What’s the Problem?
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 08, May 2018
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9:1-4
Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.
A twelve year old sitting in the front seat of the car says to his eight year old brother as the eight year old continually kicks his brother in the back seat ‘What is your problem?’ Most likely the 12 year old isn’t really all that interested in finding out what is troubling the 8 year old. And even more likely, he isn’t all that interested in helping solve the 8 year olds problem. Perhaps the eight year old doesn’t really have a problem at all. He just enjoys kicking his brother. This morning I am going to ask the same question to all; hopefully a bit more tactfully but certainly more sincerely. ‘What is your problem? We are going to exposit on Isaiah 9:1-4 and see that whatever your problem is, Jesus is the Answer to Our Problems. Let’s study a few points from this message.
1. Perceived Problem.
So, ‘What is your problem?’ As I look at this congregation this morning, I see all sorts of different people who have all sorts of different problems. Each of you is at a different stage in your life. Some of the children here have no greater concern than the fact that mom forgot to bring the little bag of food or toy to church. Some of the young people are devastated because they don’t have a boyfriend. That is their problem; no boyfriend and it is very real. And it doesn’t look that that’s going to change any time soon; not having a boyfriend. Some other young adult has a boyfriend, and he is the problem. Those of you in school may have an exams coming soon and your greatest concern is being prepared for the challenges of board examination. What is your problem? Are you having a tough time making ends meet? Is a loved one in your family seriously ill? How about you? Are you sick?
Well the people in Isaiah’s day had a problem. And actually their problem makes some of ours look silly by comparison. Isaiah 9:1 says, ‘In the past (God humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naptali.’ Zebulun and Naphtali were territories on the northern edge of Israel. This was not the best spot to be in. Because it is the farthest away from the Ark of the Covenant; the farthest away from God and also the nearest to the enemy’s territory. This is especially so when the enemy attacked. Most of Israel’s enemies attacked from the North. We know that it will be the Northern Territories; Syria, Turkey and Russia, all Northern Territories that will attack Israel in the near future. The spiritual significance is that those of us who lives farthest away from God and nearest to the world have no sense of security. They lived in such an environment that an enemy always attacked them. Some of these people have seen their friends, neighbors destroyed. Some even had family members snatched up and dragged off into captivity. Imagine living a life that way.
It was unsettling to say the least. Well, that is what the people of Zebulun and Naphtili lived with constantly. They had a serious problem. But these are all perceived problem.
2. Real Problem
Isaiah describes us as, “The people walking in darkness… those living in the land of the shadow of death.”
There are three descriptions for the word ‘darkness’. Firstly the degree of darkness described by Isaiah is one of pitch darkness or pitch black. We just had a time together with my cell group in Bocari last Friday. The place is beautiful with mountains, full of trees and mist and pine trees; a sight to behold. We love the smell of the clean air, especially the pine trees. But when the evening arrives, our place of stay overlooking the scenic mountain gets darker and darkness until we can’t see anything. It is literally pitch darkness or pitch black surrounding our place of stay. Secondly the word ‘darkness’ describes these people as living in apostasy and sin. This seems to indicate the people being disloyal to YHWH and God withdrawing his divine favor from God. Thirdly word ‘darkness’ is depicted as gloom and in anguish. Martin Luther makes a startling statement. He talks about Christian being sinners and saints at the same time. There are people in the church who live a life believing and not believing at the same time. They behave like what Mark 9:24 says, ‘And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears; ‘Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief.’ The word ‘land’ describes a region, country or an environment. This land, environment or country or region is draped in darkness. We are getting closer and closer to a world draped in wickedness. Many prophets prophesies of a perverse generation shall arise and abundant will be its deeds and all its deeds preserve. This is what Isaiah mean when he says the people walking in darkness; whole world draped in darkness.
All of you know what is brown out. When you wake up at night and need a drink of water you walk in that pitch darkness. That is a picture of the spiritual darkness in which we live because of sin. And what inevitably happens as you are trying to find the light switch? You bump into something and hurt yourself. Living in spiritual darkness is no different. This is where the church is so needful. We must constantly exhort, warn and remind and reprove one another of the danger of falling into the spiritual darkness because of sin.
