The First Sunday in Advent

December 3, 2017

Isaiah 64:1-8

Come Lord Jesus…

To Give Us Confidence!

 

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!  As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!  For when you did awesome things that we did not expect you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.  You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.  But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry.   How then can we be saved?  All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.  Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

Happy New Year!  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Since today is the first Sunday in the Season of Advent, today is the first day in a brand new church year.  Today you and I are given the opportunity to go back and start all over again as we carefully review all the precious truths that God the Holy Spirit has recorded for us here in His holy Word.  Starting at the beginning, however, also gives us an opportunity to see how it all ends.  In other words, the season of Advent not only gives us an opportunity to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ first Advent into this world, namely, Christmas, but it also give us an opportunity to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ second Advent into this world, namely, Judgment Day.

 

With both of these advents in view, our sermon series for the four Sundays in Advent is going to focus on a request.  On each of these four Sundays we are going to ask our Lord Jesus to either do something for us or to give something to us.  As we begin this sermon series let’s use these words of Isaiah to turn to Jesus and say:  Come Lord Jesus… To Give Us Confidence!  Give us confidence that you are the God who acts on behalf of those who wait for you.  Give us the confidence that you are the God who saved us.

 

Come Lord Jesus… to give us the confidence that you are the God who acts on behalf of those who wait for you.  While the prophet Isaiah may not have spoken those exact words, he did express that exact desire in the opening portion of our text.  Our text for today is part of a prayer that Isaiah offers up to the LORD, the God who had entered into a covenant relationship with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The first portion of this text is a plea to the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth to use His awesome power to overcome the enemies of His people Israel.  Isaiah prays, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!  As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!  For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down and the mountains trembled before you.  Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

 

Why did Isaiah bring such a heartfelt prayer to the Lord?  Because God’s people, God’s Chosen People, were being oppressed by their enemies— enemies that were too big and too numerous and too strong for God’s people to defeat on their own.  You may recall that the Assyrians had already defeated, destroyed and dismantled the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Once Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, had finished off the Northern Kingdom he set his sights on the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  After he had conquered all of the fortified cities in Judah (See Isaiah 36:1ff) he then turned his crosshairs to Jerusalem.  Hezekiah, who was sitting on David’s throne in Jerusalem, prayed to the Lord pleading to Him to act on behalf of His people, to save them from their enemies.  Then we are told, “the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty five thousand men in the Assyrian camp” (Isaiah 37:36).  Judah was saved— but not for long.  The Lord had His servant Isaiah proclaim to the people of Judah that because of their own sin and because of their own rebellious ways God would allow the Babylonians to come and destroy both Judah as well as Jerusalem.

 

That, my friends, is the backdrop behind the first part of Isaiah’s prayer.  Isaiah knew that on more than one occasion the Lord had already shown that He would “rend the heavens and come down.”  Isaiah knew that on more than one occasion the Lord had already caused the mountains to “tremble” before Him.  Isaiah knew that on more than one occasion the Lord had already “made (His) name known to (His) enemies” and “caused the nations to quake before (Him).  Isaiah knew that on more than one occasion the Lord had done “awesome” things that His people did not expect.  Whether it was bringing His people out of slavery in the land of Egypt, parting the waters of the Red Sea so that His people could pass over on dry ground, causing the mighty walls of Jericho to come crashing down or fulfilling His promise to give His people the Promised Land of Canaan, Isaiah knew that the Lord could and would act on behalf of His people.  And so Isaiah prayed to the Lord asking Him to do it again!  From deep within his heart Isaiah had the confidence to pray, “Since ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”

 

Could we speak these words as God’s people today, my friends?  Is there any reason for us to pray to the Lord and ask Him to “rend the heavens and come down”?  Is there any reason for us to pray “Come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you”?  Absolutely, my friends!  We have enemies today that are at least as powerful and at least as deadly as the Assyrians and the Babylonians.  We have enemies today that on our own we have no chance of defeating!  Think about it.  There is the Pro-Abortion movement that has now become part of the fabric of our society.  There is the Pro-LBGTQ Movement that is working overtime to infiltrate the public schools so that they have access to impressionable young minds.  In just our lifetime there has been a groundswell of anti-Christian and anti-Bible forces that have us, our children and our grandchildren in their crosshairs!  Can we defeat these enemies all on our own?  No, we cannot.  We are not strong enough! We are not smart enough!  But— we know the One who is!

 

We have the joy of knowing the One who did “rend the heavens and come down” to this earth!  We have the joy of being related to the One who did “make (His) name known to (His) enemies and cause the nations to quake before (Him)!  We trust in the God who “acts on behalf of those who wait for him”!  He is— our Brother, our Lord, our Savior Jesus!

 

Personally, I cannot read this portion of Isaiah’s prayer without seeing and hearing Jesus!  Whether it is Jesus’ humble birth in the little town of Bethlehem or Jesus’ victorious physical resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday or Jesus’ description of what will take place when He returns to this earth on Judgment Day (See Matthew 24:30, 31; Luke 21:25-28) Jesus is the One who gives us the confidence that enables us to say along with Isaiah, “Since ancient times no one had heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him”  So do not let your spiritual enemies bully you into silence!  Follow Isaiah’s example!  In your daily prayers confidently ask the God of heaven to defeat anyone and everyone who is setting themselves up against Him (Pointing to the cross), against His Church— and against you, His brothers and sisters.  Make that a part of your daily conversation with your God and then patiently “wait for Him”!  Whether God overthrows our spiritual enemies while we are still alive or whether God overthrows our spiritual enemies on Judgment Day we have the confidence of knowing that our God can and will act on our behalf!

 

Just as Jesus gives us the confidence of knowing that He is the God who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him, so also Jesus gives us the confidence of knowing that He is the God who saved us.  In our sinful arrogance we mortal human beings go out of our way to try and convince ourselves that:  a) our sins are not really all that bad; and, b) deep down inside we have the ability to at least help save ourselves.  The catastrophic result of this kind of thinking is that we try to convince ourselves that we don’t need Jesus— at least, not the Jesus who ended up nailed to a cross and crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:340.  How foolish, my friends!  How utterly foolish!

 

No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we are not really all that bad, no matter how hard we try to tell ourselves that we can at least help save ourselves, Isaiah very bluntly reminds us of the truth when he says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

 

These are some mighty powerful words, my friends.  These words remind us that the holy, just and perfect God of heaven says to everyone who wants to live with Him in His heavenly Home, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).  Notice that God never once says, “Strive to be better than others!” or “At least try to do your best!”  So ask yourself— Are you “holy”?   Are you “perfect”?  Or, are you “unclean” in the eyes of the God of heaven?  Have your very best attempts, your most “righteous acts” met God’s standard of perfection?  Or, have even your very best attempts, your most “righteous acts” fallen short of the glory of God and ended up in a heap of “filthy rags”?

 

We cannot save ourselves.  We can’t even help save ourselves!  We need Someone to save us!  We need Him (Pointing to the cross) to save us!  And He did!

 

Only Jesus can give us the confidence that He is the God who saved us because only Jesus can give us the same confidence that He gave to His servant Isaiah, the confidence that enables us to pray, “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father.  We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

 

Through the power of His Holy Spirit Jesus has given us the confidence to pray to “Our Father who art in heaven.”  Through the power of His Holy Spirit Jesus has given us the confidence that enables us to address the God who “brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name” (Isaiah 40:26) as “’Abba’ Father” (Romans 8:15).  Through the power of His Holy Spirit Jesus has given us the confidence of knowing that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10.  Yes, my friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit working through His holy Word and His holy Sacrament Jesus has given us that confidence.  Let’s strive to use that confidence!  Let’s use that confidence as we pray to our heavenly Father!  Let’s use that confidence as we live our lives to the glory of the God who saved us!  (Pointing to the cross)

 

Today does indeed mark the beginning of a brand new Christian church year.  Advent does indeed give us an opportunity prepare ourselves for both Christmas and for Judgment Day.  My prayer then this morning is that we follow in the footsteps of the prophet Isaiah and pray, Come Lord Jesus to give us confidence!  Give us the confidence of knowing that you are the God who acts on behalf of those who wait for you.  Give us the confidence of knowing that you are the God who saved us.

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen