19th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 24) LSB #398
Text – Isaiah 45:2
I will go before you & level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…
Nebuchadnezzar is a name many older Christians know well from their days in Sunday School. He destroyed the city of Jerusalem, leveled its temple & carried off its people. Yet nothing in history happens outside the lordship of Yahweh. So we could say He roused His servant Nebuchadnezzar to save Israel, & the world, from what they’d made of themselves.
Yahweh created heaven & earth. He created Israel & Caesar & Nebuchadnezzar. If there’s darkness or calamity or woe, if there is disaster, the Lord God created that too. What you are frightened of & what you are bemoaning is the work of Yahweh. He has not absconded or abdicated. He has simply upped the ante by tailor making an exile just for Israel.
It was a designer exile. It was not for the people of Isaiah’s day to avoid. It is not their place to escape, or pray their way out from under what their Creator had created. It is not for them decide what is improper or unfit or impossible for their heavenly Father.
He is Master of all things, because He has created all things, including us here so He could work on us, strip us, & cleanse us, creating a new heart within us, & a new people. When the southern kingdom of Judah finally got there, into that designer exile, God activated His messiah, Cyrus of Persia, to free His people.
Yahweh would restore them, not just to the land of Judah, but to Himself, for the purpose of stripping, cleansing & saving the world. That is His most creative work. The Lord God creates heaven & earth & a lot of things, but His most precious creation is shalom between God & man. Shalom the world cannot manufacture. We can never gain it for ourselves. Shalom is like a lot of other ‘God things’ that surpass all human understanding. Verse 7, of the OT reading, translated that as well-being. It is so much more than well-being. True righteousness it is, not the phony kind we dress ourselves up in. As the people of Judah would become prisoners of Nebuchadnezzar, we are also prisoners, held captive by our very own sin.
We see the troubles of our world & blame them for our anxiety. Ebola is on the loose & spreading. ISIS is marching through Syria & Iraq, oblivious to air strikes. Our nation’s economy is still creating too few good jobs with good wages for people who want to work. In spite of the coming election, our politicians, from the president on down, still do nothing.
Yet, none of those things make prisoners of the children of God. Jesus said, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Joh 8:36 ESV) Our heavenly Creator is every day setting us free, but in ways we don’t expect, or even understand, until we mature in the faith. Like the people of Judah, we also need to be saved from what we have made of ourselves.
In the present section of Isaiah, the prophet of God turned his attention away from the nation of Judah as a whole. It was refusing to hear Yahweh’s message anyway. Isaiah begins directing his words to the godly people of his day.
Hearing his declaration of coming exile & knowing that as members of the nation they also were implicated in its sin, they saw exile as certain & might have surrendered to despair. In chapters 40-56 Isaiah brings comfort to the godly people of his time, assuring them that exile would not last forever, but God would deliver His people & bring them back to their homeland:
“I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…” Yahweh was literally going to break them out of jail, just as He had done when they were captives, prisoners & slaves in the land of Egypt. “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36 ESV) In verse 6 of the OT lesson, Isaiah brings the purpose statement for this whole reading: “So that people may know, from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting, (& every place in between) that there is none besides me; I am Yahweh, & there is no other.” Yahweh is a Hebrew word that roughly means, ‘I was, I am & I will be.’ He is the Alpha & the Omega, the Beginning & the End.
Yahweh created light to eternity, light in eternity, light for eternity so that people may know Him. The earth will open up, open wide; salvation & righteousness will spring forth. I Yahweh have created this. I created the world for this. I have created you, Cyrus the Persian king, for the world, for this; I have created.
The place where all this energy narrows to one moment in history is the cross – the designer cross. The meeting place of darkness & calamity with light & shalom. I create heaven & earth, I create calamity & darkness & light & shalom, all of which surpass human understanding. But the place I show myself – it’s at the cross; the glory of the cross!
It’s at that place where all of history meets & centers, where evil around us & in us is met head on, where forgiveness flows & a new Spirit sanctifies & enables life in a broken heart & in a broken world. Our heavenly Father does not back away from the mess of our sin. Instead, He plants the cross smack dab in the middle of it. He plants the people of the cross there as well.
Yahweh has created you – designer creatures – washed, strengthened, whatever our darkness & calamity, for Himself & for His world. He created you the moment you were conceived & He re-created you with a clean heart, the moment He brought you to faith in Jesus. Yahweh sent His only-begotten Son that you might be set free of the prison of your sins.
It’s in that freedom, which we can honestly look at all the immorality & depravity of our time, & even of our own heart, & still find rest & healing. We find them because Jesus has guaranteed all of His promises by the shedding of His blood & by His resurrection from the dead. Not ISIS, nor Ebola, nor corrupt government can overcome the Alpha & the Omega. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of our Savior, “I will go before you & level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze & cut through the bars of iron…” In the name of Jesus our Savior. Amen.
Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, to set the captives free, to take away transgression & rule in equity. He comes with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong, to help the poor & needy & bid the weak be strong; to give them songs for sighing, their darkness turn to light, whose souls condemned & dying, were precious in His sight. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet