Sermon March 29, 2020

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1438             Click Here for Audio Worship

March 29, 2020 Isaiah 40.1-31

Dr. Ed Pettus

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

 

“Comfort in Weariness”

 

1Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. 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. 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? 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. 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? 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.

 

 

 

 

  • A Proper Context

 

I chose to read this passage in Isaiah 40, also in its entirety, particularly because of the situation we find ourselves in the world today. The coronavirus has transformed the way we normally operate and has threatened some areas of the world and parts of our own nation in ways we could not imagine. So I want us to spend this time in worship focused on what God has for us. It is because we have this Word before us and we have God with us that we can face any situation without anxiety and show the world a peace that passes all understanding. We know God is sovereign; God will bring us through this time and there will come a day like no other when we will be able to gather together again. If nothing else, we will appreciate more than ever the joy of worship together as a company of believers. In some ways it will be like that day to come when all God’s people will stand before the throne singing holy, holy, holy! While our topic today addresses what we are going through, I hope that it will also encourage us to trust God even more and to comfort one another through this period of uncertainty.

Isaiah 40 was written during the time of Israel’s exile from Jerusalem and their homeland. Babylon ruled and Israel had no home. It was one of the most difficult times in Israel’s history and it would not be the only troubling period in their long history. In this context Isaiah was given a Word from God to give to the exiles.

Our context is different, but oddly similar. We are not a people driven from our homes or out of our homeland, but we have been driven into our homes and out of circulation. Life is not as it should be. It was not for Israel in Isaiah’s time and it is not for us at this time. And yet, Isaiah’s words are God’s Words to us as well. It begins with words of comfort.

 

 

  • Words of Comfort (1-5)

 

“Comfort, comfort my people.” It is important to note that the word “comfort” is repeated. This is how the text emphasizes its importance. Great comfort, tender comfort, the time of disruption will soon be over and you will be comforted. Words of comfort are especially significant for those on the front lines of this invisible enemy. We seek God’s comfort in our time of need, in our time of wanting. We seek God’s comfort for those who have lost loved ones, for those who are seeking to get better, and for all who are caring for them. We are praying for God’s comfort for the entire world.

To Israel the words of comfort spoke to the end of their exile and the end of their suffering. Her warfare was over, punishment over, sins forgiven, time to come home. The wilderness they had traveled would now be made level for the coming of the Lord. What will happen in this way of the Lord? God’s glory shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it! The way of exile had become a revelation of God’s glorious act of homecoming and forgiveness.

Could this be a similar situation today? Will God’s glory be revealed so that all flesh might see it? We could pray that it be so. We can pray that many will come to see God and know God. We can pray that many will recommit themselves to discipleship in a way that they had never been committed before. We could pray that this virus might lead to a spiritual awakening. I’m not saying that will happen but I pray that it will. I’m not saying that this virus is a punishment for sin, but I pray that it will open the eyes of those spiritually blinded by the ways of the world and that all flesh might see the glory of God in the resurrected Christ.

 

 

 

  • Words that Endure (6-8)

 

The first word is “comfort” and the second word I want to highlight is “Cry!” It is not a word of tears, but one of crying out. It’s central meaning is that all things will pass away: grass, flowers, even people, but the Word of God goes on forever. The Word of God is trustworthy. The Word of God is comforting and true and encouraging and revealing. The Word of God can help us through our times of trial and tribulation. All else can go away. People might buy everything on the shelves in their panic, but we can remain calm in the eye of the storm because God’s Word endures forever. That means that everything in the Word, every promise, every story, every event, every truth can be trusted for our lives.

One of the scriptures that has stuck with me since my conversion to the faith was one I learned from the singer Dallas Holm. The lyrics to his song were these:

“O, I know you may get weary, And the times they may get rough. You may not have all you want, But you'll always have enough. And when your darkest hour comes, Just remember what I say:
I've never seen the righteous forsaken, Or their seed begging for bread!”

That comes from Psalm 37.25, I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.

