Pastor Gary Wong, December 27, 2020
20 "Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save. 21 Declare what is to be, present it-- let them take counsel together. Who foretold this long ago, who declared it from the distant past? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. 22 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. 24 They will say of me, 'In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.'" All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. 25 But in the LORD all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.
Have you heard? There’s a war being waged on Christmas. Some businesses prohibit their employees from saying, “Merry Christmas!” Cities are being threatened with lawsuits for displaying Nativity scenes on public property. In some places, putting up a tree is considered a micro-aggression. Well, Christians are fighting back. Rather than “Happy Holidays” people are boldly saying, “Merry Christmas!” The Hallmark channel is growing in viewership, in part, because they unabashedly promote Christmas. For the last two months, they’ve been showing Christmas themed programs 24/7. Yet, while these shows feature many Christmas traditions such as gingerbread houses, eggnog and mistletoe, they miss the mark. The actors usually say that Christmas is all about being with the people you love and sharing love with others. Other than a choir singing a few bars of “Joy to the World” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, you’ll never hear the name of Jesus, the real reason for the season.
In that way, Hallmark is a casualty on the war on Christmas. In our diverse society, people have many different viewpoints. We are encouraged to express our viewpoints; but if they don’t agree with what is trending in the media, on Twitter, in Hollywood and on TV, watch out! In our polarized society, we are branded as narrow minded, intolerant bigots and racists if we disagree with the norm, especially when it comes to religion. When we say that homosexuality is a sin and abortion is murder, our statements are branded as hate speech, even though that is what the Bible says. Why do so many people react so negatively to someone who believes in God and his Word? That animosity actually comes naturally. The Bible teaches that we were born with a sinful nature that makes us God’s enemies. In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us, “The sinful mind is hostile to God” (Rom. 8:7).
So, what does an unbeliever do? How does he go against his natural knowledge of God? He creates his own god. He makes the kind of god he wants—not an omniscient, omnipotent, holy God who hates and punishes sin; rather, he fashions a god who is like a gentle, kindly grandfather or uncle who merely winks at bad behavior. Unbelievers want to think that God is all about love and that God would never condemn anyone to hell for one mistake or poor choice. Sadly, God’s people are not immune from that kind of thinking. We sometimes fail to acknowledge and worship him as the one true and only God. We try to cut him down to our size and try to dictate to him how things should be. That was the problem with the people to whom God had sent Isaiah to proclaim his Word. Because of their idolatry, Isaiah prophesied that the people of Judah would be taken captive by the Babylonians and would spend seventy years in exile. Yet, at the beginning of the chapter from which our text is taken, Isaiah shared some good news. He prophesied that God would use Cyrus, the King of Persia, to free the Israelites. Not only would Cyrus grant the Jews safe passage back home, he would finance their trip from his own treasury; even the Egyptians would give their wealth to the Jews.
How did God’s people respond to Isaiah’s message? We might have thought that they would have believed God’s prophet and would thank the Lord for showing them mercy. Now, Isaiah doesn’t record the people’s response; but it’s pretty apparent from what Isaiah wrote that they must have complained or doubted that God could or would do these things. The Lord was swift in his response. Without mincing words, God rebuked his people, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker” (Isa. 45:9). Basically, God is saying, “Who do you think you are?” More importantly, “Who do you think I am?” God then answers his own question. He declares, “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it” (v.12). God rebukes arrogant people who think they are the equals of God and who mistakenly think they have the right to question what God does and why he does it. As Job came to realize, we who have been created by God have no right to question our Creator. God is beyond our comprehension. God himself says, “For my thought are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8, 9). Isaiah acknowledges the majesty and mystery of our God when he declares, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself” (Isa. 45:15). Now, nature and our consciences tell us that there is a God. But unless God chooses to reveal himself to us, he would remain hidden forever and we would never be blessed with his salvation. In his wisdom and grace, God reveals himself in his Word. God peels back the veil so we can have a glimpse of his splendor.
