4th Sunday of Lent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, do you like to sing? When do you sing? When do you break out singing a song? Of course, church wouldn’t really be the same if we didn’t have hymns or songs to sing. But when else do you sing? Maybe you’re driving along and that song you really, really like comes on the radio and the next thing you know, you’re singing along! Or maybe it’s a birthday party (and in my house this last week we had 2) and it wouldn’t be the same if you didn’t sing, “Happy Birthday.” Or maybe, just maybe you’ve found yourself with a group of friends and they get you to sing a karaoke song. There’s just something about singing, isn’t there? That just kind of lifts your spirit and makes you feel good.
Well, we like to sing at joyous occasions. But, there are times in our lives when it is next to impossible to sing, aren’t there? When you hear some bad news it can be very difficult to sing. If a friend disappoints, singing is one of the last things from your mind. Or when you’re feeling crummy, the last thing you want to do is sing. In fact, when you’re feeling lousy and someone else comes along- even if they are a friend- and they are singing, all you want to do is to tell them, “Quiet!!” “This is no time for singing!” But, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to sing…whenever?
Good news! God’s prophet gives us such a song in our text for this morning.
Now, certainly quite a few people at Isaiah’s time would have been thinking, “Isaiah, this is no time for singing!” Isaiah lived around 700 years before Christ and he lived during a not-so-fun time in Judah’s history. Ahaz, their king, was awful. We’re told that he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. Rather, he cast idols for worshipping false gods, he set up altars all over the place for worshiping false gods, he did detestable things and even sacrificed his own sons in the fire. So, to wake Ahaz and the people up, God sent the nation of Aram to invade Judah and cause heavy casualties, at one time they lost 120,000 soldiers. God sent these troubles in order to get Ahaz and his people to trust in Him, to call on Him, “Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you and you will honor me.” So what did Ahaz do in the day of trouble? He became even more unfaithful to the LORD and offered sacrifices to the gods of the nation of Aram thinking, “Well, if their gods are helping them out, maybe they’ll help me out too.” So, no matter what God did, Ahaz and most of the people continued to treat God like my 2 year old treats the vegetables he doesn’t like at dinner. Even though, God time and again reached out to him he pushed God away like an enemy! He saw God as anything but a friend.
Well, have we done that? What do you think? Is God your friend or is He your enemy? God lays out his requirements for friendship with him very plainly in His Word. What does God require? Very simply: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Total perfection is what God demands from you and me. Never hurt someone else, never cheat someone else, never use your words to tear someone else down, never use your mouth for foul language, never take something that is not yours. Total perfection also means not just NOT doing the wrong thing, it also means always doing the right thing. Always helping someone in need, always looking out for the good of other people, always finding ways to serve other people, always putting the wants and interests of everyone around you above your own, always obeying those in authority over you. Not only does God’s demands for friendship with him deal with our actions and our words but also our thoughts: always thinking good things, never having a single lustful thought, never coveting something not ours, never wishing evil on someone else. And even if we could stop right now and live our lives perfectly from today onward, what about all those sins of our past? What about all those skeletons we’ve piled in our closets?
They won’t just go away! God is certainly not like some fickle human being who can be angry one minute and happy the next. Sin is an affront to a holy, perfect, and just God. It can’t just simply be dismissed. There’s a debt of sin racked up by you, me, and the rest of the world, it needs to be paid. If you owe the IRS $1,500, and you don’t feel like paying it, Uncle Sam isn’t going to say, “That’s ok. Go on your merry way.” Uncle Sam will be after you until you pay every penny. God is angry with sin, he has a right to be, sin needs to be paid for, and God has a right to demand that. And the debt that you and I and everyone else owes is to pay for sin with an eternity of suffering in hell.
And can we do anything about it? Can we repair our relationship with God? Maybe we could just try to be a good person, try to do good things in our lives. But the problem? God demands absolute perfection! Well, what about our friends? Could they help us out? The best a friend could ever do for you is perhaps prolong your earthly life a bit. A friend could take a bullet for you, a friend could donate blood for you, but a friend can’t save you. The Bible says, “No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him” (Psalm 49:7). No medical doctor, no technological device, no sum of money can save you or me from death, eternal death. “Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment.” On our own we’re helpless. There’s no escape. Like the lone sailor in the middle of the ocean, the ship is going down. Like the helpless baby trapped in the burning house, there is no escape for you and me. Certainly that’s nothing to sing about.
But that’s where our text comes in. “In that day you will say: ‘I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me.” How is this?? You see, Isaiah pointed to a new day. A day in the future when you can praise the LORD. Why? Because his anger has turned away. Not that God has turned His anger switch off, or just dismissed his anger, but His anger has been redirected. This is something God was teaching His people when year after year thousands of animals were sacrificed. God was angry and a sacrifice for sins needed to be paid. God was angry with the people but… an animal, a substitute died. But what good was the blood of bulls, goats, and sheep? Rather their purpose was to point ahead to the ultimate sacrifice on whom God redirected ALL of His anger, ALL of His wrath, ALL of the punishment for sin. You see, every time you said something you shouldn’t, every time you were angry and upset, every time you betrayed a friend, every time you thought an evil thought, every sin was placed on God’s one and only Son, Jesus, who like a Lamb when quietly to the slaughter. Lent shows it. Good Friday shows us when we hear Jesus say, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me!” It shows us how Jesus experienced God’s full punishment for sins, God’s full wrath for sins, and if Jesus did, will you have to? Not at all.
So we can sing, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” That’s exactly what salvation means. We were lost, we were at a dead end, we were totally helpless, we were that baby in the burning house, then in total free grace God Himself came into our world and rescued us from certain death. He actually became our salvation! He delivered us! He reconciled us! He made us former enemies of God, God’s own friends! He gives us to drink the water of life, the living water, the water of salvation.
And knowing that, knowing where we were and knowing how our God has rescued us, how could we not sing? How could we not sing for joy every day? How could we not “give thanks to the Lord,” “call upon His name” in prayer, “make known what he has done among the nations,” “sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things,”“Shout aloud and sing for joy”?
So no matter what’s going on in your life, you can still sing. Why? Because God is your best and greatest Friend no matter what. He promises to be with you, to help you in your life, to watch over you, to protect you, to care for you, to lift you up with His love, but most of all He has become your salvation and therefore promises to bring you to be with him in heaven forever. Are you feeling lousy? Sing this song: “The Lord is my strength, my song, and my salvation!”
So even today, in the middle of Lent, in the middle of our sorrow over sin, in the midst of your sickness, your trial, your struggle, rejoice, sing out in your heart, for the God of all the earth, the God of the universe, the God of all things, HE has become your strength, your song, and your salvation, He is your Friend indeed. Amen.