THE MESSIAH AND THE NATIONS
"Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th'incarnate Deity
Pleased as Man with men to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel."
THERE can be no doubt that Jesus was God Incarnate. The reason we're all here, not just today but every Sunday, is to remember the incarnation of the Son of God. The Baby of Bethlehem is our Prophet, Priest, and King. That's what a Messiah is. We don't tend to think of the king as a religious office, but the Bible does not separate the departments of life like that. Psalm 110 describes the Messiah as the Son of David, the King of Israel, and a Priest after Melchizedek, so David's successor, Solomon, offered hundreds of animals when the temple was dedicated. He wasn't a Levite, let alone an Aaronic priest, but he was king of Jerusalem, a righteous king, and therefore a Melchizedek priest.
The prophet Isaiah uses shepherd imagery here to talk about the Messiah. Most of us are familiar with Handel's Messiah, and have probably sung the words of this text more often than we have spoken them. The original David had been a shepherd before he was the king. He probably saw a lot of similarity between the two jobs, but when we consider the activities of this king - feeding, child-rearing, encouraging - we can't see most Old Testament kings doing those things. Humility was a rare virtue. In those times before Christ, humility was often taken for weakness. Solomon was peaceful and wise, but not known for his humility. Jesus only mentioned Solomon twice: once He praised his wisdom that the Queen of Sheba came to witness. The other time He talked about Solomon's wardrobe, which came in second to a lily. Jesus fulfilled many Old Testament types. He fed people in the wilderness like Moses, raised a widow's son like Elijah, stood before kings like Joseph, was sacrificed by His Father like Isaac, and came back from the dead like Jonah, but never did He sit on a throne like Solomon, or judge between people, or wear nice clothes. Jesus was, as sons of David go, an anti-Solomon.
If you can only remember one thing that a Messiah does, let it be this: The Messiah rescues His people. All mankind was in far worse trouble than the Exile of the Jews. We were in the clutches of death and the devil. The Messiah rescued us from that. Now we are on our way to an inheritance that awaits us in heaven. We can't find our way there. A shepherd has to lead us. He feeds us with the Word and Sacrament. He looks to the lambs and the mothers - that means the ones who have to go slowly. He doesn't push anyone, He leads, but He leads gently, as Isaiah also says: a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not put out. Jesus is gentle about the way He shepherds His Church, providing a model for us. We must not be too quick to demand high commitment levels from people, for all need spiritual food no matter how quickly they can walk the walk. Word and Sacrament are the constant food for the flock. The ancient church fathers demanded a high commitment level, but they were being persecuted. We are not. There are some who can only keep up at a distance. We must be careful not to lose them.
Today we have an important second question before us: what good does Messiah do for the Gentiles? Distress of nations is part of everyone's life. We can remember the violence of the terrorists, as well as the severe assaults by nature. Is Messiah only for the Church? He has moved beyond saying that He is for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." After His resurrection, He sends His Church to the ends of the earth. God has made His Servant a Light to the Nations. The prophecy from chapter 60 reads: The Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will be seen among you, and Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
What does Messiah give to the nations? He gives us pardon for all our sins, and with that forgiveness He gives us comfort, peace, and hope. Make no mistake about it; the whole world needs the Gospel we have. The Jews need it, the Greeks need it, the Chinese need it, and any other ethnic group you can think of needs it. See how completely, and in such minute detail, God has fulfilled all the promises that He made through the patriarchs and prophets. When He told Abraham that in His Seed all the families of the earth would be blessed, He was talking about Jesus. The Son of David of Psalm 110 was Jesus. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah was Jesus. There is no other Messiah. There will be no Third Temple because Jesus was the Third Temple, destroyed and rebuilt in three days. God's true Israel today is not a nation. It is Jesus, the Righteous Remnant reduced to one Man who fulfills all things. Every promise of Scripture finds its Yea and Amen in Him alone. There will be no more Sabbath because Jesus is the Sabbath, spending Saturday lifeless in the tomb, fulfilling the Commandment for everyone. The New Covenant is His Covenant, celebrated with the meal of His Body and Blood.
Is there room in the Messiah's kingdom for us? We are His flock. His death and resurrection have rescued us from death and the devil to make us His own. We are His spiritual body, and thus as much a part of the True Israel as our Head. That means we have to say some rather hard things - that no one can be part of the kingdom who rejects the King. Both God's mercy and His justice are products of His love. The mercy prevails unless one turns from it in arrogance. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the message that quenches all spiritual thirst. No matter how much commotion is in the world, we have a King who loves us, who feeds us, who teaches us, who encourages us along the way. His kingdom is not of this world, at least not yet. Some day His kingdom will be established forever. Even then, He will still be our Shepherd. AMEN
~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross