The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it will come about that In the last days, The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways, And that we may walk in His paths." For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.
Sermon for Advent One 2023 12/06/23
The Mountain of the Lord
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Prophecy is a difficult type of Scripture for most people to understand. It seems to speak about one thing, and then we find it ultimately referred to another. Some people claim to have special insights to prophecies, and use those insights to control others, or to build big reputations, or to sell books. The only insight I have into prophecies is that they are always clearer in the light of their fulfillment, and only when a prophecy has been clearly fulfilled can we be confident of our understanding of it.
That was true of many of the prophecies of the Old Testament about Jesus. Modern scholars often point to a passage of the New Testament which says that this act or this fact fulfilled that prophecy and they say that the New Testament is wrong! They argue and debate with the Bible. One of our fundamental Biblical interpretation principles is that the Holy Spirit is the only safe interpreter of Holy Scriptures, so when "scholars" debate the Bible, they always begin in the wrong. During our Advent services this year we are going to take a look at some of the familiar prophecies of Isaiah and see what they really prophesied, and how they might apply to us today. Our focus this evening is on the mountain of the Lord.
This prophecy of Isaiah was spoken, or so scholars believe, at the end of the long and prosperous reign of King Uzziah. Isaiah tells us himself that His prophetic ministry began under Uzziah and continued through the reigns of the next three kings for a period of almost fifty years. He tells us in chapter six that he was called by God to the prophetic ministry in the year king Uzziah died. Judah had just come through a long, stable, and prosperous time under a good king, and with the change of kings came enormous uncertainty and the threat of dangerous changes.
In that sense, we live in similar times. We are looking forward to electing a new president next year, or so many people hope, and so thing are uncertain, and we live in times of change – often confusing, frequently troubling, sometimes downright frightening. Our world is moving swiftly away from Christian ideals and ethics. Our view of how the world, or even our neighborhoods ought to be is no longer the dominant view. The courts do not function impartially as we had come to expect them to function. Medicine is terribly expensive, just at the time when horrifying diseases seem to be springing up, and some doctors seem more intent on dealing death than fighting for life. Abortion, Euthanasia, COVID deaths, and mercy killings are increasingly a reality, not simply open for debate. Today you can buy abortion in a pill. And what we were raised to believe was to be a neutral and protective media now seems hostile and partisan. These are times when the good-old-days sound awful good, and we wish there was somewhere to run away to and be safe from the crime, the fear, and the uncertainty.
Isaiah's prophecy invites us to come to the mountain of the Lord. He invites us to look to that time in the last days when God will do something new and end the uncertainty. Isaiah promised those troubled people of ancient Israel that the day was coming when God would seize control and reign in peace. No matter how it seemed to them at the moment, those children of God were invited to draw courage and comfort from the certainty that God was going to act. And Now He has!
Yes, we are living in those last days! Check out the New Testament. See how often one of the Apostles mentions that these are the last days, or the end of time, or the "end of the ages" as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10: 11. We live in those last days, so we do not have to look forward to those days, as the Old Testament peoples did, but we can – and we must – live in them. We have our comfort and our assurance right here, right now!
The mountain of the Lord shall be lifted up, Isaiah said. The mountain of the Lord is where the Lord is worshiped. In prophecy it always refers to the place where the glory of God dwells. But that place is no longer a place, it is a person! And the person is Jesus Christ. We hear a hint about this when Jesus is dealing with the woman at the well in Samaria. She asks Jesus whether the Jews are right worshiping in Jerusalem, or if the Samaritans are right worshiping in their places of worship - on their mountain. Jesus tells her that the Jews know and understand what they do and who they worship - at least confessionally. It is sort of like our Synod. We have a good confession on paper, even if not all of our pastors and people hold faithfully to it. Then He tells her that the day is coming when they will not worship in Jerusalem or on the Mountain of Samaria, but that God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Jesus is the mountain of the Lord - and He was lifted up. The prophecy of Isaiah goes on after our text to tell the people that the destruction of Zion will come before Zion can be lifted up. Jesus was destroyed, crucified for our sins. He was lifted up, nailed to the cross on our behalf. And then raised again for our salvation.
Isaiah says that when this shall happen, when the mountain of the Lord shall be lifted up, the nations, the goyim, the Gentiles, will come to it. Jesus Himself said that the Son of Man must be lifted up that He may draw all men unto Himself.
The result of the lifting up of the mountain is that many peoples will say, ‘come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord and to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.' The Christian church throughout the whole world has drawn men from every nation to the Lord, to learn of His ways and His love.
Isaiah says: For the Law will go forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. The word for "Law" is Torah. But that Torah is the entire Word of God, not just Law per se, as rules and condemnation, but also the gospel. In fact, the prophets often used the word "Torah" in a wide sense, just as we will often say "Gospel" to mean both law and gospel as a totality. In Romans 3:27, Paul refers to the Gospel as a law, speaking of the "law" of faith.
Jerusalem is the prophetic place where God acts in judgment and in salvation definitively. And He did. Jesus died in Jerusalem. He said it could not happen anywhere else. There God dealt definitively in judgment against our sins. There God acted definitively in salvation, buying us back from our own guilt and sins and giving us eternal life and the hope of the resurrection for all those who believe.
Zion, on the other hand, is the place where God is really present among His people, just as He is really present among us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus promised it, wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them. So the Gospel flows out of the Church, and Jesus comes to us from that decisive act of judgment and salvation. It was, in fact, their identification of Jesus as that Word of God that made the Jews crucify Him. It was the confession that Jesus is Lord that drove the early Christians from the synagogue, for the Jews understood that "Jesus is Lord" meant "Jesus is Jahweh!" The Christian confession of Christ is that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, in the flesh. And He has come among us. That is what Advent is about.
Jesus is the One who will judge, and Jesus is the One who rules even now, and Jesus is the One who will create peace. Isaiah is predicting the Church in this passage, the kingdom of Grace where Jesus creates peace, and men beat their weapons into tools of productive enterprise. Jesus will judge between nations, and render decisions. Not later, but now.
And all that Isaiah prophesies here is for the purpose that Jesus may teach us His ways. This means that we might come to know God, and His good will toward us, and depend on Him and find our refuge in Him, and seek security and encouragement in Him.
It is important to note that Isaiah ends this wonderful promise of comfort and peace with the invitation and exhortation, Come, 0 house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. He invites us to live from our faith, in the light of what we know and what we believe about God and about sin, and about salvation, and about His will for us!
Where are we to turn in times of change? We are to take refuge in the Mountain of the Lord. Where are we to go in times of anxiety and uncertainty? We are to flee to the Mountain of the Lord. We are to answer every fear and every threat of the world and of life by faith. We need to learn to pray. We need to learn and then believe that He is active in our lives and in our world. Things aren't out of control, but He rules on our behalf. He judges even the nations and renders decision between people. He watches and protects you.
And His purpose is peace - your peace. That peace is built on the confidence that Jesus is here and is with you in times of trouble and change and uncertainty. Jesus spoke through Isaiah to the Old Testament people to comfort them with this prophecy of the day to come in the last days. It should comfort us even more now, as we realize we live in those last days when the mountain of the Lord has been raised up, when God Himself is teaching us, and drawing people unto Himself
Those days are no longer merely future, but now. Even though the world is changing, and events are frightening, we can have peace through faith in Jesus Christ, who saved us for eternal life, and also for life in this age!
Come, o house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Thursday, December 07, 2023
The Mountain of the Lord