Well if you have been with us this summer you know we are moving along here in our study of the book of Isaiah and this Sunday our journey brings us to chapters 44 and 45. So far we have been discovering how God is truly a Rehab Addict and these chapter contain yet another one of God’s rehab attributes.
Have you ever had an old shirt that you just loved to wear on Saturdays while lounging around the house, or that shirt that you just had to wear as you mowed the lawn every week? Somehow, no matter how much of the logo or decoration of the shirt wore off, or the mustard or spaghetti stains that plastered nearly every inch of fabric, every Saturday you put on that old shirt and did your thing. People used to tell you to, “get rid of that shirt, no one could use that anymore, its too old and worn out.” You refused too stubborn to believe the blatant lie your friends were telling you. One day while away for a while your partner snuck into your drawer, grabbed that shirt, and gave it away. You came home to learn of the demise of your lucky old shirt and you are devastated, thinking you will never see it again, or so you thought. A few weeks later you were out for a run and you happened to see somebody mowing his or her lawn in your shirt. You shout, “See somebody can use that old shirt!” meanwhile the cars driving by think you have lost your marbles. You continue on your run with a sense of vindication and a new pep in your step.
That picture is the similar type of vindication God might feel when someone says to you, “you can’t make a difference in this world you’re just one person” and you step up, you prove them wrong, you change a community or a life for Christ. In God’s Rehab tool belt there are many different tools used to reshape lives and make things useful again. This morning we are going to see how God used a tool to shape a life of a Gentile King before he was even born.
As I mentioned earlier the text of the morning is Isaiah 44-45 and to be more specific we will look at Isaiah 44:24-45:13. As you will recall the prophet Isaiah was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom, which was centralized in Jerusalem and consisted of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah. Now I know this was a while ago but does anyone recall which Kings Isaiah lived and prophesied under? That’s it, King Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. Knowing this information helps us approximate Isaiah’s life beginning around 740 BC and his death somewhere around the year 681 BC. Keep a hold of these dates as we explore the Holy Scriptures to see how truly amazing our God is. Lets look at the first few verse of the morning. Isaiah 44 ends with these five verses:
“This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfills the predictions of his messengers, who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’ who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry, and I will dry up your streams,’ who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ (Isaiah 44:24-28)
Now at a glance without knowing the history of these verses one might come to believe Isaiah was writing about a present event he was witnessing. It could be easily interpreted that way as God makes mention of detailed events and cities known to be active at the time of Isaiah. He also mentions a specific person by name Cyrus. This guy must have been an important figure at the time Isaiah wrote this right???
Here are some facts about these verses. First, Jerusalem was still inhabited by the King Line of Judah. The Jews had yet to be taken captive by the Babylonians, that event happened in the year 586 BC. When Isaiah wrote this remember it was sometime between 740 and 681 BC, at least 100 years prior to the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Second much like the first, the towns of the tribe of Judah and the temple were still intact and under the Southern Kingdoms control, they had not yet surrendered power to the Babylonians so why the reference to being rebuilt? The name mentioned in this passage, “Cyrus”, was the name of a King of Persia, “Cyrus the Great” to be exact. When this was written two important facts need to be understood. First, Persia was not a world power yet; they had not yet gone to war and conquered the Medes combining the two into the Medo-Persian Empire and Babylon, not Persia was the dominant Super-Power roaming the earth. Second and possibly most important, Cyrus was not even alive let alone King of a non-existent Empire. I will repeat incase you missed it; this man was not even alive at the time Isaiah recorded this prophecy from the Lord. Cyrus was born, depending on the source, in either 600 BC or 576 BC. So if the temple was not destroyed, Jerusalem was still inhabited by the Jews and Cyrus was not born this message had to be for a later time.
