1. Introduction: Rest
This morning I hope to set the tone for our year ahead. 2019 is a new year; it is a fresh start; it provides the opportunity to leave the last year in the past, to draw a double line under it and to look forward with expectation and hope for what God is going to do among us as we build and rebuild.
2. A God who never rests (Isa 62:1-5)
Read Isaiah 62:1-3
There is a determination in the heart of God that his people will become what he intends them to be. He will not “keep silent” or “remain quiet”. Why? Because they have been a wayward people.
Just a bit of history around this time. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian army and went into exile, never to properly return. Why – judgement on disobedience and unfaithfulness. That same Assyrian army descended on the Southern Kingdom of Judah and they were almost destroyed. God rescued them but the nation would later fall to the Babylonian army and be taken into exile. The root cause of these exiles was the spiritual corruption of God’s people: they would worship foreign gods and pay protection money to foreign kings (rather than worship God and trust him). And so, despite these events Isaiah assures the people that God will not rest until their righteousness shines and their deliverance is a testimony to the nations around them.
And in these passages God gives his firm commitment: he will – not he might or should or can or would like to. God has a purpose for his people!
Mini conclusion: No rest in his work in us:
God intends to form a people who are his and his alone. He will do whatever is necessary. He will not allow us to remain in our disobedience and half-hearted trust in him.
Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
We can resist and will continue to comfort, rebuke, or discipline – he will do this all for our sake so that His glory may be seen in us.
Read Isaiah 62:4-5
When the people were carted off into exile, if they did not give themselves the names “deserted”, “forsaken”, “desolate” then certainly the nations around them would have mocked them with those names. The problem with name calling is that people tend to adopt the identity of that name.
But God promises them a new name which would affirm their value and beauty. The NIV footnotes help to explain that the name Hephzibah means “my delight is in her” and Beulah means, “married”. In spite of Israel’s legacy of unfaithfulness God still loves her. He is not like a reluctant judge who acquits a criminal who he finds repulsive, rather he is like a bridegroom showing love and affection to his bride.
Sometimes we say, “the honeymoon is over”, by which we mean to intensity and passion of the honeymoon period is not sustainable and slowly fades over time. There is a familiar predictability that settles in and so the work of keeping relationships fresh and vibrant begins. But God says, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so I will rejoice over you.” And it doesn’t fade – that is his unchanging level of intense love for us! Honeymoon freshness, honeymoon passion, honeymoon intensity, honeymoon excitement, honeymoon enthusiasm, honeymoon pleasures, honeymoon energy. This is God’s vivid and wonderful way of communicating to us how his heart rejoices over us, delights in us, enjoys us. With God the honeymoon never ends. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year and year, decade after decade – there is no boredom or fading in a million trillion years.
Mini conclusion: No rest in his love for us
Perhaps you know what it is like to feel forsaken and desolate. It could have been your own doing or it could be one account of circumstances – but you can relate to the plea. Despite our failures, our faithlessness and our falling He remains faithful.
Half time challenge: our failures and unfaithfulness often make us feel unworthy, forsaken and desolate. God stands before you to rejoice over you, to embrace you, to whisk you up in his loving embrace and lavish you with an other-worldly love. The Bible is a love story about a brave your prince who leaves the security and peace of his palace – everything – to rescue the one he loves. On the cross he demonstrates to the fullest extent this Never Stopping, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. He did not rest until the work of salvation was completed through his death – until he could declare in victory; “it is finished”, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit”
3. A people who never rest (Isa 62:6-7)
Read Isaiah 62:6-7
Do you see the parallel (same words in verse 1 and 6-7)? Just as God does not rest in his work of salvation and righteousness in our lives so we are not to rest in our passionate desire that his will is accomplished on the earth. While God is not silent, we are not to be silent, we are to give him no rest.
