God's Gracious Constancy Contrasts Our Sinful Wavering
Heavenly Father, You have been so faithful to me! Keep me ever feeding on your faithfulness so that I put complete trust in You. You are so constant with Your blessings and promises, and still I waver so much in my love and faithfulness toward You. Forgive my sin and with Your Word deepen my love for you so that I might be constant in love toward You and others. Bless us all in worship today. Amen.
The apostle Paul did not conduct his ministry with the wavering of human flesh—first yes, then no, then yes and no. Rather, Paul’s preaching and indeed his whole ministry was built upon the sure YES of God’s promises to us in Christ Jesus. God gives the Holy Spirit as a pledge and guarantee that His promises are sure. The working of the Holy Spirit brings faith to believe God’s promises and confidence to our hearts when we do.
Jesus’ miracles were never an end to themselves. They served the greater work of preaching the Gospel for the forgiveness of sins. Greater than any miracle that Jesus performed was the message of Salvation He preached. When friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus, He first forgave the man’s sin. Then, to demonstrate that He is the Son of God with power to forgive, Jesus healed the man.
Text: Isaiah 43:16-25
Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power (They shall lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinguished, they are quenched like a wick): Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold! I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself; They shall declare My praise. But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; And you have been weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices. I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings, nor wearied you with incense. You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices; but you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied Me with your iniquities. I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.
In Christ Jesus whose grace is constant despite our wavering and whose constancy is salvation from our sin, dear fellow-redeemed:
Come with me to a grain field on a breezy summer’s day. The stalks of wheat are waving majestically in the whim of the wind. Surrounding the field are tall, stately, and strong oak trees. The leaves rustle in the breeze, but the trunks don’t move a bit. They bend not in the breeze.
The breeze heightens to a fierce wind as the storm approaches, hits, and then recedes. In the wake of the storm, the waving wheat has been smashed to the earth, the thin stems could not withstand the wind’s onslaught; but the trees are still standing tall, stately, and strong. The storm could not move nor hurt the trees.
The contrast between the waving wheat that was smashed to the ground and the strong trees that remained standing illustrates the contrast between our sinful wavering and God’s constancy.
God’s constancy toward us is a constancy of pure grace. There is nothing in us and our frequent wavering through sin that would deserve any of God’s faithfulness and constancy. Nevertheless, God remains gracious and merciful because of who HE is, in spite of who we are. This morning we consider that GOD’S GRACIOUS CONSTANCY CONTRASTS OUR SINFUL WAVERING We will see I. God’s New Miraculous Deed, II. Man’s Old Sinful reaction, and III. God’s Ever Constant Mercy
As we read through Isaiah and the writings of the other prophets, we find God both condemning the peoples’ rejection of Him and also offering comfort. The message of the prophets was often one of impending doom because the nation as a whole had forsaken the true God and He would judge them. In Isaiah’s time, the impending judgment from God was that Israel would be carried into captivity by the Babylonians. Yet, at the same time as announcing judgment upon an unbelieving nation, God also offered reassurance and comfort to those who remained faithful to Him or who would repent and return to Him.
So we find in Isaiah such strong judgement statements as: “Alas sinful nation…a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers” (Isaiah 1:4), but also the tender and comforting promise: “He will feed His flock like a shepherd and gently lead those who are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). At one point God says, “Your country is desolate. Your cities are burned with fire, unless the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant we would have become like Sodom and Gomorrah…” (Isaiah 1:7ff), but later promises a coming Savior who would be born a child and named, “Wonderful, Counselor, and Prince of Peace” (cf. Isaiah 9:8f). So exposes the sinful weakness of the people even as He promises forgiveness and rescue out of His merciful and gracious constancy.
God’s merciful and gracious constancy is at the heart of the "new thing" God promised His people. But first, God began by reminding them of what He had done for them in the past. He said, “Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea and a path through the mighty waters, who brings forth the chariot and horse, the army and the power (They shall lie down together, they shall not rise; they are extinguished, they are quenched like a wick)” [vv.16-17]
God drew the people’s attention back to the dramatic rescue He had made for them when He brought them out of Egypt. For them God had divided the waters of the Red Sea. With His power and protecting hand, God had brought the waters crashing in upon the Egyptian army and they were no more. The horseman and chariot lay dead under the waves, their power extinguished, their slavery-hold upon Israel quenched.
God wanted His people to remember these mighty deeds so that they would always know that He was their gracious God who delivered them by His mighty hand. God told the Israelites to observe the Passover each year for this very reason—to have them remember His deeds. But now He tells the people, “Do NOT remember the former things nor consider the things of old” [v.18] God had not changed His mind, but rather, the new and miraculous deed He would accomplish would be so much greater, so far surpassing that they should forget the former things and instead focus upon the "new thing."
What could possibly be so great so as to eclipse God’s deliverance from Egypt and preservation in the wilderness? “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold! I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen.” [vv.18-20]
God described a miraculous deed that would bring rivers of water to a desert and refreshing streams in the midst of wilderness wastelands! God was describing the work of salvation and the deliverance He would accomplish through the coming Messiah. As miraculous as God’s deliverance from Egypt was, it would pale in comparison to what God would accomplish through the Savior. Through Jesus, God has and continues to bring the waters of forgiveness into the desert wastelands of our sinful hearts. He reconciles us to Himself, sinners though we are. He changes us from His enemies into His beloved children! Sinners becoming the beloved children of God is as amazing as waters in a desert, and as impressive as Israel’s deliverance was from Egypt was, it doesn’t match our deliverance from hell itself!
