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."

Amen.