The Wealth Of The Christian
“No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.”—Isaiah 54:17
Last Sunday morning we were considering the first part of this chapter of God’s Word, especially in reference to verse 8 and in its setting: “In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” We saw the picture of a people who were suffering the chastisement of God for their sins, and because of this they were tasting the bitter outcome of fruitlessness in service. We recognize that, though through the blood of Jesus Christ the penalty and the guilt of sin are immediately dealt with and “buried in the deepest sea,” yet very often the consequences of a man’s sin follow him for the rest of his life here. But in all of this we saw the Lord even overruling the consequences to His glory, and making a people through chastisement to become spiritually enriched.
Now here is another picture, God is speaking to a people who refuse to be comforted: “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay try foundations with sapphires” (v. 11). So conscious are they of their shame and their guilt that nothing that God could say could reassure them, and how often that is the case with you and me. Satan trips us up, puts us down, and then tells us that it is hopeless to begin again—we might as well give up. Have you heard that voice? I am sure you have, and in that mood nothing that any preacher or friend can say, or even penetrate. Yet look at the language of our text: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” Please observe that this is said to exactly the same people who in the first verse of this chapter have been faced with the barrenness and fruitlessness of their lives. But God is telling them now of a beauty and loveliness that is to be all their own and which is going to emerge on the very scene of their disaster and shame.
Now I am well aware that the primary reference of this passage of Scripture is to the rebuilding of Jerusalem which was effected under the leadership of Nehemiah. But there is an infinitely deeper and fuller meaning to our text than that, for from the wreckage of sin, from the ruin of the fall, and from the rubble and rubbish of every human effort to build civilization without God, there is emerging a people who have been redeemed by blood, the blood of the Cross, and who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God, and they are called the body of Christ or the church.
In the first verse of this chapter, I read, “More are the children of the desolate (that is the Gentile) than the children of the married wife (that is the Jew), saith the Lord.” In verse 3: “Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.” This is that of which Paul speaks in his letter to the Colossians, where he speaks of the mystery which had been hid from generation to generation but now is made manifest to His saints to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of His mystery which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:26).
Here then, emerging from all the wreck of society and the tragedy of human history without God, is a people (and I pray God that each one of us is among that people) redeemed by the blood of Christ, made partakers of His nature. Each one of us is being watched by the eye of the One Who is the architect of the soul, God Himself, our Father. Each one of us in our lives has been wrought upon by hands that are unseen, and we are being tested constantly by the application of the truth of God’s Word and the righteousness that God demands of a people who have been redeemed. He is constantly putting before us the plummet, the line of test, until one day when Jesus comes with His own—blessed day!—there will be fulfilled the vision of Revelation 21:2–4, “I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” That is the ultimate of everything in history. That is the only thing that makes sense and if you don’t keep your eyes on the goal, you’ll go mad in days like these. The only thing that will keep you sane as a Christian is to keep your mind on God’s ultimate purposes and set your heart to achieve them, as your eyes are fixed on Jesus.
Here in this portion of Scripture is the picture of the city being built and in the course of construction; or to change the metaphor, the bride in the course of preparation; or to put it in simple, plain language, here is the picture of your life and the school of which God is the principal. The world is your classroom, life’s problems and battles, tests and trials are the members of the faculty, and you are one of the students, Oh, let us not hesitate to appropriate this portion of Scripture to ourselves, for the chapter closes with this word: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” So I can nestle in here this morning and find comfort to my heart.
Keeping before us, therefore, the picture of the building (one that is often used in the New Testament where Paul speaks of the church as being “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22), let us see the pricelessness of this building, which has to do with our worship. Secondly, the privilege of the inhabitants of the building; that has to do with our witness. Thirdly, the protection of the inhabitants of the building; that has to do with our warfare.
As I take any passage of Scripture my first question always is, “What has God to say to me about this?” I want you to say the same. I want to speak to you as people who are members of the body of Christ. Maybe some of you are not, but you may be today by receiving Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Lord and Sovereign. In confession of your sin and repentance thereof you may turn to God and become His child, born again, a member of the body of Jesus.
First consider the pricelessness of this building, which has to do with our worship. See some of the stones which God produces when He manufactures a saint. There are three of them in verses 11, 12: “I will lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.” Sapphires agates, carbuncles—what are they? Jewels? Yes, but what is a jewel? By nature a jewel is simply a lump of stone, dull material, possible clay. Where then lies the difference between the beauty of a jewel and a bit of ordinary soil? Just this: The beauty of a jewel is due to a process of what is called crystallization that has been conducted under exceptional circumstances, under intense pressure, and in intense heat. A jewel is no more than a bit of ordinary earth which has passed through an extraordinary experience. “Jewels, precious jewels, in His crown.”