God spoke similarly earlier in this same chapter while providing comfort to the faithful remnant in Israel. “Thus says the Lord, who created you O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel; Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 43:1). God has created us that is a marvel and it is a comfort to know that His creative power and wisdom are working for our blessing, BUT the reason God gives to "fear not" is not His power or creative work. Rather, "fear not" because you are REDEEMED! – Behold! I will do a new thing!”
The dramatic changes and turnarounds that God accomplishes in His "new miraculous deed" are described throughout Isaiah including the Son of God’s own words: “…the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor…to heal the brokenhearted…to proclaim liberty to the captives…to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning” (Isaiah 61:1ff). What amazing things God has done for us to provide us rescue from our sins! It is a new and miraculous deed!
God has done marvelous things for us by rescuing us from our sin. He has made us His people. As a result of all that God has done, a natural reaction would be to thank, praise and glorify Him. God says, “This people I have formed for Myself; they shall declare my praise.” [v.22]
But then God continues with what the people of Israel (who claimed to be God’s people) were doing. “But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob;"—Despite the wonderful deliverance God had provided both past, present, and future, yet the people did NOT worship, praise, and thank Him. “And you have been weary of Me, O Israel."– The people grew tired of God and His truth, far more enticing were the allurements of false gods and of their own flesh. “You have not brought Me the sheep for your burnt offerings, nor have you honored Me with your sacrifices.”—The simplest acts of thanksgiving were not being given to God. The people didn’t bring offerings, they didn’t use their resources nor their time to serve the Lord. They served themselves and even when they performed the external festivals, it was done out of an empty heart.
God reminded the people that He did not place undue expectations upon them or burden them, “I have not caused you to serve with grain offerings, nor wearied you with incense” And still they didn’t perform the simplest acts of gratitude and in fact, burdened HIM! “You have bought Me no sweet cane with money, nor have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities.” [vv.22-24].
The true people of God, formed by Him, would sing His praises and glorify Him for His redemption; but alas, the people of Israel (as a whole) did not. As a result, the light of God’s law exposed their sin, their unthankful spirit, their failures to serve the Lord who had redeemed them.
The spotlight of God’s law exposes our failures in properly responding to God’s miraculous deed as well. We do not always worship and praise God in appropriate heart-felt fashion and measure as would be fitting for the gift He has given us—and not only in public worship, but in our private worship as well. We have at times grown weary of God: "I’m tired of my life (remember God gives us our lives). I’m tired of the way God is directing me. I’m tired of his Word, its always the same old thing. I’m tired of hearing what God says is right, I want to decide something for myself. We have not served God continually with our whole heart, soul, and mind by using our resources, time, and efforts for His glory and His work.
God has not burdened us either. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you REST, take my yoke upon you and learn from Me…My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-39). The burden is light! It’s the burden of a GIFT to give REST! But we burden God with our complaints and every other manner of sin.
The hymn we sang before the sermon speaks of all that our Savior has done for us and asks the question, "How have you responded." We ought not understand this hymn as suggesting Jesus says, "I’ve done everything for you, what have you done for me lately?" as if He redeemed us with the expectation of receiving something in repayment for it. No! For then Jesus’ work for us would no longer be of grace. Grace is undeserved love which expects nothing in return. God has done a miraculous new deed for us by sending Jesus as our Savior, not expecting us to attempt to repay Him for we never could. Yet, having received such a gift from grace and mercy, neither can we rightly despise the gift nor react it with anything but our utmost praise and joyful obedience. But the old sinful reaction arises. It did in Israel, it does in us.
With sins and all of our sinful wavering exposed…with what we thought were our strengths left beaten by the winds of life’s trials and temptations and our failures, what’s left? God’s ever constant, enduring mercy. “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.” [v.25]
For all of our ups & downs, for all of the times we have turned away from our Lord, the grace and mercy that led Him to provide salvation in the first place remains. Our lives follow a roller-coaster path, but the mercy of God maintains a steady, unchanging course. We run off to try new things and in the process discover new sins and new ways to be hurt, but when the Word of the Lord calls us back and we come confessing those sins, putting our trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of those sins, the mercy of God is still standing—a refuge, a constant source of life!
In our high school dating seminar this week, we discussed the need for exercising forgiveness with one another. God’s forgiveness of us is so far superior to the forgiveness we practice with one another. We forgive, but its hard to forget. We may want to forget, we may recognize the bitterness and lack of "letting go" as sin, but we struggle. But God says, “I will NOT REMEMBER your sins.”
The contrasts are great. We are sinful…God is holy. We are weak…God is strong. We waver…God is constant. In the contrast we see our deep need for a Savior. In our lives we see the need for a "new thing" to be done daily for we sin daily and need restoration and strengthening daily. But for all of our needs and all of our lacks, God supplies them with abiding grace and ever constant mercy.
What great things God has done and continues to do for us! Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt