Cantate, The Fourth Sunday after Easter May 2, 1999
200, 363, 334, 47
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Thus says the Lord: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; that You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go Forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ They shall feed along the roads, and their pastures shall be on all desolate heights. They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; for He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them.” Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, our heavenly Leader, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
For a newborn child, only ONE PERSON is really important—its mother. Oh, I’m sure the father would always like to feel that he’s important, too, but it’s really the mother who is the center of the infant’s universe. It is the mother, after all, who provides the baby with food, warmth, affection, entertainment and protection. Yes, for a couple of months, anyway, Mom supplies just about everything that child needs!
We grown-ups are a little different. We have to depend on a lot of different people to help us with our needs. We rely on the grocer to supply our food, the policeman to protect us, and the doctor to cure our illnesses. But from another point of view—from the Christian perspective—we, too, rely on a single Person to take care of all our wants and needs. That person is Jesus Christ. Our text for today describes Him as a kind of spiritual “jack of all trades;” someone who does many different jobs, all with the same goal—to provide for the needs of His believers. According to Isaiah—
The Book of Isaiah was written many hundreds of years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It’s been said, though, that if a person had only the Book of Isaiah to read from, He could get to know Jesus just as well as if he had the Gospel of Luke to read! That’s because Isaiah describes the coming Savior so clearly. In the first part of our text, Isaiah, through the Holy Spirit, records the words of God the Father to His Servant, the Messiah. He promises to preserve and protect His Son in the important work He is coming to do. Jesus will be the mediator of a New Covenant, or contract, with the people. The Lord goes on to describe what this new “covenant of grace” will involve, listing in detail all the benefits that Christ will bring to humanity. What God’s telling us today is that Jesus will be, to us His people, everything that we need!
You may be tempted to take that with a grain of salt. “Of course,” you say, “Jesus is important in my life—but it’s going a little far to say that He’s everything I need.” But that’s exactly what God is saying here! Jesus is willing and able to fulfill every physical and spiritual need of every person on earth. Some of these are big spiritual needs that most of the unbelievers around us don’t even know they have. Take the first one that our text mentions, for example. Jesus is described as the great Restorer. Verse eight says, “I will…give you as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages.”
What is it in people that needs to be “restored”? What was it that man lost way back in the Garden of Eden that tainted all of creation with sorrow and sin and death? It was the image of God! The righteous and holy image that man was created in was lost when Adam and Eve fell into sin. And all of us have inherited that loss from them. The only person who can restore us to that perfect state of holiness, who can give us the righteousness we need, is Christ.
Jesus will cause us to “inherit the desolate heritages”—what a vivid picture! Have you ever wandered around the ruins of an old farmhouse out in the country? Sometimes the foundation and a few bricks are all that’s left of what was once a thriving family home. God says that our souls were the same way—“desolate heritages,” tumbled down and marked with sin. But Jesus has restored the ruins. By the sacrifice He made for us on the cross, He has given us back the image of God, given to us that perfect righteousness we could never earn for ourselves. It’s just as if a shiny, new building appeared where the old ruins had been! Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ.” II Cor 5:17-18.
What’s another reason God sent Jesus to earth? So that “…He may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’” God sent Jesus to be a Liberator.
That would be a unique approach to witnessing your faith, wouldn’t it?—If you were talking to someone who wasn’t a Christian, and you casually asked him, “How’s it feel to be a prisoner?” Actually, I don’t recommend trying that, because the person’s liable to get pretty angry with you. No one likes to be thought of as a prisoner or a convict—someone who has been found guilty of a crime. But that’s exactly how God’s Word describes people who have not yet found forgiveness in Jesus Christ!
You see, sin forms a barrier between God and man—a barrier that’s just as solid and impenetrable as a row of iron bars. Most people, faced with this barrier of sin, immediately get out the puny nail file of their own good works. They set to work vainly trying to file their way through to God, hoping that their good works will somehow render them acceptable in God’s sight. Others, when they see how futile that method is, will try to ignore the barrier of sin—pretend it’s not there. However, the Apostle John tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” I Jn 1:9. On the other hand, if a person admits that he does have sin, then he’s admitting he’s a convict, imprisoned behind those iron bars. In fact, not just a convict, but a convict on death row because, as the Bible clearly says, “the wages of sin is death.”
There’s only one way out of that prison: Jesus must unlock the door. He must liberate us—and that’s just what He came to do!
