Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: A reflection on the fact that God often meets us in the most difficult places...


ISAIAH 40:1-11


Someone once said that it is “only when we are brought to the end of ourselves (in other words our own strength and ability) that we are in a position to see more of God than we have seen.” How true is it that it is often only in that very moment when we realize that we are utterly and hopelessly lost that we are able to comprehend the comfort God offers? For until we reach that point there is always a semblance of self-reliance that remains, a tendency to rest on our own strength and ability (we have not yet come to the end of ourselves, as it were) and because of this we cannot fully embrace the comfort God brings...

Now our Old Testament reading taken from Isaiah 40:1-11 offers tremendous words of hope and courage in this regard – it presents us with a message of God’s eternal comfort – and suggests that this comfort is best known and experienced when we come to the end of ourselves; or, as the text prefers to put it, when we find ourselves in the wilderness or the desert. This wonderful passage is the text that we will focus our attention on this morning...

I remember that, a couple of weeks ago, Michelle preached from this very same text; and in her sermon she focused on especially the first verse with those beautiful words that form the heart of the passage: “Comfort, o comfort my people, says the Lord”.

So to begin our reflection this morning we’re going to have a pop-quiz and see how many of you can remember what Michelle said on that day... (J) No, just kidding... the crux of the message on that day came down to the fact of God’s comfort being given to us – a comfort that gives strength in times of trouble, a comfort that is offered tenderly yet perfectly (and, in truth, is given only in Christ and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and not from any other source).

This morning I want to build on that reflection from a few weeks ago and consider the place in which God’s comfort is offered, the place to which he comes in order to offer it – a few weeks ago Michelle expounded for us the nature, reason and purpose of God’s Comfort (from the first two verses of Isaiah 40); this morning I want us to consider the place of God’s comfort (by looking at the next few verses from this same chapter, verses 3-5)... That place, of course, being the “wilderness”.


We will construct our reflection for this morning on three pillars, as it were; firstly we will consider the simple yet mysterious fact of God’s habit in meeting us in the wilderness (in other words, the fact that it is so often in these desert times and wilderness places that God makes himself known to us), secondly we will consider the strangely comforting ambiguous nature of the wilderness (in other words, that the wilderness is at the same time a terrifyingly difficult and potentially good place to be), and finally we will consider the reality of God’s initiative in transforming the wilderness into a better place (in other words, the fact that the transformation of our wilderness depends entirely on God’s initiative and work).

1. The Wilderness as the Place where God meets us...

In verse 5 of Isaiah 40 we read the following words: “A voice of one calling: in the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.”

Now, in order to fully appreciate the nuance of this text from Isaiah – as the wilderness being the place where God meets us – we must compare it with the Gospels where this verse is quoted... In each of the four Gospels this verse is quoted in reference to John the Baptist, and the emphasis is on him being the voice that Isaiah refers to. However, the slight, yet profound difference is that the Gospels present the voice as calling from out of the wilderness (and they do this because John was, of course, ministering and preaching in the wilderness as opposed to the towns); whereas the prophet presents the voice as calling from heaven and that, instead of the voice, it is in fact the ‘way of the Lord’, ‘the highway of God’ that should be prepared, and therefore is, in the wilderness.

For Isaiah then, the image is not one of announcing in the wilderness God’s arrival as an external event, but rather one of announcing from heaven the fact of God’s way and presence in the wilderness.

And this image assumes even greater significance when we keep in mind the actual context of Israel at the time of this prophecy – the historical situation in which this ancient audience found themselves was, in fact, a desert experience of immense proportions...

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