Our text this morning comes from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 43, verses 1 through 7. And you’ll find that on page – if you’re using the pew Bible – page 603. The immediate context for what Isaiah says here in chapter 43 – chapter 42 of course the wider context; the song of the suffering Servant – chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah. Chapter 42, a chapter in which God talks about the coming of the servant of the Lord, the new thing He is preparing in Him, His desire for the nations to see His light. But then chapter 42 closes with the sorry state of His people. They’re blind and they’re deaf. The chapter ends with language about God pouring out His anger. It’s a grim ending, and it sets the stage for the beginning of chapter 43 in what I call “The Peace of Belonging.”
Let’s pray and then we’ll read chapter 43, verses 1 through 7.
Father, this is Your Word; we are Your people. Speak. Let us hear. Give clarity of mind. Plant these truths deep in our hearts. Feed our souls. Equip us. Father, draw near. Hear us as we make our prayer in Jesus’ name and for His sake, amen.
Isaiah chapter 43, beginning with verse 1:
“But 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. 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. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush” (that is, Ethiopia), “and Seba in exchange for you. 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. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 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, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.’”
All men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of our God stands forever.
What is "The Peace of Belonging"? Well, maybe we should start by defining, "What is belonging?" Let me tell you where I want to go in this sermon today. We want to talk about what is belonging, we want to talk about what belonging looks like, and then we’ll finish with asking the question, “Why does it matter?”
What is Belonging?
What is belonging? Let’s look at the language that Isaiah uses in verse 1. “But 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.’” You recognize great Biblical themes there – created you; formed you; redeemed you. We think of that great exodus from Egypt – God redeeming His people from slavery and settling them into the land of promise, the land He promised to Abraham. “Redeemed you” – that Hebrew word, “gaal,” is “redeemer” – thinking along the lines of “deliverer, protector,” much as Boaz was deliverer, protector for Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi; the kinsman redeemer who ensured their future by his redemptive action. That’s a picture of what God is describing for Himself; that He has redeemed you. He has ensured the future of His people by His redemptive action on their part.
“Called you by name” – again, think of His relationship with Abraham; think of His relationship with Sarah, his wife. How He changed their names; He called them by names. Think of Noah. He called Noah by name. He’s admitting into a close relationship with Him those whom He calls by name. Much as a parent and child, God opening the doorways of adoption, His people become not just His subjects but His sons and daughters. “I have called you by name.” By contrast, listen to what He says in Psalm 1, which we read a couple of weeks ago. “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked,” He says, “will perish.” It will vanish; it will not last. Or even more pointedly, what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 7 beginning with verse 21. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. But the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” To those who say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not do the will of His Father in heaven, Jesus says, “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. I never knew you. Depart from me.’” God says of His people, “I have called you by name. I know you. I know you intimately. I have called you by name.”
And then He caps it all off with “you are mine.” Think again of that great scene where God gathers His people to Himself at Sinai after all the climactic events of the exodus. He gathers them to Himself at Sinai. He says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, therefore, if indeed you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all people. For all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. You shall be my treasured possession.” That’s the baggage; that’s the freight that’s being carried when He says, “You are mine. You are mine as treasure.” A treasured possession. That is to say, God is saying, “I have a special claim on you and by promise, you have a special claim on me.” Note how God identifies them – “I have called you by name; you are mine.”
I told you about the sorry ending of chapter 42. God’s not identifying His people by their sorry state as He describes it at the end of chapter 42, but He identifies His people by that phrase, “You are mine.” That’s how He identifies His people. Not mired in unbelief, even though they are. You and I struggle with sin. You and I lose our struggle with sin on a regular basis. But God declares of us, “You are mine. I’ve called you by name. I have begun an intimate relationship with you. You are my treasured possession.”
What Does Belonging Look Like?
Well, what does belonging look like? Let’s pull some principles from the passage. And one of the principles we want to see is that belonging looks like benefitting from, enjoying the presence of God. Look at verses 2 and 5. Verse 2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” Verse 5, “Fear not, for I am with you.” It’s the Emmanuel Principle – the almighty, eternal God with His people. God with you; God with you! Present in our distress. Actively wringing from it good for us as He’s promised. Sustaining; helping; empowering; enabling us. Present in our joys too. Helping us to remember that every good we enjoy has come to us from His gracious hand.
