God’s Generous Glory
by Jack Wald | October 18th, 2020

Isaiah 43:1-21

We are not comfortable in talking about God’s wrath, God’s judgement. I am not comfortable talking about God’s wrath and judgement. And the reason I am not comfortable talking about God’s wrath and judgement is because of the way God’s wrath and judgement are often talked about. This causes some people to turn away from God and so I go to great lengths to explain why that is not a complete and accurate portrayal of who God is.

I say that it is not that God does not like us, not that God views us as enemies – even through Paul says in Romans that we were once God’s enemies. (Romans 5:10)
For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

But in this text the emphasis is not on being God’s enemies but on being reconciled, saved through his life.

When I talk about God’s wrath and judgement I explain that it is not that God hates us and thinks we are terrible people, but that God loves us and wants us to be in an intimate relationship with him. That is why we were created in the first place. But because of our sinful nature that chooses self over God, we are unfit, unable to be in an intimate relationship with God. This puts us on the outside and God wants us to be on the inside. We are standing outside in the rainy cold and God wants us to come into his home, sit by the fire, and enjoy his fellowship.

The problem, as I preached last Sunday, is that we are rebellious creatures, preferring to stand outside in the rainy cold where we choose to live for ourselves, rather than submit to Jesus, live for God, and come into the warmth of God’s home.

What do you do with a rebellious child? After absorbing the pain of continual rejection of your parental love and authority you allow the child to leave the home and then stand by the window, as the father of the prodigal son did in Jesus’ parable, waiting to see your child return so you can run outside and welcome your child back home. That is how God loves us. He waits with eagerness for us to turn to him, and then he races to us to embrace us and welcome us into his home. He makes his home our home.

Remember that in these chapters of Isaiah the Jews who returned from exile are putting God on trial, accusing him of being indifferent to them or of being weaker than the gods of the Babylonians.

In God’s defense, he tells them that he allowed them to be conquered and taken into exile in Babylon because he loves them and wanted them to return to worship of him rather than worship the many idols and false gods of Canaan.

I do not believe that bad things like pandemics are God’s judgement, but the Bible is clear that God does discipline us in order to bring us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with himself. This is what we read last week in Isaiah 42:24–25
Who handed Jacob over to become loot,
and Israel to the plunderers?
Was it not the Lord,
against whom we have sinned?
For they would not follow his ways;
they did not obey his law.
25 So he poured out on them his burning anger,
the violence of war.
It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand;
it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.

The sadness of this passage is that even after all they suffered, “they did not understand,” “they did not take it to heart.”

We read this also in Hebrews 12:5-6 which the writer of Hebrews says is a “word of encouragement.”
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

We may not like it, we may not be comfortable with it, but the theme of God’s judgement runs through the scriptures, Old and New Testaments. But judgement is never apart from love. Judgment is always an act of love.

Parents punish children because they are angry about something else, or because they are irritated and lose patience, or because they suffered from the overly harsh punishment they received as children. But parents also punish their children because they have a deep love for their children and want what is best for them.

God’s discipline in our lives is always for our benefit, for our good. Everything God does works toward his grand purpose which is to bring us into his eternal kingdom. God will do everything he can to accomplish this, without forcing us to choose him. God’s desire for this is so great that he suffered and died for us. That is how powerful his love is for us.

So now, in today’s text, Isaiah moves from God’s judgement to a powerful expression of God’s love for us. I said last week that as a young follower of Jesus I read through the Bible, studying as I went along. And then over the years, whenever I needed to be reassured that God loved me, I came back to Isaiah 43. Over and over again I came to this passage to hear God tell me how much he loves me.

As I mentioned last week, this passage comes in the context of God’s judgement.

To the Jews who returned from Babylon who were challenging God for what had happened to them and their parents and grandparents, God said his judgement had come because of the incessant idolatry of Israel, But now…

But now…

This is so powerful.

But now, this is what the Lord says— 
he who created you, Jacob, 
he who formed you, Israel: 
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; 
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 
2 When you pass through the waters, 
I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers, 
they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, 
you will not be burned; 
the flames will not set you ablaze. 
3 For I am the Lord your God, 
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; 
I give Egypt for your ransom, 
Cush and Seba in your stead. 
4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, 
and because I love you, 
I will give people in exchange for you, 
nations in exchange for your life. 
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; 
I will bring your children from the east 
and gather you from the west. 
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ 
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ 
Bring my sons from afar 
and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 
7 everyone who is called by my name, 
whom I created for my glory, 
whom I formed and made.” 

In this word from God we read about his love, his presence, his protection, and his promise.

First, God’s love.

You can find the words “I love you,” in the Bible in a few places – but other than this verse, these words are always about men and women telling God they love him. This is the only place in the Bible where God tells us he loves us.
Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
nations in exchange for your life.

