Return to the Lord, Who Has Redeemed You
Return to the Lord, For He Alone Redeems You from Slavery.
- You are a slave to sin and its consequences.
- 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.