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TEXT: Isaiah 41:10

SUBJECT: Haydee's Verse

Last week, I attended the funeral of Haydee Calderon, a close and longtime friend of my wife. Several people spoke at the service, describing Mrs. Calderon from various angles, as a mother, a grandmother, a sister, a friend, and so on, and as an educated woman of high intelligence, of rare candor, and a good sense of humor.

But whatever else they said about her, the thing every one of them mentioned was her singular devotion to Jesus Christ. She was the kind of woman who prayed for her friends, family and fellow church members by name every night, often staying up into the wee hours of the morning to do it. She read the Bible daily with great care; she never missed a church service; she visited the sick; she took in people who had no place to live; and she boldly witnessed for Jesus Christ everywhere she went, striking up conversations and handing out tracts without embarrassment or apology. Several people testified that, if hadn't been for Haydee Calderon, they would have never known the Lord.

This was the kind of woman she was, and the Apostle Paul says that this kind of person is a gift of God to the church so that we might-

Notice those who walk this way because we have them for a pattern.

Originality is overrated! Others have lived godly lives before us and we're to pattern our own lives on theirs.

One of the ways we do this is by finding out what part of the Bible saintly people love most. Some mature disciples love verses like John 3:16 or the 23rd Psalm best, but Mrs. Calderon was not one of them. Her favorite verse was more obscure than these, and-to tell the truth-when the pastor referred to it, I had to look it up. I've read the verse many times, of course, but it had never really sunk in until last Wednesday morning, at the funeral. Isaiah 41:10 is the verse--

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

THE SPEAKER

The first thing that caught my eye was God speaking in the first person. Ordinarily, God spoke through the prophets, so the prophets would tell the people what God had first told them. And when they did this, they'd often say-

Thus says the Lord or The burden of the Lord.

And then, tell the people God's message, in the third person. 'God says, He says, the Lord says', and so on. But in this place, the Lord speaks to His people directly. Nothing like-

'He is with you.He is your God.He will strengthen you.He will help you.He will uphold you with His righteous hand'.

No, the Lord says-

I am with you.

I am your God.

I will strengthen you.

I will help you.

I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

The people are in a bad way, and they need more than a prophet, more than God's agent or spokesman in the world. They need the Lord Himself! They need His own, unmediated encouragement-and that's what He gives them.

And what condescension we see here! The first time God spoke to His people, His voice nearly scared them to death. You know the scene, don't you? It was at Mount Sinai when the Lord first spoke to Israel, but His voice was like the blast of a trumpet, like a clap of thunder, like an earthquake that broke the rocks in pieces.

The people was so terrified that they told Moses, 'You go up there and talk to Him!'. They would listen to the Word of God, but only if it came from a human mouth. Israel was right to tremble and faint at the voice of God, for the Psalms say--

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

The nations raged, the people were moved,

He uttered His voice,

The earth melted.

But the God whose Word first made the world and will someday melt all its elements with fervent heat, has gotten down on His knees, so to speak, and in the words of John Calvin-

'Spoke to us in baby talk'.

This is the God we worship! The God whose whisper overthrows human empires, but chooses to speak to us directly and with such kindness and lowliness and humanity that we can hear and be heartened by His Word.

THE HEARER(S)

The next thing that jumped out at me was the singular 'you' or as the KJV has it, 'thee'. I know that the people of God are sometimes described as 'they' and sometimes as 'he' or 'she'. In one place, the Lord will call us a kingdom, a nation, a priesthood, a people; and in other places, a son or a daughter or even a bride.

I wouldn't make a major doctrine of the distinction, of course, but I find real solace in it. God's promises are personal! They're meant to assure you in particular and me, and not a 'great gob of humanity, an undifferentiated mass of the Elect'.

Mark 2:5 is my favorite verse in the Bible, and how I long to hear them spoken to me-

Son, your sins are forgiven you!

But here's the thing: They are spoken to me. Jesus Christ loves and forgives me every bit as much as He loved and forgave the paralytic in that story.

What's true of Mark 2:5 is equally true of today's verse, Isaiah 41:10. The Lord tells all Christians and every Christian in particular-

I am your God.I will strengthen you.I will help you.I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

In His last great prayer, Jesus Christ said-

I have lost none!

He hasn't forgotten one of us; hasn't overlooked anyone; won't ignore anyone; has never turned His back on any one of His people. To the Church in general and to every believer in particular-

God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!

This personal care is necessary, for no shepherd is a Good Shepherd unless he cares for every one of his sheep. The man who's content with ninety-nine out of a hundred in the pen, is a hireling, not a shepherd! But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and as He says in John's Gospel-

Knows His sheep by name.

Oh, how we could endure suffering and temptation if only we knew God cares for us in particular! And that's what He does. No one was more devoted to the doctrine of the Church than Paul, but he said-

Christ loved me,

And gave Himself for me!

THE COMMANDS

Next we come to the commands. Whatever comforts we may draw from the verse, we first find our duties. Isaiah 41:10 starts with two commands from on high-

Fear not.

Be not dismayed.

I've said this many times before, but I cannot say it too often: the command most frequently found in the Bible is some variation of this one: Fear not!

And you know why it pops up so often, don't you? It's because there is so much to fear in this world. I think of the commitments of marriage and children, how many things can go wrong! How many hurts we open ourselves up to when we choose to love others.

I think of the whole world system, a system that hates God and wants nothing more than to eliminate or silence or beat His people into submission, to conform us to the world's image instead of the Image of Christ.

Then there's our own weakness and remaining sin to embarrass and demoralize us. And then, of course, the funeral reminded me of the Last Enemy (and also the scariest): Death.

The Bible says it has no sting, but if you've lost loved ones, you have felt the sting, like a thorn in your eyeball! The pain, the discouragement, the seeming futility and hopelessness of it all.

All of these things-and many more-are set against us. But God says, 'Of course, they're all against you but have you forgotten who's for you?' Who's on your side? The Psalm says-

The Lord is on my side, I will not fear, what can man do to me?

How we long to believe this! How we fail to believe it? We know the verses as well as more heroic people, but unlike them, we stagger in unbelief, we doubt, we wonder, we live our lives in fear.

THE REASONS

But we shouldn't live this way because there is ample reason for courage and hope, the courage to love when loving tears you up, the hope to endure when there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Isaiah 41:10 gives five reasons to live in hope and courage-

I am with you.

I am your God.

I will strengthen you.

I will help you.

I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

In one way, we belong to God, but in another, the prophet says, God belongs to us. I am your God! The God you have access to-even if your prayer life is not what it used to be! The God who has everything you need when you need it! The God who gives us what we need, even when we think we're still lacking it.

When our dear brother died several months ago, he told me he did not feel the Presence of God, and he didn't care. For the Presence of God is not discerned or assured by our feeling it, but by His promising it!

I will not leave you nor forsake you!

With God comes His strength, which, ironically, often feels like weakness. If only the Lord would come upon us as He did Samson, empowering us to do great things! He did come upon the old judge, of course, and Hebrews 11 counts Samson as a man of faith. But, after listing all the people who did awesome things by faith, vv.35ff. speak of the-

Others.

People equally victorious by faith, but not in the way Samson was! Here's how they overcame-

They were tortured, had trials of mocking of scourging, of chains and imprisonment; they were stoned, sawn in two, tempted, slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.

These people did not think of themselves as winners, as conquerors-but God did! He counted them worthy of the same Resurrection as all the heroes in the Bible!

MERCY AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

What lies behind our courage and patience and hope? Well, one thing's sure: We're not behind it! There's nothing in is that enables us to live this way.

The 'something' is in God, and we call that something, 'grace' or 'mercy'. It's His favor given to us-not because we're good, but because He is. This is the expected answer, but not quite the answer Isaiah 41:10 gives us.

God's help and comfort come to us because He is righteous. It is His righteous hand that upholds us in all our troubles. But how can this be true? Because I am unrighteous, God's righteousness ought to scare me, as it did Martin Luther before He came to faith in Christ.

But it doesn't do that. Because, as the Reformer learned, the salvation of sinners is perfectly consistent with God's justice! It is not only merciful of God to save us, it is also just, the right thing to do.

Why? Because God's Son, our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect life in our place and then died, taking the penalty we had coming onto Himself. In doing all this with His Son, God not only justified us, He justified Himself! He showed the world that it was possible to be both-

Just and the justifier of him who believes in Christ.

This is why we can pray for forgiveness-and expect to get it. Because pardoning the sins of His people is not only an act of Divine grace, it is also an act of Divine justice! It is the right thing to do-

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I began the sermon with the story of the late Haydee Calderon, a saintly woman who loved God, loved His people, loved the lost, loved prayer, and loved the Word of God. And of all the words she loved, the ones she loved best, the one that sustained her through the many hardships she faced in life were these-

Fear not, for I am with you;

Be not dismayed, for I am your God;

I will strengthen you,

Yes, I will help you,

I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

These are words she lived on. And you can too. Now go do it, and the love of God be with you! Amen. Praise the Lord!

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