Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—God Demands Righteousness from the Nation
Following their return from Babylon, the people of Israel are facong a new crisis. With no city walls, marauding bands of outlaws threatened them. With no central government, there was little leadership and little means of enforcing laws. With no temple, religious life ebbed low. Apathy, indifference and cynicism grew until the people began to lose sight of who they were as God’s people. They began to be careless how they lived out being God’s people. Unrighteousness is ruling the culture.
God, through the Prophet Isaiah, speaks to a people who are separated from God by sin. “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:2, NIV84). The people have complained that God had lost the ability to hear and to save them. The prophet Isaiah answered with a resounding “No, that’s not true. The problem is not with God, but with you.” He then proceeds to list a litany of sins the nation of Israel is guilty of. I cannot read vv. 3-8 without concluding, “This sounds strangely like the culture of our own day.” With a sarcastic tone, we learn from v. 9 that their light is really darkness! They have separated themselves from God who now appears hidden.
As we engage our culture and look at it honestly, we must sense that something has happened – and is even now happening – in our society. We are no longer merely seeing the beginning signs of cultural trouble, but rather the indicators of advanced moral and spiritual decay. Even as demographers, pollsters, and statisticians tell us how many Amricans believe in God, and how many claim belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are witnessing the inception of a post-Christian mentality here in America.
This is why our texts tonight are so critical for us to understand.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF A NATION
- the first word in Proverb 14:34 is Righteousness
- Solomon, who was well-versed in the principles of government, gives us the essential of power behind government in this verse
- it is righteousness
- Solomon understood that the thing which exalted a nation was the righteousness of its inhabitants
- the history of the United States reflects this truth
- why is our nation so special?
- what attributes or characteristics raised us to the pinnacle of world power and influence among the nations?
- has God blessed us because of our geographical location
- has God blessed us because of the great beauty of the land?
- has God blessed us because of the fruitfulness of our pastures and orchids and our natural resources?
- or did God perhaps just reach into a hat and pull our name out from among all the other nations?
- God does not exalt a nation because of its breadth, its beauty or its bounty
- God exalts nations on account of the righteousness of its inhabitants
- righteousness is a word you won’t hear used much these days outside of conservative, bible-believing churches
- you don’t hear our politicians speak about righteousness these days
- you certainly won’t hear the news media say anything about it
- but it’s one of the most important words in God’s vocabulary
- the word has three implications to it ...
A. IT IMPLIES SOVEREIGNTY
- if there is such a thing as righteousness, then someone sovereign must determine what it is
- human cultures have varied ideas of what righteousness is
- we could never agree on a benchmark as to what behavior is or is not righteous
- God, however, is an authority on righteousness
- "For Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things; O God, who is like You?" (Psalm 71:19, NASB95)
- "The Lord has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations." (Psalm 98:2, NASB95)
- God’s righteousness establishes Him as sovereign over the nations – including ours
- a wise nation acknowledges that sovereignty
B. IT IMPLIES A STANDARD
- ILLUS. John Adams in a speech to the military in 1798 warned his fellow countrymen stating, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
- let’s be honest, we are living in a culture that is slowly, but surely, denying that there should be any standard for individual behavior except for one’s own personal set of values
- truth has become relative
- we are constantly told these days – by supposedly learned men – that a maturing pluralistic society must cast off the restraints of our Judeo-Christian heritage
- ILLUS. If the ACLU has their way, every single vestige of the Christian faith will be eliminated from the public square.
- "Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth." (Psalm 119:142, NASB95)
C. IT IMPLIES A STRAIGHTNESS
- "In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight."/ (Proverbs 3:6, NASB95)
- "Folly is joy to him who lacks sense, But a man of understanding walks straight." (Proverbs 15:21, NASB95)
- it is one thing to admit that there is a standard, it is quite another to make that standard your own
- walking straight, that is, living righteously, is a decision you’ve got to make – no one can make it for you
- ILLUS. John MacArthur tells the story about a preacher who quit the ministry after 20 years and became a funeral director. When asked why he changed, he said: "I spent 3 years trying to straighten out John and John's still an alcoholic, then I spent 6 months trying to straighten out Susan's marriage and she still filed for divorce, then I spent 2 1/2 years trying to straighten out Bob's drug problem and he's still an addict. Now at the funeral home when I straighten them out – they stay straight!"
- ILLUS. Noah Webster, author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary stated, "The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. . . All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible."
II. THE REWARD OF A NATION
- who can doubt that America has been exalted among the nations?
- more than any other nation Americans have know a relative peace and prosperity unequaled in other countries
A. GOD EXALTS NATIONS AND PEOPLES OUT OF HIS SOVEREIGN WILL
- the Scriptures seem very clear that nations rise and fall by the providential hand of God
- the Book of Ezekiel contains an interesting prophecy about the nation of Egypt and its future history
- "‘For thus says the Lord God, “At the end of forty years I will gather the Egyptians from the peoples among whom they were scattered. “I will turn the fortunes of Egypt and make them return to the land of Pathros, to the land of their origin, and there they will be a lowly kingdom. “It will be the lowest of the kingdoms, and it will never again lift itself up above the nations. And I will make them so small that they will not rule over the nations. “And it will never again be the confidence of the house of Israel, bringing to mind the iniquity of their having turned to Egypt. Then they will know that I am the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 29:13-17, NASB95)
- Egypt was the geopolitical and military superpower of its day
- today, the country barely rises above the status of a ‘third-world’ nation
- it is indeed the lowest of the kingdoms, and it will never again lift itself up above the nations
- folks, let me clue you in – that cosmic plan is to advance His Kingdom and glorify Himself
- the vast majority of empires the world has seen rose and fell based on the pursuit of wealth and power
- America rose on the prayers of pilgrims seeking the glory of God
- ILLUS. Some of you my recognize the name John Winthrop. Historian Paul Johnson calls him the “first great American.” He was an uncompromising Puritan who came to America as part of a religious wave of 20,000 English Separatists who were no longer welcome in England because of their religious views. They came to the wilderness that was America to establish what they thought to be a pilot church and state, which would create an ideal spiritual and secular community, whose example would in turn convert and save the Old World. Winthrop, in a shipboard sermon to his fellow-travelers emphasized the spiritual nature of the New England colonies when he said, “We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, they eyes of all people are upon us.” They believed that God had given them the land, and they believed it was a promised land.
- God exalts a nation because of the righteousness of its people
- the Scriptures are clear: When a nation's citizens claim God as Lord, His blessing will follow
- "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance." (Psalm 33:12, NASB95)
- America has been exalted because of it’s Christian citizen’s goodness and personal holiness
- America has been exalted because of her churches that have carried out the great commission both at home and abroad
- ILLUS. In 1830-31 Alexis de Tocqueville was sent by the French government to study the American prison system. He toured America, taking notes not only on our prison system, but on all aspects of American society and culture. The result of his tour was a large volume entitled Democracy in America. In it, he made this observation (and I paraphrase): "I have toured America, and I have seen most of what you offer. I've seen the richness of the fields and the wealth of your mines. I've seen your industrial might, the beauties of the rivers, the streams, the lakes, and the grandeur of the mountains. I've noticed the abundance of the forests and the marvelous climate with which you are blessed. In none of these things did I see the cause for the greatness of America. It wasn't until I went into your churches that I saw the reason for America's greatness. America is great because America is good; and as long as America is good, America will be great. If it ever ceases to be good, it will cease to be great."
- set up apart
- kept us safe
- made us strong
III. THE REPROACH OF A NATION
- in recent decades we have seen the waning of our influence upon global affairs
- some historians have suggested that our nation has reached and perhaps passed the zenith of her power and prestige in the world
- only time will tell if that is true or not
- if the might of America becomes a dim star among the nations of the world
- it will not be due to a shortage of natural resources
- it will not be because democracy is inadequate
- it will not be because our military power is ineffective
- if America burns itself out like a supernova only to become a dwarf star in the firmament of past great nations and empires, it will be because a people who once acknowledged God have grown morally and spiritually lethargic
- Solomon’s proverb tells us that as surely as righteousness exalts a nation, sin debases a nation and brings it down
A. THE GREAT SINS OF AMERICA BRING DISGRACE TO US
- the United States is still a bastion of the faith, but it is also the home of Hollywood
- I've always hated sounding like a prophet of doom & gloom
- there are still a lot of things right and good about America
- but let us never be presumptuous in assuming that God needs America or owes us anything
- let us always assume that America needs God, and that we owe God everything
- a potentially harsh captivity or judgment awaits us if we do not repent of our national sins and return to the God who raised this nation up
- “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people,” (Proverbs 14:34 NASB95)
- there is the sin of abortion
- thanks to a handful of godless men who served on the Supreme Court three decades ago, abortion-on-demand is now a “right” enjoyed by our citizens
- since 1973 over 50 million innocent babies have been killed and tossed into the surgical scrap bucket—most for the simple reason that they were inconvenient
- there is the sin of exploitation
- better known as the lottery – or what I like to call the tax on stupidity
- there is the sin of sexual immorality or every sort
- our culture is saturated with sexualism
- pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry that feeds on man's baser side and exploits millions of men, women and children each year
- homosexuals flaunt their behavior as an alternative life-style, and our courts increasingly continue to sanctify sodomy
- sexual licence and promiscuity is the norm in our culture
- ILLUS. By the end of high school 70% of teenage girls and 80% of teenage boys are sexually active. By the time he is 26 years old – that age when most men get married in our society – the average young man has had six sexual partners. The result of sexual licence and promiscuity is that Sexually Transmitted Diseases are at epidemic proportions in America and the majority of babies are born outside of marriage.
- narcotics are turning our inner cities into jungles and our citizens into junkies
- it is estimated that 20% of Americans have a serious drinking problem
- ILLUS. Research shows that 1 out of every 16 people who take a social drink will become an alcoholic. Most people – especially teenagers think – “It’ll never happen to me. I will always be able to control my drinking. I’ll never be the one out of sixteen who becomes an alcoholic.” Let me ask you a question: “How many of you would every get on a plane if you knew it had a 1 in 16 chance of crashing?”
- today in America 1 out of every 3 marriages ends in divorce
- so many persons who think divorce a panacea for every ill in a marriage, then they get divorced and discover that the remedy is worse than the disease
IV. THE REVIVAL OF A NATION
- “So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.” (Isaiah 59:9, NIV84)
- “For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the LORD, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived.” (Isaiah 59:12–13, NIV84)
- “so” is a strong "therefore" in Hebrew
- it indicates that the following statements of fact are true based upon the conditions just described in vv. 3-8
- the people of Israel are acknowledging that God’s condemnation is right
- in this day and age many, many Americas have forgotten about our spiritual roots
- this nation was founded upon the gospel of Jesus Christ and the teachings of his Apostles
- now more than ever this nation needs to take a deep moral and spiritual look from the individual level to the highest leaders of our government
- America's hope is in a revived and bold church
A. GOD OFFERS REDEMPTION, FORGIVENESS AND BLESSING
- “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 59:20, NIV84)
- God does not exalt a nation because of its breadth, its beauty or its bounty
- God exalts a nation because of the righteousness of its people
- when a nation's citizens claim God as Lord, His blessings will follow
- "and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7:14, NASB95)
I firmly believe in the doctrine of the separation of church and state. It is a doctrine which our Baptist forbearers help to define in the early history of our country. God did not intend for the State to be master of the Church. Nor did He ordain that the Church was to rule over the State. Church and State must always and forever be separate, but you must never separate God and Country. Most of our early political leaders recognized this. George Washington, in his Farewell Address said: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness"
What’s the very best thing you can do for your nation? Four things:
1) Be converted and make Jesus Christ Savior and Lord of your life.
2) Live a godly life.
3) Vote for godly people to serve in office.
4) Pray for those in office that they might live godly live and serve as instruments of righteousness in God’s hands