The Fourth Sunday in Lent March 18, 2012
31, 373(1-4,7), 487, 15
How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Your watchmen shall lift up their voices,
With their voices they shall sing together;
For they shall see eye to eye
When the Lord brings back Zion.
Break forth into joy, sing together,
You waste places of Jerusalem!
For the Lord has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has made bare His holy arm
In the eyes of all the nations;
And all the ends of the earth shall see
The salvation of our God.
In Christ Jesus, our Good News, dear fellow-redeemed:
Laetare! “Lay…what?” you say? Laetare!
The early Christian church gave a Latin name to each of the Sundays in Lent. The name for this Sunday is Laetare which means “rejoice.”
As you know, Lent is the season that is customarily a time of penitence and sorrow over sins. Yet, in the middle of this somber time of the church year when the historic prayers and readings all turn our attention to Jesus’ bitter suffering and death, here we have a Sunday designed to have a different tone. Out from the middle of Lent this Sunday jumps up and says, “Rejoice!”
When the church fathers established the church year, they understood that even in a time of penitence a Christian’s joy should not and cannot be silenced. Penitent sorrow? Yes, indeed! But sinners one and sinners all REJOICE! I HAVE GOOD NEWS! I. Joy when good news is the message, II. Joy when good news is yours, and III. Joy when good news is real. We ask the Spirit to bless us in our meditation and make the joy of our salvation full.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news…” [v.7] Once upon a time, before there was a post office, before telegraphs and telephones, before e-mail and texting, messages were carried in a much simpler way: on foot. Messengers in the ancient world were runners.
The people of ancient cities would anxiously await, and the watchmen on the towers would be looking for any sign of a runner who was coming with a message from the battlefield. The message was brought quickly on the feet of the runner and oh, how beautiful were those swift feet when they came with good news for the city. The city of Jerusalem was built on several hills so when the good news messenger came to that city the people were glad to have his beautiful feet bring good news to their mountains!
Much of the news which Isaiah brought to the people of Israel was not good. They were not happy to hear the message from Isaiah’s mouth, and his feet were not beautiful to them for he carried a message of destruction, desolation, and defeat for Jerusalem and her people. The unbelievers hated the message because it was a judgment on their sins and wicked lives, and they didn’t want to hear it. The believers grieved over the message because they knew it was just and they mourned the sinful state of their land.
God, through His prophets, announced harsh judgment on the sins and unbelief of the people—loss of riches and life, destruction, captivity—but in the midst of that bad news which the people brought upon themselves by their sin, God always left good news for the faithful. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” [v.7]
How beautiful it was to hear from the messengers of God that after His judgment, after the captivity into Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem, there would be a restoration. A remnant of the people would come back from their captivity. They would re-establish a nation and a home in Judah and then the Savior of the world would be born. How beautiful it was for the faithful to hear God’s good news promise! On the hillsides of Jerusalem that would become heaps of rubble under God’s judgment, how beautiful to hear that God would one day restore peace to those hills and save Israel from her enemies.
During the years when Israel was attacked and defeated by the enemies it appeared as if God had lost control and that the wicked kings ruled supreme. How beautiful to hear the messenger report, “Your God reigns! He is king! He will deliver you! He will save you from your enemies!”
It is a pastor’s joyful privilege to be a messenger who brings good news. Like the messengers on the hillsides of Judea who could announce the good news that there was peace, salvation, and that God reigns, so too the pastor announces good news to sinners such as himself.
Pastors are called to be “ministers of the Gospel.” Ministers are people who serve. “Gospel” means “good news.” The message of faithful pastors is the good news about Christ Jesus. It is joy for the messenger and for the hearers alike to hear the good news that there is peace between God and sinners, that there is a way to be saved from sin, and that God reigns over all things.
Not every task of a pastor is joy. There are times when a pastor may be called upon to break the sorrowful news to a family that a loved one has died; and yet, when that loved one has died in Christ the pastor still has a message of joy because of the certain hope of the resurrection and life eternal.
But there is an even more difficult task that belongs to a pastor. The hardest part of the ministry is when the pastor’s message is of necessity the hard condemnation of the Law instead of the sweet good news of the Gospel.
When a sinner is impenitent no good news can or ought to be given. At such a time God lays the responsibility of warning upon His messengers: “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand’” (Ezekiel 33:8).
When a called-shepherd of souls takes a message to sheep who have strayed or to those who have yet to realize their sin and God’s condemnation, he cannot bring the message of good news. He must first bring the message of God’s judgment on sin. This is not a pleasant nor easy task, but it needs to be done. We can truly marvel at the God-given strength of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the other prophets who faithfully brought the news of judgment even when it could have cost them their own lives.
Once sin is recognized and understood, once there is sorrow over the sin and the need for help and salvation is known, then a messenger is filled with joy for then he can bring the news: “Son/daughter, be of good cheer your sins are forgiven you!” (Matthew 9:2).
Every messenger certainly prays that he might always be the bearer of good news bringing joy. With this goal in mind, the writer to the Hebrews urges us to “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7,17).
Everything we have now said about pastors is also true for each of you. Pastors are called to special responsibilities within a congregation, but every individual child of God is a messenger of God and an Ambassador of the Word of Reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18ff). Every messenger of God is a watchman upon whom God has placed the responsibility of warning the wicked about their ways, expose sin, and bring the bad news of judgment upon souls secure in their sin. But oh! what joy each of us shares to be messengers of Christ’s good news of peace and salvation to all who despair and sorrow over their sins.
