Since I (foolishly?) decided I was going to post to this blog every day this year, and since I’m a pastor who preaches nearly every Sunday in my congregation. It just makes sense that I would start posting my sermons here. So, here you go!
I decided I would allow just a portion of each sermon to be on the home page. To read the rest you’ll have to click the “more” button (or whatever it says.) That way my (long) sermons won’t take up the entire home page!
Sermon for January 16, 2011, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany: Isaiah 49:1-7
Promises in Action: The Savior Calls a People to Himself
The kids were standing and waiting. Who would be chosen? There were two captains, and they each had to fill their teams. Soon, the choosing began. One by one the players were taken. I remember playing any kind of game as a kid, it was very common to have to “pick teams.” The captains take turns, each taking one player, until everyone was chosen. Of course, you always hoped you wouldn’t be chosen last. But players would be picked based on how good they were at the particular game being played. So there was always the chance that you’d have that frustrating experience of not being chosen.
But forget about games for a minute. That feeling of frustration is a lot more common than just being on a playground. It can come any time in our lives. It can almost seem like it’s God himself who’s not choosing us. It’s that frustration of things in our lives not working out the way we’d like. I’m not talking about something like wishing we’d win the lottery. I mean the every day stuff. We want the weather to at least let us travel when we need to. We want the kids to go to bed when we ask them to. We want the money in the checkbook to cover the dollar amount on the bills. We want things to go better with friends at school or with colleagues at work. We want to stop with all the doctor’s appointments already. We just want things to get better.
But sometimes it feels like God hasn’t chosen us for this. Sometimes it feels like nothing quite works out the way we wish it would. And it leads us to ask the question: why doesn’t God help me out a bit here? Why doesn’t he let things work out how I want them, just this once? Why hasn’t he chosen me? We feel like the one who is left over after the choosing has already happened.
Ah, but that’s just it. God has chosen you. He hasn’t chosen you for everything you want in this life. He hasn’t chosen you to be the one that everyone loves and everyone respects. He hasn’t chosen you for your best life now. No. He’s chosen you in his Son. He’s chosen you in Jesus Christ, who was himself chosen by God the Father to be your Savior. In him, the frustrations stop. In him, we have true life — now and forever.
We’re going back to Isaiah today to see another one of his gospel promises. This is a promise in action for us. Here in our text, Isaiah wrote down the words, but the speaker, we’ll see, was really Jesus himself. He said, Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. (Is. 49:1)
This is Jesus kind of being like a new NFL player after being drafted who is showing off his new team jersey at a press conference. Jesus here is letting us know that he was chosen — he was anointed — to do his Father’s will. He goes on to talk more about the Father choosing him. He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Is. 49:2-3)
Here Jesus compares himself to weapons: both a sword and an arrow. But as we know, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to kill, but to give life. It wasn’t to wound; it was to heal. His goal would be, as God the Father said in this verse, to display God’s splendor. To show how loving and perfect and unspeakably wonderful our God is. And that’s what Jesus did.
But when you think about it, even Jesus’ ministry didn’t seem perfect. From the time he was baptized by John the Baptist until he died on the cross and rose again was only about three years. That’s not very long. And sure, he did lots of amazing things during that time. He healed the sick, cured the blind, raised the dead. And he taught and spoke with authority and opened God’s Word for people to hear and understand as never before.
But oh, did people hate him! All those stories of the Pharisees and Sadducees and all the other leaders who eventually plotted — and carried out his death — show very clearly that Jesus was not universally loved, though he came to show God’s love to all. Many didn’t believe him. Several times people walked away in anger at his teachings. Even one of his own disciples, one of the ones who should have been most on his side, turned against him in betrayal. And when Jesus was arrested, when he was beaten and railroaded by the court and finally condemned and killed — all his own abandoned him. Nobody stuck by him. Is that your idea of success?
We hear echoes of this in what Jesus says through Isaiah in our text. But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. (Is. 49:4) How frustrating! What must have gone through Jesus’ mind as people left him? As they walked away and abandoned him? As he prayed so hard in the Garden of Gethsemane? Can’t you imagine the thoughts, “Is it all for nothing? Has it really been worth it to save them?” Of course, Jesus was without sin, so even his frustrations didn’t have the sin that ours would, but it’s still amazing to think about.
And those frustrations are still very real in our lives. Have you ever worked really hard on something only to find it turned out horribly? A school project or a test that doesn’t make the grade. That person that you have loved for years who still just seems to hurt you again and again at every turn, no matter what you do. That constant balancing act of your work and your family and your own personal interests and your church and you want to use your time in the best way possible, but it just always gets wasted. That nagging cough that always seems to stick around all winter or turn into something worse, despite your healthy lifestyle. It’s frustrating.
And that anger and frustration can get to the point where it colors everything you do. It can define who you are. Sure, we’ve all had bad days, but we’re tempted to turn those bad days into thinking we’ve been given a bad life. Into thinking that somehow God chose everybody else, but he missed us. Maybe you don’t think it’s all God’s fault, but that can be the path that we’re tempted to go down.
But just remember: Jesus may have had frustrations in his ministry, but Jesus was without sin. Our frustrations and anger at our problems in life always include that sin. And if left unchecked, if left to continue unimpeded in our heart, that sin trample our faith. That sin can crush us. It can cause us to lose what’s really important.
Yes, what’s really important. Because as much as our selfish hearts don’t like to hear it, what’s really important is not the day to day ups and downs of our lives. What’s really important is the life and death, heaven and hell, salvation and damnation destinies that await all people. We see our lives right now, but God knows our eternity. He alone commands our eternity. He alone gives life and salvation. As Jesus said in our text, What is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God. (Is. 49:4)
Jesus may have felt some of that frustration as he lived in this world. But he never lost sight of the goal. He knew that his perfect life came with a reward. A great reward. A heavenly reward. Jesus’ perfection actually earned eternal life, heaven itself. He got it fair and square. He and he alone out of all people in this dark, sinful world, deserves heaven. But then what does he do? He suffers. He dies. He rises. He gives that life he has earned to undeserving sinners. He gives it to you and me.
That’s exactly what we hear about in what of the most amazing promises in action in all of Scripture. Listen to these verses. And now the Lord says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength — he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Is. 49:5-6)
God had chosen the people of Israel in the Old Testament. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, plus all their descendants, were God’s chosen people. And it makes sense that because they were sinful, God would send Jesus to save them. But here in our text we see that that just wasn’t enough. That wasn’t big enough for Jesus. He came to save everyone. The Gentiles. He brought his salvation to the ends of the earth.
Did you see yourself in those verses? Because you’re in there. Whether you’re a Jew or not, whether you grew up Lutheran or have never been in a church until this morning, Jesus came for you. He shined his light in life and death and resurrection for your salvation. He chose you to be his own. The Savior called a people to himself. He called you to faith. And he’s still calling to you now.
Yes, he’s calling you now to trust in his forgiveness and rejoice that even your worst attitudes and angry, selfish frustrations have all been forgiven. He wants you to take your focus off what this world thinks is important, even what your natural self wants to focus on, and instead focus on him — his life that he gave for you. Your life, which he has redeemed and made his own. He wants you to live for him.
You are all ambassadors of our Savior. I don’t just mean a few people who will stand up here in a few minutes who will be serving as church officers. It’s not just them. It’s all of you. Christ chose you. He redeemed you. He lived and died for you. Live for him. Share that light that Jesus has shined on you with those around you. Serve your Savior as you help those around you. Help others in their hurts and frustrations. Forgive the sins that people commit against you, just like Jesus forgave you. Let everything you do be a witness for your Lord. How can you ever do that? On your own, you can’t. But you can because he has chosen you, and he will strengthen you.
And who is he? Our text makes it clear. This is what the Lord says — the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel — to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (Is. 49:7)
The chosen one, the anointed is Jesus. And he’s chosen you, too, to be his ambassador. So live for him. Whatever frustrations you might face, whatever troubles you might see, your reward is waiting. Your future is secure.