Tenth Sunday in Pentecost
 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
"I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god. Isaiah 44:6 (ESV)
“I am the first and I am the last, besides me there is no god.” I have heard many times in different occasions people affirm this statement, with a twisted bit of logic saying: “that then everyone must be worshiping God, by other names. Who else could they be worshiping?” This is the dream of the Universalists, those who would hold out hope for all “believers” no matter what or who they believe in. The idea is that God has revealed Himself in many and various ways, to many and various peoples. And though He goes by different names in different societies, He is the same God. But this is not at all what God means here. In fact, He means quite the opposite.
God knows that there are many different entities that people would like to regard as a god, or gods, on the same level as this one true God, the first and the last. In the Old Testament, there were the Baals and the Asherim. There were also the many and various gods of Egypt, and of Babylon, and God despised them all. Throughout the whole Old Testament God reveals Himself to His people in a way that says, “you worship these in vain. I am superior to them all. They are nothing. They can do nothing for you.” Yet the people would not listen, they liked their gods. They liked gods they could control and manipulate with sacrifices, and supplication. They did not like this God, who dictated the terms, who refused to let them have their fun. They thought of him as arrogant God. So they followed after their own gods, gods of their own making, who acted like them, and promised to do their bidding.
It is pretty popular today to look at the Israelites in the Old Testament, and think of how stupid they must have been. How could they be so unfaithful? Couldn’t they figure it out? Why would they do this to the God the freed them from slavery in Egypt? Who led them into battle as the Lord of Hosts, and defeated their enemies? Just so you know Lord of hosts, means Lord of Armies. God is in many ways a God of war, just as much as He is a God of Peace.
Ah, but then we may see here how easy it is to be guilty of this, replacing God with our own god, even as we point our fingers at “those” others, who are not like us, “those” sinners. You see, we ourselves are often as guilty of this as the Israelites were, maybe even guiltier of this. I like to read the Bible. It is a fascinating book to me. It is fascinating to me because it is so different than what I expect it to be, given what people (who evidently have not read their Bibles) tell me about God. I think we expect to find a God who is like us, who reflects our mores, a God who would not tolerate slavery, or polygamy, who would shun war, and avoid genocide, and so many other things we are not entirely unjustified to find repulsive. We also expect a God who would approve of everything we do in today’s world. Yet He finds so many of these things to be repulsive: divorce at the drop of a hat, ordaining women to be pastors, not to mention the practicing sodomites that become bishops, abortions of convenience, cowardice masking as pacifism, which is often nothing more then a total disregard for the plight of our fellow men, as long as what is happening to them doesn’t affect our way of life, or the price of gas. We only care about the difference between right and wrong, when it is our right at stake.
You see this is why I find the Bible so amazing. It is at total odds with who I am. The God revealed in scripture is different than the one I would expect to find. At times I even find myself wanting to justify Him, and His actions. What blasphemy! This leads to so many abominations: people trying to explain away what God says, rather than understand it, people putting themselves in the place of God, making the self to be their god, and then judging God. The atheist and the liberal Christian are often not very different here. The atheist judges God as guilty, and refuses to believe in Him. He finds the God of the Bible to be repulsive. But many Christians will come close to doing the same. Yet like a skilled lawyer they try to find a loophole in their law, to get God off on a technicality. They find him innocent, yet in the process they too refuse to believe in Him as He really is. They refuse to take Him seriously. They try to fashion Him in their own image. They make Him out to be a reformed God, who would no longer do those things he commanded in the Old Testament. They think He is a changed man, like a convict released from prison on good behavior. Do you see how blasphemous this is? I would like to think it is only liberals that do this. But I’m fairly sure I have been guilty of it myself: trying to justify God, who not only created me, but also redeemed me. We try to justify the Lord of Hosts, He who says “I am the first and the last, besides me there is no god.” There is only one God, the one who has redeemed us with his death on the cross, so that on the last day we too could leave this Egypt, and join him in the Promised Land. Yes He redeemed us. He died for us. And He alone, assured us of our salvation, by conquering death and rising from the grave. He is the “first and the last, who died and came to life.” (Rev 2:8)
Just as He alone saved the Israelites from bondage, and brought them to the Promised Land, Israel’s Redeemer.
So he asks with a taunt:
“ Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.”
That is, “who are you? Who are you too judge me? I am the judge, not you.” Who is like me? He calls us out. Man’s arrogance knows no boundaries. We ignore God, and think we know better. But then when we are in His presence, confronted with the reality of God, we stop strutting, and cower in a corner convicted of our sin. Do we really think we can stand before God? Some of us do. We think we are righteous, that we have led a righteous life. We think we have done all that he has asked of us. Some people actually think they have conquered sin on their own. Some of us think we are so great, that God should overlook our petty sins. Haven’t we made up for them? We who would judge God, and ignore what He says, think God should be lenient with us. Who are you? Are you God? Then tell me what is to come, and what will happen.
This is something only God can do. He alone can predict the future. He has told us what will happen. He has told us of His coming day of Glory, when He will judge between the living and the dead. He has told us what will happen to this world. How it will all pass away with everything we have worked for. He has told us of how He will judge us, and all the world, by His measure of righteousness. And then we see we cannot stand alone. We do not dare stand before God on our own two feet. This is a fight we cannot win.
But God continues:
 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!”
Fear not. We have nothing to be afraid of. He has told us from of old, and he has declared it. Told us what? Declared what? From the very beginning He has told us of his plan, for His son Jesus Christ that would come to save us, to conquer death for us. And on account of His Son, on account of Jesus, and His blood and righteousness He has declared it. You have nothing to fear. You are no longer guilty but innocent, for my Son has born your punishment; He has taken your cross. He has declared you righteous.
And for this He has the right to ask,
“Is there a God besides me?”
Is there a God who has showed His love for you more than He has? Is there another God who has died for your sin? Is there a God who has pulled you from the depths of your sin, and bondage to the devil and this world? Do you know of another God, who would die for you? No,
There is no Rock; I know not any."
Isaiah 44:7-8 (ESV)
But this Rock, who is Jesus Christ, speaks, saying to John, and through him comforting the whole Church:
Rev. 1:17-18 (ESV) “Fear not, I am the first and the last,  and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
In this Rock, alone in this God, we find refuge, and salvation, He alone has the keys to release us from the prisons of Death and Hades. And those keys, He gave to us in baptism, and gives us in the Lords supper, where He forgives our sins, and gives us life everlasting. Amen.
Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.