St. Paul writes [Rm. 15.4]: For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. He writes this of the Old Testament. And also of the events that we hear about in the OT he writes elsewhere [1Cor 10.6]: Now these things became our examples. What we have here is the fact that the OT is not only historical accounts; it is not only the writings of the prophets for the people back then; but the OT has great value and worth for us Christians today. The apostle refers to the saints of the OT, those who [Hb, 11.13] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them… He calls them a great cloud of witnesses.
It is not just us today, but all believers down through the centuries have gone through and endured the same, similar and greater struggles than we have. That’s why it does us good to look at Church history and hear from these saints. That’s why it does us good to go back to the OT so that we may see the ways that the Lord was with His OT faithful with His word and promise; His help and comfort; His guidance, correction and rescue. This is one of the great blessings of Advent. It reminds us that the Church has always been a waiting Church. The Church has always been waiting on the Lord, even as She is receiving the Lord’s promise, presence and help.
In Advent, as we prepare our hearts to welcome the announcement of our Savior’s birth on Christmas, we look, in particular, at the OT prophecies that God gave His faithful about the coming Savior. And we notice that so many of the most well-known and comforting are from the prophet Isaiah. We think of the prophecy of the virgin birth, that unto us a Child is born [and] a Son is given; we think of the Suffering Servant—all these and so many more come from Isaiah. The thing is, he was writing at a time of great threat to the people of God by their enemies; in his writing, he was calling the people to repentance; he was prophesying the exile and captivity for 70 years in Babylon. Although there are great promises of the coming Savior, much of Isaiah’s prophecy is warning and calling to repentance. That’s because there were many people who needed that call to examine heart and life and so repent of their sin; and there were also many who indeed were repentant and needed the strengthening of their faith by the promise of the coming Savior.
As we find out from Israelite history, most people heard Isaiah’s preaching and did not repent but continued on in their sin and idolatry. Because of that God carried out His threat and the people were brought out of the Promised Land and into exile. But to comfort them and to give them hope in the midst of exile, the Lord, through St. Isaiah, promises rescue and return. That’s the section that our text comes from—one of promise of return and restoration. And our Lord was faithful to His promise and brought the people back to the land He had given them and there—about 500 years later—Jesus was born, exactly as God had promised. All of God’s working in the OT time as He made and carried out His promises, not only was for the spiritual good of the Israelites but also for us!
What a blessed position we are in, dear Christian. Not only do we see in the OT true historical accounts; not only do we see in them that God is faithful; not only do we learn to recognize from them that God is mightily at work for His people and in this world, but we also come to see that these historical accounts are also great spiritual object lessons; we see them also as pictures of what God is doing for us today and what is happening in/ with His Church. That’s another blessing of Advent—as we hear these OT prophecies of Jesus’ coming, we put ourselves with the OT faithful in the fervent longing and anticipation.
That’s why it does us good to reflect a few moments on our text today. It comes from a section of Isaiah in which the Lord promises His people help and rescue. The Lord did not just promise help and rescue to His OT people millennia ago, but also to us His, His Church, here in exile in this world—as heaven is our home—our Lord promises to rescue us and bring His Church home to heaven, who mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear. What a blessing we have today—we see that God was faithful to His OT people and we know that He will be faithful to us!
Just as the OT people sitting in exile hundreds of miles away from their homeland needed rescue, so too do we need the Lord to help and rescue us.
Our text: For thus says the Lord: “You have sold yourselves for nothing...” God punished the Israelites for their sin of rejection and rebellion against Him by sending them into exile in a far off country. By this God wanted to lead them to recognize and repent of their sins. You have sold yourselves for nothing, that is, because of their sin, of their willingly giving into sin and turning away from the Lord, they were suffering this. They sinned and what did they get for it? –Maybe a brief joy, a false freedom, but then, finally exile. This serves us as a useful illustration of just what exactly we earn and deserve for our sin. St. Paul tells us very clearly [Rm. 6.19, 23]: You once let uncleanness and wickedness use the parts of your body as slaves to do wrong. That’s selling ourselves for nothing. What do we get out of our sin? A momentary pleasure, perhaps? –But doesn’t that still leave us empty and unfulfilled, wanting more but never satisfied? Doesn’t it also so often leave us with guilt and regret? And then St. Paul continues: The wages paid by sin is death.
