Third Sunday of End Times: Saints Triumphant

Preached: November 16, 2008

Wake Up to See the Lord's Rescue!
Isaiah 52:1-6

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to victory in Jesus is Isaiah 52

Wake up! Wake up! Put on your strength, O Zion. Put on your fine clothing, Jerusalem, the holy city. For no longer any more will the uncircumcised and unclean enter you. Shake of the dust. Get up, captive of Jerusalem. Untie the bonds from your neck, captive daughter of Zion. For this is what the LORD says: “At no cost you were sold, and without money you will be redeemed.” This is what the Lord GOD says, “My people went down to Egypt at first to visit there. Assyria oppressed them for nothing. Now, what benefits me here?” declares the LORD. “For my people are taken at no cost. Their overlords keep howling,” declares the LORD, “and my name is continually blasphemed all day. Therefore, my people will know my name. Therefore, on that day [they will know] that I am he who has spoken. Yes, I am he.” (Isaiah 52:1-6)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“If I could only wake up and life would be back to normal.” Have you ever felt like that? Let's face it. Sometimes our life can seem like a living nightmare. “If I could only wake up and everything would be back the way it was. If only . . .”

Many of the residents of Jerusalem must have felt that way as the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezer surrounded the city. Maybe they would wake up in the morning and the enemy would be gone. The nightmare over. That had happened over a century earlier under King Hezekiah. At that time the Assyrians had surrounded the city and in one night the angel of the Lord put to death 185,000 so that the Assyrians withdrew (2 Kings 19:35).

But that would not happen this time. No, because of the sins of the people, the Lord had handed them over to the Babylonians. They would destroy the city, level the temple, and carry them into exile. All hope seemed ground into dust.

Yet even in the middle of the nightmare and despair, God's faithful people could turn to these words recorded by Isaiah a century earlier and see the Lord's rescue. For through his prophet, the Lord called out to his people to wake up and see his rescue. The same Lord through these words still calls to you today: “Wake up to see my rescue.” So our theme this morning, dear friends, is: Wake up to see the Lord's rescue.

A. For the dusty captivity of this life will disappear

1) What in this life lulls us into deadly sleep? How does the Lord wake us?

Wake up for the dusty captivity of this life will disappear. The Lord had promised his exiled people that he would bring them back to Jerusalem. “Shake off your dust, rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourselves from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:2 NIV). The Lord kept his promise. When the Babylonian Empire fell to the Medes and Persians, King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Their dusty captivity would disappear. So rather than give up in despair, wake up, he says to his people. Wake up.

But these words not only foresaw this physical rescue of God's Old Testament people from the Babylonian captivity. These words speak to you and me as well, God's New Testament people. Wake up, for the dusty captivity of this life will one day disappear.

Sometimes we fail to hear this wake up call, because the pleasant things of this life have hypnotized us. When life is comfortable, we think less about heaven. We're happy to hold on to the earthly, as if this world offers could satisfy all our needs and desires. Faith slowly falls asleep under the spell a sleep that leads to death and hell.

So our merciful God shakes us awake. His love sends trouble and hardship. He takes away those earthly blessing so that we do not turn them into our god. As you hear about the current economy, maybe it's good for our country and for you and me to go through an economic hardship. Have we lost our first love for our Lord and his word? Have we grown comfortable with our modern conveniences and luxuries, pursuing them as our source of happiness rather than the Giver, who opens his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing?

The Lord shook his Old Testament people awake. He took away not only their things, but their home, their country, their family exiled!

2) What in this life leaves us in the dust of despair? How does our Lord wake us up?

Now the perversity of our sinful nature jumps from building our faith and hope on earthly things to giving up all faith and hope in everything and everyone, including God. When the storms of life wash away that sandy foundation of earthly stuff, why not give up entirely? We feel that God has abandoned us to the dust of despair and hopelessness. We're chained by our disappointment and our envying of what others seem to have. We're held captive.

Those people of Jerusalem long ago shared all those same feelings as they were led into exile, captives of a godless, foreign power. So in advance, through his prophet, the merciful Lord spoke to wake them up from the dust of despair and hopelessness. He woke them up to see that their dusty captivity would one day disappear. He would rescue them, bringing them back to Jerusalem.

But even more than that, one day the Lord will rescue his people from all the dusty dreariness and captivity of this life. It will all disappear, when he rescues us from this world of sorrow, this vale of tears, when takes us to the new Jerusalem, heaven in all its glory. The Lord, whose promises do not change or fail, he will accomplish it. So wake up, dear friends. Wake up and see his rescue! The dusty captivity of this life will one day disappear for you who are his people through faith in Jesus, you who follow him. It will all disappear and be replaced with heaven.

B. For the Lord God has freely redeemed you and radiantly clothes you

1) How can it be that the Lord lifts someone like us out of the dust?

How can that be? When life has knocked us down into the dust, it seems so impossible. How could the dusty captivity of this life ever disappear? And if it does happen, how could someone like me ever be included? I deserve the dust of death. I have earned the unending captivity of hell with all its torture. How could it be that the Lord would ever want me to wake up and be rescued?

How? Because of the Lord's super-abounding love, mercy, and grace that reaches to you and to me unlovable, undeserving, unworthy sinners. Yes, reaches out to freely redeem you and radiantly clothe you. “This is what the LORD says: 'You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed'” (Isaiah 52:3 NIV).

2) How has he freely redeemed and radiantly clothed you?

Israel's enemies had taken them without giving glory to the Lord. Now the Lord would take them back. He would redeem them for nothing. At least for no cost on our part. He redeems us freely, by grace, without money, gratis, with no cost to us. For God himself paid the price for you. He did not pay the price to our enemies, to Satan. They got nothing. He paid the price to himself. The Father sacrificed his Son. The Son poured out his blood for you. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1 :18, 19 NIV). He has freely redeemed you!

And he dresses you in that robe of Jesus Christ that has no blemish or defect. He clothes you with the perfect life of Jesus. His righteousness covers your nakedness. It covers the dirty rags of our attempts to do good. What strength and power! What boldness and confidence is yours when by faith you wear Jesus. No wonder our gracious God calls out to us, “Awake, awake, O Zion, clothe yourself with strength. Put on your garments of splendor, O Jerusalem, the holy city” (Isaiah 52:1 NIV). For you see, through faith you are dressed in the holiness of Jesus, dressed in his garments of splendor. So God counts you, who believe in Jesus, as holy in his sight. He calls you his saints, his holy people.

3) What does he want you to know with a heart of faith?

He wants you to know this. He wants you to know what he has graciously done for you as a gift unearned, unmerited, undeserved, unasked for by us. He wants you to know: He has freely redeemed you and radiantly clothed you. He wants you to know this with all sureness and confidence. For he is the LORD, the eternal, unchanging I AM, who has freely made these promises to you and graciously keeps his promises. He wants you to know this with a heart of faith that gladly hears his promises and clings to his promises alone. He wants to know, so he has spoken it in his word, foretold it. “Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I” (Isaiah 52:6 NIV).

And look at what is still ahead according to his unchanging promise! He has prepared the new Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem, for you his holy people, who through faith are clothed with Jesus' holiness. No unbeliever and nothing unclean will enter there. You, yourself, will be free of all that hurts or harms. What a home to look forward to! Know it with the confidence of faith in Jesus.

So wake up. Wake up to see the Lord's rescue. He has freely redeemed you at no cost to you, though it cost Jesus' everything. He radiantly clothes you with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, as his free gift to you. That is how even guilty, undeserving sinners like you and me enter the heavenly Jerusalem. That is how he lifts us from the dust of captivity. That is how he rescues us. No nightmare of this life can rob it from you. The dusty captivity of this life will disappear in heaven. So wake up to see the Lord's rescue.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313