Midweek Lent 1: Isaiah 41:8-20
Thanks to Mr. Jarvis Manning, elder and teacher at Bethlehem, for delivering this sermon in my absence.
Dear saints at Bethlehem, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a lot that can shake our confidence and bring our faith into question. Things in life come up and we ask where is God in the midst of it all. There are times when we question and feel abandoned. Times when we wonder if God is even here or cares when we are struggling with real temptation, marriage problems, issues at school, and our families are on the fringes. After all He has promised to be here for you always, to provide for your very good of body and soul in all things.
For the people of Israel there were struggles as their nation was taken captive by the Assyrians. Not only had there been centuries since the promised Messiah but the promised land seemingly was lost as well. Unbelieving rulers, political unrest, and a society that did not respect the faith and life even to the point of destroying the temple, their place of worship.
In the midst of persecution and doubt the Lord proclaims to His people through Isaiah (41:10), “fear not, I am with you, I am your God.” Fear not. Because fear can be crippling. We can fail to live as we would normally because of fear. We can make irrational decisions and fall apart in the midst of fear. Fear can and does overcome us. Fear not.
Fear not, for a simple statement, the Lord is your God. It is a common and repeated phrase, “I am your God, I am with you.” It is how the Lord addresses His people who undoubtedly have some fear as they leave Egypt. At Sinai the first proclamation and reminder is that He is our God and we His people. It is the basis for the relationship that is God and people.
The biggest problem we face in our fear is the thought that we must muster up the strength to overcome them. Yet, the Lord promises as our God that He will not only be with us but strengthen us. He will uphold you with His righteous right hand. God and faith are not abstract concepts but He is the real presence in our life and not a presence that stands at a distance and just lets things happen but one who engages and provides intimately with His people.
Through the prophet Isaiah the Lord uses some interesting words and images to describe His people and our enemies. Do not be afraid, worm of Jacob and men of Israel. Worms are not something that we often think of as the best and strongest. They are great for fishing and provide an introduction biology class to the art of dissection. They also burn quickly on the sidewalk after a short rain. They get eaten by the birds and fish and any other number of predators. They scurry in the ground because they cannot live by any other manner.
In many ways the worm is the perfect image of our life. Pretty helpless. Able to survive for a short time on our own but quickly and easily devoured or destroyed. Able to live amongst the dirt and dig through the dirt unable to thrive and attain much more.
Yet it is this worm, Israel, God’s people, that is said to be a sharp threshing instrument with teeth to thresh the mountains. Have a worm dig a small hold, no problem. Thresh an entire mountain? Not the first thought or the mighty task that we think of with the worm. This is what the Lord does. He makes the worm with strength and teeth capable of bringing down the entire mountain.
For people of God who seemingly feel left alone and abandoned, feeling overwhelmed, fear not, the Lord is with you.
This is what the Lord accomplishes in you. He makes you strong, a worm that can thresh the mountain. This is what the entire Lenten season prepares us and leads us to, Christ’s cross and passion which provides that strength. The Lord brings you from the midst of dirt, out of the filth, and brings you through the dangers of the world that plague you. He carries you through so that you are not eaten and not destroyed. He doesn’t leave you out to dry and scorching.
He waters you in Word and Sacrament. He will not forsake you. When there seems to be no quenching answer, the Lord is here. Always coming back to that foundational relationship that is Him as our God and we His people.
As the people of Israel were exiled, abandoned from their land, the Lord promises to bring them back and continue to provide in the present for them as well. His covenant still stands. He still will give them every good gift from above and provide the way of life and salvation and defeat sin, death, and the devil. By Christ’s cross and passion, through death and resurrection, you can stand against the enemy and overcome the power of death and Hell itself. For He does so in you and for you.
In the midst of our weakness He brings you through. When we need help, we are left vulnerable, He is there. Fear not. Fear not about those every day things that plague you. Financial concerns, what the next career step is, that issue with your children, issues with friends and family, fear not. Fear not over things of the world, from big to small.
Simply put, the Lord has promised and reminds you that He is your God. He binds Himself in that relationship to provide for your good in body and soul. He declares you His people not so that you must act in a certain way in obedience but declares He is your God as an invitation to believe and trust in Him.
Fear not, the Lord is with you. He comes and forgives by providing for you in death and bringing you to life in resurrection. This is what we are being lead toward this Lenten season. To receive these fruits of the cross once again. This is what the people of Israel prepared and awaited, the fulfillment of the fruits of the cross. Knowing that you have this active God helping you is a huge asset for you throughout your life. When you prayerfully make a decision while using God’s Word to guide that decision, you can be certain that your God is there helping you make the decision, and He will bless it.
This Lord, this Helper, promises to hear when you pray. Even in the world of fiction, superheroes take some time to get there. But God is right there wherever you are, always, ready to help, ready to answer every prayer, and to address every need you have. So you are able to go forward this day with commitment and complete confidence because God is that eternal God who is present with you, but He is also there to help. He is actively strengthening you, helping you, upholding you with His power and grace and according to His will.
When we face life’s challenges … Fear not. God’s presence is with us. When you are being attacked … Fear not. God will intervene on your behalf. When you feel and know you don’t have the ability… you are weak small etc… Fear not. God will make you into a powerful instrument. When you are in need… you are in barren height, in the desert… Fear not. God will be your supply; He will cause you to flourish. He will provide as He has done from the beginning, through the Word, the Word made flesh, who fulfills all things for you and brings you life, righteousness, and peace with God. Fear not, He is your God. You are His, forgiven and redeemed to rejoice in Him in glory. Amen.