From the Pulpit

From the Pulpit 



Sermon on Isaiah 45:1-7
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020

 
               
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Amen.
 
This is what the LORD says to his anointed one, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him by stripping kings of their weapons,
to open doors before him so that the gates cannot be shut:
I myself will go before you, and I will level mountains.
Doors of bronze I will break into pieces, and I will cut through bars of iron.
I will give you treasures of darkness, and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you will acknowledge that I am the LORD, the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.
For the sake of my servant Jacob, for the sake of Israel my chosen one,
I will call you by your name.
I will give you a name of honor, though you do not know me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other. Besides me, there is no god.
I will equip you even though you do not know me,
so that they will know from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets that there is no one besides me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I am the one who forms light and creates darkness, the one who makes peace and creates calamity.
I am the LORD, the one who does all these things. (EHV)
 
The Word of the Lord.
 
Dear brothers and sisters, children of our just and merciful Lord; it’s likely none of you would argue if I called Moses a man of God. The same would go for Abraham, or Isaiah, or Paul. All these men, though sinners, preached God’s message to those around them, not only with their words, but also with the example of their godly lives. God certainly used them to spread his Word to the world. But in our lesson for today we learn that one doesn’t have to be godly, or even a believer, to be the Lord’s Man. Cyrus was the Lord’s Man – the Lord made Cyrus what he was; he did it for the sake of his people, Israel; he did it, so that all may be saved.
 
The Lord made Cyrus what he was; but who was Cyrus? Historically speaking, he was the King of Persia who conquered Babylon - he went around the great gates and walls of that city by redirecting the mighty Euphrates and entering through the riverbed. He was also a Messiah, of sorts – Messiah means anointed one, and God calls him his anointed in our lesson. In Old Testament times, prophets, priests and kings were anointed to their offices. This king has been anointed by God for a specific purpose. Note what Paul writes about earthly authorities: they are “God’s servants to do you good.” Finally, he was an unbeliever; but for the moment, an earthly “Savior” for Israel.
 
But who made Cyrus what he was? Was it by his own power and ingenuity that he conquered Babylon? It was by the Lord’s power: the Lord subdued the nations before Cyrus, the Lord stripped kings of their armor, taking from them their protection and their dignity. The Lord opened doors, leveled mountains, shattered the great city gates of Babylon, and opened her treasure hoards for Cyrus’ army to loot.
In this passage from Isaiah the Lord addresses Cyrus, his man, over 150 years before his time – so their can be no doubt. Although history credits Cyrus with the victory over the Babylonians, we know who made him what he was.
 Why did the Lord do it? We’ve seen the first reason: so that Cyrus, whether he acknowledges God or not, will know the Lord. But the Lord isn’t doing all this just for Cyrus’ earthly benefit. For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me. He did it, in his own words, for the sake of his people, Israel.
 
From the Bible and other historical records we know that the Persian Empire replaced the Babylonians as the power in the Middle East, as the Babylonians had replaced the Assyrians. But in Isaiah’s time, the people of Judah had no fear of the Babylonians, and probably hadn’t even heard of the Persians. During Isaiah’s lifetime the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and carted its people off, never to return. But Judah had been spared – yet still refused to repent.
How was Isaiah’s message received when he first preached it? With disbelief and rejection. They wouldn’t accept that there would be a time when the Lord would withhold his blessings from them.
But the Lord had promised to take away all the blessing he had rained on his people if they were unfaithful – and they were unfaithful. So for their sake, that they might acknowledge him once again, he chastised them, with three generations of captivity in Babylon. We know the Lord chastises those he loves – sure evidence that the Lord still loved his chosen people is that he did not let the Babylonians destroy them, but only take them captive.
 
Now, when things looked most bleak, they could take comfort in Isaiah’s message: this hardship won’t last forever. God had promised to restore them to their home.
And so he did, through his man, Cyrus: by the command of Cyrus the Jews would be allowed to return home; by the command of Cyrus the city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt; and by the command of Cyrus the foundations of the Temple would be re-laid.
 
So is the restoration of the nation of Israel the main goal of God’s use of Cyrus? In verses 5 and 6 he tells us: I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. The main goal of God’s use of his man Cyrus is so all may be saved
 
…and that “all” includes us, my friends.
We need a Savior from sin as much as anyone. We need the assurance of the gospel message of forgiveness – because we, too, have sinned much.
We all have plans for our lives – but things don’t usually go as we have planned. You can’t plan for a slump in the economy, illness, loss of a job, loss of a loved one…or a global pandemic. When our fortunes take a turn for the worse, how easy is it for our attitudes, for our trust in God, to take a turn for the worse, too? How easily do we despair and forget the promises of our God to give us what we need? Make no mistake, my friends - this despair, this forgetting – they are sins against our faithful, loving God.
So this lesson from Isaiah is as much for us as it is for Cyrus and the people of Israel. It is a message of hope, that even when things look so bleak, our God has not forgotten us. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.
It was the Lord who sent Judah into captivity, not the Babylonians…they were only his instruments to chastise his people. And he chastises those he loves, so that he may bring them back.
 
The Lord may allow hardship in our lives, too, to chastise us. But the Lord in this lesson declares to the whole world that he exiled Judah, and used Cyrus to bring them back, so that the whole world will know he is the Lord, our God, the God of Justice, and the God of Free and Faithful Love, who punishes sin, yet promises a Savior from sin.
This Savior from sin is Jesus, God’s own Son, who would carry out his mission to save the world from sin in this very land that Cyrus would restore. In that land Christ would live, and die, and rise from the grave – so that we may know that Christ’s work - Christ’s death - saved us from our sins of despair and forgetfulness – from all of our sins.
And on the day when Christ rose into Heaven, he gave us the charge to spread this gospel message of forgiveness to the whole world, from the rising of the sun to its setting, so that all mankind may know that he is the Lord, the God who forgives – the God who saves.
 
Cyrus was the Lord’s Man. The Lord used him to fulfill his promise to Israel, and his promise to us. He is a God who keeps his promises: the Lord promised to give the Promised Land to Israel…and he did; the Lord promised to take away his blessings on Israel if they were unfaithful…and he did; the Lord promised to rescue Israel from captivity…and he did; the Lord promised to send us a Savior from sin…and he did; the Lord promised to be with us to the very end of the age…and he is; the Lord promised to come again and take us to live with him in heaven forever…and he will.
Amen.
 

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. Amen.



The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage VersionTM (EHVTM) copyright © 2016 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved.
Lectionary listings from Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal © 1993 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.