The Mighty Way of the Lord
Second in a series of five
Isaiah 40:1-11 // 2 Peter 3:8-14 // Mark 1:1-8
Dear friends in Christ,
The way of the Lord. Last week, Pastor Griffin started out with the phrase “My Way or the highway.” Today, we see that at least in one instance, Isaiah chooses the highway. Which reminds me that on all kinds of occasions I in my youth would be a little brother to my two brothers in the back of our car on our way home from something, my Dad would tell me to stop, then he’d tell me, “If you keep on doing that, you’re gonna walk home” and I would stop. But I remember particularly on only one occasion that as I was doing all that a little brother seems called to do, my dad told me to stop, and he told me to stop, and I didn’t back down, and so Dad followed through on his threat, opened up the car door, he told me to get out, and I walked the last block home. It wasn’t that long – it was only the last block – but…
I tell you that to tell you this: there were two ways to go that day, and they were really only one way. There was the way of obedience that led home quickly or the way of repentance that took time. But they really were one in the same.
Just like last week, we find Isaiah giving us the image of the conquering king. Last week, we explored our God’s faithfulness, faithful even when we cannot see what he is doing, faithful to deliver an eternal purpose to our days, faithful in unexpected ways.
Today, we explore the MIGHTY way of the Lord, how the might of our God is so vast that it is unlike our strength. Three lessons that we draw from three readings today, three adjectives that further describe our God’s might. First it is a gentle might. Second it is a patient might. Third, it is a humble might.
First, his might is gentle… I’ll tell you this Benjamin and I, we carry on one of the traditions of my childhood. We wrestle. Actually Benjamin calls it “Knock Papa Down.” He pushes and I fall. I grab him and make bear sounds and we roll around. He gets worked up and runs at me from across the room. He pushes me down with all of his might. It’s a fun game, but my point is that, he can go all out on me; I don’t use my full strength on him. He can have fun at me full force. I use my strength for his safety.
We go to the text. Isaiah writes, All flesh is like grass. But he is forever. All the world is wilderness. But he makes the path of salvation.
Thought number one is that his might is not like that of a father for a son. Not like a father for a son… in this way – his might is DIFFERENT IN KIND. It is the difference between the might of beast and the might of a mountain. It’s the difference between Creator and Created. It’s not simply a difference in degree. It’s a difference in kind.
Thought number two is that his might is like that of a father for a son. It is like a father for a son… in this way – his might is FOR us. The one who is eternal is eternally working for the good of those who love him who are called according to his purpose. The one who is unlike the grass that withers has sent not a death-dealing word but a life-giving word that stands forever.
Second, his might is patient… Consider the epistle lesson from Peter – we have a God who is not slow as we count slowness… We’re like a kid at Six Flags – it’s going to take forever before he’s tall enough to ride the rides. We’re like a kid after his birthday – it’s going to take forever for that day to come around again. But God’s might is patient. He is strong enough to bide his time and act when it is time to act.
His actions take into account the whole tapestry of time, from beginning to end. When we have the whole Scriptures, we find that most of our pages deal with relatively few people at few places and few times.
Consider this. There are 400 years between the ending of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus. 400 years of privilege sliding into slavery, of dreams and prayers, years without miracles, without comment, 20 generations with all kinds of faithful people passing down their faith to their children. Consider this: There between the last page of Malachi and the first sentence of Matthew, there are 400 years – that’s two empires, one independent Jewish kingdom, the birth of synagogues and Pharisees and, if we want to get really mundane, one of the greatest architectural achievements ever, the first known use of concrete.
And yet, Bible records none of that significant history. Its authors had something absolutely other in mind. God is telling a different story. He is not slow as some count slowness. He is patient.
We are often frustrated because we are impatient with our pace. That is, in fact, the greatest danger for anyone who is a runner. The worst thing you can do is to do too many miles too early and too fast. To move forward, you need the patience to go slow and the strength to keep at it.
