The Unforgettable Love of God (Isaiah 49:14-16)
Recently we have been trying to toilet train our three year old girl. It has been really hard and frustrating. I like the way I was toilet trained in India. They let you run around naked and all accidents would be cleaned up along the way. Eventually you trained yourself. Unfortunately, we cannot do the same today.
The most frustrating part is not that she does not understand the information. If you asked her, “What do you need to do when you have to pee?” She will tell you without hesitation, “Go to the bathroom.” But when it comes to the information moving to her heart and feet to apply, it’s a different story.
Children are miniature versions of us. They teach us a lot about how we are. We are good at gathering information, but when it comes to translating that into real life application, we are lacking. Information is not enough. We need transformation.
In Isaiah 49:1-13, the Lord is promising His people, who are in exile, of hope. He says there is hope of salvation coming. In Isaiah, the one who will come to bring this hope to Israel is called “The Servant,” which we know is talking of Jesus Christ. This Servant was promising actions of great love to a people who were suffering. And not only to the children of Israel, but this salvation will extend to the entire world. In Isaiah 49:13 says one day even earth itself will be redeemed.
Lots of promises here. Lots of information. But God’s people have a complaint: “We don’t feel loved.” What do we do when we know the right answers, but our life experiences make us feel wrongly about them? We may know even the right verses to say, but when problems hit us, all of that information does not lead us to transformation. What should we do? Well, God answers the people’s complaints by pointing to somebody we all know: mothers. First:
I. There will be times we will not feel the love of God (v.14)
Israel says, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” They are questioning God’s love for them. Why? God has promised hope that will be coming soon. God has even promised hope that will come eventually and ultimately. However, WHAT ABOUT NOW? Where is God now? Their temple was gone. Tragedy all around them. They had no assurances of God’s love.
Notice they don’t say in Is. 49:14, “We don’t believe in God.” They don’t say, “We don’t believe these promises.” They believe in God. They believe these promises, but it does not affect them NOW. It is possible for the human heart to live in the presence of truth and that truth actually doesn’t shape us, change us or affect us.
It is just information. How do you know if it is just information? Wait until problems happen. Wait until prayers are not answered. Wait until you face difficulty after difficulty. When those things happen, we know what we really believe. There is a saying that goes, “Whatever is in the well, will always come out in the bucket.” What you really believe will eventually come out. It will be those times you say, “I am forsaken! I feel forgotten!”
God is in the business of taking head knowledge and transforming it into heart knowledge. Sometimes we deceive ourselves to think we understand something, but it’s not true. In church we sing, “God loves me!” But what happens when there is sickness, tragedy, unemployment, children who walk away from the Lord, etc.? Or your own heart says, “I have sinned too much. I don’t love God the way I should. Look at how bad I lived this week.” Evidence within and evidence outside may you that the truth of God’s love is not true.
You cannot live this way and think you will grow in faith. Because if you don’t believe that God loves you, you will start to look for it in other places. You will look to a career to feel loved. You will try to find it in other people. And careers or people will always disappoint you.
II. The love of a nursing mother and the love of God (v.15)
How will God answer this complaint? What is interesting for me here is that God allows the interruption. If I was trying to get my daughters to understand something important and they interrupt me as I am talking about how they’re feeling, I might very well say, “Well, too bad. Stop whining and listen!”
God doesn’t do that here. This is a great long prophecy in Isaiah and God turns to them and takes the outburst seriously. At the same time, He doesn’t just give emotional support either. He doesn’t say, “Feel better soon my poor, poor baby.” He comforts them with an answer that also requires them to think. God says, “I want you to think about something. I want you to think about it deeply. I want to give you theology that is designed to get to your affections. I want to bring my truth into the closest possible connection to your heart and head, until it begins to change your heart.” So He uses this picture of a nursing mother to get His people to think about their relationship to Him. Not just to think about it, but to think and think and think and think about it until we feel it.
Let’s look at the image here given to us. God says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” The answer is, “No.” I guess it is humanly possible to forget, but 99.9% of nursing mothers find it difficult to forget their child who is nursing. The bond is so strong and probably the most strongest in the world. Why? One pastor gives us a few reasons. First of all, a mother cannot physically forget. Nursing mothers do not need an alarm to know when to feed the baby. The milk comes in and the mother feels uncomfortable. The more you nurse, the more the milk comes in and you have to nurse. The mother’s physical nature begins to move toward the child. Secondly, a mother cannot emotionally forget. When a mother is nursing, the chemical oxytocin is released that makes the mother feel extreme delight and joy in being with her child.
Thirdly, the mother’s love is unconditional. Think about every other relationship. In a marriage you make vows, but there has to be some “give and take” for the marriage to survive. But look at the relationship between the mother and a child. Is there give and take? Yes! The child just takes, takes and takes some more and the mother just gives, gives and gives! If you a nursing mother, for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week your life will revolve around that infant. You can never forget the child because as soon as the baby is down for a nap and you take a deep breath, he cries again! How unconditional and indestructible is a mother’s love for her child!
Now God says, “Now compare that to me.” The verse says, “Even these may forget.” Actually the Hebrew says, “She will forget.” What is God saying? God is like and unlike a mother. Some mothers are bad and will abandon their children. But everyone will one day lose your mother, whether good or bad mothers. Some mothers might get Alzheimers and literally forget you. But everyone will one lose their mother.
But God says, “You see your mother’s love? That’s just a dim hint of my love for you. You see her physical love? You see her very being moves toward you? But one day she will be gone, but my love will never be destroyed! Do you know that everything about me powerfully moves towards you?!”
Notice in v. 17 God says, “Your walls are continually before me.” He’s talking about the walls of Jerusalem that were crushed. In other words, He is saying, “Everything about your life is ever before me. I never forget you. I see your brokenness, your heartbreak, your despair, your sadness, your loneliness and everything else that is smashed into pieces in your life.” Can a mother forget a child? A mother is fixed on her nursing child. How much more is God fixed on us?
And God says, “My love is also unconditional like a mother’s love for her nursing child. In our relationship, you give me nothing. You just take, take and take. You are completely selfish. You add no value to my life at all, but I keep absolutely loving you and will always love you forever and ever.” If you knew that a love of this magnitude given by a person of this magnitude was really, really yours and if this love was living and moving in your heart moment by moment, what kind of person would you be? You would be someone different that the one sitting here today! There would be a deep, deep joy at the bottom of your heart that no circumstance could take away. Lastly,
III. The proof of the unforgettable love of God (v.16)
God is not done. God answers the question, but it’s still talk, so God goes further. What convinces you that someone loves you? It’s not just talk, right? It’s action. In v. 17, this is the cure for the pain.
If you only have words and no action, in the end, you doubt if that person really loves. Feeling forsaken by God means that you don’t feel like God is doing anything for you. Don’t tell me, but show me! No one has ever changed from being told. They have to be shown. So God is going to show us His love in v.16.
As a parent, when the little sinner is born, your life changes and everything in your life starts to revolve around the child. It is draining. However, when they start to talk, its get more frustrating. You will notice that when they turn 3,4, 5 or 6 and they start to talk, that all of your sacrifices are completely invisible to that child. They absolutely don’t care about your sacrifices.
As far as they are concerned, mom and dad are just there to meet their every need. That’s why God made adults right? And there are moments when the child doesn’t get it. “No, you can’t eat that honey. No, you can’t do that, son.” And what happens? The child screams out, “You don’t love me!” What do you want to say when he/she does that?
You want to say, “You little ungrateful piece of _____. The sacrifices I have made for you are invisible to you. And the most important deeds of love/sacrifices are not these things you are asking for now. Don’t you know that I have sacrificed way more than this! Will you please trust me?”
Don’t you see that we do that with God? We say, “Why aren’t you doing anything right now God?!” We read the Bible and see words, words and words. But we say when trouble comes, “You don’t love me because you’re not answering my prayers right now!” And God says, “Don’t you know that the most important sacrifice and deed of love is not what you need right now? Don’t you see the magnitude of my love for you? Don’t you see all that I have done for you already shows you that I love you?”
Look at v.16: “I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.” He changes the image of a mother to a master. Sometimes in ancient times, the name of a master might be tattooed on the servant so people would know that the servant belonged to the master. But never, ever is the name of a servant tattooed on a master. That would mean a master who is devoted to his servant.
This is not just another nice image. It is a horrible image. Why? It says, “I have engraved you…” Not tattooed, but engraved. That word “engraved,” means “to engrave with a hammer, chisel or a spike.” See the image? Why in the world would someone out of love allow people to take a hammer and drive a spike through the palm of their hands?
Someone out of love did do that exact thing centuries later. Remember Thomas after the resurrection? He was like Israel in v.14, filled with doubts and fears saying, “I can’t be sure.” Everyone else says, “He is risen!” Jesus appears to him and says, “Look at the palm of my hands. See my love for you.” This is not just an argument. It is action. On the cross, Christ got the forsakenness you deserved so we will never be. Christ became an orphan so we could be adopted. He was the Son of God, the apple of His Father’s eye, who cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” He got darkness to his cry, so with our cries, like a nursing mother, God moves closer to us. If you feel like Thomas filled with doubts, feeling forsaken and forgotten, unsure of His love and your heart is crying like a nursing restless infant for milk, until he gets hold of the milk, this is the milk. Drink deeply of His love for you this morning. His hands and feet prove it.