for Sexagesima Sunday
What God says to us
is precious because God binds himself to what he says. God gives us his word and he keeps it. He keeps his word because he is faithful.
He keeps faith with us. He
wonít say something one day and then change his mind the next day.
Several times in the writings of St. Paul, the apostle introduces
an important message from God with the words, ďThis is a faithful
saying.Ē The most beloved of those ďfaithful sayingĒ statements of
the apostle is recorded in 1 Timothy 1:15, ďThis is a faithful saying
and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into this world to
save sinners, of whom I am chief.Ē
You can depend on it. Why?
Because God said it, thatís why.
God binds himself to his own words in a way that only God can do.
God cannot lie. He cannot break his word.
He is not like we are. He
is incapable of deceit, dishonesty, or double-mindedness.
Heís not fickle. Heís reliable. When
he gives you his word, he swears by himself.
Everything you love and cherish in this world can and will be
lost, but when God gives you his word, you will most certainly have what
God says you will have.
Isaiah prophesied to the nation of Judah during a time a terrible
political turmoil. The
nation had, in a sense, lost its soul.
Her leaders were corrupt. She
was threatened by hostile powers on all sides.
God would shortly punish the nation for abandoning his holy word
and following after false teachings, false gods, and false promises.
God would permit the Assyrians to take over the country and then
later the Babylonians would carry most of the people off into captivity
far to the east in what is today the country of Iraq.
When Isaiah penned the words of our text, this had not yet
occurred. But it would. And when it did, the nation would need to hear words of
comfort. And they did.
They heard the comfort of the gospel.
The comfort of the gospel isnít for folks who are suffering because
theyíve done no wrong. Itís
for those who are suffering because they have done wrong.
They are getting what they have deserved.
They are reaping what they have sown.
They know it. Theyíre sorry for it.
But they canít change the past or control the future.
They can only mourn their sin, confess it, and ask God for his
forgiveness. Simply put,
the gospel comforts sinners.
When you suffer you must repent. This
doesnít mean that when you suffer God is punishing you.
Folks who think that they can interpret specific instances of
human suffering lay claim to a knowledge that is too far above them.
Consider the words of God recorded by Isaiah just before our
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says
the LORD. For as the
heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Donít try to figure out how God thinks.
Instead, listen to what God says.
He tells you quite clearly that his ways and thought are beyond
your ken. Then why
shouldnít you take him at his word and be content with what he tells
you instead of trying to figure out what he wonít tell you?
Itís because you want to play God.
Thatís why. And
playing God is what gets us into trouble in the first place!
Who do we think we are that we can figure God out?
As St. Paul says:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding
out! For who has known the
mind of the LORD? Or who
has been His counselor? Or
who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be
glory forever. Amen.
The reason we should repent when we are suffering is not because God
sends us suffering to punish us, but because it is only in repentance
that we can find true comfort. It
is only when the ground is broken and plowed that the seed can be
planted that will take root and grow.
It is only when the thorn in the flesh is painfully throbbing
that the all-sufficient grace of God in Christ is clearly seen.
It isnít in the comfort of our full stomachs, protected pride,
and well laid out plans that Godís word becomes the most precious
treasure for us. It is when
we are hungry, broken, and we must acknowledge that we arenít in
control of our own lives that we can see how much we need the word of
If Judah, having Godís prophets, promises, and covenant, needed to be
humbled by God in order to receive Godís word in faith, how much more
does America need to be humbled today.
Patriotism is a virtue. It
is nothing other than a love for oneís country.
When America was attacked the patriotic spirit of most Americans
was fanned into a bright flame. Thatís
a good thing. A love for
our country in no way contradicts a love for God and Godís word.
On the other hand, the popular patriotic fervor that pervades
America today is not based on a humble submission to God and his holy
word. It is rather a
celebration of our own strength as people.
The patriotic speeches that we hear invariably praise the
goodness and tenacity of Americans.
We are told to set aside all divisions of race and creed as we
unite as one people under God. Consider
the billboard just east of town on U.S. Highway 2 that reads, ďGod
Bless America Ė United We Stand.Ē
But God doesnít bless America because she is America.
God doesnít bless those who celebrate how good they are. God blesses those who humble themselves before him and
confess their sins. God
owes nothing to this country. God
has made no covenant with this country.
God could permit this nation we love to be utterly destroyed and
he would bear no responsibility for doing wrong, because America
deserves no better.
How are we any better than ancient Judah that was led away into
captivity for her sins? Our
nation bows down to false gods and persecutes those who confess the
truth. Science teachers in
Minnesota High Schools are routinely fired because they refuse to
indoctrinate impressionable youths in the materialistic doctrine of
Darwinian evolution. Abortionists
who make a living by killing unborn children demand and receive
protection from the government while those who cry out against the
slaughter of the unborn are harassed by the same government.
During the past twenty-nine years millions upon millions of
unborn children have been legally butchered in this country.
And we presume to think that God will continue to bless America?
We think that our wealth, our freedom, our comfort, and our
safety are ours because we are Americans and God must be an American,
No, when we suffer calamity we must repent of our sins.
Whether in our personal lives, our families, or the life of our
community or nation, the troubles we face and must endure are reminders
that we are sinners living in a sinful world.
The most troubling sin is not the evil of fanatical terrorists
who worship the devil while calling him Allah, but the most troubling
sin is the sin inside of you and me.
It troubles us because it keeps us from God.
It worships self. It says that we know best; we understand what is right; what
we want is what God must do because we know our minds and if God loved
us he would too.
Thatís sin. And sometimes
the only way God can get our attention is to bring us pain.
No, heís not punishing us.
Heís getting our attention so that he can show us who he
punished. He must show us because we wonít figure it out unless he
shows us. We are all by
nature as spiritually confused as were the Christians in Galatia to whom
Paul wrote, ďO foolish Galatians!
Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before
whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?Ē
(Galatians 3:1) They were self-satisfied, you see. They were trusting in themselves and so they were trusting in
sin. They were very much like Americans of our day as well as the folks
to whom God sent the prophet Isaiah.
Human nature being what it is, we depend on precisely those
things that will disappoint us. And
then, after our gods have failed us, we have no one but ourselves to
blame because the God whose word cannot be broken warned us ahead of
And he tells us now. His
word comes down from heaven like the rain and the snow.
It falls on the ground and disappears.
Itís almost as if it never was.
But wait. This
heavenly moisture causes the crop to come up from under the ground and
to grow. Who knows just how
it can happen as it does, but it does happen.
When the ground is properly prepared, the moisture goes deep to
where it is needed. God
prepares us for his holy word and that word always achieves the purpose
for which God sent it. It
works faith in us. It does
this by bringing Jesus our Savior right into our pain.
The pain is our own sinful failure.
Jesus is the one who bore our sins.
He bore them as if he were the guilty, though he was and remained
one with the Father whose word and honor and purity and holiness are
beyond reproach or question. Still,
the Holy One of Israel took the place of sinners and suffered. Listen
to how Isaiah describes this amazing event.
Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed
Him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our
iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His
stripes we are healed. All
we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own
way. And the LORD has laid
on Him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
It is this Jesus, whose suffering was foretold by the prophet Isaiah,
who comes and makes his home in us when he gives us his holy word.
This is why the word of God is so powerful to change us from the
inside out. This is why the
word of God is most powerful when we are the weakest.
The power of Godís word is the power of the innocent suffering
and death of Godís beloved Son. The
power of Godís word to change our hearts, our minds, and our lives is
the power of his suffering as he faced the sin that defeats us, crushes
us, and makes us afraid. The
word of God that comes down from heaven is never weak.
It is always strong. It
never fails in the thing for which God sent it, and that is always to
bring sinners like you and me the comfort, the peace, and the new life
that come from sins being forgiven.
The word of God produces fruit in us.
This fruit is love because God is love.
The love of God is known only through faith in Jesus Christ.
The written word and the preached word and the sacramental word
are all the vehicles of Christ, the Incarnate Word.
In other words, the Bible gives you Jesus, the sermon gives you
Jesus, your baptism gives you Jesus, and the Lordís Supper gives you
Jesus. Jesus is the one who
humbly submitted to his Fatherís will.
His submission won for us Godís approval.
By bearing our shame, he brought us glory.
This is the teaching of the word that comes down from above. It teaches us that the sins that crush us are washed away by
Jesusí blood. The Holy
Spirit teaches us this and in his holy teaching he turns our lives
around. He persuades us
that Godís word cannot be broken or set aside.
In the pain of discovering and facing our sin he soothes our pain
with the forgiveness of sins. When
we are the weakest we are the strongest.
God has seen us in our shame and he hasnít rejected us, but he
has embraced us and loved us in Christ.
Thatís power. Thatís
the power to believe and to live and to worship God.
Thatís the power to face sin and death and hell itself.
To know that God has seen me at my very worst when I wonít even
dare look at myself and that he has washed me clean by forgiving me my
sins for Christís sake, why there is no word from anyone anywhere that
can compare to this word. There
is no power from any source that is as great as this power.
For it is powerful to save everyone of us and Godís word does
not return to him empty.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus
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