Sermon for 12.11.22 “Vengeance and joy”


Text: Isaiah 35:1–10

Theme: Vengeance and Joy
Other Lessons: Psalm 146; James 5:7–11; Matthew 11:2–15

A. In the Name of the Father…Amen.
B. The Old Testament lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
C. Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our heavenly Father through
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
D. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
1. O Lord, help us not to put our trust in people, but in You alone.
Forgive us for mistreating others and for looking down on people different
from ourselves. Thank You for keeping all of Your promises through Christ.

A. It says something that national parks and other recreation areas require
backpackers to get a wilderness permit before setting out.
1. When you head into the wilderness, you’re not only going off the grid,
but you’re leaving behind the safety—to say nothing of the conveniences—of
subdivision and suburbia or city or small town.
2. For example, it also says quite a lot when this is the last sign you
read as you leave the trailhead:
A. “Most recent mountain lion sighting . . . yesterday.”
B. And the sign proceeds to give you instructions like, “Hold small
children on your shoulders to protect them and to look as tall and menacing
as possible” and
C. “Carry stones to throw if you see a lion.”
B. The wilderness is a dangerous place.
1. Especially if you run out of water or darkness falls or you simply get
2. Even a seasoned hiker can suddenly feel helpless.
3. Suddenly your self-reliance evaporates and you realize you need someone
to bail you out, to rescue you.
4. Our text today uses “wilderness” as:
A. a metaphor,
B. an illustration, for many things you and I experience that are anything
but illustrations, metaphors, picture language
C. things we live with that are very, very real.
D. Tragic things.
E. Painful things.
F. Dangerous things.
G. But the point of the text is that in a very real way, Christ’s coming
delivers us from all those things.
H. As the prophet Isaiah puts it, God Will Come with Vengeance to Bring
Life to the Wilderness.
I. Life in the wilderness is dangerous.
A. Wilderness well illustrates what truly is the difficult reality of life
in a fallen world.
1. Isaiah pictures burning sand, a haunt of jackals, lions, and ravenous
2. God’s Old Testament people had experienced these challenges very
literally as they traveled through the wilderness.
A. Commentary on verses 1–2:
1. “Wilderness” (midbar) calls to mind many things for the people of God in
the Old Testament.
A. It is a place of danger (Exodus 14:3) populated by deadly animals
(Deuteronomy 8:15),
B. where water is scarce (Exodus 15:22) and crops do not grow.
C. It is easy to get lost in the wilderness (Psalm 107:4–5).
D. But the wilderness is also where God’s people learn to trust
(Deuteronomy 8:1–3).
2. In the wilderness:
A. God carried them (Deuteronomy 1:31),
B. fed them (Exodus 16:1–36),
C. and gave them water (Exodus 17:1–7; Numbers 20:1–11).
3. In the wilderness, God seeks people, guards and cares for them, and
lifts them up (Deuteronomy 32:10–14).
B. This dangerous and desolate place (the wilderness) will be glad and
1. Notice that here Isaiah does not say the people of God will rejoice in
the wilderness, but that the wilderness itself will rejoice.
2. All creation will praise its Creator.
3. These verses reminds us that God is “the author of all joy,” for only
God could make desert places rejoice (John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah:
Chapters 1–39 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986], 622).

