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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The only God, the First and the Last
Text:Isaiah 44:6-8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-08-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 90:1,2                                                                                         

Ps 19:5,6                                                                                                        

Reading – Isaiah 44:1-20; Revelation 22:12-17

Ps 115:1,2,3,5

Sermon – Isaiah 44:6-8

Hy 73:1,2,3

Hy 66:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved, one of my favourite Bible stories is in 1 Kings 18. That’s the chapter where God has a showdown with Baal, a dramatic contest on the top of Mount Carmel. You remember how Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a competition. ‘Come up the mountain,’ he said. ‘Bring two oxen for sacrifice, wood to burn on the altar, but no fire. And bring your best voice for praying, because you’re going to need it.’ “Then you shall call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD; and the God who answers by fire, He is God” (18:24).

Challenge accepted—and the competition begins. Hour after hour, the 450 prophets of Baal cry out to their god, trying to get his attention. They yell, they scream, they cut themselves with knives. Elijah begins to mock them and their god, who obviously is not available at the moment: meditating, traveling or having a nap. Though the prophets cry loud and long, there is only silence. I love verse 29: “But there was no voice; no one answered; no one paid attention.”

After that, it is Elijah’s turn. And though the altar and wood are drenched with buckets of water, and though Elijah is just one lonely prophet who offers just one short prayer, the LORD’s answer is definitive. He sends his fire, and it consumes not only the sacrifice, but also the wood and the stones and all the water! The people are stunned. Moved by the glory of God, they make a passionate confession, “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!” (18:39).

It’s a story with a lot of connections to our chapter. Because Isaiah 44 is all about the distinction between the true God and false gods. Just like in 1 Kings 18, here God reveals his glory, and He also brings his biting sarcasm against idols. And like in the time of Elijah, there’s an urgent reason for Isaiah to bring this message: God’s people were seeking idols. Judah was expecting great things from foreign gods, when all they offered is silence and death.

Instead, let the LORD’s people delight in the true God. That’s how our text begins, with a reminder about who God is: “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts” (v 6). We could explore each of those four titles: the LORD, the King of Israel, Redeemer, LORD of hosts—for each discloses something distinct about God. He is saying to us, ‘Remember who I am. Know how great I am. Be sure that you can always put your trust in me.’ But today we’ll focus on a different title, about which I preach to you on this theme,

The only God says, “I am the First and I am the Last.”

  1. the First
  2. the Last
  3. the Only

 

1) the First: Before the creation of all things, there was only God. Without any beginning, without any interruption, and for times that cannot be measured—there was only God. Existing as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, bound together in love. Dwelling in beauty and perfection. Needing nothing and being everything: God was.

Then the One who is without any beginning made a new beginning. For God spoke into the darkness, and there was light. With the word of his mouth and the power of his hand, God made the entire universe come into existence out of nothing.

And all created things still depend on him for their existence. Without the God who gave the universe its beginning, everything would collapse on itself in less than a millisecond. But in his faithfulness, God keeps it going—upholds everything that He made.

So God is eternal, He is self-sustaining, sovereign, and infinite in power. These are not abstract truths from a dusty volume of theology. These truths are real and have everything to do with how we live, and how we die. And they have everything to do what ought to be at the centre of our life. For if God is the beginning and the source and the foundation of all things, should we not worship God, and learn to trust him with our whole heart?

And if God is the origin of the universe, where does that leave every other god? What does God’s eternity and strength say about every idol we are cherishing, every obsession that we are restlessly chasing? We should conclude that they’re not everlasting and not capable of anything. All other gods are formed by the hands of sinful men, who in themselves too, have life only from God.

We’re talking about idolatry because of the context of the chapter where God says, “I am the First and I am the Last.” It comes as part of the long charge that He brings against Judah and her platoon of idols: Baal, Ashtoreth, Molech, the Queen of Heaven—the list was lengthy. Here God challenges them to compare the LORD with other gods: “Who can proclaim as I do?” (v 7). Do any of these gods actually communicate with their believers like the LORD does? Like He did on Mount Carmel, God asks for any contender to stand in competition with him: ‘Speak up’ if you’re able, ‘Show me what you can do.’

God has had enough of his people’s unfaithfulness, so He presses them. If these gods were really so great, let them show themselves, prove their worth. And if they could, maybe Israel could be excused for worshiping and trusting them. But first, says God, think of who He is.

“I am the First and I am the Last; besides me there is no God” (v 6). God says He is the First. Many times in Isaiah, God points us back to Genesis, the book of beginnings, and here He does again. He recalls when this world started, and there was only God. He is “the First,” the One before all creation and before all human history.

And as we said already: If God is the beginning, then everything (and everyone) else is secondary, derived, inferior. If God is “the First” and original, then every other god is just a knock-off—recycled and repurposed from the good world that the living God has made.

You worship the sun? Why would you? God made the sun. You worship your dead ancestors? Why? It was the LORD who gave them life. You expect to find true happiness in wine, or to get it from sex, or from gold—why would you, if God made all these good things in the first place? These are merely imitation gods. They have nothing to give that God cannot give in so much greater and truer ways. As the ‘First,’ as the true beginning of all things, God is without rival or competition.

