The Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity October 3, 2004
8, 23, 145, 51
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in the sure knowledge that Jesus has destroyed the power that death held over you and in the certainty that there remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God. Amen.
Fellow Christians, time can work for us and time can work against us. As Christians everything depends on how we use the time that God has given us. It is a rather simple thing to wear a Christian faith that is new and exciting. The day after day, year after year struggle is something altogether different. This business of living as strangers on earth when heaven is our home can be a difficult and trying occupation. It is during this life-long day in and day out struggle that time can work either for us or against us.
Time works against us when we suppose that we can coast through life on a once-a-month or once-a-year church service. The Devil loves that kind of Christian. Time is on his side. He is like the lion trotting contentedly behind the herd, waiting patiently for the weakened stragglers. He doesn’t have to chase the strong. He can easily gorge himself on the spiritually emaciated.
On the other hand, time can be Satan’s greatest enemy when Christians use it to grow and become stronger. Contrary to what our old sinful flesh might whisper in our ears, even the struggles in this life serve to feed us and play a role in strengthening our faith.
Our text today will teach us these truths as no mere human words ever could. They will show us how to grow stronger in our faith by trusting in the Lord in the face of hardship and persecution. Here we will be reminded that Jesus truly was what He claimed to be—not only our perfect Savior, but the very refuge of the weary. Our text is found in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, the fiftieth chapter. As you listen to these holy words (with ears opened by faith), know that it is Isaiah who writes, but our Savior Jesus who is speaking to us from the Old Testament:
The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD has opened My ear; and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away. I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed. He is near who justifies Me; who will contend with Me? Let us stand together. Who is My adversary? Let him come near Me. Surely the Lord GOD will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me? Indeed they will all grow old like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.
Here ends the precious Word that God has given to us this day for our instruction and growth. Remember that these are God’s words. All who hear God’s words and treasure them will be blessed. So also we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Dear Fellow Bond-servants of the Lord Jesus:
It has been said that there are four classes in the school of affliction. In the first we learn, “I must suffer.” In the second we learn “I will suffer.” In the third “I am able to suffer.” In the fourth, “I am permitted to suffer.” These divisions seem to agree with Holy Scripture. It is, therefore, through this school that we progress in our walk as Christians. To fail to graduate and move on from any of the lower classes is to place ourselves in great danger. How so?
Remember that it is not the sudden, early attack of Satan that destroys the most souls. It is the relentless pounding of the years. Christians all aglow with faith grow cold and lifeless, as did some of the Christians in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1ff). Or, worse yet, human beings grow indifferent—neither hot nor cold—as with some of the members of the Church in Laodicea. (Revelation 3:14ff)
Satan did not accomplish this lethargy and spiritual laziness overnight. He used time as his ally. The problem in Ephesus and Laodicea was undoubtedly that those Christians failed to use time as their ally. When Christians fail to use time wisely, Satan most certainly will.
It never ceases to amaze me how I, even though I know better, rather consistently think or act as though rules apply to others. The sign above the door of the gymnasium says: “No Food or Drinks Inside” applies only to someone more messy than myself, someone clumsier and more prone to spills. The “Reduce Speed Ahead” sign? applies to drivers who aren’t as skilled as I am, or those who are more timid. The sign that says: “Please Return Shopping Carts to the Store or Cart Corral” applies only to those who aren’t as busy as I am.
Socially, this attitude is a formula for chaos. Spiritually, it is a recipe for eternal disaster. It is true that the Christian faith is in no way based on rules and regulations. Yet, it is also true that God has given us divine wisdom and advice on how to survive in this spiritually deadly environment called earth. Here again we foolishly tend to assume that God’s wisdom and God's warnings apply always (and only) to someone else. The Bible, for example, from Genesis to Revelation stresses that our faith is to be the center of our lives every day. In the Old Testament God required that burnt offerings and sin offerings be made each day. In fact the priests were to offer two lambs each day, one in the morning and one in the evening (Ezekiel 29). The Old Testament encouraged parents to study the Word of God with their children “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
Throughout the New Testament we find the same exhortation from our God. Jesus Himself stressed the day-by-day nature of our faith and prayer life when he gave us the Lord’s Prayer—“…Give us, this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses…” (Luke 11:3-4). Again Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The early Christian Church took Gods Word to heart. We read in Acts 2:46, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.”
