Please note: the following sermon borrows significantly from an outline by Professor John Pless, Published in Concordia Pulpit Resources, vol. 25, Part 4.
Text: Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
There’s a pastor and professor by the name of John Pless who points out that we confess in the explanation of the First Article: “I believe that God has made me and all creatures,” but we also experience creation as threat. This world can be a frightening place. Martin Luther says that after the fall into sin, Adam and Eve would have been terrified by something as harmless as a leaf rustling in the breeze. Think about it. Even something as simple as rustling leaves would have caused them to worry. It’s true. It’s hard for us to conceive of, to get our minds around, because we are so completely used to living in the world the way it is as opposed to the paradise that Adam and Eve had been given, but it’s true. That was the new relationship between human beings and creation that had come about because of the Fall—because of Adam and Eve’s first sin. No longer did creation itself nurture and care for them. Originally it did. The weather was perfect—perfect temperature, perfect sunlight and shade, perfect breezes. It produced every good thing that they needed—food, fresh, clean water, every need was provided for. Not any more. Now, instead of creation providing every good thing that they needed, it produced thorns and thistles. It was by the sweat of Adam’s brow that they would eat their bread. It no longer cared for them. In fact, it was just the opposite. Now, creation was a threat. They had gone from a literal paradise to this world of wild animals and natural disasters. Adam and Eve could absolutely have been terrified by a leaf rustling in the breeze. Yet our text proclaims that it is into this world that God comes in the person of his Son to save us and, in doing so, to restore us to life with him in his creation. Our text proclaims to you: “Fear not, for God comes to save His fallen creation.”
We may be used to creation the way it is. We may not be terrified by rustling leaves, but still, there’s plenty of cause for anxiety. Life in this world is marked by anxiety. As Paul puts it, our sin has subjected creation to futility. It’s not just the creation out there that’s a threat. Disease stalks healthy bodies. Hearing, eyesight, and mobility can and are lost to accident, disease, or old age. Well meaning people try to encourage us by saying to “count our blessings.” But that becomes an empty platitude when that number starts to dwindle. Or when the pain seems to far outweigh any number of blessings we could come up with.
Neither health nor wealth can be guaranteed. In fact, at times, it seems as if God Himself is against us. That He is holding back health or wealth or some other good thing on account of His anger toward us.
The Lord speaks of these last days as times of stress, perplexity, and anxiety. Consider the signs of His return that He described: “25 And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves,  people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:25-26 ESV) This creation isn’t getting better. It isn’t evolving toward a state of harmony and perfection. The earth and the life it sustains careens toward destruction.
That’s true ecologically—in terms of the state of creation—and it’s true ethically. As if the anxiety of life weren’t enough, evil apparently triumphs. The righteous suffer while the wicked seem to prosper. Economic downturns cause suffering for billions while the unethical and possibly illegal actions of thousands of businessmen who brought on the downturn are rewarded instead of being punished.
Injustice prevails on national and international levels. Let’s not even look around the world, let’s just look at our own nation. There’s plenty of injustice.
The unjust killing of unarmed black men is answered by the unjust killing of police officers.
And then there’s the injustice of immigration. I do want to keep politics out of it, so let me say it this way: Where is the justice in being forced, as citizens and voters, to choose between the legitimate task of government to protect us by maintaining an actual border, which includes controlling who comes into this country, and walling ourselves in as if we and we alone had a right to the opportunities and prosperity that we enjoy, turning a deaf ear to the pleas of people who—with all due respect to Donald Trump—are nearly all decent people trying to build a life for themselves?
And where is the justice when even videos of people selling the body parts of aborted babies still aren’t enough to raise up this nation to say, once and for all, this is simply immoral? this must end?
Injustice prevails here and around the world. And the end of every human biography is finally death . . . which is sin’s ultimate payoff.
And yet, into this world God comes to save. He doesn’t simply tell us to “count our blessings” and be thankful for what we have. He speaks bold words that set troubled hearts at peace: “Be strong; fear not!” (v 4).
When God says “fear not,” pay attention, for this is far different from an empty platitude. It is more than a command; it is a word that itself casts out our fears, for God is himself acting.
In the Old Testament and the New, God announces his saving actions with that same word: “fear not.” He says to His Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is 43:1b). He sent the angel to proclaim to a group of astonished shepherds in Bethlehem, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Lk 2:10). He says to the terrified disciples in the middle of a stormy sea, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). The risen Lord speaks to those confused women on Easter morning: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:10).
He says to you this morning: “Be strong; fear not.” God’s coming in the flesh to save you is the remedy for your fear. With these words, God would tenderly remind you that he is not against you but for you in every way (Rom 8:1, 31–39). If He was not willing to withhold the life of His own Son, can we ever honestly think that He’s withholding anything good from us? If God were your enemy, would he clothe himself in your flesh and blood and suffer and die on the cross to save you? Of course not! But He has done it!
“Vengeance is mine,” He has said. And yes, He has carried out His vengeance, His judgment on your enemies—on sin, death, and the devil—His vengeance was executed in Christ, who bore your sins in his body to the cross and has answered for them with his own blood. Your risen Lord and Savior speaks to you the word of another judgment. He speaks to you the word of that greatest, most blessed injustice that He who had no sin became your sin, that the innocent one suffered for the guilty, suffered in your place. He speaks to you the absolution: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Jesus Christ came into this world to become one of us. He is your Brother. He comes to do what the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament promised. He comes as the One who fulfills the “messianic manifesto” of Is 61:1–3. This good news for you and for all creation is echoed in our text.
God comes into this world in the person of his Son to save us—not in order to rescue from creation but to bring about a restoration of creation . . . that includes you.
God does not extract us from creation. God created us in body and soul to live within creation. Recall again how Luther confesses all that God has given us in creation in his explanation of the First Article. All the creaturely gifts you receive are out of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in you. That is to say that these gifts are on account of Christ and through him.
Sin brought disorder, disease, and death into creation. By the blood of his cross, he has reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to himself. “19 For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV)
Christ has redeemed you in creation, purchasing and winning you in body and soul for himself.
In our text, the signs of redemption are bodily signs: the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf hear, the lame walk, the mute sing. In the Large Catechism, Luther reminds us that “where the soul is healed, the body is helped as well” (LC V 68). Through the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we receive all good things from our Father, including all the gifts of the body, such as sight, hearing, mobility, and speech. Recall the traditional blessing uttered by the pastor in the Communion liturgy: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace.”
Our response can only be one of doxology. Recall the words of the catechism: “For all this it is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey him.”
Conclusion: A Lutheran theologian of the last century, Werner Elert, said, “Some live in the light of the Last Day, others live in its shadow” (Elert, Last Things [St. Louis: Concordia, 1974], 28). Dear redeemed children of God, you live in the light of the Last Day, for the Savior who has come into this distressed and dying world is your Brother. He will come again and with him bring new heavens and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Pet 3:13). In the meantime, we wait not with trembling at all that is untrustworthy and uncertain in this crumbling universe, shaking at the sound of every rustling leaf in the autumn wind, but as those redeemed in body and soul by Christ the crucified. He says to you once again, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come to save you.” That is a promise you can trust, for God is faithful, and he will do it. Amen.