“It’s OK honey, its just a little scratch, see? It’s already getting better.” says the mother lifting the cloth from the sobbing child’s knee. “Hey, you did your best.” says the father putting an arm around his son’s slumped shoulders. “We’ll get them next time. You’ll see!” “I know money is tight,” says the husband clearing aside all the bank statements. “God has seen us through rougher times than this, and He will again.” And even though we don’t always believe the words said, somehow they are still comforting. Maybe if only because we believe the one saying it. The same holds true for us with God.
Sometimes we are slow to believe, but God never tires of speaking comfort to His beloved children. But what good are promises? Just more words … right? When we are hurting, when we are scared, when we are facing a dark or uncertain future we need something more solid than just promises. As Luther said, “The promises of God meet with contempt and persecution in the whole world … Nevertheless we must not despair or chuck the whole business … there is such great strength in this prophetic consolation.” Especially, I would add, if we just take the time to really listen and look.
1“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him. 3For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
Look back says the prophet to a people in the midst of their struggles! Look at how God blessed you through Abraham and Sarah. Israel did not create itself, God brought them into being. Likes stones hewn from a quarry. The marriage of Abraham and Sarah was for a long time unfruitful … too long. “As good as dead” the scriptures declare. That is, until by faith Sarah received power to conceive. And so it was not just with Sarah, but Rebekah after her, and Rachel again who would follow. Could God have made it any clearer that they were there, not by their own power or will or work, but by His miraculous grace?
Just as the Lord comforted and helped Abraham and Sarah so He can also promote and expand the church. Even little ones that struggle with numbers and finances, never seeming to get a leg up. No matter how sterile and forsaken and lonely it may be, even in the depths of despair God’s Words of promise are there. For we do not create this church ourselves any more than ancient Israel did. We are here only by the righteousness of the Lord. As Sarah gave birth to Isaac after a long period of barrenness, so Zion – the heavenly Jerusalem, the Christian Church – a second Sarah, will be surrounded by a joyous multitude of children after this long period of desolation.
Look back! Look at how the garden of Eden is the pattern for the blessings God intends to bestow on you. More than just returning to the Jerusalem of the past, the restoration will be like the perfection of Eden itself. A well-tended garden full of abundance and delight. Work and fulfillment but no hardship, or death, no sickness or broken relationships. As it was in the beginning will be forever! And it begins even now …
4“Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.
The Lord sends His servant (His right arm) to bestow all these gifts. The Lord comes to His waiting people, never the other way around.
But Look around – even now! For the promise of Eden is already coming to pass in Jesus Christ. This is the method and the form by which the Church is made fruitful … through the Law and the Judgement of God fulfilled in Christ. Look at how God’s law goes out from Him. Good News of all that He has done, not just for us but for all people. Look around. Look at how God’s justice becomes “a light to the nations.” A new light, a new law (for the old has been fulfilled, paid for, abolished in the righteous sacrifice of Jesus) A law and light by faith and righteousness. See how God’s “righteousness draws near speedily.” Look, God’s “salvation is on the way.” This righteousness is being revealed, this salvation has started on the way in the preaching of the Gospel and the free gift of the Holy Sacraments.
In these Christ Himself is present and active to grant His righteousness through the forgiveness of sins, and bring salvation to sinners. It is the working out of God’s Justice in the blood of Christ sacrificed for you and me. Look around – even now! God’s “arm [brings] justice to the nations.” The arms of Christ spread out on the cross. The arms of Christ, encircling His church. The arms of Christ upholding His faltering and stumbling people. The arms of Christ open wide to receive not just us but the whole world. Look and see how “The islands . . . wait in hope for [God’s] arm.”
6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and they who dwell in it will die in like manner; but my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
Look ahead! It’s true, heaven and earth will pass away. Neither creation, nor the enemies of God’s people are eternal. The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of the Lord will never pass away. Our strength may come and go. Our conviction may waver. We won’t always look or listen as we should or to the one we should. We will weaken and one day die, but the salvation and righteousness of the Lord will never fail. He said it – It is done. You have His Word of Promise. It cannot be undone. For Christ will not die again, but lives forevermore. And in Him we have life evermore. Look ahead and rejoice! God’s “salvation will last forever,” and His “righteousness will never fail.”
And even though a child may not always be 100% convinced of the words a parent speaks, nevertheless, they will find comfort and strength in the words, because they believe the one speaking them. And the more they trust the speaker the more they see the value in the words. How much more for us with God? For not only is His character 100% trustworthy … He has been there to help and save His people from the beginning … but His Words are 100% true, in the past present and future. Just Look! And see what He won’t help you through today.