November 5, 2017

Pastor Bernt P. Tweit

Gospel Lesson; Matthew 25:1-13

Epistle Lesson; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Sermon Text; Isaiah 52:1-6

So, the Word of God we will focus on for today is our Old Testament Lesson for All Saints' Day. It is taken from Isaiah, chapter 52, looking at the first six verses. This is in Jesus' name.

Awake, awake, clothe yourself with strength, O Zion. Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, you holy city, for never again will the uncircumcised and the unclean enter into you.

Shake off the dust. Get up and take your seat, O Jerusalem.

Loosen the chains from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion.

Indeed, this is what the LORD says: You were sold for nothing, so you will be redeemed without money.

For this is what the LORD God says: In the beginning my people went down to Egypt to stay there for a while. Later Assyria oppressed them without cause.

“Now what do I have here?” asks the LORD. Yes, my people have been taken away for nothing. Their rulers howl in mockery, says the LORD. My name is continually despised all day.

Therefore my people will know my name. So on that day, they will know that I am the one – the one who is saying, “Here I am!”

This is God's Word.

I am going to be talking about four things.

-I am going to talk about being captive.

-I am going to talk about having freedom.

-I am going to talk about All Saints' Day.

-And, before I close out, I am going to briefly talk about Christmas.

It was in the chapter right before our text, chapter 51 of Isaiah, that God's people were praying to God, and saying, “God, please wake up. Wake. Awake.”

God never slumbers.

God never sleeps.

He is not the One who had fallen asleep. It was God's people who had fallen asleep. And so, come to Isaiah, chapter 52, God is using the prophet Isaiah to come to His people, and tell them to wake up from their slumbering, and to wake up from their sleeping. God is going to use the prophet Isaiah to do that.

Now, the prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before Jesus was born. The prophet Isaiah was a preacher to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, where Jerusalem is. It was during the early stages of his ministry that the Northern Kingdom was carried off into captivity. They were captives, and they were never going to return, again. God was using Isaiah, the prophet, to share this message with the Southern Kingdom so that the identical thing, the same thing would not happen to them. He was going to use Isaiah to share words of warning with the people of Judea.

In our text, we really have a whole bunch of words that drop people into two categories. It is those who are 'captive', and it is those who are 'set free'. So, these words, either by implication, or actually are there, are talked about in our text for today.

Let's just consider those who are 'captive', first. There are words like: They are weak. They are wearing sack cloth. The Babylonians entered in to them. In our text it talks about “the uncircumcised and the unclean”, which are the Babylonians, the Gentiles. They were sitting in dust. They were wearing chains around their neck. They were sold for nothing. All of those words talk about God's people who were 'captive'.

On the other hand, our text for today talks about those who have been 'set free', and have freedom. Here are words, and phrases that are used to depict that. They are strong. They are wearing beautiful garments. The unclean will never enter them, again. So, the Babylonians will never enter in to them, again. They will sit on a throne, or chair. Those chains that once were around their neck will be loosened, and they “will be redeemed without money”.

Now Isaiah just glances over it, but it is worth talking about. He talks about how God's people were captive in Egypt, and also in Assyria. You remember the account from scripture. I will remind you how Joseph went down to Egypt. Joseph saved up a whole bunch of grain so that when a famine came, many people, including God's people, were saved.

Joseph was held in such high esteem to Pharaoh, when Pharaoh found out Joseph's family was still living, he invited Joseph's family down to Egypt. “Come down and live here. I will give you the choicest of lands.”

And so, that is what Joseph's family did.

Joseph died, and the Pharaoh who loved Joseph died. Time went by (in fact 300 years went by). A new Pharaoh came to power who saw the Israelites were becoming so numerous that the Pharaoh said, “We need to enslave those people. We need to make sure they are captive.”

They were forced to hard labor. For four hundred years, Joseph's extended family, God's people, the Israelites, were enslaved in Egypt. They were enslaved, until God raised up Moses, who came to set God's people free.

The same thing happened when Isaiah was preaching these words to the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was being carried off into captivity by the Assyrians. They were captives now. And, they were never, ever, ever again going to be free, because they never returned from captivity.

God wanted Isaiah to tell the people of his day not to fall asleep. “Don't fall into those same things”, because God didn't want His people to become captives, and to become slaves.

So, what was God really doing here? He was telling His people to wake up. “Rise from your slumber. You are sleepwalking. Don't do that, anymore.”

My wife, Katie, prepared our children for certain events. She would teach them how to unlock the door, open the door, and how to get out of the house in case there was a fire. Now, I don't know about you, at your homes, and at your houses but, when my two kids were young, they would sleepwalk at night. My son, Benjamin, couldn't unlock the door, during broad daylight, but wouldn't you know, when he was sleepwalking, he could go to that door. He could unlock it. He could open the door. And, he would be about ready to go out into the night. Praise God, we were there to stop him.

The point is this. Just as your kids, or you, may have once upon a time sleep walked, God is telling His people, “Don't sleepwalk. I need you to wake up. I need you to pay attention, because I don't want you to become captives. I want you to have freedom.”
It is interesting that one of the verses for our text for today, verse five, is quoted by the Apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, chapter two. This is the larger context Isaiah is quoted, when Paul addressed the Jews directly. He says,

“Now then you, the one who is teaching someone else, do you fail to teach yourself? You who preach, “Do not steal”, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery”, do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in The Law, bring shame on God by breaking The Law? Yes, as it is written, (now here is the quote), 'God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles, because of you.'”

So, because the people were sleepwalking, because they had fallen asleep, because they weren't calling upon the name of God, God's name was getting a bad reputation, even among the Gentiles, even among the Assyrians, even among the Babylonians.

God is telling His people to wake up.

I share with you a mental picture. This is a picture of being captive and sleepwalking. As God shares these words with us today, it really is a picture of me. And, it really is a picture of you. God called you to be His own, in the waters of baptism. He called you by name. He gave you a beautiful garment to wear. And yet, what do we do? We walk around in despair. We walk around, shouting at God, “God, where are you? I need you.”

But, it is not God who has fallen asleep. It is we who have fallen asleep in despair, fear, and guilt. God is coming to us, and He is telling us to wake up from our slumber.

You may have heard this story about Katie Luther. Katie Luther once came downstairs for breakfast, to meet her husband Martin. She was wearing a black dress. Martin said “Who died?”

Katie Luther said, “God died.”

Martin Luther said, “God did not die. Well, we know He died on the cross to pay for our sins, but He rose from the grave. He lives!”

After he ranted for awhile, and he stopped, Katie Luther said, “Well, Martin, by the way you are acting, you are acting as if God has died. You need to wake up.”

Luther woke up from his slumber. He woke up from his depression. And, as God shares these words with the nation of Judea, through Isaiah, they arose from their slumber, as well.

God's people had been captive. They were carried off into captivity by the Babylonians. But, seventy years later, God used King Cyrus. God's people did return to Jerusalem. They did return to Judea. King Cyrus even financed the money for them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem for them to rebuild the temple.

What happened? They were returned, and they were redeemed without money. The word redeem simply is the act that is being talked about here. It is God who is the One who is acting. God in His grace, and God in His love, and God in His mercy acted, when He saw His people in captivity. He saved them. He redeemed them. He freed them. He restored them. And, they came back to their own homeland.

Talking about that act of redemption, it is Peter in his epistle in The New Testament that says this about that act of redemption. He says,

“You know that you were redeemed from your empty way of life, handed down to you from your forefathers. Not with things that pass away, such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”

We once were captives, because of sin. But, it is through the act of redemption that we now have freedom. We have freedom in Christ.

Which gets me to All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is the day in which we celebrate all believers who have died, trusting in Jesus, as their Savior. Some of them are your loved ones. Today, we especially commemorate our loved ones, here at Holy Cross, who during this past year, through their faith in Jesus, went to be with Him in Heaven, for all eternity. We rejoice for the salvation, and freedom they have in Christ.

In the last verse of our text, God says, “...they will know that I am the One – the One who is saying, 'Here I am'!”

God does not abandon us, and He will never leave us. He will never forsake us.

Which gets me to the last thing I said I would talk about. I said I would briefly touch on Christmas. Did you know it is only 50 days, until Christmas Day? Only 50 days! The reason I bring that up is because the verses right after our text for today, Isaiah, chapter 52, verses seven through ten, are the words that are used for The Old Testament Lesson on Christmas Day. Do you know why they are used for The Old Testament Lesson on Christmas Day? It is because it focuses on freedom. It focuses on words that are associated with freedom from our text. It focuses on that we have a Savior who is coming to save us from our sin, so that we can have the forgiveness of sin, and eternal life in Heaven. Our text for today is a wake up call. It is a wake up call for us to not slumber and sleep. It is a wake up call for us to gather around God's Word, and Sacraments, and to be strengthened in our faith, so that we have freedom in Christ!