Monday, January 20, 2014

Sermon on Isaiah 49:1-7 for Life Sunday, "Light for the Nations"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today we observe Life Sunday, in memory of over 50 Million innocent lives taken by abortion in the U.S., since it was legalized nationally in 1973. 50 Million is a shocking number, but it’s only a fraction of the unjust deaths by abortion world-wide, and only since 1973. And as millions continue to die each year, do we remain numb and unfeeling to the tragedy? It’s not the casualties of a war on a faraway continent, nor the body count of some disaster in the distant past, but it’s an ongoing, daily reality all around us in our communities, and touching our families, friends, and neighbors. Inside and outside the church, on Maui and in every community. Yet so often it is a hidden reality, done quietly, and few, if any, know that it has even happened. Many women suffer silently with the pain and guilt, whether they chose it of their own accord, or under the pressure of others. They feel that they have no one to talk to, or wouldn’t dare to, for fear of what someone might think. Many end up hearing false assurances from an abortion provider, and think they have found an easy way out.
And some would prefer to keep this reality hidden away; but this does a terrible disservice to those who need compassion, guidance, love, and forgiveness. There is a spiritual darkness over this issue. As I preached just after Christmas, about the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem by King Herod; we as Christians should never back away from the tragedies and disasters of this life, because it is the very good news of Jesus Christ that shines into the darkness with a liberating light. People whose lives have been affected in this way are in the greatest need of hearing the honest truth, of having loving guidance and not being deceived by false assurances. They need compassionate care that equips them to face a difficult situation and to choose life, rather than death. They need compassionate help to provide for them and their child as they continue motherhood. And women or even men who’ve suffered guilt from an abortion, need the words of love and forgiveness that can only be brought to us because of the incredible grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world as the Light for the nations, the salvation of all the ends of the earth. He comes to dispel the spiritual darkness with His Light.
For all these reasons, abortion cannot remain a hidden reality, either for the innocent children, or for women who are distressed and alone. We must speak up for the voiceless, and show compassion. And for all these reasons, the women who are affected by these things here on Maui, need confidential, compassionate, non-judgmental care, such as will be offered to them through the Malama Pregnancy Center, opening soon here on Maui. This is one concrete example of Christian love in action, and it shouldn’t stop there. Individually as Christians, we also should seek to bring the light and love of Jesus Christ wherever there is darkness, and lovingly show people that God’s Word does indeed have much to teach us about life, and more, how God responds to even our worst tragedies.
Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 49 displays a sharp contrast to our world’s way of death. Long before the arrival of ultrasound technology, the Bible confesses an unambiguous view of life in the womb. The passage says in v. 1, “The LORD called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name,” and in v. 5, “now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant…” Already before His birth, while still in the mother’s womb, the individual described is given a name, is called by God, and given a purpose—to be the Lord’s servant. This echoes familiar words from Psalm 139, which says “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13–16).
The New Testament marvels at John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit, leaping for joy while still in his mother’s womb. The Psalmist writes about how he trusted in the Lord even from His mother’s womb, before his birth (71:6). Scripture plainly teaches that from conception a child is a unique, created being, and a spiritual vessel capable of faith and trust in God. Even in the months before we’re born, God has a plan and a purpose for our life, knowing all that we will be and do. Truly, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And our reading from Isaiah 49 shows one particular child, being formed and knitted together in His mother’s womb, who would have a uniquely great and wonderful purpose. All of us dream of big things for our children, but Jesus, given His name while still in the body of His mother Mary, formed from the womb to be the servant of the Lord, had the greatest calling of all. In v. 6, God said, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” I love this verse because it’s as though God is saying to Jesus, “I have called you to do a great and difficult thing—to rescue my people Israel—but just to do that would be too easy. Too light a thing. I want you to do something still greater—to bring my light and salvation to the ends of the earth.”
For Jesus to raise up the tribes of Israel was one thing, but to bring salvation to the ends of the earth is still greater. Just a chapter before, God describes Israel’s iron stubbornness and obstinacy (48:4), their deafness and rebelliousness (48:8), but how for His own name’s sake He put aside His anger (48:9). Again demonstrating that the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. It was no easy task for Jesus to bring the tribes of Israel back to God, to raise them up from their darkened and lost condition. Wherever spiritual darkness reigns, there will not only be despair and suffering, but often even outright hostility to God’s Word and light. The Good News of Jesus encounters much resistance. In fact, 49:4 even expresses great frustration that “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity.” One senses the frustration Jesus felt at countless times in His ministry when people turned away from Him with hardened hearts and deafened ears. And yet that frustration, if it can be called that, stops short of despair or giving up, when He continues in v. 4, to say, “yet surely my right is with the Lord, and my recompense with my God.” Jesus’ confident resolve was that however badly things seemed to be going with His laboring for the lost, that the outcome rests fully in God’s hands. As one commentator puts it, “The Servant of the Lord is saying: I thought that I labored in vain; but that is not possible, because the cause that was assigned to Me is not Mine, but the Lord’s, and the success of My labors lie in His almighty hand.” (Pieper, 356).
Looking back on Jesus’ life, we can say that from a merely human perspective, the hours of His death on the cross made everything He had worked for seem like it was coming to nothing. If Jesus had stirred the hearts and led thousands in Israel before His death, now it seemed that everyone had deserted Him, and all His prospects as the great Teacher and Christ had come to nothing. Or so it seemed. The deeper truth unfolding at the cross, was that God was going to be glorified in Jesus Christ, His servant (49:3). God’s own hand was bringing about the success of Jesus’ labors. When Jesus rose from the dead, hardened skeptics like Saul to the fearful disciples who had abandoned Jesus in His last hour, believed anew in Jesus. The miracle of His resurrection proved His right and His reward were with God, and that His work had not been in vain. This single miracle of His, turned more of the chosen people of Israel to Jesus than anything else.
And if it was a hard thing for Jesus to create faith even in their hearts, still harder, still greater a work, is it for Jesus to be the Light for the nations and bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. The good news of Christ will continue to meet stubborn resistance and opposition wherever it spreads, and wherever darkness and sin’s delusions hold sway over mankind. Yet for 2,000 years, that good news, Gospel Light of Jesus, continues shines out to all the world, and brings light and faith to many. And because it’s God’s cause, He will grant success, even when it seems difficult or impossible. Whenever someone comes to believe in Jesus, it’s always because of the Living presence of Jesus Christ in His church, through His Holy Spirit, who creates and gives faith to our hearts. In other words, it’s never our own accomplishment, done without Jesus, but always His gracious work as He is in and among His church even to the end of the age. Jesus Christ in every way lived up to His Father’s greatest expectations, and continues even today to bring glory to God as He rescues and returns us sinners from darkness and error, to His light and truth. All the credit, glory, and honor belong to Him. He is the Light to the Nations, to the ends of the earth, and we are privileged to be little bearers of His light as well. And wherever that Light shines, faith, hope, and love are born, even in the darkest places. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      While statistics are incomplete and underreported, conservative estimates of the abortions performed in the U.S. alone, since 1973, number over 50 million. Why are people able to feel insulated from this enormous tragedy? Why should Christians be concerned that those affected by abortion not be left to suffer in silence? Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:9
2.      Why is the Good News of Jesus Christ the greatest need of those who are blinded by the lies of the world; are suffering guilt, regret, or shame; or feel that no one cares about them? Why should Christians never shy away from the tragedies and hurts of this world? Romans 1:16
3.      Why must love and compassion be demonstrated in action, not merely in words? Romans 2:13; James 2:14-17 What are some ways you can do that? How can we make ourselves available for the Lord’s use?
4.      How does Isaiah 49:1, 5; Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139; 71:6; Luke 1:15, 41, etc affirm the uniqueness, the value, and dignity of life in the womb? How do they also confirm that the unborn are already spiritual beings, capable of faith and the indwelling of the Spirit?
5.      What was the great and high calling God had for Jesus, His servant? Isaiah 49:6. How does He express frustration, yet also confidence that the Lord will accomplish His purpose? V. 4. Why did the crucifixion seem like the unraveling of Jesus’ ministry? How did the resurrection confirm Jesus’ right and recompense was with the Lord? v. 4, Acts 2.
6.      Jesus is in the first place the “Light for the Nations”; see Isaiah 49:6; Luke 2:32; how are we, His people, also then called to be a light to the nations as well? Acts 13:47; 1 Peter 2:9; Matthew 5:14-16
7.      For further information on Life Issues, see the following websites: Malama Pregnancy Center of Maui Silent No More Campaign

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