13 Dec 2020


How to be Right in a World gone Wrong  

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong
Sermon Title: How to be Right in a World gone Wrong  
Scripture Text: Isaiah 59

  1. Accusation (vv1-3)

 

  1. Description (vv4-8)

 

  1. Confession (vv9-15a)



  2. Judgment & Redemption (15b-21)

Reflection Questions:

  1. According to Isaiah, there are two ways to live in this world, which would lead either to God’s righteous judgment or His gracious redemption. Which way are you living right now?
  2. Do you acknowledge that you have sinned, that there will be a judgement, and that you need redemption?
  3. Jesus Christ has come to be our Saviour, rescuing us from the judgement to come, and promising us a world made right forever. Will you take the step to know Jesus and put your faith in Him? Ask a Christian (or approach our church leaders) if you would like to find out more.
Scripture: ISAIAH 59 (ESV)

1 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
3 For your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
your tongue mutters wickedness.
4 No one enters suit justly;
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.
5 They hatch adders’ eggs;
they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.
6 Their webs will not serve as clothing;
men will not cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
and deeds of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet run to evil,
and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
desolation and destruction are in their highways.
8 The way of peace they do not know,
and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
no one who treads on them knows peace.
9 Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the Lord,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.
14 Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18 According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19 So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives.
20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.
21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

TRANSCRIPT

Are you happy with the way the world is?

Are you happy with the way the world is governed, are you pleased with the morality of the world, are you are you satisfied with the state of justice in the world?

It seems to me, that you have to fulfil a very specific and narrow set of conditions for you to be happy in the world, and happy with the world.

You would have to be a citizen of a country whose government isn’t corrupt, isn’t above the law, and is respectful of human rights.

You would have to born with the right skin colour in some places, into the right caste in some places, or into the right family, or race, or gender in others. As if there is such a thing as a “right colour or race or gender”.

But try telling that to African slaves in 19th century America, who, because on their skin colour, were legally owned, subjugated and treated as literal property by men of a different skin colour.

Telling that to Jitendra, a 21yr old carpenter and sole-breadwinner of his family, he was a Dalit, a member of the lowest caste in the rigid caste hierarchy in India. Jitendra was beaten to death for the heinous act seating on the wrong seat, and eating in the presence of upper-caste people at a wedding celebration.

Try saying that there is no such thing as the right gender to Loujain Hathoul, a prisoner in Saudi Arabia, who in 2014 was arrested for the crime of driving as a woman. And in 2018 was kidnapped and arrested again for unspecified charges, likely for her on-going activism for women’s rights.

Try saying that there is no such thing as the right race to the Rohingya in Myanmar,

or to the Uighurs in China, or to any one of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

In fact, being born in the “right” place is a necessary condition for having a shot at life-long happiness. There are places in this world where, where you born there, you would have no access to clean water. Every mouth of water you drink contain the risk of killing you. Experiencing stomach pains and falling ill is a normal day in your life. Not because it is impossible for you to access clean drinking water, but because the people with the means to do it, just don’t care enough to inconvenience their lifestyles for the sake of the people where you’re from.

There are places in this world where, where you born there, you will not know what it feels like for your stomach to be satisfied. From the day you were born, you are hungry, you cry for food, but there is none coming. From the day you were born, our body lacks nourishment, you are constantly hungry, constantly weak, constantly sick. Hunger is all you know. That’s your life. Not because this green earth is unable to generate enough food to feed every mouth in the world, but because ultimately, food is delivered to where the money is, and you just happened to be born in a very poor place.

The point is this, you have to be lucky in order to be happy in this world. Happiness is by no means automatic. Justice is by no means guaranteed. If you are listening to this, in the comfort of your home or in his airconditioned sanctuary today, it likely means you have never had to worry about government oppression, or starvation, or natural disasters, or war, or famine, or feared for your safety in society because of race, gender or religion.

Simply by being born in Singapore, we have hit the jackpot. We are one of the lucky ones. One of the extremely fortunate ones. But in sunny Singapore, depression, anxiety and addiction are on the rise, even amongst privileged, fortunate first world citizens of Singapore. We are still not satisfied with our lives. Happiness remains elusive. Life in this world still managed to prove difficult and stressful and sometimes, simply too much for us to handle.

