Two Great Questions
January 3, 2016
Rev. Michael Trask
1But now thus says the LORD,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. 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, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Fear not, 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 up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar 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.”
Two great questions that humanity has always asked concerning God: (1) Is there a God? And (2) if there is, does this God even care about us?
Most people in the world say “Yes” to first one. They look at the earth, the stars, the sea; the mountains, the trees, the animals; they consider their own existence and they cannot help but come to the conclusion that all this stuff could not have possibly happened by chance; that there must have been some intelligent and powerful being behind it all. There is just too much intricacy and intelligence in creation for it to have it all come about spontaneously. And so the majority quite naturally come to the conclusion that there is a God. Those who conclude otherwise, usually have other issues which are driving their denial.
But it is the second question that often throws people for a loop: Does this God even care about us? The Greeks and Romans acknowledged that there must be a god, in fact they confessed many Gods, but their Gods are often portrayed as churlish, distracted, uncaring and distant. The Hindu God is also removed and distant. So too, is the God of Muslims. They stress how God is great and powerful and incomprehensible, but not personal. To have a personal relationship with God is a foreign idea to Islam.
And how about us Christians? Well the scriptures reveal a God who is very personal and desirous of having a meaningful relationship with each of us, but that doesn’t mean that every Christian always sees it that way. Often times we do, but there are other times when we feel like God doesn’t care and that he is rather impersonal. This feeling most often comes upon us when we turn our backs on him and go our own way. We want to do what we want to do, and having a a personal God who is part of our life would put the kibosh on fun, or so we think.
In Isaiah 43 we have an opportunity to review how much God actually does care for us and why that happens to be a good thing. God begins by saying in the first verse: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” And you say, he’s talking about Jacob and Israel…. that’s not us. Oh but it is: you see we are part of the great nation that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By faith we are grafted into the tree of God’s chosen people Israel. So Old Testament History is our history, and these words are words for us as much as they were for the original recipients.
And so God recounts not only how he created us, but how he formed us, formed us in our mother’s womb. People often say, when it comes to having children, you get what you get. We imagine that the bringing a life into the world is a random thing, which sperm swims faster and so on, but here it says that God formed us. Psalm 139 declares that he knits us together in our mother’s womb. So you were not a product of chance, you were thought of before you were even conceived. God knew you, knew what abilities you’d have, knew what your basic personality would be. We use the word procreation. Let’s not forget that this is a compound word that includes “creation.” God created you.
To Those whom he created, God tells them how much he cares for them: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Life on earth can be kind of scary at times. Many things can assail us and cause us to be filled with dread: things like financial trouble, cancer, things we call bad luck. It seems sometimes that you are hit with the proverbial “bullet with your name on it.” But the Lord insists: “You are mine now” “I have called you by name.” Others might claim to have your number; claim to have your name, but he was the first and he has not revoked his claim. He has called your name. On the day that you were baptized, he called your name. The Pastor, speaking for the Lord called your full name.
At the same time, he applied his name to you. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave you his name. He caused you to be born again, born into his family. You are now called Christian. And God says in verse 7 of Isaiah 43, Everyone who is call by my name I will gather. He will gather you to himself, gather you together for the great feast of eternal life in a world made new. So no matter what happens to you, he will pull you through it. In verse 2 of Isaiah 43, God says “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 will not consume you.” There is nothing, nothing that can claim your life, for God Himself, the creator of all things has claimed you for himself. He has called your name, and given you his name. You are now one of his.
So this is the kind of language that God uses when he talks about you. So if you’re thinking that God is distant and detached, realize that God himself isn’t thinking like that. These words God originally spoke to his people in Isaiah’s day, when they were in their darkest hour. The chapter that comes right before this chapter in Isaiah describes the spiritual blindness and deafness of God’s people who were openly and without reservation offending God with their behavior. And yet this is how God talks about them, in the most loving and personal tones. Our hearts might change; our attitudes towards God might change; our faith might falter, but God remains faithful. We are his.
We see this in the words he uses. But we see it also in the Word made flesh. He didn’t simply remain up on high and say, “Yeah, my thoughts and prayers are with you.” or “I’m really thinking about you, as I sit up here in heaven.” Nope. He not only says that he cares for us, but he also came down to us, To live with us, to suffer with us, to die with us. He became a man sin Jesus so that his life could be bound to ours.
Now remember, John the baptizer had explained again and again that his baptism was for sinners. And remember how Jesus came up to him and and wanted to be baptized, and John at first refused. It’ didn’t seem right. The perfect son of God submitting to a Baptism for sinners? Exactly! Jesus would identify with the sinners. He was connecting himself to us to set up that marvelous exchange: Our sins would be taken from us and given to him, where they would die with him, At the same time, his righteousness would become ours in the sight of God.
At the Baptism of Jesus, the whole Trinity is active. The Son is there, the Father is there, The Spirit. Everything. God is giving his all, his entire self to do what he said he would do…to Redeem you. And this is why Jesus commanded us to baptize in the name of the father, and of the son and the of the Holy Spirt. God giving his entire self to us for our salvation. There is a God, and he does care, and he wants a relationship with us.
In order for human relationships to form, there is always a risk that must be made to bridge the gap between people. Usually what happens is one person steps forward, makes himself vulnerable and reveals his affection. If any relationship is going to progress this sort of thing must take place. Indeed the person who risks himself might be rebuffed, but then again, he might not be and it just might happen that a deeper friendship is formed.
What I’m getting at is that that God has put himself out there… I mean really put himself out there, in words and actions and by giving us his whole self he has made it clear that he cares about us. So what’s your response? AMEN