LIFTING OUR EYES
1st Sunday in Lent – B LSB #572 (tune #451)
Text – Genesis 22:13
And Abraham lifted up his eyes & looked, & behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went & took the ram & offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
LIFTING OUR EYES
Two Sundays ago we began by considering the nursery rhyme, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. We recognized the majestic beauty of the stars our heavenly Father created as a blessing to us. We reflected upon them as a sign to us, of our Lord’s faithfulness in providing for our needs. The prophet Isaiah had written, “Lift up your eyes on high & see: who created these?”
Today we’re digging into a particular event in the life of Abraham where he lifted up his eyes in order to see. The challenge, is that Moses began recording this episode with the ominous words, “After these things God tested Abraham…”
The very word “testing” causes anxiety to well up in the heart of students around the world. “Will I pass, or will I fail? What questions will be the exam, & which questions will not?” Yet that testing, in the safe environs of a classroom, is a far cry from the exam Yahweh is going to administer for Abraham.
“Abraham! Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… & offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22:2 ESV) To the average human being, that command creates a shocking contrast with what they believe of Jesus. The words of St. John are much more typical of what people believe:
“…we have come to know & to believe the love that God has for us. God is love…” (1John 4:16 ESV) How do you deal with that contrast? If we boil it down, there are only three ways. Hearing the command for Abraham to sacrifice his son, either we 1) doubt God’s love, 2) ignore His command, or 3) totally surrender our will to God. But if we’ve totally surrendered our will, it’s visible in the things we do. Just take a look at Abraham. “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there & laid the wood in order & bound Isaac his son & laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand & took the knife to slaughter his son.”
How has your heavenly Father been challenging & testing you these past few months? Is the cold weather & the frozen earth getting tiresome? Are there health problems making simple daily activities a lot more difficult? Have you lost your way in life to the point that you don’t really know why you bother living?
“A man rushed up to a subway ticket booth & slapped his credit card on the counter. When he didn’t immediately receive the ticket coming to him, he looked up to see what was causing the delay. He found himself staring into the ugliest face he’d ever seen.”
“Angered at what he saw, he snarled, ‘Come on, hurry up, give me my ticket. Don’t stare at me like that!’ It was only after that angry outburst that he realized the booth was empty. The ugly face staring at him was his own reflection.”
When you look up during the trials of your life, what is it that you see? Is it your own angry & therefore ugly face, or is it whatever God has provided as an answer to your prayer?
“So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, & took two of his young men with him, & his son Isaac.” Abraham was going on the journey of his life. It would be a trip he never forgot. Most of us have been on journeys, here & there, short & long.
We’ve been on many different types of journeys. Some of them fun, some of them sad, some of them serious & dramatic, others light-hearted & care free. When Jan & I began the journey to cancer treatment, we obviously had no idea where it would lead, or how it would end. Neither did Abraham. God had asked him to sacrifice his son, his only son, the son whom he loved. Yet Abraham’s words reveal that he believes he will return from the journey with his son Isaac intact. Listen especially to the final phrase: “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes & saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I & the boy will go over there & worship & come again to you.’”
Abraham tells his servants that he & Isaac will be back. In the NT, the book of Hebrews fills us in, by saying that Abraham believed in resurrection from the dead. For that reason Abraham was willing to obey his heavenly Father in spite of the horrific & impossible task that lay ahead of him.
The trust, Abraham had in Yahweh, was to be weighed in the balance against common sense, against human affection & against lifelong ambition. If Abraham had stopped anywhere short of lifting the knife, he would not have known the plan & the provision of his faithful God. Sometimes you & I have to go a long way down the path of suffering to finally see Jesus.
Along the way we are all guilty of doubting that God loves us. Instead, we surrender to the temptation of Lucifer. We wonder & cry aloud, “If God loves me, there’s no way He could allow this _________________ to happen.” You get to fill in the blank, because you & I are guilty of doubting that God loves us, especially when He allows things into our life to test us.
The next temptation is to ignore our Lord’s commands. Since we know & believe that God loves us, & forgives our sin, then it must be okay to disregard His instruction. After all, God knows, & we know, that we cannot keep His commandments perfectly. So, why bother?