And its not like its because we’re all strawberries. Life is still messy and difficult, even for us in Singapore. Existential threats and dangers lurk in every corner. If it’s not keeping up with the hectic momentum of our kids education, culminating in the dreaded PSLEs, or O-Levels, then it’s holding on to our jobs in this fast-paced, cut-throat, dog-eat-dog marketplace. Otherwise, the messiness and stress comes from dealing with painful memories, costly regrets, it comes from broken families, or difficult relationships. It’s not unique to you, it’s par-for-course of the average life in this world.

To be sure, there is joy and love and peace as well. But when was the last time you woke up at 3am because peace has so overwhelmed your soul? When was the last time the doctor had to prescribe pills for you to contain your happiness? When was the last time you found it hard to sleep because your mind was just flooded with one blissful thought after another?

You see, we are some of the most privileged, fortunate, blessed people in this world today, and yet we struggle with life in this world. Its not all it could be, its not all it should be.

No parent in their right mind will prepare their child to face the world by telling them, “go out there, trust everybody to take care of you, believe everything that people tell you, the world is honest, just, kind and generous, it is forgiving, nurturing and, above all, loving.” If you tell your kids that, I sure hope they love surprises.

Suffice to say, there is something wrong with the world. And whenever a wrong has occurred, there is usually a responsible party. Given that this is the world we’re talking about, we can narrow down the responsible parties to two plausible options:

Man and God.

Mankind is clearly a legitimate candidate for blame because the people of the world are governed by other people. We are the ones oppressing the weak, we are the ones whose greed has exploited others. We are the who ignore the plea of the needy. We are the ones who care more about ourselves than our neighbours, especially those who live far away in a place we have not visited and who speak a language we do not know. We are the ones who sent the scam SMSes and emails, we are ones who lie and cheat and murder and discriminate others. We are the ones who force children to beg in the streets, we are the ones who pay for underage sex in underground markets, we are the ones who started wars and committed genocides. We are the ones who enslaved each other, we are the ones who set the rules that favour those in power and discriminate minorities. We are the ones who sacrifice our children on the altar of wealth. We did this.

And mankind is clearly in charge of the natural world too. We are the ones who polluted the earth, who destroyed the rainforests, who poked a hole in the ozone. We are the ones who hunted animals into extinction, who put them in cages for our profit, and trained them to dance for our amusement. We are the ones who over-harvested the oceans, over-exploited natural resources, to the destruction of our environment. So much of why the world is the way it is today, has to be answered for by human beings.

The other option is God. Because, by definition, God is in charge. This is his world, isn’t it? He can do something about it, can’t he? So he is responsible for the way things are, isn’t he?

Let’s point the accusing finger at God, and come to our text this morning.

We’re asking, “God, since you’re all powerful and all loving, why don’t you do something about this world that’s gone awry? Do you not hear the cries of the suffering, why don’t you move your hand to act?

Accusation

Here is the response of God through the prophet Isaiah.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
 but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.

And just like how when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you, God pins the blame on mankind for the messiness, the suffering and evil in the world.

What the bible is saying is that while God remains the general editor of the story of the world, and he will make the changes necessary to give the story a happy ending, he will not function as an auto-correct tool of humanity. He will not be intervening at every misstep, correcting every mistake and deleting every wrong. The relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility does not function in that manner.

Rather, human actions have real and lasting consequences in the world. We are responsible for the decisions we make and the actions we take. And one of the consequences pertain to our relationship with God. Our godless behaviour results in a godless world, our sins have separated us from God, our crimes leads to punishment, which effects are felt in this world.

Isaiah proceeds to describe the crimes of humanity against humanity.

Description

For your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
your tongue mutters wickedness.

No one enters suit justly;
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.

They hatch adders’ eggs;
they weave the spider’s web;
he who eats their eggs dies,
and from one that is crushed a viper is hatched.

Their webs will not serve as clothing;
men will not cover themselves with what they make.

Their works are works of iniquity,
and deeds of violence are in their hands.

Their feet run to evil,
and they are swift to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity;
desolation and destruction are in their highways.

The way of peace they do not know,
and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
no one who treads on them knows peace.

This is a harsh description. God looks down at mankind and sees rampant wickedness, he hears the lies being spread, he sees the violence being done, he witnesses injustice in the courts, he sees the greed that leads to exploitation, he sees the selfishness that perpetuates starvation.

These verses are a resounding indictment upon humanity. It lays the guilt at the door of humanity. It places the blame squarely on the shoulders of mankind. Granted, it is a sweeping generalisation, but if God were to cross-examine every one of us here today, who would walk away scot-free, who would be declared innocent of all guilt? So, Isaiah offers us a generalised picture of evil and corruption in the world, a picture in which are all, in our own specific ways, complicit.

