Preached at Light of Christ Anglican Fellowship in Kenosha, WI on May 25th, 2008...
Before our son Jude was born each day I would lean over and say to him in Tammy’s tummy, “This is your Daddy, and I love you.” And after he was born I changed it to a question, “Who loves Jude?...Daddy loves Jude.” When he was an infant I would say the question and then answer it for him. And then when he started to talk I would ask him, “Who loves Jude?” and he would reply, “Daddy loves Jude!” And the reason I would do this every day is because I wanted to ingrain in him, at the core of who he is the truth that I love him. So that no matter what the circumstances, he would never question that Daddy loves Jude. I still ask him that question every day. And as we’ve entered toddler-hood there’ve been those times when he’s needed to be disciplined and afterwards I’ll ask, “Who loves Jude?” “Daddy loves Jude.” Of course, in that moment he might not feel as though Daddy loves Jude, but I want him to know that even when it doesn’t feel like it, Daddy always loves him.
And this is where we find Zion in today’s reading. They don’t feel like God loves them. They’ve been disciplined and it just doesn’t feel like God loves them anymore. So what happened?
Isaiah is writing about 750 years before Jesus and he’s prophesying to Israel about what will take place 150 years in the future. And it’s a prophecy of judgment. You see; they’d been rebellious, and sinful and turned against God. And Isaiah is prophesying to them that they’ll be disciplined for their sin and disobedience. He’s prophesying about what will arguably be the worst event in the history of Israel: the Great Exile into Babylon and the destruction of the Temple.
One of the greatest sources of security Israel had was their land. It was the sign of God’s promise to them. It was the symbol of their Covenant with God. And as long as they were in the land, they could rest securely in that promise. But Isaiah's prophesy is that their greatest source of security, their land, would be stripped away. They’ll be exiled to Babylon. And not only that, but the symbol of their identity will also be destroyed: the Temple. The Temple for them was the source of their ethnic identity, their political identity, and their faith identity…it was where the Presence of God dwelt among them in the Holy of Holies and where their sins could be atoned for. Isaiah is prophesying to them that all of their security and the source of their identity will be destroyed. Why? They’re being disciplined.
Isaiah lays out how it is they’ll be disciplined and then we see a shift in his message. He begins to tell them of a Servant. And this is where we find today’s passage. It follows one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, a more notable of these is Isaiah 53 which describes the Suffering Servant. Each of these describe the Servant who will restore Zion. In verse 6 immediately before today’s reading we see the mission of the Servant summarized: "to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." And so we shift from a prophesy of judgment to one of restoration. God has just told Zion about the Servant He will raise up to restore them, and He then goes on to describe for them how He’ll do it. And how does He tell them about their restoration? He woos them.
In English we lose the poetry of this passage. When God is speaking in this passage he’s using poetic language. And the sense I get when I read this and studied it in Hebrew was that it was like a poem or even a lullaby. God is telling them what their restoration will look like by wooing them, by singing them a lullaby. There’s an almost sing-song sort of rhythm as God is speaking to Zion. It’s beautiful language; peaceful, comforting. The Lord is extending His hand to reach out to them in love. But how does Zion respond? As Isaiah exhorts them to? By "singing for joy” or “exulting”? No. After all these words of comfort and compassion; after the Lord reaches out His hand to them they say, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” The LORD Himself is telling them of His comfort and compassion and yet they feel forsaken and forgotten. Why?
It’s because they think that God is who their circumstances say He is. Not who He’s telling them He is. They have let their circumstances dictate to them who the LORD is for so long that they can’t even consider another picture of God, even if He Himself tells them! It is as if they been driving down the same old road for so long that the tire ruts are so deep they can’t turn and get out of them anymore. God tells of His comfort and compassion and all they can feel is forsaken and forgotten. And why do think they’re forsaken and forgotten? Because they think they’ve out-sinned the love of God. They rebelled against God and were disciplined harshly and therefore they feel abandoned by God, or maybe they feel as though they don’t deserve his love because they’ve “sinned too much”. God is reaching out His hand to them telling them how He will intervene smack into the midst of their circumstances, into the midst of their exile, and restore them; but they don’t believe He will or that He wants to because they’re feel like they’re not worthy.
And how does the Lord respond to Zion? He tells them that His love for them surpasses even the most powerful kind of human love: that of a mother for her baby. He uses the imagery of motherhood to paint a picture for them of the depth of his tenderness and compassion for them and how he will never forsake them or forget. And He uses imagery which may seem a little starnge to us today. He says He’ll inscribe their name upon His hand. But what does that mean? What exactly is He saying when He says this? Once again He is using imagery of tenderness and intimacy. For the ancient Hebrews the palm of the hand was a symbol of intimacy, of closeness, of being cherished. Like placing your palm on your loved one's cheek. And God says it is exactly in this place, the cherished place, that He will inscribe Zion’s name.
When we hear this in English I think it might conjure up imagery of writing a name on your hand with a laundry marker, pretty permanent, but eventually it’ll fade. This is not the imagery the LORD is using. The word Isaiah uses for “inscribe” is the same word used elsewhere in the Old Testament for engraving or carving. Utterly permanent. The Lord is telling Zion, “Just like something is etched in marble, that is how your name is kept in my cherished place. You’re name is carved in the palm of my hand.” And I can’t help but think of palms of the hand of Jesus. Which were also stretched out for the restoration of God’s people. And that in a sense, our names were carved into the palms of His hands by the nails He was crucified with.
It is the hand of God, which is reaching out to us that we need to cling to when we’re letting our circumstances tell us who God is and we can’t hear who He is telling us He is. Because just like Zion we get stuck in those ruts. We don’t believe that God will intervene in our lives. Or we don’t believe that we deserve it. We might hear stories of missionaries or “super-Christians” who have miraculous healings or provision or protection and we believe God does it for “those extra-holy Christians” but we don’t believe He will for us. We read the book of Acts and relegate those miracles to the lives of the Apostles. We tell ourselves we’ve out-sinned the love of God. Or even if we know in our heads that the Lord forgives us and desires to restore us, we don’t live our lives like we believe it. So what do we do?
We have to stop and look at what we believe about God. Do we believe that he desires to restore us? To forgive us. To transform our lives. No matter where we’re at. No matter how far we feel from Him. And do we believe that He will intervene in our lives? That by His grace He’ll transform us. That He will fashion us more and more into the image of His Son; and that we’ll be less and less that broken image of ourselves. Once we’ve identified those wrong attitudes, those areas where our faith is broken, we need to say, “These are the ways I’ve wrongly believed who God is” and let them go at the foot of the Cross. Once we’ve done that we need to fill ourselves with who God says He is. Just like Zion, He’s telling us who He is and how He’ll restore us. He’s reaching out His hand to us.
That’s why we need to allow ourselves to hear God’s voice every day. We need to be in God’s Word; reading, studying, memorizing it and reflecting on it. We need to make time for prayer and worship, to be face to face with God. We need to be connected to other believers: to meet for discipleship or mentoring or spiritual direction, and to have accountability and as James says, “confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” All of these are ways in which God communicates to us who He is. They are ways He reaches out His hand to us. Through our faithfulness in our spiritual disciplines we build our foundation of faith. We live our belief that God is who He says He is. And when our circumstances want to get the best of us and tell us something false about God, or our feelings deceive us, our faith will help us to see His Hand reaching out. The hand that has our name etched into its cherished place. The hand of Our Lord Jesus, which was pierced that we might be restored. If we commit ourselves to knowing God through a disciplined spiritual life then in those moments when our feelings deceive us we’ll be able to hear His voice calling out, “Who loves you?” “Daddy loves you.”