A Face Like Flint (Isaiah 50:4-9)

The 16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 12, 2021)

Back in the 60’s  a pair of fairly popular Hollywood produced movies made the phrase “in like Flint” a household expression and propelled the actor James Coburn to stardom.  Together the films were actually a parody on spy films such the classic 007, James Bond, saga.  Coburn in his role as Derek Flint, an American Spy, did a wonderful job endearing this irreverent, woman chasing, and quite unorthodox spy to the hearts of many. The reason is that despite all his personal 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 of the world.  Hence, the title of his second film, “In Like Flint”, became a slogan for being successful 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 a 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 is struck by steel it can produce small fiery chips, or sparks, which suit well to start a fire.  But here Isaiah has a whole other quality of flint in mind.  Flint is one of the hardest rocks there is.  Accordingly, it is very difficult to chisel and resists any efforts to fashion it into some other shape.  In fact, this 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.  For Moses is specific to write that the water issued forth from “flint” rocks (Ex.17:1-7; Num. 20:1-13). 

What is it like then to have a face like flint? It means a face that is unyielding, remains firm, resolute, and true to its own character no matter what might be thrown against it.  The face does not flinch or turn away from the direction its pointing.  It remains steadfast!

Counter to what many Christians are being led to think today, to have a face like flint is what real Christianity is all about. I’m sorry if I am bursting anyone’s bubble but 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.  In fact, even though true love will always impact our feelings, 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). 

By the same token, there is nothing wishy washy, being willing to bend over backwards, or compromising when it comes to holding to the truth of God or confessing His Word.   We hear from the Lord such admonitions as these:  “Stand firm!”(Phil 4:1) “Proclaim the truth in 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 a pushovers or compromisers?  Even Jesus says, “Oh, I wish that you were cold or hot but you are luke warm and I will spew you out of my mouth!” (Revelations 3:16

Neither has Jesus, our Lord, given you and me any latitude to preach, teach and share His Word to suit our own fancies, situations, sensibilities, or to avoid rejection or reprisals.  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 bit 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 face like flint; that is, to be as bold as is His truth He’s given us to proclaim.  He has called us to be His “peculiar people” to stand out from the rest… to be the salt in a bland world… to be 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 is like. 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.  [7] But the Lord God helps me;  therefore  I have not been disgraced;    therefore  I have set my face like a flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame.   He who vindicates me is near.   Who will contend with me?   Let us stand up together. Who is my adversary?  Let him come near to me.  [9] Behold, the Lord God helps me; who will declare me guilty? Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.[10] 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 where Isaiah stands?  He’s not ashamed to say He is with the LORD.   His preaching comes from the LORD and he is not going to back away from it or in any other way soften it… alter it… tweak it.  He boldly asserts:  “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught…The LORD awakens my ear… The LORD opened my ear, and I was not rebellious.  I turned not backward.”

Neither does Isaiah seem all that worried about what people might think of him or the message he has been given to speak.  “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out my beard; I hid not my face from disgrace 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 definitely not the words of a wimp!

But before we go gaga over Isaiah’s impressive strength and resolve, we need to pay attention to all that he tells us.  After all, he in no way claims that he made himself this stalwart preacher of God’s truth.  On the contrary, he clearly tells us that by His Word God has removed his “wimpish” ways and equipped him with a confident, willing, convicted and resilient spirit. He says, that God gave him “an instructed tongue” so that he might “know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.”  Isaiah did not get a wild hair notion one day to become a preacher.  He did not feel some burning in his bosom to go preach Jesus. Rather in the year that Uzziah, king of Judah, died, around 740 B.C., God came to Isaiah and through a magnificent vision 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 directly the message He wanted him to preach.  Isaiah could, therefore, be confident and bold in preaching it.  He had the confidence that it wasn’t his own “sermon” but it was 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.  In fact, many did reject Isaiah’s preaching.  He was jailed and eventually even executed for his preaching.  But since his message was from God, it was not Isaiah the man people rejected.  It was God Himself they rejected to their own demise.

What about you and me as 21st century witnesses of Jesus?  The LORD has not “immediately” (directly) called any of us to be His prophet like He did Isaiah through a vision or any other visible contact with us.  But the LORD has through the working of His Spirit “mediately”; that is, through the means of Holy Baptism administered to us, called us to be His own, given each of us new birth into His holy family and cleansed us in the blood of Jesus to be His holy priests 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 us by our parents, teachers and pastors, the LORD has instructed our tongues.  He has instructed us to know Him, Who is the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, and the eternal salvation God gives us in Him.  He has made us to know God’s truth, the truth that saves the weary sinner.  The Truth about His will for our lives. 

We, therefore, like Isaiah have no reason to be timid in sharing the full truth of God’s Word given us to 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… the very Word of the Gospel that the apostle Paul writes in Romans chapter one, “is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Ro. 1:16).  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 in which we find ourselves today.  Over the years I have experienced all sorts of push-back; personal verbal attacks, killing stares, behind the back assaults on my character, accusations of being “unloving” and threats of one sort or another.  Some of the most vicious have come from members of the very congregations I have served. 

This is not surprising given that the pressure is really on us to teach God’s commandments 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 their disobedience to His Word they have placed themselves under God’s wrath.  Of course, there are risks to being faithful.  If we set our faces like flint and do not proclaim it the way people want to hear it, we are accused of being legalistic, out of touch with society, prudes from the 19th century, even religious bigots who hate all other people who differ 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 to the truth about sin, grace, and Jesus Christ, many will ostracize us, oppose us, black ball us, and seek every way they can to humiliate us. Being a faithful witness for Christ Jesus and His Word of Truth is indeed setting our faces like flint!

But understand this, being weak-kneed, unfaithful, willing to compromise the truth is really a First Commandment issue.  It reveals who or what is our god.   It reveals who  I fear, love and trust in more; Man or God?  Do I fear man’s wrath or His wrath more?  Do I fear losing face with my friends, neighbors, or political leaders or with God? Do I fear losing a relationship with my family or friends or with God more?  Do I trust in 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 of this that this truth you have been given to witness is not yours but 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.   As we see in our Gospel reading today, it has the power even  to cast out demons and save sinners.   

You are further encouraged to be bold and faithful in your witnessing by the fact that God promises that as His witnesses you are not alone but that He will be with you and He will 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 is God 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 truly find their most complete fulfillment in Jesus Himself.  He truly is the LORD’s Servant who fully gave His pure, innocent, back to the those who opposed Him, that they might strike it with their sticks and scourges.  He, literally, turned His other cheek to His abusers that they might hurt Him all the more.  As Isaiah himself prophesied concerning Jesus, “Like a lamb before his shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.”

Jesus did not seek retribution against His enemies but willingly suffered all injustice that He might atone fully for their and your iniquities, sins, and even failures to stand up resolutely for His truth.  He set His face like flint and endured the full onslaught of the world’s vitriol in order to fully vindicate you before God.

You can most definitely afford, therefore, to set your face also 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 really matters!  The vindication that Jesus has won for you before the Father insures 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 lofty butte overlooking a beautiful valley, but you certainly have every season 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 their end under the just and mighty judgment of God.  Jesus has said of His Church equipped with the true message of Christ, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  

Amen

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