Confession

So, all this is pretty bleak. The world is messed up, God is holding us accountable, and we’re all guilty in one way or another. Where do we go from here? Is there a scenario where this ends well for? Is there hope for redemption? And if so, what is the way forward?

Confession. The way towards redemption is confession. The way forward is to own up to our sins; to acknowledge we messed up.

So Isaiah confesses on behalf of the people:

  Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.

  We grope for the wall like the blind;
we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among those in full vigor we are like dead men.

  We all growl like bears;
we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.

  For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the Lord,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

God has judged us guilty of messing up the world, and calls upon us to acknowledge our guilt, to recognises that our sins are many before God, that our wrongdoings testify against us, that we have lived without regard for God, denying he exist, behaving like we’re the final authority, and we’re accountable to no one at the end of the day for our greed and our pride and our lies and our strife.

Without a sense of sin, without acknowledgement of guilt, there can be no redemption, for you will neither want it nor seek it. Without a recognition that you are wretched, why would you need redeeming? Without believing that you are in trouble, why would you turn for help?

Here then, is the turning point of the story. The world is messy, we are guilty, we own up and we are sorry.

When a magazine posed the question “What is wrong in this world”, and called for its readers to respond, GK Chesterton replied “I am”. We are all individually responsible. The world is messy, we are guilty, we own up and we are sorry.

And that is the way forward because the bible proclaims that there is hope for the hopeless, there is salvation for sinners, there is a way we can be good again, there is a way the world can be put to rights again. There is an ending where the world is made well, a good world, a just world, a world without hunger, a without pain, a world made well, where we shall forever dwell.

That is the good news of Christianity. The good news is that those who seek salvation shall receive it. That those who call upon the Lord for redemption will find it. It is the good news of a Redeemer.

Judgment & Redemption

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.

  He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.

  He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

  According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.

  So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the Lord drives.

You see, God looks upon the world and he sees its rampant wickedness, it’s unbridled greed, it’s callous injustice, and he is not pleased.

You see, God is not impartial towards to wrongdoing. He’s not indifferent to the cries of the oppressed. He is not okay that we have messed up the world he has created.

And he’s a good God and he’s just God, which means that he will not let the guilty walk away scot free. Justice will not turn a blind eye to wrong doing. Every crime must be met with punishment. And make no mistake about it. Judgment will come. Justice will be done. The guilty will be punished.

According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.

Every single person on earth guilty of sin will receive his just desserts. According to their deeds, god will repay. No evil word will be forgotten, not harmful deed will be overlooked, no wicked thought will be cast aside. Justice will have its say, justice will have its day.

God is determined that justice be done. And if no one on earth is able to enforce it, God will do it himself.

  He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.

  He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.

  According to their deeds, so will he repay,
wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render repayment.

But that is not the end of the story. In a twist in humanity’s fate, God declares that judgment is not all there is to the story. There is redemption too.

  “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

  “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

Redemption will come in the form of a Redeemer. Salvation arrives in the person called the Saviour. His name is Jesus. It means “He saves”.

He will make a new covenant with mankind. It means he will make a new promise to humanity. It is a promise of hope for the helpless, forgiveness for the sinner and redemption for the world.

Because mankind must pay the price for his sin, this Redeemer was born a man. He was born on that first Christmas day. He will live a righteous life, yet he will suffer sinners judgment at his death. This is because he will bear the guilt and sin of those who put their faith in him.

  “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

Those who turn from indulgence in sin, and put their faith in Jesus the Saviour will receive Redemption. God will not serve as the auto-correct of human action, but he has determined to write a happy ending to human history. And Jesus is the one by whom it is accomplished.

In the person of Jesus Christ, the guilty people of this broken world have hope of forgiveness and salvation. Though our sins have condemned our souls, the blood of Jesus has washed us white as snow. Though our sins have separated us from God, Jesus will reconcile us by his Cross. God, in Jesus Christ, is pleased to receive us as his very own children, holy and blameless, if only we will confess our sins, repent of them and put our trust in Jesus for our lives.

Friends, this is the reason we celebrate Christmas, for on that first Christmas day, to us a child is born, to us a Saviour is given. It is the good news for the world we know in our hearts we need, and now know we have, in the person of Jesus.

Come to know him, discover his love, experience his grace, and find in him forgiveness for your sin, redemption, peace for your hearts, and the promise of whole new world.

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