiah 8:11-15
II. Seek your answers in God's Word - Isaiah 8:16-22
In the weeks since the Paris terrorist attacks the media and the Internet have been full of a debate over refugees. At least one of the eight attackers in the Paris incident came into the country as a refugee from Syria. Furthermore the United States plans to admit around 10,000 refugees from Syria this fiscal year. What if some or even many of those refugees are terrorists who plan to carry out lethal attacks on innocent people within our borders? Shouldn’t we shut down refugee immigration until we can be sure there is no threat?
Posed that way there are two answers: yes, shut refugee immigration down, or no, don’t shut it all the way down. Shrill voices have been screaming arguments on both sides. “We can’t expose Americans to the same lethal actions Paris suffered on November 13th or that people in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have endured in recent years. Above all we have an obligation to keep people safe.” “No, we must be willing to take risk to show compassion to the vast majority of these refugees who are seeking safety from that very violence.”
Christians of sincere faith have come down on both sides of the question and have raised additional arguments from within the Christian worldview, which we will touch on a little later. It is a tough call. But today’s passage in Isaiah 8 gives us insight, especially into the issue of fear. Isaiah teaches us that we are not to fear what the world fears, but fear the Lord. We are not to heed what the world says, but heed the Word. We leave fear and darkness behind when we move from what the world says to what the word says.
Isaiah 6 is the throne room scene where Isaiah beholds the Lord, high and lifted up, acclaimed as Holy, Holy, Holy, and receives cleansing and a call to prophetic ministry. Isaiah 7 jumps to the reign of king Ahaz, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah. During Ahaz's evil reign Syria, a long-time enemy of Judah, joined with Israel, the northern kingdom of God's people, to wage war against Ahaz. This frightened the king and the people of Judah. God's first response was to assure them this alliance would not defeat them: He even offered Ahaz a sign as proof. But Ahaz, with a pious excuse, refused to even ask for a sign. He'd already contacted the Assyrians, thinking they'd come to his rescue.
Isaiah says "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." That’s a great Christmas text because of its explicit fulfillment in Jesus. But the immediate fulfillment, though partial, is described in Isaiah 8: God will defeat the alliance of Syria and Israel, using the Assyrians to destroy them.
But the traitorous Assyrians will also invade Judah. This is God’s judgment for Ahaz’s dependence on the world’s counsel rather than his explicit offer of a miraculous rescue. And the rest of chapter 8 expands on the need to rely on what God says, not what the world says. To stick with the ways of the world is to walk into darkness. That’s what happened to the nation of Israel.
But then comes Isaiah 9. We’ll look at that chapter next week, and we’ll see that the move from the world’s counsel to the word’s counsel is also a move from darkness to light. That light is particularly seen in Jesus, in the child given to rescue and reign, the one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That’s a wonderful promise.
But Isaiah 8 is also wonderfully valuable, especially in a day when many shrill fears are heard in the culture and when many ungodly answers are offered. Isaiah 8:11-22 teaches us that we leave fear and darkness behind when we move from what the world says to what the word says.
We begin with Isaiah 8:11-15: For the Lord spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: 12“Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
Judah is threatened by an alliance between Israel and Syria; Ahaz and the people of Judah look on this alliance as a treasonous conspiracy, and they are terrified. But Isaiah is told not to fear this conspiracy. Instead Isaiah and the remnant of those who believe are to honor God as holy, holy, holy; to fear and dread him only. For those who do honor the Lord as holy, that is, sanctify him, he says he will become a holy place, a sanctuary. He will be their place to hide, their place of safety. He will be their rock and their fortress. As the Psalmist says “The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
But those who do not sanctify him, whether in Israel or in Judah will find that God himself becomes a stumbling block over which they are broken. While there will be a faithful remnant, God will judge the unfaithful, destroying Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and exiling Judah, the Southern Kingdom. People are judged based on how they respond to the Good News: they either move toward it and are rescued, or they harden themselves and oppose it.
But the key phrase is in verse 12: do not call conspiracy or treason everything your culture does; do not fear what your culture fears. Instead set apart Jesus as Lord in your heart; fear displeasing or dishonoring him. Then you will find him to be your sanctuary. Do you see that? At every moment our culture has fears: global warming, terrorist attack, economic implosion, school shootings, etcetera. Some of these fears are real. But God says 'don't fear even fearful things; fear me.' When we studied 1st Peter, he addressed wives calling them to respect their husbands, saying "Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." I love that: it's frightening, but you do not need to fear it. Some of what goes on around us if frightening, but we do not need to fear it.
In this refugee debate, it is clear that the danger of allowing terrorists to enter the country, as refugees or even tourists, is real. It’s not that there is no risk. It’s simply that our immersion in media makes every potential danger into a frenzy. On Wednesday I went to news.google.com and the top stories were a Russian jet shot down by Turkey. Start of World War 3? Chicago protests after the release of a video showing an officer shooting a black man. The ongoing protests of racism on college campuses. E. coli in Costco chicken salad. 2015 the hottest year on record. And on and on. Some of these issues are real. Some are not. But the point is that the media, liberal and conservative, gets and holds our attention, and thus makes money, by telling us what to fear.
And God says no, don’t fall for that. “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear.” We need to refrain, in this age of social media, from adding shrill voices to the feeds and pages and comments that vie for our attention. Everything is inflated. The inflation of the refugee threat, for example, says that ISIS and others have organized this whole crisis to carry radical Islam to Europe and America. That’s nonsense. Have you heard the interviews of those getting off the boats in Greece? Most have stories of intense persecution by radical Islam and ISIS. Brandon from Humans of New York went to Greece last month and interviewed them. The stories were heart-rending, authentic. Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham’s organization, has released videos from the beaches that document the same sad reality. I think God calls us today to a holy skepticism, a recognition that only by fear can the old media, new media and social media make money.
And my news feed shows, every day, that they’re succeeding. Again, I’m not saying not to be realistic about the times. The world is palpably closer to disaster than ever in my lifetime. But that isn’t a reason to get caught up in fear-mongering or panic. God’s people have an alternative to the unbridled fear that drives our cultural conversation. God’s people have the fear and the security of God.
Do you see it there? Verse 13 “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” God says "You can fear man and believe what your culture says, or you can fear me and agree with my thoughts." Take your eyes off culture and put them on the God revealed in Scripture, who doesn't blind himself to our sin, but offers loving rescue. We’ve talked in this series about the fear of the Lord, fear that manifests itself in awe of His greatness and power, which makes the crises of the world seem small. Fear of the Lord means taking sin seriously and knowing that judgment of sin is real. And fear of the Lord means taking his commands seriously. Thus, like the apostles in Acts, we must serve God rather than men, even when it means that our culture will mock and belittle and ultimately persecute us.
The fear of the Lord moves us from what the world fears to what the Word says: Verse 16 to 22: Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. 17I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. 18Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. 19And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? 20To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
God says through Isaiah 'bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.' The testimony and teaching is God’s word, given through Isaiah and the other prophets and Moses. It is to this testimony that the faithful, few though they be in Judah, should cling. In verse 17 Isaiah speaks for himself: "I will wait for the Lord, even though he has hidden his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him." Isaiah uses two of the key Old Testament words for faith: wait and hope. "I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." "O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you." When the voices of our culture offer doubt and fear, we turn again to hope in God.
Verse 18 reminds us that Isaiah's children were named by God as a sign, a message to the nation. In chapter 7 we see Isaiah's son was Shear-Jashub. His name was a promise, 'a remnant will return.' His other boy had the tongue twisting name of Maher-shalal-hash-baz, which means 'the spoil speeds, the prey hastens,' a reference to the imminent invasions of the Assyrians.
Isaiah's own name means 'Yahweh is salvation. So Isaiah says 'these names are signs and portents to Israel: the bird of prey, the Assyrian conqueror is coming, but Yahweh is salvation and a remnant will be spared by grace.
Next God addresses Isaiah: 'And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?' This is a great verse too. The situation in that culture was that when you were looking for answers to current problems, or the perplexities of life, or sorrows, you went to a medium, or a spiritist, maybe, to try to get answers from the dead, as Saul did. These may also be priests and priestesses of the many false religions. They were voices other than God's word that purported to offer answers.
It’s easy to hear these voices in our culture: they are not mediums but media; the old media of films, newspapers and TV; the new media of blogs, Facebook and twitter, offering us so-called wisdom. They tell us what to fear. After the most recent shooting in Oregon, not an hour elapsed before the President was on television telling the American people it was the proliferation of guns we had to fear. Des Moines Register reporter Donald Kaul says: "Repeal the Second Amendment, the part about guns anyway. . . . Owning a gun should be a privilege, not a right. Declare the NRA a terrorist organization and make membership illegal. Hey! We did it to the Communist Party, and the NRA has led to more deaths than American Commies ever did. I would also raze the NRA's headquarters, clear the rubble and salt the earth, but that’s optional . . . If some refuse to give up their guns, that “prying the guns from their cold, dead hands” thing works for me. Then I would tie Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, our esteemed Republican leaders, to the back of a Chevy pickup truck and drag them around a parking lot until they saw the light."
That's how the old media opposes violence. They offer foolishness. Why take it seriously? Why let these fears shape us? Why not look to Scripture? God says 'to the teaching and the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.' Why take guidance from people who are stumbling in the dark when we have a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, a word that tells us repeatedly that the human heart is the source of evil and violence, and that only internal reformation by grace can address it.
The world says that Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, and homophobic. God's word scorns hypocrisy, condemns judgmentalism, but encourages wise judgment, and teaches us to love sinners. The world says that we must be tolerant, accepting of sin. But Scripture says we must practice discernment, and in love come alongside those caught in sin.
Endless advertising promotes disastrous materialism, while giving weak lip service to helping the needy. The Word teaches modesty in our possessions and radical generosity toward those in need. The world says to save snail darters, but go ahead and kill unborn children. The Bible leads us to steward the earth and treasure human life. The world says the answer to all problems lies in government; the Word says that the answer to evil lies only in human hearts.
Verses 21 and 22 show us what happens when people follow the world's counsel: having no light, they wander in darkness. If we could but see below the surface it would be clear that most of the people around us have hearts of darkness. Yes, the ISIS radicals have hearts of darkness. But so do the Christian-hating liberals, and so do the homosexual hating so-called Christians. Every media stance not in accord with God’s word is an invitation to fear and darkness. There is common grace; some paths take longer to get to darkness than others, but darkness is the end of all motion not toward God’s word.
In Israel and Judah, the attachment to the world rather than the word led them into darkness. They clung to idols and idolized or feared pagan nations until Israel was destroyed and Judah exiled. They descended into a darkness that lasted 400 hundred years, dark years of silence under the tyranny of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. These 400 years are sandwiched between the end of chapter 8 and the start of chapter 9. But next week we’ll see that the movement from the world to the word is also the movement from darkness to light. Isaiah says that a dawn is coming, and the people will see it, that rescue is coming from the tyranny of their oppressors, and that this rescue comes in the form of a child: unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.
So Isaiah’s counsel is “to turn to the teaching and to the testimony!” Turn to the Word of God. He says “If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” The world or the Word, the darkness or the light. Those are the choices set before us. We are called to evaluate culture in light of the Word, and we are called to evaluate ourselves in light of the Word.
