Easter 4 2022 Jubilate
May 8, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
Every once in a while, I get on some kind of fitness kick. I tell myself that I’m going to eat better. I’m going to exercise more and harder, I’m going to shrink this spare tire around my waist. Because I want abs like Jesus. I’m serious. I want to look like Jesus. Have you ever seen a picture of Him without His shirt on, usually a picture of Him hanging on the cross? Jesus has a six pack. I want abs like Jesus.
The problem is, no matter how strong we are, there’s a limit to human power. Our bodies eventually break down. Our physical, mental, emotional strength we rely on eventually will fail all of us. Inevitably, people grow older and get spare tires around their waist. But not the Son of God. He is tire-less. Look to Jesus on the cross, for it is there that He is working out for your salvation to make you truly fit for life. It was there on the cross while Jesus hung dying that our God appears to be weakened, weakened to the point of death, yet it was at this very time when God’s strength shown through the darkness of that Good Friday leading to the light of Easter morning. It is this strength; a strength even over death that He offers His people with our human frailties and weaknesses.
We need this, because the people of God tire out. The Old Testament reading for this morning, people were tired. They had rebelled against God and been exiled in Babylon because of it. They had no home, no sense of purpose or direction, no drive, no will power left. They had gotten spiritually fat and lazy, out of shape, apathetic, gorging themselves on the spiritual junk food of idols and false gods, and they were worn out. They had wrestled and struggled against God, against His will for their lives, and it had left them exhausted. Now, they were a people who suffered in exile and God was taking His sweet time doing something for them, while the other gods of Babylon seem to be active and working in the lives of other people. God recalls their questioning of this to Him, where the people say, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God” (Isaiah 40:27b).
It’s that age old question of the suffering of God’s people. Why are God’s people living in a foreign land? Why are Christian churches declining in our country and the nones, those who claim “none” as their religious view, increase? Why do some who are raised in the Christian faith, baptized, catechized, communionized, walk away from Christ? Why can’t our school get a new headmaster? Why am I disappointed with my boss, my co-worker, my pastor? Why do I keep arguing with my family and friends for no good reason? Why do loved ones who are ready to depart this life and be with their God still suffering with pain and anguish? Why is the economy failing? Why is there war? Why is there death? I’m tired, Lord.
In our tiredness, our sinfulness can only come up with two human reasons for God’s perceived (on our part) slowness of action: either God does not want to act or He is unable to act. To this, Isaiah says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Over and over, the LORD tells the captives not to be afraid, not to rely on themselves or others to get real rest or whipped into shape,, but to trust Him to do something previously unheard-of: restore a people from exile (41:10, 14; 43:1-7; 44:1-5, etc.). Far from having given up on His people because of their sins, He intends to use their lives as evidence of His grace and mercy.
And haven’t YOU heard? God already has acted! He has sent Jesus into the world to die because you experience toil and trouble, sin and death. God actually came down to suffer in your place. He hasn’t come to whip you into shape, but to be whipped for you, to take your unhealthy habit of sin upon Himself, to strengthen His weary, worn out, tired and suffering people.
Isaiah tells us, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” This “Waiting on the Lord” implies two things: complete dependence upon God and a willingness to allow Him to decide the terms. To wait on Him we are helpless until He acts. It is to admit we have no other help, either in ourselves or other people. To wait on God is not just to mark the time, it is live in the confident expectation of His action on our behalf. This is the opposite of self-help. It’s total reliance on God through faith. It means giving up your own frantic efforts to save yourselves, to wallow in sorrow that quickly becomes self-pity, and turn expectantly to God in a sure and certain hope that He is able to renew your worn out strength.
At the same time, waiting on Him declares our confidence that He has acted in Christ and Christ now acts on our behalf. The Christian life is not easy. You have to the stomach for it, the strength, the fortitude, the endurance, and this is not of yourselves, but it is a gift of God. It is only Christ who will make you fit for life. They say, no pain no gain. Your gain comes from Jesus’ pain, from Jesus’ work, from Jesus’ strength. Jesus’ strength He now offers to you, free of change, no gimmicks, no trial subscriptions, just given by grace to be received by faith. Verse 29 says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.”
God’s fitness plan for you, the way in which He delivers His strength, His peace during your weariness, encouragement, peace, joy in the midst of sorrow includes a steady diet of the Word and Sacrament; spiritual exercises of worship, devotion, prayer, faith toward God and service toward your neighbor; shedding the excess weight and burden of sin. For Christ has forgiven you and taken that dead weight, those last few pounds, the weariness of body and soul upon Himself.
This is what it means to have abs like Jesus: His strength renews your spirit, renews your bodies, and renews your life to everlasting life through faith in the Holy One, the LORD our God, and our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.