Sermon Options: June 19, 2022

January 21st, 2022


ISAIAH 65:1-9

In 1952, a New York City probation officer searched for more than a year to find an organization somewhere in the Bronx that would take in a twelve-year-old needy youngster. Although the boy had a religious background, none of the major religious groups would make room for him because he came from a sect they did not recognize. The result was that the twelve-year-old "went in a way that was not good." In fact, his name lives in infamy: Lee Harvey Oswald.

"He went in a way that was not good!" For different reasons, God, through Isaiah, applies the same words to old Israel in today's text. However, that is where the similarity ends. Israel's condition was not the result of no one caring. Someone cared more dearly than Israel would acknowledge.

I. The Unchanging God (vv. 1-2a)
This is God's answer to a prayer. Isaiah, provoked by Israel's national behavior, asked God to pour his wrath on them. Instead God answers with unwavering grace: "I said, 'Here am I, here am I.' " Using Hebrew parallelism, he emphasizes the patience of his open arms as a model for Isaiah to follow. This emphasis is like a ship captain calling, "Now hear this: This is your captain speaking." It means, "Pay attention!" There would be judgment, but it would come soon enough.

Meanwhile God's welcome home to a nation of prodigals was unwavering. His open arms had never narrowed and his love had not faltered. He was always there for them. The same is still true for the new, spiritual Israel, the Christian church. Paul, recalling this passage, calls our attention to this in Romans 10:20. God is still there and his arms are still open. For how long? We do not know. How shall we respond?

II. The Ultimate Insult (vv. 2b-7)
Israel's response to this history of love with no boundaries was indifference. God says, in effect, that they have taken an "in your face" attitude against him. The ultimate insult is delivered when they ordered God out of their national affairs because they believed themselves more right than he. This echoes of Isaiah 14:13. Today America often seems to be trying to shut God out of our national affairs, and worshiping the insubstantial polytheism of political correctness. God's patience, however, will not last forever. Israel's attitude toward God came back to haunt them, as will ours. "They walked" was a figure of speech that reveals their pattern of life; "in ways" reveals their manner of life; "not good" reveals their destination, unless they change their ways.

What issues trouble us because we "walk in ways not good"? What issues plague someone you know—perhaps even yourself—because sound counsel is disregarded? How many of our national problems are linked to raising up children with no reference to God in their education? How long will we persist in going "in a way that is not good" before we will realize that trying to shut God out of our national life is effectively shutting Satan into it?

III. The Unwavering Covenant (vv. 8, 9)
The day will come when all faithlessness will reap its bitter harvest, while the faithful of God shall enjoy a sweet inheritance. Isaiah, using one of the Bible's favorite figures, a vineyard, describes the difference as sweet and sour grapes. What spares us in the meantime? It is first that God is faithful to his covenant, and second, that he still sees a few sweet grapes he can harvest.

Christ drank our bitter cup on Calvary's cross and we need not taste it again. What shall we do in gratitude for that kind of love? Our response will lead us one of two ways: Either we will be among the sweet grapes of God's good harvest, or we will be sour grapes, our bitterness betraying our "in your face" unwillingness to change our ways. (Robert Leslie Holmes)



Paul's Magna Carta of Christian liberty was addressed to the Galatians, and forwarded from there to the world. This passage summarizes his central thesis—that Christianity can go directly to the whole world, without demanding prior obedience to the Mosaic Law because justification is now by faith alone. The Law was necessary for a while, but to live by faith is the superior way. Martin Luther reiterated this manifesto by also differing with a latter-day but still-similar position in Rome, on exactly the same basic issue of faith versus works. It seems that this issue must be periodically readdressed in order to remind us that we are indeed free from a works righteousness and that our state is determined by faith alone.

I. What's Not to Like About It?
Why would we be so pleased with the idea that "Justice" is blind, unless we assumed that anything she might "spy" around that blindfold could prejudice her? As the law is applied and mediated through people, we know that they are always vulnerable to manipulation by the fears and hopes inspired by all they do "see." When dealing with legal systems we might pray for wisdom, courage, and insight rather than "blindness" in the procurement of justice. But even justice at its best does not save us. Even God's absolute justice only shows us by how far we miss the mark.

Such an inadequate and tyrannical taskmaster the Law was for us, Paul says. It may have been bowed down to, in its time, but that was before we had anything better. It "guarded" and "imprisoned" those under its unforgiving eye, keeping the soul's imagination of love's largess sorely confined. Still Paul knew there were those in Rome and elsewhere who would not have anyone miss the Law's heavy hand that had been so "good" for them.

II. Like It or Not
Brilliantly, Paul's passionate presentation of the new freedom that believers have in Christ is set forth, not as something that should be allowed to happen, but as an already accomplished fact. He is not so much arguing for or defending a point of view, as he is logically explaining what has happened, so that everyone may understand it. It is something that everyone of rationality and goodwill might certainly be expected to want to do.

