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7-7-24 His Truth is Marching On

His Truth is Marching On

David Peterson / General

2024 Isaiah Series / Power; Spiritual / Isaiah 14:3–11

Sermon Type: Textual-Topical

Proposition: The original temptation is living from one’s self which leads to self-centeredness and eventually lording it over others. Jesus broke this cycle, freeing us to live from God.


Key Text: Isaiah 14:5 NIV84 – The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked,

the scepter of the rulers.

I. God’s Promise to Break the Tyrannical Spirit (v. 5)

1. Explanation

a. Background, Isaiah 13:1-23:18 contain prophecies of judgment upon the nations surrounding Israel: Babylon and Assyrian in the north, Philistia, Moab, Damascus and Jerusalem (neighbors to Judah, including Jerusalem itself), Cush and Egypt in the South, and again northern power such as Babylon, Dumah, Arabia and Tyre and once more Jerusalem.

b. Our reading is God’s promise to break the spirit that has brought his judgment against the nations. He promises to break the tyrannical spirit.

Isaiah 14:5-6 NIV84

The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, [6] which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression.

c. The name for this ongoing reality in history in the Bible is Babylon. Babylon, beginning with the tower of Babel, becomes the symbol on the ongoing presence of human tyranny—the tendency to dominate and lord it over people.

d. In the tower of Babel story we see the source of tyranny, a lack of trust in a power higher than the self (i.e., God). The people say, we will make a name for ourselves. The inevitable result of not grounding our trust in God is that we seek means of self-security which leads to self-centeredness. Sin is being curved in upon the self and this happens when we’re not grounded in God. Lack of trust (unbelief) precedes disobedience.

e. Such nations in their disorder and sin inevitably bring judgment upon themselves.

2. Application

3. Illustration

Saddam Hussein’s Humiliation

Newsweek provided this description of the dethroned Saddam Hussein:

In a part of the world where pride and dignity mean everything, the images were clearly intended to shame. A nameless doctor or medical technician, wearing rubber gloves, was seen closely examining the man’s hair, perhaps looking for vermin. Prodded with a tongue depressor, the man opened his mouth; the doctor peered at the pink flesh of his throat and scraped off a few cells for DNA identification.

Then the world saw the man’s face. Haggard, defeated, meek and weak. The Glorious Leader, Direct Descendant of the Prophet, the Lion of Babylon, the Father of the Two Lion Cubs, the Anointed One, the Successor of Nebuchadnezzar, the Modern Saladin of Islam had been brought low, forced to bow down to contemplate his fate while waiting to stand trial.

Source: “How We Got Saddam,” Newsweek (12-22-03), pp. 23-24; submitted by Stephen Nordbye, Charlton, Massachusetts

It is not difficult to make out a case for pride, as the peculiar evil of modern civilization. As humanity increasingly realized its own powers, man took such pride in the work of his own hands that multitudes felt no necessity for God. The philosophy of Humanism was born of an age of scientific achievement. It proclaimed the inherent greatness of man, and denied the need of any power other than his own for salvation. … Pride reaches a pitch of audacity when it reveals contempt for the Almighty. Read modern history in the light of this glorification of man, and all our wars become not regrettable failures in diplomacy, but the judgment of God on human pride. To dismiss God, to leave him out of account in the handling of life, means a steady deterioration in human relationships; arrogance engenders hatred and fear, till the world is full of suspicion, the armaments are piled up, the fatal “incident” occurs, and the earth is on fire. So man in his pride is “brought down to hell” (vs. 15).

The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 5, © 1956 Abingdon Press, page 263

II. The Tyrannical Spirit is Broken in Christ

1. Explanation

a. The verse after our reading for today points to the ultimate source of the Babylon spirit. In the old King James it says,

Isaiah 14:12 KJV – How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!

b. Jesus broke that spirit beginning in his temptation in the wilderness when he refused to submit to the devil’s temptation to exalt himself, to live from himself. He said instead he lives from every word which comes from God. He lives grounded in God and proved it by saying it is written and living by the truth of God’s word, refusing to follow the false spirit of Lucifer.

c. Isaiah said in our reading last week, the Messiah “with the breath of his lips … slay the wicked.” And he does that by putting us to death, our old sinful, self-centered, tyrannical selves whenever we hear the gospel.

