The Third Sunday in Lent

March 15, 2020

Isaiah 42:14-21

The Amazing Season of Lent:

God’s Amazing Actions!

 

“For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.  I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.  I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.   These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.  But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.  Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see!  Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send?  Who is blind like the one committed to me, blind like the servant of the LORD?  You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”  It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious.  (NIV1984)

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

 

(Pastor is setting a timer.)

 

That was 15 seconds of silence.  Did you wonder what I was doing?  Did you wonder what I was waiting for?  Did you wonder how long the silence would last?  What if I had set this timer for one minute or two minutes?  What if I had stood up here in silence for 15 minutes instead of 15 seconds?  How long would you have simply sat there and waited?  How long before you started asking what is going on.  How long would it have taken before you simply got up and went your own way?

 

Our sermon text for today is like an alarm clock imbedded in the prophecy given to God’s servant Isaiah.  God Himself has set the alarm.  God Himself knows when the alarm will go off.  God Himself has told us that His alarm is most certainly set— but He has not told us when the “time is up” and the alarm will go off.

 

Today, my friends, as we continue our sermon series entitled The Amazing Season of Lent let’s see how this portion of Isaiah reveals to us that when the Lord’s alarm goes off we will see:  God’s Amazing Actions!  There are two amazing actions emphasized here in this text.  First we see God’s amazing action of justice.  Then we see God’s amazing action of salvation.

 

A long time ago I came to the conclusion that the good Lord filled His holy Word with powerful pictures so that simple people like me could at least try to understand the deep truths of our God.  We find one of those powerful pictures in the opening verse of our text.  The Lord says through His servant Isaiah, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”  Obviously, those of you who are moms understand this picture far better than I ever could.  After a woman finds out she is pregnant she waits for the birth of her child.  Then she waits some more.  Finally, after what may seem like forever the time comes for her baby to be born.  Especially back before the days of modern medicine once the birthing process started, once the labor pains began, there was nothing that could be done to stop it.

 

In a similar way the Lord here says through Isaiah, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”  Like many of the other prophecies that the Lord revealed through Isaiah this prophecy is given without the benefit of chronology.  In other words, the Lord reveals to Isaiah what is going to happen, but He does not reveal to Isaiah when it is going to happen.  And yet, when we look at the verse which immediately precedes our text it is clear that the prophecy which serves as our text for today needs to be understood in the light of the Lord triumphing over His enemies like a mighty warrior.  That helps us to understand what the Lord meant when He said, “For a long time I have kept silent.”  Ever since the Fall of mankind into sin the Lord was “waiting” to fulfill His promise of crushing Satan’s power.  From the perspective of God’s people in the days of Isaiah the Lord had been “holding back” for thousands of years!  Therefore, the Lord reveals through Isaiah that when the time is right His perceived “inaction” will suddenly turn into an unstoppable “action” just as surely as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman.

 

The first amazing action then that the Lord describes for us is found in verse 15 of our text.  He says, “I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.”  I see in these words a very powerful picture of the justice of our God.  In his second epistle the apostle Peter helps us to understand this picture of divine judgment.  Peter brings out in his letter that many people think that this world is simply going to continue on indefinitely.  They completely dismiss the reality that when the time is right the Almighty Creator will step into this world and put an end to this world because of the sin of mankind.  That is exactly why Peter reminds his readers that God’s amazing action of justice has already been seen once on a world-wide scale— the Flood!  Then Peter goes on to say, “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7).

 

Things have not changed dramatically since the days of Isaiah or the days of the apostle Peter.  As we look around in our own society we still see people who are living as though this world will never end.  As we look around in our own society we still see people who are living as enemies of the one true God.  They openly defy God’s holy Law by the way that they live their own life.  They openly defy God’s Law by their support, acceptance and promotion of actions and attitudes that God has deemed unnatural and unacceptable.  Yes, all too many people today are living their lives completely oblivious to the fact that one day they will see and experience God’s amazing action of justice.

 

But even we, my friends, yes, even we cannot lose sight of the fact that the God of heaven will one day spring into action with His divine justice.  We all have that old sinful nature which tries and tries to convince us that we can defy God’s Law, that we can go out and enjoy all the things that this world has to offer because there is plenty of time for us to “clean up our act” and repent of our sins when we are “older.”  Whenever our own sinful nature starts bombarding us with that type of temptation we would do well to ask ourselves— how long?  How long will we anticipate that God will keep “silent”?  How long will we expect God to be “quiet” and hold Himself back from triumphing over His enemies?  How long until God’s timer goes off and we see His amazing action of justice— first hand?  Yes, even we need to take God’s Law to heart so that we are not caught by surprise by God’s amazing action of divine justice.

 

At the same time the prophecy which serves as our text for today also contains a powerful picture of God’s amazing action of salvation!  Look at verse 16 of our text.  The Lord says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

 

When I read these words I cannot help but see the salvation that the Lord God has secured for us!  By nature we were all born “spiritually blind.”  Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have been given the eyes of faith.  By God’s grace we are able to see and follow that narrow path that leads us home to heaven.  By nature we were born engulfed in the “darkness of sin.”  Now through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been brought into the glorious “light of faith.”  (See I Peter 2:9-10)  By nature our sins caused God to “forsake” us just as mightily as our sins caused our Savior to cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)  Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit our sins have been washed away and we have been adopted as the dearly beloved children of God— children to whom God promises on oath here in our text, “I will not forsake them.”

 

But how?  How did all of this come to be, my friends?  How did we go from being spiritually blind to having spiritual sight?  How did we go from being hopelessly lost in the darkness of sin to basking in the warm light of saving faith?  How did we go from being an enemy of the Almighty Creator to being a dear friend of our loving Savior God?  In other words, how did God’s amazing action of salvation become our personal possession?  The answer to all those questions is found in our text when the Lord says, “These are the things I will do.”   God’s amazing action of salvation was accomplished for us right there— on the cross of Calvary’s hill.  (Pointing to the cross)  God’s amazing action of salvation was then given to us purely by His grace and purely by His power— not ours— as God the Holy Spirit used His precious Means of Grace, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it comes to us in Word and Sacrament, to create the gift of saving faith in our hearts.

 

When we look at these amazing actions of our God— both His amazing action of justice as well as His amazing action of salvation— as the beloved children of God we also need to ponder in our hearts what impact these amazing actions will have on our day to day lives.  Sadly, God’s people in the days of Isaiah did not let the amazing actions of the Lord have a powerful positive impact on their lives.  In verse 20 of our text the Lord says concerning the people of Israel, “You have seen many things, but have paid no attention; your ears are open, but you hear nothing.”  Do not follow this example, my friends.  Let God’s amazing action of justice lead you to kneel at the foot of the cross and plead, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).  Once God’s Law has worked repentance in your heart let God’s amazing action of salvation lead you to look up at that very same cross so that you can hear your Savior lovingly say, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19)

 

(Pastor is holding the timer once again.)

 

There is no doubt that the good Lord does indeed have His “timer” set, my friends.  When His timer goes off— whether that is at the end of our own personal life or at the end of this world, whichever comes first— we will see God’s amazing actions firsthand.  May God grant that we will always stay close to Him through regular study of His holy Word and regular reception of His holy Sacrament so that our hearts and our lives will always be ready for that amazing day!

 

To God be the glory!

 

Amen