New Heavens and a New Earth

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Thus says the Lord in the second to last chapter of Isaiah. He promises a time when His beloved children will no longer suffer the effects of sin. In that time He will rejoice over His people and dwell with them. No longer will there be heard among them the sound of crying or distress, no longer will there be an infant who dies only a few days old nor and old man who doesn’t fill out his days. No longer will God’s people labor in vain, nor will they build and others inhabit. The wolf and lamb will graze together and the lion will eat straw. Finally, the promise made in Genesis 3 will find complete fulfillment: the serpent will eat dust forever. God says that there shall be no hurt nor destruction in all His holy mountain.

All this we understand to be a picture of what our lives will be like in the Resurrection. Last week the lessons took us to the end times and the return of our Savior. And now this week, the last Sunday of the year, we are given in our Old Testament text a vision and a promise of the blessed future that awaits us. In Gospel and Epistle readings we are exhorted to live and wait as those who are wise and have oil enough and more. But here in Isaiah, we see that for which we wait and pray. We await from our Lord the time when sin will be no more. Our God promises to us, His beloved children, a new heaven and earth. There He will dwell with us in a way that we can’t even fully comprehend yet, and He will cause us to live in joy, security, and peace forever.

I.

Thus saith the Lord, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.” As we talked about last week, at the end of the Church Year our minds turn toward the talk of eschatology, the last things. Our Epistle and Gospel readings direct our consciences toward what will happen to us. Between recent funerals and the readings, we’ve reached a conclusion. Those who die in faith are immediately in the presence of Christ. Though we lay their bodies in the grave, those same bodies will be resurrected at Christ’s return. One thing we haven’t really talked about is, what happens to creation? After all, God created us with bodies. Bodies need space. Bodies need the creation. Yet, at present, the creation itself is corrupted by sin. St. Paul says in Romans that, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth,” until such time as sin will be no more.

That’s where our text comes in. God promises to create new heavens and a new earth. You might hear that and expect that we’re hearing from Revelation – because it’s there, too. But it’s also promised here in the Old Testament. It’s unclear to us exactly how the new heavens and earth will come to be. St. Peter says that the heavenly bodies will be burned up with fire. Hebrews simply says the foundation of the earth and heavens will be “changed,” like you would an old shirt. Whether by fire or other means, the Biblical witness and the promise of God is that all things will be made new. And, quite frankly, we’re due for it. Our Lutheran forefathers were of the opinion that the earth is somewhere around 6,000 years old, judging from the timelines in the Bible. This view we share. That’s six thousand years of death. Six thousand years of disease and decay, of crime and warfare, of sin and shame. But all these things will pass away. We who have been baptized have already been made new creations in Christ, but then will all creation itself be made new.

What will be new, is that the effects of sin will be no more. God goes to one of the most notable changes, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days.” In this new creation, the chief consequence of sin will be destroyed. Death will no longer exist. No more will we mourn the loss of our children nor grieve for those who passed too soon. There will be no more weeping nor cry of distress. For, God says, “I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people.” In addition, the former things shall not be remembered. Meaning, the sins that we committed will no longer weigh us down. There will be no death, and there will be no guilt.

II.

Because God will create all things new, death and sin will be no more. We will live in the joy of the resurrection and in its security. The language of building and inhabiting, planting and eating, calls to mind the many times in the Old Testament where God’s people were delivered into the hands of their enemies. God allowed them to be driven from their land as punishment for sin and their adultery against Him. Other families lived in their homes and other farmers benefited from their hard work. But, no more. Instead, “They shall build…and inhabit…they shall plant…and eat…my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.” Think of all those times you’ve worked hard on something, only to see it fall to pieces. That won’t happen anymore.

For like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be…They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord, and their descendants with them.” God returns us to the big idea here: there will be no sin, no death. Death is not a good thing. Jesus Christ died to put an end to death; at His Return it will finally be no more. The translators of the Greek Old Testament monkey with the Hebrew here, but I’ll allow it. They change “like the days of a tree,” to “like the days of the Tree of Life.” The lives of God’s beloved people will be like the Tree of Life, standing in the Garden of Eden forever for all to see and enjoy. This eternal life will extend not just to us, but to our children. No longer will we labor in vain, or bear children just to outlive them. Instead, we and our children will live together in God’s light. Remember what St. Peter said on Pentecost, “The promise [of forgiveness in Christ] is for you and for your children.”

