Isaiah 64:1-9 (First Sunday in Advent—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 27, 2011
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Reading, Isaiah 64:1-9:
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. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. 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.
No doubt you have heard the phrase, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” Isaiah would have done well to pay attention to that piece of advice. Isaiah prayed to God, “Oh that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Was he aware of what would happen if God did exactly what Isaiah asked? Yes, Isaiah was fully aware of what would happen and he hoped he would get exactly what he asked for.
At first glance, praying that God would rip the heaven open and come down doesn’t seem like such a good idea, especially considering Israel’s situation and standing before God. Israel’s enemies had invaded and trampled down Jerusalem and the Temple (63:18). God had allowed this because Israel had wandered from God’s ways. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.”
With this being the case, do you really think it’s a good idea to ask God to come down from heaven to a bunch of sinners? “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence . . . to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence!” God’s enemies are not just the pagan nations of the world. They are also God’s people of Israel who turned away from Him, turning to false gods, burying themselves under their own sins. Is it really a good idea for God to come down to reveal His name to His enemies? If you think it is, better think again. God’s going to reveal His name alright as the just Lord of heaven and earth. He is going to dish out judgment and punishment on those who have rejected Him and His commands. “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?”
Why on earth would Isaiah want God to come down into this mess of sin, knowing full well that God is angry over the sins of His people, knowing full well that when God comes down, mountains shake at His presence and His wrath consumes and punishes? This doesn’t seem to be a wise move. Adam and Eve’s decision to hide from the Lord God seemed to be a much better idea. Let’s NOT get caught red handed! Let’s NOT invite God to see our mess first hand. Let’s NOT let God pick through the trash of my sin so that His anger incinerates me with eternal punishment. Rend the heavens and come down? Not a good idea! We are all like one who is unclean. Even the so-called righteous things that we manage to do are like polluted garments, dirty diapers, filth. You and I can’t even wake ourselves up enough from this sinful stupor to take hold of God and His commandments. We can’t find God through the trash pile of our sin. Rend the heavens and come down? What was Isaiah thinking?
Isaiah was thinking the thoughts of God, the Spirit-breathed Word of God. As crazy as it sounds, we need God to come down in order to save us. He needed to come down from heaven and get down on His hands and knees to re-make and to re-create us. We are the clay, that pile of melted stuff. God our Father is the potter. In the beginning, “the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7) God got down on His hands and knees and formed us from the dirt of the ground. He intimately and personally fashioned His creation and lovingly breathed His own breath of life into us. Isaiah is looking for God to do that again. “Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.”
Isaiah would be the first to admit that we deserve God’s wrath and displeasure as sinful, wicked people who so often show no regard for God and His ways. But Isaiah would also be the first to admit that God is also merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Isaiah trusts more in God’s undeserved kindness and grace that He does in God’s vengeance. He knows that God made us and that we messed up that creation. But Isaiah also knows that God is the great potter who can re-make us into something beautiful and pleasing in His sight. Isaiah asks God to tear open the heavens and come down to do just that, to look upon His broken and melted people in mercy and not remember our sins anymore. He asks God to come down and to forgive.
And it happened. It wasn’t as magnificent as perhaps Isaiah had in mind. But God opened up the heavens and came down. God the Son took to Himself human flesh and was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary. He left His heavenly throne to become fully human, to enter our sin-filled life, to be one of us in order to re-make us through the forgiveness of sins. At Jesus’ first coming, God did open the heavens for a moment, sending His angel to formally announce that God had come into the world. “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
God did come down from heaven not to punish us for our sins but to save us from our sins. God came down from heaven in the person of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. He came to live the perfect life God commands for us. Jesus came to suffer God’s anger and wrath. He came to get the punishment we deserved for our sins. To do that, Jesus suffered and died on the cross. He shed His blood so that we would have God’s complete forgiveness. When Jesus died, the mountains did quake at His presence and the nations did tremble before the crucified God of the universe. “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. . . . When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:50-54)
Because of Jesus, God doesn’t remember our iniquities anymore. He forgives and forgets. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) In Christ’s forgiveness, God our Father, the heavenly potter, re-makes us into His people again. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Because of Jesus, God takes us into the palm of His loving and merciful hands and re-forms us into people who are able to follow and to do His commandments. God has made us totally new from the inside out.
Truly God has done awesome things that we did not look for. He acted for us to save us from sin and death. The Lord remembered us in mercy and “came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man. . . . And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.” (Nicene Creed) Because we are saved by Jesus’ blood, because we have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life by grace through faith in Christ, we look forward to the day of His Second Coming. As the Body of Christ, the Church, we look forward to the day when God will literally, in great power and glory, tear open the heavens and come down, with all the angels with Him. Jesus will come to take us to be with Him forever in the mansions He has prepared for us in His heavenly Kingdom.
Today we pray with Isaiah, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” We pray with the whole Christian Church, “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” When we pray these words we know exactly what we are asking for and we know what we are going to get: HIM, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. So come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.