Scripture
Isaiah 63:16b, 17; 64:1-8
Date
December 3, 2017
Speaker
Pastor Witt

 

Greeting: Arise, shine for your Light is coming and the glory of the Lord will rise upon you.

 

Text: 16) You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name.  17) Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from Your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere You?   1) Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You!  2) As when the fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make Your name known to Your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!  3) For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down and the mountains trembled before you.  4) Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.  5) You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways.  But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry.  How then can we be saved?  6) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel us like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  7) No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.  8) Yet, O Lord, You are our Father.  We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hands.  9) Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever.  Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all Your people.

 

Introduction: Fans enter the stadium and wait for their team to appear to play the game.  Children wait at the stop and watch for the driver to arrive to bring the bus that will carry them to school.  Adults wait at the entrance to the restaurant and watch for their friends to arrive.  Everywhere we go people are waiting and watching for someone to come so something can happen.   As we begin Advent, the church season whose name means “coming,” it is proper to ask: “Are you and I waiting and watching for God Himself to come?”

 

We surely should be.  From the Holy Scriptures we know that God has often intervened in the affairs of the world He has made and that He still does.  From the faithful record of the Bible, we know that God has made one special, very personal visit 2,000 years ago in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who entered the human race, to carry out the redemption of sinners.  From the teaching of God’s Word, we know that Jesus, who died, rose and ascended, will one day return to end the world, to judge the unbelieving, and to bring the fullness of salvation to His believing people.  Jesus will come again.  Let us watch for Him.

 

From the Old Testament lesson in Isaiah, we are reminded that people have been longing for and watching for God’s coming for a long time.  This lesson also gives us some important information about what God’s coming involves and means for us.  May God bless our study of those words as we watch for Him.

 

1. Whose Awesome Power Makes Us Tremble

Sometimes people will consider a problem or troubling situation and say: “Why doesn’t the person who is in charge step in and do something about this!”  Sometimes the person people mean is really God, the Person who is ultimately in charge of everything.   The people of Israel at the time of Isaiah were asking that question.   Their lives were hard.  Their country had been invaded and defeated by ruthless enemies.  They had been persecuted and afflicted.  They faced injustice and struggled hard just to get by.  They really wanted God to come.  Listen to their plea:

 

1) Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before You!  2) As when the fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make Your name known to Your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!  3) For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, You came down and the mountains trembled before you.  4) Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.

 

In the words of Isaiah, we notice that the God who comes is the God of awesome power.  He is, as Isaiah confesses, the One who can tear the heavens open and make the mountains tremble.  He is like a blazing fire who consumes His enemies.  He is like an earthquake that makes everyone and everything tremble in fear.  He is a God who shakes things up in surprisingly powerful ways.  He is a God who can and will intervene to correct what needs to be corrected – to put an end to oppression, to clean up what is corrupt, to address the wrongs and set things right.

 

The God who comes is not a mild or tame God who is bland and harmless.  No, He is the almighty and fiercely independent God whose very existence should make us tremble with profound respect.  As we watch for the Lord to come, let us be well aware that He is far more than strong, far more than U.S. military-strong.  He is the God of unlimited power.  When He comes to the world to deal people’s lives, He comes with earthquake like force to establish His rule and carry out His will.  This Advent, let us take this truth to heart as we confess: “We watch for You, O Lord, whose awesome power makes us tremble.”

 

2. Whose Perfect Justice Makes Us Despair

A second thing Isaiah’s words tell us about the God we wait and watch for is a just God.  He says: 5) “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways.”  God is fair and will reward those who obey His will, follow His commands and do what is right.   In fact, God who is holy is a God of perfect justice.  He has holy standards and always follows them.  He is entirely free of sin and evil.  He has no tolerance for anything that is wrong.  That’s the way God should be, isn’t it?  Perfectly impartial, fair and just in all things with all people.  Yes, He should and it is wonderful that He is. 

 

However, God’s perfect justice creates a tremendous problem for us, a problem that makes us very uncomfortable.  Isaiah describes the problem for us and for all people in these words:  5) You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways.  But when we continued to sin against them, You were angry.  How then can we be saved?  6) All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel us like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.  7) No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. 

 

Isaiah identifies our problem with God’s justice.  It’s the fact that we are sinful people who do not always do what is right.   Judged by the standards of God’s holy perfection, we are filthy when we should be clean, empty when we should be full, disgusting when we should be pleasing.   God has no choice but to find us unacceptable to Him and to be angry with us because of our sinful, imperfect performance.  We have to ask ourselves the all-important question: “How then can we be saved?”  The only answer we can come up with is the answer of despair: “Lord, I cannot be saved.  Based on my life record of sin and rebellion, failure and imperfection there is no hope for me, there is no possible way for me to escape Your just judgment and your punishing wrath on my sinful soul.”  As we watch for the coming of the Lord, we do so with the profound and painful realization that He comes in perfect justice and that we are in a desperate situation, under a just sentence of divine doom.

 

3. Whose Tender Mercy Gives Us Confidence

If we look only to God’s perfect justice and to our sinful performance, our only possible reaction would be despair in the face of the Lord’s coming.  But Isaiah reminds us that there is something else for us to consider, something extremely important, something that can change us from cringing despair and dread over God’s coming to thankful joy and confidence.  The factor that Isaiah points us to consider is that God is also a God of tender mercy.   Listen to his words: “16) You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name.  .  8) Yet, O Lord, You are our Father.  We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hands.  9) Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever.  Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all Your people.”

 

Isaiah reminds us that God is loving as well as just.  Isaiah calls God, the Redeemer, the One who has paid the price to set us free from sin and punishment.  He confesses God to be the potter who patiently works with us and wants to make something good out of us, His clay.  He appeals to God as the Father, who regards us as His children who enjoy His favor, love and blessing.   In all these terms, Isaiah describes God as a God of grace and mercy,  a God who comes to the aid of those who are weak and helpless in their sin and who sets them free from its guilt and punishment all by Himself, apart from their deserving.  

 

Toward the end of presidential terms, we hear stories about presidential pardons being offered to guilty, imprisoned people in our country.   The U.S. Constitution gives the president the power to give absolute legal pardons that cannot be overruled.  That is a tremendous authority to think about. 

 

What is even more important for us to consider is the One who has even greater power to pardon.  That One is God who has absolute power to pardon sinful people fully and freely out of His mercy.   The first coming of Jesus to bear our curse and win our salvation by His obedient life, sin-bearing death and glorious resurrection, is our proof that God desires to show us that mercy.   With Isaiah, we take heart during our watching and waiting for the Lord and gladly welcome Him.  We watch for You, O Lord – Your awesome power makes us tremble, Your perfect justice makes us despair, and Your tender mercy gives us confidence.   Amen.