Let’s say I thought you needed a personal servant, and I wanted to make a contract with you for me to be your personal servant to take care of all your errands and your house cleaning and your yard work and your cooking – for the next twenty years – for free. And let’s say that if I don’t keep that contract, I promise I will give you my computer and my car and my TV and my library and my house and my Christmas gifts from last year and the baseball that I caught at a Brewer’s game a few years ago… Seven different things that I own that mean something to me I will give to you if I fail to deliver on my promise, my oath, my covenant.
Today our Lord tells us through the prophet Isaiah that he is making a promise, an oath, a covenant. He calls this oath swearing – not, of course, any bad kind of swearing, but the proper kind of swearing that is a promise which is confirmed in a very important and solemn way. Look at what he says in verse 23 in the first paragraph: “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked…”
Literally the word “swear” in the Hebrew language means to “seven oneself.” It’s taken from the Hebrew word for seven. We don’t know for sure why that is the case, but we assume that God used the word that way because of the importance of the number seven in the Bible, since it so often refers to the perfection and completeness of God. So, when God’s people would make oaths or contracts with other people, they would “seven themselves.” It’s like they were saying I will make you know how serious I am about this by promising you seven things if I don’t keep my word. They didn’t literally offer them seven things, as I did in my pretend personal servant contract, but the point was that they wanted to make the person certain that they meant what they said. We could say they wanted to make people “seven times sure.”
On this Palm Sunday let’s see what God wants us to be “Seven Times Sure” about as we begin this holiest of weeks which will lead us through a wide range of spiritual emotions, all of which will eventually lead us to sing the same kind of praise the people sang on that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem, “Blessed is he who has come in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!”
We can sing that with seven times certainty because there is one God, the God who says he swears by himself, meaning that we can trust him totally and completely because of who he is, unlike being able to trust totally and completely any human being who makes a human promise. Who God is is what he says about himself in the opening verse, when he sends out an invitation to all the world, and he says, “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”
What God had just got done saying is that it was worthless for the children of Israel to follow after the gods of the nations that were around them – gods that may have seemed to make so much more sense to worship because they claimed the power to give earthly blessing and success, and so much more fun to follow, since in the name of their gods they could horribly misuse God’s gift of the sexual relationship. God said it was worthless to follow those idols because they were make-believe gods. They were just pieces of wood or stone that would be thrown into the fire or garbage when people were done with them. And those idols certainly had not done what the Lord God had done. “It is I,” the Lord had said a little earlier. “It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts.” One reason we can be seven times sure that we can trust God is because he is the God who made us. We didn’t just appear here, no matter how much more it might make sense to our human minds to believe what many say right now about the origin of man before those ideas get thrown out and replaced by something else down the line. And we didn’t just appear here to live in any way we want, no matter how much more fun it might seem to our foolish hearts to fulfill ourselves at the expense of others or to give our greatest attention in life to our needs in life rather than to the needs and cares and tears of others.
The only way to be able to look at life that way is to know that the one God that there is is the Savior God. When he says, “Everybody on this earth, turn to me and be saved,” he is not saying, “Believe in me and maybe you will get to live a little longer on earth with a little more earthly happiness.” He is saying, “Believe in me and you will get to live forever longer in heaven, no matter how long or short you may live on earth.”
To see what God means, all you have to do is take a look at the one riding into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Whom do you see riding on that animal so humbly and so lovingly? What you see is God – God on a donkey… just five days before you see God on a cross. The God who says he is the only God there is does not say that because he wants to brag about how much better he is than you. The God who says he is the only God there is says that so you can know that despite that fact that he is the holy and righteous God – and you and I are anything but holy and righteous people –that he is your God, that he is your Lord, that he is your Savior.
Don’t go looking for whatever you think you are missing in something else that will just leave you looking for something else. If you or I do that, we will have to be among those whom Isaiah describes as someday – on the Last Day – needing to bow on our knees before him and say he was right all along. To use Isaiah’s words at the end of that first paragraph. “Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.” Sadly, many as they go to eternal judgment will then finally — when it is too late — be seven times sure that there is one God who is the Savior God. Instead of that, God says, look for – and look forward to – something far different. Turn to the one who wants you to be seven times sure that nothing in your life will ever be missing when you turn to him and know that the God on the donkey who became the God on the cross did that because he is the God who became sin for you as your holy Substitute so that in him you and I might become, as the apostle Paul once said, “the righteousness of God.”
And that’s what the second paragraph of our lesson emphasizes. The one God says there is one way – and only one way – to be righteous and holy. You can be seven times sure of that because the only God there is who made you has made an oath that he is also the only God there is who has saved you, because there is one righteousness – and he has not made it a secret at all as to where that righteousness can be found. What does he say in the second paragraph of all of us who believe in what Jesus came to do: “They will say of me, ‘In the Lord are righteousness and strength.’” And then at the beginning of verse 25: “But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult.”
In these next days it is possible you will find yourself crying, either with tears streaming down your face, or because of the emotion choking your heart, when you think of what Jesus allowed to be done to him because of the sins we had committed against him. But in the midst of that honest emotion, know that you can exult and rejoice and praise God, because “in him” – Isaiah repeats it two times – “in him” – in your Lord – in your Savior God – in him are righteousness and strength. Jesus Christ allowed all his human strength to be sapped from him until he finally bowed his head and breathed his last, because he knew that the only way God’s people could be seven times sure that they would have eternal life was by him giving up his earthly life, which was the payment God had demanded of himself to fulfill the promise, the oath, the covenant that he had made ever since the time Adam and Eve first turned away from God and wanted to find fulfillment in something other than what their Lord desired. In Jesus – and because of Jesus – and through Jesus, you and I are holy and righteous and forgiven and free. And on this Palm Sunday, we can see in love which we cannot comprehend how our Savior Jesus was going about the work to make us seven times sure of that – certain beyond any doubt of that — because it depends not on anything you or I say or do, but totally and completely on the word and promise of God’s one and only Son. Amen.