Wine makes a lot of byproducts.
There’s a cycle of destruction and transformation to the wine-making process. The yeast produces a chemical reaction that destroys molecules. That process of destruction leads to fermentation, a process led by enzymes, which is what makes wine wine.
This fermentation process, destroying molecules as it goes, produces a lot of byproducts called sediment. This is not unlike the sediment you might feel in a sandbar or on a sandy river floor. Not that it’s the same product but that it feels similar, acts similarly.
So imagine, you open a bottle of wine at home and pour it out. You get to the last glass and out comes sand.
That’s unstrained wine. That’s the byproduct of the fermentation process. A process that, as it destroys, creates a sand-like sediment.
And apparently, sediment-laden wine wasn’t all too uncommon for the ancients.
Let’s hear our scripture for this morning, Isaiah 25:1-9
“Well-aged wines strained clear.”
The restoration of God will be so great, so grand, that the wine of the people will lack sediment. It will be well strained. They will get to enjoy what we enjoy on a regular basis: wine without sediment. Compared with us, for this people, this is fabulous news.
For it’s a change for them from the norm, which apparently was wine with some sediment remaining.
This well-aged wine strained clear will accompany a feast of rich foods, food filled with marrow. Up on the mountain of the Lord, up on Mount Zion probably, they will feast and feast. And up there, while they feast on rich food filled with marrow and wine without sediment, God will do even more restoration.
Like fermentation destroying molecules, God will come and destroy, bringing forth something good, new.
God will destroy the “shroud that is cast over all peoples.”
God will destroy “the sheet that is spread over all nations.”
God will destroy death by “swallowing it up forever.”
God will come and destroy, and like fermentation, the result will be something new, something different, something good.
They are ecstatic, completely taken, by this grand vision of God’s salvation.
God will do this, wiping away “every tear” as God wipes away “the disgrace of his people…from the earth.”
Then, the people will say, “This is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
God has saved by destroying. God has destroyed what ailed them, what caused them grief and trouble. God has not only brought forth something new, God has strained the sediment out of their lives. No more tears. No more fear and worry. No more disgrace.
Up on the mountain, mount Zion, the people feast and drink their well-strained wine to the fill because they know, indeed, that God will do this. God will alleviate their suffering. God will provide. God will save. God will.
Which means, God hasn’t.
If God will, it means they’re expecting God will act in the future. It means that God has yet to actually do any of this. The people might sit up on Mount Zion, but they’re drinking sendiment-filled wine. They’re eating lean foods of whatever they can manage to find. They’re going hungry, actually, because their fields are fallow.
Up on the mountain, where they imagine feasting, where they imagine a delicious and rich vision of food and drink, where they imagine restoration from the current destruction they know, they fill their heads full of visions, for their reality is heavy-laden with the sediment of their sins.
Around them, the temple sits in ruins.
They’re up on the mountain, imagining a beautiful scene, looking at the fallen columns of Solomon’s porch. They’re looking at the stones that are toppled, one over the other. They’re looking back to where the holy of holies was, where God was understood to literally dwell, seeing the heavy curtain crumpled underneath stones. And now, seeing into what was the holy of holies, knowing it’s gone, the people can’t help but wonder if God has left them, too.
Down the mountain, looking upon Jerusalem, they see only the same: death and destruction. The palace in ruins, the king gone. The walls that protected Jerusalem now just so many piles of rubble. Ash characterizes much of the city where fires burned. And then, beyond the walls, out into the fields where the grain grew, where there were vineyards that produced the wine, they see nothing but charred remains.
It’s just as chapter 24, right before this fantastical vision, puts it, “The wine dries up, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the timbrels is stilled, the noise of the jubilant has ceased, the mirth of the lyre is stilled. No longer do they drink wine with singing; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The city of chaos is broken down, every house is shut up so that no one can enter. There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine; all joy has reached its eventide; the gladness of the earth is banished. Desolation is left in the city, the gates are battered into ruins.”
Their city, their streets, their temple, their food, their wine, all of it is devastated. Destroyed. Destruction has visited them.
And here they are, up on the hill, imagining a future where there will be not only a restoration of what they once knew but God will also turn and destroy their disgrace, their grief, and restore them to life?
It’s hard enough to imagine such restoration. How do they know God will restore? How do they know God will provide? How do they know God will even return? How can they envision this future with such confidence?
It’s hard enough to imagine such restoration. It’s even harder to imagine when you’re the one responsible for the destruction.
The ruins they see around them are their own fault. God sent prophets, prophets like Isaiah, to warn the people that they needed to get their act together. We saw last week how God sang them a love song, the song of a jilted lover, because of their neglect of relationship with God. God warned them through that song that such destruction was the result of their injustice and unrighteousness. Their greed, their lust for power and money, would ultimately bring death and destruction to them.
And so God says, “if only you’d let me do what I promised I’d do for you! If only you’d let me handle your foreign affairs, if only you’d let me provide for you, if only you’d stay within the boundaries I set for you and there find freedom.” For that’s what we saw last week: that freedom is truly found within the boundaries God has set for our lives.
And the boundaries for this people are the bounds of the law. If only they’d follow the law, which is as simple as love God, love neighbor, or as simple as another prophet, Micah, put it: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly; if only they’d follow this law, they would know peace and freedom and justice and security.
But the people did not. They loved money too much. They wanted control too much. And so, they kept wandering farther and farther from God, father and farther outside the boundaries God had set. Until one day, the house of cards they had created came crashing down around them, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem.
And now, there is no merriment, as they say in chapter 24. The music has ended. The wine no longer flows. There is no food. All around them is death and destruction. And they have no one but themselves to blame.
Here we sit, some of us back in our sanctuary that’s decidedly not destroyed, some of us in our homes that we’ve had for decades or even generations, also dwellings that are decidedly not destroyed, and we might wonder how we can relate to this? We have not known the destruction of our city. We have not lived through a foreign army’s invasion. We have not seen this kind of societal collapse.
Or, perhaps, we have. It’s easy to look around us, to watch the news, and feel like our society is collapsing.
Or, perhaps, it’s easy to look around at our own lives and see destruction.
Maybe, we see destruction that just sometimes happens: a terrible health diagnosis, a significant loss to our portfolio, the loss of a loved one, grief in any of the forms it presents itself.
Maybe, we see destruction someone else wrought into our lives. A spouse left us. A family member broke the law and we’re left to pick up the pieces. Someone made poor financial decisions and we’re left without proper resources. A child will not listen to reason, costing us.
Maybe, we see destruction we brought upon ourselves. We got greedy, like the ancient Israelites. We got lustful for power or status. We cheated at work or at home. We sinned and now we’re left to pick up the pieces of our own lives. And so often, when we’re left to pick up the pieces after our own sin has destroyed, we’re like the Israelites up on the hill, alone, looking at what we have wrought.
We’re like the Israelites up on the hill, daydreaming about restoration. Fantasizing about God coming and making everything good again. Dreaming that all our cares and concerns will be, one day, wiped away by God, just as chapter 25 says that God will wipe away every tear.
Perhaps we’re like the Israelites even if we didn’t bring about our own destruction, dreaming that one day it will all be okay. One day God will wipe away the disgrace we know because of our own actions, or someone else’s. One day, God will destroy the shroud that is cast over us. One day, God will.
Which we know, as we said earlier in this sermon, if God will, it means God hasn’t.
God hasn’t yet restored. God hasn’t yet wiped away our tears. God hasn’t yet destroyed our disgrace.
Which makes us wonder, will God ever?
Will God ever restore? Will God ever wipe away our tears? Will God ever destroy our disgrace?
It’s a reasonable question of faith. It’s a natural question in times of destruction. In our personal destruction, whether we brought it upon ourselves with our sin, or if someone else’s sin caused it, or if no one caused it but it’s just one of those nasty things that happens in life, we wonder if God will?
Up on the hill, Mount Zion, surrounded by destruction, that natural wondering should seem to lead the people of God to have the same doubts. Would God restore? Would God come to their aid? Like the ancient prayer of the church, Psalm 70:1, the people must be exclaiming, “O God, come to my assistance, O LORD, make haste to help me!”
