Isaiah 43:1-7 (EHV)
1 But now this is what the Lord says,
the Lord who created you, O Jacob,
the Lord who formed you, O Israel.
Do not be afraid, because I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name. You are mine.
2 When you cross through the waters, I will be with you.
When you cross the rivers, they will not sweep you away.
When you walk through fire, you will not be burned,
and the flame will not set you on fire.
3 Because I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior,
I gave Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
4 Because you are precious and honored in my eyes,
and I myself love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
and peoples in exchange for your life.
5 Do not be afraid, because I am with you.
From the east I will bring your offspring,
and from the west I will gather you.
6 I will say to the north, “Give them back!”
and to the south, “Do not hold them.”
Bring my sons from far away
and my daughters from the end of the earth—
7 everyone who is called by my name,
everyone I created for my glory,
everyone I formed,
yes, everyone I have made.
Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may trust you love us as much as you love your own Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
How much are you worth? What is your value? And how would you figure this out?
I suppose one way to figure how much you’re worth is to consider how much someone might be prepared to pay for you as a ransom amount. So then, how much would someone pay for you? $1,000,000? $100,000? $1,000? $100?
Another possibility of measuring your worth is to consider your usefulness. What skills do you have? What sports or games are you good at? What musical instruments can you play? How much do you do for those around you? How much joy and pleasure can you bring to the people you love? Although, if you’re old, differently able, or limited in what you can do, how does this affect your value?
Another possibility is your presence on social media. How many followers or ‘friends’ do you have? How many likes or views do you get for your posts? How many comments do you make or receive? And what if you’re not getting as many as you used to? How does that affect your value? How does that affect your sense of self-worth?
Perhaps you might consider how many friends you have, or how many interesting topics you can engage in, or what names of impressive people you’ve met whom you can bring into your conversations, or how many jokes you can recall, or perhaps even your ability to remember and quote from Scripture or discuss theological topics meaningfully?
What is your worth, and how would you measure it? How could you increase your worth, or is it out of your hands?
Part of the trouble is we don’t usually value ourselves very well. We either value ourselves too highly and have inflated egos and pride, or we’re tempted to put ourselves down and have a poor sense of self worth.
Another part of the problem, but also part of the good news, is that your worth isn’t up to you. Just like any artwork, your value is in the eye of the beholder, not in the work itself.
In other words, you don’t decide your ransom amount. That’s up to the one who pays your ransom. You don’t decide whether you’re likeable or not. That’s up to those who are willing to like you. You don’t decide how valuable you are. That’s up to those around you to decide how precious you are to them.
As we consider this reading from Isaiah and how God values his people, we’d also benefit from understanding the context into which it was first spoken.
In this case we don’t have to go very far into the previous chapter to realise the value of God’s chosen people isn’t very high.
God calls his people deaf, blind, and disobedient. (Is 43:18-25)
They had heard God’s word but chose not to listen to him, which made them spiritually deaf.
They had seen the miracles of God but chose not to take notice of them, which made them spiritually blind.
They had heard and seen how much God loves them and how much he wanted his chosen people to live according to his ways so that they might bless the world through them, but they rejected his ways and wanted to live like everyone else around them, which made them disobedient.
As a result of their spiritual deafness, blindness, and disobedience, God had sent them away from his land and they were living as exiles among foreigners. They had been looted and plundered by other nations and treated as outcasts and worthless people. They even felt as if God no longer considered them worthy.
And it’s into this context which God speaks his words of love and mercy and compassion.
The One who had created them, and who had built them into a nation, was going to buy them back. He was going to pay the ransom price for them so that he would restore them.
Even though they were spiritually deaf, blind, and disobedient, he still considered them precious, valuable, redeemable, and worthy of paying their purchase price…again.
This wasn’t because of anything they did to make themselves worthy or valuable or redeemable, but because this is what God chose to do. God had chosen to reveal his glory through them. God was going to call them by his own name.
He was going to be with them as their Immanuel, their ‘God-with-us’ so that when they passed through dangerous waters or damaging flames, they wouldn’t be harmed.
This means that, while he wouldn’t always let them escape troubles and hardship, he will accompany them through those times. There would be no reason for them to be afraid, no matter what they faced, because with God at their side, who could be against them?
The good news is that God did redeem his people and bring them back to his land. He gathered these homeless and worthless people and restored them so that he could be among them as their God. With his help, the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt, and the temple was restored. While it wasn’t to their previous glory, God did what he promised.
More than this, God himself came to be with his people in the person of Jesus Christ who was baptised among his own people in the river Jordan, which we heard in the gospel reading today.
