Fear Not for I have Redeemed You audio (3MB)
The people are in a desperate situation. They’re described in ch42 as being blind and deaf, imprisoned in darkness. God’s patience has worn out and he’s on the warpath. Listen to what he says to them: “42:13The LORD goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. 14For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant. 15I will lay waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbage; I will turn the rivers into islands, and dry up the pools.” It sounds like there’s no hope for them. Disaster has fallen on them.
But then comes a dramatic change of tone. The message turns from one of danger from the fire of God’s wrath to a promise of salvation, rescue from the flames.
God is punishing them but that doesn’t mean he’s abandoned them. In fact he’s like a loving father who knows his child has to be punished but only to bring them back to him.
And so he reminds them of
Who they are
- I made you what you are
He says: “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel.” They need to be reminded where they came from. It wasn’t one of the many nations of the time that God decided to give his name to. No, he created them from nothing. He chose Abraham to become the father of a brand new nation. And 400 years later, through the exodus from Egypt he formed them into a unified nation, with him as their God.
- I have redeemed you
He did that by redeeming them, releasing them, from slavery in Egypt.
And now that they’ve been punished for their sins he’s redeeming them again; again, bringing them out from slavery to be his own people in their own land.
- I have called you by name, you are mine
And to cement their identity he says “I have called you be name, you are mine.” In the ancient near east to call someone by name had the idea of exercising authority over them. So here he says it gives him ownership of them. They are his.
Later on he tells them “4you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”
And so he tells them what’s about to happen to them
What is about to happen
- I will be with you -
He’s going to bring them back from Babylon, through the desert, across rivers, a long journey. And he’s not pretending that it’ll be easy. There’ll be suffering, but God will limit it to what we can bear. There’ll be waters to cross, trials by fire to go through but in all that he’ll be with them.
- I will protect you
Even in the extremes of suffering God will keep them safe. The waters won’t overwhelm them, the fires won’t burn them. We might be reminded here of the story of Daniel’s three friends being thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon. Or it might simply be a reference to the burning of God’s anger towards them. In any case God promises to keep them safe, to keep the flames from consuming them.
God tells us a similar thing in 1 Peter: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” (1 Pet 4:12-13)
- I will ransom you
To assure them that he will keep his promise to redeem them he reminds them that he’s ransomed them before. He’s already given Egypt and Ethiopia and Sheba in exchange for them. That’s how precious they are to him. See v4: “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”. What could be better than that, what could show how much God loves you than that? Nothing, unless of course he were to give his own Son in return for us.
- I will bring you back to me
Then he makes the great claim of the gospel: I will call you from the far ends of the earth. In fact it’s expressed as a command, isn’t it? “6I 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.’” This is a bit different to the picture we get in the parable of the Prodigal Son or the Waiting Father. God isn’t just waiting around for us to make up our minds. He’s actually going out to bring us home. He’s actively calling us to return to him. This is where we get the idea of election or predestination. We’re people whom God has chosen and called out of the world to be his people.
Remember who you are v7
That’s what we find in v7: “7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” To Isaiah and his listeners that meant the nation of Israel, but of course for us it’s a far greater company than that. Listen to how Paul puts it in Romans 8: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Do you se how this prophecy expands as time moves on. It was written to Israel as they were about to go into exile, to assure them of God’s purpose for them, but it’s also written to us to remind us of who we are. We are those who are called by God’s name whom he created for his glory.
Jesus the true Israel and the redeemer of Israel
We see that expansion of vision happening even more in the next few verses as the focus shifts again. God puts out a challenge to all those false gods, false religions. He says bring your witnesses to prove that you had something to do with the things that have happened in the world. But in fact the only ones who can bear witness to the truth are God’s people. And what does he call them? He calls them his servant.
Now that should immediately ring bells for anyone who’s read Isaiah before. Who’s the servant in Isaiah? Well at first glance it appears to be Israel, but then you realise that the task of the Servant is far more than anything Israel will perform. The servant is to be a witness and a sacrifice who will save his people from their sins.
And of course what we discover when we get to the New Testament is that the Servant is in fact Jesus. He is both Israel and the servant all wrapped up in one person. He’s the one who will witness to the truth about God. When Nicodemus came to see Jesus at night one of the things that Jesus said to him was this: "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.” (John 3:11) In John 8 Jesus says: “17In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.”
And of course the reason he comes is to give his life as a ransom for many. He’s the one who dies on the cross to redeem his people, to save them from their sins.
For us the message is “Fear not for Christ has redeemed you.” We stand before God justified by Jesus death and resurrection: “those whom he called he also justified.” And that gives us great hope because “ those whom he justified he also glorified.”
Us - the new Israel
But of course all that leads us to another conclusion. You see, it isn’t just that God has redeemed us, sent Jesus to forgive our sins. It’s actually much bigger than that. God has called us to be his people. That is, we are the new Israel. Everything the people of Israel were meant to be now applies to us. We’re to live out the sort of life that God has planned for his people in eternity, loving one another, caring for our world and loving and obeying God, because he’s our God.
Witnesses to The Reality of God
And of course, like Israel, we’re called on to be God’s witnesses to those around us. We’re to be people who show to those who have no faith in God or who worship some other god, that God is real, that he’s active in the world and that life as part of the people of God is good and rich and satisfying.
Now being a witness to the reality of God may be a dangerous pastime, mightn’t it. That’s why Peter warns his readers about the fiery ordeal that is taking place among them. But the promise is here that no matter how great that fire may be, God will keep us safe, will help us to persevere.
Let’s remember this as we go through the week to come. This is written to us: “Fear not for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine.”