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A Church Not Forsaken

“For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. 2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name.” (Isa. 62:1-2).

Since the days of the Apostles to the present hour conservative Christian theologians have looked upon the people of Israel prior to Christ as the most visible expression of the Old Testament Church. Beginning with Adam and Eve, God has always had a people who have known Him and loved Him such as Noah and his family. But a more formal manifestation of His people in a collective unit began to be demonstrated when the call to salvation, separation, and service came to Abraham who was living in Ur of the Chaldees.

The Lord revealed Himself to Abraham and moved him to take his family of seventy five souls and go into the land of Palestine (Acts 7:14). The arduous journey was made and the Land of Promise was reached. God was faithful and Abraham prospered though he dwelt in a tent all the days of his life. An heir was given to him in the person of Isaac. Then came Jacob. From Jacob and his wives came the twelve tribes that formed the nation of Israel. While the Israelites were struggling to multiply and survive, they had to endure four centuries of suffering in the land of bondage, Egypt. But through it all God was faithful.

When the oppression of His chosen people became too great to bear, the Lord heard the cry of the suffering saints and sent them a man named Moses.

“Beaten and bloodied,
bowed but not broken.”

The Church rallied around Moses who also became the Lawgiver. Leading them out of Egypt with signs and wonders, Moses was God’s marvelous instrument. He was ordained with extra-ordinary ability to organize and govern this new nation of over two million people. After his death, the Israelites accepted the leadership of Joshua, who was a man of war. The Israelites needed a Warrior-Leader because they had many enemies to subdue.

Three great campaigns of conquest were fought by Israel for Palestine, and the victory was won. Israel was a nation but it was like no other kingdom on earth, for it was a theocratic kingdom. God ruled over His people. The Lord ruled, that is, until the day of the Judges when the people began to clamor to be like the other nations which surrounded them. The people decided that they wanted a king and so God gave them a ruler who stood head and shoulders above other men. His name was Saul.

Then there was David, and Solomon. Following the death of Solomon, civil war broke out in Israel, and the kingdom split into two nations. Ten tribes formed a northern confederation called Israel, while two southern tribes remained together, to be called the kingdom of Judah. Despite the political, social, and religious unrest that came to the Old Testament Church, there was always a remnant according to the election of grace that stayed true to the Lord. In this manner the Church survived. But it was not easy, for Israel was always fighting for its spiritual and political survival. Israel had to fight against internal foes of moral corruption, and she had to fight against external foes of foreign powers. Our passage breaks in upon the scene of one such desperate struggle for stability.

In context, the prophet Isaiah has been shown by God that Divine discipline was coming to Israel. Once more the Church was to know the persecution of her enemies. Once more the Church was to experience the displeasure of their God. The terrible Chaldean army was going to march against the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The city was to be captured and destroyed. Its majestic buildings were going to be razed to the ground. The Chaldeans army would carry away the children of the Lord, and take them into the land of Babylon. There would be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, in great sorrow and distress. These would be dark days for the Church. Men would not be able to protect their wives. Mothers would have their infants torn from their breasts. Young women would be brutally ravished.

As Isaiah saw the suffering Church, he also was given a vision of her coming restoration. The wrath of Divine fury would not last forever. Israel would be dispersed, but then re-gathered.

One day, Isaiah foresaw the people of God would return to the Land of Milk and Honey, and more importantly, to the Lord of the Land of Prosperity.

One day there would be shouts of joy in the Holy City again as the people of God cried in pleasure and praised Him. One day, the Temple of Solomon, the place of worship which had grown ill-looking with neglect, would be cleaned up, and repaired, and made to look as lovely as possible thereby reflecting the beauty and majesty of God.

Isaiah saw both the good and the bad that were to be part of the legacy of the Church. He saw her corruption and cruelty, and the resultant discipline for the purpose of purification. But the prophet also saw the best in the Church. He saw people humbled by expressions of Divine grace, thankful for unexpected mercies, and anxious to worship.

When they returned to the Land the Israelites would give themselves to cleaning and repairing, and renovating the House of God. Their collective efforts were designed to enhance the worship of the Lord.

Isaiah the prophet had a vision. He believed that there was coming the time when people in towns and villages in Palestine would once more be filled with a praying, praising, and God glorifying people. The vision which Isaiah received reached beyond the Church in the Old Testament, to embrace the New Testament expression of the Church. This can be said with great confidence because it is confirmed by Christ Himself. In Luke 4, there is the record of the first sermon the Saviour ever preached. He was in the synagogue at Nazareth, the hometown of His childhood. Opening the scroll to the prophet Isaiah, Jesus quoted from chapter 61, which is part of the same picture in our passage.

