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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God's Love Letter to his People
Text:Isaiah 43:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hy 37:1,2                                                                                           

Ps 26:2,7                                                                                                        

Reading – Isaiah 42:21 - 43:21

Ps 66:4,5

Sermon – Isaiah 43:1-7

Hy 35:1,2,3,4

Ps 124:1,2,3

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

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you.’

Beloved in Christ, the Bible is sometimes called God’s “love letter” to sinners. It is called that because the Scriptures, from beginning to end, are full of God’s loving words for his people. But what do you think of that description, God’s “love letter?” Is it accurate?

I think that it has the potential to put a human slant on the Scriptures, as if they revolve around us and God’s love for us. Instead, Scripture is very much a God-centred book. The Bible is God’s multi-dimensional display of his glorious being and character: not only his love, but also hi immense power, his great justice, and perfect holiness. The Lord is here revealing himself to sinners, so that we might know him, fear and obey him, and love him with our whole heart.

Even so, you can’t dispute that the Bible contains an incredible message of the Lord’s affection, and that for a most unworthy people. Many passages speak of this love. And our text this morning is a brilliant example. Here God speaks tender words to his people, He gives a beautiful testimony about his passion and loyalty for sinners.

Yes, if you really wanted, you could call Isaiah 43:1-7 a love letter. And what a remarkable letter it is! It’s not the kind of correspondence shared between two carefree souls, lovebirds longing to see each other because they’re separated by many miles. God sends this message to his people while they are in prison—exiles, separated from him because of their failings. Those to whom God sends this message have sinned against him, rejecting their dearest and most loyal friend. So now they’re suffering the penalty. Yet God pours out his love, all the same, willing to receive them again.

As we look more closely at this message, we’ll see how personal it is. It’s not written with a sense of detachment, but God pours himself out. Underline the many first person references to God, and to Judah as his beloved people: it’s full of ‘I’ and ‘you’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’ and ‘your.’ This is a message straight from God’s heart.

And it’s a message whose sole motive and focus is grace. Notice that Judah is completely silent here: only God is speaking. And God is speaking about what He has done, apart from anything sinners have asked for, and quite apart from anything we deserve. God says this is what He’ll do because He is free to do it. It’s his good pleasure to show grace, to redeem in mercy.

It all begins with a contrast. Verse 1, “But now…” Coming across words like that in the Bible means we need to look backwards, for there’s a big change happening. So what has been said just before this? In the latter verses of chapter 42, God recounted the stubborn ways of his people. Judah wasn’t too interested in obeying God but clung to their sinful direction. Isaiah doesn’t say what actual commandments Judah was breaking, but that’s not the point here. The point is that they loved their sin more than they loved God—the same danger for any of us.

And now God will let them feel his wrath. That’s how chapter 42 closes, with “the fury of his anger and the strength of battle” (42:25). The prophet gives Judah a glimpse of what is coming: hostile armies streaming across the border, merciless attacks on their cities, and then deportation to Babylon. Seventy years in captivity, and no human hope of getting out. 

It would’ve been a difficult message to bring. Yet Isaiah always has more than just bad news to share. He’s a gospel preacher, a forerunner of the Christ. That’s the “but now” with which our text begins: ‘fury and fire’ won’t be the last word, for God will show grace. What’s going to happen to Judah in the exile isn’t a failure of God’s plan, but it’s part of God’s intent to restore his people.

“But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel” (43:1). God goes back to the beginning, and He reminds his people about where we came from you. ‘I created you,’ God says—the same word as in Genesis 1:1, when God created the heavens and the earth. Out of darkness and nothingness, God called forth light and life. For that is in God’s freedom and power to do. He created the world, and He creates his people.

Think of what we were when God called us: lost in sin, children of wrath, dead in trespasses. We had nothing, and we were nothing, yet out of nothing, God created a nation for himself. He came to Abraham and chose him, then delivered his descendants (the people of Israel) from Egypt, gave his law and gave the land. And He chose us too: moving heaven and earth to save us. It’s all out of his grace.

For Judah, about to suffer long in exile, this encouraged them to dwell on the LORD and his works. God is “He who formed you, O Israel” (v 1). That word too, recalls Genesis, this time 2:7 when “God formed man out of the dust of the ground.” It speaks especially of God’s attention to detail, shaping things just right. All the care that went into forming the first human also went into forming Israel. So they were precious to him!

“Fear not,” God says. ‘Remember that I formed you, and that I will also redeem you.’ God redeeming his people means that He accepts all the obligations as Judah’s ‘next of kin.’ Redeeming someone in the Old Testament was to take responsibility for all the needs of a helpless relative. Think of Boaz redeeming Ruth, and then marrying her. With such a tender love, God redeems his people. He pays the price to set Judah free, and then takes her as his own.

“I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name.” We tend to speak another person’s name without a whole lot of thought—it’s a quick way to get their attention, better than saying ‘Hey you.’ But in the Bible, to know someone’s name, and to use it rightly, brings you close to that person. God calls Judah by name so that He can speak into her life.

Looking back on verse 1, you see how there is an intimacy that deepens, as God draws near his people. He created us from nothing, formed us with his hands, then redeemed us in our time of need, calls us by name, and now even claims us as his own: “You are mine” (v 1). A loving husband is glad to say that to his wife, or an affectionate wife to her husband: ‘You’re mine. You belong to me, and to none other.’ The bonds of love are so strong there’s a sense of possession, grateful ownership, and a real unwillingness to give up the other person.

Let’s appreciate again how startling is God’s statement of love here. For Judah had no claim at all on God’s love—remember chapter 42. Nor do we. What have we done to deserve God’s kindness? What have we given to God, that He should repay us? Nothing! What we deserve is punishment. We’re guilty people, who should live in terror of condemnation.

But God says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you.” People have lots of fears, of course. We fear sickness. Loneliness. Crowded places. Failure. But the greatest fear that a person should ever have is that he would be separated from God—that you’d be living in a way that puts you outside God’s favour and away from his love. Being apart from God is a fate worse than death. But if we have faith in Christ, our greatest fear amounts to nothing. God says, “Fear not, I have redeemed you.”

And then He speaks of this in verse 2: “When you pass through the waters… [and] when you walk through the fire.” After a very comforting opening verse, we get a stark reminder that God is addressing a people who are struggling. Right now, Judah is surrounded by troubling waters, and they’re very near to scorching fires.

Judah should know that they’ll face many trials before they reach safety. The exile was a severe test, of course, but it wouldn’t be the only one. The journey home would be really hard. The decades of rebuilding would be marked by disappointments. After that, there’d be yet another enemy, and more war. When would it ever end? Will it ever end?

But against her stormy future, Judah can store up hope. Whatever happens, God will not permit the surging flood to drown them, nor the raging fire to burn them! That reference to ‘fire and flame’ brings to mind the previous chapter, and God’s judgment: “He poured on him the fury of his anger and the strength of battle; it has set him on fire all around, yet he did not know; and it burned him, yet he did not take it to heart” (42:25). You hear God’s frustration, sending punishment but seeing no change. The ‘fire and flame’ had no effect.

So it’s only by his sheer mercy that Judah will come out alive. In time, God’s anger will pass. His fire will not destroy them, nor harm them beyond healing. Through fire and water, God’s people will safely come, and we will live!

Beloved, we should take careful note of what this verse says. It’s not a promise that most difficulties will vanish from the lives of God’s children, that an easy road lies ahead. To the contrary, ‘You will pass through waters, you will walk through fires.’ Suffering is not unusual, not suffering is unusual.

And that is surely the experience of every believer, the longer we live in this fallen world, whether suffering in illness or grief or anxiety or temptation or brokenness. The trials we face are not some glitch in God’s plan, a temporary fault that needs to be corrected before we get back to comfort and safety. But Jesus tells us to expect it: “In this world you will have trouble.”

In love, God tells us what is ahead. Nobody likes to think about that. So we can be filled with dread when we think about the future. What if they really begin to persecute the church in our country? What if this physical pain never goes away, or this mental burden? What will the end of my life be like? What kind of fire and water must I go through still?

But God gives his loving reassurance. In suffering—in whatever deep waters or burning fires—we have this promise, that God’s presence goes with us: “I will be with you” (v 2). God will not cancel all our trials, nor avert all this world’s evils. We have too much to learn from them, lessons about trust and patience and hope.

God doesn’t stop the hardships, but He does say that they won’t be able to separate us from his love in Christ. He remains with us, to give strength, to show grace, to offer hope! And so we’ll be in the “waters without drowning, and in the fire without burning up.”

For us, these ancient words of Isaiah are still true. We can say that in Christ they’re even more true, if that’s possible. For Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Jesus went through fire, He went through water, and He was overwhelmed and burned, so that we sinners could live.

It is through Jesus Christ that God can say this in verse 3, “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” That’s the profound title for God found time and again in Isaiah: ‘the Holy One of Israel.’ It’s a title that takes God’s divine and fearful majesty—his holiness—and combines it with God’s special loving relationship with his people: He is the Holy One of Israel, the God who makes his covenant with believers and their children. Notice the two words of possession: He is your God, and He is your Saviour. In a world where we face change and uncertainty, nothing is more certain than this: God is yours, and you are his!

This was Isaiah’s good news for troubled Judah. Because they’re so valuable to him, He’ll pay to keep them. That’s how it goes: the more you value something, the higher the price you’re willing to pay in order to hold onto it. Recently, I saw a poster for a missing dog. The owner was offering a reward of $5000 to the person who found it! Hard to fathom, but that big amount speaks to the value they placed on their beloved pet.

In love, God so highly values his chosen people, a value expressed through a great price. He says to Israel, “I gave Egypt for your ransom” (v 3). A ransom means you pay a certain amount to set someone else free. God did that for Israel: He put the entire nation of Egypt on the line when He saved Israel from captivity. The whole land and all their armies were ruined, just so Israel could escape.

Verse 4 is the same idea, “Since you were precious in my sight, you have been honoured, and I have loved you; therefore I give men for you, and people for your life.” Though Israel was a small nation, hardly important on the world scene, God called them his treasure. He created and formed them, and He loved them. So He says He is willing to give up all other people for the sake of Judah. He’d give people for their life!

And that’s what happened. In the years after Isaiah, empires rose and fell. The Assyrians were already nearing their decline, the Babylonians would last only a while and then fade, and after them, the Persians. Among the nations there’d always be wars and invasions and deportations.

But God is behind it all. In those years He was managing every event for his people, so that one day King Cyrus of Persia would decide to send the exiles back home. Mighty kings and strong nations collapsed, all so that Judah could be restored: “I give men for you, and people for your life.” God loves his people so much that He’ll give anything to save them.

To see the full depth and beauty of what this means, we have to wait ‘til the New Testament. The same God who gave Egypt for Israel’s ransom would one day give his own Son. Jesus came, He once said, to lay down his life as a ransom for many. The God who moved the nations to free his people from exile would move the nations again, so that Christ would end up crucified on a Roman cross.

Christ paid the highest price for our life, paid the price that no sinner could ever hope to cover. We were hopeless and lost, empty and bankrupt. “But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). This speaks to the immense value that God places on us, a price which means God won’t ever give us up. “He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).

A people who are so greatly loved really have nothing at all to fear. See how God repeats his command in our text. It’s first in verse 1, now again in verse 5, “Fear not.” It’s something the Lord says more often in Scripture, for He knows full well how much we need to be reassured. “Fear not.” Likewise repeated is the declaration of God’s nearness. First in verse 2, “I will be with you,” now again in verse 5, “I am with you.”

Judah was desperate for this kind of hope. They were about to be scattered far and wide. A good many were going to be dragged into exile, far away from everything they knew and loved: no more family, no more Jerusalem, no more temple, no more village markets and fruitful vineyards, but just the harshness and loneliness and emptiness of exile. It was what they deserved, remember—exile, and worse. But “fear not,” God says.

And then God gives a reason not to fear: His love will still reach them, no matter where they are. They might’ve been separated from God because of their sin—just like our sin separates us from God and leaves a hostile space between us our Creator. But God is gracious, and He brings sinners back to himself.

That is his promise in verses 5-6, that He will surely gather his people again: “I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’” No matter how far they wander, God will seek to restore them. Notice ‘east, west, north, south,’ how God will call to the four corners of the earth and command them to give up his people, since we are his. He will restore!

When God speaks here about the ends of the earth, every point on the compass, He is probably thinking of more than just the exiles from Judah. For God has a wide-reaching plan, He has a catholic vision—meaning that salvation is not just for Israel, but for the nations. Already in Isaiah 2, the nations came streaming to Zion to learn the ways of the Lord. That is happening now again in our text.

In the riches of his grace, God shows kindness not just to those who have always experienced it—and to those who maybe have started to feel entitled to it. But God gathers his people from every nation and tribe. He says in verse 6, “Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth.” God is going to create a new family, sons and daughters whom He adopts as his own.

For the sake of Jesus Christ, we too have been included in the family of God. We know that by now, and maybe we’ve started to feel entitled to that privilege, to feel like it’s nothing special to belong to God and be part of his church. But let’s remember what an act of grace it is, and remember that God is still gathering his people from many places. Maybe your neighbour, maybe your co-worker, your client or your friend from school.

Those whom God gathers are “called by [his] name…[and] created for [his] glory,” formed and made by the Lord (v 7). In verse 7, there’s again the language of Genesis: ‘God created, He formed, He made.’ But He’s not making the world this time, He is making a people, a new creation in Christ. And God creates us for his glory.

That’s the way God ends this “love letter.” He ends with the truth that all this effort and all this expense are not for our sake, but for his sake: ‘I created you for my glory.’ In the end, this love letter isn’t about how you are so very special, but it’s about how God is so very great. Our God and Saviour did all of this, revealing the wonders of his grace and mercy, so that we would worship and trust him!

Which means that we’re left with our response to this grace. That’s another interesting thing in our text, that there is no call to action, no command for Judah to obey, no invitation to ‘please write back.’ It’s all grace, the Lord’s amazing grace in Christ.

But this gospel surely does require each of us to ask how we receive this message? How to respond to this personal message from God. For you, is living in a relationship with the Lord a reality? Something that is part of every day, cherishing God’s love and loving him in return? Do you live like the person you are, God’s treasure? Do you let the gospel of Christ ease your fears, and does He give you hope when passing through the waters?

And remember this: God created you for his glory. You’re not here to earn the praise of other people, or to rise to the top. You’re not on earth to make sure that you win and get all the credit and have all the fun. God saved you so that you would live for the glory of his name. ‘I made you for my glory.’ So worship him. Love, trust, and obey him!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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