Summary: Because God took on our salvation we have every reason to wait for Jesus' second coming with joy. (Sermon adapted from Advent series by Timothy Quill.)
Did you hear about the Christmas tree that was worth over 11 million dollars? Five years ago the luxury Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi was trying to make the Guinness Book of World Records with the most expensive Christmas tree. So they decorated a 43-foot tree with 131 different pieces of gold and precious stones worth 11 million dollars! That’s enough money, by the way, to buy a 60-year stay in a deluxe hotel at Disneyland. And a 43-foot tree would poke through the ceiling of our church for another 7 feet.
So how does your Christmas tree compare? Although you may not have the world’s most spectacular Christmas tree, our sermon text today says that you yourself are a sight to behold. Listen to these verses from our text. “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations… They [believers] will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:11, 3b Yes, I switched the verse order around).
As we continue our Advent sermon series entitled: “Waiting with the Old Testament Church,” we’ll see today why we have every reason to wait with joy for the coming of our Savior. We can wait with joy because God himself has decked us out in garments of salvation that are worth more than anything money can buy!
Once again our sermon text is from the book of Isaiah. In previous sermons I said how Isaiah lived at a time when foreign invaders were making life difficult for the Israelites. But the truth is, the Israelites themselves had also made life difficult. Listen to this description. “…your hands are stained with blood…Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wicked things…7 [Your] feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. They pursue evil schemes; acts of violence mark their ways… 11 We all growl like bears; we moan mournfully like doves. We look for justice, but find none… 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (Isaiah 59:3, 7, 11, 15).
“We all growl like bears…” I love that line. It brings out the emotions we have been feeling this last month with all the terrorist shootings going on. As we watch the news coverage we’re speechless and don’t know what to say. We can only growl and moan and wonder where justice is. But as we’ve learned in previous sermons, it’s not just the terrorists that are the problem in this world, so are we! Just because we come to church doesn’t mean that we are not deserving of God’s anger. In Isaiah’s day there were many who continued to bring sacrifices to the temple, and yet God said to them: “The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me? …13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! …16Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. 17 Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:12-13, 16-17).
Would God say something similar to us this morning? “Stop throwing into the offering plate money that is leftover from your nights out. Trust me enough to give me the top of your paycheck. And stop singing hymns with voices you use to cut each other down during the week. I can’t stand the dissonance. It hurts my holy ears!” I’m sure Isaiah would say the same thing today as he did 2700 years ago: “The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene…” (Isaiah 59:15-16). It was clear that the people of Isaiah’s day were only concerned about themselves, just as we often are. And God was sick and tired of it.
So what’s the solution? Try harder to be nicer to others? That’s what every other religion teaches, but not the Bible. Listen to how the previous verse from Isaiah continues: “The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him…17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head…20 ‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins.’ declares the LORD…” (Isaiah 59:15-17, 20).
Because there is no way we can save ourselves, God, in his mercy, took matters into his own hands. He sent a redeemer who was the Messiah the Jews were patiently waiting for. That Messiah came when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Then 30 years after that, Jesus started his work and one of the first things that he did was preach in his hometown synagogue to make clear his mission. He used the text from Isaiah that we have before us and read: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1-3).