The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany February 12, 2012
1 Corinthians 4:1-13
425, 789 [TLH alt. 433], 457, 51
Sing, O heavens!
Be joyful, O earth!
And break out in singing, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people,
And will have mercy on His afflicted.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.
Your sons shall make haste;
Your destroyers and those who laid you waste
Shall go away from you.
Lift up your eyes, look around and see;
All these gather together and come to you.
As I live,” says the Lord,
“You shall surely clothe yourselves with them all as an ornament,
And bind them on you as a bride does.
In the name of the Lord our God who never forgets, dear fellow-redeemed:
You’ve probably heard it said that “an elephant never forgets.” While that may be a slight exaggeration, it has been observed that among animals, elephants do have better than average memories. They can remember, for example, specific people or other elephants who have hurt them—even many years later. Back in the 1990s some scientists in Africa made an interesting observation that suggested the elephants could remember even such things as harmful weather patterns such as droughts. An elephant’s brain is large and has many “folds” which give it the ability to store a lot of information for a long time.
What about human memory? Have you ever heard of “blindfold chess”? It is exactly what it sounds like it is. Chess players blindfold themselves and then play against an opponent. With the blindfold on, of course, they must keep a mental picture of the board and position of the pieces at all times. But for the best blindfold chess players one game is not enough. In 1947, a man named Miguel Najdorf successfully played 45 games simultaneously—while blindfolded. Many psychologists still consider this the most amazing feat of memorization ever witnessed.
While only a handful of people in the world may approach the memory feats of Miguel Najdorf, we would all agree that the ability to remember things is important. We are familiar with the diseases that take memories away—diseases such as Alzheimer’s; and we see how humans who lose the ability to remember also lose the ability to function in many ways.
What about God’s memory? God is holy and perfect, all-knowing and all-seeing, so we would expect His memory to be flawless—having an exact remembrance of everyone and of everything that has ever happened; and His memory is just that perfect.
After the Lord sent the great flood upon the earth He told Noah, “I will remember my covenant between Me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life,” (cf. Genesis 9:8ff). God has remembered His promise. The earth has not been destroyed by water.
In Psalm 115 the writer says “The Lord remembers us and will bless us” (Psalm 115:12 NIV). Simply put, God does not forget anything—not anything He says, not anything He has done, not anything He will do. He does not forget any person whom He has created. He knows us all—everything about us—and He remembers it all.
Yet, even knowing this, how often are we tempted to say, “God has forgotten me! He doesn’t remember who I am anymore! He doesn’t remember my needs!” It’s not just we who think this way. The prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Jesus, saw a time when the people of Jerusalem would voice the same complaint.
Isaiah saw a time when Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonians. It happened in the year 586 BC just as he had foretold. The best and the brightest among the Jews were carried off into exile. The leaders of the people were torn away from their homeland. Homes and cities were destroyed and Jerusalem was ruined. The temple itself, the center of religious activity, was destroyed. It was a dark time in the history of the people of God—a time that has come to be known as the Babylonian Captivity. To get a full sense of the destruction and the sorrow of this time you can read the book of Lamentations in the Bible which was written by Jeremiah from the ruins of Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s lament begins like this: “How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave” (Lamentations 1:1 NIV).
What did the people think? In Isaiah’s prophecy the city of Jerusalem is personified. She is described as making this statement: “The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.” [v.14]
“The Lord has forgotten me.” Is that how you would have felt if you had been a Jew at the time of the great captivity? If you were right now taken away from your house and separated from your family members, what would your reaction be? If you lost everything you had—your health, your money, your friends, your job—if your life changed for the worse, how would you respond? Would you say along with Jerusalem, “The Lord has forgotten me.” Sadly, sinners that we are, this would be our likely answer in the face of trouble.
Perhaps you’ve faced trouble—and you’ve already thought these things of the Lord: Has He forgotten me? Does He remember who I am and what I need? It is easy for any of us to raise such questions in the midst of sorrow. How quick we are to accuse God of forgetfulness!
But is it really so? Does God really forget us? You know that He does not, and Isaiah goes on to assure us that God’s memory better than an elephant’s, even better than a blindfolded chess player. God remembers you and me like a mother remembers her child. God says through the prophet, “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?” [v.15]
You mothers and fathers know the answer to this one and you know it well. Will you parents ever forget one of your children? Our children may grow from infant to toddler to child to adolescent to adult. They may move out of the house and be married and raise their own families. They may live hundreds of miles away from us. They may even precede us in death, but a mother never forgets. Always and forever that will be her baby. Even when he is fully grown and she is old, she will not forget. The man will always be her child.
If it is so with human mothers and fathers, how much more so with our Father who is in Heaven! He will never forget us either. In the days of Isaiah He did not forget Jerusalem who sat ruined in dust and ashes, but He said to her: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” [v.16 NIV] Just as He remembered Jerusalem and her people, so He remembers you and me.
What did Jesus say about His Father’s memory? We heard it in the Gospel lesson this morning, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
God has not forgotten you and does not forget you. How can He? He has given His own Son into death on a cross to guarantee you a place in Heaven. He has called you to faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit so that you can be called His child—a member of His spiritual family. He will not forget those whom He has redeemed with the blood of His Son; and Jesus, your divine Friend, the Son of God and true God Himself does not forget you. Jesus, your Brother, He stands by your side always even to the end of the age.
Would Christ forget the way He was brought to earth, born of Mary to live under the Law of God just as we must live?. Would He forget how He was tempted by the Devil just as we are tempted? Would He forget us—He who lived “in our shoes”?
Will Jesus forget how He came to the Garden of Gethsemane knowing that He would not simply die by crucifixion, but even more than that He would die carrying the guilt of mankind on His shoulders? Will He forget, could He forget the sacrifice He made to save us? The way He paid our debt to God?
No! Jesus will not forget what He did nor will He forget the ones for whom He did it. Your Savior remembers you with a perfect memory and with perfect understanding of you and your needs. People may forget Jesus, but Jesus never forgets us.
A story is told of a couple who is driving in the car together, the husband behind the wheel. The wife says to him, “Remember when we were just married how we would always sit together close here in the front seat while we rode through the countryside? Now we never sit by each other anymore.” To this the husband replied, “I’m still sitting in the same place.”
It’s a humorous illustration, but it reveals a certain truth about us and Jesus: Sometimes when we think the Lord has forgotten us and “moved away” from us, the reality is that we have moved away from Him. He is where He always was. He is always there for us, inviting us to lay our burdens on His strong shoulders, urging us to take comfort in the fact that He never forgets us, inviting us to put our confidence in Him.
Jesus will never suffer from dementia, even if we do. Isn’t that a cheerful, comforting thought? It was for the prophet Isaiah. He said, “Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth! And break out in singing, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people, and will have mercy on His afflicted. [v.13]
Isaiah was given the blessing of being able to look ahead to the days when Jerusalem would be restored and the exiles would return from captivity. We too are able to see ahead, for we know what the future holds for those who are in Christ Jesus. We know that our Savior has not forgotten us. Even if He does not choose to relieve us of every little earthly difficulty, He will surely come again and take us to Himself.
Smile and be glad! Jesus never forgets!
Thou on my head in early youth didst smile,
And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,
Thou hast not left me, oft’ like I’ve left Thee,
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.