We are at liberty to take the words of Isaiah and apply them to ourselves, and see how we should respond to the present spiritual state of the Church. When this is done, it is discovered that, like the Church in the Old Testament, the New Testament Church has many enemies. There is a struggle for survival.

This is not said to cultivate a crisis mentality. It is said because it is a spiritual reality. For two thousand years the conflict has raged, and will continue unabated until Jesus Christ returns. The foes which fight against the Church in the spiritual warfare may be identified as three in number and they can be named. They are the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The manifestation of the warfare is sometimes subtle, and sometimes open, but always serious and deadly.

We do not need to detail the weapons that are used by the World, the Flesh, and the Devil in this spiritual warfare at this time though we should not be ignorant of them. Satan has many devices and many strategies for destroying the work of the ministry. Our greater objective is to sense the burden the prophet has for the people of God as they are engaged in their fight for survival. Isaiah is deeply moved. “For Zion’s sake,” he says, “will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not rest.” There comes a time when it is proper to speak out on behalf of the Church. There comes a time when it is necessary to call attention back to Zion, and back to Jerusalem.

These were not mere names to Isaiah. These were names which were precious to the prophet. Zion is the City of God. It was not merely the City of David, but it was the City of God. And Jerusalem? She is the City of the Great King. Here, the Messiah would one day come. Here, the gospel would be preached. Here, God had established for Himself a place, and given it to His own people. Here, in Holy Jerusalem, it was a great privilege to live.

Realizing these things, understanding the greatness and the glory of this City of God, Isaiah was grieved and concerned as he considered the desperate state which Israel had fallen into. The Prophet is concerned first and foremost with Zion, the Church, for Jerusalem’s sake. A spiritual lesson is crystallized. When our heart pulsates with concern for the Church, then we will know something about having a prophetic voice in our generation to which others will listen. When our heart is alarmed about the welfare of the Church, then we will be more like Christ, whose eyes filled with tears as He considered the state of the Church.

The Bible tells us that during His great triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Lord stopped the procession to look out over the Holy City and to cry out, “O, Jerusalem! Jerusalem!” As we read the Bible, we discover that the prophets did not spend their time being unduly alarmed about the state of other nations or the daily activities of life. Nor were they pre-occupied with the signs of the time, and whether or not the world was coming to an end. The burden of these men was the state and condition of the Church. They knew that if the Church remained strong and spiritual, then the labors that God’s people engaged in on her behalf would also be blessed of the Lord. And the future would be fabulous.

The prophets kept on writing and teaching and preaching about the Church of the Living God. They were burdened when the Church was reduced to any secondary status, or diminished by neglect, for that was not what the Church was meant to be. The Church has always been designed by God to be the most glorious institution on the face of the Earth. Isaiah remembered.

Isaiah remembered former days of glory when the Temple of Solomon had been dedicated to the Lord amidst prayers and pageantry. Isaiah remembered when the other nations of the Earth flowed into the Holy City to seek out Divine wisdom, and to worship the Lord of power and might in a setting of splendor and beauty. It was the worship of God, and the state of the Church that was Isaiah’s chief consideration, and it should be our major interest today.

During his ministry, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones asked the Christian community of his day whether the people of God knew something about concern for the Church. His questions are penetrating. “What is our burden? To what extent can we say that the condition of the Church is on our hearts and minds and is deeply concerning to us? Do we realize what the Church is? Do we remember that she is the City of God? Do we remember that she is His New Creation by water and the Word? The City of God. That is what the Church is. This is Zion; this is God’s dwelling place.”

Whenever God’s people find themselves without genuine heartfelt affection for the Church, there is only one explanation. They do not have the right conception of the Church of God. They do not see her as the prophet saw the nation, Zion and Jerusalem.

Isaiah saw the Church in a realistic manner. He saw her forsaken and desolate (62:4). However, when the reformation came, Isaiah said, “Thou shalt be no more termed Forsaken.” But she is forsaken now. “Neither shalt thy land any more be termed Desolate.” But she is desolate now.

