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Sermon November 10, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1419

November 10, 2019 Isaiah 40.9-31

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Behold Your God!”

 

  • Behold your God! (9-11)

 

9 Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

 

I think it is safe to say that if someone were to ask what the message of the Bible is, we could begin by saying, “Behold you God!” “Behold” is used five times in this particular passage (vs. 9, 10 x2, 15 x2).

Behold your God!

Behold, the Lord God comes with might.

Behold, his reward is with him.

Behold, the nations are like drop from a bucket.

Behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.

 

Behold is not a word we use much these days. I haven’t come home and said, “Behold, I have purchased Chick-fil-A for supper!” In simplest terms it means to see, to observe, but I think it carries more weight when used in the Bible and especially when used to behold God. For instance, when John the Baptist is calling people to behold the Lamb of God, he is not just calling them to look and see, but to embrace Jesus with one’s life, to receive the Savior of the world. It is not just a call to see someone and then move on, but a beholding that embraces the one seen. Beholding in this sense is far more than seeing. It is knowing, standing in awe, experiencing, and even developing a relationship with the One beheld. We don’t tend to “behold” in the sense of standing in awe over things any more. We are less likely to be awed and stunned by the vastness of God. We “behold” so little. Isaiah seeks, for us, to reinstate a sense of amazement to behold the Lord.

The prophet is told to lift up the good news of God. Two things might be said about this lifting up. One is that the prophet need not fear lifting it up the news. Second, it may be that the fear not is also with regard toward the beholding of God. Don’t be afraid to lift up the good news and/or don’t be afraid because you may behold your God! “Fear not” is given in verse 9 and may be interpreted both ways. The prophet need not fear telling Israel that God is coming and we encouraged or commanded not to fear, because God is coming. Behold why you need not fear. See this God who lives, who acts, who saves, strong, judge, shepherd, for there is no god like our God. This is what the rest of the chapter says, there is no god like our God.

This is also very familiar to our New Testament ears. You might recall John’s gospel when Jesus, speaking of Moses, told Nicodemus about Jesus being lifted up. (John 3.14-15) 14”And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Isaiah lifted up the good news long ago. Jesus was lifted up long ago as well. Now we are called to do as Isaiah did and lift up the name of Jesus, to proclaim the gospel of salvation, and to tell others, “Behold your God!”

Before we leave this section of our reading I want to point out verses 10-11. Verse 10 is a tough love kind of sentence. God is coming in might, as a ruler, with reward and recompense. It is tough language of God’s sovereign rule over all. Verse 11 is more intimate, more gentle and speaks the familiar language of being a shepherd over His people. God will tend and gather and carry and lead. It is the way Jesus came as well. To the Pharisees Jesus was tough and gave warning, but to the sinners who came to Him and followed, Jesus was tender and forgiving. Jesus speaks of Himself as the Great Shepherd and we know that he sheep hear His voice and respond to the hearing. The Word that Jesus lifted up is the Word of the Shepherd and in essence His Word was one like Isaiah’s - “Behold your God!”

 

I could have probably done the entire sermon today on Isaiah 40.9-11 but I’m going to press on after this one last thought. To behold your God is the continuing action of a beholding frame of mind and a beholding frame of faith. We continue to behold God so that we never forget God. This forgetfulness is implied in Isaiah 40.21 & 28 when asking the rhetorical questions about having known and heard. Of course Israel knows and has heard of God! But they have fallen short of God’s way because they have forgotten God and God’s way.

Lamentations 3.19-24 is a great example of coming back to God through remembering or “beholding” God...

19Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.
21But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

 

The call is to behold our God, to contemplate God every day, all day. It is the call to see His works, remember His love...Behold – remember, call to mind and the result of this beholding is worship, gratitude, fear, love, hope, faith, and all the attributes of being a believer.

 

Ever fearful? Behold your God! Ever anxious? Behold your God! Ever discouraged? Behold your God! Ever lonely? Behold your God! Ever troubled? Behold your God and we will be much less prone to anxiety or discouragement or trouble.

 

  • None to Compare (12-18)

 

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel?
14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
17 All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

 

 

To behold God is to recognize that there is no other god like our God. Isaiah 40.12-18 is basically a list of rhetorical questions that demonstrate that there are no other gods before our God. Who has measured the waters or weighed the mountains? No other. Who taught God about justice? No other. To whom can we liken our God? No other. This is also why we behold our God, for the purpose of remembering there is none like God. The next two verses reveal that idols (or anything we idolize) are nothing at all compared to the God whom we behold in power and might.

 

  • Compared to an Idol? (19-20)


19 An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.
20 He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

 

Read Psalm 135.15-18 “15The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
16They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; 17they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. 18Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.”

Idols are nothing. Whether stone or metal or greed or consumerism or philosophies or political ideologies or American Idol contestants, none compare to God. The worst part of worshiping idols is that those who make them and those who worship them become like them. Isaiah says the same thing in a longer passage of chapter 44 (9-20). Both the Psalm and the prophet know that no idol has life. God is alive! No idol has power. God is all powerful! No idol can hear or see or speak. God does all these things and so much more.

 

  • Where have you been? (21-28a)

 

21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
23 who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

 

It is plain to see that God is above all things. God is the creator of all. It is a case where Israel is not listening to God’s voice; they are no longer remembering what they have known before. The questions sound like us when we run across someone who has not heard something important and we ask them, “where have you been?” God is the only One who creates and conquers and plants and destroys and the call is to see this again and again, behold your God.

 

 

  • Behold your God!

 

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the
Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

 

We return to the theme of this passage, behold your God. Here is what Israel once knew and heard. It is a summation of who God is and what God does. God is: everlasting, Creator, never weary, knows all. What God does: gives power and increases strength to all who wait for the Lord. When we behold the Lord and not go after other gods and idols, God will renew our lives. He is the only One who can renew our lives. Nothing in this world can do that, in fact, most everything in this world robs us of life.

I want to conclude with a thought from Jesus about beholding the Lord. It comes from His desire and command that we become like children. Matthew 18.1-4, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Children know how to behold. Children are always in awe of who God is. As we become adults, we tend to grow more cynical, more desensitized to the things that are amazing. But children remind us that everything about God is amazing and to behold in wonder. In other words, we, like Israel need to rekindle our ability to be wowed again, to be fascinated by mystery, and behold the Lord!

The world, and especially the things that exist in our modern world, seek to rob us of this ability to behold the Lord.

Haven’t you seen? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is amazing, beyond compare, none like our God. Behold our God and know that our strength will indeed be renewed.