The Lord Will Come with Saving Vengeance

Pentecost 16 + September 6 & 9, 2018 + Pr. Dale Reckzin

Text: Isaiah 35:4-7

Hymn: Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness (CW 353)

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“One Call, That’s All – Gruber Law Offices.”  “Hurt in a car? Call GLR!”  Or you could call Hupy and Abraham. Or you could call Habush, Habush, Davis, & Rottier, or any one of many personal injury lawyers. 

To some people, these kind of lawyers are just “ambulance chancers,” trying to make money off of people’s suffering. Some people accuse these lawyers of fighting dirty.  Some people say that, by forcing insurance companies to pay out huge settlements, they drive up insurance costs for the rest of us.

But in spite of those accusations, personal injury lawyers serve a purpose. They fight so their injured clients receive adequate compensation. That court awarded money makes up for their medical bills, their pain, and suffering.

In our Old Testament Lesson God almost sounds like a personal injury lawyer promising to get adequate compensation for his client’s pain and suffering.  Our text says, "Say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.'" (v 4)

Vengeance and retribution have related meanings.  Vengeance means the guilty party will be punished and held accountable for their crimes.  Retribution means that the innocent victim will receive compensation to make up for any harm the guilty party did to them.

That’s what God promises the innocent victims.  But that begs a few questions. Who are the innocent victims?  Who is the guilty party? In Isaiah’s time, the victims were the people of Judah.  The powerful nations of Assyria and Babylon were guilty of conquering their land, ruining their economy, and killing their people.  So, at least, on the surface, the guilty parties were Assyria and Babylon.

But you could make a case that Judah itself was the guilty party.  And the nation of Judah was guilty.  They had sinned against the Lord.  They failed to worship God with all their heart, soul, and mind.  The Jews adopted religious practices from their pagan neighbors.  The Jews had broken the covenant—that is, the legal agreement. They had broken their covenant with their God.

In that covenant—that legal contract—God clearly stipulated the penalties Judah could expect if they failed to uphold their part of the bargain.  If Judah was not faithful to the Lord, the Lord would punish his people.  The Lord would send foreign nations against Judah to loot, pillage, plunder, and destroy.  That’s what was happening.  So, it would be a convincing legal argument to say, “The nation of Judah was guilty of being unfaithful to the Lord.  The Assyrian and Babylonian armies were simply the instruments the Lord was using to punish Judah for their sins."

A good lawyer—actually, even a mediocre lawyer—can make a similar argument against you and me.  Yes, on the one hand, we are victims.  Friends betray us. Employers exploit us. Strangers steal our goods. Unethical corporations cheat us. Relatives gossip about us. The media deceives us. The government fails us. Terrorists threaten us. This evil world plunders and pillages us.  This wicked world leaves us wounded, scarred, battered, and beaten.  We are victims, indeed, of sin and wickedness.

But, like I said, even a mediocre lawyer could point out that we are getting what we deserve.  Like the nation of Judah, we have not been faithful to the Lord.  Our epistle lesson from James makes that clear.  It says, "Do not merely listen to the word... Do what it says. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:22, 26-27)

You and I have not done what Saint James tells us to do. So, like the nation of Judah did in the time of Isaiah, we have failed to keep our covenant with God.  You and I must confess to the court, “I am guilty as charged.  I have listened to God’s Word at church.  But then I ignore it throughout the week.  Instead of speaking the truth in love, I have insulted friends, lied to my boss, and screamed at my family.  Instead of helping the poor and the needy, I complain how poor I am.  Then I squander my money on clothes I don’t need, gadgets I can’t use, and luxuries I cannot afford.  And yes, I claim to be a child of God.  But I pollute my heart and soul with dirty jokes, an abuse of food and drink, and a disregard for the eternal salvation of my co-workers, friends, and relatives.”

Now, to such an admission of guilt, the Lord—well, the Lord has mercy and compassion.  Yes, the Lord chastises us.  That’s what the Lord did to his people Judah.  He did cause their nation to fall to the Babylonian armies in the year 586 BC.  But after that, the Lord had compassion on his people.  The Lord brought the Jews back to Jerusalem. The Lord re-establish their nation.  The Jews rebuilt their temple.  But most of all, the Lord gave the greatest gift Judah could ever hope for.  The Lord sent his one and only Son, born in Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary. 