Isaiah knew that God had left His people, but only because they first left Him. The people left the Lord to pursue their own personal interests and preoccupations, and so the Lord left them, and allowed them to work out their own plans and programs. Only too late would the Christian community discover that it would have been far better had the people of God not neglected the Church.

Only too late would the Church realize that it would have been far better if the many alternatives of life and work had not captured the hearts and minds of the people to the point that their time and resources were drained away from the Church.

Only too late would the Church realize that a spiritual paralysis had set in so that there was no heart’s desire, nor physical energy to worship and pray, to praise God and learn about the Scriptures.

Only too late did the Church wake up to find herself rich in resources, but poor in spirit, and forsaken by the Lord.

Isaiah was realistic. He stood back and observed, and saw the desolate situation. He saw the Church was neglected, sometimes blatantly, more often passively. Worship was good – for others. Prayer was good – for others. Praise was good – for others. Study was good – for others. Spreading the faith was a good thing – for others. But there were no others, for all like sheep had gone astray.

Despite the desolation and emptiness within the Church, Isaiah did not despair. He had hope in God, and he was determined that he would not give himself any rest “until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness and the salvation as a lamp that burneth” (Isaiah 62:1). That is his vision for Zion. That is his vision for the Church.

Isaiah could see, by faith, the Church becoming again what she was meant to be. If there is a spiritual lesson to be learned it is this: “Whenever individuals begin to see, by faith, what the Church was meant to be, it can lead to spiritual renewal, and a Divine visitation from on high.”

Martin Luther learned this lesson. As Luther studied the Scriptures, he discovered a startling contrast between what the Church was, and what it was meant to be. Luther realized that the Church had grown greedy. The Popes had found a way to make merchandise of the people of God. Money was demanded for weddings, baptisms, and funerals. Money was demanded for the lighting of candles. Money was demanded for the saying of special masses. Money was demanded from the serfs who worked the land that had been donated to the Church. The people of God had grown greedy. What really outraged Luther was the selling of Indulgences, or the papal forgiveness of sins. For a price, people could sin with confidence, believing they had bought their way out of trouble with God.

Not only had the Church grown greedy, but she had grown powerless. There is the wonderful story of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who came upon the Pope counting his coins. “Look Thomas,” said the Pope. “No longer can the church say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.'” “Nor can the Church say,” responded Thomas, ‘Rise up and walk.'”

The Church had grown spiritually powerless and prayerless, despite her many programs and prosperity. Luther saw that the Church of his day was desolate, and forsaken by God despite the buildings and budgets, the money and the movement of activity. The people had forsaken the Lord, thereby losing the hope of having hearts of compassion. The people did not love one another. They spoke ugly things to each other, and about each other. The saints only used one another to get more and more, and more resources, until the last measure of human ability to give was exhausted. The people of God had no real prayer life. They had no serious thoughts of heaven or hell. They had no intimate knowledge of the Bible. They had no respect or tender regard for the ministers of the Word. The leadership, and the led, were driven by one word: more. Not more of God, but more of the material possessions of this world.

Luther saw all of this. But Luther also saw the Church as the Lord meant for it to be. The vision stirred his heart, and set him aflame. Luther saw in the New Testament, the Church of God as something special, and holy, and set apart. Luther knew that the Church was not like other organizations and institutions on this earth.

The Church was not a business to be run, but a Bride to be courted. The Church was not a place where Board members can be seated because of certain influences they possessed. Rather, the Church consisted of called out servants, who had nothing to offer expect love for Christ. Luther saw the Church as a loving community of committed Christians, who met with joy to worship time and again; a Church that could not wait to celebrate Communion, and remember Christ’s redemptive work at Calvary.

Luther saw a Church that longed for souls to be saved, and the saints to be properly edified with well thought out sermons that stayed close to the Scriptures, leading to behavior that did the same. Luther saw a Church that studied to show herself approved unto God without shame.

Such a Church can exist. Such a Church will exist when the hearts of her members are burdened for her once more. Is your heart burdened for the Church? Do you even care anymore whether or not the Church lives or dies? What is the evidence?

Isaiah says, “I am not going to keep quiet until Zion is once again a city which men seek. They shall come from the ends of the earth to seek Zion, the city of God, exalted above all the nations and all the cities of the world.” And that is how spiritual renewal comes to the Church. Spiritual renewal comes when we talk about the Church. We think about the Church. Spiritual renewal comes when we love the Church with passion. Then we shall have a Church not forsaken by God, or by man.

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