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Saints Triumphant, “Wake Up! The Day is Coming!”

Pastor Gary Wong November 15, 2020

Isaiah 52:1-6

Wake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength, O Zion. Put on your beautiful garments, Jerusalem, you holy city, for never again will the uncircumcised and the unclean enter you. 2 Shake off the dust. Get up and take your seat, Jerusalem. Loosen the chains from your neck, you captive daughter of Zion. 3 Yes, this is what the Lord says. You were sold for nothing, and you will be redeemed without money. 4 Yes, 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. 5 Now what do I have here? declares the Lord. Indeed, my people have been taken away for nothing. Their rulers howl with mockery, declares the Lord. My name is continually despised all day. 6 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!”

Have you ever heard of a condition called sleep apnea? If you suffer from it or live with someone who has it, you know what I’m talking about. Sleep apnea happens when a person momentarily stops breathing in the middle of the night. Consequently, he doesn’t get enough oxygen to his brain. As a result, he often feels tired and drowsy all day. He can nod off at almost any time; and sometimes at inappropriate times—at work, in the classroom, at church, or even when he’s driving. Sometimes it’s hard to wake up someone who is suffering from a severe case of sleep apnea. Sometimes you just feel like shaking the person’s shoulders and saying, “Come on! Wake up, already! You’re missing out on life!”

Today’s lesson speaks about a different kind of apnea—spiritual apnea. Through the prophet Isaiah, God warns about getting so sleepy in our walk with the Lord that we aren’t alert to the dangers threatening our souls. Not only that, spiritual apnea might cause us to miss out on many blessings—both in this life and, most importantly, in the life to come. God’s Word encourages us to wake up from our spiritual slumber and to stay alert because the Day of the Lord is coming; we certainly don’t want to be caught napping on that day. For unbelievers, it will be a day of fearful judgment; for those who believe in Jesus as their Savior, it will be a glorious day of victory. So, my fellow followers of Jesus, “Wake up! The day is coming!”

The prophet Isaiah sounded this wake-up call to the Israelites—a people blessed like no other nation in the history of the entire human race. Yet, how did they treat those blessings and their special relationship with the Lord? Sadly, they took those blessings for granted. For instance, they often were sleep-walking in their worship. Outwardly, they followed all of the prescribed rituals and ceremonies—the sacrifices and tithes—but in their hearts and minds they were day dreaming about things other than the Lord. They dozed when they heard God’s law that demands perfect obedience to God’s will and that threatens eternal punishment for anyone who fails to meet that standard. They yawned when they heard the gospel that proclaimed the promise of a Savior. Our almighty God—the Mighty One who knows everything—certainly was alert to his people’s spiritual apnea. So, the Lord sent his prophets to sound a warning about the consequences of their continued sin. Every one of God’s prophets sounded repeated wakeup calls to repent. What did the Israelites do? Rather than taking God’s wake-up call seriously, they foolishly hit the snooze button on God’s spiritual alarm clock.

So, what was the Lord going to do? Well, if his children would not heed a firm, yet loving wakeup call, then our heavenly Father would try another tack. He sent the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel. You would think that after seeing their northern brothers and sisters overrun by the enemy, taken into captivity, and basically wiped out, never to return, that the people of the southern kingdom of Judah would have woken up. What the Assyrians had done to Israel should have gotten their attention like a drill sergeant yelling in a recruit’s ear. Incredibly, the people of Judah acted as though they were wearing ear plugs. Rather than heeding God’s warning, they continued to tune out the Lord.

Now, if you or I had been in the place of God, we might have been tempted to give up. Like a parent whose patience has worn out dealing with his wayward child, we might have been tempted to walk away. We might shake our heads sadly and say, “Don’t say that I didn’t warn you. You know how hard I tried—over, and over, and over again—but I just can’t seem to get through to you. Well, son—the day is coming when you are going to reap what you have sown, and I won’t be there to bail you out!” You and I might be tempted to wash our hands of this mess; but not God. God is incredibly patient and loving, not wanting any of his children to perish. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord declares, “As surely as I live, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their evil ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel” (Eze. 33:11).

God’s patience had not run out with the people of Judah. He sent Isaiah to warn of God’s impending judgment against them if they did not repent. Specifically, Isaiah warned that Babylon would sweep through Jerusalem and take its people captive. The Lord would put his chosen people into the hands of their enemies. Basically, Isaiah warned that the Babylonians were going to treat them like dirt. Their backs were going to be like the ground, or in Isaiah’s words, “like a street to be walked over.” Would the Israelites finally heed this warning? Sadly, history tells us a different story. The Israelites woke up from their spiritual apnea too late. From the moment King Nebuchadnezzar and his army destroyed Jerusalem and put its people in chains, their lives became a living nightmare. The people of Zion spent seventy long years in the hands of their captors.

Perhaps the saddest part of this sad story is that the Israelites only had themselves to blame. The only question that remained for them was, was relief or rescue possible? Was there any way that they could buy their freedom in the same way that some masters permitted their slaves to work for a set period of time and then be free? Isaiah’s answer was a resounding “No!” God’s prophet proclaimed, “You were sold for nothing” (Isa. 52:3). In other words, God didn’t charge the Babylonians a single shekel when they took the Israelites into captivity. God simply turned them over to the Babylonians to punish the Israelites for their rebellion and sins.

So, was there any hope for God’s people? The only one who could help them was the Lord. Fortunately, God is merciful and compassionate. God was moved by his grace—his underserved love for those whom he had chosen—to free them from the bonds that had held them captive. Isaiah’s wakeup call had to have been music to the Israelite’s ears. “Wake up to a new day” Isaiah declared. “Get up from the ground, shake off the Babylonian dust and exchange your prison pinstripes for a brand-new set of party clothes, because you’re going home. So, wake up! It’s going to be a grand and glorious day!”

Imagine the joy of those exiles on the day that they returned to their homes and started to rebuild their lives. However, the rest of their lives were not trouble free. While the Israelites enjoyed physical freedom from their captors, they were still prisoners in a spiritual sense. Their souls were still captive to sin and under the power of the devil. And just as they had been powerless to free themselves from the Babylonians, they were equally powerless to free themselves from the consequences of sin. Once again, only God could rescue them, and us, from an eternity of suffering in hell that we so richly deserved. Please understand. God was under no obligation to rescue us. But because of his love, God chose to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil.

How did he do it? Isaiah reminds us that we were “sold for nothing.” So, it would be “without money that [God] would redeem his people.” We were not purchased with gold or silver, stocks or bonds, CD’s or the money we set aside in our 401 Ks. All the riches in the world are not enough to pay for the sins of the human race. So, who could pay the price? You know the answer. It’s God, the one who owns the earth and everything in it. Because God so loved the world, he gave his most precious possession—his Son, Jesus Christ—to save us from the consequences of our sins. Jesus paid the ultimate price with his holy precious blood that he shed on the cross. Our salvation cost us nothing. It cost our heavenly Father the life of his one and only Son.

What amazing love that the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! Though we deserved nothing except God’s wrath and punishment, our heavenly Father has given us the priceless gift of eternal life. Because of Jesus, we can look forward to living with him in the heavenly Jerusalem for all eternity. Those blessings will certainly come to all believers on the Last Day when Jesus returns in glory to judge the world. But the good news is that we don’t have to wait for that day to be blessed by the Lord. We are immeasurably blessed each and every day with our daily bread and the Bread of Life—God’s Word and the sacraments.

The gospel is the cure for a myriad of spiritual sleep disorders. Having a hard time getting to sleep because you are worried about past sins, present challenges, or future uncertainties? We don’t have to lose a moment’s sleep as we remember that God has forgiven all of our sins for Jesus’ sake. We can rest easy knowing that God has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us; rather, he will be with us always, to the very end of the age. Having trouble waking up because you can’t bear to face another day of problems and pain? Remember that each day is another day of God’s grace. Jeremiah reminds us that “God’s compassions never fail; they are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23). Do you find yourself wanting to crawl back into bed because you don’t have the energy or desire to keep on going? The love of Christ motivates and empowers us to eagerly and joyfully serve the Lord and our fellow human beings with our time, talents and treasures.

Dear friends—if you suffer from sleep apnea, the good news is that there are effective treatments to help you get a good night’s sleep. The best news of all is that God has provided a cure for spiritual apnea. The gospel is the cure for our spiritual apathy and indifference. It energizes us to continue to serve the Lord each and every day until the blessed day when he returns to judge the world. So, Christians, wake up! The great and glorious Day of the Lord is coming soon. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.

“For All the Saints” (CW 551)

Text: William W. How, 1823-97, abr., alt.

For all the saints who from their labors resr,

All who their faith before the world confess.

Your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

You were their rock, their fortress, and their might;

You, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight

And in the darkness drear their one true light.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may your soldiers, faithful, true, and bold

Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old

And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle; they in glory shine,

Yet, all are one within your grand design.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave again and arms are strong.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds to ocean’s farthest coast

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

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