If you’ve been keeping up with the news, from local news to global news, you may be becoming more and more concerned about our country, in particular, and maybe globally concerned as well. I hope you are aware that a lot of changes are happening across our nation. With more recent news here in the US, many are concerned about potential infringements upon religious liberty, or whether or not radical Islam will continue making its way into the States, among many other things. Just this week, the Obama Administration issued a sweeping directive telling every public school district in the country to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. They threaten to withhold federal aid from schools that do not comply. In response to this, I saw from individuals on my Facebook newsfeed either a whole lot of celebration OR a whole lot of panic. It seemed as if Christians, at least some of them, thought the world was going to end, and I mean that both figuratively and literally. I saw multiple friends suddenly posting prophecy news watch outlets saying that this was it! Just wait, Jesus is coming back soon. Of course, this seems to have happened a lot over the last few years, in particular. “Maranatha” is the call I’ve heard from many, which means “Come, Lord.” An eagerness for the second coming of Christ seems more and more pervasive, which is a healthy thing for Christians no matter the political or cultural climate.
Now, obviously, for many of us who believe that it is for the benefit of all people for a country to follow general biblical principles of what is right and wrong, and doing so is best for the flourishing of all mankind, not just Christians, for those of us who believe this, these last few years may seem more and more gloomy as to the future of the United States. There are certain groups trying to push making it a crime to call homosexuality a sin. That would mean for me to teach or preach Romans 1 openly in this room would be a crime. With all of this going on, and with apparently less and less tolerance for anyone who actually believes and practices what the Bible teaches, the future may seem a bit scary.
I have one question, though: As sons and daughters of the Living God, do we have even the slightest reason to panic? Is our God not sovereign? Is he not a good God? We have no reason to panic, because he tells us in Romans 8:28 that he is working all things out for the good of those who love him.
Sometimes, though, it’s easy to forget who we are as Christians. It’s easy to let our frustration and even what is at times righteous anger cause us to think that the world is our enemy. I’ve said this several times before: The world is not our enemy! The world is our mission field! We’ll talk more about that next week when we look at “Living Like Christ in a Christ-less Culture.” Today, though, we’re looking at “Belonging to God in a Godless Culture.”
In the book of Isaiah, we see God’s plan to redeem his own rebellious and exiled people, the Israelites. We’ll be in Isaiah chapter 43 this morning, and just before this passage, it is clear that God was about to pour out his wrath on the people of Israel because of their own rebellion. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, are in exile, they’re scattered abroad, living under political oppression, and in exile they are also in rebellion themselves. God is about to pour out his wrath on them. In other words, by our estimation, they had a lot to worry about. They had external oppression AND internal rebellion. It seems like this is a very similar place toward which the modern church might be heading. Sure, biblical Christianity is becoming less and less popular and more and more of the minority. But, really, we also don’t seem to be generally reflecting the character of our Lord, Jesus Christ! Not only is there more pressure being put on Christians, but there’s also a pretty visible internal rebellion against God, at least in my opinion.
For the Israelites, in the midst of rebellion, and in the midst of exile and political oppression, God spoke to them through Isaiah. These words were not only for Judah to remember, but words you and I should remember, as sons and daughters of the Living God in the midst of a world, and in particular an American culture, that we don’t exactly fit into. Let’s read Isaiah 43:1-7.
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 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.”
In this text, there are 3 promises that God gives his children even in the midst of internal rebellion and external oppression. But let me clear, these are not promises made to the United States of America. It seems like there may be some confusion going around that the USofA is God’s chosen people, or God’s chosen country somehow. That’s just not true. I love the USA, and I love living here, but the United States is not the new Israel. Ok? So these are 3 promises God gives to all his children, those who have trusted in Christ all over the world, three promises even in the midst of internal rebellion and external oppression. The first is this:
- God protects his own (1-3a)
Look again at verse 1. “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.’ ” He’s talking specifically to his chosen people, Israel, and by extension, all his children, including you and me. He’s saying I created YOU. I formed YOU. So he’s not referring to creation in a general sense, like God created everything, but specifically, that God formed and created his people for Himself. “Fear not, I have redeemed YOU; I have called YOU by name.” He has called specifically YOU by name. In this very verse, who is he explicitly talking to? Jacob, right? But Jacob was renamed, wasn’t he? Yes, God renamed him Israel. That’s why we see both of these names in the beginning of this verse. Now, think for a moment about who names children. Parents do, right?! Parents name their children; that’s their right! That’s just something they get to do. Some parents may be better at naming their children than other parents, but it’s their right to name them whatever they choose. God, in renaming Jacob, and in calling all of us by name, is declaring his ownership of HIS people. I have redeemed YOU, I have called YOU by name, you belong to me, YOU ARE MINE!
