이사야 45:1~7(신현철 목사)
The Book of Isaiah is generally divided into three parts: Proto-Isaiash (1~39), Deutero-Isaiash (40~55), and Trito-Isaiah (56~66). The reason for this division is because of the difference in the backgrounds. The first part of Isaiah is in BC 8C, when the Northern Israelites are getting attacked by the Assyrians. So there are many verses of warnings and repentance in this section of the Book. Particularly, it is shown that the reason of the attack from Assyrians is from the sins of the Israel people who worshipped idols and left God. The second part of Isaiah is about the time after the Northern Israel and Southern Judah are already extinct. In this part, when the Israel people are forced to go to Babylon in captivity and were in a desperate situation, they learn how to be saved by God and recover. This part is mainly about recovery and hope. The third part of Isaiah is about times when the construction of the temple had been partially started or suspended. So this part concerns specific issues like Sabbath, the temple, and the priests.
Keeping this in mind, today’s verse is in 45, which corresponds to the second part of The Book of Isaiah… At this time of the era, the Cyrus, a tributary of the Medes, extends its forces, finally conquers the Babylon, and establishes the Persian kingdom. Among the Israelites, there were a lot of different opinions as to how to interpret this change in the era and whether to truly accept Cyrus as the ruler of the nation. Until now, the Israel people thought that God and they were at the centre of everything. But when the country is destroyed and the people are dragged into captivity, the Israel people were confused. The history was not moving around them as the centre. The Israel people were confused as to how to understand and accept this situation. For example, when a second child is born, the first child tends to get jealous because he thinks that the second child will take away the attention and the love from the parents. At this time, the parents need to tell the first child that they still love him or otherwise, the first child will easily get hurt from this situation. The Israel people were experiencing this kind of situation.
But the second part of Isaiah clearly mentions the Cyrus as the ‘God’s anointed.’ This means that the second part is now away from the centre of the Israel and a new point of view is presented as from God. This second part of Isaiah tells us that the centre is God. So I hope that through today’s sermon, we change our perspective in looking at the world… instead of us as the centre… to God as the centre, and again back to ‘the way God wants us to be’ as the centre…
Let’s then think about why God chose Cyrus first and anointed him. In verse 6 it says, “so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.” In other words, God who blessed Cyrus and who is with Cyrus is God who reigns over the whole world. In BC 587 North Judah was crushed by Babylon and its people were taken as prisoners. 40 years later, in BC 549, Cyrus began to appear in historical records and in 10 years (BC 538) he conquered Babylon and built his own empire. But, even through this time the Israelites were still living as prisoners in Babylon. They hoped and expected, because God loved them, that He will restore Israel someday. They especially believed that a Messiah would come and restore David’s reign. But, when Cyrus came into the picture people began to question why an outsider was chosen to carry out God’s work. So, there were some Jews that simply could not accept Cyrus as God’s worker. But, as I mentioned before, the 2nd Isaiah tells us in 45:28 that God said that Cyrus is “my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please.” And in 45:1 Cyrus is described as “His anointed”. This can be seen as revolutionary thoughts during that time because it was unimaginable to think that God would choose a foreigner over a Jew to be at the centre of history. But, God has done exactly that. Why? This is because God is not just God of Israel, but the God of all nations. He is where the sun rises and the sun sets.
Some time ago when there was only 10 churches in Seoul, an American missionary by the name of Samuel Moore built a church near today’s Lotte Hotel. But, within a year of the church’s birth there was a great scandal because a man named Park Sung-choon was baptized. It was discovered that he was a baek-jung, a farmer. This church only had people from the middle and upper class, so it was difficult for them to accept someone from another socio-economic status. In 2 years, people left this church and built a new church in Hong-moon-dong. But, this church was burnt down and the Holy Spirit worked through them and made people realize of the wrong doing that had committed. They suggested to another church in Gon-Dang-Gol to join their services, but by that time Park Sung-choon had already become an active leader in that church and many working class people had gathered to the church. On the other hand, the Hong-moon-dong church (the one that burnt down) had people from the royal family in attendance. After some ups and downs the two churches were able to join as one it became today’s Seung-dong Chruch. Later, two people were chosen to become elders of this church. They were Lee Jae-sun and Park Sung-choon. One was from the royal family and the other was a farmer, but they both side-by-side became God’s workers.
Just 100 years ago, there were many people who left the church saying that they could not carry on their faith in the same church as a farmer. Perhaps because they believed God was not God of the farmers, and because they might have thought that farmers couldn’t become ‘holy’. But, as God anointed Cyrus and through him reigned over Persian Empire, through the farmer God re-wrote Korean church history. This is why God chose Cyrus.
Not many people know, but there was a man named Yu Young-Mo who was the teacher of Ham Suk-Hyun and Kim Gyo-shin. He once said that Christianity was once called a working man’s religion. This comes from the idea that Confucianism is the religion of gentlemen. As far as religion goes, he said, the working man’s religion is better. Religion should always be in service of others. If it becomes of a higher class than before you know it, it will be used to crush others. There aren’t that many people who says they would carry Christ’s cross, but many who would gladly make others carry it. Who are we? As he says, Christianity should be a working-man’s religion. It should make us want to service and help others. If it is used to give power and authority then it will surely be tainted. The 2nd Isaiah also realized this – God chose Cyrus. As it says in Acts 4:11 “is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone’ and in Acts 28:28 “Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles” God’s new history is being made through new people.
