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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:God's Great and Precious Promises
Text:Isaiah 43:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-03-12
Updated:2020-03-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 
 
“God’s Great and Precious Promises”
Isaiah 43:1-7
 
The Bible is a book of many promises. As 1 Peter 1:4 puts it, God has given us His very great and precious promises. The passage before us includes some of the many great and precious promises that God has given to us. In the second verse alone, there are three great promises.
 
The first promise, in verse 2 is, “When you pass through the waters I will be with you.” Water represents the uncertainties and dangers in life. Although on rare occasions we find a stream that is clear as crystal and we can see to the bottom, most often water is murky. We cannot see what dangers may lie beneath the surface, whether it is the sting of jellyfish in the ocean, or the fatal attack of a shark, or a rip current which so quickly can pull someone away from the safety of the shore. Even water that looks placid and calm can hold great danger beneath the surface.
 
Water can also make an insurmountable barrier. The people of Israel found that out. The Lord delivered them out of Egypt in a miraculous display of power, but then they came to the Red Sea and they realized they were trapped. There was no way to cross the sea. There were hills on each side which hemmed them in, and the Egyptians--all Pharaoh's horses and chariots were marching in against them.
 
Exodus 14 describes how the Israelites were terrified and cried out to the LORD.  They said to Moses, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?  Didn't we say to you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians'? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!"
 
Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."  (Exodus 14:10-14)
 
The promise that Moses gave to the people of Israel so long ago, as they were trapped by the Red Sea, is a promise that is still given to us today. He said, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. ...The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."
 
In whatever troubled waters you and I face, we have the great and precious promise of our God that He Himself will be with us when we pass through the waters. He doesn't say that the waters of uncertainty, the waters of turbulence and danger, will never rush into our lives. But He does promise that when they do, we do not need to be afraid. He has redeemed us. He calls us by name. He holds us in the grip of His hand so that nothing can separate us from His tender care. With the apostle Paul we can boldly say, For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39). And we can say that with great confidence, for we know Him who is the Living Water, Jesus Christ!
 
Verse 2 contains a second great and precious promise from the Lord. God Himself says, “When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.” Crossing the river, especially the River Jordan, is symbolic of physical death. It is a crossing over from one side to the other. But it is not an easy crossing. Many rivers are just as dangerous as the ocean. The river can be wide and deep with a strong current that can take even the strongest swimmer by surprise.
 
There are some rivers that simply cannot be crossed by human power. The Israelites found that out when they came to the border of the promised land. Canaan was ahead of them, a land described as flowing with milk and honey, a paradise prepared for them by God, but they were separated by the River Jordan. And the Jordan River was at flood stage when the Israelites reached that point in their journey.
 
But Joshua said to them, “..Tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.” And the LORD said to Joshua, “…Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.' "
 
…As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away... So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
 
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Joshua 3:5, 6, 8, 15-17)
 
Is that a remarkable onetime event never to be repeated in history? In the historical, physical sense of the nation of Israel crossing the literal Jordan River, it is a one-time event. But it also speaks symbolically of an event that happens every time a believer passes from this life to the next. We cross the symbolic River Jordan and are ushered into our heavenly Canaan with the turbulent waters of life forever behind us.
 
No wonder the Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name you are mine.” His great and precious promises include that He will never forsake us, He will never leave us. And, when we come to the deep waters of life and when we come to the final River to cross He will indeed be with you and with me. Therefore, with David we can confidently say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
 
A third great and precious promise is in the last part of verse 2, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you a blaze.” That verse reassures us, not that we won’t face fiery trials, but when we do face them, He will be with us. The classic biblical example is one that you children know just as clearly and distinctly as those of us who are older.  I was recently looking at children's books, and one of the many books which caught my eye was a book about Daniel. It told about his three friends, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego. It's a story that we all know, but it's a story that fascinates us no matter how often we hear it. Looking at the pictures of Daniel’s friends, drawn by an artist for children, brought the familiar account of their fiery trial home to my heart in a new way.
 
