A God Of Size
I was working with a church one time and there were some family difficulties that was bleeding over and causing strife between the Eldership and the Ministers on staff. One night in a staff meeting words were being exchanged between two Elders and when I offered some ill advised advice the slight disagreement escalated into a to nuclear war.
Anger filled the room like heavy smog as hurt feelings from other struggles began to get displaced on those in the room. Just when it looked like Armageddon had arrived, the pulpit minister suggested that we all just pause and let’s pray for God’s help and wisdom. Immediately one of the Elders snapped back, "Has it come to that?"
These were good men and I doubt that any of those men would have intellectually denied the strength of God. Everyone knows that God is omnipotent. We know it, yet we just don’t believe it! It’s in our reliance upon God’s power--or our lack of reliance- that we discover whether we truly believe in Him or not.
Is the Lord’s Arm Too Short?
In Numbers 11, the people of Israel begin whining about how good life had been back in Egypt. They had eaten all the manna casserole they could stand. They were craving the fish, cucumbers, melons, and spices from Egypt.
When Moses pleads with the LORD, he is told that the people will have meat for a whole month. Moses finds that hard to believe, given their large number and meager resources:
We read in verses 21-22 Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, "I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!" Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?
Apparently Moses forgot that God is a mighty God. He’d witnessed God’s power in the sending of the plagues and the crossing of the sea. His struggle was not how good God had been in the past but that He cared and that He could and would help him in this particular situation.
The Lord’s response was short and penetrating: "Is the LORD’S arm too short?" verse 23
In other words, "Don’t you believe I can pull it off, Moses?" And I believe that, if we were to be honest with one another, that’s the question we face: Can God take care of me no matter what my situation may be?
This question is asked by those trying to rebuild after a devastating loss –whether it’s death, divorce, or tragedy.
It’s asked by those who’ve been trapped by a sin and who are now trying to turn their lives around -which is similar to turning an ocean liner with an oar.
It’s asked by those who, in trying to put a marriage back together after months and years of conflict, feel like they’re trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with a million pieces-while wearing mittens.
It’s asked by some who are trying to forgive people who have hurt them deeply when they don’t feel very forgiving and when there are no signs of repentance and sorrow on the part of those they’re trying to forgive.
Not only do we face the challenge of believing God’s power can help us in our personal and family lives, we find it difficult to credit God’s power to work in our church families.
How, for example, can we dare dream of evangelizing the world when the powers of evil seem so great-unless we put our hope in the God whose arm isn’t too short?
Power of Inner Strength
A few years ago when Stacy King was a rookie basketball player with the Chicago Bulls, he got in the game the evening Michael Jordan scored 69 points. After the game, when asked for his reflections on the night, he said, "I’ll always remember it as the evening Michael Jordan and I combined for 70 points." His humorous response pointed out that even though he was in the game, the real fire power came from the superstar.
Similarly, people who trust in the same God we read of in Scripture believe that they are indwelt by one who has more power than they can imagine. Paul encourages the church in Ephesus with these words found in Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
We can forgive when we don’t have the power to forgive; we can survive in life when we feel like we’re sinking; we can overcome sin when we don’t have the strength to overcome. The God who created the heavens and earth is working through us. He provides the power as we provide the willingness.
That’s why Paul prayed that believers might know God’s "incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 1:19, 20).
Can God Bring His People Home?
I want you to turn to the 40th chapter of the book of Isaiah, where we will see this faith struggle again. The spirit of the book changes in chapter 40, as there is an announcement that the Israelites, who are in exile in Babylon, will get to go home. The section ends in Isaiah 55:1 with the invitation:
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
But when this unbelievable invitation was sent out, instead of joy listen to the people’s response. "Can God really pull it off?" Again, it wasn’t so much a logical query as a faith struggle.
There’s No Comparison!
The text answers the question before it is even asked. In Chapter 40:1 we read "See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, I and his arm rules for him"
Then in verse 18 The LORD’S strength is spotlighted by comparisons that run through the rest of the chapter. "To whom, then, will you compare God?"
The Nations Are Nothing?
Isaiah then writes a remarkable passage of scripture that shows the power of the almighty God.
In Isaiah 40 15-17 God’s enormous power is highlighted first by comparing him to the mightiest nations of the world:
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
Israel, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Germany, Russia, the U.S.A., China, Japan-all have been or are mighty nations. But they are just drops in the bucket, just dust on the scales, when compared with God.
I have been through the auditorium after Sunday morning services and noticed how some of our young people, or maybe older members, have recycled our bulletins by making paper airplanes. If we took one of those paper planes out to the airport and placed it next to an 757, that would be similar to putting the most powerful nation of the world next to God. It fails miserably in the comparison.
