Fear not, for I am with you

Isaiah 43:1-7

10 January 2010

St Mary's, White Waltham

Morning Prayer


What are you afraid of?

My handy Penguin Pocket Book of Facts has a useful page that lists the technical names for about 130 different fears. It's certainly been a bad week if you suffer from kristallophobia, chionophobia or cheimaphobia. That's fear of ice, fear of snow and fear of cold respectively. And watch out on Wednesday if you have triskaidecaphobia: fear of the number 13. Also listed are chrometophobia (fear of money), linonophobia (fear of string) and nephelophobia (fear of clouds). And if you suffer from phobophobia, fear of fears, I'm sorry: you must be terrified now!

Apparently, people fear all sorts of strange and perhaps trivial things. But what do you fear? What are your greatest, deepest, most horrifying fears? Fear of loss? Fear of losing something or someone? Fear of the future? Fear of humiliation or failure? Fear of God's judgement? Fear of death? Fear of hell? What do you fear?

Twice our passage this morning resounds with the words Fear notref and Do not be afraidref, in verse 1 and verse 5.

Fear not! Do not be afraid! These are the only direct commands you'll find in the passage this morning, and they are its theme and its application: fear not; do not be afraid.

Reasons to be fearful

In context, these words are addressed to God's people, Israel. But why did God need to say these words to them? What reason did they have to be afraid?

The reason is given at the end of chapter 42. God is about to punish his people for their persistent and ongoing sin. He is about to cast them out of the land of Israel to be dispersed among the pagan nations. The Babylonian empire will capture Jerusalem and God's people will be scattered in exile.

Yet, he tells them, do not be afraid, for I am with youref. He promises that he will again gather his people, verse 5 I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.ref

So God reassures his people. For a time they will suffer his punishment — actually about 70 years in exile. They will face many horrific situations. But God will not abandon them. Verse 2, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.ref Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

Belonging to God: foundations of fearlessness

But how are God's people going to know that all of this is not just wishful thinking: that it's not simply whistling in the dark?

Well, in this beautiful passage, God gives his people a number of grounds to underpin his promise. He gives them concrete truths to build their faith on; solid reasons not to be fearful. And they all unpack the statement at the end of verse 1, you are mineref. There are six aspects in which God's people belong to him which I want to summarise very briefly.

First, in verses 1 and 7 he reminds his people that they belong to him because they are created.

Of course, God created everything, and that gives him the right of ownership over every soul on the planet. But in a special sense he formed his people over and above everything else. The people of Israel did not appear by accident. God deliberately created and formed and fashioned this nation.

My eight year old daughter, Hannah, has dozens and dozens of cuddly toys. I mean, really serious quantities. But there is one in particular that she cherishes above all the others, Softy the bear, because she made him herself. Of all her dozens of cuddlies it is Softy who gets cuddled most tightly at night. Similarly, in a special sense God created his people; he cherishes them above all the others.

Second, God's people belong to him because they are redeemed.

Verse 2, Fear not, for I have redeemed you...ref

To redeem something means to pay a price to get it back.

In Old Testament law, if an Israelite fell on hard times and had to sell himself into service of an foreigner, there was always provision for him to be redeemed. Leviticus 25 says, he retains the right of redemption after he has sold himself. One of his relatives may redeem him: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in his clan may redeem him. Or if he prospers, he may redeem himself.ref So a price is paid to settle the contract, and the servant may go free.

God's people were about to be enslaved to foreigners, but through Isaiah he tells them that he is willing to pay any price to free them when the time comes. Verse 3, I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.ref, and verse 4, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.ref

The exact historical references here are debated. But God's intention is clear: no price is too great for God to pay to redeem his people; he will even re-order world affairs to free them. He is able and willing to do so.

Third, God's people are called.

Verse 2 again, Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned [or called] you by name...ref.

God takes all the initiative with his people. He summons and calls them. They haven't approached him, begging to be his people; he has summoned them and made them his people.

God's people had no role in their creation. God's people had no role in their redemption. God started all this by his call. So their existence doesn't depend on their efforts or their circumstances, only on God's sovereign initiative. Which is a great comfort to a feeble and sinful people.

Fourth, God's people belong to him in relationship.

There's a lovely statement at the end of verse 1. Fear not... you are mine.ref God's people belong to him for the reasons we have seen.

But it's not all one way. Have a look at verse 3, For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.ref Notice the personal references. Not, "I am the Lord, the God", or even "I am the Lord God", but "I am the Lord, your God"

In verse 1, God said, you are mine. Here he says, I am yours. God's people belong to him, and he belongs to them.

This is not a master–slave relationship. It's more like a marriage: a mutual commitment to one to another. They are his people, and He is their God, the one who serves and saves them, and them alone.

Fifth, his people are loved.

In verse 4, we see that this relationship is no mere formality, Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love youref.

God's passion for him people is breathtaking. In his sight they are precious and honoured and he simply loves them!

They have done absolutely nothing to deserve this love. Old Testament Israel was rarely lovely, and almost never faithful. But nevertheless, God loves them! He knows all their faults and blemishes, yet, like a bridegroom on his wedding day, he sees his bride only as precious and glorious, and he loves her.

Sixth and last, his people belong to him because they are adopted.

In verses 6 and 7 God calls his people his sons and daughters. Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earthref.

He has actually declared them family. he has adopted them and changed their name to his: in the words of verse 7, they are called by my nameref. It is more likely that I will abandon my children than God will abandon his people: it's never going to happen.

So, God's people belong to him in all these ways. They are created, redeemed, called, in relationship, loved and adopted. These are the grounds for his command Do not be afraid.

Whatever floods and fires and flame the people of God have to face, he will never give up on them: Fear not... you are mine. He is with them throughout: Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

In Jesus: fearlessness fulfilled

So what has this got to do with us? Everything I've said, everything in Isaiah 43, applies to Old Testament Israel. God kept his promise to them. What's it got to do with us?

Well, the wonderful thing is that, in Jesus, every one of these truths is strengthened and deepened in us, his church.

Through Isaiah, God says to his church, you and me, Fear not, you are mine, and, Do not be afraid for I am with you. And we can be completely confident of that because of Jesus.

I just want to touch all too briefly on each of these six encouragements from God again to see how they apply to us in Jesus.

First, Jesus created and founded the church. He says to Peter, on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.ref The church is special: it didn't appear by accident.

Second, Jesus has redeemed us. Ultimately, God did not exchange people for us, he exchanged a person, his Son. 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 18, For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed... but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.ref

Third, Jesus calls us. Jesus takes the initiative in our lives. It was he who said "follow me". Not because of anything we had done, but simply for his own sake. Romans 1 verse 6, you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.ref

Fourth, Jesus is the content and ground of our relationship with God. In John chapter 14 verse 20, Jesus says, On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.ref We are in him and he is in us. We belong to him, but he also belongs to us. We have an intimate relationship with Jesus.

Fifth, it is in Jesus that we truly know we are loved. There are so many verses I could go to to demonstrate this point. But how about this, This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through himref, 1 John 4 verse 9.

Sixth, in Jesus, we are adopted as God's children. Galatians 3 verse 26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesusref.

I dearly wish I could dwell for a while on any of these truths. But the message is clear. When in our lives we pass through flood or fire or flame, God's word to us is Do not be afraid, for I am with you, and the guarantee of that word is Jesus. Every word of comfort God speaks to his people through Isaiah is deepened and strengthened to us in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps the best summary of all of this is the famous passage in Romans chapter 8. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? ... For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.ref

Do not be afraid, for I am with you.


In conclusion, God never promises us an easy, comfortable or pain-free life in this world. This world is a harsh place to live in and there are many things to fear. The Christian does not escape disease or accident or pain or loss, and some here today will be experiencing extraordinary times of pain, while for others there are terrible times ahead in future.

God never promises to spare us any of this pain. But, in Jesus, he does promise not to abandon us. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

And, ultimately, as for the people of Israel in exile, God's promise to us is that he will re-gather us. Even as we face death, the ultimate terror, if we are in Jesus then we know that it is simply the process of being gathered back to God. There is nothing to fear, even from death.

Our best weapon against fear in our lives is our Bible. God comforted his people by his word through Isaiah; he comforts us by all his words in this book. If we are fearful in life or death, it simply means that we don't know our God well enough. All the comfort you need is here, and it all comes together in Jesus, our Lord.

Do not be afraid, for I am with you!