W e have our affirmations of faith. God has His declaration of love. Isaiah 43:1-7 is a passage on fire with God’s unstoppable love for you. Give attention, then, to the reading of the inerrant and the infallible Word of the living God as we receive its truth it in Isaiah 43:1-7.
Thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, 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,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
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.
Do not fear, 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 them up,”
and to the south, “Do not withhold;
bring my sons from far awesome ay
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.”
The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of the Lord will endure forever. Let us pray.
Now, O Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be
always acceptable to Thee, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. And let me preach as if never to preach again is a dying man to dying men. In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.
H opelessness is the bereaved parent of despair. And despair is a blinded offspring. Despair cannot see anything but shadows.
I was a first responder to a suicide attempt. The soldier was a 28-year-old white female, E4, who worked in an interrogation unit and stationed at Fort Meade Maryland. Her name was Sarah. I spent 72 hours with her: listening, watching, assessing, before, at length, treating. In matters of the care of the soul, treatment is always comprised of bringing the appropriate word from God’s word — the word of truth in Jesus Christ — to the person’s life. A pastoral treatment always includes prayer. A pastoral cure must of necessity involve presence. The ministry of presence is one of the most powerful cordials in the spiritual physician’s Chaplain kit. Word, prayer, presence must be sustained. In the case of many, the local church is involved. For the military, and for numerous institutions, the spiritual care plan must involve other helping professionals. The infection of the human soul, left unattended for a given length of time (varying according to the genus of the germ), will often migrate from spirit to physique. When this happens a medical doctor is needed on the healing team. Acute despondency is one of those spiritual conditions that almost always effects the body and, with the body, the mind: the sense of consciousness, awareness of self in relationship to the world. Sarah needed spiritual cure, behavioral care, and medical expertise. I made a referral plan so that someone would be there for her in this time of need. You see, the matter of someone “being there” was the persistent presenting complaint of this young woman. Sarah grew up in a very poor area of West Virginia. As I inquired about her family of origin, I learned that her father wasn’t there in her childhood. In many ways, her mother wasn’t there. Her mother suffered from mental illness (and I suspected, later, this was the effect of a deep spiritual blackspot on her mother’s soul; a malignant growth that restricted the ability to breathe in the beauty of life). Sarah went from high school to the Army. She needed the pay. She needed the free education. But she needed something she couldn’t articulate at the time, but which the military provided: a sense of purpose.
As Sarah grew into a young woman, she found that life in the Army, although very male-oriented, provided the moral values that she had missed through her life, values that bring self-worth by being responsible for another. Once during this critical-care-pastoral-counseling, she whispered, “My favorite Army saying is, ‘We never leave a Soldier behind. We will be there’ I really like that.’”
When Sarah was twenty-one, she married. I learned something of her husband in our time together. He was the most unlikely choice of a husband for Sarah. A young man with Peter Pan syndrome, he was unable to demonstrate a godly manhood towards his young wife. He was a very troubled soul. Where I came from, they would have said of the couple, “Sarah didn’t marry well.” I sensed that their marriage was a profoundly tragic arrangement. Perhaps, their respective spiritual bewilderment is what they had in common. Sarah’s husband was never there. He was distant, undoubtedly battling his own demons, and finding meaning in alcohol and childish pursuits, mainly games with other “boys.” Sarah began a relationship of sorts with another man. She would not admit to me that it was an affair. She only told me that she had a friend who would listen to her and who was there for her. But this man had been transferred to Seattle Washington by his employer. The one person in her life that gave her hope to get up each day and face the world was now, also, leaving. Her friend told her the news as they took their daily walk around the park near Fort Meade. Of course, it was no use to instruct her that a close relationship with a male other than her husband was a recipe for disaster. That would be like telling someone to quit smoking as intercontinental ballistic missiles were in route. The day her friend told her he was leaving was the dal that Sarah sank beneath the water line, like a victim of the Titanic in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. But she didn’t take enough sleeping pills to kill her.
My time with her had to come to a conclusion. I made my reports to the appropriate authorities. The plan was accepted by my colleagues in other fields. The young lady was commended to their spiritual, emotional and physical care. One month passed. I was at home, off duty, when I received the telephone call.
“Chaplain Milton, we have a dead soldier at Fort Meade Maryland. She was a 28-year-old white female, an E4. Sir, you have no chaplain at Fort Meade. Therefore, we are bringing the matter to you. Also, her family asked that the Chaplain who spoke with her be the one to conduct her service.”
What she failed to do one month earlier, she sadly succeed this time. She knew she needed more pills than before, taken in smaller amounts so that she wouldn’t regurgitate them. She drifted off into an unrecoverable sleep. And the grim, dark mysteries of the wounded spirit released the demons. Darkness enfolded the young woman named Sarah. And Sarah was gone.
Within moments after receiving the notification, my wife had my bags ready, I said my goodbye, and I was driving from Charlotte to Fort Meade Maryland, just above Washington DC. It was a Sunday morning at the unit when I conducted a memorial service. I learned that the Soldiers in the unit was very close to Sarah, having deployed together to Afghanistan. The entire unit was there. “No Soldier left behind.” After the service, I enlisted the help of another Chaplain, not in our command. This young officer helped me to counsel soldiers for the rest of that day and afterwards. Sarah’s suicide was one of the saddest cases to ever come before me. In that first meeting after her first attempt, near the completion of our time together, I told her of one who would always be there. When I explained the truth of God’s grace and the love of God in Jesus Christ, her catatonic state was suspended. She smiled. I saw a first light in her eyes. But there are some people that we reach and though their soul is saved, their body and the mind have already slipped beneath the surface of despair. The “cold waters of the North Atlantic”—the abuse of the body and the mind—have already done irreparable harm.
I guess all of us at one time or another have experienced something of what that young lady did. There have been times in our lives when we felt alone. There have been hard times in our lives when we have depended upon someone being there for us and they let us down. Even our Lord Jesus Christ knew such sorrow. The Apostle Paul understood such sorrow. Like his Lord and ours, St. Paul came to a point where his sorrow became like a flooding river, washing over the levees, threatening the very life of the Apostle:
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Isaiah was a prophet of judgment to a disobedient and backsliding people. But his prophetic word of judgment also carried a message of God’s love and God’s mercy and steadfastness. In Isaiah 43, verses one through seven, Isaiah presented the God of love who would always be there.
The message for us from God’s word is a message that comes against the backdrop of our own disappointments in life. It is a message that is like a shaft of Golden sunlight breaking through the storm clouds of hopelessness or even despair. What we see in Isaiah 43, verses one through seven, is the affirmation of God: “Though others may leave you, I will be there.”
And how is this so in Isaiah chapter 49 in verses one through seven? This litany of divine promises from the heart of God to his
- Do not fear
- I have redeemed you
- I have called you by name
- You are mine
- I will be with you
- I am the Lord your God
- I am your Savior
- I give for you
- I am with you
- I will gather you
- I will say, bring my sons and my daughters
You can see, then, that Isaiah 43 verses one through seven is a powerful and plentiful cornucopia of divine promises to his people. Let us look at the three major articles in God’s covenant of love towards the believer and how that overcomes clouds of hopelessness and raindrops of despair.
The first paramount article of the affirmation of God and his love towards his people is this:
1. I have… (Verse one)
God identifies himself in Isaiah’s prophecy is the one who is speaking. And he begins by saying something very familiar to human beings living in hopelessness, “share not…” This is of course what the angel said to Mary and what the angel said to Joseph. This is a constantly repeated opening address to God’s people. This is so because we often live in fear. Hopelessness and despair diminished the soul’s resistance to spiritual diseases. Fear is a disease of the soul. It can affect our relationship with God in our relationship with each other. Indeed, fear can paralyze one from doing what God has called us to do, and being the person that we should be. So when God says “fear not…”, it is a gospel admonition to awaken from our cloudy thinking that somehow, we are at the center of the universe and that things depend upon us. No, my beloved, “fear not…”
God says fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” What a remarkable introduction to God’s affirmation of his love for his people. I have created you. I have informed you. I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. This section of Scripture deals with how God saves us. God saved you and called you by name before you were ever born before you were ever even thought of. God was thinking of you. God had your name on his heart. Paul says in Ephesians that he chose us in love before the foundation of the world.
My old friend John Guest once wrote a book about truth in the age of uncertainty. In that book, John said that the greatest words ever spoken are “God loves you.” And I cannot help but agree with John.
This morning, it is important for us to dedicate our lives to Almighty God as an act of gratitude and love to the one who has called us by name and redeemed us from sin and shame. There may be no one else in your life who calls you by name, but God is called you by name. Let loneliness and isolation be carried off been dumped into the deepest part of the ocean and buried there forever. You have a God who has said, “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”
The second primary article of the affirmation of God’s love towards his people is this:
2. I will… (verse two)
The Lord not only affirms that, “I have…” But he moves from that foundational truth to this epiphany: “I will be with you. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers—I will be with you—they shall not overwhelm you—I will be with you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned — I will be with you — and the flame shall not consume you — I will be with you.
O, how many times have I read this passage in hospital rooms and in nursing homes and at funeral homes? How many times have I shared this passage with the believer is there passing from this life into the next? I have done so because this is one of those promises of God that each and every generation cling to. It is no wonder that this is one of the most beloved passages in all of the Bible. It speaks to the fact that you are not alone. It speaks to the truth of God’s intentions toward you: “I will…”
The third preeminent article of the affirmation of God and his love towards his people is this:
3. I am… (verse three)
As we have said before there many other affirmations that God makes in this passage. God tells us that we are precious in his eyes and that he loves us. God says that he gives life in exchange for our lives. And he did so through his only begotten son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He promises that he will gather his children from all of the ends of the earth. One of the central aims of my ministry has been that we so proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that on the day when the word turns, there will be a multitude of souls safe in the arms of Jesus. And I take this not only from the New Testament but from this section of Scripture. God himself says he will gather us from the ends of the earth. And every soul that comes into his arms is a soul that he not only made, but he chose, and he is intimate with by name. That is you my beloved. That is your children my beloved. That is your children’s children. That includes generations that you will never know who may believe in Christ as a result of your prayers and your dedication to God on this day.
Now all of that is so because of the revelation of God’s love here. The key phrase in this final affirmation is this: “I AM…” In verse three God says, for I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your Savior.” God says in verse five, “fear not, for I am with you;” and from there he says
“I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, give up, into the south, do not withhold; bring my sons from the forearm 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.”
In other words, my dearest brother and sister, son and daughter, father and mother in the Lord, the blessings of the believer are intimately tied to the very personhood of Almighty God. “I AM…” is the name that God gives to himself. It is the name that he used when Moses asked, “Who shall I say sent me?” It is the name that our Lord Jesus Christ appropriated to himself when he said, “before Abraham was, I AM…”
All of the blessings of God flow from the triune personhood of the great I AM.
Study the great I AM. Come to love the great I AM. Bow before him. Cultivate an intimate relationship with him as you come to him by his means of word, sacrament, and prayer. He is the one who will be with you through all the days of your life. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
What a glorious affirmation of the love of God towards his people. What a tremendous source of blessing to the believer. We have seen that the love of God is grounded in the eternal verities of divine revelation: “I have…” “I will…” And “I AM…”
Some of you will remember when the great child psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, suffered a very serious heart attack that nearly took his life. He felt that he was likely to die. So he gathered his family to his bedside: his wife, his son, and his daughter. He said to them words that they would always remember. In fact, Dr. Dobson would recover. But his words remained like a stone altar erected in field where God had visited him. For he had told his family, “The only thing I want to say to you is, be there.”
