The Sermon for Sunday, July 18th, 2021, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Isaiah 57:14-21; Psalm 22:23-32; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-44
The Text: Isaiah 57:14-21
The Topic: God’s discipline, when humbly accepted, leads to revival of the soul and peace.
ISAIAH 57:14-21: THE HUMBLE ACCEPT GOD’S DISCIPLINE AND ARE GIVEN NEW LIFE
Our First Lesson today begins with the words, “And shall say,” which means “One will say.” As in the case of the voices that speak in the first few verses of Isaiah 40, there is no identification of the speaker. The speaker could be the prophet speaking God’s word. Whoever the speaker is, he is declaring God’s intention towards his people. In the verses preceding this verse, the Lord has announced the futility of Israel’s reliance on his false gods while promising that whoever trusts in the Lord shall possess the land and inherit God’s holy mountain (Isaiah 57:13).
Now the prophet proclaims God’s word, “Cast ye up, cast ye up, prepare the way, take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people” (Isaiah 57:14, KJV). In Isaiah 40:3, a voice is calling for the Lord’s way to be prepared, and this was the work of St. John the Baptist. Here in this verse, there is a call for the way of God’s people to be prepared, a way that will lead them into his presence. “Cast ye up” therefore means “Build up.” The Revised English Bible translates this verse:
Then the Lord will say
Build up a highway, clear the road,
Remove all that blocks my people’s path.
(Isaiah 57:14, REB)
What this verse shows is that God desires his people to make their way into his presence and that indeed he is working on their behalf to build a highway for them, and clear from their road every cause of sin and every obstacle in their path. If anyone of God’s people thinks that God is against him, this verse shows that for the one who seeks God’s presence and his will, God guides, directs, and prepares the way.
However, there is a certain attitude required for all who want to live in God’s presence, and this attitude appears in verse fifteen, where the Lord states that he dwells in a high and holy place with the person who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble ones and the heart of the contrite ones (Isaiah 57:15). This statement describes the penitent person who is determined to turn away from all sin and do only God’s will. The word “contrite” comes from a Latin root meaning “bruised” or “crushed.” Whatever is the source of the bruising or crushing – whether oppressors or trials in this world, or God’s own corrective discipline at work in our lives, God’s aim is to revive, or give new life to, the humble and contrite ones.
Oswald Chambers wrote this passage on accepting God’s crushing:
God can never make me wine if I object to the fingers he uses to crush me. If God would only crush me with his own fingers and say, “Now my son, I am going to make you broken bread and poured-out wine in a particular way, and everyone will know what I am doing.” But when he uses someone who is not a Christian, or someone I particularly dislike, or some set of circumstances that I said I would never submit to, and begins to make these the crushers, I object….
Let God do as he likes. If you are ever going to be wine to drink, you must be crushed. Grapes cannot be drunk; grapes are only wine when they have been crushed. I wonder what kind of coarse finger and thumb God has been using to squeeze you, and you have been like a marble and escaped? You are not ripe yet, and if God had squeezed you, the wine that came out would have been remarkably bitter. Let God go on with his crushing because it will work his purpose in the end.
Oswald Chambers: So Send I You. Discovery House, 1993)
On the necessity of humbling oneself before God, St. James in his Epistle writes:
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
(James 4:10, KJV)
God exalts the humble and gives new life to the broken-hearted and contrite. On the other hand, those who try to exalt themselves without depending on God will be humbled (Luke 18:14b). Yet God declares that he will not contend forever against man’s sin, nor always be angry, since otherwise the souls whom he has made would fail before him (Isaiah 57:16). In bringing chastisement and temporary punishment upon his people when they rebel against him, God’s intention is to correct them through his discipline, not to punish them forever. In the writings of the prophet Ezekiel, God declares:
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? Saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
(Ezekiel 18:23, KJV)
The Lord explains that he was angry at Israel’s covetousness, and smote him. The Lord hid himself from Israel for a while on account of their rebellion, but Israel continued in his own ways stubbornly. The Lord promises healing to Israel and comfort, nonetheless, as well as guidance in the future (Isaiah 57:18). Then the Lord promises peace to all, whether near or far, that seek his righteousness and peace, and with righteousness and peace, the Lord will give healing. This healing comes with another gift from God – creation of “the fruit of the fruit of the lips” (Isaiah 57:19a), or praise for God instead of mourning and sorrow. The praise God gives to his humble people is his creation, resulting from his healing, guidance, and restoration of good things to those who love him but have suffered either because of the wrongs they have suffered at the hands of others, or from their own past rebellion. Those of a “contrite and humble spirit” will find God is their Healer and their Peace. Now these prophecies apply not only to Israel, but to all who come to the Lord Jesus Christ, who believe in him and follow him as Lord. For those who reject God and his will, and rebel, that is, for the wicked, there is no peace, for they are like the troubled, restless sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt (Isaiah 57:20-21).
The First Lesson leads us to conclude that the Lord’s discipline of his people is meant to restore them to righteousness and is the precursor of his healing grace, and his gift of peace.
What we all need to do is to receive God’s discipline thankfully, with humility, submitting ourselves to the Lord in the knowledge that he is leading us into his presence, and bringing us both healing and peace.
 p.120, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.