“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’” (Isaiah 35:4).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Why would they have an anxious heart? To know that, we need to have a little context. In the previous chapter of Isaiah, God’s prophet calls the nations to come and listen to the announcement of God’s judgment. The reason for the announcement is clearly stated: “The Lord is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their host; He has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter” (Isaiah 34:2).
The picture is not pretty. It is a brutal and gory portrayal of judgment. Mounds of rotting bodies and a landscape soaked with the blood of God’s enemies. Isaiah announces God’s judgment, particularly focusing upon Edom. But note in these verses that the judgment anticipates the Last Day. “The skies roll up like a scroll. All their host shall fall” (Isaiah 34:4). Jesus refers to these verses in His discussion of the end of time in Matthew 24:29, and St. John writes in Revelation: “The stars of the sky fell to the earth… The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up” (6:13, 14).
The historical conflict between Edom and Judah also had spiritual implications. It was a conflict between God’s chosen people and the enemies—a conflict between God’s believers and unbelievers. In the light of these things, it is not difficult to understand why Isaiah chose Edom. This neighbor to the southeast was a suitable representative for all the nations of the world who oppose God and reject His Gospel. The history of conflict between Judah and Edom was brutal and bloody; it fit the description of the final judgment to come.
Perhaps the bloodshed and gory details upset you. They should. God’s judgment will be brutal and complete. God’s Law always terrifies the sinner. God’s judgment comes to people who have rejected Him, refused His Gospel, and opposed believers. We are likely to think of God’s judgment in the abstract; Isaiah pictures it for us in concrete and brutal terms. One commentator observed: “The blood-red sin of rebellion demands a blood-red punishment of judgment.”[i]
No wonder so many have an anxious heart!
We have enemies even more dangerous than Edom or any mortal foe. Our worst enemies are death, the devil, and our own sinful nature. And you don’t have to look very far to find evidence of their presence in your life even now. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The devil brought sin into the world by tempting Adam and Eve, who willingly yielded to the temptation. In Adam and Eve’s sin, the entire human race fell into sin. This original sin affects every human creature. We are born without the ability to fear and love God. We are spiritually blind and dead. We are born with an endless desire to sin. We are enemies of God. We are born deserving God’s temporal and eternal death sentence. We are born enslaved in a lifelong sinful condition from which we cannot free ourselves. The wages of sin is death, and every disease and disorder and devastation is a consequence of sin.
We live in a fallen world in which everything falls apart, and “everything” includes you and me. Even if you are born with good health, time and circumstance will take their toll. Accidents and sickness will hurt and maim. Age dulls our senses. God gives life and health, and sin works to take it away. Eyes dim, hearing hardens, joints ache, and muscles loss their tone. Where the Lord would have you see His blessings, sin works to take sight away. Where He would have you hear His Word, sin seeks to silence your world. Where the Lord would have you to be with Him, sin seeks to keep you separated from God for eternity.
Death hounds you every step of the way. You must devote a lot of time each day to avoiding death as long as possible. It’s why you look both ways before you cross the street, why you make the regular medical appointments, why you at least consider the importance of diet and exercise for a healthy lifestyle. But you can only avoid disease, injury, and death for so long. Eventually, death wins.
No wonder so many are anxious.
But death does not win. Satan will not reign forever. Sin’s chains will be loosed. Christ has broken into this world and destroyed the power of sin and death and devil. This is what He demonstrates by working these miracles in the Gospels. Where the devil’s horde seeks to possess God’s children, Jesus casts them out. Where sin leads to the affliction of blindness, Jesus heals the blind. He often heals simply by speaking! He speaks His powerful Word, and sight is restored; blindness has no choice, but must flee. He speaks, and the deaf hear His Word, and then hear everything else, too. He speaks His living Word, and the dead come back to life.
But there’s a far greater miracle. Jesus sends the wages of sin packing simply by speaking His Word. Thus, Isaiah declares, “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’” (Isaiah 35:4).
The Lord prepares the salvation of His people. Today, no matter what foolishness or fear has ensnared your anxious heart, confess your sins in the confidence that the Lord has redeemed you by grace alone and has prepared for you a new way of life. In Christ, God comes with a vengeance: not to condemn you, but to save you. Not vengeance against you, but against sin and death and devil. By His death, Christ has destroyed the power of sin and death. By His Word, Jesus rescues you from sin, the devil, and death.
By His death on the cross, Christ paid the entire penalty of your sin and guilt. By His death on the cross, Christ fully endured and appeased the righteous wrath of God toward all people, thereby reconciling you to God. By Christ’s death on the cross, He destroyed the power of sin to enslave you. Christ defeated Satan by obeying His Father’s will throughout His earthly life, even going all the way to the cross, all in your place. Christ put death to death by His own death and resurrection.
If Christ has defeated your worst enemies (and He has!), He can still your anxious heart.
“Be strong; fear not.” This is the Gospel message. God does not wish to terrify and threaten. He takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked. He is much more interested in bringing forgiveness, hope, and life. So, God’s people hear the Gospel message, and it dispels fear. Through Christ, death becomes a sleep from which He will awaken us. Through Christ, even every trial becomes a source of joy because God will cause it all to work out for your own good. The Gospel steadies weak hands and strengthens wobbly legs when you have no power to go forward of yourself. The Gospel strengthens and encourages you.
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Behold, Christ, your God, will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God! He will come and save you!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has lived a perfect life and His righteousness is credited to you!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has died for you! His perfect sacrifice for sins has brought you complete forgiveness. You are judged not guilty for His sake! His death brings you eternal life!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has risen for you! No matter what may happen to you in this life and body, you have the certain hope of the resurrection of your own body and soul unto life everlasting!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, where He intercedes for you and rules all things for the good of His Church and people!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! The crucified, risen, and ascended Lord comes to you in His means of grace, granting you pardon and peace in His Word, saving you by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on you richly, and coming to you in His Supper where He feeds you His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of your body and soul unto life everlasting!
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! Christ will return to judge the living and the dead and take you and all believers to be with Him in the new heaven and new earth for eternity! “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!”
Be strong; fear not, O you with an anxious heart! All your enemies are no match for Jesus. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Volume 2 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing House], p. 433.