Monday, September 10, 2012

Proper 18 of Series B (Isaiah 35:4-7a)

A garden. Lush trees, verdant pastures, flowering bushes. Springs, rivers, waterfalls. Adam’s hungry eyes drank them all in. Blue, perfect skies. Green, soft grass. The yellow of the sun, and every other color of the palate, each in its proper place. This is God’s creation, this is His garden. The trees? Laden with fruit. The rivers? Flowing freely. The plants and animals? Living in peace, living in harmony. For Adam, soon to be joined by Eve, this was home. Paradise was the garden. But in a moment, everything changed. With one uttered temptation, with one lustful look, with one rebellious bite, the garden was cursed. The garden was reversed from God’s place of peace and abundance into a wilderness, a desert of violence and scarcity. Their eyes were opened to see evil, and it was all around them. Their sin had cursed the very ground. “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The earth remains cursed. Barren trees, brown pastures, dried up bushes. Empty wells, failing springs, bare rivers. The corn turns from green to ugly dark brown, scorched and burned by the hot sun. The skies? Empty. Our hungry eyes search them for moisture, our ears greedily wait to hear of rain. Livestock are fed at enormous expense, or sold. Their pastures are dead, their corn is dead, and yet the sun still beats down on fields that have had enough. The garden has become a desert. Our world is truly cursed. Sickly bodies, failing organs, weak muscles. Our bodies fail, they wear out, much sooner than they should. Cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s. Our desperate eyes search the doctor’s face for news, our ears strain to hear a word of hope. And sometimes those eyes opened by sin are closed by that same sin, and ears are stopped. Violence, crime, abuse. Humanity sinks from one level of depravity to another. The cruelty that we can demonstrate to one another seems to have no end. And death; it claims the old, but also the young. Death has no prejudices; it afflicts rich and poor alike, kind and wicked, the infant and the nursing home resident. One day, it will claim you and me. Our world is truly cursed. Adam’s eyes opened to see a garden; our eyes open to see a desert.

We are wandering, wandering through this desert, this dry and barren wilderness, searching for relief, searching for deliverance. Our eyes have been opened by Adam and Eve’s sin, and what we see is sin, what we see is death. We are anxious, harried, persecuted by this world. We are hurried by sin; it pursues us, nipping at our heels, and we fear its power. We’ve seen its power, exerted in the tenacity of cancer, the strong grip of addiction, the unstoppable march toward death, and we are afraid. We cry out to God, but we fear that He is deaf to our cries. “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.” His silence is deafening; we want Him to act, to deliver. We want the drought to end, the cancer to leave, our loved ones to be restored to us. If He doesn’t act, if He remains silent, we will sink into the pit, we are finished, the corruption of this world will have us, forever.

And so God will not remain silent; He speaks to His afflicted people. “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong! Fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.’” Be strong! Take courage, stand firm! Do not doubt, but take confidence, for your God isn’t deaf, He isn’t blind! His eyes are open to your affliction, His ears have heard your cry. He knows your sufferings, He knows that His perfect garden has become a terrifying desert. Do not fear! Do not live your life in fear of sin’s power, do not be motivated by timidity or weakness, but stand boldly against the evil that is around you. In a world filled with sin, sorrow, and death, do not fear! Be strong! Behold, your God! The God who created you is still with you, He is still your God. In Him you can stand firm, in Him you can live without fear.

For your God is coming. “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.” Do not fear, for your God will come with vengeance. Be strong, for His recompense is with Him. He is coming to settle accounts, to give what is due to all of your enemies. The evil of this barren world has reigned over His beloved people long enough; it is time for the vengeance of our God. He will repay sin, death, and Satan for their tyranny—they will feel His wrath. All those who oppressed His people, all those who persecuted His beloved ones, will receive their due.

But for those who trusted in their Creator, who cried out to Him in faith in the midst of their afflictions, He is coming with a much different repayment. “He will come and save you.” Behold, your God! He is coming, and He is coming to deliver you from the oppression of your enemies, from the tyrannical reign of sin and death. He must defeat to deliver; He must destroy evil to save His people, and that is what He has come to do, to bring vengeance to His enemies and salvation to His people. Be strong, for salvation is coming, it will come. That is the sure and certain hope—God has said it, He is not blind nor deaf, and He will keep His word. Do not fear, for all that you fear will face the vengeance of your God. He will come, and He will save! Behold, your God! He will enter this creation to reverse its corruption!

“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Behold, your God has taken on your human flesh to redeem it, to bring you the promised salvation, to bring vengeance to your enemies. Jesus Christ entered the wilderness, He broke into the desert to bring an end to its corruption. When He comes, the reign of sin is driven away, He announces in word and deed that its time is done, that He has come to bring vengeance to His enemies and salvation to His people. “They brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on Him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into His ears, and after spitting touched His tongue. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly.” Ears made deaf by sin, and tongues made mute, are delivered from their bondage. These effects of sin cannot stand when God comes as promised to deliver His people. Be strong! Do not fear! Behold, your God has come to reverse the reign of sin!

Not every blind eye was opened, nor was every deaf ear unstopped. Sin’s effects were defeated in a handful to demonstrate that God had come to bring salvation, but Jesus came not to treat the symptoms, He came to destroy the disease. He came to reverse sin once and for all, to execute God’s vengeance upon the source. Behold, your God hangs upon the cross! He hangs there bearing the sin of the world; He sheds His blood to pay the price for it. He hangs upon the cross to rob sin of its power, to reverse all of its effects. A dying man is the defeat of sin, the crushing of Satan’s evil head, for this man is true God, Jesus Christ our Lord, and He bears your sin and the sin of the entire world upon Himself. On Good Friday, sin’s reign is done, it tyranny over, its mastery destroyed. Jesus reverses sin by dying, and He reverses death by rising. With sin paid for, death has no more power, and Jesus proves it by leaving the tomb empty on the third day. Sin’s greatest effect, its vilest power over us, is no more, as the empty tomb declares. God has come as promised in the person of Jesus Christ, and He has brought vengeance to His enemies and salvation to His people. Sin’s power is reversed; it can no longer condemn us to hell. Satan’s reign is reversed; his accusations have no power. Death itself is reversed; it is now the gateway to eternal life with Christ. Be strong! Do not fear! Behold your God has come, and He has come to die and rise again for your deliverance!
A garden. That is what the eyes of Adam saw when they first opened on the sixth day of creation. A desert. That is what our eyes have seen every day since this creation was plunged into sin. God’s perfect world was reversed, and sin, death, and Satan reigned over it. But now your God has come with vengeance, and His recompense is with Him. He has come and He has saved you by dying and rising. When Jesus told the ears of a deaf man, ‘Ephphatha—Be opened!’ it was a demonstration of what was to come. “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” On the Last Day, our corruption will be reversed; the sick will be made well, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, and the mute will sing. Yes, even the dead will be raised. The great reversal, revealed by Jesus in His miracles and enacted in His death and resurrection, will extend to all who believe. And this creation? This garden turned into a desert? It will become a garden once more. “For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” Jesus will reverse this desert into a garden, a lush, beautiful, bountiful garden, to provide for all of our needs for eternity. Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God has defeated your enemies to save you, and He will bring you to His garden for eternity to live without fear forever. In the Name of Jesus, God in the flesh who came and reversed sin, death, and the power of the devil, Amen.

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