The three wise men

But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1 (NLT)

As I sat down to write a blog to post on Christmas Eve, I realized that there were many places that I could take it. As I considered the thoughts I’ve had about Christmas this year and looked at notes I’ve made in my journal, I was drawn to an unlikely passage for a Christmas blog. Yet this passage has Christ woven throughout it. It begins and ends with Christ…it’s just that the Israelites didn’t know Him as Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, their Messiah – at least not in the way that we know Him.

When I read Isaiah 43 a week and a half ago as part of our Resting at the River’s Edge readings. I copied the entire chapter into my journal with a note that it might be perfect for a Christmas blog. As I’ve been reading it again, it still seems perfect. Let me quote extensively and simply add my commentary. I love the promise of the coming Christ in this Old Testament prophecy and it’s portrayal of God’s tremendous goodness to His people.

As you read the passage, understand that it was written to Israel – that is, God’s chosen people. Remember, though, that as Christians – as people who have chosen to make Christ the Lord of their lives – we have been grafted into the branches of God’s chosen people. The promises He made to them now apply to us. The love He has for them He also has for us. Let’s read about it:

But now, O Jacob, listen to the LORD who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1 (NLT)

God created us. We have a special affinity for things we’ve created – things we’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into. God has that special affinity, that special love, for us.

Let’s personalize. God created me. He formed me. As the master potter, He said as He worked “This one, the one whose parents will name her Sandy – she will be a woman about 5’6″. She will be independent and strong. Let’s give her the gifts of administration and preaching. I know the challenges she’ll face, so let’s give her a worshipper’s heart to sustain her.” That’s just a little of what God said as He created me. What did God say when He created you? Maybe he talked about putting into you gifts of mercy and helps with a strong dose of generosity. Maybe He made you into a catalyst – a person who sparks things in other people. He made each one of us, and as He formed us, I believe it’s quite likely He spoke our talents and gifts and personality into us. In the creation story, God spoke each part of the world into existence. Imagining God speaking as He formed me brings an intimacy to my creation story that makes me breathless – wow!

Israel was no longer a child when God spoke this prophecy to her, and He said “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.” God has paid a ransom for Israel. This was spoken before the days of Christ, but God sees time differently. He knows the whole story and the plan is in motion. The ransom He has paid is the future crucifixion of His Son. It is Jesus who gave His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). A ransom is “a consideration paid for the release of someone from captivity” ( Do not be afraid, friends, because God has ransomed you. Jesus was the “consideration paid” for your release from captivity. The One who formed you, then bought you back. Wow!

Why? Because He has called you by name. You are His. There is such a definitiveness – an “it-is-finished-ness” in that phrase. It is the owner of an item that has the right to name it. I cannot name your child. The local sports arena isn’t called Hovatter Field because I haven’t bought it. God formed us. Then He ransomed us. He has the right to name us. We are His.

What a strong way to start a message. God began by making it clear to the Israelites, and by extension to us, that (1) We are precious to Him (i.e., He ransomed us) and (2) by rights, He owns us (we are His). He is the King, we are the servant. What will He demand? Let’s read on:

“2When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah 43:2-3a (NLT)

This One who ransomed us didn’t do it so that He could Lord it over us. He has ransomed us to be with us and He promises to be with us in our darkest and most difficult times. When we go through deep waters, rivers of difficulties, fires of oppression – He remains our Savior. Many will read the Christmas story this week – how the child was born in a manger – and they will wonder at what God has done. God has ransomed us and having done so, when we walk out of captivity toward Christ, He promises to be with us through all the challenges we face in life. He didn’t pay the ransom and then walk away. I like that about God. A lot.

The passage continues with examples of how God ransomed the Israelites throughout history, summarizing:

“Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you.”
Isaiah 43:4 (NLT)

Has there ever been a more significant love letter written? Perhaps the one Jesus recited to Nicodemus:

“16For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
John 3:16-17 (NLT)

God ransomed us by giving His one and only son, and he did it because He loves us. He ransomed us to give us eternal life. He ransomed us not to condemn us, but to save us.

Just in case the Israelites weren’t getting the picture, God repeated himself a few times in the Isaiah passage:

“7Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them…10bYou are my servant. You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be. 11I, yes I, am the LORD, and there is no other Savior… 13From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done.”
Isaiah 43:7, 10b-11 (NLT)

The Israelites were made for God’s glory. We have been made for God’s glory. “What is the chief end of man?” the Westminster catechism asks. “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” We were created for the purpose of glorifying God. He has saved us to enjoy Him forever. We have been chosen to know Him, believe in Him and understand that He alone is God. And when we respond to His choosing – when we believe in Him, understand that He alone is God and live our life accordingly – He gives us eternal life. Hallelujah!

God continues by reminding the Israelites of His faithfulness:

“I am the LORD, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea.”
Isaiah 43:16 (NLT)

If this were God’s love letter written specifically to you, what might you substitute for this verse? What seemingly hopeless situation did God rescue you from? Pause now to take a few minutes to remind yourself of what God has done for you.

Are you remembering? This is an important step because what follows builds on it. Don’t just read ahead. Pause here to remembering some of the times and situations in which God has saved or rescued you.

Have you remembered? Well, read on…

“18But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. 19For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. 20The wild animals in the fields will thank me, the jackals and owls, too, for giving them water in the desert. Yes, I will make rivers in the dry wasteland so my chosen people can be refreshed.”
Isaiah 43:18-20 (NLT)

Wow! Having reminded the Israelites about how He saved them, God then says “Forget about all that! It is nothing compared to what I am about to do. Something new has already begun!” Can you believe that for your life? That God is already working on something new for you? Can you believe that God is already creating pathways through the problems you will face tomorrow, next week and throughout your life to come? That’s what He promises. It was back there in His words in verses 2 and 3:

“2When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah 43:2-3a (NLT)

It was right there in Jesus final words to the apostles recorded in Matthew:

I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20b (NKJV)

Jesus was part of that “new thing” God was doing to bring salvation to the Israelites. A plan was in motion that would bring a Savior into the world – One who could permanently save His people from their sins and then remain with them even to the end of the age. One who made it possible for God to forgive their sins not just until the next sacrifice was required, but for all times:

“I — yes, I alone — will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”
Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember God’s promises to the Israelites and to you. That He who created you has also saved you and promises to be with you forever. That you are precious to Him and even though you have sinned, he promises to blog out those sins. Christ came to make this possible. The heavenly King became a baby. The heavenly King gave up the glories of heaven to live in this fallen world, subject to all the indignities of this world, experiencing the challenges and joys of this world as we do, so that we might experience the joys of fellowship with Him forever.

God is faithful, loving and kind. Christ is just one proof of that.

Praying that you have a joyful celebration of the Christ child being born.

Comments are closed.

© copyright 2009-2013, Data Designs Publishing and Sandra J. Hovatter