************ Sermon on Isaiah 9:3 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 22, 2012
"They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). That's what Isaiah says to us on this Thanksgiving Day. "They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). Isaiah is talking about a "Harvest Festival." He is talking about an old-fashioned celebration. He is talking about a Hebrew celebration. He is talking about an all-out celebration involving dancing, eating, drinking, and worship. Except for the dancing part, it sounds exactly like our Thanksgiving Day. We eat. We drink. We worship. We celebrate.
Most people in our culture have no idea about harvest. Nor do they give a thought to planting and cultivation and irrigation. Nor do they consider the rearing and care of livestock and other animals. Most people in our culture have no idea what a stalk of grain looks like. They have never seen a chicken lay an egg. They have never seen a cow being milked. All they know is that they can get whatever food they need or want from the grocery store. Somehow it is always there. The more romantic or rustic might go to a Farmer's Market – but again no real thought is given to all the labor behind the products they buy.
On a visit this past week one lady said she looks at the heifers and cows out her window and sees yummy hamburgers and steak. Two days later another lady said the opposite; she became vegetarian when she realized steaks and hamburgers comes from cows. Which left me wondering – where did she think they come from, or did they just magically appear at the meat counter?
Built into Israel's culture and faith life was a number of harvest festivals so the people remember and rejoice that food and drink and other blessings do not just appear by themselves. Likewise, we have set aside a day of Thanksgiving so that we remember and rejoice that food and drink and other blessings do not just appear by themselves.
I Greedy Joy
A "They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). What, exactly, is this harvest joy that Isaiah is talking about?
I am sad to say that for many people it is nothing but an increase in wealth. They rejoice that they have not gone bankrupt, like a neighbor or two. They rejoice that their dairy herd is bigger than a year ago. They rejoice that they kept up their mortgage payments. They rejoice that they bought a new car or pickup. I call all of this "greedy joy."
B I hope and pray that even the most selfish among us see another reason for harvest joy. I hope and pray that even the most selfish among us rejoice that an abundant harvest means bread for the poor.
One month ago we remembered World Hunger in Tulare County. Our devotional book pointed out that in Tulare County there are people who hunger, who thirst, who are unemployed, who are homeless, who experience teen pregnancy, who use drugs, who are struggling migrant workers. An abundant harvest means we are able to share with those in need and so be a blessing to them. God has blessed us and, out of thankfulness, we can be a blessing to others.
II Gratitude to God for Physical Blessings
A "They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). Isaiah recognizes something that most people forget: harvest joy is directed towards God. As I already said, most people today do not think of those who live and work on farms when they think of their food. Even worse, most people today do not think of the Lord Who gives the blessings of food and drink. But Isaiah knows it all comes from God.
Did you hear how Isaiah directs his words towards God? "You," he says. "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). Isaiah recognizes that we are dependent upon God. Not just partially dependent but fully dependent. Not just dependent in times of emergency but all the time. Not just dependent in third-world countries but everywhere. We are more dependent upon God than most of us imagine.
We are as dependent upon God as were the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. You know their experience. Every morning they went outside of their tents and gathered the manna the Lord put like a layer of dew on the ground. They cried to the Lord and He gave them water from a rock. They complained about the lack of meat and God rained down quail upon them (cf Ex 16 & 17).
Today, the same God Who dropped the bread of heaven upon the camp of Israel commands the earth to yield its crops. The same God Who brought water from a rock also fills the reservoirs and caps the mountains with snow. The same God Who craved His people's desire for meat causes chickens to lay eggs and cows to give milk.
B "They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest" (Is 9:3). God's people look at harvest time and we see God's faithfulness. Do you remember God's promise to Noah after the flood?
(Gen 8:22) "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease."Do you hear the promise? Whether it is yesterday, today, or tomorrow, God promises the changing of the seasons – from seedtime in the Spring to harvest time in the Summer and Fall.
Many people would have us believe this is no longer a sure thing.
For instance, we have all heard of climate change and global warming. Scientists talk of the greenhouse effect caused by air pollution – a gradual global warming which will turn most growing areas into deserts and melt the polar icecap.
I mentioned once that on my last vacation I read a book on what happens when the super volcano at Yellowstone blows. When that happens, we enter another ice-age. Temperate areas are turned into frozen wastelands; jungles are turned into deserts. It is no longer possible to grow crops in the world's bread baskets of the American Mid-West, the Canadian Prairies, the Ukraine. FEMA is put in charge of refugee camps on the east side of the Mississippi River. People are hungry. Food riots are a regular occurrence. Gangs of hungry people roam the streets and pillage whatever they can find.
There are also those who worry about a nuclear winter. With the proliferation of nuclear weapons there is the possibility of a nuclear war which throws up so much dust and debris into the air that the sun is blocked and an ice-age begins.
