+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Isaiah 1:18
Theme: White As Snow
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Isaiah was privy to the promises. He prophesied of the Prince of Peace. He did so according to the description of St. Peter, “Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.”1 Isaiah saw the consummation of all things in Christ; His birth, His suffering, His coronation to rule the Father’s kingdom. He was privy to all of these events that would be necessary in the war against sin.
Isaiah’s opening salvo jumps right into the heart of these matters. After a universal summons to heed the decree of the Lord, Isaiah gives a comprehensive description of the spiritual state of the people. The picture is bleak. Spiritually, they are sick to the point of death. From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no soundness in them. Central to the critique of their sinfulness is their hollow, formalistic worship. “Stop bringing meaningless offerings!”2 says the Lord God.
Dear friends, some form of worship is happening all the time in every time and place; the worship of God or the worship of idols; worship in arrogance and futility-trying to justify ourselves; or worship in faith and humility- rejoicing that Christ has justified sinners. There is worship of money, worship of self, worship of possessions, worship or careers, worship of ideologies, worship of others, and the list goes on.
The human heart is treacherous. And treacherous are all efforts to pacify our consciences through displays of obedience. We’re forever re-imaging what pleases God according to human perceptions. We like to sculpt and script our own ways of worship. Only the Scriptures paint an accurate picture. Only the Holy Spirit can teach us the way of truth. The call to repentance is always before us.
Repentance is evidenced by a change in behavior. Such change is the mark of authenticity. Listen to the Lord’s command, “Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”3 And so the struggle is engaged and it never ends until we are called from this life. Luther described it in this way, “The flesh in which we daily live is of such a nature that it does not trust and believe God and is constantly aroused by evil desires and devices, so that we sin daily in word and deed, in acts of commission and omission. Thus our conscience becomes restless; it fears God’s wrath and displeasure, and so it loses the comfort and confidence of the Gospel.”4
But, hear again the comfort in Isaiah today, “‘Come, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”5 The contrast uses superlatives. Scarlet dye left a stain that could not be removed. Sin too, leaves an indelible mark. The whiteness of snow was an image of purity. So, too, will the sinner be cleansed; made spotless in the eyes of God.
There is a summons. There is a decision. There is a divine verdict and the verdict is “Guilty!” But then comes the sentencing. Here a marvelous and miraculous thing happens: A substitute receives the punishment. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”6 The certain decree of condemnation is contravened by news of liberation. The guilty will go free and the Holy One bears the guilt. The Son is sacrificed while the sinner is spared. The scarlet stain of sin becomes purified whiter than snow.
What sin, what shame, what guilt is buried deep in your soul leaving your heart black? Christ has cleansed them all. What regrets torment you again and again? Christ has forgiven them and washed you clean. You are baptized and through your baptism you continue to access the power of Christ’s forgiveness. Baptism weaves your life into the fabric of Christ’s life. His death and resurrection become ours.
Without His crucifixion there is no emancipation. Without His resurrection there is no reclamation from the ravages of sin. Without His ascension and enthronement there is no confidence that He will continue to rule over all things with power and with grace. But, dear friends, these things have been accomplished. We are those upon whom the ‘end of the ages’ has come. We are post-resurrection Christians. The yoke of death has been shattered. Satan was not able to stop the sacrifice from taking place.
We live under the new covenant. Under the first covenant the priests and Levites partook of the sacrifices of the altar. The people shared in the Passover lamb. But the shadow has become the reality. The sign of forgiveness has become the means. We receive the body and blood of the sacrifice Himself. We partake of the food of the Lamb of God from this altar of the new covenant. We already participate in holy things that have eternal existence.
Dear friends, this entire dimension of existence is not permanent. It will be destroyed and re-created. Luke intends to jar us from our lethargy today when he says, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.”7 This truth should not alarm us, but comfort and fortify us. The Scriptures end with this plea: Come, Lord Jesus! The church is a ‘maranatha’ community. We eagerly look forward to the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ. This could well be a liturgical response to the prophetic promises.
Come, Lord Jesus, give us the Holy Spirit to defend us from the demonic influences of the world. Come, Lord Jesus, free us from our addictions and release us from the burdens of our sins. Come, Lord Jesus, let the power of the cross quiet all of our anxieties, calm all of our fears, and still all of our doubts. Come, Lord Jesus, surround us with the safety of your love. The evidence of God’s presence may seem lacking and His return in glory a faint hope but that’s because the Holy Spirt wants us to see only the cross and by it draw us closer to Himself. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”8
Our hope is not misplaced. The words of Isaiah have been fulfilled. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,”9 and so it is that when St. John peers into heaven we find this conversation, “These in white robes- who are they…These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”10 In Christ we are white as snow. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
7 August, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Peter 1:10-11
2 Isaiah 1:13
3 Isaiah 1:16-17
4 Large Catechism of Martin Luther
5 Isaiah 1:18
6 John 1:29
7 Luke 12:40
8 Hebrews 11:1
9 Isaiah 1:18
10 Revelation 7:14