This Sunday (5th June 2016) I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.
I chose to speak on Isaiah 43: 1- 13.
1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 8 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. 9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”
We all need encouraging in life particularly when we are going through difficult times.
We all need to be reassured that we are special and of worth.
Years ago I had a boss who rarely thanked people for a job well done. He would say that we were employed to do the job properly. So why should he thank people for doing what they were paid to do? And yet, if people are thanked and praised for doing their job, they will often go beyond what is expected of them.
Our reading today from Isaiah 43 was written years Jerusalem to the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. They had been sent there when Judah had been conquered by the then super power of Babylonia. Jerusalem was a waste land and the Temple had been destroyed.
Here were the Jews in a pagan land feeling abandoned by God and wondering what the future held for them.
Having said that, the Jews had brought this on themselves.
For many years they had been disobedient to God and had began worshipping the false gods of the neighbouring countries. God portrays himself as a faithful husband, with the Jewish people being the unfaithful wife who has a series of affairs. Also they had gone against God’s wishes by making alliances with other countries who could not and should not have been trusted.
God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer the land of Judah because the people would not learn the lessons they need to learn any other way.
Sometimes we don’t or won’t learn the easy way. And so it proved with the Jews.
We read how awful the Jews felt in Psalm 137:1 – 4: By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
So what message does Isaiah bring the Jews from God?
God reminds them that he created them.
It is he who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt all those years ago.
He has summons them and called them by name. So he knows them intimately. This is the God whom Jesus assures us knows how many hairs are on our heads. He is not distant, uncaring and impersonal like the gods of the Babylonians. He knows each and every person.
No matter what trials they are going through God says he will be with them. We read in Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” The Jews aren’t promised to be saved from troubles and hard times, but God says “I will be with you as you go through this”. And as we know today, followers of Jesus Christ go through all sorts of trials and tribulations. As God never changes and does not change his mind, we can rely of his promises for ourselves. In the New Testament we are reminded in 2 Corinthians 1:20 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.”
Isaiah foresees the release of the Jews when Babylon is conquered by the Persians. Cyrus the Persian King is elsewhere called “My shepherd” by God because of how he will see to the release of the captives. Isaiah 44:28 “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” God says that “I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.” these are the countries that God allows the Persians to conquer when the Jews are allowed to return to Judah.
God reminds the Jews that he is with them and they are not to be afraid. He promises to bring all the scattered people from the four corners of the world back together.
Finally God reminds the Jews that he alone is God. He has done all this. Given the way the Jews had flirted with the idols and gods of surrounding countries and cultures, it is important that they realise it is only God who is real and who can save people. The other gods are not real and hence have no power over people. Isaiah 43:10 & 11 “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour.“
The Jews had flirted with foreign gods and idol worship, despite what God had told them when they had come into the promised land many years before. Once they returned from exile they never committed spiritual adultery again. They learnt their lesson the hard way. God is the one true God and apart from him there is no saviour. No one else can save mankind from sin.
So what message does this passage have for us today in 2016?
We are precious and loved. If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, then we are God’s . He has, through the blood of Jesus, redeemed us. He has called us and we have responded and we are his.
God loves us so much that he gave the most expensive and precious thing he had in the whole universe to save us. He gave his one and only son Jesus to pay the price of our sins and set us free. That is how much God loves each and everyone one of us.
No matter where we are, no matter what our status, each and every Christian is precious to God and he will bring us all together in heaven at the end of all things.
We are all going to face troubles and difficult times in our Christian life. But we are assured that they will not overwhelm us. God in fact promises to be with us as we go through hard times. We do not have to go through things on our own.
We read in the gospels that when Jesus called people he often said “Follow me”. And I think it is fair to say that he does not expect us to undergo things that he has not gone through. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us, his flock, through this earthly life on to our eternal life in Heaven.
Jesus isn’t like a First World War general leading his troops from many miles behind the front line. No he is there in the thick of it with us as we go through life’s battles. He is intimately involved with each and every Christian’s struggles.
So today hold on to all the promises that we read in this passage:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned
Do not be afraid, for I am with you