A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 12, 2010 by Pastor Dale Raether Don’t Be Afraid, Watch!  Isaiah 35:1-11Are you in a Christmas mood yet?  I know children are.  They’ve picked out the toys they hope to get, and they know they have a pretty good chance of getting at least some of them.  So it’s all good, unless one of their presents is pink bunny PJs.  What about us, adults, do we share our children’s enthusiasm for Christmas?  We should, but it’s not easy this year.   There’s a lot of bad stuff going on, and it’s like we’re walking around waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Also, as Christians, we know the other shoe could be huge.  We have Jesus’ warning that as we get closer to the end the love of most will grow cold, and we’re seeing that, aren’t we.  Another grave concern is how our whole culture is promoting sin and attacking Christianity.  And so we wonder, how long before the wars, disease, and famines Jesus also warned us about will hit?  So, with all of this in the back of our minds, how can we have a Merry Christmas?  How can we get back to being hopeful like children?  The answer is in our text this morning.  God says, I want to emphasize that God is saying this to us: Don’t Be Afraid, Watch! The Old Testament believers were in almost the same situation we’re in today.  They were seeing the beginning of God’s judgment on Israel.  The Assyrians had already destroyed the capital of the northern 10 tribes, and now 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were marching toward Jerusalem.  Can you imagine how frightening that was?  If Jerusalem fell, able body men would be executed, women and the elderly would be left with no way to support themselves, and children would be taken as slaves.  This threat could not have been more real.  Yet before the Assyrians got there, God told His people through Isaiah, “Don’t be afraid, watch!” Anyway, the Assyrians arrive.  They surround the city.  The Assyrian king mocks God – huge mistake!  And a few days later the angel of death went through the Assyrian camp.  All 185,000 soldiers died.  Do you see how quickly God can turn things around?  A few years ago when things were booming, all the pie-in-the-sky analysts were sure it would always be that way, but they were forgetting the Lord.  Now things are rough, and those same analysts have all become doom and gloom-ers; but again, they’re forgetting the Lord.  My encouragement to you is – remember the Lord, and so don’t be afraid, watch!   But what if the Lord isn’t going to turn things around anymore?  What if this is it and we’re in the middle of the devil’s last hurrah before Jesus comes again?  Even if we are, don’t be afraid, watch!  Let me share with you more of what going on in our text.  Isaiah had also warned that in the future, the Babylonians would come, and at that time God would not spare the city.  It would be destroyed and its people taken to Babylon.  However, Isaiah also showed how those who would have to go through that could be comforted.  They were to look past the destruction and focus on the restoration, which God promised would be 70 years later. By the way, God kept His promise.  70 years after Jerusalem fell, God caused Babylon to fall to the Persians, and the Persian King, whose name was Cyrus, ordered that the Jews return to their home and even financed the cost of rebuilding the Temple.  Now all of this, including Cyrus’s name, God prophesied in Isaiah before Babylon existed, before Persia existed, and certainly before Cyrus was born.  But getting back to the people of Jerusalem.  When the Babylonians came, they were not to be afraid, rather they were to keep watching as God kept His promises.  We read in our text, “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.  Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.  The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God – Isaiah 35:1-2.”  If you’ve seen any pictures from Iraq, you know what the land between Babylon and Jerusalem looks like.  It’s a desert.  In our text Lebanon was known for its forests, and Carmel and Sharon were famous for their lush valleys.  God was going to make the desert between Babylon or Iraq and Jerusalem like them, so that His people would have easy travel going back home.  However, this was not to be taken literally.  It’s symbolic how God was going to take care of them along the way.   Reading on in our text, “And those the LORD has rescued will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away – Isaiah 35:10.”  This is kind of literal.  We can imagine the joy the Israelites had when they got back to their homeland after 70 years.  But this is also symbolic, because their homes were not in the greatest shape anymore.  And so the real joy would come with two future occasions.  The first would be Jesus’ first coming.  Imagine the joy the shepherds and the wise men had when Jesus was born.  Or imagine the joy the blind, the deaf, and the lame had when Jesus would heal them. The second occasion, which would bring them joy, was when Jesus would return.  Our text reads, “Say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,  he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you – Isaiah 35:4.”   The believers then and us today get fed up with how the wicked always seem to have their way.  That’s going to end when Jesus comes the second time, and all the bad guys are going to be in a lot of trouble.   Our reaction might be, “good”, because if we want justice, our holy God wants it even more, and then we’ll be forever safe from them.  On the other hand this verse might lead us to ask God to give the world a little more time, because there are still more people we hope to reach.  Yet God knows the best time for His return; and so all of us, let’s make the most of whatever time is left.     Anyway getting back to verse 10 in our text, “They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away – Isaiah 35:10.”  As I had said, this pictures the shepherds’ and the wise men’s joy.  But it also pictures the believer’s joy as he enters heaven.  Especially it pictures our joy when all of us together see the new earth for the first time, which God will create for us.  It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it.  But this is the answer to how we get through the last days, if indeed these are the last days.   Don’t be afraid, but watch as God does all that He has promised.   Or let me put it another way.  When we see bad, look past the bad to the good God is preparing for us.  If we do that, we will regain a child’s Christmas joy and hope.  But we might say, “The future looks super, but I don’t want to go through what’s between then and now.  Our text has the answer to that too, “Don’t be afraid, watch!”  Let’s look again at verse two.  “They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God – Isaiah 35:2.”  The glory of the Lord had special meaning for Old Testament believers.  Here is an artist’s rendition of what the glory of the Lord looked like for the Children of Israel when they were in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land.  You might recall how the Glory of the Lord protected God’s people from Pharoah’s army.  It kept them back until all the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, and then the Glory of the Lord allowed the Egyptian enter the Red Sea, and you know what happened next.  Incidentally this was the first time when God had told his people, “Don’t be afraid, watch.”   Our text is the second time.  When His people saw the Babylonians coming as bad as that was, they were not to be afraid, because if the Glory of the Lord was going to protect them on their way home from Babylon, the Glory of the Lord would certainly be protecting them on their way to Babylon and for their 70 years there.  The same is true for us, even if these are the last days.  The Glory of the Lord will protect us.  We read, “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way.  The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there – Isaiah 35:8-9.”  Does the phrase, “the way of holiness” ring a bell for you?  In the Book of Acts, before unbelievers made fun of believers by calling them Christians, believers called themselves “followers of the way.”  What we have here in our text is a picture of the New Testament church.  The Glory of the Lord is protecting His church.  In fact here is a new artist’s rendition of what the Glory of the Lord looks like.  It’s a picture of Jesus.  Jesus is with us, and this is why we don’t have to be afraid.  He’s going to keep us totally safe from the lion, which represents the devil and also anti-Christian governments.  They will keep attacking us.  But Jesus will win, so don’t be afraid, watch!   However there is something in the verse I just read that may concern us.  As I said, this is describing the Holy Christian Church, but notice, fools and the wicked aren’t allowed in.  Oops.  I’ve done some foolish things in my life, and when I look at my heart, I see some wickedness too.  If you have to say the same thing about yourself, don’t be afraid, watch!  In the Word watch Jesus living a holy life for you.  In the Word see Jesus dying in our place on the cross.  Or, in your baptism, see Jesus covering you with the robes of His righteousness.  So, don’t be afraid of between now and when you will watch Jesus creating the new earth.  The Glory of the Lord will protect you.   So, are you getting back to the joy of child as you think about Christmas?  You know, why shouldn’t we?  God can turn things around very quickly.  God is preparing some amazing presents for us.  And God is taking care of us until He give them to us.  Half the world may have their heads stuck in the sand the other half is running around screaming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”  But we, Christians, have a better way of dealing with things.  Watch and wait.  But while we’re watching and waiting let’s witness to the world that we’re not afraid.  Let’s buy fun presents for each others.  Let’s go to parties together.  Let’s wish each other, “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”  And whenever we can, let’s tell them why – Our Savior is coming!  Amen.

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