Text: Isaiah 34:4-7a
Date: Pentecost XV (Proper 18) + 9/9/12
Last week residents in my neighborhood of Waterford received a mailing entitled, “Understand Prophecy: Finding HOPE in Uncertain Times.” Billed as “a dynamic Bible prophecy series” it, of course, treats “prophecy” primarily as telling the future, specifically of the end of the world. People have always wondered and are fascinated by questions concerning the end of the world, “judgment day” as at least some of us still refer to it. Gazillions of books have been written on the subject, all of them claiming to have some insight and evidence from the Bible. When asked, “Which book of the Bible do you want to study next?” more times than not the response is, “Revelation.” There is a fascination about the Last Day, the end of the world, the Day of Judgment.
Our scripture readings begin today to consider the last things. The Church Year will, of course, end with this major teaching of the Bible. But today we have just a hint of this teaching, especially with the coupling of this short reading from the prophet Isaiah with today’s Gospel of Jesus restoring a deaf man’s hearing and speech. For, beginning here in the thirty-fourth and thirty-fifth chapters of Isaiah the prophecies concerning the impending deliverance of captive Israel move away from the stage of history to deal with the last things, as everything in the history of salvation, everything in the Bible ultimately serves this goal. After the fall of Assyria Isaiah breaks from his own times to the end of all things, even beyond the coming of the Messiah to the Last Day. Isaiah’s concern is no longer only deliverance from Assyria or Babylon but of deliverance from the entire empire of the world in its hostility to the Church, the people of God.
Therefore chapter thirty-four begins with the words,
“Draw near, O nations, to hear,
and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their host” (Is 34:1-2).
These words are addressed to all nations and the whole world because all nations and the whole world must endure the judgment of God as the prophet said already in chapter two, “For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low” (Is 2:12).
That these words have to do with the last things is evidenced by the words of 34:4, “All the host of heaven shall rot away, and the skies roll up like a scroll.” Have no doubt about it, there is coming a day, a Last Day in which the present universe will be shaken and destroyed by fire as the ultimate judgment of God against sin, against disobedience, against all unholiness and ungodliness.
Our text then begins to describe God’s deliverance of His people from all His wrath and judgment. These are words of comfort and hope for an afflicted Church. They are addressed “to those who have an anxious heart.”
Do you have an anxious heart? The word translated “anxious” literally means a hurried, racing, nervous heart. And what causes anxious hearts? We’re not talking about physical problems like tachycardia or atrial fibrillation. But thoughts, emotions or observations that make us fear, make us excited or nervous. It wasn’t just their enemies or ours that make us afraid. Ultimately it is death and everything and anything that leads up to death. Beneath all anxiety, fear, conflict, sickness or death is sin. And sin is the universal condition of which no one, none of us, not even the best of us can free ourselves.
But God says, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!’” And these are not words meant only to encourage us to pick ourselves up by our own bootstraps. They are not words meant merely to talk us into having a positive attitude. For these divine words immediately give the answer. “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God.” The only hope anyone can have in answer to fear, conflict, threat, sin or death is God. For the only true God has spoken and shown Himself to be the saving God as the end of this sentence says, “Behold, your God…He will come and save you.”
Behold, your God. And how does He save you? “Your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.” Now vengeance and pay-back sounds violent. And it is! For the enemy cannot be overcome by coddling or compromising. The enemy, sin, Satan and death, must be destroyed. And by the destruction of the enemy God will get things back into balance, restore righteousness, return things according to His original design and will which is nothing less than eternal life and love.
So, we ask, when will God come in His power to save us? The text answers, it will be when “the eyes of the blind are opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sings for joy.”
The people brought to Jesus a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He did. “Ephphatha,” He said. And it was just as when God said “Let there be” at creation “and there was.” “His ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
No, this was no side show, no incidental detail just to show Jesus’ supernatural powers. This was the sign that Isaiah had predicted, “the ears of the deaf unstopped…the tongue of the mute singing for joy.” It is the sign of God’s coming to save.
But where is God, some might ask. Is He “around” this preacher, Jesus? Is He somehow “in” this miracle worker, Jesus? Was He somehow in Jesus’ fingers or saliva? No. The prophet says, “Behold, your God” as he presents and points to Jesus; as John the Baptist picked up the refrain, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” all the while pointing directly at Jesus. This alone is where you can find God. This is God. Jesus is the saving God coming with vengeance and the recompense of God.
That vengeance and payment was delivered on the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion. Only there was the enemy, sin, Satan and death defeated and destroyed because of the one, holy sacrifice that alone had the power to take away the sin of the world. There Jesus’ broken body and spilled blood declared the binding and judgment of sin and the release of the world from sin’s devastation of death. There was “life and immortality brought to light through the gospel,” and so to all who hear and obey, that is, believe the gospel (2 Tim 1:10).
On the Last Day every eye will see Him coming with His mighty angels in judgment and deliverance. In the resurrection of all flesh the eyes of the blind will truly, physically be opened, the ears of the deaf physically unstopped, the lame man leap like a deer. But, more than that! As the creation itself right now, along with us, before that Day, “groans together in the pains of childbirth…as we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22), so will there be “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). So said Isaiah, “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” The dryness and drought and death valley of sin will be replaced by the lush and fertile paradise of God.
So to all who have an anxious heart we today point to Jesus and say, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God.” He has come to save you, and to restore you to all holiness and godliness (2 Peter 3:11) forever.