Sermon on Isaiah 49:1-6, Lent 6 Midweek, "One Little Word Can Fell Him!"
Sermon from the series "Singing with the Exiles" by Rev. Reed Lessing
“One Little Word Can Fell Him!”
“He made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Isaiah 49:2.
Sometimes a single word speaks volumes. A characteristic slang, or a drawl, or accent might give you away, in just one word. If a single word can single out a foreigner or a stranger, can’t a word distinguish the Lord's Servant? In our text, the Servant says, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword.”
A “mouth like a sharp sword” echoes the description of the coming son of David in Isaiah 11 as the one who will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth.” Unlike Cyrus, who waged war “according to the flesh” this Servant will employ weapons “not of the flesh but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.” This “sword” or “rod” of the Servant’s mouth is not even a literal steel blade or staff, but words. In a power-world of military might and weapons, the words of a prophet may seem weak weapons.
But Isaiah 40-55 highlights the power of God’s Word. Isaiah 40:8 – “Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 55:10-11 – “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 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.”
Just one word will do. A road sign says “Stop.” And we stop. A parent might look at a dirty room and say, “Clean.” And we clean, quickly! A bill says “Due now.” And, if we have the money, we pay now. Sometimes short and to the point is best! And from Isaiah 50: “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” (Isaiah 50:4).
Isaiah wrote in the eighth century B.C., the exiles who heard the encouraging words about God’s Servant were exiled in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., two hundred years later. Their temple had been burned and demolished; their king Zedekiah had had his eyes gouged out at Riblah after witnessing the butchering of his sons. Judah's entire way of living had come to a brutal end by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar and his hit man Nebuzaradan. The exiles only knew defeat. Their liturgy is summarized in these words from Isaiah 40:27: “My way is hidden from Yahweh; my cause is disregarded by my God.”
If you’ve ever been divorced by a spouse or abandoned by a parent, you’ve echoed these words. If you’ve ever been hurt so badly that you couldn’t reach deep enough inside to express the pain, you've lived this nightmare. If you’ve ever fought horrifying demons from your past, you know this chaos.
Overcome by life in Babylon, the exiles look for the temporary, quick fixes. They were so bold as to say in Isaiah 56:12: “Come, let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer!” In the agony of defeat, so often you and I get sucked into what is shallow, superficial, cheap, and dirty. Looking for quick revenge, spouses get tangled up in one‑night stands. Students cheat on tests or homework. Parents neglect their children to pour everything into their own careers. The result? In the despair of exile we cry: “My way is hidden from Yahweh; my cause is disregarded by my God.”
Enter Yahweh’s Servant, who says, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword.” Just one word will set right what is so wrong with our lives. Jesus is the Servant of our text who needs only one word to accomplish his Father’s mission to bring order to a fallen and shattered world.
Anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, Jesus immediately has to face off with the enemy in the wilderness. One single word was a powerful sword in the mouth of Jesus, on numerous occasions. He goes to battle against the devil with a thunderous gegraptai – one word in Greek, “It is written” in English. To “bruised reeds and smoldering wicks” like the man with leprosy his word was katharistheti – again, just one word in Greek; we translate it, “Be clean.” He rebuked the chaotic wind and waves with siopa – “Be quiet.” To the deaf and dumb man he cried out, ephatha – “Be opened.” Luther put it this way: “One little word can fell him!” The centurion in Matthew 8:8 gets it right when he says to Jesus, “But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” They understood the power and authority of Jesus’ word.
Climactically Jesus would marshal just one word. The third Servant Song sets the stage: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” Arrested, bound, tried, slapped, beaten, stripped, scourged, abandoned, spiked, forsaken—he uttered one more word, tetelesthai—in English, “It is finished.”
All that the Old Testament had foreshadowed, foretold, predicted, prefigured, and promised is now complete, done, finished. The serpent crushed, the Lamb slain, the atonement made, the Passover complete, the banquet ready. From the cross he speaks one‑word descriptions over us—forgiven, washed, justified, loved!
Meaning what? Meaning he still speaks order into our chaos! Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double‑edged sword.” His Word, connected with water, bread, and wine—placed upon our foreheads and into our mouths—delivers restoration, healing, and forgiveness. We are bought in the blood, sealed with the Sacraments, and abounding in hope and joy!
But the final restoration is yet to come. At his second coming, the Servant will return as a rider on a white horse. His name will be called Faithful and True and King of kings and Lord of lords. On that day the ultimate one‑word victory will be uttered and we will finally come home. John records it in Revelation 21:6, gegonan—“It is done.”
To the student who holds defeated dreams, he speaks. To the couple with a barren womb and fervent prayers, he speaks. To the Christian who daily fights with his flesh only to lose time after time, he speaks. To any person who has felt the sting of death, the power of the Law, the torment of guilt, he speaks. And he says, “I love you!”
“Lord, just say the word, and we will be healed.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.