Text: Isaiah 40
Originally preached February 23, 2014 as part of the sermon series “40.” Below are excerpts from the sermon, followed by the audio in its entirety.
The historical context for these words is exile. Israel and the Kingdom of Judah have been defeated, they have been conquered… And we all have experiences like this, these situations in which we find ourselves where the familiar formulas we’ve relied upon for years, sometimes even decades. Those formulas suddenly don’t seem to add up anymore. And in these situations we cry out to God. Israel cries out to god, job cries out to God. And in different ways and different means both Israel and Job receive and answer. But that answer is a lesson in perspective. What it’s not is a detailed explanation or an apology.
What God is saying here… can best be summed up this way, “What has happened here, what has befallen you, does not change who I, the Lord, am.” And this is consistent with what God has said all along. When He first sent Moses to challenge Pharaoh, Moses said, “But Lord, who do I say that you are, how shall I describe you?” And God says “tell them I Am.”
And so what I believe we need to see and take away from the words of the prophet Isaiah, is to understand that who God is can not and does not change and who He is, is the ultimate source of hope. That hope, that is our comfort, even if our wounds are deep and even if they are still very much open. Especially if our wounds are deep and very much still open because hope I not relief. Hope is what keeps us going when relief does not come. And relief does not always come. It certainly rarely comes as fast and as furious as we would like it to…
“We as God’s people can trust in the hope that we have in God because nothing that occurs in this world, nothing that happens to us, can change who God is.”
We as God’s people can trust in the hope that we have in God because nothing that occurs in this world, nothing that happens to us, can change who God is. Our experiences, both good experiences and bad experiences can change our understanding of God, and they should! But they don’t change God. Our experiences should help us realize things that we thought were certain were not so certain….
And our experience should also open us up to possibilities we had not yet considered…Peter in his dream that he had on the rooftop in Joppa…because now the unthinkable has to become the thinkable, because now the Lord is doing a new thing.. and if Peter does not change his attitude toward what he will put in his mouth and who he will sit around as he does so, people like Cornelius will not come into the church.
This central powerful declaration of the prophet here in Isaiah 40, is the underpinnings of all those kinds of movements of God that we see unfolding throughout the scriptures and it also leads to another very important corollary.. If what happens in this world, cannot change who you are, who I am, who we are in God.
“But we not only need to keep in mind who we are in relation to God, we need to keep in mind who we are in relationship to God.”
But we not only need to keep in mind who we are in relation to God, we need to keep in mind who we are in relationship to God. And it is the balance between those two things that helps us keep the proper perspective, because they amount to different things. In relation to God the prophet says, “We are nothing. All people are grass. Their constancy is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade. We are nothing…” Nothing is anything in relation to God. And when we lose the middle of this chapter in Isaiah 40, we lose that perspective which is so very necessary.
In relationship to God, we are everything. This is where the beginning and the end of the chapter in Isaiah 40 come from. “Comfort Ye, comfort ye my people. Say that to Jerusalem. Says your Lord. Your penalty is paid. ..He gives power to the faint, He strengthens the powerless. Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…” Not might, they shall… Why? Because the Lord is the everlasting God, He is the creator of the ends of the earth. He does not grow faint or weary.
And the apostle Paul pulls this thread form Isaiah and follows it directly into the new testament when he declares in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present or things to come or powers, or height or depth or anything in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can change who God is and in God we are everything. And this perspective is so vital for us as individual disciples, it is vital for us as a church.
We need to remember what God said in the book of Exodus about why, why God was going to release the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. Because He is God. “They are my people and I am going to do this mighty thing so that they can tell the story to generations to come of this mighty thing that the Lord their God did for them.” That will be our story too.