Isaiah 52:2, ‘Shake yourself from the dust, arise; sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!’
Focus: Transformation is in the middle.
Please forgive me. I’ve not preached in about 20 months. If by chance something I say in the next few minutes happens to invoke a response from you such as an ‘amen,’ I will probably not stop preaching for the next 20 years. I’ve been waiting and praying for such a moment as this, to preach, even if for a few minutes, for quite some time. In between the time I last preached at the two congregations I served in Mississippi and until now, I’ve really been in a season of ‘in-between.’ A season of ‘not now,’ and ‘not yet.’
In this season, I’ve really started to pay closer attention to how the Lord speaks about beginnings and ends in my life. Before and after. History is recorded in such a way that we have before and after, but these dates are often the buoys that mark where the story actually lies. Just look at how we record the years with BC and AD. BC, meaning ‘before children,’ I mean…’before covid,’ I’m sorry, I mean…well you know what I mean.
Who doesn’t love a good ‘before and after’ story? In fact, almost every plotline has this ‘before and after’ built in, right? We begin a story telling us how ‘before’ we were like this, and after we were like that. Almost as though ‘before’ and ‘after’ were the most significant markers of the season. But I don’t think that’s the case. It’s the middle. The in-between where the story lies. Where something happens to the character. As I think about how the Lord has spoken to me about seasons in my life, I’m now realizing how true this really is: transformation is in the middle.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks of a time when God’s people were in the middle. The middle of exile, though our text is of the prophet envisioning a future for God’s people where they are redeemed and ready to proclaim good news of salvation. The verse I want to look closely at is v. 2. For it seems that Isaiah sees God’s people in the middle of controversy, again. One they caused by continuous defiance of God’s provisions throughout history. One caused by sin.
What is sin, exactly? Sin is simply not trusting God. To know to do right and still not do it, is sin. Sin is metaphysical that effects the physical. God’s people were divided. War torn. Deprived. Yet, their sin was simply not trusting Yahweh [God].
Isaiah sees a future of liberation. Redemption. Salvation. That’s what the second half of this text is in vv. 7-12, a hymn of salvation. Good news. The Lord who will show the whole world his bare arm of protection and redemption so that others know God is THE God. How can God’s people see such a freedom when they’re in exile? We’re not looking at the pre or pos exile here, we’re looking at the middle. That’s where the transformation happens. In the middle. What does Isaiah say?
I. Shake yourself from the dust
III. Sit down
IV. LOOSE yourself from the bonds of your neck
There’s a sobering-awakening that’s happening here, in which God’s people, Jerusalem/Zion, are to come to themselves and realize what the Lord is going to do: SAVE THEM. This ain’t the first time, either. But, these words about releasing, loosening…themselves from the bonds of their neck maybesuggests that it’s time for it to be the last. Undoubtedly and unfortunately it won’t be.
What does this mean for the Church? Especially in the season of Advent; a season of waiting for Christ? It means that salvation from sin, original and actual sins, in which the power of the Holy Spirit gives us power over in our baptism, is from the work of messiah that Isaiah prophesied about. Therefore we can receive and participate with the gift of sanctification: that is, becoming more like Jesus. Sanctification is indeed a process, and while we wait, the Holy Spirit gives us power over sin, and this means that if we want to grow in our faith in Jesus, becoming more like Him, then we must heed the words that Isaiah spoke: LOOSE ourselves from the bonds of our neck.
Sin has been defeated. Sin has no power. Yet, the Church is no different today than a war-torn, divided God’s people – Israel/Judah. How on earth are we going to proclaim heaven on earth, if we live on earth as divided people proclaiming heaven on earth?
We’re going to shake ourselves from the dust and get up. Sit down and LOOK at what Jesus has done for humanity; defeating sin. The man on the middle cross is in the middle of our transformation by sanctification! We have to listen to the Holy Spirit telling us to loose ourselves from sin. And let me honestly tell you: I’d rather not sit in the middle because it’s tough. But that’s where transformation happens. Not before. Not after. But in the middle. On the way to ‘ever after’ is the transformation that takes place. The middle is the most important part of this process. The posture that Isaiah sees for God’s people is one that is cooperating with the HS, aware of sin[s], loosening it from themselves. Waiting with action, in the middle.
Bob Stamps told me this story once, and I’ve never forgotten it. At his son’s high school graduation, there was a speaker. He was a diplomat. An assistant to former Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, in the mid-90’s. After this man walked Arlington cemetery, he gave a speech that went something like this: Looking at the tombstones, you’ll notice the name, birth date, rank, and death date. The most important thing on the entire tombstone is the DASH. The middle. What happened in that person’s life, in the dash is the most important thing.
That’s what Advent is: waiting. Anticipating. Expecting, the messiah to make all things new; so we proclaim the good news with hopeful joy. While we wait, the Lord waits with us. He is patient. He is kind. The most important thing right now is the dash. The thing that’s happening right now.
For some of us, we need to keep on waiting for the Spirit’s presence. We want to give up. Give in. Go on. But I think the Lord wants to meet you this evening. Shake yourself from the dust. Sit in his presence. Remove the thing that’s stopping you from living in freedom from sin, and its effects. Let’s meet Jesus at his table now, and wait. He’s in the middle of transforming us.For some of us, you may be hearing His gentle call to know him as Lord of your life, for the first time. For others, you may be hearing His gentle to call to flourish in life by knowing him even more and showing that love to others. Even so, we pray, come Lord Jesus, come. Amen.