Sermon for Advent Midweek Service, December 16, AD 2020

Isaiah 40:1-11

Here in Isaiah we have the Law and the Gospel given in clear terms as the Lord speaks through the prophet. As we just spoke in the Ten Commandments, the Law tells us what we should do and what God’s eternal will for us is. The Gospel, as we spoke in the Creed, tells us the Good News of what God has done for us, especially that He has forgiven us, as we cannot keep the Ten Commandments on our own. How is this possible? What is the connection between the law and the gospel? The very death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is Christ who is the center of Scripture’s message, as we will hear in this passage from Isaiah today.
The contrast between the Law and the Gospel comes in the first verses of our reading. Isaiah writes,

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
    Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
       that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
       that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

The first words we hear are of comfort, God is comforting his people. In history, God is speaking to the people of Jerusalem, who will soon be conquered and exiled to another nation for their sins. These people have turned away from God, following other gods. They have not followed the commandments. They forsook trust in God and decided to ally with pagan nations to protect themselves. Yet in the midst of this God tells them their warfare, their hard service, is ended. Their iniquity is pardoned. They have already received more than enough wrath for their sins. There is none left. Though they will be going into exile and punishment for their sins, that is not the last word.

This is not only for Israel at that time, but it is for us as well. Isaiah writes this from “your God” to “my people.” This is for any people of God. It is for those who God wishes to be in relationship with. It is for those whom Christ died for, which is everyone. This gospel message goes out that the sins of all have been forgiven. Yet like those people of Judah who went into exile, we don’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. Isaiah explains how this is possible.

God comes to us. We do not reach God with our keeping of the commandments, for we are corrupted by sin and cannot keep them ourselves. God has to come to us to save us from our sin. He comes through the desert, as Isaiah writes:

 “A voice cries:
       “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
    Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
       the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.”

God comes to us and nothing will hinder his purpose. It is out of his compassion that He comes, that He sends His Son to become man to save us. This is not a prophecy of something which is only spiritual, but it happened in real time. This is why all the gospel writers quote this scripture from Isaiah in describing John the Baptist. There in the wilderness John exhorted people to prepare the way of the Lord, to repent of their sins. Confessing and repenting, we find a gracious God coming to us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus came through the wilderness and was baptized by John in the Jordan, fulfilling His Father’s plan. There the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove, and a voice from heaven said “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then continued following His Father’s will for us, being tempted by the devil and then teaching and healing throughout his earthly ministry. Unlike the people of Israel whom God had adopted as son, who failed and turned away from God, Jesus, the Son of God by right, does everything His Father commands. Even going to His death on the cross.

For Jesus’ death is the glory of the Lord which is revealed. Isaiah continues,

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

This is a new revelation of the glory of the Lord which all people will see. This revelation is the crucifixion and death of Jesus for our sins. For there God is revealed to us in His glory. Who is this God we serve? It is Jesus Christ, the one who would die for us, the one who has compassion on us and forgives our sins. It is the God who sends His Son to pay for our sins with His own precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. It is the one we can trust to keep his promises to forgive us, because He is the one who rose from the dead, and we will rise with Him as well.

He promises  His Word will endure forever. His last Word of comfort will endure forever. Therefore, we should not depend on anything else. We should not fear, love, or trust any person over God. No one else can keep promises like God. For

All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
    The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
    The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

This world is still full of trouble, turmoil, and heartache. We suffer, our friends and family suffer, and it can be tempting to idolize people we love, or live in fear of those who would set themselves up over us. Yet no person lasts in this life. Even the greatest blooms like a flower and fades just a quickly. No one can withstand the mere breath of the Lord. Do not fear the world. Do not think of yourself greater than you ought. God comes to us. He has done the work, and it is only His promise which is eternal and secure. There is nothing more important, not health, not wealth, not fame or power or our own accomplishments. Only God’s Word will last.

This is the Word which we proclaim, which says Christ has died for us and on the third day risen again. This is the good news that Isaiah tells us to speak,

“Behold your God!”
     Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
       behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
    He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
       he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Behold your God, Jesus Christ, who has died for you and risen again. In his death he has defeated death, the devil, and sin. No more can God’s Law accuse you because all of God’s judgment has been put on Jesus. In passing the judgment for us and rising from the dead, Jesus has now been given all authority to rule. We will see Him return again in His glory on the last day, when He comes to judge the living and the dead.

We look to that final day of judgment with hope, because baptized and believing in Christ we will receive the reward our king is bringing. That very reward is the sheep He leads and gently tends. He carries the young and gently leads those with child. Our mighty Christ who has conquered death and the devil has done so in order that He might tenderly love and lead us, giving us comfort and peace. For the punishment that comes from the Law is not Christ’s last word. His final word is comfort and peace. The comfort and peace He won for us on the cross. So in Jesus the Law, what we should do, has been accomplished for us. In Jesus, we have the Gospel, the good news that our sins have been forgiven because He has already paid for them.

Now, like those who first heard Isaiah, although we are sinners, we have this Advocate who is greater than our sin. In His death and resurrection we see God’s promise. In His word we hear we are forgiven, as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. There is nothing more solid and eternal to trust in than that Word. Amen.

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