Faith When the Worst Happens
Isaiah 43:1 - 3
A few years ago I read the story of Carmelo and Teresa Sarabia. The young couple lived in Laguna Canyon, California and were spending a monday evening in their apartment watching television. Their nine-month old baby, Tiffany, was asleep in her crib in the next room. Teresa's first clue that something was wrong was when the television screen flickered, then, went black. The power was out.
"I heard an explosion like the mountain was moving," she later told the Los Angeles Times, "and I took the baby from the crib." Holding her husband's hand, Teresa clutched the baby close to her body, bracing herself. Within seconds, a river of mud smashed through the apartment wall.
Teresa tried to shield her baby, positioning herself so the mud and debris would hit her instead of the child. Carmelo, in turn, tried to shield his wife and child. Strong as he was, determined as Teresa was, they were swept down the hill by the force of the current. Tiffany was torn from her mother's arms.
"My mouth was full of mud, and I was cleaning it out so I could yell for help for my baby," Teresa said. "But I couldn't scream." When they finally came to rest, she and Carmelo lay a few feet from one another, unable to move. Teresa could hear Tiffany crying in the distance, but she couldn't see her. She began to call for help. Moments later, the baby's cries were replaced by something far more terrifying. Silence.
What's the worst that can happen? Everyone will have a different answer to that question. And your answer will largely depend on what you are most afraid of. Dallas Willard says, "Fear is the anticipation of harm." The death of a loved one. Your own death. The loss of a child. Never having one. Being alone. Losing your job. Terrorism. War. Crime. Everybody has a worst case scenario for their lives.
Today I want you take your worst fear out and look at it. I want you to take out your Bible, as well. I want you to look at Isaiah 43:1-3. In chapter 42, Isaiah describes the worst of all worst case scenarios. God has poured out his wrath on Israel.
Answer the question any way you want, the worst thing in all eternity is to face the wrath of God. That’s what we read in Isaiah 42. Chapter 43 tells us how we can survive even that. (Read Text)
What use is faith when the worst happens? Near the end of Isaiah 42 there is a question; "Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come?"
Perhaps the most important thing faith can do for us in the middle of a crisis is to teach us to listen. The verses we just heard tell us what to listen for. Specifically, they tell us to listen for six words from God whenever we are overwhelmed by a worst case scenario.
The first two words to listen for are the first two words in Isaiah 43; "But now." With God there is always a "But now .... "
The worst has happened. But now God wants to do a new thing in your life. The thing you feared most has overtaken you. But now God gives you a new perspective and a new promise. Your worst case scenario has become a reality. But now God reveals his providential hand. When the worst happens, faith always hears, "But now .... "
In Matthew 8 a man has contracted leprosy. His facial features are slowly rotting away. His hands and feet end, not with fingers and toes, but useless stubs. The nerve receptors in his skin have died, so wounds he doesn't even know he has fester and ooze with infection. His community has expelled him. His religion has condemned him. For their own sakes, his family has said goodbye.
But now he meets he meets Jesus. And with two words, Jesus changes everything. For the leper, God's "But now," is "Be clean."
In Mark 4 the disciples cast off from the pier and begin to row across the familiar Galilean waters. At least four of them have spent almost as much time trolling these waters as they have traveling the shore lines. They are as familiar with the tides and currents of the sea as they are the streets and alleys of their home towns. And besides, Jesus is asleep in the stern. What could go wrong?
Sailors say two things about storms at sea; no two are ever alike, and respect the sea or it will kill you. The puffy clouds that billowed on the horizon have turned black and angry. The calm sea has begun to churn. The wind now lashed their faces with salt and spray. Then the storm descends with a vengeance. Never have they seen anything like it. No sooner than their little boat crashes over one wave, it begins straining to climb the next. They are ankle deep in sea water and taking on more than they can bail. In minutes, perhaps seconds, they will capsize and sink. Their worst fears have become a reality. So they cry out to Jesus.
God's "But now," for the disciples comes again in two words. "Be still." And it is. For every sickness, for every storm, for every defeat and loss and failure, God has an answer. When the worst happens, faith always waits for God to say, "But now."
The next two words faith listens for when the worst happens are in the middle part of Isaiah 43:1 "Fear not."
We've romanticized angels so much that they are now featured on our jewelry, in our movies and on our television sets. To be honest I always wonder about folks who describe the beautiful angels that they have seen. I mean judging from the response of people in the Bible who actually saw them, they were fearsome to behold. When they appeared, people usually fainted, fell face down on the ground or ran. The first words angels usually had to speak were, "Fear not. "
Jesus himself because of popular art has become emasculated in popular theology, He exists in our imagination as a cross between Tom Hanks, Bono, and Michael J. Fox; slight, unassuming, totally in touch with his emotions, and good with children. Yet when the disciples saw him walking on the water they thought he was a ghost, the disembodied spirit of some lost sailor stalking them across the waves. Jesus had to tell them, "Fear not."
How is it that God, God's son, God's angels can so confidently tell God's people to "Fear not?" Don't they see what's happening? Don't they care about the harm we're about to experience? Are they living in some kind of divine state of denial?
The answer follows those two words in vs. 1. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine."
God knows us “I have summoned you by name”.
We belong to God “you are mine.”
God can say, "Fear not," because God knows that He's going to be with us no matter what. That's what verse 2 is about. "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned."
God never tells us there won't high waters, raging rivers or blazing fires in our lives. He just says, "When you are in the middle of those worst case scenarios, fear not. I am with you."
Each football season the Texas Longhorns play the Oklahoma Sooners in the Red River Shoot Out. Thousands of fans from each team invade Dallas to witness the clash between these arch rivals. Sometimes the clash extends beyond the playing field. One year a scuffle broke out in the stands and a handful of men were arrested and taken down town. To avoid jail they had to pay a $250.00 fine. One fan didn't have the money. All he had besides his drivers' license was his Neiman Marcus credit card. He showed the card to the judge, who said, "You can't pay your fine with that. You're spending the weekend in jail."
When the man got to make his phone call, he didn't call his wife. He called the Neiman Marcus store and told them his story. The story made it's way up the company ladder until a Neiman Marcus vice-president said, "This guy is one of our customers, we'll help him out." The paid his fine and charged his card.
Now, if Neiman Marcus could be loyal to a customer, do you think maybe your Father in heaven could be loyal to one of his children? And God doesn't charge your card.
Remember the young man who was arrested a few years ago in Singapore for some small infraction of their very strict laws? He was found guilty and sentenced to caning. It’s not real important whether or not he was guilty or if the punishment fit the crime. The point is that his story made front page news here in the states. And the president appealed to Singapore for leniency, for one reason; that kid was an American citizen. He belongs to us and we went to bat for him.
That's why God can say, "Fear not." We belong to him. No matter what happens, no matter what we do, God is going to be with us in the flood, with us in the fire, with us when the worst happens.
So we can fear not, and faith listens for two more words found in verse 3: “For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Right there God says we can have faith when the worst happens because I Am
In this text God reminds us of Egypt. Remember what God told Moses when he asked, "Who shall I say sent me?" God told Moses, "You tell Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, that I Am sent you." All through scripture God calls himself I Am.
And that sounds real nice but what exactly does that mean? This subject is one of those arguments that sends theologians into heights of ecstasy and all the rest of us into the pits of boredom. It took me 4 years to learn this in college but I will save you the boredom and give you the short version.
"I am," is connected with the Hebrew verbs for be, become, happen. The question the scholars debate is this; When God calls himself, "I am," is he simply saying, "I exist, I am the self-existent one," or is he using the verb in it's more dynamic sense, "I am present, I am the cause behind all that is, I am what's happening?"
If you look at the way the phrase "I am" is used throughout the Bible, you find that it is almost always connected not merely to God's existence, but to God's action. In other words, when God says, "I am," he means, "I am here, I am active, I am what's happening."
So how can hearing God say, "I am," help us when the worst case scenario catches up with us or crashes in on us?
When the worst happens we don't just lose our health or a loved one or a job or a home; we lose our identity. The tragedy is so overwhelming, the grief so all consuming, that it redefines us. It tags us with a new and unwelcome label. You no longer go by your name. Now, you are a divorcee. Or a widower. Or an orphan. Or broke. Or unemployed. Or disabled. Or an adulterer. Or addict. Or drunk. Or thief.
Whether the worst comes falling down on you through no fault of your own, or comes bursting out from within because of your own sinful choices, you lose more than a few possessions or a few precious relationships. The worst is so overwhelming because you lose yourself.
That's when you need to listen with the ears of faith for the voice of God to say, "I am. You may have lost everything, even who you are, but I am. I am here. I am what's happening. I am with you. I am your Savior."
Don Henley, a member of the Eagles, states our worst fear when he penned the words; "In a New York minute, everything can change." But no matter how overpowering your worst case scenario is, no matter how enormous it seems, God is more powerful, God is more enormous.
William Gumall, the Puritan writer, said, "The reason why the presumptuous sinner fears so little, and the despairing soul so much is for want of knowing God is great."
In the Old Testament, God told his people, "Be still, and know that I am God." That same God, in the person of Jesus, told the winds and waves, "Quiet! Be still." He still has that power for the storms we face. No matter how big they are, no matter how often they come.
I want to tell you the rest of the story I started with. Carmelo and Teresa Sarabia lay helpless in the mud and debris that had been their lives, fearing the worst for their child. What they didn't know is that a little way down the hill, Gary Seagraves had been sorting through the rubble, looking for survivors. He picked up what looked like a ball of mud. Then it began to cry. Seagraves handed baby Tiffany to a neighbor. The neighbor placed her in the care of firefighters. As the Sarabias anguished over Tiffany, that which was most precious to them had been placed in the hands of another.
Our worst anxieties do not diminish God's power. Not one bit. Listen with your faith. You will hear God speak words. The words he will speak are these. But now. Fear not. I Am. And when God speaks words, worlds are formed. New life is given. Everything changes.
Questions For You To Consider
Tonight our discussion of faith will take us to Hebrews 12:1-12
How does keeping our eyes on Jesus help us to run the race with perseverance?
How does looking at the distractions, “the worst”, hinder our faith?
Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. How is Jesus involved in the beginning of our faith?
How is Jesus involved in the continuation of our faith?
How is Jesus involved in the culmination of our faith?
What distracts your faith the most?
How does Jesus give us the perfect example of how we are to live our our faith?