By our sin we sell ourselves for nothing and make ourselves the possession of our spiritual enemy. That’s why one of the great themes of Advent is repentance. We take God’s holy law in hand—the holy Ten Commandments—and examine heart and conscience. We see where we have done things God has forbidden; we see that we have not done what God has commanded; we see our sins in what we have thought, said and did. As we see and recognize our sin, we feel how we have left God and separated ourselves from Him. And how we then long and yearn all the more to hear the Christmas Gospel that our Savior has been born. Just as the Israelites could not save themselves from their captivity/ exile, neither can we save ourselves from our spiritual enemies of sin, death, devil and hell. By our sins we have sold ourselves for nothing!
Our text continues: For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at first into Egypt to sojourn there; then the Assyrians oppressed them without cause.” Not only, by our sins, do we sell ourselves for nothing but we have great spiritual enemies—sin, death, devil and hell. They too oppress us. Think of all the wretchedness the devil works in the world and in our lives personally. Think of all the sin and guilt that keep rising up and accusing us and making our lives miserable. Think of all the ways that we are kept from hearing the pure word of God—even/ especially coming from within us, our old sinful self. And yet who are we? – My people, our Lord’s dear Christians. The fact that we are Christians does not make us immune from the attacks of our spiritual enemies. In fact, they are increased when we are the Lord’s/ My people. Never in this life should we expect spiritual ease and a free pass. The devil and his allies are always working to destroy our faith, to lead us into sin and to selling ourselves for nothing, to spiritually oppress us. Yes, we must be aware that that is the reality but we dare never let it get us down and hopeless. After all, didn’t the Lord bring the Israelites out of Egypt? Didn’t he protect Jerusalem from the Assyrians, in one night the angel of death killing 185,000 Assyrians laying siege to Jerusalem? This leads us to another Advent theme—our Lord’s return in judgment on the Last Day. Yes, spiritual and physical enemies set themselves up against Jesus, His Church and His dear Christians, but on the Last Day, Jesus will judge and eternally punish them.
Yes, we need rescue; yes, even as Christians we need rescue; yes, we have great spiritual enemies. But Christ our Lord is coming—just like He came the first time that first Christmas, so now He will come again in glory on the Last Day. Here is the reason for our hope in the midst of great trial, hardship and spiritual battle. Here we look at the example the Lord has given us with His OT people suffering in exile, in exile due to their own fault—their sin. But the Lord came and rescued them—a glorious preaching to them that He is faithful and will come as Savior from sin and death, just as He promised; and their rescue is also a glorious preaching to us—not only has Jesus come as our Savior from sin, death and devil but He will also come on the Last Day in power and glory and rescue us—that is, bring us soul and body into heaven.
Yes, we need rescue and the Lord’s coming to rescue His OT people gives us a glorious hope. The reason we are so blessed is that we now live in the time after Jesus has come the first time. Just as He promised His OT saints—and when He brought them back from exile giving them a foretaste of an even greater rescue—He came and brought them and all people a great redemption. Our text: For thus says the Lord: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” Just like He showed when He brought His people back from the exile, the Lord uses His almighty power to rescue His people and overthrow the enemy.
So what is the almighty power that our Lord used to save all people? Christmas! God became man. That’s the almighty Christmas miracle! God became also man. By this great, mighty miracle of God becoming also man, God became weak and humble and precisely by that weakness and humility He would rescue/ redeem us. Remember, by our sin we sold ourselves for nothing to a life of slavery to sin and death and devil. That’s where we need rescue from! We can’t save ourselves; but Jesus came and undid our captivity—just like He foreshadowed when He brought back the Israelites to their own land—Jesus freed us/ redeemed us without money but with something of even greater value, His very blood. St. Peter writes [1 1.18,19]: you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. By His holy life and His innocent suffering and death, Jesus paid the price for our sins and reconciled us to God; through faith in Him we are no longer slaves to sin and death but we are the dear children of God, holy and righteous—forgiven our sins and clothed with Jesus’ perfect holiness!
Here is our glorious hope! And this is why we are so blessed, dear Christian! Jesus has come; the great act of our rescue has taken place; God has become man and is with us—that’s a very Advent thought! Our text: Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore they shall know in that day that I am who speaks: “Behold, it is I.” The miraculous works of our Lord—He rescued His OT people from their enemy, foreshadowing that even greater work that at Christmas He came into the world to rescue us by His life, suffering and death. Behold, it is I. He, our Redeemer, came and even is still with His people, even in the midst of suffering and sorrow. That’s cause for hope. I am who speaks: “Behold, it is I.” Dear Christian, we know the wonder and might and miraculous ways that He works—even as He comes to us in His word and Sacrament. Seeing/ knowing/ experiencing the wonders of God, we can believe and hope in the midst of darkness. INJ Amen