It is my understanding that when someone is wandering in a desert, that their eyes have a way of playing tricks on them. But it’s really no trick at all. A mirage is a natural occurrence when the surface is hot and the air is cool. When light enters through the cool air into the hot air just above the burning sands, the rays bend creating an image that looks as though the surface might be wet. So for a wanderer in the desert wilderness, it certainly makes sense why someone might run after a mirage hoping to cool their parched tongue with a drink of water. But alas, a mirage is only an optical illusion. There is no water to be had.
To put our hope in an illusion can only lead to one result: death. Like a wanderer in the desert wilderness, anyone who tries to quench their thirst with sand from a mirage will only die as a result.
Isaiah writes comforting words for God’s people who find themselves wandering in a desert wilderness of sin and death. His words are words of comfort for us as well so that we may all be directed away from the mirages which only lead to death and toward the only One who can truly quench our thirst and give us eternal life.
Listen once again to our text: Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water (Isaiah 35:4-7a).
For Judah, the outlook was bleak at best. Enemies surrounded them. It would not be long and the nation of Babylon would enter in and drive them into exile. Like their forefathers who wandered the wilderness with Moses, they too would soon be wandering in a land away from home. It would not be long and they would be desperately hoping for these words of Isaiah to come into fruition.
And even though his words would come to fruition, even though Babylon would be overcome by the nation of Persia, and even though King Cyrus would allow God’s people to return home and build the temple once again, Isaiah had the people of Judah looking ahead much further than that.
There was a far greater promise that was yet to be fulfilled in their homeland that they were to fix their eyes upon. This would be no mirage off in the distance. This was the fulfillment of a promise that had been passed down from generation to generation ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The comforting words of Genesis, chapter three tell us that the offspring of Eve would come and He would crush the head of the serpent. The evil one would be destroyed. He would be destroyed, and all reason for fear would be removed.
You see, it’s one thing when comforting words are spoken. It is a whole ‘nother thing when those words are actually backed up with the action of a person. And in this case, that man would be Jesus. He would be the One to come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He would come and save his people.
But He would come and save them from far greater enemies than Babylon or Persia or anyone else. He would come and save His people from sin, death, and the devil. In fact, that’s exactly what the angel told Joseph as Jesus entered this world: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 18:20-21).
That’s exactly what He did on the cross of Calvary. And all along the way leading up to the cross, He fulfilled the prophecies and promises that had been told about Him. In fact, our Gospel reading is evidence of that. There was a man who had a speech impediment and was completely deaf. But Jesus put His fingers in the man’s ears, spit, touched his tongue and the man’s ears were opened and his tongue was released. Just like Isaiah had prophesied, the mute man was no doubt singing for joy.
How comforting is it to know that we have a God who backs up everything He says and everything that was prophesied and promised about Him. As it says, in the book of Titus, God never lies. What He says is no illusion. It is no mirage off in the distance which only disappoints. No, our God is faithful to His Word from beginning to end.
That’s what makes it hard to fathom that as we navigate the Scriptures and see God’s people in action, more often than not they are steeped in rebellion. More often than not they are going away from God rather than following Him. It is as if they are fixated on a mirage off in the distance hoping that it provides something greater than what God can provide. It’s so baffling. Why drink the sand, if there is ample to drink from the One who truly is Living Water?
Then again, how many times do we do the same thing? How many times do we allow our eyes to get fixated on the false promises of this world? “Get rich, and you will be happy.” “Buy this, and you will finally be satisfied.” Do this, and you will finally please everybody.” But every one is a false hope. Every one is a mirage that is only like drinking sand in a desert which leads to death.
Yet, we still get caught up in it, don’t we? We work more and more hoping for a better life, but for what? A few extra bucks? I am reminded about a line that my home pastor used in a sermon once. He said: “No one ever laid on their death bed and said, ‘I wish I would have worked more.’”
And no doubt no one ever bought anything and was ever satisfied. Not in our consumer culture where even when you buy it, there is already a new model that’s being released. We are a society that teaches that enough is never enough. I have even thought of moving to Africa just to get away from it all. But then, as soon as I got off the airplane in Kenya, what is before my very eyes: a large billboard for the latest smartphone. So much for getting away from it all!
And when it comes to pleasing people, there is simply nothing you can do to please everybody. To try and be all things to all people, no matter how hard you try never works. Because invariably, there will always be someone that you have let down. And besides, we are called upon to please God rather than men (Galatians 1:10), which means in this post-Christian culture we are going to upset a whole host of people if we are to remain faithful.
Needless to say, we all get caught up in chasing after the mirages of this world. So, where do we turn? Where are we to go in this wilderness filled with blazing sand? The book of Hebrews rightly tells us to, Fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).
Fix our eyes on Jesus. That’s what the Old Testament was intended for as it pointed to the coming of the Christ-child. That’s what the New Testament is intended for as it reveals His death and resurrection for us and points us forward to His return.
As we mark Rally Sunday today, I can’t emphasize enough as pastor that we need to be in the Word, Old and New Testament alike. If we are to look anywhere else for comfort, we will only come up with a mouth full of sand which leads to death. But, here in the Word of God is where Jesus is for us. He is the Word that became flesh and dwells among us (John 1:14). Which means that prioritizing of the Divine Worship Service, Bible Class, and Sunday School are essential. Rightly ordering our weeks and our lives around the Word of God who became flesh by entering this desert wilderness for us is the only way we will truly ever be satisfied.
As Jesus said in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
Satisfaction doesn’t come in money, stuff, or the works we do. Satisfaction comes in the shed blood of Jesus Christ that He poured out for us upon the cross of Calvary.
And it is with that very blood along with His body that our thirst is quenched. Nothing is more satisfying than receiving the Son of God into our body as we hear from the lips of the pastor those words of Jesus declaring that our sins are forgiven. Every last mirage chasing sin is gone…forever.
Those comforting words of forgiveness, life, and salvation are a constant echo of God’s Word of promise ever since the day the drenching waters baptism were poured over our heads. On that day we were promised that our Savior would never leave or forsake us. And through it all, come what may, He has been ever faithful to His promise. Just as He will be faithful to His promise to come and save us (Isaiah 35:4) for all eternity, just as He was prophesied in our text for today. It is such a comfort to know that we have a God who never goes back on His Word. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.