Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sermon on Isaiah 40:1-11, 2nd Sunday in Advent, "The Word of the Lord Endures Forever"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon text is Isaiah 40:1-11, beginning with the words: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” The prophet Isaiah carries this message to a people harassed by warfare with enemies, laboring in the darkness of uncertainty, mourning underneath their sorrows’ load. They were a people living with the guilt of their sin and disobedience to God, facing the punishment and penalty of their sin. Whether they lived before, during, or after the captivity in Babylon, or under the harsh rule of the Romans, many things conspired to quench the hope of God’s people. God’s people were waiting—they were waiting for the Advent, or coming of the Lord, who’d comfort them in their cheerless circumstances. This season of Advent, we wait with them, saints of the Old Testament. But now we’re waiting for the second Advent or coming of our Lord, and sharing in His same message of comfort, even as we’ve circumstances that would try to quench our hope. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

God gives poetic words to the prophet to describe humanity, in their life, trials, and death. He says: “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:6-8)..God pictures mankind as fleeting, transient. Our lives bloom quickly and have the beauty or glory of the flowers. But they wither and fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on us. As much as modern medicine and cosmetic surgery and diet and exercise plans try to capture our human beauty and strength at their peak, and try to freeze the effects of time, the grass still withers, and the flower falls. Our beauty and strength too must fade, as we age and time takes its toll. And death would seem the inevitable victor.

The Psalmist again captures this poetry of life, with these words: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it’s gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments” (Ps. 103:14-18). Both of these passages describe our days like the grass and the flowers, all too short in life, and too quickly passed and forgotten. I suppose one could react negatively to these comparisons, and see them as depressing. Or someone might try to deny the reality of our fragile nature, and try to fight against aging and death with every tool in our powerfully equipped medical arsenal. But if we see them as depressing, or as a hopeless view of our mortality, we are missing what God is telling us in Isaiah and the Psalms.

Isaiah wrote: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” In contrast to the fleeting days of our lives, to the constant change and upheaval of our short existence, God’s Word stands forever. His Word remains unchanged. And Psalm 103 tells us that God “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” God knows our frailty since He made mankind from dust, and even more so since God Himself became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and lived and died and rose as a human being. He literally knows our frame inside out. And the Psalmist adds: “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” God’s steadfast love is eternal for those who fear and obey Him. God isn’t shifting or changing like so much in life, but is eternally dependable. But the fact that the Word of our God endures forever, isn’t just a contrast to our frail and changing state—it’s the very cure for our deficiency!

Rather than despair of the seeming futility and impermanence of life, in God’s Word we have the eternal anchor for our soul. People and generations will pass away, troubles and hardships will come and go, as times of prosperity will also, but the word our God stands forever. The comfort of His good news outlasts all. It’s the eternal word of comfort, peace, and hope. What stands forever today?....It’s certainly not our financial security, our job security, our health security, or even architecture. We have no guarantees, especially in these troubled times, whether our savings or investments will hold out, whether our jobs will remain, whether our health holds out. All these and other concerns cloud over people’s horizons. But even these are mere distractions from our real problem, which is sin and death. The devil would be pleased to have us worrying about symptoms while the real malady of our sin remains untreated and unattended. So we worry about all sorts of things outside our control, that Jesus told us not to worry about. But trust not in hopes to build a wall of security around yourself. Rather trust in the comfort of God’s eternal word, the Gospel that stands forever, and know that it’s larger than our circumstances; larger than our worries and problems that are here today, gone tomorrow.

1 Peter quotes this verse from Isaiah, as “the Word of the Lord endures forever;” and goes on to explain what this “word” is—it’s the “good news that was preached to you.” It’s God’s message of comfort and love, the proclamation given to Isaiah and the prophets to comfort God’s people in distress. But this message of comfort, the good news, isn’t just warm words or holiday cheer. It’s not empty promises to the downtrodden or fearful. It’s not what some skeptics accuse Christianity of being: namely escapism or a “crutch for the weak.” Rather the good news of God’s Word is founded on Jesus’ coming into the world, His birth that we anticipate this Advent. His coming as the promised Good Shepherd we hear about in Isaiah today. God’s real and personal entrance into history as a human being, to tenderly lead His people.

