Peace Or Anxiety: Your Choice
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 11, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. . . . But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. "There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked."
Isaiah 57:2, 20-21
A Strange Phenomenon
Isaiah 57 begins with the prophet calling attention to a strange phenomenon occurring in Israel: righteous people were dying young (vv. 1-2). According to Scripture, the righteous are supposed to live long on the face of the earth, but here the opposite was happening. Is this a tragedy?
Before we answer this question, let us define who the righteous are. Verse 2 says that the righteous are those who "walk uprightly." They are people of serious piety, true worshipers who keep God's covenant. Though they love God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength, they were dying off, and no one understood why this was happening.
God gives us the correct explanation in verse 2. Here we learn that God was sparing his righteous ones from the calamity that was about to come upon the wicked of Israel. This is the same thing that happened to good king Josiah, whom God took before judgment was poured out upon Judah (2 Kings 22:15-20).
Additionally, in verse 2 the Lord explains that the upright enter into peace and rest as soon as they die. So the death of the righteous is not a tragedy. We who believe in Jesus Christ enter into peace and joy the moment we repent and put our faith and trust in him, but we will enter into even greater enjoyment of peace and joy the moment we die. Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." And believers will enter into the greatest enjoyment of peace and joy when Christ comes again, for then we shall be made like him and we shall see him as he is. At that time we will have the fullest capacity to enjoy the peace and joy that Christ has achieved for us.
Throughout the Scriptures we find this positive view of the death of God's people. Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul declares, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord." A Christian prefers death over life, because to die is to be with the Lord and to enjoy everlasting peace. Paul says again in Philippians 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." He continues in verse 23, "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far." In Revelation 14:13 John writes, "Then I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor.'"
Unbelievers, on the other hand, experience only anxiety when they live here on earth, and they enter into greater anxiety and misery the moment they die (Luke 16:23). Then, when Christ returns at the end of time, unbelievers will enter into the most terrible degree of anxiety and mental anguish. So Jesus tells us all, "Unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:3).
A Description of the Wicked
Every church community is a mixture of righteous and wicked people. The righteous are those who delight in keeping God's covenant. They love the Lord and obey his commands. But the wicked hate the kingdom of God. They love the delusion of autonomy, although, in reality, they are not free; they are servants of the devil. Their lives are full of anxiety and fear, though they try to convince themselves and others to the contrary.
Isaiah 57 is the divine description of the differences between the righteous and the wicked. Verses 1 and 2 speak of the true people of God as covenant keepers and faithful servants whose walk is upright. Verses 3 and following describe the wicked. Verse 3 begins, "But you . . . ." It is a strong contrast. "But you"-you are different from the righteous; you are wicked.
Who are the wicked? The Holy Spirit uses the most severe language to describe them. They are called "sons of a sorceress" (v. 3); "offspring of adulterers" (v. 3); "offspring of prostitutes" (v. 3); "a brood of rebels" (v. 4); and "offspring of liars" (v. 4). Verses 3-13 contain a detailed description of the acts and attitudes of the wicked:
The wicked are children of the devil. The wicked are not the children of God; they are the children of the devil, the father of all lies. According to the Scripture, everyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ is a servant of the devil and readily obeys the devil's will. A good tree will bring forth good fruit, but the bad tree will produce only bad fruit.
The wicked are mockers. Isaiah asks the wicked, "Whom are you mocking? At whom do you sneer and stick out your tongue?" (v. 4). The answer is, God and his word. The wicked also mock God's servants with contemptuous gestures, evil speech, and persecution resulting even in death.
The wicked have always mocked the righteous. Cain mocked Abel. Ishmael mocked Isaac. Esau mocked Jacob. Jesus came to his own, and though he deserved a glorious welcome, his own did not welcome him at all. Instead, they mocked him, spat upon him, and killed him, though he was the Son of God.
The wicked are covenant-breakers. In verse 8 God says, "Forsaking me, you made a pact with those whose beds you love." A covenant breaker confesses having a relationship with God, but then breaks that covenant. But that is not the end of it. He also makes a covenant with false gods. You see, every one of us is a covenant person. Either we keep the covenant of God or we keep the covenant of the devil. There is no neutral position. We are either children of God or children of the devil.
So verse 5 says, "You burn with lust." After the wicked forsook the Lord, they began to commit sexual immorality. In the fertility religions of Isaiah's day, the worshipers engaged in sexual relations with temple prostitutes, supposedly identifying in that way with gods and goddesses to help guarantee fertility in crops, animals, and families. Through such ritual sexual deviancies, the devotees were trying to manipulate the gods into blessing them temporally and materially. They committed these acts of "unholy communion" under evergreen trees, which symbolized life, in the ravines, on the tops of hills, and so on. We read about such worship in Numbers 25:1-3.
