Text: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
that gates may not be closed:
2 “I will go before you
and level the exalted places,[a]
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and the hoards in secret places,
that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I name you, though you do not know me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:1-7)
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St. Thomas Lutheran Church
Is. 45:1-7 Unexpected Messiah Rev. Charles Schulz
I wonder if Cyrus ever read the Bible passage before us today. He was the King of Persia who expanded his empire to embrace all the empires and kingdoms of the Middle East. Perhaps he rode as a conquering general down the streets of Babylon and he set up his court in the old imperial palace. The Babylonians had been the ones who had deported Jews. The prophets explained that their devastating work had been a judgment of God on his people for not obeying his Word and worshipping him faithfully. Part of the Babylonian program to control their conquered subjects was to break their will for resistance by deporting them en masse to foreign lands. Now Cyrus was the new king. Imagine him in regal splendor, royal robes, attendants and dignitaries, golden crown, jewels and tapestries. Some of his new subjects request an audience. Before him are led some of the elders of the Jewish community and with them they carry a large scroll, a hundred years old or more. They read the Hebrew from the prophet Isaiah and translate it: “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus, His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him…”
Cyrus’ full title was The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World. I think that about covers it, doesn’t it? But the passage before us give him one more title, one more important than all the rest: the anointed to God, or we might say Messiah, which means the same thing. He’s the only non-Jew the Bible addresses in this way. He’s not only a non-Jew, but a non-believer. Neverthless, God was equipping him and empowering him by His Holy Spirit to conquer. It was a divine plan that was unfolding as Cyrus’ troops marched from Mesopotamia to the borders of India and from there to the border of Egypt and up through all of what we now call Turkey. His new lands included the Jews deported from their homeland and that homeland itself – God’s Promised Land. It was God’s timing that they should go home and Cyrus the Great was God’s agent to accomplish that purpose. God’s people had learned their lesson and now they were to be restored. Cyrus published his edit of restoration, even commanding that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt: We can find it copied in the Bible – so important that it’s copied in 2 places—at the end of 2 Chronicles and again in the beginning of the book of Ezra: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him and let him go up!’” (2 Chron. 36:23)
Here we see all the elements of God’s anointing: The Word calls him, the Spirit empowers him, God equips him for a purpose and it’s God’s saving purpose in the world. The Jews will go back to their homeland and there the Messiah of the world is to be born. Jesus will come and teach and preach and heal. He will be filled with the Spirit to conquer not nations but the devil’s domain. He will give His life as a sacrifice to wipe away sin and by His resurrection He will establish His own everlasting kingdom. Cyrus will come with great might and earthly pomp and glory but he will go the way of the world. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But Jesus would come with humility and through his death lead the way to heavenly glory.
For many people in Jesus’ day, he was a surprising Messiah, too. Just as Cyrus was an unexpected instrument of God’s plan restore of His people, the coming of Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth. He was not the Messiah they were expecting, but He was the Messiah God had sent.
And that’s just like you. You’re an unexpected messiah – maybe you don’t think of yourself as such. Still, you have been anointed. We don’t usually call ourselves christs or messiahs, but we do dare to say about the same thing when we accept the title “Christian” –a little anointed one, under Jesus our Big Anointed One, but we are anointed all the same. From your Baptism, you have the Spirit of God. You are empowered for God’s saving purposes in the world. You won’t issue decrees to send people back to their homeland, but you can proclaim Christ’s salvation which is their way back to their heavenly Father and their entrance into an eternal home of bliss. Granted, your name isn’t spelled out in the Bible like Cyrus’ was. Even Jesus was foretold to be called “Immanuel” by this same prophet Isaiah, but by faith you have learned to hear God’s call through the pages of Scripture. These passages have your name written all over them: “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself” (Acts 2:38-39); and “You shall be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8). That’s you: Baptized, Spirit-filled, promise-given, witnesses of Jesus.
Together as members of this congregation, too, you have been anointed for God’s saving purposes in this community. The Word read and preached calls you; the Spirit empowers you; God sends you into works of proclaiming the salvation of Christ and sharing His love. By God’s Spirit, we worship here in the Spirit of holiness and we invite our community to praise our God with us. Here the Bible is studied and children are taught. Here we care for one another and we grow in love. Our largest mission work, of course, is the child care center. With the blessing of God, every week, we love 20 children in the name of Jesus and share His saving grace with them and their families. Only with God’s anointing and the power of His Spirit could we get to this place. By God’s mercy, we own property visible on a main road which has been fit to meet all the state standards for licensing. (Those who were involved in this project may remember that this was no simple task). God has sent us an excellent director, who not only works as a professional of the highest caliber in her field but she integrates her work with the mission of God and of our church, keeping her focus on drawing people to the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ. We have staff who love the children in their care. After some initial bumps in our start-up, God has given us a good reputation in the community, so that people hear of our center as a place of quality and safety and care. And this mission has you, who through your contributions and your prayers, your time and your talents you can move this work forward. You are key to connecting this mission more effectively to the congregation, bringing people from 8753 Pleasant Lake to 10001 Ellsworth Road, as you yourselves go to the center at Pleasant Lake, as you welcome the people who come here, as you invite people here.
I hope and pray that each one of you take your anointing personally. I hope you understand that God’s Spirit has been given to you for a good purpose, a mighty purpose and I pray that you grow in receiving and exploring and fulfilling that purpose. Discerning your own calling from God is always a very personal task, one which each one of us much take up for ourselves. Nine and a half years ago, you were God’s instrument in calling me to fulfill God’s purposes with you here at St. Thomas. You prayed for a pastor whom God would raise up, equip with His Spirit and empower for His work. On June 25, 2005, we had an installation service here. It was a hot day, but for me a day I will always remember and cherish. It was the very beginning of my work as a parish pastor. A number of pastors came to participate. The congregation turned out in full force. Community members appeared. I received God’s anointing to be your pastor and together we have labored together and accomplished a great deal here. I am convinced that St. Thomas is more ready than ever to march into the future that God has planned. And even as I am convinced that God has great work yet for this congregation to do, I have also been reflecting on my own call here. I have become convinced that I am no longer to be part of this work here. Just as Cyrus was called to extend a kingdom over the Middle East and not really to the four corners of the world and just as even the Lord Jesus knew when the work of his earthly ministry was done and it was time for Him to ascend to the Father, no leader is called to do everything and certainly not forever. At peace that my work here is done, I am announcing my resignation as your pastor, to be effective in one month on Nov 15.
This conviction came as a surprise to me, as I’m certain it does to you today. For years I felt that I had effectively negotiated the balance between my service here, my work at the university, and my own family life. There were times when the days were hard and the hours were long, but I was constantly renewed by God’s Spirit to continue moving forward, trying again, meeting new challenges and starting new initiatives. By God’s Spirit, I both had the energy and the zeal for the work. It was an amazing experience which surprised me that I could always move forward and I had this sense that I must move forward in my service to you and St. Thomas and God’s mission here. It is now so that perceive that the Spirit is telling me that my work here has been brought to its conclusion. God has accomplished the things He has intended to do through me – though often in spite of myself. In the areas of teaching and preaching and reaching out and leading, what abilities the Holy Spirit has given me have been put to good use here. I have been challenged and I have been stretched and grown. Still, there are limits to what I can do. I recognize that this is God’s timing for another man to lead you, someone with other gifts and strengths who can lead you and serve you and bless you in new ways.
The timing may seem sudden, one month’s notice seems short to me too, but I believe it’s good. Both on the congregational level and the district level in our church, this is the time of planning for next year. It will be best for you to make your plans without me, as the Spirit directs you, for the ministry here is yours as you follow God’s call.
As the Lord raised up Cyrus, the Lord will raise up another leader to guide you forward. And the Lord Jesus Himself, your true Messiah, remains here as always in your midst with all the blessings and gifts He ever gave: His Word proclaimed, His Holy Sacraments given and poured out, His Spirit who equips you and empowers you to work together for your common goals in God’s mission here.
I know that every change that life brings has its challenges. Lots of questions arise. Let us put aside our fears. Trusting our Lord, we can be confident that God will provide a way. Hundreds of years before the birth of Cyrus, God had called Cyrus by name and recorded it in Holy Scripture. God already knows what leadership He has planned for St. Thomas. He has good in mind for His ministry to continue here and to grow and to flourish. You have a great deal of potential – more than my labors can work to realize – but God will fulfill his purposes for you as you faithfully follow Christ our Lord.