A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on January 17, 2010 by Pastor Dale Raether The Lord Delights in His Church Isaiah 62:1-5 In parts of Africa when a young man wants to marry a girl, he’ll pay the girl’s father one cow. The December Forward in Christ magazine tells of a girl, for whom no one was willing to pay a cow. Maybe she wasn’t pretty or didn’t have a fun personality. Who knows? Anyway one day a man unexpectedly insisted on giving her father 10 cows for her hand in marriage. On her wedding day no bride ever beamed more brightly. She instantly went from a “nobody” to the most distinguished woman in the village, because she was a 10-cow bride. You husbands, do you think of your wife as a 10-cow bride? Or, if the church is the bride of Christ, in the eyes of God are we 10-cow believers? In thinking about this, we know God isn’t interested in the mere outward beauty of good works. God looks at the heart. Yet what’s in our heart also needs to shine through in our lives, for example, in how we treat our family or manage our time and talents. Unfortunately, when we examine ourselves as we do before taking the Lord’s Supper we realize we don’t always beam with God’s love. Does this fact cause God to be less than in love with us? Our text this morning answers that. The Lord delights in His Church. 1. He has restored us to glory. 2. He protects and strengthens our faith. In Isaiah’s day Jerusalem’s glory needed restoring. When their nation was born, the land was flowing with milk and honey. It took two guys and a pole to carry one cluster of grapes. Israel was also visibly protected by God. Think for example of the crossing at the Red Sea or the walls of Jericho falling down. Best of all, Israel had the prophets, the temple, and the sacrifices that pointed to the coming Savior. Israel was truly glorious! She was like an oasis in a sin-darkened world; and it was unimaginable to believers then that this could ever change. But it did. Israel abandoned the Lord for the sake of idols she could see with her eyes and for sinful pleasures that everyone else was enjoying. As a result, God let Israel go. Her land turned into a wasteland; she was overrun by one foreign invader after another. But worst of all, no one was teaching children the ways of the Lord – not the parents, not the church. So, how could Israel get turned around? Well, it wasn’t going to happen by the strength of their efforts. Isaiah wrote in verses after our text, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags – Isaiah 64:6.” Do we see America in the above description? Do we see ourselves? God has given us many calls to repent just like He did for Israel. A case in point is that earthquake in Haiti or the economic problems our country is having. God wants all of us to examine our hearts and lives to see what things are truly important and what are we here for. However, to truly change and follow through on everything we say we want, how do we do that? New Year’s resolutions and good intentions won’t cut it. That’s like trying to wash ourselves off with mud. Nevertheless the Lord delights in us and is determined that we be His 10-cow bride. Our text reads, “For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch – Isaiah 62:1.” Jerusalem represents the church. The Lord’s heart is ready to explode with determination to make us as holy as He is, so that our righteousness will shine like the sun and everyone can see that we are saved. However, God would do this, not by simply beefing up our own righteousness, but by sending His Son. So, mentally make a list of the most disgusting kind of sinners you can think of – perhaps murders, child-molesters, addicts who steal and manipulate, or just self-righteous hypocrites. For their sakes, God’s Son lived among such people (He lived in Israel). Yet Jesus never once gave into sin or failed to see these people as people God wanted to love. Now that’s righteousness, and that’s the righteousness God credits to sinners. However, God is also just and could not simply ignore those big sins or even our “little” ones. And so God’s Son washed the world clean with the blood of His own perfect life. As a result, in God’s eyes we ARE glorious. But how do we know this? We don’t always see righteousness in God’s people, and often our own hearts feel guilty. How can we know, then, that God has restored us to glory? Because He promised! In our Baptism He promised that our sins are washed. In His Word He promises that our sins are forgiven. In the Lord’s Supper He promises that He remembers our sins no more. So, if some of your thoughts even have put you on your own list of most disgusting sinners, what will you believe about yourself? Will you believe God’s promises that your righteousness is shining like the sun? His promises are true! But what if we’re among those who have trouble believing? I mean, we know what the Word says with our heads, but maybe we don’t always feel it and so our life isn’t always beaming with 10-cow joy? The good news is because God delights in us, He’s bursting with determination to strengthen our faith. We read, “You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God – Isaiah 62:3.” The righteousness of Jesus God gives us faith makes us like a jeweled studded crown to His glory. However, in our text, why isn’t God wearing His crown, why is He just holding it? Well, the Lord IS ruling. He said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” But when something is very precious and we want others to see it, we will hold it tightly in our hands. In the same way, God keeps us in the world, but He also says about us, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand – John 10:27-28.” In our Wednesday Bible class we happened to be talking about one of the ways God holds us tightly. He disciplines us. He allows or sends challenges into our life and then uses them to wake us up. As a result we may see some wrong directions in our life that need changing, or we may realize we’re starting to rely on ourselves instead of on Him. But then in the blackness of our challenges, God shows us the light of His burning love for us. Each time we go through this process, our faith becomes a little stronger. And maybe we’ll even get to the point someday where we thank God for our challenges, because we can see how He’s blessing us through them. But perhaps some of you are thinking right now that you got this one forever problem you will never thank God for. Well, God doesn’t hate you for feeling that way. He delights in you. But that’s why His decisions about our life are always perfect; and as soon as it’s truly good for you, He will answer your prayer and will end your trouble. Until then, He’ll never let go of you.We read, “No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married - Isaiah 62:4.” As I had mentioned earlier, things were bad in Israel and kept getting worse. Finally God would give His people over to be slaves in Babylon, and the land would become deserted and desolate. But 70 years later a few descendents would come back and rebuild the temple. However this new temple wasn’t nearly as glorious as the one the Babylonians had been destroyed. Still for 400 years believers from all over the world go there to worship, and then God’s Son Himself came there – and they murdered Him! Did you ever hear the phrase, “He’s the kind of son only a mother could love”? Sometimes the church on earth is a church only God could love. He does love the church, in fact He delighted in the church for Jesus’ sake. Hephzibah means “my joy is in her.” Beulah means married. The Hebrew thought here is, “I care so deeply about you that I am unwilling to not have you in my life.” We read on in our text, “As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you – Isaiah 62:5.” This verse is hard to translate, but there’s that word marry again and being unwilling to not have someone in your life. When we firmly believe this is how God feels about us, that is how we will feel about others. Or, just as a bride is precious to the groom, so in the church each believer is precious to every other believer, and no one is to be dismissed as unimportant or needing too many improvements to be bothered with. Instead we will take words and actions in the kindest possible way, because we’re all growing and none of us are there yet. Also, we will do everything we can to protect each other’s faith by in love rebuking, correcting, and training in the Word, so thatthe whole body of Christ may glorify God in the world. But some might say, “I don’t have the gifts for to do that!” In a sense we don’t! Yet God gives each Christian different gifts at different times in his/her life, so let’s use them! Also, don’t judge if you are a 10-cow believer by your gifts, or what you think you’re accomplishing with them. Just remember that God’s heart is bursting with determination for you, that your heart may be bursting with determination for others. And when that happens, our text says, God rejoices over us. Isn’t this amazing – that the God of all creation would rejoice over us! I hope that 10-cow bride in Africa never lost her amazement at how much she was loved. God protect us that we never lose our amazement over how much He loves us – and now may He help us to show our amazement to His unending dazzling glory! Amen.

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