The Twenty-seventh Sunday After Pentecost November 16, 2008
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
357, 141, 377(1-6), 377(10)
Put on your strength, O Zion;
Put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city!
For the uncircumcised and the unclean
Shall no longer come to you.
Shake yourself from the dust, arise;
Sit down, O Jerusalem!
Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion!
For thus says the Lord:
“You have sold yourselves for nothing,
And you shall be redeemed without money.”
For thus says the Lord God:
“My people went down at first
Into Egypt to dwell there;
Then the Assyrian oppressed them without cause.
Now therefore, what have I here,” says the Lord,
“That My people are taken away for nothing?
Those who rule over them
Make them wail,” says the Lord,
“And My name is blasphemed continually every day.
Therefore My people shall know My name;
Therefore they shall know in that day
That I am He who speaks:
‘Behold, it is I.’ ”
“Just get me out of here!” Have you ever said that to God? I would venture so say that all of us at one time or another have called to our God this way—asking for His rescue and aid whether we are sick, afraid, weary, sad, or discouraged. “Bring some joy or pleasant prospects to my life. Save me from my troubles and get me through this. Deliver me.” This is a prayer that He hears as much as any other, certainly. But would you be surprised to learn that it’s also a prayer He answers as much as any other? Yes, your God does deliver. He delivers for you, bringing you through many trials and perils until the final goal is reached—the salvation of your soul.
God really has a history of delivering His people and carrying them to safety in His mighty arms. Noah was delivered from death in the worldwide flood when God delivered him and his family by means of an ark. King David was delivered from the hand of wicked Saul through his godly friend Jonathan.
The entire nation of Israel which became enslaved in the land of Egypt for 400 years was delivered by signs and wonders and the mighty hand of God as nobody on earth had ever seen before. When Israel was brought back to their homeland they were rescued from the hands of enemies who had made Canaan their dwelling place. The Philistines and others who sought Israel’s harm were put to shame and judgment at the hand of the Lord.
There are many, many more examples in the Bible. In fact, one can hardly read more than a few pages anywhere in Scripture without finding an example of the Almighty freeing, supporting, uplifting, or sustaining His people.
Yet in weakness we still wonder if He will deliver for us. If He will really do for us as He did for His children long ago. Indeed, GOD DELIVERS FOR YOU I. With protection, II. With Redemption, and III. With Triumph.
The people of Judah no doubt wondered whether or not they would be delivered while they sat in captivity in Babylon. In 586 BC, God allowed judgment to come upon those who had turned against Him and armies from the east had come and taken Jerusalem. They had displaced her inhabitants, taking them away from their homes and off into Babylon to serve a foreign king. Nothing was as the Jews had known it anymore. Their temple, their city, their lives—all shattered by the invasion. By the rivers of Babylon they sat and wept as they remembered Jerusalem (cf. Psalm 137).
But was God really to turn His back on His faithful? Was He really about to destroy those who had put their confidence in Him, who held to Him for needed blessing and honored and worshiped His holy name? Of course He would not disappoint. He would instead deliver. This is the news that Isaiah the prophet brought to the people some years before the Babylonian captivity even happened. In advance, Isaiah was already telling how the people of Jerusalem would be freed from their bondage and brought back home.
They would come back to their city and to their homes and there they would enjoy the protection of the Lord as they had not even imagined it for a long time. The walls would be rebuilt. The temple would be reconstructed and the Babylonian invaders would not bother them again. “O Jerusalem, the holy city,” wrote Isaiah, “The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again.” [v.1 NIV] A barrier of God’s own making would secure His people. The foreigners would no more have a hold on this Promised Land. Unclean religious practices would be thrown out too, idolatrous customs would not be tolerated, and that which could harm the inhabitants would be kept away.
As the people cried, “Get us out of here,” God said: “With my protection you will go, so awake from your gloomy sorrow.” “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem…Shake off your dust, rise up, sit enthroned… “ [vv.1-2 NIV] “Deliverance is certain!” was the announcement made by the prophet, and “It will come with the added benefit of God’s continued protection so you will not right away be brought into captivity again.”
This is how God delivers. This is how He delivers for you. This Old Testament lesson is not just a page out of history written for our amusement and amazement, but it is written for our comfort! It is a reminder to you of what God has done for you too.
God has rescued you from the stain of your sin and guilt. He has delivered you from the eternal judgment prepared for the Devil and his angels by letting you stand now in the holiness purchased for you on the cross with the lifeblood of His own Son. He gives you now a wall of protection from Satan’s evil. Satan can not harm you because you are clean before God. You have the Word of God to use in response to the attacks of temptation. You have the shield of faith which you can hold up in the face of doubt. You have the Lord God Himself covering you with His feathers (cf. Psalm 91:4) to protect you from the uncleanness and disaster of unbelief.
