Walking on the Way
3rd Sunday in Advent – A LSB #’s 357 v. 1-2, 4-5, 861, 716 v. 1-3, 5
Text – Isaiah 35:8
And a highway shall be there, & it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.
WALKING ON THE WAY
Last Sunday’s sermon was titled, “Making A Straight Path.” This morning we’ll be considering what it is to be walking on that way. Making the path straight & clearing obstacles is a good thing, but only if we then walk in it. What does it mean to be walking on the way? How does the story of Little Red Riding Hood relate to the choices we make?
The roads in the Holy Land of Jesus’ day were nothing more than rock-strewn dirt trails. The paths, upon which Jesus & His disciples walked, from place to place, were rugged & steep. There was nothing smooth or express about them. There were many dangers along the way & zero conveniences, especially as we define those today.
The OT reading begins the 2nd half of a poem located at the very center of the book of Isaiah. Chapter 34 is destruction for those opposed to God. In contrast, chapter 35 is good news applied to all creation, which is groaning under the effects of sin. Isaiah frequently combines & contrasts destruction & restoration, damnation & salvation. At chapter 35:4 he wrote:
“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come & save you.’”
The Gospel reading then invites us to see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Jesus’ ministry, “Go & tell John what you hear & see: the blind receive their sight & the lame walk, lepers are cleansed & the deaf hear, & the dead are raised up, & the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)
There are times we take offense at the road Jesus leaves us traveling on. What we feel in
our heart says, “This can’t possibly be the way that Jesus leads me on.” The temptation then is to leave the way of Jesus behind. On other occasions the way we’re on isn’t bad at all, but we lose interest & see a shinier path to the left or the right. Satan encourages us to take it & without intending to we still lose our way. We’ll listen in on a familiar story:
One day her mother said to her, “Come, Little Red Riding Hood, here is a piece of cake & a bottle of wine. Take them to your grandmother, she is ill & weak, & they will do her good. Set out before it gets hot, & when you are going, walk nicely & quietly & do not run off the path, or you may fall & break the bottle, & then your grandmother will get nothing.”
I will take great care, said Little Red Riding Hood to her mother, & gave her hand on it. The grandmother lived out in the wood, half a league from the village, & just as Little Red Riding Hood entered the wood, a wolf met her. Little Red Riding Hood did not know what a wicked creature he was, & was not at all afraid of him.
“Good-day, Little Red Riding Hood,” said he. “Thank you kindly, wolf.”
“Whither away so early, Little Red Riding Hood?” “To my grandmother’s.”
“What have you got in your apron?”
“Cake & wine. Yesterday was baking-day, so poor sick grandmother is to have something good, to make her stronger.”
“Where does your grandmother live, Little Red Riding Hood?”
“A good quarter of a league farther on in the wood. Her house stands under the three
large oak-trees, the nut-trees are just below. You surely must know it,” replied Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf thought to himself, “What a tender young creature. What a nice plump mouthful, she will be better to eat than the old woman. I must act craftily, so as to catch both.”
So he walked for a short time by the side of Little Red Riding Hood, & then he said, “see
Little Red Riding Hood, how pretty the flowers are about here. Why do you not look round. I believe, too, that you do not hear how sweetly the little birds are singing. You walk gravely along as if you were going to school, while everything else out here in the wood is merry.”
Little Red Riding Hood raised her eyes, & when she saw the sunbeams dancing here & there through the trees, & pretty flowers growing everywhere, she thought, suppose I take grandmother a fresh nosegay. That would please her too. It is so early in the day that I shall still get there in good time.
And so she ran from the path into the wood to look for flowers. And whenever she had picked one, she fancied that she saw a still prettier one farther on, & ran after it, & so got deeper & deeper into the wood.
Do you remember those times in life when you got deeper & deeper into the wood? Like Red Riding Hood it might have been something that seemed good & harmless at the time, but turned out to be a poor decision in the end. Broken relationships, broken health, broken careers, all of those can leave us feeling like we’ve drifted deeper & deeper into the wood.
