Yom Shishi, 27 Tammuz 5777 — יוֹם שִׁשִּׁי כז תַּמּוּז ה' תשעז Friday, 21 July 2017
Who Are We And Why Are We Here?
Isaiah 43:1–12

1 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art Mine.

2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

3 For I am the LORD thy God, The Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour; I have given Egypt as thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.

4 Since thou art precious in My sight, and honourable, and I have loved thee; therefore will I give men for thee, and peoples for thy life.

5 Fear not, for I am with thee; I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;

6 I will say to the north: 'Give up,' and to the south: 'Keep not back, bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the end of the earth;

7 Every one that is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, I have formed him, yea, I have made him.'

8 The blind people that have eyes shall be brought forth, and the deaf that have ears.

9 All the nations are gathered together, and the peoples are assembled; who among them can declare this, and announce to us former things? Let them bring their witnesses, that they may be justified; and let them hear, and say: 'It is truth.'

10 Ye are My witnesses, saith the LORD, and My servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall any be after Me.

11 I, even I, am the LORD; and beside Me there is no saviour.

12 I have declared, and I have saved, and I have announced, and there was no strange god among you; therefore ye are My witnesses, saith the LORD, and I am God.

Who are we and why are we here? Fundamental question for all of humanity. If we think about it, all of us are on the quest to answer this question for ourselves. Who am I? Why am I here? If we don't think we're on this quest, then ask yourself how you feel if you're ignored in a conversation. Most of us respond in some way, "So who am I chopped liver?" Of course, an answer to that could be, "Well if you are, you won't mind me borrowing your car for two weeks then!" The same is true for us as a congregation in Sar Shalom. It's great we have a mission statement. But let's ask the question again: Who are we and why are we here?

This passage is one of my favourites in all of the Bible. It's been a passage of great hope and comfort to me as well as a passage of great challenge. I think it's one of the best passages to go to, to answer those basic questions: who are we and why are we here?

1. Who are we? We are created by God, formed by Him. He has summoned us BY NAME and we belong to Him. That's who we are.

Babylon 5 - Odo - shapeshifter - changeling. When we see him we have no sense of permanence. No sense of being. He can become anything, but who is he really? We don't ever know. Nowadays, we're greatly blessed if we grow up with a solid sense of being, because there are so many wounded people being raised by so many wounded parents.

I remember wondering who I was in my teens. (Musicians are supposed to be self-absorbed! Small amount of testimony). I never had a clue who I really was until I met Y'shua, and even then it's been a process.

The first thing God wants to reassure us of in this passage is who we are:

We are:

Created by God. (Ps. 139). Think of something you have created - piece of furniture, decorating the home, artwork, present. You invested in that, you have love and care in that. Only a shadow of what God has invested in you.

Formed us. Made us to look just like we do. To have the parents we have, with the ethnicity we have, Italian, Jewish, Irish, mixture etc. Have you ever thought God has made you to be exactly who you are? How often we try to change what can't be changed. Instead of seeing it as God's wonderful design in our lives, we try to be what we're not. (Bit of testimony). We should be humbly proud of the background God has given us, and ask Him how He wants to use that uniqueness to bless the world.

Redeemed - bought back with a price like firstborn, like Y'shua and Passover Lamb.

Summoned by name. Incredible individuality. God sees us so personally. Every little quirk, every little gift, every little problem. Summoned and given a purpose by name - tailored just to us.

We are His. Think of the implications - we are His property. How much do you care for your property? What lengths would you go to to protect your family, house, car, pets etc.? We belong to God. He has every legal right to us, so no accuser can make any argument to take us away. God is omnipotent. When He says we are His, He is saying nothing can really harm us.

He goes on to say, in verse 4, He LOVES us. We are precious and honoured in His sight. Just think about this for a moment.

He promises to give people in exchange for our lives. What does that mean? Well in one way it's a messianic prophecy. It shows the lengths to which God would go to protect, redeem and save us.

Because of all of this, God's command is to "Fear NOT"! He must know something about us. Think of the last crisis you had where you really felt fearful or concerned. If you remember the moment you felt most scared, you'll find that was the moment you were least aware of God's presence. It's the same when we get angry and frustrated. We forget we belong to God and we are left ineffectually trying to sort things out with our own resources, which just don't match up to the occasion.

God wants us to meditate and internalise the truths of verse 1. But for Him it's not enough. He's going to deliberately put us in situations where we will be tempted to fear, to wean us off relying on our own not very strong resources.

2. Called - to what? The challenge of being called and summoned by God.

a) Pass through waters (eg Red Sea)

b) Pass through rivers (eg Jordan - again think not just flood, but what was waiting them - a promise but also formidable opposition)

c) Pass through fire and flames (Think of Shadrach, Meshach et al - fire killed those who through them in - example of Polycarp and boiling oil)

Who wouldn't have been freaked out? But God says, "Fear Not."

Now for the encouragement. I hope we're feeling really good about the first verse. Because did you notice the little pronoun in verse 2. It's not "if" it's "when"!

Why does God do that to us? In order to really use us, He has to change us irrevocably. In order to change us irrevocably, He has to wean us off any chance of surviving or succeeding in our own strength. Pure metal isn't refined by ice and a cool breeze, but by the unbearable heat of a furnace.

What's Baptism a symbol of? It seems a really "Christian" word, but it actually started out as a totally Jewish thing called Tevilah. (Coming from the root to immerse or dip). Baptism was different from Mikveh. Mikveh could be a place to have a Baptism, and interestingly enough has the same root as the word for hope. Baptism was the act of being totally immersed or submerged in the water - dying to our old life and rising to our new life in Y'shua. 1 Cor. 10:1-2 "I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea."

You see they had all really died in one way. Death was certainly awaiting them at the hands of Pharoah's army. They had no choice for life except to choose to trust the impossible way God was creating for them in front of their eyes. The same was true for Abraham when he was asked to offer up Isaac. He had to give his life up to God. It is a decision of our will, and that is what coming to the Lord and baptism is really about. Y'shua says in Matthew 10:39, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

That is how we pass through the fire, water and rivers unscathed - when our life is no longer our own, and we have given up trying to control the way it turns out. Not one of God's servants in the Bible escaped these challenges. Look at the lives of all the prophets and disciples. Y'shua had the greatest challenge of all, and yet in going forward through it in perfect trust of His Father, He brought about the greatest victory of them all. That's why God kept appearing to His servants to encourage them. Eg. To Joshua - "Be strong and courageous...", and in the New Testament He reminds us, "Surely I am with you to the end of the age."

3. Called - for what?

The last section of this reading shows that there is a purpose to all of this. God is willing to work in even the pagan nations, to force them to give up their Jewish captives - to bring Israel home. But four things are striking to me here:

a) He speaks in verse 8 as if to some subsection of Israel who can see while the rest are blind but think they can see. What does that mean?

b) He brings the rest of the nations together to hear something

c) Israel is called to be witnesses to the nature and workings of God so His Name may be glorified,

d) and that Israel may KNOW God.

What about the subsection thing? Well, it seems clear that although God loves His people, not all of them have a clue really who He is, although they think they do. Not all of them at the outset know what God is doing, but they think they do. But look at God's incredible love and commitment to His people. Even though the majority seem to arrogantly consider themselves knowledgeable, while being blind and deaf, God is going to organise world events to show them how very real and very present He is. That's the kind of God we serve - a God who will cause world events to change so that His people might truly come to know Him as Lord.

Not only does God want His people Israel to hear this, but see, He wants the nations to gather as well, so they too can recognise there is but one God.

There's something very familiar here, and it ties together in the third phrase we're looking at. This must be a very important phrase because it's repeated and thus greatly emphasised. ' "You are my witnesses", declares the Lord.' ' "You are my witnesses", declares the Lord, "That I am God."' We are supposed to be His witnesses. To whom? It can only mean one thing - to the humanity- to ourselves and to others. Does God need witnesses to remind Him who God is? No we are to be witnesses to the world.

What's familiar? Look at Abraham's call. Ex. 19:6, Dt. 4:6ff. Look at Isaiah's call in Isaiah 6 - again - not only the call but God shows him his message, to say to the people, "Be hearing but never understanding, seeing but never perceiving..." This is the call. To be witnesses. Hebrew "Ed", testimony like the altar of rocks by the Jordan, living embodiments of the reality of the Lord. The tabernacle in the Hebrew Bible was referred to as the Ohel HaEdut - the tent of testimony, the Ark -Aron Haedut. It contained a body of testimony that would stand up to any exam, showing the reality of the omnipotent Creator God of Israel. The Only God, the True God, the God who loves us so much He sent His Son the Messiah to die so we might know Him. Y'shua's last command to us was what? To be witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Many believers in Jesus are anxious for the blessings accorded Israel - even to the extent of some pretty dubious theology sometimes. But who is as anxious for the calling of Israel? Who is anxious to pass through seas and flames, to stand up and be a living witness to people that often say they can see but are blind, say they can hear but are deaf? Even Isaiah says in chapter 6 verse 11, "For how long Lord?"

Who knows what the Greek word for witness is, used in the New Testament? Martyr! Now who wants this calling and identity? Remember Y'shua's saying, "Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for my sake will find it."

But there's more. There is really self-interest here as well, and that's the last point we see. God says, "You are my servant, whom I have chosen, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW AND BELIEVE ME AND UNDERSTAND THAT I AM HE. BEFORE ME NO GOD WAS FORMED, NOR WILL THERE BE ONE AFTER ME. I , EVEN I , AM THE LORD AND APART FROM ME THERE IS NO SAVIOUR. I HAVE REVEALED AND SAVED AND PROCLAIMED, I AND NOT SOME FOREIGN GOD AMONG YOU...YES, FROM ANCIENT DAYS I AM HE. NO-ONE CAN DELIVER OUT OF MY HAND, AND WHEN I ACT WHO CAN REVERSE IT?

There's something about being called to be God's witnesses, and actually participating in this, that allows us to come into the very presence of God. It allows us to KNOW Him, and the eternal security of His character. The word 'know' in English is so weak, let's just think a moment about what it means to know God. Several well-known authors have written on just this subject, but today I just want to stimulate our thinking about the potential in this short phrase. In Hebrew, there are two words to know - lehakir and ladaat. Lehakir means to be acquainted with, and frankly that is mostly how we use the word know today isn't it? Yes I know Garrett. Yes, I know how to play the piano. Yes, I know computers. We might even know a lot about computers, but we really don't know computers. Are we attached to them? Do we sense how they feel? Do we know what they want? Do they give to us from their wealth and love?

The word ladaat is the real word, "to know". And this word in some ways can't be translated. That's why I want to stimulate our thoughts to the potential depths and fullness of relationship God is offering us. One way ladaat is used, is in Adam knew Eve. Don't think of this as a euphemism. There is a knowing and intimate experience within the marriage relationship that cannot be rationalised or put into words. It's a super-verbal (beyond words) communication. Think of music. Are there some pieces of music that you've listened to and the hairs on the back of your neck have stood up. You've been struck by beauty and you have no words to express what you are feeling. The same can be true of a beautiful sunset - even the best poets can't do justice to the feelings that are engendered. Think about intellectual knowledge. Can you imagine learning more about your most favourite subject and finding that the more you know the more fulfilling and exciting that knowledge is? Think about resources. Can you imagine knowing and seeing God at work in the most traumatic and terrifying circumstances of your life? Think about your "lacks". Where are we hurting most? Are we lonely, ashamed, alienated. Can you imagine knowing that impossible love that you occasionally taste and smell, but that always seems just beyond your grasp?

That I believe is what God is offering us, as we stand up to be His witnesses, looking up to Him, putting our hand in his, and plunging through the terrifying walls of water without any hope except in Him. It starts off really pragmatically - just in putting our faith into practice. Paul says in Philemon 6, "Be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Messiah." And as God meets us we will find we have more and more testimony stones to bear witness to the loving intervention and relationship we have with our Creator.

Conclusion. What does that mean for us? Well, I think there are some challenges for us!

The first challenge: Do we, can we really believe God didn't make a mistake in creating us the way we are? Do we really believe He has chosen us and called us by name, that He loves us and will even pay ransom for us?

The second challenge: Are we willing to give up control? Are we willing to stop trying to sort things out the way we can understand things, the way we want, the way we think we will be satisfied?

The third challenge: Are we ready to really be witnesses - living Temple stones carrying the presence of the Lord. I find that a challenge. It's easy to find a nice place to settle, find a nice non-threatening spiritual home, enjoy fellowship, and feel comfortable. It's even easier to do that as a missionary believe it or not. Lest you put full-time evangelists on a pedestal, know that every one of us can succumb at times to do something we want rather than something we should, and often the want involves not being a witness, but staying in a place of comfort. And this isn't a guilt trip, because God does give us more than one thing to do, and He doesn't call us to manic activity. But when we become comfortable in our comfort, we begin to stop seeing things. We begin to mourn a lack of growth in ministry or in the knowledge of God. To give an example in ministry in London. The culture is very hardened so sometimes it's hard to fill up a week with visits. - I don't really like sorties unless I have a realistic expectation I can really get into good conversations. London is a very very hard place to do sorties anyway, as the culture is very closed to the Gospel. So the temptation - not to do sorties...lack of contacts - when we did, I noticed too often for it to be a coincidence that Jewish people would come into the shop.

I wonder is there anything that could challenge us here today at Sar Shalom? We have a wonderful building. We have some great people. We have good food, nice services. When's the last time we invited non-believing friends to attend? When's the last time we tried to find ways to make God relative to an unbelieving family member, colleague or friend. Have we become comfortable in other things? It's funny, I can sympathise with some of the not so good examples in the Bible. I think sometimes, it would be great to have a real supernatural gift of healing, or stunning discernment and knowledge. But in the Bible the funny thing is, I don't find people called to be "Superhealers", or "Superinsightful". God's people were called to one thing- to be His witnesses. Those that were most faithful, were the ones through whom God was able to most powerful channel His healing grace and prophetic insight.

I want to have a time of quiet now - for us to think about how God might be speaking to us today. If you feel distant and far from knowing God and His incredible love for you, speak it out to Him in your heart, if necessary come to one of the elders afterwards and ask for prayer. (If you want to know the elders...) If you're going through the flames, or are afraid of it, speak that out to God and/or ask for prayer. If you've got comfortable, and your witness is more history than present, speak that out to God as well.

God can do great things through and for each one of us here, if we can just take His hand in trust and stand up to be His witness.

10 Ye are My witnesses, saith the LORD, and My servant whom I have chosen; that ye may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall any be after Me.

11 I, even I, am the LORD; and beside Me there is no saviour.