Singing with the Exiles
God's Anointed Breaks Down the Gates
A sermon based on Isaiah 45:1–8
Sunday, March 6, 2016 – Lent 4C
Who are you rooting for? Are you hoping it's Cruz, or Rubio, or Carson? What if it comes down to Trump versus Clinton? Who would you choose then? I know, I know. We're not supposed to talk about politics. And we're not supposed to talk about religion either. Well, you know what? This morning I just don't care! I'm going to talk about both… together!
In fact, I'm going to tell you which leader God has chosen to lead the most powerful nation of the world. And I have no doubt in my mind which leader that is because God named him in an Old Testament prophecy in one of the most astounding prophecies given. And I'm absolutely serious. I'm not joking.
Of course, I'm not talking about the next president of the United States, though. God hasn't revealed that information to us in the Bible. But he has made a prophecy about who would be the leader of the most powerful nations of the world. And would it surprise you to know that God chose a man who was an unbeliever; a pagan who worshiped false gods? Would it surprise you to know that God chose and named the leader who did not acknowledge him? His name would be Cyrus. And the prophecy, found in Isaiah 45:1-8, was over a century before Cyrus came to power or anyone ever heard of him. It reads…
"This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name. 4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
8 "You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it.
Israel knew they were stuck. The Babylon's had taken them captive. And they were far too weak to escape. Babylon said, "You are locked in with no way out." In the sixth century BC, God's people were surrounded by bronze gates! There were ziggurats and canals and detestable statues of the Babylonian gods all around them. But it was the gates—the world-renowned gates that locked them in with no way out.
The gates were the brain-child of Nabopolassar—the founder of the Babylonian empire—and his son Nebuchadnezzar. Herodotus and Xenophon—ancient Greek historians—write that in late seventh and early sixth century BC, hundreds and hundreds of bronze gates were erected in and around Babylon, making it the world's most fortified city. The walls were 21 feet thick with 360 watchtowers every 6 to 65 feet! And to top it off a deep moat surrounded that outside wall. Israel was locked in with absolutely no way out.
But then God gave this shocking prophecy: "I will raise up [Cyrus]…" and he will set my people free." (cf. Isaiah 45:13; cf. 44:28) In 539 BC, Cyrus had to go up against Babylon and her gates. The city began bracing for an all-out battle. Inhabitants stocked their shelves with food and water to prepare for the long siege. The military got armed up, revved up, psyched up, and pumped up.
But when Cyrus surrounded the city, its citizens—rather than fight to the last man and attempt a "Custer's Last Stand"—opened up the gates. Cyrus walked in and took the city with incredible ease.
Surprise, surprise! It happened just as God said it would!
"This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places…
Cyrus was God's anointed, his chosen one, the pagan politician God that hand-picked to serve him, to overthrow the Babylonian nation, to set his people free. They were no longer stuck, no longer locked away with no way out. God rescued them by his anointed.
We too know what it's like to be stuck. Okay, maybe we don't know what it's like to be taken captive by an enemy nation, hauled away from our homes, and trapped in a city behind a moat and walls 21 feet thick. But we have been stuck.
We've been stuck in traffic behind a slow moving RV or stuck in in snow on the side of the road. But that's nothing compared to being stuck in the past, stuck in a bad relationship, stuck in a diseased and dying body, stuck in debt, stuck in a dead-end job.
But even that is all nothing compared to the way we were stuck in our sin and trapped in our transgression. The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of being stuck in Romans 7: "I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members." (Romans 7:23) I want so much more for my life, but "I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin." (v. 14) And "I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me." (v. 21) That's us—locked in habits we cannot beat and bound in a bondage we cannot break, stuck in our sin and trapped in our transgression.
Don't believe me? Then examine your life this past week. Did you always use your words to build others up? Or did you sometimes tear them down? Did you defend others and their property like a trustworthy wall that's 21 feet thick? Or were you only concerned for yourself? Did you share the message that might set people free? Or did you keep quiet to avoid any awkward conversations?
We were stuck. And nothing we could do could tear down those walls. And for our selfish thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors we deserve to locked away in hell and to have Satan throw away the key. In fact, we were stuck with a hopeless future of hell.
That is, until the Lord's Anointed, the special chosen One of God came on the scene…
And of course you know who that is. Cyrus is a picture, a foreshadow, a type of the Messiah, or Christ—the Anointed One—to come. He's a picture of Jesus. Jesus is God's chosen politician— the prophet who spoke perfectly at every press conference, the priest who served perfectly in his public office, the King of all kings of all time! His inauguration was at his baptism. And through this Anointed One, this One chosen by God and named by him, the walls have been broken down!
When were stuck in our guilt, when we were trapped by satan, when the pit of hell seemed our only future, he came to the rescue. That's what Isaiah describes throughout his book. When we were stuck in our sin, God promises, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18) When we were buried in gloom and doom, he reminds us, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light." (9:2) When dryness and deadness stood in the way, the Lord turned "the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs." (35:7) When we were surrounded by obstacles, he promised that "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain." (40:4) When blindness and captivity and bondage stood in the way, God's Servant came to "open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness." (42:7)
And when hell was our only fate, "He was despised and rejected by men… he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows… [he was] stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted… he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (53:3-6)
This Anointed One, this chosen One, has destroyed the barrier of sin that kept us from God by taking that sin on himself and paying the full penalty in our place.
Surprise, surprise! It happened just as God said it would!
"You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it."
And what's more, this Anointed One has broken down the walls of stony hearts. He's opened our eyes and ears to believe the truth in what he's done. So now we are sinless! We are perfect! We are free!
So no matter who wins the election in November, whether Cruz or Trump or Sanders or Clinton, we are free from sin! And we are free from worry or fear! We are free to live for him no matter what challenges or persecutions may come!
For we know that the final victory is yet to come, when he will break the barrier that's far more than 21 feet thick! He's already given a preview of how he even breaks down the walls of death! After the betrayal, the beating, and the bruising, after the cry of the curse on the cross, he burst forth from the tomb. And one day soon, he will return with his victory cry, "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (Revelation 1:18) And with those keys, he'll unlock the gates of death, and rescue us forever!
You are not locked in with no way out! Jesus, God's Anointed, has broken down the gates of guilt and shame, he's smashed the walls of sin and death. And the gates of hell will never prevail against the work of our Savior—the Anointed one of God. So, "If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." (John 8:36) In his name, dear friends, amen.