Fourth Sunday in Lent March 19, 2023
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Worship Supplement 2000: 724, 151, 155, 363
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Lord God, heavenly Father, from Your hand we receive all good gifts and by Your grace we are guarded from all evil. Grant us Your Holy Spirit that, acknowledging with our whole heart Your boundless goodness, we may now and evermore thank and praise You for Your loving-kindness and tender mercy; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.” Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!” (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, our reason for joy, dear fellow redeemed:
The Old Testament book of Isaiah is often divided by students of the Bible into two parts. The first 39 chapters, in general, emphasize God’s judgment upon unbelievers, while the final 27 chapters, in general, emphasize God’s gracious promises to believers. There are chapters, which prove to be exceptions to that division, and our text for today is one of those exceptions. It is a precious gospel-centered text, which speaks of God’s “anger” being “turned away” from us, and our God becoming our “salvation.” The result, Isaiah writes, is that we can “sing” His praises and “call” out to Him with absolute confidence that He will hear us and bless us, for He will always dwell among us!
Isaiah wrote these words long before Jesus entered our world. Isaiah, therefore, points ahead to “that day” which was coming—the day when the Promised Savior would finally arrive and accomplish our salvation and then, abiding among us, bestow His blessings upon all who embrace Him in faith. During this Lenten Season, we are looking back to when the prophecies of the coming Christ were fulfilled. From our perspective, then, THE DAY HAS COME! Our proper response is to PRAISE THE LORD for His past salvation and for His present blessings!
Isaiah begins our text with these words: “And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.” Isaiah speaks of God’s anger with us, but he says, as mentioned earlier, that it is an anger that has been “turned away” from us. We do not have to think too hard or look too far to understand why God would have reason to be angry with us and with all human beings. Just listen to the news! As for those of us here today, we have already confessed this morning that we are sinful by nature and have sinned against God and His holy standard in our thoughts, with our words, and by our actions. His law demands perfection—something we cannot even come close to achieving. Consequently, we deserve God’s temporal and eternal punishment. But for the grace of God, our situation would be desperate! In view of that grace—His undeserved love—His anger has been “turned away.” Instead of bringing down His just judgment upon us, God “comforts” us. In what way does He comfort us? Isaiah says: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.”
Instead of having to rely upon ourselves, and our own limited powers for good in an attempt to save ourselves, Isaiah urges us to put our trust entirely in God. If our hope of salvation rested upon ourselves in any way, we could never be confident of the future. We would always find ourselves living in fear. We would wonder, “Have I done enough? Is what I have done been good enough?” By way of contrast, Isaiah assures us, we need not be afraid, “for YAH, the LORD, is … (our) strength and song.” What an interesting phrase that is: “Yah the LORD.” “Yah” is the transliteration of the Hebrew into the English of a shortened version of God’s personal name “Yahweh” or “Jehovah.” Isaiah essentially doubles God’s name simply to emphasize the presence and importance of the LORD in our lives and our salvation.
How are we then saved? Isaiah does not say, but rather points ahead to “that day” that was coming. That day was the day God’s Son entered the stream of humanity. That day was the time that Jesus spent in ministry from His birth until His death, resurrection, and ascension. That day saw Jesus the Servant of the LORD being scourged by the soldiers of Pontius Pilate, so that as Isaiah later informs us “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.” (Isaiah 52:14 ESV). That day found Jesus “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities,” so that through His wounds “we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) Consequently, Isaiah informs us all: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
My dear friends, the apostle Paul is a perfect example of the joy we can all have in Christ. After four years of imprisonment and facing a trial, which could end with a death sentence, he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4) Paul recognized that there was reason to rejoice despite any outward circumstance you or I might be enduring. That reason lies in Jesus Christ and the salvation He has gained for us. Amid whatever trials or troubles we may be experiencing at any given moment, let us continue to “draw water from the wells of salvation,” for God’s love cannot be taken from us and will always provide reason for a sense of real hope and expectation within us! THE DAY HAS COME! Our proper response is to PRAISE THE LORD for His past salvation!
