|Pentecost 4 (Proper 10), July 10, 2011
Join in the Hymn of All Creation!
Sermon Theme: Let’s “join in the hymn of all creation, for the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign” because Jesus’ dying love means exactly this: we are going home!
Text: Isaiah 55:10–13
Other Lessons: Psalm 65:(1–8) 9–13; Romans 8:12–17; Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23
Goal: That hearers, confident in the power of God’s Word that guarantees our homecoming into the heavenly promised land, even in the despair of our exile, will with all creation radiate praise and joy.
Dr. R. Reed Lessing, STM, PhD, associate professor, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri
“Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation, for the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign” (LSB Canticle “This Is the Feast”). Creation has much to be thankful for, and so do we! The Psalm, Ps 65:9–13, narrates how the Lord blesses the work of his hands. “You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it” (65:9). Praise is the natural response as the hills and valleys sing for joy (65:12–13). Those led by the Spirit join in this hymn of all creation with our cry, “Abba! Father!” (Epistle, Rom 8:15). This joy, created by the power of God’s Word (Old Testament Reading, Is 55:10–11), abounds in our lives when we receive it with the good soil of humble and repentant hearts (Gospel, Mt 13:23).
Isaiah 55 functions as the summary of chapters 40–54 and as such is the grand finale, like a “Hallelujah Chorus.” The Lord’s promise of comfort (40:1) comes through Cyrus (44:28; 45:1) who defeats Babylon (chapters 46–47) so that the exiles may return to Zion (48:20–21; 52:10–11). God’s comfort comes climactically through the Suffering Servant, whose atoning death declares us righteous (53:11).
The last part of Isaiah 55 forms an inclusion with 40:1–11. Both promise forgiveness (40:2; 55:7), an exodus from Babylon (40:3–5; 55:12), and the efficacy of God’s Word (40:8; 55:10–11). The fourfold use of bi (“because”) in 55:7b, 8, 10, and 12 underscores the message of 55:6–13:
1. Yes, the Lord forgives (55:7b).
2. Yes, the Lord has a plan (55:8).
3. Yes, the Lord’s Word works (55:10).
4. Yes, the exiles will return home (55:12).
And so with all the faithful, as we wend our way home from exile, we join in the hymn of all creation (55:12–13)!
Vv 10–11: Whether or not the exiles understand the ways of God (55:8–9), they can trust that his Word is true and will do what it says. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was a fulfillment of God’s Word (Josh 21:41–43; 23:14), as was the downfall of the Southern Kingdom (2 Ki 21:10–16; 24:2–4). This Word is more powerful than armies, treaties, chariots, horses, as well as every other human might.
But can this Word be trusted? After all, the Babylonian propaganda sounded very persuasive. Didn’t their gods defeat Israel’s God? Isn’t the Lord, therefore, inferior to their god Marduk? And what about talk of a “new exodus”? Isn’t this just a pipe dream? Isaiah announces that God’s Word will accomplish that for which he sends it!
The verb chapets (“to delight, take pleasure”) appears in key junctures in Isaiah 40–55. The Lord takes pleasure in Cyrus (44:28), in offering up his Servant (53:10), and now in his Word that directs history to bring exiles back.
Vv 12–13: The Lord’s work through his Servant is not for Israel alone, but for the entire world. Creation’s celebration begins in 42:10–12 and continues in 44:23; 49:13; and 51:3. Unlike the first exodus, when Israel responded with a mixture of praise and murmur (Ex 15:1–18, 22–24), this march will exhibit praise from the exiles and include all creation!
The verb yatsa’ (“to go forth”) is in pivotal places in Isaiah 40–55. Because God’s Word goes forth (55:11), Israel is commanded to go forth from Babylon (48:20; 52:11). “Peace” shalom) eludes some in 48:22; but now through the Servant’s suffering (53:5) and God’s commitment to shalom (54:10), exiles will be carried home in shalom.
Isaiah pictures mountains, hills, trees lined up along the highway to celebrate Israel’s homecoming. This tree-lined path home will testify to God’s goodness as twelve stones memorialized Israel’s crossing the Jordan (Josh 4:6–7).
The celebration is a dangerous witness to Babylon, who would not look fondly on such praise. Indeed, “the rulers of this age” seek to stop the singing; if they cannot, they try to pollute it with ideology and managed slogans. But the Lord will not stop loving, so Israel will not stop singing! One reason creation is invited into the chorus is that oppressive empires, such as Babylon, abuse not only people but also the environment. In a similar way, creation rejoices at the downfall of Assyrian King Sargon II (14:7–8).
“Briers and thorns” denote the Lord’s punishment of exile in, for example, 5:6; 6:11–13; 7:22–25; 27:4; 32:13. In Gen 3:18, Moses describes the curse of the ground as “thorns and thistles.” Ultimately, the real exile, the real leaving-home event, was the Lord’s expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden (Gen 3:24). Israel’s restoration, then, expresses the hope of the final homecoming, when all believers will be restored and creation itself renewed (Rev 21–22). This is God’s gift because of the Servant’s own exile and restoration, narrated in 52:13–53:12.
