We Live in Hope, Isaiah 44:6–8, Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11), July 19, 2020
Our Old Testament reading is nestled within a larger dialogue of a chapter in Isaiah that glorifies the God of creation over the idols made by man, while reminding us that the creator God is also a redeeming God. In this time of the Church, our texts lead us to reflect on the path of faith that we are called to walk in this world. What we know in our mind we must learn in our heart and life.
Like the Israelites we constantly find ourselves in a culture full of idols. Yet, Paul reminds us in our Epistle reading we are to live in hope. In the present time, all Christians face suffering in varying times, in various ways and measures. We all know trials and temptations. But our home is not in this world; we live by an unseen hope. It was for this purpose that God made the world. All creation groans and yearns for the salvation that is to come to God’s children. We, too, as Christians, groan in waiting for our hope. This longing of hope is not our own work. It is the work of the Spirit, who within our hearts intercedes for us with unutterable groaning.
That was the situation we find Israel in, in our text for today: the Assyrian empire was on the rise, and the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had fallen. Some in Judah (Southern Kingdom) became even more secure in their apathy and sin. They had the city of Jerusalem, and the true worship in the temple, but God through Isaiah prophesied that Judah’s sin would bring captivity at the hands of Babylon. To lose the temple and the Holy City were unthinkable for the children of God. Did this mean God had abandoned them? Did this mean the promises of God were no longer valid? How could they be sure?
For the Israelites, the pagan deities seem to have the upper hand on the God of Israel, and the Babylonians were quick to give their gods all the credit for their victories and growing power. Further, removed from the temple and the Holy City, there were fears that perhaps God would not fulfill His promise of an everlasting kingdom and king.
Many people today will tell you they know all about God. They may know the story very well indeed, but can they really believe it? Wouldn’t it be nice if God would give just a little more proof, a little more evidence, a little more ID that He really is who He claims to be?
The world has a way of biting hard. Isaiah’s people had been defeated in war. Paul saw the groaning of creation. In the terminology of our Gospel reading, the world can be really “weedy” sometimes. Death afflicts us all. Getting old is not for sissies. Sometimes the best we can hope for is that someone with a very sharp knife will put us to sleep and cut the problem out and let us live a little longer. God assures us today that this is not the way He wanted things, and it is not the way He will leave things. His plan for salvation addresses all the problems, including our own physical problems.
Yet, from my limited human perspective, God is moving very slowly, too slowly sometimes. I wish that He would get on with things and deal with evil decisively. I want a superman to come on the scene and rescue all the folks in peril, I want the evil doers rounded up, I don’t want to see the pictures of tsunami victims, flood victims, tornado victims, famine victims and all the other hollow-eyed and destitute folks who have paraded across my television set lately. I want God to do something about the cancer which has afflicted my family and friends.
Sometimes it is just too much for me and all I can do is just cry. When my child does not get better, when my spouse dies, when my heart is broken by betrayal, or when something else terrible happens, we are just not able to carry all this.
That’s when we discover that God is our rock and our salvation, a very present help in times of trouble. That’s when we can lift up our eyes to the hills and see that He who watches over us does not slumber or sleep. He has filled our ears and our hearts with His promise. It’s true, I cannot go on, but He can carry us.
This morning, through the prophet Isaiah, God is speaking, and our charge is simply to listen. He is making a claim about who He is, and He is making a challenge to any other so-called gods. He uses three names and they are significant. They not only tell us who God is, but also tell us what He does.
As “King of Israel” we see both His relationship to His people in terms of majesty and loving concern. A true king is always mindful of the condition of those under him. “LORD of hosts”, or “LORD Almighty” in the NIV, declares that this kingship is not localized, but universal. He is the Lord of all that exists in heaven and earth.
