141026 Isaiah 5:1-7

Last Updated on Monday, 27 October 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Isaiah 5:1-7
Theme: God Desires Growth In His Garden

For the past four months or so our church paraments have been green. Green signifies growth and serves as a reminder of the theme for the Sundays after Pentecost, spiritual growth in the life of a Christian. To coordinate with that color and to emphasize that theme, the background picture on the screen has been a tender shoot planted in dark, rich soil.

It's a nice picture, but there is something wrong with it. Did you notice? Can you guess? Even though we have had plenty of rain and plenty of sun since that image was first projected in June, it hasn't grown. It hasn't grown at all. And on a much more serious level the prophet Isaiah leveled the same complaint against the people of Israel.

Isaiah lived at a time when God's people were outwardly successful, but spiritually struggling. The Lord sent Isaiah to tell them that he was not happy. Actually, God was very angry and his patience was about to run out. It was Isaiah's job to warn the people that God's judgment was coming and coming soon. It was Isaiah's job to call God's people to repent of their sin and return to the Lord. It was Isaiah's unenviable task to tell rebellious people what they didn't want to hear.

To get God's message across, Isaiah told them a story about a man and his vineyard. He even put that story to music. And since Isaiah didn't give his song a title, I have come up with one of my own...

GOD DESIRES GROWTH IN HIS GARDEN

I. Verse 1: He plants the vineyard
II. Verse 2: He looks for a good crop
III. Verse 3: He judges the plant by its fruit

Even though Isaiah's song was a sad one, you wouldn't know it based on the opening verse. It sounds more like a love ballad than a funeral dirge. "I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside" (1).

The "loved one" Isaiah refers to is none other than the Lord himself. Isaiah loved God because God loved him first. Isaiah loved God because of his faithfulness in the present and his promises for the future.

Looking ahead to the end of the song, Isaiah also reveals what the vineyard represents: "The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight" (7). God is the master gardener. God's people are the garden.

And judging by the way he take cares of it, it is obvious how this gardener feels about his garden. "He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well" (2a).

In a single verse, Isaiah lists five different things the gardener does for his garden. #1 He digs up the soil to create ideal conditions for growth. #2 He clears away all the stones (which was no small task on that rocky Middle Eastern terrain) so that the plants can push their roots down deep into the ground. #3 He chooses only the best vines to produce the best grapes. #4 He builds a watchtower to guard against men and animals who might threaten to destroy his fields. #5 And because of all the other things he has done for his vineyard, he carves out a winepress in anticipation of a bountiful harvest.

If you have ever worked in a garden, you know that it takes a lot of time and energy: the planting, the weeding and watering, the picking and cleaning (maybe even the canning). It would be much less work to go out and buy all your fruits and vegetables at the store. Most people garden because they enjoy it, not because they need the food. It is really a labor of love.

Love is the perfect word to describe the way God felt about his people. For centuries, the Lord lovingly cared for them. He brought Abraham to Canaan and promised him that one day his descendants would call that land their own. He heard the cries of his people in Egypt and sent Moses to deliver them from slavery. He heard the cries of his people again in the wilderness and provided them with manna from heaven.

Isaiah's list of what God does for his garden ends at five, but there is no end to what the Lord does for his people. In fact, that list extends up to the present day. Because God loves us, he works through his Word to change stubborn, sinful hearts. Simply because God loves us, he has given us the sacrament of Holy Baptism to plant the seed of faith in little hardened hearts. Simply because God loves us, he has given us the sacrament of Holy Communion to bring personal forgiveness to hurting human hearts. The same unbelievable, unexplainable love led God to sentence his Son to death so that we might have eternal life.

When a person works in a garden, he doesn't go to all that trouble for nothing. When it is harvest time, he expects that there will be something to harvest. And if he has taken all the necessary steps along the way, it is not unreasonable for him to look for a good crop.

Unfortunately this is where Isaiah's song changes keys. The gardener did everything he was supposed to do. He even did some things he didn't have to. But when the time for harvest came, he was disappointed. "He looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit" (2b).

Some plant lovers believe that if you talk to your plants it will help them grow. God the gardener had some words to say to the plants in his vineyard, but they were not words of encouragement. "Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad" (3,4)?

God's people gave no answers to these questions. Maybe God didn't allow any response. Or maybe the people said nothing because there was nothing they could say. The Lord loved his people. He protected them. He fed them. He clothed them and cared for them. And how did they respond?

Generation after generation of God's people produced bad fruit. Abraham tried to pass off his wife Sarah as his sister because he didn't trust in God. Jacob deceived his father Isaac to get the blessing because he couldn't wait for God. Moses took matters into his own hands and killed an Egyptian and took the place of God. The Israelites worshiped a golden calf in the wilderness and literally made their own god. Even King David committed adultery and murder and showed no regard for the holy will of God.

And so many years later the sour grapes were not falling far from the vine. After Isaiah's song, the chapter continues with a series of "Woes." To understand how bad things were in Isaiah's day, to get an idea of what Isaiah was up against, listen to a couple examples: "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land" (8). Greed. "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil" (20). Apostasy. "Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent" (22,23). Debauchery and corruption.

That's what life was like in Isaiah's Israel. Now ask yourself how much has really changed. What kind of fruit God would find if the harvest were today? If God carefully inspected our nation, would he find honest leaders and upstanding citizens or would he taste the sour fruit of corruption? If he wanted to gather all the fruit produced in our homes, would he find more love and support than he could carry or would he uncover the rotten fruit of bitterness and anger? If God the gardener came to harvest all the good fruit that is stored in your heart, how much (or how little) would he find?

A key to good gardening is pruning. Branches that don't produce need to be cut off so that they don't take valuable nutrients away from the branches that do. And if a whole plant doesn't produce for a number of years, eventually the gardener will cut it down.

After so many years of patience and pleading, God the gardener had finally come to that difficult decision with his people. He said: "Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it" (5,6).

Do you think the people of Israel appreciated that message of doom and gloom? No. Do you think that Isaiah's song went to the top of the charts in Israel? I am guessing no. Do you think that some people ran the other way when they saw Isaiah coming? Perhaps.

So why did Isaiah do it? How was Isaiah able to say things that were sure to make him unpopular and maybe even public enemy #1? He was motivated by love. He loved the God who had called him to preach that message, and he loved his brothers and sisters who needed to hear it.

We don't like to hear about judgment either, but we need to. We need the law to show us our sin. We need the law to back us into a corner so that we have no way to escape. We need to understand that God is pointing his accusing finger not just at all the bad people in the world, but at all the bad people in this room. We need to acknowledge that we are the ones who deserve to be destroyed.

This is how Isaiah's song ends. It's not exactly what we would call a happy ending, but we are not without hope. We can take comfort in the fact that Isaiah's preaching doesn't stop where his story does. Isaiah is sixty-six chapters long. Isaiah contains some of the harshest condemnations in the entire Bible, but there are also beautiful predictions of divine deliverance.

The same God who vowed to destroy his vineyard also caused Isaiah to write: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for" (40:1,2).

The same God who predicted the destruction of Israel and the devastation of Judah also promised to send a Savior: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (53:5). What Isaiah could only see through the eyes of faith, we see fulfilled in the pages of Scripture. We see how Jesus made Isaiah's prophecies come true. He HAS paid for our sins. He HAS given us peace. By his wounds we ARE healed.

We rejoice in Jesus' declaration from the cross that "It is finished!," but we also know that his followers are far from finished products. You and I are a lot like that tender shoot on the screen. There is so much potential. There is plenty of room to grow. And by the grace of God we will. By the power of God's Word we will grow. With the Spirit's help, with the strength God provides we will grow. Day by day we will grow in our faith, and we will produce the fruits of faith in our lives. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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