A Homily for Easter 1
April 28, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Isaiah 43:1-12
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
This morning’s lesson is taken from Isaiah 43 which is written to the nation of Israel, to remind them of their relationship with God, how God has called them by name and gathered them as a shepherd gathers his sheep or as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings. God gathers his people together, for His glory.
Before we explore this passage we need to establish an important principle for our reading of the Old Testament. There are a handful of things that the Old Testament can do for us. First it reveals to us the law. As Christians, we are freed from the law – which does not mean we are freed to licentiousness as some seem to think but we are freed to unbridled service to Christ, submission to His will, to approach the Heavenly Father, and to learn to truly mean the words of the Lord’s prayer – “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But the Law shows us the state of our hearts, we hold that mirror up and see how far short we have fallen of that which God has called us to.
However, here is the second thing we gain from reading the Old Testament – St. Paul establishes in Romans that we are grafted into the Olive tree – into the tree of His chosen people. So in this the Old Testament reveals to us who Christ is and who we are in Him. By reading Isaiah 43 we receive an amazing promise – first for the church, and then for us individually. For just as the church is grafted into God’s chosen people, we as individuals are grafted into the church by Christ.
So, what are the promises we receive today in reading Isaiah 43?
First and foremost – we are created and redeemed by God. We are told in scripture that God has known us before time. This does not mean that we are eternal, but simply that God is eternal. For God resides out of time, and it was in His act of creating the world that time was created. While God does not desire for us to sin, He knew Adam would rebel and he knew we would rebel. For although God loves righteousness and hates sin, he knows every possible outcome of every possible situation, and he knows how to redeem those situations, how to use those situations that some meant for evil to redeem them for good. Think for a moment of Joseph who was sold by his brother into slavery – caste away as dead. Yet God used that awful act to redeem His nation, to redeem his chosen people. Or think even more profoundly of Christ on the cross – no greater injustice exists than the only innocent man to have walked this earth – being crucified, being killed in the most shameful way. Yet God used this to set His people free, to usher in His kingdom on earth.
God knows us – knows the state of our hearts, knows the good, the bad, and the ugly within us, but yet, he calls us by name. Calls us back to Himself. It is not our own works but the work of God in Christ on the cross that has redeemed us, and set us free from the sins that too long have plagued us. The one who created us, the one who knows us has also set us free.
The promise of Christ was established when Adam first sinned, first welcomed rebellion into the garden, and we can see the promise repeated throughout the Old Testament in words, and types of Christ. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David were all foreshadows of Christ – fallen men like you and I that God raised up the lead his people and draw them away from rebellion. Yet, unlike Christ they were still sinner, who had failed to uphold the perfect law of God.
But the author of Hebrews tells us it was by faith that they proceeded, and by this faith they are redeemed. For they knew that one greater than they would come. They could not have imagined Christ, but they awaited for a messiah, a more perfect one to issue the world into something greater than they imagined. The messiah came as God came incarnate, born not of the will of men, nor of flesh but by the Holy Spirit. The messiah came in Jesus Christ who laid down His life for his friends, and then was raised again. That in dying we might die, and in living we might live. This is the great Easter promise looked forward to from the beginning. So, let us take heart whether our hearts are hard and in need of softening or our sins are many, in need of forgiving. Christ died to heal us and set us free.
So it is, that the God who created us, and all the world around us, has also redeemed us, and when the final days come he will redeem us, and make us not only servants in the kingdom of heaven but sons and daughters. We will dwell in the final kingdom as ones who belong.
And it is as we have been adopted by God, that through Christ we are grafted not only into His covenant with humanity, but grafted into his family, that through Christ we are made sons and daughters. We are known by name. So it is that when you cry out to God he does not hear some anonymous voice, he does not hear murmurings of sad creatures that are far away, but He hears the voices of his children and he knows that it is you or me that cries out to him. He knows that it is Ian, or Ben, or Earle, or Ann, or Elizabeth, and the list goes on. Not an anonymous voice but friends – it is your voice – it is your voice that he recognizes and loves to hear.
Friends, think about how amazing this promise is! God, the creator and redeemer of the universe knows us, knows our hearts, knows our minds, knows everything about us – the good, the bad, the so very unattractive, yes, even the parts that feel unlovable and still He loves us. He loves us so much that he has redeemed us through Christ who dies so that we might live and it is through the same Christ we are made known to Him.
