Sermon: Isaiah 52:1-6
End Time 3 - Saints Triumphant - November 19, 2017 -
Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
It’s getting difficult to find a place where we can feel safe. Generally we can feel safe in our homes. But we know that once we go outside of our homes today we can’t always be so sure of our safety. People who live in Chicago have become painfully aware of the danger of gunfire. Hundreds are killed every year in Chicago. We hear about terrorist attacks on the streets of cities in Europe and in New York City and Boston. Just two weeks ago on a Sunday morning a church in Texas wasn’t a safe place to be. And this past week another shooting in California left a number of people dead.
In our text today the LORD speaks to the people of Jerusalem and tells them that he’s going to make their city perfectly safe. Sinners and the defiled would never enter Jerusalem again. Therefore he encourages his people to wake up, get up, and clothe themselves with garments of splendor, clothe themselves like royalty who have been set free by God from all their enemies.
Where would a perfectly safe place for us be? Those places are getting to be fewer and almost non-existent in this world. The only perfectly safe place to be is heaven, and it’s ultimately heaven that God is promising us in these words from Isaiah.
Today we’re going to talk about
A SAFE PLACE TO BE
The LORD begins by saying to the people of Jerusalem, “Awake, awake, O Zion.” Zion is another name for Jerusalem. It was the main hill on which Jerusalem and the temple were built.
But the encouragement to wake up plays a rather important role in our readings on this Saints Triumphant Sunday. In addition to these words of Isaiah the virgins in the parable in our gospel reading were encouraged to wake up and be ready for the coming of the bridegroom. And we just finished singing a hymn based on that parable: “Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying.”
In the parable of the ten virgins it’s clear that God’s people, we, need to take care to be ready for the coming of Jesus, our heavenly bridegroom. But the encouragement for Jerusalem to wake up in these words from Isaiah are not just a warning to be ready, but they’re also a promise of something very special that’s going to come.
And that something very special is a perfectly safe city, a perfectly safe Jerusalem. So the LORD says to his people, “The uncircumcised and defiled will not enter you again. Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion.”
Do you think Jerusalem is a safe place to be today? It’s somewhat safe. Thousands of people live there, and thousands of tourists visit Jerusalem every day. But you also know that Jerusalem over the last forty or fifty years has been the site of many bombings and terrorist attacks. A resident or visitor to Jerusalem today can be relatively safe but only because there are Israeli soldiers walking the streets with weapons very evident. Jerusalem in 2017 is not the safe place that the LORD is speaking about in these words of Isaiah.
Was Jerusalem ever a secure and safe city? In my Bible reading this week I’ve been reading in 1 Kings which recounts King Solomon building the beautiful temple and a palace for himself. Gold and bronze covered just about everything. King Solomon also built up the walls of the city for protection. He also extended the boundaries of Israel to the farthest extent they ever were. It must have been a glorious time in Israel and Jerusalem, a time of great prosperity, a time of great security.
But it was a time of prosperity and security that Jerusalem would never see again. In these words the Lord recounts the problems that the people of Israel and Jerusalem encountered. Actually he remembers how his people originally were captive in Egypt. We know that story well. Jacob and his sons went to live in Egypt. They grew to be a very large population but were dominated and demoted to servanthood until God sent Moses to lead them to the Promised Land.
Then God says, “Lately, Assyria has oppressed them.” After the glory days of King David and King Solomon the nation declined and was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, leaving Judah and Jerusalem vulnerable.
That’s why the LORD continues, “‘And now what do I have here?’ declares the LORD. ‘For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,’ declares the LORD.” This was a prophecy of something bad, something more, for the people of Jerusalem. The Babylonians would come in a little over 100 years, destroy the city, kill many people, and take the rest captive.
Some of the people would return from captivity and rebuild the city and the temple. King Herod in Jesus’ day would make Jerusalem into a pretty glorious city, but in a short time the Romans would destroy it. Since then Jerusalem has been rebuilt, but trampled on by many soldiers from many different nations. In 1967 the Israelis once again took control of the old city and the area where the temple once stood. And it is the city that it is today.
But it’s not, never was, and will never be, the safe and secure place that the LORD is talking about in these words of Isaiah. The Zion, the Jerusalem, that God is talking about in this text is all of God’s faithful people throughout time. He’s really talking about what we call the Holy Christian Church, all true believers in Jesus, from all time, from every nation on earth. God has saved them all, he has redeemed them from sin, and will gather them into the only safe and secure place there is, his kingdom.
God is talking about you and me in these words. The Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians who captured us, the enemies who have made us unsafe and vulnerable to God’s judgment, are Satan and our own sin.
But God’s message in this whole account, the good news, is that God has redeemed us and saved us from our sin and wants us to rest secure and safe and forever in his holy city Jerusalem, in his kingdom, heaven, and ultimately in a new heaven and earth. And God has redeemed us and saved us from our sin in order to defend his own name against his enemies. “All day long my name is constantly blasphemed,” the LORD says.
The LORD has some very interesting words to describe how he has redeemed us and all his people: “You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.” When the people of Israel were under the authority of the Egyptians, when the Israelites were conquered by Assyria, when the people of Judah and Jerusalem were taken captive by Babylon the LORD received no payment for them, no compensation. They were sold for nothing. Therefore God was not obligated to pay anyone anything to buy his people back, to redeem them. “Without money you will be redeemed.”
God was not obligated to anyone to redeem us and save us from our sins. God wasn’t even obligated to us to redeem us and save us from our sins. He didn’t have to redeem us and save us from our sins. But he did. And he did redeem us and save us from our sins because he wanted to, because he loved us, because of his grace.
“You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed” is really a beautiful description of God’s grace, his undeserved love. God redeemed and saved you and me just because he wanted to. He didn’t redeem and save us because we did something to earn his love and mercy. He didn’t redeem and save us because he saw that we would live such good lives that we deserved to be saved. He didn’t redeem and save us because we were more special than other people. He didn’t redeem and save us because he owed salvation to us. He didn’t redeem and save us because he was obligated to save us. God saved us purely and because he wanted to.
The reason to save us, the power to save us, the motivation to save us came fully and entirely from the heart of our unimaginably gracious and merciful God.
And we know what he did to save us. Every time his people were conquered, whether it was the Egyptians, or the Assyrians, or the Babylonians, he always restored a remnant of his people to keep the line of the promised Messiah, the Savior, alive. He redeemed and restored a group of his people from Babylon, a group who returned to Judea and rebuilt Jerusalem, the temple, and their nation. And 500 years later from that nation in the town of Bethlehem Jesus was born.
Jesus redeemed us. He gave his life on the cross not because he had to. He atoned for our sin on the cross not because we deserved it. He paid the penalty of sin not because we paid him to do it. He died on the cross for us because he wanted to, he wanted to save us from our sins, he wanted to save us from hell. Jesus died to save us purely and completely out of grace and mercy and love.
That’s why on this Saints Triumphant Sunday, and every day of our life, God says to us his people, “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city.”
Those garments are the white robes of Jesus’ righteousness and holiness. We can stand before God in his kingdom dressed in the righteousness and holiness of Jesus. And because of Jesus God calls us holy. Because of Jesus God calls us saints. And one day in heaven we will be in a safe place, an eternally safe place with God. We will be saints triumphant. Amen.