Lent 2 Midweek (Isaiah 44:21–28)

Return to the Lord, Who Has Redeemed You
Isaiah 44:21–28
Sermon Outline
Return to the Lord, For He Alone Redeems You from Slavery.

  1. You are a slave to sin and its consequences.
  2. You have been redeemed by the Lord; you are free.

III. You are free, so rejoice with singing.
It’s one of the permanent blights on our nation’s conscience—slavery. It’s a universal human phenomenon. Every generation and culture has seized other people and treated them as property. We’re not alone in such deplorable behavior, but that doesn’t diminish our collective shame for our nation’s history. It is nothing short of sin.
Do not think it a mere coincidence that slavery has been undone in the West because of the tireless and faithful work of Christians. Whether it was William Wilberforce in England or the abolitionist movement here in the United States, faith in Christ was the driving force that prompted many to say they could not look the other direction as those whom Christ created and for whom he died were held in slavery. When you know Christ has deemed someone worthy of his blood being shed, you cannot put a price on them. Christ has declared them to be priceless. So, our brothers and sisters in Christ mobilized against slavery and subjugation.
Let us rejoice in what the faithful accomplished in previous generations. And let us continue in their train, because slavery is not something isolated to the past; it is very much a present reality. Today, we speak of it as human trafficking. The statistics will make you shudder. Here’s just a sampling: According to the FBI, human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world today. While prostitution may be the first thing that comes to mind with human trafficking, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service reports that 22 percent of the victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution, while the remaining 78 percent are used for other forms of forced labor. It’s estimated that 20–30 million are enslaved today by means of human trafficking. The U.S. State Department reports that 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into our country each year. It’s sobering to know that so many are sold into slavery and brought into our nation. Even more troubling is the estimate that 100,000 American children are trafficked without crossing the border; they’re born here and enslaved here. Human trafficking is not isolated to adults, as 26 percent of all those trafficked worldwide are children (http://lirs.org/mythbusters/).
Slavery is still very real, and it’s right next door. It calls us to action. And it opens our eyes to see our own role in slavery. So here’s the harsh reality: you are a slave. That’s why the Lord speaks to you today through his prophet Isaiah, calling you to
Return to the Lord,
For He Alone Redeems You from Slavery.
You are a slave. Let that sink in. Your first reaction to such news may be like those who refused to listen to Christ in John 8. They said, “We . . . have never been enslaved to anyone” (Jn 8:33). To which Jesus responds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (8:34). Jesus will not let us dodge and deny reality. He calls us to attention. “Truly, truly, I say to you.” That is Jesus’ way not only to get our attention, but to let us know the ironclad reality of the words he speaks. Whoever sins is a slave to sin.
You are a slave. That is never clearer than when it comes to those sins that you repeat time and again. You hate it. You don’t like that you scream at your family, but you are enslaved by rage. You loathe yourself that as soon as everyone else is out of eyeshot, you make two quick clicks with a mouse and you’re viewing pornography. It may even involve someone who’s been trafficked. But you are every bit as much a slave; you are enslaved by addiction to porn.
And then there are all the other addictions that take hold. Alcoholism and substance abuse—they wreak havoc in homes throughout our community. The victims come from every socioeconomic demographic. The victims include the alcoholic and drug addict, their parents, their spouses, their children, their employers, their employees, their fellow congregational members, and more. Even when they hit rock bottom and they want nothing more than to be free of their addiction, they struggle to change their behavior because they are enslaved by their sin.
Each of us has sold ourselves into slavery. Whatever sin you cannot escape, the one that you repeat daily even though you hate it—that sin is your master. And it chains you to the natural consequence of the sin. Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem regarding their sin of idolatry. They trust in anything and everything other than in the Lord himself. The natural consequence of their idolatry is coming. When you do not trust in the only one who can protect and defend you, then you are vulnerable to invasion and defeat. That’s what Jerusalem faces—invasion and defeat at the hands of the Babylonians.
You stand with Jerusalem; you are chained to the natural consequences of the sin to which you are enslaved. Your family is alienated, your body is crushed, and your mind is warped by addiction. Your job is forfeited and your finances are eradicated. And you are powerless to do anything about it. You are enslaved, controlled by an unforgiving master, chained to the horrific consequences of your sin.
You need a redeemer. You need someone who will pay the price for you. You have sold yourself into slavery; you cannot redeem yourself. Someone else must come to pay your redemption to set you free. The Lord sends his prophet Isaiah to you this very day to proclaim to you that you have a redeemer who has made the payment for you. The Lord says, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (v 22). That you might not doubt him, the Lord repeats the promise of redemption: “The Lord has redeemed Jacob” (v 23). And if that weren’t enough, he gives you a third proclamation: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer” (v 24). The Lord delights to be your Redeemer who pays the price in full to set you free from captivity to sin.
And there’s more. He lets you know how the redemption takes place. He says that it happens through a shepherd. “He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose” (v 28). When Isaiah first carries this promise from the Lord, he’s speaking of Cyrus, who would be the Persian ruler more than two centuries later. The Lord would use Cyrus to set his people free from their exile in Babylon. What happens beautifully through Cyrus finds greater fulfillment, full fulfillment, in another shepherd. The Good Shepherd, our Savior, Jesus Christ, does even more than redeem us from physical slavery. He pays the price to set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
That is the wonderful language of the Small Catechism as it confesses what your Good Shepherd has done for you. What does this mean? “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own” (explanation of the Second Article).
He has redeemed you by paying a price. Not just anything can purchase you that you might be free of your slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Only one price is sufficient; only one payment will satisfy—the blood of Christ shed for you, his suffering and death. He does it all so that you may belong to him. No longer will you be chained to your sin and its consequences. No longer will you be a slave. No longer will you live in bondage.
His redemption is all about removing your sin, the very thing that has enslaved you. Listen to the Word of the Lord, your Redeemer, in Is 44:22, “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” That is why we return to him. Slavery to sin causes us constantly to return to our sin, committing it over and over even though we abhor it. We keep returning to sin because we are enslaved. But when Christ sets you free, you are free indeed. You return to him not because you are bound by chains, but because you are free. You live in the joy and freedom of one who has been purchased and set you free.
You live in joy and freedom. Listen one more time to the Word of the Lord spoken by his prophet Isaiah: “Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel” (v 23). You are free, so sing. Sing with joy before the Lord, for he has done it. Join with all creation—the heavens above, the depths of the earth, the mountains, the forest, and all its trees. Sing because you are free. Your slavery is over. Your redemption is complete. Amen.

Lent 2 Midweek (Luke 11:14-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 2 Midweek – March 15, 2017
Text: Luke 11:14-23

The Second Petition
“Thy Kingdom come”
Martin Luther wrote about this petition: “Just as God’s name is holy in itself and yet we pray that it may be holy among us, so also his kingdom comes of itself without our prayer and yet we pray that it may come to us. That is, we ask that it may prevail among us and with us, so that we may be a part of those among whom his name is hallowed and his kingdom flourishes.”[1]
This is a prayer for there to be a Christian Church, for us to be a part of it, and for the reign of God to extend to every place.
A common question to ask is, Where is the Kingdom of God?  The Israelites knew where to look—the tabernacle and, later, the Temple.  God dwelt upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  If you were part of Israel, you were in the Kingdom.  After Israel’s unfaithfulness and subsequent exile, the Temple was destroyed.  They had a terrible quandary—where is the Kingdom of God to be found if there is no temple?  So, they built a second temple (the Book of Ezra details this).
Then several hundred years went by without a prophet, and John the Baptist came preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”[2]  Suddenly, God’s dwelling place was different, because it was now in the flesh of His Son.  The Kingdom of God was no longer located in a place or a nation on earth, but found those who believe that Jesus Christ is God come in the flesh.[3]  This Jesus said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”[4]
The Church, the Kingdom of God, is found where the faithful are gathered around God and His living Word.  It’s not a denomination, not a building, not the pope.  All of those are of human origin, but the Church is solely the work of the Holy Spirit—“The wind blows where it wishes, you hear its voice but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”[5]
The Kingdom of God is the only place where God is known as Father.  Outside the Christian Church—outside this faith, you’re on your own.  There is no certainty of grace, no forgiveness, no sure and certain hope of the resurrection, and not even true love for God.
But we pray that this Kingdom of God would come to us, that just as God has made a place where gathers His children, we would be counted among them!  “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”[6]  So we pray that God would make us like little children.  In this, we pray against our “wise” adult ways which would set bounds on His Kingdom and say it only comes to people we approve of.  Whenever this happens, it spirals into a convoluted partisan mess.
God has made us Christians by His power, not our decision.  His Holy Spirit has called us into this Church by the Gospel.[7]  Therefore what makes us genuine Christians is God’s gift of faith.  So we pray for ourselves that our minds and hearts would be conformed and submit to God’s holy Word, like little children
And it would be a sad thing is the Church were only us who are alive today.  Thankfully, God doesn’t think as narrowly as we do.  When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, it’s also that it many more in the world would be brought in.  We pray that people who have never heard of Christ would believe in Him, that those who have forsaken the faith would return, and that each successive generation would proclaim the excellences of God to the next.
All of this would be a dreadfully impossible task if it were left up to human strength and wit.  But this is what drives us to fear that the Church is shrinking in the world or becoming obsolete.  Human wisdom would say that we need to freshen up the faith and make it “speak” to the new generation.  We need to meet the flighty felt needs of those who are presently church members so they decide to keep on coming.
God says to stop right there.  Pray for His Kingdom to come, and He will do all this.  It may seem impossible, unlikely, and perhaps even unpopular.  But we pray in this petition that God would make it so because it’s not too much for Him.  His Holy Spirit has the power to convert the erring, confirm the strong, and to build up those who are weak.  It all happens through His Word preached in and through His Church.
So this petition is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to work.  He has made the Church out of you and me and all who are called from far off.  He keeps us in that true faith, and He gathers people of every nation to repent and believe that the Kingdom of God has come near to them.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[1] Large Catechism, III, 50
[2] Matthew 3:2
[3] 1 John 4:2-3
[4] John 4:23
[5] John 3:8
[6] Mark 10:15
[7] Romans 10:14-17