King Hezekiah of Judah has expressed hope that Babylon might prove to be a powerful ally against the threats of the Assyrians. He seeks safety and security in political alliances and human strength. It is what any king would do, what any leader would strive to accomplish. But his kingdom is not of his own making. Its defenses are not secured by the might of men alone. For the great city of Judah is Jerusalem and the pinnacle of that magnificent city is the Temple. There the one true God dwells for His people. There the sacrifices are made, and the mercies of God pour forth. To trust such a kingdom, such a city and people to the allies of mankind without going to God in prayer was foolish at best. It was to forget the God who dwells in their midst. It is to forget the One who had created and established them in the first place. So, the prophet of God speaks brutally about a coming exile, where they will be carried away into Babylon and their homes destroyed.
He sees a coming time of great suffering and trial. It will be a time where they will be hard-pressed to hold on to hope as they find all their cleverly devised schemes come tumbling down. All the things they turn toward for security and meaning in their lives will be exposed as false and shallow gods of their own making. But the prophet does not leave them in despair and hopelessness. He does not abandon them to a future of devastation. No, he reminds them of who their God really is. He reminds them that though there are ramifications to their sin and failure so there is also redemption. There is a promise of a remnant that will return, a sure hope for those who trust in God. Therefore, he asks the people a powerful series of questions, “Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you form the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundation of the earth?” (Isaiah 40:21)
These questions matter. They challenged the ancient people of God and they challenge us today as well. They are questions that have the effect of drawing us back to the Word of God amid our trials. Just what is it you have heard? What is it your God has made known to you? Do you remember? Do you hold on to it? Do you trust it? Do you cling to that Word, or has it faded from you? That is what tends to happen. The Word sort of drifts from us, from our daily use, from our cognitive realizations. Perhaps it begins with doubts or thinking the Word is simply too good to be true. Whatever the course we begin to move beyond what God has said, beyond what we have heard to make our own conclusions, our own philosophies, our own direction for the day. King Hezekiah sought military allies. We tend to settle for much less; momentary hopes of a better life or more happiness or greater success is at the top of our list. We forget who it is we worship, who it is that calls us His children.
Our world is filled with a plethora of things to pull us from remembering what we have heard from our God. These days, perhaps the greatest thing I see is fear. It is not the fear of the Lord. No, it is fear of just about everything else. I see fear of losing control of your life, fear of sickness and disease, fear of being on the wrong side of history, and fear of being condemned or being a martyr or being forgotten. Our fear leads us into action, some thought out, some not so much. We ultimately tend to simply go with the flow. We align ourselves with the rest of society. After all, it seems to be the way of strength, the way which gives the greatest opportunity to overcome our fear, to be safe and secure.
But fear at times gives way to real suffering and pain. And that, well that can certainly cause us to forget what God has said. I have heard people who refuse to hear the Word of God because of the reality of things like the Holocaust. The very idea that an all powerful and good God would allow such atrocities does not make you want to listen to him. But it certainly does not need to be that extreme, for when suffering comes into your life the weight and of the trial can be devastating. It could be the loss of one you love, the separation which comes with death that drives you into the pits of suffering. But it could just as easily be failure and depression, a feeling of isolation that can consume you. Whatever God has said about us we quickly let go as we try and adjust to the pain and trial of the moment. We focus instead on our own way out, our own strategy for peace and well-being in this age. Perhaps we use destructive things like drugs and alcohol to endure. Or we can use good and uplifting things like healthy eating or distracting hobbies. But no matter what, we begin to forget what we have heard.
To forget what He has said is to be left alone in our schemes and devices to endure the evil days. To forget what He has said is to feel the full weight of the isolation that comes with suffering and hardship and death and the fear that mocks our faith at every turn. What the prophet Isaiah is calling for the people to remember, what he is calling for you to remember, is exactly who it is that has spoken to you in the first place. He says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not lose faith or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:28-29). Your God is the Creator of all things. Your God possesses understanding beyond our searching. Your God rules the heavens and the earth, and He has spoken to you.
Have you not heard? Yes, you have! You have been consumed by the Word of God. The Word that spoke creation into being, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us has claimed you as His own. Think about it, that Word enters your ears even now. It proclaims a truth despite all you are going through. Amid the doubts and the fears and the suffering and anxiety and the depression it says, “You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are loved and you are forgiven.” This word was connected to water bound up in the gift of holy baptism where it washed you and declared in the courtroom of Heaven you are a saint of the Most High. You are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You have died already so you might live forever. But that Word is not done. No, the Word then gets ahold of a meal, a simple taste of bread and sip of wine and declares, “Here is the very body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins. Take and eat. Take and drink, for you are redeemed by God.”
Your God is not so small that he can be pushed away by our barriers to remembering. He keeps coming forward, keeps speaking this Word, keeps it echoing in your ears, so you do not forget. You may think these Words are not spoken to you, that they are aimed at someone else, but my whole purpose in being here is to tell you they are for you. For you in your fear and in your doubt and in your suffering and in your sin and in your shame, He speaks His promises to you. And with a radical intensity He declares over and again how you are forgiven all your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.