A sermon based on Isaiah 35:4-7a
Sunday, September 13, 2015 – Pentecost 16B
"Water! Water!" the man pleaded to no one in particular. He was lost in the desert, thousands of miles from home or from any civilization. His canteen had run dry yesterday. And dehydration was hitting hard. The headaches seared. His throat burned. And he collapsed. He lay there for a while. How long he didn't know. But when he saw the vultures cirlcle overhead, he knew he had to keep moving. He crawled along, inch by inch, foot by foot. But when he crested the next sand dune, he saw it. A beautiful oasis complete with reeds and palms and a small lake of water—sweet, life-giving, water. "Surely it must be a mirage or a hallucination brought on by the dehydration," he thought, but by sheer will power he picked himself up and dragged himself along as quickly as he could. Finally, he made it and he fell at the water's edge sticking his face in the cool, refreshing water. He would live!
Spiritually speaking, the Israelites were in the desert. They were morally dried up and dehydrated. Their kings had abandoned the true God and worshiped idols. The people followed the lead and sacrificed to whatever god they saw fit. And so, God allowed them to be attacked by an enemy nation, stripped of their rich posessions, and carried off into captivity to live as slaves. Life was like a desert. But God did not abandon his people. He would revive them again with the cool water of his Word. He would restore their health, and give them life through the Savior. And when he came everything would change like a desert becoming an oasis.
Does life sometimes seem like a desert to you? The money's dried up. Your health is sapped. Your energy is gone. And the foundation on which you once rested and relied is now hard and cracked? If you ever feel this way, then Isaiah's message is for you. Listen to the comforting promise Isaiah gives...
4 Say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you."
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. 7 The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
Do you sometimes wonder why life can seem like a desert wilderness where everything is a barren, lifeless wasteland? Why would God allow things to feel so dry and dreary? You know the answer: it's because of sin. It's because people are blind to God's law. They don't want to look into it. They're deaf to God's Word. They don't want to hear that what they're doing is wrong. They're spiritually lame, incapable of doing anything but serve themselves. Your boss, your spouse, your kids, they're all sinners.
But is that the only reason? Israel thought they were in such dry and dreary times because of those wicked Assyians, those godless terrorist barbarians who, in their cruelty, killed some, tortured others, and hauled the survivors into captivity. In other words they thought life was like a desert because others were so morally dehydrated. But Isaiah had warned them again and again that the real root of the problem was not in those Assyrians, but in these Israelites. It was because of their sin that God allowed the Assyrians to attack. They chose to be blind to God's law, deaf to his Word, lame to act on behalf of those in need. It wasn't just the Assyrians, but the Israelites, who were spiritually dried up.
Might we have just found the reason why our lives sometimes feel so dry and dusty? Is it because we leave our Bibles shut and are blind to the law that condemns us? Love God with all your heart and soul and mind with an undivided love. Love your neighbor—everyone else, your spouse, your boss, your co-workers—as much as you love yourself. And love them even when they're acting like the sinners that they are. Maybe we've been too deaf to hear God's Word when he calls us to repentance and to change our behaviors and actions. Maybe we feel dehydrated because we're refusing to drink deeply from the Living Water and we are spiritually all dried up.
And for our sin, for choosing to remain in the desert when the oasis of God's Word is right at hand, we deserve to have him "come with vengeance [and] with divine retribution" that he pours out with all his fury. We deserve to be left in our blindness and our spiritual deafness. We deserve to lay deyhdrated on the burning sand and damned to a burning hell. And like the Israelites, it's because of our sin—"my sin, mine and not another's"—that you and I deserve to be afraid.
But that's not what God says through Isaiah. Instead, he told Isaiah to, "Say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." God comes to save. Literally he comes to Yeshua. You know that Yeshua is Hebrew for Joshua. But did you know that Joshua is the Hebrew version of the Greek name, Jesus? Jesus and Joshua both mean "He saves." God does not come to squash you, but to "Jesus" you—to save you…
God poured out his vengeance and his divine retribution on Jesus in your place. He took the hell and the burning wasteland of separation from God the Father that we deserve. He paid the debt that we owed. And just as he came with vengeance and divine retribution against Assyria, similarly he has destroyed our sin, death that would hold us in the grave, the gates of hell that had us bound, and satan who had us in his chains. Those enemies have been destroyed.
And what's more, it is God who has given us the very faith to believe these things. Isaish prophesied that when Jesus would come, "Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy." And that's exactly what he's done. Yes, Jesus did literally heal people miraculously. But that's not all. He's also opened our eyes to see Jesus and who he really is: He's not just a wise teacher. He's not just a miracle worker to give restored health and restored wealth. He's our Savior—our Savior from sin who's restored our relationship with God. He's opened our ears to hear his Word. He's made us who were once spiritually lame—incapable of any good work—now able to serve him in thanks every day of our lives! And he's made us who were once mute able to speak of God's grace to others. In short, when Jesus comes to us with his living water of refreshing forgiveness, our lives are transformed.
Imagine for a moment that you're standing in the middle of a desert. There is no sign of life around, not a single cactus in sight. The ground is hard and cracked because there hasn't been rain in months. It's dry and dead and desolate. But suddenly, out of nowhere, a geyser shoots up out of the ground! And the thirsty earth gulps down the water. A lake forms where the geyser sprung up and the cracked dry ground becomes soft, moist earth. And seeds that have been laying dormant in the cracks suddenly have what they need to thrive. Right before your eyes the grass grows in a matter of seconds as a field is rolled out like a carpet across the landscape. As you watch, beautiful flowers and trees burst from the field. And in an instant what was once dead and barren and lifeless is vibrant, and beautiful, and rich in color and life.
That's the scene that Isaiah depicts when he writes of Jesus' arrival on the scene: "Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs." And that's what happens in your life and in mine when the Living Water springs up. Jesus once said, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." (John 7:38) When Jesus' forgiveness touches our lives, we can't help but bubble up with excitement at what he's done for us. And we can't help but overflow with Jesus' love.
When others are unloving and cruel to us, we can continue to act loving toward them anyway! When we feel lonely and tired, we can rejoice that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us! When the dollars are running dry, we can rejoice that our treasure in heaven can never be taken away! When the deserts of life hit, we can continue to bloom!
And as we do, we'll water the earth with the good news of Jesus love for everyone. A love that took him to the wastelands of hell on our behalf. A love that gives us living water to drink that we might live forever. A love that makes us bloom!