How is it going to turn out? You can look around the world today in a number of places and wonder about that question. Russia is acting like it is 1970 and the Cold War is on. It seized the Crimea from the Ukraine and is now fighting a proxy war in the eastern Ukraine. Those actions are a blue print for what could be attempted in the Baltic states that it longs to reclaim – nations that are now part of NATO.
Iran continues to make progress on acquiring a nuclear weapon and the missile technology to strike Israel with it. Their leadership has a bizarre apocalyptic theology that makes such a strike seem rational to them – yet it would draw the US into a Middle East conflagration.
China continues to assert itself and build up its military. They have created man made islands as military bases in the area of the Spratly Islands and now claim a large portion of the South China Sea. Chineese and US interests conflict. Will the day arrive when China decides a military move against the United States is necessary?
And then there is North Korea. The nation’s leader Kim Jong-un’s appearance and rhetoric would be comical – if he didn’t have the military firepower to reduce Seoul, South Korea into a heap of rubble in an afternoon. North Korea already possesses nuclear weapons and is working to develop missiles capable of striking the U.S. We don’t want a seemingly unhinged despot to have that ability, but there are no real options to stop it that don’t entail a second war on the Korean peninsula – and the first one what quite enough.
The prophet Isaiah wrote at a time in the eighth century B.C. when people were also asking how it was going to turn out. They had just finished almost fifty years of peace and prosperity. Both the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern one of Judah had one king during that time – something completely unparalleled in their history. The great powers in the Near East were weak or distracted, and Israel and Judah had flourished.
But now, Judah’s king Uzziah had died. And in Mesopotamia the Assyrian Empire was obviously a rising storm that was going to burst upon Palestine. Syria and Israel wanted to rally the nations of the area in an alliance to fight the Assyrians, but Judah wouldn’t join. So the two nations attacked Judah.
Yahweh sent Isaiah to speak with King Ahaz, the ruler of Judah. He delivered this message about the threat to Judah: “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” But Ahaz did not trust Yahweh. Instead, he tried to solve things on his own. He appealed to the Assyrians for help.
Our text concludes the first portion of Isaiah’s prophecy. And here, Isaiah talks about the end – about how it is all going to turn out. For those who trust and believe in Yahweh, it is a happy ending. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be happy every step of the way. It’s not, because of the nation’s sin.
Isaiah begins our text by saying, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.’” The prophet starts by saying that God had been angry with them. He had been angry because of their sin and unfaithfulness. Isaiah had begun his prophecy by saying, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: ‘Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master's crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand."
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken Yahweh, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.’”
The people were worshipping other gods and ignoring the Torah. They weren’t concerned. After all, things were going great. Isaiah condemned them saying, “They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD, or see the work of his hands.”
We are no different. In the midst of plenty we turn away from God and his Word and put other things first. There are after all standards that need to be maintained – assumptions about the comfort that our life must have. And naturally we can’t be satisfied to rest with those – we want more; we want better. We covet what others have because they have more; they have better.
There is leisure that we must have. There are trips with friends and trips with family that we must take. There are youth sports that require our weekends and Sunday mornings. There are youth activities that do the same. Naturally, these all must come first. And a Thursday night in May for the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord? We’ll either be too busy, or we will need to rest from all our busyness. We can’t be expected to take time for that – after all, it’s just the exaltation of the Son of God after he humbled himself to save us.
God’s people sinned and God applied law – he judged them. He humbled them because of their sin in order to bring them to repentance. He sent the Assyrians who conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and took them away into exile. In the sixth century B.C. he sent the Babylonians who conquered the southern kingdom of Judah and took them into exile.
Yet he also promised to return them from exile. In Isaiah’s prophecy, almost two hundred years before it happened, he even announced the instrument through which God would do this: Cyrus. Yahweh did it in 538 B.C. And indeed, this is included the words of our text: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that Yahweh is exalted.”
Yet Isaiah chapter 12 is also the culmination of a series of texts in Isaiah that tell us this deed points forward to something more. It points to a greater salvation. Isaiah tells us in these chapters that the Lord will give a sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. It points to the child, the son descended from David upon whose shoulder will be the government and whose name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Though exile will make David’s royal line look like the stump of a tree cut down, out of that stump there shall come forth a shoot, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
Indeed, “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” He will bring about the time when he wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat.
The return from exile prophesied by Isaiah pointed forward to the salvation that God would provide through Jesus Christ. Isaiah says in our text, “You will say in that day: ‘I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
“That day” is now. God has turned away his anger at your sin. He did this by turning it away from you and toward Jesus. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. And because God the Father did this to Jesus in your place, Isaiah’s words from the first chapter are now true for you: "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
We know because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. That is why we can trust in God and not be afraid. That is why we carry out Isaiah’s words: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.” We tell others about the God’s saving deeds in Christ so that they too may be saved.
Isaiah’s call occurred in the year that King Uzziah died. He found himself in the presence of Yahweh, the king on the throne. He heard the seraphim singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” And his reaction was to say, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” The sense of his sin overwhelmed him when in the presence of the holy God.
Yet now, Isaiah says in the last verse of our text, “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” The presence of the Holy One of Israel in their midst is now a source of joy. This is because Jesus Christ has taken away our sin. God has made holy in his sight through baptism and faith.
We continue to rejoice in God’s presence, as the incarnate Son of God is present in our midst through the Sacrament of the Altar. He is present in his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Through this food he nourishes us in faith so that we can trust in God and not be afraid.
We can do so, because through Jesus Christ God has already shown us how things turn out. “That day” mentioned in the first verse of our text is now. But it is also not yet. It hasn’t happened fully for us. But through Jesus Christ, God has begun that Last Day. He began it in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We know the end because we have seen in it Jesus.
The end is what Isaiah describes later in chapter twenty five where he says, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken”
And then we learn what will be said on that day – what we will say: "Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."