December 7, 2008
Centuries before Christ was born, the prophet Isaiah challenged the futility of idol worship and spoke about God’s Servant—His life, His purpose, and His future impact. Remarking on the persistent prevalence of idolatry in today’s culture, Alistair Begg turns to Isaiah 42 to contrast the uselessness of man-made idols with the saving work of the Messiah, Jesus. Embracing Christ as Savior is the only way we can begin to fully make sense of our existence.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to Isaiah in the Old Testament and chapter 42. It’s page 513 in the church Bibles if you would like to use one, and I encourage you to turn to the Scriptures as they’re read and to follow along and look into them as we teach them. Isaiah chapter 42. And here we have the first of four servant songs that are found in the prophecy of Isaiah.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.
This is what God, the Lord says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: ‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.’
‘I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.’”
We worship you in our song. We seek you in our prayers. We listen to you in your Word. We ask now that as we bow before you, our great God, that you will be pleased to make yourself known in the preaching of the Bible, and that as a result of meeting you, we might bow before your majesty, and that we might live to the praise of your glory. And this we humbly pray in your Son’s name, Jesus. Amen.
Thank you for the amen. You’re an encouragement in all kinds of ways. I’ve been watching from my room, young families coming up the pathway at the back with their children in various stages of dress and undress, and my mind went way, way back and I saw,… we commend you all and commend particularly those young families. There was one young couple, they had two, and then the lady was carrying a basket which I thought was full of, you know, provisions, cookies, maybe. And then I saw a little bobble sticking out of the basket, and I realized there was a third one in the basket, and I wanted to open the window and shout, “Congratulations.” And we’re so glad you’re here.
Well Isaiah chapter 41 and 42 is the source of our study this morning and indeed the next Sunday morning, too. You may recall that in 1932, Einstein, in his credo, wrote as follows: “Our situation on this earth appears strange. Every one of us is here involuntarily and uninvited for a short stay without knowing the whys and the wherefores.” It’s not dissimilar to what you find in “Don’t Sleep in the Subway, Baby,” where it has the same lines, “You wander around on your own little cloud and you don’t know the whys or the wherefores.” It’s just a sort of more down at the street level expression of something that is not an uncommon sentiment. Indeed, you won’t have to have been listening particularly carefully this week to have discovered that somewhere within earshot and perhaps even out of your own lips, you have heard the sentiment expressed that we live in a world of chance. That history is merely repeating itself, and indeed, that there is no overarching purpose in the universe. That there is no rhyme nor reason to our world. This is classically expressed, and I use this illustration all the time, make no apology for it, but in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, one of the characters is Trudy, the Bag Lady, and as she is negotiating her grocery cart full of her lifelong possessions from one side of the street to another, she is expressing all that gives occasion for her to be anxious and worried. And in the course of many trivial things, she finds herself saying, “I worry about my place in the cosmic scheme of things.” And then she says, “I worry that there is no cosmic scheme of things.”
And, of course, that is not an unusual notion. Men and women asking the question, Do things just happen or is there a God who is at work in our world? Are we part of a larger story? Do our lives have significance in a far larger narrative, or are we left simply on our own to try and make sense of our human existence?
These questions are, of course, not unique to the time in which we’re living. Throughout every generation, people have been born and looked and thought and wondered, and when you go back to the time of Isaiah the prophet, the time that we read here in Isaiah 42, we discovered there, just as we find today, that men and women are trying to prevent their lives from toppling, even as history appears to be collapsing all around them. In the case of these individuals, the advance of tyrannical powers sweeping many of their brightest and their best away into bondage, the hopes of liberation perhaps in the arrival of another world figure who, on the stage of history, will be a deliverer to them, and so on. But in the midst of all of that great macro, the micromanagement of individual lives, the birth of children, the growth into teenage life, the question of employment and so on, and in all of that, the same kind of questions—Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? and Does it actually matter at all? These questions are real questions in every generation. And the response that men and women make to those questions reveals a great deal about them.
So, for example, in chapter 41 in verse 6 and following, as the earth trembles and as people find themselves buffeted by all kinds of circumstances, the prophet describes them as helping each other. As one saying to his brother, “Be strong.” Essentially walking around singing, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong. I’ll give you strength, I’ll help you carry on.” That’s what they’re saying: Come on now, let’s be strong. And legitimately, they look at one another and say, Well, if I’m going to lean on you, upon whom are you leaning? Where does your strength come from? And there you will see in verse 7 that these people are ultimately leaning on crafty little creations of their own invention. “The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smoothes with the hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, ‘It is good.’”
It’s very interesting that man, in his proud attempts at making non-gods, uses the same phraseology as is used by God when he had made the universe. You remember that he looked on everything that he had made, and Genesis tells us that God said, “It is good.” And here there is a picture of man in his futility, creating his own little gods and idols, and when he finally puts them all together and hammers them into shape, he decides to say as God says of his creation, “And actually look at this: It is really quite good.” And there you have it at verse 7—an idol, just in danger of toppling.
Now still in chapter 41, God then challenges the people in relationship to their idolatry to bring out their idols and have them do something. That’s verse 22, “Bring in your idols, to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so that we may know you are gods.”
Now you see, there’s something implicit in this, and that is that God, a real God, knows the future. That God knows the end from the beginning. It was Augustine who said a god who did not know the future would not be God. And so the challenge is, why don’t you bring your idols out and let’s have them say something? Let’s have them tell us something. And why don’t we have them, not only reflect on what has happened, but perhaps they can tell us something about the future. And, of course, they have nothing to say. You might as well expect a ventriloquist’s dummy to go out and get you a sandwich as expect one of these idols to say anything at all in response to the challenge they face.
Now what I found so interesting in studying this was to note to myself, and I share it with you, that here we have the people in 600 BC, if you like, in that era, asking twenty-first-century questions, if you like. In other words, we read of their time and we realize that it all sounds very contemporary. What are we doing? Where are we going? What should we do about the financial crisis? How do I make sense of my life? Do I fit in the big picture or not? In 600 BC, the people are asking twenty-first-century questions. But what is even more glaring is the fact that here in the twenty-first century AD, we have men and women attempting 6 BC answers, that despite all of the time that has passed, idolatry is alive and well. Oh, not necessarily in the way that it is described here—the hammering out of little creatures, although there are plenty of little creatures that I find in people’s places, on their mantle shelves, and some dangling from their mirrors in their car and so on.
But no, what Calvin observed on one occasion I think is pretty accurate, namely, that the human heart is a perpetual idol factory. That the human heart, if you look into it, you don’t analyze it as a cardiologist, but as you look at the human heart as the center of human existence, Calvin says, what the center of humanity does again and again and again is invent idols. Now we have to be clear that these idols are simply heart-level substitutes for the real God. We ought not to think immediately of bad things, although many of them will be bad, but they’re probably good things that become idols. Good things that God has created, that he has created for our enjoyment, which we have actually turned into substitutes for himself.
So he gives us the joy of interpersonal relationships in family, and we turn family into an idol. We can’t go anywhere, we can’t do anything because of our idol. We have to worship family. He gives us food, and instead of enjoying it, we become gluttonous. He gives us sex, and instead of taking it within the context in which he set it, we take it outwith the bounds in which he has set it, and we turn it into a perversion of that which is perfect. In all of these ways and more besides, we find ourselves not too far removed from those whom God addresses here in Isaiah 41.
In essence, the problem that faces humanity in this generation, as before, is not moral. It’s not social. It’s not intellectual. It’s not financial. No, the fundamental problem is that we keep creating false gods to whom we go, seeking false salvations. So, turning our back on the God who has made us and made himself known to us—in the world, in his Son, in creation, in the Bible—we don’t just simply sit in the absence of worship, but we all worship. As Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody.” We all serve somebody or something. And here God looks down and he says, “Look at these people rejecting me and inventing their own little gods.” And how futile they are. The idols weren’t bringing bad news, they were bringing no news. If you look at verse 26. “Who told of this from the beginning, so that we would know, or beforehand, so that we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you.” “What use for you? You’re absolutely useless. We made you, and we thought that you would speak to us or that you would be able to reflect on the world, or that you would tell us something about the future. Well, we got nothing from you at all. It’s not as if you had bad news for us. You had no news for us!”
They cannot speak. They cannot speak. And in verse 28 that ends that chapter—well 28 and 29, that ends 41—you have there the sounds of silence, don’t you? “I look but there is no one—no one among them to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.” “These things,” he says, “are full of hot air.” And this hot air, there are no answers blowing in this wind. The answer, my friend, is not blowing in the wind. All that is blowing in the wind are more questions. More unfulfilled expectations. More silly notions. And this morning you come to worship here at Parkside, I come to worship here at Parkside, out of a week in which I have been absolutely invaded, advanced upon, by the idols of the twenty-first century. By the things that call out for my attention, that suggest to me that if I go there, I may find my ultimate fulfillment in this or in them. And the Bible corrects us. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible. That’s why it’s so important to listen to the Bible taught.
