Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
15. December 2010
Advent Midweek III
“The Holy Way”
+ IN NOMINE JESU +
The book of Isaiah, the prophet of the LORD, has often been called “the Fifth Gospel.” We use the term gospel in many ways. In its simplest meaning, gospel means “good news.” The Greek for gospel is euongeliun, the origin of the English “evangelical.” The irony of the English is that what is often termed “evangelical” is far from good news. So called, evangelicals belittle Christ and his atonement, instead concentrating of “your best life now” and an ignorant obsession with Zionism, the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem.
When Isaiah is called the Fifth Gospel, what is meant is the proper sense of the Gospel. In a more specific sense, the “gospel” is the only truly good news, namely, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we have learned through our brief consideration these past three weeks and as we will continue to learn, is that Isaiah always has Christ, his bride the church, and the final days in view. His prophecies don’t deal with whether you will win the lottery. He doesn’t care whether you will live to 60. He doesn’t have much to prophesy regarding the ascendency of China or the phenomenal growth of Islam in the world.
When Isaiah prophesies, he tells you about what matters. Two weeks ago, he told you about our Lord’s establishing of the church and her culmination in the heavenly host as a mountain on the top of mountains. Last week, he told you about life within this church, where our Lord brings true peace on earth. Today, Isaiah has told you how he changes the world to bring his church into existence.
Within our world, this is no holy way. Our society says marriage is a contract to be freely entered into and exited at the whim of boredom or lust. Our society says theft is good if in the name of business competition. Our society says that greed is good because it motivates productivity. Our society says hatred is good if used to gain political office. The rejection of God’s holy will, engraved on tablets of stone and our hearts, is more common than not.
Lest we think we’ve got it better, the Holy Scriptures consider us just as ignorant of God’s Law. We hate, steal, covet as well as the next guy. Our eyes are jammed up with the logs that make our brother’s seem like twigs. Isaiah gets it. His revelation understands the state of our flesh. He calls us a wilderness and a wasteland. He calls us a desert, blind, deaf, lame, and mute. He calls us parched ground, a thirsty land. We have weak hands and feeble knees. We are unclean and fools.
None of these descriptions are apt for a saint of God. Where God’s will dwells richly, there cannot be wilderness or desert. God’s Word does create one blind, deaf, lame, or mute. God’s righteousness does not make one weak or feeble. God’s presence does not make one unclean. God’s voice does not make one a fool.
The only way such descriptions could be apt for us is if God’s does not completely dwell within our hearts, head, and hands. As Luther admonishes us, consider yourself according to the Ten Commandments. Put your whole life, including your actions and your thoughts to the test. Even if you don’t agree with our liturgy, even a quick survey of your day will yield the conclusion that we are all “poor, miserable sinners.” Only the dishonest will consider themselves righteous in any thought, word or deed. Only those who are willfully ignorant of God’s Law written on their hearts and revealed in the sacred Scriptures, will consider themselves worthy of the title Christian.
Repent. Turn away from your sin and fall at the feet of Christ. Cry tears of sorrow for your rebellion or neglect of His righteous way. Plead for mercy and suffer yourself of any self-righteous justification. You are not just. Repent. Turn away from your navel-gazing and look to Jesus.
How does Jesus change you? How does the Christ, the holy one of God, make right what your sin has wronged? If one word could describe the Isaiah’s vision, the Gospel, and the good news, it would be reversal. Isaiah says the glory of the Lord will appear. This glory is incarnate Christ, the Son of God, the excellency of the Father. Jesus is our God who comes with vengeance. He comes with recompense of God. What is recompense? It is your bail out, your redemption, and your salvation. It’s God taking care the problem. He sees your “poor, miserable” state and takes care of it. He pays off the debt through the righteousness of Jesus. He redeems your life through the blood of Christ. He saves you from sin, death, and Satan through the death and resurrection of His own flesh and blood, the one Isaiah calls, Immanuel.
It’s this Jesus, the one born of the womb of Mary and of the conception of the Holy Spirit, who changes things. Its Jesus who reverses the wickedness of the world, the corruption of our nature, and the paths of evil we so often tread. Jesus makes the wasteland of our flesh glad, the desert of our heart rejoices and blossom as the rose, abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing. Jesus makes the weak hands that often stray to the strength of His will. Jesus makes our feeble knees firm so that we might resist the weight of the world we often carry. Jesus makes our fearful-heart into a strong heart, confident in waiting for the vengeance and redemption of the Lord. Jesus comes and he saves you!
Our eyes blind to the presence of the Lord are opened. Our ears deaf to the Words of the Book are unstopped. We see and hear our Lord on his holy mountain and we believe. This belief is not simply knowledge. It is a new creation. Behold the old is gone, the new has come. The lame leap like deer at the good news of Jesus. The tongue of the dumb sing for joy at the birth of our savior. In the wilderness of this fallen creation, new waters burst forth, saving streams in the desert, the parched ground a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water.
These are the saving waters of your Baptism. Baptism now saves you, because those waters were instituted by Christ as a saving flood. These waters drown your spiritual blindness and deafness. These waters reverse the parched land of your heart into a fertile crescent for faith in the Word. These waters wash way the dross and leave behind what Isaiah calls a holy way, the Highway of Holiness. Christ shows you this way, for he is the Way. He redeems you so that you shall walk there. Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray.
Roads go somewhere. Where does the holy way lead? By this way, the Way of Christ, the way of the redeemed, the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing. This walk has begun now. We sing little ditties as we walk along the path towards the heavenly Zion. Zion is gathered to the Way as she walks towards the joy of heaven. She walks, with joy being piled on her head.
Zion walks toward Zion. “Are we there yet?” the children cry. No, not yet, but soon. Soon, we will arrive. Soon, we will dwell with everlasting joy. Soon, no lion or ravenous beast will be found. Soon, Zion will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. No more will he let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorn infest the ground.
When the prophet says, sorrow and sighing shall flee away, he is speaking of the place where there will be great joy, peace, love, delight, and mirth; where there is eternal life, unspeakable glory, and inexpressible beauty; where there are eternal tabernacles and the untold splendor of the King and those good things which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived (1 Cor 2:9; Isa 64:4); where there are spiritual bedchambers and celestial apartments (cf. John 14:2); where there are virgins bearing bright lamps (Matt 25:1-3) and guests in wedding garments (Matt 22:11-13); where many are the possessions of our Lord (cf. Matt 3:17) and storehouses of the King. (John Chrysostom, Homily 55.6 on Matthew, PG 58:540)
For now, these things remain: the prowling lion pursues us. Sadness over our sin haunts us. Weakness at the torment of the world causes us to sigh. Soon, these will end. These too shall pass. Our eyes see this truth. Our ears hear our Lord and know he comes. Despite the jackals, we walk this holy way, leaping like dear. Despite our formerly dumb tongue, we sing our songs of joy. And when we finally arrive at the heavenly Zion, great hymns will break forth. Our songs are brief and weak. There the songs will ring out long and with great gusto. We shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.
This prophetic vision from Isaiah is good news. This is Gospel. This is our source of hope. When the road is wearisome, take heart in our Lord’s promise. Push through the fatigue of this life with hope for the life to come. The journey may be long, the exile a burden. Have hope for the way of Christ is the holy way. Jesus came for your and will come again. The Advent of our Lord is upon us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
+ SOLI DEO GLORIA +