“You Will Not Be Ashamed”
October 18, 2015
The so-called shame of your past or your present does not define what God will make of your future.
I. The essential background (Isaiah 53)
II. Your past does not define your future (Isaiah 54:1-4)
III. Because God is the one who is redefining your future (Isaiah 54:5-8)
Two weeks ago we thought about the problem of shame from 1st John and concluded that God’s truth and God’s love cast out shame and fear. This morning we’re looking at shame as seen in Isaiah chapter 54. But as we begin we need to remember one crucially important thing: Isaiah 54 follows Isaiah 53.
I know that’s kind of obvious, but think about it for a minute. Isaiah 53 is the climax of Isaiah and many would say it is the climax of the Old Testament. It reveals the person and the mission the Lord’s servant who would suffer shame and disgrace. “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
He endured shame, and he endured it for us as he sacrificed himself in our place. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” This is the truth about Jesus. This is the awesome love of God poured out, expressed by sacrifice.
But the sacrifice is not the last word. Isaiah 53:10-12 “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many; he shall divide the spoil with the strong, for he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
His agony and his shame leads to his resurrection and victory. That’s Isaiah 53. So where should Isaiah go after that? What’s next? The second coming? The new heavens and new earth? Isaiah does get there eventually. But that’s not where he goes next. Instead he makes promises to those crushed by shame and disgrace and calls them to celebrate what the servant’s victory means for them.
Isaiah 54:1-8 teaches that the so-called shame of your past or your present does not define what God will make of your future. Isaiah exhorts Israel as if she were a barren woman, shamed by what we call infertility. Isaiah 54:1-4 Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord. 2“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3For you will spread abroad to the right and the left; your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. 4Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.”
Verse 3 shows us that this passage is talking to the nation of Israel, promising greater things in the Land God gave them. That promise was partially fulfilled after the Babylonian exile. Its primary fulfillment will be in the thousand year reign of Christ on earth over a revived Jewish nation. But at the level of application this imagery becomes a promise to every woman, every couple that suffers infertility and to all who suffer disgrace. The primary intent is that because of what Jesus has done the kingdom of God will be given a glory never seen in the Old Testament. But the image promises that individuals suffering shame or disgrace will be comforted and rescued. And the context teaches that the rescue comes because of the sacrificial death of the Suffering Servant.
I want to focus today more on the message to individuals than the message to Israel. I think this is legitimate because God’s well known compassion for the barren and for widows is so beautifully expressed here. And there is a great deal of shame associate with these things even today. It took me about two minutes online to come up with several good articles on the shame of infertility. One was a blog post by Natasha Metzler. After speaking about the children she had lost during pregnancies, she received a letter that said “You shared that you wonder why some people get children and you don’t. Do you really think you know better than God? Do you think you’re smarter than Him?”
She writes: “Infertility carries many names. It carries pain, heartbreak, loss, fear, sleeplessness, suffering… and ... it carries shame … Sometimes the enemy takes words and turns them into arrows of hate. But he knows that hate can’t just show up suddenly, so he dips the arrows in shame first.
When I read the words of that letter I acted calm. I set it down. I offered grace. And then night after night the horrible words preyed at my mind, laced with shame. I felt shame for my struggle and it nearly devoured me. I accepted it right in.
She continues “It’s not just infertility. Shame knows no boundaries. It pushes from every direction. Your children aren’t following the Lord because you didn’t discipline them correctly/love them the right way. Your friends don’t call because they are sick of your struggles and whining. Your marriage is falling apart because no one could be expected to stay with you and your issues. Your son is struggling with reading because you didn’t work enough with him. Your finances are suffering because you should have gone to college. You’re not married because you’re overweight/too independent/or too friendly.”
“I sometimes wonder if every dart from the enemy is dipped liberally in shame. We need to start labeling shame as what it is: the enemy’s dirty trick used to leak bitterness into our hearts.” As we did earlier, she makes a distinction between shame and guilt. “God uses our guilty conscience to speak truth, to turn our eyes inward to the sinful patterns of our thoughts and actions, and ultimately to set us free. Shame, on the other hand, is a poison. Once it hits, no amount of self-evaluation will bring healing. No matter how many times I rolled those sentences over in my mind, I couldn’t make them go away. Nor could I seek forgiveness because it wasn’t something I had done. I needed an antidote.”
This is the kind of person God cares for, the kind of person Isaiah uses to celebrate the awesome mercy taught in chapter 53: “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.” He promises fruitfulness to unfruitful Israel, based not on what she has done, but on what the servant has suffered.
