Are you ready? What are you ready for? Are you ready for anything?
A few weeks ago, there was a lost dog. She was quite cute. My neighbours found the dog and tied it outside their restaurant, hoping someone might recognise it. On the spur of the moment, Yuri and I asked permission to take it for a walk. We walked two blocks, turned right up a small side street and spoke to the first random stranger we met.
He had a dog and was a bewildered by our approach. He tried to ignore us and walk on. He seemed to think we wanted his dog. Just then heads began to poke over the tall wall next to us. Several boys had heard us. They looked at us and the dog. They recognised the dog and next moment his owner had clambered over the wall to join us. Happy reunion.
If we hadn’t responded to the nudge of the Holy Spirit at each stage, it couldn’t have happened. God showed us how he cares for even the smallest among us. And how we must be prepared to listen to his voice at all times.
Many years ago a rich nation sent astronomers to Africa to study the transit of Venus. Preparation to view this great sight had been going on for months. There was a critical moment when the sun, Venus and the earth were all in line. Every astronomer knew that at that moment his eye must be at the smaller end of the glass if he would see the planet go flying past the larger end. If he should miss that moment, no power on earth could bring the planet back again. The world is full of these moments.
Galileo studied the eye of an ox and beheld the principle of the lens. Watt looked at the tea- kettle lid as it was lifted by steam. Columbus saw the wind’s direction and knew there was
land not far away. The difference between these men, to whom the world is indebted, and many others is this. The others looked at the oxen’s eyes and were unmoved. They allowed the tea kettle to boil without it making an impression upon them. They allowed the wind to blow without leading them to any shore. The opportunity for greatness is gone. There is not a person in the world but to whom at some time a great opportunity has been given, and for the use or abuse of it we shall be called to a strict account.
When Jesus first saw Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the day of his triumphant entry, he wept. Why did he weep. It was not for himself but because they were not prepared and had missed their moment.
Luke 19:42 – “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes.”
Nehemiah was leading the work to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. It was going well. When Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites, and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem.
So inspired by God’s guidance, Nehemiah prepared the people.
Nehemiah 4:17 – “The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.”
From that moment, they kept their swords with them at all times and the work was completed.
Just as we cannot tell at any moment what danger may be coming on us, so we cannot tell at any moment what blessing from God may be coming on us. Those Jews, in the day of their visitation, were blind, and they rejected Christ. It was Christ they rejected. Christ was there, not in anger, but in love; not to judge, but to save. The power of the Lord was present, not to destroy, but to heal them. They would have none of him.
God’s instruction to me in 2 Timothy 4 burns in my heart: “Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.”
The instructions continue this way. “You should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”
Do you think this warning is only for me? Do you think that your pastor is the only one who must prepare himself? I am sure you know it is all of us who must be preparing ourselves all the time. What will you do when I’m not here? Is that the time to start preparing? No, that time is too late. I’m going away soon. Next week will be my last Sunday.
After that you won’t see me. If God allows me the blessing, I will return. If you stand firm, you will see me again in September.
Take seriously the words of Isaiah in our reading today.
Isaiah 8:13 – “Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.”
How do you make God holy in your life? You trust in him. You believe in him. Not just sometimes, but at all times. We don’t make God holy. Obviously God is already holy. We live our lives in ways that give honour to his holiness.
The force of this was that the people should not fear the coming Assyrians. They should not fear what the invading army might do to them. They should not fear the king of Assyria.
If they feared any of those things it showed that they did not trust in God. It would show that God was not holy in their lives. When God is welcomed into our lives and we keep his presence in our lives holy, he fights our battles. This is what happened with Nehemiah. They kept working on the wall, building it up. They kept their swords at hand ready for a fight.
In fact we are taught later that this prophecy is not just about God, but about Jesus. When we spend our lives for Jesus, living lives that honour him, we are kept safe.
Verse 16 tells us to “Preserve the teaching of God; entrust his instructions to those who follow me.”
We are only going to be prepared for danger or for blessing when we live close to God and practice daily listening to him. Scripture tells us that the sword is truth. We need the truth. But Scripture also tells us we need the Gospel.
Ephesians 6 says we must take up ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’. It also says to put on Gospel shoes. Verse 15: “For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.”
When Paul wrote this he may have been looking at the armour of the Roman soldier he was chained to. His shoes would have had strong metal studs so that when he was standing with his shield the enemy could not push him back. He would not slip. He would stand firm.
When the enemy comes against you, will you be wearing non-slip shoes of Gospel truth so that you aren’t pushed back. Will you have your sword of truth in your hand to defeat his lies?
When the devil comes, you won’t have time to learn the good news. It must be living in you.
That is what it means to have God holy in your life. You are prepared for anything.
You are ready to go and find the owner of a lost dog. Your are ready to stand against false prophets without slipping. You are ready when I go away, and you will still be here when I get back.
At every chance, tell people the Good News that Jesus has come to save them. Don’t miss the chance. At every moment be ready to stand firm in the Gospel, and not be pushed back by lies.
Isaiah 8 is the inspiration for 1 Peter 3:15 – “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”
This verse is not talking about knowledge. It is talking about action. It’s about how you live. It means to recognise, in word and deed, the full holiness of Jesus, and therefore to treat him with due awe.
Being always ready to explain the Good News is the consequence of sanctifying Christ within by the worship of living a pure life. Then no moment, no questioner shall find us unprepared to speak with freedom of our hope in Jesus.
You don’t have to be an expert in the Bible. That’s not what the Bible is saying. It does not say that every Christian ought to know why he is a Christian, but that every Christian’s own life ought to be so free from taint, so conscious of Christ enshrined within, as to cause him no misgiving in defending the faith. If you live this way then you will always be ready.