By Canon J. John
He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure. Isaiah 33:6 NIV
We have become used to change but many of us feel that the changes we are now experiencing are more dramatic and disorientating than any we have ever known. We walk down our local high street and note the loss of familiar shops that we once took for granted; we struggle with new words and concepts; everywhere we see new choices celebrated and old values and virtues despised. Many people have a sense of an old world lost and replaced by a new one in which we no longer feel at home.
I think this disorientating sense of change has two main elements. The first is the way a subtle tide of new ‘Post-Christian’ choices and beliefs has risen around us. On the one hand there is a new morality with a brazen rejection of truth and righteousness. On the other, a cold morality so that we are now surrounded by harsh new rules and regulations – aggressively enforced by self-appointed guardians – on what can and can’t be said. Publishers now need a ‘sensitivity editor’ to ensure that what is published does not offend anyone.
The second element of change is events. First, we had COVID and then, just as we hoped for a quiet year, a tempest of unexpected shocks has struck us: a war in Europe, political changes, and now an unnerving financial crisis. This combination of a rising tide of a new morality and the storm waves of events has been unnerving for many.
Now, in one way I am as concerned by these changes as everyone; yet in another, as an evangelist I’m intrigued and expectant. You see the turmoil of our days has made many people who have never asked questions query and question the way things are. What new ‘Moses’ has brought in the new commandments of our day? On whose authority? How, when inadvertently we use the wrong word in the wrong place, can we be protected from condemnation? Threatened by the surging and uncertain waters of change, there is now an almost desperate pursuit of higher and more certain and solid ground.
Pondering this and reading through Isaiah, I was struck forcibly by verse 33:6: ‘He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.’Here, in language that looks well beyond Isaiah’s own troubled age, we hear of God’s offer to be the ‘sure foundation for your times’. It’s a wonderful promise: amidst a culture overwhelmed by tide and storm, when the very ground beneath our feet is cracking and shaking, the eternal God himself is proposing to be our stability. The creator and sustainer of all things is offering to be our shelter from the storm, the tower in which we take refuge and the rock on which we build our lives. This great truth – never more needed than now – lies at the very heart of the gospel. As that great old hymn says, ‘On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand . . .’
Isaiah’s powerful statement links the sure foundation of God with three things, each of which apply not just to my ministry and that of Philo Trust, but to all of us who are Christians.
First, we have a reliable rescue. The gospel is a ‘store of salvation’. All around us we see those who need rescuing from lives that are utterly meaningless, from pursuing hopes that deliver nothing and from feeding on desires that are ultimately destructive. But God does save and the Hebrew word here is closely related to Joshua and the name Jesus – the one who ‘will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21 NIV). In the tumult of our world we can confidently proclaim, ‘Jesus can be trusted to save!’
Second, we have a rich resource. The gospel offers a store of ‘wisdom and knowledge’. One of the challenges of our changing times is how we are overwhelmed by an infinity of words and images. But which of them are true? Which of them are helpful? And what, anyway, do we do about them? We need wisdom and insight, and here God offers us both. God’s Word, both in writing as Scripture and in Christ Jesus, informs and instructs us. This passage in Isaiah may well be echoed in Colossians 2:3 when Paul writes of Christ, ‘in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (NIV). In bewildering times, we preach a God who, in Christ, gives us a truth we can live by.
Finally, we have a reverent relationship. We read, ‘the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure’. Today, there are any number of ‘religious products’ on the market: beliefs, programmes and rituals, idols and illusions. Yet in the gospel we see a God who can be known personally through Christ. If we come to God in a reverent, humble attitude through Christ we can find in him a saviour for now and for eternity. In an unfriendly world, the gospel offers the ultimate friend: God himself.
Source: Canon J John