Summary: Custom-Made! 1) By God's grace; 2) For God's praise
Do you own anything custom-made? If you’re good with your hands, you may have knitted a scarf for yourself once or even built a bookcase. For the rest of us there’s always Wal-Mart or IKEA if we need one of those items. But it’s not the same, is it? Things that have been custom-made are usually better in quality and fit the exact purpose for which it was designed. If custom-made is better, why don’t we all own custom-made furniture and wear custom-tailored clothes? Because it costs more.
You may not own many custom-made items but our sermon text today reports that you are custom-made. By whom and for what purpose? You are custom-made by God’s grace and for God’s praise. This was a truth that ancient Israel often forgot causing God’s anger to flare up like red-hot embers shooting from a fireplace onto the living room carpet. That’s not a situation anyone should ignore, especially when you consider how God’s anger will do more harm than a fire in your living room. So give your full attention now to God’s Word as we apply what it means to be custom-made by God’s grace and for God’s praise.
The prophet Isaiah who recorded the words of our text lived about 700 years before Jesus was born. He served the people of Judah during a time when many had forsaken the one true God. Because of this, God would eventually let these people be taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Can you imagine watching your house destroyed, your church torched, your favorite parks trashed by U.S. marines before being marched away as far as Great Falls, Montana where you were forced to make a new home? That’s basically what happened to the Israelites in 586 B.C. when they were marched off to Babylon over 800 km away. The thing is the Israelites deserved much worse treatment. They should have been marched off to hell for continually treating their Savior-God like dirt.
But even in Babylon, God would not abandon his people. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise” (Isaiah 43:16-21).
God knew that the Israelites in Babylon would long for the glory days when he had rescued their ancestors from slavery in Egypt in dramatic fashion by carving open a path through the Red Sea. Well you just heard God say to these people: “You aint seen nothing yet!” God had another awesome rescue mission up his sleeve. He would bring the Israelites out of exile in Babylon and resettle them in their homes again. This would seem as impossible as rivers and streams suddenly pulsing through the desert that stood between them and their homeland. But God kept his promise when, after 70 years, the Persian king Cyrus not only sent the Israelites back to Judah, he even financed their move and the rebuilding of the temple and the city.
Why would God carry out this rescue? It wasn’t because the Israelites had learned their lesson and had started to honor him again. God said through Isaiah: “You have not bought any fragrant calamus for me, or lavished on me the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins and wearied me with your offenses” (Isaiah 43:24). God was going to rescue his people only because of his grace, his undeserved love.
It’s the same reason God has saved us from this sin-filled world. Consider how we too long for the glory days. We would love to have God appear outside our front door as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, as he did when he led the Israelites through the wilderness. In that visible form, God would make the commute to work so much easier, clearing the road of snow, ice, and crazy drivers! But what contact have you received from God instead? You’ve received a balding white guy who, every Sunday, speaks to you about Jesus. You also have Mom and Dad who read daily devotions out of the Meditation booklet or from a Bible-story book. That’s it. No flashes of light or choirs of angels. Has it all become tiresome – this church and home devotion routine? It had for the Israelites. Listen to what God told Ezekiel, the prophet/priest who ministered to the exiles in Babylon. “My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain” (Ezekiel 33:31).