Monday, May 26, 2014

When The People's Hearts Shook


When used in a secular reference, it is a non-threatening term meaning complete and utter trust, confidence in either someone or in some thing.  Used as a religious term, though, this small word can stir up a firestorm sufficient to destroy the planet.

Many in modern American society perceive such religious faith to be blind ignorance, the equivalent of sticking one's head in the sand.  Others consider faith a crutch for the weak-minded who cannot stand on their own two feet.

Hebrews tells us, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (11:1).  It is belief without proof--scientific, archaeological, or otherwise....the opposite of what our logical, hyper-rational society educates us to engage in.

No matter the negative publicity this kind of faith gets, this is what God calls all men to--a living faith in Jesus that marks our every step, one that permeates every hour of our day, every action we undertake, and every thought that we dwell upon.  The difference between faith and lack of faith only seems insignificant.  In truth, it is the difference between standing and falling, between eternal life and death.

This choice, though, is not new to our generation.  In ancient Jerusalem, King Ahaz was given a clear choice between faith and faithlessness.  The test of his faith began when the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to the King in a time of great national danger.  Scripture reports how "his [Ahaz's] heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind" (Is. 7:2).

Intense, earth-quaking fear shook God's people as they watched Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel join forces to wage war against Jerusalem.  And yet, in the midst of such danger, God called upon Ahaz to not weigh the political odds but, instead, to be a man of faith: "Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands" (Is. 7:4).

Ahaz had a choice--be fainthearted without faith or be strong of heart with faith. It came down to believing that God was sufficiently able to thwart the plans of man--any man, no matter how powerful that man seemed in military might, no matter how the odds were stacked.

In last week's blog, we contemplated the plans of man versus the plans of God and how the one was subject to the other.  Here, the Lord was calling upon King Ahaz to take this concept to heart, to believe that no man's plans can "stand" if God does not will it.

The Lord said, "Because Aram, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has planned evil against you, saying, 'Let us go up against Judah and terrorize it, and make for ourselves a breach in its walls and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,' thus says the Lord GOD: 'It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass....If you will not believe, you surely shall not last'" (Is. 7:5-9).

I like how the NIV phrases verse nine as "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all," hammering home this concept of standing = faith and the resulting promise that faith = standing.

In these verses, God promised King Ahaz his nation would be safe from its enemies, but only on the condition that Ahaz believe God's Word, that he have true faith in God.  If Ahaz chose not to trust in God, though, not only would he forfeit his own life and reign, but his nation would be forfeited as well. 

God even went further, telling Ahaz to "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.' But Ahaz said, 'I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!'" (Is. 7:11-12).

The Lord's ensuing anger with Ahaz's response showed that He knew the King's heart and how this refusal to ask for a sign was only mock reverence.  In his heart, Ahaz had made a choice, to not believe God--sign or no sign--and with that choice, Ahaz and Jerusalem would both fall to their enemies.

The New Testament reiterates this lesson, saying, "But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul" (Heb. 10:38-39).

To stand against the tree-shaking fears of this life, we have two choices.  We can choose to have faith in God and stand through it all.  Or we can live in that faithless fear and fall, destroying ourselves, our souls, and many times, the others around us in the process.

Even when it seems the illogical choice...  Even when it's not the popular choice...  Even when the world calls you a fool...

Choose to stand.

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