Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Return and rest. . .

Sermon for New Year's Eve, preached on December 31, 2018 (New Year's Eve Propers)
They are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear, who say to the seers “don’t see” and to the prophets “don’t prophesy” for we don’t want to hear any more about the Holy Lord.

Who could Isaiah be talking about?  You?  Me?  The people not here tonight?  The folks who do not belong to this church?  Those who do not belong to any church?  Remember that these words are not addressed to pagans, to the heathen outside the house of the Lord but to the people of God.  This word from God is directed to you and to me and to all who call themselves God’s people.

But it is a hard word, to be sure.  God is not making up things against us but listening to the heart beat within us, to the thoughts that cross our minds, and to the words that pass our lips.  He judges us with our own thoughts, words, and deeds.  We supply the evidence against us that we are a proud, arrogant, deceptive, lying, and unwilling people – a people who hold their fingers in their ears when the Word of the Lord is spoken against them and who refuse to repent of their favorite sins.

But this is the word we need to hear.  We need the call to repentance.  We need the voice that accuses us of all that we would sweep under the rug, or justify with excuses, or insist is no worse than what others do.  We need to hear this word because the motive behind God’s speaking is not a brush off or a condemnation but mercy.  It is the love of our heavenly Father that calls us to repentance and it is the desire of God to see us with Him now and forevermore that speaks the ugly truth of it all into our ears.

This is the word we need to hear but not the only word.  For read again the beginning of the final paragraph.  In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  We need to hear the judgment against our sins but we also need to hear the gracious invitation of the Lord to return to Him, to rest in His mercy, to quiet our anxious hearts with His grace and favor and to trust that what the Lord has said, He will do.  That is our hope.

The truth is that sin is tiring but covering it up, lying about it, inventing excuses, and justifying it is exhausting.  Who can keep it up?  In confession there is rest, rest from the constant need to explain and justify for the God has taken the burden.  He already knows the truth so we are fully and finally released from the wearisome burden of our pride and our lies to find perfect rest in His forgiving arms.

Everyone of us has heard words from a doctor we did not want to hear.  Yet the job of the physician is not wound, but to heal.  When we are told we are overweight or do not exercise enough or have not taken our medicine, the judgment has a healing purpose.  So it is with the Word of God.  His voice comes with healing purpose.  He takes no delight in the death of the sinner or that we get what is coming to us, what we deserve.  It is His will and purpose to show mercy, to give to the unworthy and undeserving the riches of His grace and favor.  To offer to the sinner, the sinless Son of God in flesh, that we may not be condemned but saved through Him.

We are undone by our pride.  Every time we speak in anger, every time we condemn the other while only half admitting our own guilt, every time we justify our sins or excuse them, we distance ourselves from the mercy that wants to forgive, what wants to welcome, that wants to restore us and bestow upon us a clear conscience.

We think that the medicine is worse than the disease.  And if protecting your pride is your main goal, then it is.  But if a night of rest, the fruit of a clear conscience is our goal, confession is the best thing there is for our souls.  If a reprieve from a life of trying to be better than others or a life excusing our wrongs is our goal, confession is the best thing for our souls.  If peace that passes understanding is our goal, confession is good for the soul.  It is not because confession is therapeutic, it is because at the end of confession is the voice of God who says “I forgive you.”  At the end of confession are the arms of God embracing you with all your weakness.  At the end of confession is real new life and not simply a rehash of our old broken lives.

We are here at the end of the calendar year.  We mark time and its passage only because death is real to us.  Even now we have on our minds the looming death of two among us – to whom we do not want to say good bye.  Time like a rolling stream pushes on and carries us with it.  Our only abiding city and eternal place are the arms of the Lord who beckons to us, who invites us to confess our sins, and who covers us with Christ’s righteousness.

Tonight we see a year change but the mercy of God remains the same.  Tonight we see an uncertain future but God’s mercy is certain and true in Christ.  Tonight we face the solemn truth that we are weak, we are sinful, and we are broken.  But God already knows this and still He loves us.  Still He bids us come, rest in His arms, receive His forgiveness, and trust in the one thing that will not ever change.  The love of the God who sent His one and only Son, to suffer and die, that we might live.

Tonight the promise comes.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  Only one can – we are our own worst enemies.  He who did not spare His own Son but willingly gave Him up for us all, He will not bring a charge against us.  If Christ is judge, will He refuse those for whom He died and reject those whom He has cleansed with His blood?  Nope, He will not.  He can not.

So come.  Come and lay down your sins.  Come and lay down your pride.  Come and lay down your fears.  Come and lay down your death.  And God will raise you up from your sins, clothe you in holiness and in the humility of faith, rest your fears and anxieties upon His love, and bestow upon you the life death cannot overcome.  If ever there was hope for the new year, it is this hope – Nothing can separate you from His love in Christ.

1 comment:

Cliff said...

It is definitely an era where we need to look at ourselves within the church and admit we are the guilty ones. Too long we have pointed the finger at the outside world and other Christians who not think like us. The plank in our own eye is getting larger by the day.