When faith was revealed in Christ, the inferior rule of law was simply superseded by faith. The Law then became as "dated" as the in-kind story of a young boy, who told his parents his Sunday school teacher had threatened to throw him into the furnace. When the disturbed parents asked him how that happened, the child explained that his teacher had told him that if he missed three Sundays in a row, she would drop him from the register!

Paul is pointing newly baptized Christians toward the open door through which they go directly to a faith-freed life, without having to walk over the fiery coals of Judaic Law to get there. In baptism, they have "put on" Christ—his mind and his righteousness—as a garment of light that gives a new vision. The same Spirit-connection that Jesus had with God, they now have. Abraham's offspring are now to be reckoned by a spiritually, rather than genetically, seeded line of inheritance. The new children of the promise are to be all who receive it by faith, water, and the Spirit—those invisible means of grace. The visible distinctions of race, position, and gender are truly swept away in the enlightened eyes of faith.

III. All Alike
Even so, every new generation seems prone to mistaking the present outward appearance of the established religious family and its children, for the new ones to whom faith is revealed and Christ truly comes. Therefore, today's church, and especially the fatherliness in it, needs to consider the real status of the transmission of a faith that lives and breathes by the Spirit—not by the Law—to ourselves and to our children. Entry by faith is now possible to anyone. Children of the promise can be drawn into the circle of grace from anywhere, without having to come through Judaism or any other legal system. This however, also means that no one can claim the promise is theirs or their children's automatically by birthright. (Kathleen Peterson)


LUKE 8:26-39

A group of muscle men known as "The Power Team" shares the message of Christ by performing amazing feats of strength. In one demonstration, they link themselves together with real chains and then proceed to pull themselves apart. While human strength can break some chains, others exist that only Christ can destroy. These are the chains that bind.

The encounter between Jesus and the Gerasene demoniac builds upon the preceding event of the calming of the storm (8:22-25). Both stories seek to proclaim the power of Jesus in relation to his identity as the Son of God. In particular, the disciples' question, "Who then is this?" (8:25) remains the focal point of the continuing revelation of the nature of Christ and his response to human need.

I. The Power of Evil
Setting aside the validity of contemporary explanations of suffering (victimization, class disparity, poverty, and so on) and their humanist remedies, Luke's account reminds us that supernatural evil exists and may control the behavior of unbelievers. As such, the demon-possessed man exemplifies the destructive pattern of evil and its consequences on human relationships.

First, the man languished under this condition for "a long time" (v. 27). The local citizens of Geresa tried to help him, but to no avail. The metal chains they used were no match for the demons' power, which surpassed every human effort to alleviate or assuage his situation. Like bringing a knife to a gunfight, manmade solutions will always fail to combat spiritual problems.

Second, the result of these impotent efforts led to alienation and isolation. He "lived in the tombs" outside of town being "driven by the demon into solitary places" (v. 29 NIV). One of the most conspicuous evidences of a person under Satan's sway is a detachment from God, loved ones, and the church. As sin penetrates and dominates our lives, we find ourselves separated from those we care about and who care about us. Only the power of Christ restores and reconciles those who are trapped in the destructive pattern of satanic influence.

II. The Power of Christ
Jesus counters the demonic presence in at least two ways: with power and authority. In the same way that Jesus demonstrated power over the physical elements by calming the storm, now he reveals his ability to control the spiritual realm as well. As soon as the man saw Jesus, the demons within cried out for mercy and begged not to be tortured. Note the key words describing this confrontation: the man "cried out" and "fell" at Jesus' feet (v. 28); Jesus "commanded" (v. 29); the demons "begged" him "not to order them" (v. 31); "he gave them permission" (v. 32). Who is this? The demons provide the answer: He is "Jesus, Son of the Most High God."

Contemplate the existential and eternal ramifications of this response. Where humanity is powerless, Christ is victorious. While Satan can break physical chains, Jesus shatters everything that inhibits people from being whole. He intercedes on our behalf to deliver us from the oppressive forces and addiction over which we have no control and restores us to an everlasting relationship with our heavenly Father.

III. Our Response
Jesus "healed" the man (v. 36). The word esothe describes the total healing-salvation Jesus provides. The stark contrast from total despondency to a renewed civility shocked the local townsfolk. The demoniac was naked, but now clothed; in the tombs, but now at Jesus' feet; driven by the demon, now sitting; chained, now in his right mind. The people responded in fear, asking Jesus to leave them.

However, the man sought to follow Jesus, to be his disciple and to obey him whatever the cost. Rather than refusing this offer, Christ redirected it by asking the man to join him in a different way. One does not have to be in the physical presence of Jesus to follow him. Christ invited the man and invites us to participate in his mission of proclaiming the good news to all who would hear by sharing what he has done for us.

No matter the "chains" that bind us, whether from Satan or of our own making, we can know that deliverance is available only from Christ. Human remedies will ultimately fail, but the healing Jesus brings lasts forever. Once we submit to him, our responsibility is to tell others so that they, too, will know the Son of the Most High God. (Craig C. Christina)

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