Stand Firm or Fall
from sermon series
“Learning from Isaiah”
by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
Isaiah chapters 7-50 take a tour of the whole Middle East. Chapter 13 talks about Babylon, which is Iraq; 15 talks about Jordan; 17 talks about Syria; 18 about Ethiopia, 19 about Egypt, 20 about Iran; 23 talks about the Palestinians; and 44 talks about the Persians. And to each God promises His judgment because of their rebellion. Despite their armies and military power, all will fall. Reading Isaiah 7’s reference to Ahaz, Rezin, and Pekah, all rulers of nations, is like reading US News and World Report, the international section, but the names have been changed to Arafat, Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein. Those were big names in Isaiah’s day and most of us have never heard of them. In a few years Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Bin Laden, will fade from the world’s political stage the same way Reagan, Gorbachev, and Ayatollah Khomeni have faded. We have lost interest in them. They mean little or nothing to us now. This is a significant point. God asks, “Why are you afraid of them? They are just men and I have My eternal plan and your destiny in My hands.” God is forever, but men are temporal on this earthly stage!
As I read Isaiah chapters 7-50, I almost feel like I am reading today’s newspaper. Newspapers from 2,700 years ago would have been filled with all kinds of bad news. Names and places that are unfamiliar to us, events that were threats to daily comforts and routines. In Isaiah’s day war and rumors of wars were common. Violence was all around them, closing in on their very lives. They were about as destructive as 9-11 was in this country, about as normal as a terrorist driving into an Army camp and blowing it up and killing hundreds of people. Israel had its problems; danger seemed to lurk around every corner.
Isaiah 7:5 says, “Aram, Ephraim, and the sons of Remaliah have plotted against you saying, Let us invade Judah and let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves?” Anybody in the Middle East want to do that today? Does that sound like it could be tomorrow’s headlines of what they are plotting? “Let us divide Judah and tear it apart and divide it among ourselves,” they say, but God said, “NO!, it will not. It will not happen.” God continues in verse 8, “For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Resin and he is just a man. Why are you afraid of him? Within sixty-five years Ephraim, too, will be shattered.” They are just temporary flesh with temporary glory but God is forever!
Isaiah 7:1-9 follow a familiar pattern in Scripture. A lesson is taught, a truth is given, and an admonition calling for commitment follows. After the lesson of the first eight verses, verse nine is the commitment verse. “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established.” In other words, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all.” Amid the flurry of temporal turmoil hold on to your eternal destiny! Amid all the things you read in the newspapers, the reports, the TV programs, 60 Minutes, let God secure your heart with His eternal plan.
The chief lesson God wants to teach us in Isaiah 7 and 8 is this: “Don’t worry about them, you need to worry about me. For I am the one who holds control of the earth and I am the one to whom you are going to be held accountable. Stand firm in faith or you will not stand at all.”
What does it mean to stand firm in our faith? How do we accomplish it? First, we must rest in God’s peace. If we are standing firm, we have the peace of God, we have the security that He is holding our lives in His hands. Remember the story of Moses and the Red Sea. Egypt’s army is barreling down upon them and Moses stands before the people and says, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the Lord brings to you today. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. In fact, no one will ever see them again.” They went down. If we are firm in our faith, we will have God’s peace.
In America we have the best military in the world, we feel we can rely upon that and do not have to run away in fear. In fact, we are proud of that. In today’s threatening times it is a blessing to have a strong military. But where does your security rest? Even with a strong military, do we still look to God for help and protection? Isaiah 31:1-5 says, “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely upon their horses or trust in chariots because they are many or horsemen because they are very strong but who do not look to the holy one of Israel nor seek the Lord.” America must never forget God. When we do, all the military might in the world will not save us.
If you were king, and a ruthless army was coming to capture, kill, and enslave you, your wife, and your children, what would you do? Run away or try to build alliances. The problem with the king of Israel was not that he sought help, but that he had no trust in God. It is the same way with America. Whether it is horses or tanks or B-2 bombers or stealth fighters, our ultimate trust cannot be in these things. New dangers will arise. New weapons make old weapons obsolete every year. Anthrax and poison and ‘dirty bombs’ all promise to hurt and kill us. We must learn the lesson of Isaiah 7:9, “Stand firm in faith or you won’t stand at all.”
“Thus says the Lord, as the lion or young lion growls over its prey, against which a band of shepherds is called out and he, being the lion, will not be terrified at their voice, the shepherd’s voice, or disturbed at their noise, the shepherds have no effect upon these young lions. So will the Lord of hosts come down” (Isaiah 31:4). The human shepherds were useless, but God saved His people. He got involved to fulfill His plan. If it is not within His overall plan, it will not happen! David expressed it beautifully in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.” He provides me what I need. He continues, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.” And the vivid, the literal picture that is given here is not simply someone who is dying, someone who is fearful of dying, but is one who is going through a valley of extreme darkness and terrors. Where predators are lurking, in the rocks and the valleys. Their eyes are aglow hiding in the bushes, in the middle of the night. They stare at the sheep and the sheep have no place to go because they are walled in. They cannot get away, they are bleeding, helpless, but they realize they have nothing to fear for the Lord is their shepherd and He will be able to take care of them. David finishes in verse 6, “Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” I am going to stay in His sheepfold because that is the only place that is secure. I am going to stay in the center of where He wants me. It is not worth exploring other valleys. “Stand firm in your faith or you won’t stand at all.” Stand firm in your faith or you’ll be running for the rest of you life.
Secondly, stand firm in the faith means we have God’s perspective on life. In America we usually do not spend our time running from things. Usually we consume our time running after things. Israel had just experienced 50 years of security and prosperity that lulled them into a sense of invincibility and selfish materialism. But their land was full of idols. Their trust was in other things rather than God. Other things were at the center of their attention. “Their land is full of idols. They bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made” (Isaiah 2:8). Standing firm in faith means that you live according to God’s perspective and values. You do not live to buy the next toy or work to pay for the toys that you have already lost interest in, but you get God’s perspective of what is truly valuable.
Thirdly, standing in faith means that you have God’s purpose in your life. As Psalms 33 says, “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever.” First Corinthians tells us, “My dear brother, stand firm and let nothing move you. But always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Most of our work, folks, is in vain. Most of the things we strive after, most of the effort, the things we spend our time and days doing, end up being in vain. They end up accounting for very little. The raises we strive after are soon eaten up by inflation. The promotions we desire seem to just add stress to our life. The houses we dream of having end up just becoming a big, long list of chores and the cars we crave, they break down and rust away. Stand firm in your faith and do not let people or things distract you!
Does ‘standing firm’ describe you? Do you see yourself as firm in your faith or is there room to grow in your life? Not simply in your commitment to Christ, but in your commitment to walk with God through each and every day. How do we do it? How do we grow in our faith? How do we grow in our walk with God? Standing firm, first of all, comes by exercising commitment. Second Thessalonians says, “Stand firm and hold to the teaching we have passed onto you, whether by word of mouth or written letter.” Ephesians 6 says, “Stand firm with a belt of truth around your waist and a breastplate of righteousness in place, and the helmet of salvation on your head.” We must determine to let God’s truth direct our lives. Without commitment, without taking His Word seriously, you will be blown around this world like a feather in the winds of change. Without commitment, you’re a feather in the breeze blowing wherever the world would like to take you. Be rooted, stand firm in Him, and grow as he nourishes you.
Next, let His promises move you to live courageously in this world. First Corinthians says, “Be on your guard, stand firm in faith and be men of courage. Be strong.” God told Joshua numerous times, “Be strong and courageous for I am with you. Moses is dead, but I am with you. The strength was not in Moses, the strength was in me.” To live courageously in this world means to do what is right no matter the circumstances, to follow God wherever He leads.
Nurture your commitment, your courage, your connection and then God’s peace, God’s perspective, and God’s purpose will overshadow a frantic world. Let God’s good news dissolve the bad news. And know in your heart that no matter what happens in this world, only what is done with His approval and partnership will last. Kings will come and kings will go, but the Lord stands forever! Let us stand with Isaiah when he said, “O, Lord, you are my God and I will exalt you and praise your name for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago.