Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"Fear Not, For I Am With You"
(Delivered Sunday, September 29, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
God gave a word of encouragement to me recently; and it came to me in a rather indirect way. But that word of encouragement has been a great blessing to me over the past week. I have felt led by the Lord to share that same word of encouragement with you today.
This word of encouragement from God came to me when I had been dealing with a very difficult and painful matter with respect to our church family. This particular matter had taken its emotional toll on me; and then, no sooner had I turned my attention from that matter, than I then had to turn my attention to yet another difficult matter. To be honest, I was overwhelmed by it all. I felt a feeling right then that perhaps you or someone you know is feeling today - the discouraged and disheartened feeling of helplessness in the face of trials and adversities that are bigger than yourself. I was all out of gas; and had miles yet to go.
I was at home at the time this fearful and helpless feeling hit me; and I checked the messages on our home phone - probably, in part, just to get my mind off things. And as it happened, one of my wife's dear friends had called to share a Bible verse with her that morning. It was intended to encourage my wife; but I believe God also meant it for me as well. When I heard this verse, my face lit up. It gave me the strength I needed. I immediately got my Bible and read the whole passage; and it has been good medicine to my soul ever since.
The verse I heard was from the Old Testament book of Isaiah:
I very much needed to hear that. And I suspect that there are several of us this morning that need to hear it as well.
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I wonder if you've ever taken the time to read the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah. It's one of the longest among the books of the Bible. It has sixty-six chapters - the same number as there are of books of the Bible. It's most naturally divided into two parts, just like the Bible. The first part consists of the first thirty-nine chapters of the book; just as there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. And the second part consists of the last twenty-seven chapters of the book; just as there are twenty-seven chapters in the New Testament.
Some have called this wonderful Old Testament book "the Bible in miniature"; because not only does the number of its chapters correspond with the two-fold division of the Bible; but so does the way it develops its theme. Its great theme is God's plan of redemption through the coming Redeemer. There is more told to us about Jesus Christ in the Book of Isaiah than in any other Old Testament book. And the first half of the book - just like the Old Testament - presents us with the dreadful holiness of God as displayed in the promise of His judgment of sin; while the second half of the book - just like the New Testament - presents us with the marvelous grace of God as displayed in the promise of His merciful grace toward sinners. The first half of Isaiah unfolds to us our need for redemption, as displayed to us in God's wrath over the sins of Israel; and the second half unfolds to us God's solution to our need, as displayed in the promise of our redemption through the Messiah - our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. It truly is "the Bible in miniature".
The wonderful word of encouragement that I was reminded of earlier last week is found in the Book of Isaiah shortly after the second half of the book begins. The shift, at that point of the book, has been from a sad, somber, ominous note to one of great comfort and encouragement.
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The people of Israel needed a word of comfort and encouragement right then. God had just given the dreadful news to them, through the prophet Isaiah, that they were going to be captured, taken from their homeland, and sent into captivity to Babylon. There, they would be held in exile because of their sins. Historically, they were in exile for seventy long years. And it's with this sad note that the first half of the book ends. Can you imagine what a discouraging word that was? They were faced with a prospect that was overwhelming and hopeless.
But then, the second half begins with the words, "'Comfort, yes, comfort
My people!' Says your God. 'Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to
her, that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she
has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins'" (40:1-2).
We read in this second half of a remarkable prophecy - given over 150
years before it was fulfilled. God promises that, while Israel sat in
exile in far away Babylon, He would raise up a foreign king to deliver
them and bring them back to their own land. This king would be the king
of the Persian empire - and God even identifies this king by name (Cyrus)
long before he was born; God -
About 150 years after these words where spoken, and after the people
of Israel had been in captivity for seventy years, God raised up the Media-Persian
kingdom to assume world dominance, and conquer Babylon in just one night
in 539 B.C. (The story of the fall of Babylon is told to us in Daniel
5.) And the conquering Persian king, Cyrus, ordered the Jewish people
to return to their land, and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. (You can
read about this command from Cyrus in Ezra 1.) He himself provided all
that was needed for this rebuilding project from his own treasury! It
was a great miracle; and it happened just as God promised. Isaiah writes,
Imagine! God raised up a world-ruler just to order His precious people to be sent home, and all to His own glory! What a great God we serve!
* * * * * * * * * *
The promise of this remarkable event is what stands behind our passage this morning. In chapter 41, God begins by inviting the nations of the world to examine what He is about to do, and to see how superior He is to all the false gods the world turns to:
The conquests of Cyrus resulted in great turmoil for the people groups of the world. Times of trial always show what it is that you truly trust in; and in this case, the nations of the world scrambled to manufacture more of the weak and pathetic idols they had trusted in. Isaiah speaks sarcastically of this when he writes;
What do you trust in at a time of trial? Where do you turn in a time of helplessness? Think of that trial that you're going through right now, and be honest with yourself: what is it that you trust in to get you through it? Is it the God of Israel? Or is it, perhaps, some man-made resource that is likely to topple just when you need it the most? Have you ever considered that the trial you're in is intended by God to help you see what it is you really trust in? What does this trial tell you about your ultimate trust?