This isn’t a promise to every infertile couple that they will bear children. But it is a promise to every person living in shame that the Servant’s suffering means freedom. A couple weeks ago we talked about the difference between guilt and shame, guilt being about something you’ve done and shame being about something you are, or feel you are. But we also need to make a distinction between true and false shame. True shame is really what Israel is suffering in this passage. She has been unfaithful to God over centuries and has failed to be what he called her to be, a light for the nations, her offspring.. But now that shame is ended, not because she has suddenly achieved fertility, but because God has rescue and redeemed and loved her and will now bless her. Ray Ortlund says this well “Did ancient Israel bring God's salvation to the world? No. And it was their own fault. To invite this desolate woman to sing for joy seems cruel. But Isaiah isn't rubbing it in. He's relocating her happiness from herself to the servant of the Lord, . . . who ‘shall see his offspring.’ He wants all of us to grasp that our failure is real, but it's not the death of our joy, because Another has succeeded for us, and now we live in him.”
So to whatever extent our shame is real, to whatever extent we are ashamed because of our rebellion and sin, which reflect a fundamental brokenness, that shame is no longer ours to bear and suffer under because Jesus took both our guilt and our shame on the cross. But to whatever extent our shame is false shame, it too is redeemed in the work of this suffering servant. What is false shame? It’s being shamed by something I think I am but I’m not. “I’m ugly,” “I’m worthless,” “I’m no good to anyone,” “I’m an idiot, lazy, hopeless.” Not true. These are the lies the enemy wants to use to paralyze us, to cause us to quit and fail. False shame is also my shamed response to circumstance over which I have no control. Take infertility. You can’t control whether your body can bear a child. One of the infertility blogs I read said “It’s such an odd thing. Why would we have shame about something so out of our control?”
Yet we do. Maybe you’re adopted and you feel shame about your past, though you had no control over it. Maybe you’re ashamed that your parents are divorced. Maybe you’re un-athletic. When I was three years old or so I was one of the last children in the U.S. to contract polio. It wasn’t severe, but it meant I couldn’t run fast, and wasn’t strong. So, like many kids for many reasons, I was bullied. And I learned shame: “I am a weakling, I’m fat, I’m not good enough.” Was this my fault? No. Except that I allowed those lies to define me.
God calls us to look not at our shame but at his provision and blessing. Don’t make the shame-based error of letting the past define your future. Verse 2, “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. 3For you will spread abroad to the right and the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities.” God says, to the Israel of Isaiah’s future, that after the suffering servant’s redemption has been applied to their hearts, there will be blessing and growth; their current tent won’t be enough. Again, I look for this during Christ’s Millennial reign. But for those suffering shame this promise means that we need not cower, need not withdraw or continue in defeat, for he has won the victory and in him it is ours.
Our ability or inability isn’t even part of the equation. As Ortlund goes on to say “Real joy flows from our surprise and relief that Someone Else is what we have failed to be. In ourselves we have nothing to be proud of. But we don't have to hang our heads in shame. We throw our heads back and laugh with delight. The gospel,” he says, “changes the subject,” by which I think he means it turns our attention from ourselves to God. We look to God's power working for his greater glory, our richer joy, and the salvation of the nations. We're a part of something beautifully improbable from beyond ourselves.”
Verse 4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.” Your past doesn’t define your future, and your past shame doesn’t limit your future usefulness, because that isn’t found in the experiences you interpret as shameful, but in the work of God in and through you. “You are,” Paul says, “God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for the good works he prepared for you to do.”
Notice two things in Isaiah’s words. First, he explicitly adds the case of widowhood to the list of those who are ashamed. Like infertility, this is not something you can control. Yet in that culture widowhood was considered shameful, a sign of God’s judgment. In our sub-culture, in evangelical Christianity, there is a similar situation sometimes perceived as shameful. Divorce. Divorced people tend to think that they are second class citizens in the church, and at times the church reinforces this thinking. Yet often divorce is something done to you, not something you do, though inevitably there is some responsibility on both sides. But that doesn’t mean a divorced person needs to live in shame. If there is sin it can be forgiven. And there is no shame in something you haven’t done.
Notice too that this is the ‘fear not’ of this section and it is a great one because it explicitly ties all we’ve been saying about the problem of shame into all that we’ve been saying about fear. In fact fear and shame are deeply related; the symptoms are so often exactly the same – withdrawal, blaming, self-harm, believing lies. And the solution is the same – a redeemer, a rescuer, a promise-keeper who says “fear not for I am with you,” who says “do not be anxious about anything,” and who here says, “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed.”
The so-called shame of your past, the lies you’ve believed about who you are, the shame you’ve felt for things that have happened to you, and even the real shame you’ve felt over your rebellious and sinful nature, these do not define your future, because God is the one redefining your future. Verses 5-8: For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. 6For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. 7“For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Verses 5 and 6 add a category of shame to the list by removing it: divorce. God does, at times describe his relationship with Israel as a husband.
The best known reference is in Hosea 2, where God says. “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal. [or idol] … 19And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”
There are places where this relationship is described negatively: God is the husband but the wife, Israel, has disgraced herself by going after other lovers, which in the imagery are idols and foreign nations. So, in Jeremiah 3:8 God says “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery.” God describes the destruction of the northern kingdom, Israel, as a divorce. But he never divorces unfaithful Judah; he sends her into the Babylonian exile, but that’s a separation, not a divorce.
The amazing thing about Isaiah 54 is that God does not, here, place the blame for the separation on Judah. He doesn’t look at the shame of the past. He looks at the promise of the future. And most significantly, he himself is that promise. He says “I’m your maker, I’m your husband, the Lord of hosts, the Holy One of Israel, your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth.” Awesome truths: you don’t need to be ashamed anymore because the one who is on your side is this God, He is the one who is defining your future. We’ve seen it in this series already, and we’re going to see it again, that the antidote to fear is God. In the same way, the antidote to shame is God as we find him in the Word.
The two big core truths in that list are I’m your maker and I’m your redeemer. The Old Testament reveals these things and Isaiah affirms them over and over. Isaiah 53 points to the suffering servant, Jesus, who sacrificed himself to pay the price of our sin and shame. The New Testament affirms Jesus as Maker and Redeemer. Colossians 1: “13For he (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15He (the Son) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. . . 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Jesus is your maker and your redeemer.
His redemption remakes what shame has taken away from us, whether true shame or the lies we believe or the shame we feel for things we have no control over. Isaiah says “the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.” This doesn’t mean he has called you these things. He has called you from these things. He has called you from the sense of desertion and grief and rejection and shame. In the Bible we get to know the one who is both maker and redeemer, and that knowledge, at a heart level, is the antidote to shame and the dispeller of fear.
That was what Natasha Metzler concluded in her blog post on the shame of infertility. “Shame,” she says, “is a poison. Once it hits, no amount of self-evaluation will bring healing. No matter how many times I rolled those few sentences over in my mind, I couldn’t make them go away. Nor could I seek forgiveness because it wasn’t something I had done. I needed an antidote.
“I needed the Word,” she says. “New sentences to fill up my mind. Greater good to fight off the lies that had leaked in. I needed Romans 8:1 that says, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” and I needed 8:6 that says, “The mind of sinful man is death but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” And, oh, how desperately, I needed 8:15, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Do you know what all these verses are saying? They are my Father whispering, Daughter, you are safe with Me. Shame has no room to do its work when we are filling our minds with the Word of Truth. The shame leaves. It does. And the hate goes right with it. All the ‘how dare she’ and ‘who are you to judge me’s’ just fade right away We have someone who speaks louder than any enemy, who shines brighter than any lie, who is greater than any shame-dipped arrow. We have Jesus. No matter what lie the enemy feeds you about your heart, your worth, your mistakes, your struggles, this is truth: nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. You are safe. Protected. He hears your cries, catches your tears, and sorrows with you. Never does He shame you.
That’s the same truth Isaiah emphasizes at the end of our text. The so-called shame of your past or your present does not define what God will make of your future. Verses 7 and 8: “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. 8In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer.” God did send the people of Israel into exile. He did hide his face for a moment as Judah was conquered. But that moment did not define the future. The future is this: “With great compassion I will gather you. The future is this: “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you.”
These are promises to Judah, to the people of God. Just as he gathered them after the Babylonian exile, he will gather them in a greater way after the second coming of Christ. But the compassion these promises reflect is universal and assures us that our future is defined by the everlasting love of a redeeming God, not by the shame of what we’ve done and even less by the shame of what we never did, but only believed.
Let’s close by looking at just two of these words, the seals on this promise. First, everlasting love. You know this one. It’s chesed, God’s covenant love, his faithfulness, his unconditional commitment to the well-being of His people. This love will never change and it will never fail. Just as every night the Milky Way passes across the sky, even if hidden by clouds or city lights, so God’s love for us is constant. And it is made visible to us in the suffering of his servant, his son Jesus who bore our sins and carried our sorrows.
The second word is racham. This is compassion or mercy. It refers to the deep tender love of God that leads to forbearance and forgiveness. This compassion causes God to accept shame as the suffering servant so that we may not be crushed by it. His compassion offers us a future and a hope. In Isaiah especially this word is associated with a peaceful and abundant future. Bad things may be happening, but I will show compassion, God says. I will wipe out your iniquity and heal your shame. Isaiah 54:10 “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
Because he is a God of chesed and racham, these verse are a word of hope, first to the people of Judah and the people of God in the Old Testament, then to those who may be in circumstances similar to infertility or divorce or widowhood, and finally to all of us who experience shame or disgrace, especially when we have done nothing to earn it, or when we are telling ourselves lies. The Lord will not allow the so-called shame of your past or even your present to define you. He has redeemed your past and is redeeming your present and will fully redeem your future. So do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; for you will not be disgraced; you will forget the shame of your youth. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth. “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you says the Lord, your Redeemer.” Do you believe this?