C. Our own “wildernesses” of different kinds we also know very literally.
1. Some are our personal guilt or shame.
2. But many dangers we encounter simply because the whole world is sinful.
3. Some of these are physical (cancer, aches and pains)
4. others are relational, (son against mother, father against daughter,
5. still others are mental or emotional (depression, anxiety, dementia,
6. These are all serious dangers that come with traveling through this
wilderness, our sinful world.
7. You know what your own struggles are, what your wilderness feels like.
8. Or perhaps it’s difficult even for you to name them yourself.
9. In any case, our sufferings in this fallen world, in this wilderness,
are real, and we need deliverance, we long for rescue.
II. God promises to come into the wilderness with life-restoring vengeance.
A. Christ’s coming will make all things right again.
1. Visualize what Isaiah wants us to see
2. Verses 1–2, 5–7
(1) The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall
rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
(2) it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The
glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God.
(5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf
(6) then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute
sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the
(7) the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs
of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall
become reeds and rushes.
3. The wilderness itself will flow and flower.
A. The sufferers of personal “wildernesses” will rejoice in health and
4. These promises were fulfilled in part during Jesus’ life and ministry.
A. Jesus points this out to John’s messengers in today’s Gospel (Matthew
11:4–5) when he says:
(4) And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
(5) the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed
and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news
preached to them.
5. But they will be fully realized when Jesus returns in glory on the Last
A. At that time, he will restore all of creation—including life, health,
and joy to each of us.
B. The heart of Isaiah’s promise, however, is this: “Those who have an
anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with
vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’ ” (verse
1. Notice, first, God will come with vengeance.
A. He will exercise vengeance on his enemies:
1. sin,
2. death,
3. and the devil (and those who remain in league with them).
4. For them, the promise of vengeance is obviously not good news.
2. But we are no longer God’s enemies!
A. Christ Jesus coming and going to the cross has reconciled us to God.
B. We have been baptized into his death.
C. We believe in Jesus—which is why you came to worship this week!
D. God’s vengeance against his enemies is good news for God’s people
because it means relief and rescue.
3. Because Christ’s death has reconciled us to God, he is with us in all
our wildernesses.
A. Physical pains–God is with you.
B. Relational problems–God is with you.
C. Emotional issues–God is with you.
D. Mental distress–God is with you.
C. It may seem a little odd to think of God’s vengeance as we prepare to
celebrate Christmas. After all, the image of a babe in the manger hardly
elicits fear or trembling. But this baby is no ordinary baby.
1. Not only would he reign over sin, death, and the devil in his life and
2. Even more, he would reign over these enemies in his resurrection from
the dead and in his session at the right hand of the Father.
3. For now, his reign is hidden to us
Hebrews 2:8
(8) putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting
everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At
present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
4. But when he returns, his reign will be visible for all to see as he
restores his beloved creation for the rejoicing of his redeemed people.
III. Our celebration of Christmas invites us to rejoice in advance of
Jesus’ return.
A. Isaiah frames our text with this invitation to rejoice in the coming of
the Messiah.
1. He begins with the wilderness itself rejoicing (verses 1–2) and ends
with the people of God gathering together in “everlasting joy” (verse 10).
2. This is much more than the shallow and super­ficial feelings that
characterize many Christmas music playlists.
3. Instead, Christian joy is the natural response of the people of God who
are beginning to enjoy the fruits of a creation that will be restored to
B. Picture how different this coming joy will be from the world in which we
live now!
1. Unlike today, there will be no more “sighing” and no more “sorrow”
(verse 10).
2. There will be:
A. no more weak hands or feeble knees (verse 3),
B. no more blindness, deafness, lameness, or muteness (verses 5–6).
C. no more thirst and no ravenous beasts to devour us (verses 7, 9).
3. Instead, the people of God will gather in the city of God in joy and
gladness forever.
C. At its best, Christmas provides a hint, a glimpse of this joyful
condition, but these are always only partial and temporary.
1. We can (and we should) give thanks for these moments of rejoicing,
especially during this holy season.
2. But these glimpses are ultimately only a dim pre­view of the fullness of
rejoicing that will arrive and remain with the return of Jesus.
IV. Together as a congregation, and individually in our respective
vocations, we proclaim this promise to encourage those who remain weak and
A. Verse 4
“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you’ “.
1. Yes, Isaiah says to us, “Say it!”
2. Those who are:
A. anxious,
B. weak,
C. suffering
D. tell them that in Christ, God has come and will come again in vengeance
. . . to bring life to their wildernesses, to save them!
B. All Christians of every station are called to proclaim God’s saving
1. Luther called this the “mutual conversation and consolation of brethren”
(Smalcald Article, Article III, paragraph IV).
2. This takes place outside of worship, in our daily lives, as ordinary
Christians speak the promises of Christ to one another.
3. These promises encourage the people of God.
A. The joy of those whose rejoicing has begun is contagious.

A. Imagine for a moment what it looks like to share this joy with others.
B. It’s a delight to share joyful news with others.
1. Every couple who’s shared the news of a healthy birth can relate.
2. Every teenager who’s just overperformed on a final exam here at the end
of the semester and raised their grade to an A knows the feeling. Every
recent graduate who got the job and the honor of calling their parents to
tell them their investment paid off has experienced the thrill.
C. But of all those who get to share good news, it may be the surgeon who
is most privileged.
1. Imagine this situation:
A. The wife of a fifty-three-year-old man waits on pins and needles for the
emergency heart surgery to end.
B. The last time she saw her husband of twenty-eight years was as he lay on
the floor of their dining room after collapsing without warning.
C. The surgery lasts much longer than she expected.
D. Finally, after what seems to be eternity, she looks up to see the
surgeon walking toward her.
E. He invites her into a private room.
F. She searches his face for clues and braces for the worst.
G. Removing his mask, he tells her that the surgery was a success and they
were able to save her husband’s life.
H. They expect a full recovery.
I. She collapses into his arms with joy and thanksgiving and relief.
D. It was the bleak and depressing outlook that makes the good news so
1. The surgeon shares in the woman’s joy by sharing with her the good news
of life . . . just as God gives us opportunity:
2. “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those
who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come
with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’ ”
(Isaiah 35:3–4).
E. All of us have the honor and privilege of speaking joyful words of hope
to those who struggle in their own personal wilderness:
1. Christ will come with vengeance to make right that wilderness.
2. He will come and save you. Amen.
F. Let us pray:
Take our trembling hands, Lord Jesus, and lead us to the comforts of Zion.
G. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts
and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
H. In the Name of the Father…Amen.