Sermon on Isaiah 42:14-21
Text: “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. 15 I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. 16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. 17 But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.
18 “Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see! 19 Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD? 20 You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen.” 21 It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious.
How do you wake up on the morning? Do you get up as soon as the alarm goes off or do you hit the snooze button to catch a couple more minutes of sleep? How well do you wake up? There are some people who spring right out of bed, ready to take on the day. There are others who need some time to get going. They have to have their coffee before they can even think about doing something. This morning, God issues a wake-up call to the people of Israel. As we study this portion of God’s Word, we are encouraged to AWAKEN TO THE LIGHT OF SALVATION. 1. God Uses The Alarming Threat Of The Law. 2. God Promises The Glorious Dawn Of Salvation In Christ.
As God addresses the people of Israel, he uses some harsh language to describe them. He says in verse 19, “Who is blind but my servant, and deaf like the messenger I send? Who is blind like the one in covenant with me, blind like the servant of the LORD?” God does not mean that they were physically blind and deaf. Rather, he explains what he meant in verse 20, “You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen.” Even though God had shown them exactly who he was and what he had done for them, they didn’t pay any attention to him. Even though God had spoken to them very clearly through Moses and the other prophets, the people weren’t listening to what he said to them.
Instead of listening to God and following him, they had turned to the false gods of the land of Canaan. Earlier in Isaiah 42, God said, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.” This is a reiteration of the First Commandment that God had given to them, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Obviously, in spite of God’s clear Word and the fact that God had so often taken care of them and protected them, the Israelites had decided that wanted something different. They wanted to participate in the idolatrous practices of the nations around them.
Listen to the wake-up call that God gave to the people in verse 17, “But those who trust in idols, who say to images, ‘You are our gods,’ will be turned back in utter shame.” Instead of finding their joy and happiness in following these false gods, they would face utter shame. This would happen during their nation’s history when other nations would invade and defeat them. This would happen to them personally when they died. Then, they would see the true God face to face and would not experience his love and blessing. Instead, they would be filled with the shame of having rejected him. They would face the full force of his anger against sin, as it is described in verse 15, “I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.” Even though the nation of Israel had so many advantages, they were heading down the wrong path. They were in desperate need of a wake-up call.
We see the same thing happening when Jesus was on the earth. We think of the religious leaders of Israel. They knew God’s Word. They knew that a Savior would be coming to rescue them. However, they overlooked the many promises of God and, instead, focused on the law that God spoke. They came up with their own set of rules to follow. Their thought was that, if they did these things, God would be pleased with them and would give them eternal life. Then Jesus came on the scene. Instead of rejoicing that the Savior had come, they refused to believe in him. Even though they could see him and the miracles that he performed, they didn’t pay attention. Even though they heard what Jesus said, they refused to listen to him. Jesus gave them wake-up call after wake-up call. Instead of listening to that call, they tried to shut off the alarm clock by putting Jesus to death. Those who refused to listen to the alarming threat of the law are now facing the utter shame that God threatened.
God continues to send the wake-up call of the law to us, as well. We need it because sometimes we are as deaf and blind as the people that Isaiah prophesied to. We may not bow down to idols as they did, but there are other things that we place in front of God. There are sins that we find ourselves doing again and again, because the devil has convinced us that this is where true happiness can be found. There are other things that, in and of themselves, are not bad things, but they become more important to us than our relationship with God. It might be our leisure time. It might be our finances. If they displace God in our lives, they have become our idols. We also can become deaf to God’s Word, when we think that there is nothing more to learn. It’s always the same thing again and again. We become bored with God’s Word. We need the law’s alarm to wake us up so that we do not lose our faith and end up in the utter shame of hell.
It might appear to us that God doesn’t carry out his threats when the law is preached. The unbeliever sins and nothing happens to them. At times, they even seem to prosper from their sinful actions. God deals with this type of thinking in verse 14, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” Rather than God overlooking the sin, God has been exercising great patience. God uses the picture of the pain of a woman giving birth. There are no women who joyfully undergo the pain of childbirth. There are none who cherish it. However, they know that, at the end of the pain, they will have a baby to hold in their arms. The same holds true for the wake-up call of the law from God. He does not want to punish people for their sins. So, though it may cause pain, he will send out the alarming call of the law so that we see our sins and turn to him as his dear children. The law is there to wake us up to appreciate what God wants to give to us.
Instead of the utter shame that we deserve, God wants to give us something wonderful. He says in verse 16, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” For those whose hearts have been prepared by the law, there will be wondrous changes. First of all, he says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them.” God says that he will lead the blind. These are the people who are troubled by their own sinfulness and the dark despair it brings. They can’t find deliverance from the sin-burdened conscience. God promises to lead them by “ways they have not known.” He will guide them “along unfamiliar paths.” What is referred to here is the wonderful gospel message. The reason that this is an unknown way is that we would never discover it on our own. God must reveal his gospel message to us. He does so in his Word and in the sacraments. God promises that he will create opportunities for people to hear the truth of Christ.
As people are led down this previously unknown path, God says, “I will turn the darkness into light for them.” By nature, we stumble about in the darkness of sin. When we hear the gospel message, we are brought into God’s wonderful light. This is only possible because the true Light, Jesus Christ, has come into the world. Jesus isn’t just a light to lead us out of the darkness, as if we follow his example and we find our way out. He is the Light that had banished the darkness. He came into this sin-darkened world and lived as the Light for all. Jesus always put his relationship with his Father as his first priority. He lived a perfect life in our place. Then, on what seemed to be the darkest day in the world’s history, Jesus shone in all his brightness. As Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he was paying for all of our sins. He was suffering the utter shame of being forsaken by his Father in the pains of hell. He suffered this, so that we would never have to. Then, just as the sun breaks the darkness of the night, Jesus rose from the dead on Easter morning. He won salvation for all people. He wants all to walk in the light of forgiveness. Because of this, he sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to open eyes that are blind. We walk with him in his light while we are here on the earth. We will be with the eternal Light when we are in the glories of heaven. God has promised the glorious dawn of salvation in Christ to all who believe. By his grace, we have seen this light. This is all to God’s glory. This is his eternal pleasure. As Isaiah wrote, “It pleased the LORD for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious.” (Verse 21)
Since we have been brought into the light of salvation, we are encouraged to live in the light. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” Because we want to thank God for all that he has done for us, we look for those things that are pleasing to him. We want to live for him. May we continue to study his Word, for it is there that we find our motivation for serving him and what we can do to serve him.
If there is something that you want to do, you set an alarm clock so that you don’t oversleep. This doesn’t mean that, at first, you are happy to hear the alarm going off. You have been sleeping soundly. However, once you are awake, you are able to go and do what you were looking forward to doing. The same is true of God’s Word. By nature, we are comfortably sleeping in our sins. The law is the alarm clock that is meant to startle us from our slumber. At first, we don’t appreciate the law’s message. However, then God comes to us with something so exciting that we don’t want to miss it. He shows us the dawn of salvation that is in Christ Jesus. Now we have the opportunity to walk in that light. Paul appears to be quoting from an early Christian hymn in Ephesians 5. It says, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14) We thank God that he has awoken us from our sleep and now we walk in his eternal light. Amen.
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