November 22 2015 Sermon
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“He will come again with glory, to judge both the living and the dead.”
The text is the Old Testament Reading:
Isaiah 51:4-6 4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a [Torah] will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait. 6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
“Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath.” Everything goes when he comes. Everything in Gen 1:1–3. That includes everything, all matter, space, time, and energy. Gone. We have no concept of what “gone” means, not really. That thing we threw away is gone in the trash can. And the trash can is dumped into the trash truck and gone to the landfill, or is incinerated, but never gone, because our law says energy is not created or destroyed, only transferred, never gone.
But “Torah” the Word has proceeded from him (v 4). And part of Torah, not all, includes “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:4) and “cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17). And we’ve seen things run down, going, going . . . But when this earth goes hollow and dry like an ancient garment that can’t even be touched lest it disintegrate, when this world that seemed so solid blows away like chaff, along with the people on it, and along with all our laws of science that turned out to be temporary too, we will realize on that Day what “gone” means. I say when, but when will no longer exist either. There’s a difference between sky and nothing, a difference between air and nothing, a difference between space and nothing, and a difference between time and nothing. That Day will make it plain.
Yet we “lift up [our] eyes to the heavens” and say, “But today is not that day.”
And so we take another breath of his air and another glass of his water and work and play on his terra firma and transfer his energy into more sin while we borrow more of his time, and not listen; we refuse to give ear.
We in this twenty-first century are without excuse when we “lift up [our] eyes to the heavens”: even our temporary scientific laws tell us how fragile the heavens are. Those who fancy themselves scientific types used to laugh at biblical phrases such as “the skies will roll up like a scroll” (Is 34:4), until we saw vast expanses of the heavens sucked into one of those “black holes” that God allowed us to lift up our telescopes and discover. If we lift up our eyes to the heavens, even with the little we know so far, we could at least surmise that a black hole big enough could swallow everything. But there never will be. No matter how much time, no matter how much chance.
But every era of humanity is without excuse when it’s time to “look on the earth beneath.” On the one hand, there is a stability that is in God’s hands, that no mere man or nation can alter. But on the other hand, it’s frightening really to look at how fragile it all is, while we sin and run from him, how every orbit hurling us, every tide surging at us, every plate holding us up, every atmosphere regulating our breathing and personal cabin pressure, every asteroid that misses us, are all held together by the same Torah, the same Word, that has gone forth from him, while we dare him to call our bluff of unbelief. This world is wired for demolition.
Watching this “earth beneath” tells us both the glorious power of God’s creation and how much of it has gone terribly wrong for our sake (Genesis 3). Or how many worn garments that used to be people we loved do we have to lay in the ground before the light turns on? V 4 says, “I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.” We recognize that much of his justice sometimes; after all, it’s only fair that “the soul who sins shall die.” But the vastness of his justice goes beyond what these finite brains deem as fair. Because justice doesn’t need to be fair when the just Person is good.
“My righteousness is near, my salvation has gone forth” (v 5). Isaiah writes like these two are the same thing. And not just in v 5, but in v 6 too: “But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not be abolished” (again, quotes from NKJV). And not just in these verses, but in eight other places in Isaiah, the “righteousness” and “salvation” of God are paired as one. The righteousness, the required love performed, is in fact the same thing as the salvation, the actual salvage of broken lives, out of corruption and death, and into holiness, that is, to be totally alive. Human righteousness and God’s salvation are not commodities to be sought with everything in our power, as noble and heroic as that may sound. But we have no such power.
Give ear! Listen! Good news! All the power is rather in that human righteousness and God’s salvation that is seeking you. They themselves give according to their namesake because they are one. One not by the conversion of God’s salvation into human righteousness, but by taking human righteousness up into God’s salvation. Human righteousness was earned by a Jew from Nazareth whose name is Salvation. The Lord’s Salvation. Yeshua.
Jesus is the righteousness that is near. Jesus is the salvation that has gone forth, down from heaven, incarnate to earn righteousness in a human body like ours, and to offer that righteousness up to the Father on our behalf. Jesus is the Torah that proceeded from the Father, and his arms did judge us all in him! His arms were stretched out and nailed down on our behalf. “One has died for all, therefore all have died” (2 Cor 5:14). All on the cross that hung between the “heavens” above and “the earth beneath,” forever the difference between a light to the peoples and vanishing like smoke. No one has to be vaporized like an old garment when the present age is swept away. No one has to search in dread for righteousness and salvation. Righteousness and salvation are a man.
The Lord’s Righteousness and the Lord’s Salvation Are the Same Person, a man who is God, and he does the searching. And you are found. Take! Live!
And for those of us who know we’ve been found and spend our days (not enough) worshiping his mercy, the Gospel is about keeping awake, staying awake, Jesus says to his disciples, for that day, that hour, when all flesh learns that even time is a created thing—and Mother Nature was a Jew from Nazareth all along.
How do we keep awake? How do we stay conscious for the experience while God runs out the clock on a contest already won? “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and the brother of James” (Jude 1), shows us how those who know they are victors flaunt action verbs:
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 20–23, emphasis added)
Any Christian winces at the prospect of presenting the fulfillment of those action verbs without stumbling. That’s the reason we were relieved to learn that righteousness and salvation are a gift, a Person whose performance alone matters. Jude comforts our fears with that Person:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. (Jude 24–25)
November 22 2015 Sermon