The tribe of Judah, from which Jesus would descend, knew all about getting deeper & deeper into the wood. Over 300 years prior they’d left the path their heavenly Father created for them & drifted deeper & deeper into putting their trust in false gods. Eventually, their king was dethroned, Jerusalem was destroyed & the people were taken captive into Babylon.
They spent 70 years, torn away from the Promised Land, with none of the familiar & well-loved surroundings of their faithful ancestors. The glorious days of King David were long gone & hope of returning to the land of milk & honey was difficult to come by. The men & women of God would grow weary living in the pagan land of Babylon. There’s only one kind of Christian who never feels weary; a Christian who never tries very hard. But when those, who do get tired, hear God’s call to live holy lives, to exercise godly wisdom in how they live, to steer clear of all spiritual danger, & to live lives of constant joy in the Lord, we want to do this, but we get tired. The challenges & temptations never seem to end.
Isaiah’s hearers felt that way too. Oppressed by their enemies, living in a difficult time, they found that their hands were weak, their knees kept staggering. Yet God gave His prophet a message about the future that would strengthen & encourage His people.
A time was coming when things would be different – deserts would be fruitful, blind would see, deaf would hear, crippled would walk, the Lord was going to restore all that He had created. Those same words of God, through Isaiah, can strengthen you as well. The Lord’s Way shall have no ravenous wolves along it, anywhere – on or off the path.
Initially, Isaiah 35 was partially fulfilled as the people returned from exile on the Way of Holiness to the city of Jerusalem. That was under Nehemiah. It was fulfilled again in the earthly ministry of Jesus, as He cited to John the Baptist in the Gospel reading from Matthew 11.
In His arrival at Bethlehem, announced by the angel chorus, God had begun the work of restoring His creation. All the events, the Bible points out to us as miracles, are simply a revealing of our Lord’s power to erase the effects of sin.
Isaiah 35 was fulfilled through the Son of God as He lived on earth. Yet, even as Jesus spoke those words to the Baptizer’s disciples, their teacher was in prison about to be beheaded, & Christ Himself was on the way to the glorious climax of His ministry – which was the cross. So there is another fulfillment of this prophecy from Isaiah 35 that is yet to come.
As you well know, the power of evil, the desert’s hold of death, continues to exert its influence as God’s children await the final & complete manifestation of Yahweh’s glory that is promised in this text: “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come & save you.’” That prophecy will be perfectly accomplished for all eternity on the Last Day when Jesus returns to raise the dead from their graves.
Isaiah’s vision is anchored in this world, through the various ways it has been fulfilled in history. At the same time it points ahead to other spiritual possibilities which the Bible refers to as heaven:
“The wilderness & the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice & blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly & rejoice with joy & singing… And the ransomed of the Lord shall return & come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness & joy, & sorrow & sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:1-2a, 10 ESV)
The season of Advent was designed to remind us how important it is to stay on the path because Christ will return in power & glory. Repentance is how we prepare for the return of our Savior. Through repentance, the Holy Spirit is even now transforming & restoring us. Walking on the Way leads us through transformation & restoration, even as it leads us to heaven.
This highway is at one & the same time all of these: the moral & religious way of life, the dry path through the Red Sea, the journey through the wilderness on the way back from Egypt or from Babylon, & the spiritual journey back to life in the Lord’s house, life on the holy mountain. You can see why the wolf would rather have us wander off into the wood!
Broken relationships, broken health, broken careers, they can leave us feeling like we’ve drifted deeper & deeper into the wood. Jesus knows that. He lived it here on earth, so He gave us these words, the central promise from Scripture, in Isaiah 35:4, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come & save you.”
Christ be my Leader by day as by night; safe through the darkness, for He is the way. Gladly I follow, my future His care, darkness is daylight when Jesus is there. Christ be my Savior in calm as in strife; death cannot hold me, for He is the life. Nor darkness nor doubting nor sin & its stain can touch my salvation: with Jesus I reign. Amen. LSB 861:1, 3
 Little Red Riding Hood, by the Grimm Brothers; © 1994-1999 Robert Godwin-Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Foreign Languages, English translation by Margaret Hunt.
 Isaiah 35:4 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet