The First Sunday after Easter
“I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the Earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” (Isaiah 43:6-7)
God addressed these words through his Prophet Isaiah to Jacob, to the head and personification of his Chosen People Israel. Jacob, you will recall, was given the name “Israel” by God, and he was the father of the twelve sons who became the patriarchs of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
These words of God are specifically a promise, first and foremost, in the historical time of Isaiah, when the Chosen People were about to be taken into captivity by their enemies. God will bring his scattered children home from the lands of their captivity in the “north” and in the “south,” and he will return them to the Promised Land, where he will restore their life as a nation under his protection.
It may seem to us that God is doing things “the hard way,” recalling his Chosen People after they are taken prisoner and captive, since he certainly has the power to stop their enemies from doing any such thing. And we would be right, in a way, although the “hardness” of God’s method is determined, at least in part, by the Chosen People themselves.
By abandoning the True God and his Covenant in order to consort with false gods, the people, in simple justice, certainly have no right to expect anything good from God. Nevertheless, while God refuses to condone or permit their faithlessness, he is faithful and good and merciful; and he begins their reclamation by reminding them who he is and who they are because of him: But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.
God created the Israelites, first by forming them from the dust of the Earth in Adam and second by calling their ancestors and making them his own people, with a covenant that promised their final redemption from a fallen humanity for eternal life with himself. Those whom God has called and named are his private possession, and he will not lose any of them, Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.
So, what do we learn from this? Not much, if we consider this passage from Isaiah nothing more than an interesting anecdote from the sixth and seventh centuries BC. But if we stop to notice that Jacob, the man whom God addresses as the head of his people, was long dead in the historical time of Isaiah, then we must also notice that God is delivering a more profound message than the return of a particular people to a particular land. We must see that God is delivering a supernatural message about his grace and favor towards all those whom he has chosen for eternal life, by the means of this concrete example of his workings in history.
As our Lord Jesus Christ told us himself in speaking of the surety of the resurrection of the dead, when God declares himself to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, he is declaring himself to be the God of the living and not of the dead. As Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob live with God, through grace by faith, although they have died the death of this world, so also will all those other human beings that God has chosen for himself.
Those whom God has called to be his own he has created for his glory. His glory will be revealed in their redemption from sin, death, and every enemy of God and life, symbolized in Isaiah’s prophecy as the enemy countries of the north and south. God’s glory will be revealed in the salvation of those he loves, and his glory will be revealed in their resurrection to eternal life with him, just as the old Israel was once returned to its proper home in the Promised Land.
How is all this possible? It is possible because the Eternal Son of God made himself a creature, a human being, and in particular a descendant of Jacob. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made himself a creature to reveal the glory of his Father in the redemption of the faithful from sin and death. He took upon himself all of the duties of God’s Covenant with Israel, fulfilled them perfectly, and offered mankind a New and perfected Covenant, a New Testament in his own Blood shed for the salvation of the world.
The same Jesus Christ, True God and true man, rose again from the dead on the third day as the firstfruit of all those whom God will raise from the dead to eternal life. He rose again as the New Adam of a new human race redeemed from sin, and as the New Israel — the Head of a new and mystical Body of the redeemed of every age that fulfills all of the promises that his Father in Heaven made to his human ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who now live forever in him and by him.
Jesus Christ is the living fulfillment of every prophecy in the Old Testament, the One to whom every word and every incident in the Old Testament points. To have faith in Jesus Christ means believing that he is this fulfillment of all the promises of God, for such is Christ’s own testimony about himself. We can read that testimony in this morning’s New Testament Lesson, in Saint Luke’s account of the evening of the day on which our Lord rose from the dead:
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
The Old Testament (the scriptures that Christ opened) is the revelation of the Father’s will for life, his statement of his purposes in creating those who are redeemed for his glory. The New Testament is the record of how Jesus Christ fulfilled that will, along with the record of the Apostles’ preaching of repentance and remission of sins at Christ’s commandment, beginning at Jerusalem among the people to whom God had first made his promise of life.
And so, here we come to the mystery of the Father’s will, the details of which we must never take for granted. Why was Jesus Christ born, crucified, and resurrected in that particular place and at that particular time? We can wallow in a million historical details about the Roman Empire and the Jewish culture of the period, but the answer comes down to this — it was the time and place that the Father had chosen to fulfill his purposes and to reveal his glory.
The same answer applies to the captivity of the ancient Israel, and to the life and struggles of every one of us. We live now, and we struggle now, because this is the time that God has chosen for us to reveal his will and glory. We live and we struggle when and where we do because this is the way that the Father forms us to his glory.
We might ask ourselves, why wasn’t Jesus Christ a millionaire? He was certainly smart enough and able enough to become one, if that had been his calling from his Father. Likewise, why wasn’t Jesus Christ born the Roman Emperor? He was more fit to rule than any Caesar, and yet the Father gave him a different life. The answer is simply that the Father’s will was otherwise, using even the worst things that a fallen world and a fallen humanity could do to his Son, to glorify himself and to give us life and mercy and hope.
We must redirect our thinking about ourselves and about our lives. We don’t need to wonder about what we want to be, and the crosses God gives us to bear are not for our destruction but for our being made glorious in him. We were created for God’s glory. Our goal should be to live for that glory, and then, as our Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated in his life on Earth, we will find ourselves good enough and strong enough to live lives that please and glorify our Creator and Father. No one ever achieved more in his life than Jesus Christ, and by following him to his Father’s glory we will be the best, the most, the finest, and the most glorious people that we are capable of being.
We will be what God created us to be and has formed us to be during every moment of our lives. Our lives will become continuous acts of praise, and we will share in the glory of our risen Lord, to the endless glory of his Father.