16th Sunday after Pentecost – 9/12/2021
In the 1960s, a pair of reasonably popular Hollywood-produced movies made the phrase "in like Flint" a household expression and propelled the actor James Coburn to stardom. The films were a parody of spy films such as the classic 007 and James Bond sagas. Coburn, as Derek Flint, an American spy, did an excellent job endearing this irreverent, woman-chasing, and quite unorthodox spy to the hearts of many. The reason is that despite all his faults and frequent bungling, he always managed to succeed in his undercover work and spoil the evil plans of the enemies of the United States and even the world. Hence, the title of his second film, "In Like Flint," became a slogan for success or getting the job done.
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we heard the LORD's servant Isaiah say emphatically, "I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint." Isaiah, of course, had nothing in mind like Derek Flint. He is referencing that particular type of rock, which is called flint.
I'm sure, like me, when you hear the term "flint," you recall that when flint strikes steel, it can produce small, fiery chips, or sparks, which are well suited to starting a fire. But here, Isaiah has a whole other quality of flint in mind. Flint is one of the hardest rocks there are. Accordingly, chiseling is tough and resists any efforts to fashion it into some other shape. That is why the two occasions when God brought forth water from the rock to refresh the people of Israel in the wilderness—these miracles—are all the more spectacular. Moses specifically says that the water issued forth from "flint" rocks (Ex. 17:1–7; Num. 20:1–13).
What is it like to have a face like a flint? It means an unyielding look that remains firm, resolute, and true to its character no matter its difficulties. The face does not flinch or turn away from the direction it is pointing. It remains steadfast!
Contrary to what many Christians think today, authentic Christianity is about having a face like a flint. I'm sorry if I am bursting anyone's bubble. Following Jesus is the opposite of being pliable, malleable, soft, or compromising. We have far too long allowed secular society or weak-kneed Christians to define what it means to be a Christian or what it truly means to love God and love our neighbor. Real, biblical, godly love is not some gushy feeling. Even though true love will always impact our emotions, the love God speaks of emanates from a personal resolve, purpose, and commitment; first, God's and then, after receiving His, ours. Jesus has said, "If you love me, keep (honor, treasure) my commandments" (Jn. 14:15).
There is nothing wishy-washy about being willing to bend over backward or compromise when it comes to holding to the truth of God or confessing His Word. We hear from the Lord such warnings as these. For example, "Stand firm!" (Phil 4:1). "Proclaim the truth with all boldness!" (Acts 9:28). "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!" (James 4:7). "Fight the good fight!" (1 Tim. 6:12) "Put on the full armor of God" (Eph 6:11). "Endure suffering like a good soldier" (2 Tim. 2:3). "Take up your cross and follow me" (Jn. 16:24). When it comes to following God's Word and His plan of salvation in Jesus Christ, you and I are not to be pushovers or compromisers. Even Jesus says, "Oh, I wish that you were cold or hot, but you are barely warm, and I will spew you out of my mouth!" (Revelations 3:16)
Neither Jesus, our Lord, nor you or I have the authority to preach, teach, or share His Word to suit our whims, situations, or sensibilities or to avoid rejection or reprisal. Jesus has never said, "Oh, if you get into a tight spot and people criticize what you preach and teach, just tweak it a little, so you don't offend anyone." On the contrary, Jesus says, "Teach them all things I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). Jesus expects us to set our faces like flint—that is, to be as bold as the truth He's given us to proclaim. He has called us to be His "unusual people," to be different, the salt in a bland world, and the light in a darkened world. The church is no place for wimps!
In our text from Isaiah today, we hear what setting your face like flint means. The LORD's prophet Isaiah boldly proclaims: "I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting."  But the Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; thus, I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame. He who will vindicate me is not far away. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.  Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment, and the moth will eat them up.  Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? "Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God."
Have any doubts about where Isaiah stands? He is not ashamed to declare that he is with the Lord. His preaching comes from the LORD. Is he not going to back away from it or, in any other way, soften, alter, or tweak it? He boldly asserts: "The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught... The LORD opened my eyes... The LORD opened my ear, and I was not rebellious. "I did not turn back."
Isaiah seems relaxed about what people might think of him or his message. "I gave my back to those who struck and my cheeks to those who yanked out my beard; I did not hide my face from shame and spitting."
I dare you to find a more confident and convicted preacher! He proclaims, "I have set my face like flint, and I know I shall not be put to shame... Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me. "Who will declare me guilty?" These are not the words of a wimp!
But before we go gaga over Isaiah's impressive strength and resolve, we need to pay attention to everything he tells us. After all, he does not claim that he made himself this stalwart preacher of God's truth. On the contrary, he tells us that God has removed his wimpish ways with His Word and equipped him with a confident, willing, convicted, and resilient spirit. God, he claims, gave him "an instructed tongue" to "sustain with a word him who is weary." Isaiah did not get a wild idea one day to become a preacher. He did not feel some burning in his bosom to preach Jesus. Instead, around the time that Uzziah, King of Judah, died, around 740 B.C., God appeared to Isaiah and commissioned him to preach His Word to His people (Is. 6:1ff).
Likewise, Isaiah was not "self-taught." The Holy Spirit Himself instructed Isaiah's tongue, teaching him the message He wanted him to preach. Isaiah could be confident and bold in preaching it. He was satisfied that it wasn't his "sermon" but Almighty God's. If his hearers didn't like the message he was given to preach or even outright rejected his words, that was their problem, not his. Many did reject Isaiah's preaching. He was jailed and eventually executed for his preaching. But since his message was from God, it was not Isaiah, the man people rejected. They rejected God himself to their demise.
What about you and me as 21st-century witnesses of Jesus? The LORD has not "immediately" (directly) called us to be His prophet like He did Isaiah through a vision or any other visible contact with us. The LORD, through the working of His Spirit and Holy Baptism administered to us, called us to be His own. He has given each of our new births into His holy family. God cleansed us in the blood of Jesus to be His holy priests so that we "might declare the excellencies of the One who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light" (2 Pet. 2:9). Additionally, through His holy Word, especially the Gospel of Jesus Christ, taught to us by our parents, teachers, and pastors, the LORD has instructed our tongues. He has required us to know the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and the eternal salvation God gives us in Him. He has made us understand God's truth, the truth that saves the weary sinner. The truth about His will for our lives
Therefore, we, like Isaiah, have no reason to be timid in sharing the whole truth of God's Word with our families and neighbors or living out His values. The message we have received is not some concoction of ours. It is God's message to the world that the apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter one, "is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes" (Ro. 1:26). We have no reason, cause, or excuse to be wimps about proclaiming it, sharing it, teaching it, and living it.
Now, you don't need to tell me how hard it is to be a bold witness of God's truth, especially in this pluralistic and post-modern world we find ourselves in today. Over the years, I have experienced all sorts of pushback: personal verbal attacks, killing stares, behind-the-back assaults on my character, accusations of being "unloving," and threats of one kind or another. Some of the most vicious attacks have come from members of the same congregations I have served.
That is unsurprising, given that the pressure is really on us to teach God's commandments. Especially in a manner that does not make anyone feel guilty about their immoral lifestyles or judge them as sinners, or, God forbid, give them the impression that by disobeying His Word, they have placed themselves under God's wrath. Of course, there are risks to being faithful. If we don't set our faces like flint and say it the way people want to hear it, we are accused of being legalistic, out of touch with society, 19th-century prudes, and even religious bigots who hate everyone different from them.
The whole push to legitimize the marriage of same-sex couples and to codify transgenderism aside, some of the sharpest criticism, most vicious verbal attacks, and character assassinations are reserved for us if we dare preach the true Gospel: that there is no salvation outside of faith alone in Jesus Christ. People might not pull out our beards or beat us on the back, but you can bet if we are bold to witness the truth about sin, grace, and Jesus Christ, many will ostracize us, oppose us, blackball us, and seek every way they can to humiliate us. Being a faithful witness to Christ Jesus and His Word of Truth sharpens our teeth!
But understand this: being weak-kneed, unfaithful, and willing to compromise the truth is a First Commandment issue. It reveals God's identity. It shows who we fear, love, and trust more: man or God. Do I fear man's wrath or His wrath more? Do I fear losing face with my friends, neighbors, political leaders, or God? Do I fear losing a relationship with my family, friends, or God more? Do I trust the opinions of science, the so-called experts, or God's clear Word?
Take heart, dear fellow witnesses of God's truth. In the face of all opposition you might receive, you can be assured that the truth you have been given to witness is not yours; it is Almighty God's. And since it is His Word of truth, it has God's power to accomplish great things for His kingdom. Our Gospel reading today shows that it can cast out demons and save sinners.
You are further encouraged to be bold and faithful in your witnessing because God promises that as His witnesses, you are not alone but that He will be with you and vindicate you. You can say boldly with Isaiah: "But the Lord God helps me; therefore, I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame." "He who vindicates me is near." Jesus promises you, "He who confesses me before men, I will confess him before my Father in heaven!" (Matt. 10:32).
The fulfillment of God's promise to be with you and vindicate you cannot be seen more clearly than in the incarnation of the Son of God. In Jesus' flesh, God is with us. In fact, in the person of Jesus, God has come to bear the brunt of the world's rejection of the truth. These words of Isaiah find their most complete fulfillment in Jesus, Himself. He truly is the LORD's Servant, having returned His pure, innocent body to those who opposed him, allowing them to strike it with sticks and scourges. He turned the other cheek to his abusers, fearing they would further harm him. As Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, "Like a lamb before his shearers are silent, so He did not open His mouth."
Jesus did not seek retribution against His enemies but willingly suffered all injustice so that He might atone fully for their and your iniquities, sins, and even failures to stand up firmly for His truth. He set his face like flint and endured the total onslaught of the world's abuse to vindicate you before God fully.
Therefore, you can afford to set your face like flint and be bold confessors of God's truth. Even if the whole world sets itself against you, as baptized believers in Jesus Christ, you have already been vindicated before God. And that is what matters! The payback that Jesus has won for you before the Father ensures your ultimate victory—your future standing in glory with Him. What does it matter what the world thinks of you? In Jesus Christ, you already know what God thinks of you!
Your faces might never be ensconced in granite like those of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt on some tall butte overlooking a beautiful valley. Still, you certainly have every reason to be "set like flint" as proclaimers of God's truth in our world. With God with you, Jesus' vindicating blood upon you, and God's spirit-filled words in your mouths, all who oppose you and the truth of Christ will themselves "wear out like a garment" (v. 9). They will come to an end under the just and mighty judgment of God. Jesus has said of His Church equipped with the valid message of Christ, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."