2. Application

3. Illustration

Jesus Obeyed His Father 20 Million Billion Times

Here’s one way to look at Jesus’ earthly life of obedience to God the Father. Jesus lived approximately 33½ years, or 1,057,157,021 seconds. In every second the average human being’s brain has 100 billion neurons all firing around 200 times per second, giving a capacity of 20 million billion firings per second. If we want to know how many conscious decisions Jesus made to obey his Father’s will, multiply 20 million billion by the number of seconds he lived: 1,057,157,021. The equation would look like this:

20,000,000,000 x 1,057,157,021 = a very large number!

Jesus Christ never made one decision, consciously or unconsciously, in all those innumerable split seconds that wasn’t completely consistent with loving his Father and his neighbor. And his obedience wasn’t merely an outward performance. He always did the right thing, and he always did it for the right reason. During his lifetime of constant, unwavering obedience, from infancy all the way to death, he wove a robe righteousness sufficient to cover millions and millions of us. Yes, even you.

Source: Adapted from Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Comforts from Romans (Crossway, 2013), pp. 97-99

“The New Being is manifest in the Christ because in Him the separation never overcame the unity between Him and God, between Him and mankind, between Him and Himself. This gives His picture in the Gospels its overwhelming and inexhaustible power. In Him, we look at a human life that maintained the union in spite of everything that drove Him into separation. He represents and mediates the power of the New Being because He represents and mediates the power of an undisrupted union. Where the New Reality appears, one feels united with God, the ground and meaning of one’s existence. One has what has been called the love of one’s destiny, and what, today, we might call the courage to take upon ourselves our own anxiety. Then one has the astonishing experience of feeling reunited with one’s self, not in pride and false self-satisfaction, but in a deep self-acceptance. One accepts one’s self as something which is eternally important, eternally loved, eternally accepted. The disgust at one’s self, the hatred of one’s self has disappeared. There is a center, a direction, a meaning for life.”

Paul Tillich, The New Being

III. America has its origin in this Spiritual basis.

1. Explanation

a. The anti-tyrannical bent of the United States, with its emphasis on individual freedom, personal liberty does not originate first and foremost from the enlightenment thinkers of the 1700s, though they were important in influencing our founding fathers and the documents they produced. No, it came over a century and half earlier in 1620.

b. The origin of the American bent towards freedom from tyranny is spiritual.

i. The foundation stone for American democracy is the Mayflower Compact.

On November 23, 1920, during a commemoration ceremony for the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, then Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge, who later became the 30th U.S. President, expressed the following about the Mayflower Compact:

“The compact which they signed was an event of the greatest importance. It was the foundation of liberty based on law and order, and that tradition has been steadily upheld…”

The 400th Anniversary of the Signing of the Mayflower Compact Day

Future president John Quincy Adams even called it “perhaps the only instance, in human history, of that positive, original social compact, which speculative philosophers have imagined as the only legitimate source of government”

ii. The event which prepared people for democracy just prior to the revolution was great awakening (1730s-1740s)

The Great Awakening helped prepare the colonies for the American Revolution. Its ethos strengthened the appeal of the ideals of liberty, and its ministers and the members of the new evangelical faiths strongly supported the Revolution. The drive for religious liberty against a tyrannical religious authority fed into the movement for civil liberty against the unjust political authority of the British in the 1770s. Likewise, the evangelical teaching that each individual believer was equal before God made it easier for people to accept the radical implications of democracy and to question authority. Thus, the same movement that sent Nathan Cole sprinting out of his field that October morning helped set the stage for American independence. The Great Awakening was the most significant religious and cultural upheaval in colonial American history, and helped forge U.S. civil and religious liberties emerging in the mid-eighteenth century.

