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Isaiah 40: Theology That Comforts Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 December 2008

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Our lives upon the earth are filled with uncertainty. We are uncertain about relationships, jobs, finances, and a whole myriad of other things. I mean even in a day when we can Ďpredictí the weather, we are still not all that certain about our predictions. Right now our country is facing a difficult economic crisis. Many in our community have lost their jobs and perhaps others will as well. As Christians we are called to face this uncertainty without anxiety. We rest secure in the Lord. Yet, the struggle to find comfort often remains. What can we do to fight uncertainty?

A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday night, I quoted Robert Murray MíCheyneís thoughts on the intercession of Christ. He wrote: ďIf I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet, distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.Ē 1  Do you pick up in this quote how MíCheyne fought against his struggles and uncertainties? He knows that he cannot hear Christ praying in the next room. He knows that he has never had that experience and will probably never have that experience. He knows what his senses are telling him. Yet, the truth that Christ is praying for him is still the truth. Distance, or experience, or appearances, does not change the truth. How can he be so sure? Because he believes the Word of God and what it says about the Sonís intercession (see Romans 8:34, 1 Timothy 2:5). In other words, the truth about God as revealed in His Word, trumps his experience and his senses. How will we be able to rest secure in an uncertain world? By letting the truth of Godís Word and what He has revealed about Himself trump our experiences and our senses and all appearances.

In Isaiah 39, we read of what is going to happen to Judah. Look at Isaiah 39:5-7. Exile is coming. Jerusalem will be destroyed and the people will be taken off to Babylon. Circumstances will be terrible. Appearances will be hopeless. Yet, in chapter 40, Isaiah goes on to speak to those who will experience the coming exile. What does he say? Well, just look at how he starts in verse 1. Comfort, comfort my people? What comfort is there in exile? What comfort is there in the destruction of the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem? How could they have comfort in such terrible circumstances? Indeed, how can we? Isaiah will go on to answer this question in the rest of chapter 40. Let me frame my sermon with this question: how is Isaiah to comfort the people?

First, he is to teach them of the certainty of Godís plan (v. 2-5).

No matter how bleak circumstances are at times, the Lord has great and glorious plans for His people. Look at verses 2-5. We see that the Lord will restore Jerusalem. He has a plan for that city. Indeed, we see this fulfilled in some of the later books of the Old Testament (see Ezra and Nehemiah). Of course, all of this seems to point to a greater fulfillment as well. In fact, we read that the Lord Himself is going to come and reveal His glory.

What is this referencing? Well, according to the passage we read to start our services from the gospel of John, John the Baptist applied these passages to the coming of Christ. He called himself the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ĎMake straight the way of the Lord,í as the prophet Isaiah said (John 1:23). Thus, even here, Isaiah is speaking about Godís plan to send us Christ. The Lord has a plan to redeem a people from every tongue, tribe, and nation through the preaching of the good news of Christ. We should find great comfort in this plan, since we have been included through repentance and faith in Christís work.

Second, he is to teach them of the certainty of Godís Word (v. 6-8).

Where do we read of Godís plan to redeem a people? We read it in the pages of Scripture. Yet, how do we know that the promises found within are trustworthy? I mean, can we really find comfort in a 2,000 year old book? Why not look to current trends and newer books? Why not look to those currently in power? Why trust in the Bible? Look at Isaiahís answer in verses 6-8. In essence Isaiah says: ĎSure you can trust in men if you want to, but you need to know that current leaders are temporary. In fact, all flesh is like grass, here today, gone tomorrow. Why not put your trust and find your comfort in something permanent? Why not trust in Godís word which will stand forever?í Do you see the point in his argument? Itís foolish to trust or fear man, who is temporary, when Godís word is forever.

Notice too the analogy that Isaiah uses. What does he compare man to? Grass and flowers. Wild flowers in a field of grass can be very beautiful, but that does not change the fact that they will wither and fade. We cannot trust in or be distracted by appearances. No matter how strong or powerful a man or a group of men may appear, the Lord merely blows on them and they perish. We have to be able to see through all the hype and be discerning about what will last and what will fade. The great truth that Godís word will stand forever should be a great comfort to us in spite of all circumstances.

Third, he is to teach them of the certainty of Godís greatness (v. 9-31).

The remaining verses can be taken together as a long discourse on the greatness of God. Verses 9-11 serve as an introduction. Look at those with me. What is the herald of good news to say? Simple: Behold your God! Again, remember Isaiahís audience. He is addressing those who will go through terrible difficulties. And what does the herald tell them to do? Look at God! Take your eyes off of your circumstances and behold the Lord. In verses 10-11 Isaiah describes the Lord as mighty and gentle. Verse 10 speaks of the mighty arm of the Lord that rules. Then, in verse 11 we read of the gentle arm that tends the sheep and gathers the lambs. The Lord is both strong enough to defeat all His enemies and gentle enough to carry us in His arms. Indeed, if you want to be comforted, then behold your God!

The main body of the discourse runs from verse 12 to 26. In these verses, Isaiah speaks of Godís greatness over a number of things that might try to steal our comfort in Him. The Lord is greater than the earth and the sea. Look at verse 12. The Lord is greater than all knowledge and wisdom. Look at verses 13-14. The pagan gods were dependent upon others to help them and give them insight. God needs counsel from no one. The Lord is greater than all the nations. Look at 15-17. No need to fear the Babylonians, they are like a drop from the bucket. Lebanon was renowned for its great forests, but even so, there was not enough wood for fuel, or beasts for sacrifice. The nations are nothing to the Lord. The Lord is greater than all idols.  Look at verses 18-20. Idols are made by men. They are simply wood and stone. They canít even move, so how could they even be compared to the Lord? We could say the same for money, fame, and ease, which seem to be the idols of the day for us. They are nothing compared to the greatness of the Lord. The Lord is greater than all the inhabitants of earth. Look at verses 21-24. Again we see the temporary nature of humanity. Princes, leaders, presidents, Kings, will all come and go. The Lord simply blows on them and they wither. Finally, the Lord is greater than all the heavens. Look at verses 25-26. There were those who worshipped the stars. Yet, without God they would not exist and it is He who calls them out one by one each night. I encourage you, on the next clear night, throw on a jacket and marvel not at the stars, but at the One who has brought out their host by number, calling them all by name.

Isaiah brings the discourse to a conclusion in verses 27-31. Look at verse 27. Isaiah identifies two struggles the people will have, namely that their way is hidden from God and that He has disregarded them. Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever think: ĎGod has no idea what is going on in my life. He has disregarded what is good for me and filled my life with misery and difficulty for no good reason.í If you have, then pay attention to what Isaiah says next. Look at verses 28-31 with me. The Lord is everlasting. He never gets tired or weary. He not only knows your situation, He even knows your heart, your questions, your struggles.

One of my commentators says it this way: ďThe wrong inference from Godís transcendence is that he is too great to care; the right one is that he is too great to fail.Ē 2 Do not conclude from our text this morning that God is so great and you are so small that there is no way that He is aware of all the details of your life. Rather, know that it is precisely His greatness that guarantees His awareness of you and whatever situation or struggle that you are facing. He is too great to fail!! You can trust Him to give you strength. Even the strongest of men will grow faint, but the Lord has no limit to His power. You can wait on Him in confidence. You can rest securely in His greatness.

MíCheyne let the truth of Godís Word trump the experiences of his life. He could not hear Jesus praying in the next room, but he knew that He was there. Those from the nation of Judah who went into exile probably didnít feel very comfortable. They probably didnít feel like trusting in the Lord. It did not appear to them that there was any reason to hope in God. Yet, the Lord speaks to them through the prophet Isaiah and says: Comfort, comfort my people. How are they to be comforted? By being certain about Godís plan, Godís word, and Godís greatness.

So then, let me ask you this morning: do you take comfort in the plans of the Lord? When everything around you seems uncertain and unsure, do you stand on the rock of His Word? When you look at your circumstances and see no hope, do you trust in the character of your God? His plan from before the foundations of the earth was to send His Son to redeem a people for Himself. This plan includes all of those who will turn from their sins and trust in the finished work of Christ. He is coming back to consummate the redemption of His Bride, the Church.

The Word of God makes all of this clear. We read in it of Godís promises and the fulfillments of those promises. Thus, we can know that His future promises are sure as well. The greatness of His character is revealed in creation generally and in the Bible particularly. We know that He will accomplish all of His plans because He is great and He is good. So take comfort in the Lord and be certain that He is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. Amen.

1 Robert Murray MíCheyne, Robert Murray MíCheyne, ed. Andrew Bonar (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1960), p. 179.

2 Derek Kidner, quoted in J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 307.

~ William Marshall ~

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