Text: Isaiah 40:21-31
Date: Epiphany V + 2/5/12
According to Saint Mark, when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ appeared, the first thing that strikes us is His ministry of healing. His power to heal extends from the most dramatic casting out of demons to what appears to us to be the relatively minor condition of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law lying ill with a fever. Physical healing of the body is one aspect of the gospel of salvation, for, after this life, we do not turn into angels or disembodied spirits. The greatest Christ-ian hope of healing is the promised resurrection of the body, the promise of new bodies for old. We remain human beings of God’s own creation and design forever. The underlying cause of all sickness and disease is not just a medical con-dition but the spiritual condition called “sin.” “You sin, you experience separations of all kinds, you get sick, you die” says the Bible. You don’t sin, you don’t get sick, you don’t die. All have sinned. Therefore all die.
God our Creator desires to save us, to deliver all men from sin and death. Unfortunately not everyone knows or believes that, and even God’s own people, in the midst of our weariness or suffering from time to time, can forget God’s compassion and loving desire for us. The coming of Jesus, His preaching, teaching and healing activity and, ultimately, His self-sacrifice on the cross that removes and takes away the power of sin and death, is ever to be our comfort, confidence and hope. As the Easter hymn joyfully proclaims,
Jesus lives! The vict’ry’s won!
Death no longer can appall me;
Jesus lives! Death’s reign is done!
From the grave will Christ recall me.
Brighter scenes will then commence;
This shall be my confidence. [LSB 490:1]
This Easter confidence and hope of God’s love is as ancient as His first promise of salvation to Adam and Eve. And this Easter confidence and hope had no greater preacher in the Old Testament than the foremost prophet, Isaiah. Even the prophet’s name means “the Lord’s salvation.” Isaiah is appropriately placed first among the prophets in our English Bibles as he more than the others was given amazing insight into the gospel of God’s plan of salvation.
Our text today is from the beginning of the second half of Isaiah, chapter 40 which begins with the reviving call, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Is 40:1). That is the comfort of salvation as he predicts the coming of John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Then, especially in chapter 53, Isaiah sees both the suffering and the exaltation of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, the Christ. He writes as if he had stood beneath the cross itself and also had seen the risen Savior! But even more, the prophet Isaiah saw the new heavens and earth of Christ’s eternal kingdom beyond even St. John’s vision in the New Testament Revelation.
To this comfort, confidence and salvation Isaiah preaches the way of faith. Isaiah preached to a people that had assumed that God had forgotten them. He preached repentance, but had no success. The people wouldn’t listen, much less repent. Thinking that God had forgotten them, or worse, that this God never really existed in the first place, they fell into open idolatry. And how many are there today who are convinced that God doesn’t exist? And how many things other than the one, true God do people worship today, that is, consider to be the highest good in their lives, worthy of all their time and efforts to value and to serve? That is idolatry in any age. Our text today calls us to repentance and faith by reminding us that God is, before and after all, the exalted Creator and Ruler of the world. As Jesus would remind us, God’s kingdom is not “of” this world. Today God and His prophet call us away from entanglement in the kingdom of the world to the blessed, saving, comforting Kingdom of God.
How easily we take things for granted. How easily many or most people fall for the worldview of atheistic evolution. As if we have been taken captive by the secular philosophers and so-called scientists of today, the prophet almost chides us by asking, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” The questions urge us to ask, “know, hear and understand what?” The answer: that God is the exalted Creator that brought everything into existence out of nothing. He “sits above the circle of the earth.” Compared to God we are small. As when you look down from an airplane at 36,000 feet we say “the people look like ants,” so to the exalted God the earth’s “inhabitants are like grasshoppers,” says the prophet. The “high and mighty” of this world, the princes, presidents, kings and rulers are as nothing before God and are brought low to the very emptiness that was before them. Life is short. Like grass or flowers, “scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.” Not only on Ash Wednesday are we to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Repentance is to remember that we are, after all, the creature and only God is the Creator.
And only God the Creator is also God the Savior. This saving God will not always remind us only of our wayward-ness and sin. Psalm 103 has us pray, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8-14). He removes them by the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross.
In a more tender voice in our text God asks, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, (saying) ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” He uses the name Jacob to remind us of His covenant, His adoption of us into His family, His promise of deliverance, mercy and grace. He calls us out of our weariness and despondency by recalling His strong love and deliverance.
God does not faint or grow weary, but gives power to us when we are faint, and strength to us in our weariness. And here’s the promise: “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” To “wait for the Lord” is nothing other than to believe in Him, to have faith in His promises; strong, bold, confident faith.
What was it but faith that the disciples looked to Jesus to help Simon’s mother-in-law? And it was at least the beginning of faith that (can you imagine it?) “the whole city was gathered together at the door,” and Jesus healed many. “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Remember. Remember today O people of God. Remember God’s steadfast love and His deliverance; deliverance from the weariness and death of sin to the confidence and strength of life by faith in the name of Christ.
Isaiah, mighty Seer, saw it from afar and now by faith you receive it as having come near. Jesus Christ, our sure defense, gives healing and life and hope to all who come to Him. In Christ we do not faint and are not weary but abound in the peace, the joy and the love that are in Christ Jesus our Lord.