Today’s message is another “one off” message, although it seems that, without planning to, I have done a short series on “Remembering.”
On harvest Sunday, I spoke from Lamentations 3:19-25, where Jeremiah says, “this I call to mind.” He remembers the Lord’s steadfast love. The following week, we were in the book of Malachi and 3:16 speaks of the Lord’s book of remembrance of those who feared Him and esteemed His name. Last week, we saw how the Lord remembers our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).
Today should have been another sermon on remembrance because we were due to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, but services have been closed due to lockdown 2.0. When the first lockdown happened in March, most of us (myself included) thought that things would return to “normal” by the end of the year, but they have not. It is tempting to wonder what the Lord’s purposes are. Why has He allowed this? Has He turned away from us and forgotten us?
This is the challenge that the people of Jerusalem lay before the Lord in Isaiah 49:14. The answer comes: “I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
Even in the midst of change and uncertainty, the Lord does not change.
The message video is below, followed by the physical notes produced for those without internet.
The second Covid-19 lockdown has closed churches again. We might be tempted to wonder why the Lord allowed this to happen.
The word of God is very precious and very honest. The thoughts that we sometimes dare not voice are found there spoken by doubting, struggling people. In the middle of a glorious chapter, Isaiah 49, we find this accusation voiced (Is 49:14): that the Lord has forgotten us.
The Lord immediately gives His answer, but the whole chapter gives us evidence as to why we can be 100% sure that God has not forgotten us and that nothing will stand in the way of His purposes.
I) The fear (v14)
In Isaiah 49, the Lord says many things, many words of encouragement and promise, but v14 is Israel’s response. They are in a bad way.
They believe that He has “forsaken” them (that, turned away from and abandoned them). They also say: “my Lord has forgotten me.” The people are speaking with one voice and say that He has suppressed His thoughts towards them. Ironically, this is what Israel had done to God when they had broken His law again and again.
They now face exile. We saw the impact of that in the recent message on Lamentations 3:19-25. In the face of devastation, they question God’s commitment to them. It is a temptation that every believer faces when things are hard.
II) The answer (v15-16)
The Lord answers with an illustration. To paraphrase what He says: “You so rarely see the breaking of intimacy and tender care between a mother nursing her baby at her breast. Well, you can be sure that My tender care will never ever go from you and I will never forget you.” The “I” is emphatic; it is something that can never, ever happen.
He continues in verse 16, “Behold” (or “look”), “I have engraved” (or “carved”) you on my palms. This is more than just a quick note, this is something permanent, like you would engrave into a rock.
The rest of the verse refers to “walls”, which are the walls of the city of Jerusalem. These were devastated when the Babylonians came, but they would be rebuilt (as they were under Nehemiah). The walls are symbolic of the protection of God’s people. So, the Lord is saying to them, that I will constantly have my eye on you, My people. Even today, His eye is upon His people to protect them, to deliver them from the enemy, to keep them in His hand so no-one can snatch them out. That is you, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus.
So, He will not forget. You will never be out of His sight and you will never be out of His mind. Let’s not be like Israel and look at the trouble, but let’s look up at the One who sits on the throne, to the One who has purchased His people with His own blood, who has delivered from darkness and brought into His marvellous light.
III) The reasons we can be sure that He will not forget us
1. Messiah is unchanged (v1-7)
We are now going to look at the rest of the chapter to provide context for God’s commitment. There is not time to go into detail, just to highlight.
Verses 1-7 are a poetic picture of the coming of Messiah.
The Messiah was coming and it would appear that all was going to be a failure (v4) as He suffers and dies and is despised (v7), but it is not. He is, in fact, the Saviour.
It looked like the Messiah was abandoned (and He was for those hours as He carries our sins), but He was not ultimately abandoned. It may look as if we are abandoned, but we are not – ever. It may look like that for a long time, but ultimately it will be seen that we are never forsaken.
This Messiah hasn’t changed today:
- He is still the One whose word is powerful (v2).
- He is still the One who gathers His people (v5).
- He is still the One who gathers the nations (v6). He is called and appointed by the Lord, to save the nations, including us. This plan for the nations will not fail. Therefore the Lord is not going to abandon His people. He is not going to abandon you!
2. Messiah’s mission is unchanged (v8-12)
These verses (and the rest of the chapter) are presented as a new exodus. God Himself – God the Son – will lead them out, and will rescue them from the hands of the oppressors, the Babylonians.
- He has come with favour (v8).
- He is the One who has established the new covenant (v8).
- He is still the One who delivers the captives (v9). He delivered us from sin and He will keep us. He would bring them back from exile, and He has brought us out of captivity to sin.
- He is still the One who provides and guides His people (v10-11). His people from all nations (v12). Again, the gospel is advancing. He has not forgotten; He is building His church.
3. Messiah’s purpose is unchanged (v17-26)
These verses immediately follow the complaint and God’s response. He will build a people for God’s glory. And that includes us. However bad this seems now, the Messiah, Jesus, is building His church.
The language is of overflowing blessing, of the gathering of multitudes (v20). We see a taste of this when we see people come to know Christ, but we shall see it in glorious fullness as the great multitude is before the throne in glory (Revelation 7).
Look at v21. Here is Jerusalem as if it were a person speaking, looking back to the exile and destruction, utterly amazed that there are so many people. This is fulfilled in the gospel today. You might look around at the church today in the UK and wonder has the Lord forgotten? But look more carefully. Look at all those that you know He has saved. Look further afield. Look at the multitudes in Africa and Asia and Latin America. These millions of people who have become Christians. And the church is still growing!! He is gathering His people from all the nations, just as He promises here.
So, we can say with confidence: He hasn’t forgotten His church; He hasn’t forgotten Lansdowne; He hasn’t forgotten you.
IV) The response (v13)
In response to all these promises, Isaiah calls on the heavens and the earth to declare the praises of God. The heavens and the earth refer to the whole of creation and possibly the “heavens” in the sense of the angels also. They are told to
- “sing.” This is not a quiet melody, but loud singing with joy.
- “exult.” This means to shout with great joy and victory.
- “break forth… into singing!” A sudden outburst of praise.
This is truly glorious because the implication is the whole of God’s creation – the angels, the earth and landscape, everything should celebrate the care of God for His people. How much more should we?
Why is creation commanded to praise? Look at Romans 8:20-25. We read there about how creation is subject to slavery because of the fall. There is death and decay, but redemption has come to God’s people. They have been saved now, and they will be delivered through death and there will be a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. The whole of creation shall be free from decay and death. So, the prophet commands creation to shout for praise!
If creation rejoices at our salvation, then it shows how valued we are to the Creator. For all our failures and sin, we are the people who are the delight of His heart, the centre of His plans, the ones who will be enthroned in glory for all eternity. Creation will be back where it should be with godly order and peace. And so the whole of creation cries out in joy.
Verse 13 continues: “The Lord has comforted His people.” He has turned to His people in mercy. They sinned and would go into exile, but He now turns to them in restoration. This is the condition of the Christian. We were lost, we were sinners, but while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God has turned to us in comfort and mercy. We are restored to fellowship with Him.
Then it says: “He will have compassion on his afflicted.” We are needy, we suffer the battles of this life, but He will continue to have compassion upon us. If we are facing troubles, the Lord has not forgotten us; rather, He will have compassion on us.
That will lead through to the very end. Like the thief on the cross, we can be sure that He will remember us, and that we will be with Him in paradise.
God has not forgotten you. He has not forgotten His church.
He has not forgotten or changed His purposes.
His purposes are not stopped by lockdown – either His purposes for you or His purposes for His people and the world.
Therefore, by the grace of God, let’s commit ourselves to trusting Him in this time of trouble. To:
- break forth into singing.
- be assured of His comfort and His compassion upon us.
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Dr. Ed Fleming