Now here is God showing to us something of what He is after, something of the beauty that He has in mind to produce, the quality of material He designs for His people. Ours is a fiery baptism. Ours is the heat and pressure, and we count them hard. We complain and grumble and cry and even give up. But look what God is producing! Sapphires for foundations, agates for windows, and I think the word is better rendered “pearls” for gates.
A foundation of sapphire, one of the most precious of all jewels; it is blue in color, and it reminds us of the clear blue sky and the deep blue ocean. You often find it in Scripture. In Exodus 24:10, the elders of Israel saw a pavement of sapphire under the feet of the God of Israel. In Exodus 28:18, it is one of the precious stones on the breastplate of judgment. And in Ezekiel 1:26, in his vision the throne of God was as the appearance of a sapphire, bright, brilliant, clear blue. In John’s vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21, the foundations of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones, and the second among them was the sapphire. You will recall that blue and gold were predominant among the colorings of the tabernacle, and I think I would be right to saying that the gold speaks of the glory and majesty of God and the blue of the love of God. Underneath the life of every Christian, undergirding it, out of sight, going deep down below everything, if you dig down as far as you can, you’ll come at last to bedrock and what will you find there?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love.
I tell you, as enduring and as eternal as the throne of God, the great fact which underpins every child of God, the blood of the cross, the eternal purpose of His redemption that His grace should triumph where sin did once abound is the love of God. Whatever, therefore, may be the circumstances that are affecting you right now, at this moment, deep down at bedrock there is the sapphire, the love of God.
“Windows of agates,” a jewel which bears upon it the mark of fire. An agate is not a transparent jewel like a clear-cut crystal, nor is it opaque like a piece of brick or flint, but it is partially transparent and admits the light’s rays. God says concerning His children that He will make our windows of agates. In other words, He is going to take the affliction, the battle, the problem, and make it a window through which you see Him. Now that vision will always be partially obscure in this life. We shall always see through a glass darkly, or as Phillips translates it in his Letters to Young Churches, “All we see now is the baffling reflection of reality.” We are like people, he says, who are looking at a great landscape through a small mirror, the baffling reflection of reality. We shall not know as we are known and yet these are windows, and the one who is, as the Scripture says, “afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted,” is the one who will learn to praise God for all of this, because through the fire God has admitted some light. God is laying in your life the foundation of sapphires, His love. He is putting into your life the window of an agate through which you can see and understand something of the meaning of what He is doing with you.
“Gates of pearl”—all twelve gates of the city of Jerusalem in Revelation 21 are of pearl. What is a pearl? Listen carefully: a pearl is the direct result of an injury that has been done to the life that has produced it. You all know that a pearl is found in the shell of an oyster, but how does it come to be there? A grain of sand or some other substance has injured it and immediately that sand is covered with layer upon layer of mother of pearl until at last the thing which has caused the injury is transformed until it becomes a pearl. You see, the pearl has become the answer of the life which was injured to the thing that injured it. The pearl began by hurting, but the answer of the life it hurt was to take hold of the thing that had hurt and transform it into a thing of matchless beauty.
In Matthew 13:45, 46 is the parable of the pearl of great price. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Of all the parables which Jesus told there is none which has suffered from such bad interpretation as this one. The pearl of great price is not Jesus Christ, in spite of what some hymns say. You do not buy salvation, you receive it as God’s gift. What is the pearl of great price? There is to be gathered out of the sin, evil and confusion of these days a most glorious jewel for the possession of God, the church of Jesus Christ, and with this in His mind the Master goes away and sells all that He might purchase it. He did not go away from Earth to heaven; He went away from heaven to Earth. One day we came to Him in our sin, and in our coming to Him He was injured, He was wounded, He was bruised, He was hurt. But the answer of the life that was injured, bruised and hurt to those who wounded Him was to make over to us His loveliness and to produce a pearl. Every pearl of beauty is a reminder that there has been a stab of pain. Every fragrant Christian life, the gates of which are of pearl, is only that because of the wounds which once that life inflicted upon Him when we denied our God, refused and rejected Him. His answer to our hurting Him was to make us a pearl of great price.
May I apply that in a subjective sense? There is no gate that leads into abundant life which does not cost. There is no display of the grace of God in a man’s life that has not been preceded by a personal crucifixion of the flesh. I would ask this question lovingly. What is your answer to the friend who has injured you? What is your reply when you are hurt and wounded? Is it to say, “I’ll fight him to the last.” If it is, then I suggest, you are not a Christian. Or is to say, “Lord, I’m sure that brother is wrong, for you see how he has hurt me; but dear Lord, by Thy grace I’m not going to fight back. I’m going to love him, and the answer of my life that has been hurt is to be the means in the hand of God of transforming the life that hurt me and producing a pearl.” The pricelessness of our building which is worship.
Now see the privileges of the inhabitants of this building which is our witness, “and all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13). In John 6:45 the Lord quotes this verse: “It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me.” Going back a moment to the metaphor of the school, He is the principal, He regulates the curriculum, He delegates to nobody else the tasks of educating His children, but how often I hear and do not learn. In a school report of a certain child recently, among other good things in the report there was this statement—“Attention often wanders to other things which have nothing to do with the subject, and so the lesson is returned to be done again.” I went back in the pages of memory and that had a somewhat familiar ring about it. How often as I sat in a schoolroom I was thinking about the football field, or anything on Earth but what the man was trying to teach me. I heard him, but I didn’t learn. In the school of God, how often I hear but I don’t learn. If we did learn, as John 6:45 says, we would come to the feet of Jesus and great would be our peace. Instead of that we are restless, frustrated, unhappy, defeated, just because we hear and do not learn.
What lesson has the Lord been trying to teach you recently? Could it be the lesson of true repentance and forsaking of sin? Could it be the necessity of obedience to His Word? Could it be the necessity of trusting Him, resting in His promise, and leaving the case in His hands? But you will not learn. You still disobey, you still sin, and you still try to fight the battle yourself, and yet the Scripture says, “Great peace have they that love thy law.” How powerful is such a testimony for Jesus, but how ineffective and damaging it is when I hear but I do not learn! We profess faith for many years, and yet spiritually we are still in infancy. We don’t grow up and we reveal it by our attitudes, our reactions and our fighting. The Bible says that the privilege of God’s people is that they shall be all taught of God. Don’t you think that is the mark of those who are clearly His, the dividing line between the true and the false today? The false hear but don’t learn. The true hear and learn. In the parable of the sower, there is the seed by the wayside, the seed on stony ground, the seed among thorns, the seed on good ground; all of them were those who had heard the Word but only those learned where the seed fell on good ground. Are you a hearer only, or does it make any difference to you what you hear? Such is the privilege of the inhabitants of the city: they shall be all taught of God.
Thirdly, the protection of the inhabitants of the city which is our warfare: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Many are the weapons that are formed against the Christian. Many are the tongues which lie against the man of God, but read the last part of verse 16: “I have created the waster to destroy.” The first part of the verse also reads “I have created,” that is the emphasis: “I have created the smith that bloweth the coals.” In other words, don’t be afraid when you see the pressure coming. Don’t be afraid when you see something blowing up the fire and producing an instrument to destroy. God has made even that instrument, and it can do no more than God permits. No weapon formed against you shall prosper. Every tongue that is raised against you in judgment, you shall condemn.
You cannot escape the ordeal of which I have been speaking: “In the world ye shall have tribulation. If they have hated and persecuted Me, they will do the same to you” says Jesus. I want to say, though, that nothing on Earth can ever hurt the child of God. Our responsibility in every situation, I believe, is to do what is right in the sight of God, and be regardless of the opinions of anyone else. Be regardless of the strife of tongues, the deceit, and the sharp practices of other people. Never vindicated yourself, never take revenge. God will turn the edge of every weapon that is formed against you back on the person who uses it, and He will silence every whispering, accusing voice. That is your heritage, if you are His servant. Your honor is in the keeping of the Lord Himself. Therefore, don’t lower yourselves to the mean, despicable level of some professing Christian people whose backbiting and bitterness are evidences of their true character. Leave your case in His hands and watch Him work.
As fellow-travelers along the pilgrim road to glory, remember the pricelessness of the structure, keep the goal in view, to be a jewel in His crown. Remember the privileges of every inhabitant of the city, “They shall all be taught of God,” and be sure that you are a student in His school and that you hear and learn from Him. Rejoice in the protection of every inhabitant of the city, and keeping your eyes on Jesus, let Him fight for you, for victory in Him is assured.