No. 34. >> Wait a minute. I just thought of something. Isaiah writes: Do not fear to a nation that suffers exile. That phrase seems to be familiar from elsewhere in the Old Testament. What did it mean for them? And for us? >>DR. DANIEL L. GARD: Well, let's look at that verse. Isaiah 41:10. So do not fear. Some translations say: So fear not. For I am with you. Do not be dismayed. For I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. And just as you said, it's so that Isaiah saw people who were going to be facing terrible times. And yet, in the midst of that, God says: Don't be afraid. Do not fear. Now, that formula is a very common assistance formula throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact, it's found throughout the Old Testament. Beginning with the Pentateuch. Going through the prophetic literature. The patriarchs heard those words. Isaiah himself at least eight different times repeats that formula: Do not fear. In most of the occurrences of the Old Testament of the formula ***lotorah or do not fear, we find it in a warfare context. And in this, that parallels the warfare context. Because in fact, he is looking towards that day when the nation would be engaged in disastrous warfare. Look at some other instances the words are used to kind of bring some clarity. For example, David in passing on the kingdom to his son, Solomon, twice assures Solomon of the Lord's help in -- in fact, in these cases in non-warfare context. In I Chronicles 22:13: Be strong and of good courage. Fear not. And be not dismayed. Later in I Chronicles 28: Be strong and of good courage. And do it. Fear not. And be not dismayed. For the Lord God, even my God, is with you. So throughout this Old Testament context, God speaks to his people. And tells them not to be afraid. In fact, even after the exile is completed. And something we have not yet touched on but will later is the end of the exile. Which occurs when God raises up Cyrus of Persia. In the postexilic period we have literature in the Bible. For example, the book of Nehemiah. In Nehemiah, Nehemiah 4:7 writes the this: Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and terrible, and fight for your brother and your sons and your daughters and your wives and your homes. Again, that formula: Do not be afraid. Fear not. That phrase is one that I think the church would do well to hear. And one that pastors can take from the text of Isaiah and apply in magnificent ways to Christian people who live in a world which in many ways encourages to fear. And the reason we do not need to fear is the same reason that Isaiah gives for not fearing if you were in ancient Israel and not modern Israel, that is the church. We would put it this way: Jesus is by our side. That means that there can be courage. Even though life brings fears. Life in this world is filled with absolute uncertainties. I tape this particular section on September 11th of 2006. The fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the United States. This is a time, a day, and perhaps whenever you're seeing this you may reflect back on those days because they will shape all of us in terms of how we see the world around us. As a life that is not necessarily ascertain as perhaps we once thought it was. It's true that tomorrow is always hidden from us. We can't see what the future will bring. That belongs to God. The prospect of living in a world such as we have today is one that is particularly frightening and scary for many because of that uncertainty. We used to think as Americans that all the troubles of the world ended where our shores began. That's no longer the case. And we live with that reality daily. There's the ongoing fears that we face that have nothing to do with the war on terror. But simply the fact that we don't know what tomorrow brings. Tomorrow is one big question mark. For all human beings. And unless God does something to help us overcome that, the fear of living or dieing can and ultimately can destroy. It's good then to turn to the Lord and to confess simply those words: Lord, I'm afraid. And I'm frayed if you read Isaiah's words and heard them at the very beginning and those who had Isaiah's prophecy at the time of Assyria and Babylon may, indeed, have been driven to that point and simply could confess: Lord, I'm afraid. It does no good to have false shows of courage. It might fool others. But they certainly don't fool God. To his children God says: Fear not. I am with you. You see, all of our tomorrows belong to him. He controls all things. And is always with us by our side. If we live, he's there to confront those things that terrorize us in life. If we die, he's there to take care of that ultimate terror. The terror of death and the grave. And he does that by taking us to the heaven that he's won for us in his own death and resurrection. Live or die, we as ancient Israel belong to him. And in that certainty there's courage. There's also hope. Life can bring a lot of despair. Facing tomorrow with courage is one thing. Living it is another. Sometimes our best laid plans go wrong. Circumstances beyond our control can truly afflict us. It might be problems at work. It might be problems accomplishing an educational program. It might be employment difficulties. Or it might even be unemployment. It might be illnesses or accidents. It might be any number of things in which everything seems to go wrong. And finally, we wring our hands and sometimes are quite ready to quit and to say: Lord, I can't do it any longer. But then the voice of Jesus speaks to us. A voice that spoke to ancient Israel through the prophet Isaiah: Be not dismayed. For I am your God. The one who spoke these words is none other than the one who rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday amid the acclamation of the crowd that: This is our God. He who gathered his disciples for that last supper, that is our God. He who felt the agony of the trial, the agony of the crucifixion, that is our God. He who died, who rose again, that is our God. And when this God, the only God that truly is and Jesus is at your side, then despair becomes removed like the stone of his tomb. This is a message that pastors are called to bring to people who live lives of fear and lives of despair. Lives in which everything around them, every aspect of their life in this world, tells them that there's no reason to hope. That bad things are going to happen. And there's nothing that can be done about it. And yet, the Gospel comes. And says that none of that is true. Even when we grow weak, with Jesus at our side we can face life with courage and with hope. How do we as human beings find that strength to carry on? Certainly there are days when we simply don't want to face the day and its issues. We would just rather stay in bed. Pull the covers over our head. And not deal with that which now confronts us. Times when it's very easy to say: Lord, I'm simply too weak to continue. And then to give into that very human weakness. We let our sinful human natures then turn us aside from serving God with all that's within us. And yet, Jesus tells us that he has yoked himself to us. And when we are yoked to him, when we grow weary, when we grow weak, his strength takes over. The yoke shifts the burden to him. And that strength of Israel's God is without measure. Israel learned this. That despite the power of Assyria, the power of Babylon, yet God's power was greater.and we learn this, too. We see it in our Lord Jesus in the ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. That day in which he endured that trial and the cross. The day he shed his blood for the innocent -- his innocent blood for the sins of the whole world. And that tells us of his strength that will be immeasurable. As Isaiah put it: I will strengthen you. I will help you. That's God's great promise. The problems which, indeed, zap our strength are still going to be there. But they cannot zap his strength. With Jesus by our side, there's nothing that can overpower us. It's true that we have battles to fight. Ancient Israel did. And often they chose the wrong side of the battle. The Christian life is not one of ease and luxury. It's one of hard fought battles. It is also one of a hard won victory. how many days do each of us have ahead of us? Only God knows the answer to that question. But taking each day one at a time we fight the good fight of faith. How much easier it would be to fight that battle if we knew that the victory in the end was assured. No battle then would seem too fierce. How blessed it is to know that that assurance is already ours. Isaiah spoke it this way to Judah: I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. This God of Israel, this incarnate one, this one that we historically now see as that son of Mary and Son of God, the Lord Jesus, the one who spoke to Isaiah, this one is at your side. And he's at the side of the people you serve. And he has already won the victory. And that's the great good news. Is that the victory is already are there. The world, the devil, our own flesh, may convince us that we're weak and powerless and Satan is going to win. But God says: The victory is already mine. And if you don't believe that victory, take another trip to an empty tomb. Where the greatest enemy that mankind faces, the enemy that we know as death. That end result of our sinfulness. That end result of our mortality, that death itself has been destroyed. When you proclaim this good news at any time, not just on Easter morning, but every Sunday. And especially when those who have lost a loved one gather together around a casket and a grave. And you stand there and you proclaim that Jesus lives. The victory is won. Then just as ancient Israel was called to not be afraid, so God's people today are called to not be afraid. Do not fear. The victory belongs to him. And no matter what life can throw at us, no matter what the world, the devil or our own flesh may try to convince us is ultimately true, the real truth is this: That God is in charge. He fights for us. And in fact, all we really do is stand by and watch his great victory.