Are these real possibilities? Will there ever be a time that the earth heats up so much or cools down so much that there can be no seedtime or harvest? I doubt it. I don't say that because I doubt man's endless capacity for sin. I don't say that because I doubt man's capacity to pollute the environment. I don't say that because I doubt man's capacity to start hurling nuclear weapons at each other. I say that because of the kind of God we have: a merciful, loving, and gracious God Who gives us a promise and a sign of seedtime and harvest.
Every time you see a combine in the field, a tractor on the land, a tanker truck picking up milk, you need to say to yourself, "God is true to His promise. Despite the dreary Winter and damp Spring, Autumn has come with golden grain." "Despite the state of the economy and the unemployment rate, God is true to His promise that seedtime and harvest shall never cease." Every rising sun, every falling shower, every revolving season is proof of His faithfulness.
Now hear this: if God keeps His covenant with the earth, how much more does He keep covenant with His own people? How much more is He faithful to the people He loves with an everlasting love?
III Gratitude to God for Spiritual Blessings
A Harvest joy comes not only from God's physical blessings but also – and especially – from spiritual blessings. Or, to put it another way, there is a physical harvest and there is also a spiritual harvest. Listen to our text with this spiritual harvest in mind:
(Is 9:3) "You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder."Isaiah mentions the nation – that is, the people of God. In the Old Testament this is the nation of Israel. In the New Testament this is the church. There is harvest joy, says Isaiah, because the nation has been enlarged.
Four days ago we had six persons who acknowledged Christ before men. At that time God "enlarged the nation." Six people stood before God and His people to confess faith in Christ. Isaiah tells us to be thankful for this addition to our membership. In fact, month by month and year by year we find ourselves growing this way. So that a group that started with forty-three families and 96 souls now numbers over one hundred and thirty families and just over five hundred souls. Isaiah says we cannot allow something like this to pass without rejoicing before the Lord as men rejoice when they gather in the sheaves of grain.
B "You have enlarged the nation" (Is 9:3). We are thankful that the Lord's harvest is coming in. We praise God, using the language of Acts, that the Lord is adding daily those who are being saved (cf Acts 2:47). For don't forget, conversion is the Lord's work.
We are reminded here that the only multiplication of the church that is to be desired is that which God sends. If we add to our membership by becoming worldly and accommodating, our increase is worth nothing at all. If our growth comes by using entertainment and excitement and the sales gimmicks of Madison Avenue, our increase is worth nothing at all. If our growth comes by compromising the truth, our increase is worth nothing at all.
Our passage teaches us what happens in true conversion. Listen to what Isaiah wrote in verse 2:
(Is 9:2) The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.When God brings people into the church, they undergo a very remarkable change. They come out of horrible darkness into glorious light. They are now new creatures in Christ.
Our passage also teaches us the way of conversion – namely through Jesus.
(Is 9:6) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.We want converts who know this Christ. We want men and women and children to whom He is "Wonderful Counselor." We want no one added to the church who do not call Him "Mighty God." We want members to whom Christ is the "Everlasting Father." We want members who look to Him as the "Prince of Peace."
On this Thanksgiving Day we are thankful for every sinner who repents and – by grace – believes in Jesus.
Especially, though, each of us should say, "I am thankful that God saved me. I am thankful that God plowed in the soil of my heart." Because until He did our hearts only bore weeds and we were condemned, lost, helpless, and hopeless. But plowing is not all God did. After the plowing came the sowing of the Word. After the sowing came the pruning. And after the pruning came the reaping. All of it the work of God in you and me.
C "You have enlarged the nation" (Is 9:3). We are thankful that the same Lord Who gives crops and growth in numbers also gives growth in the grace and knowledge and love of Jesus Christ.
"You have enlarged the nation" (Is 9:3). Our Christian life is not stagnant. Nor is our Christian life to be on the decline. God gives us the Word, the sacraments, prayer, and Christian fellowship so we can grow, grow, grow. The result? Growth in faith. Growth in grace. Growth in love. And an increasing ability to resist temptation. We all know what a dark cloud sin can be, even in the life of the Christian. How it can threaten to overwhelm us. But, in Christ and in the power of His Holy Spirit, we find ourselves able to fight sin and win.
On this Thanksgiving Day, hear again the words of our text, the words of harvest joy:
(Is 9:3) You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.Today, we rejoice in God's harvest – both physical and spiritual.
Let me end by reminding you that someday there will be a final harvest. At that time, who will have the most joy? It won't be the one with the biggest bank account or the most cows. It won't be the one who never takes time to pray or to read the Bible or to attend worship or to be in a Bible Study. It won't be the one who never tells others about the Lord Jesus Christ. It won't be the one who eats, drinks, and makes merry. It won't be the one who doesn't repent of his sin and doesn't believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Someday there will be a final harvest. Ask yourself if you will you be rejoicing at that time even as you rejoice in the harvest today.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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