“And it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” echoes Ex 31:17, even as “a covenant forever” comes in Ex 31:16. The “it” may imply God’s gift of the Sabbath to the exiles. Their hard labor in Babylon is now complete (40:2). A transformed earth, a transformed community, a transformed humanity will be the sign of God’s everlasting love for his creation.
If Babylon were the last word in chapters 40–55, there would be no homecoming, no future hope, no renewal of creation. But this is not so! God’s name is the last word!
2. Like Israel, far from home and far from the Father, we had no song to sing.
1. But like the exiles, we are invited to break forth into singing.
Let’s “Join in the Hymn of All Creation, for the Lamb Who Was Slain Has Begun His Reign” Because Jesus’ Dying Love Means Exactly This: We Are Going Home!
Home! The word evokes feelings of love and laughter, security and serenity, warmth and welcome. It means mom and dad, fun and games, good food, deep sleep. “Home, home on the range.” “When Johnny comes marching home.” And from Kansas: “There’s no place like home!”
Isaiah, writing in the eighth century BC, addresses Israelites living in Babylon in the sixth century BC—exiles far from home. A monstrous reality called Babylon was a fire-breathing horror that had destroyed everything. In 587 BC the empire decided once and for all to destroy the “rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces.” This is “why this city was laid to waste” (Ezra 4:15).
Gathered by the waters of Babylon (cf. Ps 137), the exiles wistfully wondered: Is our God for real? If so, does he care about us? Just how can we believe in a God who lost the latest war? Why not worship Babylonian gods? After all, their armies are more powerful than ours. Lord, “Will you be angry with us forever?” (Ps 85:5).
The exiles are stuck in a land with canals and ziggurats and the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the Ishtar Gate and the detestable statue of Marduk. Judah and Jerusalem and the Jordan have been replaced by the building projects of Nabopolassar and his son Nebuchadnezzar. Israel has no king, no temple, no royal city, no land, no liturgy, no sacrifice, no hope, no future, and no song. How can they sing God’s songs while in a foreign land? (cf. Ps 137:4).
So by the rivers of Babylon they sit and weep (Ps 137:1), reminiscing about the good ol’ days when they worshiped in the splendor of Solomon’s temple, worked and shopped in the city of David, and saw the Mount of Olives from a distance. O God, “there’s no place like home!”
Israelites in exile are not only far away from home; more pressing, they are far away from the Father. As the Lord’s firstborn son (cf. Ex 4:22), Israel had demanded his fair share of the inheritance, set off for a distant country, and squandered it all on wild living; enticing Baal worship, seductive Assyrian astral deities, the perverting of justice and righteousness, heartless worship, gutless faith. And then August 19, 587 BC—the collapse of Jerusalem—“the day the music died!”
Some of us are far away from home; all of us are far away from the Father. It’s the way we operate. We are, again, right here, just now, exiled in a Babylon of our own making. We have demanded our fair share of the inheritance and set off for distant lights, seductive lights, deadly lights. We’ve sold our baptismal inheritance and ended up with duplicitous lives, empty relationships, and inflated egos. And so we have no song to sing.
In our exile God speaks, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (55:12). All exiles are invited to join in this hymn of all creation!
Just when the music had died and Israel’s history seemed closed by Babylonian imperial policy, to the shock and surprise of everyone, the Lord raised up his messiah Cyrus (45:1) and Isaiah’s “new thing” exploded in the desert (43:19)! Then a Servant was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5). And guaranteeing this deliverance is the power and faithfulness of God’s Word (55:10–11). These promises will not return empty. God said it. That settles it. Faith believes it!
In Bethlehem this faithful Word took on flesh and blood, and he had a heart. He lived exiled from the Father’s home for thirty-three years. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). Jesus was exiled, not only from the Father’s home, but finally from the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34; cf. Ps 22:1). His lips are cracked and his mouth is cotton. His throat, so dry he can’t swallow; his voice, so hoarse he can scarcely speak. To find the last time moisture touched these lips we need to rewind a dozen hours to the meal in the Upper Room. Since tasting the cup of the new covenant, Jesus has been spit upon, bruised, and beaten. He has been a cross-carrier and sin-bearer; no liquid has quenched his thirst. He has no song to sing, so that day the music died.
Yet raised on the third day, the song, better, the symphony of celebration, rocks on! “In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (Jn 14:2). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1b).
This is no dorm room or army barracks or student housing, no Super 8 or Holiday Inn Express. It is infinitely better. The robe and sandals are ready, and so is the ring. The price is paid, the party prepared, the sacrifice complete, and the Father has rehearsed his lines: This son of mine “was dead and is alive again” (Lk 15:32).
And so let’s sing with mountains and hills, and with the trees clap our hands.
Let’s “Join in the Hymn of All Creation,
for the Lamb Who Was Slain Has Begun His Reign”
Because Jesus’ Dying Love Means Exactly This: We Are Going Home!