Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Light for the Nations

Isaiah 49:1-7 On the cover of the Isaiah commentary that I used in my studies for this sermon there is a picture of Jesus Christ dying upon a cross.  And that is exactly right.  Luther said that “From this 49th chapter to the end of Isaiah, there is nothing but Christ.”  And he was exactly right.  These verses that we have before us for our meditation speak of Christ.
Cyrus would be God’s anointed instrument to set Judah free from exile in Babylon.  The Israelites would do their part in carrying forth the worship and knowledge of the true God and especially the promise of a Savior to come. 
But the Servant of God who speaks-- and is spoken of-- in these final chapters of Isaiah’s book is none other than Jesus Christ who was stricken, smitten and afflicted for our transgressions and by whose wounds we are healed.
In the text for our meditation today we hear the incredible Good News that the saving work of Jesus Christ, God’s son and servant, would not just be for the Jews but it would be for all people, including us here today.  The Messiah says:  Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. 
            Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus would speak in the same, powerful way:  “Truly, truly I say to you”.  “I tell you the truth”.  “Whoever hears my words and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life”.  “My word is truth”. 
In these verses from Isaiah the Servant of God has something to say and he wants everyone near and far to listen to it!
These words are not just for God’s ancient people but for us and all people--for they speak of a salvation and deliverance that extends not just to a few, but to all who will hear and believe that the Lord—who promised that the Seed of a Woman would destroy Satan-- has chosen a Savior who will be for all people.  God’s servant says:  The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. 
When John begins his Gospel he says that the one who was in the beginning, the one through whom all things were made, the one who was God-- became flesh and dwelt among us. 
A promise made to Adam and Eve thousands of years earlier—that the Seed of a Woman would be the destruction of the devil--a promise that was renewed and expanded from one prophet to another--became flesh in the womb of his blessed virgin mother.
Isaiah had prophesied of this miraculous birth:  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Immanuel.  Isaiah promised more:  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.  And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, prince of Peace.
And so it was that Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled as the Virgin Mary conceived a son with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took on flesh and was called forth from the womb and became part of humanity in Jesus of Nazareth. 
At the angel’s command Mary and Joseph named him Jesus because he is the God who saves us.  They called him Immanuel because he is the God who is with us.  And the angel choirs sang the birth song of the Prince of Peace—just as Isaiah promised.
700 years before these events of the very first Christmas, the Spirit of Christ who inspired all the Old Testament prophets, inspired the prophet Isaiah to give voice to the Messiah, God’s chosen servant and his very own son.  Jesus said about his Father:
He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away.  And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 
            All Jewish rabbis-- and many modern bible scholars-- reject the idea that this is the Messiah speaking because he is specifically called “Israel”.  But the nation of Israel cannot be the servant spoken of here because they were not their own savior (to say nothing of their being the salvation of the Gentile nations).
No, this could only be the voice of the Messiah, the chosen Servant of God and the true Israel whose words are like a sharp sword. 
In Hebrews, the Bible says that the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.  And in Revelation Jesus is portrayed this way:  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
It is this sword of the Spirit which is the word of God that comes forth from the mouth of the Messiah that provides our redemption and rescue- with- one- little- word.
And so what is that one little word?  Luther speaks of it in the third stanza of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”.  He writes:  Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us—we tremble not, we fear no ill—they shall not overpower us—this world’s prince may still, scowl fierce as he will—he can harm us none—he’s judged the deed is done—one little word can fell him. 
That one little word spoken by God’s own Son, his chosen servant—that one little word that is our redemption and rescue is the word:  tetelestai.  Tetelestai spoken by our crucified Savior who was pierced for our transgression and wounded for our iniquities and by whose stripes we are healed.  Three words in English:  “It is finished”. 
It is finished!  The most important word ever spoken for it tells of a ransom that has been paid to set us free from sin and death.  It tells of an atoning sacrifice that has been made, reconciling God and man.  It tells of a peace treaty that has been signed between us and God in the shed blood of his Son Jesus Christ. 
Tetelestai!  It is finished!  A shout of victory spoken by a holy man dying a criminal’s death, abandoned by friends, mocked by enemies, forsaken by God—a humble man who just a few hours before had begged his Father to let the cup of wrath pass by him.  God’s Servant says:
“I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” 
            In these words of the Messiah we have some of the deepest mysteries of our salvation.  Here we have the mystery of the incarnation that Jesus of Nazareth, God’s chosen servant, God in human flesh, was like us in every way except sin. 
He grew tired and hungry and thirsty.  He sighed at the lack of faith of his disciples.  He wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  He was heartbroken over the rejection of his kinsman and said “Jerusalem, Jerusalem how I longed to gather you to myself but you were not willing.”
He begged his heavenly Father to not drink the cup of his wrath on the cross but submitted himself to his will.  And he cried out as he died “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”
And yet, despite his sorrow over what sin and death has done to us, despite his yearning for a people who would in large measure reject him, despite his real fear at the horror of the cross and the wrath of his Father over our sins--he knew that he had become the source of eternal salvation to all who believe in him.  His heavenly Father said about him:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
            God loved his ancient people, Israel.  He would raise up a deliverer named Cyrus to bring them home and restore their fortunes.  But God wanted to bless them with more than just a land and a temple and a city.  He wanted to bless them eternally with salvation and forgiveness and peace and he wanted to do that for all the people of the world as well.
To do that God would need a different kind of deliverer than a king who could win a military victory. 
He would need a servant who would lay down his life for the world.  He would need his Son who would be holy and righteous in his sight.  He would need a sacrifice whose life and death would bring a world full of people back to God.
That is why Jesus Christ came into the world—to call God’s ancient people back to their rightful place in God’s family-- but also to be a light for the nations so that people throughout the world could also take their place in God’s family, including us here today.
God wants the Good News of salvation he provided in his servant Son to reach the end of the earth.  That is why we give to the work of the church—so that all people might hear of God’s salvation.  That is why we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and share the reason for our hope with those in our community who have no hope.
The salvation that is for the world-- and the hope that is for our community-- is not found in some tract or in some long, dry theological treatise. 
Salvation for the world and hope for our community is found in one little word:  tetelestai.  It is finished.  One little word that speaks forgiveness and peace and hope to a world in need.
My God grant us the courage to speak that one little word that has changed our lives for time and eternity.  Amen.

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