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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
 
Title:A Powerful Message for God's People
Text:Isaiah 57:19b-21 (View)
Occasion:Lord's Supper
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2006
Added:2006-07-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Suggested songs:

Psalm 148:1-4

Psalm 119:40-42

Hymn 11:1-3

Psalm 113:1-3

Hymn 18:1-2

Reading: Isaiah 57

Text: Isaiah 57:19b-21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ Jesus our Lord,

Very few of us have ever lived through a war. For most of us, war is something we see on the news or read about in the newspaper. War is an awful thing. Naturally (and thankfully!), most people have an aversion to it. They don’t like war on a national scale and most people don’t like smaller scale battles in their families and communities either. Everybody would say that we like to have peace, at least we should like to have peace.

Our text for this morning is about peace. God sent the prophet Isaiah to proclaim these words to the people of Israel and Judah. This is about 500 years before Christ. The people of God were disobedient and unfaithful, so God took them out of the Promised Land and sent them into exile in Babylon. The exile took place because the Israelites were at war with God. Nevertheless, God still continued to love his people. Because of his promise, his love, he chastised or disciplined them. He wanted them to repent. He wanted them to see their sins, hate them and return to him. He wanted the people to love him and live at peace with him.

That’s why he gave this powerful message in our text for this morning. He gave it so that his people in exile would turn away from their sins and find their peace with God. We’ll see that this powerful message has two aspects. First of all, a beautiful promise for those who believe. And second, a terrible warning for the wicked.

Our text begins with the words “Peace, peace, to those far and near…” Peace is such a beautiful word in the Bible. It’s full of meaning. You may even know the Hebrew word that’s used there. It’s “shalom.” Shalom means a lot more than just not having war or fighting. Shalom means that you are whole or complete, the way you were created to be. It means that you are at one with God. And this peace, this shalom is what all mankind needs desperately. And it is what God announces to his people suffering in Babylon. He repeats it twice to show that he really means it. And this peace is announced to those far and near – that’s simply a poetic way of saying that this peace is for everyone without distinction.

For the people who first heard these words, this was a promise of return and restoration. God was going to bring them back to the Promised Land. They would again have fellowship with their God through the old covenant means. The relationship of Israel to God would be like it was before.

Now, when we as New Testament believers hear these words, we can’t help but think right away of what God says in Ephesians 2:17-18. Paul borrows the words of our text and says, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” Paul applies our text specifically to the situation with Jews and Gentiles – that they are together saved by Christ. But in all this, the point is made amply clear that Jesus Christ is the one who really came with God’s peace for everybody. He brought peace between God and people. You could think here of what Isaiah says in 53:5 too, namely that his chastisement has become our peace. Because Christ’s body was broken and his blood was shed, we have peace with God. We now have a friendly relationship with him in which he treats us as his children and we look up to him as our loving Father. That’s why these words of Isaiah 57 are so beautiful – it’s because they point to the Lord Jesus as the greatest peace imaginable – the peace which establishes the most meaningful relationship in the world.

Naturally, this is all given to us through faith in Jesus Christ. We can’t ever begin to think that we will have peace with God apart from Christ. There is no such thing as a self-help program when it comes to peace with God. The Lord Jesus has to do it for you. And in case you ever need a reminder as to why that is, think about Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” How can we make peace with God when all we can bring to him are filthy rags? You know the answer. We need the Lord Jesus and his righteousness. We need his body and his blood to pay the debt that we can’t.

So, in speaking about peace, Isaiah is pointing us as New Testament believers to Christ. He does that also when he adds the words, “And I will heal them.” Let me first tell you what this doesn’t say. God is NOT saying here that sick people who believe in him will always get better. Sometimes that does happen, sometimes our prayers for healing are answered, sometimes even in miraculous ways, ways that doctors can’t explain. But, and this is important, God never promises that in the Bible. Take Paul as an example. Paul prayed three times that God would take away his thorn – and that very well could have been some kind of sickness. But God didn’t take it away. Would we dare to say that Paul didn’t have enough faith?

So then, what does God mean here when he promises to heal his people? Here we have to think again about what had happened to the people of Israel. God was chastising them through the exile into Babylon. When God promises to heal them, he’s promising to bring them back to their homes in the Promised Land. He’s saying that they will not be in Babylon forever. We can hardly imagine what that was like for them. We have no connection to the land like the Jews did and do. For them, the land was so vitally important – it was tied directly to God’s promises and it carried family history. The Promised Land was where the temple was located – a place where God’s Name, his presence, dwelt in a special way. And so when they were in Babylon, it felt like they were far away from God. But now God promises to remedy the situation and again bring them near to himself, to heal the breech.

Again, let’s reflect on how this directs our minds and hearts to Christ. Before we know the Lord Jesus in a saving way, we are far away from God. But when we believe in Christ, then God brings us to himself. He brings us home, so to speak. So, God’s healing is all about Jesus Christ bringing us to his Father. For us as New Testament believers, that’s what God is promising us here – and that’s definitely good news! When we’re facing a rough spot in our lives, we can know that God is still close. We can be assured that he cares for us as our Father. He does all that because of what his Son did for those who believe in him. But not everybody does believe and that’s why this passage also has a terrible warning for the wicked.

With this point in the sermon, we’re especially looking at verses 20 and 21. Let’s take first things first and look at verse 20, “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” The first question we need to ask is: who are the wicked? If we look in other places in the Bible, the wicked are sometimes some of God’s covenant people. If they were around today, we’d say they’re church-going folk. They’re born into church families, received the sign and seal of God’s covenant as baby children. In the time of Isaiah, the wicked were indeed some of the people of Israel, God’s own people. Despite all that had happened with the exile, some of them kept on hating God or ignoring him. They didn’t care about what God had to say. They mocked God’s law and just went about doing their own thing, being a law unto themselves. Well, God tells us what those people are like. They’re just like the ocean that gets tossed all over the place. Though they would deny it vehemently, they’re troubled. They don’t have the peace, the oneness with God and wholeness from God. When it comes down to it, they’re at war with God.

It’s that war that throws up a lot of mire and mud, according to our text. That means that everything that comes from them is dirty and filthy. Their hands are covered with muck and everything they touch becomes grimy. Their mouths use words that are not pleasing to God. And sure, maybe they might even say that they believe in God, but their lives show that they’re just pretending. And that’s why verse 21 ends our text with those well-known words, “There is no peace for the wicked.” The wicked cannot have peace with God. They cannot have peace in themselves. They are living in a war with God and this war impacts what goes on inside themselves too, creating all kinds of inner turmoil.

Brothers and sisters, our text calls you to make sure that you are not among the wicked. This is especially important as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper today. You were reminded last week of this celebration and in the past week you should have been examining yourself and preparing yourself for this celebration. One of the questions you could have asked yourself and should ask yourself this morning is: “Do I really know the peace of God in Jesus Christ?” To motivate you in considering this question, let me share something I once heard from a Presbyterian colleague. He said,

“May I tell you what I preach to my congregation? One day, when you are at the point of death, your pastor will rush to the hospital room or your home. If you still have your mind functioning clearly and he asks you of your hope and what you are trusting, he wants to hear clearly, for your sake and his, that you are ready to leave this life for eternity.

Please, please, please…don’t look at him and say hopefully, “I’ve done the best I could!” That is a lie to begin with; you are not doing your best! Do you want a lie on your lips as you leave this life? Don’t tell him that you’ve been a faithful church member. Don’t tell him you’ve tried to keep the commandments. Don’t tell him you have tried to lead a good life.

As I said to my own congregation, when you are about to pass through the valley of the shadow of death, please do not try to comfort and deceive yourself by telling me about your ‘good works.’ And don’t tell me you are trusting some emotional experience to save you. Tell me Christ and Christ alone; cling to Jesus only and hope in him. If Christ is your righteousness, you have all things. That is ultimately what the Reformation rediscovered and gave to the world…”

Brothers and sisters, I want to let those words speak for me as well. Today as you partake of the Lord’s Table, you have to be able to say that the Lord Jesus is your righteousness and your peace – otherwise the table will be profaned. And perhaps I will see some of you right before you pass away. Then too, you have to be able to say that the Lord Jesus is your righteousness and your peace – otherwise your destiny will be profaned. All of us need to believe in him now, finding our only hope in Christ Jesus.

We are God’s people. But we know from Scripture, church history, and experience that God’s people do not always live up to their name. Our prayer should be that none of us would be numbered among the wicked for whom there is and will be no peace. Rather, let the beautiful words of promise in our text be beautiful for all of us. May we know the Lord’s peace and find healing with him, both today at the Lord’s Supper and always. AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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