Does Anybody Love Me?
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, November 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
But Zion said, "The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me."
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.
- Isaiah 49:13-16
Does anyone love me? All of us are prone, at some time or another, to ask this question, especially when trouble comes. We begin to wonder whether anybody cares for us at all. We even complain that God himself has forgotten us.
We find such a complaint in Isaiah 40:27: "Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God'?" Essentially, God's people are charging that their God has forgotten them! But this text teaches us three things: first, God does discipline his people in love; second, when we are disciplined, we may tend to become depressed and despondent; and third, our God will never forget us.
Throughout the Bible we find examples of God disciplining his people. In Deuteronomy 8:2-5 we read:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.
When God disciplines us, we typically begin to murmur and complain. Examples of this can be found throughout the book of Exodus. Right after their deliverance, Israel saw the Egyptian army pursuing them. Immediately they began to complain, "Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us into the desert to die?" (14:11). When they could not find water in the wilderness, "the people grumbled against Moses, saying, 'What are we to drink?'" (15:24). When they ran out of food, they complained: "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! . . . You have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death'" (16:3). And later, when they again had no water, they grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (17:3).
Of course, all this was discipline. God was testing his people in order to prove what was in their hearts and humbling them to teach them to rely on him. But, notice, when God tests our faith by discipline, correction, or rebuke, we usually respond by grumbling against him.
Context of Discipline
In Isaiah 49 we find Israel being disciplined by God for her covenant unfaithfulness. Isaiah was forseeing the time after the Babylonian army had come, killed many people, destroyed the temple by fire, and taken many as exiles to Babylon. Many prophets had warned of these things, but God's people paid no attention and refused to amend their ways. Finally, these events took place and now God was speaking to his people about this discipline.
Such discipline proves the heavenly Father's care for his people. When God's people disobey him, he faithfully disciplines them because he will not and cannot let them walk in the error of their ways. The goal of God's discipline is to bring his people back to him. Isaiah 54:7-8 tells us: "'For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer." Lamentations 5:20-22 says, "Why do you always forget us? Why do you forsake us so long? Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure."
The classic New Testament passage on divine discipline is Hebrews 12:7-11:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
God disciplines us that we may become godly. Thus, we should consider it a privilege and blessing to receive his discipline. In Christ, God has chosen us before the creation of the world to make us holy and blameless in his sight. Without holiness, no one can see God or have fellowship with him; therefore, God must make us holy now.
When God disciplines us with his fatherly love, it is not always pleasant. But God does not worry about our immediate response; he is interested in the long-term result. Our plan for ourselves may be to become rich, famous and powerful, but that is not God's purpose for us. His ultimate purpose is to conform us to the holiness of Jesus Christ.
We may suffer in this fallen, imperfect world and experience opposition from Satan, the god of this world, and his demons. But there is a new world coming. Our sufferings are meant to achieve something for us, as the apostle Paul clearly understood: "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18); "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:17); "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (Romans 5:3-4). What is our hope? The glory of God!
When God disciplines us we often fail to think biblically. We should rejoice because it is the proof that God cares for us. Instead, we become depressed and despondent.
The exiles in Babylon began to experience severe depression and doubted God's covenant love. They thought they were seeing a failure of the Davidic covenant of 2 Samuel 7, in which God promised that a son of David would sit on the throne of David forever. After all, there was no throne, no Judah, no Israel, and they, the people of the covenant, were exiles. Feeling forgotten and forsaken, they expressed their fears and doubts: "But Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me'" (v. 14).
Of course, such a charge was groundless! Zion was experiencing discipline because of her own evil wanderings and covenant unfaithfulness. But, as a result of this discipline, she was becoming despondent and irrational. Her words imply that the immutable God could change, lie, and be unjust, and that he was unfaithful to his covenant and no longer loved her.
But God disciplined Zion because he loved her. Let us illustrate it this way: When a vine-dresser prunes a vine, it is a painful experience for the vine. But this pruning is designed, not to destroy the vine, but to make it more productive and useful. A surgeon will cut a suffering patient, not to kill him, but to heal him. For the patient to say, "The physician has forgotten me and forsaken me," is groundless. In the same way, a father disciplines his child, not to harm him, but to bless him and guide him into the way of righteousness and eternal life.
The greatest calamity for a believer is to be forgotten by God. That would mean our sure eternal damnation. But, says Isaiah to the despondent, suffering people of God, the fear of God forgetting his people is absolutely groundless. How could he who chose you in Christ to save you before the foundation of the world ever forget you? We must think correctly. For God to forget you is an utter impossibility.
God disciplines us, but it is for our good. The Bible says all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. So stop complaining and stop fearing. Look to God. Look to the Bible. Look to the cross. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free from all your depression and despondency.
In Psalm 73, Asaph became depressed when he compared the prosperity of the wicked with his own suffering. He said his feet almost slipped, and he began to think, "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning." Asaph felt it had been useless to live a Christian life. But he got a different picture when he went into the sanctuary and entered the presence of God. He realized his thinking was wrong, so he said, "I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you." Once in the presence of God he realized the truth: "Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand."
Dear friends, you have also entered the sanctuary and are listening to the word of God. I hope you will acknowledge that your murmuring, fear, and complaining is groundless. God has neither forgotten nor forsaken you.
In answer to his people's complaint, God defends himself in verses 15 and 16: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."
The best of human love is a mother's love for her baby, who is totally dependent on her. If a mother forgets her child, he will die, but for a mother to forget the baby at her breast is not natural. Even so, this proposition is not universally true. There are mothers who forget their children because they are too poor or to sick to care for them. Sometimes mothers die, and their children are left as orphans. Other mothers may abandon their children or throw them in the garbage can. And,especially in these times of increased selfishness, a mother may cruelly murder her baby while it is yet in her womb. Millions have been so killed.
The truth is, mothers may forget their totally dependent children. But God argues, "I will not forget you!" Our God is not poor, sick, weak, or sinful; he is the transcendent, infinite, personal God. Additionally, Christ, who died once in behalf of us and lives forevermore, tells us, "Because I live, you will live also." We are united to Christ like branches to the vine. How, then, can he forget us?
When all human love fails, God's love will remain. Psalm 27:10 tells us, "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me." And in Jeremiah 31:20 God speaks in anthropomorphic language: "'Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore, my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,' declares the Lord."
Yes, we may wander and sin, and God will discipline us when we do. But he will never forget us or abandon us. He will restore us, heal us, and speak comforting words to us. The Bible says we are his portion, his inheritance, his bride, and the apple of his eye. He loved us with an everlasting love and died in our place for our eternal salvation. How could he possibly forget us?
Engraved on His Palms
Verse 16 begins, "Behold!" or "See!" God is speaking anthropomorphically, as if he were holding out his palms to us, and saying, "Take a look." There on his palms God carries the memorial by which he remembers us. PGM Sometimes people write on their hands or tie a string around a finger to help them remember important things. But God has engraved us on his palms.
This engraving is a present memorial; right now God is seeing and remembering us. As I said, all human love can fail, and even our loved ones can forget us. But that does not happen to our God. He remembers us every moment.
Not only is this memorial present, but it is also permanent. God will never perish. He is eternal, uncaused in his being, and independent. He is the first and he will be the last. Therefore, he will remember us forever.
It is also a personal memorial. We are not merely written in a book God carries, or a locket that he wears. We are engraved into his very person.
Finally, it is a painful memorial. The word "engrave" means "to cut into" something. Metaphorically, we have been cut into God's flesh. But this truth is real as well as metaphorical. Speaking of Jesus Christ, Isaiah 53:5 tells us, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities." Look at the nail prints in his hands and where the spear was thrust in his side! Christ bore these wounds in love and remembrance of us.
God Remembers Us
When the Bible speaks of God remembering us, it means he is actively involved in caring for his people, not some kind of abstract remembrance. How does this manifest?
