1But 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 … 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” The good news of this passage from Isaiah is striking in that it is book-ended by some pretty all-encompassing promises from a Holy God to His beloved people. Note how the words “created,” “formed,” “‘name,”’ and “called” of verse 1 are all repeated in verse 7. And this is all the more remarkable given the situation into which Isaiah is writing these words. You can guess this already from the big “But now” that begins this section.
You see, Israel was on the wrong road and headed for a bad place. And no matter how many prophets God sent, no matter how much pleading and warning they did the people simply couldn’t see it. They were getting what they wanted, so what was the problem? The problem was that what they wanted, was not what God wanted and where they were headed would not lead to God but further away from Him. And so God had sent Isaiah with the most devastating wake-up call you can imagine. You are going to die! Your nation will be destroyed. Your homes taken away. Your lives will belong to others to do with as they see fit. You will be carried off into captivity and dragged away from my presence. Or at least the presence you take for granted in the temple and its services and sacrifices.
And all that I just said of them could just as easily be said of us today. Sin leads us down the wrong path to what we want, what we desire, what we know is right for us … and if God loves us then He better fall in line and help us get there faster! If God’s word says something different, then it had better change to suit our sensibilities. I mean, its 2016, right! So why is it that despite all the same warnings, all the same pleadings we are still shocked when the world we create for ourselves falls apart and the lives we build for ourselves crumble around us? Could it be that we have taken His presence for granted too?
And just as the shock of those words is sinking in God shocks them (and us) again … but this time with words of grace and hope and love. Just because these bad things are going to happen doesn’t mean that they (or we) are not His anymore. Quite the opposite. He created them, formed them, named them and called them. God didn’t have to make any one of us. But He did. Our life is sheer gift.
But that Good News snowballs at the end of the first verse. For Isaiah tells us that God did more than just create us – He “redeemed” us too. He would bring Israel back from captivity and He has done the same for us too. He bought us back from the new owners into whose clutches we fell: satan, sin, and death. God’s Son, Jesus, paid a whopping price to buy us back: His own death and damnation on a future cross. As a result, we now belong to God on two counts: First He made us and then He bought us. That’s double Gospel! When God says, “You are mine’” (v, 1). He might have said, ‘You are mine twice’ or ‘You are really mine!’
After this Gospel washes over us in an abundant flood of grace upon grace. In verse 3 He says, “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Not only do we belong to God; in a sense He belongs to us. Wherever we go, the God who possesses us and whom we possess will be with us (vv. 2,5). 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 … 5Fear not, for I am with you.
And then He goes on to promise 5I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. 6I 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. Universal as God intends His ownership to be, for people from every direction, that ownership is tenderly individualized also: “l have called you by name” (v. 1). God’s love is for all – and God’s love is For you.
But how do you know that? How can you be sure? Verse 2 describes God’s being with us in beautifully poetic language. “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.”But is it mere poetry? The promise calls to mind literal examples of God doing just that. Like when He saved Israel through the crossing of the Red Sea or when He gave them their promised land after crossing the Jordan River in similarly miraculous fashion. And for you and me it should bring to mind the equally miraculous passing through water that saved us from slavery to sin and death, and gave us an inheritance in the heavenly promised land … our own Baptism. In Baptism God makes it absolutely, unarguably clear that God’s love is not just for the world in general but for you – yes you – specifically!
And here’s how that can be. 4Because 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. Verse 4 seems to refer to the enemies of the Israelites whom God destroyed in order to preserve the Israelites. Those He ransomed to bring them back from captivity. God sacrificed those lives in exchange for the lives of His beloved children. Yet didn’t God fulfill this very verse in an even more poignant way when among the men that God would give for His children, both Israel and us, would be the Man Christ Jesus?
And that is why Jesus is on the banks of the Jordan river in our Gospel reading today. To stand in our place by being baptized Himself. To make the great exchange we receive in our Baptism – His life for our death. Our sin for His perfection. Because Jesus was baptized into our humanity Jesus could then die on the cross into our death. Jesus suffers our hell on that cross so death now brings us heaven. Because God loved us He gave that man, the God-man, for us. To be our ransom. To be our redeemer and saviour.
Often we are like those ancient Israelites. We want it our way instead of God’s way. We want to walk our walk instead of His. The Lord is certainly patient. God promises to walk with you as you as you walk through the hazards of this life. He promises you, His called and chosen child, that you will never walk alone. He promises to be with you as you endure fierce storms and fiery trials. This is a sure and certain promise for you.
You can be certain of this promise because the Lord has redeemed you. He has purchased and won you with His Son’s holy, precious blood poured out for you on His cross. He has bought you with “His innocent suffering and death” that you may “be His own and live under Him in His kingdom an d serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.” (SC Second Art. P xxxvii) You are of the greatest value to God because your redemption cost Him dearly. As a consequence, when you endure the fiery trials of this life, He promises you will never be lost.
You can be certain of this promise because the Lord has called you by name. He has washed you clean in the pristine waters of Holy Baptism and has given you His name. You have been baptized into Him; therefore, you are His!1
1The Lutheran Study Bible Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis. 2009. “Walking with the Lord” p.1159