18th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 23) LSB #458 v.1-4
Text – Isaiah 25:8
He will swallow up death forever; & the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, & the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
If you’re a flying trapeze artist, soaring through the air from one height to another, there comes a time in every act when the audience will be challenged to believe in the skill of the artist. That often involves a routine where one person lets go of the rope & soars through the air with nothing in sight to land on but the safety net far below.
Coming from the other direction will be another artist frequently hanging upside down from a bar. Two pendulums, arcing through the heights, in perfect timing & harmony.
The catcher has the task, with his strong hands, of grabbing the flyer from out of thin air. During this routine the flyer must never attempt to catch the catcher. Instead, the flyer must wait in absolute trust that the catcher will catch him.
If we boil it down, that concept completely captures the essence of living the Christian life, doesn’t it? As children of God, living in a broken & twisted world, you & I truly are waiting for the Catcher to catch us. Already at this moment in time everyone who believes in Jesus as Savior is eternal, & is now experiencing the reign of God in each aspect of our lives.
That’s a very idealistic statement, yet so true in every way. The struggle in living the Christian life is that our senses & our emotions do not corroborate the Bible’s teaching. The reality of everything God is doing right now is hidden behind the corrupting effects of sin.
On the surface, we see a couple ending their relationship in divorce. Beneath the surface, one or more people affected may be growing in their willingness to trust Jesus to catch them. Our heavenly Father hates divorce yet He loves to rescue sinners from their sin. In our heart, those are totally contradictory emotions. When the full force of hatred & mercy are pulling on your heart or mine it is extremely difficult to function in a godly manner. We might keep our composure for a few moments, but then we come unglued & snap in one direction or the other. We either totally let people off the hook, or we hold a grudge against them.
For the flying trapeze artist, they have to practice allowing themselves to be caught, over & over again. Practice is needed because in their heart are the conflicting emotions of trust & fear. As they float through the air unattached to anything that can support them, both emotions are at work pulling their heart & mind in two.
To be successful at their craft, the greatest lesson the trapeze artists need to learn is how to balance those conflicting emotions. They need to learn how to use the gift of self-control if they’re going to amaze & challenge the audience with their skill.
Now, Christians aren’t about amazing & challenging people with our faith, however, we are witnesses to the One in whom our faith does rest. Either we are faithful witnesses, or we’re unfaithful, but it is our calling as children of our heavenly Creator to reflect the light of Christ’s love to everyone we encounter.
If we truly believe that Jesus has rescued us from the damnation of an eternity without love, or goodness or kindness, there’s no question we want to faithfully represent the One who saved us from our sins. The struggle you have is in carrying out that witness because you’re afraid. If you don’t know what you’re afraid of, how can you practice trusting Jesus?
For those of you who are indifferent to witnessing about God’s love for you, your love for God has to come into question. If you don’t love your Lord enough to tell others about how He has worked miracles in your life, how can you practice trusting Jesus? How will you ever learn to let Him catch you? The prophet Isaiah is writing to such a people, to men, women & children who are indifferent to the love of their heavenly Father. He’s writing to people who are afraid to witness about the miraculous deeds of Yahweh. Isaiah is writing to people who have forgotten their Lord, rejected Him, walked away & left Him behind. The OT reading for today is from a section of the book referred to as the Isaiah Apocalypse. This is how it begins:
“Behold, the Lord will empty the earth & make it desolate, & He will twist its surface & scatter its inhabitants. The earth shall be utterly empty & utterly plundered; for the Lord has spoken this word.” (Isaiah 24:1 & 3 ESV)
That chapter of Isaiah is clearly introducing a revelation of the judgment to come. It falls alike, upon those who believe & upon those who have rejected believing. Judgment is the Last Day for all who are evil. It is the beginning of an eternity of grace & blessing, for those who believe in our Lord & Savior.
Chapter 25 then begins by describing the results of The Judgment – including “a strong people” glorifying Yahweh, as well as “cities of terrifying nations” who now fear Him. Today’s OT lesson announces the “great reversal” of Yahweh’s judgment. These verses are solely for those who believe in Jesus as Savior:
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine…” This verse is a picture of heaven & details a direct reversal of the judgment found in 24:9, “No more do they drink wine with singing…” (Isaiah 24:9 ESV)
The heavenly wedding feast can now begin, yet Isaiah also introduces a far greater reversal than that of the ban on drinking wine: “[Yahweh] will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever…”
St. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Death is the greatest & most feared aspect of God’s judgment upon sin. Yet even death will succumb to the “great reversal.” In Christ Jesus our Lord, death in this dimension has been converted into the gateway to eternal & everlasting life. In other words, through God’s death, Jesus has swallowed up death forever.
In every case, of the death of a Christian, Jesus is the hero who has overcome death for us. Isaiah described death as a covering that had been cast over all peoples. King David described that covering as the valley of the shadow of death. As we hear the words of Isaiah regarding the Last Day, we are comforted by our Lord, even as we face our own death.
Yet, our heavenly Father will comfort us in an even greater & far more ultimate way when the Last Day arrives. As verse 9 of the OT reading points out: “It will be said on that day,
‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad & rejoice in His salvation.”
You & I can rejoice in those words even though our eternal life is hidden for now behind the corrupting effects of sin. Our senses & our emotions may not corroborate the teaching of Holy Scripture regarding eternal life, yet we know God’s Word is true because the disciples were willing to die for their faith in Jesus.
Our Savior’s resurrection was not simply a mirage or wishful thinking. Otherwise, His disciples would not have been willing to suffer death just to preach in His name. Like the trapeze artist has to wait in absolute trust for the catcher to catch her, we too are given the task of waiting in absolute trust for Jesus to catch us on the day that our death arrives.
It is our joy & privilege to share the good news about that Jesus because He is the one & only reliable source of comfort & hope when walking through the valley of the shadow of death. The comfort & hope our Lord offers to us, however, is not simply emotion. They are something far deeper & far more profound. We might say they are something far more eternal. They are aliens to this world because they come from a place of holiness & life, rather than from a place of sin & death. The comfort & hope that God’s Holy Spirit brings to us is from heaven itself. To live is Christ & to die is gain because Jesus has swallowed up death.
Today, Yahweh Himself is bringing His feast right here to us. As the OT reading began, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…” we could say instead, “Today on this altar the Lord of hosts has made for us a feast of rich food…” Jesus’ body & blood will be present with us to cleanse us & wipe away our sins & our tears.
Already in Isaiah’s day it was clear to him that Yahweh was about the work of establishing the reign of His kingdom, even through the judgment of Israel! One day, the defeat of all evil forces will be undeniably manifest as we see Christ’s return at the end of time. Until then, when our senses & our emotions fail us, we cling to the words of Proverbs 3:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, & do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5 ESV) As you read those words, you might even pretend that you are a flying trapeze artist soaring through the heights, patiently waiting in absolute trust for the strong arm of your heavenly Father to catch you & take you home to perfect joy & rest. Amen.
Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down, His people to deliver; destroying sin, He took the crown from death’s pale brow forever: stripped of power, no more it reigns; an empty form alone remains; its sting is lost forever. It was a strange & dreadful strife when life & death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly says that death is swallowed up by death; its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!
Pastor Dean R. Poellet