I hope you understand that. That we come together to put ourselves underneath the Bible on the Lord’s Day, in part, so as to make sure that what we’ve imbibed in the previous six days can be addressed, redirected, refocused, by the truth of Scripture. That’s why is important to read the Bible at the beginning of the day, before ever we get going. You don’t want to start the day with ABC or NBC or BBC or any “C” for that matter. You need to start the day with the Bible. If you start the day with that nonsense hitting you from the get go, and it’s just a personal predilection, but I cannot stand that stuff first thing in the morning. I don’t want to hear from some cheery chap in New York what he thinks about the universe. But I do want to know what God says, because I’m fearful lest I listen too much to that nonsense and pay too little attention to what God says. And if I don’t have God tell me that that is false and worthless, I may be tempted to believe that it is true and worthwhile.
And then I may find, inadvertently, that I have begun to worship at that shrine. And so God pronounces on these things. God says, “Listen, they’re all false, their deeds amount to nothing, and their images are but wind and confusion. No one answers.” No one answers. What is required in the absence of counsel is a Wonderful Counselor. What is required in the absence of reality is the ultimate reality. And so it is that he introduces us in chapter 42, right on cue, to his servant. Here, he says, in contrast to the no one, the no one, the no one of verse 27 of 41, is someone. There’s no one out there for you, but here I have someone for you. Behold, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.”
As I said to you, this is the first of what are referred to as four servant songs in Isaiah. There is one here in 42, another in 49, another in 50, and another one that begins in chapter 52, verse 13 and goes to 53:12. And, in each instance, these prophecies clearly find their fulfillment in Jesus. Now you are sensible people, and you’re listening to me say that. And if I am where you are, given the way that my mind works, I’m saying, “How does he get there from there? How can he say they find their fulfillment in Jesus?” I mean, is that just blustering, is that just, sermonizing, is that just an attempt at rhetoric to try and advance the ball up the field? Well, that would be a good question, and that’s the very right question.
Well, that’s why I tell you all the time, it’s important to read your Bible from the back to the front. And when you read your Bible from the back to the front, you will find that when you get to the front, it’s a lot easier to understand than it was because you started at the back. So let me give you one cross-reference, and I won’t do more than that. But if you’re interested, you may turn to Matthew, chapter 12, and in Matthew, chapter 12, we have in part, the story of how Jesus healed the man with the withered hand on a Sabbath. It’s a great story. It’s a great story on multiple fronts, not least of all because the man had a withered hand, and he couldn’t extend it. That was because it was withered. And so Jesus said to him, “Stretch forth your hand,” which he couldn’t do. But he did. It’s a good story. You can read it for yourself. As a result of the man being healed, the Pharisees were annoyed. And so Jesus, verse 15, “withdrew from the place. [and] many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was.” The reason was he didn’t want to precipitate a crisis. He was moving according to a calendar. He had a plan in view. And he didn’t want people to get the wrong end of the stick and hail him simply as a miracle worker because the real miracle that he was about to perform was the miracle of being a Savior for sinners. And so he said he didn’t want anyone to tell them, and then listen to how Matthew explains it. “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight.’” And what is he quoting? Isaiah 42:1 and following.
So these servant songs, which are written into real-time history, 6 or 700 years before Jesus, causing the people who are reading them to say, “What in the world is this all about?” Causing a reader to say, “How am I to understand this?” When the story unfolds out through and into the New Testament and by the time, the gospel writers are taking all their discoveries of Jesus and theologizing them. What they’re doing is they’re reading their Bibles, namely the Old Testament, they’re listening and looking at Jesus, and then they’re saying to themselves, “Well, this is clearly that.” That’s what we have here.
Now in this servant’s song, we may note three things. Someone says, “Oh dear, we’re here for a long time.” Well no, you don’t, don’t worry, especially the children. We won’t get beyond the first. We know three things: number one, God speaks; number two, the servant acts; and number three, the reader responds, as is true always. But God is speaking, the servant is acting, and the listener is responding.
