The Fourth Sunday After Easter April 20, 2008
Revelation 7:9-17; John 17:9-19
732 [TLH alt., 198], 656, 469(1-2,4), 385(1,4,10)
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One, to Him whom man despises, to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.” 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. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated. Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, and these from the land of Sinim. Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.”
In Christ Jesus, our Savior, sent to us by our heavenly Father out of His amazing love, dear fellow-redeemed:
Many years ago, a little boy knew that he loved his mom. And somehow he knew that giving a person flowers was a way to show that love. So he went out into the yard, plucked some dandelions and a few Johnny-Jump-Ups from his mother’s flower garden, bundled them together into a bouquet and with great pride presented it to her. The mother smiled, thanked him for the gift, and put the bouquet of weeds and flowers into a vase. Why? Well, certainly, because she was his mom. She loved him and she knew that he loved her.
Same boy, same mom, several years later—the boy is reading a magazine and runs across a poem that makes him laugh so he cuts it out. He also runs across a picture of a big sailing ship and thinks it is an impressive picture so he cuts it out. Next he cut a board, pasted the poem and the picture on the board, varnished the whole thing, and presented it to his mom. The mom smiled, accepted the gift, and hung it on a wall. Why? The poem had nothing to do with the son, the mom, or the ship, and the “masterpiece” wasn’t all that beautiful. Certainly the smile and acceptance were because she was the mom, she loved her son, and she knew that he loved her.
Same mother, same son throughout all of those years—each night the mother took time at bedtime to read a devotion from God’s Word and walking in step with the father saw to it that the little boy was brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Why? Well, of course, because she was the mom and he was the dad and they wanted to give their children the best possible gift—the knowledge of their Savior and ultimately eternal life.
That mother’s love, as deep as it may be, is not the deepest love there is. The Word of God we’ve just read tells us that even though a mother’s love can fail, God’s love never fails. Today we consider: The ABC’s of God’s Love I. The Accomplishment of God’s Love: Salvation for the people, II. The Bearer of God’s Love: The Servant of the Lord, and III. The Characteristic of God’s Love: Faithful without end.
The Accomplishment of God’s love is salvation for His people. In the first verse of the text we hear up front: “Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, their Holy One…” [v.7] Before we go any further we need to stop and consider what this means for everything else we hear this morning. What this means—and it is repeated again in verse 8—is that what we are talking about is not just some writer’s idea about love that might go into a song or greeting card. What we are considering goes beyond anyone’s theories on love. “Thus says the Lord”—the Lord, Jehovah, the God of salvation is speaking. He is the God who created the heavens and the earth and He is the covenant God who promised to save His people from their sin and then accomplished that salvation for them. There is no question, no doubt, no uncertainty in these words for thus says the Lord!
What does He say? He speaks of prisoners who will be told to “…‘Go forth,’” and “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. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated. Surely these shall come from afar; Look! Those from the north and the west, and these from the land of Sinim.” [vv.9-12]
When we read through Isaiah and other Old Testament prophets, oftentimes the prophetic words apply in two ways: First, to the people in that particular historic setting. In this case it would be applied to the people of Israel when they would be held captive in Babylon. But the prophecy also has a greater application to all sinners. In this higher significance, the prophecy looks ahead to the release and freedom from sin. The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in Heaven with the believers gathered around the throne of God as we heard in our Scripture reading.
The Children of Israel would come to understand what it meant to be prisoners as they experienced 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They knew the emptiness of being separated from their homeland and not living in the Promised Land which was tied to God’s promises concerning Israel and the coming Savior.
We can understand the imprisonment of sin. We feel the emptiness and sad effects of sin when we have a big dream come crashing down, or if we’ve ever felt lonely, or if we’ve had someone whom we’ve loved die or move away.
When we recognize the sin in our lives we may feel the emptiness of sin’s imprisonment and think, “what can I do because I look at my life and all I see is sinfulness. I know what I say and I know there is sin in my words. I know what I do and what I think—above all what I think! How can I get out of that?” Sin and its hold on souls produces darkness, emptiness, and a heavy weight of guilt. This is why God pictures us as prisoners in darkness and despair. We are born as prisoners of Satan and held bondage by sin.
To us and sinners like us these words of God say, “Go forth, you are free! You will not hunger anymore or thirst anymore. You will not experience the suffering of your imprisonment anymore. You will not experience the sufferings of bondage and misery. I will set you free.” Isaiah’s prophecy is a picture—a wonderful picture—of salvation. God’s love would so move Him that He would take sinners—those who rebel against Him—and provide for them a way out of the darkness. He would provide for them a way to escape judgment eternally. He would provide for them a path through this life to walk confidently on their way to a heavenly home.
God would accomplish this salvation through the Bearer of His love who is Jesus, our Savior. The prophecies of Isaiah often call this bearer of God’s love the Servant of the Lord. He was a servant because He was sent to serve and not be served (cf. Matthew 20:28). He was a servant because He came to serve us by redeeming us from our sins. He is a Servant of the Lord—Jehovah—because He would be a servant to God’s promise. He was the servant who would accomplish all of the gracious promises of God and thereby bear God’s love and salvation to lost and condemned sinners.
The early words of today’s text are actually addressed in prophecy to the Servant of the Lord—the Son of God: “Thus says the Lord…to Him whom man despises…” The bearer of God’s love would not be well received. He would be despised by men, stricken, smitten, and afflicted.
“…to Him whom the nation abhors, to the Servant of rulers: Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel; and He has chosen You.” [v.7] In eternity God chose His Son to be our Savior. In eternity He chose His Son to be the “Anointed One”—the one appointed to redeem the world and be the bearer of God’s love.
“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…” [v.8] This Servant of the Lord would bear God’s love to the people and cause them to inherit the desolate—the empty—heritages. Stop and consider that for a moment. A heritage is something you receive, an inheritance, something that is passed down from generation to generation—mothers and fathers to sons and daughters. The heritage as children of God had been lost when sin destroyed the image of God in which mankind was created.
God had entered into a covenant with the nation of Israel calling them His own special people. He gave the nation of Israel the opportunity for a heritage when He said, “…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people” (Exodus 19:5). Israel lost that heritage when they did not keep their side of the covenant, rebelled against God, and sinned against His Law. Sin destroys the heritage we have with God. but through the promised Savior, the desolate heritage would be filled again and restored.
The Servant of the Lord would come and He would be made as a new covenant to the people. The Law covenant had been “do this and you will be my people.” God would establish a new covenant through the Servant of the Lord which was a Gospel covenant. It was a covenant of salvation for all sinners. It was and is a covenant in which God does all that is necessary for salvation through His grace.
Jesus would come and be the fulfillment of this prophecy and fulfill the new covenant. Jesus of Nazareth came as the Servant of the Lord to restore the desolate heritages and tell the prisoners to go free. He came to bring light into sin’s darkness.
Later in the book of Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord speaks in prophecy and says: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…” (Isaiah 61:1-3). When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth, He read these very words and said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). As Jesus went about preaching the Gospel, as He went about fulfilling what was necessary for our salvation, He was fulfilling this prophecy—bearing God’s love to sinners.
You and I are also bearers of God’s love. Jesus is The Bearer, He is The Light of the world; but we as children of God are bearers of His light and thereby bear witness to God’s love. We bear His love to those whom we meet as we share the Gospel with them and show a Christ-like love in our dealings.
The Characteristic of God’s love which Jesus bears to us is that it is faithful and without end, though it doesn’t always seem that way. “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” [v.14]
In the historical context, Zion is a reference to the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel. In its higher significance, Zion refers to all of the children of God—to the Holy Christian Church.
In the historical context, as God brought His judgment upon Israel it certainly looked as if all hope was gone and He had forsaken and forgotten them. At times in our lives we may question why we are facing a particular sorrow, and a hardship may make life tough. We may be tempted to conclude and cry out: “The Lord has forsaken me and forgotten me!” At that time His love seems anything but faithful and unending. If we feel this way, it is our sinful flesh talking. That is our weakness. Hear what God says: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” [v.15]
It is almost inconceivable to imagine a mother not loving the child who nurses from her. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine that the bond between mother and child wouldn’t exist. A close bond can also exist between father and child, but God is emphasizing the very close, tender, unique bond of a mother to a nursing child. It can happen that this bond is absent and we hear stories about it, but that is the exception and not the natural, normal course. A mother may forget her child, “but not Me,” God says.
Even the deep, mother’s love can fail and is limited. But not God’s love. God says, “I will not forget you.” Then God goes on to say, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” [v.16] God marks you as His own. You are His. It is as if He has an ongoing reminder of You because you are engraved on His hands. He will not forsake you. You will not be separated from His love. He will not forget you. For Israel, He would remember the walls of Jerusalem and would restore the city and her people. He would not forget. God gives similar reassurance in Hebrews, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and through the prophet Jeremiah, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love…” (Jeremiah 31:3).
God’s amazing love which is borne by our Savior is ongoing. It was demonstrated to us when God chose us from eternity. It is demonstrated to us in our time of grace on the earth, and it extends all the way to eternal life in the glories of heaven. What a remarkable love from our heavenly Father!
Children look for ways to show love to their parents because they love them. Why do children love their parents? Because their parents have shown love to them first. We love God because He first loved us. That little boy bringing the bouquet of flowers (or whatever example you can remember from your childhood or from your children’s) was a demonstration of love that grew because of the parental love that came first. God has loved us with an everlasting love. He demonstrates that love through Jesus, and now we love Him and praise Him for His remarkable love. “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted.” [v.13] In our love we praise and glorify God! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.