Purpose: to comfort God's people who fear they've been abandoned, with three salvation promises.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Richard Grift, Brampton, Ontario
Dear People of God,
What would you guess to be the most common command or encouragement in the Bible? Is it the command to love? That is an important command and the core of God’s desire for human life. And yet, it is not God’s most frequent instruction to his people. Is it the command to be humble, or perhaps the command to trust the Lord, our God? Or maybe the command to guard our sexual purity, or to walk with moral integrity and holiness?
As important as all of these are, the one command in Scripture that occurs more often than any other - God’s most frequently repeated encouragement is the command to “fear not”, or “don’t be afraid” of this or that fear. According to Lloyd Ogilvie there are 366 “fear not” verses in the Bible - one for each day of the year, including one for leap year. Our list of fears seems endless:
Some of us are afraid of flying. Related to this is the fear of heights, for which we like the scriptural promise, “Lo, I am with you always”. Some of us are afraid of mice, or of creepy crawly creatures, including snakes, which is tied with public speaking as the number one fear of North Americans. In fact, more people are afraid of snakes or of public speaking than of death and dying, though death is a very real fear for some of us. Many of us fear cancer or some other debilitating disease. There’s also the fear of poverty - how are my needs, or the needs of my kids going to be taken care of, especially if I lose my main provider? There’s the fear of growing old, the fear of loneliness, the fear of failure or insignificance. All kinds of fears and anxieties that all of us have to face. On and on it goes, the list of fears and phobias and of other, lower grade fears, like anxiety and worry, which tend to come from the inside and mostly never happen. But they’re still fears, nonetheless, that are no less debilitating.
So one may argue that fear is among our most basic problems, resulting from the Fall. When we look at the opening chapters of the book of Genesis we find that the first negative emotion recorded in the Bible is the disturbing emotion of fear. It isn’t pride that’s recorded, though pride was certainly involved in the first human sin. But the first negative emotion recorded in the Bible is fear. When Adam and Eve sinned, and God sought them out in the garden, calling to the man, “Where are you?”, we read in chapter 3:10, that Adam answered, “I heard... you in the garden and I was afraid.”
In today’s passage from Isaiah, the prophet is also addressing the issue of fear, specifically the fear of abandonment, specifically, abandonment by God. Israel, was in exile in Babylon. And she was afraid. Afraid that God had forgotten her. Afraid that he'd abandoned her as a people. In Isaiah 42:22 we see that this was a people “plundered and looted, all of them trapped in pits or hidden away in prisons. They had become plunder, with no one to rescue them”, says Isaiah “. . . with no one to say, "Send them back."”
Certainly, Israel deserved to be in exile. She had reason to be afraid. Because of her sin, God himself had driven her there, in order to humble her. But even before he punished her, in grace, he promised that, one day, he would rescue her. One day her hard service would be over, her sins would be paid for (Is 40:2) and God would bring her home. As the new Israel, that's what we wait for too.
Sometimes it can seem like a long wait. Sometimes the challenges of life in this broken and sinful world can make it seems like God has forgotten us, like he has left us to fend for ourselves, like he has abandoned us. The surgery that never seems to heal. The loneliness that never gets alleviated. The bad habits that continue to bind us. The depression that doesn’t go away. Sometimes, it makes us wonder if God still loves us. Maybe we've really blown it; and we can't believe that God wouldn't leave us in our sin. Not every child of God faces this kind of struggle, but many of us have times when we wonder if God has forgotten us, if he’s left us alone in our miserable situations, whatever they may be. Maybe it doesn't seem that way in our heads. But it can sure feel that way in our hearts.
"But now” . . . in the face of our fears, whatever they may be, “this is what the Lord says, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel”:
Fear not! Because of my salvation PROMISES, you don't have to be afraid anymore. I'm not going to abandon you, not even to your sin. In our passage for today, God proclaims 3 salvation promises to comfort His people who fear they've been abandoned.
1) FEAR NOT BECAUSE I HAVE REDEEMED YOU
First of all, fear not, declares Yahweh, in verse 1, fear not because I have redeemed you (43:1, 3,4).
You don't have to be afraid any more. I'm not going to abandon you. I'm not going to leave you in your sin. I have and will redeem you. The kind of redemption God proclaims here is the kind paid to get a family member out of prison for debt. Here, sin is compared to an impossible financial debt that you can never, ever repay. But you're part of my family, says Yahweh, and I'm going to buy you back.
In fact, I've pre-paid your release. Verse 1 proclaims our future redemption in the perfect past tense (it’s called the “prophetic perfect”). That means it's as good as done. God has spoken! It will happen. Because I’ve already paid the price. I've paid a huge price in exchange for you. I've given up entire nations for you: Egypt, Cush, Seba, and others, so I could form you into my own special nation. And I've exchanged thousands of people for you, whoever has gotten in the way of making you into my own special people.
And from this side of the cross, we can see that God has exchanged one special person for us. You are so precious to me, I love you so much, he says in verse 4, that I paid the biggest ransom I could ever pay. I exchanged my own Son for you.
Imagine that! Imagine you're in debtor’s prison - which may be harder to imagine because we don’t have debtor’s prisons in North America - but imagine you're in debtor’s prison and you can't pay the fine. Your Father wants to get you out, but he can't pay it either. So instead, he sends your oldest brother, with his full agreement, and exchanges him for you. That’s what God did. He gave up his only Son, to become our older brother. And God sent him to prison in our place. 1 Peter 3:19 calls hell a prison where God sent Jesus to redeem all his other children from their bondage to sin and its fearful, lonely consequences.
So fear not people of God! I have redeemed you. And I will redeem you.
2) FEAR NOT BECAUSE I HAVE SUMMONED YOU BY NAME
God's exchange of others, in our place, is directly linked to his second promise at the end of vs 1: Children of God, “fear not because . . . I have summoned you by name, you are mine.”
Out of all the sinful people God could have possibly chosen for redemption, God picked you. And he called you by name. One by one, God is calling his children out of spiritual exile and on to a journey home.
Come home Dale, you are mine.
Come home Steve, you are mine.
Come home Ann, you are mine.
Don't be afraid. I have summoned you by name. I've called you on a journey to the promised land. I've called you out of bondage and into glorious freedom as the children of God. Has he called you by name? Then don't be afraid. You're on your way home to the promised land. Where the meek shall inherit the earth.
Our arrival is certain because in verse 7 we see that not only are we called by our own names but we are called by the very name of God. We are called by the powerful name of Christ. We are called “Christian”.
If you're tempted to think that with the name of Christ attached to yours that anyone can keep you in bondage, that anyone can keep you from travelling to the promised land, then listen to the words of Jesus in John 10: “I give them eternal life . . . and no one can snatch them out of my hand. And my Father, who has given them to me is greater than all [and] no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand” (Jn 10:28-29).
No one can refuse God's command in Isaiah 43:6: "Give them up! Don't hold them back!" They are mine! I created them for my glory. I have redeemed them in Jesus. I have called them by their name. And they are mine. They are not their own, nor anyone else’s either--not flood, not fire, nor any spiritual power in heaven or earth--but they belong, body and soul, to their faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all their sins. And He will keep his promise to bring us safely home.
One by one, God is calling his children home. If he's called you by name, fear not! No matter how long or lonely your struggle, you have not been abandoned in your misery.
3) FEAR NOT I AM WITH YOU
Christians are on a journey home. And that removes much of our fear. But it doesn't remove all of it. Which is why we need God’s third salvation promise. Although we're going home, it's a long and dangerous journey. A journey with many potholes and detours and side tracks that slow our progress and threaten to stop us in our tracks.
John Bunyan has written the classic story of our dangerous journey home. In Pilgrim's Progress, the main character, Christian, leaves the City of Destruction in search of the Celestial City. Along the way he encounters dangers and temptations of all kinds. First, he runs into the slough of despond, a pit where fears and doubts arise about his salvation. Then he runs across Mr. Worldly Wiseman who directs him down the smoothest, widest path. It's the most comfortable path . . . it’s the easiest path . . . but it's the wrong path. When he finally gets off that detour, he must climb the hill of difficulty. And as he climbs, and sweats, and struggles, and fights, he's tempted to turn back from his dangerous journey.
All along the way, he runs into many who do give up. They claim to be on the same journey but they never make it. One by one they all turn their backs on the dangerous journey home. And it seems that Christian is left to struggle all alone. How can he expect to make it when so many others have failed? The difficulties seem too much to handle. They are too much to handle all alone. But this is what the Lord says, he who created you, he who shaped you in the womb. Fear not, for not only have I redeemed you, not only have I called you, by name, into this dangerous journey, but I will be with you! I promise to travel with you all the way, on your dangerous journey home. That's my third promise to you.
Look at verse 2: When you pass through the waters - not if but when you pass through the flood waters - I will be with you. God doesn’t promise that there won’t be floods or fires. But when you go through them, I will hold them back from utterly destroying you, like I did for my people when they passed out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, and like I held back the Jordon River during flood stage, so they could cross over into the promised land. The overwhelming floods of your own struggle will not wash you away. They will spray you, they will soak you, they will freeze you, they will threaten to drown you, but they will not wash you away. Instead, they will wash your enemies away, like they washed away Pharaoh and his whole army. But they will not drown you. For I will be with you to hold the flood waters back.
And when you pass through the fire, you will not be burned. You will sweat, you will tire, you will faint, but the fumes will not overcome you and the flames will not consume you.
And when you pass through everything else, every other struggle imaginable, everything from A to Z, everything from water to fire, every natural and spiritual disaster possible, nothing will stop your journey. For I will be with you. Nothing will stop you from reaching your appointed destination. Fear not, I am with you.
In your Christian journey, even though you don't always know where God is leading you, do you think you could keep on travelling if you knew without a doubt that God was with you? No matter what God brings you through, no matter what fire or flood, even if something dreadful should happen to your family or closest friends, and you would have to travel without them for a while, do you think you could keep on travelling, as hard and devastating as it might be, do you think you could keep on going if you knew without a doubt that God was with you?
Do you have times when God seems far away? Are you sometimes afraid that maybe he's abandoned you? That he's left you to struggle all alone? Then ask yourself these two questions: “Has he redeemed me? And has he called me by name?” If you have heard him call your name (and rest assured that he’s calling your name right now), and if you have accepted his redemption, then fear not, God is with you. He is with you always, even to the very end of the age (Mat 28:20).
Conclusion: Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come. His grace has brought us safe thus far. And his grace will lead us home. Let these salvation promises be your comfort: I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. And I am with you always. Amen.
Order of Worship
GOD CALLS US TO WORSHIP
Call to Worship: Psalm 34:1-7
Silent prayer – concluded by singing PsH 117 “Hallelujah”
God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the
fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and remain with us all”
Hymn of Praise: PsH 244 “God Himself is With Us”
WE SEEK GOD’S MERCY
Hymn of Confession: PsH 266 “Forgive Our Sins”
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 4:13-18a
Guide to our New Life in Christ: 1 John 4:7-12
Hymn of Gratitude: PsH 285 “O Jesus, I Have Promised”
GOD SPEAKS HIS WORD
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
Sermon: “Fear Not!”
Prayer of Application: “Thank you, Father, that this side of the cross,
we do not have to be afraid anymore, that we can trust you,
and that you will not let go of those you have created and
redeemed for your glory.
Song of Response: PsH 500 “How Firm a Foundation”
GOD SENDS US OUT