This is why I came back to this passage over and over again. I wanted to read this verse and hear God tell me he loves me. There are many evidences of God’s love for us. John writes, (1 John 4:19) “We love because he first loved us,” but that is John telling us, not God telling us himself. Someone can tell me Annie loves me but that is not the same as Annie telling me she loves me herself. We know that the actions of God reveal his love for us, but it is nice to hear, “I love you.”

Because he loves us he is present with us, he protects us, and he promises a wonderful future for us.

God loves us and because he loves us he is present with us.

Verse 5
Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

If you are walking though the Serengeti where there are lions and leopards, or swimming across a river where there are crocodiles and hippos, or wading through a swamp where there are poisonous snakes, it is immensely reassuring to hear someone say, “Don’t worry, I am with you.”

If that person knows less than you do about how to protect yourself, it is not so reassuring. If that person is less capable of offering protection than you are, it is not reassuring. But if that person is an expert, than that is great reassurance.

God is the ultimate expert and he tells us in this passage, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” From the beginning of his relationship with humans, God has been telling us this.

God revealed himself to Abraham and made a covenant with him. (Genesis 12:2–3)
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Genesis records four other times when God repeated this covenant with Abraham, telling him over and over that he loved him and cared about him. In crisis after crisis God was present with Abraham.

God spoke to Isaac, Abraham’s son. (Genesis 26:24)
“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you;”

God spoke to Isaac’s son, Jacob. (Genesis 28:15)
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

God spoke to Joshua as he prepared to lead Israel into the promised land of Canaan. (Joshua 3:7)
“Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.

God spoke to Jeremiah as he prepared to step out into a very difficult prophetic role. (Jeremiah 1:8)
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven he told his disciples, (Matthew 28:18–20)
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The writer of Hebrews affirmed this. (Hebrews 13:5)
God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

I heard the testimony of a Moroccan woman who had a dream. In her dream she was crying because of all the pain and suffering of her life. As she cried she saw a man dressed in white standing in the corner of the room. He was crying with her.

The next morning when she woke up, she felt comforted but did not know who that man was. Later that day she was watching television and happened to watch an Arabic Christian channel where a woman was talking about her dream, which was the same dream she had the night before, and then she learned from listening to that women that the man standing in the corner of the room crying with her, was Jesus.

The Jews accused God of abandoning them, but the truth is that God was present with them in the conquest of Jerusalem. God was present with them on the long march to Babylon. God was present with them in the years of their exile. God was present with them in all the difficulty and suffering they had to endure.

God is present with us. God is present with you. We will go through difficult times. We will suffer. But we will not be alone. We will never be alone. God is present with us.

Because he loves us he is present with us and he protects us.

When you pass through the waters, 
I will be with you; 
and when you pass through the rivers, 
they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, 
you will not be burned; 
the flames will not set you ablaze. 

The story of the Exodus was well known to Israel. Their ancestors had left Egypt and there was great excitement and relief. They were no longer slaves. They were free. But then Moses led them to the bank of the Red Sea and as they considered how they would get across to the other side, they saw a cloud of dust in the distance and realized that the chariots of Pharaoh were coming to take them back to Egypt. They were in a panic and then Moses lifted up his staff and the waters parted. They walked across the sea with a wall of water on their left and a wall of water on their right. They crossed over and then the walls of water collapsed on the army of Pharaoh who was pursuing them.

When you pass through the waters, 
I will be with you; 

They also knew the more recent story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being thrown into a blazing furnace in Babylon because they refused to bow down before a gold image of King Nebuchadnezzar. They were thrown into the furnace and then King Nebuchadnezzar cried out in astonishment, (Daniel 3:25)
“Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

When you walk through the fire, 
you will not be burned; 
the flames will not set you ablaze. 

These words drew these memories to their minds. God had done this in the past and now God was reaffirming his commitment to them that he would do this in the future.

Because God loves us he is present with us, he protects us, and he promises a wonderful future for us.

Since you are precious and honored in my sight, 
and because I love you, 
I will give people in exchange for you, 
nations in exchange for your life. 
5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; 
I will bring your children from the east 
and gather you from the west. 
6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ 
and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ 
Bring my sons from afar 
and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 

The Jews had been scattered to Babylon and to Egypt. But now God is promising to bring his people back to Jerusalem. We see a vision far beyond the understanding of this prophecy when it was given. Isaiah saw this day coming. (Isaiah 2:2)
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

We are living in the last days and we see in RIC the fruit of this prophecy with people coming to worship Jesus from India, the Philippines, Korea, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, France, England, Madagascar, Antigua and Barbuda, Latin America, North America. The nations of the world are streaming into the kingdom of God and this is just a prelude to the grand event when Jesus returns to take all of his daughters and sons into his eternal kingdom.

What is going to happen in our future? There will be birthdays, weddings, and funerals. There will be graduations and retirements. There will be vacations and parties. There will be natural disasters and pandemics. There is a lot of good and not so good in our future but all of these, both good and bad, pale in comparison to the big event that is coming.

What does God promise us? He doesn’t promise that we will always have enough to eat or always be healthy. He doesn’t promise that we will get the promotions we deserve in our work. He doesn’t promise that we will never suffer.

What he promises is far more important than any of this. He promises to be with us, to be present with us. He promises to never leave us or forsake us and he promises that he will bring us safely into his eternal kingdom.

Are you dissatisfied with this? Then join the Israelites who complained in the wilderness that they did not have enough water or that they were tired of eating manna every day. They wished they were back in Egypt where they could eat leeks and onions.

We are good complainers. We know how to make a big deal out of the things we want but do not have. We know how to let people know when we are unhappy or sick. We know how to put our focus and attention on things that will last for just a moment and then be gone.

“I will be with you and when you die I will take you to be with me in my kingdom and, in fact, I am already building a home there for you.” This is the future in front of you. This is what you can look forward to with certain hope.

Why does God do all this? Why does God love us? Why did he create us? Why does he promise to be with us? Why does God give us a glorious future to anticipate? Why did God pay such a high price to do all this for us?

There are a couple clues in the passage from this morning.

verses 20-21
I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.

And in verses 6&7 he says,
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.”

God created us so that we would give him praise. He created us for his glory and he will not share his glory with any other false gods or idols that are only creations of the people he created. Israel showed their gratitude for what God did in delivering them from slavery in Egypt by making a gold calf and then thanking that calf for their rescue. God does not and will not tolerate this idolatry.

He told this to Israel when he gave the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. (Deuteronomy 5:8–9 )
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,

John Piper writes, “How is God’s passion for his glory not a sinful form of narcissism and megalomania?” The world suffers from political leaders who are narcissistic and do everything they can to prolong their hold on power. If they can, they silence the opposition and change the constitution to remain in power. They surround themselves with people who praise them, who tell them they are the best leader the country has ever had. They have big parades so their egos can be fed.

They want praise. They want glory. How is God different?

When Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick he told his disciples, (John 11:4)
“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Jesus waited two days before setting out for Bethany so that he could demonstrate the power of God by raising Lazarus from the grave. He let Mary and Martha and the friends of Lazarus suffer the grief of death so that he could be glorified.

From this perspective, the story is disturbing. We would say that someone who lets someone else suffer so they can be glorified is a sick person. If someone walks past a house that is on fire and sees someone trapped in the doorway but stands there until the person’s clothes are on fire before going up and rescuing them so that the rescue will be seen as more heroic, that is a sick person.

This is an important topic and deserves far more than a few words at the end of a sermon, so go home and read some articles about this if you are interested. Let me say just a bit about why God’s desire for glory is different than an unhealthy narcissist who craves praise and glory or someone who lets people suffer so they can seem to be more heroic.

As with every other part of our Christian faith, it goes back to the Trinity. Father, Son, and Spirit existed for an eternity before the creation of the universe. In the relationships of the Trinity when the father receives glory, the Son and Spirit are glorified. When Jesus receives praise, the Father and Spirit receive praise. When the Spirit is honored, the Father and Son are honored. The Triune God does not hoard glory, it is shared.

And because we have been brought into the family of God, when God is glorified, we share in that glory.

As children of God, as beloved sons and beloved daughters of God, when God is glorified, we share in that glory.

Our experience on earth is that when someone is honored, there is a spotlight on the stage where they receive honor and praise and glory.

But when God is glorified, the spotlight is replaced with the sun. It shines on all of his creation. We don’t stand in the shadow of the stage with the spotlight on God; we shine with the glory God receives.

God’s glory is a generous glory, not a selfish glory. That is the difference.

God loves us. God promises to be with us. God protects us. We are safest in this world when we are in God’s hands. This is not new teaching or preaching to us. I have said these things many times before, but I need to hear them again. I need to be reminded of these things.

I am having a difficult time in this pandemic that has shattered plans, taken away time with our daughters and their families, and has made it more difficult for us at RIC to have a vibrant community. I feel a heaviness and need to hear God say, “I love you.” I need to remind myself that I am not alone. God is present with me. I need to be reminded that any suffering on earth is only temporary and I am heading to a covid-free kingdom where no masks or social distancing are required. There will be no fear or anxiety, no political turmoil, no racial tensions. There will be no us versus them. There will be only the sons and daughters of God.

We will give God the glory he deserves and be aided by the angels of heaven who will join with us in our praise and worship. God will be glorified and we will bask in that glory.

That is our future. Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, God loves us. God promises to always be with us. And God is building a home for us in heaven so we have something to look forward to. That’s not too shabby.