Thankful for Salvation

As I write this, we are recognizing and celebrating the 100th  Anniversary of the end of World War I. A hundred years is time enough to forget. After 100 years, most Americans have less understanding of World War I than most people alive in 1965 had of the Civil War. The Civil War was fought on American soil and the scars were deep; World War I was fought mostly in France. In addition, the United States entered World War II only near the end and suffered fewer causalities than our allies.

Nevertheless, for England and France World War I was the defining event of the 20thcentury. There were 40 million casualties. 15 million people were killed. In England, an entire generation of leaders was obliterated. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, two Christian writers, both fought in the war. One of them remarked that, when the war was over, he had not a single friend from before the war left alive. A generation was decimated. In Europe, the aftermath of the First World War was a gigantic loss of faith. Both sides proclaimed that God was on their side. One side engaged in military tactics, such as the use of gas, that were contrary to Christian values.

In the end, all of the great monarchies of Europe were destroyed. The primary world leadership of France, Germany, and England came to an end as the United States, the least damaged by the war, emerged as the most powerful Western nation. Finally, the terrible reparations that were forced upon Germany led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and to the Second World War.

In America, November 11 is Veterans Day, during which we recognize the veterans of all wars. In England and France, the day remains an important remembrance. The President is in France today for the remembrance. In England this morning all of the churches, in fact the entire country, will enjoy a two-minute moment of silence in remembrance of the sacrifices made. We’re going to join them today. We are going to have two minutes of silence as we share with other nations in remembering our veterans and thanking God for their sacrifice. (Silence)

Text and Prayer

Our theme today is being thankful for our salvation. One great quality we can develop as Christians is thankfulness. In one of his earliest letters to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “We always give thanks to God for you and pray to God for you” (I Thessalonians 1:3). In his last letter, he writes to Timothy, “How I thank God for you, Timothy” (2 Timothy 1:3). In between, Paul often—almost always—gives thanks to God. In Ephesians, he says, “Always give thanks for everything to our God and Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”(Ephesians 5:20). Paul learned to be thankful in all situations and conditions of life (Philippians 4:11-12).We live in a land of unbelievable prosperity; but few are thankful, truly thankful, to the One who made it all possible. This is too bad because thankfulness is a virtue and a gift of the Spirit of God.

Our text is Isaiah 12. The part of Isaiah we are reading from primarily relates to the judgment of God upon the people of Israel for their disobedience. In the midst of prophesying a judgment, Isaiah also the shares the people of Israel that their salvation will come.  Hear the word of God as it comes to us today from Isaiah chapter 12:

In that day you will say: I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  

In that day you will say: Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,  for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:1-6).

Prayer: Lord God, we thank you for Jesus and for the salvation you have provided for us in this name. Please be with us now in our time of thinking about your Word. In Jesus Name, Amen.

The Promise of Salvation

Isaiah 12 is one of my favorite life texts. Many years ago, at a time when everything looked as bleak as could be, God gave me these verses as an encouragement. I was a young lawyer with three children. I opened a practice with a small law firm at just the time when Texas went through its oil crisis, real estate crisis, and banking crisis. My practice was not only in the affected areas, but in the most affected parts of the crises. I had a mortgage, business loans, a wife, and three small children to support. Frankly, I was scared as I could possibly be. One day in my quiet time, I opened my Bible to these verses. It was one of those moments when you know that God has given you a special grace by revealing a particular set of verses on a particular day. I marked the day in the margin of my Bible, and over the next several years, as I continue to struggle in the crisis, those versus became a constant source of encouragement to me. I still read it on many days.

The first part of Isaiah primarily involves God’s judgment upon the people of Israel for their infidelity. [1] The Kingdom of David had split into two parts, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. Both kingdoms were in a state of moral and spiritual decay. The kingdom of the Assyria was about to invade the Northern Kingdom and take into exile little Israel. It would never recover. Into this situation, the prophets spoke a word of judgement. God was going to punish Israel for her sins.

However, this word of judgment was not the end. Although there would be a suffering, although there would be punishment, there would also be forgiveness and salvation. This message is important for us. There are times in our lives when we have done something that is not right. There are times in our lives when we are not in the right place. There are times in our lives when we are going to suffer for decisions and choices we have made. This is true of all human beings, nations, organizations and nations. However, judgement is not the final word of God. The final word from God is one of forgiveness, mercy, grace, and salvation.

Many people are worried about our nation and its future. People are worried about their families. Whatever our future, God is prepared to save us and be merciful. What know that God loves our families and will show mercy on our families, even if we are in a time of suffering.

The Reality of Salvation

At the very beginning of chapter 12 of Isaiah, the prophet says:

“I will praise you, Lord.
    Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
    and you have comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
    he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:1-2)

As Presbyterians, we discourage what is called a “name it and claim it”theology. There is danger in a theology that involves claiming God’s promises for financial affluence as a given if we obey God. However, there is an element of truth in such thinking. We can claim the reality of our salvation before we receive it. At the time Isaiah 12 was written, there was no reason to praise God for salvation, because Israel was experiencing judgment not salvation. In this passage Isaiah is claiming the promise of salvation even though he is not yet received it.

Back to my story. Many of you know that Houston is subject to massive flooding. This is not just during hurricanes, because tropical storms can also dump enormous amounts of water on the city in a short period of time. A feature of the Houston freeway system is that, if you’re between exits in a low spot without proper drainage during a tropical storm, your car can get flooded.

As part of my legal practice, I often had to work late into the night. One night during a tropical storm, I was driving home in the middle of a terrible storm. I was at one of those spots where you cannot exit the freeway. The freeway was stopped. There was flooding ahead. The water was slowly rising around my car. In addition, I was tired and upset. I was praying to God saying, “I can’t keep doing this.” I had reached a bottom.

In that moment, I could almost feel the universe shift. I felt that God had answered my prayer and that a time was coming when I would go to seminary. It didn’t happen right away, but within a year or so God revealed his salvation. That night, I praise God for his revelation of my salvation. I felt my heart lift. I claimed a salvation that I did not see for some time. But, in a way, it had already become real because God had already put into motion his new plan for my life.

If you’re here this morning and going through a difficult period of time, listen with all your being for that sense that God has heard your prayers. When that happens, have faith in that answer. When you feel that answer, move out in faith and do what God is calling you to do, even if it is scary. The answer may not come at once or soon, but it will come. In the case of some prayers, it may not even come in your lifetime. But it will come.

The Response of Salvation

I’m not musical, and I can’t sing, but this is one of those sermons that you really wish that you could sing the verses and the sermon! As chapter 12 goes on, the prophet is filled with the Spirit of God and proclaims, not just himself but to the world, “Sing praises to the Lord for he is done gloriously let this be known in all the earth!” (v. 5). Of course, this is connected to the prior point: Isaiah is singing about God’s salvation at a time when he is not yet experiencing that salvation. In point of fact, we don’t think Isaiah lived to experience that salvation! He would have been 200-plus years old when Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to return home.

How many answered prayers have you kept to yourself? I’ve heard people say that my faith is personal, and I don’t share the answers to my prayers. Well, there are some prayers that we should probably not share. There are prayers the answer to which is private. Nevertheless, there are a lot of answered prayers that we ought to proclaim to the whole world. What if Isaiah had not shared God’s promise of salvation in Isaiah 12?

In Acts 3, there is a wonderful story about a healing involving Peter and John. One day, Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray. As they came to the Temple Gate, there was a lame man. When the man saw Peter and John, he asked for money. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, look at the man and said, “Silver and gold have I none but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk”(v. 6). Then, he took a man by the hand and lifted him up and the man was healed. The story ends like this:

“He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him”(vv. 8-10).

The result of this man’s willingness to respond to God’s healing by walking, jumping, and praising God was that not only did hereceive a blessing, but everyone who knew himreceived a blessing and a sign that God was present. If we keep our Christian faith a secret, if we keep what God has done for us a secret, then we’ve been blessed what the world has not beenblessed. If we are willing to share all that God is done then we are blessed and the world is blessed.

We should never be afraid to share our faith. We should never be afraid to share what God has done for us. We should never be afraid to “walk and leap and praise God” for the salvation he has promised us. Members of this church have participated in what is called “Tres Dios.” In Memphis, it’s called the “Great Banquet.” As a part of the weekend, I have the opportunity to hear many testimonies. The Biblical content of the talks on a Great Banquet weekend are actually outlined for us. We have to say what is supposed to be said in the talk. On the other hand, we are asked to share a portion of our personal testimony as a part of our talk.

Now here’s an interesting fact: I have given a lot of talks, and I’ve heard hundreds of talks. I don’t remember the content of many of the talks. However, I do remember almost every personal testimony. I remember every story of salvation. I remember every marriage that was healed, every addict healed from addiction, every criminal who went straight, every housewife who prayed for a child, every man who ever prayed for a spouse. Those testimonies are more important to me theological content of the talk.

When we tell others about our salvation, we are doing a great thing.

Today’s message is about being thankful for our salvation. We need to be thankful.  And, we need to remember to tell others just exactly how thankful we are!

Amen.

Copyright 2018, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Isaiah has three basic focuses, Chapters 1-39 primarily deal with the fall of the Northern Kingdom, which occurred about 721 B.C. The Second Part, chapters 40-66 deal with the fall of the southern Kingdom (608 B.C.) and the end of the exile around 531 B.C. In other words, Isaiah covers a period of nearly two centuries. This has led some scholars to see multiple authors writing in different times. Other scholars retain the view of a single writer. In my view the authorship debate is not material for Christians, who read Isaiah primarily for its prophesy of the nature of the Messiah. The historical references herein are impacted by John H. Oswalt “The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament(Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986)

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