Summary: A sermon to encourage us to trust and stand firm on God's promises.
“STANDING ON THE PROMISES OF GOD”
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, 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 shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth — 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
How many times have you been told, “Don’t worry about it?” We are often admonished or encouraged with these words. We know, perhaps instinctively, that worry and faith don’t belong together. Nevertheless, Homiletics magazine in the discussion for today’s passage which is our text, says, “These four words – ‘Don’t worry about it’ – are, in combination with each other, possibly the most useless words in the English language.”
That is a startling statement to make, particularly in a magazine that purports to help preachers with material to prepare sermons! But the magazine contends that this advice is useless because it “is routinely ignored.”
We all have our personal list of things we worry about. Lord knows if you watch the news and listen to people talk you will soon be convinced that there is danger lurking around every corner and you are just one short but inevitable step away from catastrophe. Think about the news we heard just this week: another foiled terror attack; contaminated water in Flint, Michigan; and the Dow Jones and S&P 500 posted the worst first four trading days of the year EVER. No wonder one of the leading presidential candidates is now making great headway in his quest for the White House by stoking fears all the while promising to “make America great again.” I guess if you want to get people’s attention, give them something to worry about.
But fortunately for us, the only news we have or hear is not news from the media. The news we get on or through the media largely often serves the purpose of making us anxious. I never liked being anxious, but once I found out the root of the word, I never want to be anxious again. Did you know that the etymology of the word “anxious” is from a Latin word that means, “to strangle”? Yes, that’s right; if you are anxious or worried, it will choke the life out of you.
But the prophet Isaiah has a word from the Lord for us today. Yes, those four words that Homiletics magazine says are “possibly the most useless words in the English language” – don’t worry about it. I know that sounds easy enough to say, but there is life in those words if you will hear them. Instead of choking, you will find yourself breathing easier.
Let’s look at the situation in this text to which the prophet Isaiah speaks. The words of this text come from the writing of the prophet known as “Second Isaiah.” We need to hear now the message of this prophet. Abraham Heschel says, “The message of Second Isaiah…is of no age. It is prophecy tempered with human tears, mixed with a joy that heals all scars, clearing the way for understanding the future in spite of the present. No words have ever gone further in offering comfort when the sick world cries” (The Prophets, p. 145).
In the writings of Second Isaiah the situation in which the Jewish people find themselves is neither robust nor secure. A large segment of the population of Judah now dwells as captives and exiles. They are faced with devastation, distress and death. The temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was in ruins, and their liberty was lost. Now what would you say, write or sing under these circumstances? Isaiah challenges the people here, in spite of how matters seem, to keep the faith and to stand on the promises of God.
This is not an insignificant message. It is more than just “Touch your neighbor and say, ‘my victory is on the way’” panacea for the present pain. We read in chapter 42 of Second Isaiah that the situation in which Israel finds herself is the result of the nation’s refusal to obey God’s law. The nation (to pick up from where we left off yesterday) had pushed past the boundaries. But as a demonstration of how boundaries are situational (God’s grace makes it so!), the message of chapter 43 is one that is a message of hope from Second Isaiah. The reason for this hope is that God is in covenant with us. Notice, I said covenant, not contract. A contract can be nullified if one party breaks the agreed terms. But a covenant is God’s way of saying that no matter what, I am going to be with you. God is in covenant with us! And we know this because, in spite of Israel (and our) stubborn refusal to obey God’s law, Second Isaiah chapter 43 begins with these hopeful words, “But now…” In spite of what happened or took place before this, God – just like the division between 42 and 43, starts a new chapter! Yes, God is about to do something because regardless of how we behaved or responded, God keeps promises and we can stand on those promises.