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God is For Us

Looking at Isaiah 57, God shows us that He is For us. We can often believe that God is primarily here to judge us, but that is not the case. The wonderful message Isaiah gives, that is fulfilled in Christ, is that God joyfully removes every obstacle that keeps His people from coming to Him.

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God Is For Us

Good morning. Our theme this morning is God is For Us! It’s something that we can easily lose track of, not just that God is for us, but how much He is for us, how far He’d go for us. A couple of images jump to mind as we start.

When my roommate Jerry and I were in Seminary, we had class learning how to lead church services. Every Wednesday, one student would lead Morning Prayer, and get “critiqued” by the Bishop. On Jerry’s week, he did a good job, but one thing he got “dinged” for, was getting the collect of the Day/Week wrong.

Jerry, probably a bit more sarcastically than he should, replied back, “How are we supposed to know which week it is?” To which the bishop simply replied, “You could ask.” Suddenly it dawned on us that the class wasn’t a trap. The bishop really wanted us to do well. We saw leading MP as a project to be overcome, the Bishop wanted him to do his best.

Any parent of a teenager knows how much you love and are “for” your kids. But if we’re honest, we probably remember how much our parents just didn’t understand anything when we were teenagers. My parents only became smart after I got into my twenties and thirties, when they finally became wise. Tongue/cheek

A great lie of the devil is to make think God is against us, simply judging us all day long. But the truth is, God moves heaven and earth to bring us to himself. That’s what God means in our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah when he says, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” A wonderful image of God clearing the way for us to become what we should be.

The practical image Isaiah is talking about is the return of the people from slavery and captivity in Babylon, to enter once again, the Promised Land. The metaphor many saw during the return is that once there, they can become what they are supposed to be, if they stay away from sin. In truth, the return prepares the way for God to Come Near Us, to Redeem Us.

Such an important image, Salvation is a work of God from beginning to end, where God the Son offers Himself on our behalf both for our redemption, and for our adoption into the family of God.

That’s why it’s a mistake to think we’ve got to make ourselves righteous by our efforts before we can be right with God. Jesus himself, in the Gospel lesson this morning, says that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And honestly that’s an impossible task. We always think of them as “bad guys,” but in reality, they were the most righteous people around in terms of keeping the law, down to tithing their garden herbs.

Jesus point in the Sermon on the Mount is that none of us are righteous enough by our efforts. It’s God who makes things right, and making us right is something only he can do, which is why God came for us. We can’t do it, and we will never be completed it in this world, as much as we might wish we could.

Isaiah gives us such a wonderful picture of God being for us. In verse 17, God says, “Because of the iniquity of…unjust gain I was angry” their sin, and their backsliding in “the way of their own hearts.” But we are not just forgiven, but redeemed completely. God reveals in v. 18 and 19,

I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,

creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.

God’s mission isn’t just to free us from the punishment due our sins, but to make us righteous. And God does this through his Life, death, and Resurrection, where all in Jesus are made right.

The point of the gospel isn’t that you and I clean up our act and then come to God. We come dirty. We come soiled. He’s the one who cleans us up. We can’t make things right; only he can. And the Good News is, He does.

This is why it is also a mistake to think that we can ever be good enough to gain God’s favor. The scribes and Pharisees believed that if they put in the effort, and made the right sacrifices, God will give them the benefit of the doubt. But we don’t have to be good for God to claim us; we actually have to realize that we are broken. Listen to what he says here in verse 16:

For thus says the high and lofty one, who inhabits eternity,

whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place.

 Hopefully we get that. God is exalted, and dwells above us in unapproachable splendor. But does he stay far off? No. the verse continues that He “also [dwells] with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

God doesn’t make his dwelling with people who are good enough. He makes his dwelling with people who are humble and who, in their humility, are repentant. God is exalted, and I am not. God is holy, and I am not. God has good cause to be angry with me, but, because of his grace, he is not. He looks upon us – he looks upon all of us – with pity. In v. 16 of our lesson, God says:

I will not contend (accuse) forever, nor will I always be angry; for (then) the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life (the souls) I made. 

It’s our spirits that he’s talking about; it’s our souls. In the Psalm 103:13, we are told, “as a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.”

To fear him means to be contrite and humble before him. In Luke 18, Jesus tells a story of two men who went up to the temple to pray. One, a Pharisee, the other a social outcast. The “righteous” Pharisee thanked God he wasn’t like other people: “thieves, rogues, adulterers,” and compared himself favorably with the outcast. We can fall into this trap ourselves, comparing ourselves to sinners around us, and thinking we are doing God a great favor following Him. The second man “wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” Jesus said that the second man who went home right in the eyes of God. Being a sinner or an outcast doesn’t make him worthless, because very clearly, his worth was found in God’s eyes, and who’s eyes better.

Today’s lessons give us the opportunity to examine our heart, and see if we find in ourselves the humility that God is calling for. Am I, in the words of Isaiah 57:14 a “contrite and humble/lowly spirit?” And when we realize our own faults, and failings, … no matter how ugly they may be, … no matter how many… no matter how much we may wish we didn’t have them…

Know God is for you and moves all heaven and earth for you, for love. Every obstruction in my people’s way will be moved, so my people will be with me. That is how much God loves you, and all who come to him with a humble and contrite heart.        

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