Sermon Series: Isaiah: Judgment & Hope
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 28:23-29
Sermon Title: God’s Cornerstone
Memory Verse: For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
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Woe to Ephraim
The writing of Isaiah spans around 40 years. Chapters 28-35 are written about halfway through Isaiah’s ministry. They are the next collection of writings in Isaiah’s book of prophecy. There are six woes to guide us in the upcoming chapters. Today is the first woe, “Woe to Ephraim.”
Ephraim is drunk
- 1 Woe to the proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley of those who are overcome with wine! 2 Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent; as a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction, like a storm of mighty overflowing waters, He has cast it down to the earth with His 3 The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim is trodden under foot. 4 And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley, will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer, which one sees, and as soon as it is in his hand, he swallows it. (Isaiah 28:1-4)
Woe to Ephraim means they are condemned. The prophecy of Isaiah at the beginning of His ministry is starting to take place. The northern kingdom is about to be conquered. The Lord is telling the people of Judah to look to Ephraim (Israel). “Don’t be like them.” They are drunkards who do not follow God’s ways.
We don’t know if they are literally or figuratively drunk. There is a reason to believe they are both; that is literally drunkards and figuratively drunk with idolatry. The bottom line is that they are far from being people who honor God.
What they have done is taken one of the most beautiful, fertile valleys on earth, given to them by God, and they use the blessings of plenty to live a life of excess. They waste God’s provision with debauchery and wickedness.
Ephraim is doomed
Because of their way of life, the Lord will send an adversary. They will face a tempest of destruction. It will be like a great storm from God’s hand of hail and flooding water. The nation of Ephraim will be overcome and swallowed up like a new fig, which is irresistible. When the storm is done, Ephraim’s glory will be gone.
- 5 In that day the Lord of hosts will become a beautiful crown and a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people; 6 A spirit of justice for him who sits in judgment, a strength to those who repel the onslaught at the gate. (Isaiah 28:5-6)
In that day God’s glory is manifest as He judges Ephraim’s wickedness. God shares His glory as a crown to be worn by the remnant that God saves. The remnant is those who trust in God and obey His covenant.
Isaiah reveals why God will judge Ephraim.
- 7 And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: the priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; they reel while having visions, they totter when rendering 8 For all the tables are full of filthy vomit, without a single clean place. (Isaiah 28:7-8)
Isaiah speaks to Judah. The Lord wants Judah to consider the fate of the northern kingdom. They are confused and stagger around because they are drunk. They make no sense. The filth of their gross, drunken vomiting fills their tables. It is a disgusting picture of intoxication.
As they stagger in confusion, both priests and prophets mock God.
- 9 “To whom would He teach knowledge, and to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast? 10 “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there.’” (Isaiah 28:9-10)
They don’t want to hear God tell them to repent and obey His covenant. They say God’s audience consists of children barely old enough to be weaned. They mock the simplicity of God’s teachings. They might as well say, “God says, ‘blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda.’”
God will not be mocked. Isaiah reveals how God will punish them.
- 11 Indeed, He will speak to this people through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, 12 He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen. 13 So the word of the Lord to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there,” That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared and taken captive. (Isaiah 28:11-13)
God’s good word leads to rest and repose which is unlike what the people of Ephraim hear. God will not stop speaking, but He will speak in a way they will not like. God will speak through their enemies who will enslave them. Their captor will speak in a foreign tongue they will not understand, and it will sound like stammering lips.
God in His grace is warning Judah. Look to the north. See Ephraim is drunk with wine, idolatry, and pride. Hear Ephraim mock the word of God. They dishonor God’s glory. The outcome of Ephraim is sure destruction. They will not withstand the coming tempest. The agents of God will have their way with Ephraim until it is swallowed up like a fresh fig in the summer. Do not let the fate of Ephraim become the fate of Judah.
God’s blessings are not to be abused. Don’t use God’s gifts of prosperity to live a party life. God’s word is not to be mocked. Never think God’s word is too simple and only for children. God will judge those who disregard His covenant of holiness and mock His word.
Our culture mocks God’s word like the people of Ephraim. Those who proclaim the gospel are ridiculed. They say the Bible is simple and for children. Life is a big party. We need to tell people of the brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, and the annihilation of Ephraim. God’s past judgments are warnings to the wicked. God’s wrath is not a trivial event. It is God’s way of proving that what He says will come to pass. We need to warn the wicked that they need to repent and beg God for mercy.