Maybe that’s easy enough for us to accept. It’s easy, if we’re talking about Baal and Ashtoreth, or even about Buddha and Allah. We all know those aren’t gods! They haven’t been around from the start and they’ve never accomplished anything. They’re only the invention of sinful minds, products of the twisted human heart.

But try to apply this to your own life. When you search yourself, are there any gods that you’ve set up, idols tucked away in the corners? And let’s look carefully. For no matter how earnestly we affirm that God is the only true God, we’re still just a moment away from placing our trust in things besides him. Secretly, we still expect from other places and other beings the kind of blessings that only God can give, gifts like true peace, or joy, or fulfillment. When I have a decent job, and a bit of talent, some friends, a loving family, money in the bank, almost at once I begin to feel comfortable—like the future is bright and I’ve finally found my refuge.

Yet it’s all from God. It’s foolish then, to put confidence in what we own, or in what we look like, or in the people we love. All these good things only spring from the Lord God, the overflowing fountain. And none of these things can save or redeem. For He is the First and the Last. So to trust in the gift instead of the Giver is among the very worst of sins. We’re being moved by the glory of another, a glory which should belong to the LORD alone.

But there is more. For this great name of God doesn’t just reveal the folly of trusting in idols. More positively, it’s a call to rest fully in the LORD’s faithfulness. In the time of Isaiah, Judah was troubled because war and exile were in the forecast: 100% chance of ruin and destruction. They dreaded the day when all the good they knew would be laid waste.

Listen then, to how God encourages Judah: “Do not fear, nor be afraid. Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?” (v 8). The first part of that is God’s (favourite) command not to be afraid. Judah was fearing the future, and this is exactly why they looked for idols and turned to earthly allies like Egypt. In their terror, they were searching for any kind of security, any hope, any insurance against the unknown future.

It’s a lesson for us that our idols are so often found right next to our fears. Because we fear something, we search for what can relieve that fear, and reassure our heart. If you fear being poor, or fear a loss of creature comforts, you might let money become your idol. If you fear being overlooked and underestimated, you might let success and accomplishment become your highest need. Fear of being alone means you might idolize family and friendship. When you fear criticism, the approval of other people becomes king. So many fears, so many idols. But God says, ‘Do not fear. For I am God.’

And the second part of God’s reassurance in verse 8 is him saying, “Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?” Judah was dreading their exile, so God says that He actually planned it long ago. He’s always known it would go this way because He is ‘from the beginning.’ So don’t be scared that this is out of God’s hands. He knows, and directs all things.

That too, is a comforting truth. God is never surprised by the events in this world or in our lives. Every cause, and every effect, originates in his perfect will. Even before our lives began, God knew all about us. He knew our names, and where we’d go, how we’d struggle and how we’d be blessed. Even as we busy ourselves with our small pursuits here on earth, God is guiding us in wisdom, according to his eternal plan, just as He has from the beginning. We can be utterly secure in him, for He is the ‘First,’ the cause and origin of all things.

And here Isaiah is quietly pointing us to our Lord Jesus Christ. For it is striking that this name for God in the book of Isaiah is a name that is claimed by Christ in the book of Revelation. There we hear the risen Lord Jesus declare, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev 22:13). Same name, with the volume turned up.

When Jesus says, “I am the Alpha and Omega,” you probably know that those are the first and the last letters of the Greek alphabet. Compare it to our English saying, “from A to Z.” Likewise, for a Greek-speaker, “Alpha and Omega” meant the whole gamut, the full spectrum. So Christ is saying that in him, we find everything we need, and we have it for as long as need, even forever. Because Christ is eternal and almighty, the perfect Saviour, the unchanging Lord, you can go to him for grace that will always be sufficient. Go to Christ for strength that will never fail.

Let this encourage you: the same person who brought us salvation is now governing all things in heaven and on earth for his church. The same person who laid down his life for us now holds our life in his hand. Christ began our redemption at the cross, and now He will see redemption through to its perfect end. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever—so we can put our trust completely in him.

 

2) the Last: Do you know anything about fatigue? Not just being tired, but chronically tired? And not just in our bodies, but somewhere deeper? We can begin to have that when it seems life doesn’t have a point. What will come of all my labour and stress and suffering? But when we’re aimless, and tired of life—when we wonder about our destination—God speaks again, and He tells us: “I am the Last.” That is, ‘I am the Conclusion, the End to all things.’

God has a purpose for his creation, and an aim for his people. He’s got a complete plan, we said, from start to finish. His counsel is comprehensive. So even today, He knows the good goal that we’re moving toward.

So what is the purpose of all things? God said it in the previous chapter, speaking of “everyone who is called by my name, whom I have created for my glory” (43:7). God created us and saved us for his glory! That’s a profound truth, yet we can say it so often that it becomes a cliché, and almost loses its meaning: “It is for God’s glory.” But if we truly understand it, and believe it, this purpose changes everything. It is for his glory…

‘Which means,’ says God to the people of Judah, ‘I don’t merely know that you’re going to go into exile; I also know how it will end and that it won’t be forever.’ And the result of it will be glory for God, as the LORD will be honoured among the nations. There were so many haters who said God had fallen asleep or lost his power or broken his word. But when the LORD brings his people home, the nations can finally acknowledge that He is God.