Yes, let us PRAISE THE LORD, as well for His present blessings! Isaiah writes: “And in that day you will say: “Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”
As we examine Isaiah’s concluding words, let us do so by considering his last sentence first: “Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!” When Isaiah addresses the “inhabitant of Zion,” he is referring to Old Testament believers. Looking ahead he is also referring to us. We, too, are to “cry out and shout!” Why? Because the LORD God and His promised Christ are great and dwell in our midst! Remember Jesus’ final words before ascending…words which form a precious and comforting promise, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV) There is not a moment, my dear friends, when we are ever alone.
The LORD recently called our sister-in-Christ, Bonnie Roe, out of this world to Himself in heaven. During my final devotion with Bonnie, I was able to share with her the fact that she need never fear, for her Savior God was with her. Nothing could separate her from His love. At her committal service, I shared with her family and all those present the precious words of Psalm 23. The LORD was indeed Bonnie’s “shepherd,” even as He is for us all. He made Bonnie “lie down in green pastures” and led her “beside still waters,” even as He does each of us. Yes, her loving Savior, Jesus, accompanied Bonnie as she walked “through the valley of the shadow of death,” and He will do so for us as well. And, yes, “goodness and mercy shall follow” us “all the days” of our lives, and we will “dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (Psalm 23) Bonnie, in view of her faith in her risen and living Savior, is experiencing that now! My dear friends, these truths are intended to sustain us and fill us with joy! Our Savior God will always be with us and will always keep His promises to us. Let us turn to the Lord and cry out to Him amid our circumstances whatever they may be, for He will always remain faithful to us!
Consequently, Isaiah uses a series of imperative commands to encourage us always to “give thanks to the LORD,” to “call upon His name,” to “make known His deeds among the peoples,” to “proclaim that His name is exalted,” and to “sing praises to the LORD for He has done excellent things!” Indeed, the LORD has done marvelous things for us all as individuals, as families, and as a Christian community.
My dear friends, are you weary of the rat-race you have been running? Are you at all depressed by the obstacles that are facing you in life right now or the seeming lack of progress in reaching the goals you have established? Have you lost your first love for your Lord and for life? Are you thinking it is time to give up, to turn to the bottle or the pill, or even worse have you contemplated ending it all? The solution is to listen to Isaiah and to put into practice exactly what he is encouraging you to do.
Lift up your eyes to heaven and praise the LORD. Despite everything negative that may be going on in your life, the LORD in His mercy has brought you to this day. He has given it to you as His gift and has promised to remain by our side as you deal with everything facing you. In addition, He does fill all our lives with daily blessings. Identify them and praise God for them. Call upon His name, for He has commanded you to do so, urging you to pray and promising to hear those prayers. He may or may not answer your prayers in the way you expect or desire. God is not a genie in a bottle forced to obey our every command. Rather, He is our heavenly Father, who knows you and me better than we know ourselves. He has plans for each of us that are better than our own. He will do for you and me the right things at the right times and in the right ways! Reach out and speak to others about God’s work among the peoples. Begin with the familiar Bible stories that you know. Then study the history of God’s people and observe how God has been active among His people down through the ages for their blessing and preservation. Consider how God has blessed your own life, the lives of your family members, and the life of this congregation. Acknowledge those blessings, for in so doing you are exalting His name. As we complete this Lenten Season and look forward to Holy Week, sing the familiar hymns, which speak of God’s great work done in Christ. You will be uplifted, encouraged, restored, and reinvigorated!
My dear friends, Isaiah lived long before Christ was born. His prophetic words looked ahead to the coming of Jesus as the Christ sent by God to save us from our sins. We, who now live long after Jesus came the first time, can look back with joy while looking ahead to Jesus’ second coming with even greater joy. Our present and our future lives are secure because of Jesus. THE DAY HAS COME! Our proper response then is to PRAISE THE LORD for His past salvation and for His present blessings! Let us do so as individuals, as families, and as a Christian congregation this Lenten and soon to be Easter Season! 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 (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.