Preaching from Isaiah
Editor’s note: Dr. Lessing provides this sermon as an example to his article “Preaching from Isaiah 56-66” in the Winter 2013 Concordia Journal.
For this is what the High and Lofty One says, he who dwells in eternity, whose name is Holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is crushed and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to enliven the heart of the crushed.”
Imagine a person walking in front of the White House seeking access to the president of the United States. Better yet, imagine that person is you.
There you are, in fine form. Your shoes are shined, your hair is combed, and you are dressed in your Sunday best. You want an audience with the Commander in Chief because there are some burning issues you must take up with him. First, there is the problem of the new highway in town. It doesn’t have an exit ramp close enough to your home. And then there’s the issue of income taxes. They are too high for you and too low for everybody else. Finally, there is that sticky matter called student loans. Couldn’t the president make a few phone calls and get you off the hook?
But, let’s be honest. There are far too many barriers between you and the president. The gates are locked. The guards won’t let you in. His staff doesn’t know your name. And the Secret Service has orders to shoot first and ask questions later. Sure, it’s fun to fantasize about sharing your hurts and hopes with the most powerful person on the planet. But it’s just not going to happen.
Let’s face it. Far too often we don’t have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish all the right things.
If we could just get access!
But what if the president looks out his window on Pennsylvania Avenue and sees you? What if he gives the command and his security detail escorts you right into the Oval Office? And what if the president attentively listens and makes the all changes you ask for?
Too good to be true? Right? With the President of the United States, yes. With the King of the Universe, you have a Friend in high places.
We begin with these words. “For this is what the High and Lofty One says, he who dwells in eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place.’”
Normally the Old Testament describes Yahweh as dwelling in Israel’s tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, in the city of Jerusalem or on Mt. Zion. Isaiah, however, asserts that Yahweh dwells in eternity; this is as far away from planet earth as possible. For Isaiah, Yahweh is the absolute, infinite, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and only God. In chapter 40 the prophet says that Yahweh sits above the circle of the earth and from there we look like grasshoppers in his eyes. Again, in chapter 40, whole nations before him are like a drop in the bucket, as dust in a scale. Seraphim in Isaiah 6 cover their faces and their feet as they continually cry out before him “Holy, holy, holy!”
No wonder the prophet states in our text that both Yahweh’s name and his place are holy. They are unique, separate, different and completely removed. Isaiah employs holy sixty-nine times in his book and nineteen times he refers to Yahweh as “the Holy One of Israel.” There are massive barriers between Yahweh and us. The gates are locked. The hosts of heaven won’t let us in. All who are sinful and unclean must stay out.
Yet Isaiah 57:15 goes on to assert that Yahweh dwells “with him who is crushed and lowly in spirit.”
I know what you are thinking. “If I can just get really crushed and really lowly, I’ll gain access to Yahweh.” Good luck with that. We will never be crushed and lowly enough. You see, we are intoxicated with just the opposite. The Bible calls it pride.
And Isaiah insists in chapter two that Yahweh is against every form of pride. He is “against all that is exalted, against all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, against all the oaks of Bashan, against all the towering mountains and all the high hills, against every lofty tower and every fortified wall, against all the ships of Tarshish and every stately vessel.” Twice in this poem we are told “Yahweh alone will be lifted up on that day.” The High and Lofty One tolerates no rivals.
In the book of Isaiah the list of proud people include Ahaz who says in chapter 7, “I will not ask for a sign”, Sargon II who boasts in chapter 14, “I will be like the Most High”, and Sennacherib who taunts in chapter 36, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in Yahweh.”
Gregory the Great says pride is the mother of all sins. Medieval artists depict pride as a peacock walking around arrogantly strutting her stuff. Pride is portrayed by Milton in Paradise Lost with these damning words, “Better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.” And Luther’s dictum is “Omne peccatum est superbia” – “all sin is pride.”
Pride refuses to utter the three hardest words in the English language, “I was wrong.” Or the four hardest words, “I am not perfect.” Or the five hardest words, “I guess you are right.” Or the six hardest words, “I think I need some help.” (You get the idea …).
This pride, over and over again, blocks our access to the High and Lofty One, for he only dwells “with him who is crushed and lowly in spirit.”
So I guess we are forever stuck outside shuffling along the sidewalk? Right? Wrong! In the book of Isaiah there is someone who is absolutely and totally crushed … and he is our access.
In 53:5 the prophet writes, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities.” In an ironic twist, though, this Crushed One once inhabited eternity with Yahweh. Yet in the fullness of time he came down past the galaxies, past the solar systems, past the moon and the stars and appeared in the silence of a night, in warmth of a candle, in the whisper of a Baby, because, as Isaiah 53 continues, “It was Yahweh’s will to crush him.”
One night the disciples were fast asleep and the next minute they were fast afoot. The next morning the Jews just wanted Barabbas and the soldiers just wanted to have some fun. Herod wanted a show. Pilate wanted out. Caiaphas wanted death. And the executioners? All they wanted was Jesus’ blood.
Their strategy was singular; beat him within an inch of death and then stop. With his back lacerated with lashes they shoved the crossbeam on his back. When he came to the Place of the Skull there they nailed him to wood. And there he hung, completely crushed by threats and thorns.
Isaiah 57:15 ends by asserting that the High and Lofty One revives “the spirit of the lowly and enlivens the heart of the crushed.” And this is the game changer! Yahweh’s plan was not only to crush Jesus, but also to revive him, yes, raise him from the dead!
And this is why Hebrews 10:19 states, “Therefore, brothers, we have confidence (confidence!) to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.”
Imagine that! By the blood of Jesus we have access into the Most Holy Place of the Most Holy God who has the Most Holy name! In Jesus Christ, we finally have the right connections with the right person at the right time to accomplish all the right things … for the glory and honor of our God!
So why remain outside, alone, standing on that sorry sidewalk, feeling as though you have no access to the most powerful person in the universe?
Because you do!
The veil is rent. The sacrifice is complete. Death is defeated. And paradise is restored forevermore.
John Newton puts it this way, “Thou are coming to a King, large petitions with thee bring; For his grace and pow’r are such, none can ever ask too much!”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.