The God who says, “I am the Last,” is working out his good plan in this world and in us. He will bring all things to their flawless conclusion, to their total restoration. Isaiah is going to tell us about that in the closing couple chapters of this book. For instance, can read in Isaiah 65 about the new heavens and the new earth.

Then, says Isaiah, “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,” but God will rejoice in his people” (65:17). In Zion there will be great joy, and “the voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (v 19). That is the beautiful end to which God is working, for He is the First and also the Last.

Once again, Christ gives us the same message. He says, “I am the Alpha, and I am the Omega—the End, the Last.” With this name, our Saviour sets us at ease. He says to us, ‘I know where it’s all going, and I know how this will be for God’s glory.’ That is an incredible thought, that when something new is starting up for us, Christ already knows its conclusion. When there’s an unexpected event in your life—good or bad—or if there’s a terrible setback, Christ has already seen how it’ll work out for his glory and our good.

‘When you have pain and misery, I know what’ll come of it,’ Christ says. ‘When you make plans or goals, I know what their outcome will be. If you’re suffering, or if you’re prospering, I know exactly what these things are for. And I know that none of this will last forever.’ The God who is the End—Christ who is Omega—He has seen every conclusion.

For people who can’t even see past today, this is so good to remember. Even the next hour is a mystery to us. We have no idea how things will turn out, but Christ does! He’s already at the end of this year, and the end of next year. He knows the very moment when your life on earth will reach its close: He knows the year, the month, the day—even the second. He knows it, and so He tells you there’s no need to fear. For even at the end, Christ is there. Even now, the author of our salvation is preparing the final chapter.

This gives our lives great stability, to know that God has his wise and loving hand in everything that takes place. He faithfully keeps his purpose and goal always in view: the greater glory of his name.

And because of that, our lives also have a purpose. We don’t have to be aimless, wondering if any of this makes a difference. Neither do we need to live for ourselves and the pursuit of our own happiness. Instead, our mission is clear: “I am here for the glory of God alone, to make him great and to make much of him! Whatever blessings I have, whatever sufferings, whatever time or opportunity, let me channel it all in one direction. Let my life be ruled by one principle: ‘Does this serve God’s greater glory? Am I living for the LORD alone?’

 

3) the Only: If God is the First and the Last, then He is also the Only. As God declares in verse 6: “Besides me there is no God.” We’ve seen that God says this because of the spirit of idolatry that was infecting Judah in the time of Isaiah. They were fearful, so God’s people were looking for a place of rest. But in contrast to the LORD, the King of Israel, the Redeemer and Lord of hosts, what do the nations have to cling to? There is no other god!

So now that Isaiah has presented the glory of God, it’s not very hard to point out the stupidity of making idols. The next section of chapter 44, from verse 9 to 20, is an extended mockery of idols and of the people who make them.

Something you learn in the next section is that it is a complex process to make an idol. You have to find the right tree, maybe even plant one and wait for it to grow. You have to search out just the right materials, and measure, mark with chalk, fashion with your tools, carve and then overlay with precious metals. It’s difficult to make a god for yourself—and all this effort is really absurd, when the true God is so near, just waiting to be approached!

One of the main characters in that section is the ignorant fellow who takes a chunk of wood from the forest in order to make his god. He does this but doesn’t see the disconnect, the lunacy of what he’s done. “A deceived heart has turned him aside, and he cannot… say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (v 20). He doesn’t see how absurd it is that half of the wood he used to make his god, and the other half to cook his lunch. So of course such an idol lacks all power to help you, to speak to you, to save you from death.

Isaiah 44 is a bit of Biblical humour. We laugh at the foolishness of Judah’s idol craftsmen. But we should let the Word do its work. Turn a bit of that scorn on yourself. Don’t we too, find our deepest joy in things that are dead, things as lifeless or cars or homes or clothing? Don’t we too, act like created things or passing experiences are going to give meaning to our life? Don’t we devote excess amounts of our daily attention to trivial stuff, to minor pursuits, to activities that bring no eternal benefit? We obsess over the gifts, but forget the Giver. We love the creation, but neglect the Creator, and then miss out on all the beauty of life in communion with him. It’s just as foolish as the idol craftsmen in Isaiah 44, yet we still do it.

Instead of living in such folly, let’s remind ourselves about the great glory of the one true and living God. Who is like the LORD our God? What temporal thing, what sinful person, what passing experience can ever take his place? He is the God who sees us, who hears us, who speaks to us, who cares for us.

“Is there a God besides [God]? Indeed, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (v 8). Just one God can save us—and He has already done so through his only Son, Jesus. So we should love and trust him, and gladly confess him. We should be moved by the glory of the Lord, just like the people of Israel on Mount Carmel: “The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!”

Beloved, you know this God, so be confident in him:

He is the Alpha and the Omega,

the First and the Last,

the Beginning and the End—the only God!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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