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A Triumphant Promise July 16, 2017

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Isaiah 55:10-13

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 16, 2017

 

Focus:  God’s Word always accomplishes His purpose.

Function:  That the hearers come to the feast.

Structure:  This is true in this way…and in this way…and also in this way, with thanks to Dr. James Voelz.

 

A Triumphant Promise

 

For many of us, faith comes easily when things go well.  When our family is healthy, our economy strong, our jobs secure, these things can be a boon to our faith.  We see God’s hand at work, we see His blessings in our lives and we rejoice.

But along this way of thinking, faith becomes difficult when the work of God is no longer obvious.  When we can’t see His plan of salvation unfolding in our lives or in the lives of those we love, our faith can be challenged.

This was almost always the case for the people of Israel.  While we won’t focus on their wilderness wanderings, you can find a good dozen examples of this challenge there without much effort, today we are focusing later on in their history.  The prophet Isaiah is called to proclaim the Word of the Lord unto His people in the eighth century BC.  He is their prophet, the bearer of God’s Word.

The people no longer saw the work of the Lord in their midst.  And because they couldn’t actively see Him working, many had given up hope, even stopped believing in God altogether.  And paired with their unbelief was a vast display of wickedness, of disobeying the commands of God.

Isaiah’s writings that we have today are written both prior to the exile of the Israelites, and also during their exile.  That on account of their wickedness and their unbelief, God used the Assyrian army to put an end to this faithless nation.  They were captured; their homes were destroyed; men, women, and children led off in slavery and servitude into a foreign and hostile land.  Chapters 40-55 are written to these people to give them back their hope; to call them to look to the Lord, to look to Yahweh for their comfort and their deliverance.

Isaiah in our text today gives us this good news:  “so shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

The Word of God does not return empty.  It does its job; it fulfills its purpose.  This Word to the Israelites in captivity was this:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. – Isaiah 55 verses 1 and 3

 

The exiled Israelites hear an invitation, an invitation to a feast where money is no object.  Whoever is thirsty, whoever is hungry, let him come, let him be gathered to the Lord’s Table.  They are invited to come, to trust in God, and to enjoy His gifts.

And in this same invitation, God gives His Word to them of a brand new covenant.  They had made a covenant with God before, which they broke, which explains their exile.  And yet, here God is in the midst of their time in exile reaching out with His Word offering a new covenant, offering a covenant without end, offering them life.

Part of this promise of life and of a new covenant was the promise of a Messiah, mentioned any number of times in the writings of Isaiah, the promise of a Savior, of one who would deliver His people from their enemies.  Which brings us forward in time again to the time of the 1st century, to a land now controlled by Rome.

Those who carried on in the traditions of their fathers from long ago, those people were still called Israelites.  Despite their struggles to believe, there was restoration to those who put their hope in God.  There was comfort again.

But as we have moved forward many generations, once again that hope is scarcely found.  These people have lost sight of the work of God in their midst, of His saving hand so graciously upon them.  And as they struggled against the tyranny of a Caesar and his men, many set aside the promise of a Messiah.

At least, that is, until One came.  And when the true Messiah came, Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself, taking on flesh to deliver His people, the people saw their hope restored.  The promises of God were grasped again, and they began to long for God’s kingdom to come.

And even though these people got it wrong, even though they thought a deliverance from enemies meant a rescuing from the hands of an imposing, earthly king, the Word of God being fulfilled, the Word of God accomplishing its purpose, didn’t depend on them.

As the true Messiah, the true and ultimate deliverer of His people, Christ came and willingly died.  From a worldly perspective it made no sense.  But His enemy to be defeated was not of this world.  The enemy to be defeated was sin, death, and the devil.  This could be done by no champion of the sword.  This could only be done by the Son of God Himself, laying down His life to fulfill a promise, to succeed in His purpose.

Before His death, Jesus once again spoke of this new covenant.  He entrusted it to His disciples, that we would take and eat of His body, take and drink of His blood, and that in so doing, we would receive the very forgiveness of our sins.  That in that body and in that blood, that Christ so willingly shed the very next day, all the sins of man, all the triumphs of the devil, would be destroyed.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broke into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.

So now as we proceed to jump forward another twenty centuries or so, we find ourselves in similar shape.  We find ourselves like the Israelites in their exile, or the Jews in their Roman occupation, we find ourselves waiting.  We have the very Word of God, a Word that He has promised does not go unfulfilled.

And yet, we find ourselves struggling.  We have an unease among us.  A despair.  We hear of an entire generation of people, the so-called millennials, who’ve lost sight of God’s Word, and of His promises, and so they’ve abandoned His house. Which has led the current leaders of the church to worry and fret over the church’s future.  Who will takeover?  Will the church still exist?  But these doubts fall short.  It isn’t just the millennials.  It’s not unique to any one generation of people.  Not much has really changed since the pre-exiled Israelites.

We, too, live in a time of challenge.  We watch as the leaders of the nation we live in and would seek to honor, seek themselves to dismantle Christendom.  They mock God and pretend He doesn’t exist.  They seek to mislead His people, to cause them to doubt His Word, and to doubt His salvation.

For generations, predictions of the death of the Christian church have rung out over and over again.  And each time, these predictions fail.  Because they are not God’s.  They are not His Word, and so they indeed go out, and they return empty.  Whether the millennials return to God’s house in droves or not, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Whether there is only one or billions of people hearing His Word, the Church of God cannot be destroyed.  Because the Word of God goes out and accomplishes it purpose.

And so we wait.  As generations before us, as generations even before them.  We hear the Word of God, these promises given to us, and we wait.  In the history of His Church, we have seen these promises fulfilled.  We have seen the Word of God go out, and we have seen it accomplish its purpose.  The promise of a grand feast that knows no bounds.  The promise of a covenant, of life everlasting that cannot be silenced or cut off.  We have heard the invitation.

Allow me to extend to you the invitation to join me here in this place next week for that same invitation, to partake of a heavenly meal.  For it is not just the restoration of a small nation of people.  It is the restoration of all people. Of all who put their hope and their trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We wait for the Parousia, that is, the second coming of Christ, when all things are restored to the way they were created to be.  We wait for the completion of the promise in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  His Word, His promises to you, have been proclaimed, and they do not return empty.

The feast Isaiah foretold long ago broken into this world in the form of Christ’s body and blood.  Of bread and wine where money is no object.  Where forgiveness and deliverance and restoration all take place at the Lord’s Table.  The invitation is yours, and I’ll see you there.

 

 

God Keeps His Promises December 24, 2013

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Luke 2:8-14

Christmas Eve

December 24th, 2013

 

Focus: God keeps His promises.

Function: That the hearers trust in God’s promise of everlasting life.

Structure: Story/reflection.

 

God Keeps His Promises

 

A few years ago, author Max Lucado shared a touching story with his readers:

 

In 1989, an 8.2 earthquake almost flattened Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. Surprisingly, such tragedies often bring out the best in people. Let me show you the loving heart of a father. 

In the midst of chaos and destruction, he rushed to his son’s school. But instead of a school, he found a shapeless heap of rubble. Imagine what went through his mind. In the case of this father, the sight of rubble and ruin made him spring into action. He ran to the back corner of the building where his son’s class used to be and began to dig. Why? What real hope did he have? What were the chances that his son could have survived such destruction? All he knew was that he had made a promise to always be there for his boy. It was this promise that animated his hands and motivated his heart. 

As he began to dig, well-meaning parents tried to pull him out of the rubble saying: “It’s too late!” “They’re dead!” “You can’t help!” “Go home!” “There’s nothing you can do!” Then the fire chief tried to pull him off the rubble by saying, “Fires and explosions are happening everywhere. You’re in danger. Go home!” Finally, the police came and said, “It’s over. You’re endangering others. Go home. We’ll handle it!” 

But this father continued to dig for eight … 12 … 24 … 36 hours. Then, in the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. Immediately, he screamed, “ARMAND!” Back came the words, “Dad!? I told them! I told the other kids that if you were still alive, you’d save me! You promised me, you’d always be here for me! You did it, Dad!” 

The earthquake actually leveled 70% of the buildings in Armenia and killed over 50,000 people.  Another 15,000 were saved from the wreckage and the rubble.  The story of Armand and his father is an inspiring one filled with emotion.  That little boy’s trust in his father gave him the strength to survive for 38 hours, despite being buried alive.  But more than that, that little boy’s trust in his father’s promise gave hope to his classmates.  One father’s promise saved lives.

As a new father, that story strikes me.  I hope and pray that I am such a man of my word, that my children can trust me.  That no matter what the situation may be, my kids will always be able to look up to me and know that my words are true.

That said, I know I’m a sinner.  I know I’m not perfect and that I fall short.  I know that I’ve broken promises to myself and those around me.  There are times when I’m not even sure I can trust myself.

If you’re honest with yourself, you can probably resonate with that.  Even if your memory isn’t the sharpest, you can probably recall a time when you said you’d do something, and you didn’t follow through.  From something as trivial as emptying the dishwasher to the much more serious idea of being faithful in your relationships, sin corrupts our ability to keep our word.  We fall short.

But much like Armand’s father, we also have a Father who made us a promise.  God made us a promise.  In fact, you could make a good-sized list of promises God made in the Bible.  One important one He made some 4000 years ago:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)

 

This side of heaven, we may never know exactly why God chose Abram, Abraham.  But He did.  He decided to choose Abraham and his descendants to be His holy people.  And He was true to His word.  Fast-forward 700 years, to the Exodus account, when God brings His holy people out of Egypt.  The nation of Israel, God’s people, Abraham’s descendants, numbered 600,000 men, not counting women and children.  A rough estimate would put that around 2 million people.  God keeps His promises.

A few hundred years later, God makes a promise to Israel’s new king, David:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be ruler over My people Israel.  And I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth…

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:8-10, 12-13)

 

God keeps His promises.  The direct answer to King David is that his son Solomon would be king and build God’s temple.  All of that happens.  But that last piece, about establishing the throne of his kingdom forever, that’s a little more complicated.

The promises God makes, like that promise to David, point to a King who would come, who would rescue His people and restore to them the glory of God.  These promises, like the promise of the Armenian father, created hope among the Israelites.  Prophet after prophet arose and spoke more of these promises on God’s behalf.  We learn from Micah that this King would be born in Bethlehem.  We learn from Jeremiah that He would bring about a new covenant for God’s people.

In our sermon series, Child of Promise, we spent the month of Advent, of waiting for this coming King, examining some of the prophet Isaiah’s words about these promises.  We see another in our Old Testament reading today: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”

Talk about an earth-shattering promise.  Not only is Isaiah saying that a virgin is going to give birth, but he’s also promising that God is going to dwell among us.  That’s Immanuel, God with us.  That’s what the name means.  This virgin’s son is going to be God Himself.

God keeps His promises.  We see all of these things and more fulfilled in our Christmas gospel.  The virgin Mary gives birth to a Son, a baby boy named Jesus.  He’s born in Bethlehem, the city of David, just as Micah said, and just as the angels announced to the shepherds in the field that night.

Now add to that list, God had made promises to Mary and those shepherds.  God had made a promise to an old man named Simeon, that he would see the Son of God before he died.  God keeps His promises.

It didn’t take long for the people to recognize that this babe in Bethlehem, this little boy named Jesus, was someone special.  Many quickly connected Him to the prophecies and promises of God spoken by the prophets.  Many made the very same connections that we’re making tonight.

Here is our King.  Here is our Immanuel.  Here is our Messiah, the Christ, the One would deliver us, the One who would restore Israel.  This little child’s kingdom will never end.  The Magi, or wise men, knew it, and they journeyed hundreds of miles to see this king.  The King of the Jews at the time, King Herod, scoffed at the prophecy, but yet was so afraid of it, that he killed any little boy that could be found in Bethlehem.

God keeps His promises.  And there’s one more promise that cannot go without mention.  Jesus tells us in John’s gospel:  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40 ESV)

Talk about a promise that gives hope!  Stuck in the rubble heap that is our own sinful living, unable to be trusted, unable to keep our own promises, God keeps His promise to us.  He sends us a Savior.  That Messiah that people waited for for thousands of years, He came.  He came to rescue us, to deliver us from our own pile of rubble.

God keeps His promises.  Not one of them, not one, has ever failed.  If God says He’s going to do something, He does it.  That’s why we have hope, because we know without a doubt that we can trust His promises.  We know, without a doubt, that we can trust in His promise of salvation.

As you gather with your loved ones, your family and your friends, rejoice together in the glory of God’s promises, all of which point to our Savior.  Give thanks to our God for keeping His promises and sending His Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and King.  Trust and hope in that final promise of everlasting life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Because God always keeps His promises.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!