Well if Nations cannot stand up next to God then what about other God’s?
Isaiah next turns his comparison between the true God and pathetic idols in verses 18 – 20:
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.
Turn your bibles over a few pages to chapter 44 starting in the 14th verse where the humorous description of the making of an idol continues:
He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
Isaiah can’t believe it! No one stopped to think about how ridiculous it was to use half of the wood for fuel and then to bow down before the other half.
God’s power over other gods is shown throughout the Old Testament. In Exodus 1-12, the contest is not so much between Moses and Pharaoh as between God and the gods of Egypt. Those gods should have been able to defend their turf, but they couldn’t. They were no match for the Lord Almighty.
Dagon, a god of the Philistines, appeared mighty and awesome until the ark of the covenant was carried into his temple. But overnight the statue of Dagon fell on his face. When the Philistines found him they put him back in his place. But the next morning they found him down on his face again, a position of submissiveness, with his head and hands broken off. He literally couldn’t stand up to the power of Yahweh.
Perhaps the clearest contest in the Old Testament is told in 1 Kings 18. There Elijah stood against 450 prophets of Baal and four hundred prophets of Asherah in a test to see whose God was greater. Which one, Yahweh or Baal, would be able to bring fire to the altar?
When the prophets of Baal prayed and danced themselves into a frenzy, all to no avail, Elijah revealed what a good sense of humor he had. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely [Baal] is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened"
So the devotees went into a greater frenzy, even slashing themselves until they were bleeding-but "there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention"
Then Elijah had water from the Mediterranean brought to the top of Mount Carmel and poured over the altar. "The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench" (v. 35). The text gives a graphic description of what happened next: "Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench" (v. 38). The people fell down before him and cried, "The LORD-he is God! The Lord-he is God!" (v. 39).
The last comparison that we find in Isaiah 40 is to the mighty rulers of the world.
When we think of powerful individuals, we may picture some of the muscled hulks on television. Football players, or baseball players juiced up on steroids. Their arms are as big as my thighs, their legs as big as my waist, and their bodies are covered with hair.
Others may think of CEOs of large corporations, billionaires, or sports figures.
But to Isaiah’s audience, the best portrait of power was the earthly rulers of the day. And, yet, even they don’t begin to compare with God:
He brings princes and the rulers back to their rightful place. Look at 40:23-24
who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
These are people who wield great power on earth. But they topple like Humpty-Dumpty: Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Alexander, Charlemagne, Napoleon, Hitler, Lincoln, Roosevelt-you name it. Eventually you have to find them in an encyclopedia or history book. But God’s name and his power are as current today as ever.
Isaiah then wraps this up by asking in verse 25, "To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
In C. S. Lewis’s book Prince Caspian, one of the books in the classic Chronicles of Narnia series, there is a conversation between Lucy, and Aslan the lion who represents Christ. Lucy comments on how much larger Aslan is than when she last saw him. And AsIan replies, "I am not. But every year you grow you will find me bigger."
That’s exactly how it is with God. When we’re young, we’re told that God has all power. But as we grow, we should see more and more evidence of how true that is.
Unfortunately, many people have their vision of God’s power cloud as they get older. Some feel defeated. Others feel knocked down by the force of sin. And still others develop a human-centered, highly rational faith that keeps God at a distance.
When our vision of God diminishes or fails to grow, Christianity becomes a tame, drab, lukewarm, safe religion that fits comfortably in to our malnourished worldview.
Let us open our eyes again to catch a glimpse of the power of God that is working in the lives of his people Lets read the rest of Isaiah 40 tonight starting in the 28th verse:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
Tonight are you here feeling dirty because you can’t imagine God removing your sin? Then look again at His power!
Tonight are you fighting a losing battle with some addictive sin-drugs, alcohol, immorality, envy, pride, and anger? Then look again to his strength!
Tonight are you weary of trying to put your life back together after being abused, attacked, or abandoned? Then fix your eyes on the One who called the world into existence and who lives in you through his Spirit!
Jehovah is not an abstract God, a distant God, a silent God, or a feeble God. He is the Almighty Ruler who spoke all things into existence, the Victorious Warrior who conquered the forces of evil through his Son at the cross, the Lord of All who indwells his people through his Spirit.
The children of Israel said that Jehovah was
JEHOVAH-JIREH or The Lord will Provide
JEHOVAH-ROPHE or The Lord Who Heals
JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH or The Lord is There
JEHOVAH-M’KADDESH or The Lord Who Sanctifies
JEHOVAH-SHALOM or The Lord Our Peace
And EL SHADDAI or God All Sufficient
And HE is still All Sufficient to exceed our needs.