Summary: Isaiah is encouraging us to rest in God's comfort and acceptance, to surrender ourselves into His engraved hands, to trust Him for tomorrow.
"Never Forgotten,” Isaiah 49:15-16 & 66:13 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (01/04/15)
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of My hands…As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. You will be comforted in Jerusalem” (49:15-16, 23 & 66:13).
The Veteran’s Administration is under investigation for neglecting vets with medical needs. Unreasonably long wait times to see a doctor have resulted in several deaths. Those who’ve served our country feel abandoned. Have you ever felt forsaken and forgotten?
The prophet Isaiah addresses people who are feeling rejected and gives them the comforting reassurance of what may well be the strongest expression of God’s love in the Old Testament.
Most of us have suffered rejection of one kind or another: a failed marriage, being passed over for promotion, non-select for a school, cut from a sports team, or losing a job. A decade after losing the Presidential election, George McGovern was asked by a reporter, “When did it stop hurting?” McGovern answered, “When it does I’ll let you know.” When things don’t work out, it’s hard not to take it personally. When people don’t come to church, I take it personally; I know I shouldn’t, so this sermon is for me. Perhaps rejection is God’s way to help us make needed changes in our lives or at least our attitude.
You’ve likely read Madeline L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. The book is a blend of young adult science fiction and fantasy from a Christian perspective. It was rejected by 26 publishers over a period of two years. The rejection was painful for Madeline. When the book finally got published, it was a best-seller, won the prestigious Newberry Medal, and became an instant classic that continues to sell. Many people have spoken about how influential the novel has been. Years later at a party in New York City, a head of a publishing firm approached Madeline and said, “I wish you had sent your manuscript to us,” and she responded bluntly, “I did.”
The pain of rejection attacks our sense of worth. Yet God accepts us; He does not forsake us. We are precious in His sight. We may not feel like a treasure--yet we are! We have dignity and worth because we’ve been formed “in His image.” And when we’re hurting, God embraces us. “Sometimes a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it’s as though a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted’.” (Paul Tillich). Isaiah portrays Israel as a nursing infant, entirely dependent on the Lord. We talk of the “Fatherhood of God” but there’s also a maternal aspect of His nature as well.
Yet why would we need God’s comfort if our lives are already pretty comfortable? Comfort can cause spiritual apathy. Preaching has been defined as “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” We’re not going to seek God’s comfort if we’re self-satisfied.
Isaiah says God will not “forget” us; the word means to abandon. We read sad stories of mothers abandoning new-born babies, and we live with the holocaust of abortion, but God will not abandon us. He who formed us in the womb (49:5) will not forsake us. It is unlikely that a nursing mother would abandon her child; it is impossible that God would forsake us.
Lacking paper, most of us have one time or another, written a phone number on our hands. The Lord has “engraved” us on His palms. The Jewish High Priest wore a breastplate of twelve jewels, etched with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. Biblical scholars believe this may also refer to the wounded hands of Jesus, pierced by nails for our sake. Like a carving cut in stone, God’s commitment is permanently etched in His memory, and we His people will not be forgotten.
Isaiah 49 is a “Servant Song” that points to the coming Messiah. Jesus the Servant-King came to a needy world and made Himself the Man of Sorrows—the hungry one, the naked one, the one in prison, the lonely and unwanted one—for us.
We sometimes wonder, “Where is God?” The book of Esther never mentions God, and for this reason some people have wondered if it should’ve been included in the Hebrew Scriptures. Esther may have been tempted to feel forsaken by God, yet she maintained her faith. God seemed absent, yet when we examine what’s going on in this brief book, it becomes evident that God is the key person, the One behind the scenes, causing things to happen. What some people call coincidence, people of faith call Providence. We are not in control but we are deeply loved by the One who is.