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Sermon for September 24, 2017

Isaiah 55:6-9 (16th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 20—Series A)

“The Thoughts of God”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

September 24, 2017

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 55:

6Seek Yahweh while He allows Himself to be found. Call upon Him while He is near. 7Let the guilty person forsake his way and the man of wickedness forsake his plans, and let him turn to Yahweh and He will show him mercy, to our God because He will abundantly forgive. 8Because My plans are not your plans and your ways are not My ways, oracle of Yahweh. 9Because the heavens are higher than the earth, so also My ways are higher than your ways and My plans are higher than your plans.

 

            Have you ever tried to figure out God? The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 11, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:33-34 ESV). If even Paul couldn’t figure the Lord out, do you think we’re going to fare any better? No. “My plans are not your plans and your ways are not My ways. . . . Because the heavens are higher than the earth, so also My ways are higher than your ways and My plans are higher than your plans.” God’s plans and reasons are simply beyond our comprehension.

          This is especially true when it comes to God’s dealing with the guilty person, the “man of wickedness.” It is common for people to think of justice being done to a criminal in terms of revenge. Justice is that which is “right” and “just” according to the law of the land. However, many people consider justice only being served when someone gets what they deserve for their crimes, a punishment that, in their mind, really fits the crime, an eye for an eye, no mercy!

          God, who is just and right and holy, must execute His justice in accordance with His perfect holiness and righteousness for crimes committed against Him. For example, any person who does not fear, love, or trust in God above all things shall be punished with eternal death in hell. Any person who does not love their neighbor by showing them mercy, no matter who they are, shall be punished with eternal death in hell. Breaking even the smallest portion of any of God’s Commandments receives the punishment of eternal death in hell. It is really quite simple. If you tell a lie, you deserve to die. If you curse or swear, you deserve to die. If you harbor anger and hatred in your heart, you deserve death. If you commit sexual immorality, you deserve death. If you gossip, you deserve to die. That’s God’s justice: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23 ESV). “The person who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:20 NET).

          God’s justice is precisely you and I getting what we deserve because of our sins. Death and hell is the punishment fitting for our crimes. An eye for an eye—if you sin, then you shall die! No mercy! This is how God should deal with us who are most certainly guilty of sin. According to God’s justice, holiness, and righteousness, He must perform what we Lutherans call His “alien” work, His “strange” work of hardening and punishing by the Law.

It is the purpose of God’s Word of Law to condemn us for our sins and to tell us what we deserve because we have failed to love God and our neighbor. He says through Jeremiah, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:29 ESV). The hammer of the Law breaks down in us that self-sufficiency, that self-righteousness, that pride before God which boasts and trusts in our own merits or worthiness. It accuses us of our sins and lays before us the very punishment of death and hell which we deserve so that we become terrified over our lost condition. We are brought to the knowledge that we actually need a Savior from sin, death, and hell.

It is at this point when the Law has done its work, that God desires to do His “proper” work among us—to save us by converting and comforting us by the Gospel. God the Son drew near to His sinful and condemned creation by taking to Himself a real human body and soul. Jesus, the Son, took on flesh and dwelt among us (Jn. 1:14) so that we might find in Him the one and only Savior from sin and death.

Jesus was then charged with all sins of all people of every time and place. Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2 NET). He is the true Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Bearing all humanity’s sin in His body on the cross, Jesus endured the complete wrath of God against sin. Jesus faced the full justice of God in our place by enduring hell itself on the cross. Yes, Jesus received what we sinners deserved. Jesus found no mercy from God the Father as He was left forsaken, abandoned by God, covered in our sin and guilt, to face death itself.

It was the death of Jesus Christ which purchased and won for all people the complete forgiveness of sins. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24 ESV). “The blood of Jesus, [God’s] Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7 ESV). We know this to be true because God raised Jesus from the dead. Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:10 ESV). God the Father accepted Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world. Jesus’ death and resurrection has saved all people from their sins, from eternal death, and hell.

That’s the promise and guarantee of the Gospel. That’s the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior. Jesus took your guilt and punishment upon Himself on the cross. His death and resurrection has freed you from the slavery of sin. He now gives you eternal life. It is this Gospel Word of Christ’s death and resurrection that is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Through the Gospel, the mercy of God is bestowed upon you so that you receive that which you do not deserve. Instead, you are given that which Christ Jesus purchased and won for you with His innocent suffering and death and with His triumphant resurrection from the dead, namely the forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation.

By means of the Gospel Word and water in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit created saving faith within you. This faith trusts in Christ alone for forgiveness and eternal life and receives these gifts from Christ. St. Paul tells us that, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4 ESV). By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel, your Lord turns you by repentance and faith from your sins and creates a new person in you. Because Yahweh has shown you mercy, because He abundantly forgives you in Christ, you are new creations in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17).

You are new people in Christ who are empowered by the Gospel in both Word and Sacrament to forsake the plans and ways of your old lives lived under the power of sin and death. Ephesians 2 outlines it perfectly for us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10 ESV). Dr. Luther writes, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire.”[1]

Where there is the new life of faith, there is the abandonment of our sinful ways and our plans. The fruits of the Spirit are produced within us as a tree grows its produce. Because of God’s mercy, He grows in us the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; . . . And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:22-24 ESV).

“Because My plans are not your plans and your ways are not My ways, . . . Because the heavens are higher than the earth, so also My ways are higher than your ways and My plans are higher than your plans.” How thankful we are that this is true! It is a blessing that the Lord’s plans and reasons are beyond our comprehension. “He settles accounts in such a strange way. We seek revenge to get even, the Servant [of the Lord, Jesus Christ], despised and reviled, offers forgiveness and love. We hold grudges and withhold grace, but God takes no pleasure in being vindictive, and delights when the wicked repent and live.”[2] By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, seek Yahweh. Call upon Him in repentance and faith. Receive His abundant mercy and plentiful forgiveness. Then go, and live in faith and love the new life He has given to you. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 35: Word and Sacrament I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 35 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 370–371.

[2] R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55 (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011), 666.


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