For evidence that people really deal with the shocking contrast between God’s love & God’s commands in that way, we need only to look at the 3rd Commandment. Do you remember what that one says? Here’s how Martin Luther explained its meaning, “We should fear & love God so that we do not despise preaching & His Word, but hold it sacred & gladly hear & learn it.” Have you been remembering the Sabbath & keeping it holy? If Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, whom he loved, could it be that God is asking you to sacrifice just five Wednesday evenings to attend Lenten services? Is it possible for God to bless you in that way?
The final suggestion on how people deal with the shocking contrast between God’s command & His love is to totally surrender our will in order to follow the will of Jesus. Who of us would blame Abraham if he chose not to obey his Lord’s command to sacrifice his son? Who of us would fault Abraham for railing against God’s unjust demand if God is love?
Yet, Abraham follows through on every detail & therefore discovers the amazing & incredible plan of His heavenly Father to spare the life of Isaac:
“But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven & said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ ‘…Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’” With the testing now completed, Abraham lifted up his eyes & saw the ram which God had provided for the sacrifice.
To illustrate why God tested Abraham, consider this. An engineer may full well know that his bridge design is going to stand the stress & strain to which it is subjected. He knows he designed it properly. Nevertheless, construction regulations will require that it be tested – not to assure the engineer, but to assure the public that it is safe & it will stand.
Jesus knew that Abraham would pass the test, but He wanted us to know that our heavenly Father’s love is certain & real. His design will stand the test. Jesus also wanted us to know that God’s commands are not to be ignored, & following them, in spite of their hardship or unreasonableness, will bring us tremendous blessing. That is God’s promise to you.
Finally, because our Lord knew that none of us could endure the sacrifice necessary to pay for our sins, the ram in the thicket was but a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. None of us can totally surrender our will to God in this life. Our sinful nature is too strong & too corrupt. In the payment for the sins of every man, woman & child, there could be no leeway, no room for error, no cost overrun. In the fullness of time that payment had to be made perfectly & without exception.
As the ram takes the place of Isaac, this Bible reading catapults the call & mission of Abraham several thousand years into the future. It is a future filled with the sacrificial giving of God’s one & only Son. It’s an excellent reading for us to begin our Lenten Journey with.
Abraham went down the mountain a joyful man, his promise restored. Sarah would laugh again, her joy returned to her. What about our heavenly Father? Would He be grieving in the coming death of His only begotten Son, or would He be rejoicing that Abraham & Sarah believed the Words of the promise?
What journey are you on today that concerns you, or causes anxiety? Might that journey be a test from God, even if you were not aware that it is? Two weeks ago we looked at the heavens & the stars set therein to discover our Lord’s faithfulness to us. Today, we needn’t lift our eyes so high as the heavens, but only to the altar to find God’s faithful provision.
In our preparation for Holy Communion, we lift up our hearts to the Lord, as we look to Him for the forgiveness of our sins & the life & salvation which follow. As we follow Jesus, He goes ahead of us, preparing the way. In advance, He prepares the good works we are to do. In advance, He readies the strength & encouragement we need to finish our tasks.
God knows what you are going to need in your future, & He knows when you are going to need it. He works through the material things of this world, as well as through the spiritual. Sometimes we only need to lift our eyes in order to see them. At other times we need to be patient & wait upon the Lord. That is the nature of faith in Jesus. Sometimes we simply: “…cannot receive the same blessing Abraham did without also enduring the slow, three day journey up the mountain – at least in a figurative way. We can’t skip the walk & fly to the top of the mountain in a flash, on some winged horse, to steal the blessing without any accompanying pain.”
In our struggles & trials lay the hidden mystery of God’s provision for us, & the miraculous way of God leading his people from doubt to confidence, from unbelief to faith. God has the final word, hidden though it may be from us even as we walk with him.
The Word of God still endures today, through our testing & into the future, just as it was first spoken to our fathers in the faith. This is the Golden Thread, the great story woven through the pages of the Bible. God created a people to love. God created a nation to reveal His love.
