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Sermon #23 — Isaiah Series
Title: Living Trees
In the Death of Winter
Text: Isaiah 6:13
Subject: Believer’s Compared to Leafless Trees
Date: Sunday Evening — April 9, 2017
Readings: Rex Bartley and Mark Henson
Have you ever noticed how frequently the Word of God refers to believers as trees?
(Numbers 24:6) We are described “As gardens by the riverside, as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as the cedar trees beside the waters.”
(Psalm 1:3) The believer is compared to “a tree that is planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth fruit in his season,” whose leaf shall not wither.
(Psalm 52:8) David sings, “I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.”
(Psalm 92:12) “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age: they shall be fat and flourishing.”
(Isaiah 61:3) Believers are “called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”
(Jeremiah 17:7-8) “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”
Those six passages of Holy Scripture tell us five things about every child of God in this world. Find a believer anywhere in the world, and you will find one of whom these five things are true.
1. Every believer is a tree planted by God himself in the garden of grace.
Š Selected in Divine Election.
Š Planted in Effectual Redemption.
Š Raised to life in Regeneration.
2. All of God’s trees are planted by the river of water. That river of water is Christ our Savior, the Water of Life. Our roots run to him and draw life from him.
3. All of God’s trees are fruit bearing trees ⸺ “The LORD called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit” (Jeremiah 11:16). ⸺ “From me is thy fruit found” (Hosea 14:8; Galatian 5:22-23).
(Galatians 5:22-23) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, (23) Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
4. God’s trees are all planted in groves ⸺ Gospel Churches. God does not plant trees in isolation. He plants his trees in his own garden, in his courtyard. And there he tends them.
5. And all the trees of the Lord’s planting shall live forever. Neither heat nor drought shall consume them. The hotter the day and dryer the ground the more the trees of God’s planting spread their roots out to Christ, the Water of Life.
Yet, even the trees of God’s planting must endure the blasts of winter. Turn to Isaiah 6:13. ⸺ The title of my message is ⸺ Living Trees In the Death of Winter.
Isaiah was sent to preach the gospel to a people who would not hear him, to proclaim grace to a nation that would not repent. Because Israel would not harken to the voice of the Lord, their destruction was certain. When Isaiah heard of the desolations of Israel, he cried, “Lord, how long?” How long will my people refuse to hear? How long will you pour out your wrath upon the nation?
(Isaiah 6:13) “But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten (consumed, burned up): as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”
God told his prophet that he would not cease from his anger until the nation was utterly wasted, desolate, and barren. “But,” least Isaiah be overcome with despair, the Lord said, “yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten consumed, burned up).” Though Nebuchadnezzar carried away the nation of Israel, a very small remnant of poor, feeble men and women were allowed to return to tend the land. As always, there was a remnant according to the election of grace. However, even this small elect remnant, this tenth, was nearly destroyed, eaten up and consumed, by the trials it had to endure.
It became like “a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so, the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.” The teil tree is one of those trees that holds its green foliage all year long, except in very severe winters. Then, even the teil loses its leaves. And the oak, of course, loses its leaves every fall, as winter approaches. In the death of winter, the trees stand naked and bare, even brittle. There is no sign of life upon them. Yet, the substance of life is still in the tree. That is the picture God gives us of his people in this world.
Proposition: God’s people in this world do, in the death of their winters shed their leaves; but the substance of life remains in them.
Divisions: The words of Isaiah 6:13 must be applied to…
1. The Nation of Israel.
2. The Church of God.
1. Every Individual Believer.
1st ⸺ Our text is to be applied to the nation of Israel. When the Lord God spoke these words to Isaiah, the immediate reference was to the physical seed of Abraham, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel. When the Jews were carried away into Babylonian captivity, the Lord God reserved a remnant to himself. It was a very small remnant. But there was a remnant according to the election of grace.
God preserved Israel as a nation, throughout all the apostasies of that nation in the Old Testament, because his elect were among them. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not bow to the king’s idol. And Daniel would not cease to worship the Lord his God. These men represented God’s remnant, the holy seed. The substance of grace was in them. And they were the substance of the nation. For their sake, Israel was not annihilated. From that remnant, God raised up the nation again.
Israel was also preserved as a nation because our Lord Jesus Christ had to come from the stock of Abraham. Abraham’s Seed must come from Abraham’s people. The Jewish nation could not be destroyed, because Christ, after the flesh, was to spring out of the stock of Abraham. For his sake, the nation had to be preserved. Even after the Babylonian Captivity, only a remnant returned, but in that remnant the holy Seed was preserved.
Our Savior, the Lord Jesus, was the substance contained in all. Israel was like the teil tree, or the oak, in the blasts of Israel’s winters. All the oak trees to spring forth in time were, from the first creation, in the first acorn. And in Christ all his seed, all his people, all his children, all God’s elect were deposited, and will be brought forth from age to age, until all are saved by him, in him, and with him.
Oh, for grace ever to bless the eternal Spirit for this a revelation, by which God stoops to give us an understanding of the sweet mystery of history (Romans 8:28-30)!
Š Now, we see why it is, that God preserves a world of rebels (2 Peter 3:9).
Š There is one who stands by and looks on, watching over all the affairs of time, for the salvation of his chosen.
Š And while to our eye there is nothing to be seen, but withered, leafless trees and vines, and everything appears unpromising, and dead, and lifeless; yet there is in it a tenth, a remnant in it.
Š Therefore, the Lord God says, “Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it” (Isaiah 65:8).
And the Lord God still has an elect remnant according to the election of grace among the Jews, who must and shall be saved. The Jewish nation has been cast off. The Jewish church has been destroyed. I do not suggest for a moment that God will ever re-establish Judaism, temple worship, or a Jewish millennial kingdom. But God does have an elect remnant among the Jews whom he will save, who shall be grafted into Christ by faith (Romans 11:5, 23, 25, 26).
Š They have been Chosen of God.
Š They have been Redeemed by Christ.
Š They shall be Called by the Spirit.
(Romans 11:5) “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”
(Romans 11:23) “And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.”
(Romans 11:25-26) “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. (26) And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
Though the nation as a whole is cast off and become desolate, because of their willful rejection of Christ and the gospel of his grace, the Jews have not been destroyed. Why? Because God will yet be merciful to his elect among the Jews. That is the first application of our text.
2nd ⸺ Without question, if our text applies to the nation of Israel, it certainly applies to the church of God, of which the Jewish church was but a shadow and type. The Church of Christ is the Israel of God, the seed of Abraham, the true circumcision, and the heirs of the covenant, promises, and blessings of God (Philippians 3:3; Galatians 6:16; 3:7; Romans 2:28-29).
(Philippians 3:3) “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”
The professed, visible church of God today is very much like the nation of Israel in Isaiah’s day. Our history is written in blood. We have had to endure the purging fires of bitter persecution. Our forefathers were beaten, banished, imprisoned, tortured, sawn asunder, and burned at the stake, not for crimes they had committed, but for the gospel we believe! The pope and the Church of Rome are as much covered with the blood of God’s saints as the Jews are with the blood of his dear Son.
Thank God, those days of cruelty and physical persecution are, in the Western World, for the time being, behind us. But a far more dangerous trial is now working havoc in the visible, professed church of God. Like Israel of old, the church today has almost universally accepted the gods of the world, mixing the religion of antichrist with the gospel of Christ. These are days of darkness. Apostasy abounds. You cannot drive a half mile in any city in this country without seeing a church building, erected in the name of Christ. But where can you find a place where Christ is honored and the gospel of his grace is preached? In most places, if they should happen to have any preaching at all it is all free-will, works, morality, and patriotism. The prophecy of Amos has come to pass (Amos 8:9, 11-12).
(Amos 8:9-12) “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day: (10) And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day. (11) Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: (12) And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.”
Yet, there is a remnant, perhaps no more than one in ten, but a remnant nonetheless who have not bowed to Baal. They may seem to be lost in the crowd. Their voices may not be heard. But these are the trees of the Lord’s planting. This remnant, like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel, is the church within the church. The substance of grace is in them. And they are the substance of the church.
Things are bad. But there is no cause for despair, or alarm. The kingdom of God is safe. Abounding heresies will not destroy God’s elect, but only prove them (1 Corinthians 11:19).
(1 Corinthians 11:19) “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
God will cause the trees of his planting to flourish in the season he has appointed (Revelation 11:3-4, 11-12).