Now, how the Lord dealt with his people in the Old Testament, is how the Lord also deals with us.  For the sake of Jesus Christ, his Son, the Lord deals with us in mercy.  Yes, he allows sinners like you and me to suffer painfully in this corrupted, sinful world.  But the Lord promises that the pain and suffering of this world is only a temporary chastisement.  For the sake of Jesus Christ, God has spared us the permanent punishment of hell.  For the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, God has also promised us vengeance on our enemies and retribution.  That is, one day the Lord will put an end to all our suffering and sorrow.  One day God will come and save us from all the pain and agony of sin.

Isaiah describes what that day of vengeance and retribution will be like.  He says, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs." (v 5-7)  Complete reversal of evil – that’s what God will do when he sends his Son on Judgment Day.  Every disability, pain, disease, setback, suffering, or injustice you ever suffered on earth will instantly be gone.  In place of your sorrow and sadness, God will fill you to overflowing with physical health, psychological well-being, and spiritual purity.  Instead of having reasons to complain and be filled with fear, you will shout with joy and have a peace-filled heart. 

You will have all this because of Jesus Christ. That’s because Jesus took the punishment you deserved when he died on the cross.  Jesus provided the innocence you need to stand in God’s courtroom.  Jesus gave you his innocence, his purity, and his holiness at your baptism.  Jesus silenced the prosecuting attorney who is trying to accuse you and condemn you. That is, Jesus silenced Satan once and for all when Jesus rose from the grave.  And by his mighty power Jesus restore his creation to its original perfection. Then, on that day, Jesus will bring you to everlasting glory in your heavenly home.

That Day is not here yet.  You are not a perfectly glorified saint in heaven yet.  You are still a sinner living in a sinful world.  But you know the final verdict that God will pronounce on Judgment Day.  By faith in Christ you have patience to wait for that great and glorious Day.  By faith in Christ you have patience to long for that Day, that Day, when the Lord will come with saving vengeance.  To that coming of our Lord, our faith also says, “Come, Lord Jesus.  Come quickly to save us."


Jesus Comes to Make Us Clean

Pentecost 15  +  August 30 & September 2, 2018  +  Pr. Dale Reckzin

Text: Mark 7 (Selected Verses)

Hymn: O God, My Faithful God (CW 459)

An X-ray machine looks inside your body to see bones, tumors, or foreign objects.  A CT scan also uses X-rays but it rotates around your body to produce a 3D image that more accurately shows what’s inside you.  An MRI also creates an image of what’s inside your body. An MRI uses radio waves and powerful magnets. Medical technology has all sorts of devices to see what’s inside of you.

But there’s one thing medical devices cannot see.  They cannot see your spiritual condition.  They cannot look into your soul.  But Jesus can.  Jesus is true God. He knows all things. In the book of 1 Samuel it says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (I Sam. 16:7)

But when the Lord looks into every human heart, he sees something far worse that a broken bone, a twisted intestine, or a cancerous tumor.  Jesus tells us what he sees in depths of your soul.  He says, "from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.'" (Mark 7:20-23)  That is not a healthy diagnosis.  It’s not a popular diagnosis, either.

And don’t even think of saying, This does not apply to me. Jesus was talking to the Pharisees here.  Those Pharisees were hypocrites.  They looked good on the outside.  But they were filled with self-righteous pride.  They puffed themselves up and looked down on everyone else.  They could find the fault in others but they could not admit their own sins.

That is truly an accurate description of the Pharisees.  But Jesus did not say, "from within, out of Pharisees’ hearts, come evil thoughts..." No, Jesus says, "From within, out of men’s (people’s) hearts, come evil thoughts..."  So it does not matter who you are.  You could be a hypocritical Pharisee or a humble, sincere believer.  You could be murdering thief or a faithful, pious, every weekend attending church member. You could be a sweet, little old granny or a cuddly, cute new born.  "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom. 3:23)  

 The reason we all fall short of God’s glory is that every single human being is conceived and born in sin. King David says in Psalm 51, "Surely, I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."

