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OT Reading & Text: Is.56:9-
The Kingdom of the Messiah, the church of Jesus Christ, will grow! It has been, and will continue, to expand throughout the world. As it does so it will embrace people from every kind of background.
Ethnicity is no issue here: those from every tribe and people and nation are welcome members of this kingdom – it doesn't matter what language they speak.
Past track record is not the determining feature either – sinners of all kinds will find that the salvation secured by the Messiah is fully sufficient both to satisfy the requirements of divine justice and to meet their own needs and deficiencies.
This was the vision Isaiah left us with last Sunday evening as we thought about the first half of ch.56 and we might be tempted to draw the conclusion from such a vision that all would be simple plain sailing from now on.
Isaiah is, however, quick to warn the believers of his day (and us through them) that by no means everyone would enthusiastically welcome this outworking of God's plans.
Opposition from within
Israel was perhaps used to thinking of opposition – after all for much of the people's experience threats from foreign nations were a serious reality. But now Isaiah warns of a very serious danger coming not this time from without but from within. Sadly opposition to God's purposes would be found arising from amongst those who were supposedly inside God's camp.
Still speaking under the inspiration of God's Spirit Isaiah addresses the serious matter of irresponsible and defective leadership. Although the future of God's true people was bright the way into that future would be opposed by those who had a very different agenda. There would be (there already were) men in positions of leadership of God's people who did not have God's glory in mind but their own!
Before we examine what Isaiah has to say about the way these people would function and what would drive them I want you to realise that Isaiah was not the only Bible writer to be concerned by such matters. The fact that other writers all point in the same direction should serve to underline for us the seriousness the whole matter.
Listen to the words of just a couple of them:
Jer.6:14 "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace."
Lam.2:14 "Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading."
Ezek.13:10 "they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace,"
The effects of such leadership are significant. Not only do the people suffer directly from the influence of such men but as the people of God they are rendered defenceless and exposed to serious assault from external enemies too. Ungodly leadership is simply incapable of doing anything about such threats.
So then to summarise where we have got to:
we have seen that ungodly leadership is a reality which we will encounter as God's people
we have seen that such leadership poses a serious risk to God's people
Now we can move along to examine Isaiah's description of such men. This should enable us to better identify them and better avoid falling prey to their influence.
The kind of leader we can do without
Isaiah castigates in stinging terms these men who exercise authority over others but for all the wrong reasons. This is how he describes them:
they are blind watchmen – in other words they don't see what is really going on, they are unaware of the real issues at stake.
A watchman was posted on the city walls to scan the horizon looking out for the approach of a hostile army and so to warn of impending danger. Now you'd really want people with 20:20 vision to be on the look-
they are ignorant – they lacked the necessary knowledge to lead God's people, and what knowledge they did have they twisted and misapplied. There is all the difference in the world between knowing and understanding!
These leaders were not in a position to lead the people of God because they were in no way different from them – do you see the way in which Isaiah describes them?
v.11b "But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way,"
Doesn't that make you think of an earlier verse in the famous 53 rd chapter of Isaiah's prophecy?
Is.53:6 "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;"
Isn't this just what Jesus said about the leaders of his day? Referring to the proud Pharisees he said:
Mt.15:14 "Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."
In Mt.23 again and again Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for their failure to grasp the real meaning of God's truth and he calls them:
vv.16+24 blind guides, v.17 blind fools, v.19 blind men
Sadly they didn't keep their ignorance to themselves but imposed it on others – thus they spoke out when they would have done much better to keep quiet!
they are silent when they shouldn't be – "silent dogs that couldn't bark" – isn't that graphic? What value is there in having a guard dog that has lost its bark? Godly leaders should be able to stand up and issue warnings when warnings are called for. When error is beginning to exercise an unhealthy influence in the church the godly leader should call attention to it; when lifestyle patterns are being adopted and endorsed which are out of line with the holiness of life that the Lord calls for then the godly leader should be vocal. It might not please men to hear the truth (who likes being disturbed in the middle of the night by a barking dog?) but the godly leader has to please his God and not men!
they are voraciously self-
v.10 "dreaming, laying down, loving to slumber…"
But they were (and are) capable of great enthusiastic endeavour when it came to furthering their own personal interests, when it came to feathering their own nests.
All they can think about is looking after N°1!
Again I'm struck by a remarkable contrast. Look at v.12 and you'll see the kind of invitation these ungodly leaders are keen to issue to one another:
v.12 ""Come," they say, "let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink;"
How this differs from other invitations that have characterised the earlier chapters of Isaiah!
Is.1:18 "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Is.2:5 "O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD."
they are unrealistic – that is they are more marked by an unwarranted optimism than they are touched by the word of God.
Problems? What problems?
v.12 "and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure."
And so their message really is "peace, peace" when there is no peace. For no-
Wasn't that the state of those at the time of Noah? They were happily complacent but the flood came when they least expected it.
Isn't that just what Jesus says too that the coming of the Son of Man will find men similarly complacent and unprepared (Lk.17:26-
What does this mean for us?
Sadly the problem of ungodly leaders and false teachers did not come to an end with the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. He was confronted and opposed by just such poor leaders when he came unto his own and his own did not receive him.
While the common people heard our Lord gladly the leaders of the people knew an uncommon unity in their opposition to him. The Herodians, the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the scribes formed something of an unholy alliance as they sought to deal with this awkward prophet from Nazareth. If the Master were thus opposed his followers should hardly be surprised if they encounter a similar hostility from amongst those who occupy positions of influence in either the religious or the political sphere.
All the more so since Jesus warned his followers in the clearest of terms that their discipleship lives would have to contend with false teachers who would succeed in infiltrating the church and do their best to propagate their teachings rather than his!
Here are just a few of the verses found in the NT that address the matter of false teachers:
Mt.7:15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."
Mt.24:11, 24 "many false prophets will arise and lead many astray… For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect."
Knowing the inevitability sooner or later of being confronted by men who deviate from the truth what should be do, how should we react?
Let me suggest a number of elements:
Don't panic. It can be a great disappointment to come across a leader who goes astray. We're not talking here of minor slips or mistakes but of major, settled determination to head off in a wrong direction with a wilful rejection of any advice or warning to the contrary. And yet we have been told that this will happen. There will be those whom we have regarded as genuinely belonging to Christ's people who will show themselves to be anything but.
Remembering that this has been told us beforehand will keep us from being crushed by the discouragement and keep us from giving up ourselves.
Be sure that you know what the truth is. How well do you know what the Christian faith is all about? Are you growing in your understanding? I do hope so because truth is the weapon we have with which to fight these battles
The apostle John writing towards the end of the 1 st century of the Christian era encouraged Christians no to be duped but to test the spirits – are you growing in your ability to follow John's advice.
1Jn.4:1 "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."
Take care about what you read, about what you listen to, about what you watch. Remember that "all that glitters is not gold". If you come across new ideas don't hastily accept them but check them against the Bible. Ask yourself some simple questions such as:
Does this teaching honour God? Does it centre upon Jesus Christ (a mere mention of the name of Jesus is not enough – the Bible tells us in several ways that Jesus is to be at the very heart of everything)? Does this teaching lead me to love Christ more? Does this teaching promote the fruit of holiness in my life?
How is this teaching affecting others who are embracing it? What about the ones promoting such teaching? What are their lives like? Don't be fobbed off with simplistic ideas of "niceness" but is this person's caught up with the Jesus of the Bible? Is the cross of central importance to him? Remember the apostle Paul: he insisted upon preaching Christ crucified and refused any distortion of the gospel message he received directly from Christ!
Pray for your elders and your pastors. If you know men in the ministry pray for them to be kept faithful to Christ. Pray for lecturers in our Bible Colleges not to prefer academic respectability in the place of faithfulness to Christ. Pray for our missionaries that they proclaim the gospel carefully and faithfully – I was watching a brief video during the week where one American pastor who frequently travels overseas recounted that people often pleaded with him for America not to send any more folk because so many were preaching "another gospel".
Be confident. Remember the context! The church is growing and will grow, God has said so and Jesus has pledged himself to build the church! All Satan can do is to try to throw a spanner in the works to hinder the progress. But he will not ultimately succeed not even with all his false teachers sown willy-
But don't become complacent either – remember the stakes are high – don't allow your faith to be shipwrecked!
Finally, remember that this battle is only for a time; such vigilance is necessary now but Christ is coming and he will take all of his faithful followers home to be with him forever!
Praise be to God!