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I am sitting on a friend’s porch weeping.  Why?  Well, it depends on the question.  I am sitting on a friend’s porch because I am dog sitting for her.  I am weeping because of Isaiah 43:1-7 and the glorious things it does to my soul.

Some of you know my story.  I’m pretty transparent about who I was before Christ.  A scoundrel.  That’s who I was!  I was a renegade runaway, fighting against an Invisible King who I believed hated me because I wasn’t as perfect as His Holiness required of me… and I didn’t yet believe that my perfection came through the Cross rather than my performance.

It’s been 27 and a half glorious years since I believed all that muck.  But when I read Isaiah 43, it’s through that lens.  Not the lens of what I used to believe, but through the lens of who I used to be.

vs. 1: “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!”  This is first truth that makes me tremble with gratitude.  Despite me, He redeemed me.  And beyond that, He created me for Himself, and named me His own.

Sidebar: I know this is specifically referencing Jacob/Israel, but God’s treatment of Israel, as a nation, was also a foreshadow of His treatment of the holy nation, which is which is His’ church.  As Peter puts it, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the very people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).  Much of what Peter says here is basically quoted out of the book of Isaiah (ie: Isaiah 43:20-21 and 61:6). If you read the book of Isaiah in it’s entirety, it is stunning how many of his prophesies lead to the coming Christ and His beloved church.  Sidebar over.  Back to the passage…

vs. 2-3a “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.  For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”.  You know, we often read stories like Israel passing through the Red Sea (or the Jordan) and Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego being unscathed by Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace and we think that’s the greatest miracle.  I wonder if the greater miracle was actually the Presence of God among Israel, and the 4th Man in the fire with those Jewish boys.

I ain’t gonna lie.  I’ve been through some hard things in my life since becoming a Christian.  Many of those hard things are not even things that could be quantified from the outside, but if you had a close observation of my life, you might have seen the inner anguish that accompanied some of my years.  I’ve battled some deep depression.  I don’t mean despondence.  I mean there have been seasons of standing in front of a gun safe quaking at the thought of what I could do.  I’ve fought literal demons out of my house through prayer and praise (whether or not you believe me) while there was an invisible attack on me and my family.  The miraculous part wasn’t just that I survived, it was how near God was to me in the midst of it… even when I couldn’t see it at the time.  I didn’t survive because I had enough grit.  I survived because of the 4th Man in the fire, the One who held back the waters as I passed through the impossible.

vs. 3b-7 “I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.  Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.  Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and gather you from the west.  I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

I have mental scars from being the last one picked.  I don’t mean those thoughts still haunt me, but the memories are still there.  Knowing that the popularity contest for me ended when it came to athletic skill.  I knew, no matter what the sport, it wasn’t worth it to try out for the team, because even in Elementary School during P.E. when we would play Kickball (or whatever) and the teacher would assign team captains, if I wasn’t the last one picked, I was the second-to-last.  I was pathetically inept and everyone knew it.

That’s how I thought God viewed me.  Not only did I assume He would never pick me for His team, as a teenager I thought He was side-eying me with looks of disgust intermittently between picking those He wanted.  I never, ever expected that He had intentionally made me for Himself, to make His glory known.

Inconceivably, He not only chose me for Himself, and gathered me from the far recesses of where I’d run to hide from Him, but He has even redeemed all the suffering and struggle (even the self-inflicted kinds due to my own sin).  When I use the word “redemption” I want to define it.  The redemption price is the price to buy something back.  And let me tell you, when He speaks of giving Egypt, Cush and Seba as an exchange (“as your ransom…in your place”. vs. 3), it was not only nations He traded for His people’s sake, it was His’ own life.  Jesus, at the cross, exchanged His own life for our ransom!  He bought my soul back, and also all of the suffering in my life.  And when God owns something, He doesn’t just neutralize it.  He makes it glorious!

He did this for me.  The worst of sinners.  The one who killed her own children, and drank her own poison, and sold her body for drugs.  (Sorry to be vulgar, but I want you to understand why this passage means the world to me).  And Jesus, my Creator, sold His Body in exchange for mine, so that He could bring me from the ends of the world where I’d run to, and gather me to Himself, because He made me for His glory and because I am precious and beloved to Him.

If your story sounds anything like mine, this ought to make you weep, too.  And I don’t mean the vulgar parts because that doesn’t matter so much.  We’ve all been vulgar in our own ways, even if it’s the vulgarness of pride that has you convinced you’re so much better than others because you look better on the outside.  I mean the part about Him being your ransom.  If that’s you, let it stir up your affections for Him.  Because these words aren’t sterile.  They express the burning heart of God who sweeps creation to gather His beloved, and stays so very near to us, even when we feel forsaken.

Space 5/15/24

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