 

That Word endures in my memory and it endures forever because it is God’s Word to us. It promises us that God will take care of us in life and in death. God provides for us and all His Words are words that endure forever. Not a single Word from God shall fail us. In that we take comfort.

 

 

  • Behold Your God (9-11)

 

First word – comfort, second word – cry, third word – Behold your God! Isaiah is then told to go up on the mountaintop and cry out again, this time, “Behold your God!” What is there to behold? God coming with might, with His reward, and His recompense. Verse 11 is the most tender of this entire section, for God will tend His flock, gather His lambs, carry them close, and lead them. This was certainly a word of comfort to Israel as they yearned for God to lead them home. It is a word that brings us comfort as we look forward to the day when all things coronavirus will end and God will brings us home to worship together. Behold your God, for He will indeed bring us back together. He will indeed comfort our fears and anxieties and worries. God loves us with the greatest love even beyond our ability to know. Here it is likened to a shepherd with his sheep. Many times we see this metaphor of shepherd and sheep. The Lord is my Shepherd (Ps 23.1). Jesus said, I am the good shepherd (John 10.11,14). God is our shepherd and will hold us close during this time and forever more. Behold your God, the Good Shepherd!

 

 

  • None Like Our God (12-27)

 

The fourth word is that there is no god like our God. None come close to this God. Verses 12-27 seek to show us the incredible vastness of God. It begins with rhetorical questions like “who has measured the waters?” No other has, not like God. “Who taught God?” No one. God is beyond our ability to comprehend. God is so enormous and beyond comparison that nations are nothing before Him. Isaiah goes on to show that idols are certainly nothing before God. God sits enthroned above all things; He created all things. Not one thing goes on without His awareness.

Why does Isaiah make this point so strongly in the exile or in our time of affliction? Perhaps it is to show us or reassure us that God is in charge and nothing will separate us from God’s love. Perhaps it is to renew our hope for what God will do next to restore all things. Perhaps it is to show God to us in ways we had taken for granted before our world was turned upside down. What ever the reason, God is more powerful than exile, more powerful than viruses, more powerful than anything because there is no god like our God. This is good news!

 

 

  • Comfort in Weariness (28-30)

 

At the end of this chapter are the words we have probably heard or read many times. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God… This is our comfort in our current weariness. This is the Word that lasts forever. This is the God that has no comparison. He is the Creator. He does not grow weary like we do. He is beyond our cognitive comprehension. And He gives! In this case He gives power and strength. Verse 30 recognizes that we shall be weary and we will be exhausted, but not God. God is powerful, knowing, strong, and does not tire as we do. And so, God can and does strengthen us in our times of need. He lifts up our heads to see His glory and to know His Word and to experience His comfort.

 

 

  • Patience and Renewal (31)

 

The final word in the last verse (31) is one of patience and renewal. “...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 have been called on to wait for the Lord, to practice patience before Him. In that waiting, in that patience, we shall be renewed. I wonder what will be renewed in us after all this is over? Will there be a renewal for the persistent practice of Sunday worship? Will there be a renewal for prayer and Scripture study? Will there be a renewal of discipleship and willingness to share all these words of comfort we have seen in Isaiah?

With God’s help, we will not be weary for very long, for God does not grow weary. This is our comfort in weariness. Being stuck in our homes, for the most part, can lead to weariness. Having nothing but coronavirus dominate the news and a large part of our lives can lead to weariness. But in all of this we are called to wait for the Lord who will renew our strength. This is the God who renews nations, economies, lives, and perhaps we have been given a glimpse of this in the spring like weather this weekend. Spring reminds us of renewal and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Soon we will be resurrected out of our homes and back into communion with one another face to face. Soon we will be resurrected from the threat of an invisible enemy and return to the life we cherish. Soon we will be back to school and back to work and back to worship together. This we know because of everything we see in Isaiah 40 and all that God has promised throughout the Bible. This we know because Jesus lives and in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17.28). Be comforted today, comfort, comfort! Be comforted by the Words that endure. Behold your God! There is none like our God. And wait patiently, for the Lord will soon renew our strength and all we be even better than we thought possible. Amen.

 
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