************ Sermon on Isaiah 43:1-2 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 31, 2008
Old Year's Service 2008
I have a stack of scary documents with me. I think they tell my story and our story for 2008:
-The first paper is from the Cypress Surgery Center; I signed at the bottom indicating I understood there were possible side effects to surgery:
Minor side effects from general anesthesia and surgery are common. These include nausea, sore throat, headache, muscle aches, or a generalized "hang-over" type feeling.-Here is another paper from the Cypress Surgery Center; it is entitled, "Agreement To Pay For Services." This is scary when you consider the total bill for my surgeries came to $55,000.
The most feared complication of general anesthesia is death. This occurs in roughly 1 out of every 10,000 people. It is not possible to predict who will have this type of severe reaction.
The medications used in general anesthesia can cause severe reactions. These include: liver damage, kidney damage, seizures, low blood pressure, allergic reactions. Nausea is fairly common for a few hours after the procedure. Other side effects may occur, depending on the medication used.
-Thank God for this next paper – from my insurance.
-Here is a report to the consistory. It recommends the orderly, peaceful, and quiet withdrawal of Trinity Christian Reformed Church from our present denomination. That was scary. Would we have a church fight? Would we lose any members? What about my pension? What would friends in the CRC do or say? Would the CRC give me an honorable release or would I be deposed as a Minister of the Word?
-Here is another report to the consistory. It recommends that we join the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). Would this cause a fight? How many members would we lose? What kind of exam would I have to take, how much studying would I have to do, and will I make Trinity look good when I take the exam?
-Here is a statement about my IRA – what can I say other than "ouch."
-Here is a gas receipt from the end of June – I notice I paid $4.74 a gallon; happily, here is another gas receipt midway through December – the price is down to $1.64 per gallon
-You've heard about the next document – a couple of times – a ticket for speeding
The year 2008 saw other scary documents too. Some of us received a report from the pathologist with the word "cancer" or "tumor." A copy of a death certificate was received by some here. Some of our students received a grade report filled with F's instead of A's & B's. Some of us filed or received a police report on an accident or a robbery. A pink slip or lay-off notice was given to some here.
What kind of documents will we be given in 2009? A notice to foreclose? A rejection of credit? A police report? A death certificate? A pathology report? A bounced check notice?
What does Isaiah, the Spirit-inspired prophet of God, say to us as we think back on the year 2008? And, what does he say to us as we face the uncertainties of 2009? He says, "Fear not."
I When You Pass Through the Waters
A Isaiah assumes that the redeemed pass through trials. He assumes we will receive paperwork that will not be appreciated. Listen to verse 2:
(Is 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.Notice, it is not "if" but "when" you pass through waters and rivers and fire. In this life and on this earth, no one is immune from trials, tribulations, troubles, and distresses in this life. Keep in mind what Scripture says elsewhere:
(Job 14:1) "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble."
(Jn 16:33) "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
"Health and Wealth" Christians do not like Isaiah 43:2. They claim that true believers do not go through trials. Trials are a sign that your faith is not strong enough, or that your prayers are not fervent enough, or that something is deficient in your spiritual life. But we know better. Search through your files. Look at the documents there (HOLD UP PAPERS). You will see proof after proof that God's people do pass through waters and rivers and fire. God's people are not immune from suffering.
B Isaiah mentions "waters" and "rivers" and "fire." What does he have in mind? Let me ask, what comes to mind when I mention "waters"? Doesn't that make you think of the flood in the days of Noah? Doesn't that remind you of the waters that overflowed the earth? Now, what comes to mind when I mention "rivers"? Doesn't that make you think of the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River? And, what comes to mind when I mention "fire"? Doesn't that make you think of the three friends of Daniel – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – in the fiery furnace?
When Isaiah speaks of "waters" and "rivers" and "fire", he has something very specific in mind. He has the Babylonian Exile in mind (cf Is 39). Mind you, this was a judgment of God brought on by the wickedness of the people but, at the time of Isaiah, it was the biggest trial faced by the people of God.
Let's pull this all together. Waters and rivers and fire, taken together, form a picture of every danger that could ever come.
But, there is more. Waters and rivers and fire, taken together, also form a picture of judgment. In the days of Noah, the waters overflowed the earth because of God's judgment against mankind's corruption (Gen 6:11-13). And, hasn't God said that in the final judgment this world and everything in it will be burned up (2 Pet 3:7-12)?
II Fear Not
A What is the worldly response to trials, tribulations, troubles, and distresses in this life? What is the worldly response to documents (HOLD UP PAPERS) filled with news of doom and gloom?
Probably the biggest worldly response to waters, rivers, and fire is alcohol and drugs. The worldly response to waters, rivers, and fire is to drown out sorrows in an alcoholic stupor or drug-induced haze. Other worldly responses are to lose oneself in video games, the internet, gambling, pornography. Some respond to troubles with anger and violence and aggression. Some see trials as an opportunity – to make money, to take advantage of a situation, to gain power and influence. Others submit to various kinds of therapy. And, still others withdraw into themselves.
B What does Isaiah say under the inspiration of the Spirit? He says, "Fear not" (Is 43:1). He says "Do not be afraid" (Is 43:5).
What does Isaiah mean by "fear not" (vs 2) or "do not be afraid" (vs 5)? The Hebrew word for "fear" is used in the Bible whenever man has an encounter with God or with an angel of God:
- a fallen Adam said he was afraid when he heard the sound of God walking in the garden (Gen 3:10)
-when the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, God told Abram "Do not be afraid" (Gen 15:1)
-when God asked Sara why she laughed about His promises, Sara lied because she was afraid (Gen 18:15)
-the angel of God told Hagar not to be afraid when he met her in the desert (Gen 21:17)
-when God appeared to Isaac, His first words were, "I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid ..." (Gen 26:24)
-when Jacob had his vision of the Lord and His angels, he was afraid (Gen 28:17)
-Moses was afraid when he had an encounter with God at the burning bush (Ex 3:6)
The same word is also used when faced with a vastly superior enemy:
-Jacob was afraid of the might of both his father-in-law, Laban (Gen 31:31) and his brother, Esau (Gen 32:11)
-Moses fled to Midian because he was afraid of Pharaoh (Ex 2:14)
-the children of Israel were afraid when they saw the Egyptians marching upon them at the Red Sea (Ex 14:10,13)
-the people of Jerusalem were afraid when they faced the might of the Assyrian army (2 Chr 32:18)
"Fear not." "Do not be afraid." We aren't talking about a nervous stomach and sweaty palms here – like a young man about to ask a young lady out for a date. We are talking about terror. We are talking about dread. We are talking about panic.
C I have read Isaiah 43 a lot during the past year: at funerals, before surgeries, during emergencies, at the diagnosis of cancer, at the loss of a job. To each one of the persons or families involved I have had the same word from Scripture: "Fear not." My district elder read the same passage to me before one of my surgeries. "Fear not," he said.
Forget about worldly escape mechanisms when you face something that terrifies you. Instead, "Fear not." "Do not be afraid." "Do not panic." "Don't be filled with dread."
"Fear not" as you face waters and rivers and fire. "Fear not" when you face death, cancer, heart attack, stroke. "Fear not" as you go in for surgery. "Fear not" as you face major changes in your life or in the life of the church. "Fear not" as your pension plan and other investments sink into the toilet. "Fear not" as you face bankruptcy, unemployment, or foreclosure. "Fear not" as you face 2009. And, especially, "fear not" as you face the judgment of God.
III For I Have Redeemed You
A To face God is scary. To face a vastly superior enemy is scary. To face cancer, surgery, or stroke is scary. Bankruptcy, unemployment, foreclosure is scary. To lose your retirement is scary. Yet God comes to us and says, "Fear not."
Why? Why does God say this? How can God say this? What is the basis for telling us not to be afraid?
One commentator I looked at says the first six verses of Isaiah 43 tells us at least ten reasons to "fear not." Let me quickly mention them:
-Fear not, for I have redeemed you (vs 1)
-Fear not, for I have summoned you by name (vs 1)
-Fear not, for you are mine (vs 1)
-Fear not, for I will be with you (vs 2)
-Fear not, for I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (vs 3)
-Fear not, for I give Egypt for your ransom ... (vs 3)
-Fear not, since you are precious and honored in my sight (vs 4)
-Fear not, because I love you (vs 4)
-Fear not, because I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life (vs 4)
-Fear not, for I will bring/gather your children (vs 5)
B Fear not, when you pass through the waters, when you pass through the rivers, when you walk through the fire. Why not? I have just mentioned ten different reasons – but the first reason is the most important. And, the first reason sums up the other nine. Fear not – when you pass through the waters, when you pass through the rivers, when you walk through the fire – "for I have redeemed you" (Is 43:1).
"I have redeemed you." To redeem something or someone is to pay the required price to secure their release. I dropped in on a pawn shop a number of months ago. I was surprised by the variety and volume of items I saw: jewelry, tools, tires, TVs, computers, compressors, generators. To get an item back, a person has 30-90 days to redeem it; that is, they need to pay back the money they were given plus interest.
"I have redeemed you." When the children of Israel hear this, they right away think of Israel's redemption from Egypt. Remember how the Angel of the Lord went through the land of Egypt killing all the first born? Remember how every house that paid the redemption price was passed over? Remember the redemption price – the blood of the Passover lamb?
"I have redeemed you." I have paid the price for you. I have set you free from your bondage in Egypt.
"I have redeemed you." This phrase includes more than Egypt. It also includes deliverance from Exile. And, it includes the redemption that is ours in Christ – when He was the Passover Lamb Who died for us on the cross.
"I have redeemed you." Whether we are talking about Egypt, Babylon, or Golgotha, the fact remains that the people are in bondage and are totally unable to free themselves. It is God Himself Who must take action and pay the redemption price.
"I have redeemed you." Redemption, redemption, redemption. As one commentator put it,
That should be our creed, our theology, our distinctive character, our daily song of praise, our secret wisdom, our pearl of great price, our invaluable jewel, our one and all ... May we know nothing but the wounds which have redeemed us; may we look at nothing but the blood which has saved us. May I think of nothing else, see nothing, feel, hear, love, and honor nothing else than God and His love.
C "Fear not, for I have redeemed you." Fear not, when you pass through the waters, when you pass through the rivers, when you walk through the fire, for I have redeemed you. Yes, the waters and rivers and fire are still there. Yes, 2008 was a year of turmoil (HOLD UP PAPERS). Yes, 2009 is filled with much uncertainty. But the message remains, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you." If my soul is safe in Jesus, nothing else matters. If the Lord is my Shepherd, I really am not in want. When I face the waters and rivers and fire of the Final Judgment, I have nothing to fear because Jesus has already paid the price to set me free.
IV Jacob and Israel
A "Fear not, for I have redeemed you." Who are these words meant for? Who is the audience in mind? Who is told not to fear?
I am sure you realize that Isaiah is not talking to the CEOs of nearly bankrupt firms like General Motors and Ford and Chrysler. Nor, is he talking to stockbrokers whose net worth has been cut by half (or more). Nor, is he talking to bank executives needing a bailout. Nor, is he talking to every person who received a pink slip. Nor, is he talking to every cancer patient.
Did you catch Isaiah's audience? It is Jacob and Israel! Isaiah loves to use this double designation (thirteen times in Isaiah 40-49). Let's think about these names. Jacob was the deceiver. He deceived Isaac and received Esau's blessing. He deceived Laban, his father-in-law, more than once. He deceived Esau. Israel was the name given to Jacob the deceiver when he finally learned to depend upon God and stop depending upon himself. Israel, in other words, is the name given to the man of faith; Israel is the name given to the man who learned to depend upon God's grace; Israel is the name given to the man who no longer relied on his own strength but on the strength of the Lord.
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you." Who is Isaiah speaking to? He is speaking to people who know they are sinners, who know their need for the Savior, who know they cannot save themselves. To these people Isaiah says, "Fear not, when you pass through the waters, when you pass through the rivers, when you walk through the fire, for I have redeemed you."
These papers (HOLD THEM UP) remind us that we have finished a troubled 2008; over and over again we have been told, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you."
What kind of documents will we be given in 2009? We don't know, but the Word of God remains the same: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you."
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