Now this is all good and dandy, but how does this apply to you? How does this affect your worthiness, even though you’re not an Israelite?
This means, when we consider God’s word which was first spoken to the Israelites, we can’t automatically apply the same words to our own situation because we’re not the people whom he originally spoke to.
However, instead of dismissing God’s word, these words can, and do, apply to us for a simple reason:
Our baptism into Jesus Christ, the true and fully obedient Israelite, is the watery and effective glue which binds us all together with the people of God; past, present, and future.
Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the conduit of God’s love and mercy to foreigners like you and me.
Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the means by which God adopts us as honorary Israelites because we’re now joined to Jesus, the obedient Israelite who truly hears and sees.
Our baptism into Jesus Christ is how God places his own holy name on us and claims us as his own possession to cherish and protect and grow in knowledge, faith, and spiritual maturity.
Our baptism into Jesus Christ is the lens we put on to read God’s Word, the hearing aid which help us hear God’s Word, and the faithful reception and obedient response to God’s Word as if it were spoken directly to us, even though it was originally spoken to others.
This means that, just like the rebellious Israelites, we’re also all too often spiritually deaf. We simply don’t listen to each other very well, and we definitely don’t listen to God very well. We’re all too busy listening to our own selfish opinions and our own critical thoughts and judgments to listen properly. Our selective hearing gets us into all types of strife and problems in our relationships, including our relationship with God, which only lessens our worthiness.
We’re also spiritually blind. We don’t look at the right things and we don’t see what we’re supposed to see. We see viruses threatening and we become afraid. We see long line ups and empty shelves and we blame the government. We see sports stars turned around at airports and we arrogantly mock them and criticise them.
When we look around at what bothers us so much, we fail to see God’s activity in our lives, and we fail to look to him in all our troubles. We fail to see the blessings God gives us every day so that we might trust him when we’re afraid. We fail to see how he offers us strength and peace and hope during times of trouble.
But we also fail to see each other through the eyes of Christ and value each other the way God values us. Because we fail to see each other in this way, we also fail to act with mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Our spiritual blindness to God’s abiding presence in our lives and failing to see each other through the eyes of Christ only lessens our worthiness.
Because we don’t hear and see very well, we don’t respond with faithful obedience. We’re selective which words of God should apply to us, and we’re also selective which words should apply to others. We’re all too often critical and judgmental. We’re also all too often reluctant to love and serve and forgive, which only lessens our worthiness.
So then, how much are you worth to God? What is your value?
Well, spiritually you’re bankrupt, but you don’t get to decide your worth, and neither does anyone else on this earth. You don’t decide what price God decides to pay to purchase you as his own dearly loved precious child. You don’t get to decide whether you’re forgiven or loved or worthy of saving. God is the One who decides!
And God decided to send his own dearly beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased, to pay the price for you, your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation. The price was his beloved Son’s innocent blood and atoning death.
You’re worth much more than $100, $1,000, or $1,000,000 to God. Your price is the death of the one and only dearly loved begotten Son of God.
Not because you deserve it, but because God decided that’s the price he was willing to pay for you so that you would belong to him and that he would rule over you as his King.
This is the price he was willing to pay so that you would be forgiven and be set free from death and the power of the devil. This is the price God decided to pay so that you would live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever, just as he is raised from death to life and now lives and rules eternally.
The connection between this payment for you and Jesus Christ is through your baptism into him. God gives forgiveness of sins, freedom from death and the devil, and life with God forever to all who believe what he promises.
As God’s word reveals our deafness, blindness, and disobedience, we learn that we need to keep drowning the old sinful nature in those same waters of baptism. God continues to call all those who bear his holy name to repent and believe because he knows everything selfish and sinful in us has to keep dying.
But by faith we also rise again with Christ every day so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can live anew as God’s obedient, loving, forgiving, and serving people who truly hear, see, and respond with mercy and grace.
No matter how worthy or unworthy you think you are, God has created you and shaped you. He tells you not to be afraid because he’s with you. He’s called you by name, placed his own holy name on you at your baptism, and you’re now his own cherished and valuable possession.
When you cross the threatening floods and go through fiery trials, God is with you. He’s paid a valuable price for you and he’s not going to give you up.
God has chosen to love you and he will, at the right time, gather you from the ends of the earth to be where he is. Because you’re joined to Jesus through baptism and faith, you know that you are also his beloved child.
Because you’ve been covered with the righteousness of Christ, you know that he’s pleased with you, which is why…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.