Sunday, August 22, 2010

Chosen

In the Garden, Adam named the creatures. That was not just some freestyle exercise. The names that he handed out explained and defined. And so, he named his new wife, Woman. That said something about her. She came from Man. We continue to label and name things today. Sometimes they are labels that are so very positive like ‘thoughtful’. But sometimes they are very negative like ‘loser’. Sometimes they are accurate and sometimes not. In today’s text Jesus names us. And the label that He places on us makes such a difference in our lives as we learn how to believe Him. After all, His labels are always accurate. As has been my practice, I’m going to read the whole chapter, but I’m going to focus on only a part of one sentence. Actually, the sermon is really only about one word.

Please listen as I read Isaiah 41.


The word that I would like to focus on is the word, ‘chosen’. Let me read to you again the part of the sentence in which it is found. ‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”…’ Jesus speaks to His people, to you, and He tells you that He has chosen you.

As good Reformed Presbyterians you are familiar with the notion of being chosen. We call it the doctrine of election. You have been taught that in eternity past God chose those who would be saved. He chose some and not others. That’s the doctrine of election. At one point or another many of you have heard this statement about the doctrine.

"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated, and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen, in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace."

Now, everything in that statement is true, but it isn’t especially warm. To be honest, it feels distant, formal and a little cold. To be fair, it was not intended to produce warm fuzzies. And yet, I fear that it is too easy for us to think about election, being chosen, in distant, formal and cold ways. My goal for this morning is to help you so that you don’t fall into that trap. Being able to avoid that trap and to see this idea of being chosen in the way Jesus intends will be a tremendous help to you as you make your way through this life.

Let’s start with this. I’m going to change the scenario. I want you to look at this idea of being chosen from a different angle. The facts will remain the same, but I think that your sense of what is going on will be different. Imagine this. A young man nervously tells the young lady with him that he has something to say to her. He pauses and asks, ‘Will you marry me?’ That sounds familiar enough, but let’s translate it. What that young man actually said is this. ‘Of all the women that I could have pursued, I have chosen you. Of all those women, I have decided to love you.’ That’s what he really said. And that’s what makes that kind of situation so precious. To choose is to decide to love. That is what the doctrine of election is about. That is what Jesus is saying in our text when He tells us that we are His chosen. ‘Of all the people that I could have pursued, I have chosen you. I have decided to love you.’ This is not something that is distant, formal or cold. This is filled with warm fuzzies. This is love. Jesus has decided to love you.

Let’s take our scenario a little further. It makes a difference who it is that asks that question of the young lady. Imagine some guy who has already asked several other women to marry him and has been turned down each time. I can see someone in that situation feeling a little anxious and a little desperate. But then, he notices someone new, another young lady who is available. So, he spends some time getting to know her, and as soon as is seemly, he pops the question. But when he does that, what is going on? In this situation, it’s not so much, ‘Of all the women I could have chosen, I have decided to love you’, but rather, ‘Please say ‘Yes’ so that I don’t feel like such a loser.’ It’s really all about him. There are lots of guys who pursue some young lady thinking primarily of themselves. But this is not Jesus. He is not desperate. There is no danger of His feeling like a loser. He could have chosen anyone, but He chose you.

Let me tell you a little of where I am coming from. There are many who are adherents of the religion called Christianity. For them, it’s all about performing the rituals and keeping the rules. It’s all about a relationship between themselves and an institution, a religion. This has been a perennial problem. From the beginning there have been those who are no more than adherents. Just think of Cain. This is a danger that confronts us all. Satan is quite happy to have people flock to churches as long as they are adherents. It is, however, entirely different for those who are not just adherents but disciples, disciples of Jesus. While there certainly are the rituals of the faith – blessings from God when rightly understood – and a vigorous obedience is critical, these things are not the heart of the matter. They do not define what is going on. It’s not a relationship with an institution or adhering to a religion. For disciples, it’s all about Jesus. And what fuels that discipleship is the thought, ‘He chose me. He could have passed me by and chosen someone else instead. But He didn’t. He chose me.’ This is your protection from falling into the attitude of the adherent.

Let’s take the next step by asking a question of the text. Why is this here? Why do we find this declaration of love here in Isaiah? Why is Jesus reminding His people that He has chosen them? Listen again. ‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”…’ That last bit of the sentence gives us the answer. The people felt as if they had been ‘cast off’, neglected, forgotten. Remember that Isaiah’s audience is a group of exiles who have lived in a strange land, far from home. What they needed was a little reassurance. So, Jesus reminds them that He chose them. He reminds them that they are loved. He tells them this so that they would know that they have not been forgotten. They are His chosen ones.

The problem of feeling forgotten is not limited to the past. There is a reason why we didn’t have Facebook when I was growing up. Your friends were people you grew up with, and they lived across the street or around the corner. If you had some news to share you’d tell them the next time you saw them. It seems to me that our culture is filled with people who feel forgotten, people who are lonely. I could be wrong about that, but I don’t think so. And I would not be at all surprised to find that each of you has had to deal with that sense of being forgotten, of being lonely, even if you don’t call it by that name. That you have such feelings at times should not be surprising. We are, after all, exiles living in a strange land, far from home. Jesus is aware of this. So, He speaks to us, and reassures us. He reminds us that of all the people He could have chosen, He chose us. Of all the people He could have decided to love, He decided to love us. So, He says, ‘…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ Even in those times when you especially feel the loneliness, you aren’t alone. Jesus tells us, ‘I am with you.’ Immanuel. He offers us hope until the exile is over, and we get to go home, where no one will ever feel forgotten.

It’s at this point that the ball is in your court. How will you respond? He offers you hope. What will you do? He has made a promise to walk with you so that you are never alone, regardless how you feel. All you need do is believe Him. There are times when we will be able to believe Him without much effort. But there are times when it’s more difficult and faith is hard to come by. That’s when you will need to say with that father, ‘Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.’ Remember, faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. It certainly will move Jesus. And as a result, He will uphold you with His righteous right hand. That doesn’t mean that the feelings of loneliness will necessarily disappear. They may. But if they don’t He will give you the ability to endure it. And you’ll be able to endure it because you will be confident that He is right there with you. Immanuel. And the evidence that your faith is working will be the sense of joy you feel. That’s not happiness. It’s a bit of optimism because of Jesus. There will be joy in Jesus, and that will help to make life work. Knowing that you are loved, chosen by Jesus, makes a difference. All you need to do is believe Him. He does the rest.

And that leads us to one last thought. It’s a question that too many people stress over. How do you know that you are one of the elect? How do you know that you are chosen? Again, things become a little clearer when we look at it a little differently. So, let’s translate those questions. Let’s put it this way. How do you know that Jesus loves you? When you put it that way the answer is obvious. You feel it. Paul wrote, ‘…God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ You know that you are loved by Jesus because you can feel it. His love has been poured out into your heart. To be sure, the evil one will try his best to distract you, get you to doubt and all the rest. But, Jesus does not lie. He has chosen you. He has decided to love you. All you need to do is believe Him when He tells you. As you learn how to do that He makes sure that you feel His love.

You are the elect of God, those whom Jesus has chosen and has decided to love. This is the Gospel. 

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