May 1, 2011
Sometimes, reading the newspaper can be entertaining. How about these headlines?
• 4-H Girls Win Prizes for Fat Calves
• After Detour to California Shuttle Returns to Earth
• Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
• Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
• Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
• L.A. Voters Approve Urban Renewal By Landslide
• Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice
• Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
• Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge
• March Planned For Next August
• Milk Drinkers are Turning to Powder
• Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
These are funny, but, most days, news headlines paint a much more challenging picture of our world, don’t they? If you did nothing but listen to or watch or read news, and had no other perspective on the world, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to maintain any kind of positive attitude about our world.
Here are a few headlines I came across just this week:
Death toll reaches 14,435 from great quake-tsunami in Japan
Home prices falling in most major cities
Economists temper forecast for recovery
Gas tops key $4 price mark in Ohio
At least 400 civilians killed in Syria revolt
Tornadoes and storms rip through South, at least 284 dead
Anybody depressed yet? Anybody worried or scared yet? We can go from the larger level of things to worry about – things going on around the world that impact much if not all of the world - down to the smaller level – that’s us – the things that touch our lives personally. Illnesses. Jobs. Our personal finances. Family troubles. What would the headlines in your life look like?
How are we to respond to these challenges in the world, and these challenges in our personal lives? First I’ll give you the short answer, which is the best answer: in all these things, God says, “Trust Me.” God’s short answer to these questions is “Trust Me.”
But why? Why should we trust God? I believe there are many answers to this question in the Word of God. But for at least one longer answer to this, turn with me to Isaiah chapter 40. As you’re turning, let me give you a quick background.
The prophet Isaiah was writing here to a people in exile. Israel and Judah were living under an evil empire. They had been driven from their homelands, and were virtually powerless to do anything on their own. They’d seen their share of people killing other people, their own brand of terror. I’m guessing that many of the people of Israel and Judah, at the time of the message of Isaiah chapter 40, experienced the same kind of despair that people of our day might have, after we review the horrors of the daily news, or consider the difficult challenges in our personal lives.
Without the perspective that the Word of God can provide for us, it’s easy to become hopeless – to despair of ever seeing anything positive. It’s easy to think...we’re powerless. The world is a hopeless place. Where’s God? Where is He in all this stuff?
What we must remember is something that we’re going to discover this morning as we read our text, from Isaiah chapter 40. What this chapter reveals, among many other things, is that our God sees the whole panorama of life and history in a way we cannot. I’d encourage you to read the whole chapter on your own sometime this week, but we won’t take time to do that this morning. However, we are going to read much of it this morning, so hang with me...
Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
That’s a good start, huh? God comforting His people.
vs. 5 the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
last part of vs 6 "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."
Now listen to this word picture of God, beginning with verse 12:
12Who has measured the waters in the hollow 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? 13Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 14Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding? 15Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. 16Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires, nor its animals enough for burnt offerings. 17Before him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. 18To whom, then, will you compare God? What image will you compare him to
Then, jump to verse 21:
21Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? 22He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. 23He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. 25"To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One. 26Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. 27Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God"? 28Do you not know? Have you not heard? 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. 29He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31but 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.
There’s so much here, we could probably spend several weeks on this, but for the purpose of this morning’s message, I’d like to take you through several points here.
One of the things we see here is that God is a big God, in charge of, creator of, sustainer of, all the big things. Remember the great truth in the old children’s song: Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do.
The things He’s made out of nothing...like the universe. Like the billions and trillions of stars He created and knows by name. He’s so big that nations are as nothing, nothing but dust on the scales in comparison to Him. The same nations we worry about having nuclear weapons. The same nations that breed and support terrorists. The same nations that despise Christianity.
To God, those nations, and even our nation, are smaller than dust. That’s our great God and His macro view of creation. Macro means very large in scale, scope or capability. But after all these verses telling us how big God is, Isaiah doesn’t leave us there. After all, just the fact alone that God is so huge and powerful, and we’re like grasshoppers...doesn’t give us much comfort. In fact, it could add to our fears.... after all, you can step on grasshoppers.
But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. He talks of little us..... You and me. God’s people. Those who hope in the Lord, or wait on the Lord. He says He’ll sustain us, strengthen us, comfort us.
Even though he knows each of the stars by name, and I think we could agree that’s a big task, He also knows each of us by name. He knows us intimately, he knows the number of hairs on our heads. He’s a vast God, in charge of the vast universe. But at the same time, He’s interested in little us.
We’re small, minute in scope or capability. If nations are like dust on the scales, then we’re not much in the grand picture of things. Yet He loves us, cares for us, strengthens us, sustains us, helps us. I think the people of Israel suffered from one of the same problems we do.
Underestimating God. That’s a real theme in this chapter in Isaiah. The people of Israel had clearly underestimated the God they served. Their God, as one book title says, was too small. It’s clear from verse 27 that they had questioned God, and the way He works in our lives.
27Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God"?
