Rev. Charles Lehmann + Advent 3 + Isaiah 35
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Isn’t Isaiah great? No one in all the goodly fellowship of the prophets can sing a song of joy like Him. In Isaiah, the desert springs forth with greenery. The desolate places bloom, and Israel is given all good things by her Lord.
It's hard not to weep with joy when you hear this text. It sets your mind on all things good, noble, and right. It’s just the thing to consider when it’s cold outside and you’re preparing for Christmas.
There’s a problem, though. As beautiful as this portion of Isaiah is, and as much as we love to hear it, we would not respond in the same way if the reading for today was Isaiah 34. Though it's just as true as chapter 35, Isaiah 34 just doesn't seem like it's in the spirit of the season. It doesn't make us feel all warm and fuzzy. It doesn't give us exactly what we want to hear. It hurts us and it scares us.
“The Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; he has devoted them to destruction. He has given them over for slaughter. Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood. All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall, as leaves fall from the vine, like leaves falling from the fig tree. For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.”
Isaiah preached the Lord's word to an unfaithful king and an unfaithful nation. Hezekiah didn't trust the Lord to deliver him and his people. Hezekiah trembled in fear and paid tribute to foreign nations and their gods. He hoped that with enough gold, the invaders' thirst for blood would be quenched. Though he had at times trusted the Lord, destroyed the Asherah poles, and thrown down the high places, Isaiah preached this sermon while Hezekiah was trusting himself.
Hezekiah knew that even one of the minor functionaries of the Assyrian empire had enough military strength to destroy all of Judea. But as true as that was, it was no cause for fear. The Lord had delivered His people before. He would do it again. But Hezekiah thought he needed to secure deliverance for his people. He negotiated peace by stripping the gold from the doors of the Lord's temple and handing it over to Sennacherib.
But the Assyrian king was evil, satanic, and faithless. He did not keep his word. He sent his emissary to Jerusalem to mock the living God.
And so we come to our text. The Lord will have none of Sennacherib's insolence. He is enraged against all the nations. He must destroy every idol, because idolatry will destroy his people. There is no God but our Lord Jesus Christ who can provide for all our needs of body and life, who can protect us from the enemies who would drag us into hell, or who has taken on human flesh to die our death and raise us to eternal life.
The world will look at this text and scoff. They will say that in Isaiah 34 you see the way that God really is. Unless you prostrate yourself in abject subjection to Him, he will kill, maim, and slaughter. He is a merciless and unrelenting tyrant. After all, Hezekiah was just trying to save his people from a long and bloody war. How is that so bad?
One Savior is enough, dear friends. When Hezekiah was trying to save his people on his own, he was stepping into the place of God. He was trying to make himself the comfort and salvation of his people even though the Lord had already promised that He would save them.
Sennacherib’s emissary spoke the way that the world always speaks. He said, “Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will deliver us.’ Has any god of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?'”
Satan and his servants love to puff up their chests. They love to scream and mock and deride. The Assyrians do it at the gates of Jerusalem and the Sandhedrin does it at the foot of the cross. “He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord save him.” Throughout all the history of the world, the Lord God King of the Universe is a constant object of mockery and derision. But walking outside the way of the Lord only leads to death. Outside the way of the Lord is pain and suffering. Sin sinks its vicious claws into you and tries to drag you eternally into hell. It damages you. And the Lord hates it. He hates that sin hurts you so badly. He sees clearly what happens when you place your trust in an idol. And so the Lord comes down into creation and He destroys your idols.
For Hezekiah the idol was the other nations—nations that looked only to their own interests and cared nothing for Judah. Though Sennacherib’s emissary wanted to make Hezekiah despair of the Lord’s salvation, the Lord used the ambassador’s words to drive Hezekiah to prayer. He put on sackcloth and ashes. He repented of trying to save His people. He knew he couldn’t do it, and so he cried out to the Lord for deliverance.
And so the Lord said to him, “Be strong! Fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with recompense. He will come and save you!” And the Lord came. He sent his angel among the troops of Assyria and killed 185,000 in one night. He delivered his people.
What is your idol? What do you look to for salvation when the Lord seems to remote or out of touch? Perhaps it is your own hard work and diligence. Perhaps it is your job or your savings account. We always take the good gifts of God and turn them into idols. We look to the gift instead of the Giver. Dear Christian, your job did not die for you. You are not baptized into the name of your savings account. Your hard work did not raise the dead, give the blind their sight, or make the lame leap like a deer. Whatever your idol, you must let it go.
You need not make your own Savior. Jesus has already done the job. He will destroy every idol that stands between you and an eternity with Him.
The Lord destroyed Hezekiah's enemies and saved him from total destruction. But His promise didn't stop there. He said, “Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing, for in the wilderness waters shall break forth, and streams in the desert.”
Hezekiah did not see the Lord's fulfillment of this promise, but he was delivered from his enemies. He knew that the God who saved him from the hand of the Assyrians would come into the world, take on human flesh, and be his Savior. He trusted the word of the Lord that came to him through Isaiah, but he didn't ever get to see lame men jump.
But John did. And so when John heard of Jesus' deeds from prison, he sent his disciples to see Jesus. He pointed to his Lord. John had been doing this his entire life. When they were still both in their mothers' wombs, John leaped for joy when he came into the presence of his Lord. Some thirty years later on the day of Jesus' baptism, John pointed to his cousin and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
And so, while he sits and prison waits for Herod's blade, John is still the prophet. He remembers the words of Isaiah and receives the consolation that was never given to Hezekiah or Isaiah in their earthly lives.
John goes before the Lord to prepare his way. He is born six months before Jesus. He preaches a baptism of repentance, and Jesus Himself is baptized into it for our sake. And before Jesus is crucified, John is beheaded even though he committed no crime. He goes before the Lord to prepare His way. He points to the one Isaiah proclaimed and calls Him the very Lamb of God.
Look to your sins, and see that you are powerless before them. Gaze into the maw of hell that you deserve. You, I, and ever person in this room stands helpless before the divine wrath that we deserve. But rejoice, dear Christian. The armies of Assyria are dead and buried. The Lord has vanquished your enemies. Your sin is forgiven. Your death is destroyed. The power of the devil is broken forever. Jesus has died on the cross and risen again on the third day. Death has no more mastery over you than it has over Him.
Your King is coming. He has made the blind to see and the lame to leap. He has raised you from spiritual death in the waters of Baptism, and when your body is buried, it will lie there only for a little while. Your Lord will raise you up, because when He comes, He comes with Life for you.