TEXT: ISAIAH 57:3-13/LUKE 22:1-6
GOOD AND PERFECT GIFTS – AN EVER-PRESENT REFUGE
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.  Dear hearers of the Word made flesh;

Called by some the “Fifth Gospel,” the prophet Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet.  Like no other place in the Old Testament His last 11 chapters reveal the blessings and sufferings of Christ’s Church.  These chapters show that not all in the external church are the Church.  These chapters show how the servants of the Suffering Servant express their new life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  As they journey to their eternal home the offspring of Christ will suffer in confessing their Savior and Master.  As they journey to their eternal home God will also give them Good and Perfect Gifts.





TEXT: ISAIAH 57:3-13/LUKE 22:1-6
GOOD AND PERFECT GIFTS – AN EVER-PRESENT REFUGE
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

In many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets but now in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.  Dear hearers of the Word made flesh;

Called by some the “Fifth Gospel,” the prophet Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet.  Like no other place in the Old Testament His last 11 chapters reveal the blessings and sufferings of Christ’s Church.  These chapters show that not all in the external church are the Church.  These chapters show how the servants of the Suffering Servant express their new life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  As they journey to their eternal home the offspring of Christ will suffer in confessing their Savior and Master.  As they journey to their eternal home God will also give them Good and Perfect Gifts.

Tonight we heard these words of Isaiah - When you cry for help let your collections of idols deliver you!  The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away.  But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain.

It is not difficult for the human heart – your heart – my heart - to idolize people.  It is not difficult for our hearts to idolize profit and place and earthly possessions.  We heard again how Judas agreed to betray Jesus for money.  It is not difficult for hearts to idolize personal pride (how easily feelings are hurt and self-pity sets in).  It is not difficult for our hearts to idolize pleasure (in our high tech entertainment age perhaps all the more).  Sadly it can be all too easy for the human heart to idolize even the dark practices of pagan neighbors. 

In the face of life’s anxieties, Israelites sought escape in the dark world of idolatry.  In our text the Holy Spirit leads Isaiah to take the gloves off – as it were – revealing a toxic mix of idolatry.  The First Commandment was brushed aside!  Those so living were not honoring the Sabbath or keeping righteousness or doing justice.  Isaiah spotlights the sharp division between the faithful remnant and those deifying economic prosperity, sexual pleasure and political power.  Many in Israel mirrored the pagan culture arround them. 

The verses you heard describe a combination of homage to Molech with its child sacrifice, Canaanite fertility rites with their prostitution and sexual immorality, and worship of dead ancestors.  Sexual sins took place “under every green tree” (57:5).  Libations (liquid offerings) were poured out to their invented gods to honor the dead (57:6).  Children were slaughtered in creeks and river beds to appease their invented gods (57:5).  We are painfully reminded that every man-made religion not only dishonors God – but ultimately destroys people.

These “offspring of deceit” as Isaiah called them worshipped falsely from the bottom of the valleys to the heights of the mountains.  The smooth stones may have been markers representing people buried in the wadis.  Other scholars conjecture that they were just rocks of unique shape or design worn smooth by water.  The misguided spirituality of the people had become so mottled, so mindless that they made offerings of food and drink to these senseless, dead smooth stones (verse 6). 

The beds on the high mountains indicate the worship of Baal and Astarte.  She was the Canaanite idol of sex and war referred to as the queen of heaven.  The cult of Israelites that followed her deified both nature and the pleasures of sexual sin (verse 7).

While God had instructed the Israelites to write Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one on the door posts of their homes (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) those led astray placed an inscription or a figure dedicated to an idol within their homes (verse 8).  Not only would they not do what God commanded, they would boldly and brazenly do just the opposite to honor their pet idols.

Pagan deities were also joined by political powers as idols they trusted in.  You journeyed to the king with oil…you sent your envoys far off…The unfaithful bride of the Lord courted the favor of worldly powers (verse 9).  Her idols were sized and shaped to fit into the pagan and political landscape.  She pursued them with passion and even seemed to be energized by serving them (verse 10).  Far from feeling hopeless and faint, the people seemed to be refreshed in their idolatry and political pursuits.

Israel’s concern was the approval of men, refuge in this world, and pop spirituality – just in case.  You know the feeling –as do I.  You know the temptation.  College students may be finding no work.  Seminarians may be in monstrous debt.  Christians who speak truthfully about life in the womb or God’s gift of marriage between male and female may be despised and maltreated.  But if I do things right – keep my head down – go along just enough with the culture – I can fit in and keep my earthly security and oh yes, tack God on as well.  God finally asked - whom did you dread and fear so that you lied, and did not remember me…Have I not held my peace for a long time, and you do not fear me?  I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you… 

Now the gloves are really off!  God is always God – no matter what games are played by mankind under the sun.  God is always God – and no earthly lineage gives one claim to Him and His good and perfect gifts.  God is always God and His good and perfect gifts are not found in sexual sin or imagined control over death or snuffing out the life of children or any self-styled sacrifice by which we would appease Him.

I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you.
Human holiness and hard work – sincere spiritual efforts wrongly directed to the idols of this world – will not profit in God’s presence.  When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!  The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away.

Dear Christians – idols of wood and stone will be swept away as though chaff.  So will idols of people and possessions and personal pride!  A modern day author (Tim Keller) makes the strong statement that “getting (your) heart’s desire may be the worst possible thing that could happen to you.”  He explains that the longings which drive us most will inevitably fail to live up to expectations.  He acknowledges that proper romance, money, and political causes can all be good things.  However, seeing romance or the security of wealth or our brand of political control as the “one thing” needed to make life good and meaningful turns these things into crushing idols.  Our propensity to worship things rather than the Holy Trinity runs very deep.  Our thoughts can travel down one sinful path after another believing one good thing after another will charge our life with happiness and meaning and success.  Another author writing on the idols of the heart says, “Control will always slip out of our grasp.  Relationships will always disappoint.  Work will leave us frustrated.  Pleasure is always fleeting.  Wisdom is never an adequate guide.  Spirituality usually gives in to legalism.  Life ends in decay and death.” (Allender and Longman, Breaking the Idols of Your Heart). 

Thank God His love for us runs deeper than our love for idols!  The Lord God who gathers the outcasts of Israel declares, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered. The message is clear – God wants to gather us into His arms and bring us home (to collect us – if you will).  In steadfast love He wants to gather us weak and sinful ones who too easily focus on the “collectables” of this life.   In perfect love He acted to give you not sham righteousness but the very righteousness of His Son as a gift!

While your righteousness and your deeds will not profit you, the righteousness and the deeds of the Suffering Servant will profit you forever.  While your collectables cannot deliver you, what the Son has collected from you does deliver you.  He is the Servant who became sin for you (collecting the whole deadly and damning mess in His baptism in the Jordan).  While the wind and a breath carries idols away, it took the Holy Lamb and His blood to carry sin away.

And carry it He did!  Jesus did not ascend Mount Calvary in an attempt to get closer to some idol.  Jesus was lifted up there to be forsaken by the Holy Father in order to redeem us from our idolizing sins.  The plot put into play by Satan and Judas and the Chief Priests went forward leaving Jesus no refuge from the cup of God’s wrath!   But now there is refuge for you!  He who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain. While apostates worship on their high mountain (57:7), Yahweh counters with “My Holy Mountain.”  It is a rich phrase in Isaiah meaning “Zion” – the dwelling place of God – the Holy City – Jerusalem. 

God’s good and perfect gift for you is an ever-present refuge in Christ!  It is this same word used in Psalm 46 from which Martin Luther wrote, “A Mighty Fortress (Refuge) is our God!”  When we see our heart and what it tends to idolize, when we see more clearly the emptiness and impermanence of the world’s collectables, and especially when we see the true weight of our sin – that we have not loved God with our whole heart – there is no refuge for us but God’s love in Christ! 

Not only did God take the gloves off in His sacrificial death, but the Holy Son’s clothes were stripped off as He died as the world’s greatest idolater – as sin itself.  This man never became hot among idols and frolicked in sin under a green tree yet the God/Man was spiked to the dry tree of the cross as the world’s greatest adulterer – as sin itself.  He did not slaughter children in the wadis of Israel to the idol Molech.  Rather, He is the one who said, “let the little children come to me.”  Yet He was punished as the world’s greatest child-slayer – as sin itself! 

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – the whole evil, festering, idolizing mess!  He carried it all!  It is finished!  There is real life-giving refuge in Him!  The only smooth stone of note in His life is the one rolled away from His empty tomb on Easter Morn!  There is refuge in Him even from the last enemy of death!

Beloved of God - in the face of life’s anxieties – in the ongoing struggle with sin – in answer to Satan’s accusations – He is your refuge!  That’s why He washed you in rebirth – covering you with Christ!  That’s why He feeds you and gives you to drink – not of some useless libation – but His life-giving body and His cleansing blood!  In love He bestows not fleeting collectables but these Good and Perfect gifts of abiding, ever-present refuge!

Beloved of God – in witness to others crushed by sins of sexual immorality or pornography or abortion or power grabbing or leaning on their own understanding – He is also their refuge!  He has borne it all!  He died to forgive it all!  He is risen to free us all!  His love surpasses all that we can know!  As the offspring of the Suffering Servant there is His Word to speak and His love to give others in His Name!
Amen.

 

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
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