Cities of Ruthless Nations Will Fear the Lord

This message has been inspired by two converging visions or mission statements. One is the vision of your church to plant 1,000 churches and bless 1,000 cities out of your church by the year 2050. The other is the mission statement of my life, “I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.”

In other words, when I hear you say that your dream is to start a 1,000 people-blessing churches, and that you aim to bless a 1,000 cities, I immediately translate that “blessing” into the mission of my life. What is blessing? What is the greatest blessing you or I, or any of your church planters or missionaries, could bring to a people or a city?

No Greater Joy

The answer is that the greatest blessing we could bring is to be used by God to awaken in them a “passion for the supremacy of God in all things through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.” There is no greater joy, no more durable joy, than the joy of seeing and savoring and being satisfied in the supremacy of God in all things.

Or to put it another way, there is no greater joy, and therefore no greater blessing, that any city or any people group or any person could have, than the joy of seeing and being with—being lovingly enveloped in — and being transformed by the glory of God’s infinite supremacy. God is the greatest, the most supreme, most beautiful, most powerful, most wise, most just, most loving, most holy, most glorious of all beings. To know him, be loved by him, be transformed by him so that we reflect him, to be with him forever is the greatest blessing any person or any people or any city could ever have.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11). Fullness of Joy. Forever. Greatest joy. Longest Joy. Nowhere but in the presence of God, where we see and savor his supremacy in all things forever.

So your mission to put a gospel blessing in a 1,000 cities and my mission to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, cohere in the fact that this gospel blessing you are taking to the cities is the blessing of seeing God give them an all-satisfying, everlasting passion for his supremacy through Jesus Christ.

God Is the Gospel

The aim of the gospel that J. D. preaches and that I preach, and that you believe is to bring people through Jesus Christ to God — to God. “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

God himself is the ultimate goal of the gospel. The gospel of Christ crucified and risen brings us many good things: forgiveness of sins, imputed righteousness, the removal of God’s wrath, the escape from hell, the hope of heaven, peace of conscience, and in the end total healing with a new body and everlasting freedom from pain. But these are not the ultimate goal of the gospel. The ultimate goal is God—be with God, being satisfied in God himself. Christ suffered to bring us to God. In his presence is fullness of joy. At his right hand are pleasures forever. Knowing God, being with God, enjoying God. This is the final gospel blessing. God is the goal of the gospel.

Your mission. My mission is therefore about the greatness of God. The glory of God. The all-satisfying beauty of God. “Christ became a servant,” Paul says, “in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8–9). And God’s mercy is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in it. We glorify God for his mercy by reveling in his mercy, exulting in his mercy, glorying in his mercy, swimming, frolicking, rejoicing in his mercy. That’s why the aim bless 1,000 cities is the same as the aim to glorify God in 1,000 cities. Because God is most glorified in those cities when they are most satisfied in him—in his merciful presence.

So that’s how this message arose — your vision and my mission merging.

The Challenge Ahead

The problem is: the nations and the peoples and the cities of the world are not moving in this direction. The cities and the peoples of the world who need the blessing of this church are not standing on tiptoe waiting for the message of the humbling of man and the supremacy of God. They are in fact hostile to this message. “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8).

The 1,000 cities you want to bless with an all-satisfying passion for the supremacy of God through Christ are cities who love their sin. They are strong and, in many cases, ruthless cities. They are not ready to fall into your arms. Your mission will be opposed not only with the natural hostility of the human heart, but with supernatural, demonic power. You will not merely war against human forces of evil, but against mammoth powers of darkness.

So my aim is to encourage you with a vision of stunning hope, that our almighty God is on your side, loves your vision, and has promised an astonishing triumph in the end.

The title of this message is “Cities of Ruthless Nations Will Fear The Lord” and it comes from Isaiah 25:3. Let’s read the paragraph. Isaiah 25:1–8:

O Lᴏʀᴅ, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the foreigners’ palace is a city no more; it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall, 5 like heat in a dry place. You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is put down. 6 On this mountain the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lᴏʀᴅhas spoken.”

One indispensible motive for your mission and mine is hope—the confidence that we are engaged in a cause that will triumph in the end. No life laid down in the cause of world evangelization is laid down in vain. No dollar given is in vain. No sermon preached is in vain. No prayer offered is in vain. No candle of gospel light is ever lit in vain.

I love Paul’s words, I cling to them! — “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Our energy and sacrifice and focus is sustained by hope—the confidence that God's kingdom will triumph in this world.

This passage in Isaiah is a picture of that hope. Don’t worry that you can’t answer all the timing questions and all the detail questions about how the triumph of God will eventually come. This text doesn't answer all our questions about the end. What Old Testament prophets do again and again is give us a picture of the final day of victory — from one angle and then from another angle. Each time the aim is that we take heart, give God the glory, and press on in hope-filled allegiance to Christ and hope-filled missions.

So what I want to do in this message is focus our attention for a few minutes on this picture of God's victory, then jump to the New Testament where the power of God begins to triumph in a particular Roman city, and then jump your church as a support base for missions in these tri-cities and around the world.

Seeing with Isaiah

First then, let’s look at what Isaiah sees. What he sees stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It is a huge vision.

Look first at verse 1: “O Lᴏʀᴅ, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” (Isaiah 25:1). God had made plans “long ago in perfect faithfulness.” And now he is bringing his plans to pass in working wonders.

God is a planning God. He gives forethought to what he does. He is wise. And if you believe that he is all-knowing, then he is never playing catch-up ball. He takes all his knowledge into account in making all his plans. He is never caught off guard. If he wins in the last three seconds of the battle with an arrow shot on a venture, he planned it that way. God never “gets lucky.” Isaiah likes to stress this in Isaiah 46:9–10).

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’

So verse 1: “You have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.” Isaiah sees a vision of God’s plan stretching from eternity past, and now to eternity future . . .

Look at verses 6–8. Robert Burns the Scottish poet once said that he could never read these verses, especially verse 8, without tears. They are one of the most remarkable prophesies in all the Old Testament.

On this mountain the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts will make for all peoples [Note: All peoples!] a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord Gᴏᴅ will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lᴏʀᴅ has spoken.

So Isaiah sees the day coming when all the nations — representatives from all the people groups (Revelation 5:9) — will no longer be at odds with Yahweh, the God of Israel and his Messiah, whom we know to be Jesus. They will no longer worship Bel or Nebo or Molech or Allah or Buddha or utopian social programs or capitalistic growth possibilities or ancestors or animistic spirits. Instead they will come in faith to the banquet on God’s mountain. And they will have the veil of sorrow removed and death shall be swallowed up and the reproach of God’s people will be removed and tears shall be gone forever.

That’s the setting — God’s plan from eternity past to eternity future — for understanding the vision now of verse 3 which is the word that I have in mind mainly for your encouragement and hope: “Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you.” (Is 25:3). In other words God is stronger than the “strong peoples” and he is so powerful and so gracious that in the end he will turn cities of ruthless nations to fear him.

This is not the cowering fear of enemies. This is the reverential fear of converts. We know this because the subdued peoples of verse 3 are included in the all peoples of verse 6: “On this mountain the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” So the vision of verse 3 is that strong peoples and the cities of these ruthless nations will turn and fear the Lord—their hostility your gospel will be overcome and they will believe.

So the picture Isaiah gives us is one of all nations turned to God in worship, a great banquet for all the peoples, the removal of all suffering and grief and reproach from the nations who have become his people, and the final putting away of death forever. This triumph is sure because God is doing it. As verse 1 says, he planned it long ago and he is working wonders to bring it to pass. Therefore we can be certain of it.

Not one life spent in the cause of world evangelization is spent in vain. Not one prayer or one dollar or one sermon or one letter of encouragement mailed or one little light shining in some dark place—nothing in the cause of the advancing kingdom is in vain. The triumph is sure.

Paul’s Mission Strategy

Now let’s look at one New Testament picture of how the cities of ruthless nations would be subdued and come to fear Yahweh.

Paul's mission strategy was to go from city to city and plant the church. From the city the surrounding area was evangelized. For example in Acts 19:10 Luke says that because of Paul's two year investment in Ephesus "all Asia heard the word of the Lord." That was the strategy: city to city being the blessing of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation.

He got a vision from Macedonia in northern Greece. Come and help us. Paul’s response to this was to take his team from Turkey to Macedonia and focus on the first major city, Philippi (Acts 16:10-12)

And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.

Philippi was pagan and diverse—you will never plant a church in a city more alien to Christianity than Philippie was. There was the imperial cult that deified the Caesar. There were the Greek gods with their temples and altars and Latin names: Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Mars. Artemis had her cult under the name Bendis. And there were sanctuaries to the gods of Egypt, especially Isis and Serapis, as well as the Phrygian Cybele known as the great mother-goddess. It was, to use the words of Isaiah, a city of ruthless nations that Paul wanted to see revere God.

So Paul preached by the river and God saved one woman, Lydia. He preached in the streets and God saved slave girl who had been possessed by a spirit of fortune telling. He was arrested with Silas and put in prison and he sang down a miracle and preached the gospel the jailer and God saved him and his family. And there was the church, a business woman who sold purple goods, a former slave girl and a low level government employee.

What became of this strategy of blessing the city of Philippi with a new Gospel-driven church? When Paul wrote to the Philippians years later from prison in Rome they were clearly unparalleled in his affections. “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” (Philippians 4:15).

This growing church was the exact opposite of ruthless and cruel and harsh and selfish. They had become so transformed that they were models to the church in Corinth. 2 Corinthians 8:1–2,

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part

And archaeological evidence shows that the church was there in the 2nd–4th centuries and two large basilicas have been uncovered from the 5th or 6th century. Thousands from this city of ruthless nations had come to fear the true God.

Torching the Glaciers of a 1,000 Cities

So Summit Church, take heart, your vision to be a gospel blessing to a thousand cities is biblical vision. And even more wonderful, it is a vision that cannot fail—if you walk away from it, someone else will pick it up. God will see to that. Christ has redeemed a people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. “Strong peoples will glorify him; and cities of ruthless nations will fear the Lord.

If you look out across America and the world and the moral and spiritual climate looks bleak, you are right. There is a great glacier spreading and the love of many grows cold and there are heightened hostilities to the gospel. But your job — our job — is to torch the glacier over a thousand cities. Seriously! There is nothing in the biblical portrait of the end times before Christ comes again that says any given city must frozen out in unbelief.

May God give you great grace and great hope and great perseverance to torch the glacier of ruthless, icy unbelief in a thousand cities. God is with you in this. And he will not fail. Plant the flag of Isaiah 25:3 in a thousand places around this world: “Strong peoples will glorify him; and cities of ruthless nations will fear the Lord.”

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