Lenten Midweek Sermon \ Isaiah 48:17-22 \ Get Out! \ Pastor Terry Defoe
17 This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. 18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea. 19 Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be blotted out nor destroyed from before me.” 20 Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.” (N.I.V.)
Tonight’s meditation is from a series of midweek Lenten worship services that we’re sharing with other congregations in our Wascana Circuit this year. The title of the series is “Singing with the Exiles.” It’s the work of Dr. Reed Lessing, who served in past years on the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Dr. Lessing is now senior pastor at St. Michael Lutheran Church, in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. During these weeks of Lent, “Singing with the Exiles” presents prophecies of the Messiah from the book of Isaiah and shows us how they are fulfilled in Jesus. In this series of midweek Lenten sermons and worship services, we encounter Jesus the Savior, the One foretold by God’s prophet, the One who restores our relationship with God through His suffering, death and resurrection. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Word tonight and through these weeks of Lent:
Dr. Lessing says:
“Two urgent words are spoken in the following situations. Can you guess what they are?
- Three children are stuck inside a burning home.
- A family of five is stuck in a minivan plunging into a river.
- A highly talented young person is languishing in a dead-end job.
Can you guess those two urgent words? You’re right. “Get out!” Let me give you some of Israel’s history as background to this message tonight. In August, 587 BC, Israel’s world caved in. Their beautiful temple was destroyed by their enemies, the monarchy lay in ruins, the land became a wasteland, and all hope was destroyed. Then a massive aftershock brought even more devastation. Now 700 miles from home, Israel’s exiles became trapped in a what we might describe as a basement – a basement called Babylon – located where we now find modern-day Iraq. In the midst of all this Isaiah has a clear command for the people of Israel, “God says: Get out!”
But that, unfortunately, was easier said than done. With every passing year, the longer the people of Israel stayed in Babylon, the Babylonian god Marduk seemed more and more powerful, while Israel’s God seemed less important. Slowly but surely, the longer they were in that foreign land, with all of its foreign customs and religions, the people of Israel adapted – and increasingly accepted – their new surroundings. Documents unearthed by archaelogists show that Israel’s strategy of playing by Babylon’s rules brought them substantial financial benefits. Living comfortably in this foreign land of apostasy, became the new normal for them.
It was what some have described as the “boiling frog syndrome.” It’s said that if a frog is dropped into hot water, it will immediately jump out, but if it’s placed in lukewarm water, and that water is gradually heated, the frog won’t be able to escape. By the time it figures out what’s going on, it’s too late! Israel’s exiles found themselves in slowly heated water. The water was getting very uncomfortable. And Isaiah was telling them: “It’s time for you to get out – to escape. If you wait any longer, it’ll be too late! You need to GET OUT now!”
Isaiah’s God-given task was to do everything he could to wake Israel from it’s spiritual slumber and get them out of Babylon. So he announced that God
“… will show His holy power for all the nations to see” (Isaiah 52:10).
His “glory will be revealed; all people will see it…” (40:5).
Isaiah offered the people gracious words of hope. He said that
“… those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength” (40:31),
“… a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out” (42:3).
What did they need to do? Simple: “Wake up!” “Get out!”
The high point of Isaiah’s call to action is found in our text, where he says, in Isaiah chapter 48, verse 20,
“Leave Babylon, flee from these Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy!”
And how did the people of Israel’s respond? So what do you think? They did nothing . . . nothing! Faced with Isaiah’s urgent call to head out of town, they wouldn’t leave! The glamourous lights of Babylon, the enticing sounds of Babylon, the soothing religion of Babylon coaxed the people of Israel to stay right there in Babylon! Isaiah’s response was scathing. He calls these people stubborn, unyielding, headstrong, prone to idolatry. There’s more. He tells those Israelites that they are deaf to God’s call, their motivations are deceptive. They are stubborn rebels from the day of their birth, he says. All this because Israel refused to listen to the Gospel of their salvation. Isaiah’s command for the people of Israel to “listen” is found eleven times in Isaiah chapter 48.
Imagine what the people were saying to God’s prophet:
“Isaiah, haven’t you heard? Don’t you get it? Babylon is the political-military-religious superpower of the day. This is the land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Why would we want to go back to that little backwater called Judah? Besides, what a huge hassle it would be to liquidate all of our assets, pack up our bags, and pull up stakes. And for what? To return to a land devastated by famine and warfare? You want us to leave this place? Really? You must be out of your mind!”
Dr. Lessing says that this situation could be compared to a thirsty person choosing to drink raw sewage instead of water from a mountain stream. Or you could compare it to a bankrupt company rejecting a bailout offer. Amazingly, Israel’s exiles were unmoved by Isaiah’s command. But isn’t that true in our day, too? Our bondage to sin begins with just one more drink, one more half-truth, one more fling, one more sidelong glance. But, you know how it works and so do I. That one more always leads to one more, and then, after that, one more again. Like the Apostle Paul we say, “I know my sin only to well. Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Like the people of Israel in the far country called “Babylon” we find ourselves trapped. And it seems that there’s no way out.
Dr. Lessing puts it this way: “Sure, being obsessed with pornography, money, gossip, food, people’s approval, or work is a strange place to be in, at least at first. It’s crushing to be trapped beneath collapsed hopes and shattered dreams. But, in time, we become accustomed to living that way. With each passing day, it becomes easier for us to deny that we are slaves to that which kills and steals and destroys. We are living in sin’s hot water! But that’s exactly why God has his prophet proclaim:
“Get out of Babylon, leave the Babylonians! Declare this with a shout of joy.” God is calling His people – He is calling everyone as a matter of fact – to let him show them the way out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And God has been doing that for a very long time. I’ll give you some examples from Scripture. God called Abraham and Sarah to get out of Haran because it was the center of a false religion. He urged Lot and his family to get out of Sodom and Gomorrah because it was the center of sexual perversion. And He called his people Israel to flee the slavery of Egypt. At the core of the Bible’s message is this clear call to action: “Let me show you the way out of decay, decadence, and death. And our response? Too often it’s just the same as the people of Israel living in Babylon. A yawn and a shrug.
Too often, we don’t heed the Scripture’s Christ-centered Gospel of our salvation. Too often, our response is similar to that found in the book of Isaiah, chapter 30, verses 10 and 11 where the people ask God’s prophet to weaken the message:
“Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions; stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!”
But, deep down in our souls, we’re thirsty for Christ’s living water. Not for more of the same old same old. What the world offers us is like salt water in the desert. That salt water doesn’t quench our spiritual thirst — it leads to destruction and death. No. We want a clean conscience; we really do want a fresh start; we really do need a strong hand to reach down and pull us out of the quicksand of sin. What we most need is exactly what God is offering us in Christ. God’s prophet Isaiah has wonderful good news for us! Because of what Jesus has done for us, God can say:
“I blot out your transgressions for My own sake, and remember your sins no more.” (43:25).
“I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you.” (44:22).
These great and precious promises are fulfilled in and through Isaiah’s Servant, Jesus our Lord, the one who died on the for us and was raised from the dead for our justification. You know, in those classic gangster stories, when the head of the family orders a “hit,” we often hear that
“It’s not personal; it’s just business.”
But that’s certainly not true when it comes to Jesus’s death. His death was intensely personal. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him with a kiss. In His hour of greatest need, His friends ran for cover. Many of His countrymen called for His death. And, on the cross, according to Jesus Himself, His very own Father momentarily abandoned Him. So Jesus’ death was very personal. He suffered and died for all of us. He bled for us and suffered for us. He experienced the nails and the thorns for each one of us. And now, He graciously visits us when we are enduring life’s low points. He comes alongside us in our darkness and sin. He comes alongside to rescue us from guilt and shame and regret. And, as the Holy Spirit enables us, we respond in faith. As the Holy Spirit works through the Word and the Sacraments, we get out of Babylon, we flee those enslaving Babylonians, and, to top it all off, we declare it with a shout of joy! May God always remind us of this liberating truth made possible by our Savior! Amen.
Let’s pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Continue to be with us on our Lenten journey to the cross this year. Help us compare Israel’s situation with our own. Guide us, keep us from the destruction threatened by our sins, and bring us anew to the light of Christ. Help us remember what we have been saved FROM and also what we have been saved FOR. Keep us in the very center of Your most holy will. In our blessed Savior’s name we pray. Amen.