What does belonging look like? It looks like enjoying the presence of God day in, day out. It also looks like protection. Look at verse 2. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned and the flames shall not consume you.” Isaiah allows two dangers, two terrible dangers, to speak for all dangers. Notice the promise. Dangers will come. He doesn’t say, “If you pass through waters” and “If you walk through fire.” When you do – dangers will come. Probably many of us today find ourselves in the midst of some threat, some danger, perhaps even right now sitting in this sanctuary this morning. Some trial, some suffering, some uncertainty, some doubt, despair, depression, pain or loss or grief. The nouns could go on for a long, long time even right now. But believer in Jesus, you belong to God the Father almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth. The One who created you, the One who formed you, and the One who redeemed you. In our danger, we have His unwavering attention and all His power bent towards our ultimate protection. We may hurt, but we’re safe. We may be sorely tried, but we’re safe. We may feel as though we’re about to go under, but we’re safe. He says to us, “You are Mine. All the earth is Mine and you are My treasured possession.”
What does belonging look like? It looks like, in addition to presence and protection, it looks like preference. Hear verses 3 and 4. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush” (that is, Ethiopia), “and Seba in exchange for you. 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." If you're looking at those verses, I want you to notice something. You've got a Hebrew rhetorical device at work here. You've got repetition. You've got the repetition of the ransom concept. "I give Egypt as your ransom." And then at the end of that, at the end of verse 4, "I give me in return for you." That's emphasizing the concept, in this case, the ransom concept. And right sandwiched in the middle of those, in a position of prominence, "Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you." You can’t miss that; you can’t miss that. You’ve got that powerful repetition of the ransom concept and right smack in the middle of it God declaring, “I love you! You’re precious to me!” Calvin says, “The Lord takes such care of all believers that He values them more highly than the rest of the world.” It’s interesting.
A couple of historical notes right here. One is this. King Hezekiah – now pay attention! This is Israel history; it’s not going to be dry. Don’t drift away on me! King Hezekiah of Judah made an alliance with Egypt against the Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib. Now stop just a minute. I sat in a lot of classes to be able to say that name just right, Sennacherib! And I learned another one, “Tiglath-Pileser." You need to be impressed because I spent a lot of hours laboring over those things years ago! And so he's made an alliance with the Pharaoh of Egypt and the king of Ethiopia. And you find that in 2 Kings 18 and Isaiah chapter 30 and 31. To establish his right and exact punishment, the Assyrian king marches with his vast armies on little Judah. As the mighty blow is about to fall and Judah is going to get ground to powder, Sennacherib has to break his armies away to fend off an encroaching army from Ethiopia and Egypt. They fall in a route and Sennacherib pursues them all the way back to Egypt. Judah is spared, while the Egyptians and the Ethiopians get gobbled up by the Assyrian armies. Here's the point. Judah is spared because God gave her enemies a substitute. Judah is spared because God gave her enemies, in this case, the Assyrians, a substitute.
Historical note two. At the time of the Passover, approximately in the year 30 AD or AD 30, the Roman governor of the province of Judea authorized the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, an itinerant preacher and worker of miracles, whose life and work provided abundant evidence that He was indeed the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. Three days later, He was raised from the dead, God declaring with power that He was indeed the Son of God and the Savior of sinners. God sent His Son as a ransom to rescue His lost and sinful people. God sent His Son as a ransom for you and me, believer in Jesus. He gave more than Egypt. He gave more than Ethiopia. He gave more than Seba. He gave His only Son. We have the tokens of His substitution, of His ransom, right here spread on the Table before us. We’ll be enjoying them in a few minutes. The signs of His broken body and His shed blood. What does belonging look like? It looks like God preferring to save His people even at the cost of the life of His only Son.
One more thing to say about what belonging looks like. It looks like restoration. Look at verses 5, 6, and 7 here of our passage where Isaiah says, “Fear not, for I am with you;” – speaking, of course, for the Lord. “I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 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, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." Isaiah's preaching ministry began in the southern kingdom of Judah and lasted for about fifty years. Before that preaching ministry of his was twenty years old, the ten northern tribes that we know as Israel were carried away into captivity by the Assyrians. We talk about the lost tribes of Israel. That's them! Because they were assimilated into other parts of the Assyrian population, they as a people never re-gathered in the land again. The only ones who would have been saved would have been the ones who had refugeed south as trouble was approaching to the kingdom of Judah. They disappeared; they were lost. They've been lost to history ever since. A terrible blow; a terrific event. It was devastating, and it happened because of unbelief, hardness of heart by generations, and covenantal, serial covenantal unfaithfulness. God, after generations, gave them over to their enemies because they would not hear His Word.
A captivity is coming for Judah. It will come about 150 years after Isaiah dies. For the same reason – unbelief, hardness of heart, covenantal unfaithfulness. But again, hear the promise of God. What does belonging look like? It looks like restoration after judgment brought by sin. The sin, their sin, is not the end of their story. But because they belong to God who regards them as His treasured possession, He keeps them. He restores them. Our sin is not the end of our story; restoration is! Even if we persist, even if we harden our hearts and persist in our sin, if we believe in Jesus, is Jesus is our Savior and Lord, He is going to get to us. He is going to break that hardness of heart. He is going to break that dependence on that sin. He will restore us. Our sin is not the end of our story. Restoration is. Because we belong, and because He has given the life of His Son for us, He will restore what sin has ruined. That's what belonging looks like. It looks like restoration.
Why Does it Matter?
Well, why does it matter? We’ll have to be brief. Why does it matter? Look at verse 7. Who is He restoring? Who is He gathering from the east and from the west and from the north and from the south? “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.” God makes an intimate connection between His glory and our salvation. God makes an intimate connection between His glory and our salvation. He ties His reputation to it. He ties His reputation to us and our eventual gaining of the promised land, in our case heaven, in His presence. He ties His reputation to the salvation of His people.
Trophies of God’s Grace
Listen to Ephesians chapter 2. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved, and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that, in the coming ages, he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.” God proves Himself to be gloriously gracious as He points to the trophies of His mercy, the trophies of His grace – His people! You and me and all that have gone before us and those that will come after us! He points to us as trophies of His glorious grace. Every knee has to bow and every tongue has to confess that Jesus is Lord. He ties His glory to the salvation of His people.
A number of years ago, through the generosity of some dear friends, I went on my first sailing trip. We flew into Tortola, the British Virgin Islands, and these were the days before there was widespread air conditioning there so the airport and the customs house were big open buildings; not a lot of walls. They didn’t want to hinder the breezes. I remember standing in a long line behind what looked to be a hand-lettered sign that read, “Visitors.” That made sense to me; that’s what I was. I was a visitor. And I was standing there, feeling the breeze and watching the date palms swaying, occasionally hearing a wave slap the shore a hundred or so yards behind me, feeling the stress roll off me and tasting the relaxation to come. And then I noticed the line on my right. It was shorter. It was moving faster than the one I was in, and the hand-lettered sign above it said, “Belongers.” My heart, I think it must have sighed audibly. In my mind I was saying, “I want to belong here! I want to be a belonger here! How do I get to be a belonger here! This place is wonderful!”
You Can Be a Belonger
Maybe you’re sitting here today, maybe you’re not a belonger; maybe you’re a visitor among the family of God. Did you know that you can be a belonger? And all the wonderful promises that God has made that we’ve been talking about can be yours as well. Do you know yourself to be a sinner who cannot save yourself? Do you believe you need a Savior? Can you trust in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and the Savior of sinners? Can you have confidence that He’s the One who stood in as your substitute, as your ransom, absorbing God’s wrath for you and clothing you in His righteousness? That’s how we become belongers. We see our need; we see our sin. We turn from our sin and turn from our abilities, our efforts to make ourselves pretty in God’s sight, and we throw ourselves on the one who is our substitute. We throw ourselves on God’s mercy expressed in Christ. That’s how you become a belonger.
I hope you’ll look at your heart today. As we prepare to continue our service at the Lord’s Table, I hope you’ll look at your heart and you determine whether you’re a visitor or a belonger. Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.
Father, You make people who were not a people, Your people. You make people who had not received mercy to receive mercy. Who is a God like You who forgives sin and pardons iniquity? Who is a God like You who delights to save sinners? Thank You for the promises we’ve just been thinking and talking about. Drive them deep in our hearts and let them give shape to our life and shape to our understanding of You, shape to the choices we make and how we see our future. And mostly, help them give shape to how we understand You. Hear us, as we make our prayer, Father, in Jesus’ name and for His sake. Amen.
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