Yet, the most significant name is “his Redeemer.” The King of the universe, who is above time and space, the King of Israel, who rules and cares for His subjects; this King is also God who redeems. The rescue of Israel points forward to the great Kinsman-Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
The one true God challenges the idols; He, who has been making and keeping promises since the beginning of time. As long as the human race has existed, no person, place, or thing has ever foretold the future as the Lord has. If anyone thinks he can, now is the time to prove it. Only God’s Word is sure and certain; the exile itself is proof of that. Since God’s Word alone can be trusted, we can trust it now as God offers a word of restoration, of comfort, of peace and hope.
In the midst of exile, never be afraid. When the evidence around you seems to be saying something quite the opposite, fear not, live in hope. There is no god like the one true God, who alone is our Redeemer. God is our help, our strength, and our refuge. When floodwaters rise, we have security, not in the high places of idol worship, but in the height of our God. His promises are rock-solid. That’s bad news for the idol-worshiping heathen but good news for you and me!
In the midst of law and judgment, God speaks His word of hope. God is still God, and His people are still His people. Sin has brought just punishment, but the love and mercy of God reign supreme. Continue to trust in the one true God. His Word is sure and certain and true.
You know what? When everything around us seems to be telling us one thing, it is often difficult to believe something else. It was difficult for the people of Isaiah’s day, and it is no less difficult for us today.
Our eyes tell us that maybe God has things mixed up. Sin and evil seem to have the upper hand, not God. We often feel as if we are the ones in exile, far from the reality of God and His promises. Maybe the “idols” of wealth and material goods, selfish desires, and self-centeredness would serve us better. Maybe God isn’t God after all.
Yet even when we are unable or unwilling to trust and obey, He sent His only-begotten Son to a rock called Calvary to suffer and die in our place. Sin and death and Satan could not hold Jesus in that carved-out tomb. He burst forth and lives again. What idol could do that!
We have God’s promise of love and forgiveness. We have His assurance that He is in control and the ultimate victory is His.
Israel need not fear for they are the chosen servants of God and will be His witnesses. The admonition to not fear is found within the first five verses of chapter 44. There Isaiah focuses on the confidence that Israel can possess as God’s chosen people and the blessings He gives. The next part of the chapter, today’s text, he places Israel’s confidence in the nature and character of a God for whom there is no equal.
Israel, whom God had made to be His witness by His own promise, was to take up its role, to be the Lord’s witness, to own the Lord as its God, to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things, to have no gods but the one true God.
This confession is a result of the Lord’s redeeming work. In fulfillment of His promises, He has brought them, and you and me, to know Him and confess Him as our Creator.
Make no mistake Isaiah makes it clear that God is just, and must punish sin. Judgment is a certainty not only for the heathen nations, but for all who sin, including Israel and Judah. Yet, in the midst of this judgment God promises hope and salvation in the person and work of the Messiah. When God makes a promise, it’s as good as done! His Word, unlike ours, is enough.
Jesus is the rock of our Salvation. The work which God has done on our behalf is not shakable. It endures through time and is not weathered by the whims of fashion, popular opinion, or culture. The day may well come when these American flags in the sanctuaries of our churches are obsolete, representing a country which only exists in the history books, like the rise and fall of empires before it. This gospel will still stand.
But more than being there for our children’s children’s children, God is here for us today. We shelter within His steadfast might. We are spared the floods of sin, the ravages of the evil one, and the brutal and dreadful conditions of time. We are given eternal and deathless life by Jesus.
He is not responsible for evil, yet He works all things. In Jesus, we know finally and decisively who God is: the God who in His freedom is with us, and for us, and gives us hope. What comes to us, both good and evil, passes through the hands of the God. As the Creator of all things, He has the power to take and use the evil that comes to Israel, and to all of us, for our good. As Paul will later confess, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Rom 8:37–39).
We are no different than the Israelites in the trials and temptations of life. We, too, are tempted by our own fears and by the gods of our age. The Lord calls us, too, by our works and by our words, to be witnesses to the world of His saving grace, now given to us in Christ.
Through your Savior, Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven your sins and freed from your past, as Israel was before you. Your future is secure in God’s promise, and in Jesus. You therefore can live joyfully in the present, in service to your neighbor and to the one true God. Amen.