I’m glad there’s such a thing as GPS. For those of you who, like me, are (should we say) “directionally challenged,” GPS is a lifesaver. We rely on maps because we need ways of seeing the world around us, of knowing where things are and how to get there. Maps serve a purpose: they orient us to our surroundings.
All around us you can find “maps for life”—ideas or visions of what the good life is, what the purpose of humanity is, or how you can find happiness. These maps are designed in such a way to draw us toward them, to get us to adopt them and follow them. The maps come to us in self-help books, inspirational podcasts, TV talk shows, movies, and music. They paint a picture of the goal of life.
Most Americans believe that the purpose of life is enjoyment that comes from looking deep within to find your true self, while pursuing whatever brings you happiness. That’s the road map for most people today. As Christians, we’re not going to be faithful to Christ in our era if we just tweak that map here and there. We need another map. We need to know how to make our way forward in this world, and how we can fulfill our ultimate purpose of bringing glory to God and finding satisfaction in him.
In Isaiah 43, the Lord delivered a message for his people Israel that focused their attention on several fundamental realities that speak of his love and purpose for them. They are the same realities that should help us when we choose the wrong map, or when we are disoriented, lost, and afraid.
1. Your Creator knows and loves you.
Now this is what the Lord says—the one who created you, Jacob, and the one who formed you, Israel—“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
The reality that the Creator knows and loves us is like the beacon signaling us from afar; it’s the satellite that our GPS has to be in touch with in order to give us an accurate rendering of the map. This is fundamental. It’s what ultimately grounds the command in this passage: Don’t be afraid.
Two aspects of this truth should make us marvel and should keep us grounded. The first is that God takes notice of us at all. He’s the all-powerful Creator of all things, and we’re just specks of dust on a planet hurtling through space. We’re tiny. From dust we came, and to dust we return. And yet God is a dust-lover. He loves the people He has made.
The second aspect that should make us marvel is that God takes notice of us and cares for us when we’ve rebelled against Him. It’s not just that we’re dust; we’re dust that rises up and throws ourselves in His face in defiance. We rebel against Him. We fail Him. We do not keep covenant with him. Neither did Israel—that’s why this passage is so powerful. No matter how much Israel went astray, God never gave up on His people. His love is relentless. His grace is hot on our tracks, pursuing us, and then overcoming us with love and mercy that changes our hearts forever.
For this reason, the text says, “Don’t be afraid.” I don’t know what is in store for you this year— what diagnosis, what terrible event, what job situation, or what family challenges you may face. But whatever is coming, there’s a signal for your GPS: You were created by a God who knows and loves you. Knowing that you are fully known and loved by God should free you from anxiety, from fear, from despair.
The fact that God knows and loves you should also lead you to a kind of fearlessness in doing what you discern God calling you to do. It’s the knowledge that frees you up for radical obedience. You will make mistakes. You will stumble and fall. You will go through terrible trials. But no matter where that map takes you, it’s homed in on the central and fundamental fact of the universe: God your Creator knows and loves you.
2. Your Creator promises to save and sustain you.
2 I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior. I have given Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 Because you are precious in my sight and honored, and I love you, I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life. (Isaiah 43:2-4)
Water and fire. Rivers and flames. In most of the Bible, these are pictures of God’s judgment against sin. But for those of us who are followers of Jesus: We won’t face God’s wrath in fire or water. We will not experience eternal suffering because of our sins. Jesus already took that upon Himself when He died on the cross for us. Because we are redeemed, because God loves us, because we are His, we are saved from fire and judgment. We died with Jesus, and we are raised with Jesus.
But Christ’s atonement doesn’t mean we won’t have fiery trials and tribulations. It doesn’t mean we won’t have storms in life, or floods that make us feel like we’re drowning. Bad things still happen. The passage doesn’t say that God will keep us from ever walking through the fire or the water, but God says we will pass through the fire and not die. We will pass through the waters, but not drown. The trials we face in this life are not expressions of God’s eternal judgment for our sin. They are sufferings that purify us and shape us and make us new.
The One who saves us promises to sustain us. Our trials can push us away from God or push us toward God. You may think that because of the trial, because of the storm, because of the way the road looks right now, that you are lost and deserted, lost and abandoned, lost and forgotten. This passage says, “No, little one loved by God. You are not alone. Do not fear for I am with you. There’s still a signal on that GPS no matter how bad the circumstances look like. God is still there. He is still present. The map is still real.”
3. Your Creator marks you with His name and for His glory.
5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back!’ Bring my sons from far away, and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who bears my name and is created for my glory. I have formed them; indeed, I have made them.” (Isaiah 43:5-7)
This passage is focused on the promise of God to restore the fortunes of Israel, to bring God’s people back together again into one family. No matter how much it appeared like the promises of God were failing, the words here gave comfort and hope to God’s people.
But why? Why will God restore his people? Why has God created us in the first place? Here’s the GPS coordinate that we can’t miss: It’s all for God’s glory. The map is leading us to the ultimate destination, and it’s the glory of God. Everything we are, everything we do, everything we are made for, is for God’s glory. He created us for His glory. He saved us for His glory. He sustains us for His glory.
This is the deepest reason imaginable for why God loves and saves His people. It’s to display the breathtaking wonders of his glory and grace. God is not there to showcase our value. We exist to showcase His. We are display cases for the glory of God. And this passage tells us that God’s name is glorified through His marking out of a people.
Your life as a Christian is to display the world the goodness of God to people who deserve judgment. Grace is scandalous to those who believe that their maps will suffice. Grace is offensive to those who believe they don’t need to stop and ask for directions. Grace is silly to those who speed headlong on the path to destruction, never knowing that they’re about to go off a cliff. But grace is life to those who see the whole world as a testament to God’s glory and who see their own lives in light of His holiness and grace.