Text: Isaiah 35:1-10
Third Sunday in Advent, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Can you remember a time when you were homesick? I am sure most of us have known the feeling sometime in our life. You want to go and be at home where things are familiar. You want to be around people who understand you. You want that sense of safety and belonging which only home can provide. As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”
Well, most of us know that feeling but if I am guessing there are not many of us who know what it’s like to be barred from our home, to be kicked out of our home or to be run out of our house; to be exiled. That’s a different feeling all together. Removed from house and home forcibly, against your will. You desire nothing more to return home, to go back, but you can’t. Imagine, now, that your exile is directly your fault. The only person to blame for your distress is you. How would you feel then? Homesickness would quickly turn into sorrow and despair. Perhaps you can understand the desperate cry for help reflected in this popular Advent hymn:
“O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears.” (LSB #357, St. 1)
Exile is a Result of Sin
Isaiah prophesied during a time of prosperity, the likes of which no Israelite had seen since the time of Solomon. Riches flowed into their land because of a post-war boom. But with that prosperity came great moral decay and spiritual corruption. Israel and Judah ended up trusting in their prosperity, instead of in the Lord. They paid the Lord lip-service, and then worshiped like heathens. Their sin was far more serious than they realised. They preferred idolatry and self-rule to the rule of the Creator God. So, the Israelites were kicked out of the Promised Land because of what they’d done. You see, actions have consequences.
Think for a moment about sports. Sports run by a set of rules. We expect that those playing the game not only know the rules, but also follow them. This is why disputes sometimes break out. Number 6 was holding. Number 28 committed a personal foul. He was out of bounds. Sometimes, a player does something so bad that he’s actually removed from the game and sent back the locker rooms. He’s exiled. Isaiah is saying that God has sent Israel into exile because they flagrantly violates God’s rules, they have continuously rejected him and loved their sin more than their Creator.
We are all a lot like the children of Israel. Are you aware of how easily we can drift into idolatry? Are you aware of your own propensity to wander? Like Israel and Judah, we have broken God’s rules deliberately, often, and without remorse. We owe God our undivided love. Instead, like Israel we love ourselves more than him. We are to love our neighbours as ourselves. Instead, like Judah, we care mostly for ourselves. Like Israel, we have ignored God’s messengers. Our debt to God keeps accumulating. It is a crushing burden, and there is no way for us to pay it! Isaiah’s message is that in this chaotic world filled to the brim with our own rebellion, there will be serious consequences for us serious if we don’t repent, if we don’t turn back to him.
Being exiled as a result of sin isn’t a new concept either. We’ve seen in Genesis that humanity was exiled from the Garden of Eden for refusing to listen to God and live under his rule. For those who continue on a path of self rule, which is idolatry, there is a permanent exile coming. An eternal separation, an eternal banishment away from the Lord’s presence. It’s a place that the Bible calls the the lake of fire. No one wants to go there. Though sadly, many would rather burn in the lake of fire than give up their sin and follow Christ. Just like this applies to God’s people of old, so ask the warning is for all God’s people today. It’s even for you sitting in the pew. There is a permanent exile coming. But, is there any way to escape exile? Is there any way to dwell with God in his home forever? Is there any hope for sinners like you and me?
Return from Exile means Forgiveness
And then we come to our text. Isaiah proclaimed a message of comfort to the exiles languishing under pagan oppression. “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not!’” (v. 4) God saw that his exiled people had lost all hope. Had God abandoned them to their enemies? They needed help and encouragement desperately. The Lord wanted them to hear his message. There was no need to fear. At just the right time and in the best way, God would fulfil his promises to his people. Isaiah comforts, “Behold, your God will come and save you.” (v. 4). That raises an interesting question: how did Israel get off the hook? Given how heinous their rebellion was, to the point of offering infants as burnt offerings, what has God commuted their sentence?
But that question can be turned around and applied to us: why has God commented your sentence? I mean, surely, we sin just as much as non-Christians? Let’s not forgot that most of the time when we sin, we should know better! But remember, Israel was God’s people and he was committed to keeping them that way. He had gone to great lengths to bring them through the water of the Red Sea, not that they would die or be condemned, but to save them. It’s not about what they, or we, deserve, it’s about the merciful generosity of our God.
Isaiah says, “Behold, your God will come and save you.” (v. 4). The promise here is that the Exile is over. God himself will intervene, he will come personally to the release the captives from exile and bring them home. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (v. 10) He acts on their behalf to redeem his distressed people.
Isaiah told the exiles that God will come to save them, to bring them back to their homes. That means that the sin which put them in exile, has been paid for and forgiven. But, not just them. Now we too, the new Israel can now say, God has come to save us. God has seen our weakness and our fear. He has heard our cries and pleas for mercy and saved us. He has forgiven us. Jesus of Nazareth is God in human flesh. He loved God with his whole heart. He loved his neighbours as himself. He kept God’s law perfectly. Even though Jesus was perfectly innocent, he was brutally executed as a common criminal. He did this voluntarily. Out of his immense love for you. Even though you have broken all God’s laws, and know just how guilty you are, even deserving pf punishment, you can point to the Cross and say, “BEHOLD! Here is your God! Your God has come and saved you.”
Our sin, rebellion and idolatry caused us to be exiled from God. But Christ was exiled outside of Jerusalem and there he died on a cross. In a very real way, we can say that Christ was exiled for us so that we don’t have to be exiled from God forever. Instead of enduring experiencing the consequences of your own sin, Christ suffers the consequences of your sin! All of the sin that you have done…that causes you to be separated from God was paid for by Christ. He paid that fine that, left unpaid, would have exiled you permanently away from all that is good. The payment was not with gold or silver, but his innocent precious blood and death. By his death on the cross, Jesus made the reparation payment on your behalf. He offers you the forgiveness of all your sins. Not only once in our lives, but daily and richly.
Not only that, Christ has defeated death itself when he rose again and walked out of the tomb. There will again be a time when all weeping, all ailments, all death will be banished forever. He promises that when he comes again, instead of an unfair world where no one obeys the rules, we’ll have a world where fair play and justice has been restored. We get to go home again. The exile is over.
Jesus, by his death, has made the payment to God on your behalf. Because he suffered the consequences for your sins, he now comes to you in mercy through his preached word. Even though you once were his enemy, now you are his friend. Here today, once again God comes personally to save you. The exile is over because Christ has forgiven your sins and provides you today with access into God’s presence. He refreshes you with his grace, the same grace which you were given in baptism. He rejuvenates your tired worn out souls, not with consequences or vengeance, but with the forgiving and life giving, strengthening body and blood of Christ in communion. Here and through faithful churches everywhere, he releases prisoners from their spiritual exile, opens the eyes of the spiritually blind and the ears of the spiritually deaf so that they might hear the gospel, turn and be forgiven. Here he makes his new creation.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. (LSB #357, St. 1)
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.