Not only did the wicked people forsake the one true God, they also amassed a large number of idols. Verse 6 says, "The idols among the smooth stones of the ravines are your portion." The Bible says that our portion and inheritance is the Lord. But the portion these people chose was lifeless, mute idols in the form of human genitalia.
The wicked sacrifice their own children. Verse 5 says, "You sacrifice your children in the ravines." Though this was a pagan practice, Judah and Israel also embraced this culture of death and sacrificed their own children for the sake of their success and happiness. Ahaz did this (2 Chronicles 28:3), the wicked King Manasseh did it (2 Chronicles 33:6), and many Israelites also did it (2 Kings 23:10 and Jeremiah 32:35). We see the same utter selfishness in the modern Molech worship of abortion-mothers killing their own children for the sake of their own pleasure.
The wicked look to others instead of God for help. These wicked people rejected the help of Yahweh and sent ambassadors to far places to make political alliances with foreign kings, thus subjecting themselves as vassals to these kings Ahaz is an example of this. In 2 Kings 16:7 he rejected the help of God coming to him through the prophet Isaiah, relying instead on a political alliance with Assyria to solve his problem.
The wicked are stubborn in their sin to the point of weariness. In verse 10 we read, "You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say, 'It is hopeless.'" Idolatry produces weariness. Though an unbeliever grows weary of his sin, he refuses to acknowledge its uselessness. Idolatry is addictive; one becomes entombed in it and it is hard to escape. When we admit to weariness and the uselessness of serving idols, we are repenting and returning to the One who is able to save. But those who are wicked will not do that.
The wicked are afraid. Verse 11 asks, "Whom have you so dreaded and feared?" The life of an idolater is a life of fear and constant intimidation by the devil and his demons. People may try to cover up their fear by throwing parties, yet all the festivities of unbelievers are but a shroud to cover up their inner anxiety, fear, and weariness.
The wicked show contempt for God's patience. Because God does not punish them immediately, the wicked engage in greater wickedness. In the latter part of verse 11, God asks, "Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?" Sometimes God waits for a long time to deal with sin. And what does a wicked person learn from that? He begins to think, "God doesn't see me or care what I do." Then he goes on to commit greater and greater degrees of sin, as Romans 1 explains.
But God will not stay silent forever. In Psalm 50 he tells the wicked: "You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you" (v. 17); "When you see a thief, you join with him" (v. 18); "You use your mouth for evil" (v. 19); "You speak continually against your brother" (v. 20). Then he says, "These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue" (vv. 21-22). The longsuffering of God is meant to lead us to repentance, but if we do not repent, he will destroy us.
The wicked worship impotent idols. All idols are powerless; they cannot save anyone. In verse 13 God says, "When you cry out for help, let your collection of idols save you!" We find this challenge also in Deuteronomy 32:37-38, where God is saying, "Go ahead, call on your idols. I will not save you, because you left me, the only true Savior, to follow after them." Verse 13 also says that "the wind will carry all of [these idols] off, a mere breath will blow them away." The idols of psychology, philosophy, science and all other disciplines, cannot save us; only God can. But in the hour of their misery and wretchedness, God will say to the wicked, "Go and pray to your idols."
Recall the confrontation of Elijah with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Although the prophets cried out to Baal for a long time, there was no answer, because all idols are mute, dead, and wind. Yet people are deceived into thinking that these idols will save them.
The wicked will be judged in due time. In verse 12 God says, "I will expose your righteousness and your works, and they will not benefit you." God sees all our sin, and there is coming a day when he will expose it to us, saying, "This is what you did in secret." The "righteousness" of the wicked is but a sham and a shame. As Isaiah 64:6 says, "All our righteous acts are like filthy rags."
On the day of judgment, God will expose the wickedness of the wicked. We read about this in Revelation 20:11-13. The Judge of all the earth will be seated on a great white throne, and books will be opened. They will contain a record of every sin ever committed. It will be a day of total exposure.
The wicked are restless. Verses 20-21 say, "But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest." What an accurate depiction of a wicked man! (PGM) Despite his mirth and happy-go-lucky attitude, he is like a restless sea that brings forth muck, mire, and mud moment by moment. "'There is no peace' says my God, 'for the wicked.'" We find the same sentence in Isaiah 48:22.
In Mark 7:21-23 Jesus gives a detailed description of the muck that the wicked man brings up every moment of his life: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" This is the total depravity of the wicked.
The Life of a Believer
Although the wicked do not enjoy peace, there is peace for the contrite. The New International Version places a subtitle before Isaiah 57:14: "Comfort for the contrite." The life of the wicked is one of misery, worry, fear, and judgment, but those who walk uprightly will have great peace. The choice is up to us: peace or anxiety, life or death. Isaiah sets before us the way of peace. If you are a wicked person, I pray you will listen, because God is still offering you a way out.
Verse 14 tells us that God is preparing a way for his people to come to him: "Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people." We need a way to God so that we can experience the great peace, joy and life that he has for us. But we are hindered by sin, guilt, and unrighteousness. How can we get rid of these stumbling blocks? How can guilty sinners approach a holy God? Thanks be to God, God himself has prepared the way for us. It is the way of the Suffering Servant, revealed in Isaiah 53. Through him our way is made smooth-all hindrances and stumbling blocks are removed.
We find mention of this way earlier in Isaiah 35:8-10: "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it. . . . But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing." Zion stands for God's presence. The redeemed will be able to enter God's presence through the way he himself opened up for them.
Who is this way? It is the Lord Jesus Christ, who himself declared, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Hebrews 10:19 says, "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body. . . ." Through his life and work, Jesus Christ prepared the way for us to come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God. So he bids us: Come in joy! Come in confidence! Come in peace!
Isaiah 57:15 says, "For this is what the high and lofty One says-he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'" Here we are introduced to the transcendent God, who is not part of this world or its processes. He is transcendent over time-he is eternal; he is transcendent over space-he is high and lifted up; and he is transcendent over our own character-he is holy. This self-existing, self-sufficient, Creator God who created all that exists out of nothing, is the sovereign Judge and Redeemer, who stands over all the world either to judge or to save.
Our God is also immanent. This holy Other who is separate from creation came down to our midst: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory" (John 1:14). He is Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). He became incarnate, not only that we could spit on him and crucify him, but also that we can pray to him and be healed.
But Isaiah also makes the point that God does not dwell with everyone. He dwells only with people of a certain character-those who are broken-hearted, crushed, and humble, those who repent of their sins. He will not dwell with arrogant idol worshipers. Yet there is hope for the wicked! Isaiah 55:7 says, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . . Blessed are the meek. . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" (Matthew 5:3-6). And in Psalm 34:18 David says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed" by the weight of sin. A life of wickedness, sin, and idolatry is a life of crushing weariness.
What is the purpose of this immanence, this incarnation, this identification of the eternal God with man in human flesh? Verse 15 tells us: it is "to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." The word revive in Hebrew means "to make alive, to save, to restore." We find it four times in 2 Kings 8-once in verse 1 and three times in verse 5-in reference to restoring a dead boy to life.
The problem with a sinner is that he cannot make himself alive. He cannot save himself. He cannot give himself peace by positive thinking. He is dead, cut off from God. But the purpose of the incarnation is to revive dead sinners and give them eternal life. Ephesians 2 describes this miracle of regeneration. First, we are told that all men are dead in trespasses and sins. They are disobedient, led by the evil spirit, and the objects of divine wrath. But read verse 4: "Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ." Salvation is of the Lord, by grace, through faith.
But how can a holy God save wicked sinners? In Isaiah 57:18 God says, "I have seen his ways. . . ." All our sin is before God; he sees all our guilt, misery, and idolatry. Yet not only does he say, "I have seen his ways," then he adds, "but I will heal him." God himself will save us, forgive us, justify us, and raise us from the dead.
God says in verse 16, "I will not accuse," meaning he will not take up a case against us. Imagine what would happen if God dragged us to court! Do you think we would win? Of course not! Here God says we are guilty, but he also says, "I will not accuse forever, nor will I always be angry." Let us thank God that he does not drag us into his court, and that there is an end to his anger against us!
Once again, how can this be? We are idolaters, covenant breakers, wicked, guilty, enemies of God. Yet God does not accuse us, nor is he angry with us. How is this possible? How can a holy God save wicked sinners and still be just? The answer is found in Romans 3:21-22: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known. . . . This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Because of the substitute Suffering Servant, God can justify us and still be just. Isaiah 53:4-5 says of Christ, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." We are saved, justified, forgiven, accepted, adopted, and united with Jesus Christ forever and ever.
Jesus Christ the transcendent one became incarnate. He became the crushed one (Isaiah 53:5, 10) in our place. God's wrath was poured upon him. On the cross he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). He came to revive us, to save us, to heal us, to forgive us, to justify us, to reconcile us, to make us children of God, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, to give us eternal life and everlasting peace and joy. This is what we mean when we say, "God so loved the world."
It Is Your Choice
The way of wickedness will never benefit us, and mute, impotent idols can save no one. There is no God besides the triune God. All other religions and philosophies only result in hopelessness. Jesus Christ is the only Savior; there is no other. The chastisement that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.
The Lord says there is no peace for the wicked. They are constantly agitated, and their sin only increases. Only Jesus Christ, the transcendent God who became incarnate, can save us from our sins. He dwells with those who are brokenhearted and contrite in spirit. If you turn to him, he will save you! He will bring you out of your misery, anxiety, and fear, and bring you into the kingdom of God, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. It's your choice.
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Copyright © 2005, P. G. Mathew
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