But yet, we see no signs of doubt in this text. They don’t ask, will God? They assert, God will.
They can say God will, with confidence, because they know, God has.
God has restored in the past. God has brought judgment in the past, to be sure, leveling towns of the ruthless, as chapter 25 says. For God does not tolerate those who do not follow God’s ways. God’s judgment and vengeance are real.
But, God has restored in the past, and so they have confidence God will restore again.
After a terrible chapter 24 full of destruction and desolation, full of grief and heartache, the people say, O LORD, you are my God, I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful, and sure.” They look to their past and see what wonderful things God will do in the future.
They can look to the past and know that God has wiped away every tear. They can look to the past and know that God has prepared feasts for them, just as David says in Psalm 23. They can look to the past and know that God has destroyed their disgrace. They can look to the past and see where God has restored, provided, prospered.
Even with their neighbors who have suffered destruction, they can see where God has restored. They can see where God has provided. They can see where God has done the same.
They look to their past to have confidence that God will do the same, again.
They can do so because they know God’s character. They proclaim that character in verse 4: “For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.” What a powerful testimony to who God is. God always loves. And out of that abundant and abounding love, God will save, God will restore, because it’s just in God’s character.
As God has done in the past, God will do in the future. We can be assured of that because God loves, always. The people of God, here, surrounded by their own destruction, are confident of that because they know, God always loves.
Their lesson for us today is just this simple, yet profound, message of faith:
God will because God has.
So today, where in your past has God delivered you?
Where in your past has God saved you?
Where in your past when you suffered did you find that God provided, and with abundance?
Where in your past can you say you sat down, with destruction all around, and yet ate rich foods and drank well-strained wine?
In my past, I can see where God saved me from financial ruin. I can see where God saved me from a life lived hating myself. I can see where God saved me from hopeless situations. I can see where God saved me.
And so I have confidence that God will save again.
I can see where God has saved. Can you?
Look back in your past. God has saved you in the past. God has provided, and with abundance, in the past. It’s there. It might just take vision to see it.
For that’s what God does: God saves, over and over and over again.
Where there’s destruction around us that just happens sometimes in life, just as Jesus taught us to expect in Matthew’s little apocalypse, or when there’s destruction that someone else brought into our lives, God will save us because God has saved us in the past. That’s the bold act of faith. To declare, like these Israelites, no matter the destruction that surrounds us, God will save us because God has saved us in the past.
And, when there’s destruction that we have caused, where there’s destruction because of our own sin, there’s the provision of being able to be made right again. We, like the Israelites in this passage, need to simply repent. They do a 180. They proclaim their praise of God and recommit to live life in light of God’s ways of justice for the poor and shelter for the needy. They turn around from the lives they’ve been living to go in the opposite direction, which is back toward God, back toward the boundaries God had set for them, back to life in the Godly garden of chapter 5, last week’s sermon.
When there’s destruction we have brought upon ourselves, restoration begins with repentance. Turning around and doing a 180, walking back toward God, back to the boundaries God has set for our lives.
This is a bold act of faith. To declare that God will because God has. To declare that God will restore because God has restored in the past. To declare that God will save because God has saved in the past.
It’s a bold act of faith. But that’s the nature of faith. To know that God will because God has. Because it’s in God’s character to save us. Because that’s who God is.
So, where do you know destruction in your life?
God will bring restoration because God has restored before.
Where do you know hunger in your life?
God will set a feast before you because God has set a feast before.
Where do you know thirst in your life?
God will bring well-strained wine to your table because God has done it before.
Where do you know disgrace in your life?
God will destroy that disgrace because God has destroyed it before.
What in your life causes you to shed tears?
God will wipe those away because God has wiped them away before.
God will because God has.
That’s the bold claim of faith. That’s the word of hope from the Israelites this morning; the same people who sit around, looking at destruction they had brought upon their own lives proclaim to us today:
God will because God has.
This morning, claim that in your prayer life. Believe, with all boldness, that God will restore, provide, and save, because God has restored, provided, and saved before.
God will because God has.
Do you believe it?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.