In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4, ESV). But where is that river, and where is that city? When Isaiah prophesied that gathering of all the nations to the mountain of Yahweh’s holiness, Jerusalem, he prophesied it in the face of the fact that Jerusalem would be burned in 586 BC by the Babylonians. And though some exiles, some survivors, returned and rebuilt the temple seventy years later, those who saw the foundation of the new temple wept at its mediocrity (Ezra 3:12). No, Isaiah’s prophecy was not fulfilled in 538 BC, when the foundations of Zerubbabel’s Temple were laid, or 516 BC when it was completed; it was not fulfilled in 20 BC, when Herod’s Temple was begun, or in 64 AD when it was completed. It will not be fulfilled in the Israel founded in 1948 AD—in fact, it will not be fulfilled in this creation at all. That fact is clear when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:21-23, ESV).
Though the earthly Jerusalem would not be the place to which all nations would be gathered, though the festivals of the Lord’s new worship in His Spirit and in Jesus, the Truth, would not happen in the Jerusalem Temple, God’s purposes were carried out in that earthly Jerusalem. Because it was there that the Lord set a sign to which all people could look and behold the glory of Yahweh. “In that day,” Isaiah said, “the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire…” (Isaiah 11:10, ESV). The root of Jesse, the son of David, is none other than Jesus Christ, through whom the Father gathers all nations. Christ on the cross, set up in the midst of Israel, just outside Jerusalem, is God’s glory, hidden under the suffering caused by your sin and mine. In Christ crucified, “[Yahweh] has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10, ESV).
Before all nations—before your eyes—“Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1, ESV). And so it is that “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, ESV). This is the glory of God, and there is no other. From the place of that cruciform Sign, the Lord sent out survivors—twelve of them—to the nations. Jesus promised that “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, ESV). And He specifically ordained His Apostles under that promise: “Thus it is written, for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and for repentance for the forgiveness of sins to be proclaimed in his name in all the nations. Beginning from Jerusalem, you are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:47). And Paul included himself as a “minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16, ESV). Beginning from Jerusalem, this preaching of repentance for the sake of the forgiveness of sins has come all the way to you—and it is you, made holy by the Spirit of holiness, who have been brought “as an offering to [Yahweh]…to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says [Yahweh], just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of [Yahweh]” (Isaiah 66:20, ESV).
God knows your works and your thoughts; He knows those who are His and those who think they will be saved simply because they sit in a sanctuary, hear the teaching of Jesus with deaf ears, and eat and drink in His presence without faith. Just because we are in close proximity to holy things will not get us through the narrow door. You are only acceptable to the Lord because Christ offers you up to the Father through the blood of His cross. You have not come to what can be touched, or seen: like the terrifying presence of a God who dwells in inapproachable fire and darkness; no, you have come to the place of God’s eternal mercy, here at this altar: “to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and”—here’s the key—“to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24, ESV). Oh, all of us little Cains, crucifying our brother, Jesus! But He is the keeper of all His brothers, and so His blood cries out on our behalf, not for vengeance, but for mercy. And He has marked us, like Cain; but it is a mark of death to this world, and of life on a new earth under a new heaven. And because He is in our midst with Word and Supper, He has made this place a sign of God’s loving and living presence in the midst of the nations, from where He continues to gather people to Himself.
And it is all because He taught and journeyed toward Jerusalem, turning neither to the left nor to the right. He is the narrow door, and though that door will one day be closed, it is open to you today! You are the ones whom the Lord sent His apostles to gather; you are a pure offering to Yahweh, sprinkled with the cleansing blood of Jesus. You are the ones who are on the narrow road to Zion; “O sweet and blessed country, the home of God’s elect! O sweet and blessed country, that faithful hearts expect!” (LSB 672:4). For the sake of the eternal glory in Christ, to which you have been called (1 Peter 5:10), strive and struggle with your sinful nature; confess it before the killing Law of God, and receive His full and free forgiveness.
Because the Day is coming of which St. Isaiah prophesied and of which St. John was granted a vision: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:1-5a, ESV). “Then came one of the seven angels…and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God…. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:9-11a, 22-27, ESV). Therefore, as the psalmist says, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3, ESV). Because the Lord Yahweh will keep His promise in Jesus Christ: “[T]he ransomed of [Yahweh]”–sprinkled with the blood of Jesus that speaks a better word than that of Abel–“shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11, ESV). And the River continues to flow into the City of God: “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, through gates of pearl streams in the countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: Alleluia! Alleluia!” (LSB 677:8).
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/21/10