2. Application

3. Illustration

“Just as a spiritual covenant had marked the beginning of their congregation in Leiden, a civil covenant would provide the basis for a secular government in America.”

Nathaniel Philbrick (2006), Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, Penguin Book, New York, ISBN 978-0143111979, p. 41

Modern version of Mayflower Compact

IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid: And by Virtue hereof do enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience. IN WITNESS whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape-Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620.


Of global spiritual relational and moral crisis, it shows up in the deepest essences of our societies. The first thing is, and I’ll just take US statistics, we’ve just gotten a lot sadder as a society. Rising suicide rates, rising mental health problems, the number of people who say they have no close personal friends is up by fourfold since 2000. The number of teenagers who say they are persistently hopeless and despondent is 45%. The number of people not in a romantic relationship is up by a third since 2000. The number of people who rate themselves in the lowest happiness category is up by 50% since 2000. So we’ve just become a lot sadder as a society, and when you get sadder, you get meaner.

I give you all these sad statistics; I could give you a bunch of mean statistics: gun violence, hate crimes. The one that gets to me: it used to be two-thirds of Americans give to charity; now fewer than half of Americans give to charity. We’ve just become sadder and meaner, and that’s deep in the fabric of society. We’ve also gotten a lot more pessimistic, and some of that is the media’s fault. We’ve determined that we can get your eyeballs if we create headlines that generate fear and anger, and so the number of headlines that generate fear and anger is up by about 200% over the last 15 years. But it’s not only the media. Some researchers took a look at the sort of global conversation in print starting in 1850 up till today, and they measured how many of the books, magazine articles, newspaper articles, whatever, were positive and how many were negative. From 1850 to about 2008, most of this stuff was positive. There were dips during the Great Depression, which you’d expect, and there were increases in the 1990s when we had prosperity. But basically, we were a pretty happy country. Then, starting in the financial crisis, but ever since, the negativity of American culture has just collapsed. So we have a more negative public culture than we did in the Great Depression, during World War II, during World War I, or any of the crises of the past 150 years. We are just an incredibly pessimistic country. And if you even ask high school students, the share of high school students who say it’s hard to have hope for their life has been surging.

This negativity has a political vehemence. On the right, it manifests as catastrophism. I interview a lot of Trump people, and the general theme you hear over and over again is this country is on the verge of total destruction—just a catastrophizing mentality. On the left, it shows up in the form of mental health problems and depression. Thirty-four percent of conservatives say they report feeling in poor mental health at least half the time, but 57% of progressive young people say they report feeling negative mental health—just higher rates of mental health problems, higher rates of neuroticism. It’s very gendered: 41% of liberal males say they have poor mental health compared to 60% of liberal females. It’s not clear to me why this is happening, but you see the mental health crisis feeding into our politics.

My underlying point is that the global crisis of populism and the rise of authoritarianism is not just about policy and politics. We’re undergoing a global spiritual recession, and a lot of people are trying to use politics as a form of social therapy. Remember Ryan Streeter, a researcher formerly at the American Enterprise Institute, who discovered that people who call themselves lonely are seven times more likely than others to be active in politics. So there’s a lot of lonely people dominating our political activism.

In a healthy society, we have what you call the politics of redistribution. We have big arguments, but they are arguments about how high taxes should be or where spending should go. That’s in a healthy society. We don’t have that kind of politics anymore. We have the politics of recognition. People are going into politics in order to feel good about themselves and in order to make the other side feel shamed. They’re going out for a sense of purpose and meaning. So people are using politics to fill a hole in their own soul, to be affirmed, and to get retribution on the people they dislike. Politics is a seductive form of social therapy because it seems to solve your spiritual and psychological problems. It gives you the illusion that there’s a war of good and evil, and you’re on the side of good. It gives you a moral landscape, so you get to have some meaning in your life. It gives people a sense of belonging. If you’re lonely, suddenly you’re part of team red or team blue. It gives people a sense of righteousness. You don’t have to sit with the widow or feed the poor, but if you get indignant in front of the TV set, you feel you’re doing something right for the cause. It gives people a sense of purpose, a sense that somehow they’re contributing to something larger than themselves.

The problem is, if you’re asking politics to fill a hole in your soul to solve your psychological, relational, and moral problems, you’re asking more of politics than it can give you because you don’t really have community. You’re not working with others; you’re just hating the same people. You don’t really have moral action; you’re just indignant in front of the TV set. There’s not really a morally comprehensible landscape. It’s not like one side has the monopoly on virtue and the other side has a monopoly on vice. When you try to use politics to fill the hole in your soul, you’re seeking to get out of the sense of anxiety, alienation, and depression, but you’re simply winding up in a state of moral war, and it makes everybody mean and brutal and makes all the problems worse.

I’ve tried to describe an unpleasant America and an unpleasant world—a negative mood. What’s the cause? What are the deep roots of the negative mood that I think is leading to populism and authoritarianism? I’ll start with some child psychology. There was a guy named John Bowlby many years ago who said one of my favorite sayings about life in general: “All of life is a series of daring explorations from a secure base.” He was a child psychologist, so he meant you need a strong family, a strong home, and then you can be daring and have a daring life. Do we have that in the world today? Do people have a secure base? Do they have the opportunity to do daring explorations? I think both those things are in decline.

So, what is a secure base? A secure base in Bowlby’s terms was family. Family is not something you choose; family is something that we’re bred into. It’s deep in our soul. People are not transformed by institutions to which they are lightly attached. We’re attached to this specific family, this specific sacred piece of land, this specific country, this specific philosophy or faith. These are things that we don’t choose often, but they are deeply woven into the fabric of our identity, of who we are, and they give us a secure psychological base. When we get married, it’s not a contract. We’re not doing it because it’s in our self-interest. We’re doing it because we’re willing to make a lifelong commitment, hopefully, to another human being.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who was the head Rabbi in Britain until he died recently, explained the difference between a contract and a covenant. He wrote: “A contract is about interests; a covenant is about identity. It is about you and me coming together to form an us. That is why a contract will benefit a person, but a covenant will transform a person.” Specifically, it is these attachments, often for most of us to these deep things that are woven into our soul: first, the family; second, the sacred place—loyalty to America, loyalty to your town, loyalty to your country; and third is a sense of a moral order. People who are religious have a sense that there is a coherent moral order that is not dependent on our choices. You don’t have to be religious to believe that there is a sense that the world is morally coherent, and you can build your life around the sense that there is such a thing as right and wrong. The Civil Rights Movement was based on the idea that, as Lincoln said, if slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong. If segregation is not wrong, nothing is wrong. There is a coherent moral order woven into the fabric of human life.

George Marsden is a historian who wrote: “What gave such widely compelling force to King’s leadership and oratory was his bedrock conviction that moral law was built into the universe.” It’s very hard to feel existentially safe if everything’s up for grabs: if right and wrong are up for grabs, if your family is up for grabs, if your country is up for grabs. It’s hard to feel secure.

Now, liberalism, democratic liberalism, which I revere, is based on individual choice. It’s based on the idea that we respect human dignity and our choices, but liberal societies only prosper when they are based on things that precede choice. There’s only a firm foundation for us to make our choices when there are these covenantal obligations to each other through family, through nation, through God, or through some idea that there’s a thing called right and wrong. When individual choice gets so extreme that it eats away at the covenants of our life, it begins to erode the foundation of liberal society. In my view, over the last few years, liberalism has gotten—well, we’ve had an extreme form of liberalism. This is measurable. There’s this thing called the World Values Survey. They go all around the world and ask people about their values, about how individualistic, how much you believe in autonomy, or how much you believe in community. Especially in Europe and the English-speaking world, over the last 20 years.

David Brooks at Aspen Institute


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