Everyone to the Lord, Isaiah 66:18-23, Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16), August 25, 2019
No other Old Testament prophet is quoted as often in the New Testament as the prophet Isaiah. This is probably due to the breadth of topics he covered, and to his frequent descriptions of the coming Messiah and His kingdom, which find fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Isaiah prophesies so often about the coming Messiah that some commentators have called his prophecy the “Fifth Gospel.”
God’s Gospel promise of salvation through Abraham for “all nations of the earth,” is a recurring theme in the Book of Isaiah. So this morning, I would like you to meet the prophet Isaiah.
The name Isaiah has the same meaning in the Hebrew language as the names Joshua, Hosea, and Jesus: the Lord is the One who saves. Isaiah’s father’s name was Amoz. His wife was known as the Prophetess. They had at least two children, to whom they gave long, meaningful names. Isaiah served God as a prophet, a spokesperson, a missionary for a whole lifetime. An ancient tradition says that in his old age Isaiah met a violent death, as did most of God’s prophets, by being sawed in two.
In his long career as prophet, Isaiah spoke for God to the people of Israel and to the nations who were Israel’s neighbors. He drew attention to idolatry, sin, wickedness, and injustice, and to the punishment that would surely follow. He said, “Repent, return to the Lord.”
Isaiah also preached Good News of the coming Savior, whom God would send. Centuries before it came to pass, Isaiah told about the Savior’s birth, ministry, suffering, death, and burial. Isaiah not only preached, but also wrote down the Word of God that was given to him. The Book of Isaiah was divided into 66 chapters and fills about 75 pages in the English Bible.
When we sing hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, or “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel”, or “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”, we are echoing the words and themes from Isaiah.
In today’s text, Isaiah, with hot rebuke, closes his prophecy. Though he has emphasized God’s grace and restoration in the preceding chapters, he ends with the fires of punishment because his hearers will not repent.
God wants everyone, everywhere, to repent, turn away from sin, and come back to Him. And that’s the central thought in the Book of Isaiah: “Everyone! To the Lord!” For with Him there is mercy; there is forgiveness. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Is 1:18).
Isaiah encourages us, on this day, that we should, with repentant cry, lift our voice to the Maker of heaven and earth. He who has every right to condemn, also has every desire to forgive us and raise us to new life, as He demonstrated in His Son, the Savior from sin and hell. But there is more.
In the Old Testament God chose the people of Israel as His special, beloved people. They were to become the nation into which the world’s Savior would be born. But His love for all nations is no less than His love for Israel. In Genesis God said to the patriarch Abraham: “In you and in your descendants, all the nations of the world will be blessed.” (22:18)
Seven hundred years after Isaiah wrote the words of our text, the promised Savior came and fulfilled all that Isaiah had foretold, and more. Today, another 2,000 years later, we can celebrate and give thanks that God decided to come and gather all nations and show His glory, His salvation. Not because Israel was holy or because the nations were holy, but because they were all sinners, Israel and the nations alike, were condemned to die.
This is still the foundation of His mission to all nations of the world, to us, today. God said “I will set a sign among them” (19a). The prophet speaks of a sign to come, and those who refuse to believe will perish. Nevertheless, it is a sign of lifting up and building up and strengthening for those who believe and are called according to His purpose.
And this is the message to us today, because Jesus Himself gave His sign, His own resurrection. It remains a sign to us and to the whole world today: “He was [put] to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
Jesus came as a light for the nations. “When I am lifted up,” He said, “I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). Proclamation of the Gospel to all nations, He taught, is the definitive mission of the world, for as long as the world remains. Following His resurrection, He commissioned His apostolic band and the entire Christian church including you and me: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:18–20). “Everyone! To the Lord!”
We say it in our mission statement, it’s on the front of our bulletin, it’s on the top of every report I make to the Voters, it’s the very first thing listed in our constitution: Connecting all to Christ by preaching, teaching, witnessing to His Mercy, Love, and Grace through His Word and Sacraments.
God sends us to proclaim His glory among the nations. The early Christians were His witness, spreading the Gospel wherever they went, just like the apostles and their coworkers. Throughout history God has spread the Gospel to the nations through Christian witnesses like you and me. He continues to do so today. Christ did not promise a trouble-free life. But to His people in trouble, He is “an ever-present help” (Ps 46:1), and we “declare his glory” and “make known…what he has done” (Is 12:4).
As God gathers His people, He transforms us into an instrument capable of declaring His glory to all nations. He gathers us to His Word. He transforms us by His Word. So that in Christ, we sinners stand in God’s presence clothed in the forgiveness, righteousness, holiness, and purity that is ours through faith in Jesus.
This: Jesus secured for us on the cross. This: Jesus gives to us today in the Means of Grace. God forgiving and cleansing in the absolution, the Holy Spirit at work through the Word, gathering us at His table to receive the gifts of the Lord’s Supper, these are all things that He uses to equip and prepare us.
In Christ, God joins all the different parts into one Body. Uniqueness and differences are not lost to uniformity. Instead, differences are sealed with a unity that allows them to be used in service to Him, and in service to one another.
The resounding theme for us this Sunday is the significance of God’s mission to save all nations. “Everyone! To the Lord!” It can only makes sense when understood against the backdrop of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Just as our Lord’s death and resurrection were on behalf of all people throughout the whole world, so is our Lord’s mission.
While Isaiah often depict the nations as the recipients of God’s missionary activity, rarely do we see them described as His missionaries. Yet, here Isaiah clearly depicts them as such. It’s not so much that the church has a mission, rather the mission has a church. That’s how we live a Romans 8:28 life. A life knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
Another shocking bit of news. In Isaiah’s day, normally the priesthood belonged to the sons of Aaron, but now God chooses those from among the converted Gentiles! Priests were to represent the people and serve as intermediaries before the Lord. In fact, Israel as a whole was to serve in this role on behalf of all the other nations. This was their privilege and their very purpose, though they often forgot this as their purpose. Now the old has gone; the new has come!
Here we see, again, a striking example of God’s inclusiveness! God has not only graciously included those from all nations in His salvation but has also graciously included them as the means or instruments to carry out that mission. Grace abounds!
Finally, our text this morning directs our gaze to the end when Jesus Christ will come again in His glory to establish, once and for all, the new heavens and the new earth. This new creation will not fade away or grow old like the one we currently inhabit. It will last forever.
It will last forever for all those who by His Word and Spirit have come from far and wide to enter into the glorious banquet feast through the narrow door, that is, through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, our risen Lord.
What a glorious vision and hopeful assurance for the missionary to catch a glimpse of the end of the mission when all will be created anew and “all flesh shall come to worship before me”! (23) This calls to mind the vision given to the apostle John: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ” (Rev 7:9–10).
Isaiah’s proclamation of God’s mission, our mission, should seem neither unexpected nor impossible. This mission should not be surprising at all, because it reflects the very heart of God. It reflects who He is as our Creator God. Neither is it impossible. In fact, it is very much possible because it is God’s mission. Its successful accomplishment is already guaranteed because Jesus Christ accomplished the mission through His death and resurrection and continues to carry out that mission through you, and through me. Graciously gathered. Graciously sent. What a joyful privilege we have to be His missionaries to the world all around us! Amen.