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Worship Series: God’s Government
Worship Theme: Conspiracy Theories
Lesson & Sermon Text: Isaiah 8:11-18 (EHV)
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20 (NIV)
Music: CW 618 Before the Lord We Bow, Alleluia!, CWS 747 There Is a Redeemer, Lamb of God, CW 619 God Bless Our Native Land (in worship folder)
Message Notes & Growth Group Questions
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Message: Conspiracy Theories
Every day another conspiracy seems to sprout up. With all the uncertainty during our current age it seems a given that so many are being shared. It’s obvious we don’t have all the information. We know there are gaps in what we hear and know. Many conspiracies are created to try and fill the gaps. Others are created to take advantage of a situation. Some conspiracies are probably true, most are probably not, and we’ll almost certainly never find out which is which for almost all of them. Many conspiracies surround various hot topic issues and strong emotions. If I asked volunteers to voice some current conspiracies, arguments could start. At the very least, feelings would probably be hurt. As Christians, how do we sift through conspiracies? What are we to do? Today, the LORD speaks his Word on conspiracies and we can learn a lot from what he tells us.
The LORD speaks through Isaiah as he emphatically shouts, “Listen! This is how the LORD…” I am going to stop right there for a second. Notice the LORD is in all capital letters. That is significant. I know we’ve talked about it in sermons before, but it’s been awhile. Does anyone remember what that means? (Wait for answers) It means the LORD who fulfills his covenant promises, the LORD of free and faithful love. So remember, the person sending this message is a loving God whom we can trust and He cares deeply for you. Ok, back to the text. “Listen! This is how the LORD spoke to me with a strong hand upon me.” This message is coming through the mouth of Isaiah, the prophet, but with the authority of the Lord. Often the phrase of “a strong hand upon me” indicated an overpowering experience of divine revelation and showed the prophets knew God was with them and in control of their lives. So now you have this message coming from a loving God, a God who keeps his promises, a God who has authority, and a God who is actively involved and directing the lives of his people. It’s obviously important to hear the message given. The message is: “not to walk in the way of this people.” Isaiah was not to walk in the way of the Israelites.
Now, we’re not unfamiliar with God calling us to be different from other people. He has higher standards for his followers concerning topics such as love and family, but in order to understand what he’s saying to Isaiah here, we might need a bit more background information. You see, Israel was in a tough spot at the time. Israel was divided into two parts. The northern part, which had completely thrown away their faith and refused to follow God. The southern part wasn’t too far behind, but was still kind of limping along in their faith. Isaiah is preaching around this southern part. Recently, two kings had attacked this southern kingdom, but the southern kingdom had kept them at bay. The king of the area, Ahaz, thought he needed to make an unholy alliance with the nation of Assyria for protection in case something like this ever happened again. He and his people were worried about political conspiracies by other kings and were worried about the future, even though God had said he would be more than enough to handle problems like these if the people would just trust him.
So here we are with God telling Isaiah to not be like the rest of his people. God continues explaining, “Do not say “A conspiracy!” about everything that this people calls a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear. Do not be terrified. The Lord of Armies is the one you are to respect as holy. He is the one you must fear. He is the one you must dread. He will be a sanctuary, but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone they stumble over and a rock they fall over, and he will be a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many will stumble over it. They will fall and be broken. They will be snared and captured.”
Notice that God doesn’t say there are no conspiracies. He doesn’t even say that the conspiracy the Israelites are talking about is false. He’s aiming at something else. And we’ll get there. But first I present to you the Eighth Commandment. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” This tells us something about conspiracies, doesn’t it? What word most often follows conspiracy? “Theory.” As in an educated guess or sometimes just a wild guess. Conspiracies often aren’t true so should you really be spreading a conspiracy theory when you don’t even know if it’s true? That could do a lot of damage to someone’s reputation. I know that from experience. Back in college someone was spreading a conspiracy theory about me trying to steal someone’s girlfriend and all the horror stories that went with it. I was not and none of the stories were true. One day I had a guy show up at my dorm room ready to fight me. He eventually calmed down and told me what was wrong and it was the first I had ever heard about the conspiracy theory. I was the last to know. We were this close to someone getting seriously hurt over a conspiracy theory. A conspiracy can cause a lot of damage. Ok. We know we’re not supposed to lie about one another. But what about when what you know is true? Should you share it? James 4:11 says, “Do not speak against one another.” Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man spreads conflict, and a gossip separates intimate friends.” So even when we know something is true, there will be times when we still hold our tongues. Because even though some things are true, they aren’t all constructive. Let’s take this one step further. What if something is true and constructive? Should we always share it? Let me give you an example. I know how to eat food. I do it every day. It’s totally true. It tastes great and I can give you step by step instructions on how to do it. You pick it up and put it in your mouth, chew, and swallow. It’s constructive because you do it every day too. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you how to do that? So one last principle comes into play. Even if something is true, even if something is constructive, is sharing it the best and highest use of your time?