That is, we seem to say, God can’t see what’s going on in my life, and He doesn’t seem to care. The people had underestimated God, both His power and His love, and this chapter reminds them why they shouldn’t underestimate Him.
However, in all this, God says, “Trust Me.” God says, I know best. Look at Who I am. Trust Me.
Let’s go back to the beginning again and look at some key verses.
vs. 1 – this whole chapter is about comfort. It says “comfort my people.” The truths in Isaiah 40 were designed to build confidence in our great God,and as a result of that confidence, to bring comfort.
They needed comfort because they were separated from their homeland. They needed comfort because they were suffering. They needed comfort because they didn’t see how that suffering, the horrible things they had endured and were enduring, would ever end. They didn’t understand.
We need comfort sometimes, too. In the larger sense, as we look at world events, as well as in the personal sense, in those things that don’t necessarily impact world history, but certainly have a huge impact in our lives as individuals and families. We need comfort and encouragement. So God says, “comfort my people.”
Part of the reason we can find comfort is because of what’s spoken in verse 5: the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.
Notice, it doesn’t say might be. It doesn’t say could be. It says, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed.” We can count on it. We can depend on it. And as we see who God is, as He is described with such clarity in these verses following, it gives that statement great credibility. He can do what He says He will do.
Now, as we’ve already noted, we’re not unimportant or insignificant in terms of God’s love and care for us. But in the scheme of His grand plan, His outworking of the Big Picture of time and eternity,we’re nothing by comparison. That’s why Isaiah writes in comparisons and questions.
12Who has measured the waters in the hollow 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? 13Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? 14Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?
Has anybody here done any of those things? Anyone here think they can advise God on how things ought to be done? Even a man on earth as powerful as the president of the most powerful nation on earth has advisors. Who’s God’s advisor?
God, I think you should do such and such with these Muslims who want to destroy us. God, I think you shouldn’t have allowed those tornadoes to devastate Alabama this week. God, I don’t think you should have allowed Tom Buck to be in ICU this long.
But Isaiah says, Who has understood the mind of the Lord? Who taught the Lord the right way? This passage shows us that these exiles weren’t automatically inclined to trust God. They had to be persuaded.
Sometimes, if we’re honest, in the midst of these things, we, too, must be challenged in our thinking. We, too, must be persuaded of God’s ability to handle things. Even when He doesn’t fully explain Himself. Essentially, from verse 12, to verse 26, Isaiah is dealing with these big picture questions we all have from time to time.
In this chapter, he moves from creation, to nations, and back to creation, to respond to these doubts, these questions. If we’re honest, we have to say we sometimes have these questions, too....especially in light of the events of the world we live in, but also in the day to day things we deal with. Some of us have these kinds of questions this morning.
God answers our questions with these questions in Isaiah 40. But the bottom line, the point of God’s response, is this: Trust me. I’m God, and I’m worthy of your trust. Trust me. Hope in Me. Wait on Me. Believe in Me.
Twice in the course of this chapter, He asks, Do you not know? Have you not heard? And then God continues by reminding us of the vast panorama of human history. That’s something He sees now, and has always seen.
21Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
28Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth
God was there “from the beginning.” – it tells us in vs 21. “…since the earth was founded” vs 21. God is “the everlasting God” vs 28. “The Creator of the ends of the earth “ vs 28
Have any of you parents ever responded to a question of your kids with this statement? “I’ve been around longer than you.” Just as that answer is often not satisfying to them in the moment, God’s similar answer to us in the midst of pain is also difficult, but it’s true.
Think of it this way. I spent nearly 25 years in the media before I left my last business to work full time at TCF. I got a degree in radio and television....spent four years in radio, five years working for a cable TV network, 15 years in self-employment, handling public relations tasks for a variety of companies in national and international media. I’ve had 60 national magazine articles published, more than 500 newspaper stories published.
I don’t want this to sound like bragging. It’s just the bare facts of my media career. God wasn’t bragging in Isaiah 40 either. These are things I did. Those are the things He did.
Would you assume from these things that I know something about the media? That would be a fair assumption, unless I was really good at faking it.
Now what would you think if, say, Josiah Ferrill, came up to me and said, Coach Bill, let me tell you a thing or two about the media. Now, Josiah’s an incredibly bright kid. But he’s 12 years old. He doesn’t have the knowledge I gained through nearly a quarter-century in the media.
As many analogies go, this one breaks down, because I learned, and nobody taught God anything. But it gives you an idea of what God’s after here.
He’s been around since before there was time. He can hold oceans in the hollow of His hand. He can hold majestic mountains on scales. He weighs islands like not just dust, but fine dust. He can sit on a throne above the horizon of the world, and we look like grasshoppers to Him. I’m glad he didn’t say we’re as smart as grasshoppers, too, but He could have, in a comparative sense. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy...a simple covering for Him.