In this event, in the life of Abraham & Isaac, God reveals the first signs of his plan to win us back, & the terrible price that He must pay because of His love. Our doubt concerning God’s love for us can be put away. As we ignore any of His commands they are forgiven, yet that forgiveness turns us back to Yahweh in repentance. We should not reject it.
Finally, the perfect Lamb of God surrenders His will perfectly unto our perfect heavenly Father, & this is substituted for each & every one of our failures in order that we might have life & have it to the full. Amen.
Days & months & years unfolding clearly showed what sin had wrought: fallen Adam’s children learning lessons fallen parents taught. All these sacrificial offerings crested as a crimson flood: patriarchs & priests atoning for their sins with cleansing blood. What these sacrifices promised from a God who sought to bless, come at last – a second Adam – Priest & King of Righteousness: Son of God, incarnate Savior, Son of Man, both Christ & Lord, Who in naked shame would offer on the cross His blood outpoured. Amen.
 Hebrews 11:19
 Kierkegaard’s Writings 6:52.
Transfiguration Sunday – B LSB #770
Text – 2 Kings 2:8
Then Elijah took his cloak & rolled it up & struck the water, & the water was parted to the one side & to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
Elijah the prophet did incredible things. He lived about 850 years before Jesus was born, & not much is known of his early life. He arrived on the scene, calling Israel to return to the Lord in repentance, & to turn away from worshipping an idol called Baal. He prophesied for 15 years or so & then was gone – literally as God took him into heaven with a whirlwind.
In the OT reading, we heard about one of those incredible events. Elijah & Elisha came to the Jordan River where Elijah took off his cloak & struck the water. The water spread apart & the two of them crossed on a dry river bed. Incredible!
Earlier in his ministry the region had been going through a severe three year drought. Especially for the poor, food was scarce. Elijah met a widow, with a young son, when mother & boy had enough flour & oil for only one more meal. Then they’d die of starvation. Elijah asked the woman to make the meal for him instead. She did, & what happened next was incredible.
The flour & oil did not run out. Day after day they had enough to eat. It was like the Energizer Bunny – the flour & oil kept going & going & going. They survived the drought. Then, unexpectedly, the widow’s son died anyway. She accused Elijah of bringing much trouble & grief into her life, so what happened next was incredible.
Elijah took the boy to an upper room & stretched out over him. Three times he pleaded with the Lord to give the boy’s life back. The Lord did! The woman’s son began to breathe again. Elijah had done an incredible miracle, & now the widow was convinced that Elijah was indeed a man sent from God. Another time Elijah was sent to challenge the king of Israel, Ahab, who’d married a woman named Jezebel – a powerful & vengeful queen. She’d brought hundreds of false prophets with her, into Israel, to lead the people to worship Baal. In order to call the people back to the Lord, Elijah challenged 450 of those prophets to a contest. An altar was built & the terms were simple: call down fire from above to destroy the sacrifice on the altar.
The false prophets danced & prayed to their gods for hours. They cut themselves so they could pray louder. Nothing happened. Elijah had the stone altar he built soaked with water. He prayed. What happened next was incredible. Flames engulfed the sacrifice, the altar & the water. The God of Israel burned up everything. It was now obvious who the true Lord was.
Finally, the time came for Elijah to hand off his duties. He was to be taken up from this world, & once again how this happened was incredible. After a day of traveling from place to place, the time came. Elijah & Elisha were standing together when a fiery chariot & horses came out of the sky. We’re not sure just how it happened, but Elijah was scooped up & taken away.
If you read the narrative carefully you realize that Elijah did not die. He was one of two people who did not go through death when they left this world. He was just taken up in the whirlwind to be with the Lord. Incredible. Elijah did many incredible things; therefore, he seems rather strange & far away from us & from our lives.
It’s difficult to relate to someone so different & distant from the people we know, living rather uneventful lives as we do. More than 2900 years separate us from Elijah & his life was filled with eye popping, miraculous moments of God’s power & glory. We live ordinary lives & most of our days are just routine.
If you have children, the days are filled with driving to school, trying to get everyone fed & where they need to be on time. We have far more to eat than that widow did, but somehow it turns out to be fast food in the car or a quick microwave meal because we’re too exhausted to cook. No Energizer Bunny to keep us going. If you have an empty nest, the days seem to run together. It’s the same old things each day. Eat, clean, TV shows, run a couple errands, sleep. Do it again & again & again. Elijah lived an eventful life, but our days seem like a continuous rerun – same old, same old.
We do have those moments when something out of the ordinary happens – a trip to see the grandkids, a concert, winning the Cotton Bowl, a nice evening out for just the two of you. There are planned vacations & surprise parties, but then it’s back to the routine again. The eventful times fly right on by, while Elijah’s big moments are remembered for 2900 years.
Elijah – incredible. You & me – uneventful & ordinary.
Except . . . for all the incredible things Elijah did, he was more like we are than we may realize. When you look past the miracles to see Elijah the person, you find someone who’s lonely & afraid. You’d think, seeing all God did through him, that he’d be incredibly strong & confident. But he had his moments. Much of his time he was working alone.
One time he was so down he believed he was the only person, in all the world, who still believed in the true God. Now that’s lonely. And after that great victory over the false prophets, what does Elijah do? He finds out that Queen Jezebel is hopping mad & wants him dead. So he runs for his life & hides in the wilderness.
This great man of God had his moments of weakness, times when he was filled with doubts. Now that I can identify with, & so can you. A cartoon once illustrated that perfectly. There was a school picnic for a bunch of teenagers. Kids are everywhere & in the center is a young girl. She’s talking on the phone & says, “I’m so glad you called. I was so lonely.”
In the middle of all those classmates & surrounded by all that energy she was alone. How close & how real that loneliness is for each one of us. We’re so connected with phones & Facebook & text messages, yet deep inside we long for relationships that will take away the loneliness. So many people with so many ways to keep in touch; yet so few close relationships & so much loneliness. “… [Elijah] sat down under a solitary broom tree & prayed that he might die: ‘I have had enough, LORD, take my life…’” (1 Kings 19:4 NLT)
Elijah was afraid to go on living, & we’re afraid of so many things as well. During the sermon, a pastor once handed out 3×5 cards & told people to write down their greatest fears. What would you write? What do you fear?
Is it a disaster that takes away your home & possessions? Is it the death of someone you love? How about the loss of your mind with dementia? None of us enjoy the breaking of a relationship or a crime that violates our home or our body. Financial setbacks cause anxiety if not outright fear. People also fear having a child go down a very sad & tragic path in life.
What if you lost your relationship with the Lord due to a sinful weakness in your life or just growing doubts about Him? Elijah feared for his life, & so do we, therefore, Elijah the prophet & miracle worker is not so distant & strange after all. Now, jump ahead with me some 900 years. Jesus is on a mountain with Peter, James & John. What happens next is incredible.
Jesus suddenly changes. Dazzling white, unbelievably bright, He’s transfigured right before the disciples’ eyes. They get a glimpse of Jesus’s glory. And who’s there with Jesus? Moses & Elijah. Elijah is back, & he’s talking with Jesus, but Elijah is not the center of attention. Jesus is. The Father speaks: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Then, Elijah & Moses disappear & only Jesus is left. That focus of attention should not surprise us. It was the same focus thousands of years ago when Elijah was a prophet. All those incredible things he did were not to be the center of attention, but to turn the people’s attention to their heavenly Father. He called the people back in his day to worship the Lord & Him only. On that Mount of Transfiguration he does something similar for you. Before Elijah disappears, he calls you to see, to listen to, to turn to, to believe in, to worship & to follow only Jesus. How did he do that? It was ordinary & uneventful. Elijah was simply standing next to Jesus & talking with Him.
They were talking about incredible things of course, but not Elijah’s incredible things. It was the incredible things Jesus would do in Jerusalem. You see, when Jesus comes down from this mountain, He sets His face & heads into Jerusalem to do incredible things on your behalf.