As we warn the wicked, we need to take heed and examine our lives. We are in Christ, but we always need to ask the Lord to show us if there is any wicked way in our heart and ask Him to help us. God doesn’t want us to live like the people of Ephraim. He calls us to be holy. Holiness is for our good.
Trust God’s Proven Cornerstone
Judah’s covenants will not stand
After Isaiah tells Judah of Ephraim’s destiny, he tells Judah what they need to do.
- 14 Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers, who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, 15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.” (Isaiah 28:14-15)
God says, “Rulers of Judah. You think the alliance you made with the other nations will keep you safe. You are deceived. It will not keep you safe.”
Their alliance is not an alliance unto life. The alliance with Egypt and Assyria is an alliance with death and Sheol. Judah is signing a death wish. The protection from the overwhelming scourge on the horizon is a big lie. There is no way Assyria and Egypt will work for Judah’s good.
Judah put their trust in Assyria and Egypt to preserve their way of life. They want to maintain the status quo. They enjoy peace, prosperity, comfort, and security and they want to keep it that way. They turn to Assyria and Egypt thinking they will work in their favor. In doing this, they forget that God is the One who helped them. They stopped seeing God as the way to live. The priorities of Judah are misplaced.
What about us? We don’t make alliances with nations, but we make the mistake of putting our trust in the wrong things to bring us what we desire. We invest a lot of time and energy by putting trust in worldly ways.
We might say, “I don’t trust worldly things.” But, will an examination of our words and actions prove differently? What do we stress as important in our conversations? How do we invest our time during the week?
Do we talk a lot about the importance of education? Do we brag about the school achievements in our families or the heart to serve God? Do we invest more time and energy to forward the agenda of our favorite political party more than we invest in the gospel? Do we tell others that having the right political party in office will solve all of society’s problems?
What about money? Do we treat money as a gauge of security? Do we spend more time scheming about how to have more money than we spend time in prayer? Do we invest more time in building our kingdom than we spend in building God’s kingdom?
Education, politics, and money are not bad. But, when they have a higher place in our time, priorities, and energy than God, then we have a problem. It’s the same as Judah putting Assyria and Egypt first. We may not invest our thoughts and energy pursuing the world and forsake pursuing our relationship with God.
Judah is going to face hard times, and their alliance will not help. When the going gets tough, what will provide us the greatest help?
Many Christians have a lackadaisical relationship with the Lord. Prayers are unenthusiastic. Bible study is lackadaisical. Tragedy happens. They learn a child is on drugs. Life-threatening illness knocks on the door. Terrorism strikes close-by.
Suddenly, God is a priority. They want a crash course in prayer. They realize the importance of learning where to find answers in the Bible. They realize all the alliances they made with education, wealth, or politics do not meet their needs. The importance of seeking first the kingdom of God suddenly makes sense.
Judah put God in the backseat. We should learn from their mistake. We need to be wise and know placing God first is right.
Trust in the Cornerstone
What Judah needs to do is get their life in order and put their trust in God and not be deceived by looking to the other nations for security and comfort. Only God will protect them, just as He always has.
- 16 Therefore thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. 17 “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level; Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place. 18 “Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place. 19 “As often as it passes through, it will seize you; For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means.” (Isaiah 28:16-19)
Believe in God’s Cornerstone. If you do, you will not be disturbed. The coming scourge will not move you. God wants His people to align their lives with Him and look to Him for salvation. If they do, they will find justice and righteousness, and the deceit will be swept away.
If they don’t believe in God’s Cornerstone, they will discover death and Sheol will not keep their end of the alliance. When the overwhelming scourge comes, it will trample Judah repeatedly, day in and day out.
Isaiah gives a proverb to sum up their alliance.
- The bed is too short on which to stretch out, and the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in. (Isaiah 28:20)
The proverb is clear. Judah needs protection and the alliance made with Egypt and Assyria will be like trying to sleep on a short bed with half a blanket. It will not work.
