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“I Will Not Forsake Them”
Isaiah 42:14-
21


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday in Lent—April 3, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Our text is from today’s Old Testament Reading in the 42nd chapter of Isaiah.  The Lord promises about his people: “I Will Not Forsake Them.”

God’s people of old indeed deserved to be forsaken by God.  In today’s reading Isaiah describes their spiritual blindness and deafness: “You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen.”  At the end of today’s reading Isaiah concludes, “It pleased the Lord . . .  to make his law great and glorious,” but his people of old were spiritually blind, deaf, paying no attention to the divine law, heeding not the word of the Lord.

Because of their spiritual blindness, because they made their ears deaf to the word of the Lord, because they instead turned away to false gods, because they bowed down to idols, because they forgot the Lord their God, they did deserve to be forsaken by God.

And they felt forsaken by God when their land was conquered and the people taken away into exile, which was the custom for conquered peoples in those days.  The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already fallen about the time Isaiah wrote his book, and he prophesies the same fate will come upon the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  In today’s reading Isaiah is writing a comforting reassurance for them, that although they deserve to be forsaken by God, although in their despair they will feel forsaken by God, the Lord promises, “I Will Not Forsake Them.”

And what about us?  Are we not also often spiritually blind and deaf?  Do we not also often hear and see the great and glorious law of the Lord but pay not attention?  Do we not turn away to our own false gods and idols—worldly things and worldly ways?  Have we not often forgotten the Lord our God?  Do we not deserve because of our sin and unfaithfulness to be forsaken by God?

Like the ancient people of God, who felt forsaken when their nation was conquered and their world came crashing down around them, we often feel forsaken by God when bad things happen in our lives, and our world comes crashing down around us.  I remember visiting years ago with a man who had committed a crime and as a result had lost everything: home, family, job, possessions.  But, you don’t have to hit that kind of bottom in your life to feel forsaken by God.  Illness, loss, tragedy, suffering, death; all those can make you wonder: Does God still loves you, or has forsaken you?

On Good Friday we will have a Tenebrae Service, in which candles are extinguished as we read the Seven Last Words of Christ.  As he hung dying on the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Unlike the ancient people of God, unlike us today, Christ was the only one who ever lived who did not deserve be forsaken by God.  For, as Scripture says, “He appeared to take away our sins, but in him was no sin”; “He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus Christ did not deserve to be forsaken by God, but as he hung on the cross he not only felt forsaken by God, he actually was—the only person in all of history who was really forsaken by God.  He was forsaken by God not on account of his sins but on account of our sins.  For as Scripture says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us”; “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”

How could God be at the same time forsaken by God?  That is a mystery of Trinity that we cannot comprehend.  But, at that moment on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, God the Son was forsaken by God the Father.  In that moment God the Father in his perfect holiness could not look upon his Son, for God the Son had taken on himself your sins, my sins, the sins of the world.

On the cross God the Son suffered in our place the ultimate punishment for sin: separation from God.  That is really when he endured for us the pains of hell, when he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Because that’s what the essence of hell is, separation from, being forsaken by God.  He endured the pains of hell so that you never have to; he was forsaken by God so that you never will be.

For our sakes God the Son was forsaken by God the Father, by only for a time.  As Psalm 16 prophesied, “You will not abandon me to the grave or let your Holy One see decay.”  God the Father raised him from the dead as a sign that he had accepted his Son’s sacrifice as payment for sins of the world.  His resurrection is God’s announcement of Absolution for the whole world.  Because he “bore our sins in his body on the cross,” your sins, my sins, the sins of the world are forgiven.  As Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The book of Acts says, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. . .  believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Because his own Son already suffered for us the punishment of separation from God, our heavenly Father promises and assures his children, “I Will Not Forsake Them.”  In our Old Testament Reading, Isaiah prophesies how God will return the Israelites from exile to their promised land: “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself             back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”

The Lord cannot restrain his love.  Like a woman giving birth, he cannot hold back, he will save his people.  Those who have conquered their nation and taken them captive will themselves be conquered: “I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools.”  Like mountains laid waste or rivers run dry what seems to be the unstoppable power of their enemies will be defeated.

This all took place, just as Isaiah foretold, when their conquerors were themselves conquered and God’s people were allowed to return to their promised land.  This was totally unexpected and unprecedented.  Never before had a conquered people returned from exile.  It was the Lord’s doing, he brought them back, as he promised: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

He did not forsake his people of old, and he will not forsake you.  Because Christ gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for your sins, your sins are completely forgiven, there is no more punishment for you to bear, Christ bore it all for you in his body on the cross.  When bad things happen in your life and your world comes crashing down around you, illness, loss, tragedy, suffering, death, though you may feel at such times forsaken by God, remember his promise, “I Will Not Forsake Them.”

The Lord promises you what he said to Jacob, “I am with you and will watch over you.”  The Lord promises you what he said to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage.  Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  The Lord promises you what he says a few verses before our text in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my mighty hand.”  The Lord Jesus promises you, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Hebrews beautifully sums up God’s comforting promise to you: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’  So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.’”

When bad things happen in your life and your world comes crashing down around you, illness, loss, tragedy, suffering, death, when you feel forsaken by God, remember how Christ on the cross was forsaken by God for you, in your place, so that you never will be.  Remember your heavenly Father’s promise to you and all his children, “I Will Not Forsake Them.”

Amen.

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