“I Will Trust and Not be Afraid”
December 15, 2013
When salvation breaks in, joy breaks out.
I. My salvation received (Isaiah 12:1-2)
II. Our salvation proclaimed (Isaiah 12:3-6)
Blaise Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician, scientist, and philosopher. He studied pressure and vacuum: the metric unit of pressure is named after him. In mathematics he was responsible for major advances in statistics and for an entity called Pascal's triangle, still used by students today. He also built the first mechanical calculator. He grew up in a Catholic home, but was not at first very religious. Then, in his late twenties, under the influence of a Catholic reform movement called Jansenism, he came to faith. He began to think and write about Christian things. He only published one book, but after he died at the age of thirty nine his 'Pensees' were published, thoughts which he had been gathering for a book on apologetics. They have been held ever since to be a high point in Christian philosophy and French literature.
At least two of his thoughts are still well known. One is Pascal's wager, which says that if you bet on the existence of God and you are right, you gain everything. If you are wrong, you lose nothing. But if you bet against the existence of God and you are right, you gain nothing; if you are wrong you lose everything.
But I think this is Pascal's most profound thought: "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus." This vacuum, if not filled, leaves a man or woman empty, hurting and broken. I've been thinking a lot about this emptiness: people try to fill their lives, maybe with pleasures or activities; some with by pride or disdain for God and his people. Others express this emptiness as fear, shame, inadequacy and insufficiency, and these may manifest as anger, legalism, a controlling nature, or a sad mixture.
This God shaped vacuum characterizes the whole world: empty, hurting and broken. But at Christmas we celebrate the filling of that vacuum. In Isaiah so far we’ve celebrated because 'a virgin will conceive and bear a son;' and ‘to us a child is born, to us a son is given.' We celebrate light for darkness, life for death, peace for chaos, joy for despair. Isaiah, at the end of his first major section, chapters 1-12 celebrates these things in a song of praise to the God who is with us, who fills that hole in our hearts by grace with his comfort, strength and song.
Let's read Isaiah 12:1-6 and then reflect on it bit by bit: You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. 2“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. 5Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. 6Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
We’ve studied, these past weeks, two of the three major Christmas prophecies in the first section of Isaiah. Chapter 7, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Chapter 9: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." The third is Isaiah 11: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." So having said all that, having given the promise of "God with us" as clearly as any Old Testament text, the prophet now models praise for the God who gives this gift.
Verses 1 and 2 are interesting because they are not plural. As we've said many times, most of the 'you' sections in Scripture are really 'y'all.' But here the prophet speaks to us as individuals: "You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O Lord for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me." In chapter 11 the phrase 'in that day' introduces the day of the Messiah's reign, and the restoration of the people. Now Isaiah adds that it will be a day of praise and worship for each individual.
Notice what we, individually are given the opportunity to say in that day; 'I give thanks for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away.' Literally 'in your anger you turned yourself from your anger.' It's a middle voice, which implies that something was done to God's anger, but the one who did it was God. I don't know how clearly Isaiah saw the atonement, but this is exactly how we receive forgiveness: God himself turns away his anger: God the Son bears the punishment of our sins to turn away God',s wrath. My favorite footnote in the 1984 New International Version was for 1 John 4:10 "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Footnote: ‘as one who would turn aside his wrath taking away our sins.’ This is what Jesus did. Was God angry? Yes: sin violates his holiness and stains his basic character of goodness and purity, and all of us have sinned. But we praise him for though he was angry with us, he has through Jesus turned from his anger.
And now, verse 1 says, he comforts us. The implication is that our own sin, our own fallenness, our separation from God grieved us, but we need grieve no more because our sin has been dealt with, not by our own merit, but because he himself turned his anger away. This is what opens the door to the God shaped vacuum inside us, and the first thing that rushes in is comfort. That's why we sing 'O tidings of comfort and joy.' We have no peace, no comfort, no confidence when we are in sin, only inadequacy, only fear, only guilt, and that leads to the unhealthiness of our lives, to pride and pleasure, to anger and controlling, to legalism and self-justification. But when God comes into the vacuum within us, having turned himself from anger, he comes as comfort.
Then, verse 2, still speaking individually, we can say "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." God is my salvation; I am not. In my experience the people who remain most stuck in hurtful behaviors and habits are those who cannot or will not be convinced that it’s all from God and not from me. I am the recipient of salvation as a gracious gift. God is my salvation: I will trust. That's all I'm asked to do: as a weak, finite broken little child to trust in the one who is a powerful, infinite and healing Father. For it is by grace we are saved through faith; through trusting. I will trust.
And as a result of trusting I will not be afraid. When you have that hole in your heart, you are afraid; deep down you know your inadequacy and though you may convince everyone else you've got your act together, you cannot convince the hurting four year old inside you. So you project competence or confidence or pride or anger or control or self-righteousness, but the person inside you're really trying to convince is never convinced and is living in fear. The only way to deal with your fear is by trusting the one who has himself deflected his judgment from you. Then he becomes your strength and your song. People whose vacuum has been flooded with God's presence have a strength not their own and a song not their own for they have a salvation not their own.
Verse 3: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Like a well that never runs dry, our salvation becomes at the center of our being an inexhaustible source of joy. Jesus says that the water with which he fills us becomes in us "a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Paul prays that those who trust in Jesus will overflow with joy through the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather than drawing from the vacuum within us a fear that shapes our lives, we now draw from salvation a joy that shapes our lives. The angel says to the shepherds 'I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all people.' The well of salvation, the endless supply of grace brings joy. When it’s not about us or our circumstances, but all about God, we can receive joy.
Verse 4: And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted." As individuals in that day, verse 1, we take comfort that the Messiah has turned aside God's wrath. But this verse is plural: as a community in that day we give thanks to the Lord for all his deeds and proclaim the greatness of his name, the greatness this forgiving God. Again, that day is the Messiah's day, the day of restoration, which we know from having studied Matthew this fall, is 'now and not yet.' We live in that day, yet we expect that day to come. We proclaim what God has done through Jesus and what God will yet do.
And this is witness. We are telling the world, the nations, whether through missions trips, compassion ministries, knocking on doors or most especially, personal relationships that God is the answer to the vacuum within, to the hurt it brings.
Verse 5: Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Much of this chapter takes its vocabulary from Exodus 15, one of the first songs in Scripture, the song Moses and the people of Israel sang when God rescued them from Egypt. But notice there are no references here to horses, horsemen, or the sea, no focus of attention on Egypt. The Exodus, special as it was to Israel as both the supreme act of God on her behalf, is eclipsed by an even greater disclosure of God's power in the Messiah.
It is not enough, now, for people to simply praise his name in the presence of one another, as they did in the song of Moses. Now the whole world must know what he has done so that his name may be exalted in all the earth. This is why on this side of the incarnation we have a Great Commission to make disciples of all peoples. And this is why at the end of Revelation God’s people sing the song of Moses and the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! 4Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed."
Finally, verse 6: Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah calls his original reader back to Zion, back to his own situation, to the threat of Assyria and the promise of Immanuel, God with us. In his circumstance, God has said in these chapters, there will be immediate and admittedly short term rescue. But even this verse is for us, for while we are not inhabitants of Zion, we do inherit in a now and not yet way, Zion’s promises. The writer to Hebrews tells us that we have come to Mount Zion, to the presence of God in power. And Paul and Peter both remind Gentile readers that our salvation came through God's kept promises to Zion.
Verses 1 and 2 were singular, addressed to individuals. Verses 3, 4 and 5 were plural, addressed to the community. But this last verse is singular again. Think about that. Shout and sing, inhabitant of Zion. You and I, personally, individually celebrate the salvation that has brought us forgiveness and joy. Shout and sing. Why? Because great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. We think of this as a community truth: God is with us. And he is, through Jesus. But 'your' is singular. Great in your individual midst (middle?) is the Holy One of Israel.
What does that mean? I don't fully know. But it feels like Isaiah is telling me that great in the middle of me, in the God shaped place that was once a vacuum is the Holy One of Israel. The God shaped vacuum is filled by God. Christ promised that he would be with us, in us, and that we would be in him. "For behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age." John 14:20 "In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you." This is a spiritual truth, which we can't fully comprehend, expressed in spatial terms that we can just begin to visualize. He is with us: Jesus by my side, always. He is in us: by His Holy Spirit taking up residence in what used to be a vacuum. And we are in Him: He is our hiding place and our refuge.
And it is from this reality, that changed character and behavior can flow. We need no longer fear, whether fear of man, fear of judgment, fear of sickness, fear of death or fear of circumstances. Fear can be transformed to joy. We need no longer live out of our own human inadequacy, because we are not called to live in human strength any longer, but in divine. We need no longer strive to please God through law-keeping, legalism, and self-righteousness, for Jesus has already pleased God on the cross. We need no longer try to control in our own power every circumstance and person around us, for God has all things, all people and all circumstances in his power and he is for us; who can be against us. We need no longer erupt in anger at those who don't do things our way or who hurt us or threaten to expose our emptiness, because we are no longer empty and we are trusting God, not our own adequacy.
When I was reading about Pascal I read the Wikipedia article, which is, of course, anonymous. But in discussing Pascal's thoughts that anonymous writer said something in passing that made me laugh with joy: "in Pensees, Pascal surveys several philosophical paradoxes: infinity and nothing, faith and reason, soul and matter, death and life, meaning and vanity - seemingly arriving at no definitive conclusions besides humility, ignorance, and grace." Grace. Grace. It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, the gift of God, that no one should boast. The filling of God that fills the hole in your life starts with comfort over your sins, leads to strength and a song and wears the name Grace.