- 21 For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon, to do His task, His unusual task, and to work His work, His extraordinary work. 22 And now do not carry on as scoffers, or your fetters will be made stronger; for I have heard from the Lord God of hosts of decisive destruction on all the earth. (Isaiah 28:21-22)
The Lord God fought mightily for King David at Mount Perazim and the valley of Gibeon. He will be powerful and unstoppable. But, unlike in King David’s time, God’s work will be unusual and extraordinary because, instead of fighting for His people, God will fight against His people. The more they scoff, the tighter will be their fetters (chains).
The people of Ephraim and Judah chose to walk away from a Covenant with God. They no longer trust God, nor do they give Him glory. They mock God’s goodness. They place their trust in idols and other nations and choose to ignore God, even though history proves God provides miraculous, loving care.
Despite their obstinance, God graciously gives a warning and provides an opportunity for repentance. God is laying a Cornerstone in Zion for them to trust. But, if they refuse His offer, God will not be idle. He will rise against Judah.
God is calling us to put our faith in the precious cornerstone laid in Zion. Jesus is the Cornerstone. We know Jesus is the Cornerstone because Isaiah 28:16 is quoted three times in the New Testament. Each time, Jesus is identified as the Cornerstone (Romans 9:33, 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6-8).
To understand what it means to trust in the Cornerstone requires we need to know the purpose of a cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first and most important stone placed in a masonry structure. The cornerstone determines the position and orientation of the entire building. All the other stones use the cornerstone as a reference and are aligned with the cornerstone.
God places Jesus as the Cornerstone for all things. God is the Architect of all things, and He places His beloved Son as a precious Cornerstone upon which to align Creation. Whatever is not in alignment with Jesus, disagrees with the Architect’s plan.
Believing in Jesus as our Savior says we agree with God. Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we need to align ourselves with Him. The Apostle Peter says that when we receive Jesus as Savior, God places us as a “living stone” in His spiritual house (1 Peter 2:1-5).
In Isaiah 28:17, God says He will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. We are to lay our living stone in a way that justice and righteousness guide our lives. Our relationships, careers, hobbies, and other pursuits need to refer to God’s building plan and line up with the Cornerstone.
Paul tells us the church is built on the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, (Ephesians 2:20). The Bible says, no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). Our foundation must be Jesus.
Think of it this way. Many Christians live with Jesus as a stone in their building. They have their will as the foundation of their life and they add bricks that suit them. They add a relationship brick, work brick, family brick, and a Jesus brick. The Jesus brick may be their favorite brick. The Jesus brick has a place in life and is not the cornerstone. The other bricks are not in line with Jesus. Jesus is another brick in the building of life.
Jesus is not a brick added to our lives. When we receive Jesus as our Savior, we are a new creation. God desires that we tear down our building and start new laying every brick in alignment with the Cornerstone.
Those who live in alignment with Jesus are not moved when the storm comes. God promises in Isaiah 28:16 that they will not be disturbed. No earth-shattering event will move us off the foundation. Jesus says we are to build our house, not on the sand, but on a sure foundation.
Is Jesus our Cornerstone? Are we living stones in alignment with Jesus? If so, God promises our lives will have all that we need: peace, comfort, satisfaction, security, and joy.
Two truths about God’s work
God is the Architect. He is either rejecting stones or making stones line up with His precious Cornerstone. Isaiah closes with two parables about the work the Lord will do in Judah.
The metaphor changes from building to farming.
The first parable is about plowing (Isaiah 28:23-25). God asks, does the farmer continually plow or turn over the ground? Plowing is traumatic to the soil but necessary. But, the farmer doesn’t always plow. After plowing, the farmer plants.
God’s plowing is necessary to plant and bear fruit, but He will not continually plow the soil of Judah.
The second parable (Isaiah 28:27-29) is about threshing; the process of separating the grain from the husks. The goal of threshing is to end up with the usable part of the plant. God will thresh Ephraim and Judah differently. A farmer uses different threshing tools depending upon the plant. God will use different tools to thresh and separate the grain from the husks. In the end, His people will be usable grain.
The same God who counsels the farmer in the field is doing the work of plowing and threshing.
We need to trust God as He works to bear fruit in our lives. His work in my life will look different than in yours and vice versa. But, the end result is the same. We are being conformed so we are in alignment with the Cornerstone. God’s work always leads to fruitfulness in the lives of His children.
MAIN IDEA: Belief in God’s Cornerstone brings victory over trials and tribulations.