Text: Isaiah 35:4-7a
“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” Thus, were the words of the Lord spoken through the mouth of His prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was sent to preach to God’s people in a time of distress, turmoil, and anguish; a time of uncertainty. Many, if not most, in both Israel and Judah had fallen away from the faith and into idolatry. Violence and greed were rampant, and the threat of invasion from a godless nation loomed overhead. And yet, the Lord’s Word to His people was, “Be strong; fear not!”
The word the Lord spoke then bears repeating now in our time, as well. We also live in a time of distress and turmoil. Around the world, we hear of unending disasters, wars, and rumors of wars. In our country we are increasingly divided politically, the Lord’s institution of marriage is constantly attacked, and children are murdered for a fee. Yet, to our weak hands and feeble knees, to our anxious hearts, the Lord says “Be strong; Fear not!” There will be a day when the wicked will be no more and the righteous in Christ will shine like the sun. The Lord will come and save us. The Lord came to the rescue of His people of old; He will save us, too.
The Lord spoke through Isaiah the words we’ve heard, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” He continued, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” When Martin Luther lectured on the Book of Isaiah in 1528, he taught that in order to understand the prophecies of Isaiah, we must first understand the context.
Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of four kings, some 700 years before Christ’s birth. During these reigns, the kingdom of Judah was at the height of its power and wealth – second only to the reigns of David and Solomon. But, with the increased wealth and power came temptation. The kings and people fell into idolatry, both the worship of actual idols and worship of self. Because of this, the Lord allowed the Northern Kingdom of Israel to fall in 722 B.C. and, through Isaiah, said that the same would happen to Jerusalem if she did not repent. Sadly, they persisted in their idolatry, violence and greed. Soon, the people feared for their own well-being. The Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem itself, and after them, an envoy from Babylon spied out all its riches. During this time the faithful of the Lord found themselves persecuted and feeling as if they had been forsaken. Church tradition says that Isaiah himself was also martyred.
Though Isaiah prophesied so long ago across the ocean, the emotions of God’s people then and now are not so different. As we all know, it seems that the world goes from one disaster to another, one war to another. In our own country, we are rife with divisions and animosity. The only unity we sometimes see is our society’s aversion to the truth of God’s Word. In the American Church at large, our church body is increasingly put down as being “backwards,” for believing that the Bible is without error and in a literal account of the Creation. Beyond all these things, for some of us, our health is continually going back and forth between bad and worse. Yet, we hear these words today, “Be strong; fear not.” But, why?
“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God…He will come and save you.’” These were the words given Isaiah to preach, the Lord’s words to His people. Though the world seemed to cave in around them, though their hearts were filled with anxiety and grief, those fears would turn to joy. The Lord would come and save them. And He did. It is true that, for their sins, the people of Jerusalem were carried off into exile. Still, the Lord remained with them and blessed them in their time of captivity. Then, during the reign of Cyrus of Persia, the Lord returned His people to their home. He rescued them and saved them, just like He said He would.
“‘Behold, your God…will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” These words were applied by our Lord in St. Luke’s Gospel to His own ministry. When the Baptist asked if Jesus was the promised Messiah, He responded that blind were seeing, the lame were walking, and the deaf were hearing. That is to say, that not only did the Lord save His people physically in the days of old, now He was bringing a greater salvation – the forgiveness of sins. The miracles foreshadowed the healing we will all receive at the Resurrection. Throughout His ministry, Jesus opened the eyes of the blind to see His Light and the ears of the deaf to hear His saving Word. By His death and resurrection, He won for all mankind forgiveness and eternal life. By this Good News, He brings water to parched ground, breaking forth streams of living water in the desert of our hearts.
“Be strong; Fear not…[The Lord] will come and save you.” Words worth repeating, which we hear again today. We hear them knowing that the Lord rescued His people of old from their physical enemies, and has saved us and all the faithful into eternity by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And, we know that there remains yet another day of salvation, The Day of Salvation, the day when our Lord will return on the clouds to raise the dead and gather all the faithful to His side. St. Paul said that we will meet Him in the sky and forever be with the Lord in the new heavens and earth. There the blind will forever see and the deaf hear; the lame will leap like deer and the mute sing for joy. Then, will our anxious hearts be forever calmed and be at peace in Christ.
Therefore, be strong and fear not. The Lord will come and save us; He will save you. We know that His will for us is always good and that nothing in all creation – not even death itself – can separate us from His love. The Lord has promised to come and save us, and He will do it. Let us therefore encourage each other with this good news: The Lord has saved us from our sins, He is with us now in His Word and Sacraments, and we will be with Him soon on the Day of Resurrection. Amen.