Have you always followed all of those guidelines? How do you measure up? Do you like sharing information about others as it tears someone down just because you think people will recognize you as informative? Maybe instead of saying constructive things, you say destructive things out of jealousy. Have you convinced yourself that saying anything is fair game as long as it’s true? Have you placed yourself as judge, dealing out gossip as punishment so everyone can look down on that person the same way you do? Conspiracies can bring out the worst in us. There’s a bigger problem with conspiracies though: They often draw attention away from God. It’s when you stumble on the cornerstone, telling Jesus, “Get out of the way dude, I got some more important things to worry about.” It’s that moment when it’s hard to sit through church because you can’t wait to check out the status of some juicy story online and talk about whether it’s real and fake. We look on Twitter and Reddit and Facebook and watch the news, while at the same time ignore God’s gracious life-giving Word. We lose track of the one who loves us more deeply, keeps every single promise, and has power and authority like no other. Think about it if someone gave up their life for yours, wouldn’t that mean something to you? Jesus Christ did that on a cross. We should be hungering and thirsting, desperate for his all-knowing, joy-giving, love. It’s the only thing we need and yet so often we can only think about learning the latest what ifs or maybes from our computers and phones.
“But shouldn’t we know those things, Pastor? Isn’t it good to stay up to date on current events? Isn’t it good to know what is coming so that we don’t get sucker punched by Christian-haters or the media or our own government?” It’s good to know current events, but not at the expense of losing our focus on Jesus. God doesn’t want us to stumble over the cornerstone of Jesus because of unbelief. He wants us to build our home with Jesus, using the cornerstone as the focal point and the strong foundation for everything else in our lives. That is what will allow us to stand up through the what ifs and maybes learned from our computers or phones. Because sometimes those what ifs and maybes, those conspiracies, can be scary. News about riots and disease aren’t exactly the most uplifting and they can be a cause for concern. They are problems that often need to be addressed. The fear is real. The worries can mount. But these are all sideshows to the main event. The real conspirator is the Devil, trying to take you away from God, trying to get you to indulge in sin, trying to blur your focus on who is in control. The devil knows he doesn’t have the power to take you away from God and so he tries to distract you and get you to walk away from God. The LORD tells us in his Word today that God is where our focus needs to be. “Do not fear what they fear. Do not be terrified. The LORD of Armies is the one you are to respect as holy.” He is the one with the power to grant life or death. Do you think anything can stop him?
Around the time of our text, the Assyrians marched against the southern kingdom of Israel. King Hezekiah would pray to God and God struck 185,000 Assyrians dead. They weren’t allowed to mess with God’s plan. The God who can do that can certainly protect you from bodily harm, but more importantly from spiritual harm. He can make sure nothing messes with details of his plan for you. And whatever his plan is, it’s best for you. Let me explain. Conspiracies can be scary! What happens if they are all correct? What happens if COVID spreads out and infects everyone? What happens? What happens is God still loves you. What happens if riots escalate and break out on your street? What happens is Jesus has still died for all your sins. What happens if death itself comes knocking on your door? You still go to your eternal heaven. What happens if all the conspiracies you hear on the news are real? You are still a redeemed child of God. What happens? No matter what happens in your life, I can say, “I know that my redeemer lives!” Jesus is still involved in your life on a daily basis and no amount of conspiracies can change that. Don’t give conspiracies power they don’t have. Instead look through eyes of faith to the power of God.
Looking to the power of God takes a certain amount of trust. That’s a lot of what faith is. The last part of our text speaks of the scroll of testimony being rolled up and sealed. If the scroll is sealed, no one can read it or know the details of its testimony. However, believers still trusted in God. Verse 16 talks about how even if people couldn’t see the actions of the LORD, they could still wait hopefully for the LORD to reveal himself and his plan. Trust in him has never been misplaced. Old Testament believers looked forward to the day when the promised Savior would come. They didn’t even know the Savior by name and yet they trusted that one day Jesus would come and their sins were as good as gone because of him. They had to trust despite anxiety of not seeing it, despite not hearing updates every 5 seconds, despite not understanding the details of the plan. And God carried out his promise, just like all his promises, and poured out his free and faithful love upon them.
It's easy to talk about it, but it’s hard to trust when you are going through a rough time or hearing all these conspiracies. But the faith we have isn’t an unsure hope. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a certainty promised by God. It’s a certainty we can show in our own lives through our own actions. By focusing on God, we can be signs and symbols to others. God allows us to have different attitudes and a different vision than other people. We can show all conspiracies pale in comparison to God’s glorious plan for us. The plan of salvation won for us by Jesus Christ. God is your sanctuary and help as you direct your focus back to him. Amen.