Some time ago, a teenager, Arthur Hinkley, lifted a 3,000-pound tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his friend, Lloyd Bachelder, 18, was pinned under a tractor on a farm near Rome, Maine. Hearing Lloyd scream, Arthur somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. Lloyd was delivered and it was love that motivated his friend to save him.
Our Father in heaven heard the screams of lost humanity, crying out for deliverance. He sent His one and only precious Son to the cross so that our sins could be lifted off of us and on to Himself. It was love that motivated Him to save us.
Isaiah 40:1-11 talks about deliverance. It says, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
“6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
“9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
As Mark begins his account of the gospel of Jesus, he intentionally makes us remember the past. From the beginning, he ties the trailblazing ministry of John the Baptist and the rescue mission of Jesus with the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 40. This is significant because Mark understood that the Jewish readers knew well the context of Isaiah 40. They knew that it was a prophecy about deliverance from exile. The first 39 chapters of the book are weighed down with repeated warnings that judgment was coming, and the Jewish people would be taken captive. But Chapter 40 represents a break, a pivotal point of hope. After the tragedy of the exile, God will speak again, Isaiah says. And He will say, “Comfort, comfort my people” (v. 1) And He points ahead by saying, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord’” (v. 3a). To those captives in exile, God sent a Deliverer. That, Mark says, is what the story of Jesus is about. Jesus is SENT to reclaim His people from exile.
This is the second week in Advent. I hope you are getting the most from the devotional book and your eyes are firmly on the real Reason for the Season this year. Today we’re talking about Jesus, our deliverer. Sin is our exile but Jesus is our Exodus. These are the two points I want to talk about this morning.
Sin is Our Exile.
Two hunters were out hunting and come upon what appeared at first as an abandoned farm. The barn was sagging, the house was in disrepair, and there were junk cars and car parts lying around. The only thing that made it a working farm were a few chickens pecking away and a goat wandering around. As they entered the yard they came across an old well. One asked the other “I Wonder how deep it is.” The other said, “We’ll have to drop something down and listen for the splash.” They look around for something to drop down the well, but the only thing close by was an old transmission. They both hauled it over to the well and dropped it in. They counted and waited a long time for the splash. It was deep, deep one all right.
They turned to leave and saw the goat was charging at them, head down, horns headed straight for them. At the last moment they jumped aside, and the goat went right past them and straight over the side and down the well. They looked at each other in amazement.
As they started to leave, the owner of the farm came up. They chatted for a moment and got permission to hunt on his land. The farmer asked, “Have you seen my goat?” They said, “Your goat almost killed us charging at us. You should have had that goat tied up.” The farmer said, “I thought I had him tied up to an old transmission.”
There is a lesson to this story: you follow what you’re tied to. This is the lesson of sin. When you’re tied up to an old rusty hunk of sin, you’re going to follow it wherever it goes – and it’s going to take you right into exile from God.
The promise of Isaiah 40 is rooted in the reality of Jerusalem’s exile. Because of their stubborn sin and disobedience, they would experience judgment at the hands of Babylonian invaders. They would live under the cruel yoke of captivity. And we have experienced the same. Only our captor is not merely an enemy nation, but the ever cruel curse of sin. Born into this slavery, we are hopeless prisoners in desperate need of rescue. How did we get here? Through our own failure. In the beginning, humanity was created for union with God. But we fell into temptation, betraying our King in exchange for a tyrant. This pride has plagued us ever since. We were tied up to that rusty old transmission in the farm yard. We need deliverance!
This is why we need Advent. We have to deal with the reality of sin in our lives. It needs a real solution and Jesus is that solution.
Jesus is Our Exodus.
Chuck Colson tells this story: “My mind goes back to a Christmas 20 years ago in Romania, when the country was still in the grip of communist tyranny. The story begins with Laszlo Tokes, pastor of a fast-growing reformed church in the city of Timisoara. His powerful preaching had caught the attention of communist officials, and they began a strategy of suppression. They stationed police officers around his church, machine guns cradled in their arms. They hired thugs to attack him. Finally, just before Christmas, they decided to send him into exile. But when the police arrived to hustle Pastor Tokes away, they were stopped cold. Around the church stood a wall of humanity. Christians from around the city–Baptist, Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic–had joined together to protest.
All through the day they held their post. As it grew dark, a young Baptist student named Daniel Gavra pulled out a packet of candles, lit one, and passed it to his neighbor. Then he lit another. One by one the burning candles were passed out among the crowd. Soon the darkness of the December night was pierced by the light of hundreds of candles. When Pastor Tokes looked out his window, he saw a sea of faces lit up by a warm glow. That night, he said later, was the ‘turning point in my life.’ He would never erase from his mind the picture of believers from all denominations joining hands in his defense.
Two days later, police finally broke through the crowd and dragged Pastor Tokes away. But that was not the end. The people now streamed to the city square and began a full-scale demonstration against the communist government. Once again Daniel Gavra passed out his candles. Once again the night was lit by their glow.
Finally, the communist officials began to panic. They brought in troops and ordered them to open fire on the crowd. Hundreds were shot. Young Daniel felt a searing pain as his leg was blown off. Yet the brave example set in Timisoara inspired the rest of the nation. Within days the entire population of Romania had risen up and the bloody dictator Ceausescu was gone. The churches filled with worshippers offering praise to God. For the first time in half a century, the people of Romania celebrated Christmas in freedom.
In the hospital, Daniel Gavra celebrated while learning to walk with crutches. His pastor came by, offering him sympathy, but Daniel wasn’t looking for sympathy. ‘Oh, Pastor,’ he said softly. ‘I don’t mind so much the loss of a leg. After all, it was I who lit the first candle.’
Pastor Tokes was in trouble and heading for exile until other’s intervened. This is how deliverance from sin happens. Jesus provides deliverance from our sin and exile and it is Jesus suffers the punishment for our sins. God was not content to leave us in exile. Yes, sin is judged but Jesus provides rescue. Just as the Jewish people looked for deliverance from Babylon, we too long for deliverance from sin.
While the clear context of Isaiah 40 is centered on the Babylonian captivity, there is important language here designed to trigger even deeper memories. When Isaiah prophesies that a Deliverer will come and make straight paths in the desert, you can feel the jolt in the shared memory of God’s people. A Deliverer, leading us out of captivity through the desert? God had done this before, using Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt. This was one of the most significant identity-shaping moments of their history. And now, He is doing it again. The history of captivity and rescue that marked God’s people would now culminate in the ultimate freedom, led by a Deliverer far greater than Moses.
Jesus is our Deliverer. It is Jesus who leads us to freedom from our sin. It is Jesus who pulls us out of exile from God and restores us to His presence.
Maria Fedorovna, the empress of Russia and wife of Czar Alexander III, was known for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from exile in Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander. The czar had written: “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.” After Maria’s intervention, the note read: “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia.” The prisoner was eventually released.
This Advent season is a good time to pause and reflect on the freedom you’ve been given through Christ. Remember your exile and your exodus. Examine your heart and ask the Holy Spirit to identify places where you need deliverance. Pray for the strong grace of Jesus to break you free. Yes, sin is our exile. But Jesus is our exodus. This is why we need Advent. Jesus is SENT to reclaim His people from exile and lead us into the freedom of His grace.