In our text, God calls out unbelievers and those who question God and his Word. The Lord commands those who “pray to gods who cannot save” to “gather together … and … take counsel together” (v. 20). In so many words, God challenges them, “Tell us what is going to happen in the future.” God’s challenge is met with deafening silence. Like so many fake idols made out of wood or stone, they do not and cannot utter a single syllable. God silences his critics and reminds us, “There is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none other but me” (v.21). So, what does God reveal about himself? First, God describes himself as a righteous God. He says, “They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength’” (v.24). He is holy and perfect, and will always do what is right and just. Our God is also a jealous God who guards his glory. In our text he declares, “I am God, and there is no other” (v.22). Elsewhere he proclaims, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa. 42:8).
Since God is a righteous God, only the righteous can live in his presence. Folks—that is a huge problem. Each of us was born an imperfect, unholy sinner. Isaiah expresses our predicament when God granted him a vision of the Lord sitting on his heavenly throne. The prophet cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isa. 6:5). At that moment, Isaiah was afraid that God would strike him dead because he had seen our holy God with sinful eyes. We should have that same fear. Just like the people of Isaiah’s day, we also have unclean lips. Our every thought, word, and action is covered with sin. Isaiah declares, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). Because we are sinners, we deserve to spend eternity in hell where “[our] worm will not die nor will [our] fire be quenched” (Isa. 66:24).
God’s Word makes it perfectly clear that we cannot save ourselves. Our only hope is God. God does not disappoint. While he describes himself as a righteous God, he also reveals himself as our Savior. Our Lord is a God of free and faithful love. In love, he promised to send a Savior who would crush the devil’s head even as Satan would strike the Savior’s heel. God made that promise to Adam and Eve immediately after they disobeyed God and brought sin and death into the world. How do we know that, since none of us was there? God recorded that promise in the Bible. In our text, God tells us that he “foretold [the Savior] long ago” and that it was he “who declared it from the distant past” (v.21). How could God’s people trust this promise? God guaranteed it with an oath. Since there is no authority higher than God, God swore by himself: “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word will not be revoked” (v.23).
Our faithful God, who cannot lie or go back on his Word, fulfilled this greatest of promises when he sent Jesus into this world to be our Savior. Because of his love, the Son of God came from heaven to earth to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place and then credited his righteousness to our accounts. Jesus then gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins. Paul tells us, “[God] made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Because of Jesus, God has declared the world, “Not guilty!” God offers the gift of salvation in our text. God says, “Turn to me and be saved” (v.22). To whom does God offer this gift? He invites “all [the] ends of the earth” (v.22). Our exclusive God makes an all-inclusive invitation and promise to all people. Whoever believes that Jesus Christ is their Savior from sin shall not perish, but will have eternal life. Unbelievers who seek God are saved by the Holy Spirit working through the gospel. Believers turn to God in repentance, assured that God forgives all of their sins for Jesus’ sake. Isaiah tells us that those who reject Jesus will be put to shame. On the other hand, Jesus will make believers shine like the stars with the light of his love.
In the meantime, we fight the good fight of faith. We strengthen our faith with the means of grace. We glorify God in all we do and declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. During the Christmas season, the message that we have one God and one Savior sometimes is hidden in our secular celebrations. Even better than saying “Merry Christmas”, we can be like the shepherds that first Christmas night who spread the word concerning what they had been told about the Christ child. In the days when television and our society weren’t so politically correct, a TV special proclaimed the real meaning of Christmas. In “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, Linus’ recitation of Luke 2 proclaims that Christmas is all about God’s love in sending Jesus. This Christmas season and always, let’s share the good news that we have one God and one Savior. Amen.
“By Grace I’m Saved” (CW 384)
Text: Christian L. Scheidt, 1709-61, abr.; tr, composite
By grace I’m saved, grace free and boundless;
My soul, believe and doubt it not.
Why waver at this word of promise?
Has Scripture ever falsehood taught?
So then this word must true remain:
By grace you, too, shall heav’n obtain.
By grace God’s Son, our only Savior,
Came down to earth to bear our sin.
Was it because of your own merit
That Jesus died your soul to win?
No, it was grace, and grace alone,
That brought him from his heav’nly throne.
By grace! Oh, mark this word of promise
When you are by your sins oppressed,
When Satan plagues your troubled conscience,
And when your heart is seeking rest.
What reason cannot comprehend
God by his grace to you did send.
By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice.
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad; all grief has flown
Since I am saved by grace alone.