What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
A new year: 1978.
For a fleeting moment we paused as the midnight hour struck, reminding us that the old had passed away; already we are ushered into the new.
A new year in the same old world, under the same conditions as last year. There is still unrest in the Middle East. There is still the threat of communism; the growing power of the sleeping giant, China; the economic instability in our own country. The cost of living keeps spiraling upward, while wages struggle to keep concerns.
For the believer the signs of the times point out that antichrist is already lifting its foul head. Wickedness asserts itself in open defiance to all God’s commandments, with an attitude of “who cares?” Holy marriage has become a mockery in and out of wedlock. Gambling and lotteries are the approved pastimes of the day, as every one greedily hopes to get rich overnight. Daily newspapers report the most atrocious crimes of riot, bombing, highjacking, and murder. A man will kill another in cold blood for rape, for revenge, or for a paltry dollar. The evil world is no longer “out there,” but manages to wheedle its way into our family room with its seductive influences. Apostasy seeks to undermine the very foundations of the church. Basic principles which were taken for granted for so many centuries are now boldly denied. The inerrancy of the Scriptures, the wonders of God, the atonement of the cross are challenged on all sides. Our homes are being disintegrated by our busy, affluent existence, so that family life is virtually unknown. “Who wants to dry up at home?” Unions, corporations, world counsels, world market, and government control, all point us to the rise of the Man of Sin as Satan’s final, desperate attempt to dethrone God and His Christ.
In the meantime, dark clouds of judgment thicken upon the horizon. We hear the trumpet blasts of Revelation, and we see the devastation that follows. Pollution of rivers, lakes and oceans, death of fish and birds, PBB and its many bad consequences, hurricanes leaving ten thousand victims behind, earthquakes with massive destruction and many other calamities, tell us that the end of the ages is upon us, when Christ will appear with the clouds to bring judgment upon the earth.
In times like these the messengers of the people come from all directions, asking, Where is safety for us and our children? What will come of all this? What will our children have to experience? How must we prepare ourselves for the future, or even for the new year?
There were similar times in the old dispensation, as portrayed in the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah is standing on the prophetic mountain, beholding from afar vistas seen only by his prophetic eye. King Ahaz has died. Philistia had triumphed over Judah. These Philistines had not been wiped out when Judah took over the land of Canaan, and had always been the enemy at Judah’s back door. Especially in times of apostasy, such as in the days of Ahaz, Philistia gloated in her power over Judah. But now the Lord tells the prophet that Philistia will boast no more. The Lord will give a new king to Israel, who will fear the Lord, and the Lord will put down this enemy of His people.
This is but a part of the entire panoramic view that is spread out before the prophet’s wondering gaze. Isaiah sees that a great world power will arise, still unknown in his day. This world power, Babylon, will exalt itself to heaven. As Satan’s representative, he will exalt himself against God, as if he were God. Babylon will be like Leviathan, that crooked serpent, that vile dragon. He will exalt himself above the nations. Babylon will be the precursor of antichrist, that power that is still1 to come, of whom it is said, “that the Man of sin (must) be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” (II Thes. 2:3, 4). Babylon will overthrow Assyria, the fear of all the earth in Isaiah’s day. Philistia rejoices that this dread enemy will be put down. Yet the prophet warns, “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestine, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” (vs. 29).
The prophet sees messengers approaching from every direction in Judah, coming with anxious questions that beg for an answer. If this fiery flying serpent will overcome all the nations of the world, and even neighboring Philistia will succumb to its power, what will happen to Judah, the people of God? Will this terrible monster swallow up the church also? Will God’s promises fail? How shall God’s people escape?
What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation?
The Lord, Jehovah, had founded Zion!
Zion was the mountain on which the temple stood. There were many other mountains on the earth, known for, their covered peaks and lofty heights. Also in Palestine were mountains which were far more majestic than Mount Zion. Mount Hermon lifted its proud head far into the clouds, as if it would taunt lowly Zion with its towering grandeur. But the Lord had chosen Zion as His dwelling place. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth was mount Zion, for God had founded Zion as His abode among His people.
Zion was the earthly symbol of the true church of Jesus Christ. Of her the poet sang:
“Zion, founded on the mountains, God, thy Maker, loves thee well; He has chosen thee, most precious, He delights in thee to dwell; God’s own city, who can all thy glory tell?”
God has chosen His church from eternity in Christ Jesus as a royal priesthood, an holy people, a peculiar possession. Even as God had separated Israel from all the nations of the earth to set His house among them, and to dwell with them, so also God separates unto Himself a covenant people to be His sons and daughters, to dwell with Him, to delight in the light of His countenance forever. The daily sacrifices in the temple spoke of the atoning blood shed on Calvary for the sins of God’s people, to redeem them unto Himself eternally. Even as Israel sang in choruses concerning God’s Holy Mountain, so we repeat the song today,
“Mount Zion’s walls behold, About her ramparts go, And number ye the lofty towers that guard her from the foe.”
“Observe her palaces, mark her defenses well, That to the sons that follow you Her glory you may tell.”
Zion’s strength was vested in her theocracy. God in Christ was her King. God’s representative was the God-fearing king that occupied the throne in David’s royal city. No, Israel’s trust was not in horses and chariots, troops and swords and spears. God was their King, the Almighty ruled over them, provided for them, cared for them and blessed them, ever focusing their attention on the eternal kingdom of Christ in the heavens. What they saw in type and shadow, we now see in its fulfillment; Christ, the mighty Conqueror, Victor over sin, death, and the grave, exalted at the right hand of God in the highest heavens. What they sang in eager anticipation, we now sing in reality,
“God is King forever, let the nations tremble; Throned above the cherubim, by all the earth adored; He is great in Zion, high above all peoples; Praise Him with fear, for holy is the Lord.”
Tell the messengers of the people: The Lord has founded Zion. Eternal are her foundations, resting on the sovereign decree of the living God. Rock firm are her pillars, bedded in eternal love, secured by justice; for Zion is redeemed in justice, and her converts in righteousness. Zion’s safety rests in Jehovah’s unchangeable faithfulness. Zion’s protection is the watchful eye of the Lord, Who never slumbers nor sleeps. Zion’s strength and hope are always in her God, for this God is her Almighty forever and ever, world without end.
Many may wonder at this terse answer. Some were undoubtedly disappointed. They may have asked, “Did the man of God say anything about our farms, our business, our homes, and our luxuries? Did the prophet give any assurance that the Holy City, the temple, and David’s throne will remain unscathed? Did he assure us that the enemy will never invade our domain, never cause us to flee for our lives, never persecute our children? Did the Word of the Lord give assurance of a prosperous future, free from war, free from care, free from want?
No, the prophet said nothing about that. In fact, he implied that we should be ready to forsake home, and lands, and possessions, and even dear ones for the sake Of the kingdom of heaven. The man of God spoke of the poor, the oppressed. He meant those who are deprived of all earthly possessions, because they defuse to pay homage to that fiery, flying serpent, land refuse to bear his mark upon their hands and their foreheads. The line of demarcation will be sharply drawn between church and world, Zion and Philistia, believer and unbeliever. He who sets his heart on the treasures and pleasures of this world will perish with this world. For the world with its lusts passes away. He who heeds the call of God to “come out from among her and be separate,” will be hated, cast out by his own neighbors, by his own relatives, by his/ “fellow church members.” He will be counted among the “poor,” the “afflicted.”
These afflicted are the people who are willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake. They do not hesitate to be the outcasts on the earth, mocked with cruel mockings, tortured, imprisoned, stoned, sawn asunder, slain with the sword, wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented. (Heb. 11:36-40). The afflicted are willing to bear all this because they are poor in spirit. They know that they are guilty sinners, adding to their condemnation every day, yet redeemed, cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ, so that in thankfulness to God they rejoice as sons of God and as heirs of eternal life.
For1 these afflicted Zion is a safe refuge. They flee into its walls on Sunday to hear the Word ministered to them by Christ through His servants, to experience its payer within them, to be comforted and strengthened in their daily struggles and trials. They seek the communion of saints, for the Word of Malachi 3:16 takes on real meaning for them:
“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”
God’s people pray much. They pray that they may be kept in the hour of temptation, that they may be able td stand in the evil day, that their children may stand in that day.
In one word, they flee into the everlasting arms of the Almighty: there to abide in safety. Blessed in life, blessed in death, blessed forevermore.
Although the mountains quake and earth’s foundations shake, though angry billows roar and break against the shore, Our mighty God will hear us.
A new year.
An old world.
A powerful Word.
A faithful God.