What is the first human relationship recorded in the Bible? The marriage relationship between Adam and Eve. The first thing God created after He created the first two people was the institution of marriage. The first wedding occurs in Genesis chapter 2 and the last wedding (between Christ and the church) occurs all the way at the end of the Bible in Rev 19.
It’s not a trivial fact that the canon opens and closes with a wedding. These two chapters actually stand at the beginning and end of human history, and since history begins and ends with a wedding, I think it is safe to say that God has a nuptial view of history. In fact, the marriage metaphor permeates the Scriptures where God is routinely depicted as the husband, and his people are depicted as the wife. Consequently, a godly marriage, where the husband loves and cherishes his wife and the wife respects her husband, where the wife submits to the leadership of her husband and the husband lays down his life for his bride, this type of marriage is not only honoring to God, but is actually the perfect illustration of the relationship between God and His people.
The text for this message comes from Isaiah 54:4-10. But before I read it, let me quickly sketch, in some very broad strokes, the historical setting of this text. Isaiah was a prophet who prophesied in the time leading up to a period in Israelite history known as the Babylonian captivity. It is called the Babylonian captivity because God’s people had rejected Him by turning to idolatry and injustice, so God brought the fierce Babylonian Empire in from the north to destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. as an act of judgment for the unfaithfulness of His people. The Babylonians then carried off the inhabitants of the land, the Judahites, to Babylon where they were held as captives for seventy years.
God warned the people through Isaiah that if they did not turn from their sin, this was exactly what was going to happen, but as people often do, they ignored the prophet of God at their own peril and God allowed them to suffer the consequences of their actions. In the passage at hand, God is now consoling the people who have been taken captive by reminding them that He is their husband, that His love for them is unfailing, and that He will ultimately bring them back to their land and restore them to the position of His wife.
Now for the text:
“‘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.
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.
For 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.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In 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.
‘This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
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.” (Isaiah 54:4-10 ESV)
God begins by comforting the people and then reminds them that He is not only their Creator, but is also their husband. Although the people have been unfaithful to Him by worshiping other gods, behaving like an adulterous wife, God loves them so deeply and so compassionately, that He will take them back.
But the questions is, why? After all the people had done, after all the unfaithfulness in spite of His patient warnings, why would God take back this adulterous people? Well, he tells us in verse 10. “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken…”
This term unfailing love is one of several ways Bible scholars attempt to translate the Hebrew word hesed into English. Hesed is a fascinating word because there is no direct English equivalent for it; no one English word captures the depth of meaning that is so densely packed in hesed. Sometimes it is translated as steadfast love, loving kindness, everlasting kindness, etc. But at its core is the idea of faithfulness, loyalty, mercy, and love. This word is used some 245 times in Scripture and most of those instances have God as the subject and His people as the object. In fact, this is one of the words God uses to describe His character in Exodus 34 as He passes before Moses. Make no mistake about it, God is a God of unfailing love.
Another fascinating thing about hesed, this unfailing love, is that it is not something one feels, but it is something one does. While feelings of love may come and go, hesed is essentially a decision, a choice to remain faithful regardless of circumstances, and as such hesed is a love that is unshakable and unfailing.
So, you might be thinking, “God’s unfailing love for His people caused Him to intercede on their behalf and led to their release from captivity 2,500 years ago. That’s a beautiful story, but what does it mean for me today?” Well, I’m glad you asked, because although Isaiah was written over 2,500 years ago, it is as significant for you and me today as it was to the original audience back then, and here’s why:
To really understand God’s unfailing love in chapter 54 of Isaiah, we have to look at chapter 53, which is a prophecy about the Messiah:
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
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.
He 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.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All 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.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
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.
Out 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.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because 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.”
(Isaiah 53 ESV)
So, who is that passage about? As the gospel writers have made abundantly clear, this passage is a prophecy about Jesus, the Messiah. If you have seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, this description of the Messiah suffered brings many of those vivid images to mind doesn’t it?
I mentioned before that hesed is something one does, and God does hesed with His people by sending His Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh and to offer Him as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Now that’s unfailing love, not just on the part of the Father, but also on the part of the Son.
Let us focus for a moment on 53:4-6, “Surely he has borne our griefsand carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All 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” (ESV).
On the cross Jesus took the penalty for your sins and mine. You see, every single person in this room deserves nothing but the wrath of God. All of us are sinners by birth and by choice; we have all gone astray; we have all earned a one-way ticket to eternal suffering in hell. But God has sent His Son, Jesus to offer us an alternative to that fate.
Note the punishment that He underwent: He was pierced for our transgressions, referring to being nailed to the cross; He was crushed under the burden of our iniquities; He was punished as if He were the one who broke God’s law when in fact He is the only person who has ever walked the earth who kept God’s law perfectly.
But as horrific as these physical sufferings were, they were nothing compared to the spiritual suffering He endured in His final 3 hours on the cross, as He bore the wrath of God for the sin of mankind. It wasn’t the scourging, or the crown of thorns, or the nails of the cross that caused Jesus to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was the fact that He knew He would have to drink the cup of the righteous wrath of God for the sins of humanity… and He freely chose to do it. I ask you, what greater love can exist? Can there be any greater example of extravagant, unfailing love?
However, Jesus’ sacrificial, atoning death is only part of the picture. Jesus didn’t come only to die on a cross and to bear the punishment for our sins. The Scriptures are clear: three days later He rose from the dead, He was exalted by the Father, and He was crowned Lord of lords and King of kings. And the good news is, this King offers us the opportunity for a different fate. This King offers us the opportunity to enter His kingdom, and to enter into a relationship with Him based on His unfailing love.
This, my friends, is the good news of the gospel: you can be forgiven of your sins and spared the wrath of God by receiving His Son as King! Now let me be very clear about how to do that. Receiving Jesus has nothing to do with repeating a little prayer after someone, or inviting Him into your heart, or filling out a commitment card, or raising your hand, or walking to an alter.
When the Scriptures talk about receiving Jesus, a technical term is used that means to accept one for who they claim to be. To receive Jesus is to accept Him, in faith, for who He claims to be: the Son of God, Lord, and Messiah. To receive Him in faith means to genuinely believe that Jesus is Lord and when I genuinely believe that fact, my entire life will change. I will repent of my sin (which means turn away from sin), and my will is brought into submission to His will; rather than going my own way, I now want to live a life of obedience to Him.
This is radical! This one truth has the capacity to change not only your eternal destiny, but your entire life in the here and now: Jesus is Lord! But this radical truth requires a radical commitment on your part. Following this Lord is not for the faint of heart. If you receive Jesus as Lord it means you are also rejecting all other claims of lordship on your life, and when you truly follow this Lord, the world will treat you the same way it treated Him: with contempt, with persecution, with rejection.
The gospel is not about your best life now, it is about laying down your life for Him who gave His life for you. Following Jesus will cost you everything, but the rewards are unfathomable.
I invite you to respond to this message by turning from sin and receiving Jesus as King. I invite you to lay your life down for Him and to enter His kingdom. I invite you to believe this life-saving and life-changing truth: Jesus is Lord!