III.   

So much of this text is beyond our comprehension. We can imagine there being no death, but only to an extent. The entire experience of our lives is built upon the fact that things don’t last. None of us has ever lived in a world where there was no death. Soon we will. God has yet more to say in our text. “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” Repeatedly God promises in Scripture to dwell with us. All of it – all of the work of Christ, His fulfillment of the Law, His suffering, His death, His resurrection and defeat of death – culminate in this. God will dwell with us in an immediate sense. There will be nothing between us. Truly, God does already dwell with us in Word and Sacrament, but in the new creation we will be in the presence of God. Before we call, He’ll answer. While we’re speaking, He’ll hear. It won’t be a terrifying presence, like in chapter 6 when Isaiah is sure he’s gonna die for seeing God. It will be a joy, and God Himself will rejoice.

Last things. “The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the LORD. So much of this we can’t truly picture, so God describes it in a way we can. The fundamental order of creation will be changed. There will be no death and no destruction in the new creation that awaits us. And so, at the end of another Church year, our minds turn to the glory ahead. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we await from it our Savior. When He returns He will change our bodies to be like His and create all things new. Let us pray.

O God, the Father of all mercies, we bring unto You this day our sacrifice of praise for the innumerable and inestimable blessings which You have bestowed on us in Christ during the Church year which is now ending. You have caused Your divine Word to be preached to us, which is able to make us wise for salvation; You have permitted us to enjoy the holy Sacraments for our comfort and sanctification, and have accompanied the means of grace with the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We thank Your for Your goodness and praise Your holy name. We beg You, that in Your mercy, You would forgive us all our sins of the past year for Jesus’ sake, and graciously preserve for us and Your whole Church the light of Your Gospel. Lead us by Your Holy Spirit, that, receiving Your Word with gladness, we may be sanctified by Your Truth, and finally receive eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

The Epiphany of Our Lord

Arise, shine, for your light has come,” says the prophet Isaiah in chapter 60. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord, where the Incarnation of Jesus was made known to the world. Again, Isaiah speaks, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Over the last twelve days we’ve heard the story of our Lord’s birth. We’ve heard the announcement of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah that John would be born to prepare the way of the Messiah. We’ve heard the announcement to Mary that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her, and she shall conceive and bear a son. We’ve heard the account of our Savior’s birth; and now today, Christmas is given to the world.

The Epiphany itself, is an ancient holiday. From its beginning, it was a holiday commemorating both the birth and Baptism of Jesus. It moves from Christmas, where God is revealed as man, to the time where the man, Jesus, is revealed as the God of all creation to creation. In our calendar today we celebrate an entire season, beginning with the arrival of the wise men where Jesus is revealed to the Gentiles. We also see His Baptism, where the Spirit rests on Jesus’ shoulder and the Father speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We learn of His first miracle, the first sign that He is the Messiah, the changing of water into wine. Finally, the season ends with the Transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appear in glory to speak with Jesus concerning His exodus – His death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

But it all begins today. Today these words are fulfilled,

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord in a time of turmoil and suffering. The chosen people of God were fractured into two nations, with many enemies designing even further destruction. The faithful continued to hope and pray for the Messiah, longing for the Son of God to come and forgive their sins, but all they saw around themselves was thick darkness. As Isaiah said, “Darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” As the darkness of fear surrounded God’s people, so the darkness of sin covers the whole world. Each person goes his own way, ignoring and disregarding God’s will, striving after the wind and even hiding from the Light of the Lord.

We also are included in the darkness of sin. St. Paul says that, apart from faith in Christ, we are by nature children of wrath. St. John also says that those who walk apart from faith walk in darkness and do not practice the truth. But arise, and shine, for your Light has come. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord. The Light of the world has been revealed to the nations. As the wise men were led to worship Jesus through His Word, so is Christ revealed to us in the preaching of the Gospel. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us, and the Light of Jesus scatters the darkness of our hearts.

