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IF YOU HAD HEARKENED TO MY COMMANDMENTS, YOUR PEACE WOULD HAVE BEEN LIKE A RIVER
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, Second Week of Advent, December 14, 2018
Isaiah 48:17-19, Psalm 1, Matthew 11:16-19


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

"O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me" (Isaiah 48:18-19).


Today God tells his people that had they long ago obeyed the Lord, things would now have been very different for them. Their peace would now have been like a river, deep and ever flowing anew into them. If only they had long ago obeyed his commandments, their righteousness would now be "like the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:19). They would now be righteous before the Lord. They would not have lost their righteousness by living in sin, alienated from God, offending him and dimming the light and warmth of his love in their hearts. They would have been safe in God's righteousness and could have been constantly growing all this time in holiness, ever purifying their life, growing in virtue and grace before the Lord. How different they would now have been than they actually are.


These are God's words directed even now to his people, his new people, the New Israel, the people who are born again in Christ through their faith in him. We too can look back on our individual lives and regret that it has taken us so long to see the light, to repent of our sins, and to reform our ways. If only we had started much earlier in life to truly fear the Lord and walk in his ways, to reject worldliness, more closely follow his commandments, and live a holy life!


We can try to imagine what things would now have been like for us if we had done this much sooner in life. How different we would now have been had we started much earlier to follow the Lord.


Would that we had been justified much earlier in life! If only I had fully committed myself to the Lord when I was much younger and had not offended him by my sins and worldly way of living, what would I have now been like? My peace "would have been like a river" and my "righteousness like the waves of the sea" (Isaiah 48:18).


We see here even in this Old Testament oracle the difference between justification and sanctification, for even in the Old Testament, people were justified by faith, because of the future reparation-making work of Jesus Christ on the cross, even though they didn't know about Christ's redeeming death. Genesis says that Abraham "believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).


This is not yet full New Testament justification, because Christ had not yet come and had not yet died vicariously on the cross to atone for the sins of all who put their faith in him. But the Old Testament saints were justified in an anticipatory way by their faith in Yahweh, to the degree that he had so far revealed himself to them at that time, and God reckoned their faith to them as righteousness to the degree that that was possible in the Old Testament.


But now we who live in the New Testament, after Christ's atoning death on the cross for our sins, how much greater is the justification that we experience when we put our faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross to make full reparation for our sins. Because of what Christ did for us on the cross in suffering what we should have suffered in punishment for our sins, God acquits us of them and considers our punishment for them paid, and so declares us righteous, when we put our faith in him and genuinely repent of our sins.


Justification is without works, only by faith, because the one who does the work for us that earns our justification is Jesus Christ on the cross. His death is the work that makes full reparation for our sins. No further work than the work of Christ on the cross is necessary to atone for our sins or to justify us (Galatians 2:16). But faith is necessary to personally connect Christ's atoning work on the cross to us as individuals.


When we put our faith in Christ, God reckons our faith to us as righteousness, because of Christ's reparation-making work on the cross for all human sin. The reparation work has already been done by Christ, but our faith enables God to apply this reparation work to us individually and personally. And so when we make an act of faith in Christ, we are declared righteous by God. This declaration justifies us - makes us righteous.


If only we were justified sooner, then we could have begun sooner the work of sanctification, which is the work of growing in holiness, and this growing in holiness requires work on our part. It requires the living of a life of good works, living a good life in accord with God's moral law, which our justification now enables us to keep. If only we had started sooner living this life of more closely and strictly following God's commandments, how much more advanced in holiness would we now be! Our peace would now have been like a river, and our righteousness like the waves of the sea.


"O that you had hearkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me" (Isaiah 48:18-19).

 

 

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