The first word of our passage this morning - the word "But" - is intended to emphasize a contrast between the weak, unreliable trust of this world, and the confidence we can have in one true God of Israel. He is the almighty, sovereign God who calls conquering kings forth by name, long before they are even born. God Himself speaks to His frightened, distressed people and says,
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A question might come up at this point - a very important one with respect to how we interpret and apply the Bible. These words were spoken some twenty-seven centuries ago to the people of Israel. It's a wonderful word of encouragement and promise. But what right - if any - do we Christians, living in our day and age, have a claim this word of encouragement as our own and apply it to ourselves? Is it legitimate for us to do so?
I want to encourage you that it is absolutely right for you and me, as believers in Jesus Christ, to claim this as God's word of encouragement to us in a time of trial. The Bible tells us that there indeed was a time when we were "strangers and foreigners" to the promises of God; being "Gentiles in the flesh";
We believing Gentiles, "being a wild olive tree", have been "grafted in" among the natural branches of God's covenant people; "and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree ..." (Romans 11:17). In Christ, we enjoy today full claim to the "exceedingly great and precious promises" of the God of Israel (2 Peter 1:4).
Granted, it would be unwise to indiscriminately interpret everything in the Old Testament as if it applied to us today. We have to use sanctified common sense in how we interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. But dear brother or sister in Christ; don't be afraid to lay full claim to this word of promise as God's own word of encouragement to you. In Christ, you have been brought under the promises of God to His covenant people. Whatever problem you may be facing today, whatever difficult situation you're in, whatever trouble or trial overwhelms you, the almighty God of Israel says to you as He said to her; "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
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Look at this passage a little closer, and see first ...
1. THE REASON HE PROMISES TO AID US (vv. 8-9).
In this time of seeming hopelessness, God said to His people, "But you, Israel, are My servant ..." If one mere man says to another, "You are my servant", that would be a demeaning statement. But for the almighty God to say to Israel, "You are My servant", this is to award an unspeakably great honor to her. It is an affirmation that Israel is precious to God, and that He is protective of her, because He intended to use her for His glory. It was through her that He has revealed Himself to the world. It is through her that the Savior of the world came.
God also says, "Jacob whom I have chosen". "Jacob", as the word is used here, is another name for Israel. But here, God identified Israel as precious to Himself because He "chose" her for Himself. His choice of Israel was an unmerited one; it was not based on anything worthy in Israel, but only on the basis of His divine grace. Moses once told the people of Israel, "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt (Deut. 7:7-8).
God also refers to them by a very precious name, "the descendants of Abraham My friend". And the Hebrew word for "friend" that He uses means "My beloved" or "My love". This word speaks of that in which someone tenderly delights, or earnestly desires. The nations around them worshiped their false gods with great fear. They would never imagine it possible to having a "friendship" relationship with them in this sense. But God graciously refers to Abraham - and by extension, the descendants of Abraham - as "My beloved"; "My friend".
Stop and think of what a remarkable thing it is that the almighty God would call a man His "friend". When God calls a man His friend, God is showing unmerited grace toward that man; because there is nothing in any man that would make him worthy to be God's friend. The almighty God could only call a man "friend" by stooping down to that man in condescending love. Abraham had been a pagan man, living in the land of Ur. But God called him to Himself, and promised that poor, childless Abraham would become a great nation. The Bible tells us that Abraham "believed in the LORD" [that is, believed the promise that God made to Him], and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). In a time of distress, King Jehoshaphat prayed, "Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?" (2 Chron. 20:7; cf. James 2:23). Because God's love toward a man is only on the basis of His unmerited grace, the man God calls His "friend" stays His friend "forever".
I believe God is describing the extent of His love toward Abraham in verse 9; when He refers to the children of Abraham as "You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest regions, and said to you, 'You are My servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away ...'" And I believe that, in saying that, He is also describing the extent of His love toward Abraham's children whom He was going to deliver from their exile in Babylon. He had graciously called Abraham out of a pagan land, promised to make him into a great nation, and declared him to be His friend. And now, the beloved children of His beloved friend, whom He has made into a great nation, could rest assured that He wasn't going to abandon them in a pagan land either.
* * * * * * * * * *
This, then, is the reason God would promise His help to the people of Israel. It's because He appointed Israel to be His servant, chose them for His own, and called them "friend". I don't believe just anyone can lay claim to God's promised aid in a time of trouble. I believe that He only promises His aid to those who He so describes - His servants, His chosen, and His friends by grace.
And dear brother or sister in Christ; that's what we who have believed in His Son are! We are God's servants. Jesus offered Himself on the cross to "cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living and true God" (Heb. 9:14). "For you were bought with a price", the Bible tells us; "therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:20). We are God's chosen ones in Christ; "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:4-5). And what's more, the Lord Jesus says this to His disciples: "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what His master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:14-16).
Dear brother or sister; in Christ you and I are God's servants, God's chosen, and God's friends by grace. We are very much qualified to embrace the promise of God's aid in a time of trial. The reasons He gave for coming to Israel's rescue are reasons that apply to every believer in Jesus Christ.
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This leads us, next, to consider ...
2. THE PROMISE HE GIVES TO AID US (v. 10a).
He says, "Fear not, for I am with you ..." Look at those words carefully. The second half of that statement is why we can do what He says in the first half. Because He is with us, we need have no fear.
There's a wonderful story about Jesus that this brings to my mind. The disciples were sent out by Jesus in a boat; but they became caught in a great storm in the middle of the night. Then, while rowing desperately, they saw Jesus walking on the water to them. They were afraid; but He said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." The Bible says, "They willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going" (John 6:21). No sooner did they invite Jesus step into the problem with them than the problem was solved! I believe He offers the same help to us in our troubles. He walks up to us in a time of distress and says, "Fear not, for I am with you."
He also says, "Be not dismayed, for I am your God." The word translated "dismayed" means "to look around anxiously"; and again, we can do what He says in the first half of that statement because the second half is true. Because He is our God, we never need to be dismayed.
God reaffirmed this promise to the people of Israel a few chapters later; in words that many of us have embraced in times of trouble. He said,
Stop and think for a moment. When you encounter a time of trial - a situation that is overwhelmingly greater than you have the resources for - what do you do? How do you react? Is your first response one of fear? Do you look around you anxiously and show yourself to be in dismay? I'm sure you often do. I admit that I often do so as well. I believe it is our natural, sinful, independent bent - inherited from our grandfather Adam - to do so.
But let's understand that such trials are - in reality - a test from God. And what God wants us to learn from it is how to take these words of His to heart and allow the promise He gives in them to change us. If we get it into our hearts that He truly is with us in our trial; we will never fear. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me ..." (Psalm 23:4). If we get it into our hearts that He is a God who is greater than our trial and sufficient for our needs; we will never look about ourselves anxiously or be in dismay. "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You" (Isa. 26:3).
* * * * * * * * * *
This promise of God's aid is ours to claim, dear brother or sister. And I would like to ask you to notice, finally ...
3. THE AID HE PROMISES TO GIVE US (v. 10b).
He says, "I will strengthen you." You do not have the strength in your own self to meet the demands that the trials of life present to you. If you look only to yourself at such times, you'll immediately become fearful and dismayed. And well you should! But as Paul the apostle learned, "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:12-13). Your strength is limited; but His is unlimited. Almost everything is too hard for you; but nothing is too hard for Him. He is here promising to give you the strength you need for every trial; if you'll just trust Him for it.
He says, "I will help you." Just as you don't have the strength to face your trials, neither do you have the wisdom or knowledge. You don't have the ability to know the details of the circumstances of life to guide your own steps rightly. You don't even know what's going to happen one minute from now - let alone one month from now. On your own, you're a very helpless creature in this world. But you don't need to be afraid; because the God who has the ability to call kings by name to do His bidding centuries before they're born, and who causes all things to "work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28), promises, "I will help you."
He says, "I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." In the literature of the Bible, the "right hand" is symbolic of the very best, and strongest, and choicest of someone's power and ability. God speaks "anthropomorphically" here - describing Himself as exercising His right hand on our behalf. It's a "righteous" right hand in that, God is righteous in extending it toward us even though we are undeserving sinners. The devil will never be able to accuse God of wrongdoing in extending it to us; because He has made us righteous in Christ. And it is by this hand that He promises to uphold us in our time of trial in a righteous way. We will never be lost to Him because of our trials, and we will never be brought to ultimate defeat in them, because the righteous right hand of God upholds us far above them.
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I can't express enough what a word of encouragement this passage has been to me over the past week. And I believe God would have us hide this word of encouragement in our hearts. I believe that as soon as a trial or difficulty hits us, God would want our minds to be spring-loaded to immediately remember these words: "Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am Your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." I believe God would have us think through the promise He gives us in them; and to grow in our trust in Him in the midst of His trial.
Are you facing a trial right now, dear brother or sister? Would you please join me in claiming this as your and my promise from the living God?
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