Sermon on Isaiah 48:17-22, Lent Midweek 5 2021, "Get Out!"

 Part 5 of Lent Midweek series "Singing with the Exiles" by Rev. Reed Lessing

“Get out of Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare it with a shout of joy.” Isaiah 48:20a.


Two urgent words are spoken to people in the following situations. Can you guess what they are? Three children are stuck inside a burning home. A family of five is stuck in a minivan plunging into a river. A talented young man is stuck in a dead-end job. Can you guess the two urgent words that are spoken to these people? What are they? “Get out!”

In August of 586 BC Israel’s world caved in. The temple collapsed, the monarchy lay in ruins, the land became a wasteland, and all hope was dismantled and destroyed. Then a massive aftershock brought further wreckage and ruin. Seven hundred miles from home, Israel’s exiles became trapped in a basement called Babylon.

And with every passing year, the Babylonian god Marduk seemed more and more powerful, while Yahweh seemed more and more incidental. Slowly but surely the exiles began to accommodate themselves to their new surroundings. Economic documents unearthed in Tel el Murassu on the Tigris River show that blending in with Babylon brought with it stunning financial success. Living comfortably in a place of destruction and death became the new way of life.

It was the whole boiling frog syndrome. You know, it is said that if a frog is placed in hot water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in lukewarm water that is gradually heated, it will never get out, but slowly die. The exiles are calling their Babylonian basement the new normal. They are in hot water! If they don’t get out soon, they will die!

Isaiah’s charge, therefore, is to do everything possible to awaken Israel out of this spiritual slumber and get them out of Babylon. So he announces that Yahwehwill lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations.” His glory will be revealed and all flesh will see it together.” Rest assured, says Isaiah, that “those who wait on Yahweh will renew their strength,” for “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” And in 51:17, and then again in 52:1 he cries out, “Wake, awake!” 

The climax of this preaching comes in Isaiah 48:20, “Get out of Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare it with a shout of joy.” And Israel’s response? Nothing ... nothing! They wouldn’t leave! The lights of Babylon, the sounds of Babylon, the religion of Babylon coaxed most of them into staying … in Babylon!

That’s why throughout Isaiah 48 the prophet calls them, and I quote, “stubborn … unyielding … headstrong … prone to idolatry … deaf … deceptive … and a stubborn rebel from birth.” All this because Israel refused to listen to the gospel of their salvation; “listen” is the governing verb of the chapter. It appears eleven times in Isaiah 48.  

Can’t you just imagine the people responding to the prophet? “Isaiah, haven’t you heard?  Babylon is the political-military-religious superpower of the day. This is the land of life, liberty and the purchase of happiness! Why should we go back to little back-water Judah? Besides, what a huge hassle it would be to liquidate our assets, pack our bags, and pull up stakes … just to live in a land devastated by famine and warfare. Get out of Babylon?  Isaiah, have you lost your mind?”

This is like a thirsty person choosing to drink raw sewage instead of water from a mountain stream, or a bankrupt company rejecting a government bailout, or a student saying he doesn’t want an automatic “A” from his teacher! The exiles are unmoved by Isaiah’s poetic claims, alarming narrative and stunning doxologies.

Our bondage began with just one more drink, one more lie, one more fling, one more glance. But one more always longs for one more, and then … just one more.   I know, oh God, I know. And then a massive earthquake hits and in its aftershocks we find ourselves trapped in a basement called Babylon. What next?

The boiling frog syndrome unleashes its hypnotic power! Sure, being obsessed with pornography, money, gossip, food, people’s approval or work is a strange place to be in, at first. It’s crushing to be trapped beneath tons of collapsed hopes and shattered dreams. But in time we become accustomed to living in destruction and death. With each passing day it becomes easier to deny that I am stuck on stuff that kills and steals and destroys. We are in hot water! Hear the word of Yahweh, “Get out of Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare it with a shout of joy.”

It’s in Yahweh’s heart to call people out of darkness and into his marvelous light. He called Abram and Sarai to get out of Haran because it was the center of moon worship. He urged Lot and his family to get out of Sodom and Gomorrah because it was the center of sexual perversion. And he called Israel to get out of Egypt because it was the epicenter of a socialization that brought about massive dehumanization. You see, at the core of Israel’s narrative is Yahweh’s ongoing call for his people to get out of decay, decadence, and death. And our response? Too often … nothing!

We don’t listen to the gospel of our salvation. Isaiah 30:10-11 is the classic response to the prophetic call. “Speak to us smooth things, prophecy illusions; stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” But deep down we’re thirsty. Not for more of the same. We know its salt water in the desert. It doesn’t quench – it kills.  

            No. We’re thirsty for a clean conscience, a fresh start, for a loving, tender hand to reach into our basement and get us out.

Well, that’s exactly what Yahweh says to his Israel. Isaiah 40-55 is chock-full of good news! Consider these words from Isaiah 43. “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.”

These great and precious promises are found, fulfilled and come to fruition in Isaiah’s Servant who alone is able to reach into our wreckage, and he does it with hands laced with blood.

Finally, you see, blood was all Jesus had. His disciples had deserted him. His garments had been gambled away. He even cried to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Blood was all he had, but the blood of Jesus is all we need. “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

And our response? We get out of Babylon, we flee Chaldea and we declare it with a shout of joy! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



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