If we would think it’s at least a little bit presumptuous for Josiah, who’s twelve, to tell someone like me, who had more than two decades of media experience, what the media business is all about, how much more foolish is it for me, someone who’s lived 54 years, has never been further south than Padre Island Texas, to tell the God who’s existed from before there was time, who holds the earth as easily as I hold this squishy ball, how to do anything?
He flung the stars into the night sky. That’s an incredible thought. I thought about that truth as I prepared this message. When we’re over at my in-laws lake house in Arkansas, I like to go down to the lake shore after dark, because on a clear night, with the absence of city lights, you can see so many more stars than you can see in the metro area. You can even see the Milky Way, which is billions of stars in our own galaxy, so tightly packed together, that if you didn’t know what you were looking at, you’d swear it was a thin cloud in the sky. But it’s not.... it’s the stars. There are way too many stars to actually count, but scientists have come up with varying estimates to how many stars there are.
It’s about 10 times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world’s beaches and deserts. Another estimate -- 7 followed by 22 zeros or, more accurately, 70 sextillion – this was calculated by a team of stargazers based at the Australian National University.
Another estimate says: visible to the naked eye: a few thousand; in the Milky Way: around 10 billion; and at least 10 billion galaxies!
So, the sheer numbers are beyond our ability to grasp. But let’s try to bring it a little closer to our level of understanding. Our sun is the closest star. When scientists calculate what size a star can be, they usually get answers like one tenth (1/10) the size of the Sun for the smallest, and about 50 times the size of the Sun for the biggest stars. The Sun is 868,000 miles across. Do you know how wide the Sun is compared with what we are familiar? One hundred and nine Earths can be strung horizontally across the middle of the Sun. So not only are there these billions and billions of stars, but they are of a size that’s also hard for us to imagine.
The bottom line – we can only make a sort of educated guess about these things. But Isaiah says God created each star, and knows each star by name. The Word tells us here in Isaiah,
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
Verse 18 has a central idea in this chapter. To whom would you compare God?
Now, we human beings sometimes think in analogies. We seek comparisons within our experience, to help us understand something outside of our experience. The Bible does this in speaking of God in human terms (anthropomorphism).
So, does God literally stretch out the heavens like a tent to live in? No, He doesn’t need to. It’s a literary device to begin to attempt to help us understand His vastness, His greatness, His power, His omnipotence.
All of our anthropomorphisms fall short. All of our analogies are inadequate. They only help us catch a glimpse of our Creator.
So, the problem lies in assuming that we have comprehended, or fully understood, the mind and spirit of God, so that we are in the position to make recommendations to God, or correct him in his thinking or acting.
We look at human power and sometimes feel awe – seeing the power an individual can have in a nation. Yet, nothing in human existence is as fragile as power, as we’ve seen in recent events in the Middle East. God can take it away in an instant.
23He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. 24No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
In that regard, Moamar Gadhafi or Hosni Mubarak are no different than Barack Obama, or George Bush before him. Isaiah shows clearly the frailty and temporary nature of humankind. But, to counter this complaint, the argument looks not to the nature of humanity, but to God.
First, our God is a God of the long view. In verse 28, He’s the everlasting God.
His strategies point to eternity, not to the moment.
Israel complained that God doesn’t watch, doesn’t care. But, our sense of time is different than God’s. Think about this. We need more immediate satisfaction. God’s content to wait. We get tired of waiting...He doesn’t grow weary as we do. He doesn’t give up as we do. He moves toward His plans and purposes through decades, through centuries, through millennia.
Finally, God recognizes our frailty.
30Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
Those of us who are older, and can’t run like we used to, can’t maintain the energy of our youth, can appreciate this idea even more. If we hope in, if we wait on the Lord, on His plan, on His timing, and we must do that in trust… in confidence that He knows best...He will renew our strength.
This is the most familiar verse in this chapter...
31but 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.
Here the ideas overlap: “waiting hope” or “hopeful waiting.” The people of Israel ultimately didn’t always trust God. They were like we can sometimes be…when we demand that God and His plans make sense to us.
We cannot judge God by our own perceptions and experience. The perspective of God’s greatness in size and time requires waiting on and hoping for. It requires trust.
God’s time is not our time. God’s moment is not our moment. Those who can learn to wait on God’s time and hope in God’s way, will renew their strength, will run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Yahweh is a God of the long view... the God of the vast panorama of time and eternity.
And He says to us, constantly, in the midst of life’s biggest and smallest challenges….trust Me. Trust me. At the beginning and the end of Isaiah 40 lies the positive message. God is coming, according to His own plan. He is neither discouraged nor weak. He cares for his own who trust Him and wait for Him. Jesus said to His disciples, and to us:
John 14:1 (NIV) "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.
Whatever we’re troubled by, whether it’s the seemingly insurmountable problems of the world, or a seemingly insurmountable problems in our own home, let’s determine to wait hopefully for the Lord... to respond in trust when God says Trust Me.
Let’s determine to remember that He sees the Big Picture. He will renew our strength.