Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 22, 2015)

ISAIAH 43:16-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Lord reveals himself, he gives us more than just a name to consider.  He is not Lloyd or Frank or Ralph.  Nor is he honored by euphemisms such as the Big Man Upstairs.  We might call him that to make him sound like less of a threat.  But if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then it is foolish to make God into someone who is not really to be feared. 
     Isaiah reveals not just the source of his prophecy—the Lord, he also reminds us who the Lord is and what the Lord has done.  Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings forth chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick… (Isaiah 43:16-17)  The Lord has revealed himself to Israel as a gracious Redeemer.
     The Lord is the one who delivered Israel from the hands of their captives.  When the Israelites were pinched between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, the Lord parted the Red Sea so that the entire Israelite nation could pass through on dry ground.  Pharaoh, unwilling to let his slave laborers escape, pursued Israel.  The Lord enticed their chariots and horses, their army and warriors, into the sea.  Then the Lord brought the waters back, killing off Israel’s enemies.  Israel won a great victory that day by doing nothing.  The Lord fought for them.  The Lord gave them the victory.  He is Israel’s Redeemer, Deliverer, and Savior.
     That day was for Israel New Year’s Day, the 4th of July, and Easter all rolled into one.  If you read through the Psalms, you will see that this great deliverance is what Israel often sang about.  But now, this is what the Lord says: Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing…” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  Imagine the Israelite ears trying to absorb those words!  Remember not the Red Sea?  Do not consider the victory over Pharaoh?!  Yes.  But not because they were meaningless.  Rather, because they were mere shadows of a greater deliverance, a better redemption, and a permanent salvation.  Behold!  God is doing a new thing.
     The new thing Isaiah foretold would be much more remarkable than the deliverance from the days of old.  In the old days, the Lord provided for the people of Israel in the wilderness.  He gave them manna and water.  But the wilderness remained wilderness.  The Israelites did not settle there.  They did not construct cities, build barns, and grow crops.  They did not because they could not.  The land was desolate.  It was waterless.  It was barren.  And to this day, it still is.
     It is a far cry from what God had first created.  Back in Eden, we hear that out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. (Genesis 2:9)  This garden was well watered by a river that divided into four other rivers.  It was lush, green, and vibrant.  It was full of life and was designed to sustain the life of mankind.
     But when sin entered the world, even the world fell under God’s curse.  As a result, much of the world is uninhabitable with vast stretches of desert, wasteland, and wilderness.  Some say the problem is that the world is over-populated.  But that regards people—other people, that is—as a disease upon the earth rather than gifts of God to their parents.  The state of Texas has enough land in it for every man, woman, and child in the world to own at least one acre of it.  Yet, most would find their acre to be unproductive.  The world no longer produces as it was designed.  It is not because God has gotten stingy; it is because man has sinned.  Sin has corrupted this world, too.  It is dying, and it will finally perish by fire on the Last Day.
     The problem is not merely that the world is broken and dying.  Adam and Eve had to worry about far more than weeds and wasteland when they were banished from Eden.  Their sin had separated them from God.  They no longer loved God, but found his commands to be burdensome.  It has gotten no better for Adam and Eve’s children.  We get defensive and assume that God is the one with the problem when he has the nerve to call our attitudes and actions evil.  God not only has the nerve, he has the authority. 
     Although this is not good, neither is it new.  From ancient days, man has not trusted that God is good or wise.  Man has always done his own thing.  We do not do what God commands; we do what we like.  It feels good to cheat or defame our fellow man.  It feels good to seduce or manipulate other people.  It does not feel good to confess our sins or repent of them, and so we feel that God is the enemy.  It is the same old story that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve who preferred to hide from God rather than deal with him and to blame others rather than confess their own faults.  But apart from God there is no life, no joy, no mercy, and no peace.  If you think that overstates it, it is because we have not been entirely cut off from God.  Even the most hardened and heinous inmate still has some blessings.  Even the wastelands have some life left in them.  But our sin separates us from God, and whoever dies in his sin will be forever separated from God, from love, from blessing, and from life itself.  Your greatest problem is not that there are too many weeds or too much wasteland.  Your curse is your sin.  Repent.
     But behold! God is doing a new thing!  “Behold, I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:19-21)  The Lord will restore Eden to his people.  The Lord will pour out life that is ever-abundant and forever productive. 
     But how can Eden be restored when sin has ruined it?  And how can we gain Paradise if we are soiled with sin?  Behold! God is doing a new thing!  The LORD who delivered Israel brings about a greater deliverance.  The Lord reveals once again who he is and what he does.  The LORD is our Immanuel, God with us, in order to deliver us from sin and death, to give us life and peace, and to bring us to dwell with God forever.
     The Lord Jesus Christ delivers you from your sin by taking your sin from you.  He makes the great exchange—your sin for his righteousness, his death for your life, your guilt for his innocence.  And so Jesus goes on to be slain on your behalf.  The atoning sacrifice was made at the cross for you.  At Jesus’ death, a spear pierced his side bringing forth the sudden gush of water and blood.  By these God gives you life and sustains that life in this dying world.  It is the waters of Holy Baptism that have cleansed you of all sin.  It is the body and blood of our Lord which nourishes you until you receive your place in Paradise.  By these, Jesus sets you apart for a new life of godliness now and an eternal life of holiness in heaven.
     Behold! God is doing a new thing!  He reveals himself as your Redeemer, Deliverer, and Savior.  Just as he has redeemed you from your sins, so also he will deliver you from this sinful world with all of his heartaches.  He will once again deliver man into an everlasting Paradise where all things are right—where the Living Water makes everything lush and green, where life abounds, where mankind lacks nothing, where the weeds and the wastelands are gone, and where even the wild animals rejoice over him.  This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has told you: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:3-5)  Behold!  God has done a new thing.  Behold!  Jesus Christ renews all things!  Behold!  The Lord has renewed you to be his holy saints.  He gives you the holy things, and he will bring you to his holy dwellings.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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