Isaiah 45:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 19, 2014;
Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:1–7, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It was about the year 539BC. The Jews were scattered all over the kingdom of Babylon (modern day Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan). They had been exiled from their own homeland. Taken away from their beloved promised land because they had forgotten that it was God who had given that land to them in the first place. They had turned to other gods, and depended on their kings to rescue them, but they had all failed and now they were in exile. Their exile hadn’t been easy either. The kings of Babylon were harsh, and oppressive. They were reminded of the time they spent under the Egyptian whip. But even worse the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed; only rubble lay on the temple mount. And the city of Jerusalem itself was emptied of inhabitants. It, too, lay in rubble. And it had been that way for some 40 years now. But, things were on the brink of change, and there was reason to hope. Power had all but vanished from Babylon. A new empire was growing, Cyrus, the Persian king, was standing at the gate of the Babylonian capital. It would soon be his. As history tells us he took the city without firing a single arrow. The people were simply tired of the rule of Babylon Kings. They just opened the gates and let the Persians in.
But what was the hope of the people of God. What difference did it make to them, that another pagan would soon be in control of the land that they were exiles in? The answer is found in our text for today. It was written nearly 200 years earlier. Penned by Isaiah to give the exiles hope, to remind them that this exile would be a temporary situation. God had a plan to redeem them from their captivity. God was in control of the history that was about to be made. Just as He rescued them from oppression in Egypt, He would rescue them now. As amazing as it seems Isaiah scratched out a promise from God, that a new ruler would command that Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt. And he even wrote the rulers name. “Cyrus, my shepherd,” God called him, “and he will do what I please.”
“I am the LORD,” wrote Isaiah as the Holy Spirit instructed him, “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’
God wanted the Israelites to remember that God was in complete control of human history. God had called Cyrus by name, two centuries before Cyrus had even drawn a breath! He would be God’s shepherd, God’s anointed one, the one who would do God’s bidding. God called Cyrus to change history, to change the future of God’s people. And that is just what he did. He conquered the Babylonian empire; he “stripped kings of their armor; subdued nations.” It was all, just as Isaiah’s words had said generations before. And Cyrus even said that he knew what it was all about:
“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2, ESV)
I’m sure that the people of Israel were shocked to see that this pagan king was indeed God’s Shepherd to them. That He was called by name to change their history and to give them a future. But, the idea of being called by name wasn’t a foreign concept to them.
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1, ESV)
God had been calling them by name since their name was just Abraham. “Abraham, Abraham… God said on the mountain where he told to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, “do not harm the boy… because you have done this and not withheld your son your only son… all the nations of the world will be blessed.” God had called Abraham by name to change the history of the world, to bless all the nations. And God called Jacob too, and he even changed his name to Israel, all to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and to the world. And when the people of God needed to be rescued from slavery in Egypt, when their future and history looked dark, God called Moses by name at the burning bush and rescued them and changed their history again.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1, ESV)
The God who created the world was busy changing the course of human history for his purposes, for his people, to fulfill his promises. Through Moses God freed his people from slavery, through Cyrus God returned his people from exile. God had molded their history to change the history of the whole world.
It was through the people of Israel that God promised to make his greatest change. God called another Shepherd, and just like Moses, just like Cyrus he also would rescue God’s people from slavery and exile. “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the Great Shepherd called by name to rescue people not from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin. And not from exile in Babylon but from the exile caused by sin. God called Jesus by name, to once and for all change human history, to give life and salvation where there was death and hell; to give hope and comfort where there was only despair. He came to rescue you and me, to change our history, to change our future.
The sin that we were born with, the sin that is in our very nature, put us at odds with our creator. We were exiles from God. Not by his choice but by ours. Just like the children of Israel chose other gods, we choose ourselves as god, doing what is best for us without concern for anyone else. We trust in our wealth instead of trusting in God. Isn’t it funny that our money says, “in god we trust?” So many people what to change it but really in many ways it’s telling the truth. We want to decide our own future, our own history and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Sin makes our future bleak. It destroys everything that is good in our lives, our relationships and our families. As a matter of fact sin gives us no future at all except the punishment we deserve for pushing ourselves away from God, and not depending on him.
Jesus rescues us from that exile. Jesus was called by name to change our history and give us a future again. Jesus was obedient to God,
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8, ESV)
And that death ended our exile and our slavery by reconciling us with God.
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)
Jesus called by name, humbled himself and was obedient to death on the cross, to rescue you and me from slavery and exile.
And Jesus calls you by name. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus the Good Shepherd, God’s Shepherd for his people calls them by name and they follow him. He leads them out of the slavery to sin and death. He guides them on the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake. He changed your history; he has called you to change history, too. The God who created the universe, who forms light and darkness, who creates peace and disaster, the one who controls human history for his purposes, has called you by name. He was “obedient to death on the cross” for you. As he hung there bleeding and dying it’s as if he was calling out your name, this is for Bob, this is for Scott, this is for Mary, and this is for John. That was God’s rescue for you. God gave you his name in baptism, and called you by that name to be his own. Go and make disciples of all nations. “Change history in my name,” Jesus says.
Don’t think that the writers of our church’s constitution said, “The name of this congregation shall be Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa.” by accident. They knew that they were called by name. They knew that they were gathered together by the Good Shepherd, called by name, to change the history of Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa; to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to this place. They were not called just to be of Creston & Mount Ayr but they were called to this place, and so are we.
Dear Christian friends called by name, in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called by name to this place at this time. And there is so much to do. We live in a community that is largely unchurched. Just look at our own congregational roles for example. Our average worship attendance is 100 and yet our membership is almost 350. The majority of people who claim membership in our church rarely sit in a pew. What are we doing to remind them that Jesus Christ changed their history? So many of the things we do are only for us right here sitting in these pews, but if we really want to be doing what God has called us to do, if we really want to “thrive” and not just “survive”, we’ve got to reach out with both hands to this community. We are called by name, in the name of Jesus, to bring the Good News of Jesus, the news that really changes human history, to Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa.
God has called you, by name. He called you in your baptism. He changed your history and gave you a future. Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home. God called the people of Israel by name, through them the Savior would come. God changes history by calling people by name. Jesus Christ changed human history forever through his life, death and resurrection. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.