Just last night, while fellowshipping with my cell group members, in the midst I received text messages and later calls concerning a couple. They are a married couple but the husband was angry with the wife because she is continually receiving text messages from someone near her workplace. She refuses to allow the husband to have a look at her cell phone and whenever they quarrels she threatens to leave him. The man is devastated. The saddest part is that both are supposedly Christians. Recently after heated fights she left him for a week. She is definitely living in sin and she has no qualms about what she is doing, stating that there is nothing wrong with divorce or having another man in her life. Then last night, the man wanted to talk to me and informed me that a new problem has arisen. The man says, his wife is pregnant but the baby inside the womb has no heart beat. The doctor gave two choices; flush out the baby or give vitamins to the woman. The man is thinking of the second option. I told the man in no uncertain terms that the baby inside the womb is dead and when he realized what I was saying he started crying. I told the man that the hand of God is in this matter and Pastor Lily suspected that the baby doesn’t belong to the man but to another. The woman has been living in sin and the baby that came about as a result of sin in dead in the womb. They sure have a problem and it is definitely a picture of spiritual darkness because of sin.
As we sinfully stumble through life we hurt ourselves. Sin does that. It hurts. But it does even more than that. Isaiah says we are, “…living in the land of the shadow of death.” It is one thing to be stumbling around in your bedroom where you might stub your toe. It is another thing to be walking in darkness toward a cliff with a 1000 foot drop. That is death shadow. You are at the door of the shadow of death. I was praying for someone recently and suddenly a word pop out in my mind concerning that person, ‘your days are numbered’ I was brought to the book of Daniel where the hand writing on the walls says in Daniel 5:25, ‘Daniel reads the words ‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN’ and interprets them as ‘MENE’, God has numbered the days and brought it to an end; ‘Tekel, you have been weighed and found wanting.
But, that is the reality for all of us. We live in death’s shadow. For some of us that shadow may be longer and for others it may be shorter. But, sooner or later death’s shadow will catch up to us. That is our real problem – sin and death. The bible is so clear in James 1:13-15, ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.’
Just 4 days ago, a 35 year old woman was found dead at the foot of a condominium in a part of Singapore. A man of the same age who is believed to be the woman’s husband was found injured in a unit in Q Bay Residences. He was taken in a semi conscious state to the General Hospital where he subsequently died of his injuries. It was believed that the couple had a fight and the woman repeatedly stabbed her husband before jumping off the condominium. They had a 12 year old daughter who was there and witnessed the whole fight. I mean the couple is young; both 35 years old, had a daughter 12 years old and lived in a condominium. They are certainly middle income couple but why commit suicide when they seemingly are doing well in life. They lived in death’s shadow.
3. The Real Solution
But God promises a real solution to our problem. Last night in our cell group we gather all members together and I told them that we know one another quite well and definitely know one another’s needs (or I should put it more correctly; problem) and we should spend half an hour praying for one another.
Here is what Isaiah said to Zebulun and Naphtali, “but in the future (God) will honor Galilee of the Gentiles.” The regions of Zebulun and Naphtali would later be called Galilee. So, Isaiah was saying, “Things may look grim for you, folks. You may live in the most dangerous and unpredictable part of the country. But, in the future God is going to do something that will bring honor to your land.” To put it in everyday language, YHWH is saying, ‘You may be farthest away from God right now, your life is in pitch, black darkness, almost to the point that you are at the door of the shadow of death; life has been gloomy and in anguish but in the near future God will honor Galilee of the Gentiles.
In our Gospel reading we heard how this prophecy came true. Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee. The land of darkness and war would later be the land where the Lord would preach and teach and heal. Listen to the difference Jesus would make, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (v.2). Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus shows us who God is and what this world is really all about. Jesus shows us that we don’t need to be afraid – we don’t need to be afraid of this life and we don’t need to be afraid of death. We don’t need to be afraid of your problem. Isaiah tells us why, “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor” (v.4). Most of you know what a yoke does. It goes across the shoulder of two animals and forces those animals to walk in the same direction. It is a fabulous picture of what sin does to us. It weighs us down, pulling us this way and that. But many people believe the exact opposite. They believe that it is Jesus who restricts them. They figure they can’t do what they want if they become a Christian. It’s too restrictive. You tell me, which is oppressive, sin or our Savior? Look at the broken marriages caused by sin.
Look at the shattered lives destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Look at the bitterness and anger we experience because of sin. Sin is a yoke which burdens us. It not only burdens us now, it is a yoke which pulls us straight to the eternal punishment it deserves. But Jesus shattered that yoke! He took the yoke of sin off our necks and smashed it against the cross where he hung. Now we can stand upright. We are free to move about. We are free to serve God. It is so liberating to have the guilt of our sins removed from our shoulders!
Isaiah compared it to the day of Midian’s defeat. Midian was one of those enemies who continuously attacked Israel. Every time the Israelites were about to harvest a crop, the Midianites attacked and took it. Things became so bad that people had to leave their homes and live in caves. Things were desperate. But God used a man named Gideon to rescue them. And, the way God rescued them is like something from a major motion picture. The Midianites numbered 135,000 men. Gideon had 32,000. They were outnumbered 4 to 1. So, God told Gideon, “You have too many men. If you win with 32,000 people will think the soldiers were responsible and not me. So, if any of your men is afraid, tell him to go home.” 22,000 did. Now, with 10,000 soldiers, they were outnumbered 13.5 to one. If 14 Midianites were killed for every one Israelite, the battle would still be a draw! So, what did God say? “You still have too many men.” Can’t you picture Gideon at this point? “Did you say ‘Too many men?’” The LORD told all the men to take a drink from the nearby brook. Those who put their faces in the water to drink should go home but those who scooped the water with their hands should stay. 300 scooped the water with their hands. Now they were outnumbered 450 to 1! Even with these impossible odds, God gave His people the victory and Midian was defeated. Imagine what that must have been like! Finally, they could leave the caves and go back to their homes! Finally, they could live without constant fear of being attacked! Finally, they were free! That is the kind of victory Jesus won for us when He rose from the dead on Easter morning! The odds seemed impossible. There was no way for us to defeat sin and death. But, Jesus could and did! We don’t have to hide anymore. We don’t have to be afraid anymore! Isaiah describes what it is like in verse 3, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Harvest time is one of the happiest times of the year for farmers. The crops are in, the work is done, it
Is time to celebrate. You know the feeling even if you’re not a farmer. It’s that special feeling you had on the last day of school when you were a child. It was time for summer vacation! No more bells and books and rules and regulations. You had a whole summer ahead! That is what it feels like to be freed from sin. It makes you want to run and shout and sing for joy! So go ahead and do it. Rejoice in your salvation! “That’s great. Pastor, but what does this have to do with my problem? How can this help me find a boyfriend? How can this help me pass my exams this week?” Well, if your God loved you enough to send His Son to die for you, if He was powerful enough to remove your greatest problem, don’t you suppose He loves you enough and is powerful enough to get you through any problem? If you had a mechanic replace the engine in your car, would you worry that he couldn’t change your oil three thousand miles later? “Sure, he did a good job of replacing the engine, but change the oil, I don’t think so. That’s a bit too complicated.” You can see how silly we are sometimes when we think that God can’t help our situation. What is your problem? We all came here this morning with problems. But, we have seen Jesus. And so we can leave here and go back to our lives saying, “No problem!”
4. Christ’s Promises are Real
Jesus is always the answer. He’s the answer before and during our problems. He does not change (Heb. 13:8). He will do everything the Word says He will do. It doesn’t matter how depressed we are or how far we think we are from the Lord. “But Pastor, I’ve gotten myself into this situation, and I have to get myself out.” No! Jesus is the answer, Even when we’re facing the worst possible circumstances,
Kenneth E. Hagin, always said the number one reason people don’t get their needs met is that they don’t know the Word. When we’re facing trials—when we’re depressed and going through bad stuff—we have to know that Jesus is the answer. We have to understand that He wants to help us. Jesus didn’t die on the cross and bring us this far to let us down. He is the answer! He shed His blood so we could be saved. He took the stripes on His back so we could be healed (Isa. 53:5). He came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Sometimes we go through tough times and it looks as if we’re not going to make it. Sometimes we face mountains, and sometimes we’re in the valley.
Whatever you’re facing today, call upon Jesus. He is always there. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He is for you, and He has already provided a way out. Just call on Him and you will be saved! He is always the answer!