There is One who is in Charge
In our day here in the UK we generally try to squeeze God out of the equation. Many scientists have bought into the theory of evolution and have tried to replace the idea of a purposeful design of an intelligent Creator by attributing everything we see around us to a long series of chance interactions.
Men and women see themselves no longer as made in the image of a glorious Creator but prefer to believe they are just one more animal that owes its origins to some supposed primeval soup in a long distant past.
It seems that the only time God comes into view on the public stage is when things in the world have got so out of hand as it were that men want someone to blame! On the other hand God becomes quite useful when an insurance company doesn't want to pay out considerable sums of money as the result of unpredictable events – "Acts of God" can be conveniently excluded from the insurance cover you thought you had!
Men and women do many different things with God. Some deny him flat out – if he doesn't exist he can't hold me responsible now can he? Others try to manipulate him with a range of religious activities. Most just to all intents and purposes simply ignore him and set themselves to muddle through their lives as best they can.
There are times when God allows men to go there own way and there are times when he doesn't. While men in their ignorance might prefer to be left on their own thinking and acting as though there were no God, Isaiah is in not the slightest doubt that there is and the God he knows is the God who directs everything that there is in the world.
Speaking as this God's mouthpiece Isaiah calls us to recognise the greatness of this God and the wonder of his plans and purposes. This is a God who will have dealings with all men and all women yet for the moment we have a choice to make: we can choose willingly to enjoy him and his salvation or we can choose to go on rejecting him. But there will come that time when we will all have to face him. Better by far to begin to enjoy him now than to be forced into a grudging homage then when there will be no more any possibility of salvation.
The readiness of the LORD God to receive returning rebels into the fold is seen clearly here, especially in the words of gospel invitation in v.22 which reads:
"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth."
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Isaiah ch.45 contains a succession of four important messages each of which is introduced with the formula: "Thus says the LORD…" v.1; 11; 14; 18.
We will consider each of these sections in turn.
Now the LORD adds more information to what he has already made clear:
Having chosen Cyrus, "grasped his right hand" -
He further adds that he will grant Cyrus great wealth.
But why should he do this?
The LORD's choice of Cyrus is for the sake of God's own people – men may walk upon the stage of history but here is another indication that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who belong to him.
Cyrus is NOT to imagine that he has been chosen because he has particular abilities or strengths that somehow fit him for service. Cyrus could do nothing by himself – he didn't even know the LORD – and yet the LORD promises to equip him so that he might carry out the tasks the LORD has in mind for him to accomplish.
Cyrus is also chosen in order that he might come to a certain spiritual knowledge and understanding: Cyrus will be brought to realise that the only God there is is the LORD God of Israel.
Finally as the LORD uses the instrument that he has chosen to carry out his purposes other peoples more widely will be brought to a realisation that the LORD is the only God, the only Creator, the only One who does just exactly what he wants to do in every domain of life.
This insistence of the total, complete and unfettered sovereignty of the LORD to do just what he plans is no empty theological statement but it is the bedrock upon which assurance of blessing can rest secure. And that blessing is expressed in broad terms –righteousness and salvation go hand in hand and do not remain sterile but together produce fruit.
Yes, there are some folk who didn't like the way God was doing things – there always are – and they criticised how God proceeded. Do you see that in vv.9-
There are always those who think they know better than God, they are with us today, and they don't hesitate to criticise the Almighty. Of course they know everything don't they? They are in possession of all the facts aren't they? And so in their arrogance they believe that their way would be better than God's way! Was Isaiah thinking about pagans or did he have some of his fellow countrymen in mind as he wrote these words – after all not all of them would have liked the idea of being saved by a pagan messiah and that is just what Cyrus would be!
But who are these people who think they're so super-
How should we react to those who are so quick to mock divine sovereignty? In the same way that the apostle Paul did when he referred to these words in his letter to the Romans: he asked those proud men a question:
Rom.9:20 "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?"
The emphasis is laid once again very heavily upon the uniqueness and the character of the One True Living God.
This is the God who chose Israel and formed him into a nation having previously created the entire earth and having stretched out the heavens! He has a admirable track record thus far!!
Instead of criticising him for what he had already done the accuser would be better off asking about what he intends to do in the future – for the LORD has his plans and is active in putting them into place.
So there are some who don't like the idea of a pagan messiah, are there? Well those people know that the LORD is totally free as to the way in which he will exercise his sovereignty, he will chose and appoint just whoever it pleases to chose and appoint. But his actions will never be unrighteous – that would be to act against his own character and that he cannot and will never do!
So let us drop any arrogant criticism of his ways – if he declares that he acts righteously then that must be the case and if we don't quite see how it might be so it fitting for us to admit our limitations rather than to jump to accusing him.
