Isaiah 51:4-6 (Last Sunday of the Church Year—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 21, 2021
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 give ear to me, my nation, for instruction will go forth from me and I will establish my justice as a light to the peoples. 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 at the earth beneath because the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants like gnats will die. But my salvation will be forever and my righteousness will not be abolished.
Restoration and renovation television programs are very popular. You can find programs on car restoration, restaurant renovation, pool restoration, bathroom renovation, vintage and antique restoration, and over-all home renovations. Shows like Fixer Upper, This Old House, and Maine Cabin Masters all fall in the top 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).
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And it was good. We are repeatedly told this in Genesis 1. God saw what He had created out of nothing by the power of His Word and “it was good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25) After all was made, Moses writes, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). But His good creation soon 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, as we heard again last Sunday. From our conception and birth, we humans are marching toward death because we are by nature sinful, corrupt, and subject to decay.
What is true for 21st century A.D. Americans was also true for 6th century B.C. Israelites. They also 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 after they destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. But when the time of punishment would be over, God had 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 renew Israel but all peoples and nations as well.
This has a profound impact on you and me. God made a promise not only to restore and make Israel new but also to include us non-Israelites in His renewal project! Isaiah chapters 51-55 show God’s rescue of Israel accomplished by the Suffering Servant of the Lord. In verses 1-3, just before our Old Testament lesson today, God promised to restore Zion (Jerusalem and His exiled people). And 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 signaled that He has more in mind than just Israel. “[Isaiah] 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).”
Who, then, needs a renovation, restoration, and a renewal? All of us! 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. Might as well 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 saved and restored Israel. And He saved and renews rusted out, decaying sinners like us. He did 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 asked 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. And it was this Servant who stretched out His arms on a cross, suffering the punishment of sin and shedding His own blood in order to save you and make you new.
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. . . . 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).
God the Son, the Suffering Servant, Jesus, by His dying and rising again, redeemed all people from sin. Jesus’ arms were stretched out in the death of the cross in order to rescue everyone from the power of death and the devil. Through the gift of saving faith, we receive the blood-bought forgiveness of sins. We are given new life through the waters of Baptism. You and I are made into new creations, those 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.
In Christ, you have been renovated and restored by His saving work. 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 Jesus Christ, God our heavenly Father has brought to all the nations enduring salvation from sin, Satan, and death through the Gospel. Your hearts have been renovated, made clean from sin, and a right spirit created within you (Psalm 51). Lift your eyes to the heavens. Look confidently to the Father with faith in His Son, Jesus. Everlasting salvation and righteousness are His gifts to you; they will never fail. Even when the heavens and earth pass away, His love for you in Christ will never cease. On the Last Day, when the present heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth wears out like a garment, Yahweh’s salvation will be forever, and His righteousness will never end in His new creation, Eden restored. On that day, the Lord will raise all the dead and escort all believers in Jesus into the new heavens and earth, the home of righteousness. For you see, the Lord our God is in the restoration and renewal business through His Servant, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 R. Reed Lessing, Isaiah 40-55, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis, Concordia, 2011), 541.