Jesus is alone when He does these things. Sure, his disciples are there with him, for a while. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prays & they fall asleep. Jesus is arrested & they run away. He goes to the cross alone so that you will never ever be alone. On that cross, the Son of God bears all our loneliness & each one of our fears.
Whatever you would write on your 3×5 card is there on the shoulders of Jesus, along with everyone else’s. The old familiar hymn has it right. What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear.
You may have heard of this type of thing. It’s typical for group healing or recovery events. You take a card that has written on it a fear or a sin or a lonely grief, whatever is burdening you, & bring it to the cross. The cards are put into a bowl, & then like the fire that came down on the altar when Elijah did battle against the false prophets, the cards are burned.
Beneath the cross of Jesus, something incredible happens. Our fears & loneliness, our sins & griefs, our moments of weakness are given to the Lamb of God, & He takes them as His own. Our six Wednesday evening Lenten services are such a blessing, because gathering here, beneath the cross together; we have our fears & loneliness, sins & griefs, taken away.
Then, as if Jesus’ death for our sins were not incredible enough, something more
happens in Jerusalem. In three days, Jesus reappears in glory. The tomb is empty & Jesus is alive, never to leave you. In a way, we’re very much like Elijah. He stood next to Jesus & talked with Him. Jesus, risen from the dead, is always standing next to us, ready to listen when we talk with Him.
Yes, Jesus is standing next to us in the uneventful, ordinary moments of life – during the errands we run, as we drive through the fast food place & when we microwave our dinner. He’s with us as we collapse into bed at night, too tired even to pray. He’s with us when we have a same old, same old day, as well as those times something incredibly exciting has happened.
Most of all, when our loneliness makes us doubt, or when the fears & anxiety come rushing in, Jesus is there with us especially then. Imagine the anxiety as He was being laid upon the cross so that the nails could be driven through His flesh & into the wood.
Again, think about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I’m sure he’d tell us the most incredible thing of all was standing next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, talking to Him about going to Jerusalem, going to the cross, & rising from the dead. Elijah would not want the focus on himself, as if he were someone incredible.
No, Elijah would want us to focus on Jesus because today & every day Jesus is standing beside us. Even in His resurrection glory, Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. He is always ready to talk & to listen. That is an incredible thing indeed! Amen.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins & griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear – all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer! Have we trials & temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged – take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer. Amen.
CALLING THEM BY NAME
5th Sunday after Epiphany – B LSB #803
Text – Isaiah 40:26
Lift up your eyes on high & see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of His might, & because He is strong in power not one is missing.
CALLING THEM BY NAME
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky. When the blazing sun is gone, when he nothing shines upon, then you show your little light, twinkle, twinkle, all the night.”
In Michigan, winter is good for looking at the stars. The cold temperatures often allow the night time skies to be clear & sharp. Against the dark blackness of outer space, the stars shine with a brilliance that pleads for you to give them your attention. So, haven’t you ever wondered what our heavenly Father might be trying to tell us through their stark beauty?
“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.” Jane Taylor published that nursery rhyme back in the year 1806. Isaiah wrote the verse, which is our sermon text, about the year 690 B.C. “Lift up your eyes & see: Who created these?”
It was a given, in the mind of Isaiah, that the stars were created by someone. There’s no way such majestic beauty ‘came to pass’ by accident. About the year 57 A.D. St. Paul gave an answer, in the book of Romans, regarding the message our Creator is writing to us as He brings out their host by number, calling them all by name:
“They know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth & sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power & divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:19-20 NLT)
The Apostle Paul led into those 1st chapter verses with this one, “But God shows His
anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” (1:18 NLT) In the days of Isaiah, the Assyrians who were the most wicked & godless people of the time. They’d already conquered the northern kingdom of Israel & would later attack & destroy much of the southern kingdom.
All 12 tribes of God’s people had already fallen far & headlong into the worship of false gods. Because of what Yahweh created, heaven & earth, all these evil nations had no excuse for not knowing the true God. His wrath had already been revealed against some of them, & more was to come. Yet, in all the destruction, not even one of the stars was missing.