Patience takes strength. Deliberate action comes from patience and patience comes from experience and experience comes from resting in the wisdom of those who have done it before.
To the text! We see in 2nd Peter the picture of our God. Our God is not slow as some consider slowness. Let’s know it, and then let’s know that we don’t know what we think we know. Our God is not slow as some consider slowness. He is patient with us. His is a canvas spread out from the beginning of time to the end, and every brushstroke has significance.
His might is humble. You see, humility isn’t so much downplaying what you do and who you are; true humility is knowing your own worth, knowing what you can do and what you can’t do, and considering the welfare of others.
The same Jesus so far mightier than John the Baptist was the Creator of the universe who stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet before his last Passover. In our God’s strength, he allowed all that could happen to him to happen to him, so that he could bear our sins and be our savior. In our God’s strength, he emptied himself of his divine power to be humbled to the point of death.
Because, as Paul would say, when I am weak then I am strong. His grace is sufficient for me, for his power is made perfect in weakness.
I was named after the Apostle Paul, which was pretty exciting until I took Greek class. You see, the Apostle’s name had been Saul. Saul was the first king of Israel, a great big, tall, imposing guy, an honorable name. But when God got ahold of Saul on that road to Damascus, he changed his name to Paul. That’s a Greek adjective that means, “Little guy.” “Short stuff.” In 2 Corinthians, Paul struggles with his smallness, with his weakness. He says that a messenger from Satan assailed him and he pleaded that God relieve him and God would not. Instead, he heard these words “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When I am weak, then I am strong.
My grace is sufficient for you, even when your suffering will last the rest of your life. My grace is sufficient for you, even when your weaknesses will keep tempting you for the length of your days. My grace is sufficient for you even when your past mistakes would seem to never blow over, on this side of eternity they will always haunt you. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
The Way of the Lord
The way of the Lord draws us on as he weaves together all ages into his story of salvation. He takes the strands of obedience and disobedience. He takes the strands of repentance and forgiveness. He takes the amount of this world’s comings and goings and weaves them into the most unlikely summary of world history; he weaves them into the one way the truth and the life, the only way to the Father, Jesus Christ, our mighty Lord.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town where you can’t really point to anything that makes them different, except that everything feels different. It isn’t that life is strange in any one way; it’s that in their life together, there is strength and joy that seeps through every crack, so that in the best of times and in the worst of times, one thing is clear, that this one article reigneth: the presence of their Lord, the hope of a life spent with you.
Our God is mighty. He is gentle. He is patient. He is humble.
Amen and Amen.
The Faithful Way of the Lord
First in a Series of Five Sermons
December 2 and 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9, I Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 11: 1-10
I Corinthians 1:9 - God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Dear Friends in Christ,
My way or the highway is a predominantly American idiom that dates back to the 1970’s. This philosophy of my way or the highway works well in certain professions and arenas of life and not so well in others.
Recently I listened to a presentation by Mark Gregston, who suggests that the three inner needs of every child are 1) a secure love, 2)a significant purpose, and 3)a strong hope. Three lessons we would learn today about the faithfulness of our God, one from each of the appointed lessons.
Lesson # 1 has to do with living secure in God’s love, He is present even when it seems as though He is (hiding).
The context of Isaiah 64 is that even though Judah would be taken into exile by Babylon, and even though their capital city would be destroyed, and even though it would seem as though God had withdrawn His presence, the day would come when the tables would be overturned, the Babylonians would be destroyed, the Jews would be released, and the kingdom of God’s grace would prevail. God would be present in the preaching of His Word, He would be present in the shedding of blood at their altars, He would be present in their Passover meal. No matter what happened to them as a nation, they were to be secure in God’s love. He would be present even when it seemed as though He had withdrawn entirely.
