St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Be Strong! Do Not Fear!

Sermon on Isaiah 35:4-7

Text: Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

What are you concerned about? What are those things that keep you up at night? Each of us has different things that nag us in the back of our mind. We get busy and they get pushed to the background for a time. However, when we least expect it, there they are, front and center. How blessed we are that we have a God that loves us and want to calm those fears. This morning, God tells us, “BE STRONG! DO NOT FEAR!” There are two reasons for this. 1. Your God Has Come. 2. He Has Done Great Things.

Our text for this morning comes to us from a section of the book of Isaiah that is filled with prophecies of judgement. While there is one chapter that foretells judgment on the nations that neighbored Israel, the rest of the chapters are directed at Israel. There is a long list of the ways that the people had abandoned the Lord. They range from their leaders not showing the type of leadership for the people to the fact that they had added their own rules to what God had given them. The people, instead of relying on the Lord to protect and defend them, had put their trust in their allies. In spite of the Lord’s repeated calls to repentance, they had stubbornly refused to listen. One day, the Lord’s judgment would be poured out on the people. It would seem to them as though all were lost. They were abandoned. They were on their own.

With this as the background, you can see why the words of our text would have sounded so sweet to the ears of the people of Israel. They were not abandoned. The Lord promises that he will come to them, not as an angry judge, put as one who would be there for his people.

God told Isaiah to tell the people, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” (Verse 4) God was going to come to the aid of his people. First of all, we note that God said that he would come with vengeance and divine retribution. All of those nations that had plagued his people would face God’s judgment. This would happen when Isaiah spoke these words. Even more so, they would be fulfilled when the Babylonian Empire, which would conquer the land and carry its occupants into captivity, would be conquered by the Persian Empire. Even though it might have seemed as though all were lost, God promises to be there for his people with his divine retribution.

This is comforting to us, as well. When we see how many times and in how many ways God’s people are attacked, whether physically or verbally, for their beliefs, it is easy to get down. It may seem, as though there is no end to it. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed by the constant attacks. However, God makes this same promise to us. The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, wrote, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:6) The congregation in Thessalonica was under constant attack for their faith. Paul promised that the Lord took note and would take care of it. We have this same assurance, as well. In God’s good time and place, he will deal with those who attack his people. Even though things seem to be spiraling out of control, God is noticing and will deal with it. We, also, want to note that God will take care of it. It is not up to us to see that vengeance it meted out. That’s God’s business, not ours.

However, this was not the primary purpose of God coming for his people. God tells them, first and foremost, that he would come to save them. Yes, the people would go away into captivity. It might seem, at times, as though all hope was lost. Yet, God promised the people of Israel that he would come to rescue them. Though they were in captivity for seventy years, the day did come and the people were freed and allowed to go back to their homeland. God held true to his word and the people were saved. This is why, in spite of all that was going on around them, the people could be strong and not be afraid.

God has also come to us on a divine rescue mission, as well. We, also, were held in captivity by our sins. There was no way that we could ever have broken sin’s hold in us. So, God made the promise that he would come and save mankind. He didn’t just make the promise. He fulfilled it. That is why Jesus came into the world. He began his divine rescue mission when he was born. As he took on human flesh and blood, he made himself subject to all of the laws of his Father that you and I are. There is a notable difference, though. While you and I have failed to keep God’s commands, Jesus did. He was doing that on our behalf. So that we might be rescued from sin’s chains, Jesus went to the cross, where he paid for every single sin that has ever been committed. He showed that he had won the victory when he rose from the grave. That was an announcement to the world that all has been completed. We have been set free. This is especially comforting when we are bothered by a sin that we have committed. There are those sins that we have committed, maybe it was years ago, that continue to bother us. Their memory pokes at us. Maybe, at times, they keep us up at night. The devil whispers in our ears, ‘How can you call yourself a Christian? Look at what you have done.’ It is easy to get overwhelmed by their memory. How blessed we are to hear Jesus say to us, ‘Be strong! Do not fear! I have paid for that sin, as well. Rest in the love that I have for you.’ We praise our God who has come to us and rescued us.

God continues to encourage his people by telling them the great things that he will do. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” (Verses 5&6) God uses pictures of healing to show that his people would be restored. When we hear these words, our minds go to the many miracles that Jesus performed. Read though the gospels and see how many times Jesus healed those who were brought to him. We had the example in our Gospel Lesson this morning. (Mark 7:31-37) When the people saw what Jesus had done, they exclaimed, “He has done everything well . . . He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:37)

What a wonderful picture of what Jesus has done for us. Yes, there will be times when we will be healed from various diseases. God may work through medical procedures to heal us. There may even be times when, to the human eye, there was no hope. However, God may work a miracle in our lives and heal us. However, this is also a picture of the spiritual healing that Jesus brought about in our lives. We are blind to what God has done for us, but the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see. We were deaf to the Lord’s calling, but the Holy Spirit has opened our ears to hear of our Savior’s amazing grace. Our tongues were mute, but now we speak, sing, and shout the Lord’s praises for all that he has done for us. When we see the love that God has shown to us in bringing out our salvation, we exclaim with the people of Jesus’ day, “He has done everything well.”

There is another picture that God uses to show what he has done for us that would have been especially meaningful to the original readers. “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.” (Verses 6&7) To get why this picture would have been so wonderful to them, you need to remember what much of the land of Israel and the surrounding region was/is like. There is very little rain that falls upon the land for a majority of the year. For the most part it is an arid land. If you came across a place where you would find water gushing forth, you would have discovered a special place. It meant life, both for yourself and your livestock. Also, where there was moisture, there would be vegetation. For the people, this picture was a picture of life.

What an apt picture to describe the miracle that Jesus has worked in our lives. By nature, we are that arid land. There was not a spark of life in us. However, when we are brought to faith, this spring of water breaks forth in us. Jesus said in John 4:14, “The water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Where we were once dead, now we have become alive. We have life now and will have eternal life. Because this water of life is flowing in us, we can and do produce fruit, that is to say, good works. Now we have the opportunity to bring forth those acts in our lives that show our thankfulness to God for all that he has done for us. God can also use us to bring those around us to faith. The water that he caused to bring us to life can be used to bring life to others.

As people traveled through the desert, they might see something that looked like it was water. They would hurry to that place, only to be disappointed. They had seen a mirage. The wonderful thing about this life giving water that Jesus offers is that is not a mirage. It is real. It actually gives life to us. We can count on it. Since we have the reassurance, we can be strong. We have no reason to fear for this life giving water will always be with us.

So, what about those things that make us afraid? What about those things that keep us up at night? They may seem to be so large that they threaten to overshadow everything else in our lives. However, we have God’s reassurance of his continued aid. How do we know that God loves us enough to take care of all of our troubles? For the answer, we are reminded that our God has come to this earth with his salvation. He has done what was impossible for us to do on our own. He has brought us to faith and made us his own. Since he has done this, we can be sure that he will be right there beside us, no matter what troubles we might face. He loves us and cares for us and will always be there for us. That is we can take courage when he says to us, “Be strong! Do not fear!” We thank our God for his words of assurance and love. Amen.