Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Isaiah 12:1-6
Lent 4 – March 31, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Have you ever had one of those times in your life when you say, “It doesn’t get any better than this”? Probably most of us have, or dreamed of one of those experiences, that’s just stress free and wonderful, an experience you wish would last for a long, long time.
For some people it might be as simple as sitting in the comfort of your home, work is done, the children are in bed, and all is well. For others it might be sitting at a baseball game where your favorite team is winning, you’re eating hot dogs and drinking a cold drink with your friends. It might be sitting on the beach on the west coast of Florida or California or Mexico watching a breath-taking sunset. It could be sitting at a campsite nestled in the mountains out west. Whatever the situation may be, you take in that moment and say, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
We cherish those moments because most of our moments in this life are not stress free or wonderful or without problems. Sometimes home life is filled with stress, your favorite team isn’t winning, and the clouds are covering the sunset and the mountains.
That’s also why the thought of heaven frequently crosses our minds. We know heaven is going to be perfect, more perfect than even the best experience here on earth. Heaven is one place where we all will most certainly say, “It doesn’t get any better than this,” and we won’t just say it for a moment or an evening. It will be forever.
The words of Isaiah from chapter 12 almost sound like someone praising God in heaven. But he’s not. He’s here on earth praising and thanking God for his salvation, the reason why we can go to heaven. And he says,
IT DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN GOD’S SALVATION
Chapter 12 of Isaiah almost seems like it could be a psalm all by itself and could be listed among the psalms. But it does fit in very nicely with the whole prophecy of Isaiah, especially with the preceding chapter in which Isaiah tells us about the Branch of Jesse, the Shoot that will come up from the stump of Jesse.
The Branch of Jesse is of course Jesus himself. Jesus is the Son of David, a descendant of David whose father was Jesse. Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of God will rest on Jesus. He is the Son of David, the King who will rule forever and gather his people from every nation on earth into his kingdom. Isaiah is prophesying the whole life and ministry of Jesus who came to save us from our sins and give us eternal salvation.
So Isaiah begins chapter 12 by saying, “In that day [when Jesus saves us] you will say: ‘I will praise you, O LORD.’” Isaiah could indeed be saying, “Lord, it doesn’t get any better than this. It doesn’t get any better than your salvation.”
Isaiah is very honest to note why God’s forgiveness and salvation for us is so amazing, why it doesn’t get any better than to be forgiven by God. “Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” Why would God be angry with Isaiah or you or me or anyone else? The answer is obvious. Sin angers God. And we all know about sin. It started with Adam and Eve and was passed on to us. We’re born with sin and commit sin every day. Sin robs us of those moments in life that are stress free and wonderful. And sin would condemn us to an eternity that would never have a good or wonderful moment in it.
That’s why Isaiah is so thrilled with God’s mercy, forgiveness, and salvation and knows that it doesn’t get any better than God’s salvation. He writes, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.”
Sometimes we realize that when we want to express something profound or something glorious and wonderful, the best words have already been spoken or written. During the American Civil War when Abraham Lincoln was saddened by the prospect of a divided nation, he quoted the words of Jesus, “A kingdom divided against itself . . . will not stand.”
When Isaiah’s writes, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation,” he’s quoting someone else. He’s quoting Moses. Do you remember when Moses said those words? I can guarantee you it was one of those “it doesn’t get any better than this” moments. It was when the LORD divided the Red Sea and allowed the Israelites to pass through the water and escape the Egyptians. Moses and the Israelites went from a moment of sheer panic and sure death to a moment of unimaginable relief and salvation. They were backed up against the water with the Egyptians ready to kill them all. But all night they felt the wind of God and saw how it began to move the water back and separate it. And soon they were able to cross over safely. Then the wind stopped, and the water came crashing down again destroying Pharaoh’s army.
Moses sang a song of salvation: “The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” And he could have added, “It doesn’t get any better than God’s salvation.”
Isaiah quotes Moses’ words because the dividing of the Red Sea and the salvation of the Israelite people is a picture of our eternal salvation won for us by the Branch of Jesse, the Root that comes up from Jesse, Jesus Christ our Savior.
Jesus pictures the forgiveness and salvation he won for us in the wonderful and well-known parable he tells us in our gospel today. It’s the parable of the lost son or the prodigal son, the extraordinarily wasteful son. And he was wasteful. He squandered his father’s money, his entire inheritance on foolishness, sin, and self-indulgence. He returned to his father when he found himself literally in the pig pen with nowhere to go. He confessed his sin and acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to be called a son, but should rather be the lowliest servant. But the father, a picture of our heavenly Father, forgave him, put a robe on him and a ring on his finger. He welcomed him home with a lavish feast. That young man who once despised his father’s home had come home once again and in his heart must have said, “It doesn’t get any better than being in my father’s home.”
That parable of the lost son is an amazingly vivid and perfect picture of God’s salvation to all of us. Sin makes us wander away from God. It makes us think there are better things in life than what God wants for us. But when we realize better, repent of our sins, and return to our heavenly Father, he’s there with mercy and forgiveness. He wraps us in the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, forgives all our sins, and welcomes us to an eternal banquet, an eternal festival in heaven with him. And there you and I will forever say, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” And we will add, “It doesn’t get any better than God’s salvation.”
King David wrote our psalm for today, Psalm 32. Like the prodigal son he knew the horrible results of sin, what it was like to find himself in that pig pen: “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” But he returned to his heavenly Father too: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” King David learned by experiencing God’s mercy and forgiveness that it doesn’t get any better.
And why does God forgive us? Why can God forgive us? He forgives us purely by his grace, his underserved love. And he can forgive us and remain a just and righteous God because his Son Jesus atoned for all our sins on the cross.
In our Second Lesson today from 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul tells us that the unbelieving world is going to tell us that the cross of Christ is foolishness. It’s silly to imagine that a person dying on a cross could make up for anyone’s sins. Man is too wise to believe such an outlandish idea. But Paul counters that argument of the world with these simple words: “We preach Christ crucified.”
The world looks at the cross and says foolishness. We can sit here and look up at the cross and consider what it means for us and say, “The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” “The cross of Christ is our eternal salvation, and there’s nothing better than that.”
So what should our response be to God’s salvation? Isaiah puts it well. “In that day you will say: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.’”
Give thanks to God for his salvation. There are 242 days until Thanksgiving Day, but we can give thanks to God today and every one of those 242 days, Thanksgiving Day, and every day after Thanksgiving and through eternity. Give thanks to God by coming here to worship him. Give thanks to God in your personal prayers. Give thanks to God by how you live your life. Give thanks by keeping his commandments. Give thanks to God by loving the people around you. Give thanks to God by letting people know with your words and actions that it doesn’t get any better than God’s salvation.
That’s why Isaiah writes, “Make known among the nations what he has done.” Learn the word of God enough, hear it preached and taught enough, so that you can repeat it, so that you can explain to other people what God has done for your salvation. Pray that the gospel is proclaimed to the people you know and people throughout our nation and around the world. And give your offerings to support that work here in our church and school and in home and world missions. “Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.”
And sing from the heart loudly: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” And nowhere will we shout more loudly or sing with more joy than when we’re in heaven. And we will say, “It doesn’t get any better than God’s salvation.” Amen.