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Renewing Strength by Waiting

Date: Dec. 23, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Isaiah 40:1-31

Key Verse: Isaiah 40:31

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Welcome to our fourth week in Advent!  As many of you know, Advent consists of the four Sundays before Christmas and is the season that we meditate and think about both the first advent, or arrival of the Lord, and at the same time look forward to his second coming.  The theme for this year is “Waiting on the Lord,” where we focused on passages related to waiting for Jesus.  In the first week we learned about having hope in waiting, as we studied how Micah watched in hope for the Lord, waiting for God his Savior in the midst of Israel’s miserable condition under sin (Micah 7:7).  In the second week we learned about receiving comfort in waiting, and not waiting in comfort.  We studied how Simeon and Anna received comfort, and praised the Lord after waiting their whole lives to see the consolation of Israel in the newborn baby Jesus (Luke 2:25).  Last week, the wait was over when we learned about the good news of great joy that a Savior has been born to us.  Jesus was the hope and comfort the world was waiting for, and the good news is that he died to take away our sins, and he rose again in victory over death.  There is a little more waiting to do, however. Indeed, salvation has come into the world, but final judgment has not.  Jesus is waiting in heaven until the appointed time when he will come again to finally judge the living and the dead.  As Matthew writes, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matt 24:14).” Until then, many people are being called to salvation at the same time sin is trying to take as many people with it before its inevitable destruction.  This is why we need strength, while we wait, but where does this strength come from?

We will see why our strength fails, and how our strength can be renewed through today’s passage, Isaiah 40.  The book of Isaiah was written around 700 years before Christ was born.  He served the kings of Judah in the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms.  He lived to see the kingdom of Israel fall to Assyria, and prophesied about Judah’s fall to Babylon that would occur around 100 years later.  The book is divided into three parts – the first part (Ch 1-35) contains themes of judgment for Israel, Judah’s and the sins of the nations around them.  The second part is a narrative of the fall of Israel and a prediction of the fall of Judah (Ch 36-39), and the last part (Ch 40-66, 27 chapters) contains themes of comfort, salvation and deliverance.  Ch. 40 begins this whole section on comfort for the Jewish exiles.  This was written before they were in exile, but Isaiah writes as if they had been in exile and their time is almost complete, because these things would actually come to pass.  Though Isaiah writes to the Jews, many of his prophecies apply also to those in all nations whom God would save through Christ.  So in this passage we will see where strength can be found and how it can be received.

Strength can be found God’s love.  Look at v.1.  It begins this whole section: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Comfort is the opening word.  It is what the exiles would need to hear after 70 years in exile.  First God is speaking to his prophets, commanding them what they should say. Notice the very personal words. He orders the prophets to say, “Comfort, comfort my people.”  My people. God remembers his people, he never forgot them.  And he says, “your God.”  The prophets were also special to God.  He was their God, and he gave them a special task.  Verse 2 continues, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  See the Fatherly love that God has for his people. In his anger, because of their sin, their idolatry, their adultery, if you will, he banished his people out of his sight.  But now that they have had enough, he returns to them.  “Speak tenderly to her, proclaim to her that her hard service is completed.”  The hard service was exile.  They were God’s people, but committed idolatry.  For that their capital Jerusalem was besieged, there was murder, violence, and famine as their homes were destroyed and they were relocated to a foreign land.  This was punishment for their sins.  She received from the Lord’s hand double.  Double here means enough.  It doesn’t mean they got punished twice what their sins deserve.  It was just enough.  God, as  you know, is a just God.  He has to punish sin.  There will never be a sin that does not go unpunished.  It sounds harsh, but if say someone broke into your house and stole your valuables, or if someone hurt someone you love, you would cry out for justice.  Sin needs to be punished.  For Judah, it was exile.  For us, all of our sins were placed on Jesus Christ and punished.  God never lets sin go away freely.  But for us, Christ paid the price.  God takes no pleasure in punishing the wicked, so just as soon as the punishment is paid, God is just as quick, perhaps even more eager to restore. Just as for Judah, when the wrath of God was satisfied, he was quick to love them, so in the same way, when Christ satisfied the wrath of God for our sins, God could immediately pour out his love on us.  Once his wrath is done, he quickly comes to comfort.