I begin with God speaking because it is this which gives a foundation to the opening four verses. When you read this introduction to the servant, you find yourself saying, “Well, who, on whose authority are we to take this?” And in verse 5, God speaks. God speaks. “This is what God,” Yahweh “the Lord says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out…”
Now I want you to notice three things under this heading: first of all, God’s personhood. His personhood, or his identity, if you like. Look at verse 8, where he introduces himself. “I am the Lord; that is my name!” I am the Lord; that is my name! Now for homework, you can go back into Exodus chapter 3 and the encounter of Moses with the burning bush, and you can read that whole chapter and it will be very, very helpful to you. For now, I choose not to go there. God says, “I do not exist incognito.” The idea that is created in our universe is something like this, this is what people hear on the television and the radio all the time: The story of religion is the story of a God who is hiding somewhere, and it is the story of men and women who are out looking for God. And so we have all these programs all the time. They’re always set up encouched in dramatic terms about how these people have discovered God somewhere as they went off on their adventure, whatever it might have been. It’s completely upside down from what the Bible says. The Bible says that God is not incognito. God is not hiding anywhere, but God is a God of self-disclosure, that God is a God who has chosen to reveal himself. That God is—it is not that we as men and women are actually out looking for God, but it is that God is the one who is out looking for men and women. That God is actually inclined to pursue men and women with all of the zeal of a triumphant soldier and with all of the angst and urgency of a woman in childbirth. I didn’t invent that. You’ll see that later in the chapter if you read it.
It’s important for us to keep that in mind. And that God’s name is expressive of his being. It’s not simply what we call him. God’s name is what he is. And in all of the expressions of God’s name—and there are many of them in the Bible—all of them and together give significant information about who he is. And all of them affirm this: that this God who speaks, this one who introduces himself in this way, is eternal. He is self-sustaining, he is self-determining, and he is sovereign. He is eternal. He is self-sustaining. That’s why when Paul preaches in Acts 17 to the Athenian intellectuals he says to them, “God is not in need of your help. He doesn’t live in temples built by hands. And he doesn’t need any one of us.” Why? Because he’s self-sustaining. He’s not like us. We are not self-sustaining. Every husband needs his wife. Every child needs her mum. We are not self-sustaining; God is self-sustaining. He is eternal. He is from eternity to eternity. There was never a time when he was not; there was a time when we were not, and then a time when we were.
There was with God no time when there was no time. But God created time. The eternal speaks into our universe. So this is very, very important, that we distinguish in Biblical terms what it is we are saying when we encounter God. When we encounter the God of the Bible, we are encountering a God who is not the God of human invention, he’s not the God of man’s creative ingenuity, he is not the God of looking inside yourself, he’s not pantheism, he’s not everything. He is distinct from that which he has made. And in introducing himself in this way, we discover him to be the living, reigning, powerful sovereign God.
And it is on account of that he says in 8b, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” Now people read that and they say, “Well, what kind of God is this?” I even hear people say, “Well, this God is some kind of megalomaniac.” I mean, is there anyone else in the entire universe that is prepared to say, you know, “I’m not prepared to share my glory with anyone else?” No, there isn’t. Because there’s no one else in this position. If God were to share his glory, he would be denying himself. He would be negating his own nature.
Just this week I got a quote from John Piper on this very thing, and I forgot it in the first service, and remembered it now for you. This is what he says:
Unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely himself. When we exalt ourselves, we lure people away from the one thing that can satisfy their souls, the infinite beauty of God. When God exalts himself, he manifests the one thing that can satisfy our souls, namely God. Therefore, God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act, since love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying, namely God. Therefore when God exalts God and commands us to join him, he is pursuing our highest, deepest, longest happiness. This is love. Not megalomania.
We will never, ever be as satisfied in life as when we discover that God’s purpose is that he is to be glorified in our lives. Hence, the shorter Scottish catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” And the God whom we are called to worship is the God who introduces himself here in his personhood.
Secondly, notice that he displays his power. He displays his power. Verse 5, “This is what God, the Lord says…” Who is he? Well, he’s the one “who created the heavens and stretched them out…” In other words, the span of the heavens are his design. And furthermore, he’s the one who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it. The stability and productivity of planet earth are grounded in the being of God. Now there’s a counterintuitive notion. There is something which militates against what is currently taught in our schools, what is suggested in our libraries, what is conveyed in our departments of science. And this is not simply a slight deviation from those secular notions. This is a direct confrontation of those secular notions. This is not simply another angle on the issue of humanity, on the notion of human existence, on “Where does this come from?” and “Where does that come from?” No. The Bible says, this is where it comes from. This is why the heavens are as they are. This is why the earth is set out as it is. This is why plants grow, and so on.
Incidentally and in passing, I want to recommend that you pick up a copy of a DVD, a movie that went nowhere fast in the movie theaters, done by Ben Stein, and it’s called Expelled. I’ve asked for a hundred of them to be brought into the bookstore, and they won’t be there today, but they will be there in the next week or so. And I commend this to you and you may use it helpfully with your friends also.
There, I don’t think, is a biologist present in this room that is able, irrespective of their views, to gainsay the fact that every advance in biology has pointed further to the notion of an intelligent design behind the universe and not away from it. And that it is a vested interest on the part of men and women to turn their backs on the God who reveals himself and inevitably then to look for gods of their own creation.
And God says, the one that speaks, the one who introduces my servant is the one who has done this. “Everything that comes out of the earth comes from me,” he says. Now what is he challenging in his day? Well, he’s challenging the fertility gods of the Canaanites. The Canaanites worshipped stuff. They worshipped creation. They worshipped stalks. Not our stocks, this is a different worship. This is our twenty-first-century stocks. We worship them as well. But they were worshipping stalks of corn and so on. They would bow down before them. And God says, “You need to understand, I am the one who made that!”
Every time you eat an apple, you ought to say, “God is good.” You see, because it is not the fertility gods of Canaan nor is it the twenty-first-century scientific gods that are able to bring to us all the produce of the earth. Every time somebody digs in the soil and discovers life, it is because God put life there. He put life there! And every new plant species and every discovery in that world is simply the unearthing of what the creator God has written into his creation, what he has put in there for man to find. And he digs in and he goes, “Goodness gracious, look at that. If you do that, that, and that, you get a potato. Look at these butterflies. Can you believe this? Look, isn’t this magnificent?”
And in an earlier generation, children would stand in school in this country, in school in this country, and sing the hymn:
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all...
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has done all things well.
All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.
That’s what he’s saying here. “I am God. If you want to know me, I am the God who has stretched out the heavens.” It’s a metaphor, but he says, “I am the one who did it. I am the one who has established life on the earth, and I am the one who makes it possible for you to say on a Sunday afternoon, ‘I think I’ll take a walk.’” That’s what it says right here, isn’t it? He “gives breath to its people and life to those who walk on it.” Not the product of some self-existing evolutionary surge, but the direct act of a creator who, in his providence, makes it possible for us to enjoy all these things.
If we had Mahalia Jackson here, we would cue her in right now, and I would stop and she could just sing,
Who made the mountains,
and who made the trees,
and who made the rivers that run to the seas,
and who put the moon in the starry sky,
somebody bigger than you or I.
And it is he who lights the way when our road is long. It is he who keeps us company. What good is a god of your own creation? What good is a stupid idol that you have invented? What good is sex or money or fame or self-exaltation? How can you make sense of that, of your existence on that basis? You can’t. And the reason you can’t is because you were never meant to. And God loves you so much that he gave us all these things, so that we could pick them out of the ground and say, “Oh, God must be fantastic to do that!” How does that work? How does that cauliflower come out just exactly like that? This is fantastic. How is it that black cows eat green grass and produce white milk that makes orange cheese? How is this happening? How is this happening? Surely somebody must be behind all this.
God speaks. His personhood, his power, and finally his purpose. And just a word on this, because this leads us to where we’re going. This is actually an Advent sermon, although I am sure you hadn’t figured that out. But anyway, what is his purpose?
Well notice his purpose: having called his servant in righteousness, as he says in verse 6; having called him in righteousness. This takes us way back into eternity where you have the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit entering, if we can speak in human terms, into a covenant with one another and determining, if you like, if we can speak in finite terms, who’s going to do what. And the Father says to the Son, “Will you go there and be the Savior for sin?” And the Son says, “I will.” He says, “Well then you are my servant whom I have called in righteousness. You are the one who will execute righteousness on the earth, thereby ensuring that that which is wrong is punished and thereby ensuring that my mercy is revealed, even in the expression of punishment.” If you like, it is a conversation about the fact that the Son is going to be, in the cross, a Savior for sinners, and the Father is guaranteeing to his Son, the servant, the promise of his presence through it all. And it will be by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Son—the servant—is able to execute that which the Father has planned. The Son himself performs, and the Holy Spirit is the one who exercises his gifts in and through it all.