Every human is a thoroughly corrupt sinner.  We are all born with sin. Sin fills our hearts and minds.  That sinful nature infiltrates everything we think, say, and do. Even at our best; even when we are at our most sincere and humble, sin is still there. Sin infects and spoils our best acts of worship and praise to God.  Isaiah tells us, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 54:6)

Now, you have probably heard all this before.  You may even be thinking, Yeah, so what else is new?  I know I’m a filthy, rotten sinner.  Every time I come to church, I confess my sins.  Every time I listen to a sermon, the pastor discovers a new way to make feel my guilt and shame at a whole new level.  But whether the guilt comes in a new way or in an old way, I have heard it all before.  All this talk about how sinful I am is sounding like a broken record. It is the same thing over and over and over again.

Well, that is true.  God’s Word does point out sin.  God’s Word uncovers your sin.  God’s Word digs deep into your soul to expose your sin.  And all this talk about sin happens a lot in church. And, true, you might get a little tired of hearing about your sin over and over again. 

But there’s also someone else who is tired of hearing about your sin over and over again.  That person is God.  Just think about how God is so tired of hearing about your sin.  Can you imagine God thinking, Oh, there he goes again. 

He thinks he is so pure and innocent.  But I see that filthy fantasy running through his mind the tenth time today. 

And she thinks she is such a hard worker. But I see her goofing off at work every single day. 

He thinks he is such a good husband.  But I see him flirt with other women all the while he’s trying to convince himself that he’s just being "friendly." 

And she claims that she is a friendly, caring person.  But I hear her gossip and I see her self-centered motives.

He says, "Honesty is the best policy.” But I hear him lie to his wife, distort the truth to his neighbors, and cheat in his business dealings. 

She says, "The good Lord has blessed our family so much.” But then envy and the jealousy fill her mind and heart when her sister succeeds or her best friend gets more attention.

And I see them sitting in church thinking, "Yes, Lord, there are a lot of hypocrites in this church." But they still cannot realize and admit that they are worst hypocrites in the whole congregation.

Of course, those are only a few of the sins that God sees us commit over and over again, day after day, year after year.  I think it’s safe to say that God is sick and tired of our sins because he has to hear about our sins, look at our sins, and see us try to explain our sins away.

That is why you and I really do need to hear about our sins again and again.  We do need to confess our sins again and again. We need to realize that we do not have power to get rid of our sins.  We need to avoid the mistake of the Pharisees and think we can cover up our sin with a façade of phony holiness.  No, there is only one way to make our impure hearts clean.  There is only one way to wash away the foul stench of our sins.  That way is Jesus.

Now, I began this sermon by mentioning all the diagnostic devices of modern medicine: X-Rays, CT scans, MRIs, and so on.  All these devices and procedures look for disease and help doctors diagnose disease.  In a way, that’s what Jesus does in our text.  He uses the diagnostic tool of God’s word to identify sin and diagnose us with the deadly disease of a sinful nature.

But image if modern medicine came up with a device that could accurately diagnose every disease.  But this device not only diagnoses disease.  It also cures the disease it identifies.  All a doctor has to do is use this device on a patient.  It scans and examines the patient.  It determines the illness. Then it instantly applies the right treatment to cure the disease on the spot.

Well, if there were such a device, everybody would run to the doctor and say, “Hey, Doc, I’ve got a sore foot.  I had terrible headaches.  There’s a pain in my chest.  I’m losing my hearing.  I’m losing my eyesight. I’m losing my hair. I’m losing my mind. So, Doc, use that machine and cure me.”

Well, my friends - my fellow sinners - when it comes to our deadly disease of sin, such a device exists.  Actually, it’s not a device.  It’s a person.  It’s Jesus.  Although our Gospel lesson does not come right out and say it, Jesus loved those Pharisees.  He diagnosed their sin so that he could heal them and forgive them and save them.  We know that’s true because that’s what Jesus wants for the whole world.  Saint John tells us, "But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1-2)

So, why did Jesus come down to earth? Why did he speak to the Pharisees?  Why does Jesus do anything at all? Jesus comes to make us clean. Yes, in order to clean us, Jesus first shows us how filthy dirty we really are.  But, Jesus does more than expose and uncover our sin. Jesus washes away our sin with his holy, precious blood.  Jesus purifies us completely.  Saint John also tells us, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (I John 1:9)

So come to Jesus.  Trust in Jesus.  Believe in Jesus.  He purifies you.  He washes you.  Jesus makes you clean.  All praise, glory, and honor be to Christ and to Christ alone.