Sermon for Sunday, March 22, 2020

Grace and peace to all the members of Grace Lutheran Church!  Here is this Sunday’s sermon.  The sermon text is Isaiah 42:14-21. -Pastor Korsch

Note: All Scripture passages are from the English Standard Version translation.


Intro: Tender and tough.  It’s an interesting combination.  Do you know a man or a woman who is both tender and tough?  They are a rare breed.  Imagine a CEO who has no problem hiring or firing employees for his company but yet when he walks home and sees a beggar on the side of the road he sits down beside him, talks with him and cries with him and prays with him, and then gives him $100.  That’s tender and tough.

In Isaiah chapter 42, that’s how God describes himself.  Tough like a mighty warrior going out to battle to defeat his enemies.  Tender, like a pregnant woman in the delivery room crying out as she gives birth.  God is tender and tough in his dealing with his beloved Israel and with us his sons and daughters in Christ.

  1. God is Tender and Tough with Israel

In this section of the book, Isaiah is writing prophetically to the 6th century community of Israel in exile in Babylon.  Isaiah is preaching in the 8th century and early 7th century B.C. and Isaiah foresees the day when God will send Judah and Jerusalem into exile in Babylon.  At Mount Sinai, God told the nation of Israel that if they fell away from worshipping him by turning to other gods then he would cause disease and war to come upon them and they would be exiled from the land just as he exiled the idolatrous Amorites from the Promised Land to give it to his people Israel.

God reveals he is a tough and mighty warrior in the verse before our sermon text: “The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.” (Isaiah 42:13)  God portrays himself like a shouting warrior ready to take on any enemy of his people, with supreme confidence he will win.  

And this is not just empty boasting and posturing.  How does God show he is tough in action?  “I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” (Isaiah 42:15)  The mountains and hills stand for the city of Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian empire.  For Israel to be delivered God needs to be tough: Babylon needed to go down, and down it would go as Isaiah would later prophesy, “But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing.” (Is 47:11)  In October of 539 BC God used the Neo-Persian king Cyrus II to attack and destroy the city of Babylon.  At least part of the city was burned and the once mighty empire of Babylon collapsed in a matter of days.

Yet God reveals he is also tender, tender at least with the nation of Israel.  God shows himself to be like a pregnant woman in labour: “For a long time I have held my peace; I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant.” (Isaiah 42:14)  When God speaks of being silent for a long time, God is speaking about how it felt to him while his people were in exile for 70 years in Babylon.  And God speaks of himself like a woman in the delivery room: “now I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant.”  

Like a woman giving birth and then tenderly caring for her child God will care for exiled Israel: “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground.  These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” (Is 42:16)  Out of great love for his people Israel, God will tenderly lead them out of exile from Babylon and back to their home in the Promised Land.

2) Interlude

What do Tender and Tough have in common?  The answer: Passion.  Determination.  A goal.  

-Nurses: They are tender and tough.  They have to care and help their patients but not give in to silly demands or constant cries of attention from nervous, sick patients.  

-The counsellor at a substance abuse treatment centre who has to care for those caught up in drug abuse and encourage them tenderly but at the same time be as firm as steel in setting boundaries and saying if you break any of the centre’s rules you’re out of the program.  

God’s determination and goal was to save Israel and us from a great folly, the folly of idolatry, and bring us to the salvation that is found only in him.

Israel’s folly was idolatry.  In exile many Israelites fell into apostasy and started to worship the Babylonian gods.  God calls this utter blindness and says to his people who had worshiped the Babylonian gods, “They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, “You are our gods.”” (Is 42:17)  

God’s tenderness and toughness for Israel is a passionate desire and goal to free his people free from the spiritual death that comes from idolatry. 

3) Jesus Christ is Tender and Tough with us

The Israelites are not the only ones who are tempted to idolatry.  Look at what’s happening in society right now.  What is being idolized?  The economy. Big corporations.  Health.  Food.  Supplies.  While all these things are good gifts from God and important enough, even essential enough for the Lord Jesus to call us to pray for them each day when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” they are not our gods.  God teaches us a very important principle in the book of Isaiah: idolatry causes you to become blind, and when you commit idolatry you become like that which you idolize.  If you worship idols that have no ears or eyes you become spiritually unable to listen to the voice of the Lord or see the new thing that he’s doing.

These days are days for each of us to carefully take stock of where we place our trust and hope.  If it is in anything else other than God, and we’ll know that if we get nervous and anxious without those things, God’s call is to repentance.  Listen to God’s call: “Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see!” (Is 42:18)  The irony is rich.  God is calling us who have been blinded by anything we fear, love, worship or need more than him, to turn back to him.  When Isaiah says, “Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send?  Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord?” he’s not talking about Jesus, he’s talking about Israel and he’s also talking about us mired in idolatry.  Israel was to announce God’s verdict over the false gods to the nations just as we are to announce God’s existence, His creation of the world and His call to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ to the world.  But how can we do this if we too are idolators like those with whom we seek to share Christ?  How can we share Christ if we are fretting about our health and stocks of supplies or our income?  We can’t because we’ve been blinded.  

God’s urgent desire for Israel in exile and us in these days is that we may see what he is doing for us, his saving work ultimately in Jesus Christ.

The mighty power of God, God’s toughness, is ultimately made perfect not in his destruction of the city of Babylon, but in the tenderness and weakness of His Son and servant Jesus.  For just as the servant nation Israel needed a servant to redeem them, so we need a perfect servant of God to save us.  God’s toughness is made perfect in the tenderness of Christ: who saved and forgave the woman caught in adultery, who raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead, and ultimately in tenderly stretching out his arms and his feet to be nailed to a quickly made cross outside Jerusalem.  There on the cross, God’s tenderness and his toughness are seen and come together perfectly.  There we see God’s goal, his plan and his desire come together in sending his replacement servant for Israel who served Him perfectly in His glorious and atoning death.  On the cross, God’s most furious judgement takes place where all our sins, our idolatry, is powerfully and awfully paid for.

It’s in his tender weakness that God’s great power is displayed.  And it is in Christ’s resurrection from the dead that God’s judgement and victory over all the false gods is shown.  Christ’s resurrection shows the earthly things we cling to are worthless and powerless to save but that by faith in Him He gives us true life now and eternal life.  In Christ we have hope and peace.

Just as Israel was renewed and freed from idolatry as God mightily destroyed the Babylonian empire and set his people free to serve him rightly once again, Christ’s death and resurrection also renews us his church and people from our idolatry and sets us free to serve God once again.  Forgiven and cleansed we God’s people are able once more to take up the servant role.

Conclusion: In these days, we serve and worship God best by serving our neighbour, by looking out for them, helping them and sharing with them.  Serving your neighbour today is going to take two things: being tender as you lovingly care and being tough as you fight against idolatry to give mightily and selflessly.  May God bless you in being tender and tough even as he has blessed you with eternal life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.