Here is how Isaiah ministered these ideas to God’s people in Israel. He is actually warning them of God’s future judgment that will take them into the Babylonian captivity. They will need these lessons then! But for now, they are to prepare their faith for the trial ahead. The passage is from Isa 51:9-16.
1. Remember your personal exodus from darkness into light (vv. 9b-10)
Isaiah called upon the OT tradition of “remembering.” It was part of Israel’s national heritage and culture “to remember” the covenant of the Lord. They were to remember the great things God said to them, and did for them. They were to pile up stones in a river so that they’d remember what God did when crossing the Jordan (see Joshua 3-4; a reenactment of the crossing of the Red Sea). When they didn’t remember and forgot about God’s goodness, they usually got into trouble (see Judges 8:34). The celebration of the Passover was to be kept as a remembrance of God’s people’s deliverance from Egypt.
How often do you reflect on the time of your salvation? Have you ever journaled about that time? Some people remember the day, date and hour! There conversion was as dramatic as Paul’s on the road to Damascus. Some may not remember with such detail, but they can describe the time of life they were in, the things that were happening around them and the circumstances that led to the surrender to Christ’s Lordship. Do you remember the spiritual blindness you had when you heard the gospel before your conversion? Have you ever reflected on the depth of your sin and the heights of God’s grace that delivered you? Do you remember your rejection of God’s authority and how sweet his sovereignty seemed to you after your conversion? What sorts of things did Christ remove from your heart to allow you to come to him by faith?
Have you thought about the changes since? There was a time when the stuff of the world meant everything to you. You’d go out of your way to enjoy some secret, God-ignoring pleasure but now it holds no attractions. Maybe you thought Sundays were boring days but now spending Sundays with God’s people hearing his Word is the best day of the week.
In the in-between times, we can “practice” faith-ing it! Here’s a suggestion:
- When you think God forgot your name, remember the day of your salvation, how you came to know you belonged to him.
- Reflect on your former spiritual blindness that is now gone and praise God for the light of the knowledge of God coming into your life.
- Carefully recount those days to yourself by reflecting on what Christ destroyed in order to redeem you. He destroyed,
- Your sin of rejecting God’s authority and removed your hatred of righteousness.
- Your love for the world which held you in its grip.
- Your blindness to God’s glory in the face of Christ.
2. Remember the promises of joy (v. 11)
God promises the people that they will be ransomed and return “with joyful shouting . . . and everlasting joy will be on their heads.” They will go through the deep waters of affliction. There will be times of wondering out loud if God cares about them. But he promises that they will be redeemed and return to a familiar place, a place of safety and refuge and abundance and joy.
After the exile, many of God’s people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild. When they finished, they were not thrilled with what they saw. The temple looked puny and primitive compared to their memory of it under Solomon.
I can’t help but believe that God planned it that way. He does not want us setting our hopes on events, accomplishments (spiritual or otherwise) or people in this life. Our great song of hope is being united with Christ in the ultimate belonging of heaven!
Why should we remind ourselves of the promises of joy awaiting those who look for Christ’s coming? Four reasons:
- To remind ourselves that this life is brief and transitory.
- To remind ourselves to see our troubles through an eternal perspective.
- To motivate us to take risks for kingdom work.
- To draw us toward the disciplined life (i.e., to purify ourselves: 1 John 3:3)
3. Remember God’s power (vv. 12-13)
In verse 12 God deals head on with one of our major weaknesses – the fear of man. God says, “Who are you that you are afraid of man that dies and the son of man who is made like grass?” Then God uncovers the source of this disease: “You have forgotten the Lord your Maker, who stretched out the heavens” (V. 13).
The fear of man can control our lives. We submit to the idols of others because we don’t want to be in the path of their wrath. Whatever or whoever we submit to, controls our lives. Instead, God says the fear of God will set us free from the fear of man. God wants to control our lives.
Trust is the opposite of fear. God reminds us in verse 13 how to increase our fear of the Lord and decrease our fear of man. The discipline of growing in the fear of the Lord means staying in God’s Word. In God’s Word we see the power of the Creator, the majesty of the Ruler, the supremacy of the Almighty. By comparison, man, even impressive man, shrinks to his proper place at the footstool of God (Isa 66:1-2). So, in the in-between times reflect on the God who made all creation with such amazing power.
4. Remember there’s no greater “bondage” than knowing God! (v. 14; Rom 8:31-39)
Verse 14 sounds like another famous verse from Romans. Here’s the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament promise for those facing heavy burdens in life – Rom 8:31-39!!
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The only “bondage” to which we should happily submit is the easy yoke of knowing Jesus (Matt 11:29). It will lighten the load and thrill the heart.
5. Remember the covenant with Christ (v. 15-16)
The final words in verse 16 are words that reflect and remind the readers of their covenant with God: “I am the Lord your God . . . You are my people.” It’s a short hand way of saying everything the covenant says.
God’s covenant defined himself as God. The covenant stipulated who God was and what he had done for his people. The covenant also defined God’s people. It gave them identity. They knew who they were and to whom they belonged. They knew their obligations to the Covenant Lord. They were his subjects and the recipients of his riches.
We have a covenant with God through Christ. We are to take this covenant with serious childlike faith. When a Christian says, “I belong to Christ,” it speaks of belonging and identity. It also speaks of the Mediator of the covenant. It tells us of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that form the basis of God’s promise to preserve us in perseverance. Furthermore, the Gospel is our constitution that defines the quality of relationships we should endeavor to create in the church.
And knowing that Christ’s covenant was sealed by his blood and applied by his Spirit, we know God cannot fail to deliver all its promises.
What’s left but to say, “Isn’t he Wonderful”?!