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. At our Lord’s birth, the Light of the World was worshipped by Angels and shepherds, but now He is been manifested to the world. Soon, we will celebrate His Baptism and Transfiguration, where it is revealed that Light of the World has also come to suffer death for the life of the world.

Rise and Shine

Text: Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

There’s a popular children’s song called, “Rise and Shine.” It’s a song about the Flood, but the refrain repeats the words, “Rise and shine and give God the glory… [you] children of the Lord.”[1] Aside from singing that often as a child, whether in Sunday or Vacation Bible School, most of the time that phrase came up it wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “Rise and shine!,” mothers all over the world yell to wake up their children. Maybe it’s accompanied by the smell of breakfast, maybe not. The phrase, “Rise and shine,” is reference to the Old Testament text for the Epiphany, Isaiah 60:1-6. In it we heard, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.”[2] In this cold, dark time of the year, and of the world in general, we are less then twelve days removed from the joy of Christmas. Today we celebrate the Epiphany, which is the revelation of God the Son in the flesh, particularly to the wise men from the East. We learn that Jesus Christ, the true Light of the World, has now come and has redeemed us from the darkness.

I.

In the text from Isaiah we hear of the future glory of Israel, a future that has now come to fulfillment in the revelation of Jesus Christ. We read, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[3] The Old Testament is filled with visions and promises of the future, promises of glory and peace. It seems that at almost every corner of the Old Testament, there is some prophecy or promise of a glorious future for Israel. We Lutherans are known for seeing the Good News of God everywhere in the Bible, but we also know that there is Law with the Gospel.

Before the Lord speaks of the coming Light and His rising glory, He shows why it is necessary. He says in the previous chapter of Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you…your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”[4] The Lord contends with His own people, even with us. He says that when we look around and see the world filled with evil and death, it’s not because God isn’t there. His hand is not too short to reach out and save, and He’s not deaf to our pleas. Instead, it is the sin of the world that has led things to the way they are.

God’s indictment is that the iniquities of mankind have hidden His face. His own holy people have transgressed: their hands are filled with blood, both from violence and from sacrificing to idols, their fingers are dripping with the iniquity of their actions. The transgressions then seep inwards, their lips speak lies and tongues wickedness. Their wickedness even extended to gathering for worship. God explains, “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God.”[5] Their gathering to worship was a charade. They delighted to hear God’s Word, as long as they didn’t have to change, as long as they could remain concerned only about themselves. Likewise, our sinful temptation is always to gather but then not do…at least, not until later.

Therefore, Scripture says, “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.”[6] God looked upon the thick darkness of the earth, knowing that, in it, there was no one capable of following His Law, no one capable of not sinning, no one capable of truly seeking Truth and Light, and so He resolved to do something about it. St. Paul writes in Galatians 4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law.”[7] This we celebrated at Christmas when Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, was born to redeem us from our sin.

When the wise men came to Jerusalem, they were seeking that Light, but they did not realize the extent of the darkness. When King Herod heard that they were seeking the King of the Jews, he was afraid that there would now be a credible threat to his throne. See, Herod ruled by force, and when you are a tyrant, you are always afraid of challengers. He implored the wise men to find the child and report back, so that he could worship, too. This, of course, was a lie. Herod was interested in the Light only insofar as it fit into his system. The King of the Universe would bow to him or be destroyed, or so he thought. We behave the same way when we expect that the will and Word of God as revealed in Scripture bend to our way of thinking and powers of reason.

II.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” Rise and shine, for your Light has come. Though the world had been covered in darkness, and in many ways is still covered in the darkness of sin, the Light has come that shines in the darkness and is not defeated. Once we were in darkness. We were each conceived in iniquity and born in sin. Before we received the gift of faith through Baptism, through the preaching of God’s Word, there was nothing truly good in us; for there is no good apart from the Light of the world. But now, in our time, in our presence, the Light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us.

Once we were in darkness, fumbling our way through life. Indeed, the sin that still resides in our flesh still tries to push and pull us in whatever direction. But now, we are not in darkness, but in Light. And the Light is this: Jesus Christ, true God yet fully man, was born of the Virgin Mary. For our sake, He who knew no sin, became sin. He bore the weight of our sin, the guilt of our bloody hands – both from being at times physically violent and the angry thoughts we harbor inside, the shame of our lips which are so quick to gossip and lie, and He died. He died to exchange His righteousness for our transgression and His light for our darkness. By His resurrection, which we are united to through Holy Baptism, the power of darkness over us is obliterated by His Light.

So darkness is destroyed by the Light; Jesus Christ has come into the world to redeem us from the power of darkness, but now what? Scripture says, “The Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”[8] The Light of Christ, which we receive freely through His grace, is not something that we keep to ourselves. The text says later that those who receive the Light are made radiant, made to shine outwards. Are we then to take the Light and hide it under a bushel? No!

The Light that scatters the darkness, that heals our infirmities, that frees us from the punishment we deserve, is for all people. This is revealed as well by the visit of the wise men. They were not Jews, and yet God led them by the star to revealing of the Son made flesh for the world. By this God was showing, yet again, that His free salvation is for all people. This salvation comes as a gift through faith in the Son of God, whose revealing in the flesh we celebrate today. We may be small, but as we gather to receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness through His Word and Sacrament, we are strengthened, called, and led to share the Light we receive with the world around us.

We didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the New Year together, but as we learn from Christ’s Epiphany today we begin a new calendar year in His Light, the light the scatters the darkness of our hearts and leads us to proclaim His Word to the nations. In His name, amen.


[1] http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/r024.html

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 60:1.

[3] Is. 60:1–3.

[4] Is. 59:1-3.

[5] Is. 58:2.

[6] Is. 59:15–16.

[7] Gal. 4:4–5.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 60:2–3.

To Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

During the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry He went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and being praised by all. Then He went to Nazareth, His hometown. It was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. There He stood up to read and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him. He unrolled it and it opened to our text this evening. He rolled the scroll back up after He had finished reading and said to all the people staring at Him, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] The account ends with Jesus’ own people driving Him up a hill to try and throw Him down the cliff.

Jesus claims our text this evening as His own. The work of God’s servant in the text is Jesus’ own. Christ did not come to be a new lawgiver, He did not come as an example, nor did He come to make us try harder. Instead, Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah, came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and to release the captives of the law of sin. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and to set the prisoners free.

I.

The text begins, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”[2] This reading comes from near the end of Isaiah. The Fall of Jerusalem has been prophesied, as has the return from exile. The tone then shifts to the coming Day of Judgment. God laments, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually.”[3] Thus, wrath is coming for those who reject God’s favor.

But that is not our text tonight. Here the Lord speaks of salvation, of His work on behalf of sinners. Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Many at Christ’s time were looking for a Messiah to come who would be an earthly ruler. They expected a king that would throw off the Romans and establish a new kingdom. I guess the flip side is that, in order to establish a kingdom, rules and taxes need to be imposed to make things work. That’s not what Christ came to do. He did not come to impose, but to bring cheer to the poor and afflicted with His good news.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Christ to come and bind up the brokenhearted. Christ came to bind up those have been broken by life, those who have been tossed to and fro by the waves of the world. He came to save those who sought after the world, its riches and pleasures, only to end up in the gutter brokenhearted. But this brokenhearted means something else as well. It means those who have been broken by God’s Law. It means those who have tried and tried to be a good person, and yet have found themselves lacking. Christ came for those who hear God’s Word and wonder how God could demand things we cannot do, and then punish those who don’t do them. That’s brokenhearted there.

Jesus said that He came to bring good news to the poor and to bind up the brokenhearted. He also came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound. In the Greek text, it says that He came to bring recovery of sight to the blind. Christ came to bring liberty those in the chains of sin and in the prison of death and the devil. These are also the chains worn by the brokenhearted, the chains of the Law. Prior to faith in the Messiah the Law hangs around all our necks demanding that we do work to earn the forgiveness of sins and to inherit eternal life. Christ came to set us free from that as well.

II.

The text proclaims that the Messiah came to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken and to proclaim liberty to the captives. The question is, how? How do all these things take place? How are ashes exchanged for a beautiful headdress, or mourning for the oil of gladness? I think you know the answer. These things happen through Jesus Christ, through His saving work on our behalf. It was for us that He created the earth. It was for us it was promised to Adam and Eve that one would come to destroy the power of the devil. For us, Jesus took upon flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He is both perfectly God and perfectly man. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and then suffered and died for you. He took your sin, and the sin of the whole world upon Himself. God Himself suffered brutally so that your sins could be forgiven. And so they are. This is not because we are especially good, and it certainly isn’t because it’s what we deserve, but it’s because God is love. In love Jesus Christ was born to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the forgiveness of our sins. In love, He has clothed us in His own robe of righteousness, purchased by His own death on the cross. Amen.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk. 4:21.

[2] Is. 61:1–2.

[3] Is. 65:1–3.

Double for All Her Sins

lamb

Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

Last week we heard Isaiah’s prayer and plea to God, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.”[1] He saw the destruction and adversity, the shame of God’s people, and prayed that God would come and destroy evil. But he soon realized that, if God put a sudden end to sin, then we should be rightfully swept away like a leaf in the wind. This righteous God who is holy is like no other God, in that He actually acts in lives of His people, would be justified in blowing us away. Isaiah concludes his prayer by reminding God that we are His people; we are the clay and He the potter. He has made us and He is merciful.

God’s response to Isaiah and His faithful people was, “Here I am, here I am,” and, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy.”[2] This calls to mind His previous word to Isaiah, and our text this evening, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and 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.”[3]

I.

God’s message to Isaiah comes after an envoy came from Babylon. They came to visit with King Hezekiah and he took them around and showed them everything: everything of value in all the kingdom. Then the Lord spoke through Isaiah that everything he showed them would be carried off to Babylon, even some of his sons. The resounding point in all this is that punishment and destruction were about to come upon Jerusalem and God’s people. There is forgiveness for the sins that they committed, their continual rejection of God and worship of false gods, their hatred and greediness, but the consequence is that Jerusalem must be destroyed.

For some of God’s faithful people this led to despair. They couldn’t help but think that God was abandoning them. He was permitting Jerusalem and His own house, the Temple, to be destroyed and the people along with it…or so it might’ve seemed. Thus God speaks to them His Word of comfort. He tells Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to speak to them heart to heart, to cry to them and keep crying as the Hebrew says that her warfare is over. Her time of trial, her time of distress is now ended. Her iniquity has been pardoned. The word for “pardoned” here is the word used in Leviticus for when God accepts a sacrifice of blood. Payment has been made in blood for the transgression of God’s people and they are pardoned.

The work of the Suffering Servant, the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, has resulted in God’s people receiving double from His hands. This is not double punishment, because the Law says transgression and punishment must correspond, but it is grace. By the suffering of God’s Servant, Jesus, His people have received enough forgiveness to cover twice the penalty of their sin. And we need it too, because “all flesh is grass…the grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.”[4] No one needs to tell us how frail human flesh really is. Some make it to old age, but not without sickness and calamities on every side. We can also see new definitions of morality and a moving center of right and wrong all around us. These things are result of both the sin within us and the broken creation we live in that is tainted by sin.

II.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”[5] Though mankind is by nature transitory, both in the fact that we will physically die, and how even as Christians our moral center is sometimes hard to nail down, the Word and Promise of God stand forever. Man withers and fades; man is fickle. God is strong, unchanging, merciful. He has promised to remember the sins of His people no more, to no longer hold their iniquities against them. This He has done by sending His Son into the flesh to die as payment for our sin.

And so He says to Jerusalem, to Isaiah, to us His faithful people: lift up your voice, do not be afraid. Behold your God. Truly this is made manifest in the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He who existed eternally in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, took on frail human flesh to suffer and die painfully for sins He did not commit. He did this to gather us in and to bring us to be with Him in heaven. God tells His people, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom.”[6]

This is a picture of something we hope, pray for, and expect – the second coming of Christ. At His return He will come with might to collect His reward: us. We have been purchased not with gold or silver but by His blood. The wages of our work is death, but the wages of His work is eternal life in Him. Through Him we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. The death of the Son of God for sinners has resulted that we have received double the grace instead of the merited punishment of our sins. Next week our text will be from Isaiah 61. These words Jesus applies to Himself to describe the work that He was born to do. The reading ends with words that He puts in our mouths, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”[7]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 64:1.

[2] Is. 65:1, 17-18.

[3] Is. 40:1-2.

[4] Is. 40:6-7.

[5] Is. 40:8–9.

[6] Is. 40:10–11.

[7] Is. 61:10.

Consider them Rended

Text: Isaiah 64:1-9

Look down from heaven and see, from Your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are Your zeal and Your might? The stirring of Your inner parts and Your compassion are held back from me…Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence.”[1] This a power request, a prayer and a plea for mercy spoken by Isaiah. In his prayer he recounts the steadfast love of the Lord, all the goodness He has granted to the house of Israel. For, “[The Lord] said, ‘Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”[2]

Isaiah speaks of how the Lord became Savior to His people, how He was with them in their suffering. He was afflicted with them, and in His love and pity He redeemed them. He carried them all the days of old. But in response to His love, the children of Israel rebelled. They rejected the Holy Spirit and made God their enemy. They allied themselves with foreign nations and false gods. And so God hid Himself. He let His children have their evil ways, and they became like people whom God never ruled. His own people hardened their hearts and made themselves those who are not called by God. A nation that used to be filled with such promise and hope now became plunder for God’s enemies. And so Isaiah asks, “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name?”[3]

Though God is the ruler of the world, it has become such that it is almost impossible to believe that there is a caring God out there. Even in Isaiah’s time, over 700 years before Christ, the world was broken and filled with evil. Isaiah almost screams, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”[4]

Isaiah prayed, and we would too, that God wear tear open the heavens, that He would rip open reality, and come down. If He did the mountains would quake and melt and the nations would tremble as the holy and righteous God comes thundering against the forces of sin. Isaiah prayed that God would come and put an end to all evil. And He certainly can; there is no God beside Him. No one has ever heard or seen a God besides Him, who actually acts in the lives of those who wait for Him. History has never borne witness of the acts of any other “god.”

II.

Isaiah prays that God would come down from heaven, but he soon realizes what that would actually mean for us. Truly God is near to those who work righteousness, who delight in His Law. But what about us? Isaiah asks, “In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?”[5] Our God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Isaiah prays that God would come down and destroy evil, but what does that mean for those like us, who have “all become like one who is unclean, and [whose] righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”?[6] Nothing good. Already, we as humans are like a leaf that fades in the fall. We have fallen off the tree and we perish. Our sins, like the wind, carry us away.

God does meet those who joyfully work righteousness and remember His ways, who call upon His name and wake up early to study His Word – but how often does that describe us? Instead we already melt in the hand of our iniquity. If the Almighty God tore open the fabric of time and space to put an end to all evil and darkness, He would be putting an end to us as well. It would be like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is opened and everyone literally melts at the power of God.

III.

And so Isaiah pleads, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.”[7] God is our Father, and without Him we would not even be here, where we are now. Like clay in the hands of the potter, so are we in the hands of God. We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. When we pray that the righteous God would come and put an end to evil, we pray that He would also be true to His mercy and goodness. As He has remembered His promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and many others, so we pray that He remember His promise to remember our sins no more.

Like Isaiah we are surrounded by an evil and corrupt generation. Our world is filled with sin, death, and destruction. As faithful Christians we are a minority, and we are a target for those who hate God and His Word. We pray that He would end it all, but we realize if God were to put a sudden end to sin in fantastic manner, of our own power we would not escape it. And so we continually pray for God’s mercy. What does God say in return? From next week’s lesson: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”[8]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 63:15; 64:1.

[2] Is. 63:8–9.

[3] Is. 63:11–12.

[4] Is. 64:1-4.

[5] Is. 64:5.

[6] Is. 64:6.

[7] Is. 64:8–9.

[8] Is. 40:1–2.