Through his prophets, God shows us where to find strength, and three voices direct the way.  In v.3-5 we see the first voice of one calling in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Lord, to make level paths through valleys and mountains to smooth his passage.  Some of you may recognize this was the identity of John the Baptist, who was the fulfillment of this prophecy (John 1:23).  His message was one of repentance – to make straight your crooked paths. This means a repentance from an intentionally sinful lifestyle, and repentance from unbelief in God.  Isaiah goes on to write in v.5, “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all the people will see it together.”  Here he is referring to the Messiah, and everyone – not just Jews, but all people from every nation, tongue and tribe, will see him.  But to really know him, requires repentance.  Heb 12:14 says without holiness no one will see the Lord. Unless you repent of your sins, you cannot see the Lord, so repentance is one way to find strength.

The second voice in v.6 seems to be the voice of God, but this voice instructs a prophet (maybe another prophet) not only to speak, but to cry out.  So we go from calling to crying out.  The prophet asks, “What shall I cry.”  Notice the obedience to the Lord.  The prophet desires only to speak what God wants to be said.  So God tells him to cry this: “All people are like grass, and their faithfulness like the flowers of the field … The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. (v.6,8).”  We can learn here that our strength cannot be found in people, but in the word of God.  In our sinful natures we want to outsmart God, to rebel against him.  We seek for our own glory, but it will always fail. We learn to put no confidence in the flesh, but in his word.  Prov 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Our flesh has no strength, it withers. Even our faithfulness, our glory, falls. But the word of God stands strong, and will stand strong forever.  It is through the word of God we learn of his promises, his faithfulness, and how he has kept them.  He has kept and fulfilled his promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. It is through the word of God that we learn about God, who he is, and what he requires of man.  If you want to know God, if you want to know what he says, study the Bible.  Many of you may have your own personal list of Bible verses that have inspired and moved you.  I would share some of my own but we probably want to move on with the message, so I will just say quickly that God’s word is truth, and it is powerful.

The next voice instructs a prophet to shout.  Look at v.9, “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, life up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’”  That is it. That is the source of strength – God himself.  This is an amazing and profound proclamation:  “Here is your God.”  Zion and Jerusalem are two words for the same place, but repeated for emphasis.  They may have thought God abandoned them, while the pagan empires flourished.  But one day they would be brought back to Jerusalem, and all of Judah, and the prophets would declare, “Here is your God.”  Notice again the very personal nature of God.  They did not say, “Here is God,” or “Here is the God,” but, “Here is your God.”  To say that God is your God, or that God is my God, is a significant revelation.  God said to Abraham “I have established my covenant … to be your God and the God of your descendants (Gen 17:7-8).”  At Bethel, Jacob said since the Lord promised bring him home safely, then “the Lord will be my God (Gen 28:21).”  In order to belong to God, a relationship needed to be made, and he made it possible by taking away our sins which separated us from him.  He is our God, and we are his people.  To me it seems as significant as to say, “This is my wife.  This is my brother.  This is my mother.  This is my friend.”  For the one true God to be my God, is wonderful and remarkable.  So who says this to people?  Isaiah says, “You who bring good news.”  God has been revealed to be the source of strength, and we tell it to others.  In some sense we are all like prophets; not in that we tell the future, but in that we speak on behalf of God, to tell the good news to everyone.  To those who would accept the good news, we would say, “Here is your God!”

The first voice calls us to repent and believe, to “see” the Lord.  The second voice cries out to listen to the word. The third voice shouts “Here is your God!”  So how do you respond?  How do you respond to someone shouting, “Here it is?”  You would look at whatever it is.  So look at God.  If you really take a good look at God, you will be blown away.  Now, we can’t see God with our eyes just yet.  Fortunately Isaiah through his words tell us what he is like.  Look at v.10 – “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.”  This is actually looking into the far far future.  Notice – the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and rules with a mighty arm. Jesus came the first time, and died on the cross.  But this tells us of Jesus’ second coming, where he will come with power and glory. See also, that his reward is with him. Who is this reward for?  It is for his people.  What’s in this reward?  Just look at Rev Ch. 2 and 3.  Jesus speaks to the 7 churches, and after each one, there is a reward he will give to them for their patient endurance.  The rewards include eternal life, access to the eat of the tree of life, the crown of life, a white stone with a new name, a morning star, a name written in the book of life, and much more.  We hear in John how he will prepare a place for us.  And in Genesis God himself says he is our reward.  This is the grace of God.  Not only does he save us, but he gives us strength to wait.  Then: he rewards us for waiting! You probably thought Santa Claus had some amazing gifts, but they are nowhere near the rewards Jesus will come to bring to those who love him.

Verse 11 shows us another aspect of Jesus, “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”  Even with such immense power to blow people away simply with his breath, Jesus is gentle enough to carry his lambs close to his heart.  God is tender, compassionate, ever mindful of his people. A wonderful expression of this is found in Ps 23:1-3a, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.”  He cares for every single one of his people.  But can he do that?  How can he care for billions of people at the same time, taking care of all of them, even with individual care?  As the prophet would say, “Here is your God!”, and see the great things he has done!

You can see the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God in v.12-14.  Verse 12 begins, “Who has measured the waters in the hallow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” These questions imply that only God can do these things.  God knows how much water is in the ocean.  He knows how many grains of sand are on every beach, and even how many dust particles are in your house.  From the loftiest mountain to the smallest insect the Lord is mindful of them all. Even in a place where few humans live, the Lord makes it beautiful.  There’s a picture I saw of Grand Teton National Park in WY, it looked like a lonely scene with snow covered trees and fields, with mountains in the background, a low hanging cloud, and a purple pink sunset in the background.  Everyone God created is balanced and beautiful. Verses 13 and 14 further prove God’s infinite knowledge.  Verse 14 is quite humorous: “Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way?”  Of course the answer is no one.  How can anyone teach God anything?

Verses 15-17 show us God’s infinite worth.  The nations are like a drop in a bucket, like dust on scales.  They are nothing compared to God.  Even the greatest and mightiest of empires.  Egypt with their great pyramids, Assyria and its power, Babylon and its glory, even to the exile of God’s people, Persia, Greece, Rome with its army – are drops in a bucket to God!  Dust on scales!  Lebanon was known for having some of the finest cedars in the world.  But even all of the cedars in Lebanon, and all of its animals, would not be sufficient enough offerings to satisfy God.  None of the nations are worthy of God.  He himself is far more valuable than any and all of them combined.

God is so big, he’s so wise, he so powerful that we cannot begin to comprehend what he looks like.  Yet people have foolishly tried to make images of him, or invent their own gods. Their gods were made of gold or silver. Even the person who cannot afford it tries to buy some high quality wood, and pay a skilled worker to craft it. These gods could topple, they were fallible.  All of the gods of human invention pale in comparison with the God of the Bible. The Greek and Roman gods – Zeus, Poseidon, Athena, Hades, Areas, Artemis, all had weaknesses or sinful human traits.  We have brought some gods down to our level today – like Thor and Loki in the Marvel movies.  We even talk about when someone goes into “god mode,” like Lebron James having a really really good basketball game where no one could stop him.  But whatever the man-made god, it is no match, not even close to the glory and perfection of the one true God.

Similar to his infinite worth, Isaiah shows us God’s infinite sovereignty in v.20-24.  He begins with some rhetorical questions, “Do you not know? have you not heard?”  This is all to reveal the ignorance and weakness of man before God.  God sits above the circle of the earth, that is, he sits above the sky, on top of the globe, and people look to him like grasshoppers.  He can reduce the most glorious and splendorous of people on earth, to nothing.  Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, who defeated Israel and threatened Jerusalem, was killed by his own sons.  Nebuchadnezzar, the most glorious king of Babylon, went insane and acted like an ox eating grass for 7 years.  Alexander the Great, who expanded the Greek Empire to its greatest extent, died at the young age of 32.  All men, even the best of men, rebel against God in sin.  But this was comfort to the Jews – that even though they were exiled by this mighty and glorious nation, God was above and still in control of it all. No matter how great someone is, God can bring them to nothing easily.

It may be hard to fathom such a being: one who is like a shepherd, and also infinitely wise, worthy, and sovereign – but God provides a final proof that he is and can be all of these things, and that there is none like him: look at the stars.  He knows each one by name, and none of them is missing.  Here are some facts.  We know that our sun is one of the stars in the universe.  The sun is 1.3 million times bigger than the earth.  That is, 1.3 million earths can fit inside the sun. That’s just one star, and it is not even close to the biggest.  It’s just an average size star.  In the universe there are billions upon billions of stars, and not one of them is missing.  All of them are held together by God, each one in whatever galaxy they are a part of, spinning and moving as God directs.  All of them burning up some hydrogen or helium at unbelievable rates and temperatures.  If God can manage billions of trillions of stars at the same time, then it is not hard for him to take care of 7 billion human beings.  God is infinitely powerful.  This is the strength and power of God.  Here is your God!

So Isaiah asks the question, “Why do you complain, Jacob?  Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?’”  Jacob and Israel are two words referring to the same thing – the people of the nation of Israel.  Isaiah is speaking to God’s very own.  They of all people should know the power and glory of God.  Yet they complain.  At the same time Isaiah can be speaking to us, God’s children.  We of all people living today should know the glory of God, and what he has done for us through Christ.  Sometimes we are tempted to complain.  “Why God are you causing me to suffer?”  “Why God are you disciplining me?”  Sometimes we put ourselves in a position where we are wiser than God. Sometimes we despair.  “Why do you not hear me God?”  “Do you even want to help me?”  “Why God, why!”  Isaiah’s question implies that there is no need for God’s people to complain, that God does hear.  Isaiah responds and reminds us in v.28 that the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  God’s ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts higher than our thoughts.  He has wisdom and understanding far beyond what we can imagine.  So we have to trust that he knows what’s best for us.  What’s more, is that he will not grow tired or weary. Our God is infinitely powerful.

Isaiah says in v.29, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”  We learn here that the source of our strength comes from God.  God, the one with limitless strength and power, gives us strength and increases our power.  Our strength does not come from the flesh – it does not come from ourselves, or some certain foods or drugs.  Our strength does not come from ourselves.  I like to watch DragonBall and Goku seems to always generate more power from within himself. But the reality is that only God gives us strength, and only God increases our power.

Can we all please read v.30-31, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”  Notice the connection here Isaiah is trying to make. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.  Little kids have lots of energy, but they take hard naps too.  They might be running up and down the house for 2.5 hours non stop, but once they touch the car seat or couch cushion they are knocked out for the next 2.5 hours.  And young men, like some young Basketball players, rising stars, stumble and fall when they play too hard.  But here’s the connection: you might be a youth or young man, you might even be an old man – but if you hope in the Lord, you will have strength like a youth and young man, but you will not grow weary or fall.  Yep, even if you’re an old man with decaying muscles and sore joints, you will be stronger than a youth.  Now, you might not exactly be fit for the NBA or professional sports, but this strength is for something else.

Before that I want to talk briefly about the hope in the Lord, that renews our strength.  What is this hope in the Lord?  The word in Hebrew (I am not a language scholar but I looked it up on the internet. The only one wiser than the internet is God), means “to wait, to look for, to hope, to expect.”  To hope is the same thing as waiting.  In fact, in some other English translations, like the NASB, the word the NIV has for “hope” is “wait.”  “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.”  What does this “hope” or “waiting” look like?  How do we hope or wait on the Lord?  Rom 8:23-25 says that “we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies [when we will be given new, incorruptible, glorious bodies like Christ].  For in this hope we are saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.”  This hope in the resurrection saves us!  As Paul said, hope that is seen is no hope at all. But if we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.  Hoping and waiting are related.  Heb 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith is confidence in our hope.  Faith is assurance in what we are waiting for.  So we wait, because we hope.  And we hope because we have faith.  We trust in God, and have confidence in him.  Hope is faith in God to do what he said he would do, and we wait for it eagerly.

With this hope – we will have renewed strength to soar on wings like eagles, we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not be faint.  Soar, run, walk – it sounds like we’re slowing down, doesn’t it?  But this is not a progression, this is a picture of the complete Christian life. So now we return to the point, what do you need strength for?  You need strength to soar.  By faith, Christ has brought you into the Christian life.  He has lifted you up to heaven’s table-land, to a higher plane than you have found, the Lord has planted your feet on higher ground.  He has caused you to soar heavenward.  You need strength to run.  Many times in the Bible we are told this life is like a race. It says in Hebrews to run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:2). Paul exhorts the church at Corinth to run in such as way as to get the prize – a crown that will last forever (1 Cor 9:24-25).  And we need strength to walk.  Gal 5:16 says “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  When we became Christians, we became a new creation, though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16).  We don’t live like the world.  But in order to live like Christians, we need strength. In order to serve God, to feed his lambs, to make disciples, to share the good news, and even to bear the fruits of the Spirit in each of our own lives, we need strength.  The devil will try to shoot arrows to knock us out of flight. We might become weary of running this race on our own strength.  Our sins may cause us to stumble in our walk.  But our strength does not come our flesh, but from God, and those who hope in him will renew their strength.

Do you trust in the Lord Jesus?  Are you confident that he will do what he says?  Do you believe him when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest? (Matt 11:28)”  Then go to him when you are weary.  Do you believe him when he says, “It is finished. (John 19:30).” Then trust that all your sins, past, present and future, have been completely taken care of.  Do you believe him when he says, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  (John 14:3).” Then wait for him to come back. And do you believe him when he says, “Look, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. (Rev 22:12).”  Then say “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus. (Rev 22:20)”  Lift up your heads when Isaiah says, “Here is your God,” and look to Jesus.  What a great God he is, full of grace and truth. May your strength be renewed, day by day, so that you may soar, run and walk with him, until the day he comes again to give you your reward.  This Christmas, two days from now, as you look back to celebrate his first advent here on earth, may you also look forward to rejoice for his second advent from heaven.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all.  Merry Christmas!

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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