Isaiah 51:4-6 (Last Sunday of the Church Year—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 25, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text today is the Old Testament lesson recorded in Isaiah 51:
4Pay attention to me, O my people, and my nation, listen to me. 5For instruction will go forth from me, and my justice as a light to the peoples I will establish. 5My righteousness is near; my salvation goes forth, and my arms will vindicate people. On me coastlands will wait. And upon my arm they will hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look closely at the earth beneath, because the heavens like smoke will vanish and the earth like a garment will wear out, and its inhabitants like gnats will die, but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be abolished.
Restoration and renovation television programs are wildly popular these days. You can find programs on car restoration, restaurant renovation, pool restoration, bathroom renovation, vintage and antique restoration, and over-all home renovations. Shows like American Restoration, Fixer Upper, This Old House, Rehab Addict, Hometime, and Love It or List It all fall in the top-rated programs for this genre. Did you know that God is also in the renovation and restoration business? Yes, God is all about making things new (Is. 48:6; Rev. 21:5).
His good creation got ruined. The devil brought sin (rebellion against God and His Word) into the world and that messed up the entire creation of God. Everything in the world has been subjected to the futility of sin, corruption, and decay (Romans 8:20). Of course, this directly affects people. Human beings created to be immortal now suffer the curse of sin which is dying and death. From our conception and birth, we humans are marching toward death because we are sinful, corrupt, and subject to decay according to our fallen sin-filled nature.
What is true for 21st century A.D. Americans was also true for 6th century B.C. Israelites. They had rejected God’s covenant Word and Promises and had worshiped other gods. They did what was evil in the sight of God according to their sinful nature. And the very people that God had called out of the nations to be His set-apart, holy, people, acted just like the other nations. And so according to the covenant, the people of Israel were punished by God. He allowed the Babylonians to come in and take the people captive, having destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. But when the time of punishment would be over, God had also promised restoration to His people. He would bring them out of Babylon and return them to their home so that, through the promised Messiah, He might not only restore and renovate Israel but all peoples and nations as well.
This has a profound impact on you and me. God has promised not only to restore and make Israel new but also to include us non-Israelites in His renovation project! Isaiah chapters 51-55 show God’s rescue of Israel through a new exodus accomplished by the Suffering Servant of the Lord. In verses 1-3 just before our Old Testament lesson today, God promises to restore Zion (Jerusalem and his exiled people). But He says this, “For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song” (Isa. 51:3 ESV). By mentioning the Garden of Eden, God signals that He has more in mind that just Israel. He signals the restoration of all things. God promises that salvation is both sure and near. Pastor Reed Lessing comments, “The prophet urges that just as Yahweh blessed and multiplied Israel’s dried-up-as-a-rock patriarch Abraham and his barren wife Sarah (51:2), so he can once again make Zion a beautiful park abounding with people and music (51:1-3). Not only does Yahweh have the power to redeem his people and their city, but his saving arm will also deliver Gentile nations, even though the heavens, the earth, and its inhabitants will pass away (51:4-6). That’s what the Old Testament lesson tells us.
So who needs a renovation, restoration, and a renewal? All of us! Why? Because of our fallen, sin-filled human nature. We’re “old and busted.” We’re rusted and falling apart spiritually. Sin’s effects and consequences ravage us emotionally, mentally, and physically. Pile on some guilt. Throw in some fear because you are not right with God in and of yourself. Hear the rattling of the doubt that so often fills hearts. Let’s face it, this sinful “junker” isn’t going to make it to the mechanic. It’s way too late for that. The junk pile of death and hell is all that we are suitable for in this condition. Just leave us here on the side of the road of life as we “wear out like a garment” and “die like a gnat!”
But God doesn’t abandon us by the side of the road. He saves and restores Israel. He saves and renovates rusted out, decaying sinners like us. He does this by having sent the Suffering Servant who brings Yahweh’s righteousness near and sends forth Yahweh’s salvation through the strength of His arms. Isaiah asks at the beginning of chapter 53, “Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” It is the Suffering Servant who reveals and embodies the Lord’s arm that redeems, saves, and restores.
Listen to the story of this Suffering Servant from Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:4-11 ESV).
Through the incarnation of God the Son, the Suffering Servant, and by His dying and rising again, Jesus has redeemed all people from sin. Jesus has rescued all people from the power of death and the devil. Through the gift of faith which receives the blood-bought forgiveness of sins, you are given new life through the waters of Baptism. You are new creations whom Jesus has restored to the favor and pleasure of God the Father. You are new creations whom the Spirit has fashioned into the faith-filled people of God who trust in Jesus Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. Yes, you have been renovated and restored by the saving work of Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. He died your death and suffered your punishment and condemnation for sin. On the cross, He became “old and busted” with your sins so that you would emerge from baptismal waters shiny and new, cleansed by His blood and made whiter than snow wearing His own righteousness as a garment that will never wear out.
Through His loyal Servant, Jesus Christ, God has brought to all the nations enduring salvation from sin, Satan, and death. You have been renewed through the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of saving faith. Your heart has been renovated, made clean from sin, a right spirit created within you (Psalm 51). Lift your eyes to the heavens. Look confidently to God in faith. His everlasting salvation and righteousness are His gifts to you through Jesus, and they will never fail. Even if the heavens and earth disintegrate, His love for you in Christ will never cease. And on the Last Day, when the present heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth wears out like a garment and its inhabitants die like gnats, Yahweh’s salvation will be forever, and His righteousness will never end. For on that day, the Lord will raise all the dead and escort all believe in Jesus into the new heavens and earth. For you see, the Lord our God is in the restoration and renovation business through His Servant, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
 R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis, Concordia, 2011), 541.