(Revelation 11:3-4) “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. (4) These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
(Revelation 11:11-12) “And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. (12) And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.”
As the Lord God has an elect remnant among the Jews, he also has an elect remnant in the apostate church of the 21st century. And in his time the trees of the Lord shall spread their branches.
3rd ⸺ I want to show you how this text applies to every individual believer. God’s people in this world do not always live on the mountain top. We spend a good bit of time in the valley, or climbing up a hill. It is not summer all the year round for us. We do have our spring times and our harvests. But we also have our summer droughts and winter freezes. And in the death of winter, it is very difficult to tell dead trees from living ones, because in the winter time even the livings trees lose their leaves.
In the winter time, I mean the soul’s winter, spiritual winter, God’s children often lose their comforts, and those things men call “evidences of grace.” The young and weak believer often places far too much emphasis upon his experiences and those “evidences of grace.” He places too much weight upon himself. When he has good experiences of love, joy, faith, and worship, he is full of comfort. When he has great evidences of grace, he has great assurance. That ought not be. ⸺ We must learn to trace all things regarding spiritual life to its original source ⸺ Christ.
Therefore, our God wisely and graciously sends the drought of summer and the blasts of winter. These things strip away our leaves. But they cause the roots of life to stretch out to Christ, the hidden River of water, and become stronger. In such times, the Lord is teaching us to live by faith.
“To His church, His joy, His treasure,
Every trial works for good:
They are dealt in weight and measure,
(Yet, how little’s understood!)
Not in anger,
But from His dear cov’nant love.
With afflictions, He may scourge us,
Send a cross for every day,
Sap our gourds, but not to purge us
From our sins, as some would say. ⸺
They were numbered
On the Scapegoat’s head of old!
If today, He deigns to bless us
With a sense of pardoned sin,
He tomorrow may distress us,
Make us feel the plague within;
All to make us
Sick of self and fond of Him.”
⸺ John Kent
Sometimes, we lose our leaves and go through a long, hard, barren winter by reason of personal sin. This is a subject that must be handled with care. But it must be faced. Some who once stood in the garden of the Lord full of beautiful foliage, abounding with fruit, have lost their foliage and become barren, by reason of personal sin, the love of the world, the neglect of Christ, or some other evil. Perhaps some of you are like that. Now hear me. ⸺ I would do nothing to encourage these evils or to encourage anyone in them. But, if we are trees of the Lord’s planting, though we may appear dead and barren, if we are of the Lord’s planting, we are still trees in his garden. He will prune us with his sharp pruning knife. But he will never cut us down.
You see, though the trees cast their leaves in the winter, the substance of life is still in them. (Read the text again).
(Isaiah 6:13) “But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.”
No man can tell, by outward appearance, or by inspecting the fruit, whether a tree is dead. In the death of winter, they all look dead. The only way to tell whether it is alive or dead is to look inside. That is where the substance of life is. And no one can see the substance of life but God himself.
You and I do not have any way of knowing who is saved and who is lost. We cannot tell the difference between wheat and tares, sheep and goats, living trees and dead trees.
Š Lot had a long and barren winter, but the Substance of life was in him.
Š David had a long and barren winter, but the Substance of life was in him.
Š Peter had a horrible time of barrenness, but the Substance of life was in him.
The Substance of life is Christ himself (Colossians 1:27).
Š Faith in Christ.
Š Love for Christ.
Thomas Brooks was right when he said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, be his sins never so many; but he that believeth not shall be dammed, be his sins never so few.”
These winter blasts are necessary for the usefulness of fruit bearing trees. To get good apples, you must go to a climate where the seasons are distinct. I do not know the biological reasons for that. But I know that those trees of the Lord’s planting in this earth must have their winters to bear fruit (Romans 5:3-5).
(Romans 5:3-5) “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; (4) And patience, experience; and experience, hope: (5) And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Š That child of God who has come through great trial is better off for it.
Š And that believer who has been restored from some sad fall grows, even by the fall.
Š Salvation is entirely the work of God’s grace.
Š God’s work of grace is inward, not outward.
Š The grace of God is everlasting.
Š Is the Substance of life in you? Do you, or do you not trust Christ? That is the issue you must settle.