Now, our time is gone, and I must stop. But again when you read something like this, and you say, “Well, it seems such a big jump, Alistair, from here to the idea of the purpose of God is in a servant, who’s a son, who’s a savior, and so on.” Well, again just read the gospels. Just read the early chapters in each of the gospels and what do you discover? You don’t discover invention. I suggest to you if you’ve never read the gospels, that there is nothing about the early chapters of the gospels that will make you think that somebody sat down to try and hoodwink people. Who would start with a genealogy if you were trying to do a marketing program? Who would start with “and he begat and he begat and he begat and he begat …”? You’re trying to introduce me to this and you start like that? Who would start in that way? Who would start, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and so on? No. When you look at it, you say, “This is a book I think that may understand me before I understand it.”
Then you bump into Simeon, the old boy in the temple. And Simeon is there, and it says of Simeon, Luke says of Simeon that he has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” You say, “Well, what’s the consolation of Israel?” It’s the promise that God has made right here in Isaiah 42, that in his servant, all of the aspirations and hopes and dreams will be met. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still I see thee rise.
Above the deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
But in the dark streets shineth, the everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
You see, the need of the Gentile and the need of the Jew is the same need. It is the need of Messiah Jesus. Not two salvations for two groups. It is one salvation in one person. And Simeon waits for the consolation of Israel, and he sees Mary and Joseph bring the baby in. And prompted by the Holy Spirit, he reaches forward and takes the child in his arms and remember, he says, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
See, what this actually calls for us to do is to do what Simeon did. And that is simply, if you like, to embrace Christ. God’s servant, God’s Son, our Savior. And here from all these hundreds of years away, the word of God comes right down into our little room and into the framework of each of our hearts and minds and challenges us. Why don’t you put up some of your false gods and let them speak? What have they been doing for you lately? And just when we’re in need of counsel, just when we’re in need of friendship, just when we’re in need of forgiveness, he says, “And by the way, here is my servant, the one I love.” Here, here is your God, your servant. He’s a king. He calls you now to follow him.
Have you ever, as it were, taken Christ into your being as Simeon did? You can. Seems almost childish, but it’s just childlike. God, I’m not going to trust myself anymore. I want to trust you. I’m not going to look for satisfaction in this anymore. I want to find it in you. I’m not going to try and excuse myself by blaming other people. I’m going to admit that flatly I’m a mess. And I’m going to trust that what this servant did when he died upon the cross, he did for me, and I’m going to take you at your word. Have you ever done that? You can do that. Just cry out to God. He knows you.
Well, we’ll bow in prayer. Just a moment of silent prayer.
There may be somebody here who would find this prayer that I’m going to read an expression of your own heart and life and to that end, I read it for you.
Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I’m weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed. But through you I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt and bearing my punishment and offering me forgiveness. And I turn now from my sin and receive you as my Savior. O God, hear our prayers and let our cries come unto you. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Referenced in Michael White and John Gribbin, Einstein: A Life in Science (London: Free Press, 2005), 262–263 (paraphrased).
 Petula Clark, “Don’t Sleep in the Subway.” Vinyl, These Are My Songs (UK: Pye, 1967) (paraphrased).
 Jane Wagner, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe (New York: Harper Collins, 1987), 26.
 Bill Withers, “Lean on Me.” Still Bill (Los Angeles: Sussex Records, 1972).
 Isaiah 41:7 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 1:31 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 41:22–23a (NIV 1984).
 Augustine, Confessions XI. 31.
 John Calvin, Institutes, I.11.8. Paraphrased.
 Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody.” (Los Angeles: Columbia Records, 1979).
 Isaiah 41:26 (paraphrased).
 Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (New York: Columbia Records, 1963) (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 42:1 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 12:9–15 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 12:17–18a (NIV 1984).
 Acts 17:24–25 (paraphrased).
 John Piper, “Why God Is Not a Megalomaniac in Demanding to Be Worshiped” (presented at the Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting, Providence, Rhode Island, November 20, 2008).
 Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 1.
 Nathan Frankowski, Expelled (Vivendi Entertainment, 2008).
 Cecil Frances Alexander, Hymns for Little Children (Philadelphia: H. Hooker, 1850), 27–28.
 Isaiah 52:5b (NIV 1984).
 Mahalia Jackson, “Somebody Bigger Than You and I.” Vinyl, I Believe (Los Angeles: Columbia Records, 1960) (paraphrased).
 John 1:1 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 2:25 (NIV 1984).
 Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” Public Domain.
 Luke 2:30–32 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.