Why don’t we take God’s wisdom to heart? Was this, too, intended only for someone else—someone weaker perhaps, or someone more likely to fall prey to the Devil’s temptations? Our first step today must therefore be to acknowledge that this wisdom from God was not intended for someone else. It was meant for me! Our text today was meant for me!
Can there be any doubt that the words spoken here come from Jesus Himself? Note how the Holy Spirit stresses the daily nature of Christianity as he speaks of being wakened “morning by morning” and “sustaining the weary.” Was there anyone who knew more about being weary than our Savior? We imagine that we have it bad, that we are suffering so much. No one suffered more and endured more than our precious Lord Jesus.
Our text speaks of this suffering and endurance. “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help Me; therefore I will not be disgraced; therefore I have set My face like a flint, and I know that I will not be ashamed.” [vv.6-7]
“…Set My face like flint.” These are words from a man familiar with suffering—suffering for what is good and right. Jesus suffered wrongly, but He suffered for what to us is the ultimate good—our salvation!
I wonder sometimes if we know anything about weariness and suffering for what is good and right. We all know, to one extent or another, about weariness, pain and suffering, but most of the time we bring that on ourselves (for reasons other than living for Christ and the Gospel). Most of our weariness and frustration comes from wanting and struggling for more than our God wants us to have, or in an effort to gain what the world has. Much of the pain we endure has been self-inflicted, all because we are not willing to submit to God’s will in our lives. Jesus set His face like flint in the face of persecution of every kind because He knew that what He was doing was necessary for you and me. He knew that He was the one and only chance that sinful mankind had to escape the punishment we deserved on account of our sins. Jesus suffered, not for Himself and His own cause, but for our cause. He lived a perfect life on earth—a life filled with pain and suffering—and then offered that perfect life on the cross as the payment for the sins we could never hope to “make good.” God the Father then told the world that this payment was sufficient for all sins of all people when He raised His Son from the dead on the third day. This was the sign that He had promised to give to all mankind, and He fulfilled His promise on Easter Sunday. It is His promise that the debt for all sins has been paid by Jesus, once and for all.
Now we too know, in the words of our text, “the word that sustains the weary.” It is “Jesus”! Day by day, by day, by day, we center our thoughts and our confidence on that Savior. In this way we make time our ally for when we stay in that day to day walk with our Savior, an amazing thing takes place in our lives. Those trials and hardships meant by Satan to pull us away from our faith, serve only to drive us closer to our God. A closer walk with God ensures that the persecution we face for truly living our Christianity makes us all the more certain of the truth of God’s Word. Though Satan intended that very same persecution to create doubt and eventually unbelief, the Holy Spirit turns it to our eternal good.
Here is how and where we find our “Refuge for the Weary,” for here we find that it is not we who are worn down by such hardship, it is rather those who oppose righteousness who diminish. Our text puts it this way: “Surely the Lord GOD will help Me; who is he who will condemn Me? Indeed they will all grow old like a garment; the moth will eat them up.” [v.9]
It is under these circumstances that time becomes our friend and ally. A day by day, closer walk with God serves to make us stronger day by day, moment by moment. Time also then becomes Satan’s worst nightmare, for his kingdom is thereby diminished as he finds himself being drawn ever closer to the certain torment that awaits him.
Truly, as our text says, there is no one who can bring charges against the Son of God. What is more, we too can now say the very same thing! No one can bring charges against me! It is the Lord Himself who has declared you and me “not guilty” because Jesus has paid the debt for our sins—every last one of them. We know for certain that this payment includes all of our sins because God in His Word has told us that it includes the sins of every human being that ever has and ever will be born. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
All sins have been forgiven by God the Father for Jesus’ sake! “The Lord God will help me; therefore I will not be disgraced” [v.7] our text tells us. Now also, built up and sustained day by day, our text gives us the very message we are to carry to the world: “Who among you fears the LORD? Who obeys the voice of His Servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely upon his God.” [v.10] The message is that God has declared you “not guilty” for Jesus’ sake—trust in Him!.
Take then this message with you this day. God the Father has blessed you in much the same way that He blessed His own Son. In the words of our text: “The Lord GOD has given (you) the tongue of the learned, that (you) should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.” [v.4] That “Word” is Jesus. Speak that Word. Let that light of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, shine forth in words and action. Then watch with humble awe as the darkness of sin and unbelief retreat in the chaos of utter defeat. 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.