The Sermon for Sunday August 27th, 2017, the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 138, Isaiah 51:1-6, Matthew 16:13-20
The Text: Isaiah 51:1-6
The Topic: Faith in God is necessary for living righteously
The late Bishop Fulton Sheen once entered a greasy-spoon restaurant for breakfast, and when the waitress, groggy and uninterested, took his order, he replied, “Bring me some ham and eggs and a few kind words.”
When she returned fifteen minutes later, she set the food before him and said, “There.”
“What about the kind words?”
The server looked him over a moment, and then replied, “I’d advise you not to eat them eggs!”
(p. 263, Robert J. Morgan: Preacher’s Sourcebook of Creative Sermon Illustrations. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007)
The Lord our God has kinder words to say to those who love Him and obey his word.
“Listen to me,” the Lord God tells the Israelites who follow righteousness in their lives (Isaiah 51:1) and seek the Lord. He speaks through the prophet Isaiah to those of His people who sought to live according to the laws of righteousness that He had given their ancestors at Mt. Sinai. This prophecy foresees the time when Jerusalem lay in ruins after its destruction by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army in 587 B.C.
This prophecy calls the people that pursue God’s righteousness to look to the patriarch Abraham, and his wife Sarah, as the rock from which they were hewn, and the quarry from which they were dug (Isa. 51:1-2). Abraham was one man, not a nation, when God called him, blessed him and increased him. The Septuagint reading of this verse adds “loved him” between “blessed him” and “increased him.” Why would it be important for the righteous people in Israel to remember these things about Abraham? The situation envisaged here is the devastation of Judah by the Chaldeans in the early sixth century B.C. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been exiled to Assyria in 722 B.C. This prophecy aims to comfort the whole nation, both those who had been re-settled in Assyria those who had either been exiled to Babylon much later or, because they were poor, had been left in Judah.
Isaiah was not the only messenger of God who reminded seekers of God to remember and look to Abraham. St. Paul, writing in Chapter 4 of his Epistle to the Romans, teaches that Abraham is father of all who believe in Christ, whether Jews or Christians, since the righteousness that God imputed to him was because of his faith in God, and not because of any good deeds that he had done.
In Genesis 12:3, God promised Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. Abraham’s faith in God was one of the greatest examples of faith in God, in that he simply believed all the blessings that God promised him and his descendants.
Abraham’s faith is a great part of the reason why the Lord reminds His people who seek Him and pursue righteousness, to look to Abraham. The Hebrew word for “look” means “consider” or “pay attention to”. At that time of desolation, when many Jews had been killed, exiled, scattered, and few left who actively sought to live according to God’s laws, it was very encouraging for them to pay attention to the example of their forefather Abraham, since God “called him alone” (v. 2). God did not call a multitude of Jews out of Ur of the Chaldees, but only Abraham, who became the father of the Jewish nation, and through that nation, the father of many nations by his example of faith.
No matter how few those devout Jews were who had been left, and no matter how outnumbered Christians may feel today, the same God, who made of one man a mighty nation, and blessed all nations in him through the Lord Jesus Christ, can do great things for each one. This is implied by the statement, “for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him” (Isa. 51:2).
THE LORD COMFORTS ZION
The ruins of the great city of Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and He will make that wilderness a flowering garden, a paradise. He will comfort Jerusalem. Jerusalem and its temple were rebuilt after the restoration from exile in 538 B.C. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah testify to this. Much later on, though, in A.D. 70, both Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed according to our Lord’s prophecies, by the Roman armies. Therefore, this prophecy waits to be fulfilled. Some Christians would say that this is really a prophecy of the New Jerusalem. Others maintain that Jerusalem will be restored and the temple rebuilt in this present age. However we interpret this prophecy, the point is that God will do what may seem impossible now, such as re-unite a divided city of Jerusalem and rule over it in peace. Joy, gladness, thanksgiving and melody, as well as gardens like Paradise, are all prophesied for Jerusalem.
GOD SENDS HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST TO ALL THE WORLD
In the following verse (v. 4), the Lord keeps expanding the prophetic comprehension of his faithful followers, calling his nation to listen to him. The word used for “nation” also means “community” or “people”. Interestingly, though this is not original to the text, the Septuagint adds the words, “And ye kings, hearken to me.” This is probably a later addition to the text which shows how the original was already being interpreted in the light of Jewish presence in many Gentile communities. Instead of being isolated from the rest of the world and forgotten by it, the Lord causes His Law to proceed from the Jewish people by way of the Lord Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world. God’s justice will be made known to all the nations of the world. This is indicated in the latter part of the verse: “for a law shall proceed from me, and I will make my judgment to rest for a light of the people.” The Septuagint uses the words “and my judgement will be a light for the nations” at the end of this verse.
The Lord’s announcement in verse 5 that his righteousness is near, his salvation has gone forth, he shall judge the peoples, and the islands wait on him and trust in him, expands the hope of all who love the Lord and seek him. The righteous are not a few hidden and forgotten people. Instead, their hope in God becomes the hope of people of all nations throughout the world who love God and seek righteousness in their lives.
Finally, in the sixth verse, God calls his people to look up at the sky and down at the earth, to realize that heaven and earth will pass away, people on earth die, but God’s salvation and righteousness endure forever. It is as if God is promising to all who love Him the life that is as eternal as his salvation and righteousness.
As we interpret it for our lives today, the purpose of this passage is to bring God’s encouragement and expansion of vision to all believers:
1. We are called to look to Abraham the patriarch, father of all who have faith, and to believe in God as strongly as he believed;
2. The Lord will comfort and restore Jerusalem, and we should include this in our prayer of faith for Jerusalem today;
3. God’s righteous Law through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has gone into all the world, so that people of all nations may become Christians, who by turning away from sin and believing in Christ, receive God’s free gift of Christ’s righteousness and persevere in obeying His word;
4. The present heaven and earth will pass away, and be replaced with a new heaven and earth, for God’s salvation and righteousness last forever.
Have you been encouraged by the Lord through this passage? How will you use the prophetic truths of this passage to encourage others?