This is a pencil and this is a pen. Once upon a time not all that long ago before most people had access to computers, you basically had two choices for writing things – a pencil and a pen. When you have a choice, which would you rather use? It might depend on a couple of different things, but I think it’s safe to say that one important thing it would depend on is how many mistakes you might be making in whatever it was that you were doing, because it’s just plain easier to erase a pencil mistake than a pen mistake. Pencils even come with erasers on the opposite end so that you can take care of your mistake just seconds after you make it… But the thing about erasers is that eventually erasers wear out, like the eraser on this pencil, making the pencil it’s connected to pretty worthless, no matter how much lead may be left that can still be used for writing.
Just think if God’s eraser of blotting out our sins would wear out – or if it had already worn out. That would make coming to church like this pretty worthless and pointless, wouldn’t it? What would we do here? What would we say here? We could talk about the political situation in our county and share a few opinions about what we like or don’t like about the way things are going. Or we could talk about things we can do to make this community and our world a better, a fairer, a more enjoyable place to live before we die and consider ourselves in that way to be good church-going, God-fearing people. Or if we still did feel a need to connect spiritually with God about the problems with ours sin, we could in our despair ask God, “Lord, what can we do to make you love us? Everything is so bad in my life. Tell me, what to do, and I’ll do it” – until the next week when we would have to say the exact same thing, because there was no erasing of anything to give us any reason to love God or to live for him.
We do want to gather in worship like this – and it is a joy to gather in worship like this – but in order to gather for the right reasons and to avoid that kind of emphasizing only our lives on earth or speaking with some kind of haughty self-righteousness about a power or an ability we don’t really have, we need an eraser that won’t wear out – and we need to know who owns it and how he uses it. We need to know what is behind God’s great promise in the last verse of our lesson for today from the prophet Isaiah that makes all the difference in this world and the world to come for every single child of God, when the Lord said, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
We need that kind of permanent eraser, because what we do against God should be written in his book of judgment in permanent ink: Page 1 – temper; Page 2 – greed; Page 3 – thinking he is better than others. Page 4 – secret thoughts of lust; Page 5 – filthy words; Page 6 – hardly ever prays or hears God’s Word. Not only should those kinds of things be written in permanent ink, but there wouldn’t be an end of pages that would catalog in that permanent ink the sins which accumulate in a day and a week and a life time.
In the third paragraph in verse 22 the Lord talks about his children of Israel not showing their thanks to God for the things he had done for them, as least not for the right reasons. He tells them, “Yet you have not called upon me, O Jacob, you have not wearied yourselves for me, O Israel. You have not brought me sheep for burnt offerings, nor honored me with your sacrifices.” The thing is that many of the people thought they had done those things – and were in fact doing some of those things – coming to worship and bringing their offerings and sacrifices — but they were doing them because they thought that that would prove that there really wasn’t much, if anything, for God to erase in their lives. And others among them who weren’t guilty of that kind of self-righteousness, were showing very clearly in their lives how unrighteous they were by not caring how they lived, and by not recognizing the value of the Lord in their lives, and by going ahead in their lives doing whatever they very well wanted to do to add more pages to the book God’s judgment when it came to eternal life – eternal life which they would not receive, unless a totally different way of looking of life would begin – eternal life which God wanted them all to have, resulting in his talking to them like this to warn them. To both kinds of people, the Lord said in the last sentence of that third paragraph, “You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.”
Isn’t that what we have been confessing to our Lord in our Lenten worship this year, as we have listened to God ask us in our theme verse for this Lenten season, “Tell me what you have done.” I have done both things, Lord. I have acted like Jesus’ blood really didn’t need to be shed all that much for a pretty good person like me, and I have acted like I don’t care that Jesus’ blood was shed for anyone, since it’s not all that important of a thing to think about — and I have so many other things I would much rather think about and do and say, without any God-talk telling me I shouldn’t do or say this or that. The Lord says the same thing to you and to me right now that he said to them back then: “You have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses.”
But, as you also know if you have been worshiping with us on these Lenten Sundays, the most important aspect of that theme, “Tell me what you have done,” is us asking God to tell us what he has done. And our Lord does that very beautifully in the first two paragraphs of our lesson, words which were meant to comfort and strengthen those people back then who did take his warnings seriously, and words which are meant to give you and me that very same comfort and strength today, as we bow before our Lord and ask for his help.
Does a certain monumental event in the Old Testament come to mind in the first paragraph when you hear words like “the sea” and “mighty waters” and “chariots” and horses” and “extinguished?” Those words were meant to take the children of Israel back in time some seven hundred years before the time of Isaiah to the time of Moses when the Lord parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites to march through on dry ground, and then caused the mighty waters to destroy the chariots and horses and the army of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He was telling them – and us – that since he is charge of history, and since everything of history is meant to focus on God fulfilling his promises, that this was God’s way to get his people to the promised land of Israel, where the promised Savior would someday be born.
In the second paragraph the Lord tells them – and us – to forget those things for the moment and to think about the new thing that would not happen until about 200 years after Isaiah wrote these words. We may not be quite as familiar with what words like “wild animals” and “jackals” and the “desert” and “wasteland” might be referring to, but that is a way the Bible talks about God bringing his people back from another slavery in a different foreign country – the land of Babylon in modern day Iraq, a slavery they had been taken off into because of their sins, but a slavery they would be returned from because of a key promise the Lord had made that he would bring them back to the land of Israel so they could prepare the city of Jerusalem for the arrival of the promised Messiah some five or six hundred more years down the line.
So, what’s the point of God’s history lesson about the past and his promise of what the future history would be like? Isn’t the point the whole point of our everyday Christian life? Every day in his Word God points us back and he points us ahead. Every day in his Word he points us back to what he has done in the past to take care of our bodies and our souls, and every day in his Word God points us ahead to what he will do when he reunites our bodies and souls and takes us to heaven. And all of that past and future history is based on what our Lord did when he sent his Son to become part of the history of this world and of our lives. He had said that all those sacrifices the people made for the wrong reasons or didn’t make at all were meant to assure them that a once and for all-time sacrifice was coming in the person of the promised Messiah. And he says to you and me right now that that promised Messiah came to actually make that once and for all-time sacrifice, and that because of that sacrifice our Lord can say to us, as he does say to us, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
And that then explains why we are here at church in worship today. We are here to tell our Lord that we know we don’t deserve him to erase our sins from his memory. We are here to have our Lord tell us that because of his love for us he has erased our sins from his memory. And we are here to ask our Lord to help us erase from our lives those things that are hard to erase from our memories, whether they be the sins that we have committed that still bother us, or whether they be the actions and attitudes of others toward us that can bring us down or tempt our anger to flare up. What a joy to know that the one who should be burdened and wearied by us instead was burdened and wearied for us, when he took up the burden of our sins and went through the unfathomable weariness of the suffering and death that resulted in the erasing of those sins. The permanent ink with which our sins should be written is instead used to write the words “forgiven” and “paid for,” meaning that in God’s eyes they exist no more. That is something only Christ’s blood can do – and something that Christ’s blood has done. And that makes the blood of Christ the eraser – an eraser that won’t wear out. Amen.