We can’t count them all. Yahweh is able, & does call every single one of them by name: “…by the greatness of His might, & because He is strong in power not one is missing.” (Isaiah 40:26b) It’s like the story of the five sparrows that are sold for only two pennies, yet not one of them falls to the ground without their Creator knowing about it.
Do you remember the punch line? Have you synthesized into your mind the main point Jesus was making? “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7 ESV)
The exact same point is being made by Isaiah. You are of more value than many stars. If Yahweh knows each one of them by name, why are you afraid that He will not remember you? Why are you searching for answers other than the one your heavenly Father has provided? Why do you not put your trust in Jesus to care for you & to provide for you?
As Isaiah wrote, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” (V. 21) “…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (V. 31) The reasons are obvious why we don’t put our trust in Jesus to care for us. God does not allow us to control everything about our circumstances, & we want to. We don’t like having to be patient. We don’t like waiting, not even for God. Yet, waiting upon the Lord is our chief task as our heavenly Father’s children.
That is absolutely antithetical to everything about our culture & to everything about our sinful nature. Trials & struggles, with no easy solution, are allowed into our lives by our Lord. Jesus places you & me into those circumstances so we will learn to “wait for the Lord.” To wait upon God is actually a synonym for faith. Waiting on the Lord is to trust in Him.
Waiting on Yahweh, trusting in Jesus, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, these involve three related ideas: 1) the humble admission that in spite of our plans, there are no workable options beside waiting on the Lord, 2) the refusal to engage in frantic worry, & 3) confidence that God will come through in His time, as He has promised.
Those three approaches to living as a child of God are impossible, however, unless faith in Jesus as your Savior lives within you. As you cannot pour water into a glass already full, so God cannot fill with His power people who are full of themselves. First, you & I must be emptied of self-reliance. If need be, our Lord empties us through our struggles & suffering.
In that emptying, Satan then switches his temptation from pride to despair. It was in pride that Judas betrayed his master. It was in despair that Judas ended his own life. When depression sweeps across our emotional nature, the stars don’t seem so bright anymore, not even in a sharp & clear sky.
A natural question that leads to is this, “How do we survive our struggles & suffering without surrendering to despair?” It’s easy to answer that when we’re simply preaching it, or thinking of it in the abstract. However, when something like the measles is threatening the life of your child, that suffering & struggle takes on a whole new dimension. When the relationship you have with your spouse is totally confusing right now, it’s easy to wonder how God is going to bring good out of that. It’s been a long time since jobs were plentiful & the economy was booming in Michigan. Can we trust that God will take care of us anyway?
In the larger scheme of things, & with all the uncertainties in the world today, it’s easy to doubt that we’re important to the Almighty Creator who rules over the entire universe. King David well knew the guilt that came along with the adultery he committed & the murder he followed it up with in the attempt to cover his own sins.
Especially in that context of his sin, David marveled at the heavens & what they taught him about his heavenly Father: “When I look at the night sky & see the work of Your fingers – the moon & the stars You set in place – what are people that You should think about them, mere mortals that You should care for them?” (Psalm 8:3 NLT)
The Lord of the universe knows, like the stars & the sparrows, each one of the people He created. He knows His daughter Rachel who is today confirming her faith in Jesus’ promises. In so doing she’ll be proclaiming before everyone here that she is willing to wait upon the Lord.
He who parted the waters for His hemmed-in people at the Red Sea, who made for them a path of safety from their enemies though the sea, & who brought them back to the promised land from exile in Babylon, can do the same for His people who are today surrounded by failure, disappointment, loss & suffering.
Just because Yahweh is transcendent & holy does not mean He is aloof & uncaring. To the contrary, His majesty is employed in compassion, & since He can name each of the stars, & calls every one of them out into the night, each night, how can His wisdom ever overlook you? Yes, His discipline is painful, but the struggles & suffering that are designed to empty us of ourselves will not last forever. They will, however, along with God’s love, draw us closer to the only source of life & living, of peace & joy. Satan’s temptation to pride is just as dangerous as his temptation to despair. We need Jesus to be the center of our existence so He invites us to follow Him, just as the stars of night follow when He calls them out each evening.
