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Reminiscing about the good old days is sometimes fun to do. The good old days were always better than they are now. Or maybe not. Even I can remember filling by father's VW Beetle with gas for 25 cents a gallon. Those were the good old days. Things were better back then.
In the good old days, there were no such thing as 'bath salts,' or 'suicide bombers,'and we all said the Pledge of Allegiance' everyday in school. Things were better back then.
I hadn't lived in Maine for very long before I began to hear the stories of the way winters in Maine used to be. 'We used to get so much snow that we could step out the second floor window and slide down the snow bank.' Things were worse back then.
I think that our Old Testament reading for this morning catches the prophet Isaiah doing a little reminiscing. Back in the good old days, God used to rescue His people from their enemies in dramatic ways. In the good old days, God would divide the sea right so that His people would walk right through it on dry ground and then when their enemy pursued them, He'd close the sea up again and drown the all. Those were the good old days.
It used to be, that God would sponsor incredible contests with the other gods. They could never get their fire started but He sent fire down fire from the sky and set the whole pile of wet wood ablaze. Those were the good old days. Things were better back then when God demonstrated His power in dramatic ways.
Isaiah felt that the time was ripe for God to do His thing again. 'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence, as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil, to make your name known among your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.'
Things are terribly wrong and the world is filled with incredible problems. The forces that are opposed to God's Word and God's people are powerful and persistent and they're wearing us down, drop by drop, advertisement by advertisement, ballot issue by ballot issue, court case by after court case. 'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down" the way you used to come down in the good old days. Set a fire, boil some water, shake the mountains. Establish your justice. Crush the evildoer.
Sounds good doesn't it? Wouldn't that be satisfying? 'Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down' and cut off the hands of the abortionists and the child molesters. And choke every drug dealer on his own pills and lock up all of the ponzi schemers. And bring all those who seek to destroy the institution of marriage to a blazing defeat in every election forever.
Maybe you've even prayed a prayer like this a time or two. In fact, didn't we all just pray a prayer like that? 'Stir up Your POWER O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by YOUR MIGHTY DELIVERANCE.'
There is an old saying, 'be careful what you pray for. You just may get it.' What's wrong with the world is not just 'out there,' its also 'in here.' The problems and troubles that we have in this world do not come only from the outside, they also come from the inside. The selfishness and greed, the envy and lust, the thirst for power and the willingness to oppress the weaker, poorer one to get what you want, it's all as alive in us as it is in the world. We may dress it up and camouflage it, disguise it, even to ourselves. But God sees it and its all the same to Him. Sin is sin. Evil is evil. Wrong is wrong. Guilty is guilty.
It's almost as if Isaiah catches himself in the middle of his prayer and begins to realize the implications of what he's praying for. If God were to rend the heavens and come down, and execute His perfect justice on the evildoer would mean that we would not survive either. We also would be roasted in the fire and boiled in the water and the mountain would fall on us too.
It is striking just how drastically the tone of Isaiah's prayer changes about half way through. He goes from begging God to execute His dramatic justice, to a humble, penitential confession of the sin of Israel. Now, he's not speaking to God about 'THEM' at all. Listen carefully to the pronouns he uses – 'WE,' 'OUR,' 'US.'
'Behold, you were angry, and WE sinned.' When God disciplined Israel, as a loving father disciplines his children, rather than turning from their sin 'they sinned' all the more. 'Behold, you were angry, and we sinned.' The more God disciplined them, the more they turned against God. And over time, their heart became harder and harder and harder. And Isaiah says, 'In our sins we have been a long time.' This has been going on for a long time.
What is there in your life that needs to be changed? Something needs to go because it is contrary to the Word of the Lord. Something needs to begin because it is God's will for you. How long have you been resisting, denying, putting it off for a long time? Your heart is getting harder and harder.
And so Isaiah question is this, 'shall we be saved'? Is there any hope that we can turn things around at this point? Or are we too far gone?
'We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.' In their sin, they tried to cover their guilt with their righteous deeds, their good works. It was like covering themselves with a 'polluted garment.' It was disgusting in the eyes of the Lord.
'We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.' Their faith in the Lord was so withered and dried up that just all it took was the slightest little temptation, and off they go, carried away with the wind, separated from the vine from which they receive their life.
'There is no one who calls on your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.' The heart of God's own people so hardened that they no longer call upon His name. They cannot 'rouse themselves' to take hold of their only hope, their only Savior, the only One who loves them.
God has hidden His face from them. And as long as God hides His face from man, there is no way for man to find Him. As long as God hides His face from us, we grasp at every sound and rustling that we hear, like blind men who are lost, yet all time thinking that we see just fine.
How's that for a confession of sin? How about if we started the Divine Service like that. 'Behold, you were angry and we sinned and in our sins we have been a long time. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all or righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.' Now, there's a confession of sins.
Now what sort of dramatic action shall we ask God for? Shall we ask Him to rend the heavens and come down with His divine justice and destroy the sinner? No! We shall pray that He come down with His steadfast love and that His tender mercy will triumph over His anger.
Appealing now to God's faithfulness and His mercy, Isaiah prays, 'But now, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please, we are all your people.' Isaiah's prayer proceeds from his faith. He trusts that even though he and all of God's people are unfaithful, God will be faithful. Isaiah simply entrusts the fate of himself and all Israel into God's hands.
God has answered Isaiah's prayer. He has 'rent the heavens and come down.' He has come down and done dramatic and awesome things. He came down from heaven and healed the sick and cured the diseased, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and legs to the lame simply by sound of His voice and the touch of His hand. How's that for dramatic Isaiah?
He cast out demons by the power of His name. He walked on the water and calmed the storm and commanded the fish to fill the nets. Now that's what we're talking about.
He even called the dead out of their grave, and they sat up and walked out, alive and well. Now that makes burning wood, boiling water and shaking the mountains rather humdrum and a little dull don't you think?
But even that was nothing. That was just the appetizer before the main course. By far the most spectacular and dramatic demonstration of His power was when He, the Creator of the world, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, humbled Himself and became a servant and gave Himself over into the hands of sinful men to be mocked, flogged and crucified. There is nothing more dramatic and spectacular and awesome than that.
We prayed, 'Stir up Your POWER O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by YOUR MIGHTY DELIVERANCE.' And He has answered our prayer.
With all of the power that is rightfully His, He rescued us from the threatening perils of OUR sins and saved us by His MIGHTY DELIVERANCE. By His mighty power, He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself. With a mighty deliverance, He endured God's anger for our sin and the punishment that we deserved. And God hid His face from Him. If you can swallow this, God hid His face from God. And God could not find God. 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me'?
Isaiah's critical question, 'shall we be saved'? is answered in the most dramatic way in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All of God's anger is exhausted on Jesus, and in God's anger, He was sinless. Jesus has turned the Father's wrath to mercy and His anger to joy. His mercy has triumphed over His justice. He makes 'His face to shine upon us.' He has stripped off our 'polluted garments' and clothed us with His righteousness.
God has answered our prayer in the past, in the present and in the future.
God has answered our prayer the past when He CAME to us, humble, lowly, riding on a donkey, bearing our sins in His body and blood. His power is hidden in weakness.
He answers our prayer in the present as He COMES to us today, here, now, humble, lowly, riding on bread wine, delivering the forgiveness for our sins with His body and blood. His power is hidden in the ordinary.
And He WILL answer our prayer on the Last Day, when He WILL 'rend the heavens and come down' in the fullness of His glory, riding on the clouds with all His angels, to render His final judgment on men and women and make all things new. His power will be fully revealed in His majestic glory.
'From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear; no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.'