You can read good news in the paper and think it nice, but if it doesn’t apply to you then it seldom receives more than a passing note. There is no longevity in that joy, nor personal excitement.
There was going to be joy on the hillsides of Jerusalem when the messenger came because he brought good news for their city…for them! “Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; For they shall see eye to eye when the LORD brings back Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” [v.8-9]
Good news would spread quickly and is contagious. The watchmen sees the messenger and together they quickly spread the word and soon the whole city is singing aloud for joy! The good news of restoration was for everyone in the city. They would all be comforted because they would know that the Lord had redeemed His people from their misery. There was reason for every waste place and every down-trodden person to break forth for joy.
When the good news first came through Isaiah it was just a message. The actual restoration was many years in the future. Nevertheless, it was a good news promise from God that they would see His deliverance. It was good news that belonged to them and they rejoiced!
In today’s epistle reading, Paul counseled the Galatian Christians warning them that they were in danger of throwing away their joy. Paul had brought the good news of Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection to the Galatians. They heard and believed that the good news of forgiveness was for them and they received it with joy. Then others came and started to rob the Galatians of their joy. False teachers came into the congregation and began to persuade the Galatians that they were still bound under the Old Testament law. In other words, they were saying that what Jesus did wasn’t quite enough for their salvation so they had to keep observing the Old Testament ceremonial laws in order to make their salvation complete. The false teachers began to convince the Galatians that salvation came through how well they could keep God’s Law.
If what these false teachers were saying was true, there was really no longer anything all that good in the good news of Christ. The Galatians could well say, “Paul, your news sounds good but what true good is it for me if it doesn’t free me from the Law?” Paul wrote Galatians to counter this false teaching and to reassure the Galatians that Jesus provides full salvation and His good news is all that they needed.
The good news message of what Jesus has done and what God promises because of it is your good news. It is good news for sinners. You are a sinner, therefore, it is good news for you. This is not good news to be casually heard and then forgotten. The good news that Jesus lived a perfect life in your place, died the death of eternal Hell in your place, rose to life and ascended into Heaven for you belongs to you personally, affects you personally. Absorb it when you hear it. Call it your own. It is good news to cleanse your conscience from guilt. It is good news to give you a reason to live. It is good news to put a smile on your face. It is good news to give you patience and a forgiving spirit to others. It is good news to change your whole way of life into a life of joy.
There is joy when the good news belongs to you. Even from prison Paul could say, “Keep on rejoicing in the Lord always. Again I will say keep on rejoicing” (Philippians 4:4).
No matter how good the news is and how much it applies to you, if it turns out to be a hoax it’s worthless and leaves you feeling like a fool. Therefore, in order for there to be joy, the good news has to be real.
I recently finished reading a novel that tells the story of a convicted murderer on death row. After several years, this man had run out of appeals. As the day of his execution came nearer and nearer he began to take a different approach to the murders and crimes he had committed. When once he had been bold and defiant he now began to feel sorrow and remorse for the many evil things he had done. In the last few days, the man in the story admitted all the terrible things he had done, wrote letters of apology to the families of his victims, and confessed his horrible crimes to a minister.
The minister assured the man on death row that Jesus had died for all of his sins, that they were washed away and completely forgiven. The man replied, “Preacher, I’ve done a lot of bad things and you’re telling me that just like that Jesus takes them all away? It sounds too easy. It sounds just too good to be true.”
The novel is fiction but the news the minister gave is true. The message of our salvation does sound too good to be true. When good news seems too good, you go looking for proof that it is real. Our good news has this verification and seal of authenticity: “The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” [v.10]
This verse is right in the middle of an amazing section of Scripture. Already in chapter 49, the LORD introduces His Servant who would be a light to the Gentiles. In chapter 50, the LORD describes how this Servant will bring hope to Israel. In chapter 51, God announces the comfort He will bring to His people and that His anger will be removed from them. In the earlier verses of chapter 52 God told Jerusalem to “put on you beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city” (v.2) because no longer would she wear the drab clothes of sorrow. Beyond the words of our text, God announces that His Servant will bear the people’s sins and deliver them from judgment. Then come the familiar words of Isaiah chapter 53 in which the Servant’s (Jesus) suffering and death are described in vivid detail.
The LORD has made bear His arm. He has made bare His almighty holy arm and it is ready for battle to save His people. The way in which He made bare His arm for battle was to send His Son, Jesus, to be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.” He was oppressed and afflicted, and yet, not once opened His mouth in defense of His innocence but was silent like a sheep before the shearers. The LORD made bare His arm and fought for us and won the victory by sending His Servant and laying on Him the iniquity of us all (cf: Isaiah 53:1-7).
This laying bear of the arm, the battle, the victory was done for all to see. It was done in the eyes of all the nations. It was done, recorded in God’s Word, and proclaimed so that all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God. We have God’s own arm laid bare for us, God’s own Servant sent for us, God’s own Word given to us, God’s own Spirit living in us—all serving as proof that the good news is real.
When you come to church week after week you don’t hear the world’s greatest wit. You don’t find new kinds of entertainment. Rather, week after week you hear the same basic news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. That news doesn’t change, and thanks be to God that it doesn’t! The basic message of this messenger remains the same, but it is always good news week after week because there is always a need for that good news in your life and in mine.
May God preserve each of us and this congregation from ever having a messenger stand here and say anything but, “Rejoice! I have good news!” and then go on to talk about the wonders of our Savior from sin and the joy of our salvation. 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.