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Surprised by Joy

May 10, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert



+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday of Easter comes from our Old Testament text, where Isaiah prophesies, “You will say in that day: … Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Throughout these first few chapters of Isaiah’s lengthy prophecy, the prophet goes back and forth with the people of Israel. It almost sounds like the “good cop, bad cop” routine you that see on TV; there are scathing words of condemnation followed by sweet words of promise and rest and restoration. Back and forth … and our text comes on the heels of a rather brutal conviction of the people of Israel for their arrogance and oppression.

“The Lord has sent a word against Jacob,” Isaiah writes in chapter 9, “and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.” But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.”

This had been Israel’s and Judah’s problem very early on – certainly from the time of Solomon’s death to this point. Kings and rulers lord their power over those whom they are called to serve, and lest we think it’s only the rich and famous who are held to the fire, those under their rule apparently follow their example, oppressing those weaker and even more disenfranchised than themselves in order to get ahead. “[E]veryone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. … They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied. … For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” By the time of Isaiah’s ministry and beyond, their oppression and sin are a blight, a cancer in the land that should be flowing with milk and honey. God’s people act like they are not, and the rod of God’s righteous punishment is near at hand, and when it strikes … it strikes hard.

But this is not the end. As Isaiah is wont to do, in this grim and dismal context, he offers words of hope and comfort. He mentions … a day. A day in which the rod of God’s punishment will itself be punished, a day in which His people will no longer languish, a day when a righteous shoot from the stump of Jesse will rule wisely over His people. This is the same day that Isaiah is speaking of in our text.

This chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy is a hymn, a song to God of thanksgiving and praise and adoration, because in the midst of Zion, freshly destroyed, “is the Holy One of Israel.” Isaiah tells faithless Jacob, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.’” You may not realize it, but here, Isaiah is quoting Moses’s song of thanksgiving, as they stood on the far shore of the Red Sea, having just witnessed Pharaoh’s hosts be consumed and drowned. Just as YHWH had dealt with the enemies of Israel then, He would do so again, and it is because of this Israel would joyfully “draw water from the wells of salvation.”

In the course of history, Israel’s and Judah’s temporal afflictions would end. Assyria would fall, as would Babylon, and even the Seleucid oppression that caused the Maccabean revolt. But Israel remained in her sin, as did all other nations. YHWH’s anger still burned hotly against sin, so when would that Day come, when Israel and all other nations would say, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted”? When would they sing praises to Him, knowing that He has done gloriously, and that this would be made known in all the earth? It came in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Just as there was joy and beauty in the midst of the terror seen on the day that Pharaoh’s hosts were drowned in that prefiguring of baptism … just as there was joy and comfort to be had that a remnant would remain even as Israel and Judah were punished for their arrogance and oppression … joy and hope and comfort and beauty are seen in the grisly sight on Calvary’s tree. Isaiah’s song belongs to those who believe that YHWH’s anger is no longer kindled against us for our sin, our oppression, our arrogance. His anger … was all poured out on Jesus, the innocent and holy victim who became the embodiment of sin for us. All those who trust His promise – that all sin was paid for in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Golgotha – now joyfully draw from the well of living water, which will then in turn become “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Isaiah’s song is ours to sing joyfully this blessed Eastertide – yes, even in the midst of the terror we face in our day. The paranoia, the pestilence, the rebellion – even in this, we are able to say this day, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” Because we know Jesus is risen from the dead, and believe that we are united with Him in His death and resurrection through holy baptism, we are able to sing, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” We who trust a better Day is yet coming, when all the dead are raised and those in Christ will be united with Him forever in the life of the world to come, will sing all the louder in these grey and latter days, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” THIS is our Easter joy, and it’s no surprise!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.