God is not a distant sky fairy, or a benevolent but forgetful grandfather, or an ambivalent scale keeper – but He is the God who knows us well – and who has written our names in the book of life. How amazing is it that we are known to Him?
I want to take a brief interlude here – I know that I talk openly of sin, and I hope that if I talk firmly about sin, I talk just as boldly about grace. We must understand how destructive and painful sin is, so that we can repent of it, so that we can flee it. But if we were to stop there – if we were merely to recognize our own sin or the sins of those around us, then we should leave this place despondent. But listen, I talk so freely of sin – because I am one who knows so well the grace that God extends in Christ. I am one who has been given more grace than I deserve or perhaps understand – and this is what brings us joy. This is what should make us a chosen people, a bless’d people. That God’s grace is far greater than the greatest evil you can imagine.
Friends – this is what it means to be a Christian – that seeing ourselves in the mirror, that seeing our sin for what it is, we throw it before the throne of grace, and fall on our knees and pray for forgiveness. And we know that we are forgiven, the burden of sin that our confession says is intolerable is released from us – and we are set free – free though Christ. So we must see the weight of our sin, to feel the lightness of God’s grace. I pray I walk that line well – that we are all being drawn away from our self righteousness and putting on the righteousness of Christ.
And now we get to the next promise – God will be with His people. He will be with the church no matter what the days bring. However, we need to understand the context of Isaiah, and in fact most of the prophets, because we need to recognize how God works.
Most of the prophets are not written because everything is good as can be, but because Israel was rebelling against God. Most of the prophets act to call Israel back to the covenant, back to right worship and action. This is the case for Isaiah. Isaiah is the first of the larger prophetic works in the Old Testament, and it would seem that his warnings were at least in part heeded.
We need to understand that when we rebel against God he corrects and directs us back to Him. We need to understand that we have been made children. Think for a moment, when someone you do not love does something to hurt you – it is painful, or frustrating or even irritating.
But think now about when someone you loved did something to hurt you. It pangs you in your heart of hearts – it saddens you, but you want to make things right – you want to restore that relationship. It means going through something hard – it means saying “friend,” or “child,” or “my love this thing you have done has hurt me, please let us restore our relationship.”
A good parent does not let his child persist in sin, but guides him away from that sin, a good parent disciplines his child so that she might grow up to be a good and godly adult. This we know from our own experiences, whether we are parents or not, for we have seen children with parents who actively teach their children responsibility and consequences for their actions and parents who seem to not have a care in the world. Surely the parent who disciplines – not in anger, but in love is the more loving parent.
God is the best father, so it is when we rebel that he disciplines us. Not vindictively, but lovingly to guide us back to the way we go. If our hearts are hard, he brings circumstances about to soften them, if we chase false idols, he will tear those down, regardless of how painful it is. The discipline and redirecting of God for His children – is not punishment but love.
Let us think for a moment about St. Peter who we saw last week deny Christ three times – think for a moment about His turning away from His dying Lord but even in that there was grace. Then the resurrected Christ asks him, not once, not twice, but three times if “he loved him.” Here the saint already knows the grace he finds in Christ, here, he is not being teased or tested by Christ, here, he is not being penalized, but rather Christ is drawing him back, each time – he is released from His sin, each time, St. Peter knows the glory of God a little better. Each time, for he needed to hear it many times – that God has forgiven Him.
We want a cheep grace, a grace that does not force us to confront out sins, that does not force us to see how we have failed, but God’s grace is pricy, God’s grace cost His Son everything. So, it costs us everything. God wants nothing less than our whole hearts and in giving Him our whole hearts – we are given the privilege of being His sons and daughters known to Him by name, and become those whom he walks with throughout our lives, guiding and directing, correcting, and forgiving. How glorious this is!
For we are precious. Friends – life is precious – this is why Christians are against abortion, against slavery, against prostitution, we care about social issues because they involve lives. We speak up for those who have less privilege than us, and fight that they might have a better life. Not merely because we want to feel better about ourselves, or because of social pressure but because we want people to know the freedom that we know, we want God to be glorified.