How do we evaluate the refugee entry question in light of the Word? As I said earlier, believers of good faith can disagree on these things, but as I evaluate it I find the case for compassion to outweigh the case for exclusion. I mean a couple of simple Scriptures go a long way: love your enemies; look after widows and orphans in their distress; make disciples of all nations; love your neighbors, just as the Samaritan, a despised foreigner cared for the man in need; but if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? And that’s only a few of dozens or hundreds.
The alternative argument comes down to ‘don’t take risk even to show compassion.’ And that makes logical sense, but I can’t find any verses to support it. Even Kevin DeYoung, of the Gospel Coalition, whom I normally find to be deeply Biblical doesn’t use any verses to support his position, but has to resort to the half-hearted “Christian charity means loving the safety of the neighbor next door at least as much as loving the safe passage of the neighbor far away.”
That may be true, but it doesn’t address the question. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we do this with no controls and no screening. What I’m saying is that you can’t reduce the risk to zero without complete exclusion of even the most desperately needy cases, and that’s not Biblically acceptable. You have to take risk for the sake of the Gospel. Sometimes you even put your family at risk as so many missionaries have done for so many years.
After the Paris attacks it became clear that one of the launch points for European terrorism is the Molenbeek immigrant neighborhood in Belgium. But there in that hotbed of radical Islam a converted Muslim, Said Najafabady continued to meet Muslim-background believers in regular house gatherings even as the borough became the center of a manhunt. “Yes, Molenbeek is a place with a lot of criminals and it’s one of the lowest parts of the city, but it’s still a place where you can find life and peace,” Najafabady said. Molenbeek may be rife with Muslim radicals, but it’s also alive with new Christian converts. The Arab Evangelical Church meets in an old building on a busy street. Led by an Egyptian pastor, the congregation includes Moroccans, Algerians, Libyans, and others. It hosts additional services for immigrants from Africa, Eastern Europe, and Najafabady’s Iran. That’s the other side of the risk, and that’s the goal of the Gospel. In fact reports continue to multiply that these desperate refugees are being won to Christ by the hearts, hands and words of His people. And it starts when we prefer Scripture’s interpretation of events to the world’s fears, and even to the ideas of other Christians if they are driven by fear.
But I want to close with a much simpler case, a much simpler application. This Scripture, like countless others, encourages us to be deeply grounded in the Word of God. Do not fear what they fear, fear the Lord your God. How will you do that if you do not know him in truth as presented in His word? Do not listen to the mediums, the media, that chirps and twitters. But how will you recognize those things if you are not more tuned to the teaching and testimony of the Word than to the world. Do you spend more time and occupy more of your mind and heart with the word than you do with twitter and pintrest and facebook? Until the truth of Scripture becomes the language of your heart, the voice that speaks even in the most stressful moments, then you will be caught up by the worlds fears and influenced by the world’s voices.
Now you may say ‘yeah, Pastor Bob is always talking about that stuff, but I ‘don’t have time, it doesn’t work for me.” In the immortal words of Top Gun, that turns out not to be the case. You don’t know if it works or not because you’ve never tried it. You come to me on Monday and you say ‘Oh, I’m troubled by this, I’m troubled by this, I’m busy, I give in to temptation, I’m controlled by fear.” And I say “so how much time are you spending in the Word. And you say ‘honestly, none.’” Thanks for being honest. Try spending half an hour or an hour a day in the disciplines of the Word, and see if that makes a difference.
If you walk into your doctor’s office and you say ‘Doctor, I’m miserable, I’m still gaining all this weight, I’m short of breathe, I’m exhausted, my circulation is poor, I’ve still got these dizzy spells etc. etc.’ and the doctor says ‘Are you following the diet and exercise plan I gave you?’ ‘Well, no, I don’t have time. It doesn’t work for me.’ No wonder you don’t feel better.
You can do this. You can start today, tomorrow with a good Advent devotional. I signed up for the Dallas Seminary devotional, but there are a ton on Bible Gateway and Youversion. Then after Advent you can start something for 2016. You can leave fear behind when you move from what the world says to what the Word says.