Jesus’ Advent was the coming of the promised comfort for God’s people. The aged Simeon, who waited in the Temple for the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, cried for joy when he saw the baby Jesus. It says that he was waiting for the “consolation of Israel” and that God had promised he wouldn’t die until he saw the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26). Jesus was indeed the consolation, the comfort for Israel, as His coming marked the revealing of God’s glory for all mankind to see. Among us, He grew up like the grass and flowers of the field, but with “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). He came the King, in pauper’s clothing; the Lord in the form of a servant. Yet it was for Him that messengers would “Go tell it on the mountain.” For Him that good tidings came to Jerusalem, and preachers would lift up their voice in a shout to say: “Here is your God!”

And He who grew up like the grass and flowers, also withered and fell among us. Jesus, God in flesh, joined Himself so intimately to our frail nature, that He suffered and died among us. The breath of the Lord blew on Him, and He died the fateful death on the cross, taking our human frailty to His grave. That there in death He might lie for three days, that at His resurrection the cry might again go out: “lift up your voice…do not be afraid!...Here is your God! See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him.” We see how great a comfort it is for God’s people that “the word of the Lord endures forever!” Not just a contrast between our momentary lives with God’s eternity. Rather it shows us how Jesus, the Word made flesh, joined Himself to our dying human race, that through His death He would conquer death. He comes forth from His grave with power, the power to rule the nations by His arm! The reward He brings for those who fear Him is forgiveness and eternal life. He’s the cure for our frail and fleeting lives, marked by sin for death. Trusting and hoping on the Lord Jesus, we share in His resurrection, so that death will not be the victor. By faith we’re attached to the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Through Him, we’ve the comfort that goes beyond mere words, but is The Word!

Here’s the comfort that speaks to our heart, God’s Word of forgiveness and everlasting life, a proclamation of Good News from Jesus, His Son. The Christian faith is far from promising an escape from difficult circumstances, or a denial of the reality around us. Christians too, suffer the effects of a sinful and broken world. We bleed the same, face the same health concerns, feel the same effects of an ailing economy and the fear of joblessness. We too wither and fall like the grass and flowers. The difference isn’t in what we endure in this life, and it’s not a matter of fleeing from trials, or denying death. Rather, the difference between the Christian and the unbeliever, is that we have these words of comfort, the word of our God that stands forever.

In a sea of change and transience, where so much is uncertain, we have the eternal anchor for our soul—God’s Word. The difference is between a life of empty pursuit of money and pleasure like there’s no tomorrow, blissfully unaware; or worse, the potential despair at the meaningless of existence. In contrast the Christian life is one of taking up our cross, and walking after our Lord Jesus by faith, knowing the comfort of His Word, having the good tidings of His Gospel. Though sin and death might conspire to quench our hope, we have the Eternal Word of comfort, that our sins have been paid for, and that Christ’s coming will bring an end to our hard service. For the Eternal Word has joined Himself to our mortality, that though we may wither and fade, there’s promised for us the resurrection of the body. There’s nothing I would prefer to anchor my life to than God’s Word; nothing else that can give the security, the comfort, and strength, than the Word of the Lord that endures forever. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
1.What in your life brings home the often sad reality that “surely the people are grass; the grass withers and the flowers fall?”
2.What specific comforts are you brought by the truth that “The Word of the Lord endures forever?”
3.Did you know that “The Word of the Lord Endures Forever” (1 Pet. 1:25) became a slogan of the 16th Century Lutheran Reformation, as they upheld Scripture alone? The Latin translation Verbum Dominum Manet Aeternum, abbreviated VDMA is still imprinted on some Lutheran books, letters, etc.
4.What are the differences between the comforts and distractions of the world, and the comforts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
5.In what way(s) is Jesus like a shepherd?

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