These people are given two identities: (1) watchmen. In times of war a fortified city had watchmen around the walls. They would stand within sight of each other and would be the ones to sound the first alarm if enemies were approaching. It was a position from which you did not retreat as risk of leaving the whole city exposed. The point is that Christians are to prayerfully call out to God in times of danger, trouble, insecurity and need.
They are also described as (2) remembrancers – The ESV says, “You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest”. A Remembrancer was actually an official position in service of the king, and he was responsible to remind their king of the promises that he had made. If you were a king you would make hundreds of decisions and promises and so your Remembrancer would say, “If it please your majesty, you promised to do this or that…”
So, Isaiah is calling upon God’s people, as watch(wo)men, in the face of danger, trouble, insecurity or need to remind God of his unchanging unfailing promises. Now you might say: if God is all knowing why would we need to reminding him; surely he has not forgotten! But it is actually God’s grace to us because when we as we “remind” him we are better acquainted with the promise. He is ministering to us through our remembrance. We are to remember his unbroken testimony of faithfulness in the past and his unshakable promises for the future.
That is also the point of the parables that Jesus tells in Luke 11 and 18 – the friend asking fro brea and the persistent widow. Which of you has said to the person who come to beg at your door, “Whenever you see me going into my house or leaving, ask me for money. If I don’t give it to you any don’t stop asking; persist, persist and persist until I give you something. Beg without ceasing. If you need to grab hold of me and restrain my entry or exit then do so. Wrestle with me until you get what you need from me”. This is what it means to give God no rest.
To do that you need to know God’s character and promises: God you have said it, and you are trustworthy therefore fulfil your word. The bible is full of promises and because we are too unfamiliar with them, we are not able to use them.
Do you remember how Jacob wrestled with God? He was in a state of fear and insecurity – he was about to meet the brother he betrayed and had not seen him for 20 years – he is scared to death cause Esau is coming with 400 men. He sends his family across the river so that they have a bit of a head start if things go bad! And that night (surprise surprise) he can’t sleep. A strange man shows up and at some point, Jacob realises he is wrestling with God. He refused to let God go until he had blessed him. He blessed him and changed his name from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (strives with God) – and we saw a name change already in Isaiah this morning.
This is what prayer does for us: we start in fear, anxiety and need; we wrestle with God’s promises and it leads to faith and peace. Wrestling with God in prayer in the face of our external circumstances and internal struggles is what develops faith. That is part of the blessing of wrestling – faith. Wrestling in prayer takes us to places we wouldn’t naturally go and sometimes leaves us with a limp – God will meet you but it often is not the answer you want or in the time you want.
Brothers and sisters, have you sat with Matthew 6:25 and wrestled with worry; or Proverbs 3:5-6 and a decision that you have to make; or John 3:16 and the salvation of a friend or family member; or 1 Cor 10:13f? And that is more personal – the same could be asked of corporate and national and international prayers. This is what we are called to as watchmen/remembrancers
In light of this theme for 2019 I want to ask you to make four commitments before God now:
- God: restlessly at work in you
- God: unrelenting in his love for you
- Me: wrestle with God in prayer over your life
- Me: wrestle with God in prayer over our church
- Reflect on Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
- How does this line up with what Isaiah says in chapter 62?
- What is God’s intention (cf. 62:1-3)
- What is the significance of God giving a new name?
- Can you think of other biblical occasions that God gave a new name?
- What was the significance?
- In what ways is it true that “the honeymoon comes to an end” generally in life?
- Why is it so hard to believe that the honeymoon never ends with God?
- How do the ideas of watch(wo)men and remembrancer combine to give us our restless identity in prayer?
- What do the parables of Luke 11:5-8 and 18:1-8 teach about prayer?
- Describe a time when you wrestled with God.
- What was the situation and what was the pro mise or scripture involved in your wrestle?
- Did you walk away with a ‘limp’?
- What was the blessing?
- Go around the circle and complete the statement personally:
- I will respond to God’s rest-less love in 2019 by…
- In 2019, wrestling in prayer will mean that I…