Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sermon: January 20, 2008, "The Ministry of the Word"

Scripture Lesson Isaiah 49:1-7

I would like this morning to focus specifically on verse 2 of the 49th Chapter of the Book of Isaiah that Jane read for us this morning. But before I do that I want to share with you a story of a Martyr of the Christian faith. I feel that it is vital that we understand that we exist in this Church not in a vacuum unaffected by those that came before us but that we owe our very presence in this sanctuary today to those who have been willing to lay down their life to give us the tranquility to Worship the Lord our God in peace this morning.

The Christian martyr William Tyndale was born in a small country town called Cheltenham near the English western coastal town of Bristol around the year 1490. He was educated at Oxford and Cambridge, the Yale and Harvard of England in those days. William Tyndale was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ, as it seems that many are, by the reading of Paul’s word to the Romans while studying at Cambridge. Tyndale was so moved by his reading of God’s word that he felt called by his Lord Jesus to translate the entire Bible into the English language. For we must remember at this time, over 500 years ago, the Scriptures that you use and that sit in the pew in front of you were not to be found in any language in the West other than the Latin of the Roman Catholic church. Now I do not know about you but I cannot read Latin. I once took Latin in High School and my teacher came to me about halfway through the Semester and said that I translated Latin about as well as an illiterate Roman soldier. Always the smart-alic I quipped back that well if I was a Roman Soldier why would I need to translate Latin anyway? The Priests, Monks, and scholars of William Tyndale’s day were the only ones who could read Latin. For the common man could barely understand English let alone read Latin. It is almost unimaginable in our eyes to think that the congregations and people in the pew in that day had no access to the Holy Scriptures. Tyndale however would find great persecution in his work; it was not legal in that day for the Holy Bible to be in any other language than Latin. He was exiled from England; Tyndale had to work on his translation while being hunted down by the authorities. Eventually Tyndale was able to finish a translation of the New Testament into English but unfortunately Tyndale would be caught before he could begin work on the translation of the Old Testament. He would spend the next six years in a dungeon prison, for the first four able to work on his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English. The last two he would spend with daily whippings and beatings. Finally in the year 1536 at the tender age of 52 William Tyndale was burned at the stake. William Tyndale died so that we may have the Word of God in our native tongue. William Tyndale endured great suffering so that we may have the Holy Scriptures by our side and with us as go about our daily life. So as we look at the passage today from the Prophet Isaiah keep in mind what the martyrs of our faith have done so that we may have this Scripture today.

Isaiah in the Scripture that we read for this morning speaks to the power that William Tyndale knew that was manifested in the Holy Scriptures. I would like for you now to open your Bibles or the Bible in the rack in front of you, open to the Word of God given to the prophet Isaiah chapter 49 starting at verse one, found on page of your pew Bibles and keep it open as we read the Word of God. Isaiah has been in the previous chapters speaking to the people of Israel, after having been delivered by the Lord our God from captivity in Babylon. Isaiah has been warning the Israelites that because of their sin they were cast into exile and it was not because of their own righteous conduct, rather in spite of it, that they were brought back to the land of their ancestors but only that the Mercy of God may be shown through them. Isaiah is also telling the Israelites that there deliverance from the land of oppression and subjugation is but an illustration for the greater liberation that is to come. If you take look back into Chapter 48 verse 17 we learn who it is that speaks the Scripture we read this morning, verse 17, “This is what the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says,” moving to verse one of chapter 49 “Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother's womb.” The focus has changed, now the Redeemer has begun to speak to the Gentiles, to us today. Listen to Me the Redeemer says, but who is this Redeemer? Who is this voice that says the Lord our God has named him in his Mother’s womb? Saint Matthew writes in his Gospel that the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and said, “Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins." The Lord our God has named him from his Mother’s Womb, Our Redeemer has been named, his Name is Jesus Christ who has come to deliver us from the oppression and subjugation of sin, to redeem us through his work as the Son of the living God on the Cross at Calvary.

Moving to verse two of Chapter 49, “He made my words like a sharp sword; He hid me in the shadow of His hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; He hid me in His quiver.” The Redeemer here says four things about his character. The Redeemer first testifies to the power of his Word. His Word is like a sharp sword and a polished arrow. The Apostle Paul quotes this passage in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 6 verse 17 when he describes the Armor of God that each believer and follower of Jesus Christ is to wear to protect them from schemes of the Devil. To remind each of us as to the purpose of these implements Paul says in verses 10-17 of chapter 6 that we are to gird our loins with Truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, wear the shoes that move us to proclaim the Good News of Christ, take up the shield of faith, place on our heads the helmet of Salvation, and finally Paul tells us to bear the Sword of the Spirit which is what? The WORD OF GOD!!! The Word of God that William Tyndale was burnt at the stake for translating. The Word of God that it is our duty to know and learn. For how can the Word be a sword for our protection if we do not even know what it says? How good would a sword be to a knight if he never picked it up and practiced with it? Brothers and Sisters we are called by Peter, the rock upon whom Christ gave the keys to the kingdom to, “…Always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give account for the hope that is in you…” The Apostle Paul makes it quite clear in the closing to the 6th chapter of Ephesians that we are in perilous times, times when we will need to have this Armor for our protection as the Apostle Paul says in verses 12 and 13, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this dark age, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” We have not reason to fear this world, for our Redeemer has come with his Word to protect us spiritually and this protection is what the Redeemer of Isaiah 49 speaks of next. Looking back again in verse two we get quite a different set of characteristics, much more Pastoral than the implements of War given in Ephesians. In reading these two distinctives we are reminded of the imagery of the Shepherd that holds the little lamb in his arms. The Redeemer says that, “He is hidden in the shadow of [the Lord’s] hand” and that “[the Lord] has hidden me in his quiver.” What does this mean? Why would the Redeemer need hidden by the Lord? What this expresses is not that the Redeemer needs hidden but think of the portrait that being hidden in the “shadow of the hand” of God the Lord and hidden in “the quiver” of the Lord articulates to us and for the Gentiles, to whom Isaiah is speaking. This communicates to us a picture that says both that the Redeemer is currently being prepared for his task because his time has not yet come and that the Lord our God and the Redeemer have such an intimate relationship that the Lord our God holds the Redeemer in his hand, protecting him from harm, like a Father protects a Son. Here the Redeemer whose Word is like a sword, whose Word is like an Arrow polished for precise work, says that he also needs the protection that his Father’s love gives. Brothers and Sisters if even our Redeemer, our Lord and savior Jesus Christ needs the protection and love of his Father how much more so do we? The Lord our God has sent his Son, His Word, our Redeemer to show forth his love for us.

Again we see this as we turn back to Isaiah chapter 49 and verse three. The Lord says to the Redeemer, “You are my Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show my Glory”, John Calvin in his commentary on this passage says this about the use of Israel here so we are not confused by it, “It is of great importance to connect this verse with the preceding, because this shows that [Isaiah] now speaks not only of a single man, but of the whole nation…When the whole body of the Church is spoken of, Christ is brought forward so as to include all the children of God.” So if both Christ and the Church are being brought to the fore here, we know how God’s Glory is shown through Christ our Redeemer but how is the Church supposed to show forth this Glory? Well for the answer to that we need to focus on what the Church can do today, in the here and now.

First what the Church can do today is to remember the next four verses of Isaiah 49 and what they teach, read with me verses 4-7, “But I said, "I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Yet surely the justice due to Me is with the LORD, And My reward with My God." And now says the LORD, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the LORD, And My God is My strength), He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth." Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and its Holy One, To the despised One, To the One abhorred by the nation, To the Servant of rulers, “Kings will see and arise, Princes will also bow down, Because of the LORD who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel who has chosen You." As I have said previously God has chosen to show his Glory through his Son, who is our Salvation, and through the work of his Church. Look at verse 4 again in your Bibles. What does it say? It says Christ’s reward is in with the Father. In other words though Christ has come, tarried among the people, shown wonders and signs, so much so that people traveled from east and west to see this great man, which is not where Jesus’ Glory is found. We like to focus on the miracle stories but that was not why the Redeemer was born of a virgin and died on a cross. His Glory is found in his Death and Resurrection because he knows that by his death he will bring his people to him. Christ says in John chapter 10 verse 12, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus’ reward is us. Again Jesus says this again in John chapter 6 verse 65, "This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father." We are this glory that has been promised to the Redeemer. Christ died and was raised from the dead so that we may be his.

As we go out into a world that has denied Christ. That seeks in all that it does to hide from the Word of God. Let us not forget to put on the Armor of God, let us not forget the example given by William Tyndale and Isaiah, and I dare say like Jesus and seek out the lost and downtrodden, the one who is despised, to the one abhorred by people, to the servants of rulers, and to the Kings themselves. Let us share the Word of God with them, so that they can be part of the reward given to the Son by the Father, so that they can be saved and brought into the flock, as we are in the flock, protected by our Redeemer, our Shepherd who is the Christ, the Chosen one of Israel, who has paid the price for his children, so that we can one day be with the Father in Heaven. For we abrogate our responsibility as Christian Men and Women if we do not have an answer for the hope that is within us. Let us be not afraid to be protected by the power of the Word of God. Let us not be afraid to be changed by the Word. For remember the opening verse of Johns Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.


AAFairmount said...

Ben - Enjoyed your sermon and checked out some old posts on your blog as well. Good going. No time for detailed interaction, as I've got to finish up myself for tomorrow!

Red_Cleric said...

Dang, too bad members of my church read your blog I would have my sermon for next week. LOL.

I'm leading up to lent with a series on Scripture, then were going to face a challenge to read the whole bible in a year. Sounds like fun, till I hit Lamentations. I swear it's like eating liver, good for you but awful going in and down.


PS. Have a good Sunday bro

Tim said...

It's a good sermon, my friend. I like the Tyndale reference and the use of Biblical theology.

Dad said...

In spite of Typhoid Lily who made the entire family sick his mother really enjoyed the sermon. Since she is a CLP going to PTS now to receive her MDIV she never has had a chance to sit in a congregation and worship with him. I,however,have had the privileged of being his Litergest on several occasions and knew what to expect. Good Job!