He had chosen Cyrus and here he declares further that Cyrus will provide the people with a free salvation – it won't cost the beneficiaries anything at all – except perhaps their pride! The same is equally true for us – salvation is offered to us freely and without cost to ourselves. If we don't like God's way of salvation we need to know that it is the only way of salvation there is! It is grace and to receive grace is humbling – it is humbling because it declares several things about us:
It says "I'm in need"
It says "I don't deserve any help"
It says " I can't help myself"
It says "I'm utterly dependent upon another"
But to those who are ready to admit all of that and more grace is such a lovely word and it is written all over the face of our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isaiah was writing some 150 years before the events that he was describing. At the time of writing Israel had not yet been exiled to Babylon and Cyrus was not even a twinkle in his parents eyes! And yet when he came he did just as the LORD had said – he restored Israel and promoted the rebuilding of the Temple and he demanded no payment, no reward, no satisfaction from the people!
Who can possibly foretell the future in such detail? The LORD God, maker of heaven and earth, the only wise God, he can and does!
Here the LORD continues to explain his plans for his people and to prepare them for what some of them might not be keen to welcome!
The LORD's sovereign plans turn out to be far wider than his people Israel. Here then he speaks about the influx of Gentiles, pagans into the kingdom of God.
As God leads and guides and delivers his people the watching nations (or at least representatives of them) come to recognise and understand that God is indeed with his people. What is more, the LORD declares, this will be no passive observation but will be a precursor to the nations humbly bringing their wealth to Israel as they implore admission.
It took a "thus says the LORD" because Israel was not at all enthusiastic about having Gentile pagans gatecrash what they thought of as their party. They had come to imagine that the kingdom was theirs and that God was theirs. They needed to be reminded that rather they were his, they belonged to him and that because of his gracious call – if he chose to call others that should not bother them in the slightest. But human nature being what it is it did!
God does not allow his people's understanding to dictate to him how he should act – and praise God he doesn't!! The kingdom is wide open to "whomsoever will" as God mixes Jew and Gentile in his family. In Christ the barriers came completely down – it doesn't matter one iota whether you are a Jew or a Gentile – you can come freely to God on the merit of his son.
That is why there is something of an outburst in v.15. Man left to his own devices simply can't penetrate the divine mind and know what God is about. In that sense he is a God who hides himself – for a long time there had been little to suggest that Jew and Gentile could share equally in God's kingdom but now it comes to light because God speaks his authoritative word: "Thus says the Lord…"
It is absolutely disastrous trying to put your trust in a false god, in an idol – they could never tell you things like this about the plan and purpose of the Living God. Israel should never be tempted to look away to idols because they have so much promised to them by the LORD. Seeing this the nations come to their senses, leave their idols too and come "Surely God is with you…" and what a salvation he has prepared for his people!
Does he say this over and over again because he knows we have a tendency to switch off and not to pay attention? This is a serious matter!
Not only is he the God who made all things but he also has spoken into our history. He has spoken clearly to men and women and he did not play some kind of spiritual game with them as he did so. The invitations he held out to men and women were not done so in order to tease them or to mock them – his invitations were genuine then, they are genuine today.
In days gone by he had spoken to Israel and called them, here he extends that call to include the Gentile nations. They must come to a realisation of the fact that all their idols are empty and powerless to do them any good at all – to pray to them is to pray to a god who simply cannot save and how futile is that!?
Yet as history progresses and unfold more and more it becomes ever more evident that what the LORD had said in the past has subsequently come to pass – all the more reason then for the nations to heed his voice and to turn to him. How glad we should be that the only God there is is both a righteous God and a Saviour!
But it is not enough for the information to be shared: here the LORD invites, summons and reasons with his hearers. Arguments have been brought to bear – the reality of his sovereign rule has been confirmed and now he calls for the only response that is appropriate:
"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth."
Man's default setting since the fall of Adam has been to be turned away from God. He's facing in the wrong direction, he's going in the wrong direction and unless there is a fundamental change he'll end up at the wrong destination. You have to turn around – this is what conversion means.
Man's default status is that of being lost. Heading in the wrong direction will never do him any ultimate good – but he won't admit it, he's been so long like that that he thinks it is normal, he thinks that everything is fine. Oh how he needs to be saved and to be saved he needs a Saviour.
God presents himself as the Saviour that men need. In the NT we know this Saviour by his Christian name – Jesus!
This is a one-
Ah but how can we be sure? Because it doesn't rest upon our cleverness, it doesn't rest upon our understanding or our efforts – it rests upon the authority of this One True Living God. He who doesn't lie has told us. This God who speaks the truth and who keeps his word will keep this promise too.
We will all meet with him one day. There is no way of definitively escaping this God. All of us without exception will be brought to acknowledge that he is exactly the One he said he was all along. But that acknowledgment can be offered to him in one of two ways and two ways only.
We can bow the knee to him willingly now by turning to him and relying upon him alone for our salvation or we can go on rejecting his offers of grace to us until finally we will be obliged to recognise him not however as Saviour but as judge.
Come to him now and live – why will you go on resisting him – turn to him and live. You will find all you ever need in him – the righteousness and the strength that you lack are there in abundance in him.
Let me end with one more "thus says the Lord". Let me tell you what my Saviour Jesus said concerning those who would turn to him. These are just some the lovely encouraging words he spoke:
Jn.6:37 "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."