“Rejoicing in Christ’s Church”
Text: Isaiah 66:10-14
Proper 9, C
It had been some very bad times for Judah, and one rightly deserved. There was good reason to mourn over Jerusalem because of her sin and apostasy. But then Isaiah points to the promise of new heavens and new earth, pictured in a restored and reborn Jerusalem. He speaks of the restoration of Israel from exile. Zion is a mother about to give birth miraculously. The narrative of Ezra-Nehemiah records the fulfillment of God’s promises when many did return and the Temple and Jerusalem were rebuilt. God was faithful to Isaiah’s hearers and fulfilled his word to them. But this promise points forward beyond the return from exile to the birth of the New Testament Church in which we safely dwell to this day, and the expectation of the heavenly Jerusalem that awaits us all one day. And so as Isaiah encourages, let us rejoice in Christ’s Church.
First we rejoice in the Church for the nourishment she provides her children. 10“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” Perhaps this picture makes you a little uncomfortable. It shouldn’t. It is a beautiful and natural part of everyone’s life. The bond between a mother and her nursing child. Jerusalem is mother to the nation and its inhabitants, just as the New Testament Church after her is the mother of every Christian in the faith.
The basis for Isaiah’s call to joy in such a time of bad news and suffering is the joy that Zion (Jerusalem) will give miraculous birth to this son/nation/children. Thus those who are called to rejoice are those who both “love Jerusalem and mourn over her.” These are those who understand why Jerusalem was punished, mourn over this, and still fully trust in Yahweh’s promise to restore her; they maintain the true faith in the midst of the exile. The Holy Christian Church suffers to this day, often brought on by christian failings and apostasy. But here beauty and glory are no less diminished. She still gives birth to believers each and every day. And she is the one who nurtures and nourishes every single Christian in the One Holy Christian and Apostolic faith.
Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1) As newborn babies desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:2) And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine and the hills shall flow with milk and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters (Joel 3:18) To grow we need spiritual milk, the most basic food of life for our souls, and this is God’s Word delivered in the Church’s preaching and teaching, in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper! It is a needed nourishment we will never outgrow.
But we also rejoice in Christ’s Church for Comfort she brings to her hurting children. 12For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. 13As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. As the restored and faithful Israel before us, we Christians will be cared for as children by this mother. Peace and glory will overflow from her without end. Unlike everything else in this life which may or may not be there for us, dry riverbeds when you most need a drink. A mother’s love is never-ending. Safe, protected, loved, mothers are vital to a child’s sense of well-being.
Just so God’s love for us given through the church is vital to our sense of well-being in a world that is so often out to get us. Have you had a bad day? Are you in pain? Suffering? Lonely and thinking that no one cares? Have you done something foolish and are now facing the consequences? Where will you turn? Who will love you and stand by you? God will. Through His Holy Christian Church. Here you will always have a safe place, a welcoming meal, a listening ear, and a broad shoulder to rest your troubled head on.
And lastly, we rejoice along with Isaiah in Christ’s Church for the Growth she brings us. 14You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice; your bones shall flourish like the grass; and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants, and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.” The first thing mothers show us is that as much as they love us, we cannot remain babies forever. We must grow up. We must take our place and own the life she has granted us by the Holy Spirit.
Through God’s love shown to us in the Church we see, we rejoice, and we thrive. Though Yahweh’s promises are fulfilled in the return from exile, nevertheless the prayer of Nehemiah 9, Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9, and even Zechariah’s prayer in Luke 1:67–79 indicate that the return of the exiles from Babylon did not alone represent a full restoration of Israel: David’s kingdom was not restored. Israel remained under foreign rule. The Messiah had not yet come. Peace and the glory of the nations (see 66:12a) had not flowed into Jerusalem. And so the OT narrative itself indicates that there is still more that God will do to restore his people.
The comfort promised in Isaiah 66 is also ultimately fulfilled in the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet although repentance for the forgiveness of sins is now preached to the nations in Jesus’s name, we also still await the final restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Thus we find ourselves in a similar (though not exactly the same) situation as Israel in exile: as they awaited the return from exile, we await the restoration of all things on the last day. In the meantime we, as they once did, live by faith in the word and promises of God.
The Lord will bring about a new birth of joy and delight. We should not look elsewhere for lasting satisfaction and comfort. Motherly comfort and peace like a river will satisfy and delight all God’s people. Just as a child’s mother meet his or her needs, so our heavenly Father meets our needs of provision and pardon … in the Holy Christian Church. Therefore, no matter what is happening around us, no matter what scrapes we have gotten ourselves into, no matter what pain or hurt we are dealing with, let us rejoice in Christ’s Holy Church, our beloved spiritual mother.