Sunday, November 2, 2014

For God's Glory (Isaiah 43.1-7)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 2, 2014
Text: Isaiah 43:1-7

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (arr. Robert Austell)
The Word in Music: Choir - "Psalm 86" (Nygard)
Hymn of Response: "Of the Father's Love/Love Shines" (arr. Robert Austell)
Video: "Thought on Worship: What is meaningful about communion?"

Communion Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Song of Sending: "Holy is the Lord" (Tomlin et al.)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

     1 But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
     3 “For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 “Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
      5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring 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, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isaiah 43:1-7)

We have been talking for weeks about belonging to God, first through our experience of responding to Jesus’ call to “follow me” and then last week through Kathy’s reminding us that we are God’s own possession, more surely and purely His than anything we can comprehend or imagine belonging to us. Today we continue looking at how we belong to God, turning to words of the prophet, Isaiah.

This part of Isaiah is directed to God’s people in the Babylonian Exile. If anyone had reason to question whether they belonged to God, it was the defeated and conquered Exiles who had been taken from their homes and land and Temple. So much of their experience and understanding of God was wrapped up in that former place of land, family, and blessing. And with all that seemingly stripped away, it was natural for God’s chosen people to wonder if they even belonged to God at all.

Today’s text rings with the assurance that they not only still belong to God, but that God has held them securely all along. And God is at work in and around them in a way that all of it – their exile, their redemption, their protection, their deliverance, their testing – it will all point back to God’s great love and holiness and character, to God’s GLORY. And that demonstration of glory – that God is GOOD and God is GREAT – will serve to be a reminder that God is still working through them to bless the world around them… the very thing God had originally promised Father Abraham and the promise they thought they had left behind in their conquered land.

Do Not Fear, You are Mine! (vv. 1-2)


The text divides neatly into three sections, forming an A-B-A pattern with the first and third sections repeating the same refrain: “Do not fear!” (vv. 1,5) In the first A section, God names Himself through Isaiah as “Creator” and “He who formed you, O Israel.” (v. 1a) This same creating and forming God then declares to a people who have wandered, strayed, and believe themselves cut off: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine!” (v. 1b) What a glorious declaration! I often like to describe salvation history in similar terms, saying that God created us, and though we turned away from God in disobedience and sin, God did not abandon us, but pursued us in love to rescue and reclaim us. That’s just what we read here in Isaiah: God’s people had wandered far away, spiritually and physically; but God reminds them, “I made you and love you and haven’t given up on you. Indeed, I know you and have named you and you belong to me!”

God continues in v. 2, using both water and fire to illustrate the great challenges they have faced. And God declares His faithfulness in terms of presence and protection

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you (PRESENCE)
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. (PROTECTION)
When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched (PROTECTION)
Nor will the flame burn you. (v. 2) (PROTECTION)

What a reminder for us, who are no less God’s people as the Church than Old Testament Israel was. God has created and formed us, has redeemed and rescued us (despite ourselves!), and walks with us and protects us.

Do not fear; you belong to God!

I AM the Lord (vv. 3-4)


There in the middle, in the B-section of vv. 3-4, we hear the great declaration of who God is: “I AM the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (v. 3) There is so much in so few words! “I AM the LORD” is the great self-revelation – God’s name, Yahweh, spoken to Moses from the burning bush and used throughout the Old Testament as God’s self-identifier. Then a whole string of other names and descriptors: God, Holy One, Savior. Each reveals who God is and what God has done. Perhaps most unusual in this Old Testament setting is “Savior,” since we often think of Jesus when we hear that term. But the verses that follow, which reference God’s rescue of His people from slavery in Egypt, show God to be just that: Savior.

The end of verse 4 is confusing, speaking of giving others in exchange for the lives of God’s people. But the references to God as Redeemer (v. 1) and Savior (v. 3) and the naming of Egypt, Cush, and Seba, point not to the value of one person or people over another, but to the lengths God went to for the rescue of His people in the Exodus and beyond. Even a world power, if set against God’s purposes, will not prevail.

More personally for us, what a reminder that God is no less our Lord and God, our Holy One and Savior. Has God not gone to even greater lengths to buy us back (as Redeemer) and rescue us (as Savior) from captivity and enslavement to sin, and even from death!

Do Not Fear, for I am With You (vv. 5-7)


Finally the third section parallels the original A-section and is signaled by another statement of “Do not fear” in verse 5. If in the first section the message was, “Do not fear, you are mine,” here it is “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (v. 5) The connection with the old promises to Abraham are strong, for now God promises to look after the children of Israel – sons and daughters. In a poetic survey of the four corners of the world, God declares: 

I will bring your offspring from the east
And gather you from the west
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. (vv. 5-6)

 Back in v. 1, God was identified as “He who formed Israel” and said, “I have called you by name; you are mine!” Now, connecting back to those statements, God identifies those covenant sons and daughters with “everyone who is called by my name and whom I have created….” While it is secondary to the main point, this whole text is strikingly poetic; it’s the kind of thing that would have stuck in the mind of Hebrew people like a memorable song does for us. It is in classic Hebrew form in so many ways.

The reminder for us here is much as in the first section: that section reminded us that God walks with us and protects us. This third section reminds us that the same God will not forget us though we wander far and wide. As Romans 8:38-39 will later remind us, nothing can or will separate us from God’s extraordinary love, neither life nor death nor things present or future, or anything else.

Do not fear; God is with you!

For God’s Glory (v. 7)


Before I let go of the format of this text, I would note that any time there is an A-B-A format, the main idea – the thing to not miss – is there in the middle. In this case it is there in v. 3, “For I am the Lord your God.” Though so much of this text focuses on what God has done for us, it really is all about God – God who is Lord (v. 1), Creator (v. 1), Redeemer (v. 1), Holy (v. 3), Savior (v. 3), and (implicitly) Covenant Promise-Keeper (vv. 5-6).

And just in case you were a Hebrew student who failed Poetry and Prophets 101, the very end of the text points us back to the main idea in case we missed it. There, at the end of the list of all that God has done FOR US, we are reminded that we were “created for [God’s] glory.” (v. 7) It is certainly true that in overcoming Pharaoh, the Egyptian army, and the Red Sea, God delivered His people from slavery; but it is all the more true that doing so demonstrated to the watching world (in Israel and outside of Israel) that God is God, more powerful than Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, and more powerful even than the waters of the sea.

Let me make that more current and applicable to you and me. Though it is true that in sending Christ to die for your sin that you might live, God became your Savior; it is even more true and significant that God shows himself in Christ to be THE Savior. At every point you and I encounter and experience God in our world and in our lives, it also points to the greater news of God in THE world. God is ultimately not my thing or your thing; God is God. That’s what glory means. That’s why, in v.3, before any other qualifiers like “your God” and “of Israel” and “your Savior” we simply read: “I AM the LORD.” That’s glory; God is who He is and will be who He will be: YAHWEH.

Why is that important? It’s important because we dare not lose sight of just how “God” God is. Otherwise we package and limit and personalize God into an experience, a mini-god, a controllable god, a thing we can take out when we need it and dismiss when we don’t. If we can begin to acknowledge and comprehend and WORSHIP and SERVE the One who is “I AM the LORD,” that’s when we will witness and experience God in our own lives and in and before the world. And that’s when we will know and understand those declarations: “Do not fear, you are mine; do not fear I am with you.”


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