Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sermon -- 5th Sunday in Lent (March 13, 2016)

ISAIAH 43:16-21


In the name + of Jesus.

     One of the mysteries of our faith is this: “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling ... because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began....” (2 Timothy 1:9, emphasis added)  In other words, God's plan of salvation was in order before he even created the world.  Some might suggest that the whole incident in the Garden of Eden, then, was a set up—that God wanted Adam and Eve to sin against him so that he could step in and save them.  However, that ignores what the Bible plainly says.  God is not the author of evil.  God does not delight when people do evil.  The point is not that God wanted the world fall into sin; the point is that God, by his pure grace, has always wanted mankind saved from sin, death, and hell.  Even before their sin had its consequences, the Lord planed restoration for his people.
     In Isaiah's prophecy, we see something similar.  The prophet Isaiah was preaching to the people of Judah around 700 BC.  That was about 100 years before they would be taken into captivity.  Isaiah called them to repent so that this exile would not happen.  Sadly, Israel did not listen to God's word despite numerous warnings.  But Isaiah told them that, after their exile, God would restore them to their land.  Now remember: About 100 years before Judah was even taken captive, Isaiah proclaimed that God would restore them.  It is not that God delighted in their disobedience so that he had an excuse to save them later.  God never delights in sin.  But even before their sin had its consequences, the Lord proclaimed a restoration for his people.
     The Lord had already revealed himself to Israel as a Savior.  He is the God 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)  This was the deliverance which the Lord worked for Israel when he brought them out of Egypt.  At the shore of the Red Sea, with the Egypt's powerful army ready to pounce, the Lord parted the Red Sea so that Israel could walk through on dry ground.  When the Egyptians gave chase, the Lord brought the waters back and destroyed Israel's enemies.  Israel won a great victory without even drawing a sword.  The Lord is the God who saves.
     Isaiah declared, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  In other words, they hadn't seen nothin' yet!  Behold!  A perfect restoration would come to Judah, and a greater salvation than the Exodus.
     The Lord first fulfilled this promise by restoring Judah to its homeland after their captivity in Babylon.  After 70 years of captivity, God led a remnant of Israel through the wastelands back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple.  God did this to be faithful to his promise.  The Savior would not be born in Baghdad, but in Bethlehem.  Behold!  A perfect restoration!  Everything God did to restore Israel to its homeland is ultimately about fulfilling the plan that God had set forth from eternity.  Not even Israel’s disobedience would overthrow God’s plans. Therefore, the Lord restored the people of Israel to their land.
     Behold!  A perfect restoration!  God remains gracious despite mankind’s sinfulness.  That is the way God always works.  The people of Israel were God’s chosen people only because the Lord had graciously chosen them.  God was not obligated to bring them out of Egypt and to destroy the Egyptian army.  God did not owe it to them to drive out Canaanite nations and to bring them into the Promised Land.  These actions were based on promises God had made, and the Lord was true to his word despite the defiance and complaining of the Israelite people.
     In the same way, the Lord restored a portion of exiles to Jerusalem after their exile.  It was not because God owed it to them; it is because God had made a promise which he would keep despite the sinful attitudes of men.  In fact, God even used the sins of men—the hatred of the Pharisees and scribes—to bring about the fulfillment of God’s plans.  Jesus' parable in our gospel sternly warned the Pharisees that they were about to put to death the Son of God.  But they did not listen.  In their anger and unbelief, they fulfilled God's plans and put the Son of God to death.
     That does not mean that God was pleased with it.  God is never pleased with sin.  God used their sin for his good purpose—to bring about the salvation of the world.  God remains gracious despite mankind’s sinfulness.  That is the way God always works.  God does not do things because he owes it to us; it is because God has made promises.  And God is always faithful to his word despite the sins of men.
     Our situation is no different.  We are Christians only because God was pleased to reveal his salvation to us.  We confess the Christian faith only because the Holy Spirit has planted faith in our hearts.  We remain in the Christian Church only because the Lord strengthens and keeps us in the one true faith.  All this is despite our sins.  We grow bored with God’s word.  We don’t pray the way we should.  We are all open to the charge that we do not live or speak or think like Christians.  We are all still sinners, and we all still know it.  So, why should God remain patient with us?  And why should God keep us in his kingdom?  Once again, it is not because we have finally mastered temptations and have achieved perfection.  Behold!  A perfect restoration!  God has restored us to himself and keeps us in his kingdom because of his gracious promises.
     “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19)  The new thing is that God does all the work to take away the sins which should condemn you and banish you from God and his goodness.  Jesus Christ was not obligated to take your guilt upon himself.  Jesus Christ did not owe it you to you pay for sins he did not commit.  Jesus Christ did not have to conquer death and the devil so that you would have the victory in a battle you did nothing to win.  And yet, because God is gracious, Jesus did it for you.  Because God had promised to be your Savior, even from eternity, God acted to save you.  And behold!  This is a perfect restoration.  Jesus has completely taken away your sins so that you are a full-fledged child of God.  You are not under suspicion, and you are not on probation.  And even though you sin daily, you are not teetering on the verge of hell.  Rather, the blood of Jesus Christ continually purifies you of all sin.  You get to come to God’s altar where you partake in the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  The feast is for you because God continues to be gracious and continues to save.  Behold!  It is a perfect restoration.
     And Jesus does even more than that.  For this is what Isaiah foretold: “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)  Part of the curse which fell on the earth through Adam’s and Eve’s sin was that all creation was effected.  Therefore we know not only a world of uninhabitable wilderness, deserts, and wastelands, we also know a world of destructive floods and rain shortages, mutating genes and migraines, and endangered animals, invasive plants, and messed up eco-systems.  Jesus comes not merely to bring a restoration to sinners, but even to a sinful world.  The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:21)  The Lord will bring life back to the dead and will bless what has been cursed—whether the creation which has been corrupted, or our bodies which will be raised from the dead to glory and the everlasting life.  Then the Lord Jesus will restore all things to the perfection which God had created and which God had always intended them to be.
     And again, it is not because God is obligated to do these things for us.  It is because God has been determined to be gracious to us—from before the creation of the world to its end and forever.  Behold!  A perfect restoration.  Behold!  He will make all things new.  And that is why God's people declare his praise.

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

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