Questions: What kind of people does God redeem? Answer: All kinds. The message of the Gospel of Christ still amazes me today. I don’t think I’m alone. Redemption finds its origins in the heart of God. It was to Nicodemus (a Jewish religious leader) that Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If you know much about the Bible, you know that God’s is a unique love. When the Bible tells us that God loves us, the emphasis is on the One who does the loving, not the object of the love. In other words, God loves us because of who He is – not because of who we are.
I believe the Apostle Paul was likewise amazed at the love of God for sinful people (by the way that means ALL of us). In his letter to the believers at Ephesus, he offered a prayer that the Ephesian saints “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19). Attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible – what an awesome task!
Recently, I was listening to Wintley Phipps describe the origins of the song, Amazing Grace. In his story, Phipps referenced the author of the words of that hymn, John Newton. It seems Newton was a captain of a slave ship. As Newton pondered the grace of God that redeemed his soul, he used a word we seldom hear as a description of a sinner: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me” (John Newton – “Amazing Grace”). John Newton saw himself as a wretch before a holy God. I can relate. So too could Isaiah. The prophet had an otherworldly experience in a moment of national crisis. The king of Judah had died, and it must have been a traumatic situation. Do you remember when President John F. Kennedy died? Yes, other presidents have died, but Kennedy was the last one to die while in office. I was just a baby, but I’ve heard people talk about his assassination in Dallas. It’s often introduced by the phrase, “Do you remember where you were when President Kennedy was killed?” Isaiah remembered well where he was when his king of 52 years died.
Let’s listen as Isaiah tells the story. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!’ And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isaiah 6:1-4). Do you remember how the prophet responded when he experienced the presence of the Lord? “So I said: ‘Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). I don’t think Isaiah ever got over that experience. Coming into the presence of God can do that to mere mortals.
I remember when I met the King, the Lord of hosts. It was nothing like the meeting Isaiah had with God, but it was life-changing nonetheless. Years after I was saved, I remember my Mom telling me that I was a good kid. She thought I had little sin which needed God’s forgiveness in redemption. God and I knew better. While not a John Newton and certainly not a prophet like Isaiah, there is something they both mentioned that I can relate to. When he was saved, Newton described himself as a wretch. When Isaiah got near God, the prophet Isaiah pronounce a woe upon himself seeing himself and one undone, a man of unclean lips.
I think that’s the way it works. The closer you get to God – the smaller you see yourself. And the further away you get from God – the bigger you think you are.
It doesn’t seem like we hear much about God saving wretches and worms these days. I can still remember singing Mr. Isaac Watts hymn, “At the Cross.” The first verse made a big impression on my young heart. “Alas, and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” (Isaac Watts – “At the Cross”). A worm and a wretch...sounds about right. I knew what I was when I was saved. I know what I am now. And after all these years, I am still amazed that God continues to save wretches and worms.