Yes, even now your God delivers for you with protection, keeping at times those things from you that can harm your bodies; but especially working to keep you clean from those things which would harm your soul forever. He gives you the protective covering of Jesus’ own righteousness.
When Judah was carried off to Babylon, the people were powerless to resist. Their armies could not fight back the conquerors. They were “sold for nothing” as it were into the hands of their enemies. Nebuchadnezzar simply came in and took what he wanted. “My people have been taken away for nothing…declares the Lord.” [vv.3,5 NIV]
Therefore God would deliver His people with redemption. He would take back from Babylon what did not belong to them—His believing children. He would not pay for their return with money even as the Babylonians had not paid to carry them into captivity. Instead God would redeem them with His might and power. He would raise Cyrus, King of Persia, against Babylon and it would fall and those held captive would be released.
This happened. The chains on the necks of the captive daughters of Zion (Jerusalem) were broken (cf. v.2). No longer were they forced to live in a land that was not their own. No longer were they under the rule of the tyrant and madman Nebuchadnezzar.
For us who are used to the freedoms of our own country and our own time, it might be hard to imagine the joy the people must have had upon their release. But think on what it means to be a captive, not to be able to live your own life, but only a life dictated by a cruel master. So God redeemed His people Israel. He snatched them away from the clutches of the enemy to bring them to a safe place—His own city and the city of their youth.
Surely there is also a captivity from which we have been redeemed. “What?” you say. “I have no chain around my neck. I have nothing binding my feet and hands. I am not enslaved!” Oh, but you were. “Enslaved by sin and bound in chains” we sang just a few moments ago in our hymn. You were bound to a more vicious and more wicked master than any in Babylon. Satan himself held you in his angry jaws ready to accuse you, to tempt you, and to bring you into darkness with him. When you were born you had no desire to trust God, worship Him, follow Him, but only the desire handed down to you from Adam long ago, and that desire was entirely against God.
You were a captive. You had no ability to pull yourself up out of the mire of your guilt. You could not please God or come to Him. The worst kind of captivity was upon all of us. The kind that doesn’t even know when it’s captive or headed to destruction.
So God redeemed His people. Once again not with money, but with something much more costly—His own Son. Christ paid the price for all our sin. He paid it to the Heavenly Father so that we could walk free from the doom and judgment that is to come. Jesus pulled us back to safety by offering Himself and clearing the books of all our sin. Can you confess your sin and rely on that redemption? Surely you can.
Now when the Devil comes with his fair speeches to deceive your hearts, you are no longer captive to him. You can now resist and say, “But Jesus, my Savior has redeemed me, forgiven me, and drawn me away from your power.”
Are you beset by the sin of doubt as those captive in Babylon may well have been? Do you call into question when or how or if the Lord will release you and set you free? Then find relief in Jesus who says, “I have already redeemed you. I have already freed you from your doubts and fears by my cross. You are no longer captive even to the bonds of death.” Yes, even the captivity of death has been broken by Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. You are freed to live a life of praise, thanksgiving, and joy in Him who released you. Do not go back again to the captivity of the wicked!
God delivers for you also with triumph. It’s hard to imagine how triumphant the processions back to Jerusalem must have been for the captives. Under the guidance of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah they returned and reclaimed their homeland and God blessed them richly. It was a triumphant return to be sure. How must the warriors of Babylon felt as they watched their captives escape and their own cities conquered? How they must have seen the victory God had given to His people.
Those who had mocked God when they saw His people in chains were now themselves put to shame. “Those who rule them mock,” the Lord had declared “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed. Therefore my people will know my name.” [vv.5-6] For when the exiles returned to safety everyone did know the name of the Lord . They all knew what the God of Israel was like. They all knew how He could be described, namely, as a God of deliverance who worked salvation for His children. The Babylonians who watched the departing carriages of Israel surely had learned the name of their God. With triumph—with a victory—God had delivered for them.
Around us today are many who mock God. In fact, our own hearts are plenty good at it too. Turning on Him whenever we think He is not doing something “our way.” We mock Him by wondering if He can or will deliver us, But the Lord triumphs over all our enemies and even over our sinful flesh in our own hearts.
He has triumphed on the cross and He leads His people in triumph all the way to their heavenly home. For yes, He will come again—not in meekness this time as He did at Christmas, but Jesus will come again with a shout and with the trumpet call of God and the dead will be raised and the faithful will join Him in procession to the New Jerusalem, the home of righteousness (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff, et. al). Everyone will see that triumph too. A victory that is even now assured and is even now yours.
“Just get me out of here!” you say? It is already done! God delivers for you—with protection, with redemption, and with triumph over all His enemies. 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.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.