It was a very wise thing to say. For this life is fleeting. Eternity will come to us in the blink of an eye. I would say to you as I have said to each congregation or seminary community that I have served, “Be there.” Receive the Lord Jesus Christ. Commit your life to him. Make Christ the King of your heart and your life. Receive his mercy and his love. Cultivate love for Jesus through his word and through prayer. “Be there.”
We are the beneficiaries of the faith in the prayers of those who have gone before. That requires a responsibility of each of us to pray and dedicate ourselves to God for those who will come after. There is coming a day when Jesus Christ will come again. The skies will be rent in twain. Jesus Christ will appear in all of his glory and with all the company of heaven. The dead in Christ shall rise first and then we who are alive will become up to be with them. With His glorious army of angels and saints, Jesus Christ then will return as He departed. When Jesus Christ descends to the earth the entire universe will be reborn, in an unimaginable fiery reordering moment removing sin and sadness, and all other remnants of the Fall. God will have His new heaven and a new earth.
What I am saying to you today is this: make sure that you are there. Pray that your loved ones and your friends are there. Stretch the tents of your faith and pray that this community will be there. Envision by faithful prayer and petition in supplication than many in our nation will be there. Dedicate yourself now that your physical or spiritual sons and daughters and generations you will never see will be there.
“Be there.” I can say that with confidence and with hopeful expectation because despite whatever clouds of despair have come into your life or into mine or into this world, God is greater. His love is more powerful. His good plans for his own creation are greater than our own self-destructive tendencies. His Word comes to any and all who feel themselves in the icy, North-Atlantic-like waters of despair: “I have, I will, I am.”
You can be there because
he has promised, “I will be there.”
Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. Vol. 2. T. & T. Clark, 1869.
Guest, John. In Search Of Certainty. English Language edition. Ventura, CA, U.S.A: Regal Books, 1983.
Henry, Matthew. “Isaiah 43 Bible Commentary – Matthew Henry (Concise).” Accessed January 14, 2019. https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=23&c=43.
Motyer, J. Alec. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 2015.
———. The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 2015.
Oden, Thomas C., and Christopher A. Hall.
“Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture” (1998).
 I have changed her name to preserve privacy.
 Although, Sarah’s case is far too common, and so much harm would have been done to body and mind, the pastor does not give up. For all things are possible through God. It may be that God will answer our prayers for His glory. Or, it may be that He receives the reborn child of God into His bosom to relieve the pain, to alleviate the burden, and to glorify Himself. Such matters are in the mind of the Almighty. Our response is to say thank you to the God who saves us. When the inexplicable happens, let us leave it at the cross where irreconcilable mystery mingled in the wounded flesh and blood of the Almighty, on a cross made of timber that He created, crying out for forgiveness for the humans who murdered the Anointed One of God. There in the midst of the mystery the plan of God for salvation was formed; prophecy fashioned out of perplexity, prayers answered in pain, and righteousness exalted on a creation-darkened day of utter evil. This is the paradox and power of the cross. And the cross is the ruling motif for the Christian life. When you don’t understand, when it doesn’t seem possible, when it just shouldn’t be, remember: God is great, God is good. God does not willingly afflict the children of men. God is love. God is sovereign. God is infinite. We are children who see through the glass dimly, now. Do not fear. Lay your questions at the cross of Christ, shed your tears, and walk forward in faith (not clarity; faith).
 “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me’” (Matthew 26:38).
 See, e.g. these studies on Isaiah: Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, vol. 2 (T. & T. Clark, 1869); J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (InterVarsity Press, 2015); J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (InterVarsity Press, 2015); Thomas C. Oden and Christopher A. Hall, “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture,” 1998.
 John Guest, In Search Of Certainty, English Language edition (Ventura, CA, U.S.A: Regal Books, 1983).