My brothers and sisters in Christ, you and I both know the world is not at all like what our first lesson from the book of Isaiah describes. The world is far from the reality the prophet spoke about long, long ago. Take another listen to his words, and then reflect on just how far away we are from this sort of reality:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. –Isaiah 11:5-9
To this day, these things are not happening. To this day, there is still war and strife and death. To this day, something must die in order for something else to live. To this day the earth still rebels against God and His knowledge–it is far from full of this. Indeed, our world remains broken and battered by the reality of sin, and just one glimpse of reality can set us on edge. One glimpse about the way things really are can lead us to a state of frustration and depression. Just a cursory read of the news shows this. The headlines tell us of greed, power grabs, destruction by natural disaster, rising poverty, government debt, people forced to give up what they are pleased with, and so on and so forth. This is the world we live in, and it can be overwhelming.
It can be so overwhelming that the promise of God set forth by the prophet can be lost. The promise of God can be forgotten. The promise of God can indeed be seen as an empty promise–false hope to hold onto in the midst of all our pain and suffering. Indeed, there are those who say that religion is simply a crutch that many hold onto to deal with the reality of brokenness in our world.
God knows how easily we can fall into such despair. God knows how easy it is for His creation to lose sight of His promise and His Word. God knows that we humans function on a different reality of time than He does. For us, thousands of years is an eternity. For God thousands of years are a fleeting moment. It’s easy to lose sight of this in the midst of this world.
Knowing this, God realized we needed something to hold onto. God realized we needed something concrete to grasp whenever hope starts to fade. God knows we need more than a promise to hold onto. In the old days, a handshake solidified a deal, but today, we need lawyers and legal documents to make sure we are covered. One would think that God’s Word would be enough, but the history of God’s people shows us differently. Scripture shows us how even the people of God who witnessed God’s miraculous deeds soon forgot them in the midst of their trials and tribulations. We need something more to hold onto.
And God understood this. God realized we needed assurances. God realized something more than a vision was needed so that we had evidence of God’s intent to make all things right. And God provided that evidence. God took on flesh and lived among us.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son not to condemn the world, but so that the world may be saved through Him.”
Jesus Christ entered this broken world. Jesus Christ, God in flesh, entered into this reality and began the process of redemption. Sure, He performed miracles. Sure, He healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, and proclaimed God’s Kingdom. There is no doubt about these things. But these things were simply leading up to the grand finale–the reconciliation of humankind unto God.
This, of course, took place on the cross. Sometimes, it’s hard to let this sink in. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what that cross represents. That cross represents all that is wrong with this world. That cross represents pain, suffering, brokenness, blood, injustice, selfishness, greed, depression, illness, and death. That cross does not today carry the same connotation it did 2000 years ago. Today, we see redemption. Long ago, it meant death. And that is exactly what happened to Jesus upon that cross. He was murdered. He suffered. He bled. He felt abandonment. It was not a glorious experience at all. But it was necessary. For in reality, it was us who should have been hanging on that cross. It was us who deserved punishment and death for our failure to measure up to God’s standards. We deserved to be hanging there for our participation in and failure to fix this broken world. Yet, instead of letting us take our deserved punishment, God intervened and Himself died.
This is a powerful statement of God’s love for us. There is no doubt about that. But the story is not yet done. For remember the promise of Isaiah? Remember the vision Isaiah tells us–a vision that came from God?
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6 The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9 They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. –Isaiah 11:1-10
This could not come to pass if the God incarnate suffered and died and that was the end. This could not be the true vision of the hope to come if the cross were the end. If suffering; if injustice; if despair; if punishment; if death were the end, then there is no real hope. God died. We are reconciled unto Him, but is there more?
The answer came three days later. Three dark days passed, but then the ground was shaken, the angels rolled the stone away, and Christ rose from the dead. St. Paul made no bones about what this meant, “20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; 22for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”
Christ is God’s handshake. Christ is God’s assurance that the promise of Isaiah is real. Christ is God’s way of showing us the fulfillment of the promise has begun, and we have something to hold onto in the midst of this world.
But more than that, for we do not simply hold onto the promise as if it were something only to be treasured by ourselves. For we know that around us is a world that is indeed hurting. We know that around us is a world that is broken and suffering in ways both big and small. We know that around us is a world in need of good news.
And we also know the foolishness of trying to make the world perfect. We know it is an impossibility on our part; yet we also know we cannot remain idle. We have been touched deeply by the promises of God, and so we work to prepare the way for Christ’s return. For who wouldn’t want to do this? Who wouldn’t want to prepare for the time of ultimate peace and justice? Who wouldn’t want to prepare for the time when all people can join with one another at the marriage feast of the Lamb? The vision is glorious!
And how do we prepare? How do we get ready for this vision? By trying to implement as much of it as we can in our daily lives right here and right now. By showing God’s love through kindness and caring and involvement with others both inside and outside our community of faith. For this is what it means to Live God’s Word Daily. Amen.