If you received a game for Christmas, have you tried playing it yet? If you have, was it true for you as it was for me with one of my family’s Christmas gift games that it takes far longer to read the directions to figure out how to play the game than it actually does to just go ahead and learn the game by playing the game? If you are like me, you may agree that some games, even though they may be very fun and enjoyable, have directions which are just far too complicated to understand.
There is an old game, however, that is very, very simple to play, but you never know what the result is going to be, precisely because the most fun part of the game comes from not understanding. It’s the old gossip game. Do you know that game – the game where someone whispers a phrase to someone else, who then whispers it to the next person, who then whispers it to the next person and so on down the line until the last person has to say what he or she heard the last person say. One of the suggested examples is for the first person to say the sentence: Goofy grinning gophers gobbled gigantic grapes while juggling gerbils. It is not hard to imagine what a garbled message the tenth person in line will recite when asked to say what he heard. If you have ever played the game, you can also imagine why it’s called the gossip game, because unfortunately gossip sometimes starts because someone misheard or misspoke information they thought they got from someone else. They misunderstood.
When it comes to God’s Word, we know very well that God does not want us to mishear or to misspeak. He wants us to understand. But look at the opening verse of our lesson. Whom does God want us to get his message to: “Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations.” God wants us to make sure that what Isaiah says here gets passed on to people far away in the same way that Isaiah gave it. It is clear, as I pray that this message from God’s Word will help us see even more clearly, This Is No Gossip Game!
Thankfully we don’t have to rely on what we think we heard someone say in order to know it for ourselves and to tell others. God speaks in a way that can’t be misunderstood when he speaks about his Son, our Lord Jesus, and when he speaks about us, his dearly loved people. And that’s the emphasis of God’s Word to us today.
In the first verses of our lesson, the prophet Isaiah speaks about God’s Son Jesus seven hundred years before Jesus was born. In fact, Jesus himself is speaking through the prophet. Look at the end of the first line: “Before I was born the Lord called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name.” So what does Jesus say about himself? There are a number of things in these words, but let’s emphasize two things for now that someone has clearly passed on to us that we also want to clearly pass on to others. The first thing is in verse 4: “But I said, ‘I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand, and my reward is with my God.’” Right before this, Jesus had just said that his Father had told him that he would display his divine glory in him, but what was constantly the case with Jesus’ life on earth — and especially those last months and that last week and those last days? He was constantly rebuffed and rejected and written off as a madman or a blasphemer. It could seem like everything he had done in showing love to people, in healing people, in forgiving people was all in vain and for nothing. But just as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane on that last night, he entrusted himself to his Father’s will, knowing that was “due him,” as he said, was in his Father’s hands. His Father would make it all right.
And that leads to the second thing that Jesus emphasizes about himself before it even happened. God the Father did make it all right. In fact, he made it all so right, that what his Son did could not be confined to that holy hill in Jerusalem, but it had to be whispered and shouted to the ends of the earth. Verse 6 tells us about that: “He says (that is God the Father). He says, ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Someone did that for you, right? Someone told you at this end of the earth called Wisconsin or Florida or Massachusetts or Washington or wherever you grew up that Jesus didn’t just die for some people in the faraway land where he was born. He died for you. He died for you because you needed someone to die for you. You needed to know that everything you have done wrong against God has been wiped out by the blood of the one who never did anything wrong, yet by being rebuffed and rejected and hoisted on a cross did just that. He made it all right – something that is extra guaranteed because someone also passed on to you what the Bible clearly says about Jesus rising from the dead so that he could watch over us and strengthen us as we pass on to others by our words and our examples what it means to know that Jesus is alive.
Today in our worship we see how Jesus officially began this ministry that he was talking about hundreds of years in advance when he was baptized by John the Baptist. This was the take-off point from which we would see his glory and his rejection and his glory again. It is also why we take the time today to think of our own baptisms, because as his followers our lives are going to follow the same pattern, just as he promised when he said, “A student is not above his teacher.” So let’s look at the last verses of our lesson for a few moments in terms of what they mean to us as baptized children of God. When we were baptized, everything that God promised Jesus would do for his people is given to us. So, again, since we don’t want it to be a gossip game, let’s look at what God clearly says to us near the end of our lesson in verse 9. What God the Father told God the Son to say to us, his people, is this: “To say to the captives, “Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them besides springs of water.”
With the weather the way it has been the last two weeks, it may be hard at the moment to think about how difficult it is to be in desert heat or to have the sun beating on us, but isn’t it true that so often in your life you feel like you are in some prison, that you are in darkness, that you are hungry, that the sun is beating on you – or that the cold is tormenting you – in a way that simply will not let up? Sometimes it’s because we realize that we are such a spiritual failure. It’s like I am in a prison with walls that keep collapsing closer and closer together. Why can’t I do even the simple things that God wants me to do? Why is it so hard for me to forgive someone when God has forgiven me of so much? Why have I trapped myself in a habit or a way of thinking that I know is wrong, when I know how great it is to do what God says is right? Or sometimes it’s because we feel the darkness of the uncertainty of what is going to happen in our lives. Am I going to lose that friend? Am I ever going to have a real friend? Am I going to be able to keep this job? Am I going to be able to get a job? Am I going to keep getting sick at the worst times to be sick? Am I going to die?
God told Jesus to tell us, “Come out of that darkness. You are free from that prison. There is food to eat when your soul is empty. There is a safe place to rest when the weather storms around you. After John baptized me, I went around the land of Israel doing miracle after miracle to show that I truly was the promised Son of God and that you could truly trust me when I say to you, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven, and I will watch over you until you get to heaven.’” That, dear friends, is what someone has passed on to you from God’s Word, and that is what we are all about as God’s baptized children – passing that on to our children so they don’t have to fend for themselves as hungry spiritual orphans in the dark – and passing that on to people on the islands and in the distant nations, so that they can know, just like you and I already know, that the one who came to Israel is also a light for the Gentiles. And that truly is no gossip, because this truly is no game.
If we did play a gossip game in church some time and started in this corner and had people repeat a sentence one to the other until we got to that corner way back there, I assume we could get some pretty hilarious outcomes. God be praised that the outcome of what God has passed on to his Son to pass on to us is always the same for those who believe it. You and I know the success of Jesus, no matter how it may have looked at the time and no matter how many people have no time for it in our time. And we experience the joy of Jesus, no matter how it may sometimes feel to us, no matter how others may sometimes feel sorry for us that we accept that. When we listen to Jesus, we hear something that makes everything clear, even if we will have to wait until the time we actually see Jesus ourselves to totally figure it out – to totally understand his direction for our life. Let’s continue to help each other keep it from becoming too complicated. Amen.