So how does our Lord’s might & power apply to you? Since God is able to call by name every star in the sky, why are there times we give up on Him? Why do we allow our struggles to weigh us down so heavily? Isaiah is addressing people whose faith in Christ is weak & faltering. They desire salvation, but have dropped off in following where Jesus leads.
Isaiah has already given a picture of beauty with his description of the stars being called out each night by name. Then, in verse 31, he gives us the beloved picture of an eagle’s majestic flight: “…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.”
When the eagle flies, the real power is in the wind. The eagle only needs to accept & use & work with the wind. Yahweh’s calling us by name is what gives us power & life & joy. We only need to accept & use & work with God’s calling of us. In other words, we need to discipline ourselves & learn how to wait for the Lord.
We participate in our Savior’s strength through trusting Him, resting our faith in Him. We can have faith in a rope, though it may fail. We can have faith in ourselves & we know we shall fail. As the cross, & Jesus’ resurrection, demonstrated the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world does not fail.
“Outwardly we are wasting away, but inwardly we’re being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) So, do not lose heart, though on the outside everything may appear to be falling apart, inwardly, out of sight, spiritually, since Yahweh has called us by name, God’s Spirit is renewing us, strengthening us, re-creating us, all through His Word & Sacraments. The stars on a clear dark night can be a reminder, a letter even, written to you by your heavenly Father, for your encouragement. Our sins have been washed away. The Son of God has called us by name. Let us rejoice, & be glad, & live. Amen.
Joyful, joyful we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love! Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee, praising Thee, their sun above. Melt the clouds of sin & sadness, drive the gloom of doubt away. Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. All Thy works with joy surround Thee, earth & heaven reflect Thy rays, stars & angels sing around Thee, center of unbroken praise. Field & forest, vale & mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird & flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee. Amen.
Life Sunday #3 – 2015 LSB #699
Text – Isaiah 40:1-2
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, & cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
“Baby bye, here’s a fly, we will watch him, you & I… There he goes, on his toes tickling baby’s nose.” Silly or heartwarming lullabies are often sung to little children by the comforting voices of loving mothers & fathers. We are remembering, again, Sanctity of Human Life Sunday today.
It’s a day when we get to focus on several voices: God’s voice, our voice, & the voices of life. We’ll be hearing voices that speak to the heart of life issues. In the Bible text for this morning, we obviously are hearing the comforting voice of God the Father:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, & cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2)
A comforting voice is precisely what God’s people need to hear. We live in a world filled with many other voices – voices that call us to look elsewhere for comfort. Loud voices tell us there is comfort in a woman’s right to choose the termination of her pregnancy. One lawmaker suggested that this “right” needs to be available to protect children from suffering!
There are voices claiming to be humane & comforting which urge euthanasia for the elderly & for those with incurable disorders. Other voices speak of comfort afforded to parents of “less than perfect” little ones through advising them it would be better if their imperfect offspring were never born.
Do those voices leave room for God to be Lord? What does our heavenly Father’s voice
say to the woman with an unplanned & unwanted pregnancy? What Word does God have for those suffering with incurable pain & a sense of hopelessness? Does God’s voice say anything to the parents who are told their child will be born with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or some other “less than perfect” condition?
The prophet Isaiah tells us in chapter 40. Yahweh speaks words of tender comfort, forgiveness, & blessing. If anyone needed a word of comfort, it was those who 1st heard these words penned by the prophet Isaiah. Most of Judah had already been destroyed or taken captive by the Assyrian king Sennacherib.
These were life-giving words for those experiencing the Babylonian exile & for those in Jerusalem waiting for their end to arrive: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” (40:1) Those were life-giving words to the people being held captive. Then, in the next verses, we find an even more life-giving word of comfort:
“A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, & every mountain & hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, & the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, & all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (40:3-5)
Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, refers to the words people would hear from the voice of John the Baptist some 700 years in the future – real words of comfort. Everlasting comfort would arrive in the call to repentance & faith in the Christ. John would later point to Jesus with these words: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
All who behold, those who look & listen to Jesus, are enveloped in His comforting words of forgiveness, reconciliation, & hope. That is the tender message Isaiah was sent to proclaim in his day, & we are sent to proclaim in our day. In Christ, our warfare with God is over. Our struggle with the wickedness of our sinful nature, & the eternal fallout from it, is over. On Calvary’s cross, when Jesus said: “It is finished,” (John 19:30) sin, death & the devil were defeated. The sermon text put it like this, “Iniquity is pardoned.” That means there is real hope for those caught in life-challenging situations.
You see, there are other voices, within us & around us – calling out in fear & doubt; voices seeking words of comfort & hope. The woman carrying the guilt of a previous abortion needs to hear that her iniquity is pardoned. All sinners need to hear the comforting invitation to repent & believe – you & me included. This was the comforting goal of the Baptist’s words:
“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness & proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Your sins are forgiven. What comforting words these are. Words you need to hear. Words I need to hear. Words that our sin-sick world needs to hear – from us: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem & cry to her that her warfare is ended.”
Our heavenly Father wants everyone to know that His warfare against us is finished. It’s over. With God we can find peace & rest instead. Our sins have been removed by Jesus’ holy, precious blood, with His innocent suffering & death. We are declared heirs of eternal life with the Lamb of God. Yes, what comforting words these are! But there is still more.
“She has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:2b) The Lutheran Study Bible explains: “Penalty for her iniquity was paid, even though she could do nothing to make amends for the debt she incurred. She received from the Lord’s hand good things in double proportion to the punishment she received for her sins.”
What blessings come from Jesus’ comforting & life-affirming words! Babies are born, cared for & nurtured because Jesus is there with those who are caring for them. The babies can be baptized for the remission of their sins & they can carry out the plan that God has for their lives here on earth. Human beings living with what some call “disabilities” are given a chance to be the voice of our Lord here on earth. The elderly & those living in chronic pain are comforted & assured of their value & importance to God & to His people. The rest of us are afforded the opportunity to proclaim, in word & deed, the comforting & life-affirming voice of God!
What a privilege it is to echo Isaiah’s words in our daily lives, even as we sing:
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me & rest; lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon my breast.” I came to Jesus as I was, so weary, worn & sad: I found in Him a resting place, & He has made me glad. I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give the living water; thirsty one, stoop down & drink to live.” I came to Jesus, & I drank of that life-giving stream; my thirst was quenched, my soul revived, & now I live in Him. (LSB 699 v. 1 & 2)
Do you know of anyone who is hurting, confused, or living in fear because of challenges in their lives? Do you know of anyone who needs to hear of the comfort that you have in Jesus? This past Christmas season, you, no doubt, heard another reminder of how we get to respond to God’s life-affirming & comforting voice:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray,
O tidings of comfort & joy, comfort & joy, O tidings of comfort & joy.
They are tidings of comfort & joy in Christ Jesus who came to save us from Satan’s power. That is what our fearful & hopeless world needs to hear. Tidings of comfort & joy are exactly what Jesus came to speak – to the confused, to the guilty, to the vulnerable, to the suffering, to the persecuted, to each one of us.
Tidings of comfort & joy is what you hear each Sunday you are in God’s house where your pastor proclaims: “Your sins are forgiven in the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit.” Having heard the good news of the Gospel, having received the body & blood of Jesus in Holy Communion, you heart & soul are healed with tidings of comfort & joy. May the Lord now bless your voice when you leave this place to be God’s voice of comfort & joy to the people whose ears & hearts are waiting desperately for His comfort. Even as Jesus hung on the cross, He provided words of comfort to the man dying next to him. Jesus said to him, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” That dying criminal trusted Jesus’ words.
In spite of all our world’s technology, when it comes to spiritual matters, nothing much has changed. Calling to you, from thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah is still speaking & still encouraging you to also trust in the Words of Jesus: “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, & cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned…” Amen.
The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Lutheran Study Bible, CPH, 2009, page 1151
Pastor Dean R. Poellet