“You are mine.” Why is that such a big deal? Because in the midst of outright rebellion, we still belong to God. In the midst of exile, we still belong to God. We, as God’s chosen people, belong to God, even in the midst of being in a place that is NOT our ultimate home. We are HIS! God protects his own. We have absolutely nothing to fear, because the Maker and Sustainer is on our side. God protects his own; he goes on with this idea in verse 2.
“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.” Water and fire here are referring to trials and hard times, oppression, things of that sort. Notice he says, “WHEN you pass through the waters, WHEN you walk through fire”: it’s not “if”, it’s “when”. It’s going to happen. Don’t be too shocked. And definitely don’t be so devastated that you forget that God promises to protect his own! What does he say he will do in the midst of all of this: “I will be with you!” The rivers will not overwhelm you; the fire will not consume you. You might be burned, but you will not be consumed. God protects his own. We are his, no matter what. He has promised it, and it is not contingent upon anything except us being his children!
So here’s my question: In light of this truth this awesome truth that God protects his own, why do we sometimes unnecessarily play the victim?! Sometimes it seems that we act like everyone is out to get us, and that we deserve pity more than anyone else. Or we act like it’s a bad thing that we are outsiders in a pretty secular culture. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but I am saying that shouldn’t surprise us too much!
Our primary identity is as children of God; in verse 6, he calls us sons and daughters. He called us by name. But it seems like at times we live in a constant fear of the world! Should we be intimidated by those who disagree with us, or should we even be intimidated by potential violence upon us? What did Jesus say in John 16:33? “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So should we be afraid of the future? I’m not saying we shouldn’t be concerned or shouldn’t be outspoken about these issues. If you know me, you know that I’m pretty outspoken about these issues, because they matter. But what I am saying is that the God who created and sustains all things protects..his..own… How do we KNOW he will always do this? The first part of verse 3: “For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” He is the Holy One, meaning He does not change. He is our Savior, and will always be our Savior. He protects us, and will always protect us.
You know I sometimes fail at protecting my 16 month old son. I just do, sometimes he falls and I don’t catch him. He’ll look at me from across the room, like standing on the back of the couch, with that little grin. I know I can’t get there in time, even if I dive. Sometimes, not only do I fail at protecting him, sometimes I’m the one who causes him pain! On vacation a few years ago, when he was only four months old, I thought I’d have some fun with him and lift him quickly on top of my shoulders. I wasn’t paying attention, and accidentally did it when I was walking through a doorway. His head immediately, and pretty violently, hit the top of the door frame, and he immediately started wailing. He was fine, but clearly I fail at protecting him sometimes. I will try and avoid it, but it’s just going to happen. Beyond that, I’ve straight-up dropped him a few times, don’t pretend like you haven’t dropped your children, and don’t judge me.
But guess what? God is not like us! Our God CANNOT fail. We serve the Holy One of Israel, who cannot fail at protecting us, because it is against his very nature to do so, being an omnipotent and omniscient God. We have no need to play the victim, or act defeated and deflated and poor-pitiful-me, because we are his, and he is with us, and He will protect us, ultimately.
The second promise that God gives, even in the midst of internal rebellion and external oppression, is that…
- God loves his own (3b-4).
Look at the second half of verse 3 and verse 4: “I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush 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.”
These verses may not be hanging up in your house for encouragement or inspiration. It’s somewhat difficult to understand, but it’s so important to know and understand the depth of the mercy and love of God for his children, specifically.
“I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.” There’s some disagreement about what events, exactly, this is referring to, but the point is that God, throughout the Old Testament, gave up the lives of other peoples to protect and to show his love for His own people. This is how VALUABLE God’s children are to him. The mercy of God on his own people while in the background, the judgment of God on other people. This magnifies the mercy and love of God toward his children. How so? Because in the midst of this picture, of mercy toward us and in the background, judgment upon others, guess where we deserved to be?! W deserved to be in the background, receiving the same judgment! WE deserve the same judgment that the world will receive. Do you see that?!
There’s a great and more explicit example of this in Ezekiel chapter 20, you don’t have to turn there. But listen to this: Ezekiel had been commenting on the disobedience of the children of Israel, basically pervasive it was. In verse 5, God responds to Ezekiel: 5-11, 13-14, 21-22.
Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.
“Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live.
13 But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.
21 But the children rebelled against me. They did not walk in my statutes and were not careful to obey my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; they profaned my Sabbaths. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the wilderness. But I withheld my hand and acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.
Again and again, 2 more times in this chapter alone!! They were in outright rebellion, and yet God loved them. Was it because they had some endearing quality, like they were just really handsome? Or because they tried their best? Is that why God spared them and loved them?! No. It was because God had made a promise, and for the sake of His name, he will never ever, ever break a promise. God’s promise was not voided by their rebellion. God’s promise was not voided by their exile or the political oppression they were under. He promised to deliver them. He will do it. He will save them from Egypt, even though they deserve the same wrath that Egypt does. God loves his own. They are precious to him.
Verse 4: “Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” Egyptians, Ethiopians, a host of others, were given for the people of Israel. In New Testament times, today, God will protect us and love us over others. Does God love all people? Yes! There is no doubt that he loves all people, and that Jesus died for the world that whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Yes! But guess what, God loves his own children differently. In John 17, you can read Jesus’ incredibly impactful prayer to God the Father. The main thing he prays for might surprise you. He does pray for the world and the lost, but only in passing. He prays almost exclusively for his disciples, and for all believers. Does God love the world, yes! But he loves his own children differently.
Why does this matter? Think about it: Do you, ultimately, need approval from any man, even a powerful or influential man? Should you be worried about what people think of you? Should you be worried that things may get uncomfortable in the future with what’s happening politically or socially or culturally? No. Don’t ignore change altogether; don’t pretend like it’s not happening—we must address culture with the truth of God’s Word. But KNOW that God loves his own children. That’s the only approval you will ever need. Don’t mope around because you messed up, or because you were steeped in sin. Repent, and know that God loves you OVER OTHERS, despite your sin. And don’t mope around because it feels like the world is turning against you. At the risk of sounding really cheesy or elementary, I’m going to say this anyway: You are special to God. You are his son or daughter. Every human being was made in his image, but not every human being is his adopted child.
Not only does God protect his own, and not only does God love his own, but the third promise that God gives, even in the midst of rebellion and oppression, is that…
- God will gather his own (5-7).
Look at verses 5-7: “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.”
God will gather his own. No matter how far they are scattered, no matter which direction, no matter whom they are temporarily made subservient to, no matter the authority by which they are scattered, God will gather his own. The language of ownership goes on and on in this text: “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Did you catch the little change from verse 1 to verse 7. Verse 1: I have called YOU by name,” Verse 7: “Everyone who is called by MY name.” Maybe a good way to understand the difference there is with first and last names. I called you by name, meaning the name you were given: Abram- Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Jacob to Israel. For you, God gave you a name, sure: your parents gave you that name, but ultimately, God gave you your name, your personality, your identity. So that’s kind of like verse 1, “I called you by name.” Then, verse 7, “Everyone who is called by MY name” is kind of like the family name, your last name. We, as children of God, inherit God’s name. This is the name you inherit when you are adopted as God’s son or God’s daughter. We bear the personal name and identity that God gave us, but we also bear HIS NAME.
This has become our primary identity as human beings. We’re not first and foremost Americans; we’re not first and foremost Missourians; we’re not first and foremost Republican or Democrat, moms or dads, engineers or teachers. Our primary identity is as a child of God, adopted into HIS family. This is exactly why a little bit of discomfort in this life on this planet is totally appropriate! We’re not truly home yet! Hebrews 13:4- “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are looking forward to a home yet to come. In fact, if we’re really that comfortably physically, or politically, or emotionally, then we’re probably finding too much of our identity in our circumstances. I mean, do we really expect to be comfortable while in exile? By nature of being in this world, but not of this world, we will not feel completely at home! Why? Because while we’re with our God in a sense (His Spirit living inside of us), the full manifestation of his presence has not yet come.
But it will. We are his family, and he will gather his own to himself one day. We should long for the day that God brings us home. Do you long for that? There is great joy to be had here and now, and God is to use his children in the ways that please Him, but ultimately, we are not home. Do you long for that day? Do you read Revelation 4 and 5 and 21 and know and feel and want that day to come? No death, no sin, our tears will be wiped away. He will comfort us. He will be with us, both here and now (which we see very clearly in verses 2 and 5), but the full manifestation of his presence we will experience when he gathers us to himself.
Conclusion: You are mine.
The world will continue to change and shift and progress, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. Here in the States, reigning political ideas will change, the economy will be inconsistent, most likely, your family will experience pain and discomfort at times, due to other people, sometimes due to things we can’t control. As Christians, we will make mistakes. We will rebel. We will sin, we will fail. We’ll be inconsistent at times. But in the midst of all of this, what does God say? “You are mine.” “You are precious to me.” “I will be with you.” “I will protect you, I will love you, and I will gather you to myself.” There are perhaps no greater truths that should impact our personal identities. Let’s pray.