At the end of the day – the prophets are all saying the same thing – you are a rebellious people – you have turned away from your God and in the fact that you are not worshiping God properly your hearts have become hard and you have done wicked things to those who are weaker. The prophets are about restoring right worship and correcting social injustices. Today – we as the church need to be concerned about these things as well. We need to worship God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and we need to love our neighbors as ourselves.
For this reason we care for those who are hurting, those who are lost, those who have been trampled down by society, and we speak up, and fight for them. Not so that we can pat ourselves on the back and say “aren’t we great,” but so that we can say – we have done this good thing because God has enabled us, now come and worship Him with us.
Now friends, we have see that the God who created us redeemed us, knows us, is with us, that we just as we are precious to Him so are all whom he created in His image, and now we are told – do not be afraid – and why should we not be afraid? Surely, you read the news and you know that you should be afraid, surely you see the indicators of instability, surely you fear the sin of your fellow man, but God is here, in the scripture reading telling us to not be afraid! And why not?
God is with us.
God has called us – by name.
We were created for God’s glory.
And made by Him.
These truths echo throughout scripture time and again. As we read the Epistles in the New Testament or brave the book of Revelation it becomes clearer to us that God is calling us to persevere no matter what the day brings. Press on, run the good race, do not grow faint. Tomorrow could be a beautiful and good day – or tomorrow the storm could come upon us, and we will have good reason to trouble. Dear Church – do not be afraid – stay faithful, stay in the word, stay true to God. For the church will face persecution, will face oppression – we want to think that Christ promised us blessings (and he did in knowing Him) but the other thing he promised was that in knowing Him – we would face opposition – we would face hardship – he assures us of this fact – so do not grow weary or troubled when that comes. Good Christians will die for the faith, statistics say that this will happen today – that somewhere our brothers and sisters laid down their lives for their love of Christ, but we know that we are not yet home. We know that the race is not yet over, and so stay true for the reward is great – the reward is freedom and fellowship with God our creator and redeemer.
Even in the darkest of days the faithful who persevere bring God’s glory and in the end we will experience God’s glory. In the end we we know Him, and he will know us, in the end we will come face to face with a glory that cannot be matched by a thousand sunsets and sunrises, cannot be matched by majestic mountains, or fields of flowers, cannot be matched by raging storms or placid seas, cannot be matched by the most perfect communion service, cannot be matched by the pure love of a spouse, cannot be matched by anything our minds can imagine, for God’s glory is greater than we stand in our sinful bodies, but when we have been fully redeemed and fully known to God – then we will know – then we will be free to bask in that for eternity and how good is that?
But why should we bow down our hearts to the God of scripture when there are so many other gods, gods that are easier to serve, gods that are more acceptable to our culture? We bow down before Him and worship Him because there is no other God, and every other god will bow down before him, false idols, demons manifesting themselves are good spirits, and even secular gods that we’ve dressed up to look good. They will all submit themselves before the one true God on the last day.
But there is another reason – no other god can redeem – no other god can set us free from our sins. Yes, other gods demand allegiance and but they demand that we meet a standard when we come to them, but the God of the Bible says come to me all you who are burdened and I will refresh you, I will set you free.
No we come to our God and set our sins before the foot of the cross and they are released from us, we are set free not because of our works, but because of His work. There is no other god who does this, and there is none that promises it but God has already set us free in that act upon the cross. This is the good news friends – you are free because He has made you free. Let us rejoice in this.
The lesson ends this morning with a call – a call to be God’s witness throughout the world. There is a children’s song that reminds us of this call that we are to let the light of Christ in us shine through out the whole world – that this little light of mine – we should let it shine. Let is shine that all would know.
For we were not redeemed for our sake, but for God’s glory, we were not redeemed because of some merit, but because God desired to call us back, we were not redeemed because of our great love for God, but because of God’s great love for us.
Now, knowing this we are called to glorify and witness to God in the rest of the world. We are called to make Him known that others might know the love we so enjoy. So, let us be a shining witness in a dark world, let us testify no matter what the day brings – that the God who created us, has redeemed us, and knows us by name, that He is with His people, because we are precious in is sight, therefore we will not fear, for he is with us, and there is no other God but Him.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.