The children's book described how furious King Nebuchadnezzar was when Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego refused to bow down and worship the image of gold, 90 feet high and 9 feet wide that Nebuchadnezzar had set up for his honor. The king was enraged that they refused to bow down before his idol. He was so enraged that he commanded the furnace into which they would be thrown to be heated seven times hotter than usual. The furnace was so hot that the soldiers who threw them into the blazing furnace were burned to death by the heat.
 
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into that furnace. And then the children's book showed the shocked look on King Nebuchadnezzar's face when he looked through the opening of the blazing furnace. He saw, not three men, but four. He leapt to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Wasn't it three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?
   They replied, “Certainly, O King.”
   He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:24-25)
 
Who was it in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego? It was the Lord Himself. The same One who makes the great and precious promise, “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
 
That does not mean that you and I will never face the fires of life. In fact, we are told by Peter in 1 Peter 1, that our faith will be tried just as gold is purified by fire. But no matter how your faith is tried, no matter what circumstances rock your life, no matter how hot the fire may seem, you can be sure that you will not be alone and you need not be afraid, for the eternal God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name you are mine.”­ And He promises to be with you.
 
Promises Rooted in Eternal Love; Fulfilled Through Christ
 
I suppose the question could be asked, “Why does the Lord do this? Why does He give us great and precious promises?” After all, He is heaven; we are on earth. He is perfect; we are imperfect. He is infinite with no beginning and no end; we are frail creatures of dust. He is holy; we are sinners.  Why then does God bless us with these great and precious promises?
 
In this passage the Lord tells us that these great and precious promises are given to us because, first, He has created us and redeemed us. As He says in verse 1, “But now, this is what the LORD says – He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.’”
 
It is because the Lord has redeemed us that He promises to be with us when we pass through the fire, when we go through deep waters, and when we come to the final river to cross.
 
Was He with the Egyptians, when they came to the rising water of the Red Sea?  Did He spare the Babylonians from the blazing heat of the fire when they threw Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego into the blazing furnace? He was with them in righteous wrath and judgment, but He withheld His saving grace.
 
It is because of Christ and His redeeming work that God’s people receive His mercy and grace. The great and precious promises are given to us because of Christ. And every promise is fulfilled in Christ, for as 2 Corinthians 1:20 points out, “No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”
 
And when the Lord gives a promise, He stands behind it. In verse 3 the Lord says, “For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.”
 
In that verse the Lord is reassuring the people of Judah that He has power over the nations. God is able to change the course of history for the good of His people. He is able to do whatever it takes to fulfill every promise He has made.
 
I learned early on as a parent not to make many promises to my children. I realized that I might not be able to fulfil the promise; circumstances may change, and I don’t have power over all circumstances.  But God has infinite power over every circumstance imaginable. When He gives a promise, it is a certainty because of His omnipotence, because He is all powerful.
 
That is what makes the promises so precious. They are given by God Himself. God is described as one who does not change like shifting shadows, and He is the God who, because of His perfect and eternal character, cannot lie. Every promise God has made, He fulfills through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself for sinners.
 
Did you notice verse 4? In verse 4 the Lord says, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” Although it may be hard for us to fathom, especially when we see the enormity of our own sin, God nevertheless tells us that we are precious in His sight and dearly loved.
 
In verse 4 the Lord told the people in Babylonian captivity that He would sacrifice the lives of men in exchange for their freedom.  But when we look at the promise of being set free from bondage – our bondage to sin – through the lens of the cross, we see that God was willing to give, not just men, but His only begotten Son for us.
 
No man could gain for us what Christ has gained in bringing about our salvation by His perfect sacrifice on the cross. And no one could gain for us what Christ has given us by His perfect obedience credited to your account and to mine by faith.  It is by His work, and by His work alone, that the promise in verse 1, “I have redeemed you” ­ becomes a reality in our lives. And it does so, not because of any merit on our part, but because of God’s eternal love for His people, whom He has cleansed and redeemed, by His grace, through the gift of saving faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it: For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
 
God’s Promises Quell Our Fear
 
Another reason the Lord gives us these promises is so that we will trust Him and not be afraid. In verse 1 he says, “Fear not,” and in verse 5 he says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
 
In this passage Isaiah is addressing the people of Judah who were captives in Babylon. They knew what it was like to be afraid, to fear for their lives. But in every era of time, including our own era today, we know the reality of fear.
 
Fear is, after all, an effect of the fall. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned against God, fear came into their lives. They were afraid. They knew they were naked. They knew that God would come looking for them. Their lives were marked by fear, and that fear would intensify as they were driven out of the Garden of Eden into the hostility of a fallen world where their firstborn son, Cain, would kill their son Abel.
 
Because of the reality of fear, what was one of the most frequent greetings of Jesus?  It was “Fear not.” “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” “Be of good cheer.” “Peace be with you.”
 
The only way to have perfect peace – peace with God through the reconciliation that comes through faith in Christ, peace with others, and peace with our circumstances is to trust in Christ.  The only way to be of good cheer, to fear not in a hostile world, to not let our hearts be troubled, is to cherish and cling to the precious promises of God, fulfilled in Christ. We overcome fear through faith in the God who gives us the great and precious promises in this passage of Isaiah, and indeed throughout the entire Bible.
 
Most of us can relate to the experience of a Christian woman who was living in France during World War II. As a young girl she had been taught to keep a “promise box.” As she read her Bible, or heard it read by her parents around the table, she had been instructed to write down verses that were especially meaningful to her, verses such as the ones before us with their great and precious promises. She was to fold the paper with those verses and to put them into a box. The box was to be kept in a visible spot on a counter or end table with the edges of each paper pointing up out of the promise box. Then throughout the day, when she passed by the box, she could pick up an edge of the paper and read one of the many promises of God that would strengthen and encourage her in her walk with the Lord.
 
This woman had kept the promise box up as a child, but as the years went by the promise box ended up in a dresser drawer. Life had become hard. Life had become very dangerous in France in World War II. The woman was disturbed by what she heard on the news and by what she saw going on all around her. One day, in her spiritual weakness and fear, she remembered the promise box that her parents had told her to keep. She removed it from the drawer where it was underneath some clothes, neglected and un-used. She had a prayer in her heart, “Lord, give me one promise from Your word that will strengthen me and give encouragement amid all the sorrows and fears that have wearied my life.”
 
She took the box from the drawer and was moving toward the light of the window to look at one of the verses when she tripped and almost fell down. The promise box flew from her hand, and the whole floor was covered with the promises of God written on all those little pieces of paper that she had written down years before as her godly parents had instructed her.
 
Her prayer changed from a from a prayer asking for strength to a prayer asking for forgiveness. She said, “Lord, forgive me that I look for one promise from Your word when You have given me innumerable promises to strengthen me and encourage me, despite the war, despite all the other things going on in my life.”
 
God gives us these great and precious promises to encourage us, to strengthen us, to calm the fears that so quickly rise up within us. But He also gives us great and precious promises, so that we treasure them up and store them, with deep gratitude and praise, in the memory bank of our heart and mind.
 
There is an old Inn in England. Over the door it says: “Fear knocked. Faith Answered. No one was there.”
 
May you and I, by God’s grace and Spirit’s power, have true saving faith in Christ.  God’s gift of saving faith in Christ alone redeems us from our sin, it gives us eternal life in Christ, and drives away fear – as we treasure the great and precious promises of our God! Amen.
 
 
                                                  - bulletin outline -
 
 
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. -  Isaiah 43:2
 
                                  “God’s Great and Precious Promises”
                                                  Isaiah 43:1-7
 
I. The Lord has given us great and precious promises, including:
     1) To be with us when we pass through the waters (2a; Exodus 14:13)
 
 
 
     2) To be with us when we pass through the rivers (2b; Joshua 3:16-17)
 
 
 
     3) To be with us through fiery trials (2c; Daniel 3:24-25)
 
 
 
 
II. The Lord blesses us with great and precious promises because:
     1) He has created us and redeemed us (1), and fulfills His promises through our Redeemer,
         Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20)
 
 
 
 
      2) We are precious in His sight and loved by Him (3, 4)
 
 
 
 
      3) It is only through faith in Him that we overcome fear (1, 5)
 
 
 
 
 



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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