Brothers and Sisters, wise people can see how God’s wheel of history and providence moves. His disciples saw this in Christ. This is why it says that the stone the builders rejected becomes the capstone. When this history was being made, there weren’t anyone who could see this new world opening up except of Isaiah. I hope that we can have the wisdom and insight like Isaiah. We are living in the turning point of history. We should be able to see that God is preparing another Cyrus to begin new history.
Another thing for us to think about is in verse 3, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Ironically, God chose Cyrus and made him the victor and allowed him to take the riches. He chose Cyrus to show that he is the God of Israel. Does this make sense to you? It doesn’t for me. At the time Israel was the captive and Persia controlled the world after its success of taking over Babylon. Thus, it would make more sense if God said that he was on Persia’s side; however, through this, he was trying to show that he was the God of Israel? What God is saying and what was happening do not seem to go hand in hand at all.
When I was thinking about this statement, another verse came to my mind. It’s in Mark 15:39 when Jesus was about to die on the cross, “And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”’ The centurion, who had participated in the crucifying of Jesus, is confessing “Surely this man was the Son of God.” Strange, right? He is saying that he saw the Son of God in a helplessly dying man. How is this possible? During sermon last Friday, Youth Pastor Shin talked about a man named Woo-Soo Kim. After I heard the sermon, I searched his name online and found many articles entitled “The Angelic Deliveryman Woo-Soo Kim.” Although he was abandoned by his parents at age 7, and made only $700 per month working as the deliveryman for a Chinese restaurant, he supported five children through an organization called The Green Umbrella. He signed up to be an organ donator and a little while ago, he died of an accident and the story of Kim gave inspirations and challenged others. Pastor Shin said that he saw a familiar object on Kim’s desk and when I saw the picture, I, too, became joyous in its familiarity. Because I thought that the bible on Kim’s table suited his life well. Beloved church members, do our lives suit the bibles on our desks?
Do you know the story of Dogani? It’s a movie made
based on Ji-Young Gong’s novel and I heard that the movie brought much shock to
people. The novel is based on Inhwa School in Gwanju. The school was established
to help the disabled and was based on Christian ideals. Despite the fact that
all the staff was Christian, the worst forms of rape and sexual harassments
occurred and the majority of the people had hidden this fact. Beloved church members, when do we best illustrate who
God is? We tend to believe that when we are in a higher position, such as the
principal or the headmaster, we can best showcase this to the world. And in
some cases, this may be true. However, we can always demonstrate who God is
when we are in midst of hardships but when our lives align with that bible on
our desks. It is in these moments that we are best able to show that God is
always with us. This is what Isaiah is saying – that this is the
moment when we can best illustrate the nature of God. That even though Cyrus
became the victor and the king, this is the opportunity to show that God is the
God of Israel.
When the Cultural Revolution occurred in China, all the missionaries were to be banished. One of the missionaries asked the Chinese Pastor, who had been studying with him, “Will you be able to withstand all the hardships and difficulties coming your way?” The pastor looked down at his tea and said, “Sir, the tea’s quite hot, right?” Then the pastor took the teabag out of the cup and said, “Did this teabag lose its taste by going into the hot water? The teabag was probably able to truly show its flavour when it was in that hot water. Just watch me. I will demonstrate that I am sincere in my beliefs in front of the Lord during these hardships.
Beloved church members, this is the time for us to show to the world that God is our God. Why? Because today’s time resembles that of the scripture today. I hope that our lives will suit our bibles and we will show who God is by leading such worthy lives.
I will now conclude my sermon. Verse 7 reads “I
form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I,
the LORD, do all these things.” At
the time, the Persians were watching the world
at with the point of view
of a completely dualistic framework. So they believed that light and darkness
were in a battle, and prosperity and disaster were to be determined according
to who won between each god. But
second verse of Isaiah is saying that all things are created and operated by
God. Because God is the only one who operates the world, there is not only
light, but also darkness. There is not only prosperity, but also disaster. As a
result, a true Christian does not merely praise the Lord at times when light shines
brightly. He also acknowledges Him as the Lord at times of darkness and
because Christians live through obedience and providence to God, verse 9 reads
“Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the
potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you
making?' Does your work say, 'He has no hands'?” In
a novel by MunYeol Lee that I previously read called “Our Twisted Hero,” there
is a class president called Eom Seok-dae and a main character called Han
Byeong-tae who is a transfer student from Seoul. Han Byeong Tae first resisted
Eom Seok-dae, but eventually gave in to the hierarchical bullying system. However, one day, as a new homeroom teacher arrived,
Eom Seok-dae’s “empire” started to collapse. In the end, not being able to
handle it, he burned down the school and ran away. In the end, Han Byeong-tae
recalls Eom Seok-dae and says “Eom Seok-dae is probably somewhere building
another kingdom…” We
may inadvertently and easily end up living like Eom Seuk-dae. There may be
times when we regard ourselves as the main character in history. But in truth,
the main character is not us, nor even Israel. It should be is only God.
History puts God as the focus, simply stationed in the centre of God’s
providence. We are all just supporting roles.
But to the end we still want to be like Eom Seok-dae. Perhaps Israel wanted to as well. This could be why God gave us these words through Cyrus to remind Israel. It may be that He is preparing another Cyrus to remind us today. And so that the words of God may reverberate: “…you may know that I am the Lord”, “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” So that people may realize who Go d is…I hope that during this week, we get an opportunity to know God. I hope that we are able to acknowledge God who uses the Cyrus not us. I also hope that the Cyrus is also able to see God through us. I hope that we are able to see God who governs the history and the world. (translated by Soyeon Song, Chayeon Song, Mika Choi, Jiye Chun)
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