To this very day, in every one of our families, there are chapters of life where it seems as though God has withdrawn His presence, chapters of life where it seems as though He is not making His face to shine on us, but is hiding. These days, Tom Eustice has to be wondering where God was when his wife was suffering a heart attack and then dying, the Westphal family had to be wondering where God was when their mom and grandma was suffering the ravages of dementia, and my own family could be forgiven for wondering why our little grandson Gabriel Brandon was given only an hour to live here on earth, why we would need to lay into the cold ground a beautiful little child.
We have wondered what many have wondered, has my family done something wrong? Is God angry with us? The answer, of course, is that yes, our family has done plenty that is wrong, in our sins we have been a long time, we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like polluted garments…
But no, God is not angry with our family, He took every ounce of His anger out on His own Son, Jesus Christ. As Jesus went the way of Calvary, His Father poured out on Him the sinful thoughts, the sinful words, the sinful deeds, the sinful habits, the sins of omission, the sins of every generation onto His beloved Son. He poured out His anger until there was no anger to pour out. No, God is not angry with any of us who are calling on His Name. Though our sins be as scarlet, in Christ, they are white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, that far has our faithful God sent our transgressions. Application #1 today, as often as it seems as though God is hiding, that often go looking for Him. Go looking for Him in the preaching of His Word. Go looking for Him in the waters of Baptism. Go looking for Him in the repentance of your sins. Go looking for Him in His Supper.
Lesson #2 about the faithfulness of our God comes from today’s Epistle Lesson, it has to do with our need to have important assignments in life and not just to be wandering aimlessly through life, He enriches us in every way for a significant (purpose). The really good news we celebrate in this Advent season is that even when we are faithless, our God is faithful. He is the one who has called us into the fellowship of believers in the waters of Baptism in the first place. It is through the preaching of His Word that He has sustained His Church throughout the ages, it is by his true body and blood that He preserves us steadfast in true faith unto the end.
He preserves us in faith not just so that we can survive life and have our own souls saved, but that we could spend our days encouraging others along the way as well.
Lesson #3 about the faithfulness of our God comes from our Gospel lesson, His desire is that we live by His grace with strong hope for the future, He keeps His promises in unexpected (ways). The people of Jesus were looking for a Messiah who would assert himself, they were looking for a king who would overthrow the domination of the Romans, they were looking for an anointed one who would restore the kingdom of Israel to former prominence and prosperity. A normal king would ride into town on a war horse with chariot, but not this King, He came in on a donkey not yet ridden. A normal king would come in pomp and circumstance planned out well in advance, but this celebration would be spontaneous and from the hearts of folks who would cry out Hosanna, which means “save now Lord.”
In this Advent, we do well to cry out in every one of our families, to cry out as a congregation of believers, to cry out as a nation, Hosanna, which is to say, save us now. Save us now, Lord. Save us, Lord Jesus, in these days from falling into the ditch of being so busy that we don’t have time to be still and to be secure in your love. Save us, Lord Jesus, from falling into the ditch of wandering through life without Godly purposes. Save us now, Lord from falling into the ditch of hopelessness. Help us, dear God, to never forget that You are a promise keeper. Many days, He keeps His promises in regular and expected fashion. Some days, He keeps His promises in unexpected ways. Every day, He is faithful and be trusted. He is the way, the truth, and the life. His promises are as sure as His suffering, His death, and His resurrection from the dead.
The not so easy way. (Story of my high school football coach Ken Bakkegard, who asked me, as one of the senior co captains, what went wrong. We had just lost a game we didn’t think we should have lost. The other team had come from behind and beaten us. I said words I later regretted. I said, “Coach, I don’t think we’re in shape.” The rest of the season wasn’t so easy, coach worked us harder than ever, and at the end of every practice, he would ask me to lead an addition ten minutes of working out. We won some, we lost some, but in every one of our days, it was the coach’s way or it was the highway.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who are secure in their Savior’s love, they know their lives have significant purpose, and they live with this strong hope that Jesus is coming, they pray often that he would come soon.
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther