A sermon by John T. Pless delivered Tuesday in Epiphany I, 12 January 2010, at Kramer Chapel of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sermon text: Isaiah 43:8-13.
I think that Isaiah must have read Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will. They do sound a like. If you are troubled with Luther’s assertions about God working all things out of His divine necessity, then you cannot but find Isaiah’s portrayal of the Lord’s epiphany as anything but offensive for here God asserts that He alone is the Lord. He puts the peoples of earth on trial, inviting them to enter into disputation with Him. This is the God who determines the rise and fall of nations. This is the Lord declares that that there is no Savior beside Himself. He is the God who does His work and none can deliver from His hand or overturn what He has accomplished.
We get jittery and protest anything that sounds like determinism because it puts us out of control. Root of the problem is that we think we are more reliable, more trustworthy than God Himself. I don’t know if God can be trusted but I can trust myself. Pro-choice is not just a political slogan; it describes the old Adam. We are all pro-choice! We insist on having our say, making our choice, and exercising our free will. We might be persuaded to deliver our lives into God’s hands, but God’s absolute insistence that He is God in all that He does robs us of the freedom to do things our way. Instead we are bound and determined make a god that we can live with, a tamed deity who knows his place and will not interfere with our precious freedom.
But such a God is not the Lord who is made manifest in Isaiah’s preaching. This is the God who says “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no Savior. Isaiah knew what the Apostle Paul would later write in his first letter to the Corinthians that an idol has no real existence and although “there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth as there are indeed many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords” – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord Jesus Christ through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (I Cor. 8:5-6).
Gods and lords abound. One need not look only to Hindu temples well populated with idols fashioned by hearts and hands. There are the counterfeit gods cranked out by our hearts, that idol-factory as Calvin called it. No mass production, no one-size fits all here. This idol-factory is creative and imaginative, specializing in custom order gods.
It is not enough to speak of our culture’s false gods or to smugly critique atheisms old or new. Enshrined in our own hearts of darkness is the will in bondage to itself, enslaved to the notion of its own lordship. Such a lord might do many things. It might inflate your self-esteem or give you a reason to live. It might motivate, inspire, and empower you for an ethical life and it is not unlikely that it has the power to make you feel good about yourself. But make no mistake about it; such a god can never be a Savior. Live with such a god and you will be at the mercy of its future and you will suffer its fate.
There is only One who can announce “I am the Lord, and besides me there is no Savior.”
He is the One who stands in Jordan’s stream and of whom the Father says “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Here is the Lord who determines your future with a certainty that does not terrify but gives consolation in His good and gracious will. His future is your future. His cross is your cross. His resurrection is your resurrection. His baptism is your baptism. His sonship is Your sonship for in Him you are a child and heir of His Father. This Lord has done for you just what Isaiah promised. He has redeemed you by His blood and called you by name. You are His. You did not choose Him; He elected you to be His own in time and for eternity.
The First Commandment forecloses on all other gods for God is a jealous Lord; He will share you with no other. Having this Jesus as your Lord, you have the only God you need. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.
Prof. John T. Pless+