First, God remembers us to make us joyful and comfort us: "Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains!" (v. 13). What is the reason? "For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones."
Second, God remembers to provide for all our needs. Who gave us life? Who gave us body and soul? God did. So not only will he give us food and clothing, but he has provided for our greatest need of eternal salvation. Jehovah Jireh means Jehovah sees; therefore he provides. Christ died to provide for us and lives to meet our every need.
Third, God remembers something that we do not naturally like: he remembers to discipline us. Our heavenly Father will not treat us as illegitimate children, for whom no one cares. But we are children of God; therefore, God will reuke us and corrects us when we stray.
I hope we will think biblically on this subject. Sinful man interprets discipline to mean that God has forgotten and forsaken him. But God's discipline proves that he loves and remembers us. I hope we will begin to believe in God, trust in him, and rest in him. When we do so, we will be rid of all worry, fear, anxiety, and doubt.
In the Hebrew text, the object of God's remembrance in verse 16 is singular: "See, I have engraved thee. . ." God cares not only for the church corporate, but for each of us individually. Similarly, Exodus 28:29 tells us we are on God's heart individually as well as collectively.
Think about this. God loves you and gave himself for you personally and engraved your name on his palms. Thus, you can be certain of this: You are not forgotten! Look, he tells you, your name is there, cut into his person. He invites you to examine his hands and side, just as the risen Christ invited doubting Thomas to examine him. God, the divine artist, has engraved you on the canvas of his own person so that he may remember you forever.
So God says, "Behold!" or "Look!" When the word "Behold!" is used in the Bible, it always refers to something wonderful, exciting and out of the ordinary. It is saying, "Wake up! Something of particular importance for you has happened!" In addition, "behold" means there is no mistake about it; God never commits an error. Here, then, God is telling us that our name is indelibly written on his person. I urge you to look and be comforted by that knowledge.
Finally, notice the crucified hands of our Lord. The Bible tells us we are held in God's hands and no one is able to snatch us out of them. If that were possible, we should be despondent. But it will never happen.
There is a hymn by Charles Wesley which says, "Arise, my soul, arise, shake off your guilty fears; the bleeding Sacrifice in my behalf appears: before the throne my Surety stands, before the throne my Surety stands, my name is written on his hands." Christ died, Christ is risen, and Christ reigns-all for us. In the fullness of time, God's Son became man. He came to seek and to save that which is lost. In the fullness of time, he came to give his life as a ransom for many. This was God's eternal plan, and he did not forget.
"Does Anyone Love Me?"
Perhaps you have asked the question: Does anyone love me? Does anyone remember me? If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that there is someone who remembers and loves you forever. God has not forgotten you. He remembers you even now, and loves you with everlasting love. You are chosen from all eternity. You are his and he is yours. Your name is engraved on his crucified hands. Your present sufferings are merely proofs of his love to you and will achieve glory for you.
So stop fearing, doubting, and complaining. Rejoice! God is comforting his people. Even heaven and earth are asked to join in this great celebration. Rejoice that he remembers you personally. Rejoice also that he remembers not your sins.
But if you have never believed in Jesus Christ, you have valid reason to worry and be despondent. Your future is extremely gloomy, for your eternal destiny is separation from the presence of God. But, praise God, you are alive right now, able to think and hear the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to look to the crucified Christ today! Believe in him, trust in him, rest in him, hope in him, and obey him. Then you too can be assured that God remembers you and has written your name on his palms. Then you will have a bright future as you look forward to seeing him face to face and living with him forever.
Finally, because our God remembers us, let us remember him in all our thoughts, words and deeds. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we are told, "Do this in remembrance of me." What does it mean to remember him? It is to live for his glory in the light of his eternal word and to praise him for saving us.
I pray that we would learn to appreciate God's discipline and not become despondent when he deals with us. May we rejoice, knowing that God will never forget us nor forsake us. The wounds of Jesus speak loudly and clearly that God loves us. May we abide in his love forever. Amen.
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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