Singing with the Exiles
Get Out of There!
A sermon based on Isaiah 48:17–22
Sunday, March 13, 2016 – Lent 5C
Four urgent words are shouted to people in the following situations. Can you guess what those four words are? Three children are stuck inside a burning home. A family of five is stuck in a minivan plunging into a river. A talented young man is stuck in a dead-end job. Can you guess the four urgent words that are spoken to these people? What are they? "Get out of there!"
In August of 587 BC, Israel's world caved in. The temple collapsed, the monarchy lay in ruins, the land became a wasteland, and all hope was dismantled and destroyed. Then a massive aftershock brought further wreckage and ruin. Seven hundred miles from home, Israel's exiles became trapped in a basement called Babylon. And the prophet Isaiah shouted, "Get out of there!"
Today, we often get trapped—in selfishness and sin—and too often we don't even notice that we're trapped because, well, it's so common. But God shouts to us, "Get out of there!" And we thank God that he provided a way out. Our text for consideration this 5th Sunday of Lent is taken Isaiah 48:17-22…
17 This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. 18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. 19 Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me."
20 Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians! Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth; say, "The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob." 21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts; he made water flow for them from the rock; he split the rock and water gushed out.
22 "There is no peace," says the Lord, "for the wicked."
When the Israelite exiles were trapped in Babylon, Isaiah shouted, "Get out of there!" But… that's easier said than done. With every passing year, the Babylonian gods seemed more and more powerful, while Israel's God seemed more and more obsolete. Slowly but surely, the exiles began to accommodate themselves to their new surroundings. Blending in with Babylon brought financial success. And so, living comfortably in a place of destruction and death became the new way of life.
It was the whole boiling frog syndrome. Now I've never tried this, but you know how it goes: It's said that if a frog is placed in hot water, it will immediately jump out. But if it is placed in lukewarm water which is gradually heated, it will acclimate, never hop out, and slowly boil to death. The exiles were calling their Babylonian prison the new normal. And they were in hot water! If they didn't get out of there and soon, they would die—eternally!
So Isaiah pleaded with them to wake up from the spiritual slumber they were in and to get out of Babylon! "Get out of there!" And he announced that God would help them do it. He would, "lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations," (Isaiah 52:10) that his "glory [would] be revealed and all flesh will see it together," (40:5). He promised that "those who [would] wait on the LORD [would] renew their strength," (40:31) for "a bruised reed he [would] not break, and a smoldering wick he [would] not snuff out." (42:3) And in Isaiah 51:17 and again in 52:1 he cried out, "Wake, awake!" And we hear it again in our text, in 48:20, where he says, "Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians!" "Get out of there!"
And Israel's response? Nothing… nothing! They wouldn't leave! The luxury of Babylon, the comfort of Babylon, the religion of Babylon enticed most of them into staying in the boiling pot of Babylon!
That's why throughout Isaiah 48 the prophet calls them stubborn, unyielding, headstrong, prone to idolatry, deaf, deceptive, and stubborn rebels from birth. All this because Israel refused to listen to the warning to get out of there and so they refused to listen to the Gospel of their salvation; "listen" is the governing verb of the chapter. It appears eleven times in Isaiah 48.
Can't you just imagine the people responding to the prophet? "Isaiah, haven't you heard? Babylon is the political-military-religious superpower of the day. This is the land of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Why should we go back to little backwater Judah? Besides, what a huge hassle it would be to liquidate our assets, pack our bags, and pull up stakes just to live in a land devastated by famine and warfare. Get out of Babylon? Isaiah, have you lost your mind?"
"If only [they] had paid attention to [God's] commands, [their] peace would have been like a river, [their] righteousness like the waves of the sea."
But are we really any different? Our bondage began with just one more drink, one more lie, one more fling, one more glance. But "one more" always longs for one more, and then just one more. And slowly the temperature creeps up and we barely even notice… until it's too late. The boiling frog syndrome unleashes its hypnotic power over us!
Sure, being obsessed—with pornography, or money, or gossip, or food, or people's approval, or work—is a strange place to be in, at first. It's crushing to be trapped beneath tons of collapsed hopes and shattered dreams. But in time, we become used to living in destruction and death. With each passing day, it becomes easier to deny that I am stuck on stuff that kills and steals and destroys. We are in hot water! This is why God cries to us, "Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians!" "Get out of there!"
That's what God always does: He calls people out of darkness and into his wonderful light. He called Abraham and Sarah to get out of Haran because it was the center of moon worship. He urged Lot and his family to get out of Sodom and Gomorrah because it was the center of sexual perversion. And he called Israel to get out of Egypt because it would be their spiritual ruin. "Get out of there!" he cries, "Before it's too late!"
And he calls us to "Get out of there!" too! Get out of that pot before it boils you! Kill that pet sin, now while you can, before it grows to be a monster that consumes you! "If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell." (Matthew 18:8-9)
And our response? Too often . . . nothing! "Oh, Jesus! You're overreacting! This isn't that big of a deal. I'm comfortable. And it's not like I'm boiling… yet." And when we don't heed his warning to "Get out of there!" we don't listen to the Gospel of our salvation either. And we deserve to have God forever to say to us of his heaven, "Get out of there! You cannot come be where I am." We deserve hell.
And deep down, we know we're thirsty. For "There is no peace… for the wicked." But we're thirsty, not for "one more" of the same, but for something different. We know that our pet sins are salt water in the desert. They don't quench or satisfy. They kill. And they leave us trapped in a basement of guilt and shame, of death and despair that we can't get out of on our own.
So we're thirsty for something more. We're thirsty for a clean conscience, for a fresh start, for a loving, tender hand to reach into our basement and get us out of there. And that's exactly what God has done!
He didn't just cry "Get out of there!" When he saw us trapped under a mountain of sin, trapped under a pile of our own making, he didn't just say, "Get out of there!" but he came to get us out of there! He came to rescue us from our sin, from death, from hell. He came to rescue us from us!
Listen to these beautiful words in Isaiah: "I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:25) "I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist." (44:22). These great and precious promises are found, fulfilled, and come to fruition in Isaiah's Servant, Jesus our Lord, the one murdered for us to get us out of there.
And he did everything for our salvation and he did it all alone. When he was arrested his friends ran for cover and got out of there. His countrymen clamored for his death because they wanted him out of there! And his own Father abandoned him on the cross and got out of there! And Jesus suffered for you. He bled for you. He felt the thorns and the nails and the spear and the hell for you. He died for you. He rose for you. And he came for you to get you out of there—out of your sin, out of the shame, out of the guilt, out of hell, and one day soon, out of death, out of the grave, out of this world and into his heaven!
He got us out of there. And he'll get us out of here. When we believe that, our thirst is quenched. Our peace is like a river because our righteousness—the righteousness Jesus gives us—is like the waves of the sea.
And now we view our pet sins differently. We don't want to feed them anymore, but we want to slay them. We don't want to get back in the pot of warm water. But we want to continue to "Get out of there!" every time we slip back in. We want to, "Leave Babylon [and] flee from the Babylonians!" We want to go and leave our life of sin! (John 8:11) We want to go and live for him!
And we want to tell others too. We want to warn them, "Get out of there!" as we sound the warning cry of the Law whenever we see them slip into the pot of warm water. And we want to tell them of God's grace that gets them out of there! We want to… "Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it. Send it out to the ends of the earth [and] say, 'The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.'" In his name dear friends, thank God that he got you out of there! Amen!