From Wonder to Witness
BGC Annual Meeting | Sioux Falls
"You are my witnesses," says the Lord, "and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the Lord, and beside me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses," says the Lord. "I am God, and also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?"
The book of Isaiah is the most sustained self-exaltation of God in all the Bible. Chapters 43 and 44 are breathtaking in their boast of the absoluteness of God. I, I am he, and there is no other god, no other savior, no other rock! I, I am the Lord the Holy One of Israel! The book rings again and again with God's boast in his own greatness.
What can we say to this but that God is utterly thrilled to be God. There is a kind of volcanic exuberance in God over the fact that he is God. He virtually erupts with the exaltation of his own glory. God is thrilled to be God. Isaiah is ravished by the truth that God is God. And the question this morning is ARE YOU? Is there any eruption of wonder and awe and amazement in you that God simply IS? That he is God?
This text is meant to nurture that experience and to turn it into worldwide witness. Let me take those two points as my outline:
- first, the text means to nurture our sense of awe and amazement that God is God;
- second, the text means to turn that wonder into witness.
How does it nurture our wonder and amazement at the sheer "godness" of God? It does so by telling us what it means to be God.
God Means for Us to Wonder at His Godness
The last two lines of verse 13 are really an exposition of what it means to be God. God cries out, "I am God! Even from eternity I am he!" (Here is what I mean:) "there is none who can deliver out of my hand; I act and who can reverse it?" God lifts up the fact that he is God: "I am God!" And then he fills it with its most basic meaning: "I act, and no one can reverse it!" When I will do a thing, nothing can stop me.
When he says, "I am God!" he declares his deity. When he says, "I act and none can reverse it!" he declares his glorious sovereignty. To be God is to be sovereign; God nurtures our wonder at his deity by telling us that it means sovereignty. Indispensable to the holy praise of God is a kind of stunned sight of his absolute sovereignty: "I act and no one can reverse it." He means for our jaws to drop. I saw this again in Isaiah 45:5–7 where God predicts the coming of Cyrus centuries later. He says,
I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, Cyrus, though you have not known me; that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
God is at pains to declare that he is God and he alone. And to drive that home he speaks of his sovereignty. He is willing to go so far as to claim final responsibility for all the calamities of the world. "I am the One who forms light and creates darkness, who causes prosperity and creates calamity; I am the Lord who does ALL these things." Why does God take final responsibility for all the disasters of the world? Because he wants to fill us with trembling awe that he is God. And that means he is sovereign. He acts and none can reverse it!
And then I saw it again in Isaiah 46:9–10,
Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, "My counsel will stand and I will accomplish all my purpose."
And so here they come together again. "I am God!" And: "I will accomplish all my purpose!" Deity. And sovereignty. I act and none can hinder! God nurtures our wonder at his deity by directing our attention to his sovereignty. Why? Because without sovereignty there is no true God. The God of Isaiah is passionate to define himself in terms of sovereignty: "I act and none can reverse it." "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose." "I make well and create woe, I am the Lord who does all these things."
So the first point of our text is that God is God, which means that God is sovereign—he works and none can hinder. He is thrilled with his own deity and sovereignty and so should we be.
God Means to Make Witness out of Our Wonder
But now we must ask, does God nurture this wonder in us as a merely private experience? Have we reached the apex of our joy and the climax of our divine call where we have an overwhelming, private experience of God's glory and power? NO! It is neither the apex of our joy nor the climax of our call because God ignites the fire of our worship to make us shine in the world. This is the second point of our text, God means to make a witness out of our wonder. He nurtures our wonder by showing us that he is a sovereign God; and he makes our wonder into a witness for all the world.
Verse 10 is crucial here, "You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he." Notice three things from this verse.
Chosen by the Sovereign God
First, if you know God and believe God and understand that he is God, it is because he chose you to know and chose you to believe and chose you to understand that he is God. In other words, this text teaches not only that we should stand in awe of the sovereignty of God, but also that we stand in awe by the sovereignty of God. God chose us to know, God chose us to believe, God chose us to understand that he is God.
Chosen as Servant-Witnesses
But that's only half the sentence. Why does God light the fire of our knowing him and believing him and our sense of awe that he is God? Answer: he lights this fire to make us shine. That's the second thing to notice in verse 10: He means to turn our wonder into witness. "'You are my witnesses,' says the Lord, 'and my servant whom I have chosen.'" Chosen not only to know; chosen not only to believe; chosen not only to grasp the glory that God is God; but chosen as servant-witnesses: "You are my witnesses and my servant whom I have chosen." No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel. And God doesn't stun people with his deity and sovereignty for merely private pleasures. God ignites our wonder to make us a witness. That's the second thing to see in verse 10.
Chosen to Bear Witness to God
And the third thing to see is that the content of our witness is God. It is the unmistakable emphasis of this text: God lights the flame of worship so we will bear witness to God's exuberance for God. We can be more specific. God lights the fire of wonder so that we witness to God's sheer existence (v. 13): "I am God and also henceforth I am he." We witness to God's sovereignty (v. 13): "I work and who can hinder it?" We witness to the truth that God alone is God (v. 10): "Before me no God was formed nor shall there be any after me." We witness to the truth that God is eternal (v. 13): "I am God, henceforth I am he." We witness to the truth that God has spoken (v. 12): "I declared and proclaimed." We witness to the truth that this great incomparable God saves (v. 11): "I, I am the Lord and beside me there is no Savior; I declared and saved."
- this text comes to nurture the wonder that God is God: God magnifies his deity by directing us to his sovereignty;
- the text means to turn that wonder into witness. The flame of worship is a witness to God's exuberance for God.
What Does This Mean for Us?
Now what does this mean for the BGC? Pastors, we must labor to know God. And we must help our people know God. Do we know God? Do we understand that he is God? The link in verse 10 between understanding that God is God and being his witnesses is unmistakable. Do our people understand that God is God—that he works and none can hinder it? Is not this text telling us that our root need in witness is to know God in such a way that God's exuberance for being God rubs off on us? And then on the world.
I think our prayer should be
O God, grant us to know you in such a way that the fire of our wonder becomes an unquenchable flame of witness to the world.
Then we will say with powerful conviction:
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn. From my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.