The 12th Sunday After Pentecost August 23, 2009
1 Peter 4:7-11
19, 234, 446, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Rise up, you women who are at ease, hear my voice; You complacent daughters, give ear to my speech. In a year and some days you will be troubled, you complacent women; For the vintage will fail, the gathering will not come. Tremble, you women who are at ease; be troubled, you complacent ones; strip yourselves, make yourselves bare, and gird sackcloth on your waists. People shall mourn upon their breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. On the land of my people will come up thorns and briers, Yes, on all the happy homes in the joyous city; because the palaces will be forsaken, the bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks—Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest. Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places, though hail comes down on the forest, and the city is brought low in humiliation. Blessed are you who sow beside all waters, who send out freely the feet of the ox and the donkey.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus, who poured out His Spirit on the Church:
Isaiah may not have been too surprised at the modern shopping mall where flocks of young folks wear their trendiest clothes and adorn themselves with the glitziest accessories just to “hang out.” That doesn’t sound too far off from a couple of images he paints of life in the Jerusalem of his day. In today’s text, Isaiah turns his attention to the women of Jerusalem in the days of coming judgment and terror. Isaiah noticed that they acted similarly to the teenager hanging out at the mall—just “hanging out” in spite of God’s judgment.
Today’s text addresses something that we always need to think about and that is the difference between complacency and security. We’ll see what complacency can look like today and where it leads, and we will see the security of faith and how that comes to us.
One of Isaiah’s dramatic points is that complacency leaves people unprepared for judgment. But just what does complacency look like? Is it limited to people who lie around on the beach all day with nothing to do but tan? Or is it represented by folks who party all night every night in expensive neighborhoods and hotels?
“Rise up, you women at ease, hear my voice. You complacent daughters, give ear to my speech.” [v.9] The prophet has something to say to the women of Jerusalem. Perhaps he’s trying a different tack than before. He has addressed the general population. He has addressed the religious leaders. He has addressed the rulers, but all of these without any evident success. Maybe the women might be more attuned to spiritual things. Perhaps they might listen to his warnings.
But they are at ease, they are complacent in their fashionable and self-absorbed lifestyles. Earlier in Isaiah we hear a more detailed criticism of such lives: “The daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet…the Lord will take away the finery; the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils; the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands; the perfume boxes, the charms, and the rings; the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles; the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors; the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes” (Isaiah 3:16 ff). Isaiah describes the high fashion culture of his day—how little things have changed in three thousand years!
Complacent doesn’t necessarily mean “idle.” You can be working your fingers to the bone, you can go from sun up ‘til sundown and play half the night and still be complacent. The danger Isaiah talks about is complacency toward God. It is an attitude that despises God’s holiness. It is a satisfaction with the status quo as far as your relationship with God is concerned. It is a foolish confidence in false supports to prop you up in your standing with God while pursuing your own interests. It is being absorbed in worldly pursuits and giving little or no thought to the just expectations of your Maker. If a person gives his fortune to charities but does not give honor toward God, if he does great things for others but assumes that God will be pleased with his outward actions without an inward change, complacency reigns.
What is ahead for the complacent? Isaiah is very specific. He has warned many times of the coming scourge of the Assyrians. Now he’s telling the women that in a year’s time their good life will come to an end. The harvest will fail, the good land will be ravaged, the vineyards bare. Food will be scarce, their wine supplies will be used up. Their glorious city will be rendered so empty and barren that flocks will graze there and the buildings will become the haunts of wild donkeys.
If that is what became of the lazy, luxury-minded folks of Isaiah’s day, what is to come at the end of time? What is ahead for our people? Not the good things in this life, and certainly not the good life in eternity. Think of the story Jesus told of the rich man whose crops did so well that he imagined he had a great retirement portfolio, and said to himself “Take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul shall be required of you.” (Luke 12:19-20). May the Lord awaken our complacent hearts without delay!
But your presence here to listen to God’s Word speaks of another condition that is in contrast to the complacency of the world. This is the security of the spiritual. The Spirit creates people who are secure, not complacent!
Isaiah spoke of desolation in Jerusalem and the land of Judah “until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high.” [v.15] Isaiah’s message moves from a prophecy about an earthly judgment to a coming spiritual blessing. Jerusalem would be destroyed and become a paradise for donkeys—which was indeed the case. But the time would come when God would pour out His Spirit upon His people and the land would be renewed. What was desolate would become inhabitable. What was fertile would become lush: “The wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest.” [v.15]
Isaiah spoke of the Holy Spirit as a gift, an anointing from God Himself which He would pour out on the Messianic King who would come and set up the kingdom of God. Now this same Spirit is promised as One bringing renewal to the land in which God’s people live. The harsh and desolate conditions of God’s judgment would be past. Paradise would spring forth. He would create an inviting place for those who trust in God to live and serve Him.
The destruction prophesied would be visible and physical, but we have to understand that the renewal and the springing forth of new life and abundance—though every bit as real—is not physical, not fully visible. The renewal came about with the work of Christ reconciling sinful, godless human beings to God. It came about when the Son of God came into this world, laying aside His majesty to be the Servant, bearing away the sins of the world. It came to life for all believers with the coming-to-life of Jesus, who emerged from the grave to live and reign forever.
When Christ finished His work, His disciples hoped that He would always be around. They were distressed to hear that He had to return to the Father in Heaven. But He explained that it would be to their advantage, because He would then pour out His Spirit—the Holy Spirit—upon them. In the long run that outpouring would be more important for them than His ongoing visible presence for through the Spirit they would experience a full and prosperous spiritual life.
In our text the outpouring of the Spirit brings about a condition in which “…justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field. The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.” [v.16-17]
What Isaiah described would be different than the complacency that ruled the hearts of people who didn’t love God in the good times, and the terror that dominated their hearts when God’s judgment swept down upon them. This would be a peace and security that rested in God and was nourished by God through the Spirit.
Justice and righteousness prevail in God’s Kingdom because the Spirit draws us to the Cross of Christ and causes us to see and believe that we are fully and freely justified before God for Jesus’ sake. Instead of suffering the wrath of an offended God, we are cleared by God Himself of all sin. John wrote: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
Where the Spirit works faith our lives are changed God-ward. We are a “new creation” and we who live are “alive no longer for ourselves, but for Him who died for us and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15, 17).
The effect of the Spirit poured out in our hearts will be “quietness and assurance forever.” [v.17] There is a beauty in the life where the Spirit does His work because He turns our focus, our center, away from ourselves and our own pleasure to the One from whom all blessing and happiness flows. When our lives are centered in Christ, complacency disappears along with self-centeredness. Love, peace, piety, and wisdom take their place and they can be pretty evident in our lives.
Since Isaiah started by pointing out the danger looming over those women who are “at ease,” we’ll finish with Peter’s comments about women whom he thinks really have it together: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).
May that peace—the peace of God—reign in our hearts and replace all faithless complacency with the compelling love of Christ. 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.