The Savior calls a people to himself. Isaiah 49:1-6
Watch the service
God Is My Strength
What am I getting out of this? I can’t remember the first sermon I preached as a pastor. But the Holy Spirit has preserved for us not just the main content of Jesus’ first sermon, but what also happened after. Jesus tells his home congregation that today, in their hearing, God’s word is being fulfilled. And what is their reaction? They anger is so intense that they throw him out of the synagogue and then try to throw him off a cliff. There Jesus was at the beginning of his earthly ministry. And it makes you wonder, did he ever just say to himself, “why bother? This just isn’t worth it?” In Isaiah 49 we have an answer to that question. In Isaiah 49, we read: ““1 Coasts and islands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb. 2 He made my words like a sharp sword; he hid me in the shadow of his hand. He made me like a sharpened arrow; he hid me in his quiver. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 4 But I myself said: I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and futility; yet my vindication is with the Lord, and my reward is with my God.” (Isaiah 49:1–4 CSB17)
In these words the Father is speaking to his son and praising him. He is telling Jesus that his son is his chosen one in whom he will display his glory. And right after this, we get a reaction from Jesus that we might not have expected. Jesus says to his Father that it is all in vain and all for nothing. He sounds like a complaining child. But, my dear friends in Christ, if you were rejected in your home town and then, after years of patient preaching, were crucified by your own people, wouldn’t you say the same? Jesus asks the question: “What is my reward? What am I getting out of all of this?”
My dear friends in Christ, we have those same thoughts too sometimes. My heart goes out to our teenagers these days. They get half way through high school and the mailings for the colleges come. And they have a hard enough time just getting through school, let alone planning for the future. And it’s easy to say, “what am I getting out of all of this?” You grow up. And you quickly realize that being a grown-up means working. And the slow grind of years wears down your body and your soul. You retire and then get even older and you look back at your life and you can begin to wonder, “what am I getting out of all of this? I raised my kids faithfully and they don’t call. They don’t write.” With all of this, we can begin to wonder why it pays off being a Christian at all.
But that’s where these words speak to us in our worn-down sadness. Jesus was there too. Jesus had these thoughts. But there’s one huge difference. Where we are ground down by our every day life and wonder if it’s worth it to wait for heaven, Jesus does not. Jesus goes there to the edge of the cliff of despair. But then where does he turn? He says: “yet my vindication is with the Lord, and my reward is with my God.” (Isaiah 49:4 CSB17) This a powerful and important statement for three reasons: First, it means that for all the times I wondered if being a Christian day after day was worth it and then doubted, Jesus never did. He was tempted but then did not fall of that cliff. And so, when our Father looks at us, he sees Jesus perfect trust in our place. But there’s another reason these words are so meaningful. Jesus trusts that his final reward is there, waiting for him in heaven. And my friends in Christ, the same is true for us. As Christians we go through so many difficulties day after day. And, for the most part, we don’t see the results of our struggles. And sometimes our Lord let’s us see results right here and now. But, listen to this promise. Jesus says, “my reward is with my God.” (Isaiah 49:4 CSB17) And we can say the same. The results of our labor are kept there for me in heaven. And some day I will see them. And finally, there is a third truth to consider. In verse 5, we read: “And now, says the Lord, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him so that Israel might be gathered to him; for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God is my strength—” (Isaiah 49:5 CSB17)
Our good and gracious Father in heaven first of all forgives us in Christ. Then he gives us this amazing reminder that there will be this reward in heaven, all by grace. There in heaven we will be able to see what we do not now. And finally, he gives us the promise that, like our brother, Jesus, God will be our strength to get us there. Therefore we we can wait. But there’s more to consider: “he says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”” (Isaiah 49:6 CSB17)
This is one of the strangest verses in the bible when you think it through. Jesus is lifted up and encouraged by his Father because he has this promise that God is his strength. So he’s able to wait for his reward there in heaven. But then his Father speaks about his work. He uses those fascinating words, “it is not enough.” It was not enough for Jesus to just save that small plot of land of Israel. No, it was the Father’s will that Jesus reach out to the far ends of the earth, even to Gibbon, MN. It was his Father’s will. And Jesus then rejoices that this is now his own work. And the reason he is able to rejoice is because God was his strength.
And my dear friends in Christ, the same is true for us. God gives us work to do. This is not the work of salvation. Jesus has done all of that work for us. But in our every day lives, there still is work to do. And in every stage of our lives it changes. And even when it seems like there is nothing left to do, there is. Let me tell you about Mrs. Schockschneider. She was a woman I visited during my vicar year. She had crippling arthritis. She could barely get out of bed. And I remember, that when I would share my sermon with her, she would sit up in bed. And I could see the pain in her face. So I told her that she could lay down. And, with almost a hint of violence in her voice, she said, “no.” She told me that if she lay back down, in two minutes she’d be asleep. And she’d rather be in pain and awake for God’s word than asleep and not hear God’s word.
That, my friends in Christ, was Mrs. Schockschneider on a good day. But she had bad days too. I would visit her and she would ask, “Why am I here? What good can I do? I can barely even get out of bed.” I told here, “Do you have any spare time?” I told her that there are times I don’t have time to pray. And there are times I forget to pray. So I asked her to pray for me. For I am weak and frail and Satan is always there to tempt me and try to tear me down. And for the first time in a long time, she realized that there was work—good, meaningful, work for her to do. So she prayed for me and so many others until the Lord called her home.
Each of us can be like Mrs. Schockschneider. Each of us can say, “God is my strength.” Since he is my strength, I can wait. I do not see the results and rewards of the work I do here now. But I will see it finally in heaven. But since God is my strength I can also work. May our good and gracious Lord give us eyes to see that work and joy to carry it out. Amen.