Ultimately the question is, did these things actually come true? Did our God foreknow the future and reveal it to his servant Isaiah? Did a gentile King truly do all of these things including decree that the captive Jews should return and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem? History and Biblical History tells us most certainly yes. Lets read some more of Isaiah’s prophecy to gather extra intel on this anointed Cyrus:
“This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and will level the mountains [a]; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. (You believer of many Gods) I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. (did god leave any doubt that there was any other than him) I am the LORD, and there is no other. (I guess not) … “This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come (pointing to the time of the return of his people), do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. I will raise up Cyrus [b] in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, … says the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 45:1-6, 11-13)
Cyrus came to power over the Medes and Persians in the year 559 BC. He was a true conqueror of nations and in 539 BC took control of Babylon including its exiled inhabitants, the Jews. Even more interesting and as these verses tell us Cyrus did not recognize the God of the Bible as his God, yet God used him. Verses 4 and 5 say, “Though you have not acknowledged me” this making reference to the fact that Cyrus was a believer in many gods not including the God of Israel. God was letting the people in this passage know that even though this man does not believe in me I will use him to accomplish my purposes. God would give him great victories and wealth all so that the world and Cyrus would know that God is the God of Israel, the one who called him by name, and there is no other God but Him. Did you ever wonder if God could really use just anybody to get a point across, even your boss or maybe your atheist neighbor? Truth is, and these passages are a great reminder, God is in control of the universe. He made the stars and knows them each by name. He can choose to utilize whomever or whatever means necessary to accomplish his ultimate plan of salvation. Notice the phrase, “I will take hold of his right hand”. God will take hold of the power hand of Cyrus and guide him, a gentile King, to conquest. This conquest was the opportunity God utilized to setup his ultimate plan, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and his temple.
In the post-exilic books of Ezra and Nehemiah we discover God’s plan unfolding for Cyrus and the Jews. The people of Israel were captive but the hand of God granted them access to their home once more. A set apart people were chosen to return to the Holy city and restore the temple of Solomon. Here is how Ezra records it for us in the first chapter
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah (This was in reference to the 70 years of Captivity the Jews would be in to Babylon; which is recorded in Jeremiah 25:11-12) (Should also include the words spoken by Isaiah), the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’” (This is similar fashion to the way the people left captivity in Egypt) Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem… Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. [a] Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. (Ezra 1:1-5, 7-8 emphasis added)
Thus, as Cyrus came to realize God had given him the power, he had given him dominion over the kings of the earth, ultimately to fulfill God’s purposes for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Just as God foretold the length of the captivity to Babylon through the prophet Jeremiah, he also foretold and fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah regarding the King of Persia who would set the captives free and rebuild his Holy place.
Isn’t our God amazing! I mean he can use anybody and I mean anybody. If you are not convinced that he can do this lets look at two more nobodies that became somebody because of the plan and purpose of the Almighty.
How about our old friend Peter? You know that great old fisherman who was so zealous for God that he told Christ what he was saying wasn’t true. We all remember how Christ responded… “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have the in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23) Ouch, well maybe he did better later on? How about the time when Christ was explaining who would leave him all alone? Remember what Peter said? “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33) And do you recall what Christ’s response was? “I tell you the truth… this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” (Matthew 26:34) Oops look like Peter put his foot in his mouth yet again. But here is how God is a Rehab Addict. After Christ resurrected Peter got his chance at redemption and Christ gave him all the promise he could need. After asking Peter three times if he loved him, Jesus said these words,
“Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21:17-19)Even after all of his mistakes Christ still intended to use Peter. After this as you will read on in scripture Peter becomes the apostle to the Jews and writes an epistle to the church and leaves his mark on the Christian movement. As the picture behind shows, according to tradition Peter served Christ until the end and ultimately he was crucified upside down as to not draw a comparison with Christ’s crucifixion. He finished strong and did so because Christ helped Rehab his life.