One Sabbath day Jesus was the guest preacher at the synagogue in His home town of Nazareth. His sermon text was a lot like ours for this morning, and came from the same part of the book of Isaiah. He stood up and read, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4:18-21. Imagine the uproar! “You are all prisoners of sin,” He told them, “and I’m the One who has come to set you free. I AM the promised Messiah!” Well, they didn’t believe Him! In fact, they were so angry that they took Him outside the city by force and tried to throw Him over a cliff! Many unbelievers in our day react in the same angry way when told that their sins are a prison, and that Christ is the only way out. We Christians, however, are only too happy to admit our sin. We know that Jesus won’t let us down. Our Liberator doesn’t leave us languishing in the dark dungeon of our guilt. He comes to set us free with His healing forgiveness!
Finally, our text pictures us believers as sheep, and Jesus as the loving Shepherd who provides for all our needs. Of the Christians, our text says that “they shall feed along the roads, and their pastures shall be on all desolate heights.” You might be thinking that those don’t sound like very luxurious places to graze one’s sheep, and you’re right. The well-worn paths of the roadway and the poor soil of the hilltops normally have little, if any, food to offer for livestock. God’s telling us that even in such a spiritually barren place as our world of today, our Good Shepherd is going to provide for us! He’s going to make sure we’ve got plenty of nourishment not only for our bodies, but—much more important!—for our souls.
“They shall neither hunger nor thirst,” our text says, “neither heat nor sun shall strike them; for He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them.” God promises His believers that they shall never go hungry. This may be a description that is lost on today’s generation of Americans—most of today’s younger people (including me) have never had to go without food for even a single day. But some of our older folks—who went through the depression years in this country—can remember very clearly what it means to go hungry. Even more so, the picture of hunger had a vivid meaning for the people of Bible times, many of whom had to fight starvation on a day-to-day basis. That’s why so many of them got excited when they saw Jesus feed five thousand people with five barley loaves and two small fish. Here finally, they thought, was the cure for hunger! Naturally, they started following Jesus around all over the place. But He finally told them that they were concentrating on the wrong kind of food; He said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Jn 6:26-27.
Our Lord provides us with the food and drink our bodies need for nourishment, of course. But that physical need is overshadowed by a great spiritual need we all have—the need for righteousness. We can see it even in the people around us who aren’t Christians, isn’t it true? What is it, after all, that makes those people do good things, help their neighbors, contribute time and money to the community and to charities? What makes even unbelievers try to “do the right thing,” if it isn’t that hunger and thirst for righteousness, the instinctive desire to think well of oneself and soothe one’s conscience? The Bible tells us we can never satisfy that need for righteousness on our own. But we can be filled if we look to the Savior for the righteousness we need!
Perhaps some of you have experimented with various diets in an effort to lose weight. If you’re like me, you may have to admit that those experiments have not always been entirely successful! But in any case, you’re probably familiar with a feeling I get from time to time—a longing for the fat things. Before you is a plate with miniscule portions of skinless chicken and steamed vegetables. But what you’re really dreaming of is fat things: a thick, hearty steak piled high with sautéed mushrooms and onions; a hot baked potato with real butter and sour cream. Well, my Christian friends, I’m happy to be able to tell you that the Bread of Life is not diet food! Your God is not skimpy with His forgiveness. He’s not stingy in bestowing righteousness. Our text says that we who trust in Christ shall neither hunger nor thirst. You’ll never come away from the table of God’s grace with a growling stomach, still craving the righteousness you need. No, says our Savior, Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be FILLED. Jesus’ righteousness is perfect and satisfying. He never made one mistake, never committed one sin—and that’s the perfect record that our Lord transfers to you by faith. What a magnificent feast this is, which God has prepared for you in Christ! It’s the same rich banquet of forgiveness that was predicted by Isaiah back in the 25th chapter, when he said, And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, A feast of wines on the lees, Of fat things full of marrow, Of well-refined wines on the lees. Isa 25:6.
Jesus is truly our Good Shepherd, who feeds His sheep with the food they need for life. The wonderful Gospel—the message that Jesus lived and died to redeem us from our sins—is the lush pasture our souls feed upon, and the pure wellspring of His Word is the water of life our souls thirst for. Truly He is our Restorer, Liberator, and Shepherd. In fact, when you come right down to it—JESUS CHRIST IS EVERYTHING WE NEED! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.