We don’t really think about water. If you want some, you go to the faucet and there it is. If you are going to be outside doing something, you take a bottle of water. It’s there all the time. It’s no big deal.
In our area, the only time we probably think about water is if we get too much of it. When we have a period of very heavy rain, the drainage capacity in the Marion area gets pushed to the limit. It’s not unusual to see water covering the intersection of Main and Court streets. The little creek behind church becomes swollen and fast flowing. I am told that before major work was done on the drainage just west of Market street, the water would overflow the creek into the church parking lot and push up towards the sidewalk. Apparently on occasion it even reached the church.
Things were very different in ancient Israel. They thought about water all the time. Life was based mainly on agriculture and the herding of animals. You need water for both of those. To the east was arid land and then desert. Israel was inside the zone where the climate made agriculture possible – but not by all that much. The land received sufficient water to produce, but it was also just enough. An extended dry period could quickly become a problem.
For this reason, Israelites were very attuned to the value and importance of water. They paid attention to it. And so it is not surprising that water provides important imagery and language in the Old Testament. We hear an example of this in our Old Testament lesson today as Isaiah writes, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Isaiah speaks about food in our text. In doing so, he is continuing a theme that he began at the start of the chapter. There he wrote: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Yahweh calls the people to come to him and be satisfied. He warns them against spending money and effort on that which can’t do this. Of course, he is talking about more than just food. He is referring to the orientation of life. Is life going to be directed towards God and living according to his word – his Torah? Or is it going to be turned away from God and towards other things? Is life going to be lived in pursuit of idols of every size, shape and form?
Martin Luther reminds us that the thing in which you put your trust is your god. The thing you value most; the thing towards which you devote the most effort; the thing that gives you purpose, meaning and security – that is your real god.
The eighth century B.C. had been a really good century so far – and that was part of the problem. Things were good - and Judah and Israel were pursuing everything except God. If that sounds familiar, it should. We live at a time of unparalleled wealth and leisure. It defines the way we think about life. And it creates gods – every kind of god except the true One.
The answer to this problem was simple. God says, “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” Yahweh tells the people to listen to him, for to listen to God - to pay attention to him – is to come to him.
Isaiah extends this call by addressing it to the people as one of repentance. Just before our text he writes: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
God’s word through Isaiah continues to address us today. He calls us to identify the false gods in our lives – those things we put before God. He tells us to confess this sin; to turn away from it; and to turn towards God. The prophet announces that God will have compassion and that “he will abundantly pardon.”
Now if we are honest, that seems surprising. Because pardoning and forgiving is not what the world does. It’s not even what we want to do. Instead our natural inclination is to get pay back; to get revenge. We want to stick it to them, just like they did to us. We may react verbally and strike back. Or we may look for the opportunity when we can really get them.
But that’s not the way God works. That’s not how he does things. Instead, he wants to pardon. He wants to forgive. In the verse just before our text we hear: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
We often quote this verse when we are talking about how God’s ways are beyond our understanding. He is God and we are not. We can’t grasp what he is doing in the world and the way he does it. We just have to admit this when we see things that don’t make sense to us.
Now that is certainly true. But here the text really has a much more specific focus. The manner in which we see that God’s thoughts and ways are not ours, and are higher than ours, is that he wants to forgive you. He’s not just saying that, like you and I sometimes do because we know we have to. He really does think that way. He really does mean it.
And he has demonstrated it by doing something. He sent his Son into our world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Earlier we heard God speak of “my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.” God sent the promised descendant of David - the Messiah - to offer himself on the cross in our place. Though without sin, Jesus Christ became sin for us and received the judgment our sin deserved by his suffering and death. And then God defeated death as he raised Jesus up on the third day.
This is what God has done because he wants to forgive sinners. In our text, God goes on to say why repentant sinners can be certain about this forgiveness and salvation. He says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God declares that he sends forth his word to deliver forgiveness to repentant sinners and this word never fails. The word of the Gospel always does what God wants it to do as it gives forgiveness to those who confess they need it.
God’s Word does not fail. It creates and strengthens faith in the crucified and risen Lord. It delivers the forgiveness he has won. When added to water it turns that water into the located means by which we die with Christ and receive the guarantee of sharing in his resurrection on the Last Day. When added to bread and wine in the consecration of the Sacrament of Altar it gives us the body and blood of Christ given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
And the result is joy – joy in the knowledge that we are the forgiven children of God; that we are saints. The result is peace – the peace of knowing we are justified now – the same verdict that will be spoken on the Last Day. We hear at the end of our text, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
We go forth from this place; we go forth in life with joy because God’s ways are not our ways – he wants to forgive. We do so because he has acted on this by giving his Son, Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for our sin. We do so because the word that he sends forth does not fail to give forgiveness to us.
Yet this joy in forgiveness does not stop with us. It cannot. It surges forth from us in two ways. First, the forgiveness God has given us in Christ Jesus is the forgiveness we want all people to receive. This Gospel is something that we share with others as we tell them what God has done in Jesus Christ to give us forgiveness and salvation.
And second, the forgiveness God gives to us is the forgiveness we pass on to others – the forgiveness we give to others when they wrong us. As he speaks about the forgiveness he wants to provide, God says in this chapter, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This is true. But the Holy Spirit has made us a new creation in Christ. Through the work of the Spirit we begin to think in God’s ways because of Christ. God’s word gives us the forgiveness won by Jesus. God word is also the means by which the Spirit transforms us so that we can forgive others even as God has forgiven us. God’s word gives us forgiveness. God’s word enables us to forgive others. This is God’s will and purpose. And as God says in our text today: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”