Monday, November 28, 2011

Sermon on Isaiah 64:1-9, for the First Sunday in Advent, "The Incomparable God"

Sermon outline:

1. Ancient words from 2,700 years ago, still so applicable today. We wish that God would reveal Himself in His strength and power, with awesome miracles as of old. Show His power to His enemies and unbelievers. Recalls the miracles of the Exodus—Mount Sinai quaking at God’s presence, His powerful and fearsome miracles to deliver His people. Awesome things not looked for. Show us again! Today we also wish to see the miracles and power of God. Don’t remain hidden. Silence the mockers and doubters.

2. Isaiah’s time, Israel felt God was silent toward them. Enemies had taken Jerusalem and the Temple, Jews in exile in Babylon. A prayer filled with humility and sadness, recognizing their own guilt having brought judgment on the people and land. Admits they have been in sin a long time. Can they be saved? What firm ground can we stand on to face God when He does come? Our own righteousness? No. Our righteous deeds are like filthy rags. Then how?

3. I know there are people around us, if not you yourselves, then certainly among the friends and family of people here, who doubt if they can be saved, because of their sins. Believe in God in their heart, but fear His anger against their sin and disobedience. Fear it is irreparable. God could not, or would not take them back. Use words to describe themselves like: worthless, damaged goods, broken, lost, abandoned. Yet these are the ones Christ came to save! Joyfully, God can save us, though we have been in our sins a long time.

4. They have melted in the “hand of their iniquities”—guilt. We have all experienced suffering for our own sins, eating the bitter fruit of our actions. This guilt, this sin, even our righteous deeds that are like filthy rags—are an unbearable burden before our God. Unbearable before the incomparable, holy, sinless, perfect God. Face His wrath and anger and punishment.

5. Yes, God has anger against sin. It’s impossible that God could love or approve of sin, which is evil and contrary to His very nature. God will finally bring judgment one day against wickedness and those who reject Him. He will come as the prayer asks, “rending the heavens and coming down”. Jesus’ return will be in power and glory. His name will be known to all His enemies. We do not know how long God will withhold His judgment, so we should not test Him by our disobedience. But we know why He delays—He delays because it’s His desire that all repent and believe, so they can be saved. Wants our salvation/rescue.

6. Isaiah knew God was also merciful. God was unlike the false gods—because God did awesome things we did not look for. God’s salvation is not in a predictable way, such as we could have imagined. Not according to our own goodness—“all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”—but according to His mercy. Coming of Jesus for salvation was filled with “un-looked for” miracles and deeds. Jesus revealed the kingdom of God, and showed His grace in an unexpected and unlooked for way. No other God like Him, who acts for those who wait for Him. Incomparable God. Unequaled in goodness, love, and mercy.

7. Isaiah prayed that God had hidden His face from them because of their sins. The Psalmist (51) prays that God would hide His face from our sins, and blot them out. Isaiah prays that God would not be so angry, and would not remember our sins—Jeremiah (31:34) answers that God would forgive our sins and remember them no more. How has this hope of the prophet been fulfilled, for him and for us? Jesus turned away God’s anger against sin, by taking it fully on Himself at the cross. Face wrath and punishment for sin, so that God would hide His face from our sins, remember them no more, and would instead show His Fatherly face of love toward us, and remember us as His people. He acts for us because we wait (in faith) for Him.

8. God remembers that we are dust, knows our frame. He is the potter who made us, and knows our frailties. Scripture fits together beautifully, with pleas of mercy to God, and answers of His great and abiding love for us, such as Psalm 103:8-19, which could be given as a direct answer to the prayer in Isaiah 64:

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. (Ps 103:8-19).

9. God will return, and it will be fearful for those who place themselves as enemies of God, by rejection and disobedience. But for those who have known and trusted in His gracious coming in the person of Jesus Christ, who have laid hold of His promises and joyfully wait for His return, when He rends the heavens and comes down—His coming will be a day of joy and celebration. The firm ground on which we can stand to face God in His glorious coming is the righteousness and innocence of Jesus Christ. God will at last call His children home to the inheritance prepared for them—the new heavens and new earth. God in His full power and glory—face to face, not hidden, but revealed and present among us as our God.

Sermon Talking Points

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  1. Why might we wish, like Isaiah did in Isaiah 64, that God would come down and reveal His power and glory? What miraculous deeds of God did his prayer recall? Exodus 20:18-21.

  1. Why did Isaiah and the Jews feel as though God was silent towards them? Isaiah 63:17-19; 64:9-12. How do we sometimes feel or fear the same? That God is silent toward us because of our sins? How do we sometimes suffer under the guilt of our sin, when it remains unconfessed to God? Cf. Psalm 32 & 51

  1. How are some people moved to total fear of God, so that they doubt God could even love or save them? Are they really beyond the reach of God’s love? Luke 18:13-14; 5:31-32

  1. How has Jesus turned away God’s wrath against our sin? Romans ; 3:25; 5:9; 1 John 2:2

  1. How will Jesus “rend the heavens and come down” on the day of Judgment? Acts 1:11; Matthew 26:64; 1 Thess. 4:16-18

  1. Why does God presently delay His return for the final judgment? 2 Peter 3:9-13; 1 Tim. 2:4

  1. How were Jesus’ miracles and teachings “awesome” and “unlooked for” things from our incomparable God? How does God hide His face from our sins? Psalm 51:9; Jer. 31:34

  1. How does God remember and respond to our frailty as mortal human beings? Psalm 103:8-19; Where will He bring us at His return? Is. 65:17

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