Isaiah 66:18-23 (Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16—Series C)
“God’s Glory Through the Nations”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
August 25, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today’s text is the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 66:
18“And as for me, because of their works and their thoughts, [the time] is coming to gather all the nations and the tongues, and they will come and they will see my glory. 19And I will set among them a sign and I will send out from them survivors to the nations: Tarshish, Pul, and Lud; those drawing the bow, Tubal, and Javan; the remote coastlands who have not heard my report and have not seen my glory. And they will declare my glory among the nations. 20And they will bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to Yahweh with horses and chariots and with wagons and with mules and with dromedaries to my holy mountain Jerusalem,” says Yahweh, “just as the sons of Israel would bring an offering in a clean vessel to Yahweh’s house. 21And also from them I will take for Levitical priests,” says Yahweh. 22For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I am making are standing before me,” oracle of Yahweh, “so will stand your offspring and your name. 23And it will be as often as the new moon in its new moon and as often as a Sabbath in its Sabbath, all flesh will come to worship before me,” says Yahweh.
Our Old Testament lesson this morning begins in the middle of a thought. God is speaking through the prophet Isaiah as He says, “And as for me, because of their works and their thoughts. . . .” But who is meant by the pronoun “their”? Whose works and thoughts signify that the time is coming to gather all the nations and languages of people to come and see God’s glory? It’s the works and thoughts of idolaters.
Those who worship idols, false gods, receive the Lord’s judgment against their sins and unbelief. In verse 17, God says, “Those who try to sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens after one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the detestable thing and the mouse, shall come to an end together.” The people of Israel were worshiping idols such as Baal and Asherah. They are described here as being aggressive in their attempts to make themselves presentable to their false deities when they approach them in worship. To make themselves “pure” for Baal, the people went into gardens connected to the fertility cult to find a priestess who was the center of attention. To please Baal and Asherah, the people ate non-kosher food contrary to the Law of Moses.
The idolatry of the Israelites earned for them God’s wrath and anger. “You shall have no other gods,” and the people of Israel had many. This transgression of God’s holy Law merited for them the covenant curses that God said would happen if the people were unfaithful. Remember what God said about all of His commandments in Exodus 20:5-6, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” This means that “God threatens to punish all who sin against these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not act contrary to these commandments.”
Israel did not fear the Lord and His wrath. The people went after false gods and worshiped Baal and Asherah. They dedicated themselves to a counterfeit deity, and in doing so, placed themselves under the control of Satan. “For when people cease to heed the word of revelation, it is not that they then believe nothing but that they will believe anything—gardens, pigs, and rats included.” So God punished His idolatrous people with exile at the hand of the Babylonians.
It is because of the works and thoughts of idolaters that the Lord says that the time is coming. Idolaters! Who? Us? Yes. Idolaters is what you and I often are. We read from the Large Catechism that “A god means that from which we are to expect all good and in which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a God is nothing other than trusting and believing Him with the heart. I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust is right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God [Hebrews 11:6]. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god.”
Now, you haven’t worshiped Baal or Asherah. But you have placed your trust in yourself. You have been selfish and loved yourself most of all. You have loved material things, and these have taken first priority in your life. We all must confess that we have idols and have served idols—money, popularity, pleasure, possessions, and ourselves. Like the people of Israel of old, we too have fallen short of the glory of God through our idolatry (Rom. 3:23). We, too, are unclean. We are not by nature holy. We are without any means of sanctifying and purifying ourselves before Him. We are idolaters. We are sinners.
But God had a plan of rescue. Because of our idolatrous works and thoughts, because of our sins and uncleanness, the time had come to gather the nations—not for wrath; not for eternal punishment. But for sinners like you and me to see HIS glory in salvation from sin and death. By the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, Isaiah was looking forward to what St. Paul would call “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:1) when He would reveal His glory to all people in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. John chapter 1, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:14-16).
Jesus Christ is the gift of the Father’s grace to sinful humanity. In the fullness of time, God set among the nations a sign—the virgin-born Son, His cross, and His empty tomb. Christ is the Savior of all idolaters, of all sinners. His perfect life lived for us according to all the commandments is credited to us as if we had perfectly kept God’s Law. The blood of Christ shed for us all on the cross cleanses us from our unholiness and redeems us from the sins we have committed against God’s commandments. 1 Corinthians 6:11, “You were washed, you were made holy, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
By grace through faith, you and I have seen the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). We are the recipients of God’s mercy in the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for us on the cross. We have eternal life promised in a new heaven and a new earth that Christ will make for us when He comes again in glory. God said through the prophet, “For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I am making are standing before me, so will stand your offspring and your name.” The word “stand” has the nuance of “continue” or “endure.” The new heavens and earth in which we will enjoy the glory of God are permanent. There, we will see God—Father, Son, and Spirit—face to face forevermore!
But until that time, we have a mission, God’s mission, to declare His glory, the glory of the One-of-a-Kind Son, to all nations. Our role right now as Christians is to bring Jesus’ free gift of righteousness, holiness, and salvation to many more people by proclaiming His Word. What an amazing picture Isaiah gives us of the Church in mission as we declare the glory of God in the face of Christ to the nations: “And they will bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to Yahweh with horses and chariots and with wagons and with mules and with dromedaries to my holy mountain Jerusalem,” says Yahweh, “just as the sons of Israel would bring an offering in a clean vessel to Yahweh’s house.” The people to whom we share the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins are compared to the holy offerings of God’s first testament people. How precious, then, are the people who hear the Word of Christ crucified and risen from our lips!
To be sure, it is through you, the Church, that they hear! It is through you, the Church, that the nations will be incorporated into the body of Christ through faith, Baptism, and Communion in His Body and Blood and will come to worship before our Triune God with faith in Jesus here in time and in the new creation for all eternity. Oh, how we look forward in faith to that eternal existence which will not just consist of weekly and monthly worship gatherings. It will also find glorious and joy filled expression within the flow of a continual life together—brothers and sisters in Christ of every nation, tribe, people, and language—receiving from God’s grace and then giving back to God in worship and to one another. To God alone be the glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 327.
 R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 56-66, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2014), 491-92.
 Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 359.