Next lets look at another such guy who definitely wasn’t fit to be the leader of the Christian world. Oh Paul was a leader but the leader of a movement devoted to destroying Christians. Lets let Paul tell us his experience. “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”…“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council can themselves testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:1, 3-5)
By his own admission he was a persecutor of the church. Yet after a dramatic and miraculous encounter with the risen Lord where he was blinded, Paul was given his sight and given a new chance on life by the Rehab Addict himself. “‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard… the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately… “‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr [a] Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ” (Acts 22:14-15, 18-21)
I know I sound like a broken record here but God can really use anybody to accomplish his will and not all the people he uses are recorded in the pages of scripture. For example I am one of those anybodies. My life hasn’t always been as glamorous as I like to make it seem. Just a few years ago if you would have known me, life was drastically different. Last semester I had to write a short essay on my elevator testimony, basically keeping it short enough to tell someone what they needed to know between floors 11 and 12 in an elevator. The phrase I used to describe my live before truly coming to knowledge and faith in Christ was “Righteously Confused.” When I was 11 I developed an appetite for reading the Bible, I studied prophecy and whole host of things. I actually have a few papers I wrote on biblical topics when I was a teenager. All of this looked good during the day but at night I was out drinking with friends and doing stupid things, some of them very destructive. I remember sitting in church on a Sunday with my then girlfriend praying over our weekly sins thinking what a hypocrite I was. You see how the confusion thing set in. Life continued on this path into my early 20’s until I found myself lying in an emergency room at 3am thinking I was having a heart attack. I had finally hit rock bottom at 23, trying to lead this double life was stressing me out. I remember having to walk into work after visiting a cardiologist because the doctors wanted to make sure I wasn’t having any real heart issues. I had to wear this device called a halter-monitor; it records unusual heart rates and sends a graph to the doctor so they can analyze. I felt ridiculous with that thing on, I knew it was my lifestyle not my heart, it was my soul not my body that need fixing. Well I returned to God and he used his tools to reshape my life and make it new. From that moment on my life has been on a collision course with the Gospel of Christ and His ultimate destiny for my life. I am in school now studying to teach and preach his message wherever I am called. I am married to the most amazing wife, expecting our first child in a few weeks and blessed to be part of this congregation. Though I am certainly not perfect now my life and our family is changing all because of the influence Christ had on me and because God knew better than I did, that he was truly a Rehab Addict.
When I think of my story I am reminded of the words spoken by Mordecai to Esther when he challenged her to approach the King:
For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)
I think about all of the things that have happened in my life that brought me to this point. What if I didn’t stop my destructive ways, what if I never walked into a church again, what if I had died as a child instead of having a life saving surgery? I realize what a miracle life is, what a miracle my life has been. Then when I read this verse I am reminded to press on, because “who knows but God alone that I was brought to this place, Cornerstone Church, for such a time as this.” If I keep silent and hold back from sharing the gospel and being used by God, lives will not be changed, but this doesn’t just pertain to me. It is speaking to us all.
If you come here on a Sunday morning and give lip service to God and live the rest of your week like Saturday night what good is that? You are no better than the world. We are no better than the world if we do this. Among the Christian church divorce rates are as high as outside the church at 50%. We can be just as clicky and exclusive as the outside world is. We are truly no different than the world when we act this way. We come here to be filled up but are we going into the world, a world empty and devoid of the truth of God and filling it up? The truth is we can be different; we have something that we claim is different, different than any other claim made in this world, we have a King who was willing to die for us just so we could make something of our lives and impact others as well. In the ancient world it was crazy to think a Royal family member would forgo his life to save the kingdom of peasants and undesirables. Our King, Christ Jesus did this very thing for us; we must be different because he has made us a new people. As the word says, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10) God can use you and I am a prime example of that. Remember the illustrations we drew on this morning. Cyrus, a gentile King, Peter a denier of Christ, Paul a man who ordered the murder of Christians; all of these men don’t seem fit to carry the title of anointed by God, yet each one of them served to promote the Kingdom of God in their own way and paved the way for salvation. If God knew Cyrus by name before he was born and knew his purposes for his life, then he knew you before you were born by name and he knows the plans he has laid out for you from the foundation of the earth. He can use you just as he has used countless others to make a difference in this world.
You may be thinking, “Okay Chris that’s all great but how can I practically do this?” Great question. Let me suggest a few things.
1. Maybe you’re not an eloquent speaker or the most comfortable teaching people something. That’s okay; I am not saying you have to be up here next to me this morning or asking Pastor Craig to mentor you on how to be a good pastor. Maybe you listen really well though. If this is the case, God can use you to spend time with people who really need an ear to hear and a shoulder to cry on. As we know in this fallen world, people are in great pain, hurting and desperate for a friend. Perhaps this is your calling. Pray and listen to God’s voice leading you where he wants you to go. It can be scary to trust him, plus this takes a major commitment of time, time away from things you might rather be doing, but the rewards far outweigh the work.
2. Okay so you don’t listen well either and the whole time thing is tough one for you. Maybe you are a stay-at-home Mom. How can God effectively use you? I was at lunch a few Friday’s ago with my friend Tony and we were talking about marriage, life and work, you know all the fun stuff men love to discuss openly with one another. We were mentioning how God can use anyone to make a difference and he pointed to a recent time he was feeling a little frustrated at home and his wife, who is truly seeking God at every chance, came in and really spoke some truth into his life. Whatever she said stopped his frustration and turned his heart towards his wife. He said that this happens a lot and it is usually his wife Carrie who leads him back to a place where God can speak to him. I know in my marriage it is the same way. I will get upset over something and as my motor is gearing up to go from 0 to 120, my wife will softly say something to me and completely defuse the situation. I want to be so upset, I feel cheated I didn’t get to blow my top, but at night as we discuss the days events and pray through our lives I am so blessed to have had her intervene like that. Wives and Husbands, God can use you in the same way to reach your spouse. Your humble gestures and approaches go a long way to ensure your spouse stays on the straight and narrow path God has called him or her too.
3. Maybe you feel like you have sinned too much in the past. God can’t use a sinner like you. Well let me first say, yes he can and our illustrations from scripture and my own journey are testaments to that. What I would encourage you to do is instead of using those past regrets as excuses to keep you off the field and not in the game God has called you to, use them as motivation to get engaged in the battle. Might I suggest one of our youth programs where the students are dealing with things that are very difficult and hard from time to time. I personally found my life and experiences help shape the lives of the students who came to me for their problems. Maybe you could help out at the Boys and Girls clubs of America or any other mentor program where your past mistakes can help prevent a new generation from making the same. Remember God will never waste a hurt if you let him use you.
4. Lastly, maybe you are the adventurous type. You love a great challenge but feel like all the things Christians could do are just fluffy and boring. Well let me invite you to look into the ministry of Open Doors that Donna McCoy spoke on earlier this morning. You can help the persecuted church around the world and perhaps even take a trip with our resident law-breaker and bible smuggler Darvis McCoy. Too risky but still need a thrill? Why not take a short-term missions trip to Haiti, anywhere in Africa or maybe even serve in a poverty stricken area of our own country. We are blessed to have a number of our very own young adults experience this joy this past summer. Megan Updegraff, Kelsey Selness, Caryn Defrees and Aly Peckham all gave of their time and energy to bless others across the globe this year. I know they have amazing stories and could point you in the right direction if you feel so led.
As I close here this morning I want to try something I saw used before by Mark Cahill, founder and President of Mark Cahill ministries, an evangelistic outreach ministry. When I ask you to do so, if you would you all please stand up from your seats quietly and raise your right hand to the sky. I know we can do this. Are you ready? Okay go ahead and stand with me now. Good, now here’s the catch, if I a sinner, a man who has fallen short countless times in my life can ask you to do something and you obey, you do as I command then why can’t you do the same when the God of all the universe tells you he can use you to do amazing things for his purpose. Stop doubting and give the great Rehab Addict himself a chance to rehab your life and lead you where he needs you to go!