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A Powerful Word Picture

Isaiah 49:8-18; 2:1-9

Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
May 8, 2005
Mother’s Day

We’ve all heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Being a writer at heart, I cannot swear to the validity of that statement, but it is

true that we can often communicate a whole bunch using images. Let’s test our

“word-picture literacy” shall we? [show a series of word pictures].

Images have a way of burrowing into our minds – of becoming burned on

to the mind’s eye. We tend to retain images longer, some statisticians putting the

retention rate as high 80%. When you couple the image with a natural

physiological response, you have very powerful combination.

I remember when Joy was a baby, she would get inconsolable. We didn’t

know then that she was struggling with a milk allergy. We would try all the things

that we did with Abby – walking the floor patting her back, rubbing her belly,

laying down on the couch with her on our chest. But nothing worked – except

one. Finally, Rach would start to unbutton her blouse and we would here Joy

start giggling in the midst of her sobs. Visually, she recognized what Rachel was

doing and that caused a sudden rush of euphoria – an endorphin induced high,

so to speak.

In the Scriptures God reveals that he is indeed the one who wired us over

and over again. How? God knows how pictures impact us. He knows how

images graft to our minds. And so when he really wants to get a point across, we
he gives it to us in a picture. Word pictures are woven throughout the Scriptures

– the psalms are full of images for God. He is our Rock, our Strong Tower, our

Shield – images of solidity, strength, and protection. He is our Shepherd, he is

our Light and our Salvation, he is the Holy One who stretches out the heavens

like a curtain.

The prophets also used picturesque language to describe the judgments

and the mercies of God. Israel is described both as a bride and harlot, a fruitful

vine and desolate farm land ready to be broken up and prepared for seed. So

much of what God communicates to us comes to us by way of images. Even

today, when we want to remember what Christ has done how has God instructed

us to do it? Through the Lord’s Supper – a way of imaging that Christ died for us.

Baptism presents a picture of how we have been united with Christ in his death,

were buried with him and will be raised with him.

So God knows if there is something really important for us to remember, he

reveals it to us in an image. He gives us a mental picture to chew so that we can

relate to him, the Living and Holy God. You see, God wants us to have an

advantage in the rough the times – to be able to remember that he is our shield

and stay, that he leads us like a shepherd, that he is the Awesome One, the

Creator on whose fingertips the planets spin.

This morning I have two agendas – the first is to take a quick look at a

couple of word pictures that God gives us in the Scriptures and what those

images communicate to us. The second is to keep this sermon short – it is after
all Mother’s Day, a day to honor the gift God has given us in our mothers. And I

wondered to myself, how could I as a pastor best honor the mothers of our

congregation? By giving them more time with those who love them and want to

show it especially on this day.

What I find fascinating about the word pictures in the Bible is the ones God

selects to tell us some of the really big themes. When we think of God in the Old

Testament, what comes to mind? We usually think of some big Zeus-like figure,

hurling lightning bolts for every infraction of the Law. The God who opens up the

earth to swallow the transgressor, his family and all his livestock. Genesis,

Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy seem to tell us a story of a God who

wrestles with his creation, grappling it in to submission – unwilling to bend,

relenting only when one of the heroes of the faith jumps in between him and

those who have angered him. How often have we heard someone say that the

God of the Old Testament was the God of Law, but the God of the New

Testament is the God of Grace? It’s like God had an extreme makeover or

something. Now wouldn’t that be a show? Extreme Makeover, the Divine


Even in Isaiah, you have these lofty visions of God, high and lifted up in

the heavenly Temple. The throne of God trembling under the power of him who

sits upon it. The angels of heaven – powerful, spiritual beings, pure in heart and

body, no stain of sin anywhere upon them – and even they cannot bear to gaze

upon his holiness. They hide there faces behind their wings as they sing his
praises. Isaiah speaks of the coming judgment – the king of the earth that will

become the sword in his right hand to carry out the force of his wrath upon his

disobedient people. This is a serious God – Isaiah makes it clear – not a God to

be trifled with.

But then comes this passage in Isaiah 49 that we read this morning. Now

I’m not saying that Isaiah is all “doom and gloom” up to that point, but on balance

God is a real heavyweight so far. Then in chapter 49, Isaiah is speaking about

the Servant of the Lord and how he will make the Servant of the Lord a covenant

for the people – Jew and Gentile alike. Through this Servant, God will reconcile

the whole of humanity to himself and not just Israel. But Israel complains that

God has forsaken her – his wrath poured out on their disobedience convinces

them that he has abandoned them in favor of another people.

And here is the image that just cuts right to the heart. Look at how God

responds to Israel.

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
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are
ever before me.
Your sons hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from
you. Lift up your eyes and look around; all your sons gather and
come to you. As surely as I live,” declares the LORD, “you will wear
them all as ornaments; you will put them on, like a bride.1

1All passages sited from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
Publishing House) 1984.
When first I look at this passage, my eye is trained to pick out the

messianic references and the allusions to the Day of the Lord. I see God

promising that in Christ, Jew and Gentile shall be made into one new man, one

new people of God, Old Covenant saints and New Covenant saints joined as

brothers and sisters in Christ. I hear the echoes of the future glory of the

Kingdom of God.

But I want you to look at how God answers the heart-cry of his people.

They feel jilted, abandoned, usurped by this new people of God. Where is our

place? And God says, “Oh, my child. I could no more forget you than a mother

can forget the child rooting at her breast. And beyond that, even if it were

possible for her to forget, it is impossible to me.”

Modern science has discovered that between mother and child, there is a

bonding that takes place that goes far beyond a simple physical, instinctual

relationship. There is something psychic – in the sense of mental and emotional

– even something spiritual about the bond that forms. An infant knows its mother

by her smell, the touch of her skin – it is like there is this bio-vibe that oscillates

between the two that draws them together. When this bond does not form

properly or when it is altogether absent, bad things can happen. The

development of the child is often hampered, even misdirected. Why? Because

there is a whole in their heart where the bond should be.

I am struck that when God wants to communicate the softness of his heart,

the depths of his love and the security of his affection, he turns to the image of a
nursing mother. An image that all of us know and one that touches something

soft in all of us. We take in this image and immediately our fears about God’s

intention – his heart toward us – are dispersed. The image tells us all we need to

know about the certainty of God’s love. The bond he has formed with us will

never be broken. We can rest securely against his breast, knowing he will never

push us away.

Mother images provide powerful fodder for the mind and communicate

clearly the love and concern God has for us. Paul knew this well and the Holy

Spirit used that knowledge to help communicate to the Thessalonians how deep

his love was for them. He spoke of how he and his co-workers were “gentle

among them” like a mother would be. How were they gentle? By doing only

what a mother would do – give up her own rights to ensure the health and growth

of her children.

I don’t recall who told the story anymore – some saint of a past generation.

But I have never forgotten it. This saint was talking about her mother and

lessons she had learned by watching her. They were a poor family, scraping to

get by, and sometimes managing just barely. She remembered how when times

were lean or when company came, mom would fix the dinner and lay it out, all

smiles and grace. Then she would dismiss herself to start cleanup. All would

enjoy the food, while mom hovered about the table, serving everyone and being

the perfect hostess.

It occurred to her that her mother didn’t eat with them during those times

and became curious as to when her mother ate. So one night after dinner, she

went to help her mom with the dishes and to ask her when she ate. To her

surprise, she glimpsed her mom through the kitchen door, picking food off the

finished plates. It was then that she realized, her mom had set out all the food

and only took her own supper once everyone else had enjoyed their fill.

Isn’t that a wonderful picture of a mother’s love? And isn’t that really the

definition of a mother’s love – giving up her own rights and pleasures for the sake

of her family? And isn’t that the perfect picture of God’s love? Look at the image

he gave us to remember how great his love is for us – the cross. But just in case

we can’t connect to the cross – in case the picture is too hard for us to digest –

he gives another image. One we can look at day after day and see the afterglow

of his love. He gives us the image of our mother.

Today is Mother’s Day. Celebrate it; revel in it – knowing that in the person

of the one we honor with flowers and candies and gifts and dinners, we can see

the faint outline of the love of God.

When the Scriptures
want a picture for the
A Isaiah 49:8- Isaiah love of God, it turns to To draw a picture for
Powerful 18 49:15-18 the image of a mother’s the congregation that
Word 1 Thes. 1 Thes. love for her children – communicates clearly
Picture 2:6-9 2:6-9 those for whom she the love of God.
endured the pains of