The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
If there’s one phrase that has the ability to transcend time, culture, and language and get under your skin and cause all kinds of trouble, it’s those dreaded words, “I told you so.” It doesn’t matter when or where you’re at in history, these words sting. No one ever likes hearing these words. Of course, it’s an entirely different thing to be on the giving end, isn’t it? We hate hearing the words, but we have no problem dishing them out. We may not always be so bold as to come right out and say, “I told you so.” After all, we know that these words sting. That’s why we often try to soften the blow. “I’m not gonna say I told you so, but….” And when we do dish these words out (and we do), we always seem genuinely surprised/perplexed when the recipient takes offense. “What’s the problem? I’m just helping.” These words have such a profound ability to cut deep and split and divide that one of the first things you often learn about this phrase is that you shouldn’t use it. It’s basically treated as profanity. There’s just never really a good time to say, “I told you so,”…unless you’re looking to start trouble.
And this is what makes the words of our Lord and Savior, recorded for us in the Old Testament lesson, seem so odd to our modern ears…perhaps even a bit problematic. “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses!” With these words your Lord is not only reminding His Israelite people that He has already declared and made known a long time ago who He is and what He does for them, but then He really sticks it to ‘em with the words, “and you are my witnesses!” That’s a nice, godly way of saying, “I told you so!” Think about it. Those thick-skulled, stubborn Israelites that Isaiah was sent to proclaim to had not only heard the proclamations and declarations of almighty God, but they had actually witnessed these things with their own eyes. The Israelite people, from of old—their forefathers—had actually experienced almighty God’s providence, deliverance, power, and protection countless times in their own lives.
And why is God making this proclamation to Israel now? Well…there was a lot going on at the time that caused a lot of faithful people to become not so faithful. The terrifying kingdom of Assyria was knocking on their door to the north. Their own cousins, the ten tribes to the north, had already been sacked and exiled by the Assyrians. Things weren’t looking good. On top of that, Isaiah is telling the people that Assyria is not going to be the problem for them. Babylon is going to be the one who will bring them to their knees. Babylon will not only destroy mighty Assyria, but then they will turn their aggression on Israel. And why was God going to permit all this terror and sorrow and bloodshed? Because His children were not living the lives of faithful repentance and thankfulness that He had called them to lead.
As is typically the case, the people of Israel had short-term memory problems. They had sinful amnesia. They had forgotten all that God had said and done for them. They only knew what they saw and wanted right now. Everyone else was worshiping golden idols. Everyone else was eating whatever they wanted and doing whatever they wanted, and it was all coming out awesome for them. Everyone else was living it up and prospering, and Israel wanted a piece of the action. They had forgotten—willfully—all that God had said and done for them. They had failed to fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. If they didn’t repent and turn away from such sinful ways and turn back to God alone, there would be consequences. They would be destroyed. They would go into slavery in Babylon, just like their promiscuous forefathers had experienced centuries earlier in Egypt.
And this is where these words of our Lord enter into the conversation. With these words, your Lord is giving these people a good dose of “I told you so!” “Look and remember all that I have already said and done for you. Have I ever NOT kept my word? Have I ever NOT fulfilled everything I have promised? Have I ever NOT delivered? You are my witnesses! You wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t fulfill all that I said I would do! You’re living proof that I say what I mean, and do what I say.”
Now, would everyone heed these words of God? No, not everyone. In fact, the vast majority would still wind up saying, “That was then, but this is now. Things are different, God. You don’t understand.” Do not be deceived. There are always plenty of sinful weeds in God’s earthly garden plot. Most would not hear and listen and obey, but…some would. Some of these children of God did heed these words of comfort and assurance, turning away from their sinful fears and worries and control issues; turning away from their inborn sinful desire to be like God and be in control. They put their trust in the one and only Rock of their salvation. Would bad times still befall them? Would they still have to endure strife and struggle in their lives? Would they still find themselves in Babylonian captivity, having to hear those dreaded words, “I told you so. It didn’t have to be this way”? Yes, but with almighty God as their Rock and Foundation, what did they have to fear? What was the worst thing that would happen to them? That they would wake up in heaven? That’s it?! Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!
And this is where you and I are every bit as much a part of this story as the Isaiah’s contemporaries. We all have our plenty of reasons/excuses in our lives to worry and fear and doubt. There is no shortage of anxieties. There is never a shortage of crosses and burdens to bear. The devil is always there to give us a million reasons why we shouldn’t fear, love, and trust in God above all things. These words of God still ring true today for us. “Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses!”
I don’t know what all your sinful, doubt-inducing fears are, but I do know that we all have them. Some of you can admit to your fears, doubts, and lack of trust in God above all things. Others cannot. Others may fight and argue and put up a false courageous front. Some may try and justify their sinful fear. “You don’t understand. It’s different in my case. It’s sin when the other guy does it, but it’s not sin now.” Your denial doesn’t make it any less true. We all wear sinful flesh. As children of Adam and Eve, we all have the inborn desire to be in charge, be in control, and call all the shots. That’s why when things don’t go our way, we act a fool. We huff and puff with our rights and our demands that aren’t being met. We fret and worry and rush into stupid, irrational behaviors and circumstances, with stupid, irrational, and sinful words spilling forth from our mouths and paving our way into foolishness; paving our way away from the Rock and Sanctuary of a peace and comfort that surpasses all understanding.
And this is why God still cries out to you today, “What is the problem? Look around you. Look in the mirror. Have I not kept My Word to you? Just take an inventory of your daily bread. I’m not gonna say I told you so, but…. I know things are bad. They’ve always been bad. That’s how sin works. I also know that things are going to get worse. I’ve already told you so. Many times, in fact. Why are you so surprised? Why are you so frantic and foolish and desperate? You already belong to Me. I’ve already told you so. What’s the problem? There’s no one like Me; not one.”
How often we forget. How often our own sinful amnesia rears its ugly head, causing us to forget all that God has already said and done for us. How often we forget almighty God’s declaration from the cross, “It is finished!” We forget; we doubt because we trust our eyes rather than our ears. Look around. What’s finished? Sin still seems to have its way, and it only looks like its getting worse every day that goes by. Based on what we see, we could conclude that nothing is finished. The mission was a failure. “It is finished. I’ve already told you so. And you are My witnesses!”
Folks: (point to Holy Communion) Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! It is finished! Here are the fruits of His victory over sin, death, and the devil. Here is His victorious body and blood, which He freely gives to you for your forgiveness, comfort, and eternal salvation. Think about that. You are able, with all your senses, to witness and experience the Rock of your salvation in action in your midst. Here is your almighty God and Lord, who deigns to kneel down from heaven to feed and nourish you, in spite of you. That’s how much He loves you! Is there any other god like that? I know not any.
Our almighty and righteous God could have certainly blotted us all out of existence, sending us immediately to hell because of our sin. Lord knows we certainly deserve it. But that’s not what God did. Instead, He kept His promise; a promise first made to the serpent (and Adam and Eve) in the Garden. God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for it so that whoever believes in Him and His declaration that it truly is finished in the life, death, and resurrection of the First and the Last made flesh will never perish, but have everlasting life. Through the waters of Holy Baptism your Lord made good on this promise with you personally, reaching out to you, washing you with His life-saving, life-giving Word and Promise, declaring that you belong to Him. He put His own name upon your head and your heart, marking you as His own. He did all this, not because we first earned it; not because we first scratched His back, but while we were yet sinners, lost in our sinful ways. God redeemed us, not because He wants something from us, but because He wants us with Him in heaven forever.
This is your reality, by virtue of your baptism into the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am not ashamed or afraid to stand here today and say, “I’ve already told you so.” I am not ashamed to ever speak and re-speak these blessed words of comfort and peace to you. My prayer for you is that you never tire of hearing them. My prayer for you is that this Gospel Good News of all that God has already said and done for you in the work and person of Christ Jesus—the Word of God made flesh for you—is witnessed not only by you, but through you. May this Good News take root in your heart and bear abundant, faithful, repentant, fearless fruit in all that you say and do.
In the one and only name by which all men are saved; in the name of Christ Jesus. AMEN.
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