Isaiah 51:1-6, Psalm 138, Romans 12:1-8, Matthew 16:13-20
Sermon for Sunday 23rtd August 2020 Revd Tudor V Roberts.
God faithful to his people in exile Faithful to us in Lockdown.
Open your Bibles please at Isaiah 51.
Lifting up our eyes.
During shut down or lock down a lot of us have been looking with fresh eyes at creation, listening for birdsong, we have looked at our TV screens as Covid 19 figures have come up, we have listened out for phone calls from friends and family.
In Israel’s ‘lockdown’ locked down in exile or locked up in a besieged Jerusalem Isaiah the prophet writes to the people of God and wants to give them a message of hope. When political and international wars are raging its not just bodies that get hurt, its people’s minds too, people’s very heart and soul can get wounded. Now when you suffer in such a way you need to look up and out, and so Isaiah’s message begins in Isaiah 51:1-6 in a way that will help the reader and listener listen, look, and feel again and be able to “look up”
God had been faithful to Abraham had he not?. But now God reminds his people that when Abram left Haran, he had nothing (or virtually nothing)
Isaiah 51:2 When I called Abraham, he was only one man and I blessed him and made him many”
Now the people that sprung from Abraham (and Sarah as Isaiah mentions her name too) had multiplied (from when they had gone down to Egypt come back to Israel and become a people, a nation, in their hundreds of thousands)But now disaster had struck and they were exiled (the Exile was for Israel the most disastrous thing that had happened to the nation worse than invasion they were now exiled from land, inheritance and fields, and the Ark of God and Temple) so now in exile or back in the land but in shame or poverty, where could their hope come from?
I think there is a message for the Church here, when the pews are full when our accounts are flush we can think that is it ,we are blessed, God is with us, but Christianity never really flourishes when the Church puts its faith in numbers buildings and wealth alone ( it may seem to of course) but real church growth comes as we rely 100pct on God’s grace, the Person of God, and his power, not ours.
Isaiah had already comforted the exiles in Isaiah 49:13:
Shout for Joy Heavens
Rejoice you earth
Burst into song you mountains
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones
The present barrenness that Israel is going through (pictured in ruins and deserts in vs 3 of Isaiah 51) because of exile wil be restored to be like Eden; God always has the bigger picture. For the exiles, the present the “now” of exile and suffering will be replaced by fruitfulness and provision. So, in vs 4 Israel gets told the Gentiles are part of my plan too the Nations will be included, if we are open ,God will always use us for his glory and for his bigger purposes more than we could realise.
So, throughout this passage of Isaiah 51 we get
Listen in Isaiah 51:1-3
Hearken in 51:4-6
Listen in 51 : 7-8
Awake in 51:9-16
Rouse yourself in 51:17-23
Awake in 52:1-6
Do you get the picture ? Granted today we are just looking at Isaiah 51:1-6 God wants us to be aware, attentive, to listen, to be a people who are awake.( see similar messages in 1 and 2 Thessalonians)
In verse 5 the Prophet Isaiah speaking God’s words says “My righteousness draws near speedily my salvation is on the way my Arm+ will bring justice”. The word “arm” means “power” in Isaiah 51:5 (in the Hebrew the word is the plural for arms) so what is implied here is the fulness of divine personal action, it recalls Deuteronomy 32:27.That verse says “The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms”. These words are inscribed on Dorset Stone on my Mother’s grave in an Essex Village Church graveyard, so they mean a lot to me personally. The verse goes on to say “he (God) will drive out your enemies before you saying destroy them!” The fulness of divine power will come in a person: the coming servant of the Lord. Surely then as Christians we can see in these verses, hints of the one we know as Messiah, Jesus our Saviour. The hope of his coming was given to the exiles and in Matthews Gospel the message Jesus gives come to an Israel who are not in exile but are being ruled over by a foreign power.+ See to Mark 10:16 " And he took the children in his arms placed his hands on them and blessed them"
“Who do you say I am”? asks Jesus in Matthew 16:13-20 of his disciples and Peter says “You are the Messiah the Son of the living God” What a revelation and Jesus knows that the early Church, indeed the Church in every age will have just as big a battle on as the Jewish people had to believe in God’s goodness at the time of Exile, and so he promises Peter these words
“ I tell you, You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her” Israel was told by Isaiah to look to the rock from which she had been hewn. Fast forward 450 years or so and Jesus standing in a city named after a Roman Emperor, Caesarea Philippi says to Peter (whose name in Greek means rock) his No 1 disciple I will build my Church on you Peter (as it were on you a new rock) And as I have said many times Peter failed his Lord a number of times, just as Abraham did Yahweh, and yet God trusted Abraham and now Jesus trusts Peter. Abraham messed up, so did David and so will Peter. But God does not ask for superheroes he asks for normal human beings who dare to put their trust in him obey him, and love him, and serve him. Sometimes in a church it can feel as if everything is going wrong, think of the Church fighting the Nazis from 1933-45 and then God raising up Dietrich Bonhoeffer, think of the Church in Sudan fighting against Islamic extremism and still persevering in building the kingdom of God in that land, and yet Jesus promises even the gates of Hades will not prevail over the Church. Now being a true being disciple that Jesus can use for His purposes is a lifelong journey(read the story of the Saints from the year 60 to today). Romans 12 says that God conforms us to the image of his son. He has to stamp into us his word, the person and character of Jesus, the infilling of the Holy Spirit so that our minds are transformed and as I and others can witness sometimes this “transformation” process takes a lifetime ( it did with Abraham and with Peter) but Jesus promises he will do it! the Holy Spirt has been sent to help us be transformed people and Jesus says HE will build his Church.(read the section in Romans 12 to get Paul's hints on how to BE Church)
May it be so
Begin in Me Lord
Begin in us Amen.