A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, by Pastor Jon Zabell
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
Dear Fellow Believers in Jesus,
Can you picture a bride’s glorious march to the altar on her wedding day? As a guest you arrive at the wedding and are escorted to your seat while the quiet strains of pre-service music are sounding. The music continues while the church fills with guests. Finally, with everyone inside, the procession begins. The music takes a more stately tone, and the bridesmaids process, walking slowly and carefully, one at a time. Then the music rises to even more majestic tones, and all the heads turn to see the bride about to begin her walk, accompanied by her father. She’s wearing a dress that clearly sets her apart from all the others. It is beautiful and white, carefully chosen to be worn only once for this once-in-a-lifetime event. It’s a glorious moment!
If you want to talk about glory, it’s natural to talk about our Savior, especially during the season of epiphany. Christ’s glory shines in every Epiphany message: the star in the sky, his baptism in the Jordan River, his miracles, his message.
In today’s reading we are reminded that it’s not only Christ’s glory that shines. Christ’s bride, the church, also shines. Let every head turn and watch. Behold, the Bride of the Lord!
1. She Turns Heads
Verse 1: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, (Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, and Zion was the hill upon which Jerusalem was built) till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
It’s clear in this verse: the Lord has great plans for his people! It’s important to keep this message in context. Earlier in the book of Isaiah he is recorded as saying, “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute” (1:21). These are strong words about God’s Old Testament people! They had been faithful. Abraham’s faith had been credited to him as righteousness. Joshua and his household had served the Lord. David called the Lord his shepherd. But throughout their history as a people, Israel had been more unfaithful than faithful. They had turned to the false gods of the people around them, a practice God often compared to prostitution.
What about us? Are we faithful to the Lord? We want to be. We don’t plan to sin against him, and when we do we regret it and we pledge not to let it happen again. But in spite of our best efforts at faithfulness, we keep failing. We keep falling short. We work at doing what God says, then let ourselves think we’re the source of our own goodness: sinful pride. Then our eyes are opened and we see all the self-centered thinking in ourselves, and we let ourselves think there’s no help for us: sinful despair. Back and forth we go from sinful pride to sinful despair and back again, and there is one common theme throughout: sin. Should we expect God to call us his faithful bride? Shouldn’t he use the same strong language with us that he used with his Old Testament people? Spiritual prostitutes he called them. We’ve all cheated on him, time and time again.
But God is faithful. You hear it in verse 1. In spite of his people’s unfaithfulness, he won’t rest until our vindication - our righteousness shines. He has kept that promise. That hill of shame outside of Jerusalem was God’s kept promise. There Christ paid for our sins. That empty tomb was another part of God’s kept promise. There Christ put death out of commission forever. Because of the Lord we are no longer counted as sinners. Because of the Lord we are counted as righteous, because he is the Lord our righteousness.
In today’s verses the Lord describes our vindication as something that shines out like the dawn. Our salvation, his help and aid, is like a blazing torch. The point of the comparison is that these things stand out and demand attention. The sudden lighting of a torch on a moonless night would capture the attention of everyone present.
And doesn’t a bride shine on the day of her wedding? As she walks down the aisle she literally turns heads. So it is with the church, Christ’s bride. We’re told (2) The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory.
The final fulfillment of this will be at the end of time, when the dazzling glory of the Lord’s bride will be seen by all.
Even now the world around us can catch glimpses of this vindication, this righteousness shining out in us, God’s people. If they’re paying attention they can spot a contrast between the fake righteousness of people who act “holier than thou,” and the Spirit-worked humility shining out from those whose righteousness comes not from themselves but from the Lord. When they ask what we believe and we tell them they can tell the difference between a know-it-all and an answer shining out with gentleness and respect. It’s not our righteousness they’re seeing, it’s the Lord’s righteousness which he’s given us as a gift. Already now the bride of Christ is beginning to turn heads.
2. She’s Royalty
Don’t believe that the dazzling righteousness of the Church is only a show, like the flashes of light and puffs of smoke in a magic act. We are told: (3) You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. God describes his bride as one who is truly royal, that is, honorable.
Remember this when the memory of your sins has you feeling shame. Remember it when the people of this world are making you feel small. Remember it when you are dealing with regret or despair.
It would have been enough to break even. If the Lord would simply have said, “Your sins are forgiven in Christ and you have his righteousness now,” and stopped there, we still have all we need to praise him forever. But because the LORD himself is our king, our freedom from sin means we have done more than break even. He is royal, so we are, too.
In fact, no honor can compare! There is a royal flavor to most weddings that you see. The stately marching and the pomp and circumstance suggest that a wedding is an honorable occasion in which we are sharing our joy with honorable people. But not even the honor belonging to a prince and princess on their wedding day can compare to the highest honor accorded us who are called the Bride of the Lord. His is the name above every name. His crown marks victory over death and the devil. And he includes us, individual believers in Christ, in the glory and honor that is his.
3. God Rejoices Over Her.
So complete is God’s change in us that he speaks of giving us a new name. It is still common practice for brides to take the last name of the man they are marrying. This marks a momentous change in their life, and it serves as a beautiful reminder as well. A name is an identifying mark. It says who we are. Every time a new bride hears her new name she is reminded of the wonderful new relationship that has begun.
The Lord speaks of two old names and two new names in describing Jerusalem, us believers, his bride. One old name is “Deserted.” Not a pretty name. It calls to mind a bride who is abandoned at the altar. At one of her most vulnerable times, and in front of all her friends and acquaintances, she is deserted. The groom is very obviously nowhere in sight. Without the Lord we are called “Deserted.” But it’s not that he has left us. If we are without the Lord, we are the ones who have left him. But that’s our old name.
Another old name for Jerusalem was “Desolate.” The people of Israel had at one time been led to a land flowing with milk and honey. But over time it was overrun and destroyed and left empty. You might remember the boom towns during the California gold rush, that became ghost towns when the rush ended. The ghost town still stands as a symbol of lost hope. When God is clearly missing from our lives, we may be seen also as a symbol of lost hope, and it would be right to call us “Desolate.” Again, that’s our old name.
Listen: (4) ..:No longer will they call you Deserted, or name your land Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.
Beulah. Married. Not deserted, not desolate. A committed groom would never leave his bride standing at the altar, because for him she holds first place in his heart above all else on earth. Her happiness and her safety are his prime concern. At the wedding, everything else in his life fades into the background, his job, his life, his routine, and he is committed to this one who belongs to him as he belongs to her. Even when the wedding is over, a committed husband and wife still have the highest love for each other. But no groom has ever been as committed to his bride as Christ is to you and me.
And Hephzibah means “My Delight is in her.” Verse (5) As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you. Because of our Savior we are covered in his righteousness, we are royal jewels in his crown, and now he is like an eager groom watching his bride walk down the aisle on their wedding day. As all heads turn to watch the bride of Christ, his head turns, too. And we bring him great joy.
Cut through the dazzle and the royal pomp and circumstance of every wedding and any bride or groom would tell you that the real joy of the occasion is that each is able to say without a doubt: “I love, and I am loved.” Even before we can witness the full dazzle and royalty of the wedding between Christ and his Church with the unbridled glory of heaven - even now we can say something truly outstanding. It is something that we who have broken promises, dishonored ourselves and our God, who should be called Deserted and Desolate because of our sin - something we should never be able to say. But in Christ we can look at him and say it. I love and I am loved. What a wonderful epiphany! The truth is uncovered so we can see! The Lord who is glorious shares his glory with the Church, his bride, you and me. And we say:
Chief of sinners though I be
Jesus shed his blood for me.
Died that I might live on high
Lived that I might never die
As a branch is to the vine
I am his and he is mine.
NIV (c) 2011, Biblia Inc.
Sermon Copyright (c) 2021, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Green Bay, WI 54301