Sermon for 3rd Lenten Midweek Service – 3.23.22
+ 3rd Lenten Midweek Service – March 23rd, 2022 +
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
“Breaking Down the Gates”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“This is what the Lord says to His messiah, to Cyrus, . . . ‘I will go before you and break down the gates of bronze.’ ” (Isaiah 45:1–2)
It was the afternoon of August 5, 2010 when the 121-year-old San José copper-gold mine in Chile, South America, caved in. Thirty-three men were trapped underneath 2,300 feet of solid rock. Seventeen days after the accident, a note written in bold red letters appeared taped to a drill bit when it was pulled to the surface after penetrating an area believed to be accessible to the trapped workers. It read simply, “We are fine in the shelter, the 33 of us.” But they were in survival mode. They ate two spoonfuls of tuna, a sip of milk, and a morsel of peaches—every other day. They heard the voice that said, “You’re stuck and there’s no way out.”
After the hard work of three large international drilling rig teams, NASA, and more than a dozen multi-national corporations, and after sixty-nine days trapped underground, all thirty-three men were brought safely to the surface on October 13, 2010.
There are times we feel stuck as well. Perhaps not in such a dramatic way, but stuck all the same. Stuck in traffic, stuck in a rain down pour, stuck inside. But that’s just on the surface. Deep down, we all know what it is like to be stuck in the past; stuck in relationships; stuck in a diseased and dying body; stuck in debt; stuck in a dead-end job. Stuck in our sin.
Israel knew what it was like to be stuck as well. In exile in Babylon, Babylon said, “You’re stuck here, with no way out.” In the sixth century BC, God’s people were surrounded by bronze gates. Everywhere the Israelite exiles went they were reminded of their exile. Ziggurats and canals. Statues of the false god Marduk. And then there were the gates, especially the now world-famous Ishtar Gate that locked them in with no way out.
The gates were the brain-child of Nabopolassar—the founder of the Babylonian empire—and his son Nebuchadnezzar. Hundreds and hundreds of bronze gates were erected in and around Babylon, making it the world’s most fortified city. Israel was locked in with absolutely no way out. Stuck.
And yet, in their exile. Behind those bronze gates. The Lord promised release from captivity. “I will raise up [Cyrus] in My righteousness . . . He will set My exiles free.” (Isaiah 45:13; cf. 44:28)
In 539 BC, Cyrus had to go up against Babylon and her gates. The city began bracing for an all-out battle. Inhabitants stocked their shelves with food and water to prepare for the long siege. The military was armed to the teeth.
But when Cyrus surrounded the city, its citizens—rather than fight to the last man—opened up the gates. Cyrus walked in and took the city with ease. God used Cyrus to set His exiled people free.
God sent His prophet Isaiah to declare to His people then, and to you, now, that He is the one who breaks the gates. Who gets his people un-stuck from the mire of their sin. Who promises you, as Isaiah so beautifully declares, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).
When we feel buried in gloom and doom, He reminds us, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (9:2). When dryness and deadness stand in the way, the Lord turns “the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs” (35:7). When we are surrounded by obstacles, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain” (40:4). When blindness and captivity and bondage stand in the way, God’s Servant comes to “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (42:7).
When we are stuck in exile in our sin; feeling trapped in death, and held captive by the sin, death, and the devil, God sends a servant once again. Not Cyrus, like he did to the Israelites in exile in Babylon. But His very own Son.
Jesus comes to break down the gates of death that lock us in. Jesus goes before is into his exile of the cross and grave, and out again in victory in his resurrection, bursting open the bars of death. Ending our exile. In His earthly life and ministry, Jesus goes about the work of opening eyes and ears, mouths and hearts. He even opens the grave. It’s all a grand preview of his greatest, most gracious work on the cross and his rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.
For you who so often feel trapped and stuck and dead in your trespasses and sin, Jesus is ensnared with all of your sin on the cross. Only death could not hold him. The grave could not shut him in. Jesus did not stay stuck in the tomb. No. “I was dead, and behold I am alive forevermore! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
In Jesus crucified and risen, you are not locked in; you are no longer a prisoner; you are not stuck with no way out. In Jesus you are free. Forgiven. Released. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36).
Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ + Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.