Our guest this week is Paul Owens, Senior Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, New Braunfels, TX http://www.splchurch.org
Isaiah 6.1-13, John 3.1-21, Romans 8.12-17
Prayer: Gracious and almighty Father, thank you for loving us enough to speak the whole truth to us: judgement and mercy, law and gospel. Without you speaking truth to us we would remain lost in the darkness. Lord, sweetly cut us back all the way to the stump… that you may birth in us the holy seed who is Jesus. Amen.
It is easy for us to hear the good news from the Lord, the news we want to hear and indeed even long to hear: the right-handed news of Easter morning, of forgiveness, of my resurrection from the dead and yours… “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is easy for you & me to hear that the Lord is our savior and on our side.
But what about when it comes to the bad news, the hard news? What happens to you & me when we must hear that the news that Lord is against us? … When that true friend that we have in Jesus must use his left hand and discipline us as our Lord? When Jesus says: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” John 3.19.
What happens when we come face to face with the truth – as both Isaiah and Paul did – that the Lord is HOLY, HOLY, HOLY and we are people of unclean lips?
When the Lord speaks a word which we don’t welcome, we likely reply like King Ahab of Israel in I Kings 22. Ahab was considering with his ally King Jehoshaphat of Judah whether or not to attack a city which was then in the hands of his enemy the king of Syria. 400 of Ahab’s prophets were inquired of and they unanimously answered that the war would be a success. But Jehoshaphat asked, “is there no other profit of the Lord hear of whom we may inquire?” Ahab answered, “There is still one other… Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster” (I Kings 22.8).
When Micaiah arrived, he indeed brought a message of doom… and it came true. Ahab listened but refused to hear… and was killed in battle; scripture reports that his blood flowed into the bottom of his chariot and the dogs licked it up (and the prostitutes washed themselves in it; I Kings 22.38).
When the Lord speaks, do we only welcome his Word when it is favorable news?… Do we have no ears to hear the unfavorable news?
Dear ones, please know this: church and the Bible are not “safe”. Church is the people among whom you can expect to hear God’s word, be baptized into Christ’s suffering (did you hear Paul in Romans 8?), death, and resurrection, and regularly eat your last meal, his Supper. And in the Bible the Lord speaks the WHOLE counsel of his word to us, because he alone is the way, the truth and the life. When God speaks, his living Word is enough to leave your heart troubled and your stomach in knots… to cut you down to a stump. Honest.
And, it is enough to bring you out of the darkness and into the light… to give stumpy you the holy seed who is Jesus and to make you an heir with him. I don’t want you to just take my word on this, I want you to take the Lord’s word on it. So please open your Bible with me to Isaiah 6.1-13. Follow as I read.
Isaiah’s Vision of the Lord
6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train[a] of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”[b]
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing,[c] but do not understand;
keep on seeing,[d] but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,[e]
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned[f] again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.
The Lord cut his own people down all the way to a stump. Used the Babylonians to take Judah & Jerusalem into exile, 500 hundred miles away. ”The holy seed is its stump.” Isaiah 11.1-2 The holy seed is Jesus, the shoot from the stump of Jesse.
Like a branch that sprouts
from a stump,
someone from David’s family
will someday be king.
2 The Spirit of the LORD
will be with him
to give him understanding,
wisdom, and insight.
He will be powerful,
and he will know
and honor the LORD
In my lifetime, it became popular in tame, polite, churchy circles and in some academic classrooms, to refer to faith as a “dance” with the Lord, and imply that Jesus is your “dance partner.” How nice. To this watering down of the Word, I love you enough to respond as the old hall of fame college football coach, Duffy Daugherty, did when asked by a mother about football being a contact sport. Duffy replied: “Football isn’t a contact sport, it’s a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.” Dear ones, faith is a head on collision with Jesus Christ who loves you enough to speak the whole truth… to not leave you wandering in the darkness of yourself and the world.
One famous nocturnal wanderer that Jesus delivered from such darkness is Nicodemus. Under cover of darkness, here comes Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel not wanting to let go of his religion… and yet hearing a new way from Jesus… the way of salvation not by the law but by the Holy Spirit. As a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus knew the Word of the Lord that Zechariah proclaimed to Zerubbabel 600 years earlier: “not by might nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4.6).
Could this Jesus be the Messiah? Could this Holy Spirit he preached be the way of the Lord?
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
By the end of the night and the conversation, Nicodemus has his religion pruned by Jesus… cut all the way back to a stump, the stump of Moses more than 1300 years prior… Jesus prunes Nicodemus down so that Jesus can now give himself to him as the holy seed: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3.14-15.
If you follow Nicodemus through the rest of the story, you know that in John 7, he speaks against the angry crowd & the other Pharisees, urging them to give Jesus a fair hearing, a listening to. And at Jesus’ death, Nicodemus comes in faith to anoint Jesus dead body.
Dearly beloved, for God so loved the world that he did not say “anything goes, you’re fine just the way you are; I’ll be your partner. Let’s dance.” His love is more honest than that. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus goes on to say in John 3.17-21: 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Dearly beloved, the Lord speaks the WHOLE counsel of his word to us, because he alone is the way, the truth and the life… He knows that the lies of yourself and mine, the lies of the world, the lie of religion, will leave your heart troubled and your stomach in knots. So he loves enough to cut you down to a stump… to bring you out of the darkness and into the light… to bring you to faith as he did Nicodemus… to give stumpy you the holy seed who is Jesus and to make you an heir with him. Amen.