Home >> Previous Sermons >> February 17, 2013


Isaiah 40:1-11

In this season of Grammy Awards and Academy Awards, hope is the word. In the weeks between the nominations and the moment of the awarding of the prize there is nothing but this simmering brew of hope. It takes people through interviews, up the carpet, and even to that moment when the category is called. Hope, hope, hope. “And the winner is…” Hope, hope, hope. And then they call a name, and it is not yours. Then there is this other word. Hopeless. No resetting the clock, no second try. The people smile, but they know that there is no chance of winning. There are words and then there are words, and “hopeless” is one of those words that changes moods, outlooks, life directions. When we speak of something as hopeless, and at times we must, what we are saying is that we are not only beyond solutions but beyond hoping for a solution. The material is too far gone, the tools are not to be found, and the process does not exist. And so we put something away—sometimes a plan, sometimes even faith.

Worhip: Hope

The 40th chapter of the book of Isaiah comes through a man who knew something about the bitter brew of hopelessness. He saw the fall of his own kings and prophesied the fall of his own nation. Isaiah will tell King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:17: “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon.” The nation would fall. And in that grief, in that numbing hopelessness before Babylon’s strength and the inevitable fall of Judah, Isaiah still called for hope. And while the day had pain, there was hope.

Let’s look at Isaiah 40.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 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. A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:1-5

There are no greater words, perhaps, than the first word of this chapter. “Comfort, comfort.” To a people well-established in fear, well-established in waiting for help, God says, “Comfort, comfort my people.” These are the people of the covenant, God’s people, and to them Isaiah is to speak tenderly. To them he is to share the hopeful message of their forgiveness. Their sins will not be their downfall. More, God gives them hope in some of the most vigorous imagery imaginable in the ancient world: a highway will be made in the desert. This is the manner of nations clearing obstacles for an arriving king, done only by a grand army. But that is not all. God’s deliverance is such that low valleys are raised, mountains made low, rough ground leveled, and rugged places made like a plain. In the ancient world, moving earth was done by hands and measured in months and years and human lives. And what God described here simply wasn’t done.

The point is that our God is one who brings change that is greater than our ability to imagine. Just as God’s vision of an altered landscape is offered long before people could envision it, God’s care for us is beyond our mental grid. We tend to believe God can only do what we can do or only do as much through us as we can do on our best days. He is not limited as we are limited. He is never without hope for our future because He is never without resource when He considers our future. He is able to raise valleys, lower mountains, level rough ground, and make a plain of rugged places. What limits us does not limit Him. Your future may look like a wilderness, but God is able to build a highway. In all that is uneven—family, social, political, religious, financial, personal—God can make a way. You cannot. God can.

Isaiah goes on: “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fade because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” 40:6-8

The reminder here is an important one. It was the hope of Isaiah and all like him that one only needed the next good king to turn the tide. It was and is the temptation of all generations to look to the next face as the answer to our problems. To this God gives a subtle rebuke: the best of you are like grass, withering and fading. The best of you have glory no greater than the flowers of a field, fading and falling. “Surely the people are grass.”

God offers something else: “the word of our God stands forever.” God’s word is not a creature of the season like grass. God’s word and will abides forever. His word is not abstract. It is concrete, fulfilled in time and among people common people. It is beyond the chaos of time and events and all the confusing corners of our lives. His promises come to pass. Hear Isaiah 55:8-11. God’s word is God’s thoughts, which are higher than ours. More, God’s word falls on our hearts like rain and snow on the earth, and it does not land without merit. God’s word accomplishes what it was sent out to achieve, both in the larger expanse of time and the moment in a heart. To say that the word of God stands is to say that God’s promises stand. All that He has promised us in Christ and in Scripture will stand. You do not have to be without fail. Only He is. And that is our hope.

Finally, our last passage: “You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ See the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and His arm rules for Him. See, His reward is with Him, and His recompense accompanies Him. 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.” 40:9-11

We are not to be shy about God. We are not to be shy because He promises that He comes with power, with the raised arm of a victor. His reward is with Him, and His people can and should anticipate His reward. But there is also the lowered arm of a shepherd. He is not the one who kills the weak lambs. He carries them close, especially close because they are lambs. The weak are not cast away. And those with young are gently led. As God says through Ezekiel (34:15-16) concerning the coming age, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

It is only a matter of time until we are counted as the injured and the weak. It is only a matter of time until we come to the end our abilities and will. It is only a matter of time until we have to admit that we are as the pitiful characters before Jesus—a poor widow putting pennies in an offering box, a paralyzed man on a litter coming down through a roof, a blind beggar on the roadside, a demoniac not in his right mind, or a once faithful disciple living with the regret of abandoning Jesus—and there we find a Savior who is willing to help. There is always reason for hope, because there is always mercy and strength in God.

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